This is a picture from the summer of Gilead with his Uncle Josh – my brother. His only real uncle, in fact. But the title of this post is in no way indicative that anything has happened to either Gilead or Josh.
I wanted to find a picture of Gilead with my Grandma Swank from when she came to visit us last January. I absurdly found myself crying in Target yesterday after seeing some “dead sea” beauty products and remembering that she had told me about them when she was ordering some Arbonne products from me – which was so nice of her to do. And then I remembered how her sparingly-used gift set from last Christmas was still on the windowsill of her bathroom when we were there for the funeral. And then I remembered how much I miss her.
This post really isn’t about Grandma, although I should do that soon. She was a great woman.
It’s about the death of dreams and learning how to deal with the grief of that seemingly minor change without yielding to the temptation to doubt God’s goodness. I recently read part of a blog post from a pastor who just lost his adult daughter. In it he wrote that Job’s statement, “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away” was bad theology. I’ve never thought about it that way. I guess I always thought it was true. I mean, in one sense it’s true: God has ultimate control over what I receive and have taken away from me. In one sense it’s not at all true and I think God tries to show this to Job when He asks him later in the book if he was there when the earth was created. Job doesn’t know the whole story. And at the outset, I have to say that I don’t have a clue how to process this grief. This isn’t an instructional post. It’s just ruminations.
Henry didn’t lose his job and we haven’t lost anything else. Except the hope of the new job and new place and the getting out of debt and, for me, all of the conveniences of living with my parents and then hopefully having a home of our own and the freedom to pursue some dreams that getting out of debt and having childcare nearby would afford. My dad’s company told him they wouldn’t be hiring Henry. I won’t go into details here – it’s really not important to my point. It wasn’t that they thought he was unqualified or didn’t like him. They just chose a cheaper option for them and had poor communication about it for months. Henry, admirably, isn’t even bitter or angry. He’s just tired – like me.
I’m not bitter or angry either. I feel relieved that we know for sure, even though it’s the opposite of what I thought. And I’m relieved we’re not moving away right now – or maybe not ever. But I did cry a lot the first couple of days as I realized more and more new things that wouldn’t be happening because we’re not to get relief from continual financial crisis any time soon and because some of those dreams are dead. I was saying a lot of things like, “We’re never going to have a house. God doesn’t care if we ever have a house.”
I texted a few friends the night we found out simply because I knew I needed prayer right then. One friend – who has lost some VERY significant things in her life and who recently has been given some of them back, in a sense, wrote back that God has not forgotten about us and that He cares about our hopes and dreams. I haven’t told her yet that it was both exactly what I needed to hear (I’m sure now it was a message to me straight from the mouth of God) and what I didn’t want to hear; preferring rather to wallow in self-pity and tell God I didn’t believe He cared what I wanted. Actually, it’s more nuanced than that: it’s not that I don’t believe He cares or don’t believe He knows. I sometimes wonder – as I told Henry’s mentor before he prayed for us on Sunday – why we’re in this place (Is it that we don’t care about the right things? Is it that we’re just reaping the fruit of our financial mistakes? Is it that God is purposely saying “no” to us in so many ways because we haven’t yet learned something He’s trying to teach us?) and I’m smart enough to know that God may not choose to give us any of the things we pray for so desperately sometimes.
I once sincerely believed that my friend’s 14 year old brother’s death had something to do with my personal, habitual sin. As if God was cruel enough to kill a boy to somehow make me feel guilty enough to stop sinning. I was a teenager and seriously misunderstanding a lot of things about God. It’s kind of comical. You can laugh. But isn’t this a version of how we sometimes view life and the world, albeit slightly less sophisticated? We are, essentially, self-centered. Another phrase I remember from this pastor’s blog is that he refuses to believe that he is more merciful than God. I think that is something worth clinging to.
So, I want to share some early conclusions, but first I need to lay the groundwork for how life as an adult has been for me, or seemed through my eyes. That may be an important distinction because I don’t discount how much I’ve been given. We pray our thankfulness for everything we have over Gilead every night as he’s nursing to sleep. It’s a tradition Henry started that I love.
I always think my first mistake was to go to Wheaton – or at least to take out enormous private loans to finance my last 4 years. Yes, I did 5. That was also a mistake. I wasn’t educated and I had no idea at the time what life would be like after college dragging around this huge weight of debt. If I had, I would’ve done things differently. But this is where I get mired in what-if’s because then I wouldn’t have met my best friends or my husband and I wouldn’t currently be part of this amazing community. I’m sure my life would be fine if I hadn’t gone to Wheaton or hadn’t stayed, but it would’ve been completely different. I wouldn’t have my son. That’s the kicker right there. It starts to feel like the sin that it is when I get to that point in my fantasies about a debt-less life: I’m wishing away the existence of my son.
