This month's blog is written by our guest, Melanie Makovsky, who shares her story of trusting and obeying God in the midst of life's unexpected hardship.
"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:11 ESV
On any given morning, I wake to an onslaught of concerns about the day ahead. Most of these thoughts aren’t good or bad, but my immediate reaction to my mental to-do list is always anxiety. What pre-scheduled appointments do I have today? Are they on Zoom or in person? If they’re in person, do I know how to get there? If not, is there a sign-in name and a password I need to remember? Does Google Maps have directions for where I need to go, and if so, do they actually get me to the right place? How much time should I allot for driving? I better add 30 minutes to Google’s estimate in case I make a wrong turn.
And when I’m looking at my schedule on any given morning, I am usually interrupted at least once. Seeing that I’m awake, my pets, all six of them, are immediately hungry. My teenaged children wake up grumpy, or more often, not at all. Some days I find them eating cereal at 1pm, calling it breakfast.
Although establishing a reasonably consistent routine each day helps me keep up with my responsibilities, interruptions will always happen, and I don’t always handle them well. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for over twenty years now, yet I still overestimate what I can accomplish on any given day. I tell myself that being a homemaker is a privilege, and so I need to “earn my keep.” But when the list of things I want to get done is as long as a supermarket receipt, or longer, productivity becomes my god, and the devil is in the interruptions.
Facing Life's Unexpected Interruptions
In 2018, Stanford researcher Katherine Hilton studied how different people respond to interruptions in a conversation. Although her findings showed a significant difference between men and women in their reactions and responses to conversational interruptions, the study only looked at one specific type of interruption, that of speaking out of turn in a social setting. So the results of Hilton’s study might not be the same if she studied a different sort of interruption, like a sudden change of plans, a medical emergency, or my kid who wants to tell me about this funny thing he read on the internet. Or, in my case, the problem of untreatable progressive memory loss.
In 2018, the same year that Katherine Hilton completed her study on interruptions, I learned that I am a carrier of a gene mutation that causes Young Onset Alzheimer’s in 99% of those who carry it. The diagnosis wasn’t entirely unexpected. My grandfather died of the disease in his late 50s, and my father was diagnosed with EOAD in 2005. It was my mother who insisted that the doctors treating my father should test for a genetic component, and she was right to do so. The gene mutation I carry produces EOAD in more than 99% of its carriers. Right now, I am 42 years old and experiencing extensive short-term memory loss, as well as other physical symptoms.
So, as much as I detested interruptions in my day in my younger years, they have become much more problematic now. Two days ago I was talking with my husband while making breakfast. An hour later, I discovered that I’d put a gallon of milk in the kitchen cabinet, rather than the refrigerator.
Of course, we all deal with frustrating interruptions every day, in a range of ways. Not all interruptions are problematic or anxiety-inducing. Some bring us joy; some give us a welcome temporary distraction. Some change our lives. And some come from God himself.
Not all interruptions are problematic or anxiety-inducing. Some bring us joy; some give us a welcome temporary distraction. Some change our lives. And some come from God himself. ~Melanie Makovsky
Moses was a Hebrew by birth, but he was raised in the household of Pharaoh. His birth parents were Hebrews, living in the territory of Goshen, an area set apart for the Hebrew community in Egypt. The Hebrews lived comfortably there for a long while, but eventually a new Pharaoh subjugated the Hebrews, making men and women his slaves. Then, threatened by great population growth in the Hebrew community, Pharaoh decreed that every Hebrew male infant should be killed at birth. Unwilling to kill her infant son, Moses’ mother placed him in a large basket and watched him float away down the Nile, where he was found by an Egyptian woman living in Pharaoh’s household, who became his adoptive mother. (See Exodus, chapter 2).
Fast forward a few decades and Moses is a young adult trying to differentiate himself from his royal parents and questioning everything they’ve taught him about life. (The Bible doesn’t really say that. I’m just guessing that Moses was like my young adult kids are right now.) Torn between his adoptive family and his knowledge that the Egyptian’s slaves are his biological kin, Moses decides to kill an Egyptian guard in a sign of protest. But, not wanting to face the consequences from his Egyptian family, he buries the guard’s body. But, because he’s a distracted, flighty young man, he doesn’t bury the body deeply enough, so the body is found pretty quickly. So, not willing to face the consequences of his hot-headedness, he runs away. He settles down in another area to hide from the Egyptian guards, and eventually marries and has a son. His wife’s family are shepherds, so he learns the trade and settles down.
I think that at this point he must have felt very comfortable. Shepherding is hard work, and the territory he lived in was likely hot and dry most of the year, but he’d gotten away with murder, and he didn’t have to think about being kin to the Hebrew slaves. Then one day he looks up at one of the mountains, probably one he looked at every day, and saw that a bush was on fire. So he decides to stop working and climb up the mountain and look at the bush on fire.
