Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

PART V: Was This a Bad Idea?   12 comments

Now before unpacking the truck, I have to unpack an important detail about rodents.  We moved from a 2000 square foot home in Virginia to a 1000 s.f. rental house in Asheville (but paying a lot more for it).  We tossed out a lot of stuff and crammed the rest into one bedroom.  But something else found a cozy spot in there this past summer.  We found mouse droppings.  I set a humane trap, and when I caught the mouse, I took him two miles away, loosing him in a wooded area.  We found more mouse droppings.  Over several months we caught 5 mice, requiring ever more ingenuity.



We knew they were hiding out in our storage room and clearly reproducing, but we had no way to clear them out of that solid wall of tightly packed stuff.  These were the boxes we would be loading onto the truck, transporting our infestation to Washington with us.  Our fears came true when I found a nest of three baby mice in a mattress cover while loading the truck.  What else had I missed?  I could think of only one solution.  When we reached Washington and the two of us got ready to unpack our 26-foot van, we emptied every box inside the truck, checking for mice, then repacked it to carry inside.  We did not finish in a day.

As we were setting up house, we started transferring bank accounts, phones, licenses, car insurance and titles.  That’s when Kimberly discovered there was a warrant out for my arrest.  I thought she was joking.  She wasn’t.  I was on a national registry because I had not paid last year’s car insurance in Virginia.  Yeah, because I WASN’T LIVING IN VIRGINIA!  Kimberly and I have moved multiple times across many states and never had this issue before, but Virginia DMV apparently requires car owners to provide proof that they have moved out of state.  We soon discovered there was an arrest warrant out for Kimberly as well.  She spent hours (literally) on many phone calls over two weeks to finally resolve it.  But proving our innocence did not remove us from the national registry. That cost us $150 each.

In the middle of all this craziness, I was trying to hold it together in school.  Missing a week mid-semester had set me back seriously in my studies.  The practicum was not the only important class I missed in our drive west.  I had a key paper due that Monday for another class.  I finished most of my research beforehand and took books with me on the flight to Asheville, but when I saw I would miss class, I spent two nights in hotels pecking away at my computer (after driving 13 hours) and sent it over the internet.  It was not my best work, but it would have to do.  A few weeks after moving into our new apartment, my graded paper was returned.  I got an ‘F.’  That was a shocking first for me.

After explaining my situation to the professor, she allowed me to rewrite the paper (with a letter-grade deduction).  Unfortunately, this completely consumed my reading week which was designed to give us time to finish other assignments, so I ended the week as far behind as ever, but also confused and anxious.  I was mystified by my grade, even after looking back over it carefully with the grading matrix in hand.  I sat down with the teaching assistant to get clarification and left as confused as I had come.  I could not understand their expectations or how to meet them.  If I failed my coursework, then “just survive” was a meaningless motto… and moving across country was a huge waste of money and effort. Doubts, turmoil, confusion swirled through me, and anxiety more severe than I have ever experienced.

That’s a snapshot of my whole life: determined to take the right course while working with a busted compass.  I never seem to hear that voice, “Here is the way, walk ye in it.”  A little guidance here would be appreciated, God, instead of leaving me in the dark guessing which way to turn.  Two weeks ago I got my grades.  I made straight A’s.  I don’t know how.  Apparently one can stumble around in the dark and still make it home.

But that’s chancy.  I need clarity to ensure I win that full affirmation: “Well done you good and faithful servant.” That’s my final report card, the measure of my effort and commitment… my A.  Except it isn’t.  Once again I remember that all God wants is my open, honest, struggling, broken heart, and I can give that to him today apart from any goals, plans, or accomplishments, even in the midst of all my confusion.  He needs nothing from me.  He just wants me.  I am already safely home, accepted in the beloved.



Posted January 19, 2018 by janathangrace in Personal

Tagged with , , ,

Part IV: Cross-Country Nightmare   2 comments

My studies suffered from a month of homelessness while working 25 hours a week and trying to get settled in a new place—learn the transportation system, look for affordable housing, plan for moving our household across country mid-semester.  I was dependent on internet connection for directions, classwork, and local information, but my phone would not connect to the internet even when I had 5-bar reception.  Then my computer started dumping me from wifi.  Fearing a virus, I restored both to factory settings only to realize my word-processing software was in Asheville.  I now had no means to write school papers. Each assignment deadline seemed like a flash flood that nearly drowned me (I had about 15 papers due for the semester).  My motto became, “just survive.”

