“A transition in the heart most often leads to a transition and change in life.”
Noël Piper and her daughter, Talitha Piper, teamed up to lead a workshop session at The Gospel Coalition’s 2018 Women’s Conference titled “God’s Grace in Life’s Transitions.” Life, it often seems, is a constant stream of transitions—changes in our situations that can be major stressors in our lives. From moving to a new city or school, to relationship changes or the death of a loved one, we face consistent change and must decide how we’ll allow ourselves to be shaped by it.
Noël and Talitha encourage us to learn about God and ourselves through each of the transitions he brings about in our lives, and to carefully recognize how God works through those pivotal moments.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Noël Piper: I’m Noël Piper. I’m 70 years old. I’m a mother, a grandmother. I’ve been the wife of a seminary student, a college professor, a pastor, a writer, a speaker, a blogger, a podcaster, a father. They’re all the same person. And I have visited 45 nations and I’ve lived in at least 18 residences in six states, which include also three countries. I mention these facts in particular because they do represent some transitions. It’s happened to me before that when I’m mulling over a speaking topic that’s coming, God drops into my life the need to experience that, whatever it is. And today the topic is transitions.
Three months ago, I was the daughter of a mother who was young old. Today, my mother is an old, old woman. Three months ago, her memory wasn’t what it had been, but she lived alone in the house I’d spent most of my growing up years in with maybe six to eight hours of help during a week. But then she was struck down with the intense pain of a pinched nerve. She was hospitalized and overnight moved from fairly independent, semi-independent, to needing to have somebody nearby round the clock. All nine of our sibling and spouses were drawn into her transition. And I just have to say that it was… you will understand me if you have siblings, a miracle how quickly God brought all of us to one mind about what to try to help mother recognize is the best option for her, which she did, which was another huge answer to prayer.
There we were amongst ourselves researching care options helping her navigate her anxiety and disorientation as she saw herself now as not the person that she had thought she was, or as she thought she had been, and fearing that she would be alone some moment when she needed help for something. She often quoted, as all her life, quoted scripture to herself or to whoever happens to be nearby, like the eternal God is thy refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms. That’s Deuteronomy 33:27.
When she expressed her anxieties about what it would be like at the assisted living place she was going to, or what if there’s nobody to help me when I need it; I tried to remember to listen, not argue with her, not tell her it’s not going to be like that, not tell her how it’s going to be. I just listened to empathize. Yeah, I can see why that would be worrisome to you. At least something like that. And then to quote some scripture to her, perhaps what she’d already quoted to me earlier that morning from the book that she treasures and then to remind her of how God has worked, perhaps earlier today or perhaps sometime else in the past. So that was listen, L, empathize, E, scripture, S, R, remind. And one of my smart sisters looked at that LESR and said, “Lesser is more.”
When I was taking my turn, my weeks taking care of her until end process of getting her moved and until the choices were made, I could hear her getting up at night. One painful step with her walker after another to move from her bed to her toilet chair and talking to the one that she’s talked to for decades, “Help me with the next step. Help me with the next step. Joy in the journey, joy in the journey.” And that’s a phrase she used over and over again. That’s my prayer for us today that we’ll find joy in the journey God has planned for us through all its changes, and that we’ll find joy in him. So let’s stop and pray right now. Father, I thank you that we are all gathered here this morning and that you will give us joy in you through whatever circumstances we’re in now, or that will come to us. And that we will hear your words for us today from all that is said. In Jesus name, amen.
I’m kind of going to go from one situation to another. Some of these situations may not apply to you at all, the situation itself, but I hope that you’ll be able to take from it something that you see that does apply to you. Something you want to think more about, something that you can see that would be helpful to someone else you know as you’re praying for them and supporting them. So, think broadly as you’re listening. Some transitions come about for us so gradually that we hardly realize how it is that God is shaping us into what he wants us to be for some purpose in the future. One really obvious one for me is that my freshman year at college, I famously made the very bold statement that I would never marry a preacher.
