The Saving Grace of Work

This post was originally written almost exactly one year ago in response to an invitation from Charity Singleton for a High Calling Blog Hop. I’m reposting it today for Ed Cyzewski’s week of blogposts on “A Hazardous Faith,” the title of a recently released book he co-authored. This particular post is actually more about a long-term season of struggle in the life of our family – both my immediate family and our church family. And it speaks to the role of my pastoral work as an anchor and strong center during that tumultuous time. Because, let’s face it - LIFE is hazardous – that is just a fact. And following Jesus in the midst of it somehow manages to both add to and subtract from the riskiness of it all. We are never promised sunshine and roses when we choose to place our feet in the shadow of the Rabbi, no matter what the televangelists might tell you. We are not rescued from life and its losses. Rather, we are invited into a relationship that makes those losses easier to navigate, a relationship that never ends and never fails.

 

2009 was most definitely not my favorite year.

Come to think of it, 2008 and 2007 were pretty rotten, too.

And 2006 and 2005 were not a whole heckuva lot better.

At times, it felt as though we were riding a dangerously out of control roller coaster, careening from side to side, tilting on one very narrow edge as we rounded some treacherous turns and corners.

My dad died at the beginning of this long stretch of tough stuff, a rugged dying, leaving my mom both exhausted from care-giving and desperately lonely for her partner.

My husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer about two months later, enduring painful and debilitating surgery and still in recovery mode during a long-planned anniversary trip to France soon after.

Our son-in-law was applying for long-term disability, literally fading away before our eyes. His wife, our eldest daughter, was beginning an education process that would give her a master’s degree and special ed certification in 12 months. Their three boys were struggling to find their bearings in this new universe.

Our middle daughter’s 3rd boy was born in distress, tiny and in the NICU for 5 days. Our daughter-in-law needed a slightly dicey C-section for her first-born, just weeks after her cousin’s difficult entry into the world.

My youngest brother landed in the ER with a severe leg infection, requiring a long list of care-giving efforts from me, my other brother and our mom. This illness began a long, downward spiral of long-missed diagnoses, homelessness, sober living residences, heart surgery and eventually, sudden death in 2009.

Our son-in-law entered the last year of his life with multiple hospitalizations, serious complications of a wide variety, and a miraculous six-month respite, giving us all some memories that were lovely and lasting. That year, 2008, ended with a devastating pneumonia that took his life in a matter of hours.

And the next year, our beautiful town was hit by wildfires – two times – requiring evacuation from home and church, plunging our worshiping community into emergency mode for months on end.

As I said, it was an unbelievably difficult few years.

And every week, except for vacations and emergencies, I went to work. Many people wondered why. Why do you want to step into other people’s difficult situations? Why do you want to visit the sick? Why do you want to write Bible study lessons? Why do you still want to preach in the rotation? Why do you want to lead in worship? Why? Haven’t you got enough on your plate already?

I don’t know that I can fully answer that question.
But I will try to write a coherent list of possible reasons in this space:

work grounded me;
work reminded me I was not alone;
work taught me about community;
work provided an external focus;
work brought at least the illusion of order
to my terribly disordered world;
work kept me from drowning;
work brought relief from the weight of worry that
was an almost constant companion;
work allowed me to stay in touch with the
creative parts of me as well as the care-giving parts;
work gave me a different place to look,
a different place to reflect,
a different space in which to be me -
the me that was called and gifted and capable.
As opposed to the me that was helpless,
impotent and
overwhelmed.

Work was something I could do,
something I could manage,
something I could control – within limits.
My life was spinning frantically out of control,
at least out of my control,
heading down deep and dark crevasses that terrified me.
Work was more easily containable,
expectations were clear,
contributions were valued.
Work was grace for me during that long,
long stretch of Job-like living.

Work was a gift,
a gift of God to a weary and worried woman.
It allowed me room to breathe,
it provided me with commitments I could keep,
it brought me into contact with people who
could actually use what I had to offer.
And it brought me into contact with people
who could bear me up,
who could tend my gaping wounds,
who could be as Jesus to me,
even as I tried to be as Jesus to those
I loved most in this world.

