Today is October 4, 2014, and it was one year ago today that I was sitting in the office and heard that Kristen Fersovitch had gone into the presence of Jesus. Kristen, her sister Kennedy, and her mom Kathy, have been some of my favorite women here in Edmonton. I saw them when I first visited the Singing Christmas Tree, and for some reason, they inhabit a special place in my heart.
In Kristen’s honor today, her mom requested status posts reflect on a time when God was our strong fortress, our strength in a time when our strength was not enough to get us through. I have to say, He has been that for me every time I have suffered a loss or losses in the last 11 years since I first committed my life to him.
The first real hit was just a year into my life here. It was a rough day, and I thought that it was not how it is supposed to be. And so, I wrote this devotional to capture the moment.
How It Is Supposed To Be
“I lift up my eyes to the hills—
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
The Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
He who watches over you will not slumber;
Indeed, he who watches over Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD watches over you—
The LORD is your shade at your right hand;
The sun will not harm you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all harm—
He will watch over your life;
The LORD will watch over your coming and going
Both now and forevermore.”
— Psalm 121
Well, I am quite surprised. I almost wish that culturally we could agree to not celebrate birthdays, to ignore them in the hopes that they will not come to pass, or to just let them go by as any other day. I don’t know about you, but as my birthday comes every year, I evaluate my entire life in light of the number of years I have been on this earth. And although I’ve had some good birthdays, even great ones, most of my birthday evaluations don’t result in me giving myself a good grade. In fact, on most birthdays, I am miserable. Miserable.
This year, the time leading up to my birthday was no exception to this general rule. I thought I was doing okay with the whole thing – I really did. But the past couple of days, as I’ve approached 44 years of age, a single, childless, graying, quite out-of-shape woman, living in a room and board in Edmonton, Alberta, I’ve started experiencing heartache like I have never experienced before. An ache for how it was supposed to be.
Lately, I’ve been feeling a little discouraged with my career. I won’t bore you with all the reasons, except to say that in my culture at my age, most people are a lot further in this area of their life than I am – at least, the people that I would like to emulate. I’ve been asking God to help me with these feelings of inadequacy, and sometimes I think I’m progressing, but the feelings of inadequacy have not gone away, and I still feel a bit of a failure. Really, sometimes I wonder if I even care at all about my career. Whatever I do, I like to do well, but very little seems truly important to me, other than the people aspect of things.
I put that on the backburner, though, as I went to a Christmas banquet on Friday evening, two days before my birthday. Oh, what a beautiful banquet that was, too. Our prayer room was decorated like a winter forest with real trees. The look and smell were fabulous! The meal was scrumptious, the speaker was great, the company at our table was wonderful — all in all, a great evening. It was a little bit of a downer being a single in the midst of couples or couples to be, but it didn’t seem that significant to begin with. That night, I met the Buntings – Ken and Sybil – he was a pastor at Central a while back. Talking with the Buntings was just fabulous. Both are in their 90’s and they spoke with the playful affection and banter of a couple that has been together, has grown together, has loved one another, for a very long time. It was awesome just to be in their presence. I thought, “This is how it is supposed to be.” And though I marveled, my heart ached as well. These people have wonderful children (I’ve met them) and grandchildren and great grandchildren as well. They spoke of them proudly and fondly. Why aren’t I married with children, with the hope of children and grandchildren to come?
I tucked all that away, though, as I went into the church on Saturday, the eve of my birthday, to help with the construction of the Singing Christmas Tree. Shortly after I got there, I noticed that someone I was once quite fond of myself was there with his fiancée. I thought I was completely beyond any kind of attachment, especially since the attachment was mostly on my side – I’d prayed for he and his fiancée quite a bit, so was pretty sure I would be okay. And I was, until I went upstairs to get a phone number for someone, and became very reluctant to go back downstairs. I decided I would do some laminating for a while, and it was while I was laminating that I started really thinking about my life and “how it was supposed to be.” I went to the little kitchen to get a cup for some water and glanced in the mirror. Oh no. How did this happen yet again. So heavy, so gray, so drawn, so weary. I could not recall ever having looked so awful in all my life. “This is not how it is supposed to be,” I thought. I was surprised when I suddenly felt my heart contract. Was this going to be my “Happy Birthday”?
