365 days

On August 28, 2009, we unloaded the U-Haul and moved into our temporary home in Brighton, Michigan.  One August 28, 2010, we loaded up the trucks and moved out of our home in Brighton, and into our new temporary apartment but permanent home in the Waterford/Clarkston area of Michigan.

That’s right, exactly 365 days later.  We spent exactly one year in Brighton.  So what was that year all about?  To be honest, I’m not entirely sure.  But following are a few thoughts on what I think it was about:

  • It was about waiting.  Sometimes patiently, more often impatiently.  It was about wondering where God was and what He was up to.  It was about wrestling with our faith and just hoping that God was growing it – because it seemed so puny most of the time.
  • It was about growing.  We faced new challenges, unfamiliar situations, overwhelming circumstances, but also new opportunities.  The kids had to adjust to new school settings – and learned to survive.  I took a job as a hospice chaplain – and learned how to minister to the dying.  Eight times I conducted funerals for my patients.  Twice they were just children.  I learned how to mourn with those who mourn.  I don’t think I’m the same person I was.  Hopefully, I care more.
  • It was about getting tougher.  We jumped off a cliff in faith – and hoped for exhilaration.  But it felt more like a thud.  But we survived.  And we realized that we had experienced what we had feared – and we still made it through.  God didn’t seem to be concerned about making our lives easier; He seemed to be more determined to make our lives stronger.
  • It was about bonding as a family.  We spent a lot of time together.  We didn’t have much choice.  The girls had to share a room again.  We didn’t have our old friends, so we became better friends as a family.  For that, I’m grateful.
  • It was about building new relationships.  When we first moved to Brighton I met a pastor of a local church who prayed for us – and prayed that God would surround us with people to care for us.  And God answered that prayer.
  • It was about contentment and gratitude – because in spite of all of the challenges of the year our lives were still incredibly blessed.  We were sufficiently housed and clothed and fed and then some.
  • It was about providence.  Even though I struggled to see God’s hand, He still protected me.  I drove 40,000 miles in less that nine months with my job – many days driving into the worst neighborhoods of Detroit – without incident.  And less than two weeks after I left that job my car blew its engine.  In a very safe place.  At a very fortuitous time.
  • It was about hope.  We always believed God wanted us in ministry – even when it seemed like it would never happen.  But I hope that God was just getting us ready – in accord with His wisdom (because it didn’t make much sense to me).

365 days.  Days that I may never understand – but days that God ordained for me.

Now we are in the early stages of a new adventure.  Waterford/Clarkston is our new home.  Waterford Community Church is our new ministry.  And the people of the church are our new family.  It took us a year to get here – but we’re glad to finally be home.

Anonymous

Before I started out the door for vacation last summer, I quickly looked around for some reading material.  If I was going to be spending long hours on the beach (getting ridiculously sunburned), I was going to need something to occupy myself.  And since I had failed to take a trip to the library the day before, I was pretty much at the mercy of what happened to be lying around the house.  The book that I grabbed was one that a friend of my wife’s had given her, but I was desperate – and fortunate.

The book was called Anonymous, and the gist of the book centered on the idea that while Jesus spent 33 years or so on this planet, about thirty of those years happened behind the scenes where no one was watching.  The author, Alicia Britt Chole, called these the hidden years, and speculated on how those years impacted Jesus.  While I don’t know that I agreed with all of the theology presented, I was captured by the idea that hidden years are often exactly what God has in mind for us.  In our world we measure significance by achievement, but God measures it in an entirely different way.  When we face the times in life when we feel forgotten, abandoned, stuck or discarded, God will step up to make those days worthwhile.

At first I didn’t underline some of the good things the author said – after all this was my wife’s friend’s book.  But then I just went ahead because there were too many significant points to let them pass (my apologies, Sharyl).  I’ll share one of them here, but then I would recommend that you get the book – especially if you feel like you have been asked to step behind the curtain in life.

“What does [being hidden like Jesus] build in us?  What grows in that underestimated gap between God’s calling and others’ perceptions, between our true capabilities and our current realities?  Most of us struggle if our dreams are delayed one year, let alone twenty.  We find God’s pauses perplexing.  They seem to be a waste of our potential.  When those pauses extend beyond what we can comprehend or explain (say, for instance, three days), we often spiral into self-doubt or second-guessing.

“But in anonymous seasons we must hold tightly to the truth that no doubt strengthened Jesus through his hidden years: Father God is neither care-less nor cause-less with how he spends our lives.  When he calls a soul simultaneously to greatness and obscurity, the fruit – if we wait for it – can change the world.”

I could have picked several other quotes that were just as good or better – but this one still provides some great food for thought.  You are not forgotten by God.  You have not been sent off to the corner to wait.  You have been chosen by him to be hidden and anonymous so that he can do something big in you!

Swim your own race

For some reason this week an old story came back to mind – and I think it is worth telling.

Many years ago the Special Olympics came to South Bend and I decided to be a spectator.  I headed over to the Notre Dame campus and took a seat in Rolf’s to watch some of the swimming events.  And I watched one that I will never forget.  Eight participants took their places on the edge of the pool awaiting the starter’s gun.  In an instant they were all in the pool – swimming their four-lap race.  And it was a close race – at least for seven of the participants.

But there was one young man who was not keeping up, falling way off the pace.  At first the attention of the spectators was on the other seven – and everyone cheered when the race came to an end.  But then everyone realized that there was one more swimmer in the pool – and everyone started to rally behind him.

“Go!  Go!  Go!”  The crowd came to their feet – me among them – to cheer on the lone swimmer who was more than a full pool length behind.  But he kept swimming and the crowd kept screaming until finally he touched and finished the race.  He climbed out of the pool to be greeted by the raucous cheer of the crowd, then he stood on the deck of the pool and pumped his arms in triumph.  It  didn’t matter that he had finished long behind the other competitors.  It didn’t matter that he took home last place.  What mattered was that he had finished his race.

I learned a good lesson that day, though I forget it all too often.  I forget that life isn’t a competition between me and anyone else.  It’s not about me comparing myself to someone else to make sure that I’m good enough.  Nope, the challenge of life is to measure myself against my potential – and to make sure that I’m measuring up to the plan that God has in mind for me.

The challenge of life – is to swim my own race.  Even if everyone else seems to be outdistancing me.  Even if the attention of the crowd is focused elsewhere.  Even if my efforts don’t seem to be worthwhile.  Even if I’m not making the progress that I’d like to be making.  I just need to keep swimming, swimming my own race.

And that’s what I would say to you.  Swim your own race!

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