He didn’t become a preacher for 14 years. So, you could call that bait and switch, or you could say, God was really gracious in preparing me because when the time finally came, I was ready and I knew it couldn’t be any other way and I was glad. None of those things that happened in those years was random, God had a plan. “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil; to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11. Some transitions happen primarily in our minds and our hearts and our attitudes and our understanding rather than obvious life circumstances. So, I’m thinking of times when our eyes and hearts are open to realities we hadn’t fully recognized before. And then this new awareness is likely to make a significant change in our choices and relationships and life after that.
So for instance, someone requested when I was in college that I would help out with a Sunday school class for young adults with cognitive challenges. I was able to do something similar at the first church we belonged to after we were married. And then I did something similar at our own church, Bethlehem Baptist, and a niece was born into our family who has disabilities. And through all of those, I became more and more aware of the ministry of Johnny and friends.
And through all of this, I grew more comfortable being with people who look different than most of the people around them, who sounded different, who maybe couldn’t even speak at all and feeling more comfortable interacting and just being there. And my heart was drawn to be more involved and more connected. So, I have done quite a bit of volunteering with Johnny and friends over the years and in other kinds of, working with family retreats or helping to deliver wheelchairs to Uganda and Cameroon, to people who otherwise would spend their lives crawling in the dirt because they have no way to get around, no access to such equipment.
So, a transition in our heart does most often lead to a transition and change in life. Some transitions are thrust on us unexpectedly. It might be a diagnosis that you’ve always hoped that would never happen. It might be the death of a loved one. In the early 1990s, my father wrote to all of us children, his children, that he had liver cancer and thought that probably by the end of the year, he would be gone. I went home to Georgia during our children’s spring break and I was in the bedroom next to daddy’s and I could hear him one night just breathing, “Oh God. Oh God. Oh God.” And I believe God answered those weak groans through the intercession of the Holy Spirit.
The spirit helps us in our weakness. “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the spirit, because the spirit intercedes for the saints, according to the will of God.” That’s Romans 8:26 and 27. And the will of God was that the next day he lifted daddy from his suffering forever. I was shocked that he had died so soon.
But we may be surprised by sudden change. It seemed to me, yes, I knew he was going to die, but I didn’t think it was going to be that soon. I thought he was going to come back and help mother with him over the months to come. But it wasn’t a surprise to God. It wasn’t sudden to him because he’s the one that wrote the book. He’s the one that wrote the story. “In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.” He knew every page, every word of my father’s story. Psalm 139:16.
Grief shows itself in kind of sad way sometimes. He died in late March. Around Easter every year is when the wild azaleas and dogwoods bloom on the piny hillsides of the woods that surround our house down in Georgia. And I thought I haven’t been here in years, but I’ll get to see them this year. So we went out to, hiked out to a favorite place that our family had gone a lot of years and it was too early. They weren’t blooming yet. I was so disappointed. I just laid down face down in the pine needles and wept because the flowers weren’t there, but really it was because daddy wasn’t there. And then for months to come, the tears were just that near the end surface. I knew what God has done was good. I knew that daddy was where he belonged to be, but we who are left behind do grieve when someone is gone.
Transition is hard and otherwise after death like that, my siblings, a bunch of us who were together at mother’s house later that summer, and I don’t think there’s ever been a time when we graded on each other so much as we did that time. And it was over silly things. I realized later that we were used to daddy in his monstrous recliner sitting at the intersection between the kitchen and the dining room and all the way back to the bedrooms. If somebody is having trouble, if it was a kid, he pulls them up into the lap and distracts them, or if it’s one of us grownups, he has something he wants to chat about or… So the lubrication was gone and all of us gears were clanking against each other. I wish I’d known then what was happening because next time I’m going to pray for God to be the lubricant.
One of the big questions, one of the big things for us to think about is how do we react? How do we respond in times of transition, which usually involve a lot of decision making which can be really challenging. Are we going to be tense and despairing or can we trust God? So, there are a couple of questions that I find helpful. One is to ask what’s most important to me in this situation. What’s the main thing. I started thinking like that because there was a time when we were trying to make a school decision for a couple of our boys and we were considering academic levels and what Christian influencer school might have on a child or what Christian influence our child might have on others and what distance schools were from home and what each one cost or didn’t cost.