I planned to fly to North Carolina on a Wednesday after my last class and get back in time for my Monday class.  Kimberly was sure we could not make it across country in three days in a moving van, but I had a new urgency.  After buying non-refundable tickets and booking a truck, I discovered that my Monday class, a year-long counseling practicum, only allowed for one absence per semester.  My two hour commute to school was by bike (or car), ferry, and a mile walk. I needed a spare absence in hand in case of sickness, accident, or a cancelled/missed ferry because a second absence would fail me, wiping out the year, delaying graduation and greatly increasing an already heavy loan.

I arrived in Asheville Wednesday night, slept little, and interrupted early morning prep to go get the truck at 8:30 when Budget opened.  The couple ahead of me in line had a reservation, but after 30 minutes of phone calls, the agent sent them away with nothing.  Thankfully she had our size truck in the lot.  Since volunteers were already arriving at our house, I quickly signed the paperwork, jumped in the truck, and dashed off… or lumbered off—26 feet is a very large truck.  (The next size down was 16 feet, which was too small.)

After I ran over our water main housing and spent 30 minutes trying to maneuver this monster around a hairpin turn driveway, we started to pack.  Half way through we discovered we had no license plate.  It had been torn off by the previous customer, the packing tape used to repair it still flapping from the part that read “Oklahoma.”  What should we do?  We were on a tight schedule, and every imaginable fix would put us at least a day behind if not more.  (Were we going to make these eight 70-year-old Presbyterian retirees from Kimberly’s work unload and reload into another truck?)  Since the car carrier we would be pulling had its own license plate, I decided that would suffice.

We hurried back to the rental office to hook up the carrier with my Honda only to find the turn signals were not working.  They called someone to come out and look at it, and he replaced a fuse to get it working.  We got 20 miles down the road when we realized one of the indecipherable dashboard gauges was close to empty.  There was no manual in the glovebox.  We called the rental office and they said, “That is the DEF gauge.  It will ruin the engine if you drive with it empty.  You have to come back and let us fill it.”  And so we turned around and drove back.

We planned to make it to Indianapolis by bedtime where Kimberly’s family was gathered to wish us goodbye on our West coast adventure, but that bedtime was getting later and later.  At dusk we pulled off the interstate for gas and supper.  When I started the engine back up and flipped on the lights, the pavement in front of the truck stayed dark.  We had no headlights.

We started phoning Budget for help.  It was a nightmare of epic proportions—they could not even find our truck in their system—it didn’t exist–even though I gave them our reservation number, our license plate number (from our paperwork) and the VIN number stamped on the truck itself.  Realizing we could make it nowhere that night, we found a hotel a mile down the road, and with my emergency flashers blinking, I managed to get us there in the dark.  I pulled out my last-ditch plans—if we could make it within a few hundred miles of Seattle, I could back the Honda off the car carrier and drive all night to make it in time for the practicum, coming back for Kimberly afterwards.

The next day Budget rerouted us away from Indiana and through Kentucky to a mechanic who works on their trucks.  We thought it might just be another fuse.  He spent several hours on the truck, slowly discovering that the whole electrical system was malfunctioning.  We would have to unload and reload a whole house’s contents into another truck, but Budget was sending a team to do that for us.  The team arrived.  It was one guy.

I finally admitted our schedule was shot.  I would miss my Monday classes… and Tuesday classes… and Wednesday classes so as to unload.  I might fail out of practicum and fall a year behind, but I had to let it go.  We’ve learned to accept disappointing reality with a sigh: “It is what it is.”  We say it often.  We stop fighting the inevitable and rest into the mystery of God, a mystery that seems to saturate so much more of our lives than the lives of our friends and family members.  We long for “normal” lives, but our road never seems to take us there.  Perhaps our faith is stronger because of it.

