I recently spent a day with my dad in his garage replacing the nearly opaque headlights on my truck with brand new headlight units. Sounds easy enough, right? Truly, it was anything but.
As it turns out, the process of replacing the headlight units in vehicles has changed quite a bit since I last did so in my early twenties. Back then, the process was something I was confident tackling on my own due to the simplicity of the task. Now, a person has to nearly remove the entire front bumper in order to replace the headlights units.
We started slowly, removing the plastic fasteners and several of the 10mm bolts that required removal to access the units. Since my truck is a 2008 vehicle, even this task required extra time, attention, and steps due to some of the bolts being rusted into place. At one point, a few of the bolts even broke off during removal, further complicating the process.
Minutes, then hours ticked by. This project truly felt as if it was going to take forever. Dad and I took turns troubleshooting. At one point, we both found ourselves lying on the garage floor under the truck, staring up at a problem area, discussing what on earth we were going to do to get this done. We got frustrated, we got determined. We got tired and achy–always in waves. But finally, about 9+ hours later, we placed the last plastic snap back into place, completing the project.
The truth is, none of us can foresee the challenges a particular project or journey will hold when we are standing at the beginning. We can research, plan, plot, and prepare all we want. We can try to control every variable imaginable. But what many of us find is that once we are elbow deep in a project, or far enough down the road of the journey on which we have embarked, the plans must often be thrown out of the proverbial window. We discover that all of the research, all of the preparation, all of the control we thought would insulate us from feeling frustration, disappointment, and even pain have fallen short.
What we find along the way is that there are circumstances that challenge us to reach beyond what we already know to do. There are people in our midst who just won’t budge. There are ideas with which we have fused our entire identities so much so that separating them feels like being broken apart. During these times we often feel like the place we are in is the place we will be in forever. We can’t imagine what lies beyond the limits of our knowing. We don’t see a way that some of the people in our lives will ever move, will ever change, will ever evolve. We cannot comprehend who or what we are without the idea we have clung to for so long.
And then–sometimes in moments, in hours, or in lifetimes–we realize that the waves of frustration, determination, exhaustion, and pain that have been coming in and going out have finally led us someplace new. And while we couldn’t control or reason or plan our way out of those waves, we have somehow managed to move through them. One move at a time. One step at a time. One failed solution at a time. And what we come to find is that the point was never to avoid the waves, but to experience them. Knowing that when we do, we will not be crushed and we will not drown–we will bob, we will float, and we will crash our way forward. Perhaps not gracefully and without breaking a few things along the way (including our own hearts), but we can trust that some way, somehow, by some means, we will move forward.
Learning to move through the waves of life’s journeys with you,
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen was called as the pastor of St. Paul Congregational UCC in June of 2020. Prior to her call to St. Paul, Pr. Melissa worked as a hospice chaplain in the Ames, IA area, following pastorates at rural churches in Central Iowa and Southern Illinois. Pr. Melissa is a second-career pastor with a background in agribusiness and production & supply operations. She received her M.Div. from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO, and holds a MA Ed. in Adult Education and Training, and a BA in Organizational Communications.