Posts tagged ‘Advent’
November 29, 2015.
–by Diane Worthey
Princess Street is far from our Pullman home. Located in the northern industrial city of Preston, England, it is surrounded by remnants of abandoned cotton mills. These mills once ushered in the Industrial Revolution. Now they stand empty and crumbling.
No “princess” lives on this street. Vacant lots full of garbage pepper the neighborhood. Smoky pubs have sprouted on every corner. The people in the market say, “Why are you here?” “You, the lucky American family on sabbatical, why are you HERE?” “You can travel anywhere in England- to Oxford, Cambridge, Durham…Why Preston? Why here?”
It’s true, we could have gone to countless places for Guy to do research. How and why we ended up in Preston, England is a “God Moment.” To me, a “God Moment” is an experience that isn’t planned, and it can’t be repeated.
Preston, England wasn’t in our plan. We had hoped to spend sabbatical in Australia, until the funding fell through. A colleague of Guy’s in Preston came to the rescue and offered a workable deal. What we thought was purely a research opportunity for Guy and a tourist opportunity for the rest of the family quickly became a “calling”.
The divine element of our trip began to take shape over a conversation with my mother. Upon hearing about our upcoming adventure to England, she said, “If you get a chance, visit Preston. That’s where your great-grandfather emigrated from. He was a weaver in the mills, and came to America during the cotton famine of the 1800’s.” Although I knew my great-grandfather was from England, I had no idea that he was from Preston. From this moment on, the trip became a quest to find out more about my mother’s family. I wanted to know how they lived and where they worked. I wanted to know why my great-grandfather boarded a crowded ship to America with his young wife and children, leaving behind his entire extended family.
I began to read and learn everything I could about Preston life during the late 1800’s. Because of the American Civil War, the Cotton Famine hit Britain with a vengeance. Mill workers lost their jobs as the mills shut down. People starved. Some burned all of their furniture to stay warm. Others survived by eating the gruel that was meant for their animals.
As I learned about Preston’s history, I began to appreciate, with a strange sense of sadness and thankfulness, why my great-grandfather chose to risk coming to America. I marveled at his grit and resourcefulness. Most importantly, I began to feel extremely humble. All of the comforts we enjoy seem royal and decadent compared to the life that my great-grandfather’s family led. Even today, our life in Pullman is rich compared to the average Prestonite’s. Could this be the message that God was trying to communicate to me by bringing us here? Could God be telling me to appreciate the sacrifices of those who came before me? Could he also be telling me to appreciate my Pullman life more than perhaps I have?
What transpired in the next 6 months regarding our genealogy project still gives me pause. All in all, we added 23 people to our family tree and traced the family back to the French Revolution before losing the trail. As we neared the end of our sabbatical stay, we came across a census record listing my great grandfather’s street address as being on Princess Street. Curious as to if we might be able to find the address on foot, we quickly turned to the city map. I can’t describe in words the emotions we felt when we realized that out of thousands of apartments available to lease in the city of Preston, we had unknowingly chosen an apartment located only one block away from my great grandfather’s Preston home. All along our journey into the past, we had been gazing at the same brickwork and walking the same cobblestone sidewalks that my great-grandfather had walked. This….was a “God Moment”.
–by Sandy Evenson
As I was walking across campus, from my office to the Dean’s, I overheard a scrap of conversation among three young men. One was wearing a short-sleeved white shirt, dark slacks, and a tie. He must have been the leader of a Bible study and said something about faith and “God’s plan for you.” As I continued on my way, I mused about that expression – God’s plan for you – and how it is the traditional Christian version of Joseph Campbell’s “follow your bliss.”
According to Campbell, you need to ask yourself what you are meant to do in this world, a calling, if you will. Every society has stories about “the hero’s adventure” in which an Everyman has one special gift that happens to be the very thing that is needed to save the day. David and Goliath, Gilgamesh, the Ramayana, Frodo and the Ring, Star Wars, and Harry Potter are all stories of the hero’s adventure. For Campbell, everyone is her own hero in her own life adventure. If you follow your bliss, the doors will open – the way may not be easy, but it will be clear.