A wise friend said to me, “What is it you really want? Isn’t it that your sons become strong men of God.” Of course. That just really focused it. It didn’t tell us which school to go to, but it focused us in to making a better decision. And then the other question that I like to ask is, is this what God wants, this way of responding to the situation? When I look back at earlier times of transition in my life, I am really glad that Romans 8:28 is true. We know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. I thank God it’s true because I have made some very important decisions when I wasn’t thinking very deeply at all about what was most important.
Choosing college, for example. How many of you… raise your hand if you’re college aged or younger? Okay. There are a few of you out there. What was important to me was to get out from under my parents’ rules and to be far enough away from home that I didn’t have to deal with them real often. Interestingly though, I did choose a college that had very similar lifestyle rules that my parents had because, now here’s my other note, my motivation there, and that is that I didn’t know how to dance or drink and I didn’t want to be put in situations where I was going to be embarrassed.
Well, those are not very good reasons, but God is gracious. The very next verse in Romans 8:28 says that he was working for me even when I was being foolish. Romans 8:29 is very clear about what God wanted for this transition. “For those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his son.” He led me to a good college where he continued his work of moving me toward being conformed to his son and where, by the way, I met my husband. So once I got to college, what was important to me? To live in the moment, to do what I wanted to do, to be happy, to have fun. And did I think about what God wanted? Not much. And how did that work out? Well, I did have a lot of fun and I was supposedly learning how to organize my time for study, work and free time, but not so much.
All my papers were written the night before deadline. I sometimes forgot my 7:30 AM classes. I sometimes forgot to go to my on-campus job. Actually I had dreams for years that it was the first day of the semester and I had no idea which classes I had registered for or where they met, but God did work good. And this is something to do as you look back on times of change in your life. See, think about how God was working and has worked. I did in that college learn how to learn, which is a really good kind of education. And years later, when one of our sons was struggling in a class and couldn’t seem to get the grades he thought he ought to, he was really encouraged when I was able to say, “Don’t worry, son. When I was in college, I was a good solid C student.”
Our daughter, Talitha’s experience in college is quite different from mine. I’m going to ask her a few questions so she can come at it from a different direction than me. She’s much more serious and careful about life than I was. So, were your first days on campus fun?
Talitha Piper: My first days on campus were not fun. I was sick because of stress for seven weeks of my first semester in a row. And so I wasn’t able to go to classes, thought I was going to have to move off campus. It was just very difficult time also being 750 miles away from my parents. For the first time, longer than three weeks, was also very hard. So it was not a really fun time of stress and anxiety and sickness.
Noël Piper: So tell us more about what you think caused your anxiety?
Talitha Piper: I had taken college classes when I was in high school and that was different because I was still at home. I was on my computer doing my own work by myself. And so, this was the first time that I was in class with other people for college classes and I was trying to balance work and school life and living on a hall with 20 girls, which was the first time I’d ever done that. Also, I never shared a room because I’m the youngest and the only girl. And so, sharing a room for the first time with an amazing roommate, but still sharing a room for the first time and being far away from friends and from home and from my family. And then also just college was really difficult to start.
Noël Piper: What about, there were a lot of things, as I recall, when you would call. I could tell a change in you from the time when you’d call at least every day and sometimes more than once to maybe you call once a week, I knew things were going well then. But it seemed like a lot of our conversations had to do with, I’ve got this and this and this assignment and I don’t know how I’m going to get it done. So, prioritizing when your work gets done and what order things need to go in.
Talitha Piper: I’m an overachiever, so in high school I would do my papers at least 10 weeks in advance if I could.
Noël Piper: I told you she’s different.
Talitha Piper: So in college it was one of those I wanted to overachieve again because that’s just what I did with academics. And so, learning to take something that maybe was due in 10 weeks versus something that was due tomorrow or in the next few days and realizing that’s more important than what’s probably due in the next few weeks that I need to focus time on that. That was something that I needed to learn in college, I think.
Noël Piper: Tell us some of the things that helped you get past that or to manage it?
Talitha Piper: The stress?
Noël Piper: To manage the stress, yes.
