Listening To Your Life: Finding God in Unexpected Places with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski
A Part of the Series:
Listening To Your Life: Finding God in Unexpected Places with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski
We’re continuing our series for June and July and listening to your life, Frederick Victor said, listen to your life, see it for the fathomless mystery that it is. Listen to your life in the boredom and pain, and listen to your life in the excitement and gladness, touch, taste, see, smell, feel your way to the holy and hidden heart of life. Because in the last analysis, all moments of life are key moments and life itself is grace.
You know, Bikaner believe paying close attention to your life is is one of the best ways to know yourself and to know God. And if we’re listening. We can hear God speaking to us in the muck and the misery and in the beauty, in the marvel of life. All movements are key moments, even when life takes unexpected turns. If we’re paying attention. New vistas appear and we see things we hadn’t seen before. So today I want to invite us to listen to our lives when life takes an unexpected turn.
Life for all of us in this last year has taken so many unexpected turns. You know, sometimes someone said to me this past week, there’s so much right now that just is beyond my control. And I hate that feeling. I wonder if this global pandemic shattered the illusion that we were ever in control in the first place. Seems the one thing we can expect in life is the unexpected. Life rarely goes the way we want it to or the way we think it should.
Life just happens, it takes unexpected turns. How we listen to our life and respond when that happens can make all the difference in the world. Romans eight twenty eight says, In all things, God works together with those who love and trust God to bring about what is good. I love the title of the book Kate Boler wrote after she was diagnosed with stage four stomach cancer. The title is Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lives that I Love, like Kate Boler.
I don’t believe everything happens for a reason. But I do believe a reason, hope, purpose can be found in everything, I do not believe God causes things to happen or God wills things to happen so that we might learn some divine lesson. I mean, what a cruel God that would be. But I do believe if we’re paying attention, if we’re listening to our lives. Grace is present in every situation, every experience, no matter how dark it seems, every experience.
Holds within it light and a blessing of some kind. The key is to hold our heart open to that possibility. And find it noticing that passage from Romans, it didn’t say God causes all things or God wills all things, it says God is present in all things. Bringing forth something good with those who trust God to bring about something good. I wonder if that’s what Victor meant when he said life itself is great, that there’s nothing beyond God’s reach, there’s nothing beyond God’s redemption, nothing beyond hope.
God doesn’t cause our suffering, but is present in our suffering. And we’ll never allow our suffering to have the last word. The Psalmist and Psalm thirty five said weeping may last a whole night long, you may begin to doubt that the sun will will ever rise again. But hang in there. Because you will be graced with the unexpected colors of a sunrise that will startle you with unexpected joy. And change the look of everything. Life took an unexpected turn for all of us this past year.
Life has taken an unexpected turn. For so many of you, facing significant health challenges right now. To help us to listen to our lives and to look for Grace when when everything is turned upside down, I’ve invited Charlotte Brady, a member of our church, to join me this morning. Charlotte is one of the most active, fit, strong, resilient persons I know. She’s either running marathons, hiking, riding a mountain bike in her kayak, doing aerial acrobatics or doing competitive ballroom dancing.
And then last summer. Life took an unexpected turn. Charlotte, welcome. And so, so glad that you join me this morning that we can have this conversation with each other.
Thank you. It’s good to be here.
You shared you shared that early last summer. In fact, the word you used is you felt invincible, unstoppable, and then life took an unexpected turn. Can you share what happened?
Sure. Early last summer, I was feeling really, really good, better than I think I’d ever felt, my business, despite the covid shutdown, was was very, very busy. So I was working intensely a lot of hours. And I was also keeping keeping up my play schedule, my my biking, my aerial arts, my dancing, that all the things I wanted to be doing. So I was living what I thought was my best life.
And then all of a sudden in one specific day, second week of July, I woke up and my lymph nodes were swollen. I was headachy. I had this weird rash. I just didn’t feel well. I took a day off. But by Tuesday, three days later, I was every few days, I would feel a little bit worse. So I canceled my mountain biking clinic, I canceled my other activities, things, and I was working still.
