Tag Archives: Disappointment

Grappling with the Unexpected

She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
Luke 2:7 (NIV)

A few years ago, our daughter called late in the afternoon and asked if she could stop by. The last thing on Earth we expected to hear that evening was that she was pregnant. She and Clayton had been divorced for three years and we had no idea that they had seen one another. As the story unfolded, it became clear that Milo’s conception was as improbable as it was unexpected. There are times that God makes it perfectly clear that a baby is meant to happen.

I recommend you click on the image below and read Taylor’s post:

Ironic, isn’t it? The juxtaposition of yesterday’s post and today’s post is not lost on me. What a fascinating journey.

As I read the very familiar story in today’s chapter, I couldn’t help but recognize the poor interpretation that many of us were given in the bathrobe Christmas pageants of our childhood. The familiar King James version of today’s chapter says that there was no room for Mary and Joseph in the Bethlehem Motel. The translation “guest room” is more accurate, and it gets to the bigger picture that is lost on most readers.

Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem for the census because that was his family’s hometown and ancestral home. In those days, families all lived together communally. If Joseph had to go to Bethlehem for the census, so did his parents, siblings, and cousins. Many scholars also believe that the genealogy of Jesus that Luke provides in tomorrow’s chapter is the lineage of Mary, in which case all of Mary’s family, siblings, and cousins would have been required to go to Bethlehem as well. It was a full-scale family reunion thanks to the Internal Revenue Service of the Roman Empire.

A big family reunion in the ol’ hometown. And, there was no guest room available for a very pregnant Mary and her betrothed.

At the beginning of John’s biography of Jesus, he states: “{Jesus] came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” The prophet Isaiah wrote of the Messiah: “He was despised and rejected.” These things were true of Jesus from the very beginning before he was even born. An unwed teen mother telling stories about an angel saying she’s pregnant with God’s child didn’t receive a favorable response from the fam.

Wendy and I have been overjoyed the past two weeks to have our kids and grandson back in the states with us. Milo may have been an unexpected and improbable addition to our family, but there is no doubt in my mind that he was intended.

In the quiet this morning I find myself reminded that this life journey is filled with unexpected circumstances. I’ve observed along the way that our journeys rarely end up being what we thought they would be or what we planned for them to be. Nevertheless, it’s easy to feel disappointed, cheated, or somehow surprised by this reality. I’m not sure how or why I ever came to the notion of life’s predictability in the first place. The further I get in my journey the more I try to not fight the unexpected but to trust and flow with it instead.

Have you missed the previous chapter-a-day posts from this journey through the Gospel of Luke? Click on this image and it will take you to a quick index of the other posts!

“From a Distance”

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance….
Hebrews 11:13 (NIV)

Yesterday morning a woman came up to me amidst our local gathering of Jesus’ followers and shared with me some things that God has been teaching her of late. These things dove-tailed with some of the very insights God has been revealing to me in my contemplation.

I just wonder why it’s taken me 35 years to see these things,” I laughed, shaking my  head.

Because we didn’t need to see them until now,” she answered matter-of-factly. “They are for this time and place.”

I find it equally fascinating that I can read God’s Message over and over and over again, but there are certain things which leap off the page as if I’ve never seen them before. That’s what happened as I read this morning’s chapter, which is a very famous chapter about faith. The author of this letter to  early Hebrew followers of Jesus is a Hall of Fame walk through of the ancient heroes of faith. From Cain and Abel through Rahab, the prostitute of Jericho (I love that Rahab was included in the list), the writer shows how each of these ancients embraced faith.

What I had never seen clearly until this morning was that twice the author acknowledges that in many cases these heroes of faith did not receive what was promised during their earthly journey. First it’s mentioned (vs. 13) that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob believed that their tribes would become a great nation and have their own “promised land” to call home. The “promised land” was never established during their lifetimes. They lived in pursuit of a promise that they would not realize in their lifetimes.

At the very end of the chapter, the writer reiterates [emphasis added]:

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

I have learned in my own journey, particularly as Wendy and I have walked through the long valley of infertility, that there is a certain depth of faith that one only realizes when what is promised is not received (or not received as expected) in this lifetime. I have never understood why God answers the prayers of some and not others. I don’t know why some are healed and some are not. I don’t know why some get pregnant and we did not.

There are answers out there. My spirit sees them “from a distance” as the author of Hebrews wrote.

I have faith in that.

