Thursday, October 6, 2016

Growing Up

Growing Up in Middle-Age

Ephesians 1:3-6 How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love.

On the day that I read that opening passage in Ephesians, I was a 53-year-old under-employed writer. My 88-year-old mother, who had lived with me for twenty years after my father died, who’d traveled the world with me from Baku, Azerbaijan, to safari in Kenya, to settle in our new hometown in the foothills of Colorado, had decided to move back to Florida to be closer to her church and her friends. 
Over the twenty-years that Mom and I lived together I explained our living arrangement as my desire to take care of her. If anyone looked closer, for instance, when I was in the depths of my regular occurring depressive episodes, it was Mom who took care of me.
Now it was time for me to confront my life in a new way. There was no longer this convenient excuse that ‘I was taking care of Mom’ to rationalize the shortcoming of my career, my social life, or the excuses I made for not feeling at home in the town where I lived or in my own skin.
  I was alone in the house that Mom and I had shared for five years. I felt that I was a disappointment to everyone, especially myself. I believed that God had forgotten me, had stopped listening to my prayers. No matter how hard I cried, no matter how desperate my pleas for an answer, nothing seemed to change.
In fact, things appeared to only get worse. Instead of relishing the opportunity to begin a new chapter of my life, I was afraid. My life had become so filled with disappointment and failure, that I could not imagine any other outcome to the remainder of my days. Yet, on that afternoon, curled up on the couch with the open Bible in my lap, these words reached me. The promise that God still had me mind, that I could be made whole and holy by his love…. this was enough to hold me together for another day.
On an intellectual level, I was happy and proud of Mom’s decision. In every phone conversation, it was clear that she was reveling in not only her ability to live independently for the first time in her life, but to be surrounded by her old friends, and embraced by her church.
I was like the young bird who refuses to fly, so its mother flies off to let it fend for itself.
The problem was I wasn’t sure where I was supposed to fly.
I knew that I no longer wanted to live in our little town in the foothills of Colorado. It had never felt like home to me, but I’d chosen it because of its practical proximity to Denver, reasoning that it was close to Mom’s doctors, only an hour from a major airport so family could come to visit, and commutable to downtown Denver, if I were able to find a job there. In all respects, it was the practical compromise between my desire to live in the mountains and Mom’s need to not be too remote.
So we bought a house and settled into the community. Mom found new friends by volunteering at the local thrift store, and I by trying to find a job and beginning a writing career that I’d tried to get off the ground for several years without luck.
Although we both made the best of our situation and we shared many happy times together, it always felt like we were making the best of a situation, rather than living our best lives. In Mom’s case, I noticed that as winter approached and the snowy or icy conditions made it more difficult for her to get out of the house to see her friends, so vital for a woman who thrives on social interaction, she would fall into a funk. Winter had the same effect on me, but for different reasons. I wanted to move to the mountains to live in the snow. Perversely, in the lovely temperate climate of our foothills community, the snow fell and then melted within two or three days. So I was continually disappointed.
In other words, despite our best efforts to find a compromise that would work for both of us, our practical decision turned out to be the wrong one.
Mom was the smart one. She recognized that we were living in a no-win situation that was not benefitting either of us. She recognized that life is too short, especially when you are 88 years old, to settle for less than your best.
That took incredible courage.
Often we get stuck in a situation that isn’t the best that God or we would want for ourselves, because it’s comfortable. Like the frog in a pot of water on a stovetop. We don’t realize that we’re in trouble until it’s too late.
We had a beautiful house. We had friends. We enjoyed living together. Like the frog in the pot, we were satisfied but neither of us were truly happy or living the life we truly dreamed of.
Because Mom is the wiser of the two of us, she jumped out of the pot first.
 It’s easy to admit to failure when you are young. People don’t expect as much and there seems to be years or even decades to turn your life around.
Allow me to share an example from my own life. When I was sixteen years old, I was a competitive swimmer on the cusp of making it to the National Junior Olympics for the first time. I’d been a swimmer for six years by then, and loved every moment, but qualifying for the NJO swim meet would be my first step onto a national stage. I swam my heart out that summer. I suppose I could say I trained too hard. By the end of the summer, before I could qualify for the big swim meet, I developed tendinitis in first my left shoulder, and then my right. Eventually, my orthopedic doctor ordered me to get stop training so that my shoulders could rest.
I remember the day I told my swim coach. His response has guided me through many trying time. He agreed that I should stop swimming for the rest of the summer can come back again when training began again in September. And then he said, “When you come back you’ve got two choices: you can see this summer as a failure and quit. Or you can see this as one rung on the ladder to success. It’s your choice.”
I chose the latter…or ladder. And a year later I not only made it to the National Junior Olympic meet, I set a record in the 100 meter freestyle and was ranked in the top sixteen swimmers in the world for my event.
For the rest of my life, I could trust in the adage that hard work and perseverance would eventually lead to success as long as you didn’t give up.

Until that simple formula stopped working.
I left a Wall Street job over 20 years ago to find my right career. I found my passion when I began writing. At the same time, my relationship with God had grown and I felt committed to writing for God. My own covenant with God, I would dedicate my life to writing books that shared my growing faith. Finally, I felt that I’d found the career that I’d imagined when I left New York. But, after writing eight books over five years, success eluded me. No matter how hard I worked, or what I tried, I never quite seemed to make enough progress to call this a job.
And when I ran out of money and began applying to traditional jobs again, no one wanted to hire a middle-aged woman who had been out of the job market for years.
It felt like I was trying to push the wind. 
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to make any discernable progress in either finding a job or creating a career as a writer.
Just as I will always remember the day my coach spoke those important words to me, I will also always remember the day that I curled up on the couch, alone in the house, and read the opening verses of Ephesians. At a time when I didn’t love myself, I read through the pages of Ephesians and was reminded that God loved me…and that was a start.
It became the most important first step to see hope for my life.
The next step was to realize that although I felt lost, and had no idea of where I was going, God had a plan for my life.
This was a crucial promise to embrace.
Up until this moment, it felt as if I failed at everything I tried. I was fired from more jobs than not. If you are in a similar place, please write this paraphrased version of this verse down and tape it up on your bathroom mirror so that you will see it and read it every morning and evening.

Before God laid down the earth’s foundations He had me in mind, He had settled on me as the focus of His love, to make me whole and holy by his Love.

Say these words out loud and know that God loves you.

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