Every which way I turned, there was evidence that nothing in my life is as it should be. I felt sucker-punched for sure, and it seemed like I was receiving blow after blow after blow – right to my heart. But I composed myself, gathered the shreds of my heart and patched them loosely back together as I went to the kitchen to help, in an attempt to avoid any more negative thoughts and feelings. I figured Nellie and Debbie (Nellie’s daughter) could maybe use some help. They were sitting and chatting with Wilma and another lady when I joined them. We chatted. Just interacting with Nellie and Debbie, and watching them interact with their grandchildren and children, I thought, “This is how it is supposed to be.” My eyes welled up, though I don’t think anyone noticed. My heart cried out for the grandchildren that should have been in my life. I put all that aside as I served hamburger soup so I would not have to sit and eat with anyone other than the wonderful ladies in the kitchen.
A friend of mine had agreed to go to a restaurant opening with me in the early afternoon, so I actually did not have a chance to eat with anyone anyways. I had originally planned to come back and help more with the Tree late in the afternoon, but I just could not bring myself to be in the midst of “how it is supposed to be” anymore that day. So my friend and I decided to go toodling around some local shops. We parked on a neighborhood street and walked to the little shops. As we walked down the street and by pretty, well-kept homes, some with little lights twinkling inside, I imagined the mothers, fathers and children inside and thought, “This is how it is supposed to be.” My heart cried out, “Why isn’t this how it is in my life?”
Mostly, the eve of my 44th birthday was not what I would call a very stellar moment. I tried not to, but I wallowed excessively, despite being disgusted with myself for the wallowing. In light of this, I was in dread of the following day. I did not want to get up and go to church on my birthday. What was I going to hear in the sermon? Answers to why I’m not the way I am supposed to be? God speaking into my ear? What? What? What?
“I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from?”
But, if nothing else, I am persistent. One thing I do understand is the importance of persistence. Even when things don’t seem right, or balanced, or fair, or possible, persistence is crucial. I’ve noticed even in the darkest of times that persistence results in some light being shed. And so off I went to church and thus, this birthday was no exception to this rule. It is hard to stay immersed in darkness when you come to my church, Central Tabernacle. There are so many loving people here to encourage you back into the light. As I wandered around in the foyer, many of my church family wished me “Happy Birthday”. Many hugs and well wishes later, I went into the sanctuary for the service. I’d heard someone on the radio (Shine FM) say on the way into church that “if you need a boost, if you are feeling low, praise God.” I was eager to praise God and grateful to have the opportunity to worship Him right away.
“My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”
The service was centered on Psalm 121 – one of my favorites. And the message I heard was that “harm, setbacks, or suffering are (1) temporary – come to pass, and (2) transformational.” An inspiring message of hope. One of our church moms, who leads some of our children, helped us with methods to memorize this entire Psalm – in fact, she did a “rap” type version of the verses that was quite fun! Already, the day was dramatically improving. My closest friends took me to lunch for my birthday and I was spoiled with gifts as well. But the best part of this crowd is just being with them. They are very busy people — they are always helping people to keep from stumbling, watching out for people, caring for people – true shepherds. I honestly don’t know where they find the time to do all that they do – perhaps they don’t sleep.
“He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”
In the evening, it was on to my small group meeting. A football game, more hugs and birthday wishes, a good study about “generosity” – could you ask for anything more? A good birthday night, as well as a good birthday.
“The Lord watches over you – the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.”
I don’t know the answers to my questions, and I don’t expect to know the answers before I meet God face to face and He clues me in. I don’t know why birthdays are so hard for me. I don’t know why it is that there are times when I seem to get sucker punched over and over and over again. I do know that when that happens, and I look up to the Lord, He lets me know that He is watching over my life, that He is caring, that He is always there for me.
“The Lord will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”
I find that He does this by sending His missionaries into my life with hugs, fellowship, well wishes, kind words, good sermons, and yes, even birthday lunches. Sometimes the smallest acts of kindness are just what is needed at the time. Every hug, every kind word, every “Happy Birthday”, every bit of the sermon and Psalm 121, every little morsel of that delicious birthday lunch, and every minute of my friends’ time, was a treasure to me on this 44th birthday. Thank you, Lord, for sending your missionaries to me at just the right time – I guess this is how it is supposed to be.
Whose missionary would you have me be?