When Life Becomes a Carnival

I often share about my lovely new town and the peaceful view of the river from my front window. I love to walk my dog through the field across the street, lingering along the shore. I stop to greet the goose that has been my friend since the time I moved here. I think God put that goose there just for me, knowing my affinity for a lone goose that lost its lifelong mate and adopted my parents years ago. This lone goose was to me like an acknowledgment hug from God, reminding me that He never forgets that I lost my mate and He is always with me. Along the way, I breathe in to capture the smell of the falling leaves and freshly cut grass on the nearby soccer fields. I enjoy meeting new people along the way. I love to watch the boats roll by, and in the evening I usually tear up with joy and gratitude as I view the sun setting behind the water. Twice I have seen an eagle on its nest. The serenity of God’s creation feeds my soul as I walk and talk with Him by the river. I count on the peace this walk with God brings me each day.

But, oh my…how quickly things can change! You see, last weekend the carnival rolled into town, across the street from my house. Literally, overnight, my view switched from sunsets and riverfronts to Ferris wheels, tilt-a-whirls, and pirate ship rides. Every time I opened my door my olfactory senses no longer processed falling leaves and freshly cut grass but instead confronted smells of foot-long hot dogs, fried marshmallow-covered-dough-filled-sugar-coated everything imaginable, cotton candy, and other undetermined scents. My new view seemed like full-fledged craziness. Lights and sounds continued into the night and then Sunday evening, it was all gone. I was reminded how in the twinkling of an eye, our surroundings can change from serenity to carnival madness and back again. However, even with the carnival’s departure, it’s not yet exactly the same. I notice remnants of craziness. The grass is now mud and the trash and commodes are yet to be collected.

Life is like this. We experience times of calm and then the big trucks come in and seemingly overnight, dump craziness in our proverbial front yards…Not in the forms of Ferris wheels and pirate ships (well, for me it actually was in this form :-)), but more often with illnesses, difficult news, family trials, disappointments, grief, conflicts, and little things like pandemics. We can have a hard time remembering what serenity looks like and face seemingly overwhelming smells of fear and doubt. Whenever the “life carnival” rolls in, I find I must stay grounded in the reality of truth. The beauty of God’s creation is true. God’s provision is real. His concern for me is real. His empathy with me is real. His promise of eternal life is real. His promise of a new heaven and new earth is real. His comfort is real. He never changes, even when my view does. The carnival, though crazy, is temporary. Even though it happens, He holds my hand as I ride the Ferris wheel. I need that since I abhor heights.

He reminds me that the river is still in the same place, it is just a bit hidden by the surrounding commotion. My identity in Christ doesn’t change with changing circumstances. I take “me” with me both to the river and to the carnival, and Jesus walks with me through both. When my identity comes from God, I can stay grounded whether at the river or in the carnival. Though the trash and commodes may linger awhile, the leaves will still fall, the grass will grow through the mud, the river will still flow, and the sun will continue to rise and set. I must simply remember, notice, and keep walking with Him as He guides me. Even when the carnival was in full force, I walked further, beyond the carnival, and eventually passed its craziness. I once again smelled the grass and saw the river. I just had to keep walking.

You may feel like your life is a carnival, where serenity has been replaced by crazy. My life over the last few years has been filled with difficult transitions that have at times “smelled” like stale foot-long hot dogs and left me spinning on tilt-a-whirls. That combination can prove challenging, believe me. However, I can stay grounded by noticing God in everything as I keep on walking past the carnival, visiting the goose, watching the eagle, speaking to passersby, and witnessing the beautiful consistency of the sunset. I stay grounded knowing that His words are true and that He gives me purpose and identity. I am confident that the peaceful river and the crazy carnival can coexist because God is with me through them all. There truly is a secret of being content. His name is Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-13 (NIV2011)
4  Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
5  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
6  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
7  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8  Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
9  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
10  I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.
11  I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.
12  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
13  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

 

Transitions – Lots of Them

Transitions happen. Lots of them. Though I didn’t have a choice concerning the last chapter of losing Wyndham, I have certainly felt the Spirit’s urging and presence in moving forward to new chapters. Since that time, among other transitions, I sold my house of thirty-plus years, bought a new home in CT near my youngest daughter, retired from forty-seven years of full-time ministry, and began my doctorate program. While “ministering” is my lifelong lifestyle as an apprentice of Jesus that won’t change, life is different.

