A voice in the wilderness: Stuck in a forest

News | December 21, 2018

I was stuck in a forest. As a career counseling professional, I was beside myself. After years in a job I loved and found fulfilling, everything seemed to change. The changes were gradual; I cannot pinpoint a particular time when things started going south. All I knew was that I no longer felt valued, appreciated, or effective as the leader in my department. I found myself in a career that required me to assist others in achieving career success in spite of the fact that I was miserable in my own career.  

I knew that if I made a career change it would need to be good for me and my family physically, financially, and spiritually. As I conducted a national job search I knew my husband, who grew up in Davenport, was eager to get back to the Quad Cities. When a position opened up at Augustana College we were thrilled. Moving through the process of interviewing and receiving an offer I thought, “Now this is it! It’s all part of God’s plan. I’ll finally be happy.”

My new position proved to be just what I needed. Being back at a small, liberal arts college felt like coming back home.  I jumped right in and felt what I had been missing: feeling valued and appreciated as an effective leader.  Again, I thought, “This is God’s plan, I’ll finally be happy.” I was out of the forest!

The move and transition held the usual stresses and struggles of relocating; husband finding a job, selling our house and buying a new one, relocating my mother who lives on her own but is also part of our family, and helping our 9-year-old deal with the changes. But the transition took us in a different direction.  I didn’t realize that while making my way out of my forest, I was actually being led into the wilderness.

My wilderness was a son who began losing weight, having painful sores in his mouth, and sleeping all of the time. At first I chalked it up to the transition; leaving good friends and a school he knew behind. Over the next six weeks I faced many possibilities of what was wrong. I was terrified but had to be strong for him as he faced his own fear and pain of medical tests. My husband was still in Milwaukee so I felt very alone… and guilty. I could not help thinking that somehow my own happiness, my own selfish pursuit came at the price of my son’s health. I thought that somehow this transition had caused his illness and that if I had just stayed in my job and put up with my dissatisfaction this wouldn’t be happening. I prayed. I prayed for his health and my forgiveness.

In June, after several doctor visits and trips to specialists in Iowa City, Andrew was diagnosed with anemia due to Crohn’s Disease. It was a blessing to finally have a diagnosis which could have been more serious but instead is one that can be managed. I am happy to report that six months later he is in remission and catching up on the growth charts.

My family and I are still experiencing bumps from our transition. Matt, my husband, initially landed a job that wasn’t a good fit (his own wilderness!) but is now happily doing something he always dreamed of, selling luxury cars. My son made some new friends and likes his new school. My mom connected with the water aerobics gang at the YMCA and has a very full social calendar. And me, well, most days I am happy.  But every day I am blessed for having been reminded that no amount of success or money or good luck can create happiness. Instead, relying on the grace of God’s mercy whenever I wander through the wilderness is my only hope for real happiness.

Laura Kestner-Ricketts is a mother to 9-year old Andrew Kestner, wife to Matthew Ricketts, a daughter to Julia Bryant, and the executive director for career and professional development at Augustana College.

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Malachi 3:1-4

The Coming Messenger 3 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.[a] 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

Hebrews 2:14-18

14 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. 16 For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters[a] in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

Luke 2:22-40

Jesus Is Presented in the Temple 22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon;[a] this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.[b] 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon[c] came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon[d] took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant[e] in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon[f] blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 36 There was also a prophet, Anna[g] the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child[h] to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. The Return to Nazareth 39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.