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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2017 in the Rear View Mirror

It’s typical, I think, that as each year closes, we spend time reflecting on the year gone by: what worked, what didn’t, where we grew, where we fell. With that in mind, let me offer a few thoughts on my own 2017. I will completely set aside politics, and instead focus more on what the year meant to me and how I grew. In no particular order:

  • Brought four people I love to an even closer experience of Christ. I sponsored my wife, daughter, godson, and a brother from church for their own Emmaus or Chrysalis walks, and they have each become involved in the community and experienced a deepening commitment as a result. I really celebrate that!
  • Began earnestly praying and listening for God’s guidance about what “next” looks like. In just under seven years I can be retiring with full benefits…then what?
  • Began responding more to God’s call in my life. Applied to team (and will team on E-185!) in Emmaus, and met with a giant in Christ to learn more about getting involved in Kairos prison ministry in 2018.
  • Celebrated my daughter’s start to senior year in high school, with a strong start much better than last year. While she’s struggling now, I remain faithful that God has a story in mind for her, and I put it all in his hands!
  • Celebrated my son’s excellent terms at college…finished fall semester with a 3.94 (*ahem*)! He’s really blossoming–see again, the fact that God has a story in mind for him and all I need to do is get out of his way.
  • Turned fifty, without much fanfare or fuss–and without health concerns, and in fact, lost about 20 pounds this year. (Thanks, sweetie, for the inspiration!)
  • Redid the kids’/guest bathroom and the powder room…looking sharp, on to the kitchen next!
  • Survived an insane year at work, with the administration transition throwing all the usual schedules out the door and requiring a new level of energy. Will be happy if 2018 features a more typical schedule…
  • Began downsizing and simplifying life: admitted to myself (OK, got my ego out of the way) that I’ll never get Uncle Albert’s trains running; also got rid of bags and bags of clothes and household stuff that we just won’t need. Someone else can make use of it!
  • Published my first book, Waiting For Life, in April, and since then have sold literally dozens of copies (!). Never figured anyone would actually read it…thank you!

Oh, sure, if I think about it I can come up with lots of challenges in 2018 ahead: caring for Mom as she fades, applying for Medicaid for her, getting my daughter off to college, adapting to the empty nest, dealing with work, etc., etc… But I’ve heard so many people whinging about how horrible their 2017 was…let me tell you, mine wasn’t half bad, and certainly a lot better then 2016!

Was 2017 perfect? Aw heck no. But there is beauty in the promise:

No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39)

Farewell 2017…and Happy New Year 2018!

Twice In One Day

Tuesday morning I woke up from a dream. I don’t usually remember my dreams: maybe you do, but come the morning I tend to be dimly aware that maybe I was dreaming something, and can never remember the details. Tuesday was different.

In my dream, I was talking with a woman, one of our family’s financial planners. We were talking about plans for the future, most of which I don’t remember now. But where the video recorder in my brain really started was when she started advising me–no, urging me, passionately–that I really need to decide what it is that I’m really supposed to be doing next. I can’t remember her exact words, but it was along the lines of, You need to be doing something that you really, really want to do. And in my dream, what came to mind was Matthew 28:19, the Great Commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all the nations.” That’s the last thing I remember before waking up.

Flash forward about twelve hours: we had finished our office holiday party, and I was talking with our administrative officer in his office about his new Mustang on order, and how good it was that he hadn’t put it off but that he had followed his dream of getting a gorgeous new car. That’s when he said almost the exact same things to me: Don’t wait, life’s too short, if there’s something you really want to do, you should just go for it.

Talk about being hit upside the head with a two-by-four!2x4

Journaling

This is a post partly about journaling, and partly about practicing listening to God.

For my birthday recently, a brother in Christ gave me a lovely leather-bound journal with one of his favorite scriptures embossed on the cover: I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13). That’s the straw that broke this camel’s back, and I’ll be starting on a course of journaling now.

This has to be at least the third time in recent weeks that the topic of journaling has come up in an encouraging way: in other conversations, in podcasts I listen to, I’ve been getting The Nudge that perhaps this is something I ought to do. And so when Tim presented me with this book, well…call me simple, but I finally took the hint and listened to what God was saying.

To do journaling will be a different experience for me. I’ve kept a “journal” before, but it was more of a diary–more of a recounting of the day and what happened, and less a reflection time. This kind of journaling would be different, more of a spiritual exploration than describing my days, and so I would need to approach it differently. As I head into it, I need to set out some of my ground rules (and I’d welcome others that you might have from your own experiences, dear reader!), often around what would be different:

  • I give myself permission to be incomplete, rough, unfinished. The writer in me–nay, the perfectionist in me–thinks, ponders, casts and recasts, until the final words that come out are just so. But this is to be an unpolished set of reflections, not something ready to turn into a blog post or an essay. It can be the partial, not the whole. And that’s OK.
  • I give myself permission to not write. When I was keeping my other journal I would feel guilty if I hadn’t summarized each day, regardless of whether I felt like it. This time, I need to let God move me. He might do so every day, every other day, or not for awhile, or several times in a day. And that’s OK.
  • I give myself permission to be vulnerable. That one’s harder. I didn’t tend to be very expressive in my diaries, and I don’t think that same style will work here. And that’s OK.

What other things do I need to bear in mind when I start journaling?

Getting Fearless!

This past weekend was amazing, as I (finally!) got to welcome my bride into the Emmaus community!

I’ve previously written about my own walk, nearly 18 months ago, and the joy of sponsoring others like my daughter and another brother in Christ. But with all due respect to them both, this was far more meaningful because it was Mary.

