Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Still Untangling a Confused Life   12 comments

When I stepped through the gate of adulthood, I turned the wrong direction, and with the best of intentions, trudged deeper and deeper into the wilderness.  I should have gone into teaching Bible or Theology–it was my gift and my joy–but I was told that missionary evangelism was God’s real calling.  At the age of 40 I discovered my whole worldview was cracked, and I started over, trying to understand life from the viewpoint of grace.  I did my best to recalibrate my life’s occupational trajectory, but seemed to keep getting it wrong.  I tried pastoring, then social work, and though they were both fulfilling, the structure in each demanded that I deny my true self in order to succeed.  In the end, I was forced to leave because the pressure to conform was too great for me to bear, and I began to languish.

I was deep into midlife when I ran out of meaningful work and had to settle for something uninspiring that would meet our basic expenses.  That has proven harder than expected.  All my education and experience is of no use to land a professional job in another field.  I now realize I have to get more training or education just to find work that will cover our simple lifestyle (almost half my wages now go to health insurance alone), and that means years of effort and tens of thousands of dollars in costs just to start applying for jobs… jobs I may hate after all the effort.

Becoming a college teacher would require a Ph.D., and there is a huge market surplus of competition to contend with, and I would be in my 60s and just starting out, a very dire prospect.  Since becoming an electrician or plumber would take just as much time and money as other professions (yes, I looked into it), I have been thinking of getting my M.A. in counseling (since my other joy in life is connecting redemptively in a deep way with others).  I haven’t done well so far in every effort to reconfigure my life, so this too could be a misadventure.  We are thinking and praying.

 

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Posted June 27, 2017 by janathangrace in Life

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God Cares   7 comments

We scrimp, we jerry-rig, we do without to make ends meet.  The driver’s window in my truck has been broken for two years… purposely in the down position so that it can pass inspection.  The rain pours in on the seat and floor and cups in the door pocket, then it dries out again… the door handle has started to rust tight.  My wheelbarrow is a 55 gallon barrel that I scavenged, cut in half, and bolted to a lawn mower chassis.  I buy my clothes from Goodwill, keep my shoes till the insoles wear through to the pavement, and cut my own hair.

I piece together my income from various sources.  8 months out of the year I work part time at a college library and try to make up the summer months with cutting lawns.  I also work at Home Depot part time year round.  I tried also working as a substitute custodian in the Lynchburg school system, but I rarely could make it fit between the hours of my other two job schedules.  Kimberly is usually working as well in a low-pay job.  We have somehow managed over the last 6 years, occasionally dipping into our meager savings.

Since we have not been able to find better jobs here, we decided to try our luck in Asheville, NC where Kimberly has wanted to move for years.  We put our house up for sale in April, hoping to sell it this summer.  Since I was busy fixing the house in preparation, I had to cancel my mowing jobs for the summer.  Kimberly also left her job, partly in anticipation of moving.  Now it has been three months without an offer on our house, and we have exhausted our savings on getting the house ready, our only income being my part time job at Home Depot.  My first paycheck from the library is still two months away.

We put Kimberly’s student loan payment on hiatus, postponed eye doctor visits, and cut our food budget in half.  Then we started brainstorming about how to make it through two more months of bills.  I had some vacation time from the library I could collect in wages (I usually use it to cover the Thanksgiving break gap in pay).  We could take a cash advance on our credit card (with a hefty interest rate).  I could take a loan from my retirement fund.  But borrowing from the future only works if you have some prospect of improvement–neither of us have jobs lined up in Asheville.  Kimberly had added up our average monthly bills, and even with my vacation pay, we weren’t going to make it through.

Over the weekend we started smelling a strange stench all through the house.  On monday I discovered that it was our hot water heater which had rusted through.

That same day we received an envelope from my dad’s widow with a check from my father’s estate, enough to get us through the summer and restore some of the savings we had spent on fixing up the house, including a new hot water heater.  Isn’t that just like God?

Posted July 12, 2016 by janathangrace in Life

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What’s Important After All?   Leave a comment

Last Christmas, casting about for what to put in Kimberly’s stocking, I fell on a plan my mother devised for us penniless kids in an eight-member family.  She suggested we give one another slips of paper as “tokens” for doing things for our siblings, offering to do their chores or clean their room.  So I printed off some tokens for Kimberly, and she used a few of them last winter, but she’s always felt uncomfortable asking others to do things, and so she left them largely unused.  But Friday, in preparation for a trip, she handed me two tokens, for scrubbing the kitchen floor and cleaning the guest bathroom.  I joked that I should have put expiration dates on the tickets, but I still spent two hours Saturday cleaning.

All that to say that I find cleaning a serious waste of time.  Whatever you clean is simply going to get dirty again.  I have the same problem with cooking, washing, and life-maintenance of every form.  I am all for spending time on things that enhance life, that make things better, so I enjoy remodeling projects, but I get quickly frustrated by repair projects when the end result is simply a return to the status quo.  Unfortunately, a majority of life tasks, including most occupations, are the do-it-over-again variety.  I put library books back on the shelves… the same books over and over and over.  I write emails about repetitive issues and follow checklists for completing the same tasks every night.  What is the point of this assembly-line life?  Why would God design the world as a place we spend our lives uselessly, going in circles until we die?

I was raised to maximize my time on earth for God, to “live with eternity’s values in view,” which meant I was to focus all my life on things that would make an eternal difference, building up myself and others spiritually–read the Bible and teach it, pray together and talk about spiritual things, evangelize, exercise my spiritual gifts.  Everything else was just so much distraction from the important stuff.  Only, life on this planet seems to be constructed mostly from this seemingly superfluous stuff, the stuff that “doesn’t matter.”

