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Thursday, August 21, 2014

This Move: Grace Trumped Stress In The End.

For most people, I'm sure, moves are stressful. Perhaps the exception are folks with the deepest pockets who have the luxury of paying for every bit of their move from the packing to the setting up in a new home. For the rest of us, stress is a co-pilot at least for some part of the moving ordeal.

I have to say this one is the most stressful I've ever been through, and we've moved many times in our 41 years together. We've also had loads of help at every phase, including packing, although Tricia did the lion's share of that. Age is a factor as well. Moving at 20 is felt differently than moving at 65.

In the midst of the stress was amazing grace.

To begin with, as it became clear we had to move to rebuild a financially sustainable life, we had no idea where we were going to go. We didn't have the money to just rent the next place that seemed agreeable to us. Buying was just not an option either. One option before us was to move back to Farmington, Connecticut where Tricia's mom lives and be closer to care for her. There were a number of problems associated with that, not the least of which was we'd be making an hour and 20 minute commute back and forth to Northampton. We decided we didn't want to leave our office at 70 Main Street so we could continue our missional work there, especially the imagineART gallery and imagine/Northampton Church.

The next, and least plausible option, was to move to the my Mother-in-law's summer house in Ventnor, NJ. We would move her there with us to care for her. I would have to find some sort of job because there'd be no possibility of carrying on with imagine/Northampton. That ministry would be over for us. I could possibly build a Klesis counseling and spiritual direction ministry there, but it would take time, and we didn't have all sorts of time financially.

A third option was offered by a Christian brother, friend and Klesis Board member. He would give us an office to use in a town south of here, help me re-launch the PLAYMAKER Profile work I've done for 25 years, and make it easier for us to live in CT if that was our option. While I was intrigued by his offer, I still couldn't shake the spiritual sense we weren't supposed to leave our ministry in Northampton. In fact, every time I'd think about all of the options to move away from here I was unsettled -- not at peace whatsoever. It felt persistently out of sync with our mission even though this has been the toughest thing we've ever done, and at multiple levels. Inside me I kept hearing that something was wrong with packing up the tents and leaving completely.

Somewhere also during this time of trying to discern what the Lord wanted us to do, our friends, imagineers and co-leaders, Kevin and Janet Williams, suggested the option of living where we do now. They are the directors of Pine Brook Camp in Shutesbury, MA. On Wednesday, we moved into a lovely and remodeled (due to a burst pipe in February) manse on the property. The setting is beautiful: soaring pines, wetlands and trails crisscrossing the 120 acre camp. It's similar to where we lived in Simsbury only more rustic and country. It feels like home. God used Kevin and Janet to get us there. It fits for such a time as this.

So last week was moving week. 11 days ago today, we rented a UHaul truck and moved all our boxes to hold down costs. Seven of our friends came to help us move, imagine and non-imagine folks, including a young homeless man we know. We were stressed because we had very little money. We were moving on faith with a budget cut to the bone, not counting pennies, but we were both paying close attention to every dollar. Everyone worked really hard schlepping moderate to heavy boxes and large plants down three flights of steps. There was sweating going on. Boxes were still being packed as we were loading. After about 3 hours we headed to Shutesbury and unloaded. That part of the process was easy.

Phase One accomplished.

Phase Two commenced on Wednesday the 13th. Similar to the financial concerns we'd had with the box move, we knew this leg of our move would be expensive because we'd hired a local moving company, and up until the day before we didn't have the money at all. Grace would not be deterred by our lack, however. A few weeks earlier a dear couple we've come to know and love as friends since moving to Noho, mentioned they'd be blessed to help us financially. We accepted the idea of it being a loan, and let it sit there until we had a clear idea of how to accept their kind offer. The Sunday before the move, I felt the Spirit prompt me to ask for a certain amount to pay for the truck and related expenses. I contacted my friend, and he responded with great grace and encouragement. Not only that, but he and his wife invited us to a delicious French toast and bacon breakfast on the patio at their home in Connecticut the next day. Here's where grace silenced our stress and fear. When my friend handed me a check he said firmly to "consider this a gift and not a loan." Grace blew us away and lightened our load. We did not expect it. God's friendly graciousness is always far more than I imagine.