Now, my husband is in the Navy, and my family and I lived in San Diego for about five years. It’s too expensive to live near the ocean there, so we lived in the inland suburbs, where it was quite desert-y and quite mountain-y. In the warmest part of the year I always kept jugs of water, canned goods, and other emergency supplies is case a brush fire made its way to us. None did, praise God, but we were close enough to see the smoke that was burning the desert chaparral. So I can tell you from my experience that a dried-up old bush that catches on fire on the edge of a dusty, rocky mountain wasn’t necessarily big news. But Moses goes up the mountain to see it, anyway. Why? I think it was because some part of him knew he was supposed to climb up the mountain and see the burning bush. He was compelled to see it, I think, by a strange emotion or attraction. But unlike the angry, angst-induced urge that led him to kill the Egyptian guard, this hike to see a tiny brush fire was compelled by his sense of awe and wonder. And when he heard the voice of God calling to him from that bush, telling him that he was going to lead the Hebrews out of slavery, he probably understood why a tiny brush fire in the desert had been so important to him.
God interrupted Moses. Moses was a content man with a family and a place to live where he could hide from the Egyptians who wanted to punish him for murdering the guard. He didn’t have to think about the juxtaposition of being both an Egyptian child adopted by Pharaoh and a Hebrew whose birth family were slaves for his adopted family. But God told Moses that his refuge time was over. He was to go back to Egypt, where he’d left all his teenaged impulses and the problems they’d caused him. And when he came back, he had to give a command to Pharaoh, the one who gave the commands.
Trusting God in Unexpected Burning Bush Moments
How many metaphorical burning bushes has God sent into your life? When an unexpected problem – an injury, an argument, a financial loss, a death, or an addiction – stops you in your tracks and instantly interrupts your life, changes your plans and priorities, and destroys your sense of safety and routine, how do you react? Do you fight against your new reality, trying to make it go away, and throwing every possible solution you can think of at the problem? That’s what Moses did when he killed the Egyptian. Struggling with the philosophical implications of being a Hebrew yet living as Egyptian royalty while the rest of the Hebrews were enslaved, he acted out, killing the guard because of his own confusion surrounding his mixed ethnic identity. Do you run away from the burning bush, creating physical or emotional distance between yourself and the issue at hand, hoping that with time the whole fire will just burn itself out if you ignore it long enough? That’s what Moses did when he realized that others knew that he’d killed the Egyptian guard. He ran away from the consequences of his actions and spent years hiding from a problem that wasn’t going to go away.
Looking back on the hardest parts of my life, I often wonder if my reaction to them multiplied my anger, fear, or grief. I realize now that the intensity of my emotional reaction didn’t necessarily make things more difficult, but how I expressed that intensity, how I “vented” my feelings and acted out from the anger and pain and grief, lead to greater hurt, greater trauma, and greater hardship for me and my family.
Moses’ years of self-imposed exile and the kindness he experienced from his wife and her family, I think, wore down his self-righteousness and impulsive tendencies. Perhaps his time as a shepherd and a husband and a father buffed out the roughest parts of his anger and frustration about his childhood. Perhaps it took years in the mountainous desert herding sheep and loving a wife and children for him to realize that he wouldn’t be able to fight injustice with his own injustice. But God knew when Moses was ready to do God’s work in God’s way. Moses had matured enough to lead the Hebrew slaves out of bondage by God’s methods and God’s timing.
I know that I have been guilty of trying to take God’s will into my own hands. I’ve made hasty decisions based on my limited human knowledge, only to realize later that God had something different and more wonderful for me, a joy that I could have known sooner had I not tried to make it all happen my way. Why did I assume that God would go along with my plan?
Even now, with my memory loss and its complications, I have a consistent sense of love and joy in my heart every day, not just despite my memory loss and terminal illness, but also because of it. My dad learned that he had genetic Alzheimer’s in 2005, but even though I had the opportunity to find out if I carried the mutation at that time, I waited more than twelve years to find out my own status. And although God’s timing was and is perfect, I can’t help but wonder if my dad’s diagnosis was my burning bush. If so, maybe the peace and comfort that God has given me now could have been mine a lot earlier.
Perhaps you can identify some burning bush moments in your own life. Even if you only recognize those moments in hindsight, you can still take joy in his provision and care and thank him for what he’s done in your life. The burning bushes in our lives are moments when God anoints us as a vessel for a unique purpose in his kingdom, and even after we complete the task he calls us to, the memory of God’s unique gift and the privilege of doing his work will sustain and strengthen us in hope, even through adversity.
Melanie Makovsky believes that her past hardships have become catalysts to a deep connection with God and the people she loves. Born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, she now splits her time between Leadville, Colorado and Chesapeake, Virginia. When she’s not writing you’ll find her in the kitchen making homemade tomato sauce, jogging on a forest trail, or chasing after her two Siberian Huskies. In 2018 Melanie learned that she carries a genetic mutation that results in an almost certain diagnosis of Young Onset Alzheimer’s. She is now in the early stages of this disease. Follow Melanie at melaniemakovsky.com and on Instagram at @melanie_makovsky and on Facebook at melanie.makovsky.