Posted January 16, 2018 by janathangrace in Personal

Tagged with , ,

PART III: Homeless in Seattle   2 comments

After sleeping a few hours, I got up and asked the clerk at the 24-hour truck stop where I could catch a park-and-ride bus into Seattle (the school has no parking).  She told me that she and her husband regularly caught a bus from a terminal just a few exits down that always had parking.  I drove to the lot expecting to find an attendant, or at least a posted bus schedule and map, but just found rows of cars.  I called the public transit office, and after a great deal of investigation they told me the next bus would not stop at that lot till the afternoon.  As they seemed to know so little about their own services, I started walking up to cars pulling in to park and asking their advice.  Someone told me about the main western terminal where I could get lots of buses.

I drove there only to discover garage parking that would not fit my 11 foot high camper.  I drove to the adjoining office complex with multiple buildings and open parking.  Did they require parking decals?  Would I get towed?  My camper stuck out like a hillbilly in Times Square.  I parked and walked to the terminal where someone told me I should take the next bus.  I climbed on and stuck a $20 bill into the till.  The conductor shrugged, “Say goodbye to your 20 dollars. We only take exact change.”  “That’s an expensive lesson,” I replied.  I made it to school, and after the day’s program was over, walked to an ATM and got $60… in 20 dollar bills.  I bought some overpriced item in a corner store to get change and walked a mile to the bus stop to return to the parking lot.  To my relief my truck was still there and unticketed.

blue camper

The plan I worked out over the last few weeks was to stay in a Washington State forest that allowed free camper parking and was driving distance from the dock where I could catch a ferry across Puget Sound to Seattle.  It was dark by the time I turned off the main road for the last ten miles.  Within a few minutes I had lost all cellphone coverage, including GPS, so I pulled out my printed map and flashlight (my cab light had burned out years ago).  I expected to see signs for the forest… at least road signs… but after wandering fruitlessly, I finally pulled into a church parking lot to spend the night, pulling behind some tall bushes so as not to attract undo attention from the street.

My forest plan was shot anyway.  The ten miles were much too steep for my broken truck to handle daily.  But what was I to do?  A cheap hotel in Kitsap County where I had transferred my Home Depot job would cost me $2000 for six weeks… while we were still paying rent in Asheville.  I couldn’t park my outrageous blue monstrosity on a street and hope to get away unnoticed.  I did some Google aerial searches of the general area near where I would be working and spotted a small church that bordered on a wooded area.  Perhaps no one would notice if I showed up late and left early.  For two nights in a row I showed up at 10 pm and parked in the back of the lot.  The second night at midnight, the pastor showed up and told me that I could not park there.  I was running out of options.

Out of desperation I parked the next two nights behind a doctors’ office complex, and not finding any other suitable spot, I finished out the week there, sleeping very lightly as I listened for the police to stumble on me and fine me or have me towed.  Having exhausted my nerves, I finally decided to move to a state park for $35 a night.  In the meantime, Kimberly’s friend Elisabeth kept pestering her brother and her pastor whose son lived in the area.  The pastor’s son connected me to a social worker who helped the homeless, and she thought I qualified.  She gave me several sites through which to find help, and I started checking those out.  Then Elisabeth’s brother got me in touch with John who was selling his daughter’s place and offered me a bed in the empty house—electricity, hot baths, microwave, and fridge.  It was perfect.

Posted January 2, 2018 by janathangrace in Personal

PART II: Through Fire and Water   2 comments

I was headed for Washington, 3000 miles away with no place to stay, no knowledge of the area, and no one I knew in the whole state, leaving midday Thursday intending to start classes on Monday (Kimberly would come 6 weeks later). I could drive my Honda and rent a place short-term–a cheap hotel or Airbnb–or drive my truck and live in the camper I had built on back.  It was a 1991 Ford with uncountable miles, and I had no time to fix it up and sell it in NC for a pittance.  If I made it to the Northwest where the survivalists love tiny homes, I might get a better price.  It was a gamble, especially through the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains, but I could save a lot of rental money.

So I packed up the truck and headed out. I made it through the Appalachians but realized my camper was creating a serious drag  I was getting less than 15 mpg and putting too much strain on the engine, but I could think of no way to fix the aerodynamics while traveling.  All the money I would save on free rent was going into the gas tank—it would easily be over $1000.