Mary has been coming to a deeper connection with Christ over the past year, and it’s been tremendous to watch. She had been really reticent about Emmaus, and was finally persuaded to go…but even up to the last, she still was cautious.

E182-Logo

I knew it had great potential to be a God-driven weekend when I woke up Thursday morning, when I was to take her to the mountain 10 hours later: my Bible app’s scripture of the day was the exact same scripture that my own Emmaus weekend was based on:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Right, right…you got this, Lord! I had a good feeling when at the social hour beforehand, Mary and her roommate started chatting immediately and looked like they were hitting it off. All weekend long, I kept them in prayer, that they would seek his will and follow his path.

But by Sunday? Wow. The “R,” Glenda, said, “These are not the same women you brought up here Thursday night,” and she was right. I have a glimpse of what the Transfiguration must have been like, because Mary’s face shone in a way I haven’t seen before. (And wearing a flower in her hair? Talk about a change!) She really, really had a chance to immerse in God’s love and it showed. She met new friends, and heard a lot that she’s still processing. But already I can see, this was all God’s work, and I know from personal experience, the best news is, it’s only just begun.

Thank you, dear Lord, for your grace. It moves in all of us, and sometimes, it moves with a mighty rush that leaves us blown away. I am so grateful for being able to share in this experience with Mary now, and for the wonderful worlds of possibilities it opens for us together. May we always walk in your steps, hearing that voice calling “Follow me.”

One Tumultuous July

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. (Romans 8:35-37)

Can I just share a little of what my July was like? In the space of the previous month, here’s what I’ve faced (in no particular order):

  • My mother’s sudden hospitalization for a kidney infection, with the attendant disruption to our everyday lives of being at the hospital frequently (she’s better now, thanks be);
  • The unexpected death of a coworker, who in the space of a weekend had an accident around the home and lapsed into a coma from which she could not recover;
  • A longstanding friend’s mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, same as my mom; and if that wasn’t enough,
  • Her husband was taken to the ER with a mild heart attack;
  • The utterly unexpected firing of a longtime friend in very, very murky circumstances that leave me worried for what comes next;
  • My boss being taken ill with serious abdominal illness, hospitalized, and only gradually returning to work during a very hectic time at the office that I had to cover (on top of the above list); and
  • Another coworker’s father in law needing emergency surgery for an aortic aneurysm (they caught it in time)

And that’s just within the span of July, all happening to people around me who are part of my love and my life–and who therefore affect me with all of these goings-on. It’s overwhelming! This is a pretty scary list!

hairoutAt times like these, we can hear some pretty horrible theology from people. Well-meaning people, to be sure, but still, what they tell us can ruin our understanding of God if we let it happen. Things like, “It was God’s will.” (God does not will us disease! Disease is an effect of the brokenness we brought into the world from our expulsion from Eden.) Or “God never gives you more than you can handle.” (No! If anything, the Bible tells us, it’s more like there is nothing we can’t handle WHEN WE GIVE IT OVER TO GOD, not when we try to take it all on ourselves!)

And yet through this month of madness, I haven’t crumbled, I haven’t curled up into a ball in the corner. I have endured, and I am absolutely, utterly, completely convinced it’s only my faith in the power of Jesus Christ that has kept me together. I have been strengthened, indeed I have become “more than conquerors” by being able to turn to Christ, by placing myself and each of these situations in his hands, and by trusting in him to help me through. There are certainly days this month when it most certainly did not feel like “overwhelming victory,” yet here I am: assaulted, assailed, buffeted, but not breaking in the force of the storm. For that, I can only give everlasting thanks to Christ.

Come on, August, do your worst. I’ve got backup.

Sudden Hard Turns

She got the call today, one out of the gray,
And when the smoke cleared, it took her breath away.
She said she didn’t believe
It could happen to me.
I guess we’re all one phone call from our knees
We’re gonna get there soon.

–Mat Kearney, “Closer to Love”

I got the call myself this past Wednesday morning: my mom has been taken to hospital. I knew she hadn’t been feeling herself the day before, but I didn’t expect it was this bad. Kidney infection. I rushed over to the ER feeling anxious, more anxious than I had expected I would. She was asleep, and really groggy–not waking up. I was alarmed but the staff reassured me she was sleeping well, and needed rest more than anything.

Over the last few days we’ve learned that the infection had seeped into the bloodstream (boo) but was a bug that was very responsive to basic antibiotics (yay), so it should be on the easier side to treat. She’s still in hospital as I write on Sunday afternoon, four days later, and may or may not be released tomorrow.

But I’ve also come to appreciate how fragile my mom really is now, at 75 and after three decades with Parkinson’s Disease. Her mental acuity is duller, her speech is quieter, it’s harder for her to put into words what she’s thinking. There’s no way she could manage her own care now, and the move into a nursing home, which I’d kinda didn’t want to do last year, turns out to have been a good thing.

At present, the kidney function numbers and the blood test numbers are all moving in the right direction. This doesn’t appear to be more serious. But, of course, when it’s your mom, and it’s a hospital, you start to think about such things. Fortunately, I can say (at least today) that unlike my dad, there isn’t anything I haven’t said to her yet that I need to. And so in that regard, the idea of perhaps having to do this drill over something more serious someday doesn’t leave me with the feeling that I have unfinished business. Having the call come that my mom is in the hospital was a sudden hard turn that threw me on Wednesday. But it wasn’t as hard a turn as it could have been. For that I’m grateful.