 

I have felt hugs from God throughout the transitions, though it has not always been easy. I find I must look for those hugs. For instance: When I put my house on the market, I felt sad. I would miss the park across the street from my house and my nearby “reservoir walk” a little over a mile away, among other things. However, the park by my old house is busier than I like, and I recently encountered a snake on the reservoir walk. Not a fan of snakes, I had postponed my walks there. God gave me a hug…with a house perfect for me in Connecticut, complete with a quiet park across the street where the gorgeous Riverwalk along the Connecticut River begins.  I pinch myself as I walk each day along the river and through town, amazed that God gave me such a beautiful, serene setting near water. I have met many new friends as I walk, many who have recently moved here, lost their husbands, and retired. This is no accident, I am sure. If this is not enough, there is a studio apartment on the property, perfect for Jacob.

The “new” park is quiet, except on one night a week when it becomes a music venue. Perfect!  And if that is not enough of a hug, as I go by the dock and dock house on the river each day, a lone goose greets me. This is particularly meaningful to me, as I wrote in one of my books about a lone goose that “adopted” my parents after losing its mate. Geese have a mate for life, and when they lose their mate they stay alone, sometimes attaching to a person for their new “mate.” Passing this lone goose each day just feels like a hug to me from God, and from Wyndham.

This past week I had the opportunity to teach on “the role of women in the church” at the European School of Missions in Switzerland. I was encouraged and inspired the current graduating class (after beginning 3 years ago) of the School of Missions and their new contributions to the churches in Europe. A few of these students I knew as preteens, so that was special.  It was wonderful to interact with the incoming class as well. It was so meaningful to be with old friends living in Europe…the Kings, LeNoans, Micha, and of course the McGuirks. It was also a treat to spend time with the Ayasses, who were there helping with their grandchildren during much of the time. It was especially inspiring to see the fruits of the love and labor of the young and “older” McGuirks in Paris, and also John and Rachel, who serve the church in Milan.

Teaching energizes me, as I feel it is a calling from God. It was meaningful and fun to teach with Joey Harris. It felt seamless, as we soon realized we had such  congruent interpretations and understandings of the topic. We taught on the subject for about ten hours, including sessions about ways to read and interpret scripture, the author’s style, presuppositions we bring to interpretation, the lenses through which we read (western culture vs. eastern culture, patriarchal culture, and our CoC and ICOC cultures), blinders to our lenses, cultures of Ephesus and Corinth, God’s parameters, transcending principles, specific verses on women in the scriptures, and essential attitudes of humility and unity. We included various group exercises and discussions throughout.

Joey taught for the next couple of days on Old Testament Survey and OT interpretation, which was all outstanding. Kudos to all the students who put their hearts and minds into days of learning in a language that is not their first one.  

My next stop for next week includes my first residency session for my doctoral program, where I meet my professors and cohort and also participate in a guided spiritual retreat. I am super excited to start and am eager to keep learning.

I have much to write about transitions; in fact, much of my research will stem from this topic. While it is good to be home, I am also grateful for so many memories from years past with Wyndham throughout Europe. It seemed fitting to leave some ashes in a river in the Alps. I include a few thoughts describing this time for me.

On the Bridge

We walked this stream before

Flowing waters toward tributaries form 

Crossing the bridge to the other side

Hands entwined, warm to warm

 

These hands hold memories

Carrying ashes, remnants of living

Now stilled by the cool hand of death

As waters below tease of life still giving

 

I stand on this bridge called hope

Connector of life and death that I know

While your ashes find life in the wind

Toward life-giving water, still sparkling below

 

Ashes give birth to life

As the river moves toward the sea

And the bridge, through the Spirit

It still connects you and me.

