Guest Post by Jamie Janosz
If you’ve visited here in the past couple of weeks, you know that we’re in the midst of a series on the subject of waiting. I started the conversation here with a little story about our Amelia, wreaking glorious havoc in the waiting room. And since then, we’ve been blessed to hear from others who have spent time in that place. They found the waiting hard. But they have also found that fire to be refining.
Today my colleague and good friend Jamie Janosz will share some of her story and some of her thoughts on the subject at hand. As she’ll tell you, she’s waiting right now. But she’ll also tell us about three key ways in which she has learned to wait well.
You can read more from Jamie on her blog.
Also check out her deeply inspiring, recently released first book, When Others Shuddered: Eight Women Who Refused to Give Up.
Lately, it feels like my life has been all about waiting.
Our house has been up for sale for 90-plus days. We are waiting, hoping, praying for a buyer.
About five years ago, we started to talk about moving from Indiana to Florida. The move could bring us closer to my husband’s brother and to my mom and her husband who had recently adopted the “snowbird” lifestyle. The decision made practical sense in many ways.
Living near family would be helpful for us since my husband’s mom, who lives with us, is 86. While she is in good mental and physical health, we have been more worried about leaving her alone when we travel.
Plus, the fact that the weather in Chicago has been earning polar nicknames cemented our decision. How wonderful would it be to not have to wear a winter coat that looks like a sleeping bag? Or, to throw out our snow shovels and thermal gloves? Or, to go on outside walks all summer long.
So we made plans.
I prayed every morning as I drove to work. “Please God, if this is the right thing, make it happen. Please let me get the right job. Please let the move transition smoothly and care for all the details in a way that YOU think it should happen.”
For a while things moved smoothly ahead. While I did not get the jobs I applied to, I found that my current employer would let me work remotely in a new position. We sold my husband’s classic car, a boat, and a camper. We fixed up the house, downsized and put it on the market. We were steadily moving forward.
And then, everything seemed to stop. No sale. No offers.
My reaction? Discouragement. Frustration. Anxiety. It made us ask: Was this the right decision? Should we be moving? What if God was saying no?
So – today – I sit in that hard place of wait and see. It is like being in the waiting room at the doctor’s office where you wait and read really bad, outdated, wrinkled magazines on golfing and pregnancy, even though you don’t golf and aren’t pregnant.
I hate this place.
Most of the time I want to roll around kicking my feet in a two-year-old level tantrum. I want what I want, and I want it now. But the grown up me settles for sinking into a deep-level funk.
What should we do during times of waiting? How can we endure those moments without falling into a deep pit of despair? Even though I am by nature an optimist, I still find these times of prolonged dreams overwhelming. And, while I am not an expert, this is what I have found helpful:
Pray. I have been using my morning commute times to vent and pray and pour out my frustration to God, out loud. If you read the Psalms, you will find that they are actually filled with similar vents by David and others. Many begin with “How long Lord must I…?” Others ask: “Why do the righteous suffer?” God is willing to hear our honest cries. He wants to hear your pain, your sorrow, your frustration, your anger. And, I’ve found that talking to God helps. I give it all to him – my hopes, my fears, my worries. Let Him know where you are at. Let Him know that you are giving Him control. Ask Him for help in waiting.
Sing. Now I’m not a great singer – in junior high I took voice lessons to overcome my tendency to sing monotone. So, in kindness to others, I mainly sing alone in the shower or the car. But I love to sing hymns – the old ones that ground my soul and swell up my heart. I sing about trust and hope and joy. I turn off the news and allow my heart’s focus to shift.Here’s one that has been running through my heart and mind in the last months: “Simply trusting every day, trusting through the stormy way. Even when my faith is small, trusting Jesus, that is all.” Singing pushes me past my mental inward concentration and lifts my heart toward God. If I say it – even when I don’t actually believe it – I find myself headed toward a more trusting and positive attitude.
Live. I have to remember to keep living during the waiting times. I am tempted to only focus on what I am waiting for and forget to enjoy the place I am in. While my future seems uncertain, I need to keep making plans, keep putting dates on my calendar, keep doing things. It does me absolutely no good to stop everything and sit and stare. I hold all of my plans loosely, but I make them. This year, we expected to move by August. Because of that, I was hesitant to plan a summer vacation. Week after week, we worked and kept the house clean. Finally, in August, I said – you know what – we need a break. We NEED a vacation. So we went to Door County, Wisconsin, went hiking, picnicked by the lake, ate cherry pie. Now, in late September, I am so thankful we did. So keep living during the waiting. Don’t stop planning and doing in those hard long hours.
It is funny. When I am in the midst of waiting, it seems interminable, boring, and exhausting. But, in retrospect, the memory of those waiting times is not the same. I remember one particular time when we were trying to fly to San Diego, California.
I had to attend a work conference, but (since we were headed to such a gorgeous location), I decided to purchase tickets for my husband and daughter. We were excited and ready to go. Packed, headed to the airport, and found lines that stretched around filling the entire terminal. Hundred and hundreds of disgruntled customers at the American Airlines terminal. All of their flights – cancelled – due to an inspection problem.
No one would be flying anywhere.
The wait time was comical, except no one was laughing. Flight personnel came by to ask if we wanted orange juice – which we definitely did NOT want since we couldn’t leave the line to go use the restroom. We waited for three and a half hours and finally reached the front counter only to learn what we already knew. No flights. Cancelled.
I was frustrated and exhausted. They offered us a meal voucher. Finally, we were flown to Los Angeles and (after waiting in more lines) were given a hotel with a promise to fly again to San Diego the next day. I would miss part of my conference, but at least we would get there.
The day had been characterized by waiting: hours of waiting in multiple lines, waiting for news, waiting for our hotel room, waiting for cabs.
The funny thing is –I have many good memories of that trip.
We still tell stories of that adventure. In Los Angeles, late that night, we ate dinner in the hotel lobby and found a jazz group playing. We met a man nick-named the “Jazz Cat” who told us about his love for music and the scene in L.A. We have snapshots of our hotel room that night. We bought a plastic Hollywood Oscar statue in the hotel gift shop – and my husband – his head in a towel turban – was play-acting “accepting” the award. We were slap happy and silly. But, we had fun.
The next morning, Starbucks in hand, we boarded a mini-plane to San Diego.
And, all of that happened DURING the waiting.
Frustrating? Definitely. Fun? Actually….yes.
The waiting is part of the journey. It is a hard part, but it can also be memorable.
We all wait at different times in our lives. It is the “simply trusting” part that is both hard and important. God is in control. He sees further than we do. We need to walk in His shadow knowing that He has the end in sight, even when we don’t.
We need to pray, sing, and live . . . even in the waiting.
Guest Post by Cara George
Back in June I wrote a post about a quick trip our family took to Texas. For a wedding. The wedding of Cara and Ryan.
I knew Cara first as a student. Then as the president of a drama team that I advise. Then as a mentee as Peter and I performed their premarital counseling. And now as a good friend.
Over the years I have watched Cara wait. I have sat with her when the waiting was hard. And I have seen her grow. Today I’m going to let her share a few of the lessons she’s learned along the way.
I am not a patient person. In fact, I don’t like waiting for anything. I run for the bus almost every day and get a sweet triumphant feeling when I make it, knowing that I didn’t waste any of my time waiting at the bus stop. I don’t like waiting for things- or people. In the five to ten minutes that I wait for my friend at a coffee shop or for my husband to meet me after work I am vulnerable. I almost instantly open my mind up to panic and anxiety and self-loathing. The enemy whispers lies. They forgot about you, you’re all alone, they didn’t want to come, you are no fun to be around anyways, or maybe they got in a horrible car crash.
