Dealing With Bad News

What do you do when the plans you were making, around which you’d built your expectations for the future, suddenly crumble and you realize they won’t become reality?

We’re dealing with that this weekend. We had some very disappointing news come into the family–shattering news, really, to the one making the plans–and it’s affected us all. I wasn’t the one making the plans, but this news has consumed almost all of my spare brainpower ever since.

When something like this hits, everything feels different. Things move in slo-mo. Brains race. Even, I’ve noticed, food tastes a little differently. Our primitive instincts begin to kick in, we get afraid, we fear. We lash out at anyone or anything we think got in our way.

At times like this our faith in God goes one of two ways. We can get angry with him–how could you let this happen? What kind of God claims to love and then ruins my plans?

Or we can get our egos out of the way and put more faith in him. We recognize that God might not be the actor causing the sudden crisis…but we recognize that he certainly can use it, that he has a plan for us, and that even if we can’t see what that is, that he still loves us.

Easier said than done. When we feel we’ve been wronged, there’s a part of us that likes to play the victim. That’s a whole lot easier than recognizing any role we may have had ourselves in the downfall of our plans.

The good news is, though, that even when we’re angry with him, God still loves us. And that, odds are, he wasn’t the one behind our misfortune. Remember, we have an enemy who wants to wreck our plans and sow discontent and drive wedges between us and God. But in the depths of our crisis, how hard it is to see anything else.

Sometime, yes, new plans will be made. This weekend’s devastation will be surmounted, even if we can’t forget it. And in the midst of it, that hope may seem so distant. But it’s there, waiting for us to discover it with new hearts.

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The End…?

The celebrations of only a few days past feel like they may as well have been a hundred years ago. No palm branches waving in joyous greeting, and now the crowds aren’t adoring, they’re hostile, or at best, utterly apathetic. The procession winds its way to Golgotha and the Roman soldiers do what they do best: keep the process moving, don’t let anyone interfere, and get on with the execution efficiently and quickly.

How did we wind up here, when only last night we were preparing to celebrate the Passover meal? How did we wind up here, when only days ago he was cleansing the temple and restoring God’s righteousness? How did we wind up here, on a windswept hill, at the foot of a cross, watching his blood run like rivulets down the rough wooden cross?

When he told us last night that the bread and the cup were his body and blood given for us, I had no idea that he really meant his body and his blood would be sacrificed. I thought it was another of his parables, just another saying that we didn’t really understand, and now he’s not going to be able to explain them ever again, is he.

The crowd and the soldiers are taunting him: “If you’re so mighty, come down off that cross yourself!” I’ve seen him heal the sick, cleanse lepers, even raise Lazarus from the dead. I know he’s powerful. So yeah, why does he just…stay there? Why doesn’t he summon the power of God and break free? What on earth holds him there?

I can’t imagine what he’s going through. The pain of the nails, the slow suffocation of hanging on the cross, every breath shallower and shallower, as he grows weaker. And he’s probably not the last of our circle to be up there: so many of the brothers have faded away already. They’re scared, and they have every reason to be–I wonder how long before the authorities are knocking on my door.

All that he taught us…all about God’s kingdom, all about love and mercy and repentance, everything he stood for, is now ebbing away with his fading heartbeat. It can’t be, but it’s ending, here on this hill, on a criminal’s cross.

It is ending…isn’t it?

Baby Steps

Lead me through the darkness / Lead me through the unknown / Oh, lead me, Holy Ghost. (MercyMe, “Ghost”)

I’ve written before about my very much ongoing efforts at discernment, to determine if perhaps I am being called into ordained ministry after five decades on this planet. I guess it’s time for an update.

Over the past couple of months I’ve started private mentoring and counselling sessions with my pastor, to try to gain insight into what’s going on. They’ve been very helpful sessions, which have explained some things and given me other things to think about.

At this point, it seems to me, that there’s enough “there” that I need additional help in working through the prospective call. And so I have taken the first steps down that path, by submitting my name (and the first bits of paperwork) to begin the formal process of discernment in the United Methodist Church.

When I hit Send on that email, I had a sense of reassurance, that this was the right thing to do. My first hurdle will be the District Committee on Ministry interview, which could be later in the spring; they will either pass me along and assign me a mentor to undergo the discernment exercises, or tell me I’m not ready. I find myself hoping to be passed along to the next stage. We’ll see.

If I were to go through with this, it could be another decade (!) before ordination. Lots of work to do between now and then, and that’s a bit intimidating. But it hasn’t scared me off yet. On to the next stage.

Our Growing Community

Tonight we brought our sister in Christ, LaRae, down off the mountain from her Emmaus weekend. She walked with 27 other women on E-184 and, as with every other such weekend, had just the most tremendous experience of God’s love in new ways that she had never experienced before. Some thoughts came to mind today at different times.

First, when we were seeing all the pilgrims looking so happy and radiant, it really brought joy to my heart. And that’s not just a saying: I mean it brought a touch of the divine, a moment of connection of heaven and earth, and I found myself tearing up a little because they were getting to experience it too. All I wanted to do was shout praises for what Christ was working in their lives.

