Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Week at the Ocean...Learning about Disappointment and Gratitude

When we focus on our gratitude,
the tide of disappointment goes out
and the tide of love rushes in.
                                  -Kristin Armstrong

I have always been an optimist. A realistic optimist, but an optimist never the less. I imagine, before I go into any situation, the best possible outcome. Positive thinking, and knowing that the Lord God Almighty helps things to work for good, has helped me to love life for all of these 67 years.

A week ago, before I headed to my spiritual retreat at Cannon Beach, I imagined, perhaps even expected, that my time there would fill me with new spiritual learnings. I was prayerfully filled with positive expectations of all God would teach me. And the learnings were profound, just not in the way I expected.

My dear friend Sharon and I have gone together to the ocean for a week-long retreat for years and years. I have always, always, always left with profound learnings about myself, the Christian walk, and about my faith in Jesus. It has been a transforming time for me. 

So when I spoke to Sharon, the week before we left, and she sounded ill... a small alarm was set off. I even was so bold as to float the question that maybe we shouldn't go, that she was too ill to travel. It was hard to ask that question because we had both so looked forward to this trip. Yet I had an intuitive sense  that I might get sick, and a fear that if I came back sick and gave this to Bert, he could really get sick. He has an autoimmune illness that requires a vigilant monitoring of his health.

I just had a feeling. Looking back, perhaps that was a whisper from the Lord. But because I so wanted to go, I ignored it. I didn't want to miss out on the time with my friend, hearing a great speaker, being by the ocean, and delving into my faith with a new energy. After all I have had one of the best summers of my life. What could go wrong?

To cut to the chase, Sharon was ill and hoping to turn a corner. She even called her physician and asked for him to send a prescription for antibiotics. All seemed to be going in a positive direction. The first three days of the spiritual retreat were amazing. The speaker opened my eyes, the sun was out, I had my books ready to dive into, and the ocean spoke of God's power. I felt marvelous and on top of the world. I was so, so grateful to be there, to have this time away. All was going according to my plan and expectations.

And then it hit. In a matter of hours, on day four, I was very, very sick. Not a little sick, scary sick.  Almost immediately I had a cough so deep and painful that I could feel the onset of bronchitis or something even worse. Both Sharon and I were coughing and she was so sweet to move to a different room at night time so we could each try to get a good night's sleep. She brought tea with honey and went above and beyond to try to initiate my recovery. But it just didn't happen. It takes alot to stop me in my tracks, but this bug did that. BAM! You, Linda, are out for the count.

I didn't want to give this to someone else and knew I was contagious, so I quit going to hear the speaker and stayed in our room, facing the ocean. I wish I could tell you I was singing God's praises and being grateful for the first three great days I had already had. But as time went on, I became even more and more ill. I realized that this spiritual retreat was not going to look like the one I had idealized in my heart. I went from pissed off to sad to very disappointed. 

Lots of thoughts whirled through my foggy brain as I looked out on the ocean. One
chuckle that kept coming back to me came from a recent blog post from my dear friend, Vicky Westra. She talked about the thorny weeds in her yard and the hilarious story of her trying to pull them. I smiled thinking that this illness was a thorny weed for me. I wanted to yank it out and in the process bring back the spiritual retreat I wanted to have. Big emphasis on I here. I wanted an idillic retreat that went well and fit my expectations.

I came to a choice point. I could either be grateful for it all, even though I was disappointed in the outcome, or I could choose to be irritable and angry and ungrateful.
I wish I could tell you that I came to gratitude easily, but that would be a lie. I prayed and  
prayed. What would God have me learn from all of this. What spiritual lessons did God have in store for me when things turned upside down and didn't turn out the way I had hoped?

And then it hit me, not at that moment but after some time of prayer and reflection, that the whole theme of the retreat was about how to handle the negative and tough parts of our life. The retreat was entitled...Strong Grace. The first three days the Pastor talked about how Paul was singing God's praises even though he was in prison. He wrote Timothy (2nd Timothy) trying to encourage him that even though times were tough, he could persevere. Renee, the pastor at the Cannon Beach Conference, said that just like Paul, in hard times we get to choose.... anger and disappointment or gratitude and grace. 

