Recover Gracefully or what to do when your plans change

This summer I was supposed to take a sabbatical. The elders at Redeemer graciously gave me three month away. Budget money was set aside to pay preachers and admin in my absence. Sunday, June 6, would be my “decommissioning,” releasing me to rest and renewal. My daughter Jackie and I planned a month long painting trip from San Diego up the west coast. This was going to be her senior trip, celebrating her graduation from Redmond high school and Bellevue College with an AA. Then Covid-19 hit and upended my well-wrought plans.

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The shutdown also messed with the climax of Jackie’s senior year as she’s mourned no prom (or prom dress), graduation ceremony, or senior overnighter. A few weeks ago I realized that I just couldn’t leave the help of leadership at Redeemer with so many unknowns this summer. I canceled my sabbatical. Jackie and I are not the only ones whose life has been upended because of Covid-19. There are many others who are grieving much more serious losses: like the loss of a job, or the death of a loved one. In some way, all of us are having to deal with loss and the change of our plans, maybe even the shattering of dreams.

One phrase that I learned from Jenny, who learned it from a congregation at Redeemer presbyterian in Indianapolis, has stuck in my mind and I want to share it with you. Melanie worked at AT & T. She shared with Jenny a phrase used in her workplace, and we’ve used in our family life ever sense: recover gracefully. I don’t know precisely what they meant at AT & T, but I can tell you what that phrase has come to mean to us. Recover gracefully means that when hard things happen, when you melt down and fall apart, when your world comes crashing down, when you experience trauma, in short, when bad things happen you can recover from them with grace.

There are three steps to recovering gracefully. These are steps Jackie and I are walking as I write.

Step One: Make plans and mourn the change to or loss of those plans

One approach to life being out of our control is not to make plans at all. At least then you don’t have to deal with disappointment and loss. If you don’t have expectations, you can’t be hurt. Go with the flow. Chill. Surf whatever waves come your way. While it is true that it is possible to over plan and falsely believe you are in control, this is more often a strategy to avoid pain or loss. And that’s not the way to live life.

Our days are short. We should number the accurately, and live intentionally and purposefully and wholeheartedly in the few days allotted us by our sovereign God. This requires us to plan, map out our days, set goals, even dream. I believe that we should make plans, dream big dreams, and have hopes and expectations for the future. Having hope in your future is part of what it means to be a Christian, to have faith, to believe in God. Hopes, dreams and expectations open your heart to hurt. Yes, that is true. But we should not avoid hurt, but rather process the inevitable pain and hurt of our losses and disappointments with God. This is called grieving, mourning and lamenting. It is not something we do well in the west. But the Psalms of the Old Testament show us how.

The best place to learn how to process your emotions is the book of Psalms. They model what to do with your interior. They say: don’t stuff your emotions and don’t be dominated by your emotions. Instead, come to God with your emotions. Open your heart to God, share your anger, fears, joys, and longings with God. God is able to handle your emotions. You can melt down with God. You can fall apart with God. You can dump on God. You can yell at God. You can grieve with God. You can dare to be real with God. The Psalms, in short, give you emotional breadth, a language of the soul to verbalize to God. If your emotional life lacks breadth, if you are out of touch with your emotions, if your emotions take you on a roller coaster every day, if you don’t know how to grieve, or if you are compromised by anxiety and fear, then there is nowhere better to go than the Psalms. Read them, preferably out loud. Say the words, even if you don’t feel the emotions. Grieve with the psalmist even if grieving feels unnatural.

Mourning and Grieving My Sabbatical Loss

One of the hang ups we have to mourning and grieving and lamenting our losses is that we tell ourselves in the big scheme of things they’re really not that big or bad. In comparison to other’s losses, the no big deal. We just need to toughen up and move on. I disagree. This approach de-legitimizes the reality of the loss itself and the sadness of it. More importantly, it robs you of a chance to run to God to process.

So Yes, I realize that a three month sabbatical is a high privilege, and the loss of it a rather small matter in the grand scheme of things. But it is a loss, my loss. And in a way, Jackie’s too. A dream trip we would have shared in this summer is canceled. To process this loss, I’m going to share here on paper, what the Sabbatical plan was so that I can mourn its loss.

