For me and my family, the last 6 weeks have been a lesson in trust. It included answering a Craig’s List ad for an apartment rental, reserving a truck from U-Haul during their busiest weekend of the year, taking one son to freshman orientation 50 miles away and registering another son for Middle school in a new town. At every step along the way I worried that I was just building what amounted to sandcastles as I waited for the tide to come in and wash our plans away. My mind ran through every negative scenario that would leave us without a truck or a roof or an address necessary for school enrollment.
While my thoughts spiraled downward, every single detail relative to all these moving parts of our life had positive outcomes; truth be told, most of the details were actually more favorable than I could have anticipated. The realtor handling our new apartment offered (without provocation) to reduce both his fee and the monthly rent. The representative at U-Haul made available (with little provocation) the truck for an additional 18 hours. The college orientation was so well-structured that David was moved in about 15 minutes after we arrived on campus. The placement exam and enrollment process for Joshua was flawless. At every turn, we found blessing where I was fearing barriers.
The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” Genesis 12:1 (NIV)
Looking back over what has transpired over the past few months, I am yet again confronted with my own weaknesses: that I trust God too little and fear uncertainty too much. This is all in direct contradiction to what I have experienced over and over again: God continually allows my feet to fall in favorable places – through the lights and through the shadows – and consistently teaches me that I am wasting too much energy worrying about things I ought not contemplate. God is faithful even when I have little faith. God is trustworthy even if I have trouble trusting anyone but myself.
God is good, whether I know it or not. He knows where we are, He knows where we are going and He knows how He will get us there. He knows our worries and concerns and provides comforts and consolations. My trouble is that I trust what I can see. I am a master of the short game and I think that life is a sprint. If it is right in front of me, I can accept it. But God plays a long game and life is a marathon. There are aspects of my life that I know nothing about (things that are miles down the road and years from materializing) but that are perfectly ordered by our omniscient and almighty God.
I thank the Lord for the lessons I have learned in recent days: that I am woefully inadequate to attend to all the details of life, that God has unfathomable blessings in store for those who obey Him and that I need to trust Him more. O Lord, help my little faith.
Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:6
Monday morning at 10AM, Jeanine and I will be dropping off at college our middle son, David. When we do, he will start his freshman year at Fitchburg State University. This will mark the third time we have dropped off our child at college (for those unfamiliar with our story, seven years ago we abandoned to the world of academia a defenseless boy at Gordon College and three years ago we deserted in our nation’s capital a wide-eyed girl at American University). For those wondering, repetition does not make the process of leaving a child to fend for himself any easier.
So, as David steps out of the shadows of our wings and begins to chart the course of his own flight, allow me to share a few words of wisdom for my own experiences:
- First, I would want to tell him to allow seize every opportunity to accentuate all that is good within him. I want David to use these next four years to discover and define his passions and pursue them. I’d want him to exhaust his electives with eclectic, not just easy, courses – art, drama, bocce, or women’s studies – with the intent on unearthing an unknown interest. I ask that he join a club or society outside his field of study. And, in the dining hall, I hope he expands his palate, eating more than just a backpack full of croutons.
- Next, I would want to tell him to remember why he is where he is. He is there to get an education. He is there to gain confidence in his independence. He is there to shine like the sun in a world of darkness. He is there to build life-long relationship with real people. I’d recommend to him to maintain the discipline of going to every class every time it meets, of working hard and then playing hard and of partnering with like-minded individuals to prod themselves onto good works. If his brother and sister are any indication of his future, he will return home a different, more assured, person; I’d want him to embrace that development.
- Then, I would remind him that an elephant is eaten one bite at a time. As he enters the dormitory on Monday, I am sure that there are fears and trepidations that will cloud his thinking, as well as the worry that this undertaking is too much to handle – and in the moment, it will be. But when he takes one step in the right direction, followed by another and another, before long progress will be seen. I would tell him to keep moving forward, even if it is baby steps.
As my child steps out of the car and into a world of curated independence, I’d want him to know that he is capable of more than he thinks possible and stronger than he thinks necessary.
For all those leaving for college for the first time this week, and for their families who love them, I pray God’s richest blessing and watch care be upon us as we all pursue our dreams.
For those wanting to read my thoughts seven years ago, read https://calvaryboston.wordpress.com/2012/08/24/a-parents-hope-for-freshmen/ and for my thoughts three years ago, read https://calvaryboston.wordpress.com/2016/08/19/for-freshmen/
It all started with a simple exercise during our Sunday School class: write down one thing you think you need but do not have. My sweet and kind-hearted eleven-year-old boy, in tiny letters on his paper wrote two words which broke my heart – ‘less change’. Those in the class quickly offered consolation, telling one another that change is inevitable and can lead to positive things. But for at least one pre-teen, this is all too much: moving to a neighboring town, changing schools, having a life-long roommate go off to college and watching other family members transition to places of their own. It makes me sad that my son, despite the brave face, is hurting.