And I believe lies stronger and hear them louder with each heartbeat- waiting. But when this happens there is no triumph in it. I have had to wait. I couldn’t control the situation so that waiting was avoided. I had to wait. By the time the person has arrived, my heart aches and I am weary. In those five minutes I did not choose to wait, but I have chosen in the waiting to reject joy.
And I have waited for things large as well. Not five minutes, but months and years. In high school I waited for my father to find a job. I longed for stability and a home no longer hostile. I waited for relationships- friends and love. I prayed for them earnestly. I waited for my depression to end and I waited for my soul to feel the light of Christ in my dark night. And then came the hardest waiting. I fell in love. Crazy, wonderful, head over heels love. And he loved me back. And he wanted to marry me. And then he wasn’t ready. And then he knew for sure. And then he didn’t… Back and forth and my emotions followed. My heart was sea sick from the waves of emotion.
I was bleeding red with hurt, and then I burned white with anger. An active anger that would spew into eruptions aimed at the ones I loved. I couldn’t control the situation, so I threw a temper tantrum. I held my anger tightly and I screamed pride and kicked hate and fell to the floor in a broken mess. I couldn’t stop the fit. If God was watching, he must see me flailing and see how important this is to me. Eventually he’d give me what I want. End my waiting. Give me my timing. I wasn’t engaged to be married, and I was not going to be happy or okay until I was. The lies came strong, and I believed them so long and hard they became my truth.
I am married to that man now. The healing was painful and slow. Like an archaeological dig, at times it seemed that we would dig up more hurts than before as we laid our bare bones before the Lord and one another. Through forgiveness, the love of Christ conquered both of our fears. Never in my life was anything so worth waiting for. He is my best friend and my greatest ally in life. I do not regret how things happened or the lessons that I learned. But I did not choose to wait well. I chose lies instead of truth. I chose anger instead of joy.
So what do I do in the waiting? How do I respond? How do I learn from the waiting of the past and prepare my heart for the waiting of now and the waiting to come?
I have learned that waiting poorly for the thing that you want disregards all the joy that can be had in the waiting. It can even decrease the joy when the thing is received.
To me, the time in between-the waiting- seems like nothing. A void until I have reached the thing I am waiting for. But there must be value in that time. I must place value in that time. If I do not, I am taking the value out of my life. So much is lived in the in between.
I feel as if I am always waiting for something. I am waiting now. Anxiety and depression have been threatening me and I have sunk into them before. I am waiting for this time to pass, but I am more waiting on myself. Waiting to see if I will choose joy in this season. Today. Tomorrow. Choose joy. The word joy in Greek is chara- my name. My name means joy. Can I respond to joy as I do to my name? With excitement at hearing it and thrill at seeing it? Because, if I am going to sink lower into anything right now I would like to sink deeper into joy.
Joy, like any other discipline, takes time. It is the daily choice to see and to hear my name. It is not the end goal. It is the everyday aim that makes a full life. The beauty of joy is that it is not based on our circumstances. Peter tells us in 1 Peter 4:12-13, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share in Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” Joy is the everyday acceptance of Christ’s presence in the waiting and in the trial.
Joy is the thing that I desire that I do not have to wait for. In and through Christ, I can claim an “inexpressible and glorious joy” right now (1 Peter 1:8).
So that is how I would like to respond to the waiting. Joy in the waiting and choosing to rejoice in Christ through the trials. For now, I am still learning and healing. The process is slower and harder than I would like, but I know that my soul is clinging more to Christ than before. I know that my heart has been opening to see his grace, feel his presence, and hear my name.
Guest Post by Caitlin Burdick
Last week I started a conversation here around the topic of “waiting.” And I shared a little story about my three-year-old to get the ball rolling. Since then, I’ve heard from many of you–mostly via e-mail and facebook–who have spent time in the proverbial waiting room. And some who are waiting still. I look forward to hearing more. Keep the comments coming!
(Side note: If you have a short comment, the best place to make it is here on the blog so others who are interested in this topic can benefit. However, I did hear that a couple of people were having trouble commenting on the blog. You do need to make sure that you are viewing the individual post and not the “This Odd House” home page. To get to the individual post, click on the title of the post and scroll all the way to the bottom to comment. If that doesn’t solve the problem, do let me know.)
Today I want to share a story that I received from Caitlin Burdick. Caitlin’s husband Chris was a student in one of my writing classes a few years ago. And since then we’ve connected via this blog and e-mail. Caitlin’s story is about waiting. And it’s also about loss. Often, it seems, these two waltz into our lives hand-in-hand.
Here is Caitlin’s story in her own words.
I emailed you a few months ago about having a hard time dealing with God asking me to wait on children.
Since then, I’ve seen Death’s doorstep and have survived to say that God is good. He has spared my life and I have no choice but to give Him glory.
I can’t recall the last email exactly, but I do know that it was in the agony of one of the darkest seasons I’ve had to date. God had put the possibility in front of me that He may ask me to be childless.
Since then, God convicted my husband about his view of birth control and we decided to go off it just to see what God’s plan was for us. Then I hurt my back, herniating it to the point of daily excruciating pain, tingling and numbness. Weeks of physical therapy only resulted in my condition worsening. The “S” word was uttered many times and before I knew it, I was scheduling my first surgery.
The day of the surgery came and my husband and I went through all the pre-operative motions. We were waiting in the pre-op room, answering various questions from various nurses. People who came into the waiting room after me went into surgery before me. I started to think, to wonder, “Is something wrong?
Then we were approached by a nurse. She had something in her hand. “When was your last period, Mrs. Burdick?” It’d been a question I had to answer several times that day. But I saw what was in her hand. 3 pregnancy tests. All positive. I couldn’t hear or think from then on. My mind was blank and in awe.
We cancelled everything that day. Instead, I went to get blood drawn and tried to figure out how to tell family. In exhausted, excited resignation, we called our family members. We didn’t want to tell anyone until things were certain, real. But canceling the surgery would warrant many questions from family and friends. We couldn’t ignore them.
Two weeks later, we had an ultrasound. I’d been battling debilitating morning sickness and was flat-out exhausted. I had taken the month off work to recover from my back surgery, so I had the time to rest and let my baby grow. But the ultrasound showed nothing, an empty womb. No heartbeat, no fetal pole, nothing.
My heart shattered. Words like “ectopic” and “miscarriage” were uttered. I was frozen.
I went down to the lab and got more blood drawn. I was still pregnant. We went for a high resolution ultrasound that next week. I had blogged and begged my family and friends to pray for Baby B. The high resolution ultrasound popped up on the screen. Again, my womb was empty. The ultrasound tech kept searching. I waited, holding my breath, hoping to see a heartbeat, anywhere.
I had fallen in love with my baby. I loved the feeling of being a mother. I loved planning, dreaming, hoping. I loved.
The tech left the room and came back with another doctor. He looked, he searched. I waited.
Then, there it was. A bright red “ring of fire” on the screen showing blood flow. But it was in the wrong place. Instead of being in my womb, my baby had decided to make its home in my fallopian tube. I had an ectopic pregnancy.
The doctor and tech left the room after explaining what we needed to do. My husband and I sobbed. I held my stomach, rocking back and forth, gasping, “My baby! My baby!” We left the room to go sit in an office with a phone so I could get the play-by-play from my OBGYN. In that time, my husband put his hands on my belly and raised his voice to God, begging, pleading, sobbing, asking God to welcome our dearly beloved baby into His presence. He pulled up various Scriptures on his phone, reading Romans 8 about the Future Glory we have in store for us. In that moment, our baby was named Glory. I believed from the moment I learned about her that she was a girl. The very gender I feared and didn’t want. The very gender I grew to love and cherish beyond life itself.
We left the office after talking to my OBGYN and ventured down to the ER where we waited 8 hours for me to get a shot that would turn the “clump of cells” into scar tissue and end the pregnancy. If I didn’t do this, I would die.
