Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Choosing To Look Forward

We'd been married only a few weeks when Jim looked at me and asked how many kids I wanted. I replied that I didn't want any. I didn't like kids. He let out a groan. "Oh, man," he muttered. "We should have talked about this before we got married." I explained to him that I'd done a lot of babysitting in my early teens and had come to the conclusion that kids were rambunctious, grubby, snotty nosed midgets who didn't mind and got into everything. Jim put his head in his hands and groaned. "But I love kids," he said. "I want a whole bunch of them."

We let the conversation drop. We were so newly married, I figured kids, if I ever changed my mind, were off in the future, so why argue about it now. I look back on that conversation and think how God must have been chuckling, knowing what He had planned for us as a couple. I also have to say, it was a good thing I didn't know it at the time.

We did eventually have children. I've already written that part of the story. That was when I discovered I absolutely loved kids--as long as they were mine. Other people's children were still on my black list. Oh, I was kind to them, smiled at them, even fed some of them who hung out at our house once my own kids started bringing friends home. Other people's kids were tolerated. Those who didn't mind were sent home and not allowed to come back. I still didn't like kids who misbehaved, tended toward sassiness, or constantly begged for cookies or cake or anything else.

By the time our son was in the fifth grade and our daughter in the third, God must have stopped laughing and got down to business because that's when He pulled His biggest surprise. The church we were attending had evening programs for children and the class our daughter was in encompassed 4th through 6th graders. The kids loved the class, but we began hearing stories about how hard it was for Uncle Dick, the main leader, and his helper, Nancy, to retain order with so many children under their tutelage.

One day Jim came to me and said that he believed the Lord was calling us to children's ministry and that we needed to begin by helping out in the children's evening service. I planted my feet. I reminded Jim that I didn't like other people's kids. His only comment was asking me to pray about it. I reluctantly agreed. I sat myself down with the Lord and reminded him that kids were on my black list unless they were my own children. I reminded him that I'd felt like that since my baby sitting days. I confessed that I was sorry about how I felt and asked for forgiveness, but I didn't want to be in children's ministry.

I didn't like what I heard from the Lord. I didn't like it at all. I told Jim what I knew the Lord had said. He smiled, gave me a hug, and told me he knew I'd make the right decision. He knew me better than I knew myself. And while I felt comfortable with  my decision, I still did not want to do as I'd been told. But I did.

I left heel marks for at least a mile down the road. The kind of marks the car leaves when I slam on the brakes but the car keeps moving forward. My body was moving ahead because Jim was pulling me along, but I left my stubborn heel prints all along the way. Kid's Ministry. Surely God only wanted to see if I'd be obedient and then He'd move me into something I would enjoy.

But that isn't what happened. There came the time when Uncle Dick planned a day trip to our local mountains, about an hour out of town. Because Jim had a class 2 license, he became our bus driver--a job he thoroughly enjoyed. The man loved driving trucks and buses. What can I say? What I hadn't known was that our church had a bus ministry that went into the deepest reaches of San Diego--down onto Market Street, a ghetto with a lot of danger about it. Even the police went two to a car when they patrolled the area. And there we were, in a big yellow bus, driving into the heart of Market Street to pick up the kids assembled at one of our church parishioner's home.

There were at least a dozen of them who bounded out of the house when we pulled up. They were unkept, unwashed, and every ethnic possible. They were all smiling, happy to get out of their neighborhood for a day. Sent off my parents who saw nothing more than free baby-sitters. I sat in the center of the bus and scowled. "Oh, God," I murmured, "I can't do this. I don't want to do this. Please release me from this ministry."

The kids climbed aboard the bus, laughing and talking together. One small boy plopped down beside me. A whole bus to sit in and this grubby little kid decided to sit beside me. I said to the Lord, "Well, obviously I have to get through today, so help me be the person you want me to be." The little boy smiled at me and began chatting away like he'd known me all his life. I don't remember what we talked about. What I do remember is that I fell in love with him and by the time we'd arrived at our mountain destination, I thought he was the sweetest kid I'd ever met. Dirt and all.

I distinctly remember the change that came over me that day. It was a change only God could have effected because only the Lord could have worked such a complete and instant turn-around in my stubborn heart. By the time all of us had eaten our lunches, gone swimming in the creek, and gotten back on the bus to head toward home, I was in love with every one of those kids. I was having fun with them. I was laughing with them. I was happy to be with them. A different little boy sat beside me on the way home. It didn't matter. I thought they were all absolutely adorable.

Jim became one of the regular bus drivers. Sunday evenings I'd hop aboard the bus with him and we'd drive the neighborhood, picking up the kids who wanted to go to church but had no way to get there. Then we'd head downtown and onto Market Street. Picking the kids up during daytime wasn't so scary. Taking them home after church, in the dark, into a known crime area, involved lots of praying and trusting God. We'd drive by liquor stores, small grocery markets, everywhere lots of locals, mostly men, congregated and the looks we got from them made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

God kept us safe. All those years Jim drove the bus, and other men in the congregation drove the bus into downtown, never one thing unusual happened. By the time we'd been part of the bus ministry about six months, there came a night when church was over and we'd gotten all the kids herded back onto the bus. It was winter and while it doesn't get freezing in San Diego, the wind was cold, the air moist, and some of the kids had caught colds.

