I remember vividly a conversation I had with my father over 30 years ago. He was feeling depressed and at a crossroads in his life. During the several months before our conversation, an inordinate number of his close acquaintances were literally dying unnaturally early deaths. Two had died of heart attacks, one was in a fatal car crash, one had just succumbed to cancer. There were actually a couple others. As my dad and I processed these losses, I suggested that perhaps God was trying to get his attention to think about the decisions he was making in his own life, some of which were not so exemplary. It was an odd thought, I admit. Their deaths had nothing to do with dad, and yet, perhaps in this bizarre close timing from dad’s perspective, HaShem was using these tragic events that affected him to get his attention. Perhaps my father was being reminded of the bigger picture as he was about to make his next life choices.
This message has been hitting home for me recently as three of my loved ones who are like sisters to me are struggling with the challenge of severely ill husbands. The scenarios, from my perspective orchestrated as a dark ballet, have been intertwining for about a year now. As the months have progressed, as if Abba wants to make sure I am getting the message, their calls with me and revelations about diagnoses have typically come close in time. Yesterday, all three of their husbands were undergoing significant testing on the same day in three different states. Not only do I find the coincidences clear, I am prompted to think about the why.
This writing cannot go into the many whys that flow from these stories. The one for today is our seeing these patterns and learning from them as I believe our Abba is encouraging us to do. In addition to the ways we are to be there for our loved ones in these times of need, there is a layer of personal growth in our own journeys that we can embrace.
When my father was reminded of the gift of life and how it can be snuffed in an instant, how the richness in his life can vanish overnight, he was given a chance to see whether the life he was living was the best it could be. Obviously, dad did not cause the deaths and God will not tell him what to do in his life. Yet the decisions he was to make could be informed by bizarre circumstances the timing of which draws attention to one’s one mortality and to the connectedness we have with others. As I ponder how the timing of my loved ones’ husbands’ diagnoses and testing schedules are so synchronized from my point of view, I am encouraged to cherish my husband even more, to see all the wonderful ways he shows his love for me, and work to grow our relationship, to not take good health for granted, to work on those areas in myself that might be holding me back from full realization of those truths. These times feel like divine kicks in the tush to not be complacent and to keep growing in who He has created us to be – kinder, more loving, grateful.
We often can see patterns in our lives, times of challenge presented to us at different ages, perhaps to determine how we will handle them the next time. Have we grown? I lived for 28 years with a spouse who suffered from a rage disorder. Was it mere coincidence that when I moved to Boston I would be employed in a work environment with someone similarly affected by a mercurial personality? It surely didn’t seem intentional since I would have no way of knowing this when I accepted the job offer. What I did notice, however, was how differently I reacted to the situation this time when compared to the first time. I remember thinking about the irony and then choosing to not enable, to stand up for truth, to not allow bullying in the office, to protect my co-workers, all skills ironically I had developed from the previous abusive relationship. The new challenging opportunity gave me the ability to take what I had learned and to grow in my responses. It felt as if HaShem had given me another chance to become closer to the person He had created in me.
Sometimes we do make the same mistakes. We pick similar friends and situations, ending up often reliving destructive patterns of interactions. Even if from conscious choice the ability to learn and react differently still can create growth and improvement if we can see the similarities and make different choices.
Whether inexplicable coincidences or repeating patterns, these occurrences and opportunities are not random. Whether some deliberate by our making the same mistakes, or whether seemingly random when actually divinely provided, all give us additional chances to see the bigger picture and choose differently than we did the time before. As the new year approaches, I encourage you to look at the patterns in your life, the growing quilt of scenarios all sewn together with His strong strands of love. What a glorious hodgepodge of trying to do our best, some sections not so pretty, perhaps torn, discolored, faded, perhaps some gloriously beautiful, each nonetheless a part of who we are today. Do the pieces look random? Orderly? Are they getting better?
May the next times and choices in your life, and in the lives you touch, be the best ones yet.