Archive for the ‘struggle’ Tag

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?

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Posted July 12, 2016 by janathangrace in Life

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Turning Pain into Poetry   3 comments

I got choked up when a friend posted this John Milton poem to my page, a poem written as he was losing his eyesight.  It so perfectly reflects my own present struggle that it resonated deeply with me in a way it never had before.

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Posted July 4, 2016 by janathangrace in Poems

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Struggling with Meaninglessness   2 comments

What makes a life meaningful?  I thrash this out every day without an answer.  Are we each born with a particular role to play, some important and unique goodness to offer the world, a vital and irreplaceable gift to this place and time?  Is it a natural result of our daily faithfulness or must we work to bring it about?  Can we see it in action or is it hidden?  If that remains a mystery to us, does faith call us to keep looking or to let it go?  What do I tell my aching heart as it faces disappointment day after day in finding meaning, usefulness, purpose?

Do I try to make a few small contributions carry the weight of a whole life lived? Does 24 hours of eating, cleaning, sleeping, thinking, and doing my job find its meaning in giving someone a brief smile mid-afternoon.  It seems like a huge investment for a very small outcome, something a cat video could do as easily, and for the benefit of thousands, not just one.  If the world is no better for my living in it, then why am I still here?

I wash the dishes and what does that accomplish?  I will be in the exact same place after the next meal, a sink full of plates and silverware.  Like one more step on the gerbil wheel, I shop, cook, eat, wash, sweep, water the plants, feed the dogs, shower, driving the wheel through one more cycle and the major result is being one day closer to death.  Being faithful feels more like meaningless drudgery, like digging holes and refilling them, than it feels like usefulness.  Sure my muscles are being strengthened, but to what end… to dig more holes?

In the meantime, the world oozes with needs, and I have gifts to offer that are log-jammed behind closed doors.  I only see one option–give a short smile to my next customer.

I share these thoughts to offer to others my honest struggles, not to offer answers, which I often do not find.  It is the sharing that I hope encourages others to know they are not alone.

Posted May 22, 2016 by janathangrace in Personal

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Misplacing Myself   7 comments

I was walking in the misting rain today, the dogs pulling eagerly at their leashes to sniff out delights tucked into the roadside weeds, and I was thinking about my long journey back to myself.  At the age of 40 I realized I’d been fast-marching down the wrong road, chasing my false self–the self I thought I should be and could be with a little more effort.  It was not a journey of discovering myself and blossoming into that person God created me to be, but a suppression of my true self and imposition of duty-bound goals.  And as I grew ever farther from my true self, I had only a fabricated self to share with others.

So many of us are like bumper cars trying to connect, but instead deflecting.  “Hi, how are you?” bump, bump.  “Fine, thanks.” bump, bump.  “I had a rough night, but I won’t bother you with that!” smile, bump, bump.  It’s a dangerous place to be without a bumper, so we cushion ourselves well and keep at a safe distance.  As protection, I used tight self-discipline to outshine others, to prove my worth, to earn their respect, and to safely pad the vulnerable parts of my soul from access to others.  If you hide long enough, you lose your orientation and eventually lose yourself.

Who am I really?  Am I a naturally disciplined, organized person, or am I a naturally spontaneous, creative person who has wrapped himself tightly in this cloak of spiritual conformity?  Am I essentially easy-going and relational, or am I hard-driving and goal oriented?  Would I make a better therapist or lawyer?  I worked so long and tirelessly to become the person I thought God demanded, suppressing my true inclinations, desires, and gifts, that I struggle now to recognize the real me.  For the last 14 years I’ve been finding my way back, sloughing off layer upon layer of spiritual accretions that suffocated my spirit and that carefully buffered my friendships.  I still have a long way to go, but at least I’m on the road back to my true self shared in genuine relationships.

I often wonder where I would be now if my true self had been embraced and celebrated and my path had been the natural opening of my heart to a God full of grace and welcome.

Perhaps that’s only possible in an unscarred world.

