A few weeks ago, I was really starting to feel like I had it made in life. Not that things are perfect or how I would plan them! You know, I had to work for years in a job I didn’t like, but I was delightfully strategizing about increasing my teaching load, coordinating to tutor homeschoolers in the fall, and preparing for more ministry endeavors with my flexible schedule. While I’m not particularly happy about turning another year older without any accompanying littler birthdays to celebrate, I have a deep appreciation for many things I can do now that would be nearly impossible if we had children to care for. And we’re managing on a very tight budget, but we love our little house and someday Aaron will graduate, and even now we have a lot more than most people around the world. I want you to know that my gracious acceptance and good attitude here was not easily won. It took a lot of work to get there! But for a short, short time I was able to rest in the comfortable beauty of surrender and acceptance. And then, it crashed down when I got one of those heart-stopping calls that you never expect to get, the kind that makes you look at the phone afterwards and say “Did that just happen? Really?”
I suppose the story starts, quite innocently, the week before the phone call when Aaron mentioned he had a special one-on-one meeting with his advisor. He wasn’t particularly worried, but noted that this seemed very unusual. There were hours of conversation while we were tiling the kitchen, otherwise he probably wouldn’t have said anything in the first place. I forgot about this until he said something before leaving on Monday morning, and I wasn’t very alert because I’d barely slept from excitement about the kitchen progress and Aaron’s recent “75% commitment” to redoing the bathroom this fall. So I said a quick prayer and forgot about it until I got a text message later. While I would love to pretend we are a syrupy couple who constantly express our mutual undying affection in 160-character snippets, Aaron does not text me during the day. So even seeing that was a little unsettling, and then I read “…wanna move to Ithaca NY?” Um, what? I was confused and asked him to call me, and he did. Aaron also does not call me during the day. And I knew the news was big because he called and then he unfolded the story of his professor moving their lab across the country, telling me we were invited but not required to come, that he would get a raise and potentially an Ivy-league doctoral degree if we left…and I can’t even remember what else he said, but I knew we were thinking very seriously about moving right away. (When I prayed that I wouldn’t have to keep the deer head in my living room, I meant that the deer head should move, not the living room.) The next few weeks of our life became a massive blur of questions about selling our house, sacrificing all the music and job stuff I have worked for, and figuring out what else we should consider to make a decision about the whole thing. And because this move would mean we’d want our house sold by August, we gave ourselves a deadline of less than two weeks to make a final decision.
It would be far too laborious to go over all the aspects of this huge decision-making process here, but I will say that, miraculously, we concluded that it is best to stay where we are for now. We made the choice pretty quickly and it seems like the answer is the “easy” one, but this was not a “snap” decision. I’m grateful that this was a very short trial, but it was a time when it seemed like everything we worked for in the past few years might be given up quickly and the future looked like one big, giant, and possibly scary mess.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” –yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. (James 4, esv)
Yes, in the chastening lesson of this all we must remember we are a mist, we are vapor, we are dust. And if we who have eternal souls can be compared to dust and ashes, how much more transient are the products of our striving – our dreams, our plans, our business, …our tiled floors? I find profound connections here to ponder this week when we Christians especially contemplate the mystery of Jesus’ passion. It is overly dramatic to say this, I admit, but in the midst of that confusion and anxiety I really felt like I had grabbed onto a bit of what massive heartache the first “Holy Week” must have been – the political and religious landscape was in uproar, Jesus had to dread the cross before him, and for the disciples it looked like their hopes and dreams were destroyed. We miss a lot of the compassion and beauty in the Resurrection if we forget that emotional turmoil.
And I know this sounds crazy, but in deciding to stay we also had to give up the new dream of the life we would have after moving. We planned on becoming kayak bums in beautiful upstate New York and spending a few years exploring the East coast. It’s hard to lay that dream aside, even when I know there is no way to have both things I want. In articulating the confession, this reminds me of the time I was watching a friend’s baby who had a pacifier in her mouth and found another one on the floor. At a certain point, she was hanging on to the second pacifier and realized she would have to take out the first one if she wanted to suck on the second from her hand. She found the dilemma so distressing that she cried too hard to have either one in her mouth at all. And I don’t want to spend my whole life like that, but I’m sure that’s what I must look like to God right now.
(I think our awesome patio is my favorite part about living in this house, so I am consoling myself by focusing on how much I like it out here. And if the background is blurry, I can forget how much work there is left to do in the yard.)