Monday, December 31, 2007

Extra Ordinary Gratitude

Be joyful always; pray continually;
give thanks in all circumstances,
for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
-- 1 Thessalonians 5:16 - 18

2007 has come to an end. If I were to think of one word to express or sum up the things I have experienced in the past twelve months it would, without a doubt, be dichotomy. So many things I saw or heard or encountered were seemingly contradictory. Had I been given the option back in December of 2006 to choose what my life would look like for the then upcoming year, I'm not so sure I would have chosen what I ended up living, but in retrospect I am indeed thankful for every moment of it. I have grown, I have changed, and I have learned something from all that I experienced. In conducting my mental review though, I cannot help but think of Charles Dickens' opening to Tale of Two Cities:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

I began this past year facing a series of chest x-rays and an MRI for a lump that developed and enlarged in around my collar bone and upper rib during 2006. I had put them off until after holidays, but January 3rd there was no more waiting. They were unable to find anything definitive and unless I wanted to engage in an exploratory surgery, watch and wait was my only option. I have a lot of cancer in my family, so it was a little disconcerting but I elected do the watch and wait nonetheless. Today I can still tell you exactly where it is, but it has shrunk a good deal and I am not conscious of it on a day-to-day basis as I have been in the past, so I guess for now it will remain just one of those mysterious things. I learned to have trust and faith that I would be led to make the best decisions at a time when there were no definitive answers, to accept that I would be protected and cared for by our Creator.

It is reasonable to expect the doctor to recognize that science may not have all the answers to problems of health and healing. - Norman Cousins.

The wish for healing has ever been the half of health. - Hippolytus

The beginning of the year was also filled with the great excitement and anticipation of the beginning of a new job on permanent basis where I had worked temporarily in the fall of 2006. I originally thought it would be a destination where I would stay for a much longer period of time. However, I was soon to discover that what I envisioned my purpose there to be was going to be vastly different from what God envisioned that purpose for me to be. Where I saw a period, He only meant for there to be a comma. It was simply just one of the facets of the year-long graduate level fortitude course He enrolled me in, without my consent. In this job which lasted eleven of the past twelve months, I learned many lessons about friendship, Christ-like love (or the absence of it), communities, public personas vs. private lives and what happens when ordinary people experience extraordinary pain. In the end, what I first saw as a place of arrival, was simply to be a 'layover' in my journey to another place. Once I came to that acceptance, I could simply take it all in and store what I had learned for future use.

Then Job replied to the LORD : "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted..." - Job 42:2

In the middle of the year, I watched as my husband said goodbye to his career of fourteen years, and a passion we both had shared for many of them. It was a love of music and music education that had initially brought us together in the early stages of our relationship, but an environment that we had both outgrown. The situation presented it's own financial and emotional struggles. We learned what it means to have your identity so wrapped up in a career that somehow you lose a portion of yourself and what it means to redefine yourself in a way that is true to your inner most being. We learned what it takes to truly live a more financially balanced life and the differences between wants and needs and what we were willing to give up to meet our basic needs. For a while the prospect of giving up the expense of our house was a nearing reality, but ultimately that did not come to pass.

I'm not afraid of storms, for I'm learning how to sail my ship. - Louisa May Alcott

In the middle of August we found ourselves at a place in our fifteen year old married relationship (and seventeen years of being best friends) that we didn't know how to navigate on our own. It was not a place we ever thought that we would end up; there were no rule books or game plans ready to follow and we made some mistakes. We found who we like to call, "Our paid friend, George" and he gave us some maps and a compass to help us find our way out of the woods. We are still in the process of forging this new path out of the wilderness together that will be the foundation for the next season of our lives. We learned that relationships don't run on auto-pilot. We learned that if you lose sight of where you are going, you're going to get lost. We learned to see each other with new eyes and with a new appreciation for the people who we had emerged into while we were each busy in our own ways doing work to hopefully make the world a better place. We re-learned what we value in each other and that nothing is to be taken for granted, especially in relationships. We learned how to fall in love again. We learned to say, "Chow Funs!"