I bought into the follow-your-bliss concept ever since I felt called to graduate study. The doors opened – I got the major professor I wanted, met people who eased my path, was funded to go to India, met my husband, got the job of my dreams, had the best baby, bought a house with a cat door, achieved tenured full professor mainly by writing books – and then wondered what was next. I followed my bliss and got it. What is my new bliss?
I’ve been asking myself that question for the last five years. I had the opportunity to try my hand at university administration and a two-year stint as interim director has become six. Is it my bliss? Should I go back to teaching? I have agonized over this to the point of exhaustion.
And then I had a game-changing experience, minutes after overhearing those young men discussing faith and God’s plan for individuals.
Being a department head is one of those jobs that someone has to do, and I figured it may as well be me. I’m a creative problem solver, not ambitious, good with money, and want what is best for the faculty. But, I’m no Sojourner Truth. I’m not a leader. In fact, I usually describe myself using that expression, “Either lead, follow, or get out of the way.” I like to stay out of the way. And I was raised to be a nice girl and not make waves. So, as an administrator I always felt inauthentic because I’m not political and really dislike confrontations. And that is much of what administration is, especially during a recession and after budget cuts. The good news is that I have learned to negotiate.
But, on this day, my dean and my faculty were not seeing eye-to-eye. A policy proposal was being contested – backs were up and tempers were frayed. I needed to communicate to the Dean how the faculty was interpreting his words and how I was interpreting has actions. I was creative in my approach. I was firm and direct. I was tenacious. And I was successful. The Dean leaned back in his chair, spread his arms, and said, “OK, I’ll back off.”
Even as I thanked him and the discussion moved on, I knew I had experienced a “speak truth to power” moment. David and Emma knew I was engaged in this on-going and painful negotiation and that it was ripping me apart. That evening Emma asked me how my meeting with the dean went. All I could do was smile and say, “I won.” The next day David called to say he thought I had really made a breakthrough as a person. I was glad my daughter got to see that capacity in me.
But now I am on the other side. I feel like a different person. Like after Emma was born – one day I was Sandy Evenson and the next day I was Emma Trayte’s mother. Last Thursday I was Sandra Evenson, but who am I today? I’m not sure I like the kind of person I had to be. It was emotionally and psychically about the most painful thing I have ever endured. If doing this thing was part of God’s plan for me, what on earth does he have in mind for me?
I was grateful to drive up to N-Sid-Sen alone on that Friday afternoon, the Day After. I was amazed that the programming for the week-end had to do with using one’s spiritual imagination to interpret experiences, to discover the kingdom of God in those events, large and game-changing or small and quiet.
As I write this, I am in the middle of the interpretation. Right this minute, I’m not sure I see the kingdom of God in being the kind of person I had to be to speak truth to power. Maybe. Maybe not. All I really know is that my best tool is my spiritual imagination. I have felt very far from my faith in recent years, but it is still down there, the only foundation upon which I can build meaning – and maybe figure out “God’s plan for me” or even my new bliss.
I have found “ God Moments” to come in blessings, but also crises and grief. At N Sid Sen I shared some “blessing” moments of my youth on the Illinois farm. One was carrying a new-born calf from the far pasture in the spreading beauty of a spring dawn. Another was sowing alfalfa seed by hand as a summer storm came roiling over the fence rows. There was also my love for climbing to a seat in the top of my favorite maple tree, or climbing to the top of the silo where I could survey “the county and the country round.” Such participation in nature and seeking such broad views have become pillars of my life with the Sacred.