Talitha Piper: I discovered that working out was a great way for me not just to get physically healthy, but really mentally and emotionally healthy. I didn’t realize that your mental health and your emotional health kind of went along with your physical health and especially as I was very, very sick and that was because of stress and anxiety before. So I started realizing that when I would go to the gym for at least an hour a day, maybe even just three days a week, it just really helped me focus and really helped me to be able to focus on my academics, but also just focus on being rested and being emotionally kind of freer and clear in my mind to focus on my friends and to have a good time beyond just studying all the time.
Talitha Piper: And so, over time that also just helped with my stress. Like that’s still a place that I go to when I’m stressed or angry or sad is I go straight to just working out because I know that for an hour, I can have just me and my music and I can pray and I can just kind of clear my mind and just run or do whatever and also get physically healthy, which helps.
Noël Piper: And were there other things sent too?
Talitha Piper: My mom sent me… When I would call her every day would tell me a lot of verses and one of them was, cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you, which is Psalm 5:22. There’s many, many more, but I think that was something that I really needed to always be reminded of, which was casting my burden on the Lord and not carrying everything.
Noël Piper: And I’m remembering too that at fall break you were visiting with a friend, an older woman, who really helped you think about a lot of other stresses and concerns that were in your life that were sort of raising your stress level higher and helped you pray through those things. That was a significant change and help as I recall.
Talitha Piper: That’s when I started calling you once a week.
Noël Piper: That’s right. Okay. Now, what about after graduation? What were some of your challenges after graduation?
Talitha Piper: I didn’t realize that the options are endless after graduation and you can do everything from a job as a barista to looking for a business job. My degree was in humanity, so I really could just kind of look for whatever. I was between, do I stay in Minnesota, which is my home, because I’d just moved back home. Do I stay there where I’m finally reconnecting with my friends and my family or do I move somewhere completely different because I can or because there’s options? And so that was really hard because I had some really good friends that were going through a lot when I was in college and it was really hard for me not to be there to help support them. And so, I was finally home and I could finally help support them. And then I felt like God was calling me somewhere else, which is hard to think about leaving friends and making new friends.
Noël Piper: How did you finally decide where to go after graduation? What to do?
Talitha Piper: Lots of prayer and lots of wise counsel from my parents and from my mentor. But really prayer was, I think, the biggest thing; that’s I think when my prayer life started to take a different turn than it had in the past and where I really did just always want to pray and always want to seek the Lord in any decision. It became such a sweet place for me to seek wisdom and seek peace in a way that hadn’t been there before, I think so.
Noël Piper: Okay. Did you want to talk about how prayer, how you… your prayer place?
Talitha Piper: Is this something that I especially encourage any high schooler or college student, because-
Noël Piper: A 70-year-old.
Talitha Piper: Or anyone, but I think it’s because it became such a special place for me in college. But I encourage people to have a prayer place and it literally could be your bedroom or your office or your closet. It was my closet this last year because I had a great closet and I lived with people and so I would just go in there and pray. But honestly my number one place is my car. I drive a lot for work and I always have, and then I like to take road trips and I like to drive by myself.
Talitha Piper: And so, it’s been a place that I’ve used to be a place that I intercede for my friends and my family and for myself and just things that I really am stressed about or angry about because it’s that one place that when you’re alone, you can yell, you can cry, you can scream, whatever you want to do, and you can really just call out to God. It’s just become such a sweet place. And so, it really is to this day, like when I really need to be alone in prayer, I go to my car whether I’m parked or driving 500 miles.
Noël Piper: Okay. Now, as long as I have you here, what about challenges in your first job after college?
Talitha Piper: First job after college felt like I was living independently, but not completely in a way, but still I didn’t realize how much everything costs. And so, that was a big thing for me to learn is I’m paying my own bills, I’m paying my own way. When I need groceries, I have to go get them and I have to make my own food. And so, there was just some things that I knew were coming, but for them to actually be there, and I was, again, far away from my parents. And so, couldn’t just run down to their house and borrow food. So, I really did have to be an adult and buy everything and realize that it was going to cost a lot more than I thought and everything like that.
Talitha Piper: But I think the bigger thing was I felt like I was being pulled in a lot of directions with friends back home and friends in Atlanta, where I was living, and then with my job and then with church life and then just with other things. And so, it was just learning to put into practice what I had learned in college, which was managing time, managing stress, finding that place to pray, finding the place of the gym where I go when I really am stressed or angry. And so, just putting into practice the things that I had talked about and I had worked really, really hard to find in college and just finally putting them all together for adult life.
