It’s a Wonderful Life

“There are things in a person which are hidden from the person in whom they are. And they won’t come out, or be opened up, or discovered, except through tests and trials and temptations. If God stops testing, it means the master is stopping teaching.” Saint Augustine of Hippo

If this year is any indication, God is definitely continuing his work in me.

In March, I learned an employer with whom I’ve worked four years had started advertising my job — without mentioning this fact to me. In September, I was told I would no longer be doing the job for which I moved across state. In November, one of my granddaughters was hospitalized after being injured at day care. And, the day before Thanksgiving, I learned I will not be able to collect unemployment.

I have to admit, I’ve lost some sleep over these things — which is to be expected, I suppose. But, at the same time, I am being drawn into a more intimate relationship with God that fills me with such joy!

At times, it feels as though I never knew God at all. I’ve realized I certainly didn’t trust him, not with my life. As my spiritual director observed, I have a tendency to take care of myself.

And though I’ve had some experiences in prayer which might be considered mystical prior to this, I’ve never before felt my heart open in complete surrender or felt such assurance that God is going before me, opening doors, even though at times there is little tangible evidence of this. It’s as though he has said to me, “You will hear my voice and follow me. It’s that simple.”

And it is — as long as I anchor each day in prayer and give thanks throughout the day for all the daily blessings that God pours into my life, blessings as easy to take for granted as the sweet joy of a granddaughter’s smile, a daughter’s hug or a good night’s sleep. But there have been other blessings as well — among them the gift that allowed me to attend a retreat that deeply nourished me, regular lunches with a friend whose companionship fills me with peace, the recommendation which helped me to land a freelance job.

But gratitude is only part of trust. Surrender is part of it, too, surrendering control, surrendering the need to know. Like the Israelites in the desert, I am being asked to trust God to provide each day what I need. I am being asked to trust that he has plans for my life even though I don’t know what the coming days hold.

This is a counter cultural approach to life. We are a goal-oriented, achievement-oriented, success-oriented people. We measure ourselves and one another by what we accomplish, what we acquire and who we know. To abandon myself to God instead of fighting to make a place for myself demands my trust in God be active. Granted, I must still do my part — apply for jobs and show up for interviews — but I must also be willing to wait patiently until God opens the door through which I will enter the next phase of my life. This kind of surrender requires a daily, sometimes hourly, choice.

I know this life I am living at present doesn’t look like a blessing, especially to those who care about me most, but it truly is wonderful. Learning to trust God is an experience for which it’s worth suffering. Perhaps, with God’s grace, this time will bear fruit that blesses others as well.

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Naptime

It’s four in the morning — actually 4:35 — and I am wide awake. I have to ask myself the same question I ask my granddaughters when they cry out in frustration during our days together.

Hey, girl? What’s that about?

My answer probably isn’t any better than theirs. For the most part, they’re preverbal, though they can say “kitty” with perfect clarity and consistency when the family cat shows up. (I had hoped to double their vocabulary by adding “Gramma” during my visit, but wasn’t successful. Bummer!)

I just find myself waking earlier and earlier every morning. One contributing factor is my internal clock. After seven hours of sleep, I am awake. Period. If I happen to be sleep deprived, I can sleep longer, but if I’ve been on any kind of regular schedule, my body says “rise and shine” after about seven hours.

Another contributing factor is my lack of physical stamina. I’m used to spending my days at a desk, exercising my fingers. I’m not accustomed to being on the move for hours at a time, but caring for twins in a two-story house means the closest life comes to sedentary is sitting down to lunch while they are napping. Not only do I take lots of stairs during the day, but I also take lots of steps, do lots of lifting and crawl around quite a bit. I’ve learned to drink my morning coffee in hurried gulps between various demands for Gramma’s time.

Consequently, by the time Dad and Mom arrive on the scene, Gramma is ready to sit back and read a little. The problem is that I’ll head to my room to give Dad and Mom some private time, stretch out on the bed to read and find myself repeatedly startled awake when the book drops from my hands. Eventually, I’ll concede it’s not likely I’ll finish the chapter and I’ll just toss the book aside and shut off the light — which happens earlier and earlier, it seems.

The next thing I know, I’m awake and the house is still asleep. Around 6, Paige will start stirring, but until then, need to find ways to occupy myself without disturbing anyone else. Maybe I should try taking a nap.

Crying Time

It’s crying time again — that 10 or 15 minutes after being put down for a nap when my twin granddaughters fight sleep.

Sara said the best way to cope during that interval is to do something — take a shower, mop the floor, check e-mail, anything that will distract an overly-sensitive gramma so she doesn’t dash in to offer comfort. That’s  sensible advice. Really, it  is, and because it makes sense, I do it.

It’s still hard, though, to hear them cry — which, I suppose, makes it like suffering in a small way.

I’ve been reading about suffering in a chapter on obedience in “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything” by James Martin, S.J. It’s one of those rare books that’s both easy to read and digest, but also wise in an I-can-live-this way.

After describing the Jesuit vow of obedience and illustrating with examples, Martin goes on to explain all of us can be obedient by living our daily lives in a way that recognizes God’s presence. He illustrates with a lesson learned by Walter Ciszek, S.J., who served 15 years in a Siberian labor camp.

“One day . . . he [Ciszek] had a revelation. When it comes to daily life, God’s will is not some abstract idea to be figured out or puzzled over or discerned. Rather, God’s will is what is presented before us  every day.”

Martin notes it’s easy to do this when our daily lives bring blessings, but not as easy when daily life includes suffering. While he doesn’t offer any facile platitudes regarding suffering,  which is a reflection of the book’s wisdom, he does remind us that God can reveal himself in new ways in our suffering.

“In vulnerability, in poverty of spirit, in brokenness, we are often able to meet God in new ways — perhaps because our guard is down and we are more open to God’s presence.”

As I read this chapter, called “Surrendering to the Future: Obedience, Acceptance and Suffering,” I can’t help but think of my life over the past couple months. First, I was faced with a distressing decision regarding my job situation. Then, I had to grapple with unemployment and the challenge of job hunting in a part of the state where jobs are few and far between. While prayer helped me to remain centered in facing those challenges, that inner peace was disrupted when I learned one of my granddaughters was injured at day care and hospitalized as a result.

The distance between South Dakota and California has never been so great as it was for me during those long days and long nights until my plane landed in California and I could see with my own eyes that my precious sweetheart was going to recover. Since then, I’ve found myself giving thanks dozens of  times each day for the gift of this time. If bad things must happen to those I love, and it is inevitable since that is part of the human condition, I can only be grateful God provided the opportunity for me to be available until new childcare arrangements can be made.

But, that is only the beginning. I’m grateful to live in a time when the Internet allows me to search for employment as easily from California as from my own home. I’m grateful my daughter and son-in-law were able to buy my ticket at a time when my financial resources are so very limited. I’m grateful for the prayerful support of friends and members of my church family.

Most of all, I’m grateful for baby smiles and baby giggles, grateful for first steps and cuddly bears, grateful for sippy cups and disposable diapers, grateful for books to read and balls to roll, grateful for walkers and sleepers and blackberries at snacktime, grateful for little arms reaching for love and grateful for a God who has given me all these things.

This interlude has put things into perspective. I’m still unemployed and my granddaughter’s injury will take weeks to heal, but these traumas are transient. I know this in a new way. I used to cope with difficult times by telling myself, “I survived the loss of my mother and the loss of my son; I can survive this, too.” Today I tell myself, “Yes, life brings difficulties, but God is good. Where is he now?”