I got the shot and was told what to look for in the rare case it didn’t work. They emphasized and re-emphasized the fact that it would be very rare. We went home and grieved. People sent flowers. Our church set up a 2-week meal train. My parents came to grieve with us.
We waited. I went in for more blood draws to make sure my levels were going down. We waited.
Six nights after I received the shot, I climbed into bed and felt a gas-like pain grow in my belly. The pain gradually grew. It persisted despite Gas-X and antacids. I tried going to the bathroom and was unable to stand straight. I almost passed out and was immediately drenched in mammoth beads of sweat. I needed to vomit but couldn’t.
My husband rushed me to the ER. In less than 30 minutes, I was being wheeled into the OR. My fallopian tube had burst. Glory resisted the shot and continued to grow. She wanted to leave on her own terms. I had lost 1.5 liters of blood and was in dire shape. I lost my left tube, lots of blood and my baby. She was 9 weeks gestation. I would have given birth to her this coming Spring, around the same time of her Papa and Daddy’s birthdays.
I was in the hospital for 4 days. I was bed-ridden at home for a week after that. I have a 12-inch long scar that was sealed with staples. Almost a month after the surgery, I am almost back to normal. Almost. My heart will forever feel a little whole, forever longing for Heaven, to see my Glory Baby and Jesus, the first face she ever saw.
It would make sense if I was stark-raving mad. It would make sense if I didn’t want anything to do with God. But that hasn’t been the case.
Our prayer from the moment we found out we were pregnant was that no matter what would transpire in the pregnancy, that God would be given the glory. And not only did he get Glory, but I haven’t been able to stop giving Him praise. I got to love Glory for 3 weeks. I got to be her mother. I got to see my beloved husband become a father. He would snuggle up to my belly and wave at it saying, “Hi, Baby!” I got to lay on the couch, caressing my belly, talking to Glory about how much Daddy and Mommy loved her and how much I wanted her to chase after the beautiful things in life. I was put into the care of many doctors who helped me know what was happening, why it was happening, and what to look out for.
And simply, God spared my life. I can be angry that He took Glory, but if He didn’t, I would have gone to bed that night and would not have woken up that morning. My husband would have woken up to find me cold, motionless, dead. If He didn’t take Glory, my husband would have been a widower at the age of 24. That is more than I could take, imagine, fathom. My stomach wrenches when I contemplate it all.
Despite all of this, my doctors promise that my fertility won’t be hindered. I can still get my back fixed. By the end of October, I should be 100% healthy.
So, waiting is the name of the game these past few weeks, months. I haven’t enjoyed it all, but I am thankful for every single moment. Those moments of waiting have caused me to cherish life, to cherish my husband more deeply, to cherish the God who saved me. What more could I ask?
This past month things have been quiet here at This Odd House while I’ve been readjusting to the teaching life after a luxurious sabbatical year. It didn’t necessarily feel luxurious at the time. But now that I am back in the thick of academic life, I have an even greater appreciation for that gift of space. For that extra room to write.
This past month I’ve also been trying to figure out a new and sustainable way to blog. A way that makes sense in my real-world, non-sabbatical life. It’s a challenge, for sure. As many of you well know. To maintain some measure of health—body, mind, and soul. To give yourself fully at home and at work. And also to write.
But I’m game, and here’s my plan…
Moving forward I want to offer several posts around a theme. Some from me. Some from others. Some from you.
And…the first topic I want to discuss…cue drum roll, please…is “Waiting.”
Waiting has been a theme in my life. And I know I’m not alone. It’s the subject of the chapter I’m currently writing for the This Odd House manuscript. It’s something God has asked (forced?) me to do—time and time again. It’s something I’ve resisted, resented, and come to appreciate. It’s also something that Scripture addresses repeatedly. So there’s plenty to talk about.
So…maybe you find yourself in some sort of waiting room right now. Or maybe you’ve spent your fair share of time there. Maybe you have a story about waiting, some reflections on that waiting place, some lessons learned, or a Bible passage that has spoken to you in the midst of a wait. If so, please get in touch. Comment. E-mail. Send me a potential guest post. Let’s learn what we can about the waiting room. Let’s encourage those who might feel stuck there right now. Let’s talk.
To get us started, here’s just a little story about an otherwise-frustrating day when my 3-year-old, Miss Personality-Plus, showed me what it might look like when we wait well.
Back in June I had a stubborn infection in my right eye. After trying for too long to take care of it with Visine, I finally made an appointment with our GP. Peter and Daryl were at camp that week. So poor, nap-less Amelia had to come with me.
We arrived right on time that afternoon, checked in at the desk, then settled in—side-by-side on a sofa—to wait. We flipped through magazines. Scrolled through pictures on my phone. Sang nursery rhymes as silently as we could.
Periodically Amelia peered up at me and said, “Momma, let me see the blood.” And I would look to the far right, making the deep red inner corner of my eye fully visible to her. And she would pat my check and coo with exaggerated empathy, “Awwww, poor Momma. I’ll help you feel better, okay?”
By the time the nurse called my name, Amelia had finished with the sitting and the sympathizing. And she was running around the waiting room. Giggling and screeching. I knew she was overly tired. And that any attempt to contain her would certainly elicit a violent protest. The waiting room was nearly empty. And I was already fighting a headache. So I chose to let her run.
In the examination room, the nurse took my vitals while Amelia—true to form—explored every inch of the space. I kept one eye on her and one on the nurse as I explained my symptoms and she typed them up. Then the nurse rose and informed us that, unfortunately, the doctor was running behind that day. He would be with us as soon as he could. But we would have to wait.
She closed the door behind her. And I turned to see Amelia’s feet sticking out of a bottom cupboard. She was looking for picture books. Like her pediatrician has. But this cupboard contained only medical supplies. And we were going to have to improvise. I pulled a half-eaten box of raisins from my purse and doled them out, one at a time, while we entertained ourselves with a cholesterol brochure, hunting for letters and making up stories about the people in the pictures.
Then—finally—the GP breezed through the door.
He hurriedly examined my eye, recommended more Visine, and wrote me a referral to an eye doctor. (Bless the HMO.) “Unfortunately,” he said, “it might be weeks before you can get in.”
With that in mind, I called the eye doctor immediately from the parking lot. And I was more than a little surprised when the receptionist asked, “Can you come right now?”
I glanced in the rearview mirror at my sore, bloody eye. And at my three-year-old with her own heavy eyelids. I heard Amelia whine, “Can we go home now?” And I said to the receptionist, “Sure. I’ll be right there.”
I raced across town. But by the time I pulled into the eye doctor’s parking lot, Amelia was sound asleep. As I unbuckled her and pulled her from her seat, I braced myself for a blood-curdling scream. Thankfully, none came. She was too tired to care.
In the waiting room, she sat next to me in a stupor while I filled out several forms. By the time the technician called us in, though, she was coming to. And while he examined my eyes, Amelia again examined the entire room. Opened cupboard doors. Climbed on chairs. Pulled tissues out of the box. Tried to turn the water on. While my eyes were otherwise occupied, she took full advantage.
When the exam was finished, we tidied up her tissue mess. Then the technician invited us to follow him down the hall. To yet another waiting room.
I wanted to protest. “My child hasn’t had a nap.” But really, I was the crabby one.
We tucked ourselves into a couple of corner chairs. Amelia and me. And I glanced around the room.
This waiting room was full. People of all ages lined the walls. Mostly looking miserable. With their sore and bandaged eyes and their interminably long waits.
But Amelia must have seen something else. Within moments she was on her feet. She introduced herself to the grandparents on our left. “I’m Mia,” she said. “What’s your name?” And when the grandmother said her name was Dory, Amelia looked back at me with wide-eyed wonder and exclaimed, “She knows Nemo!” And several people in that little waiting room couldn’t help but smile.
