Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Not Yet Ready For Replacement

My parents brought me up to work hard. Laborare est orare—Work is a form of prayer. I’ve been constantly employed since I was 15 years old. I am fiercely independent. I make things happen. I don’t take handouts. I get it done myself. I worked all throughout college. Later, I worked full time during the day and took a full-time graduate course load at night. After that, I worked a full-time job and taught three nights a week. While pregnant. Then I was a working mom, commuting 70 miles one way to my job.

When in doubt, I take care of myself. I control my own career destiny.

That is, until December 2, 2008.

Amidst the holidays, I’ve been fighting these feelings of loss. My job is gone. Now I have two little girls to think about; I can’t just go out and try to find a full-time job, location unimportant. That’s what I would have done before. Now I need a great paying, part-time job with a lot of flexibility and easily-arranged, completely trustworthy childcare where the girls are happy. You know, all the things I used to have. Before I got laid off. Oh, and have we discussed the current job climate? It’s awful, have you heard? I feel myself completely losing control of the situation; it’s all just slipping through my fingers, and I don’t know what to do.

Is it financial needs I am worried about? Somewhat. It wouldn’t be normal otherwise. Is it a change in lifestyle? Somewhat. Do we need to change our dreams of private school for our daughters? Do we need to adjust our retirement plans? What exactly is it that keeps me awake at night, that leaves me with the feeling of dread and panic that I’m not sure how to make it through the endless days stretching out in front of me? I tried to spell out to Darren how I’ve been feeling. “I’m not anybody. It’s like, I used to be someone,” I said. “And now I’m not anyone anymore.”

I’ve continued to wrestle. There’s a verse in the New Testament that says the stories in the Old Testament have been put there for us to learn from, so I look to the stories there to see what I’m supposed to learn from this trial.

Am I supposed to learn from Noah? To build a boat even though there’s no water? Am I Abraham? To pick up my feet and put them down, even though I’m not sure where I’m going? Or am I Abraham later on, required to lay my Isaac down on the altar and trust that God will provide? Because honestly, I think I’ve learned all those lessons before in my life. Really. I don’t think that this blow was really necessary to teach me those things again.

Not this time. This time it’s about your hip.

My hip?

I have this sort of running joke with Darren that some year for my birthday he can buy me a hip replacement. I was born with a dislocated hip, a birth defect. Fortunately, it was discovered when I was about three months old. I spent about a year in a body cast as an infant (don’t feel sorry for me; I don’t remember a bit of it. Feel sorry for my mom, having to lug around a baby and a body cast, plus trying to change those cloth diapers all the time). Though it was repaired, I still feel the effects of it. I’ve never been agile or athletic. I’ll never run a 10k (or a 5k!). Pregnancy was murder on my hip, and special care had to be taken when I delivered. In general, a throbbing pain in varying degrees comes and goes at any given time. Sometimes it lasts for days. Sometimes I go for months without it. My doctor says I can just count on it to get worse as I get older.

I’m not really seeing how my hip relates to my job loss though. Because I can’t think of anyone in the Bible with a bad hip, except Jacob. And I can’t stand him. I am NOTHING like that guy. I’m not a cheater or deceiver or heel grasper or wheeler-dealer, and I don’t have two wives. I don’t have anything in common with him except that his hip hurt, too. Well, and maybe that he was a hard worker. And was independent. And fixed things to go his way a lot. And instead of waiting on God, went out and jumpstarted situations. And forged his own identity.


Since I discovered that I might possibly have a few things in common with him, I decided to look again at the story of his hip. He was about to face his brother, Esau, who wanted to kill him. He devised some sketchy strategy and put together some gifts, but in his heart, he knew that wasn’t going to work. So before the day he was to meet him, he sent his whole family over the river, but he stayed on the other side alone. And there he met Jesus, in a Christophony: one of those times when Jesus appeared before the Incarnation. Jacob wrestled and fought with Jesus until daybreak, but he wouldn’t yield. Jacob wouldn’t give in to Him. Until finally Jesus merely touched Jacob’s hip, and it came out of its socket. Only then did Jacob realize that all his old strategies and his old identity were nothing. He was fighting with God over who was in charge of his life, and God had to give him a devastating injury to show him.

I’m seeing now that it wasn’t my job or career I loved so much (though I did love them): actually, it was me. I love me so much. I think I can do a better job being in charge of my life than God can. Does He not realize all my accomplishments? Does He not see all that I have done? Is He not aware of all my hard work? Does He not know that I have formed the absolute perfect situation for myself and my family? I got that done all on my own, didn’t I?

But in a conference room in early December, He gently reached down and pried my fingers off that cherished idol I’ve held for so long: my identity. All the pride I take in who I’ve made myself to be. Something which, though I might not have really realized it, I thought was better than God. I got a devastating injury because for too long, too many years I have believed myself to be in charge of my life.

And as I lie here on the ground, in agonizing pain, with my dislocated life—now what? Where’s my plan? Any plan I do have, I realize I have absolutely no control over whether or not it will work out. What’s going to happen to me? Who am I now?

What happened to Jacob after God dislocated his hip?

Genesis 32:29 “Jacob said, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But He replied, ‘Why do you ask my name?’ And there He blessed him.”

After He has given me this blow to my pride and everything I thought I was…here comes His hand again. For what? To lecture me? To hurt me? To take from me? To steal from me?

“And there He blessed him.”

In place of the pitiful little idol He has loosened from my clenched fist, He pours out His almighty blessing instead.

My hip is hurting a bit tonight as I write this. For so long, I’ve lived with the pain, it’s like background noise. But now to me, it’s a precious reminder of a painful lesson I needed to learn. A lesson He loved me enough to teach me.

So I limp to the mirror to take a good hard look at who I see there. Who am I now that the identity I created for myself has been stripped away?

I see an ordinary woman. Heading toward 40. With no control over what happens. With no self-made plans. With a bad hip. With an identity only He can give me.

A very, very blessed woman.


Laura Brown said...

What a thought-provoking post. I once met a homeless man who said to me, "Sometimes God has to break you down before he can build you up." There's a lot of truth in that. I know everything is going to work out for you in the end.

Jill said...

Thanks for sharing...sorry if I prodded to much about the topic, but it was great to see your insight. I will pray that God will open just the right opportunity for you... :)

Alice said...

No, you didn't prod too much! Don't worry! It's all about keepin' it real here... :-)

Alysa said...

Beautiful post, Al. Beautiful.

ARF said...

You don't have to run a 5k. Lotsa people walk.


Melanie said...

This post is made for publication, Alice. I know I say it all the time but I really think you should consider freelance writing...Separately, this is such an open, honest look into how you're dealing with the layoff - thanks so much for letting us all in. You will find your way!

Ann-Marie said...

During our bankruptcy, Pastor said something that stuck with me - "God wants us to hold everything with open hands. He'll take what He'll take and give back blessings. "

It is so hard to do, and when you talked about God having to pry your fingers off, it reminded me of that phrase. I hope it is encouraging to you, too.

And, you know what, you're somebody to me. And a hero to two little girls I happen to know. I'm praying for you!