Have you ever read the children’s book series ” A Series of Unfortunate Events” ? If not, let me familiarize you with them. A narrator named Lemony Snicket tells the story of 3 orphan siblings. These are unique novels because unlike most children’s stories, there is rarely any circumstances that turn their unfortunate circumstances around. In fact, Snicket explains that very few positive things happen to the children. We are not even given any hope that things will get better for them as the series continues. There are thirteen books in this series and do you know how many of these novels I have read? Approximately 2.5 because they are struggle for me to push through the dark humor that is cleverly authored and embrace the despair. I cannot bear to keep reading as things seem to go from bad to worse for these poor children. As human beings with empathy even for fictional character, you want there to be a quota on their suffering and for them to reach it quickly.
Just like the Baudelaire children in this series, I recently had a week that some might call a ” series of unfortunate events” as well. The week started with good intentions to take my family on a beach vacation to the beautiful destination of St. Joseph Michigan. On the first day, there were a few hotel hiccups that caused frustration, so much so I had to keep telling myself to “Name what matters”. Now I know that a swimming pool and a complimentary breakfast that was promised to me and wasn’t delivered were not what mattered in the long run. We could push past these minor inconveniences and still enjoy ourselves. We spent the next two days soaking up the sun on the beach with friends. By the time our vacation was over, I was completely exhausted and ready to go home. Vacationing on the beach as a single mom comes with all sorts of challenges I wasn’t prepared for. I had a child with an ear infection and packing and unpacking the van with my lack of raw physical strength were some to name a few. Once again, minor frustrations and inconveniences that put some stress on me were not going to steal my joy. I was so blessed to have been able to get away in the first place.
When it was time to begin our 3 hour drive, I put on a favorite podcast and was ready for a uneventful trip. That hope was dashed in less than 30 minutes, when my back driver side tire blew in the middle of the interstate. It was not as dramatic as I had pictured or seen on TV, but it was still not exactly smooth sailing. I didn’t panic as I knew what to do and who to call. I pulled out my trusty AAA card and gave these dear people a call while my 5 year old kept asking to get out and play on the side of the highway. Luckily we were flagged as a high risk case, so help arrived in less than an hour. Of course the sun was already setting and there were not any tire shops open at that time of night, so we were forced to head back to Michigan on a spare tire and wait until morning. My boys were not all that sad to have another day at the beach with friends! I spent the day waiting for 4 new tires to put on my van and by mid-afternoon I was ready to attempt another try at getting us back home. As I hugged my friend goodbye, she says” at least nothing else can go wrong for you”. And that is how my best friend restored my belief in the validity and superstition of “jinxing someone”.
This time our van with four bright shiny new tires made it over an hour down the road before the shaking began. My son told me he thought we were in an earthquake. I had to explain that the car was having problems once again. This time I was in a high traffic area near Chicago and knew that I did not want to be stuck on the side of the road again. This time I prayed with all that is in me that God would allow me to get to the next exit. As he answered my prayer I noticed that the next exit just so happened to be in the city of Gary, Indiana which according to Business Insider is “the most miserable city in America”. That wasn’t exactly awesome news, but at least I was able to find a mechanic willing to take a look at my van immediately. This same mechanic flashed me his gun from under his counter and told me not to wander too far in the area. By the grace of our great God, a Denny’s just so happened to be across the street. Unlimited pancakes and coffee saved the day as we waited, and I held it together feeling overwhelmed yet grateful. Several hours and thousands of dollars later, we were back on the road again. We pulled into home at 9pm that night turning what should have been a 3 hour drive into a 28 hour drive home.
Two days later, I was attempting to move forward and put the rough week behind me, and was at a birthday party, when I got a call from neighbor. My neighbor only really calls when it flooding at her house so I answered it and sure enough, it was flooding at her house. She asked me if our basement was flooding also and I assured her that doesn’t happen and that we were probably fine. Then I made the call to my parents just in case. Turns out water was pouring rapidly up through the drains of the floor and much of my apartment was indeed under water. I raced home and found about 6 inches of water throughout my bedrooms, living room, kitchen and bathroom. The unfortunate events were relentless.