Yes, we are moving again. For those keeping score, this is the 7th time in our thirty year marriage that we are packing boxes and renting trucks. After 20 years (and 1 month) in Boston, we are moving 2 miles south of the city to Quincy. [As a side note: if you will be in the Boston area on Friday, August 30th, or Saturday, August 31st, we could use some help. Contact me.] For the only time in any of our lives, Jeanine and me included, one of us will be required to change school systems and make new friends and adjust to new paradigms. I am confident that God will order Joshua’s steps and that he will thrive in this new adventure, but I still worry. If you pray, would you pray for Josh?
This move has forced Jeanine and I to make necessary, but personally difficult, decisions. Certainly, we are determining what possessions we are moving, what we are donating and what we are tossing (and for all those Marie Kondo devotees out there, nothing in this process is sparking joy). But there are other decisions that have been made: we decided that our budget could only afford three bedrooms in our new living situation, and so our three oldest children, over the next month or two, are transitioning to college and beyond. In this, too, I am confident that God will guide my family into blessings I cannot yet comprehend.
The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand. Psalm 37:23-24 (ESV)
It should come as no surprise to anyone who has read the Bible that God uses the process of change to bring about our maturity and development. Abraham was told to move. Mary and Joseph were led to relocate. Peter was commanded to change careers. It should come as no surprise to any of us that God may lead us in similar ways. New jobs, new schools and new homes may cause worry in the strongest of hearts, but when we know it is a part of God’s way we can take delight in knowing that whatever comes, He will uphold us.
For all those who feel that they need ‘less change’, hold out hope in knowing that the Lord will be with you on the other side of whatever change you are experiencing.
How does that old saying go? “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Seems that my family is entering another season of transition: Joshua is entering his Middle School years, David is off to college, Rebekah is finishing college, and we are moving (again). As we navigate these changes over the next few months, we are seeking God’s wisdom and provision. We are asking questions that will only be answered by some sort of divine intervention. I write all this not to solicit advice, but rather to seek prayer for His provision and direction in the days ahead from those who are so inclined.
Transitions come in all shapes and sizes. Everyone goes through times of relocation, recalibration and recuperation. We cannot eliminate transitions, but we can anticipate them and appreciate them. Transitions offer us all the opportunity to eliminate the clutter that accumulates in life and acknowledge the course corrections that every life must experience. Transitions provide us with times to cleanse ourselves from the toxins that sap us of life and place us in environments for growth. Transitions, like every form of change, are truly challenging, but when navigated properly they can be a blessing.
The author of Hebrews has wisdom from God for all those entering into a season change:
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Hebrews 12:1-2
We need heed God’s advice to run the race of our life with perseverance. According to Merriam-Webster, perseverance is the continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition. Life is fraught with difficulties, failure, or opposition that can either frustrate us or fuel us. God’s encouragement to all of us is to continue exerting the effort necessary to accomplish our goals.
We need to contemplate that there is a course marked out for us by the creator of the universe. We each have a unique path, filled with peaks and valleys, that we are called to complete. We could, I suppose, choose to run someone else’s race and reach a place that will not fully satisfy, but it would be better to remain on the road that God has established to bring us where we ought to go.
We need to fix our eyes on Jesus: He has run this race before and now waits for us at the finish line. He is the pioneer (or author or source) of our faith – He is the one who is trustworthy and reliable. He is the perfecter of our faith – He is the one who teaches us how to finish strong and avoid the distractions that drown our dreams. He will lead us to the right and proper places when we trust in Him.
Would it be easier if life was absent of adversity, where we all were following the same formula and where it all works out in the end? Sure. But life is not like that. Our lives are continually in flux and difficulties and detours must be expected. Thankfully, we have a focal point, our Savior, who waits for us at our ‘forever’ home. All we need to do is stay on course until we reach the finish line.
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” Genesis 12:1 (NIV)
By the time this is posted, my family and I will have moved the eight-tenth of a mile to our new apartment. By the time this is posted, my family will have eaten our first meal and slept our first night in our new home. By the time this is posted, the stress and nausea I have had for the last two weeks will have begun to subside…I hope. I am writing these words on Tuesday afternoon, will load the truck (the reservation on which, praise the Lord, was confirmed this morning) tomorrow and unload the truck on Thursday, Lord willing.
As I conclude the process of moving, I am struck by the following observations:
- In the task of packing, the three things I discovered we had the most of were clothes, photographs and loose change. I can understand the clothing (with 6 people and 4 seasons you gather a great deal of sweaters) and the photos (since you never want to throw a single one out); but the change was surprising (we seem to have found coins on every floor, drawer and flat surface); sometimes moving is important to discover the small treasures you never realized you had.
- We did not devote enough time to go through everything. We calculated in our minds how long it would take to go through memory boxes, school papers, the stuff that breeds in the backs of closets and kitchen cabinets and we ran out of days before we ran out of duties. This made me realize two things: that we (personally and as a culture) keep way too much stuff, and that we all need to move every decade or so to realize all the wonderful things we have in the backs of closets (or in attics, garages, sheds, cellars or storage units); sometimes we need to remember how vast God’s blessings really are.
