Season of loss. Season of blessing.

100_0610The seasons of life have an endless capacity to surprise, challenge, inspire.  Unlike the seasons of the sun, life’s seasons are not so predictable.  They bring mysterious gifts that look like losses, then load us with unexpected blessing.

Fifteen months ago my parents moved back to Marion from their beloved Florida retirement community.  Their health had been increasingly fragile so it seemed wise to bring them closer to us.  We had no idea.

Mom was in the hospital 12 times in 12 months.  She was such a fighter, loving life, loving my Dad, loving her children and grandchildren, unwilling to see the golden thread slip from the spool.  Almost every day I was in Marion I sat with her and Dad in the evenings.  They told me their latest news – who had called or visited last, what doctor they were going to see next, medications, prayer requests, ministries they cared about, IWU.  I listened, tried to get them to laugh, marveled at the lives they had lived.  We often said goodnight with a prayer – their lifelong habit.

Mom fought hard, but about six weeks ago just after midnight, almost on the stroke of a new day, she slipped quietly out of our hands, a little smile on her lips for my Dad, the love of her life.

A season of loss.

We made our way through the surreal landscape of death.  Dad did his best.  Then two weeks later we found him on the floor of his apartment.  He had suffered a massive cranial bleed.  Should have died then.  He fought as best he could for three weeks.  But his heart just wasn’t in it.

A week ago Saturday morning he was back in the hospital.  I called to see how he was doing.  Told him I’d be busy all day welcoming new students to IWU.  Told him who would be coming to sit with him.

He said, “I need for the Lord to take me to heaven, or make me so I can live, because I just can’t do this much longer.”  I said, “I know Dad.  I’m sorry it is hard.”  Told him I loved him and I would check on him a little later.  He said, “Okay.”

Helen and I got ready and headed to the Barnes Student Center to welcome our new students and their parents – one of our favorite days of the year.  On the way over I flipped on the ringer of my phone, something I almost never do.

Just as Helen and I were preparing to greet our first students the phone rang.  It was the doctor.  Dad was gone.

Season of loss.

At the very same moment, our spirits were lifted by the faces and stories of almost 800 new IWU College of Arts and Sciences students – the class of 2019 – who began moving into residence halls over the weekend.  I love seeing the pictures and encouraging words on the IWU Parents’ Facebook page about how well they were served by students, staff and faculty on move-in day.  There’s nothing quite like the fire and life of the amazing young people God brings to IWU every year.

“My son or daughter is in good hands,” was a common theme in those Facebook posts. We are humbled by those words, and we are committed to doing our very best every day to be worthy of the trust that parents have placed in us.

Our personal vulnerability and loss helped us experience anew the beauty of the IWU community.  We have been sustained by the many expressions of love, prayer, and provision.  We have been encouraged, fed, and comforted by the wonderful people of this community.

We are in good hands here.

As always, many parents told us that they sensed the presence of God simply by setting foot on our campus. And, predictably, parents raved about the appearance of our campus – the pristine landscaping and the well-maintained facilities.

And each year IWU’s global footprint expands. This fall we have students from Australia (where IWU now has a sister college), Germany, China and the Philippines. My parents would be especially proud of those international students.

Season of blessing.

One of my favorite authors, Rachel Naomi Remen, captured the mystery of life’s seasons.

“A human life has seasons much as the earth has seasons, each time with its own particular beauty and power.  And gift.  Life is neither linear nor stagnant.  It is movement from mystery to mystery.  Just as a year includes autumn and winter, life includes death, not as an opposite but as an integral part of the way life is made.”

This year we’ve been through winter and spring.  We have felt sorrow but no regret, pain but no despair.  We’ve been given the gifts of love and prayer.  We are sustained by the love of our colleagues and friends, and the presence of God’s Spirit.

Perhaps best of all, we’ve been reminded of who we are and what matters most in this life.

Sometimes we see life’s blessings better through the seasons of loss.  This seems to be the way life is made.