Noël Piper: Is there a particular scripture that you wanted to leave with us that helped you during that time?
Talitha Piper: My mom is big into giving me helpful reminders, not just by her words but things that I can hang up on my wall, which is great. And so, she designed this canvas for me that had a picture of the sun shining with its rays that I think you took, and then the words on it were, “Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you,” which is 1st Peter 5:6-7. And so, that was really, really helpful for me because I hang up over my bed. And so, every morning I get up and I look at it and I get to pray that, and also remember my mom.
Noël Piper: Good. Thank you. That verse that starts, “Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God,” we had already talked about it. If you feel like you have to do all this on your own and not roll your burdens onto Jesus, it’s that you’re trying to act like God. So, humble yourself before him and cast your anxieties on him. And that’s true for all of us in our challenging situations transition. Okay. Back to my inadequate reasons of choosing a husband. Again, thanking God that Romans 8:28 is true. I was ripe to be attracted to any guy who was attracted to me. It would be really nice if he was also cute. That’s what was important to me. I don’t think I would have married a man who didn’t say he was a Christian, but I don’t think I had the discernment to know if he wasn’t living up to what he claimed.
But what was important to God. He wanted my marriage to be an image of Christ and the church. From Ephesians 5, “A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound and I’m saying that it refers to Christ and the church. I’m so thankful that my parents were praying for my future husband when I wasn’t. An answer to their prayers, God sent me the man who fulfilled my inadequate desires and so much more. So, let that be a reminder to all of us to pray for the people we love, the people we know who are in transition or will be, that God work for them.
Moving is one of those things. If you have a list of stressors, that’s somewhere way up near the top. After a couple of years of marriage, we were going to be moving from Pasadena, California to Germany. We had grown close friends with people in our Sunday school class and small groups in class and met together weekly. We couldn’t imagine life without that. And yet here we were going to move to an unfamiliar country, unfamiliar language, unfamiliar culture. How in the world was that going to come about? So they prayed for us. We prayed a lot.
Within a couple of weeks, my husband was in his first class there and sitting next to Raymond from Belfast. So two English speakers, and Raymond finds out that my husband is studying New Testament. And Raymond says, “Do you know any Bible studies?” And Johnny says, “Well, why don’t you come over our house on Friday night? We’ll start one.” So from that moment on, from that day on through the rest of our time in Germany, every Friday night was a time with friends and people who grew to be friends around the Bible and eating together and enjoying each other. The group changed over time who was there by comings and goings, but God gave that to us almost immediately.
Becoming a mother is a huge transition. I remember really well walking into our apartment with our first born and thinking, I can’t even keep a philodendron alive. And they’re not supposed to be killable. But God is good and Karsten survived. I remember the years of a number of small children at home: distractions, not much sleep, trying to help children grow and being more disciplined, feeling isolated, limited availability of myself for ministry. I would feel some days like my job was as a wiper; spilled milk, bottoms, noses, everything. And that somebody would interrupt me while I was doing that. That my interruptions were interrupted by interruptions that… it just, what’s the use, it would feel like.
And then I would need to remind myself what was important to me, raising children who as much it was in my power and my ability, raising children to love and treasure Jesus. And was that what God wanted? Yes. And he told us how to do it too. One of my favorite passages is Deuteronomy 6:5-7. “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart and you shall teach them diligently to your children. And you shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise.” Now, those are about the most mundane parts of a day you can think of; sitting down, walking along the way. That’s what I was there for, to be God’s voice and love to my children.
Being a mother, being a parent expanded when we adopted. My understanding of my relationship with God expanded when we adopted. Bible passages about adoption took on new depth. “You have received the spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father.” The spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. And if children then heirs; heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” I have been adopted by God. I learned aspects of parenting and bonding and emotions that I’d just taken for granted with our other children. One time when Talitha was nine or 10 months old, I was holding her on my hip and she threw her arms around my neck and squeezed my neck. In a flash, the thought that went through my mind was, she knows I’m her mother. I never thought that with any of my other children. Of course they knew I’m their mother, that new thoughts now taken for granted.
