Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Monday, February 1, 2016


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter… ©

Helen gave me a book of Carrie Newcomer poems for Christmas. This morning I read one called “Being There.” It reminded me of Rob and Susan. [Not their real names.]

A few years ago Rob approached me after an event where I had spoken. We no longer lived in the same town. I had not seen him for several years.

He and his wife had joined our church as young parents in their late 20s then. Neither had previous church experience, but they entered fully into the life of the congregation. As often happens, without the preacher’s knowledge, a problem at home had driven them to the church.

When Rob left Susan, he was the one who told me about it, as he asked me to care for his wife and children emotionally. I think that, unconsciously, he had joined the church to build a support system for them because, unconsciously or not, he knew he would leave. He had done it before.

It’s hard to know why men do the things they do. There was another woman involved, of course. Despite what people tell you, there is always another woman, in the mind if not in the flesh. I remember one couple where the man told his wife he was leaving because he was in love with another woman, whom he named. When the wife confronted “the other woman,” she was genuinely surprised. The husband had made no overtures toward her, and she made it clear that she had no intention of responding to his interest. Sex makes fools of us all sooner or later, men and women alike.

Rob was willing to come back for counseling sessions with Susan. For several difficult, despairing weeks, I listened to Susan cry and watched Rob shrug his shoulders. Then he stopped coming, but Susan did, so I kept on watching her cry.

I was always a poor counselor. I don’t listen well. I see quickly what I think is a good solution and I want others to get to the bottom line solution as quickly as I do. That works well if you’re an army general; not well if you’re a church pastor. With Rob and Susan I was about as ineffective as I’ve ever been.

Then he decided to return. Despite my total lack of helpfulness before, she said, “You’re going to have to counsel us some more. He can’t just waltz back in here like nothing happened, the way he did the first time.” He understood that. We worked on it together for a while, but they quickly dropped me out of those discussions.

They continued to come to church and to be active. They were very pleasant, even affectionate toward me. They seemed to be happy, but who knows? They had seemed happy before, too.

Now, after a lot of years, Rob and Susan came up to greet me after my speech. After she had gone off on some errand, he said, “I just want to tell you that things in our family are great, the best they’ve ever been, and it’s all because of you.”

I’ve been around long enough that I’m not surprised by anything. I’m occasionally shocked, but never surprised. Still, I was surprised. I hadn’t done anything for them except keep them company as they tried to work out their relationship and their identities and what they wanted out of life. I told him so.

“I didn’t do anything. It was you and Susan who made it work,” I said. “Or perhaps you just grew up.”

“Maybe so,” he replied, “but you were there.”

John Robert McFarland

I started this blog several years ago, when we followed the grandchildren to the “place of winter,” Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP]. I put that in the sub-title, Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter, where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.] The grandchildren, though, are grown up, so in May, 2015 we moved “home,” to Bloomington, IN, where we met and married. It’s not a “place of winter,” but we are still in winter years of the life cycle, so I am still trying to understand what it means to be a follower of Christ in winter…

I tweet as yooper1721.

My new novel is VETS, about four homeless Iraqistan veterans accused of murdering a VA doctor, is available from your local independent book store, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BOKO, Books-A-Million, Black Opal Books, and almost any place else that sells books. $12.99 for paperback, and $3.99 for ebook. Free if you can get your library to buy one.

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