They say the most stressful things in life are moving, getting married, having a baby, changing jobs, losing a job, getting separated/divorced, losing a spouse or loved one, or falling ill or disabled. And you know that list ain’t all of it. What’s even worse is when these big game changers hit multiples at a time, or one after another with no rest in-between.
So. What do all these high stress generators have in common? They’re all major life Changes. Transitions. Turning points. Rites of passage. Bombs (unexpected or even expected). Not easy. Even when they’re good or happy changes — changes that come full of hope and promise for the future.
As a matter of fact, I couldn’t write on the blog these past three months because all the recent transitions in my life threw me for such a loop.
Funny. My last post on Valentine’s Day, written just days before our mid-school year move to a new city, new home, new neighborhood and new school, was bursting with hope, expectation, joy and gratitude, because I was keenly aware of God’s providence and provision in our lives. Some o’ the things He pulled off were nothing short of divine miracles. He did good. So much good. For us.
But then. After the move, things didn’t go quite as smoothly. There were hiccups and delays finding the right people to live in our old place. None of the churches I visited here felt quite like “home.” Many aspects of the kids’ new school and school district were disappointing. I missed my peeps back in L.A. and the racial, cultural and socio-economic diversity of our old ‘hood and school. I was feeling like a fish outta water…with my quirky personality, strangely motley wardrobe, surprisingly “liberal” views (at least in our new surroundings), and qualms about the traps of pursuing worldly success at the risk of compromising intimacy with our Maker.
And then. Just when I thought I saw a faint light at the end of the tunnel, unpacking seemed it might actually end, and we just might survive here — I got hit by a bomb. We got word that Son was accepted into what I felt was the perfect school for him – a highly sought-after, competitive, academic and diverse public (free) middle/high school – back in Los Angeles. When we applied for the lottery last year, we knew chances were small, microscopically small, that he’d get in, and we didn’t like our other options. So after months of agonizing deliberation, we bit the bullet and moved away.
Oh that @$#*& acceptance letter! Should’ve been happy news but instead, it gave me heartburn for weeks. Why, oh why….?
So. That’s where I’ve been, friends. Fretting and flopping. I let changes, circumstances, surprises mess with my head and my heart and cloud all of whom I know God to be. I began second-guessing Him, myself, my husband, everything. “It was God who brought us here, right? Didn’t He work everything out, against many odds, so that we could have this home, those tenants, these neighbors, that classroom spot, the way we did and how we did? So, uh, what happened?”
Looking back, since it’s always 20/20 hindsight with me, I pulled a Peter.
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ ‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’ ‘Come,’ he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’ And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’ ”
(Matthew 14:22-33, NIV)
Yup. I pulled a Peter. I got cocky and told Jesus to go ahead and call me to join Him in perilous waters, to get out of my seemingly safer boat and walk on water, to Him, in the face of the winds and waves.
Ok ok, so it’s a little ridic to compare some nice, sunny So Cal suburbs to “perilous waters,” or life in L.A. to “my seemingly safer boat,” or living in the ‘burbs to “walking on water.” But whatever. You know what I mean. It was hard for me, people. (You can stop snickering now.)
Wait, where were we? Oh yes. I told Him I was ready, so Jesus called me.
Out of my comfort zone. Out of my city and community of nearly 25 years. Away from the church where DH and I met, married and had kids, where we somehow morphed from young people into middle-aged folk. Away from the amazing group of women in my weekly bible study. Away from my wonderful neighborhood mamamigas. Away from all that was familiar. Away from my support network.
Yup. He sure called me. And He called my bluff too.
You see, for the last year or two in L.A. I got closer to God than I’d been in years. He made my joy and confidence in Him grow exponentially. Life with Him was far better than any life I’d known. I thought nothing could shake us, or shake me rather. I asked for His guidance and He gave it. He led us here. (Of that I’m still certain, the surprises and my short-sighted lapse of faith notwithstanding.)
Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge….
Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure….
I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me.
I have set the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”
(Psalm 16:1, 5, 7-8)
BUT. He hadn’t told me how it would be once I got here. And He hadn’t promised the road would be smooth or even clear. He just needed me to trust, obey and stick close.
Instead, I got here, I got distracted, and I got discouraged. By tireless unpacking, day after day. By worrying over the pros and cons of the educational system here. By looking back rather than ahead, and stubbornly mourning days of yesterday. By focusing on all the ways I didn’t “belong” here. Before I knew it, my gaze had turned from Jesus and fixated on myself and my circumstances.
Not surprisingly, after neglecting God, repeatedly deferring time with Him, forgetting to ask for His help, His wisdom, His plan – I got lost. The enemy saw his chance and robbed me of my joy and confidence in the Lord. I saw the wind and the waves rather than my Jesus, whose feet by the way stayed firmly planted on top of those daunting waters the whole time. And I started sinking. [Cut to the 40-somethin’ Asian woman among the foolish and forgetful Israelites in the desert, praising God for His generous provisions one minute, forgetting them and worrying and whining the next.]
Thank you, Father. For not giving up on Your people so many centuries ago. For not giving up on me now.
Be on guard. Is life gonna make you or break you?
As I shared in my conversion story way back when, I didn’t become a Christian ‘til senior year of high school when an older church friend visiting from college told us that college would be super fun and exciting, with many new freedoms and opportunities, but that there’d also be many new temptations and pitfalls. “College can make or break you as a Christian. You should know where you stand with God before you go.” I’ll never forget her words.
Only seventeen at the time, I didn’t know what lay ahead of me but I did know that I could easily get lost and choose the wrong path if left to my own devices. I wanted assurance that wherever I go, God would go before me, beside me, with me. For the first time, I genuinely invited Jesus into my life. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’ve screwed up too many times to count since then, but being the Good Shepherd that He is, Jesus always comes back for me, cleans me up, and brings me safely back home to start fresh.
That church friend’s wisdom so many years ago applies to so much more than just going off to college. All the changes and transitions, twists and turns, winds and waves that life throws at us – any one of them can shake and test our roots, how firmly our feet (or faith) are planted, where our strength comes from.
I am learning, and I hope you are too, that God’s presence, plan and unfailing love for me and for you never depends on our circumstances. He is equally with us in our highs and with us in our lows. But if our eyes aren’t turned to Him, we miss all of that.
So when “life happens,” be on guard. Know where you stand, but more importantly, know where God stands, and all fear and doubt will flee. Only He can calm the winds and the waves, even in the worst of storms, and make all things work out for good, your good. No matter what may come….