We finally did it. We wrote a Christmas letter last month. It had been four years. So we wrote a catch-up letter. That proved to be eye-opening, particularly when we recapped 2013. How did we not see it? Why was our awareness so dulled? Some dear friends wrote back: “I have never seen a list as long as yours for change points in one year.” I read that statement and re-visited that emotion packed year.
Early that year our dachshund, Zep, died. Minor to some, but not to us. He’d greeted us with unconditional dog love daily for 15 years. Not all 2013 change-points were bad. Our first grandchild, a grandson, got married to a wonderful young woman, a happy occasion but a change-point. Then my sister was diagnosed with cancer. She went through a rugged surgery and a rocky recovery with excellent medical care. She lives with and cares for our mother, so we took my mom in for five months to allow my sister to get her needed care. How Mary cared for my mother’s personal needs while working part time and keeping up with our busy ministry, is only explained by God’s grace. Right after my sister’s diagnosis, Mary’s sister’s husband died. He was a dear friend. We’d shared many laughs and good times with him and Mary’s sister. It was a huge loss. Two months later I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, a disease which took my dad’s life. I remember exactly where I was standing when the doctor called to tell me my biopsy was positive. Then Mary retired, ending her working career outside the home – a significant change point.
What I didn’t write about and only a few people knew, is that I had begun to wrestle with whether it was time to retire from full time pastoral ministry. I’d reached “the age” and was wondering if someone else should take the reigns. Most days I loved my work, serving Christ and the church. The thought of leaving that was hard. It weighed heavily on me.
Many good things came from that year too. My sister had a good outcome from her cancer surgery. I had a good outcome from my cancer surgery. We got a new dog. God’s hand was clearly evident. Our church was so supportive. God walking with us through all this was real, a heartfelt experience. Sometimes we had to look back to see it, but there’s no other reasonable explanation.
What surprised me as I wrote about 2013 is how I didn’t comprehend the cumulative effect. That happens doesn’t it? We don’t realize how a son’s or daughter’s difficulty in school tugs on us; how stress develops with an impossible boss or troubled work associate spilling his or her junk on you daily; how unrelenting little traumas can cause distance in your marriage, and you snap at each other and wonder, “what’s happening to us?” Little things become bigger than they are. You feel tired and speculate about something serious going on.
It creeps up on us, because it comes in small measures. Be aware. With several emotionally charged episodes in your life, you’ll need some space. Space to refresh, recharge, reflect, find grace. You have to fight for that. The alternative is to let it pile up until you’re buried and bruised. You’ll need someone to talk to about what you’re going through. Fellow believers, the church, helped us. Sometimes simply hold on to that hackneyed saying: “This too shall pass.”
Reflecting on what we went through woke me up. A little late, yes. But that’s life. We live and grow, so it’s never late. Maybe you need to reflect on what you’re going through. The worse response is no response. Let it keep happening. Think you’re invincible. We’re not. God knows that, and wants to help us through overload. It starts with awareness.