I did not do any of it perfectly.
Lord knows, that isn’t even possible
and it surely wasn’t true.

My body let me know how big the load had become last year, when it was my turn to enter the hospital and begin round after round of medical appointments.

The end of 2010 brought the end of my work life. I have missed it at times. But I am discovering that even in the lack of structure and schedule of these first months of retirement, God is underneath. And around and in between. Just as God has always been.

I don’t completely understand why this truth is true, I just know this: the gift and grace of work helped me to see and to know God’s presence when the roller coaster was tilting crazily. And somehow, we’re still here, clinging to the sides of the coaster car, doing our very best to enjoy the ride.

Please check out the other posts being offered today in this busy week of commentary on a powerful topic. Here is a link to today’s page at Ed’s blog.
And while you’re there, why not order a copy of Ed’s new book?
He is a great guy, a talented writer and editor and he has a brand new baby boy.
Go on, make his day. 

(Sorry, Ed, I couldn’t make the banner work.)



Comments

  1. Your words and your heart are so precious. I feel like I know you better now. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and faith with us–things that you have learned in the “dark,” lessons the rest of us can use as our own “light” when our own darkness closes in.

    Blessings,
    Linda

  2. Oh, oh, oh. Diana. Oh.

    I don’t know what to say. Except that this is beautiful and real and horrifying and a huge blessing, all at the same time. I’ve juggled an overflowing plate from time to time.

    But never anything.like.this.

    Thank you for writing it down. When I read something that makes me cry, I always figure it probably made the writer–the owner of the story–cry in the writing of it.

    Thank you for being will to go there. Blessings.

  3. You have mentioned this season before, and I am glad (and slightly stunned), to know more what it was like for you. And your piece on the grace of work . . . so beautiful.

    How are you now, Diana? Are you recovering? Can one recover from all that grief and loss?

    I am SO glad that you are blogging.

    Fondly,
    Glenda

  4. Thanks for your kind words, friends – each of you has lived long enough to know that life does have its seasons!

    And yes, Glenda, I am doing better this year. I am on blood-thinning meds for life and that’s a bit of a pain, requiring frequent clinic visits and medication adjustments, but I am feeling more like myself after many months of low level fatigue. That fatigue (and a few other weird complications) were a result of an episode with blood clots in my lungs a year ago May.

    So, I am grateful to be here, and grateful that things seem to have settled down a bit! Perhaps you can see why this recent wedding was such a big deal for us all – we needed a big, beautiful party in the worst way!

  5. The grief and loss part – that’s much harder and deeper work. But slowly, slowly. It is compounded just now by my mom’s confusion and frailty – but what she is experiencing is almost to be expected, I guess, after the amount of loss she has endured. God is always near, even when I can’t ‘feel’ that nearness. I cherish the moments when I do.

  6. I could only heave a deep sigh after reading this. You are such a strong woman, Diana. If those trials were given to me, I don’t know if I would be able to handle them well, the way you did. Thank you so much for sharing your very inspiring story. It really touched me.

    God bless. :-)

    Irene

  7. oh friend, you’ve gone through some challenging times… but how beautiful the grace and love that pours from you. thank you so much for linking to imperfect. and for your encouraging words… i soaked them in. re: the music player, there is a purple box on the right-hand side near the top of the blog; just hit the “pause” button there, and the music should stop. bless you!

  8. Diana – Oh wow. Just wow. You know about what work can do to just keep us moving forward, don’t you? These words are so riveting, so perfect. Yes, this is why I want to get back to work so quickly after surgery, even though everyone kind of laughs at me like I’m crazy. Yes, work does all of these things.

    Thank you for linking up with me on my blog yesterday, and thank you for linking up with me in life. This journey is better together.

