This is my Thanksgiving blog entry, written while spending four days in the Duckabush valley, over that holiday. For some reason, I never got around to posting it, but Kathy tells me: “It’s late and I haven’t blogged,” so perhaps it is time to post it.
Five years ago, I sat in this house in the forest, not feeling very thankful. I had just been laid off from my comfortable job and I was embroiled in a sharp dispute with the leadership of the little church I attended. With a wife and five young children to support (Sarah was born just a few months before I lost my job), I was almost paralyzed with panic. Over the next two years, it began to appear that these two setbacks were just the tip of the iceberg, until the litany of loss felt as though it would sweep me away:
a) My job
b) A position of authority and autonomy in my work
c) Permission to work from home, four days a week
d) The ability to provide for my family
e) Medical and dental insurance
f) A role of leadership in the local church
g) Opportunity to exercise my gift (teaching) in the church
h) Ability to give generously to various ministries
i) Several close friendships
j) Some level of respect in the community
k) Faith in many other Christians
l) Confidence in a pastor
m) The ability to live in the country
n) Self-respect as a man
o) Trust in Godâ€™s goodness
The church dispute became sharper, and we felt increasingly isolated from those who sided with the pastor. I was unable to find work for seventeen long months, and unsuccessful in earning any kind of a living as an entrepreneurial web developer. As I struggled to maintain an attitude of thankfulness and faith, my view of God darkened, until I began to suspect that He is Sovereign, but He just didnâ€™t like me.
God preserved our family through those long months without income, to the miraculous extent that we were better off financially AFTER the hiatus from work than we were before. And yet the losses seemed to continue, even once I was back at work. My new job at Amazon only underscored (in terms of compensation and authority) how much I had lost when I was laid off â€“ I was making about two thirds my prior income in a humbler, lower-level position. I had a grueling three-hour commute each way to work. We continued to shop around for a new church home, but couldnâ€™t seem to find anyplace that really fit, or where I could use my spiritual gifts. Eventually we moved in to the suburbs, since my commute was eliminating most of the available time with my wife and children.
In some sense, that was the most difficult loss of all â€“ leaving this idyllic valley to live in â€˜the cityâ€™. Kathy and I had dreamed of raising our family in the shadow of the retreat center, warmly embraced in the hearts of other Christian families, a part of a vibrant and close-knit community. I still remember how enthusiastically we were welcomed when we first moved to the Duckabush â€“ several families helped us unload truckloads of our belongings, the very first Sunday we were in residence. We quickly formed an intimate Bible Study and our children played with the children of other Christian families, freely up and down the valley. It was, in many ways, a little foretaste of heaven on earth.
Moving back to the city seemed the death of all those dreams. Our new home is on a quiet street, and delightful in many ways, but it just isn’t the same as a home nestled deep in the forested valley, far, as they say, â€˜from the things of manâ€™.
To make matters worse, we didnâ€™t feel that we were leaving on good terms. I felt guilty about my conduct in the conflict with the church leaders, and I held bitter remembrance of some harsh words that were said to me. In stark contrast to our arrival in the valley, we felt that few would mourn our departure. We crept out of the valley with our tail between our legs, feeling as though we had been expelled from fellowship.
A few days after we moved to the city, my youngest daughter almost died, her throat having closed up from croup. It was then that I began to suspect that Godâ€™s hand in this sequence of events was kindly extended in help toward me, rather than His angry fist, raised to crush me. If we had still lived in the country, 45 minutes from the emergency room instead of ten, little Sarah might not have lived through that night.
My job at Amazon continued to be difficult, and I was given very little scope to exercise my skills as a developer. I felt that I was treated as a low-level (and somewhat dim-witted) member of the team, and patronized by co-workers, ten and fifteen years younger than myself.
It was around this time that I came across Tree 63â€™s hit song, â€œBlessed Be Your Nameâ€, about which I have written before. I listened to it again and again, trying to understand Godâ€™s heart and purpose, to make some kind of sense out of all that had happened to me. I often found myself weeping as I sang along with the chorus:
He gives and takes away,
He gives and takes away,
but still my heart will say,
â€˜Blessed be Your Name!â€™
Job is encouraged to â€˜curse God and dieâ€™, as his losses sweep over him. He answers, â€œShall we accept good from God, and not trouble?â€ Earlier, he makes this incredible faith statement, â€œNaked came I out of my motherâ€™s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.â€ Later, Job comes to this conclusion: â€œThough he slay me, yet will I trust in Himâ€. I did not (and perhaps still do not) have that level of trust.
I started looking for other work, and it was around that time that I attended a job interview, one that took a strange turn. It was then that God taught me a badly-needed lesson in forgiveness, which seems to have opened the door to a veritable cornucopia of blessings. In retrospect, it is not surprising. God treats me the way I treat my children â€“ I am reluctant to give my kids a blessing or reward when they are obstinately continuing in rebellion against me. I think that God deliberately withheld some of His blessings from me while I continued in bitterness toward those I thought had wronged me. Once that bitterness was removed and forgiveness taught, He was free to open His hand in kindness toward me again.
Soon after that I was offered a temporary contracting job at almost double the salary I had been earning. It turned into a long-term opportunity that, while not as financially generous, was still a good step above what I had been earning at Amazon. We found a great new church, and quickly became active. One by one, the things I had lost were restored to me:
a) A job
b) A position of autonomy and influence
c) A generous salary and bonuses
d) Permission to work from home two days a week
e) Medical and dental benefits, and abundant vacation days
f) The ability to provide for my family
g) Opportunity to teach an adult Sunday school class
h) Ability to exercise my other spiritual gift (generosity)
i) Being mentored by a good pastor
j) A role of leadership in the church
k) A number of good friends for both Kathy and myself
l) Restored friendships that had been damaged
m) An opportunity to purchase our suburban house at a good price
n) Self-respect as a man, rooted in more accurate self-perception
o) Trust in Godâ€™s generous goodness
Not long after we moved away, the retreat center construction began in earnest. Iâ€™ve often marveled at the timing â€“ for five long years, we lived in this valley with little or no progress being made on that structure. No sooner do we move away, and the main lodge begins to mushroom into existence. Were we somehow an obstacle, and God had to remove us to fulfill His purposes? If the retreat center had been built while we were still here, would I have damaged or discredited that ministry by the way I conducted myself with the local church?
Excavation of the Refuge began about six weeks before we moved away. Coincidence? Maybe not.
I have no complaint with Godâ€™s generosity to me. It seems in each of the areas where I experienced loss, He has restored even more. Still, one thing has not (yet) been restored to me: living in this valley. As the morning sunshine slants down through the trees, and the quiet of the valley lies across my heart like a warm coat, I yearn for the day when I can live here again.
One thing I have learned: I do not understand the ways of God, but I can still trust His heart. He is good, and (to stand on its head a quote from the Princess Bride) “anyone who says otherwise, is selling something”. I have a friend who has lost many things, and who has recently experienced yet another hurtful loss. This look back over the past five years is written for that dear friend, to serve as a reminder of the boundless love of God, and how His plans are often not understood, yet are always good.
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledgeâ€”that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. — Ephesians 3:16-19