That fateful Monday after Thanksgiving we learned about the possibility of not being able to return to Congo. It was a heart wrenching day. Thankfully God provided us the cushion and the blessing of being with friends that day and the days following. Todd and Michelle Olson have been close friends for more than 20 years. Todd and I have been prayer partners and friends since the late 1990s. We continue to Skype each other on a regular basis and hold each other up in prayer. Todd stood alongside me as the best man in our wedding. I cannot imagine life without Todd. Like myself, Michelle has travelled the long road of ordination preparation in the Presbyterian Church (USA). She leads a vibrant ministry despite health challenges. She serves as a spiritual director and a retreat guide, and her life is marked by deep and abiding faith.
From a kingdom of God perspective, it was no coincidence that we were at the home of Todd and Michelle and their children when this hard news hit us. God met us in our time of need and uncertainty. Each morning we did spiritual readings and spent time together in prayer. Late that week Michelle led us in spiritual direction through art therapy. She instructed us to prayerfully look through magazines and find clipping that resonated with our spirits. She gave us free reign to color and draw and create something that reflected the deep things happening in our hearts. In this blog post I will share with you what came forth for me.
Using the template of the prayer of examen, I organized my collage into a section on desolation and a section on consolation. I felt inspired to add a third section which painted a hoped for and hopeful future. (see collage below)
In the desolation section (see photo above), anger at what had happened to us came to the fore. As my anger burned hot, I noted Psalm 137 which is a psalm of retribution, which is how I felt. I noted the sense of being in the desert, feeling unclear about our future. Another dimension was the pain and disappointment we have felt over the last several years at not having children. While we haven’t shared this widely, a major reason for coming to the US early last year was to pursue fertility treatment, which sadly failed.
In the consolation section I felt led to reference the need to just “be” during this season. Moreover I felt an admonition from the psalms, the familiar scripture passage which reads “Be still and know that I am God.” I also sensed the importance that “it is not up to us” to chart the course of our future, that we can “take it slow,” relaxing in the strong and loving arms of our savior. I found a special photo of a baby elephant at the foot of his mother, this photo speaking volumes about my relationship with God, remaining in this “One State” of abiding in the His presence. In God we find our “liberation.”
A hoped for and hopeful future
The last section depicts a future filled with hope, a “journey of discovery” whereby we would “fall into our next adventure.” It is a “divine” adventure, a future which includes ‘'God’s mission in Africa,” continued learning, places of rest and reflection, advocacy for those in need, and participation in God’s transforming work in the world.
This collage has been a guiding map for me over the last three months. I even brought it with us to California to help me continue to make sense of this time of transition, this time of grieving and loss, this time of waiting on God for guidance. Today I praise God for Todd and Michelle, good friends who met us in our time of need. I praise God for giving us peace in the midst of this storm. I praise God for opening up a new path of life and ministry out of the crucible of pain and loss. I am thankful for spiritual direction through art therapy, a tool which has helped me navigate this season of transition and uncertainty. God is so good!