It was that night that that cute little boy I'd sat with during the trip to the mountains, ran up behind Jim, already ensconced in the driver's seat. He threw his little arms around him from the back, snotty nose rubbing itself against Jim's neck and leaving a slimy residue. "I just love you," he said with such exuberance the snot was instantly ignored. He 'd taken a liking to Jim. As had most of the kids. Whatever prompted that outburst of emotion remains a mystery to me. But not to God. It was the crowning touch that put us into Children's Ministry for the next twenty years.

Author's comments:

Sometimes I still chuckle over the way God gave Jim the huge family he'd always wanted. For many years we were surrounded by kids we didn't have to raise, feed, or send off to college. We had all the fun with them and then sent them back to their parents. It was a sort of practice toward the day we would become grandparents. We always referred to our church children as  "our kids" because that was how we felt about them. Our own kids loved having us as part of their class and when other kids asked how they felt about their parents always knowing what they were up to in Sunday night class, their answer was always the same: they liked having us there. They maintain that to this day.

I'm telling you this because all the books on grief that I've read, and there have been many, claim that when the healing has been done, God will move me into a place of ministry. Right now I can't fathom that far into the future, for I know my heart is still rent and bleeding. And while I no longer sit and cry every single day, the tears still come at unexpected moments. Also, there is never a day that I don't get up thinking about Jim and go to bed thinking about him. The books tell me that I'll know I'm well when that no longer happens. If that be true, I will be grieving for years to come, for not thinking about Jim each day seems an impossibility.

Yet I'm the kind of person who likes to see where I'm going. I don't mind if my path is lit only a few feet ahead, as long as I know what's at the end. Since I have no wisdom toward my future that comes from the Lord, I consider those things which I already know how to do and enjoy doing. I wonder if He will move me back into children's ministry. Even with my spine in such a mess I cannot get around without a walker, that would be something I could handle. Plus, I love being with the kids. Their energy level is so high that I can go to church exhausted and come away with an adrenaline rush, simply because I sop up their energy vibes for myself.

I daydream about where I might be headed, knowing full well that I am likely wrong. In my whole walk with the Lord He has never once done what I expected. Why would He begin now? What He has always given me has been over and above what I thought He was going to do. I cannot know His mind. I don't really know why I even try. He says to rest and heal. That is all I should be concentrating on right now. He tells me to continue with my grieving. That just sort of comes naturally. At times, tears still roll down my cheeks; sometimes I lay sobbing on my bed.

That is what happened when I wrote my last blog, "How Do I Go On Alone?"  Whereas I generally take a week or so to construct each blog, that one took close to two weeks, simply because the pain of loss would overcome me as I typed the words and it finally occurred to me that I had to take some days off from working on that post or I'd be back to square one and I didn't wish to go there. Being where I am is hard enough.

There are still times when I see a shadow out of the corner of my eye and immediately think Jim is walking through the house. It takes an instant to realize that can't be true, but it is off-putting to my fragile emotions. Other time I could swear I hear him call my name. In the beginning, I'd get out of my chair to go see what he wanted, only to realize he wasn't there. And yet I'd heard his voice so clearly. I felt dumb, even stupid for not remembering. Then I read that all who have experienced loss go through the same thing. So I was normal after all. Even so, those instances still cause me pain that can beget tears. When that happens, I simply let them flow. I don't know what else to do.

There have been those who tell me how brave I am. What do they see? It can only be God's grace resting on me because on the inside, I am not brave at all. I am grateful that my faith in God has not been hampered. Or that my trust in Him remains solid. I read that some who go through tremendous loss turn away from God and each day I thank Him for holding onto me so tight that the trust remains. He has a long history with me. A history of loving, protecting, and leading me on the right paths. I do not forget that as I travel this dark road I'm on.

I was watching an old movie a few weeks ago. Just a plain, lovely black and white classic that I was thoroughly enjoying. The couple in the movie were at a party and the man asked the lady if she'd like to dance. They were on the floor when the music began. It was a song Jim and I used to dance to years and years ago. I saw the way the man held the woman, the slow dancing, the love that seemed to be between them and I started crying, then sobbing, then when I could watch no longer, I changed the channel. Too much truth for me to handle that day. And too great a loss to acknowledge. I know it is common for those of us who grieve. But common doesn't mean there is no pain involved and on that particular day, the pain of remembering was too intense.

I know I'm not finished. Just when I think I'm making headway, I find that I still have a way to go. Will it be years? A decade? I have no idea. What I do know is that my memories will go with me and I'll not feel guilty about it. I know that I will move into the place God has for me, even if I leave heel marks again because I won't be happy or content if I don't follow to where He leads. Does that make me super-spiritual? Decidedly not. I know my stubbornness, my questioning, and my delay tactics. I know that God knows them too and yet He still loves me.

One of Jim's favorite scripture passages, and one he quoted often, is in Matthew 6. He knew the instructions not to worry by heart and often, when I was in a dither about one thing or another, he would get out his bible and read to me. You can look it up for yourself in John 6:25 till the end of the chapter, which says, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." I  take that to mean that today's grief, sadness, sorrow, tears, and feeling so alone are enough for one day. What tomorrow holds is unknown. What my future will be is a mystery. At least to me. The one thing I am sure of is that there will be flowers. God knows I love flowers.

"Delight yourself in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart."
Psalms 37:4


  1. Everytime I sit and read one of your posts I find tears in my eyes before I reach the end. You remind me alot of myself in many you I you I was never interested in kids..but God had other plans. Jim sounds like a amazing father, husband an friend...Thank you for allowing us, your readers, to get to know you and him through your writing. =)

  2. I wish i lived close by and could know you you and hear your live journeys instead of reading them, have a good day he must have been a very good husband and father