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,
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.)