But that really quickly got down to half day time. My daughter was filling in for me and within. Within three weeks, I’d had three covid tests that were all negative because I just knew I had covered with a rash and. They were all negative. And by by the end of that time, I was having a hard time holding down food or even keeping liquid in, so I ended up at St. Charles and began the process of determining what was wrong with me, whether it was infectious, whether it was autoimmune or whether it was something else.
And within a couple of weeks of being in the hospital, I was diagnosed with kind of a rare and aggressive form of lymphoma, which is called a title. So that was. It just brought me to a stop.
Well, what how did you respond when you when you heard this news that kind of came out of nowhere?
I knew there was something going on with me and I was really glad that there was going to be some sort of game plan or, you know, something to move forward with. But I also looked at it as a chance to to be vulnerable, to be helpless when I was helpless to accept help, where I needed it, and to start looking at myself, my life, my relationships, looking at them in a different way, just kind of brought me up short.
So it almost sounds like, you know, that life did take this unexpected turn. But somehow in that turn, new vistas open, absolutely.
Like I I looked at it like, what can I do with the situation I’ve got and how can I go through it with with Grace and. I guess with grace, yeah, did you have any moments where you allowed yourself not not not to go through it with Grace if you only knew?
Well, I’m glad to hear that there’s some very graceful moments, because I really think sometimes in order to to respond with grace and strength, we need to allow ourselves also just not to be OK and have those moments as well.
One of my priorities became. Trying to be in the moment where I was and not deny it and knowing this too shall pass and whatever it’s going to ebb and flow into for me, I wanted to be part of my journey.
So as you face this new reality in many ways. If we if we follow Frederick McPheters idea of listening to your life as you listen to yourself in this new reality, what did you notice?
For me, as soon as as soon as I started getting chemotherapy, I. I felt better than I had felt the prior five or six weeks, it just really helped me move along, but there were a lot of side effects that went with that. So during that period of time, I mean, there was a lot of. Drugs, drug interactions. I’d be up all night, I’d be cleaning groud, I’d be journalling, but what I tried to do was focus on where I am, how I fit into the world, look for connectedness.
I reached out to my relatives, my friends, my friends reached out to me. Of course, it’s all mostly Zoome or telephone right? Though I had friends that I would go on walks with and I did what I could do each day and try to look at the good parts of my background was in fine arts. So I would be out in the winter time walking and I would see like a little frozen water drop with the light coming on it in the shadows and those grasses that get the freezy at the top and the sun coming behind them and the wind waving them and just appreciating nature, appreciating my relationships, appreciating who I am beneath everything else, stripping off the layers.
I know one writer said that the spirituality in some ways is learning to not take life for granted. And in some ways I hesitate to use the word gift because it’s not like a gift that we welcome in our life. But it can be a gift when we just accept it. And what I’m hearing you say is that it in some ways, this experience is helping you to no longer take some of the simple things for granted, life for granted, the people in your life for granted.
I was prior to being diagnosed, I was full on, full bore. Go, go, go. No, I deal with this stuff later. And so, you know, a lot of my internal work, my emotional maturity, my spiritual maturity, I just figured I’d wait until I grew up. So it was it was a growing up moment for me.
What’s been most challenging?
Most challenging for me during all this was not the physical parts, it was it was not that it was not my face the most challenging for me when I’m trying to build connectedness and appreciation in nature, in relationships with seeing all the discord in our political and our political scenario. It was seeing the. The US, them, when I’m working toward and you know, right, so it sounds like in some ways this experience placed things in perspective for you.
If all of the small things have lined up right, the larger things I prayed for compassion, I prayed for understanding and prayed for. A good vision of where everybody is coming from, because they do want us to be connected and I want to be of service, I want to be of use.
