Archive for the ‘fear’ Tag

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.

MOUSE

KIMBERLY’S GRAND FINALE

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.

 

Advertisements

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 , ,

THE CRAZY MISADVENTURES OF JANATHAN: PART I   5 comments

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 , , ,

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

Let’s Not Drown Today   5 comments

Today is my eighth day at work without a break and, unfortunately, the first day of our annual paint sale that brings out the hoards.  Old timers tell me there will be long lines of impatient customers as we all work madly to mix the colors.  This is not my idea of fun.  Performance expectations are my kryptonite.  When there are only two customers waiting for me, I begin to grow anxious and tense.  I dash from one station to another–product shelf to paint mixer to shaker to dryer, prying open one can while tabbing on the computer for another.  I tend to make mistakes, which cranks up the volume on my anxiety, and my self-condemnation meter starts to vibrate.

So here I am preparing to go to work, knowing my core issues will be flayed for the next eight hours.  I hate that my only path to greater health is an emotional gauntlet right smack through the middle of my issues.  I’d much prefer to avoid them–get a less demanding job for instance.   I’d rather read about how to overcome them in a book, and even take a test.  I’m a good test-taker.  I’d probably score 100%.  Why is it always on-the-job training I need?  At least if I could get a breather to center myself… but taking a break while long lines wait for my colleagues would only make me more stressed.  And, Lord, don’t over-estimate my capabilities–I’m not ready for someone to call out sick today!

It seems the challenges to my issues keep pace with my growth, always one step harder.  My prayers as I flail in the rising waters of customer frustration devolve from, “help me be peaceful” to “help me just survive” to “Help!”  If maintaining my peace is an “A” for the test, then making it through without growling in self-defensive anger may be a passing grade?  I’ll take what I can get at this point.  The wise teachers try to calm me down by saying, “It’s all a process.”  Yeah?  Well, so is drowning!

May you all have a blessed, trouble-free day… at least may it be better than mine.

Posted May 18, 2017 by janathangrace in Personal

Tagged with ,

Facing My Fears   Leave a comment

“GIT YER DOG OFF MY MAILBOX!”  The angry shout came from 100 yards up the hill, from the shadows of the house, and it slapped me back into awareness from my mental meanderings.  He was pissed that my dog had peed on the wooden pole of his mailbox by the gravel road we were traipsing.  “Sorry!” I called back, but he was not mollified.  “YER LUCKY MY PIT AIN’T LOOSE!” he hollered, a veiled threat to sic his pitbull on us if it happened again.  His anger seemed excessive to me.  Dogs pee on everything, especially anything vertical, and I’m quite certain the neighborhood dogs, all of which run loose, regularly mark every roadside post within miles.  Since my dog Mitts had been piddling for the last 5 miles, his tank was empty, so his lifted leg was entirely for show, but that made no difference to the hothead up the hill.

That was yesterday, and even as I write, the feelings seep back in–fear and defensiveness towards a world where even pastoral, peaceful spots now feel unsafe–and other nameless feelings flow through, shadows that settle in from being unfairly misunderstood, misjudged, belittled, chased off.

Moments before I had been reflecting on my spiritual journey, and many thought streams had unexpectedly merged into a sense of direction for 2015, summed up in the word “courage.”  My 2014 focus was “gentleness,” first to myself and then as an overflow to others, and though the visible changes are small, my outlook has started to shift fundamentally.  Being gentle with myself has given me some emotional resources for choosing courage.

In our culture, courage is a force marshaled against fears, taking a beachhead at first and then slowly conquering more territory.  You bravely take the stage to speak or you ask your overbearing boss for a raise, and gradually you become less fearful and more in control of your life.  But I’ve discovered a very different take on bravery–my real fears are not out in the world so much as in my own soul, and I need courage not to conquer my fears but to embrace them.  In other words, instead of trying to override my fears and silence them, I try to understand them compassionately.  Fears are my friends, not my enemies–they are clamoring to tell me something important about myself which I ignore to my own peril.  My journey has been completely in reverse of the norm–starting out fearless as a young man (because I was in denial), then learning to recognize my fears, and finally growing to welcome those fears as helps along the way.  We are most controlled by the fears we least recognize.

As I trudged, I pondered.  I have been dodging certain fears, leaving them unaddressed until I had enough emotional resources to open myself to feel their punches without crashing my heart, a truce of sorts instead of a lasting peace of mind.  I am finally ready, I thought, to address some of those dark shadows within.

