Dad had a stroke. He has had several heart attacks in the last five years, but never a stroke. There was a bleed on his brain, and we were scared. I cancelled all my appointments, packed a bag, and then hit the road for the four hour drive to where my parents live.
Mom is frail. She’s had a rough few years as well. Every time we think she and dad are getting better, one of them has a turn for the worse. It’s been a hard year.
An hour into the drive, the rain started. It’s interstate all the way, so not much to keep your mind occupied, and my ankle started to hurt. I’ve had a hard few years as well. This current appointment has been hard on me.
Methodist pastors go where they are sent. In July of 2017, I was sent to an appointment in Northeast Arkansas. Mom and Dad couldn’t stay in our hometown alone, so they moved to Northwest Arkansas to be near my sister and her family. After living a few blocks from each other for most of my adult life, I was now four hours from my entire family.
The day after I moved into the new parsonage, I broke my ankle and had to have emercgency surgery. Two weeks later, my second granddaughter was born with complications, and I was unable to be there. My granddaughter got strong and went home, but I will have this metal in my ankle and this limp in my walk for the rest of my life.
In the fall of 2017, Mom’s asthma got worse. She couldn’t breathe at all, and doing even the simplest things were impossible. She could barely walk. For the first time in 71 years, she had to stay in the hospital. She was sick and scared and needed me near, but I couldn’t be there.
After Mom’s breathing finally got better, she fell. It took months for her to be able to walk again or be self-sufficient. Dad had another heart attack during that period, and I am still four hours away.
In April, my son, Lucas, got a job and wrecked his Jeep on the way to work the first day. Then in November, he hit a deer in the same Jeep. Each repair was a $1000 dedecutible, as well as the one for my car when the tree beside the parsonage fell on it.
I have had six respiratory infections this year. There is mold in the parsonage and it will be very expenseive to make the repairs and get it cleaned up. Our little church is doing their best to get it all fixed, but in the meantime, I am sick more than I am well.
And now I am on the road to be with my family and wait to see if Dad will recover, and if he does, how much permanent damage was done to his speech and cognitive ability. I don’t know if Mom is healthy enough to take care of Dad.
The universe is against me… I have it hard…
The rain got worse, and I began to feel a pull to one side of the road. Worried that I might have a low tire, I pulled over at the next truck stop, purchased a tire gauge, and prepared for the worst. With my luck, I was having a flat. I grumbled the entire time I made my way around the Pathfinder, checking the air in each tire. Finding nothing wrong, I bought a cup of coffee and got back on the road.
Seriously… why did life have to be so hard?
And then, I swear I heard a laugh. In that car full of depression and self-pity, God laughed.
As I passed a lone stranger standing on the side of the road in the rain, holding a sign and begging for a ride, I turned up the defroster on my warm vehicle which was full of gas and safely taking me to my destination.
As the speaker on the radio asked for donations to feed the hungry, I noticed the sandwich wrapper and the half-eaten bag of chips in the seat next to me.
As I read the notice from someone in our community who had lost a parent to cancer, my sister messaged me that she was driving Mom to the hospital to sit with Dad while they waited for me.
My son was home safe from his job for the night; my daughter had sent me pictures of my sweet grandchildren; my churches were praying for me; and my friends were checking on me.
My home is full of warm clothes and food and love. My life is full of family and friends and faith.
I laughed. In the middle of my self-pity and depression, the blessings just kept piling up. In every single corner of my life, there is surplus, community, and hope.
9 I’ve commanded you to be brave and strong, haven’t I? Don’t be alarmed or terrified, because the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
In this season of Advent, we wait. The child whose birth we celebrate was born into chaos, greed, corruption, hate, and death. Born in the first century version of a carport, in a country ruled by a domineering foreign nation, this small child came in helplessness and pain to scared, young parents.
And yet… over 2000 years later, people around the world will pause amidst the glitter and lights, packages and food, parties and gatherings, to give thanks for that helpless child born so long ago, born not only to secure our salvation from death, but to assure our commitment to life. The hardships I choose to focus on are connected to the very blessings others wish they had.
What an amazing year I’ve had! A new appointment and faith community, a new granddaughter and a healthy older one, a mom and dad who are alive and within driving distance, and children with jobs and wonderful lives.
May this season of expectation and hope remind you that God is all around us. And may you pause in this Advent season to see your many blessings through the hardships which cloud our lives.