Well, speaking of being of service and of use, we just finished one hundred mile century bike ride to to raise funds for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society. Why was that race? Why was writing these one hundred miles so important to you?
Three reasons, I think, one, leukemia and lymphoma, the blood cancers are said to be like if they if a cure is found for those, the rest of the cancers will fall into place. And years ago, maybe 12 years ago, this is a guess. I did my first team in training, leukemia, lymphoma, fundraiser, marathon. And it was just so impactful for me because, you know, being out there on a race course and seeing people wearing survivor shirts and they all the the difference that it is made in raising funds for research, people that are alive today that would not have lived for more than a couple of months, myself included.
You know, and flash forward all these years. I’m one of those people now. I’m one of those survivors. And so that’s one of the reason it’s a really, really good cause is a fundraiser. Second reason is because I wanted to celebrate the resiliency of our spirits, of our bodies, of our minds. Just celebrate that. Right. And last but not least, because I can now. Because I still can.
Yeah, that was a no brainer for me. Well, we we have completed a couple of marathons and a couple of marathons for team and training together. So when you got this diagnosis, which is amazing to me, that we participated in raising funds for research and raising funds to save lives with people with leukemia and lymphoma, to only then have you received the diagnosis of of lymphoma. Who wouldn’t know? But to me, it was a no brainer of, well, if we can, I can no longer do the marathons.
Same here, but let’s ride one hundred miles together on a bike and see if we can save lives and invite others to to join in doing this. Well, in the ride. Was there any particular moments in the ride that were memorable to you?
Throughout the whole ride and throughout my training, I have held the names of people in my heart who I have been suffering and have suffered and are recovered and are no longer with us because those are my intentions. You know, it’s to bring awareness.
And yeah, I too, held I had the names of people in our church community who I know are facing significant health challenges in my pocket. And I also had a red heart in my pocket for them, because I know there are so many also in our church community and beyond whose names I don’t know. And that that gave me such strength to those those few moments where I’m like, oh, I’m not sure I could go any further to to just turn to a strength that is greater than our own strength.
You shared with me once that that life has no guarantees and that in the midst of the uncertainty that you’re facing now, that you just try to do your best to show up one day, one breath, one moment at a time, to do your best to live your life the best you can and and contribute to the life of others. What helps you show up in that way?
I think what helps me show up each day because I have to do it over and over and over again is to get out of my own way. And if I get out of my own way, I can connect. I can be there to reach out. I can be there to hear and not to be an inspiration so much as to but to be helpful, to be loving, to be kind.
I know you don’t want to be an inspiration, but, Charlotte, you are you are an inspiration, inspiration to me and and then into so many. And I just pray, you know, in the days ahead that you will be graced with. Unexpected strength when life continues to take unexpected turns and, you know, I pray for all of the people in our church community and the people we care about, that when life takes unexpected turns. That we might find some unexpected strength and the presence of a God who meets us right there, not only in the muck and misery of life, but also in the wonder, in the marvel of life.
So thanks so much for being you. Thanks for so much for riding that hundred miles with me and for being here today.
Thank you. And thank you for allowing me to be here. Express myself and. And to just know that everything is really OK, there are moments of beauty and utter peace.
You know, friends, I don’t believe everything happens for a reason. But I do believe that. Even when life takes unexpected turns. If we’re listening, as Charlie just said, beautiful things can be found in the dark, so I want to close our conversation with this poem by Morgan Harben, Dick Harper Nichols’. Where she said, I hope tomorrow morning when you wake up. You will see the light in everything. And not only in the sunrise.
But in the places that are harder to find that light. Like in the hallways where you’re you’re certain you are only passing time. In the gritty gold dust floating beneath the floor in the blind. And every little thing that catches your eye. I hope tomorrow, tomorrow morning when you wake up. You will see the light. In everything. Friends, I hope, especially when life takes an unexpected turn. You will not only be able to see the light and everything, but be the reason someone else.
Is able to see the light in their darkness.