The next stupid things I did were pretty predictable: I bought a couple of big things with credit cards (because I was going to “start a business”) without having enough to pay down the balance right away. So I held on to that debt. It wasn’t a lot, but it was starting to add up. Then we got married and instead of saving money we were given, we spent it on a bigger wedding than was necessary. And then I didn’t go back to work full-time after we were married because I was again going to “start a business.” There was another time of trying to start a business after that and wasting of money on frivolous things – like going out to eat – rather than cutting back and saving. In the meantime, Henry was also thinking he might start a business of sorts and started in on a two year process that kept him from finding another job or from making any more money and we had car troubles and loan payments and credit card payments and then a baby…
All of this to say: I go over it and over it. I get mad at myself or other people for not saving me from all this trouble. I wonder why God doesn’t help me; with my business, by giving me a job that lasts, by helping Henry find another job (all the while, we always somehow seem to make it. Every time we’re going to come up short we are given money [by our parents, but still] or I get an unexpected part-time job that covers our grocery bill). And we have to cut back. No extras, no vacations, no new clothing. And still we have no savings and we were the victims of a snowball effect from a landlord who doesn’t cash checks promptly and so we’ve now gotten behind on rent and we owe our landlord! Thankfully, he’s sort of absent and apparently is fine with it as long as we’re still paying rent now and as long as we pay him back eventually.
And then…new hope. A job in Wisconsin. Almost twice what Henry is making now. Cheaper housing, babysitting, a dishwasher and washer/dryer in my parents’ house. The promise of an ACTUAL FUTURE. Where we don’t owe everyone; where on any given week we may have $0 to our name (well, it’s always less than $0, but you know what I mean) for a week or more and we just have to pray the gas lasts and we don’t run out of food; where we might own a house in under 10 years because there’s a real chance we’ll pay off our debt and be able to save money. It seems like God is answering our prayers! I’m even feeling really positive about moving even though it’ll be away from the only community I’ve known as an adult. Everything is moving along slowly but steadily. He gets a phone interview, he gets an in-person interview. They like him. They tell him, “we just have to figure out how to incentivize you.” Literally. And then in a moment, it’s all gone. But the realization takes longer to hit. You realize at intervals everything you’re going to miss that you thought you’d be experiencing.
Here’s what I wrote a couple of days later:
“I can’t help thinking about Rez’s (our church) first building plan and how it seemed like God was blessing the project and then the door was abruptly closed. Two years later, we got an unbelievable deal on a building that fits our needs perfectly and we’ve raised more than enough money to make it our own. It fits with the sense I had of where Rez’s heart actually is; which is taking something old and making it beautiful. I was sad in a big-picture abstract way about leaving just at the moment when new things are happening for Rez. I don’t know if God’s trying to say something to me or if I’m just remembering and trying to console myself. But I do think it’s true that He hasn’t forgotten me and the He cares about my hopes and dreams even if they aren’t all going to come true. And they might not.
It’s hard to imagine something coming along with perks than this plan. It really seemed perfect. Everything seemed to fall into neat little piles. Maybe too neat. Life here feels messy in comparison to how I envisioned our new life in Wisconsin. So, it could be that some of that took on a life of its own and I was idolizing the plan because I thought it could be our savior. I thought we could be our own savior…finally. Funny how I keep waiting – praying even – for God to give us the means of becoming our own savior. ‘God…please give Henry a new job so we can get out of debt so we can have more disposable income so I can have more freedom and be more creative so I can be happy so I can ‘make’ something of myself or accomplish something in my life besides be a mom/get acceptance from others for being really strong and creative and ‘awesome.’ Funny how it sneaks in so subtly: ‘I want You to bless me so that I don’t need You anymore and so that everyone will look up to me.’
No…He won’t answer THAT prayer.
Because He doesn’t know how to.
Because He doesn’t know of any way for me to be happy or free apart from total dependence on Himself.”
Thank God for hard reminders and for inexplicable joy in the midst of grief. And for reminders that it doesn’t mean I can’t pray for really specific and small things I need and see how He answers: like just enough money (not to mention motivation and energy) to buy enough yarn to make all the fruit and vegetable-themed newborn hats I have rattling around up there for a new (and more easily managed) Etsy store.
I am so sorry, Jenn. That truly sucks. But I am thankful to hear of some fruit that’s coming from thinking about it. And you’re right: God is merciful and DOES care about you and Henry AND your desires. I pray that He shows you the solution soon.
We’re learning a new way of thinking about money, too, and it sucks to learn it (AKA having a very tight budget) but it’s ultimately helping me to think differently about money and debt and to think more like Christ about money (meaning, it’s not just that I can be happy with very little money, but that money doesn’t have be at all related to amounts of money). I’m SO at the beginning of this way of thinking so I can’t pass along any wisdom, I just know that things are different in “God’s economy.”
Blessings, friend, as you rightly mourn.
This is such a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your heart… I knew well some of the words you shared…the desire to be self-sufficient in the name of being independent…of everyone, including God. I am finding that the answers to some of my prayers of humility and steadfastness will only come through my dependence 😦 yeah, you’d think that would have a smiley face…but it feels so rough!
I am so honored to be sharing this journey with you and your family… As I am grateful that you shared with me in my losses and shared all you had with me. The Lord will bless you and yours, that I am certain of.
Meanwhile I am grieving with you the loss of your immediate hopes and dreams..
Our Father does love us, He does.
Jenn, such a beautifully written post! Do you edit much? It reads so beautifully…
You’re such a good writer and wonderful communicator—honest, thoughtful and profound.
This truly blessed me.