About 6 months ago, I was facing a major change in my life. With my youngest off to university, I was becoming an Empty Nester and, whilst I knew I would miss my boys considerably, I was excited at the freedom of being just a couple again. I felt hopeful at the idea of a return to our early years of marriage. An offer of increased hours at work also seemed very timely as I considered getting my career back on track.
But it didn’t turn out as I expected. As he put it himself, ‘I’m the boy you worry about now’, so my dad’s deteriorating health needs took the place and time of looking after children, resulting in an end to the extra work hours. Any hope of freedom or a new relaxed home routine fell apart with hospital admissions, trips to A&E, paramedic call outs, and finally sorting out a care home. When I look back, it seems like this past half year has been one of constant adaptation to new circumstances.
Now Dad’s starting to settle in the care home, his flat is almost ready for sale, and we’re back to trying to figure what our new routine is. I thought I had some plans for that, especially having put fewer work days to good use, but a potential career opportunity may have put paid to those. I’m starting to think that the old saying needs to be revised to ‘Nothing in this world is certain, except death… taxes and change’.
We don’t adapt to change easily. And by that, I mean that I don’t adapt to change easily. I find myself resenting the impact of change on my well laid plans and expectations. When it comes to letting go of the path I was on and accepting a new direction, I can be like a car with a wide turning circle and no power steering.
I suppose the resentment is easiest to understand when the change has been imposed. I frequently labour under the delusion that I am in complete control of my life so it’s always a shock to have this disproved. But I can also struggle with a change that I have chosen. I find it all too easy to question my decision instead of listening and trusting that ‘small still Voice’ that says ‘this is the way, walk in it’ (Isaiah 30.21).
However, change means we take the scenic route and can lead to unexpected and more memorable opportunities.
We drove to Switzerland for a camping holiday one year. We arrived on Day 1 of freak storms, which caused severe widespread flooding. (Who’d have thought, in a country so mountainous?). We battled to put up our tent, using up all our towels just to dry out the inside before we could use it, and nervously watched the approaching water encompass more and more of our lakeside campsite each day. Fortunately, the rain stopped before we gave up on our holiday or the floods prevented us reaching the camp restaurant, our only source of hot food in the conditions. On the first dry day we walked several miles to the nearest town (roads were blocked so we couldn’t drive) to replace our waterproofs, which had been battered into antitheses.
Within two more days, railways blocked by fallen trees were either repaired or replaced with just as punctual bus replacement services. We had the country to ourselves because so many tourists had given up or been put off. Everywhere we went, there were no queues – unheard of at the top of the Jungfrau as was the choice of tables at the famous rotating restaurant on the Schilthorn. Later on, we hiked up the Reichenbach Falls almost alone, swam with only swans for company in the glacial lake which had returned to its former boundaries, and enjoyed round after round of crazy golf as the only players on the campsite course.
It was a fantastic holiday, all the more so because of the unexpected weather with its necessary adjustments and unlooked for benefits.
It occurred to me today that after two months into a yearlong series about blessings, I have never defined what a blessing is. So I looked it up and I found these meanings:
- ‘Something promoting or contributing to happiness, well-being, or prosperity; a boon.’
- ‘the bestowal of a divine gift or favour.’
And I think those perfectly describe both our Swiss holiday that was enhanced rather than marred by the unanticipated weather, as well as the changes of the past 6 months. Blessings, I am finding, often come as unexpected and even undeserved gifts, and as a means of growth. To be challenged and stretched expands our horizons, pushes us into trying new things, and develops maturity.
Change, even if it smells like manure or feels as brutal as a hard pruning, if we look on it as a blessing, can make us flourish.