A couple of years ago, I sent out a Christmas newsletter with every Christmas card. If I recall correctly, it went something like:
Dear friends and family,
Life is great. We’re both employed, and our jobs are good! The kids are so happy. We have plenty of money, a pretty house with a great backyard and kinda-okay neighbors, and we’re healthy, and we went to Disney this year, and we are so blessed. Merry Christmas!
It had lots of happy, smiling pictures in it taken throughout the previous year. I shudder to think about this year’s newsletter. I can just see it now:
Between this year and last, we tried our hand at working from home. Then we opted not to starve or go on government assistance, so I found a job. We moved to a nice (but rented) house on the lake. Not a big lake, more like a pond. Either a small lake or a large pond. Either way … We started homeschooling. We buried our first fur baby by the lake. Until we found a new house, I rented a dorm room for three months from a starving college kid while the kids and hubs stayed at our regular house one state over. To be clear, I (the 30-something, non-college kid) stayed in a room with five other barely-past-teenager girls for three months. (Let me stop here just to go on record and say my daughter is NEVER going away to college.)
My new job lost funding, and because it was a contract job to begin with, I didn’t qualify for unemployment. But it’s okay because I started a new job three-and-a-half hours away. During that time, I got a total of 14 hours of sleep in three months and lived at the local coffee shop until about 11:00 p.m. each night when I’d go home to house parties, or yelling, or frat parties, 2:00 a.m. arrivals, or departures, strange people sleeping on our couch, a door that was NEVER locked (as a mom I really wanted to tell these girls how bad this idea was) or, well … you just never knew.
We found a house in our new town. Which meant we looked at 5,387 of them before we narrowed it down and contemplated county schools vs. city schools vs. private schools vs. homeschooling and which house went with each option.
I stepped away from a position of leadership that I’d earned and held and loved so that I could focus on my writing. And there isn’t a week that goes by where I don’t question if that was the right decision. I wrote and published a book. One year and 27 days from our last move, we moved again. The kids are sometimes sad, sometimes excited to be moving to a strange place so far away from home. They pray for friends, and it breaks my heart to hear the sincerity in their longing to belong. To my knowledge, we are healthy, and we are blessed. Merry Christmas.
Not quite the same as the last newsletter, is it? I exhale and look back at the past 18 months, and all I know is this: Change is hard.
Coping With the Chaos
With every change, there was prayer. Seeking. Wondering. Seeking. Inevitably, whether we liked it or not, the change would come. We could either hop on the next ship or sink on the one that just ran into the iceberg. Using just the information we had at hand, I would pray for wisdom and take a step. Then another and then another. The steps we had this year were so many and so frequent, it was more like a sprint than a few simple steps.
I never asked where God was in all of it. Not once. Yes, there were times I felt strapped in a roller coaster car on a ride through Crazytown, but I knew no matter how insane the ride was I would never fully derail.
Instead, I looked for handprints.
You see, when you pick something up off the floor, you leave your prints on whatever that is. You can’t pick it up without transferring some of your own prints to that thing now in your hands. There is a DNA transfer each time we lean on God through our change. Each time He picks us up from wherever we are, His prints transfer to us.
That’s just how it is.
Sometimes, like in Isaiah 41:13, He holds your hand. Sometimes His hands reach right down out of Heaven and scoop you up out of harm’s way. Other times they are cupped and waiting to catch you after you’ve tripped over your own two feet and poor choices. And yes, sometimes they pick you up out of your comfort zone and bring you something new, just to move you a little closer to His ultimate plan for you.
I’ve gotten really good at recognizing handprints. I saw them first as a child when my mother left our family, then again later when my brother drowned in a swimming pool accident at the home of a pastor we were visiting. My dad lost custody in a bitter battle, and I was placed in my grandmother’s care — the one woman who would introduce me to Jesus.
I see them now in the things God could have allowed in high school but didn’t and the things I shouldn’t have done but did, where His daily mercy and grace were more than I deserved. He picked me up then, too, even though I wasn’t living my life for Him at the time. I see them in the car accident I had in college when I woke up in a hospital completely unscathed to learn that my brakes had failed on an icy road, and I’d driven my car straight into a moving semi. I see handprints when I met my husband, when we packed up and moved four states away, and throughout our 15-year marriage when the world said to quit because marriage is too hard, but God said “Keep going, I’ve got you.”
I see them the time we learned we were carrying not one baby in our pregnancy but two, and I see the handprints He put on them when we had an emergency c-section because I had no idea what a prolapsed cord was and that my little spitfire redhead was causing trouble even before she was born. I see them even now as He’s moved me close to a friend, and we’re both sure He’s got something up His sleeve for moving us this close together even though neither of us knows what the reason is. It makes me smile, though, knowing God is in cahoots and another handprint will be in my future.
Seeing Them Still
I see them in every church family we’ve had, when He taught me how to truly forgive my mother, and in every job change, layoff, promotion and friend I’d made along the way. For every change. For every struggle. For every mountain I had climbed, I could look back in the valley and see the point where He picked me up and let me stay as long as I liked. Leaning on Him through each change was like the ultimate trust fall; He has caught me before, and I have no doubt those hands will be there to catch me again.
Better yet, seeing them in hindsight fortifies my faith that no matter what happens down the road, He will never leave me or forsake me. Even now, the more changes come, the more I learn to look for the handprints today rather than tomorrow. And even when I can’t see them, I know that in one year or five years or 10, I will be able to go back to this date in time and see them then.
The changes were hard. In fact, I broke down when a friend flippantly said, right around change number twelve of this year, “Oh you like change; no big deal for you.” But it was a big deal. Just because I was used to it didn’t mean I relished it. Just because I could deal with it didn’t mean I wanted to. It just meant that I got really, really good at falling into the hands of Jesus and seeking grace amongst the chaos.
So where were God’s handprints the past 18 months? They were all over. With each change, I searched for the reassuring sign that somehow, in the midst of my chaos, God had me covered. And He did.
There were handprints in the gift of a pause button that let me work from home for four months. Through the holidays. My favorite time of year.
Handprints in the provision of a job that not only paid our bills but offered free hot chocolate. I’m just saying. God loves me that much. Don’t laugh. If you only knew how much I love hot chocolate.
They were there in the temporary house we moved into. You see, our two previous residences were apartments because we’d moved to the city to be closer to work and better schools. Where can you bury your 16-year-old best fur baby in an apartment?
But in a rental house by a lake, where the property from the lake shore to 25 feet in is public space, and you can come visit your fur baby no matter who owns that house in the future? Yes. You can bury her there. That’s what God provides. Our every need.
And I saw His handprints again when my job ended on a Friday, and I started a new job in a new town two days later, and I found an apartment that was available in the next town that same day. (There were none. No short-term apartments. Zero. Except the one I needed.) And the new job has — get this — free hot chocolate. God loves me that much.
Handprints in my book and the provision for an editor when my regular editor couldn’t take on the project, a fully-paid scholarship to a writer’s conference that I couldn’t afford to go to otherwise, the author/agent meeting I’d dreamt about that was no longer available and the replacement meeting with an editor that made my heart soar, and a connection that helped me redo my children’s story website when the hard drive that housed all my web files crashed.
Handprints in a new friend who kidnapped me — a stranger she’d never met before — in our new town one night after church and drove me around to show me all that our little Mayberry had to offer, and in the sweet little house that we all love.
I know there are more changes coming. A new school. A new church. New friends. But for now the dust has settled, and the hands that are still holding me from the last change are pretty comfortable. I may just stay here awhile and enjoy the view.