Well, it's been another week full of opportunities to practice what I preach. Will I see the negative? Or will I look for God and see the good? I talk a great deal about how we frame what we experience and I deeply believe that it makes all the difference in the world. Do we feel like the world is just handing us bad things? Are we being beaten up? Or are the challenges that come our way opportunities to grow, learn, and maybe get out of ourselves and focus more on what God wants for and from us, what God calls us to do that would serve God and God's people? Will life make us bitter and cynical, or will we thrive through the challenges and become better and more whole?
My somewhat edited and reduced complaint list for this week: The brand new washer died, the refrigerator died, the cat died, my good friend and helpmate, David, continues to be really sick (over a month now that he has been out of commission), there continue to be the usual struggles at work, we did not have the turn-out for my dream Academy for Dramatic Arts that I'd hoped for (mostly due to problems with our advertising efforts), I simply have not had the time I need to take care of some really necessary issues (like getting the car smog checked), my feet keep cramping up, the car got stuck in the snow in the drive way and I could not get it out.... Again, I am giving you the limited list.
In light of all that has happened this week alone, it is tempting to move into a "woe is me" attitude. It is really tempting to rail against God and the Universe for continuing to throw punches my way. And there is room for that in our faith. If we look at the psalms, there are a lot of laments, or prayers, hymns and invitations to speak our pain, our frustration, even our anger at God. There is room and invitation to be the ego-centric people that we are for a few minutes and to yell along with the psalmist, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest." (Psalm 22). There is room for that. And I think if we skip this step, the next steps are not very genuine. So we get to feel our pain, frustration, anger and ego-centrism for a minute. To lament, to complain, to cry out.
But the thing is, we don't get to stay there. Or rather, we are invited to move on from this place because it doesn't help us to stay here. For me the next steps include a few things.
First, can I still see the good even in all of what is going on? Well, of course there is good in the midst of pain. There is ALWAYS good to be found if we just look for it. The washer was still under warranty. The fridge had been a pain in the neck for quite a while and now hopefully that is done. My cat was with us for 18 years which is an amazing time to spend with a pet as affectionate and loving and wonderful as Sabbath was to us. That's something to celebrate. When my car got stuck in the driveway, the snow-plow guy just happened along at exactly the right time and was able to help me out. The refrigerator delivery guy came early enough that I was able to get to my work meeting on time after all. We had a snow day on Monday which meant I didn't have to worry about meeting a bus while taking one of the other children to her lesson. And I've had some really important, good, quality time with my kids lately, remembering who we are together as a family, even if I am the only adult in this family. Our Academy for Dramatic Arts may not have started off with a bang, but it started and can only grow and get better from here on out.
Second, what lessons can I learn from all of this? Well, the biggest is to keep my eyes open for the good and to keep celebrating it. Another is patience. A third is to be grateful for what I have because you never know when it won't be there. At the same time, to not become attached to "things" because they fail us every time. To be deeply grateful for the good in people, both strangers and friends, who step in and help. That is a lesson that truly can't be learned deeply enough. Another is to remember to reach out to people for emotional support as well as practical support. And finally, a big lesson that I have not achieved learning yet is to step out of ourselves and to remember the big picture that we are not called to focus on our own issues but called to help others. When we can do that, focusing on others, it usually helps us feel better about our own problems, too. Which then leads to...
Third, where is God leading me to help others through all of this? Well, for one thing, I would like to remind all of you who are in happy, healthy partnerships of what an amazing gift it is to have someone with you to help you on a daily basis. This is something that is so easy to take for granted. I did when I had that. But I see now what an amazing, incredible gift it is to have a partner to meet the refrigerator guy when you have to be at work, or a partner to take one kid to their lesson while the other kid needs someone to meet their bus as they come home from school, or a partner to just give you a break when everything is overwhelming, to give you a hug and tell you you are loved even when it feels like you can do nothing right, to rub your foot when it cramps up and help you decide when it is time to go to the doctor, to rock the car while you hit the gas to try to get it out of the snow, to help dig a hole and say a few words over the lost pet. These little things that are part of daily life are just simply a ton and a half more manageable when you have someone to help you, and when you face the hard times holding hands with someone else. If you have a partner, please try to not take that gift for granted. I never imagined myself without one. I knew I was one of the lucky ones who would have a lifetime spent next to a person I loved deeply. But that was not my reality. Here I am, and the hole that is left, even after three years, is so big I wonder if it can truly ever be filled. So what can I give others? I hope that I can give you all a reminder of the gift that you have in your partner, even when you are going through hard times. I also hope that as I learn serenity in the face of adversity, that I can model that and share that, too, with those around me. I also am reminded that my struggles are small compared to some. So, thinking about others as I face my challenges calls up in me compassion and a deeper desire to serve and help those whose struggles are even bigger. I am thankful that I have a house during this cold winter, and a place for my kids to sleep, a refrigerator to keep our food from spoiling, pets to comfort us, and friends to turn to in need. I hope that I can be more intentional about offering care to those who don't have those basic needs.
That last step, of finding where God is leading us to serve others through all of our journey is a step I think often takes a while to discern, to discover and to put into practice, so I hope as the weeks go by, I will gain more insight. In the mean time, I will continue to strive to see the good, learn from the challenges, put into the care of others the lessons I've learned, and not spend TOO much time in the lamenting... ;-)