Tuesday, September 22, 2009

God is Good

The past year has been a struggle. Moving, changing churches, moving my practice, and starting over. I have faced many losses. Although I often felt that the church I had attended for almost 20 years was an island experience – at least it was a familiar and friendly experience. People knew me, respected me, and in a limited way, loved me. Limited in the way that a counselor/staff person is known and loved. I had gone from lay person to staff person back to lay person again. When I moved off staff I found I really had no place there. People in the church were distant because I was a staff member…and then when I quit my job I didn’t fit with the staff either. I had jumped ship…on both sides…and found myself swimming in very lonely waters.

So, when my husband retired we decided to move to the community where our son and his family live. I had prayed that I would find a place to belong, a place to serve, a place to be known and loved, and a place where I could know and love others without the obstacle of staff vs. non-staff history.

We started attending our son’s church at probably the worst time in the life of the church. A few months before we moved, the senior pastor resigned. A good friend of ours was on staff at the church and I saw firsthand the difficulties of working in a church without a senior pastor. In our denomination, whenever a senior pastor leaves, the rest of the pastoral staff is required to turn in a letter of resignation. The board can then decide to keep them until a new pastor comes. Once hired, the new senior pastor has to make a decision (within 90 days) if he/she is going to accept those letters of resignation.

We attended the church for seven months before a new senior pastor came. During that seven months…a time of getting used to a new community, a new home, and trying to find an office for my business, I watched as my friend struggled with “do I stay and hope the new guy keeps me? Or do I go?” The interim was hard on the church and staff, and hard on me, a former staff member whose only hope was that I would find a place to serve and a place to belong.

As a counselor and friend, I walked through those dark days with my staff member friend. I tried to help her problem solve when she told me about the issues she had with the board and the interim pastor. I prayed that the new pastor would be able to see her strengths and gifts and affirm them. I also prayed that he/she would be able to see my strengths and gifts and help me find a place to serve.

I don’t know all the details, but at the 90 day mark, my friend was let go. I grieved with her, and I grieved for myself. It seemed that this was not going to be a place where I was going to be able to serve. Partly because I had already volunteered for a few ministries and never heard back from anyone about whether or not they wanted my involvement, and partly because I recognized that the culture of the church was not welcoming. In my mind I connected the easy “disposal” of my friend with a place that was unfriendly and unloving. It didn’t help that even after a year of attending my son, daughter-in-law and a few of their friends were the only people who talked to us Sunday after Sunday.

I’m sure my attitude could have been better. My emotions ranged from anger to hurt to sadness to grief to hope and back. Not typically an emotional person, I found myself near tears after many Sunday morning services. I was grieving the loss of a familiar place where people loved me, wishing that I could find a place to fit, and longing for connection and purpose.

It has been a year since my friend’s resignation was “accepted.” I have watched her struggle as a single female try to support herself after losing her job in the worst economy since the great depression. I have walked beside her as she tried to pick up the pieces of her shattered self-esteem. I have listened to her as she worked through the fear of getting back into ministry. I have fed her more days than not as she struggled to even have enough money for food. I have grieved with her, been angry for her, prayed for her, and wondered with her “why do people get up on Sunday morning and go to church when this is what they get?”

And as much as both of us wanted to walk away and be done with church, God kept speaking. He wouldn’t let either of us go. I recently stopped by my friend’s house and on her refrigerator, on a dry erase board, was a list of the blessings she has received since losing her job. She realizes (on most days) that even though the church has rejected her, God is still caring for her. As I looked at her list I wondered if I could identify the ways that God still cares for me.

I told a friend recently that I had given up on the church. Not necessarily given up on going to church, but given up my struggle to fit in. I acknowledged that for both me and my friend God has led us through what seemed to be a desert experience. I have to tell you…I hate desert experiences. I wish that I could learn about God in the sunshine on a beach somewhere. But it is in the desert experiences that God reduces us to radical dependence on Him.

Jeremiah 32: 40 – 41 says, “I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.”

I heard Dr. Larry Crabb this week speak about these verses in Jeremiah. He said, “Whatever God is doing in our lives, he is doing good…and he’s having a really good time doing it!” So, if that is true, what is God doing in my life and in the life of my friend? I wish I could say that I have learned all the lessons that I am supposed to during this time, but I know that learning is a journey, not a destination. In my limited understanding I believe that God is using this time to get me to stop looking to the church, to my position, even to the people in the church to find significance. Although I have always known at an intellectual level that truth, until I was swimming in those very lonely waters I didn’t realize how much I looked for approval in the eyes of those I served.