By Friday night I reached South Dakota.  Ahead of me was the biggest thunderstorm I had ever seen, with continuous lightening across the whole black face of the sky.  I pulled off to get gas and a sudden wind shook my truck like a chew-toy.  Stepping out, I looked up to see the clouds swirling in a circle over me, and a tornado siren suddenly blasted.  The gas attendant gave quick directions to the shelter of the courthouse basement, and with a dozen others I soon found myself huddled there, wondering about my homemade camper, but it rode out the storm fine.

By Saturday evening I made it to Bozeman, Montana, when my engine suddenly died and would not restart.  Pulling to the side of the road, I called a tow-truck which dropped me at a repair shop parking lot where I spent the night.  The next morning I realized it would stay closed all day.  I was going to miss my first day of orientation if I couldn’t get the truck fixed, but how could I find an open shop?  Just then a car pulled into the lot and I went over to the couple to ask if they knew where I could go.  They gave me the phone number to a shop that was open, and when I called them, they agreed to work on my truck.  It was an electrical problem that took several hours to identify and fix, but I didn’t realize until I got the bill that they were charging me $115 an hour.  Money was slipping down a black hole on this trip, but at least I would make it to class in time if I drove all night.

As I pushed the old truck up the mountains, a flashing road sign alerted me “Caution! Forest Fire Ahead!”  I could smell it and see the smoke off to my left, but the road stayed clear.  Still, the Rockies were too much for my truck.  Going downhill it slowed to 30 miles per hour before I pulled over so as not to destroy the engine.  I called for another tow truck.  Again I was dropped at a closed shop where I spent the night, only to discover that this shop did not open on Mondays.  After filling it with oil and antifreeze, I started my truck up to see if I could coax it to another repair place, and discovered it was driving okay, so I decided to chance it and headed out.

I had almost reached the Western border of Washington State when I pulled over for gas and discovered that my engine was leaking oil all over, having splattered the engine, and puddled under the truck.  A young fellow who pulled in next to me offered help, crawling under the truck to see what might be the problem.  He told me the repair would be thousands of dollars, and when I told him I needed to get to Seattle he said, “If it was me, I’d buy a bunch of oil and just keep filling it until I got there.”  He told me about an auto parts store one exit down where I could buy it cheap and of a mechanic at that exit who could give me a real diagnosis of the truck.

I pulled in to Adams Automotive and asked him to take a look.  He told me that oil dripping onto the hot exhaust system was a sure way to start a fire.  When he could see I was going to push on, he told me to wait till after dark as it was 100F and to be especially careful going over “The Pass,” an ominous sounding ascent into the Cascade Mountains.  He told me that his fire extinguisher had passed its expiration date and he would need to get another one anyway, so he handed it to me to keep in the truck.  Under these desperate conditions I realized the best way to lose drag was to remove the front panel of my camper and let the air blow through to the back.  If I had thought of this two days before, I might have saved my engine.

I waited till dark to start the rest of my journey.  The Pass proved to be the longest, steepest climb I had made the whole journey.  When I finally reached the summit late at night, I pulled over to give the engine a break and lifted to hood to help cool it down.  The engine was on fire.  I jumped into the truck and grabbed the extinguisher, quickly putting out the flames before any damage had been done.  At 3:30 am, after 8 quarts of oil, I made it to the outskirts of Seattle and pulled into a truck stop to rest a few hours before heading for school a day late.



Posted December 27, 2017 by janathangrace in Personal


Since August I have been clutching a runaway roller-coaster as it crashed through a collapsing building.  You know the “fire and flood” metaphor… well, it wasn’t a metaphor in my case… but we’ll get to that.  Let’s back up to July when Berly and I realized that we could not live on my low-level wages, that I needed more training to land an adequate job, and that my best option was to go into counseling.  The right program fit was a school in the opposite corner of the country, and I started inquiring, thinking to start in the spring semester.  But they only accepted new students in August… one month away.  We both said, “That’s insane!”  But should we wait another year while our savings dribbled away each month?