June 29, Tuesday: Pack. Jason and Jackie leave for Salem, OR (4 hour drive).

June 30, Wednesday: Hang in Salem with family

July 1, Thursday: Drive to San Diego (9.5 hours). Stay at B & B.

July 2, Friday: Paint in morning @ mission basilica san diego de alcala. Visit Coronodo Island. Dinner in Gas lamp district. Also visit beach, Balboa Park.

July 3, Saturday: Leave early, drive to LA. Take Ferry to Catalina Island. Paint on Catalina.

July 4, Sunday: Church on Catalina. Ferry back to LA. Stay with Seiko Konya

July 5, Monday: Paint in LA; See the sights. Stay with Seiko

July 6, Tuesday: Drive to Santa Barbara. Paint in the Evening. B & B in Santa Barbara

July 7, Wednesday: Paint “Our Lady of Sorrows” Catholic Church. B & B in Santa Barbara

July 8, Thursday: Drive to Morro Beach. Camp.

July 9, Friday: Paint & hike in Morro Beach State Park.

July 10, Saturday: Camp at Silver Peak Wilderness. Paint.

July 11, Sunday: Camp at Silver Peak Wilderness. Paint.

July 12, Monday: Drive to Big Sur. Camp. Paint & Hike

July 13, Tuesday: Explore & Paint Big Sur. Camp.

July 14, Wednesday: Drive to Carmel by the Sea. Air B & B. Jacob Swearingen joins us. Meet & Tour with Levi Breck

July 15, Thursday: Carmel by the Sea. Paint & Explore. Hang with Jacob Swearingen. Air B & B.

July 16, Friday: Carmel by the Sea to San Francisco via “Half Moon Bay” (2 hour drive). Spend day in San Francisco. Photograph/Paint in Sausolito. Dinner with Jonathan Eldridge

July 17, Saturday: Breakfast in San Francisco to Fort Bragg, CA (4 hours). Paint & Photograph @ Fort Bragg. Fort Bragg to Eureka, CA. (3 hours, 17 minutes)

July 18, Sunday: Find church and relax

July 19, Monday: Drive through Redwoods. Paint in the Redwoods. Crescent City (1.5 hours),  or north to Coos Bay, OR (8.5 hours)  

July 20, Tuesday: Crescent City to Lincoln City and Wallace Family Gathering @ Seacrest, OR (5 hours)

July 21, Wednesday, Seacrest, OR: Wallace Family gathering, play at beach

July 22, Thursday, Seacrest, OR: Wallace Family gathering, play at beach

July 23, Friday: Salem, OR: Wallace Family gathering, day trip

July 24, Saturday: Drive to Warm Springs, OR for youth mission

July 25, Sunday: Warm Springs, OR

July 26, Monday: Warm Springs, OR

July 27, Tuesday: Warm Springs, OR

July 28, Wednesday: Jackie in Warm Springs, OR/Jason leave Warm Springs early to Cluxewe.

The biggest loss for me is not that we won’t be visiting these places, or painting. It’s that we won’t have the chance to spend time the people in them. For example, my high school friend Jacob Swearingen was going to meet us in Carmel “By the Sea”, CA, to fulfill a decades old oath that we would meet up there one day in the future. And we’re still hoping to join Jenny’s side of the family on the Oregon Coast for a few days. But still there’s a lot of loss, so I grieve.

Heavenly Father, it’s sad to cancel the Sabbatical and this painting tour with Jackie. It was going to be a dream trip, once-in-a-lifetime. It’s confusing. So much of life is upended. I know you’re in control and that you have a good plan for our lives, but I don’t know your plan and am in the dark. Still I trust you. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

The first step in recovering gracefully is making plans to live out your calling, hopes and dreams, and to mourn and grieve and lament when those plans change and dreams are shattered. That’s what it means to trust God, and walk daily with your Father. He’s OK with you being sad, even mad at him. He cares about you and your heart.

I’ll cover Steps Two and Three in my next blog.

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