That's not why I'm saying Chow Funs. I'm saying Chow Funs because we're an us. There's a history here, and histories don't happen overnight. In Mesopotamia or Ancient Troy there are cities built on top of other cities, but I don't want another city, I like this city. I know what kind of mood you’re in when you wake up by which eyebrow is higher, and you know I'm a little quiet in the morning and compensate accordingly, that's a dance you perfect over time. And it's hard, it's much harder than I thought it would be, but there's more good than bad and you don't just give up! . . . And I'll try to relax, let's face it, anybody is going to have traits that get on your nerves, I mean, why shouldn't it be your annoying traits, and I know I'm no day at the beach, but I do have a good sense of direction so I can at least find the beach, which isn't a weakness of yours, it's a strength of mine. And God you're a good friend and good friends are hard to find. . . And ultimately, isn't that what it comes down too? What a person is made of? That girl in the pin helmet is still here 'bee boo bee boo' I didn't even know she existed until you and I'm afraid if you leave I may never see her again, even though I said at times you beat her out of me, isn't that the paradox? Haven't we hit the essential paradox? Give and take, push and pull, the yen the yang. The best of times, the worst of times! I think Dickens said it best, 'He could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean', but, that doesn't really apply here does it? What I'm trying to say is, I'm saying Chow Funs because, I love you!

- Katie Jordan (Michelle Pfeiffer), The Story of Us, 1999

We come to love not by finding a perfect person, but by learning to see an imperfect person perfectly – Sam Keen

The end of October found us with a home equity loan to purchase two new vehicles, one brand new and one new to us, as well as a little extra to tide us over financially until I got my new job, career path and mission that began in December and my husband got a promotion to assistant manager (second in command) at his new career in retail sales.

The holidays which for us were once about creating memories for others with music making through parades and concerts and choir singing, became a season where my husband's work was directly involved in the crazy holiday shopping scene-- something we ourselves usually tried to avoid. Our schedules were different, the experience was different. We each had our own emotions and memories of Christmases past and hopes for Christmases of the future. Christmas of the present was simply about being joyful in the moment for the simple pleasures of life and the blessings we had received in the past year, even if they often came in disguise. We didn't put up any decorations or tree, but we shared our favorite traditional Christmas Eve dinner, drove around the neighborhood to admire everyone else's displays of lights and we worshiped and connected with our Creator and Savior, for the first time in a long time just as visitors of the congregation where we were not members and not directly as participants in the service among friends and acquaintances we had grown to know and love.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were so afraid. And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown. -- Linus Van Pelt, A Charlie Brown
Christmas, 1965

It was a year of many blessings that arrived packaged as challenges. At first we were afraid to open them, but once we did we had the ability to grow and change and learn and love in a whole new way. We also were given the gift of strengthen relationships from acquaintances who became friends, some rather unexpectedly and new people who arrived in our life that we never knew existed in the beginning of last year - some of whom brought a whole set of blessings and gifts of their own with their arrival - some of them are here in the blog world! We are at a better place now than we were before the experiences of 2007 and we wouldn't have arrived here without them. For that I am extraordinarily grateful!

The soul would have no rainbow had the eyes no tears. - John Vance Cheney

As we each look ahead with hopes and dreams and goals for 2008, I leave these words and wishes for you, my friends in the blog world:

May God give you...
For every storm a rainbow,
for every tear a smile,
for every care a promise
and a blessing in each trial.
For every problem life sends, a faithful friend to share,
for every sigh a sweet song and an answer for each prayer.
- Traditional Irish Blessing

Happy New Year!


Anonymous said...

Beautiful. You weave words into an amazing tapestry. I especially chuckled at "simply just one of the facets of the year-long graduate level fortitude course He enrolled me in, without my consent." Thank you. -Care

Bop said...

Care -

As always, thanks for your kind words, I'm glad that you appreciate my writing style. Have an amazing 2008!