  9. Hello Diana,
    My daughter emailed me a link to your blog last night and I was surprised at how similiar our life experiences are. She noticed all the parallels and wanted me to visit your site.

    The last 4 years of my life have been filled with loss and grief.. my Dad and sister-in- law and the deterioration of my Mom’s health.

    I’ve been working as a Pastoral Counselor until the end of last year.. that work helped me survive this very difficult time.

    I also have some physical issues that resulted from all the stress of the last season.

    I have a blog that has emerged from my life experiences and my desire to bring hope to the brokenhearted. Feel free to take a look. I’m writing a book and returning to seminary this fall to take a class in Spiritual Direction.

    aliciasroses.wordpress.com

    I live in Marin county.. another beautiful place in California.

    Blessings,
    Alicia

  10. I could barely breathe as I read this, Diana. My heart was/is in my throat. How could I have missed it the first time around? I’m so glad you dusted it off and brought it back out.

    I’m wondering if at the time you realized how this was all piling up or if it’s in the looking back you realize He gave you the grace to walk through each crisis one by one. I know that’s how it is with me when I consider my journey through my daughter’s adolescence. Truly, I don’t know how I could have survived without Him.

  11. I have nothing to add, only gratitude that you have shared this story and that God gives us work as a blessing that can bring order and peace to our days.

  12. SortaCrunchy says:

    Oh, Diana. What terribly difficult years for you and your family. I cannot even imagine. Terrible. Blessed be He.

    I, too, am so thankful for the gift and grace of work. The times in my life that have been most painful to endure, I’ve always been so thankful for work. Even and especially physical work. There’s something to the act of working your muscles that allows us to get out of our heads. It is a mercy, to be sure.

    Thank you for reminding us all of that grace.

  13. Diana Trautwein says:

    Yeah – it was some ride for a long, long while there. And it does take that rear-view mirror perspective to see it all. I was aware even in the middle of it all that I needed to work as well as wanted to work. God provided that space for me and really only released me from my call AFTER life calmed down a bit. So sorry for your various rough years, friend – I know these roller coaster rides are tough sledding. But I also know that God is beyond faithful. Love to you…

  14. Diana Trautwein says:

    thanks for reading, Ed and for mentioning this on FB. I’m continually grateful for your presence out here in cyberland.

  15. Diana Trautwein says:

    It was a very tough time – and blessed be He, indeed. And I get you about the physical work part of it, too. Although I am much less physically inclined by nature! Since my own bout with serious illness two years ago, however I have been much more faithful with walking and have found that to be a wonderful wide open space to be with God. It has become a primary source of spiritual as well as physical release these days. Sure hope you’re feeling better soon!

  16. Interestingly this was the time I quit work–well, nursing anyway. I got my only speeding ticket while ripping through town on my way to work after a morning crisis, found myself driving the wrong way on a one-way street (twice). Yeah, I was a little frazzled and distracted. ;) Plus my kids were too old for a sitter but couldn’t be at home alone.

  17. I know that speeding ticket, driving the wrong way stuff – it’s called stress under pressure and it’s why I advise anyone under any kind of emotional tough stuff to be triply careful then they drive/climb stairs/ or do anything that requires accurate eyesight and reflexes. They just don’t work well when we’re upset. Glad you survived that tough period, Sandy – and now look – you’ve got grandgirls to love. Amazing.

  18. Diana –

    So these are the stories behind the woman with such big wisdom . . . Wow. You will never NOT be a pastor, in the finest sense of the word. It’s in your blood and I am so grateful for it – WE, in this online family of believers benefit deeply from all the fires you passed through.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Turned out those words were prophetic. After seven months away, I gingerly went back to work, with much clearer boundaries, with a firm commitment to being MYSELF in this job, not someone else, and with a wary but real openness to doing it differently this time around. I will only say that within weeks of beginning anew, most of life as I knew it changed so dramatically that my head kept spinning for about seven years! (I’ve written about some of that in this post: http://www.dianatrautwein.com/2012/08/the-saving-grace-of-work/) [...]

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