So many times in the last year I have complained. How could they NOT want me? I would be a valuable asset to any church! I have a lot to offer! Although I wasn’t the one let go, in many ways my journey mirrored my friend’s journey. It is no wonder that it hooked my emotions at such a deep level. I felt angry, hurt, depressed, and rejected. I felt it for her and I felt it for myself.

I have found myself recently rereading some of my favorite Bible stories. The life of Joseph has always spoken to me, but never as much as it has this year. Joseph, favored by his father, chosen of God, sold into slavery, given up for dead, and imprisoned unfairly had much more to complain about than me. I often wonder if I could read the journals of some of my Biblical heroes if they would read like mine with an unhealthy dose of “poor me.” He may have complained, but at the end of the story he tells the brothers that sold him into slavery, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.” Genesis 50:20a.

It reminds me of a story I read recently:

One day a farmer's donkey fell down into a well. The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Finally, he decided the animal was old, and the well needed to be covered up anyway; it just wasn't worth it to retrieve the donkey. He invited all his neighbors to come over and help him. They all grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well. At first, the donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly.
Then, to everyone's amazement he quieted down.

A few shovel loads later, the farmer finally looked down the well. He was astonished at what he saw. With each shovel of dirt that hit his back, the donkey was doing something amazing. He would shake it off and take a step up.
As the farmer's neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, he would shake it off and take a step up.

Pretty soon, everyone was amazed as the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and happily trotted off!

I know that God will redeem this year in my life. I know that God will bring good out of my circumstances and the circumstances of my friend. How? I don’t have the answer yet. My friend is working part time in a church. She still struggles to make ends meet financially, and she still has fears, but I see God healing her. The “dirt” that was thrown on her in her last ministry assignment is becoming her path to the future. God has not stopped doing good to her. Even the fact that she was only able to find a part time job in a small church is probably a blessing from God. She needed time to ease back into ministry instead of hitting the ground running in a large church. And I needed time to get over myself.

So, I wait…patiently some days, not so patiently other days. I don’t like sitting on the sidelines, but I am beginning to hope that God keeps me here until I am able to find my significance in Him alone.

1 comment:

John said...

Isn't it absouluetely incredible how our God works. Here it is 11:34pm and I was in bed, I couldn't sleep so I .......... let me begin again.
I have been working on a web project, my new career since our wonderful government and Community Bank of Lemont made some really stupid choices that cost me my business and everything I have, well as far as material possessions go, I digress. On this web project I am going to start a blog. I had been checking into them for a while and had decided late this evening who I was going to use.My plan was to add the blog in the morning.
To bed I go, only I was not able to sleep, tossing and turning when thoughts went to that blog and then to you Diana and your blog.
Now I admit I have only been here once before right after you started it and tonight makes twice. Why did He get me out of bed to come read this? I can only think to let you know you are not alone. You know part of my story, 2 back surgeries in 2003, no work for 2 1/2 years lost 95% of everything I had including my house. Through some very generous friends I was able to start my homebuilding business again, only to lose it the past year, and find myself on the verge of bankruptucy.
I, we, are not alone. may I be so bold as to say there is a tear in His eye when He looks at our situations.
A very wise woman during a Bible study shared with the class when God was brought home to her, when she "got it". It was by inserting her, our own, name in the passage "God so loved Diana that he gave his only begotten Son to die for her" We are not alone.
This past year has been one of many questions and much thought for me. Yes anger, resentment, fear, and just good old fashioned confusion has led the way for me all too often.
One thing I have come to realize is that these things that are happening to us have an equally if not more important role to play in other peoples lives. It is easy to acknowledge that on one level, but when we dig deeper we must realize and come to grip with the fact that although we may view ourselves as a knight or a bishop in the chess game of life we are being used by God as a pawn. Not less of value, just different in Gods use of us.
I had a conversation with a mutual aquaintance of ours, Therese, and we talked about why all these tough things are happening in our lives. It seemed to her the closer she got to God the toughter it got, the more challenges she faced. I echoed those thoughts, and added I believe God is strenghtening us for the battle that is coming sooner than we would like to believe.
It doesn't just seem like our Christian values, our very way of life, is being challenged at every corner, THEY ARE. I don't want to get all doom and gloom, but our religion, our God is under sttack. I feel we must not only wear the armour of God we must encapsulate ourselves in it.
I, like your friend have added up the monthly income and cried realizing that the expenses far out weigh it. But, a huge But, God got us through and will continue to do just that for us that believe and TRUST in the Lord. We made it through without all those things. What does that say about those things?
It always hurts to grow.
John K.