Then Amelia told Dory about Goo Goo Gaga, her imaginary friend. About how he really needed a nap today. But he couldn’t get home. “Poor Goo Goo Gaga,” Amelia said. And Dory agreed.
And then, perhaps because she realized that the rest of her audience needed something more from her–or perhaps because she just could no longer contain her enthusiasm, she thrust her arms up and out. She kicked her feet. Twisted her body. Spun around in circles. And said—loud enough for all of us to hear—“Look, everyone, I can dance!”
I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the waiting room of life. Waiting for the next event. Waiting for an end to a particular pain. Waiting for clarity. For answers to prayer. In fact, I suppose I’m waiting again right now.
I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t always waited well. I’ve sat, grumpy, against the wall. With sore and blinded eyes. I’ve been angry at times. Impatient. Sad. Scared. I’ve let the wait consume me. I’ve tried frantically to hurry the outcome. And in certain moments I’ve even felt hope slip away.
But I’ve also learned. That there’s much more going on in the waiting room than I realize. (We’ll unpack that truth in the weeks ahead.)
And I’ve learned that I want to wait more like Amelia did. I want to see and seize the opportunities that only the waiting room holds. While I wait, I want to sing and to sympathize. To run and to giggle and to explore every inch of the place. I want to reach out and connect with people. Others who are waiting perhaps. And I want to make them smile. I want to share our stories. And our concerns. And, of course—as awkward as I might be—I still want to try to dance.
Here’s what happened at our house last week…
Daryl started first grade.
Amelia started the 3-year-old program at the same school.
Peter started back to work with faculty meetings.
And so did I. (The blurriness is absolutely apropos.)
Thankfully, Grandma came from England last Wednesday and is helping us through the transition. With her extra hands, a bit of coffee, and a lot of grace, we made it through week one. And I’m praying hard that this week we can start to settle into our new fall routine. Classes started for me this morning, and so far so good.
A week ago last Thursday, as I was anticipating all of this change and fighting back growing feelings of fear, I had a voicemail message from our Dean. In the message, he said that he wanted to talk to me about Faculty Institute—two days of meetings that are intended to help us get our heads in the game. I listened to the message late in the afternoon. When it was too late to call him back. But my immediate thought was that he wanted me to give a little report on my sabbatical year to the rest of the faculty. I told Peter about the Dean’s message, and he had the same thought. So my mind began to whir about what I might share and I panicked and I said to Peter, “I don’t want to talk about it.”
Not because my sabbatical was bad. Not at all. It was a wonderful year. With many blessings and opportunities for growth.
But I was reluctant to report because my mind immediately went to all of the things that I did not accomplish. Unlike many of my distinguished colleagues who go on sabbatical, I didn’t translate a book of the Bible. I didn’t compile a hymnal. Or write a commentary. I didn’t defend a dissertation for a PhD. I didn’t even quite finish the This Odd House manuscript.
As Thursday evening wore on, though, I tried to pull myself together. I tried to focus on all of the things I did accomplish. I even jotted down some notes…I did get a lot of writing done. I did launch a blog. I did have several speaking engagements. I did secure a literary agent, who helped me get my proposal in front of publishers. A number of them even responded with interest. I did start a writers’ group. I did re-organize my linen closet. I did learn all of the lyrics to the Frozen soundtrack. And I did potty train Amelia—albeit with moderate success…
Then, on Friday morning, I got ahold of the Dean. And he told me what he actually wanted me to do at Faculty Institute. Give a devotion. To which I agreed. And I breathed a momentary sigh of relief. But then my mind started spinning again—what could I share with that august body of Bible scholars? “Who am I?”
Then, quite quickly, I knew.
For the past couple of weeks, I have been spending time once again in the book of Exodus. Chapters 3 & 4. The Call of Moses. If you happened to read my last post—Daryl’s story—you know this already.
The Call of Moses is a story many of us have known since childhood. Daryl could tell you quite a bit about the narrative. In fact, last week I asked him to recount what he could about the story. And he was able to tell me that God spoke to Moses from the burning bush. That God asked Moses to go to Egypt and rescue His people. That Moses didn’t want to go, but he went anyway. That Pharaoh kept changing his mind once Moses got there. That God’s people had an “Ocean Problem.” And that God parted the water so His people could pass through. I was duly impressed.
(I didn’t bother to ask Amelia about the story. Though perhaps I should have for comic effect. Last Sunday when I picked her up after church, she proudly showed me her picture of a big fish and told me that she learned about “Jesus and the dolphin.” We have some work to do….)
Anyhow. This is what I shared with our faculty on Wednesday morning. These are the simple—but transformational—truths I wanted to underline on the pages of their hearts–and my own–as we start a new school year together. I pray they encourage you as well.
The Call of Moses starts, of course, with the burning bush. Moses is tending his father-in-law’s flock. And he leads the sheep to the far side of the dessert. The text doesn’t tell us exactly why. But he ends up—providentially—on the mountain of God.
He is walking along, minding his own business, tending the sheep, when he notices a strange phenomenon on the horizon. A bush. Full of flames of fire. But not consumed. It is the angel of the Lord. Moses doesn’t know that yet. But he’s curious. So he goes over to have a closer look.
God sees that He has Moses’ attention. And He calls to him. “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses says, “Here I am.”
And God says, “Don’t come any closer. Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then God hands Moses his calling card. “I am the God of your father. The God of Abraham. The God of Isaac. And the God of Jacob.”
And at this Moses hides his face, because he is afraid to look at God.
But then in verses 7-10 the Lord shares his heart. He reveals to Moses His motivation for this meeting. “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt,” God says. “I have heard them crying out and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them…So now go. I am sending you.”
Scripture doesn’t give us a visual description of Moses at that point, but I imagine his eyes bugging out of his head and his jaw hitting the ground. Because for the next 29 verses, we hear his repeated protests. The infamous excuses of Moses. Four times he tells God why this is not a good plan. Four times he says to God, “But I….”
But I’m not worthy. Who am I?
But I’m not credible. What should I say to them?
But I’m not believable. What if they don’t listen to me?
But I’m not eloquent. I am slow of speech.
And then he finishes with his final pathetic plea—“Pleeeeeeease, send someone else.”
So many times. “But I…”
Then, of course, we have God’s response. After each one of Moses’ excuses, God patiently replies—until 4:14 when He understandably gets a little peeved.
He doesn’t tell Moses, though, what I am often tempted to tell my kids and my students when they doubt themselves. He doesn’t say, “No, Moses, you can do it! You can do anything you set your mind to. Don’t underestimate yourself. The sky’s the limit for you. You’re special. You’re gifted. Go, Moses!”
No. Of course not. Instead. Each time God responds by completely reorienting Moses. Turning him right around. Each time Moses says, “But I…” God says, “Behold I…”
I will be with you.
I AM WHO I AM.
I will help you speak.
God promises His presence.
God gives Moses displays of his power. Tells him to throw his staff on the ground. And it becomes a snake. Tells him to put his hand inside his cloak. And it is leprous, like snow.
And, too, God declares His purpose. “That they may believe in Me.”
I have a lot of “But I…” moments. During my sabbatical, it was but I don’t know if I can write a book. I don’t know if I have anything worthwhile to say. I don’t know if anyone will want to read. Coming back to teaching this fall, it is but I don’t know if I remember how to teach well. I don’t know if I’m up-to-date. I don’t know if I have the stamina this schedule requires. So many times. “But I…”
Maybe you identify with Moses right now. Maybe you say with him and with me, “But I…” I’m not worthy. I’m not prepared. I’m not adequate.
