Down But Not Out

habakkuk 3.18It used to be that the Fall was the hardest time of the year for me.  The changing of the seasons, the cooler temperatures, the falling leaves, the reboot into a busy season, it all sort of took its toll on me.  Being a natural melancholic, I don’t really have to do anything to be introspective and moody, it just sort of comes naturally.

God, in his infinite wisdom, paired me with a wonderful wife who I celebrate in October as it is her birth month.  All three of the children that we have been blessed with were born within a month of each other, so there are now 4 birthdays to celebrate within a 4 week period in September and October.  Doesn’t really give me a heck of a lot of room to despise the Fall, and if I do, I come across as a bigger jerk than I really am.

Over the last few years, it’s been July that somehow started looking glum to me.  In July of 2008, I started my seminary degree and we were just a family of 3.  I needed to be in St. Paul, Minnesota for a week for class.  It was the first time that I had been away from my son for more than one or two nights.  My parents were still in Connecticut and life didn’t seem quite as complicated as it is right now.

The following July, I traveled again to St. Paul and we were now a family of 4.  My parents began the conversation about retirement and the following summer, in July of 2010, my parents bought the first house that they would ever own together.  Of all of the things that I remember over the last few years, I have some very vivid memories of that day.  I remember going to the attorney’s office to meet my mom and dad as well as my aunt and uncle.  Amidst all of the paper signing, I remember looking at my mom across the table and she was just beaming.  She would finally own her own house after 65+ years.  She looked at me with her smile and winked at me.  To this day, that picture etched on my mind melts my heart every single time.

Little did we know that a year later, we would be burying her.  It was hardly what they, or we, had planned or expected for their retirement.  All of a sudden, July, the month when my brother and father were both born, seemed like the “dark cloud” of summer.  Another 2 years later, both of my parents are gone.  It’s hard to believe that I will be marking the 2 year anniversary of my mom’s passing in just a matter of a week.

Last week, I preached a funeral for the father of a friend and church member.  It might not make much sense unless you have experienced it, but in some ways, situations like this can be therapeutic for me and this was no exception.  Although I did not know the man who had died, I had spent time with the family hearing stories.  He was raised in Arkansas and graduated from Central High School in Little Rock, graduating alongside the first African American student to graduate from there after the president’s intervention for desegregation the year before.  He flew 2 tours of duty in Vietnam.  He lost his younger brother to cancer.  His last years were marked by his struggle with dementia.

Overall, it could have been very easy to just give up hope and be discouraged.  Life has a way of doing that to us.  I’ve experienced tragedy and loss myself, but I have also walked alongside others who have experienced it.  It’s hard and messy, it hurts, it sucks like and joy out of you if you aren’t careful.  How do we respond?

Response goes a long way.  I keep coming back to the Apostle Paul and all that he experienced.  In 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, he writes, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.  For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.  So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.”

We may feel knocked down and beaten.  We may feel that seasons of life are dark and dreary, but where is our hope?  Where are we putting our faith?  If our attitude is always determined by our experiences, we will be moody at best.  Or we can say as the prophet Habakkuk, “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”  It’s not easy, but I can’t think of a better way.  How about you?

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