Message: “Love Hopes All Things”

I mentioned the attached message in Monday’s post Hope and Disappointment. The message, in which I share about Wendy’s and my journey through infertility, talks about three important waypoints we went through in coping with the disappointment, when our strongest hopes remained unrealized.

I’ve included the message here in both audio and video formats. These are posted with the permission of Third Church in Pella, IA who holds all rights.

Hope and Disappointment

Surely it was for my benefit
    that I suffered such anguish.
Isaiah 38:17a

Sunday was an emotional day for Wendy and me. I had the privilege of sharing the morning message among our local gathering of Jesus followers. The topic came from Paul’s letter to the believers in Corinth; One of the most well-known chapters in all of God’s Message. “The Love Chapter” is what it’s commonly called and I had been asked to speak to the phrase “Love hopes all things.”

As soon as I realized that I had been assigned that phrase, I knew in my heart that it was time for Wendy and me to share openly about a particularly difficult  stretch of our own journey. I have touched on it from time to time on my blog, but we’ve never really spoken about it openly and publicly.

For many years Wendy and I eagerly attempted to conceive and bring a baby into this world.  We started with high hopes, each of us endured surgeries, and we repeatedly travelled down the path of virtually every medical procedure and homeopathic suggestion available to us in our hope of having a child.

As hope waned for this desperate desire, Wendy and I experienced all of the stages of disappointment and grief. We felt doubt, anger, envy, despair and rage. We cried. We screamed. We fought. We wrestled with all of the hard questions. If God loves us, then why…? Why her? Why them? Why not us?

It has now been a handful of years since we surrendered our hopes of conceiving. To this day the grief still surprises us. It’s amazing how the sadness and tears well up unexpectedly in the oddest of moments. Nevertheless, Wendy and I recognized in the depths of the valley of infertility that we had come to a spiritual fork in the road. One path led in rapid descent into hopelessness, anger, brokenness and despair. It was an easy path to follow as are most paths of descent. The other path was a much longer road of ascent. It would still traverse hopelessness, anger, and despair, but the long slog eventually climbed toward trust in a larger narrative God was writing into our stories.

In my message this past Sunday I tried hard not to make it about our infertility as much as speaking to the myriad of hopes and disappointments each of us experience along this journey. In today’s chapter King Hezekiah’s hopes were for a long life and a prosperous reign. Those hopes are dashed with a terminal diagnosis, yet Hezzy comes to the same spiritual fork in the road that Wendy and I faced. He chooses the faith slog, and comes to recognize that there was purpose in his pain. There was benefit in the anguish.

Wendy and I can relate to that. Just was we are sometimes surprised by the grief that appears in unexpected moments, so are we often surprised by joy in the midst of our grief. It has taken years, but we can honestly say we experience a deep sense of thankfulness for having to traverse that valley. Our faith journey through infertility has led us further up, and further in. We have experienced facets of life and love that we didn’t know existed with clarity we didn’t know was possible. From our current position on life’s road we now look back and affirm the lyric of Hezekiah’s song.

Anguish has it’s benefits.

Faith, hope, and love have led us through disappointments, but they have not disappointed us.

Here are the audio and video of the message (used with permission of Third Church, who holds all rights) in case you’re interested.

chapter a day banner 2015

 

Just Like Yesterday

“What troubles you now,
    that you have all gone up on the roofs….”
Isaiah 22:1 (NIV)

I have a very clear memory of an episode of Happy Days, the iconic sitcom about American life in the 1950’s. Ron Howard’s character, Richie, along with his friends go all-in campaigning for Adlai Stevenson. Richie even falls for a girl in the campaign office. At the end of the episode Richie comes home heartbroken when his new girlfriend says she can’t see him anymore because he’ll only remind her of Stevenson’s defeat. He returns home and his parents inform him that Eisenhower was declared the winner. It was one of my first lessons in the roller coaster of American politics.

I grew up in the angst of the Watergate scandal. I remember in high school and college the heated anger toward Reagan from the left and assurances that he would lead to America’s demise. I remember the same predictions on the right, and conservatives threatening to leave the country if Bill Clinton won. The same things are now being said on the left these days.

As a student of history I have learned that the political pendulum is constantly swinging back and forth. One of the amazing things about the way the American Founding Fathers designed our system was the opportunity we have every four years to go a different direction, and how often we do exactly that.

