I hate moving. I always said that I was looking forward to the day when my next employer would arrange to move me. Well, I’m moving, not by my own choice, and yet largely not by my own hands. I guess the Lord wanted me
to go through the process, but it definitely isn’t my idea of fun. So I’m sure you understand just how much I appreciate all the help I have received so far, and the help that seems to be coming along to finish the job.
Why this happened doesn’t really matter, except to say that I had little warning and even less time to figure out where to go or how I would get there. Without meaning to, I have become something of a lone wolf, although perhaps lost dog fits better; so, it has been a delightful surprise to learn how many people care enough about people, and about me specifically, to step in to help. One friend found me a house to share, temporarily, and then arranged for kids from a local Christian school to come to pack and move me into it. Wow!
She is just one of the fine people I already appreciated that have proven to be even more special than I knew. A mother from another Christian school, where I work part time, is making room in their business’s warehouse and shop for me to store what won’t fit in my temporary situation. She spent an hour or more with me yesterday, showing me the space, making plans to introduce me to home school parents as a prospective tutor, and then working to arrange to get the rest of my stuff moved into their building. After she set up with her sister to make business cards to help promote my work, but before she let me leave, she prayed with me; what she couldn’t do directly, she sought from the One who can do anything.
When I first learned I had to leave the house and neighborhood where I’ve lived for nearly 20 years, I was so overwhelmed I couldn’t deal with it. I shoved it into a back corner of my mind, went to school, prepared for a concert with the choirs I direct, worried about my Mom’s pending knee replacement surgery, and tutored my half dozen refugee students. I think I hoped the whole thing would go away, that God would arrange a miraculous rescue. After all, He gave me the house, in the first place; why would He allow me to lose it now?
I’ve slept in my new home for two nights, now, and I have slept better than most of the past month. I was moved in and reading in my room before I ever even met the one guy who wasn’t moving out, one for the summer and one for a mission project. I have had guys stay in my house, nearly a dozen in the past twenty years, one time a family of 4; I even had a band practice in my basement. Now I was in someone else’s place; like so much of this situation, I was receiving, not giving. You’d have thought, after a lifetime of ministry, I’d be content allowing others to provide. I guess the “work hard, take car of yourself, don’t need anyone” spirit is still in there; if it’s not making me rich, successful, and self-sufficient, at least, it’s immobilizing me with guilt and shame.
Yesterday, my neighbor from across the street sadly wished me well. He hadn’t realized I was moving till a dozen kids started carrying my life out the door, some to a trailer for trash, the rest to another trailer for moving. He’s an awfully nice guy and a good neighbor, someone I hate to leave behind. Last evening, I stopped at the place I spend many evenings with my laptop and a cup of coffee. I ordered a salad, and the girl at the counter asked me if I knew Sean, a friend of another employee, whom I must have met and given my spiel about
refugee tutoring. They had misplaced a note from Sean, who apparently has a teaching job he thinks I
should fill, even if it is as an indefinite sub, since he must already know how committed I am to my refugee students. Is this another piece of God’s providence? It’s too soon to tell for sure, but it is intriguing. I also had offers from folks there to help me move, people who don’t really even know me!
My perspective is much better, now, compared to only a week ago. There’s still plenty of work to do, and I will be sorting through things, all summer, as I prepare for more permanent housing. I have that to work out, as well, but it seems I’ll have help with that, too, from a sister of the lady with storage space and so much more to give.
All through this time, I have struggled to pray. I have been torn between wanting rescue and wanting deliverance (Yeah, I know they mean virtually the same thing). On the one hand, I just wanted everything to stay the same. I don’t like change. Who does? Knowing that wasn’t going to happen, I wanted to some nonspecific miracle. To make things more complicated, I didn’t figure I deserved anything (as if I knew absolutely nothing about grace). Others face so much worse, why would God bother to listen to my whining complaint (I am my own worst critic!). If only I had worked harder, made better choices; somehow shouldn’t I have been able to sacrifice to tutor kids who have almost no one else and still take care of myself? Being a well-educated Bible teacher, I recognized all these contradictions; they made it almost impossible to pray at all, for a little while anyway.