As I recalled, in my blur of being ill, the Pastor's list of what Paul was having to deal with, it put being so sick in a new perspective. 

This wasn't fun or what I wanted. I was disappointed and that was okay. But I could choose gratitude for having the ocean right there. I could choose gratitude that I had health insurance and got on antibiotics before I left Cannon Beach. I could choose gratitude that
I had three days of superb spiritual teaching. I could choose gratitude that a dear friend was there trying to take care of me.

What were Vicky's words?

It takes effort to turn our thoughts back to blessings.

Ah, such wisdom in those words, especially coming from someone with stage four breast cancer. And then I recalled the most important learning I received at the conference.
It knocked me down and turned me around. It was a moment I will never, ever forget.

Pastor Renee told about being at a Church Camp for People with Disabilities, some profound and some not as severe. And he told about meeting Terri, a young woman who changed his whole life. A young woman in a wheelchair since she was born with cerebral palsy and a case so severe that three of her limbs had to be secured to her wheel chair. Her body, all the time, jerked uncontrollably. She was only able to control the use of her right arm. Her speech was slurred, as often happens when someone is born with cerebral palsy. Clearly life wasn't easy, but Terri was amazing. During the Church Camp, she placed her wheelchair by the entrance to the camp meeting hall and every day welcomed every person coming through the door with a giant smile and a "Hi! I'm Terri! It's so great to see you! God Bless!"  By the end of the week she knew everyone's name and greeted them all over the camp grounds. She was the light of the camp.

And then Pastor Renee shared that to end the week, the camp was going to have a talent show. A list went around and campers signed up for what they would do, the gift they would share. Pastor saw Terri's name at the end of the list and admitted to all of us that he couldn't imagine what talent Terri would demonstrate. He told us he was a little frightened that it would be so awkward and she might feel embarrassed.

The night of the talent show came and after singing, reading poetry and doing skits, it was Terri's turn. Renee said a hush fell over the campers as Terri negotiated her wheelchair up
on the stage. With her one arm raised, she turned to the media man to play the sound track she would sing to. And you know the song she picked?

God is so good. God is so good. God is so good, He's so good to me.

And with her right arm raised, her head lifted back, and tears streaming down her face...she sang those words of gratitude with all her heart and soul. Pastor Renee said when he looked at Terri all he could see was the light of Jesus streaming through her.

And before long, everyone in the auditorium was standing, every camper with a disability
and all of the counselors and pastors...standing with tears streaming down their faces. They sang along with Terri..."God is so good to me."

There wasn't a dry eye in the Cannon Beach Conference Chapel as Pastor Renee shared Terri's story. Like, Paul in the New Testament, Terri focused on gratitude and God's love instead of grieving the fact that her life had limitations because of cerebral palsy. She had disappointments and life wasn't easy, but Terri's focus was on how good God was to her.
Just like Vicky said, Terri took the effort to turn her thoughts to her blessings.

While my time at Cannon Beach didn't turn out the way I had hoped, and I missed some of the sermons and felt truly lousy (and still do), it is time for me to do the same. I am one blessed girl. Here were just a few of the blessings of my spiritual retreat:

I saw  and heard God's marvelous ocean.
I am alive with a prognosis for improvement.
I had a dear friend who ministered to me while I was ill.
I listened to life-changing sermons, all three of them.
I remembered Vicky's words. There will be thorny weeds in life. We can focus on the thorns or take the effort to turn our thoughts to blessings.

And most of all, I heard about Terri. Her display of absolute gratitude in spite of
her limitations physically, is a ray of hope to my soul. A reminder of how truly blessed I am.

So today, surrounded by medications, an inhaler and on antibiotics, I am singing...

God is so good. God is so good. God is so good, He's so good to me!

God Bless!

1 comment:

Peggy Sue said...

just beautiful! how you search your soul..for the positive, how you remember, what others write,what stories are shared...and then lift your eye's up and sing from your heart...god is good, he's so good to me! just loved. (p.s. i am one finger typing and can't hit the caps)loved this. hope you rest and feel like your 'normal' self soon. love to you linda

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