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  • Are You Molting?

    Imagine being a young blue crab in Lake Ponchartrain. Up til’ now, daily life has consisted of walking around side-ways, loving the world and just doing what crabs do, but life hasn’t felt so good lately — too much stress, feeling boxed in, barely able to breathe and worst of all realizing you’ve stopped growing. Then, as if all that wasn’t bad enough, a crack appears in your shell and it’s slowly getting wider. You try not to panic, but whatever is happening is beyond your control and you feel increasingly vulnerable, like you’re falling apart. Having lost all protection, you do your naked best to avoid being devoured by a hungry predator. Hunkering down in sand and grass, all you can do is warily wait and hope, but for exactly what are you hoping? You didn’t plan for this! Then, something else quite unexpected begins to happen, and you start to feel a renewed strength. You become more confident, less anxious. Molting is a life-long cyclical process, and there is neither gain nor growth without loss.

    The courageous, middle-aged lady looked forlorn. I asked: “What do you really want to do with your life?” She said: “I want to go back to college and finish my degree, but I’m single, with kids and I’m broke. I never planned on my life turning out this way.” I looked deeply into her eyes and reminded her: “This is America and anyone who wants a college degree can get one. Anyway, God owns all the money.” She just stared at me silently, as if I had lost my mind. Three months later, she came back to visit and I immediately sensed something was positively different. With a smile, she said: “Well, I’m back in school.” “Back in school? But I thought you were broke!” She responded: “I really was broke, but I got four grants.” I asked: “Four grants? You mean free money? How did you do that?” She joined two cultural heritage groups that provide grants to members wanting to further their education. She applied for and was awarded both grants. She also learned her local university offered grants to employees of the school, so she applied for a job and also got that grant. She added: “But you’ll never guess where the fourth grant came from. I learned the United Negro College Fund does not discriminate on the basis of race. So, even though I’m Caucasian, I applied for their grant and told the Director that I, too, wanted to go to college and my mind is a terrible thing to waste!” Since then, she has completed her Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD. An entirely unplanned “molting” felt at first like a dead end, but was a prelude to unimaginable opportunity and growth.

    As I write this, I recall another situation involving a single mother with four teenagers whose estranged spouse was playing passive-aggressive games with child support. She had a good job, but found herself falling short of the mortgage payment by $200 per month. So, she called the mortgage company, explained the problem and asked if she could temporarily renegotiate the payments and stretch them out a bit until the justice system could correct the wrong. To her dismay, she was told it was company policy automatically to begin foreclosure proceedings in such cases. “How long do I have? What do you want me to do?” she asked in near panic. “Oh, Honey, just stay where you are.” “So, how much money should I send each month.””Honey, don’t send any money to us. Just pay the utilities.” “Well, Ma’am, how long can we stay here?” “Honey, at least 9 months, maybe longer …rent free.” So, she and the children remained in the house for nine, ten, eleven months and more than a year. Then, Hurricane Katrina totally destroyed the house, which was well-insured, so she paid off the loan, walked away and used the proceeds to start a new life in another state close to her parents. She had been forced into an involuntary “molting” but also began realizing she was not forgotten. A voice in her head kept whispering: “You’re going to be okay.”

    And there’s the lady who went through a very ugly divorce (is there a non-ugly kind?) and was on her own with two children. She was an LPN and decided to become an RN to increase earning potential. This was a far-reaching decision because it involved picking up prerequisite courses and then commuting 90 minutes each way to the School of Nursing in a nearby city. Valiantly, she achieved all her goals, with me and others cheering her along each step. Three months after graduating, passing her Board exams and going to work in a private medical practice, she came back to see me, sat down and burst into tears. “I don’t want to be a nurse! My mother was a nurse. My grandmother was a nurse. I did it only to please them!” After recovering from shock, I asked: “What do you want to do?” “I want to move to a pleasant town and start my own small business.” “Do you have any assets?” “Only a scrubby little piece of land I got in the divorce and I haven’t even looked at it in 25 years.” I encouraged her to enlist help from someone who could pull the records at the Courthouse and take her to the property. Turns out the land was prime, with beautiful trees and rolling hills, so she decided to put it on the market and three days later a stranger offered her asking price — in cash! She moved to a lovely town and opened up a new business. What had felt like a dead end was actually a detour.

    Having coffee one day with an African American pastor, I asked about the scars on his arms and neck. He then told me a story from his childhood. His father was a share-cropper on a former plantation outside a large Southern city. My friend would occasionally walk to the country store on an errand for his mom. As he sauntered past the landowner’s house, a little girl his same age jumped off the porch and skipped up to him smiling and wanting to talk. He had said no more than “Hi” to the little girl when the father burst out of the house, screaming at the boy and demanding he not talk to his daughter, else there was going to be trouble. “Yes, Suh,” and he scurried on down the road. A couple of months later, the little girl again excitedly ran up to him at the road’s edge, just wanting to talk with another kid. The little boy backed away and picked up his pace, but it was too late. The father saw what was happening and ordered the family dog to attack the boy. That dog tore him up and might have killed him if the little girl had not intervened. It was a long, slow painful recovery. Years passed, and my friend gave up his dream of college and instead went to work as an airline ticket agent. One busy day, a woman his age was purchasing a ticket, but kept staring at his name tag. She asked him where he had grown up and in an instant they both recognized one another. “You’re the girl.” “Yes, I am the girl.” He thanked her for saving his life. She haltingly asked if he would now do something special for her in return. Her father was dying in a local hospital and she asked if he would be willing to go with her to see her father, because there was something the old man wanted and needed to say. My friend quickly made arrangements for coverage and accompanied her to the hospital. Entering the dying man’s room, she said: “Daddy, I found him.” The father begged him for forgiveness and explained how guilt and shame had haunted him throughout life. My friend did in fact forgive the man, who died peacefully only a few hours later. Several months passed and my friend was at home with his wife and children when a well-dressed man, carrying a briefcase, knocked on the front door. He represented the estate of the man who recently died and explained provisions had been made to pay 100% of educational costs for himself, his wife and children for as long as they pursued a higher education at any school of their choice. My friend said he wanted to go to college, then seminary and become a pastor, which of course he did. As a child, he had been stripped of dignity, worth and security. It was akin to a slow-motion, tortuous “molting” that in due time completely transformed his future in a way he never could have planned.

    To a people driven as slaves from their homeland, held in cruel captivity and stripped of hope, a visionary old prophet reminded them: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).”

    When life doesn’t go as planned, remember you are not forgotten.

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