Isaiah’s prophetic word this morning was for a generation of people in Jerusalem who were experiencing political upheaval much greater and more dire than anything we are experiencing this morning. The siege of Jerusalem would end in mass death, starvation leading to cannibalism, and the enslavement and captivity of an entire generation of people (read Lamentations for Jeremiah’s poetic take on those terrible events).

As I wake in my hotel this morning my day is starting pretty much the way it did yesterday, the way it did when I started this job in the Clinton years, the way it did after 9-11, the way it did during the eight years of the Bush administration, and the way it did for eight years under President Obama.

America, in its relatively short history, has proven to be incredibly flexible and resilient. I don’t see that changing. Richie Cunningham may have suffered the defeat of Stevenson, but the election of JFK was just around the corner as America left the stodgy Eisenhower to embrace a new political generation. Happy Days ended long before it could tell that story, just as Isaiah’s prophecy would end long before he would witness the restoration of Jerusalem whose destruction he prophesied. No matter how you feel about the election results this morning, you can be assured that the story will continue.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get to work. Just like yesterday.

Someday … is TODAY!

Anyone who knows me even moderately well knows that I am among the millions of long-suffering Chicago Cubs fans. My precious young daughters endured long, chilly April afternoons at Principal Park with dad watching the AAA Iowa Cubs play. They did, however, get to sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame for a local news story about the ubiquitous “Businessman’s Special” (forgive the extremely poor VHS archive footage):

Taylor even dutifully went along with me on my first visit to Wrigley Field.

Tom and Taylor at Wrigley - 1

When Wendy and I married she allowed me the joy of teaching her about baseball, about the Cubs, and she has walked this journey with me for over a decade. She’s endured the chill winds blowing in at Wrigley with me. We try to watch or listen to every game, often recording it and watching it late if we have to, and planning our travel to the lake to coincide with Pat and Ron calling the game on the radio. My wonderful wife has become such a baseball fan that while I was on a business trip a few years ago she was watching all of the major league roster moves on the MLB network at the trade deadline and texting me up-to-the-minute news. Man, I love that woman.

tom&wendy@wrigley050108

Our family and friends have had to live with (endure, really) the reality that the Cubs are always on at our house. It’s just the way of life at both Vander Well Manor and our Playhouse at the lake. I’m happy to say, however, that more than a few have embraced our crazy. It’s been a blast to share the fun together.

Every year hope has sprung eternal. Opening day is a bit of an annual rite of passage at our house. Wendy has hot dogs, nachos, and cold beer ready. We put it on the calendar and make watching a priority.

opening-day-at-vw-manor

I crank Eddie Vedder’s Someday We’ll Go All the Way and dream quietly that it just might be a day this year, this season.

Every autumn hope has ended with acute, even horrific, post season tragedy or the painfully slow, obtuse seasons in which there were far more losses than wins.

There’s been more sorrow than joy over the years, but it hasn’t really  mattered. We still watch, listen, follow, cheer, scream, and cry. Then we grieve the long months of winter until the sounds of a Cubs game can once again resonate through Vander Well Manor each day.

Ask any Cubs fan and they’ll tell you that this season was special. There was something different about this crew of bear Cubs. There is the zen, hippie manager who organized pajama parties on road trips and petting zoos at practice. There are the expensive free agents that the front office were willing to sign. There are the talented free agents who passed up more money and longer contracts because they wanted to play for this team. The National League infield in the All-Star game were all Chicago Cubs. And, there were wins. A lot of wins. The “W” flag risked getting tattered from consistent exposure to the elements. We’d experienced some great seasons, but we’d never experienced a season like this season.

There’s this thing I’ve learned about hope when all you’ve experienced is disappointment. You want so desperately to give yourself wholly to dance with hope, but you’re always waiting for disappointment to show up, tap hope on the shoulder, and cut in. We’ve been conditioned to expect that our hopes will be dashed. The rug will be pulled out from under us. 

Our team swooned in June before the all-star break and we thought, “Oh no, here we go again.”

Our team won more games than any other team, and we were told “the team who wins the most games rarely wins the World Series.”

Our team lost to the Giants in 13 innings, and we thought “The momentum’s gone. Here we go again.”

Our team couldn’t eek out a single run against Kershaw in Game 2 of the NLCS, then we get shut out again in Game 3. We thought “Surely, this is the beginning of the end.”

Our team gets shut out in Game 1 of the World Series, then loses two of three at Wrigley. We have to win three straight, and win the last two in Cleveland. We’re reminded incessantly by Joe Buck and the rest of the baseball talking heads how long the odds are, how improbable it would be, and how many times the Cubs have blown it before. And, we think, “The dance with hope is over. I see disappointment making its way across the gym floor to cut in. Again.”