Preparing. I prepared for all of our children’s arrival, but there was a new thought added to the preparation for Talitha’s coming. And that was what will help her feel bonded into our family, part of our family, not just tacked on. I pray not, but maybe there’ll come a day when she’s not sure she really belongs here. And I want to have some tangible things that say to her. So here’s a quilt top that I had made from material I’d used for clothes for myself. And I’d never made it into the quilt yet because nobody in our house wanted a pinkish quilt. Four sons before Talitha, I don’t think I told you that. But I finished that quilt to be ready for her. There were other things I did, but one was I made her a little green outfit that had red ruffles on it because she was going to come in December, Christmas time. I made a little Brown cloth doll with little black knots around the top of its head in a green suit, just like hers.
I wanted there to be tangible things that she could look back on if a hard day came that would say, “We loved you before we met you. We wanted you. We waited for you. We were getting ready for you. And we are so thankful that God put you in our family.” Of course when we adopted it meant we became a biracial family. Now, that brought new things into our house. The bookshelves look different now. Biographies for children, for adults about important African-American people that we’d heard the names of but didn’t really know much about, books about racial relations and sad history and picture books for Talitha that maybe were mainly about African-American children or there was a mixture.
When I wrote two children’s books, I requested that the illustrator make sure that there are children there of many ethnicities and that there are children with disabilities as well. We gained a new network of friends who were interested in what we were doing and were and are helping us know practical things about African-American culture and the care of an African-American child. We’d always known that racial harmony was something to be desired. It now came to have and does have a very personal importance to us. We became much more aware of words that might be slides of even small incidents that are racially oriented and keep on, now, trying to learn how not to take our whiteness for granted, but to listen and to learn.
And you’ll hear that in various of these things I’m telling you. Reading, listening to people, talking, learning is an important part of transitions. Well, Talitha, in fact, I wonder if you have any thoughts you want to add here about racial harmony, maybe.
Talitha Piper: In college, I kind of got a new awareness of what it meant to be African-American. I was definitely in the minority in the student body at my college and that never the other students, the teachers, no one ever made me feel weird about that, but it’s definitely something that I had a new awareness of and I noticed. It was interesting because I started realizing that I got disturbed that some people just weren’t really aware that there were still issues and there were still practical segregation and discrimination, maybe not at our school, but it’s definitely there and you see it in the news. Just to see some of the people I knew at school just kind of not notice it or just not really want to pay attention was pretty hard.
Noël Piper: What about adoption? Anything you want to say about that?
Talitha Piper: My adoption has taken on a new meaning in recent months because I now work for an adoption agency called Lifeline Children’s Services. I’m working for the Georgia branch of it as a pregnancy counselor, working with birth mothers. So when a birth mother comes or is referred to us, she’s assigned a woman to help walk her through paperwork and visits and even go to the hospital with her if she wants her to, and then dealing with the grief and talking through that after the adoption and through the adoption process. That’s what I get to do now, which is really exciting. Lifeline-
Noël Piper: Yeah, tell us a little bit about Lifeline.
Talitha Piper: Lifeline is in about 10 different states and started in Alabama. That’s where the home office is. They’re also in several countries. They do adoption or orphan care as their primary two umbrellas, but then under that is whole lot of other things that you can find at their website, which is lifelinechild.org, and you can see just all the ministries and the services and then even in your own specific state.
Noël Piper: Good. Thank you. So that’s lifelinechild.org if you want to read more about that organization and its work. Okay. Then even when we’ve stretched out parenthood as long as we did by Talitha coming to us when I was 47 and my husband was almost 50, emptiness does come. I think I would say the main thing that I have learned through that adjustment with each child is to trust God for my children as they leave home. When they’re in my own home, I feel like we’re an authority and whether they do what we say or not, we have guidelines. But then when they leave home, we don’t have that anymore. All we have is praying for God to take care of them. And I would say something like that to myself and I was like, “Wait a minute. What am I saying? All we have is praying for God.” What did I think I had before?
