My last post was on August 2. It feels like years ago and yesterday at the same time.
RETREAT & RELAX
Sunday, August 22, was my last day as pastor of First Baptist Church.
I left for a week-long retreat at the Malvern Retreat Center the next day. Time in quiet and prayer was the perfect way to enter into this new season of life.
Following my retreat time, Nancy and I got away for a few days. It was wonderful to be with Nancy and not have my mind drift to thoughts of work waiting for me when I got home.
The following month was one of cleaning out.
I spent a few days going through what used to be my office at church. Decisions had to be made about what to bring home, leave for the next pastor, or walk to the dumpster. As the process started, I was filled with energy. But, the longer it dragged on, the harder it was. I could feel my spirit spiraling downward.
The study in my home is one of life’s blessings. It is a quiet space with bookcases, a fireplace, a reading chair, a desk, and storage for everything an office requires.
It always felt more than adequate until I tried to bring all the materials from the church office into my study. Blending the two spaces into one neat, usable, comfortable space took weeks. There were multiple trips to the dump as things slowly took shape.
Emotionally I was adrift. Everything I touched reminded me of a ministry that was no more. Cleaning out felt like I was getting rid of what had been so good, so life-giving, it was painful. Each piece put in the trash pile was a reminder that cancer had robbed me of the opportunity to serve as pastor. My spirit continued the downward spiral.
CLEANING FOR THE FUTURE
One morning, I sat behind my desk organizing files that focused on future projects, and the Spirit spoke. My cleaning out was not about purging the past but preparing for the future.
One season was over, and a new one was beginning. I had options. Spend the rest of my days mourning what was, or look to the next wave of the Spirit moving in my world. What was this “new thing” that God was getting ready to do?
Grief is a funny thing. One moment we believe ourselves to have dealt with our loss, progressed to some new stage of life, only to have some ordinary encounter or object trigger waves of sadness that send us reeling. Have we made any progress? Are we going to grieve the rest of our lives?
Some days I am very clear that my cleaning out was in preparation for this new thing that God is getting ready to do. Other times I sit frozen by the reality that my life has changed dramatically. Cancer at 48, disability at 53 was not how I imagined my life. As a result, I am “off script.”
As Nancy and I talked, it became clear we were both experiencing this season in similar ways.
RELIEVING DAYS PAST
We both had feelings reminiscent of the days immediately following my diagnosis. It was May of 2016 all over again. Cancer was once again disrupting our world in a big way.
One of the ways we “fought cancer” five years ago was by refusing to allow it to change how I moved through the world. As I started treatment, we learned new ways of moving that allowed us to live as if cancer was simply background noise. Change work patterns, take more naps, keep pressing forward!
Going on disability forced us to deal with my diagnosis on a different level. A metaphorical band-aid was ripped off. Cancer was impacting how I moved through the world. Every time I heard the word “disability,” my spirit heard “broken.” For five years, every step I had taken was to fight so that cancer would not break me, yet here I was, “disabled.”
Grief is a funny thing. I thought I had dealt with my cancer diagnosis. Yet all the pain and emotions from five years ago were back, turning my world upside down.
A CHANGE OF SEASONS
God slowly helped me see that seasons were changing, and a new wave was rising.
I was able to confess that some of my doing (my keeping busy) had been masking the hurt and pain of my diagnosis over the past five years. Keep busy enough, and you are distracted from the reality of what is taking place all around you.
Seasons of mourning and loss are tricky to navigate. However, if we do not deal openly and honestly with the emotions these seasons bring, life has a way of reminding us there is work still to be done.
Is there “unfinished business” in your life that you need to take care of before it finds a way to “speak” into your life?