They assured us that acceptance would be valid for a year, so I started the process: updating my resume, getting references, requesting transcripts, and writing a couple of essays while we took our vacation to the west coast.  We joked about the craziness of uprooting ourselves and moving across country in a 3-week time frame.  Finally, Berly asked me, “So what would it take, how would it be possible?”  And ever the problem-solver, I laid out a theoretical plan, which she outrageously declared workable.  “Are we really doing this?” we asked each other incredulously.  I was accepted into the program with barely two weeks to give in my notice at work and transfer my Home Depot job from the Southeast to the far Northwest corner of the continental U.S.  It felt like moving to a foreign country.

I was scheduled to work until the day before leaving, with 3 1/2 days in hand to drive 3000 miles, just in time to reach school for the first day of classes.  Berly would come later.  I had to sell my cast-iron jointer and repair and sell my zero-turn mower and trailer; I had to fix my truck, get a student loan, plan my trip and living arrangements in Washington, register for classes, get our rental house ready for final inspection.  It was a crazy two weeks, but far saner than what followed.

Kimberly found the metaphor into which we jumped, a scary new twist in our pilgrimage.  We clung to our trust in a God who was an unmoving rock in our ever-confusing and unpredictable journey only to realize that God is not static, but always moving, inviting us into ever-fresh insight and experience.  He is full of surprises, shocks that pry our fingers from our clenched securities.  Peter Mayer’s lyrics speak for us:

God is a river


Posted December 24, 2017 by janathangrace in Personal

Tagged with , , ,

You Can’t See Your Own Nose Without a Mirror   Leave a comment

Isn’t it odd how we are often the last ones to realize the obvious about ourselves?  You may have spotted a theme that has been bubbling up through my posts recently, but I didn’t notice it until a few days ago: anger.   It is one of my defense mechanisms, so reflexive and short-lived that I often don’t notice it or I pass it off as a normal response.  In fact, it was a major piece of armor for my whole family, our shield against a sudden sense of danger, so quickly deployed that it even parried our sense of vulnerability.  Like so many family traits, it was carefully disguised–no shouting, name-calling, or slamming doors, but an intense burning that everyone felt without being able to name.  When I stumbled on Harriet Lerner’s The Dance of Anger, it turned on the lights for me, so much so that I bought every sibling a copy for Christmas.

Many years ago I realized that an unexpected burst of anger is a telltale sign that I feel under attack, not from the incident itself, which is just a release valve, but from the pressure of turmoil building inside my heart, a festering wound that needs attention.  I don’t need a scolding, but a warm compress of grace–I need to locate the wound and apply self-compassion.

I have known for some months that my emotions were foundering, but it was a gradual, insidious tide that crept up past the gunwales without any alarms sounding.  Who doesn’t get mad at selfish drivers?  Who doesn’t get pissed at overbearing customers or lazy co-workers?  It seemed normal… except that it wasn’t.

The slowly building tension came from a big drop in income, a stressful job, and even an unsafe home (our cars have been rifled more than once, and I caught a burglar trying to get into our house).   The major soul cost has been a loss of even a minimal support structure–my low-wage job works me till 11 p.m. and on weekends, blocking me from making social connections here.  And when the scales are already heavily offset, even small weights added seem unbearable.  It becomes hard to do simple daily tasks, not to speak of the huge effort to overcome our current set of circumstances.

None of that is going to change soon.  It needs to change for life to be sustainable, but in the meantime I need to lean into self-support, be conscious of my pain in specific ways and direct compassion to myself as I would to any dear, suffering friend whom I love.


Posted July 13, 2017 by janathangrace in Personal

Tagged with , ,

FEAR   2 comments

I am afraid.  It’s been going on for some time now, but I just now realized it because I’m a newbie to this feeling.  All my life I’ve lived fearlessly, without regard to personal consequences, at least regarding major life decisions–where to live, what job to take, what insurance to buy.  Being single, I had no one to answer to, no one whose life would be affected by the turns I took–right or wrong–no one I had to look out for.  It wasn’t from a confidence in my success, but in a stubborn disdain of worst case scenarios–I’d do fine sleeping on the street and scrounging food out of the garbage.  What’s the big deal?

I had a whole way of doing life that was completely sustainable when I was on my own.  Then I got married.  to a person who has a very different approach to life and money and jobs and everything.  She is not high maintenance at all, but she would be unhappy sleeping in an abandoned storefront and eating dumpster Dominos.  So we have to aim a little higher and actually consider risk.  I fear that if I push for us to take a big risk and it fails, whether it collapses suddenly or through years of decay (both of which have their own unique awfulness), I will be at fault.