I encourage us to do that for others as well, to trust God for others, whether it’s your children. You don’t have to know what the situation is, but God does. And to just, people that you’re concerned for, to give them to God, to trust them to him. Over the years we learned how to interact with our children, how to counsel an adult if he wishes it, how to help without giving commands, how to recognize and acknowledge our children’s responsibility in their own lives, even if it’s not the way we would have done things. And then there come the times when they are having trouble of some sort and the prayers get amped up. We never stop being a parent. You sort of thought it would let up some, but it doesn’t because the things that you pray for become much more crucial. So, you never stop being a parent as long as your children are living and you are too.
And then onto being a grandmother. What’s important to me as a grandmother, that my grandchildren know that I love them and that they know Jesus better because of that. And is that what God wants? Yes. I recall a conversation with one of our grandsons when he was about 11. We were riding in the car and he had a favorite conversation starter. “If you could choose one super power for yourself, what would it be?” I don’t remember what I answered him, but then we just started talking about the advantages of different super powers. And then I said, “I know somebody who has every good super power that there is. Every one you can think of, this person has them.” Well, that’s God, of course. Who is that?
Well, that within less than a minute moved onto, “I’ve heard some people say you can’t really know if there’s a God because you can’t see him.” So we’d moved into that kind of conversation from superpowers. Now, riding in your car is about equal to walking along the way and giving God’s words to your children, to your grandchildren as you’re doing that. And I just, I thank God for every opportunity like that. My husband and I pray about how to be good grandparents and not just to take for granted that we have time with them when we can and blah, blah, blah. But what do we do when we’re with them?
The hardest thing that has ever happened to me as a grandparent is that 11 years ago our granddaughter, Felicity, was still born at full term. A few weeks later at the cemetery, I was walking by myself and just talking as if to her. “I wanted to get to know you. I wanted to hold you. I wanted to stroke your hair. I wanted to see you grow up. I wanted to wrap you up in the pink blanket that I knit for you. I wanted it to be able to do things for you and give you things. I know that there’s nothing I could do for you or give you that anywhere close to matches up to what Jesus gives you and how he loves you. I know that, but I miss you because I wanted to be part of that too.”
And then the death of a grandchild is a double grief because not only do we not have little Felicity who we’d been waiting for, but there’s such pain for the agony that our children, I mean, her parents. So grieving for her and for the pain of our children. That change in my life, expecting a grandchild who didn’t stay to live with us. She lives, but she doesn’t live with us, came not long after I had a diagnosis that changed the way I viewed myself and my life. Remember those last minute college papers and the missed classes and the disorganization. And then we can add to that the ongoing messiness, apparent laziness, interrupting conversations with my random thoughts, lack of motivation, inability to finish tasks, facing voice not matching my true emotions and intentions. These are things that strain a marriage heavily, not to mention promising to do things that I forget to follow through on.
My diagnosis with ADD, attention deficit disorder, not the hyperactive kind, was a huge aha. That explained so much. That was a great relief. But then what to do about it. I tried to as if stand outside myself watching myself. Did I just interrupt? I was just adding to an ongoing conversation, but did I sound like I was arguing? It’s okay. So, why don’t I just hold myself in check so I don’t get excited or exuberant and risk the appearance of speaking inappropriately. And then came uncertainty. You can’t hold yourself like that very long.
The uncertainty. This is a dysfunction in my brain. It’s there, it’s a sort of disability. And if I come across so differently than what I intended, maybe I’m not the kind of person I thought I was. And when I forget to follow through on what I’ve said I’m going to do, it seems like I don’t care about my husband’s wishes. And that’s not true, but it’s what it seems like. I’ve done various things. I’ve learned tools and strategies to help. I talked weekly on the phone for awhile with a life counselor who specializes with ADD to learn things. Johnny and I read together a lot and talked about it.
And then one of the things I started doing was something I should have been doing for years, and it’s brought a new relaxation into our marriage. I started asking my husband questions like, did I just sound like I was disagreeing with you? And if he said yes, then I could tell him what had been inside me, what I was thinking, what I meant. And so he could start to see what was happening with me and I could try to see how I was coming across. And then a different kind of question was, okay, I just saw that look on your face, my husband, what did that mean? Now, I never would have asked that question before because there were so many things I was aware of that I’d fallen down on. I would just assume it was something about me and I didn’t want to hear about it and then feel guilty and feel defensive. So, I would just assume that I knew what he was thinking behind that face.