Or maybe you don’t identify with Moses right now. It’s also possible for us to swing to other end of the pendulum too. When we’ve been doing the same thing for so long. When we could do our jobs in our sleep. And we sometimes do. And rather than being full of self-doubt, we are full of self-reliance.
Both postures are problematic, aren’t they? With their focus on the self.
So whatever you’re facing this fall, God invites you…
To hear His call anew.
To take off your sandals. This is holy ground.
He has heard the cries of His creation. He is concerned about their suffering. And He has called you to be a part of their deliverance. That they may believe.
To that end, He invites you into a deep dependence.
And He invites you to lay aside all of your “but I’s.” And to fix your gaze on Him who is speaking to you, at this start of this new school year, “Behold I…”
Great I AM, we come barefoot and bare faced into your presence. Fraught with our own insecurities and reliance on self. Keep us dependent. Hold our gaze. Do Your work among us. Maybe we be faithful to Your call. Amen.
This precious kid turns six on Sunday. So today it seems fitting to share a bit of his God story with you. A longer version is also the next chapter in the This Odd House manuscript. And taken in that context, it represents a much-anticipated turning point.
In January 2009, I wrote in my journal: “I’m ready for our adoption miracle.”
Of course, I had no idea who that little miracle would be. How he would come to us. Or what new levels of faith his arrival would require.
But stripped of so many dreams. Of so much pride and control and reliance on self. I stood before the throne of God, waving a white flag. Declaring the demolition phase “done.” For the time being, at least. And begging for Him to begin to build me back.
Two months later, I had a voicemail message. From a friend Tanya at church. Telling us that she had just heard about a seven-month-old baby boy. She had been praying all day, she said, and sensed God leading her to call us.
When I shared Tanya’s message with Peter, he said, “That reminds me. Yesterday I had a message from Kari HansenH. She also said something about a seven-month-old baby boy, I think.”
“You think?” I replied, dumbfounded. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Kelli. I didn’t want to get your hopes up. Again. You know how this always goes.”
We stared at each other for several moments.
“What do you want to do?” Peter finally asked.
And I said, “I think we have to call.”
As red raw as our hearts were (from Peter’s dad’s death, from infertility, from failed adoptions, from my mom’s passing and my dad’s decline), as much as I wanted to protect myself from further pain, I also knew that if we were ever going to be parents, we had to keep taking this risk.
Peter nodded, and I called Tanya.
She explained that she had received an e-mail from a pastor. An e-mail that went to a whole network of churches, so who knows how many other people were also privy to his plea—for someone, some family, to step up and stand in the gap for a seven-month-old baby boy who was coming up for adoption. Tanya gave us the pastor’s number to call.
When we got home, though, Peter called Kari first. And she told us her story. That a friend of hers, Maggie, had been caring for a baby boy through the Safe Family program. Because this baby’s mother had pretty complex issues, he had been with Maggie for seven months. His whole little life. Kari said that the baby’s birthmom would not be able to parent, so this baby was coming up for adoption.
Peter told Kari about Tanya’s call. “Do you think it’s the same baby?” Peter asked.
“I don’t know,” Kari said. “It’s quite a coincidence if it is. Or maybe it’s just God’s way of making His plan clear.”
One of my favorite Biblical accounts is God’s call of Moses in Exodus chapters 3 and 4.
First, there’s that blazing bush. That obvious direction. That unmistakable display. That we all desire.
Then there are Moses’ many excuses. To which I can relate. There are his fears. Four times he says to God, “But…but I…” I’m not worthy. Not wise. Not believable. Nor eloquent. Four times he persistently protests God’s plan.
And each time God answers (patiently—until 4:14—when He gets a little bit peeved).
Each time He answers. With a promise of His presence.
Signs of His power.
And a declaration of His purpose. “That they may believe.”
Before we hung up, Kari gave us Maggie’s number. And we called her immediately, bracing ourselves for another door slam.
But Maggie was thrilled. We were an answer to her prayers too.
She told us that the baby slept well, ate well, and smiled continually. She also explained what she understood about his situation. That his birthmom probably couldn’t parent. That the case was going to juvenile court the following week. That the caseworkers were going to recommend adoption. But it would be up to the judge to determine what would be done.
She finished with a word of encouragement. “You will be so blessed to love this baby,” she said. “And did I say? His name is Daryl.”
Peter and I thought and talked and prayed about Daryl all weekend. Begged for our own blazing bush. A clear call. And I fought back many fears. Voiced all of my excuses. My own, “But…but I…” I don’t know if this is right for us. If this is God’s call. If I’m able. If I’m ready. I’m not strong. And I’m not brave. I don’t want to be disappointed again. I don’t want to feel more pain. And I definitely don’t want to finally love a baby, then have to let him go.
But in the din of all of our deliberating, we thought we heard a response. A whispered word. A promise of God’s presence. A “Behold, I…” And we knew. That God could close the door at any point. He had many times before. That was His prerogative. But it wasn’t our place to preempt Him.
So on Monday morning, we called Maggie and told her that we wanted to find out more. That’s how we put it. We weren’t yet ready to commit. But we wanted to move cautiously ahead. She was thrilled, she said. And she would have her caseworker call us.
Peter and I were both on Spring Break from our teaching jobs that week. So we hung around the house and waited by the phone. All day. By late afternoon, I was getting antsy. I gave Peter strict instructions to call me if he heard anything. And I drove over to Borders. To peruse the parenting shelves—a section I had avoided for years. I was flipping through the pages of What to Expect the First Year, mentally making a Babies-R-Us shopping list, when my cell phone rang. It was Peter, and my heart started pounding.
As soon as I said, “Hello,” he asked, “Do you remember Audrey Cain?”
Instantly, I was irritated. I did remember Audrey—a very nice girl who had been a student in both of our classes a couple of years ago—but I wasn’t interested in hearing about her just then.
“Yes, I remember Audrey Cain,” I snipped, waiting to hear that she needed a job reference or had sent a wedding invitation.
“Kelli,” Peter said, “she is the baby’s caseworker.”
“She is Daryl’s case worker,” he repeated. “She’s going to call you in a few minutes to talk about him.”
I hung up the phone and stood staring at the wall of baby books. Dazed. Could Audrey Cain be our burning bush?
For the following two weeks, Audrey, Maggie, Peter, and I talked and e-mailed about Daryl every day. But with each conversation, the situation became more complicated, rather than more clear. Daryl actually wasn’t “coming up for adoption.” He was coming into foster care. He didn’t need an adoptive family, at least not yet. He needed a foster home. And Peter and I weren’t licensed foster parents. Possibly…eventually…Daryl would be adopted. But there was no guarantee. And because his birthmom wanted to parent, it would be a long and difficult road.
For the following two weeks, Peter and I asked everyone we could think of for advice. Some friends were excited about this possibility. Others, knowing our history of disappointment, were understandably concerned. One foster agency we called refused to work with us. But then the McHenry County DCFS office offered their support. One friend who works in the foster system said that this situation didn’t suit our desire to adopt. But then my boss agreed to give me some time off of work to be with Daryl if we brought him home.
Our other caseworker Valerie, who was handling our China adoption, was perhaps the most persuasive voice. I called her one afternoon to fill her in and solicit her perspective.
“I would advise against it,” she said without hesitation. “You don’t have a foster license, so DCFS probably won’t let you take him anyhow.”
We had anticipated this hurdle. Audrey had even suggested that Valerie might help us get our foster license. That perhaps her agency could oversee Daryl’s case.
“We no longer handle foster care,” she said. “You would have to transfer your license to another agency. But even if you do that, foster children usually return home. They don’t usually need an adoption. You guys have waited so long to be parents. I would hate to see you disappointed again.”
I didn’t know what to say.
With Valerie’s help we had just finished all of the paperwork and our profile book, had just paid all of the initial fees, for a domestic adoption with her agency. So Valerie continued, “You should also understand that when our agency agreed to help you with a concurrent adoption, it was with the assumption that the second adoption would also be through us.”
