When I disappeared off the map, she was persistent about getting in contact with me even though I didn’t know her well. She wanted to know what had happened. “You made it all look so easy, Annie.” I heard shock and a smidge of disappointment in her voice.
It struck me as sort of funny that she thought it was all so easy and reminded me that most of us have our own hard we’re living each day even when it looks easy to those who don’t know us well…maybe even to those who do know us well. “Be kind. Everyone is fighting a hard battle,” a saying often spoken in my home growing up comes to mind.
Disappearing off the map invites some interesting and legitimate questions from those who have known you as an active community member, a business leader, an involved parent, a creative force…
Answering that you have been resting is socially awkward when you’ve been known as a doer. But that is the simple truth about where I have spent the better part of the last year.
Sometimes you have a choice about how a particular chapter of your life will go. Sometimes you do not. I apologize to those who may think that we are in total control of writing our own destiny by our sheer will power and determination, intelligence or moxie.
The last year of sitting on my couch initially felt foreign and socially awkward for me, myself and I and wasn’t something I actually chose to do. Our story took a turn that I had never really written into its trajectory.
Here was my basic storyline: We do good things in this fabulously quirky community to bring jobs that build people, not just business. We raise three amazing kids who graduate at the top of their class and win awards. We arrive at our 50s and rest in having helped make our neck of the woods a little bit better than when we arrived and look forward to retiring in comfort for our efforts. (I am sort of wincing as I write this..sounds more like a Hallmark movie than real life.)
That worked pretty well (gross over simplification) until the last sentence. Yeah, then the real test began. We were suddenly enrolled in the advanced course of faith and grace in the midst of a six-year tempête de merde (that would be french for “storm of poop”).
At some point in life, your story takes a turn you didn’t quite see coming. They say the tension of impending doom is what makes a good story and develops characters, unless of course you are the character that is being developed and actually have to live it. (Oh, how I wanted to change the channel and watch Ina Garten make something rich and buttery!)
When fear and failure wake you up at night and whisper threats and insults that loop in your head during the wee hours of the morning…you, my friend, are in the tempête de merde
So about the test… Here is how it went down. Your successes of the previous 20ish years are slowly eaten away by a greater reality beyond any of your doing or control. To the almost 100 people you employ (and care deeply about) pink slips are handed out over the course of six years. You sell the business you were Divinely called to birth in an attempt to pivot and launch a new one.
The new one grows in fits and starts and sucks the life out of you until on the 29th of August in 2014 your investors (who have been amazingly gracious but are as fatigued as you are) mercifully call an audible and you end up sitting on your couch with a lively case of the shingles wondering, “What the heck just happened and who is this weak and weepy woman in my body and why is my hair such a mess?!” (This is generally where the Hallmark make-up and hair people come in to fluff you up a little so after commercial break you look pulled back together.)
Sounds like a great story in the making, right?!
Truth be told, it is a magnificent story of friendship, grace and tender loving care from the heart of God.
I wouldn’t trade any of it for all of the success and money in the world (although, I confess, at times I panic about having a thinner cushion of retirement at this moment in time…I am still in process).
Here’s what I didn’t get before traveling through some deep dark valleys: God is faithful even when everything around me appears to be unraveling. He is not alarmed or freaked out. He is watching, waiting and whispering I love yous, not wishing I would get my act together and my house in order. He is not necessarily interested in rescuing me from the struggle of my story, rather He is deeply passionate about and committed to winning my heart against all odds (hmmm, there was that guy named Job…so not Hallmark).
Somewhere in my 50ish years of life on the planet and being friends with Jesus, I secretly, almost unconsciously cultivated the false hope in my heart that He would protect me and mine from the hard and scary stuff of life (especially since I was trying to do good things for Him). I knew in my head that was never His promise to me, but I confess I was confused and bewildered (and just a bit irritated) when our trying to answer His call in business began imploding in early 2009. (Sounds like a long drawn out drama that should have been wrapped up about five years earlier, right? I can only surmise that we needed to learn a lot and learning it all at once would have killed us.)
That Sunday school memory verse, you know Psalm 23, about the Good Shepherd came to life, real life. And darn it, if Verse 4 wasn’t the one that needed to be plowed into my depths, “Even when the way goes through Death Valley, I’m not afraid when you walk at my side. Your trusty shepherd’s crook makes me feel secure.” (MSG)
He has been as close as breath in my tempête de merde, in the loss of friendships, in failing business, in my mistaken identity and in my illness sitting right next to me on my couch for the last year. This is a gift that can never be taken from me: knowing the God of the universe as close as breath, my tired weary self breathing Him in as life.
As I have read, prayed, given thanks, journaled and listened He has been faithfully whispering, “I love you, Annie. You are precious to me and I delight in just being with you. I don’t need you to do anything for me. You’ve been doing for a long time. I so appreciate all that you gave to answering the call and to loving people in this place for the last 25 years. Job well done! (It took a while for this to soak in when the ending was so different than I had hoped for.) I want you to rest, recover and be renewed in my love. I want you to watch and see the amazing story I am writing in this chapter of your journey! You’re going to love what I have in store for you!”
“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed, “ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” Isaiah 54:10 NIV
“Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, he shields him all day long. The one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders.” Deuteronomy 33:12 NIV
God sometimes gives you a long and uncomfortable pause in life, but stay close to Him so when He speaks, He only has to whisper. Beth Moore
Do you believe that you are more than your failures and struggles? Could it be that they are the very things that invite you to deeper friendship with Jesus?
Is there a place in your life where you’ve been doing something for the Lord that He might be inviting you to lay down so that you can learn to just be with Him?
PS I hope this glimpse into my story encourages you in yours.