Then we win Game 5 at Wrigley and salvage one victory at home. At least we won’t have to endure watching Cleveland celebrate a World Series victory in the Friendly Confines.

Then we win Game 6 in Cleveland and relish the thought of having pushed the series to the limit. Still we have the talking heads reminding us of the improbability, the long odds, the history of our dashed hopes.

Then comes Game 7. Lead off homer by Fowler. Strong effort by Hendricks. 5-1 lead. The Indians get a couple of runs but we’ve got a lead and it’s getting late in the game. Hope is dancing. Hope is literally cutting the rug, and we are feelin’ fine. Put on the dancing shoes.

Nine outs away.
Six outs away.
Four outs away.

Two down. Bottom of the 8th. Bases empty. Just one more out and we’re on to the 9th. 

Indians double. 

Indians Home Run. 

Tied 5-5. 

There is disappointment tapping hope on the shoulder. “Excuse me. I’d like to cut in.”

Rain delay. Seriously?!

Texting with Madison in SC.

2016-world-series-game-7-6

Texting with Kevin M.

2016-world-series-game-7-5
Texting with Chadwicke.

2016-world-series-game-7-8
Texting with Kevin R.

2016-world-series-game-7-7
Texting with Matthew.
Texting with Harry.

Then comes the top of the 10th.
Cubs score one.

Cubs score two.

The Cubs are doing it. They are defying the odds and the naysayers and the talking heads and the curses and the nagging disappointments.

Carl Edwards Jr., the kid we watched pitch at Principal Park for the Iowa Cubs just a month or so ago, is in to close it.

Indians score one. Disappointment is still trying desperately to steal the dance.

Texting with Taylor

2016-world-series-game-7-10

I have always dreamed of this day. I had always envisioned being in Chicago. I imagined driving to Elgin and taking the train into the city and the Red Line to Wrigley. But, there was something so right about being here at Vander Well Manor. It was just Wendy and me listening to Pat and Ron call the game while we watched the muted television feed. This is where we celebrate Opening Day with hot dogs, nachos, popcorn and beer. This is where we listen and watch and cheer and groan and cry nearly every day from April through September. Now it’s November. It’s the last day of the baseball season. Game 7 of the World Series. The Chicago Cubs were the last team standing. We won the big one.

Hope shrugged off disappointment this time. It’s time to dance, really dance, for the first time in 108 years. Wendy and I hugged, and cried, and went outside to #FlytheW.

2016-world-series-game-7-2

Someday was TODAY. I can’t describe how much fun it was to exchange calls and texts and messages and posts and tweets with friends and family. And, most of all, with the little girls, now grown, who endured  chilly April afternoons at Principal Park with dad watching the AAA Iowa Cubs play and learning to sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame. 

It’s root, root, root for the Cubbies, if they don’t win it’s a shame…

No shame tonight. We won. It’s time to dance.

madison-watching-cubs-in-sc

2016-world-series-game-7-3

Big Catch at the Right Time

This was one of Dad's and my better catches.
This was one of Dad’s and my better catches.

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. Luke 5:5-7 (NIV)

I did a lot of fishing with my dad and siblings when I was a kid. There was nothing worse than being out all day, and not catching a darn thing. For a kid, it was torture. I can only imagine how much worse it was for Simon when it was all night he’d been out and fishing was his livelihood. As I read this morning, I so identified with the discouragement Simon had to be feeling. He was tired. He was depressed. The last thing on earth he wanted to do in that moment was go back out on the water and, to top it all off, he’d just been washing his nets. Going back out meant that he’d have to come back and wash them all over again. Ugh!

I have often found, along life’s road, that God’s timing and my timing are not always the same. As frustrating and discouraging as it can get waiting on God’s timing, I have not been discouraged in the long run. The adrenaline rush that Simon must have felt when he realized his nets held the largest catch he’d ever experienced pushed away any weariness he felt. The catch served to teach him that this teacher from Nazareth really was a man of God, and was what Simon needed to convince him to leave his nets and follow the young rabbi. Finally, the catch would have provided Simon and the boys the funds they would need to provide for their families and their new life as disciples of Jesus.

Like Simon, I have found that God’s timing usually comes through, not when I want it, but right when I need it, and it provides God’s best when I need it the most on multiple levels.