Later, we welcomed LaRae into the Sydenstricker community of Emmaus with her Fourth Day Dinner. I remember my own, two springs ago, and I think there were perhaps 8 to 10 people around the table–some of them not even from our church. Instead, tonight there were 21 folks gathered. There is a wonderful new energy about our Emmaus community that is simply so refreshing to see, and rewarding to experience.

LaRae is already talking to her husband about his walking on the men’s weekend this spring, the one I’ll be teaming on for the first time. And there were a couple of other names tossed out as men who need an invitation. Who knows, perhaps we can get out to a couple dozen before long!

De Colores!

Reassuring Dreams

Do you dream?

Well, maybe that’s the wrong question; after all, we all dream. But do you remember your dreams when you wake up?

I rarely do. Most mornings I have no recollection of any dream; at most I might have a vague sense of having dreamed…something? And it was…anxious? Pleasant? But not much more comes to mind.

Our daughter has been struggling with anxiety over all she has to do if she’s to finish high school a year early this year, as is her plan. (Or should I say, her dream?) It’s been hard for us as parents to watch her struggle, wanting to take it all away and make it all better the way we used to be able to do for her when she was tiny. In some of my own darker moods I fear her dreams of going off to college won’t come to pass, at least not now.

The other morning, I woke and was immediately aware of a dream I’d had in the night. In it, I was watching as from a drone as a Saturn V rocket–the ones the old Apollo program used to go to the moon, still the most powerful rockets we’ve ever made–slowly came to life and began, majestically, rising on a pillar of fire past me and towards the heavens. And somehow in my dream I was aware that my daughter was on that rocket, and I remember I felt relieved that it had launched and that it was flying the way it was designed to fly.

On reflecting on it when I awoke, I chose to interpret that as a reassurance from God: there won’t be a “failure to launch” here, he said. She’s gonna be OK. I got this, he conveyed to me.

Fly, young lady, fly!

Breadcrumbs, Part III

Much to his annoyance, a thought popped into his mind. It was very clear and very distinct, and he had now come to recognize these thoughts for what they were. His instinct was to resist them. (Douglas Adams)

Since September, I’ve been sharing some of the walk I’ve been on, trying to grow my discernment skills. I am in little doubt that I am being called into a deeper relationship with Christ; what I’m still struggling with is, what, exactly, is that supposed to look like? I’ve been doing a lot of reading and conversing on the topic, and here’s what I’ve come up with so far. In no particular order:

  • Absolutely, every one of us has a calling. We are all called to do some work to the glory of God. Some are called to be budget analysts, some are called to be nonprofit execs…and some are called into ordained ministry. None is “better” or “higher” than another. And they may not be permanent: it’s where God is calling us to be now. The key thing is to discern what it is, and then to respond.
  • Yes, we are all called to a deeper relationship with Christ. Some of the keys for whether a calling is to an ordained role, versus a more-committed lay member, are the extent to which people turn to you for spiritual guidance, or look to you to be a leader in spiritual matters.
  • It isn’t just about a given skill set. Sure, I can string words together and speak the English goodly. But as Paul wrote, “I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but [if I] didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1) Yes, I can ride a bike: it doesn’t mean I should become a pro cyclist and enter the Tour de France.
  • Sometimes what’s obscure to us is brilliantly, painfully obvious to others around us.
  • I still struggle with what Walter F. Kerr called “delusions of adequacy.” Or, as the inimitable Zaphod Beeblebrox put it, “Hey, I’m just this guy, y’know?” Why should it be that the God of all Creation would be asking me to do anything special?
  • Sometimes the answer is just as simple as, “when you can’t do anything else, preach.” In other words, when your thoughts are nothing but about bringing about the Kingdom…

Another Gibbs-Slap

I’ve written before about how sometimes the Spirit has to flick me behind the ear, or Gibbs-slap me, or use a two-by-four, or otherwise get my attention, because hey, I’m not always the quickest on the up-take. Had another one of those experiences recently.

I think it was a couple of Fridays ago; I walked into Michelle’s office to visit, and plopped down in a chair. She started telling me that since one of our offices will be involved in managing any early-retirement process for our whole Division, they have a list of all those who are or could be eligible. List One is all those who are of sufficient age and years worked that they could retire immediately, but haven’t. List Two is all those who are over 50 and who have at least 25 years in, and who therefore can be offered an immediate early-retirement package. List Three is all those who will move onto List Two in the next three years.

She told me I’m on List Two. At that, the Spirit started pinging me: “You listening to this? You paying attention?”

Wow. I’d been in some discussions about the possibility of early retirements being offered, but I hadn’t really, really considered that I could be eligible. As you know, since mid-2017 I’ve been pondering what “next” will look like, and meeting with financial planners and finding out that, basically, if I can keep my benefits into retirement, I can pretty much do whatever I want from that point. Or, to be more accurate, whatever I’m called to do, without worrying about money and insurance and etc. So there’s something appealing in the idea.

Still, very quickly I went to, “There’s no way I’ll be offered this. They’ll get enough people in List One, or in other positions on List Two, that they won’t offer it to me.” But all I kept hearing was, “You listening to this? You paying attention?”

Obviously, I have no idea what may, or may not, be on offer for early-retirement this year. But there’s times when, wow, wouldn’t it be wonderful?

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT)

All right then, Jesus. You got my attention. Your move.