And we are both spent emotionally.  We have very little psychic capital to use on new adventures, and if we get half-way in and run out of initiative, or the route ends up being twice as long or twice as difficult as we had planned in rationing our energy, or the road we take is a dead-end and we run out of both money and options, or….

What she needs to sustain her life is quite different from what I need.  As just one example, the kind of work I have is far more important to me, and the environment we live in is far more important to her.  We have very different needs for stability, security, community, challenge, and everything else.  But with limited funds, our needs can be in direct competition.  If we must sacrifice, how do we divvy that up?  It is not an incidental wish list for either of us, but a question of sustainable living.  Should she be miserable or should I? (Which is not a genuine question, because if either of us is miserable, we both are.  That’s the nature of love.)  How do you measure the respective burdens?  Or should one of us be miserable in the short term so we can get to a better place?  How miserable?  Because a certain level of misery is not sustainable even in the short term… and what is “short term”… and what if it takes longer to get to a better place?  AAArrrgh!

I see we have a big discussion ahead of us.  At least I now know what it is about.

Posted June 29, 2017 by janathangrace in Personal

Tagged with

My Angry Legalism   2 comments

I am not a gracious person by nature.  Among other flaws, I have a strong undertow of anger that side-eyes anyone who steps outside the bounds.  Just yesterday I accelerated from a stop light and then slowed into the left turn lane when a car darted out from a gas station to my left, forcing me to swerve.  He was trying to beat the traffic coming the opposite way, no doubt expecting me to keep accelerating so that he could swing in behind me.  He stopped, straddling lanes in both directions, and as I passed, I raised my hand at him and mouthed “WHAT?!”

As much as I treasure grace, it is not my default.  My go-to is still legalism and anger and judgment.  They are reflexive both in me and at others, and I have to talk myself out of it, like explaining for the hundredth time to a child why he shouldn’t chase the ball into the street.  It takes hundreds of explanations not because he misunderstands or disagrees, but because in that moment he’s fixated on the ball.  Unfortunately, some undercurrents in us are more complex or more rooted or more hidden.  Anger and blame were a moral right in our family when I was growing up so I don’t even have that self-conscious check in my spirit–it doesn’t feel wrong.  It wasn’t baked into my conscience as guilt inducing… or rather it was baked into my conscience as legitimate and righteous, unless it is excessive.

But if I conclude that my problem is simply an excess–that irritation is okay, but not spitting–then legalism wins.  I reduce everything to behavior and never bother to ask the vital question, “Why do I feel so angry?”  My anger or my expression of it is not the real problem, but the symptom, like a check engine light.

In this case, the diagnosis is complex.  I have bought into a legalistic system in which we all live within certain parameters, and we keep one another in line by penalizing line-breakers: shirkers, cheaters, moochers, and bad drivers.  I work hard to stay within the lines, knowing the whole system will collapse if we don’t all conform, so I am heavily invested in everyone following the rules.

I’m not curious about why they cross the line.  Perhaps they lay down the lines differently or they are dodging the opposite line or they don’t prioritize this line.  Maybe they are struggling too much to care about lines.  All of that looks like so many bad excuses to me–get back in line and then we’ll talk about your issues.  This overriding sense of legalistic suppression comes out against myself also in self-condemnation for crossing lines, especially if it hurts or inconveniences others.

I absorbed my dad’s view that it was personally insulting for someone to cross the line in a way that blocked our goals or intentions.  It showed that they disrespected us, not caring how their behavior impacted us, which poked at our insecurity in our behavior-based worth.  Since we were unaware of our anger except under occasional provocations, we blamed the other for “making us angry” as though anger came from outside and not from within as self-defense against a perceived slight.  Seen empathetically, my anger is a cry of fear that my very worth is being threatened by every assumed mistreatment–I must judge you to deflect my own sense of inadequacy.

