“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
I find myself thinking this morning, “Well, it took you long enough!”
And then murmuring, “Thank you, Lord. Thank you.”
These days I feel as though I am living on the cusp of a miracle. I wrote my daughter yesterday that I haven’t been this excited about the future since I was pregnant — and my youngest turns 31 in September. That’s a long time.
But the promise of a future of hope came more recently than that — in December 2009 to be exact. I was editing a small weekly newspaper and feeling a little overwhelmed. Not only did I have all of the usual stuff to do — reporting on community events, heading out with my faithful digital for photo ops, editing everything else submitted for publication, enhancing photos digitally so they’d look crisp and clear in print, and attempting to be welcoming to anyone who happened to wander into my office when I was on deadline — I also had Christmas ad sales to squeeze in.
On top of that, staff problems were tying my stomach in knots. A gal who had worked for the company for years, and hadn’t managed to have a good working relationship with anyone in my office but had inexplicably charmed the publisher into thinking she was a real treasure (I didn’t ask how), was in one of her moods. This involved a little sport I called “editor baiting.” She would do everything she could to provoke me into losing my temper. The longer I resisted, the more creative and malicious her behavior became until she succeeded. Then, she’d run like an injured six-year-old child to the publisher and cry about my outburst. She always managed to leave out the details regarding her conduct.
The baiting had just begun, and I knew I had some rough days ahead. My usual approach was to be in the office as little as possible on those days when she worked. However, since I had to call businesses to see whether they intended to place Christmas ads, escaping wasn’t going to be an option. A sense of hopelessness had begun to wrap itself around me.
I loved my job — the relationships I’d built with people in the community, the way elementary school children would come running when I showed up because they wanted hugs from “the picture lady,” the way I was able to use the newspaper to strengthen people’s pride in their community by focusing on the wonderful things happening. I loved the house I’d found there — the sun-drenched rooms, the hardwood floors, the walls painted to showcase my art collection. I loved being surrounded by friends — the dinners over which we talked about art and faith, the laughter-filled shopping trips, the way in which even a trip to the grocery store involved warm welcomes.
So much good. So much beauty. But my stomach was tied in knots because of a work situation I could not rectify and that threw a pall over everything else. I did what I always do in situations like that, when nothing I can do will alter that which is adversely affecting my life — turned to God in prayer.
Our parish priest had given away Advent devotionals the previous Sunday after Mass. When I paged through it that morning as I sat down for a chat with the Lord, I came across a prayer for hope. It began with a beautiful poem by Sister Genevieve Glen, a Benedictine nun at the Abbey of St. Walburga in Colorado. That led to a beautiful responsorial version of Psalm 42: “Athrist is my soul for the living God”(v.3).
And then, God whispered in my ear. No, I didn’t experience auditory hallucinations. I didn’t actually hear anything. Rather, I had the sense of having just heard something — as though a friend had spoken to me and I was reflecting on the words before responding. I was struck with awe and wonder.
I was familiar with the passage I read following the psalm — Jeremiah 29:11-14. It was not new to me, but never before when reading the passage had I felt God speaking to me personally. Rather, I thought of a more generic blessing, of a distant, heavenly Father making the Sign of the Cross over the masses. This time, it seemed as though I had heard the words as a personal promise.
This, Mary, this is for you. Remember it. Hold on to it. Trust me to bring this to fruition in your life.
I wanted to believe that God made a personal promise to me. I wanted to believe the hopelessness that threatened to take the joy out of my Christmas preparations would lift and all would be well. I started carrying the devotional with me. Every time I had to warm up my truck to go somewhere, I would pull out the devotional, turn to the prayer of hope and lift my petition to God while the defroster cleared my windshield and all the engine parts became warm and willing.
Advent passed and Christmas. Another year with its work-dynamic roller coaster. And another. I hadn’t forgotten the promise, though I did fail to see how God had fulfilled it in my life. In the spring of 2011, I discovered the publisher had decided to replace me and I accepted a different job. I discovered fairly quickly that I was not a good match for the new organization, and left it within a matter of months. A period of unemployment led to a period of underemployment.
I never forgot that Advent prayer experience — it was limned in wonder, even in memory — but over time my capacity for mental gymnastics had transformed it. God hadn’t really made me a promise. I was just emotionally vulnerable that morning and imagined an intimate prayer experience. And, that alone helped me through some rough times. That’s what I’d begun to tell myself.
But now, I suspect I was just impatient. The other morning, just before waking, I dreamed people were telling me I was pregnant. “How can this be?” I asked each one, as I encountered them. “I’m losing weight; my pants are baggy; how can you believe I am pregnant?” That morning, as I sat down to my devotions, I read, “the angel of God appeared to Joseph in a dream” (Matt. 2:13), and that evening, as I picked up a book of poetry — Risking Everything, edited by Roger Housden — it opened to “On Angels” by Czeslaw Milosz. “I have heard that voice many a time when asleep / and, what is strange, I understood more or less / an order or an appeal in an unearthly tongue.”
I knew then that my dream had been the voice of an angel, telling me God’s promise — the future of hope — was coming to fruition. I’d been excited about the move I’m about to make prior to that, but now — the joy of anticipation almost overwhelms me at times. I am living on the cusp of a miracle and know it with each breath.
Thank you, Lord. Thank you.