“I understand,” I muttered.
Then she delivered her knock-out punch. “I suppose now is not the time to tell you that I have a birthmother right now who is interested in your profile.”
So back-and-forth we went for days. One moment confident. The next shaken and confused. Until finally, one afternoon I collapsed on a chair in the office of Jan, a colleague and mentor. I told her I was afraid. Afraid of making the wrong decision. Afraid of suddenly becoming a mom. Afraid of letting our son slip through my fingers because of my fear.
“What should we do?” I asked Jan.
“I don’t know, Kelli,” she sighed. “I guess I would just say, Do what you won’t regret.”
She didn’t give me a chapter and verse. But God used her words. To tell me that—regardless of the result—I would never regret putting myself on the line for baby Daryl. But I would regret it if I didn’t.
He used those words to show me that if I wanted my miracle, I was going to have to throw myself at His mercy.
And He used those words to call me—not just into motherhood—but also into something more. A journey of complete surrender and utter dependence on Him. He used those words to tell me that He wanted to give me—not just a child to love—but even more than that, He wanted to give me Himself.
That evening—two weeks after we got the initial word—we called Audrey and told her, “We’re ready. Whatever happens. We want to bring Daryl home.”
At the time, I wasn’t familiar with George Barna’s journey toward Maximum Faith. The ten Stops he’s outlined on the path of spiritual growth. But in hindsight I see this chapter in our lives as a move into Barna’s Stop 8. “Choosing to surrender and submit fully to God.”
“Radical Dependence,” Barna calls it. That comes on the other side of brokenness.
It’s a humility that affects every area of life. A desire for Christlikeness above all else. Above comfort and above control. It is “an ever-present God-consciousness that changes our emotions, thoughts and deeds.”
I wish I could share more here. (God willing—you’ll just have to buy the book). I wish I could describe for you all of the miracles in Daryl’s story. All of the moments when God reached in with power and grace. All of the times he dropped our jaws. Providing just the right caseworker at just the right time. Giving us favor with a judge. And a lawyer. And Daryl’s birthmom. And DCFS. Parting the sea of the foster system when no one thought it possible.
I don’t need to say that I wouldn’t trade Daryl for the world. He’s my son. And I have loved him deeply since I first laid eyes on his dark curly hair and his darling little dimple and his puddles of drool.
But perhaps I do need to say this. That I also wouldn’t trade the journey. I wouldn’t trade how it has changed us. And I wouldn’t trade the front row seat I’ve had to watch Him at work.
When have you heard God’s call?
Maybe you hear it right now.
What sort of surrender will it require of you?
Happy Birthday, my darling Daryl Boy! You are so loved.
“I tear down to rebuild. And through the process of pain, growth happens.
I hate it, but it is good.”
–Henry Cloud, How People Grow
I just watched a video montage of several buildings being demolished. Enormous structures of brick and concrete and steel. Exploding. Then imploding. Then crumbling to the ground.
Some of you have experienced—firsthand—this sort of tearing down. Not of a physical structure. But of your life. Some of you have survived a singular knee-buckling day. When the world as you knew it exploded. Then imploded. Then came crashing down. And you were left. Covered in debris. Reeling in the rubble and the ruin.
So far, my experience of pain hasn’t been quite like that. There wasn’t one momentous tragedy. Or one utterly devastating day. So far, for me, it has been a more systematic deconstruction. More crowbar and sledgehammer than dynamite.
Years of infertility. And miscarriages.
Adoptions delayed. Adoptions failed.
My father-in-law’s death. Mom’s cancer. Dad’s broken hip.
Financial strain. Relationships lost.
A marriage, a family, cracking under pressure.
And a faith, hanging in the balance.
There was one Monday afternoon in August 2008, when we brought Mom home from the hospital. Her cancer had returned. She’d had a minor heart attack. Then a stroke. After which she waved the white flag and declared she was done.
A hospice nurse was training my mother-in-law (Mum) and me when the telephone rang. Mum jumped up to answer it. When she returned, her face was grave.
“That was nursing home,” she said. “They’re recommending hospice care for your dad as well.”
I was too shocked or too numb or too overwhelmed to cry. I did my best to absorb what Mom’s nurse was telling me. Then I called Dad’s nurse back.
“His swallow reflex is getting worse,” she explained. “He’s been coughing horribly. For months.” I knew this, of course. His doctor had ordered a swallow test, which revealed that everything he took by mouth was going down the wrong way. Repeated x-rays showed that his lungs were still clear however. So everyone was a bit confused.
“We can’t keep feeding him,” the nurse continued. “He is going to aspirate. It’s inevitable. And it could kill him. He has two choices. Get the feeding tube and take nothing by mouth. Or formally refuse treatment and go on hospice. And at this point, he’s refusing the tube.”
“Let me talk to him,” I said.
I left Mom in the care of Mum, and minutes later I sat in the pink vinyl wingback chair, looking straight into Dad’s frightened eyes. I explained the situation as clearly as I could. “If you don’t get the feeding tube, you are refusing treatment that will prolong your life. You are saying that you’re ready to die. Is that the case?”
“I won’t be able to eat or drink? Ever again?” he asked.
“That’s right,” I said. He shook his head.
“That’s no way to live,” he said.
“I know,” I said.
We sat in silence, as we were prone to do. Each trying to comprehend the decision we had to make.
Finally he asked, “What do you think?”
And I answered, “Get the tube.”
Then I called my brother for moral support. And he put my nephews on the phone. “Grandpa,” they said, “please get the tube.”
To which my dad finally said, “Okay.”
Dad recovered from the procedure, and we brought him to the house to visit Mom a few times more. On October 20 he spent the afternoon watching football by her side. She had barely roused for days. When it was time to return Dad to the nursing home, he drove his Hoveround straight past Mom and out the door. I stopped him before he could lower his lift.
“Dad,” I said, “Mom doesn’t have long. Don’t you want to say something to her?”
And he drove his Hoveround back to her side. Took one final look. Gave her hand one final pat. “You’re my queen,” he said.
She died early the next morning. Mum and I were by her side.
Then. My brother moved my Dad to Tennessee to care for him there—against my better judgment. And he felt so far.
Then. We had a third pregnancy. This time heard a heartbeat. And allowed ourselves to hope.
Then. Days before my spring break trip to see Dad, the heartbeat was gone. And I spent that spring break, instead, in bed. Waiting for that little life to leave my body.
Then. Before I could arrange another visit to Tennessee, before I could see him again and say all of the things, Dad died.
Then. I was left with not just grief. But also regret. I felt rather orphaned. Exhausted and exposed. Gutted and barefaced. Reeling in the rubble. Sometimes surfacing to survey the scene. And ask the questions we all ask in the midst of suffering. Will I make it through? And how? What will life look like on the other side? Who is God in the midst of this? And is there a point to it all? Does this pain serve any good purpose?
The nihilist would say, “No.” And truthfully, when the destruction is all you can see, it’s tempting to agree with him.
But there is another perspective.
Does pain serve a purpose? Henry Cloud and John Townsend (How People Grow) would say, “Yes. It most certainly can.”
They do make a distinction though. Between good pain and bad. Between therapeutic suffering that brings life change. Destructive suffering at the hands of evil people. And worthless suffering that persists unnecessarily, that we perpetrate when we refuse to face our own stuff. The key is telling the difference.
Cloud and Townsend would say, God uses good pain—and grief—to produce in us growth. In fact, they call grief “the pain that heals all of the rest.” The most important pain of all. Because it leads us to the place of comfort and healing. It takes us to the foot of the cross. And when we grieve well, the good pain can do its good work. It can push our old coping mechanisms past their breaking point. It can tear down parts of our character. Make space for the new. Open up places that another season of comfort never could. Prepare us to live as we were designed to live.