Sadly, it is this very judging that maintains the legalistic system that keeps me running from my shame and away from grace.  Not only when I am mean, but every time I do something stupid or careless or off-kilter, I shame myself into better efforts because I am sure that doing it right is the measure of my worth.  And with that system, I judge the worth of others by what they do.  We are all trapped, and keep each other trapped, like crabs in a bucket that keep pulling down the ones trying to escape.  Grace is all of a piece–we all get it or none of us do.  When we start measuring out who is “worthy” of grace, we have slipped back into legalism again.  So giving grace to other drivers (or neighbors or colleagues), real grace, not forced and grudging but free and affirming,  is my best path to accepting grace for myself as well.  Let grace reign.

Posted June 24, 2017 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

Tagged with , , ,

Death Has Many Faces   11 comments

Dad died a year ago last Friday.  His passing was not an emotional jolt for me since I had spent a decade grieving the loss of our relationship.  My father could not follow me on my journey of genuine self-discovery over the last twenty years.  He tried as best he could to understand me, but always on his own terms, trying to fit me into his mental constructs with slight alterations–a more melancholy and ardent version of himself perhaps.  He instinctively knew, I think, that really opening himself to see things from my perspective would require a complete re-orientation of his own perspective and that was too radical for his carefully organized worldview.

His is a common human problem.  The first year of marriage was a huge struggle for me for the same reason–that my worldview made sense and Kimberly’s did not.  I tried listening to her and incorporating aspects of her perspective–trying to be more gentle and supportive, less critical and angry, tweek my worldview with cosmetic changes without moving any load-bearing walls.  I kept listening to her explain her struggle in our relationship, and I kept trying to adapt my behavior and avoid or use certain words while hiding certain attitudes.  I was basically saying to myself, “My worldview needs no adjustments, but out of love I will accommodate her weaknesses.”  It didn’t work.

Relational accommodation, making room for someone else’s differences, is much more loving than rejecting them as somehow “wrong,”  but it is a truncated love. When I continue to see others from my own perspective rather than trying to see with their eyes and understand them from within their experience, I cannot understand them in any deep way.  The relationship cannot be fundamentally supportive or transformational, but only touches the surface.  Our interdependence “being members of one another” is so much more than sharing our spiritual gifts.  Our interdependence goes to the core of who we are.  We need the corrective of the other’s point of view.

Most of us are willing to tweak our life map, add a street or railroad that is missing.  “Oh, I didn’t know that,” we say.  It is the natural process of learning.  As long as no one fiddles with the major features of our map, we won’t feel too defensive when they suggest changes because we basically have the “right” orientation.  But if the differences in our maps are profound–mine shows a grid of city streets where yours shows winding country roads–then we have no easy solution.  My initial reaction, emotionally and intellectually, is to reject your map, to assume you are wrong, confused, or misguided. When my father first heard I was struggling with depression, he was concerned and sent me a book that stated in the introduction, “Depression comes from a lack of faith.”  Thankfully, he did not stick with that perspective.

The next step in a positive direction is for me to stop rejecting your map as defective and simply assert that our views are incompatible and so we cannot understand one another.  The third step (with a smidgen of humility) is to see how I might learn from you, fit some features of the your map into mine, add a river here or a corner store there… but a river going through the center of a city, polluted and obstructing traffic, is very different from a river that is bordered by meadows.  When I squeeze this element into my map, the whole essence of it is changed.  I have distorted your view to fit my own, and though I may speak of a river, we see it so differently that we still cannot understand one another.  How you experience that river is completely shaped by your overall map, and until I can see that, I am blind to who you are.  “Okay,” I say to myself, “He likes pollution and traffic jams.  To each his own.”  Dad came this far with me on my journey, acknowledging that it was possible to be full of the Spirit and still suffer depression, though he could not conceive how that fit into his own theological framework, he at least allowed for it, a kind of exception to the rule.

But he was never able to get past this stage with me.  I spent years trying to explain to him my own experience and how I was coming to realize that his map of life did not work for me, but he always saw my experience as an aberration from the norm.  He was convinced that his theology and spirituality and values were spot-on and needed only slight tweaking to accommodate people like myself, maybe add a mission hospital to his map for that small segment of broken people like myself.  He instinctively knew that to open his worldview to my experience–using it to challenge his worldview instead of adding it as an addendum–would mean a complete revision of his thinking, a worldview that he had spent a lifetime perfecting and promoting through his preaching, teaching, and writing.  And thousands of testimonials proved that his worldview worked… at least for those who found it beneficial.