Mark it Down

This past Saturday marked one year since my amazing husband died. I wondered how the day would feel. Would I celebrate his one-year heavenly birthday, mourn his loss, look at pictures, relive the horrible day, all of the above, or something else altogether? While we commemorate certain holidays, many life transitions (both the encouraging and the oh-so-hard ones) often pass by us unmarked. Un-commemorated. Unconfronted. I believe this often makes transitions more difficult to pass through, leaving us emotionally stuck.

I note in the Bible how often transitions, big and small, were commemorated. Stones of remembrance were stacked. Feasts were held. Garments were torn. Bread was broken. Altars were built. I find it helpful to mark transitions rather than just letting them slide by. It helps me, although I realize that people have different ways of processing transitions. This is not a “one size fits all” thought process.

I knew I did not want to simply dread this one-year anniversary so in preparation, I talked with God about what might be most helpful. Perhaps the Spirit put some thoughts in my head, but by whatever means they arrived, they were helpful. Saturday was deeply meaningful and special.

I considered that as a family it might help us to “mark” the day. So, on Saturday we each took several hours for a spiritual retreat. We went out in nature, Wyndham’s favorite place to be on this side of heaven. God blessed the day with unseasonably warm, gorgeous weather. One of us went to a riverside, another to the cleft in a rock at the reservoir, and several others to the ocean. I went to our special beach in Manchester-by-the-Sea, a place where we had spent many Mondays walking, praying, talking, dreaming, and planning. It felt more inspiring than sad to be there. As I felt the sun warming my face and the waves gently sliding over the sand I sang, listened to spiritual music, read, journaled, prayed, and listened to learn. We all began our times with an intent to still our hearts–to breathe in as we invited the Spirit to fill our hearts and breathe out the distractions and anxieties. It is truly hard to be so still of heart that we can hear God well. At least it is for me. As we each “retreated,” we reflected and journaled some of the following questions:

  • What do you most remember Papa saying to you that you carry with you? What do you think he would most want to say to you today?
  • What do you think God would want to say to you today?
  • What is at least one way this very hard year has most helped you grow spiritually?
  • What is a scripture or song that has helped sustain you this past year?
  • What are your best memories from this year?
  • What are you most grateful to God for as you think through His work in your life this year?
  • What are a few of your favorite thoughts/hopes about heaven?

This was a helpful, meaningful exercise for me, and for each of us. We also commemorated November 21 as our first annual “Pay it Forward for Papa Day.” In honor of him, we would each decide to do some special good deeds in honor of him. This was fun, meaningful, and fitting.

We ended the night with a several-hour Zoom call where we each shared the meaningful highlights from the day. It was honest, vulnerable, full of laughter, and full of tears. I treasure that time.

I also took a few pictures of my time at the beach. I captured a father and child frolicking hand in hand, sharing pure joy. I felt grateful to have a Father who takes my hand. I accompanied this view with the song “Precious Lord, take my hand…lead me on, let me stand….Through the storms, through the night, lead me on to the light…precious Lord, take my hand, lead me home.” Not sure if the lyrics are correct, but they work for me.

I then saw kayakers set out through the sparkling water to a destination I couldn’t see. This scene reminded me of my new journey…one in which I must trust God because I don’t know exactly where it will take me.

I then noted a young couple who walked toward the water and ever so calmly and gently glided their swimsuit-clad bodies into the ocean without even a second’s hesitation. They walked in as if the ocean was bathwater and floated neck-deep in the frigid 51-degree water. (Yes, I Googled the temperature.) After about ten minutes of their stillness in the water, I lost track of my prayers and tried to remember my college life-saving class techniques just in case I would need to retrieve hypothermic floaters. Fortunately, they calmly and slowly walked back to shore and dabbed themselves with towels. As I had watched them walk into the frigid water without hesitation I thought of the song “Oceans,” and the lyrics spoke to me. Can I walk out that calmly or would I be wailing and screaming with the discomfort?

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine.

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior.

Though it has been an inexpressibly hard year, perhaps it has been a year where I have grown most. One step at a time. God has greatly blessed me beyond what words can convey. I am deeply grateful. I pray you will have a meaningful Thanksgiving as you count your blessings.