It was a gray and rainy–exactly what we all expected from our yearly weekend in Nuremburg. Our convoy of buses pulled into the parking lot beneath the city’s castle a couple of hours late (one of the buses got lost) and disgorged its human cargo: the entire high school population and enough staff members to guide them through our annual High School Retreat.
There’s something comforting about the “expected” and there was plenty of that this weekend:
- Rain: check.
- Hurricane-force winds: check.
- Destroyed umbrella (#257): check.
- Cozy rooms in a refurbished castle: check.
- Three Starbucks within walking distance: check.
- Not enough cash to afford Starbucks without guilt: check!
- Gender-specific midnight pep rallies (clothing sadly optional): check.
- Endless cafeteria lines: check.
- Even more endless flights of stairs: check (and “oy, my aching calf muscles!”).
- Slabs of butter for breakfast: check.
- Talented speaker with a fresh perspective: check.
- Past-lessons remembered and new lessons learned: check and check.
It was during our first session that Jonathan, our speaker, asked us what we fear. “What fear is it that keeps us from living in obedience,” he said. I didn’t have to ponder the question too long. Fear has been the topic of much musing for me recently. If you read my newsletters, this won’t come as news to you…
One of my seniors came into my office a couple weeks ago and, after fidgeting on my couch for a few minutes and engaging in trivial conversation, finally got to his point. “Miss PhiPhi,” he said, calling me by the name my choir gave me at the beginning of the school year (which has, sadly, stuck), “How do you deal with fear?” Interesting question, given what’s going on in my life. He was referring to fear of rejection, fear of doing something wrong, fear of not doing enough, fear of being misunderstood. It wasn’t the same kind of fear that has been lurking on the periphery of my own consciousness for several weeks, but fear is fear, whatever its source.
I did a mental swipe of the desktop in my head, temporarily dislodging the piles of lesson planning, Candlelight Dinner organization, and general life-clutter than has been accumulating lately. Sometimes, a good question supercedes the longest of to-do lists, and this was just such an occasion. It took me only a moment to formulate my answer to the student’s question, mostly because the answer has been at the center of my motivation since December 31, the day I received the McLetter announcing the onset of my McJourney. (See entry from January 16.)
The student’s question prompted me to review the conclusion I’ve reached since the beginning of this McAdventure: as long as I focus my mind and spirit on what I desire to gain from this disease, the fear will not have power over me. From the day of my diagnosis and on, I’ve been aware that this illness can (and must) be life-changing on a spiritual level, regardless of its physical consequences. I can either let it take my serenity captive or I can allow it to direct my motivation in a way that has eternal value. This experience is not about what might happen to my body, it’s about what I want it to produce in me. My fear, on a very human level, is about ill health and disfiguration. My desire, on a much higher plane, is about using this challenge to enhance my relationship with Christ, to heighten my sense of purpose in the work I do here, to embolden my pursuit of students who need an adult in their lives, and to initiate the conversations that have already taken place and been inspired by my diagnosis. As I told that student in my office, fear can become more crippling than the disease itself. If I can focus on what I desire more than on what I dread, this passage of my life will be a beneficial journey of discovery that will allow me to minister to others and learn in ways I never have before—and that’s exactly what I intend to make of it.
Don’t get me wrong. There has been fear; it’s endemic to humanity. There was fear when that letter first arrived. There was fear when I first took the bandage off my cheek. There was fear when my North American doctors determined that further treatment would require three days of surgery and possibly extensive reconstruction. There is fear when I allow myself to dwell on the statistics or to anticipate worst-case scenarios. I accept the fear because it is a symptom of full awareness and a product of humanness. But I am determi
ned to overwhelm the fear with a desire for change and an expectation of purposes fulfilled. There isn’t anything I can do to change these circumstances, but there is so much I can do to claim God’s promise to work redemptively through times of greatest need and frailty.
I’ll end with just a few more pictures of retreat. There are many more on Facebook, for those of you who have found me there!