- I will never use the phrase, “Let Go and Let God” ever again – because I know I’d be a hypocrite if I uttered it. Moving has revealed to me that I worry about too many things – will the truck be available, will the truck be big enough, will the kids like the new place, will the furniture fit up the stairs, will the truck fit down the small streets of Dorchester (especially with the contractor’s dumpster in the street and the pickup always parked across from it), and what will happen if we forget or break or lose something we need? God is always faithful and yet I am often fretful; sometimes we need to be out of control to remember Who really is.
By the time this is posted all will be settled and all the things that we’ve sorted, packed, recycled and worried about will have been resolved. Thank you all who prayed for us and assisted us throughout this process…moving also reminds you of all the good people God has surrounded you with.
I just thought of one more thing: I hope I got the truck back in time and they didn’t charge me an extra day!
If you have been reading this blog throughout the last four years, you know that my family has experienced a great deal of change over that period of time. It always seemed to me that change was cyclical; I was under the impression that there were seasons of transition and seasons of tranquility. Through the process of musing about life and ministry on a weekly basis I have come to realize that change is present every moment – we are all continually changing biologically, economically, spiritually, and relationally. Change is not some terrible thing we endure; change is a sometimes good thing that we can choose to embrace.
While change is constant, it is much like the tides in that there is variety in the intensity of the waves. My family’s present two and a half weeks are more like conditions for surfing rather than sailing as we watch the whitecaps wash over us. Last Saturday, we hugged our daughter goodbye at college, knowing that we’d not see her sweet face for more than a month. Last Tuesday, we hugged Jeanine’s brother goodbye as we drove home to Boston and he drove to chemotherapy in Baltimore. Next Wednesday, we will place all our worldly possessions in a moving van and the following day unload them a few blocks away. And finally, on Thursday, September 8, we’ll send David off to tenth grade and Joshua off to third grade.
If I were in charge, I would not have chosen any of these transitions for myself or my family: Rebekah could stay home, Stephen would not suffer from the end stages of cancer (if I made the decision, he’d never have cancer at all), we would have remained in the condo that has been home for the past three years and the boys would never get older. If I had my way, Rebekah would never make new friends or gain new experiences, Stephen would never know how strong he really is, we’d never impact a different neighborhood and the boys would lie on their beds playing video games all day. You see my point: I would not choose change, even if it were good for me.
The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand. Psalm 37:23-24 (ESV)
When we, as a family, go to the beach, the boys and I try to body surf. As I tell them, the best thing to do is follow two rules: First, lean into the smaller waves or they will knock you over; and second, jump just before the bigger wave crests and allow it to carry you to the shallows. In many ways, that is what I am trying to do these days: lean in and then enjoy the ride. So, I will brace myself when the texts go unanswered, when the diagnosis is pending, when the boxes get heavy and the house is quiet. I will enjoy the updates that she is making friends, that the drug is working, that the new house brings new opportunities and that I have another three years before another one leaves the nest.
Lord willing, there will be a stretch of smooth sailing for all of us in the days ahead. Whatever may be lying just beyond the horizon, I trust that God knows how to use it for my growth. And, oh, what an adventure awaits us with Him.
“You’re going to want to write this down.”
We’ve all heard these words at one time or another from a variety of sources: a high school teacher or college professor, an employer, a civil servant, a doctor or a spouse. These words are sometimes followed by information that is critical for passing a test and other times by items that are necessary for the preparation of dinner. These words typically signify that something is about to be shared that you will want to remember. These words typically separate the information that truly matters from the information that does not.
If, by some miraculous means, I were able to talk to my younger self (before I entered married life and fatherhood), I would utter these words to that twenty-something naive boy and wait for me to grab a pen and some paper. Then I would say:
- Take more pictures of the people in your life than you think you ought, and be sure to include yourself in some of them – one day you will need to remember occasions and nothing is better than pictures;
- Keep your kids’ report cards, awards, projects and homemade birthday cards and never put junk mail in a box to deal with ‘later’: every time you move it will make the burden of packing a little more delightful;
- Read some good books (to yourself, your wife and your children): they can be a vacation to an exotic locale when funds are tight;
- Say ‘thank you’ more than you say ‘give me’ – an attitude of gratitude will carry you further than a spirit of entitlement;
- Hold onto the things that bring you joy and jettison the things that hold you back.
As many of you know, we are required to move again (making this the third time in 10 years). This exercise in crating and carrying has made me acutely aware of my need to keep the things that truly matter and not keep the things that do not. It has given our family the opportunity to let go of some of the toys of our youth and rediscover some of the treasures we had forgotten about. In the midst of the drudgery, it has been good to laugh and cry over old photographs, tattered letters and yellowed crayon drawings. It has been good to rejoice in the sheer volume of stuff my family has amassed over the years.
This time of packing has reminded me of one of my greatest possessions – God’s Word. Knowing His creation, God understands the limits of the human mind and has carefully preserved His promises so that we can read them regularly. Surely, if there was anything that we’d want to write down, it is this:
And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 1 John 5:11-13 (NIV)