Does pain serve a purpose? George Barna (Maximum Faith), too, would say, “Yes. It does.” In fact, Stop Number 7 on his journey toward maximum faith is “Personal Brokenness.”
“Brokenness” is something of a buzzword these days. Used in Christian circles to mean a variety of things. Sometimes it simply describes the human condition. We are all “broken.” Sinful. A great big mess. Or it describes our emotional state when the pain is just too much. Or it describes our families, our homes, when relationships dissolve.
Barna’s definition is a bit different. He describes “brokenness” as a specific time of face-to-face confrontation. Between God and us. When “God meets [believers] head-on with the realization that they are still too self-reliant.” When God allows a period of pain, wanting to evoke in us a response of “reflection and meditation, sorrow and remorse, realistic self-evaluation, talking and listening to [Him], and coming to the end of self.” And it is only through this sort of brokenness that we are prepared for the “glorious healing and reconstruction that God has in mind.”
For me, then, I believe that it was only in being thus gutted—stripped of my faulty self-assessment and self-dependence, my old coping mechanisms and defenses, my own plans and vision for my life—that He could really begin His good work.
One day Bob Villa arrived at the Percival Street Victorian in Boston. That original This Old House. And he found that the porch had been reduced to the roof, held up only by some indomitable old posts. A day or so later, the roof looked more like a grape arbor. And only one original post remained.
A few days after that, the house stood bare faced. No porch was left at all. “Board by board we’d gradually condemned and dismantled it,” Villa writes. Roof. Posts. Floor. The closer they looked, the more problems they found.
But. In the midst of the porch deconstruction, Villa and crew also did some “soul-searching.” They knew the porch deserved the best. That it was the focal point of the house’s exterior. So—although it was costly—Villa arranged to have new porch posts custom-milled out of single pieces of Philippine mahogany.
And so he built a brand new porch. A porch that was beautiful. And strong. And would stand the test of time.
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken;
struck down, but not destroyed;
always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.”
2 Corinthians 4:8-10
July has been a big birthday month in our house.
I turned xx. In the beautiful Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. And discovered the ideal spot to finish writing my book. (See that cabin back there? Donald Miller would approve.)
This little darling turned 3. At the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga. Where even the sharks seemed to grin their birthday greeting.
And the This Odd House blog turned 1. With little fanfare. Or even acknowledgement. Other than this pink, fluffy hat.
All that to say, this month we’ve had so much to celebrate! And so many reasons to eat cake.
This month also marks the end of my sabbatical year. In just a few short weeks, I’ll revise my syllabi, dust off my lesson plans, and saunter back into the classroom. Returning to the same job I have had and loved for sixteen years.
But I will be a little bit different. This year has marked me in many ways.
It seems fitting, then—at this birthday time and before the month escapes me—to reflect for a few minutes. To look back on this year of focused writing and reading and birthing a blog. And consider just what has been learned.
I had no idea what to expect when I hit “publish” for the first time last July. No idea if anyone would read or resonate. No idea if I would like blogging. Or not. No idea where the writing would take me or what exactly I needed to say.
But I believed God had called me to it. That He had done so much healing in my own heart, performed so many miracles in our lives, that I had to share. I had to shout over the WiFi waves and give Him the glory that is due. I believed that blogging for me was an act of obedience. And worship. I believed it could be an instrument of further growth in my own life. And hopefully in the lives of a few others as well.
And so it has been a year of finding my blogging feet. Of baby steps. And missteps. And more than a few leaps into the deep end where the water is way over my head. If you’re reading this, you are— and possibly have long been—a part of the journey. So thank you. Every word of encouragement, every story you’ve shared in response, every “I know what you mean” has been a much needed nudge to keep going.
That being said, here are a few of the lessons I have learned.
• I have learned that a blog is a perfect place to hone your writing Voice. Writers talk often about this illusive matter of voice. What it is. What it isn’t. How to find your own. As a teacher, every semester I encourage my students to find theirs. But when they ask me what I mean or how to do it—step-by-step—I am less certain what to say. One definition I like is this: “Your voice is how you choose to break the rules.” It’s the shape of your writing. The structure. The poetry. The rhythm. The metaphor. It’s the images you paint on the page. The words you choose. The way you line them up. It’s the length of your sentences. The punctuation you put in. Or don’t. It’s all of these things and more. It’s what makes your writing “you.” And since there is no editor peering over your shoulder, a blog is a fun place to play. So I have learned to do just that. I have learned that I like fragments. A lot. And I use them freely. I have learned that alliteration flows from me like a fountain. I don’t know why. But—believe it or not—I try to tone that down. I have learned the power of placing two stories side-by-side. Or three. Or four. Because they talk to each other. And the richest meaning often comes from their conversations.
• I have learned to live more like a Writer. To put something on paper almost every single day. I have learned to see. To pay better attention. To my own life. My own heart. To the world around me—big and small. And to what God seems to be doing therein. I have been reminded that good writing requires good thinking. And good thinking requires time. And I have learned to create the space I need to ponder. I have learned to sit and stare. Or to simply walk around the block. I have learned to better invite Peter into the process. Without pretense or defense. I have learned to read more widely. To find the funny. To take more notes. I have learned to hide in the corner at the coffee shop. To turn off the WiFi until I meet my daily goal. And I have learned that I am more fully who God created me to be when I am regularly writing. I have learned that I need this like I need air.
• I have learned just how important Platform is to publishers. While I have been encouraged by the interest of editors in my book proposal and writing, so far each one has ultimately passed. Because the numbers just aren’t there yet, they say. But I have learned that I can’t get caught up in them. I can’t control them. And contrary to what it seems at times, they aren’t actually the point. I have learned that—if I really want to grow my platform—I ought to be blogging at least three times each week. And I have learned that—at this point in my life—three posts a week is impossible. I have learned that I am a slow writer. Very slow. And I have learned to accept my own limitations. I have learned that it’s okay for me right now to focus on quality, not quantity. I have learned the importance of setting a sustainable expectation. I have learned to not make blogging promises that I can’t keep. And I have learned to trust the publishing outcome to the only one who always knows what He’s doing.
• I have learned the value of being Vulnerable. I have learned to shunt the shame. And the pride. And the fear. I have learned to take risks. Repeatedly. And write what I believe is real. I have learned that readers generally don’t ridicule you when you reveal your faults and doubts. Rather, they respond with relief. And their own revelation. I have learned that only honesty begets honesty. That perhaps the best way to encourage other people to examine their lives in the light of truth is to say, “Here, I’ll go first.”
• I have learned to create Community. To be intentional about satisfying that cardinal craving. Writing is such a solitary endeavor. So many hours spent staring at a screen, rather than a face. So many days spent running around in my own head. I have learned how much I need to find friends. And I have learned that they can come in many forms. I have learned to look for them on my own blog and on theirs. At conferences. On social media. In the Kindergarten pick-up line. Or in the sanctuary at church. I have learned to reach out. To comment. To connect. To be the first to say, “We should talk.” I have even learned to pass chapters of my precious manuscript to a friend and beg, “Please, be brutal.” One of my favorite things that God has done this year is to draw together a Writers’ Group. One-by-one He brought them across my path. At this point almost twenty like-minded women. Writers and speakers. Who now come to my living room one Saturday morning every month. And they sharpen one another. And they bless me beyond measure.
• Finally, I have learned to better trust the writing Process. Or more accurately, the Giver of words. I have seen just how unhelpful it is to fret over self-imposed deadlines or a loss of inspiration or writing time “wasted” washing windows. So rather than succumbing to worry, I am more likely—instead—to escape to my strange sanctuary. The furnace room in our basement. Where the treadmill lives. And where God meets me in a special way. I have learned that writing is, first and foremost, listening. So rather than beating my head against a blank screen, I am more likely to open my heart. And my ears. And His Word. I have learned to wait patiently for Him to speak.
