She was standing at the counter trying to put milk into her hot cup of coffee while holding a sweet baby firmly with her other arm. After ordering my usual iced vanilla coffee with soy milk, I noticed her and offered to help. She graciously agreed and smiled as I lifted the carafe of cold milk into her steaming coffee. While I waited for my order we chatted for a brief moment. “Thanks so much,” she said. I thoughtfully reflected on the days when my own children were as small as her baby and told her that it was my joy to be of some small service. She went on to say that she was returning to work the following week and was trying to savor every last moment with her little one, including the coffee outing. I sensed a tinge of sadness in her voice so I offered my own perspective, “Your precious baby will be just fine and so will you. In fact, you will have many more beautiful moments like this with her. Change is part of life and you can’t forget to be kind to yourself as you work out a new schedule for everyone. Everything will turn out well.”
I am not sure where this advice came from – perhaps it was rooted deep within my soul from the time when I returned to work after my youngest was in preschool. Back then, I struggled when big changes took place in my life. I had a hard time offering myself kindness, trusting in the slow process of change and good things to come. Years later – reflecting on that pastime – I know that by choosing to have faith, God works all things out, no matter how tough transitions may be. The young mom thanked me with a smile and we parted ways.
When unplanned circumstances occur which cause our lives to change, we have a decision to make; we can either faithfully accept what is happening with hope or we can refuse to imagine the good things that may come from change and wallow in our own self pity. Oftentimes many of us opt for the later choice and sadly treat ourselves poorly during these times of unrest. Thankfully, God has shown us a better way. In the story of Jesus’ conception, there is no better example for us than Mary. When the angel told a teenager from an unknown village that she would miraculously conceive a child and that he would be the son of God, she freely responded, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) Can you imagine something like THIS happening in your own life? The gospel does not say that Mary didn’t struggle or have questions, “she was perplexed by his words,”(Luke 1: 29) but it does say that she chose to believe in the possibilities born of hope. Do we?
Over the weekend, I had a chance to participate in a lenten retreat where the focus was on walking with Jesus in the struggle of the desert, towards the joy of the Resurrection. My group was very willing to share honestly and from the heart. The first part of the retreat consisted of sharing what we wanted out of the weekend. One group member responded, “I want to be mindful of Jesus walking beside me in this time of pain and transition.” Another said, “I want to develop a stronger relationship with God to help me now and in the future.” A third woman shared, “I want to learn, to know more about God so I can be more like him.” On the surface, these responses may not appear significant in any way. But if you consider that the people participating in the retreat – the ones offering such heartfelt, faithful responses – are actually incarcerated women living their lives behind high, concrete walls and barbed wire, these responses become a bit more powerful.
Some of us may be facing unwelcome changes in our lives which are causing feelings of despair. This is not surprising as life is a cyclical experience of highs and lows; joys and sufferings. The real challenge is how we choose to handle these changes – with hope or despair. Like the women at the retreat modeled for me, I want to walk toward the light of Jesus in the Resurrection and choose hope every time. This must be a conscious choice, something that we work at each day. My new friend from the coffee shop must also make this choice. Faced with a major schedule change, she must choose hope that all will be well for herself and her baby. When we choose to treat ourselves with kindness, it is a whole lot easier to make hopeful choices as life beautifully unfolds like the petals of a blossoming spring flower.