Posted September 9, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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Postcards from My Dark Past   9 comments

Early this summer I dragged out a cardboard box from my closet, blew off years of dust, and opening it, pulled out a stack of notecards. Each card held a quotation, insights that inspired and challenged me, scribbled down from a decade of reading, and I planned to transcribe them to my computer. For two months I couldn’t muster the energy, but last week I finally plunked them down in my lap and started flipping through for some encouragement to share on Facebook.  I read through ten cards… and then ten more, pulling them randomly from the pile, and discovered that what I meticulously recorded and saved was toxic. They were snippets of a mindset that dragged me into darkness and despair, a spirituality that was intense and genuine… and deeply flawed.

One of those treasured nuggets read, “A really humble man would rather let another say that he is contemptible and worth nothing than say so himself….  He believes it himself and is glad that others should share his opinion.”  Another famous divine wrote, “Strive always to choose not that which is easiest, but that which is most difficult; not that which is most delectable, but that which is most unpleasing; not that which gives most pleasure, but that which gives least; not that which is restful, but that which is wearisome; not that which gives consolation, but rather that which makes disconsolate.”

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“HUMILITY CONSISTS IN THE CONTEMPT OF OUR EXCELLENCE”

Even when the quotations were “positive,” they crushed me with their impossible standard, like this prayer: “Grant that every word I speak may be fit for you to hear; that every plan I make be fit for you to bless; that every deed I do may be fit for you to share” –flawless speech and thought and action daily.  I was a very committed young man.  If this was the measure of true spirituality, then I was determined to reach it.  With all my heart I drove myself to meet this standard, redoubling my efforts when I fell short, and finally I despaired.

In my brokenness, the grace of God found me.  In my years of striving I would have looked on such a free gift as “cheap grace,” as taking advantage of God’s goodness, as spiritual lukewarmness like the church of Laodicea.  But once I despaired of myself, grace was the only hope left to me.  We cripples cannot earn our keep.  It must be given to us.

For years after stumbling into the light of grace, I blamed myself for that twilight of wandering, of waste, of wounds to myself and others, but that murky stretch of my journey may have been inevitable, even necessary, since only the destitute embrace grace. Moses spent four decades in the backside of the desert herding sheep. David spent years running from Saul, sleeping in caves, being tagged a traitor.  Demolition sets the groundwork for re-creation, so that the very strength and success of the unbroken stunts their souls.  So let me, like Paul, brag about my weaknesses and magnify the grace of God.

Posted September 6, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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Pushing Gratitude   4 comments

One of my friends posted this to Facebook yesterday:

gratitude

Right then I was in an emotional place to find that picture encouraging, but often I’m not.  The friend who posted this is gracious and gentle, so I would not take offense even if I were in the throes of despondency, especially since she did not send it personally to me.  I only want to underscore the importance of context–my emotional framework shapes my understanding of the message (and this message of positive spin is one of the fundamental tenets of our American culture).  Notice how crucial the background picture is to the sentiment–its impact is subtle but powerful.  Let me demonstrate:

earthquake2

That is a profoundly different message, hugely dissonant.  What was a nice nudge towards contentment is suddenly disturbingly trite.  When someone’s inner world feels this broken, thankfulness will not fix it.  Gratitude has a role even in tragedy, but it is not the remedy for tragedy.  The hungry need food, the homeless need shelter, the lonely need companionship, the vulnerable need safety, the wounded need healing.  Sometimes what I have is not enough, even if I’m grateful.  Scripture wisely tells us to weep with those who weep rather than give them reasons to cheer up.

I realize some folks want to be pointed to the positives, but for many, the chipper “Be grateful!” can be code for “Stop whining!” and that shaming message discredits their needs and belittles their distress.   Perhaps what they need is permission to feel the injustice, encouragement to sit with their sadness,  help to empathize with their own sense of loss.  Maybe the very words they need to hear are, “Yes, it is bad, very bad.  You must feel awful,” rather than, “It’s not as bad as it seems. Look on the bright side.”  Perhaps we could all benefit from learning to sit longer with our sorrow.

Posted March 19, 2014 by janathangrace in thoughts

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It Hurts   Leave a comment

Emotional shrapnel from old battles tore unexpectedly at my vitals this afternoon, searing my heart from some random twist in my psyche as I drove down Lakeside Avenue.  It flares up like this without warning, without any evident cause… something I saw or heard or remembered that touches a place still raw and sore, but too deep to identify.  I am learning to live with it like rheumatism.  Slow down, ease off, go gently till it lifts in an hour or day or month.  Another tough opportunity to learn self compassion.

Posted March 18, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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