Sometimes we have weeks like this where it feels like it is one thing after the other. Life doesn’t always feel very fair. I look back on that week which was now months ago, and none of those unfortunate events changed my life forever. That week was hard and stressful, but did it reign trauma into my life for years to come? No, it did not. I have had those kind of weeks too, believe me. I have written plenty of earlier blog posts on those kind of weeks. That’s not the kind of week this post is for. We dig deep in our souls for those kind. However, these weeks of disappointment still require a response out of us. How can we respond during a time like that?
- Don’t be shocked. Cars break down. Kids get sick. Houses get wrecked. Conflict arises. Jobs demand too much. It shouldn’t be news to us that we will have trouble in this life. Some will be life shattering and some will be inconveniences, but all kinds of trouble will come our way no matter what. Stress comes at us from all sides so brace yourself and have a plan. Although you can never truly be ready for unpredictable circumstances, you can ready your mind and your heart. You can live in a way where unmet expectations don’t ruin you. Where your heart is softened for you to accept that you don’t deserve an easy life. Entitlement to comfort and ease should not be our mantra, but let us live in humility that our problems may be small compared to what others are facing around us. When we walk out our days this way, we live openhandedly and with empathy for others. When traffic slows us down, we get the call from our child’s principal, or when the job offer never comes we are allowed to be frustrated, but we don’t have to be thrown into an avalanche of emotions. We can be okay.
- Name what matters. Kendra Adachi, aka the Lazy Genius, taught this to me and it saved me during my week of unfortunate events. In every circumstance of frustration, we can name what actually matters. Does it matter if we don’t have the perfect outfit for family photos? Does it matter that we didn’t get the laundry done or the house still isn’t perfectly clean? Maybe it does to you, but maybe you can recognize something else just might matter more. What matters to me, might not be what matters to you. A value in our household is loving God and loving others. This matters to us in all situations. So whatever is happening, we can evaluate if our response is loving God and loving others well? When I was stuck on the side of the road in a rough neighborhood, all of sudden expenses didn’t matter as much as safety did. My family mattered more than the cost of a new engine. As I sat in that Denny’s booth, I said this over and over again in my head to keep things in perspective. Put things into perspective for what situation you are currently facing. Does it really matter in the scheme of life? If something doesn’t matter and it is causing you stress, eliminate it. Name what matters to you.
- Live by faith not explanations. I once heard this said in a podcast and it stuck with me. Oh how so often we beg God to explain why he has allowed something to come into our lives. We seek answers and understanding. There is nothing wrong with pleading to God for a reason for our suffering or continued stress. If it were, the entire book of Psalms would have to be ripped out of the Bible. However, sometimes we must accept that God doesn’t promise us a detailed explanation of what He is doing or allowing in your life, and live by faith. Living by faith looks like trusting in God’s character of steadfast love and holding on to the promise that he is truly for you and your good. We take a breath and acknowledge that although we don’t understand his ways, He has guaranteed that he cares for us and will never leave our side.
- Find the joy. This can super hard. I am not always a “see the silver lining” person and honestly I don’t love giving that advice because it has often been weaponized by Christians. I am not talking about faking happiness when hurt is real. There are times when the pain is unimaginable and we don’t have to be a ray of sunshine. However, in some situations where stress levels are high and things keep going wrong, it can be a very helpful gift to be able to search out a bit light in the situation. As I was helping with cleaning up my basement on the night of the flood, I looked at friends and said ‘you just got to keep smiling even when your carpet is floating”. There was literally nothing I could do to make it any better or reverse the damage that had been done to my house. What I could do was look around at all the friends who dropped everything and raced over with sump pumps and fans and willing hearts. I saw the beauty of having a community who loved and cared for me. Do I always feel that way? Absolutely not. Maybe that flood was a gift to remind me that community exists in my life and I am really am cared for. Looking for joy and genuinely smiling when things are crumbling around you does not just happen by sheer willpower. It comes from a wellspring in your soul that flows out of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It comes from a firm understanding and belief that life is bigger than my current situation.
Just like with the Baudelaire children there is not quota for our suffering. Those children had a relentless villain who had it out for them wherever they went. He was cruel and gained pleasure from their pain. Sometimes if we are honest, we might unrightfully place God as that villain in our lives. We would never dare say that out loud, but when push comes to shove, and life isn’t getting any easier, often we turn and point the finger at God himself. American Christianity likes things to be easy, comfortable and free of any suffering. That is not how this works. We live in a fallen world as fallen people and most assuredly difficulty is coming our way at some point. Decide with intentionality how you will live out your faith, not just in the fortunate times, but in the unfortunate as well.