Now I ask because I want to know, and a lot of times it’s not about me. It’s about something just right in the news. But if it is about me, I want to know so I can change. I want to talk about things and not take things for granted. We’ve read together a lot about ADD. My timer and my alarm on my phone are my best buddies to set the alarm or the timer for an hour after I put clothes in the washer. So, I put them in the dryer sometime before three days from now, for instance. And here’s the most important thing. I may not be the kind of person that I thought I was, but Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever, Hebrews 13 tells us, and I can depend on him not to change. And that is important in every kind of transition.
Then came the transition to becoming an old lady. I was coming up to my 60th birthday. I wasn’t asking God anything, to God or myself about what was important here. I was too depressed to think well. First had come my ADD diagnosis and how that changed. Just not so harsh to it with that yet and how life was going to be. Then Felicity’s birth date was also her death date. And then three months later it was going to be my 60th birthday. I had lost my ease in relating to other people. What I thought was my easiest, I was miscommunicating. But now I was just on edge the whole time wondering, how’s this coming across?
I’d lost my granddaughter. I had lost the beauty and energy of being young. I was dragged down by those and what seemed like so many other losses and they were going to be climaxed by my 60th birthday. I’ve passed my 70th now, no big deal, but 60 seemed to be a towering landmark of loss on the way to death and I didn’t want to die. And frankly, at that time, I wasn’t even sure what would happen to me after death. And Talitha said she remembers those days of my being sad and just sitting.
Now, I wasn’t finding God’s word in the scripture then and I don’t know if anybody realized how low I was. People who were close to me knew something was wrong, but God jarred me out of it with an accident. Now, of course, with God, nothing is an accident but we call it an accident. I was driving and slipped off of the icy road onto the shoulder of a freeway. I got out of the car and stood up and then another car came sliding out the same way. It was going to come right along the side of the car where I was standing. And as it jarred my car coming past, my feet slipped under me and I laid down. I was lying down just alongside my car here and I could see that other car. And I just, there was just an incident to think I’m going to die. I didn’t feel fear, but I thought I’m going to die. But I didn’t. God held the car away. I wasn’t even injured beyond a couple of small bruises.
God knocked Paul to the ground to say, “Listen to me,” and he knocked me to the ground to say the same thing, “Listen to me.” “You ought to say,” it says in James 4, “You ought to say, if the Lord wills, I will live and do this or that.” If the Lord wills I will live. So, was I still sad about some things? Yes, but I knew that if the Lord willed I would live and celebrate my 60th birthday. God created my odd brain for a purpose. Felicity’s life and death were in his hands and so were mine.
These are just a few kinds of transitions. Jumping all over the place. It’s sort of a shotgun look at changes and transition in life. But I hope that today’s thoughts will be a springboard for you to learning about God and yourself through the changes that he brings about in your life. And then I want to encourage you to look back later and recognize how God was working then and how he is still working through whatever that particular period of life was for you. And to remember what I really want, what I really consider important, is reflected in the way I respond to my situation. Not just in decisions I make, but what my attitude is. If it’s a wonderful change, do I gloat and brag not recognizing that every good and perfect gift is from the Father above?
If it’s a challenging and painful transition, do I complain and give into despair? What I really want is shaped by who I really am; and who I really am, I want to be shaped by God’s word and wisdom in me which comes to me through his word, which comes to me through my own reading and through preaching and teaching and through the counsel of wise people. And what does God want? That’s what we find out from his word. His word shapes what we really want and we find out what he really wants from his word. So, the more his word is in us, the closer our desires and attitudes will be to his.
Let me pray. Father, in this room with so many people, there are hundreds of changes, transitions that are going on. Some of them are happy ones that have been long awaited. Some of them are hard, surprising, weighing down. Thank you that you love your children more than anyone else does, that you give only good things to your children, even when it doesn’t seem good at the moment. Help us to trust you for your goodness in our lives and to look for you in every change in our life. Thank you. In Jesus name, amen.