But there were also God moments of crises which demanded God’s presence and support, even if the moment didn’t seem to be “God’s.”. Perhaps more the lack of God. I recall vividly, the events of an accident, treatment and subsequent failure which led to the loss of my left eye. But I don’t recall any Divine support at those moments. Perhaps it did come over time in the form of parental and wider family love. I also recall the moments of a horrible accident in front of our farm home where my sister, Carol, was struck by a truck and lay dying at the roadside when I arrived at the scene. There was no Sacred comfort for those terrible days and weeks. God moments may have arrived over time as my Congregational pastor, his lovely wife and four children accepted me into their family circle on many occasions and became my life long friends
These “God moments,” both positive and negative, have prompted a life long search for meaning, understanding the Sacred and the appreciation of “ordinary miracles.”. It is good to have seasons in the church year, but Advent is always!
Bringing home our daughter, Jillian, when she was three months old was a “God moment” for me. I was incredibly happy to have this beautiful baby girl join our family. At the same time, it was a heart-wrenching time for Jillian’s birthmother who had decided that she was not able to care for her. I discovered that joy and sadness are sometimes just a breath away from one another. I realized the meaning of interdependence as we became utterly dependent on others, mostly strangers; and likewise, they were dependent on us. It was a roller-coaster of a year leading up to the day we brought her home; we had to truly let go and let the universe decide how things were going to unfold.
A year earlier in January 2004, Derek and I attended a two-day seminar at an adoption agency in Spokane. We had read every book we could put our hands on about adoption, and decided on pursuing a domestic open adoption, which is when the child has the potential of developing a relationship with their birthfamily. For several years we had tried to have a second child but I had experienced recurrent miscarriages. I now realize that my son, Wesley, was my “golden egg” and marvel in the fact that he was born a few years earlier. For the adoption agency, we completed paperwork, gathered notes from our doctors reporting that each of us were “expected to have a normal life expectancy”, and completed home visits with the social worker. The biggest project early on was creating a portfolio with pictures and information about our lives so that birthmothers could look at it and be introduced to us. Once we had completed everything on our to-do list, we had to do the hardest part: wait. And for the record, I do not “do” helpless very well. I am used to setting goals, crafting plans, and making things happen.
Every day when I got home from work, I would go directly to the answering machine to see if the red light was blinking, in hopes that there would be some exciting news. Around July we received a call about a birthmother who needed to place her two children, a baby and a young child who had some unique needs, and the agency wanted to find out if we would be open to this situation. It felt like a decision that should be left to a higher power. Ultimately we decided that we were not ready for this and another loving family adopted the children. We received another important call in August. There was a birthmother who was pregnant and due in a few weeks who had chosen another couple to be the adoptive parents, but had changed her mind a month earlier. She had contacted the agency again wanting to place the child for adoption and had chosen us. I talked with the birthmother almost every day for two weeks and everything seemed to be going well. Her labor was going to be induced and we were ready: car was packed, hotel was reserved, clothes and supplies were on hand as we planned to bring the baby home after she was born. I told my friend, “The worst thing that could happen is the birthmom will change her mind.” It turns out that I was wrong. That was not the worst that could happen. There were complications during labor and the baby girl died shortly after birth. We were heart-broken–for the baby, the birthmother, and ourselves. This experience made me rethink my view of God. No longer did I see God as “God Almighty”. Instead, I began to think of God more like a whisper or a breath.
In October, we received another call. A woman had just delivered a baby girl and talked with the adoption agency about placing her. She had seen our portfolio and was interested in our family. A few days later we were told that she decided to parent her instead of adoption. I told myself that I would not fall in love with another child until she or he was strapped into our car seat, heading for home.
When the big call finally came, it was January 2005. The birthmom who delivered her baby in October had decided that she really was not able to parent her after all. We met with Jillian’s birthmother and while she asked us questions to help with her decision-making, we could tell how much she loved Jillian. Two days later, we were strapping Jillian into her car seat, next to five-year-old Wesley, and heading for home, feeling extremely blessed. Even seven years later, I joyfully remember this “God moment” as if it just happened.