~ by Horace McMillon
How did I get here? That’s my mother-in-law’s short hand for please help me orient myself. For those who do not know, our Mimi is battling severe memory loss. She has been living with us for nearly eight months now. Memory is a funny thing. Sometimes it’s clearer. Sometimes it’s not. On those days that it’s least clear, Mimi remembers that she was an Emergency Room RN in Los Angeles. She went back home to Tennessee when her father called her needing her help. Then at some point she moved down to Mississippi to live with her daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren. Five decades of her life explained in a blink. This isn’t exactly the way she ever imagined it going down when she left nursing school. What about the rest?
How did I get here is a short hand way of her asking us to help her make sense of her life, her circumstances, and to account for all the time. That phrase has become such a part of the fabric of our lives that it has entered my thoughts. How did I get here, indeed? I noticed a number of years ago, that when it came time for me to put together a short description of myself for press release, I always started with husband and father… Those two titles have been the biggest part of myself, my identity for years. They were and remain central my priority, my calling and my commitment. And yet how did I end up here?
I have found that I need re-orienting myself from time to time. Many of the assumptions held by the younger versions of myself were sometimes incorrect, sometimes invalid but most frequently were too simplistic to capture the complexities of a lived life. Healthy well-adjusted children? Simple, show me two good parents who had their acts together and I would show you a well-adjusted child. Professional success? Simple, show me someone who studied hard, worked hard, and made the most of their opportunities and I would show you a professional success. Financial success? This may have been the easiest of all. Show me someone with financial discipline and reasonable frugality and I would show you a financially secure person every time.
The road has not been that simple. Children don’t come with instructions. Good parents often struggle to find the correct approach for a particular child. Environment plays a role too. So do resources. So does chance. Professional success? Working hard matters… But so do contacts, connections and opportunities. Being in the right place at the right time… By the way, what is success? Climbing the ladder at the expense of being absent from your family or not being able to meet other needs/ The definition of professional success has been a moving target at best. Financial success? Let’s not even go there. The home mortgages that built our folks’ good nest eggs have us hopelessly underwater. Pensions are no more and, my 401k is underfunded and questionably invested. When does my student loan pay off any way? This is not quite the picture I had in mind. How did I end up here?
Sometimes I think I now understand better why my parents did the things they did when they were raising me. One of the Bible readings they felt everyone should know by heart is the 23rd Psalm. In it, the writer takes the place of a sheep. While God plays the role of the shepherd. I get that now. Maybe we are all on a journey. All of us are hoping for greener pastures. Yet our best knowledge, our clearest visions, our most detailed plans and our most earnest efforts are not enough to get us there. On our own we can become hopelessly lost or overcome by a hostile environment. Yet we place our trust in a shepherd to guide me through the barren places in order to lead me to greener places. Sometimes as a parent, I find myself in a desert place where I wonder if my children are getting what they need to thrive. Professional success is no longer vertical but is a green pasture where there is enough to take care of my family. Enough to share with others. Financial success? I’m still working on what that one means. I know that there are billions of people in the world who would like to have my financial concerns. Maybe recognizing that the shepherd has already provided is the answer to this riddle. How did I get here? A little over twenty years now, I decided that to the best of my understanding and to the best of my ability I was going to follow Jesus with all my heart (not just a part of it). So, I content myself with the conviction that whatever place it is in which I have found myself is the place to which the shepherd has brought me.