So I spent the last years of his life slowly accepting the painful reality that my own father would never know me, that our relationship would never get past the superficial.  In many ways it was like my mom’s slow decline into Alzheimer’s when she eventually did not know who I was or even that I was in the room.  Trapped inside her own mind, she could not relate to us.  That long grieving process seems to me more gentle on those left behind than a sudden death of an intimate.  Truly here “we see in a glass, darkly.”  We let them go with the joyful expectation that when we embrace them again all the obstacles to our relationships will be gone, and we will “know even as we are known.”


Postlude: Kimberly tells me no one will understand what I have said without an example.  So let me very briefly point out one serious difference in our maps.  Dad, being a choleric, grounded spiritual growth in behavioral choices and made God responsible for his subconscious mind–if he was not aware of it, he was not responsible for it.  As a result, he tended to see emotions as secondary to our spiritual lives.  This might work for people who are less self-reflective, but it is a scheme that is largely unworkable for us melancholics who are in touch with a great part of the tides of our hearts.  If dad had been able to fully accept this discrepancy, he would have had to rework his whole paradigm of spiritual growth, either suggesting different processes for different people or working out a new approach that fully incorporated the processes of those different from him.  This is a very tall order for anyone, especially in the latter part of our lives, so I do not mean to fault him for it.  He quite possibly did the best he could with what he had–and we cannot ask for more.  I only share this as an encouragement for us all to work at broadening our viewpoints.

Posted June 7, 2017 by janathangrace in Personal

Tagged with , , ,

Disquieting Amblings   Leave a comment

The air was crisp and cool this morning, which is odd for late May in the south.  The sun poked its head through the clouds for the first time in a week and invited me to come enjoy it, so I packed up the dogs and headed for the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Once the sun had tricked me outside, he decided his work was done for the day and tugged the clouds back over his head to get some shut-eye.  The first pull-off had only three parked cars (it often has 8-9), and since a passing trail  and gravel road offered four hiking directions, I figured the odds were good for avoiding folks, an introvert’s prerequisite for enjoying nature.  As I was leashing up the dogs, another car pulled up behind us.

They might take the trail or the gravel road either direction, so the odds were with us as we headed south on the road.  Even if they came our way, they might be mountain bikers or joggers that would soon pass us and be gone, but just in case, we set out at a brisk pace.  We were a block ahead when I turned and saw the couple following, also at a quick stride, and I could hear their loud chatter.  Oh, this is going to ruin our walk, I grumbled, and set off running down the road in my hiking boots to put a quarter mile of quiet between us.  That worked fine until Mazie went into search mode for the ideal poop spot.  After several failed forays and body positions, she found her sweet spot, but by then I could hear several low phlegm-clearing harrumphs followed by his partner’s high-pitched gossip.  We had just passed a fork in the road, so I stood waiting to see which direction they would take, and when they came our way, we promptly turned back to take the other fork.

Problem solved.  My soul just started to settle into the peace of nature when I heard the distinct “crunch, crunch” of feet on the gravel behind us, and a loud voice calling out, “Well, HELLO!” Like we were long lost relatives.  I half-turned to mutter “hey” at a volume I’m sure she couldn’t hear, and then it began, “Isn’t it great to be able to get out after all that rain?!”  This was said at our backs before she had jogged up to us, but as she pulled level she slowed her jog to match my quick walk, commenting on my cute dogs and the weather.  In desperation I slowed down and then stood still, and her momentum carried her forward enough to break the easy flow of her monologue.  She kept jogging, and I muttered, “I’ll never take this road again!”

For full-on extroverts, talking is the only real and meaningful activity and everything else, including nature’s beauty, is so much background noise… for the hard-core, even the other person’s voice is background noise.  Of course, it is only their vocalization which makes them differ from the rest of us who chatter incessantly in our own brains.  I’ve ruined enough of my solitary walks with an agitated spirit to recognize my own tendency to drown out the soul-nourishing present moment with my internal dialogue. It is hard enough to contend with the voices in my own head without adding the jibber-jabber of strangers.  This is why we introverts seek solitude.

Posted May 30, 2017 by janathangrace in Personal