Then that loud, angry shout yanked me back to the present and opened a psychological fork in the road–how should I respond to these feelings?  As I turned out of sight around the bend, I wondered how to pick my way through the mental debris.  Should I try to brush aside his words by changing the subject or argue with him to prove my innocence or castigate myself and resolve to do better?  What internal dialogue will protect my heart when it feels under attack?  And this odd solution came to me: rather than defend myself, I open myself to feel the sting and understand it with self-compassion.  That is the courage I am choosing this year as I support myself with gentleness.

This is the next leg of my journey: to sit with painful and scary feelings, to let them course through my veins and pound in my heart, to let them tell me all they wish to say about my own struggles and wounds and skewed perspectives, about my subconscious self-judgments, crazy expectations, and harsh demands, and to lovingly listen and feel sympathy for a boy that has always tried so desperately hard to find the right way and walk it against all obstacles. I need to gently open myself to feel and understand how this world’s edges cut my soul, to follow the contours of each gash with my fingers and trace its origins from the tender vulnerabilities of my early years.  Wounds need the gentle touch of sun and air to heal.

Posted January 21, 2015 by janathangrace in Personal

Tagged with , , , ,

Happily Rejecting the God of My Youth   2 comments

I’ve been staying with dad for 10 days, keeping an eye on him while his wife is in Australia.  Dad is a man of habit, finding comfort in a daily routine.  I think he would call it discipline.  Each morning he gets up, makes a cup of coffee, and takes it into his office where he has a long-established pattern of devotions: singing old hymns, reading the Bible, and praying through his list of requests.  I expect he would feel discombobulated all day if that pattern was knocked loose.

Each morning here I go for a walk along the Broad River Walkway.  At first I was taking along Barney, their border collie mix with long, thick, uncontrollable hair, but he kept falling behind, so I started walking alone.  The solitude crowded my head with thoughts, mostly reflections on childhood and its repercussions.

Broad River Walk

Broad River Walk

This morning, prompted by the choruses I sang with dad last night, I headed out to walk with the old hymnbook tucked under my arm.  The red cover was warn smooth and dark from years of family devotions, the ancient supportive tape on the corners blending seamlessly.  As I stood and watched the water cascade over the spillway that stretches between the banks, I flipped the book open and the pages divided at “Nearer My God to Thee.”  Those words dusted off cob-webbed memories of my deeply religious youth when I was “sold out to God” as we called it.  I spent hours in prayer and Bible reading, I listened to sermons and worship on the radio, on tape, and at church.  I read Christian authors and talked with Christian friends.

All this effort was to reach an oasis, relief for my parched soul, but the God I sought was a mirage.  The farther into the desert I pushed myself, year after year, the more lost I became, until I was crawling through the sand towards water that wasn’t there, and I finally collapsed.  Every step in the direction of a misconceived God is a step away from the true God.

I worshiped a God who was harsh and judgmental, and based on these assumptions, all my Bible reading and prayer and devotion simply drove me deeper into this skewed faith.  I read verses about God’s wrath and judgment that negated for me any verses about His gentleness and love.  Sermons about God’s kindness came across to me as soft and insubstantial, as merely a carrot to get me to work harder at being good so God would accept me.  The more I sang “Holy, Holy, Holy” the more unworthy and rejected I felt–who could ever measure up to absolute perfection?  I worked to strengthen my faith, but it was faith in God’s power and omniscience and righteousness that were scrubbed of any scent of His patience and mercy and grace.  That is, his power and omniscience and righteousness were frightening, not encouraging, the basis for his condemning me, not his rescuing me.

Love was there, but it was not foundational as these other attributes were.  Fundamentally, God was pissed off at me and could only be mollified by the death of his son.  Jesus kind of forced God into accepting me against his better judgment, bought God off so to speak.  The harder I worked to be the person God wanted me to be, the more I realized how far short I fell.  I heard Amy Grant’s song “My Father’s Eyes” and knew the look in those eyes: eternal disappointment.

This was not the kind of error that I could tweak my way out of.  It was fundamental, all encompassing.  It was not until my worldview, my belief system, crushed me beyond recovery that I was able to let go and discover the God in whom I now believe, a God of infinite grace.  It has taken many years to unlearn, discard, loosen my fearful grip from my long held false securities and to cling stubbornly to my new faith, my new God, my new life and relationships… and even a new Bible and hymnbook.  Nearer my God to thee.

Posted August 9, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

Tagged with , , ,