I pray to you, O LORD, my rock. Do not turn a deaf ear to me.
For if you are silent, I might as well give up and die.
You’ve probably heard the song by the same title.
Maybe you saw the moving performance on Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance.
Or the subsequent rendition on NBC’s The Voice.
Since it soared in the charts last November, I can’t sit for any amount of time in my favorite coffee shop without hearing the clear piano chords. The piercing voice of A Great Big World’s Ian Axel. The sweet harmony of Christina Aguilera. And those simple lyrics. That keep tugging at hearts. And calling up a universal desire.
For a second chance.
For something—anything—to be spoken.
Three days before my eleventh birthday, it was oppressively hot in Minneapolis and in our little post-war tract house. Our two electric fans only shifted the steamy air from one side of the room to the other. So to escape the extended heat wave, my parents decided that we should take a little vacation up north. Our destination was the historic and picturesque Naniboujou Lodge, which stands right on the shore of Lake Superior, just fifteen minutes shy of the Canadian border.
Our plan was to travel on Sunday. But as we shoved shorts and sweatshirts into suitcases that Saturday afternoon and anticipated another sleepless, sweaty night, my mom made an uncharacteristically spontaneous suggestion. “Let’s leave now.”
She called the Holiday Inn in Duluth—the halfway point—and booked a room. My little brother and I helped her load the car. Filled the backseat with books and toys. Then climbed in—damp legs sticking to vinyl. And we headed north.
Dad rode shotgun, per normal, holding the atlas on his lap and the little slip of paper on which Mom had written our hotel reservation number. To pass the time, Dad decided that I should commit this number to memory.
Dad loved numbers. And he knew a lot of them by heart. He could tell you the population of Minneapolis in 1955 and the batting averages of most of the Minnesota Twins.
So as we drove those three hours to Duluth, all of the car windows down, enjoying the temperature drop, Dad called out that reservation number. Then asked me to shout it back to him. Over and over and over again. Hooting with appreciation each time I got it right.
I didn’t love numbers. At least, not as much as he did. So I rolled my eyes. Emitted exaggerated sighs. Feigned frustration at the whole pointless exercise.
But it stuck with me. In my poor, dim memory, something about this event shimmers.
I even still remember the number in question. 245O7X7XOO6.
Maybe it was his attention. Or his intention. The opportunity to be the object of his focus for a period of time. Maybe it was his pleasure. His laughter. The fact that it became a long-standing, inside joke. Maybe it was his persistence. His passion for the goal. His very unique version of leadership and power. His desire to impart knowledge. To shape in some small way my heart and mind. Maybe it was all of this. And more. Which—taken together—evoked in me the rare feeling of being fathered.
Father hunger is a fierce but fragile thing.
While we instinctively look to our mothers for nurture and affection and a calming touch, dads are designed to provide something different. Equally important. And irreplaceable.
From our fathers, we seek strength and stability. We look for excitement and exploration and adventure. We want our fathers to teach us how to take initiative, to compete, to stand firm.
Of course, many of us have survived without a dad. Whether he was taken by death or divorce or—as in my case—disability. By abuse or addiction or even adoption. By an all-consuming career or his own callousness. We have survived. With varying degrees of burn.
I know I am not qualified to address the more searing of these. (Though my dad was distant, he was always present and always kind.) But I think I can safely say this. Our survival doesn’t negate our need. Though the wound may be sutured, it is not necessarily healed. And no matter the source or the severity, father loss must be faced.
In her book Longing for Dad, Beth M. Erickson, Ph.D., describes “father hunger” as a “gaping hole in the soul” (19). Then she lists several ways that we might seek to fill it up. Alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, sexual promiscuity, violence, serial relationships, and overwork. Monique Robinson describes another set of common remedies. “Many fatherless children grow into pleasers,” she says, “who fail to set boundaries for fear of abandonment and rejection. Others become perfectionists; they keep everything in order externally to shield their internal, emotional chaos. Many women overcompensate for their lack of self-esteem and become overachievers to prove to others (and themselves) that they are somebody” (Longing for Daddy 1).
But all of us, Robinson says, wrestle hard with the sovereignty of God. We are reluctant to rest in His control because either we hold too tightly to the reins ourselves or we have become accustomed to running wild.
Father hunger takes different forms throughout our lifetime. As young children, we simply don’t know any differently. Our experience of “father” is what “father” is. We may be aware of wanting a connection with a man we call “dad.” And we may feel a measure of pain when that desire goes unmet. But young children instinctively figure out how to cope. Self-preservation at its best. We build defenses. And elaborate strategies. To either meet those needs or bury them.
As we get older, though, we may come to understand more of what we missed. How deep the hole goes. Old, unmet needs may surface under stress. Our coping methods may begin to crack. And if the loss is not addressed, if we do not walk through the grief, if we do not tear down the defense, if we do not seek true healing for the hurt, our father hunger can manifest itself in other ways. It can masquerade as fear or control or worry. Depression or anger or distrust. To name a few.
At various times, my father hunger looked like each of those.
And for all my life, I coped in exactly the ways that Robinson describes. The pleaser. The perfectionist. The overachiever. These strategies “worked” for me. Oh, sometime in my 20s I had an inkling about what was going on. I learned to identify it. Acknowledge it. Talk about it a bit. And then set it aside. Send it back underground.
Mom and Dad moved into This Old McHenry House in August of 2005. And I kept bumping into my father loss. On a daily basis. When every time I turned around. My dad was there. But really he wasn’t.
In the fall of 2007 my dad fell next to his bed. And broke his hip. The surgeons said that—because of his cerebral palsy—he wasn’t a good candidate for a replacement. They did a Girdlestone instead. Removed the ball of the hip and sewed him up. They said, “Since he isn’t walking anyhow, I don’t think it will change the quality of his life.”
Nothing could have been further from the truth.
It drastically changed his life. And ours.
Since Dad could no longer transfer himself, since home healthcare was not practical or affordable, since I couldn’t safely lift him on my own—after weeks of research—we finally resigned ourselves to the reality that Dad was never going to return home. The most agonizing decision I have thus far had to make.
Almost every day we would visit him at the nursing home. On the weekends, Peter and I would bring Mom. And we would all spend the afternoon on the patio, chasing the sun. During the week, though, either Peter or I visited each night after dinner. Often, Dad was already in bed. Watching Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. And I would sit in the pink vinyl wingback chair. By his side. He might tell me that he got his toe nails cut. Or that he saw the Feldco commercial. He liked the jingle. Or that a fellow resident Dawn tried to feed him again and got yelled at by the staff. He might try to solve the Wheel of Fortune puzzle or answer a Jeopardy question. He might ask me—with wide and terrified eyes—when he could come home. And I might have to explain again that it didn’t look as if he would.
But for most of the time, we would sit in silence. While inside I would scream. At him. At myself. “Say something!”
Something honest. Something significant. Something to bind your soul to mine.
Too, during that time—for months on end—I would wake up most every night at 3:15 a.m. My mind awhirl with worry. About Mom. About Dad. About infertility and adoption. About the fact that we just might lose TOMH in the face of nursing home bills. And I would slip down to the sofa lest I wake Peter. And I would toss and turn and pray. Begging God for answers. For connection. For a second chance. For something—anything—to be spoken. But hearing no word that I could recognize as such.
And what had for so long been a fierce anger at God for His cruelty slowly morphed into a sad resignation in the face of His seeming silence.
If father loss has been a part of your journey, I would love to hear how you have processed it.
And how it may have affected your spiritual walk.
Here or in a private message.
Thank you for reading.