Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Being thankful

On my way to work the other day, I was worrying. A lot. I have kind of a lot that can be worried about these days. It occurred to me that my attitude wasn't the most grateful, Thanksgiving-ish spirit I could possibly have. Instead I was grousing about the things in my life that aren't the way I want them.

These days I feel like Jeremiah: "You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed." The whole state of our lives right now feels like a trick.

A month before we got married, everything in the world was going for us. John had a job; I had a lead on a job. John was promised a 20% raise that would allow me to quit work if I had a baby (something very important to me as well as practically necessary). We were being welcomed by the people up here; this "strange city" promised to be very friendly to us. Already people were bringing us into their circles. We had some good plans. John would stay with the paper and make good pay; I would work for the school year and then probably quit. The money I made in that year would pay off at least one of our loans.

Then the paper folded. We were left with no job and a month till the wedding. We decided (maybe a bad decision -- but it was ours) to stick with our plan to live in Philly. I took the teaching job that was offered to me here. The contract would last a year.

Soon after the wedding, the paper restarted. It looked hopeful. But soon we found that not only weren't we getting the expected raise (this was not surprising), but we got a large pay cut instead. Also, they would no longer cover any benefits. John's job wouldn't pay all our bills in itself. My paycheck couldn't be used on debt; it would have to be used to make ends meet.

Around that time we discovered we were expecting. This wasn't a bad thing, of course, but the timing frightened me and still does. I will have to stop working in April, before the end of the school year. That is one paycheck, and possibly two, that we won't have.

We've made some slight progress -- John now works at the bank, which is better in terms of stability and benefits, even though the pay is no better. But we're stuck in a bind, because we can't leave Philadelphia until the end of my contract, and then the instant the contract is over, we are no longer breaking even. John's bank is not headquartered here; the jobs within the company that he would like to get are all in other cities. So he is stuck at present as a teller, and we pray that the perfect job will show up at the perfect time. (Perfect jobs have shown up before -- but the timing was wrong, and they had to be passed up, more than once, because of my contract. That job is making ends meet now, but it seems to be hindering us in the long term.)

Socially, the people who opened their arms to us so much when we first arrived have lost interest, for complicated reasons. We don't really have a social life anymore. I realize more and more how far away we are from the people we love. It is lonely here, and I wish so much that we could be near family. This Christmas, we can't go home because John is new at his job and can't get the time off. I wish so much that we could.

All in all, I feel like God has tricked us. Like he dangled all kinds of good things in front of our noses to convince us it was a good time to get married, and then pulled those things away. Like he lured us to Philadelphia, while making things different here than we thought.

But when I hit on this thought, I realized that maybe this is exactly what did happen. God wanted us here, wanted us married right now, wanted me teaching where I am and John working where he is. So he arranged things so that we could and would end up in these situations. For most of us, he doesn't appear to tell us where to go, but acts through our circumstances. Aren't these circumstances his acting as well?

I am not going to presume to know God's reasons for bringing us here. Instead, I will point out a few good things that happened because we came here.

First, we did get married. We had waited until the "prudent" moment, but when it came down to it, our circumstances weren't any better than anyone else's. I feel that we did our part in trying to set everything up before we got married, so I don't think we were irresponsible. But we were made to rely on God's providence (and the kindness of others) from the very beginning. How would I feel if we'd had to wait longer, if I were still living on my own and missing John? I would be missing out on the happiness of being with him -- a happiness that isn't lessened at all by my worries about practical things.

Second, because we got married when we did, we are going to have this baby when we are. All the "tricks" God had to use to get us to this point suggests to me that he wants this baby very much, more even than we do. That gives me a sense of holy wonder: "What, then, will this child be?" I do not think I have ever been more grateful for anything than I am for this baby. I know none of this was my doing, that the creation of a new life is something only God can command. I'm just the place where it's happening ... which is a deeply humbling thought.

Then there are a thousand smaller things. The reliance on each other we are learning as we survive in this city with little money and few friends. The blessings I receive every day from my job -- teaching children is one of the most beautiful and humbling tasks there are. The pride I feel in keeping my little house and making my little dinners. The time I have for prayer on my long commute every day. The closeness I feel to my own parents, even though they are so far away. The courage and faith we are being taught as we face up to the uncertain future.

From time to time I worry and even panic, imagining a future I can't see and wondering how things will come together. But most of the time I feel a great peace. Things I don't need are being taken from me: certainty, stability, the goods of this world. But things I do need are mine in abundance. All my life I have wanted to have a family of my own, and here it is. In the evenings I sit in our tiny living room, and I am sometimes overcome with thankfulness. Here is my husband, my best friend, part of my family forever. Here is our child, who is quietly growing now, but who soon will be right there to see. I have never laid eyes on him, but I love him more than I could ever say. The family I was born into is far away, but the family I am making is with me daily.

My life has never been so uncertain, but I do believe I am more thankful this Thanksgiving than I have been any year of my life. I have never in my life had so much to be thankful for.


Charlemagne said...

Boy, can I feel for you in this one. Living in a strange cities with only the slimest ties to my past, training for one of the more difficult jobs in the service, and I'll be married in less than a month! For the first time in my life, I'm engaged in something that has great reward, but only for an equally greater risk; some days I'm reminded of the Foreign Legion's motto, "March or Die." When faced with that choice, what can one do but move on?

Looking at the rewards, though, I realize that I have a great job (provided I pass, God willing), and this whole thing has ensured that I'm going to be married half a year earlier than either of us had ever thought. I find myself praying more often now, and taking life more seriously than I had before. God bless; I'll keep you in my prayers.

Charlemagne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sheila said...

That is great to hear. Life sure doesn't go according to our plans, does it? But it goes exceedingly well. :)

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