So maybe I’ve had it wrong all along.  Maybe what we do is not nearly as important as how we do it.  Perhaps the particular tasks don’t matter so much, but like a paint brush or charcoal pencil are the tools to shape the work of art–the ones who we become individually and together.  Perhaps the fundamental importance is not what we do, but how we do it, living out the life of God in those daily mundane tasks.  Perhaps it is not so much about my trying to change eternity, but allowing eternity to change me, more about being the work of God than doing the work of God, meeting him in the ordinary rather than expecting him only in the “spiritual” parts of life.  Maybe being present in the task is the better alternative to getting through the task so I can get to “more important” things, and so end up living only in life’s peripheries.

Posted January 5, 2015 by janathangrace in Life, thoughts

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Hope Is Brutal   2 comments

I’m on furlough over spring break and it’s been difficult.  A fixed schedule helps my depression–simple requirements at set times take much less energy to commence.  That easy on-ramp is a big plus for me because my psychological crud poisons initiative, so whatever keeps my wheels turning, even slowly, keeps me alive.  When my schedule is wide open, just making decisions increases my load.  How much energy do I have?  How much energy will it take?  What is priority? How will Kimberly feel?  How long can I put it off before it breaks or blocks up the works or breeds flies?  Procrastination is a serious survival strategy.

I could rouse myself to do something invigorating if I were sure of a pick-me-up, but more often than not I put in the work and get nothing out of it but tired.  When I use up the little energy I have and find myself no better off, I feel hopeless and helpless and powerless.  And the more I try and fail, the more lost I feel, till I give up in despair.

But against my resistance, a little hope sneaks back in, maybe because I can’t live without it or maybe because it never fully leaves in spite of our countless beatings.  It grimaces and drags me back into the ring to get pummeled again by life.  Apparently I have a masochistic addiction to hope, like battered person syndrome.  Emotional resilience against my better judgment.  Is it a blessing or curse?

Posted March 13, 2014 by janathangrace in Life

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The Ups After the Downs   Leave a comment

Things were going fairly badly this last weekend.  My several hundred dollar chain saw died before Friday’s storm, which not only was a loss of that amount, but prevented me from making money clearing trees for the thousands who had trees down (about every other house on our street, for instance).  A huge tree from our yard was uprooted and crushed our neighbor’s shed, and I was trying to find out our home-owner’s insurance deductible (but the insurance company was closed for the weekend).  Our power went out, and hundreds of dollars of food was spoiling in our fridge and freezer.  We had no air conditioner or fans or ice on the very week the tempurature decided to climb above 100F.  My mower stopped working in the middle of cutting a lawn on Saturday, and I had no way of getting it up the steep ramp into the back of my truck (it weighs 500 lbs.).  I had to finish the 1 acre lot with my push mower (in said heat).  We had no internet to know what was going on (when the power would be back on, for instance), and my brother, undeterred by our lack of electricity, suddenly showed up in town for a visit (from the West coast)… we offered him warm orange juice and a candle to use the bathroom.  In this sweltering heat, we soon found out the electricity would be out for a week.

The financial hit was troubling me most as I have been unable to drum up enough clients to make my summer mowing economically feasible for us.  On Monday, I reached State Farm and found out that since this was an “act of God,” my neighbor’s insurance would be responsible to cover the costs.  My wife and I had been planning to visit a nearby friend (her “step-aunt” I guess) to celebrate the 4th and spend the night.  When they found out our electricity was down, they very graciously opened their home to us and allowed us to pack our refrigerated food into their fridge and freezer.  So here we sit in a beautiful lakeside house for the week, forced to have a vacation we could never afford.  As we were packing up to drive down here, Kimberly brought out a netbook she had but never uses.  I forgot it was around, and suddenly I realized I have the replacement for my laptop (which I’ve been badly missing for 2 months) only smaller and so much handier.  I figured out how to get the mower onto my truck (backing it up to a bank where I had towed my mower and pushing it in on the level ramp), and on Monday I was able to fix it with a $6 spring.  All in all, the week has been a wonderful refresher.

Posted July 4, 2012 by janathangrace in Life

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Lent for a Tired Soul   3 comments

Coming from a non-liturgical religious upbringing, I didn’t even know about lent until well into my adult years.  As my whole life was lived in self sacrifice, I didn’t feel the need to dedicate one particular season to it, and once I started to heal from this self-flagellating outlook, I could not really practice sacrifice in any sort of healthy, spiritually beneficial way.  This is the first year I chose to give lent a whirl, looking for the kind of focus that would be a meaningful blessing to my soul.  For lent I decided to give up hurry and haste.

SLOW DOWN!

Driving was my first focus.  I have stopped trying to make yellow lights, I leave earlier for work, and I look for things along the road I have missed in the past in my rush to get somewhere… to actually find pleasure in the trip itself.  I have started to work on tasks at a more deliberate, even slow, pace.  I have given myself the right to accomplish things on a calmer schedule, or even to leave them undone…  to walk thoughtfully, absorbing the moment rather than focusing on the goal, destination, or end product. It requires a good deal of trust to depend less on myself, my efforts, and allow God to cover for me.  Giving myself permission to rest is a vital spiritual exercise, one of the oldest life principles in the book, the intentional counterpart to creative work (as the Genesis story of beginnings recounts).  My guess is that work is neither creative nor blessed (to ourselves as well as others) if it does not arise from a rested heart.  Life isn’t waiting for me at the destination. Life is what happens while getting there.

Posted March 3, 2012 by janathangrace in Life, Personal, thoughts

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