As some of you might remember, on the 13th it was raining to beat the band, one of those tropical downpours we get occasionally. Stress reared its ugly head through the storm because of our concern for the furniture getting wet and the logistics of the day. It was a true gullywhomper! While we assumed they'd take precautions for the weather, our furniture would not be hermetically sealed. Fortunately, these guys were professionals and did a great job protecting our stuff. A team of 4  arrived on time and began the substantial task of climbing and descending 38 steps to fetch our furniture and bring it to the moving van parked around the corner on Pleasant Street. They were coordinated and it only took a little under 2 hours. When they arrived in Shutesbury to unload, the rain was beginning to subside, and with the exception of a short climb up the stairs to our bedrooms, the way into the house was on level ground. Again, they were efficient and thorough; the only breakage we experienced was with stuff we'd moved ourselves a few days before. At the end of the day, we felt relief; grace stubbornly abided.

Perhaps most stressful was the unexpected news we'd receive early the next morning. Where we live there is no cellphone service so we were out of touch. We didn't have internet yet either. On Thursday, our plan was to head back to Northampton to clean up the apartment for the landlord walk-through. As we were on our way, Tricia was looking at her text messages and she gasped. Her mom had a stroke the previous night and was in Hartford Hospital. Stress and fear returned with a vengeance. Her plans changed immediately. She dropped me off at the apartment and headed for Hartford where she'd spend the night with her mom in the hospital. But grace would not be silenced or deterred. On Tricia's end, it would come in the form of the news it was a minor stroke related to medication, and her mother could go home. On my end, it came in the form of imagineers Emilia B., Karen P., and Karen S. who showed up to help put our vacated apartment in shipshape for the new tenants who we thought would be moving in the next day. I was told the landlord would do the walk-through in the afternoon, so we had to keep a good pace in our cleaning. We pulled it off; grace silenced my stress.

The walk-through ended up not happening.

By 4:30 I was shot and overwhelmed by the abundant disorder -- which seems to always pervade moving -- magnified by not knowing if we'd have the financial resources to cover everything. I've mentioned before my ADD and introversion which persistently makes even normal life an adventure (ask Tricia), so all my emotional, relational, and spiritual circuits were blown. Wonderful friends earlier in the day had offered to take me back to Shutesbury, or spend the night with them. I just couldn't do either. I was spent. I just needed to hole-up in solitude to unwind so I chose to sleep in Tricia's office. Tricia had graciously left stuff for me to clean up in the morning in the office. It would work out fine. So, I watched a movie and went to sleep with a towel as a blanket.

Stress hadn't left the building just yet, however. I woke up before sunlight, and decided it would be a good idea to check the 3rd-floor apartment one more time. So up I went. It looked fine, back down the stairs I went and as I heard the apartment door close behind me, I had that terrible  "Oh no!" feeling overtake me. I realized I'd left my keys upstairs and now not only could I not go get them, but I couldn't get back in the office to clean up. A friend of mine was meeting me at 8 to bring coffee and a donation. So, I would greet him wearing the wrinkled clothes I'd slept in, a 3-day stubble, greasy hair matted to my head, and the fact I'd not showered since yesterday morning and had sweated all day cleaning. So, I sat at the top of our landing for an hour and a half. I was stressed and self-conscious, but grace prevailed.

Our talk was pleasant. He laughed with me at my predicament. After he left, another friend brought over bread and homemade soup. I know she's never seen me like that, but it wasn't awkward or weird. After she left I called my landlord who was coming into town and he gave me the keys so I could get back in the office. By mid-morning, I heard from Tricia that mom was recovering almost back to normal, and she was coming to get me so we could go home. While stress intruded, grace remained.

Stress is a bully; grace is astounding and freeing. It prevails because God is good and kind and caring. Grace dissipates stress if we let it, but even if we don't, it shows up to make a level playing field, untie the knots, release the captives, and restore God's order. Grace causes us to breathe easier and return to faith-infused hope.

Stress steals; grace restores.

As I mentioned earlier, while a fair amount of our experience in Northampton (especially the last 2 years) has been fraught with troubles, worries, and frustrations, grace has never abandoned us because Jesus has never abandoned us. Moves are stressful for most people, but when I think of the forced diaspora of entire people groups around the world today, our moving troubles were "light and momentary."

Grace trumped our stress in the end. 

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