A Fuller Year

Amy commented the other day, “We have good summers, falls, and winters. The springs get us every year, though.” She said it with a smile, but it’s been true.  All sorts of plans and a good momentum gets derailed and we have to sort out a lot of parts and pieces to get back on track.  That my life seems to be always on the way, never settled, never secure, adds to this sense of both disruption and distrust. 

Because of family health and financial issues and my own odd decisions to pursue the impossible in a sense of calling, I look back on my life and it’s been about 35 years since I had what might be called stability.  I’m only 44, so that’s been the majority of my life.  Just about every year something either comes to an end or unexpectedly pops up. 

I’ve grown a decided distrust of leaders because almost every organization I’ve been a part of goes through a massive leadership change soon after my getting involved, and not because I’ve done anything!  It’s odd.  It’s also disorienting. 

For the last ten years, my life has had a yearly cycle of anxiety and possibility. Every year I’ve waited to see if I have a job, or funding, for the next year. 

It’s a decided wilderness kind of life.  I’m not complaining here, God has been good, and like the wilderness provided manna.

But it’s pretty disconcerting and frustrating too. 

We live in a society of striving and accomplishment. I have a good education, lots of letters that come after my name and a few bonus ones that come before. 

Even still, every year I wonder what will happen, and have to plan even without knowing how to plan or where.  It’s not supposed to be like this, I say when I start comparing my story with others. 

Last week my class on worship talked about confession. A student asked how we get confession going. I think it happens by risking vulnerability. Sharing in ways that break the ground and ease people into new habits.

That’s one of my goals for that class and that’s why I’ve been vulnerable in my own story there and elsewhere. 

I’ll confess now that after hearing in mid-March that my contract wasn’t getting renewed, I had to deal with a lot of frustration, discouragement, and anger.  A lot of work, non-stop effort, pouring myself out and the System got me. 

I didn’t give into it, though, and sought guidance in prayer and community, reaching out to those around me and digging into conversations with God.  Prayers abounded.

Things kept turning more frustrating. My old car wouldn’t start, and after pouring a lot of money into it, and trying out a few tricks of my own, we gave up on it.  Our other car required a lot of repairs too. Our savings were emptied just as we needed to be extra careful

Amy’s lifelong best friend had a turn for the worse with her cancer. April was, to say the least, rough for the Odens (and so many others). 

And of course we all got really bad colds too. 

All along, I prayed, we prayed, others prayed. Open up doors, God. Show us what to do.

The more I prayed the less possible things seemed, oddly enough.  I reached out to have discussions with church leaders, and was caught in frustrating conversations about personality types and templates, with complete disinterest in my story, my vision, my training. Very depersonalizing. 

I could go on, but all of it was boiling down to the fact there wasn’t a way forward with Fuller we could see but neither was there any other way.  And the more I prayed, the more I got a sense that I wasn’t supposed to look elsewhere, that I wasn’t supposed to make something work just to get something to work. 

The more I prayed the more my focus narrowed: don’t look elsewhere. Of course, in the past 5 years I’ve looked elsewhere a lot, and nothing else has worked out.  This time though, I felt called not even to indulge the frenzy of looking.

What am I supposed to do with that? It’s not ambitious. It certainly isn’t responsible.

I prayed, and all I heard was to trust, and I didn’t quite trust that.  I wavered. But I’ve learned enough to pray, and keep praying, and that prayer is indeed something.

So, even though I felt the anxiety and had doubt, I kept to what I was hearing.  I didn’t panic, and I didn’t give into frenzy.  But, I did have to manage the anxiety and fight off the encroaching depression, and as an introvert, I can get distant and silent as I need my batteries always charging. 

Teaching a class on worship and a class on the Holy Spirit is a good help, as I continued to read, continued to learn, continued to be encouraged by each of my student’s wrestling. I spoke a lot in lectures and they ministered to me in posts and responses.  We were also very encouraged by the support we got from some in our church and from friends and family near and far.

Thank you. But life kept getting rougher and rougher.

Amy’s best friend died of pancreatic cancer a week ago, leaving behind 2 young kids and a lot of questions. She was a woman of great faith, and yet it was a challenging reality. Even Jesus cries when encountering death

Amy was able to spend a week with her in the Portland area in mid-April, then came back with the kids, only to fly up again this last Friday for the funeral. As she was leaving, the anxiety hit her.  Everything in our life was discombobulated. 

Our church is dealing with issues, our families have their own bumps, we don’t know where we are going to live, or work, or… every direction.  And Amy had to speak and didn’t know how she was going to say the words without breaking apart mid-speech.  I prayed, we prayed, others prayed.  God be with us. Give us hope.  I took her to the airport, she was feeling the weight of it all. 

Later that morning, I received an email from Fuller, letting me know that they are renewing my contract for another year.  A complete change of course. Not a permanent solution, I’m still in that phase of year-to-year faith, but it’s an answer for the time being.

The unexpected surprise, the ability to catch our breath and not have to scramble to think about bills and costs and where we were going to live and how starting in June, came as my wife was landing in Portland. I called her.  We celebrated.

The impossibilities of Spring 2020 can wait a little while. 

God said to not panic, to not look elsewhere, to not get into frenzy. The decision had been made, though. God didn’t mind.

Prayer is not straightforward. A lot of people prayed for years for my wife’s friend. I prayed for healing and wholeness.  She died. But she lives in wholeness now. 

We prayed for answers, for relief, for guidance. God said wait. Others in my life panicked, throwing all sorts of tasks at me, and I got caught up in being responsible in following up with some of that.  Others in my life prayed and didn’t panic. Wait, they said. That’s the message I was getting.  That’s the message I listened to, but like Peter stepping off the boat, I admittedly sank a little. 

Grace abounds. Possibilities awaken. Prayer helps us to stay in tune and orients us in light of God’s work, not always like we expect, and sometimes not even as we want, but there’s a bigger story we’re a part of, and it’s a story worth telling along the way. 

As the theology division confirmed my appointment for the year this afternoon, Amy was on her way to the doctors for our daughter’s annual checkup. 

I was voted in unanimously, with kind words said and encouragement renewing my hopes. Meanwhile, on I5 the car overheated for Amy at just about the same time, and she had to get off the freeway, turn around, and take the car to the mechanic.

C’est la vie.  But life has some breathing space and rising hope and some better ability to address the frustrations. 

I think that’s a Biblical place to be.

Have a blessed week.

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