Besides all the physical, logistical help, two pastor friends did what good pastors do. Interestingly, one had the wisdom to see all the spiritual confusion and isolation. One of his favorite lines is something like, “Your mind is like a bad neighborhood; wander around in it long enough, and you’re bound to get mugged!” Boy, he had me pegged! The other had the wisdom to say, “Take yourself out of this problem, and deal with it as just a problem to solve.” There was more, but their love, kindness, and wise counsel relieved the sense of impending doom and the crippling assumption that I deserved it.
One of my uncles died, this week, after a long decline. I don’t get to see my dad’s family very much, and I won’t be able to get to the funeral. My brother says he may take Mom to the calling hours, that she can handle that. After a difficult weekend following her surgery, watching her confused and in pain, I’m grateful for her progress and recovery, just another situation I had to give to the Lord. I hope to take some time to write a long letter to my aunt and perhaps stop by for a visit, this summer, assuming gas prices don’t get too high or my income too low.
Then this morning, I read in my friend’s blog that Steven Curtis Chapman’s 5 year old daughter was accidently killed in her own driveway by one of her older brothers. He also wrote of the death of a 30 year old friend and mother and of the challenge of performing two weddings in the midst of his own sadness. A week ago, I would have read that and just felt guilty for whining about my own situation; all along, I kept thinking that Christians in many places are dealing with so much worse. Yet this verse kept running through my thoughts: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future,” from Jeremiah 29:11. It applies to Steven Curtis Chapman as it did to his daughter. It applied to the 30 year old mother, in a remarkable way, and to my friend as he ministers to both the grieving and to the rejoicing. It applies to me, and it applies to you, too.
I don’t know what you might be facing. Some challenges are overwhelming, like mine was for a time. Some are unimaginably difficult, like losing a child or a young wife or even an elderly husband and father, like my uncle. Are there any little, unimportant challenges? No! In every challenge, dilemma, tragedy, conflict, and problem, God still has a plan for each of us, His plans are still in place, and He still plans to give us hope and a future. Indeed, the end of the plan, its destination, is glory and eternal fellowship, but the plan includes this life, in this world, under these circumstances. For most of us, I don’t think it’s quite enough knowing He is here, never leaves us, and cares for us with lovingkindness, as precious and comforting as those truths are. I think we need to know that His plans are real, that His plans are to prosper and not to harm (however we may feel at the moment), and that they reach for a genuine, optimistic, meaningful tomorrow. I know I need to know that, don’t you?
As far as moving, perhaps you see that I’m not just talking about my living arrangements. They are just a piece of the larger panorama, a view of the future into which each of us is moving. In Christ, that future is not an end, any more than my leaving my house of 20 years is an end. For those who have entrusted themselves to a resurrected Christ, our future is endlessly fresh, hopeful, and exciting. Even in the darkest moments, that future remains and goes forward. We may have sadness and regret behind us, but ahead is only a future planned by God. We will muck it up, a little, but He has already seen and taken that into account. We can no more upset His plans than I could defeat a grand master chess player. My only sensible choice is to play a good game, according to the rules, and watch how He arranges for me to win.
This blog is dedicated to Fred, Maxine, Clay, Lindsey, Michelle, Coye, Ender, Mike, Phil, Omar, a bunch of Christian teenagers whose names I don’t know, and undoubtedly a few others, so far, that I have overlooked. You are loved, appreciated, and forever in my heart, and I hope what I have written here suitably honors you.
Whitehead’s book on the First Amendment was his first, one of many that I am enjoying as I sift through my dozens of boxes of books. He offers more than legal opinion; he gives a rather stark indictment of Christians and Christian thought with a historical perspective, alone worth reading. Nothing has improved in 30 years since he first wrote it; if anything, we continue down the same wrongheaded path.