When It Hits the Fan…

Yesterday my day went off the rails, right around 2PM.

We all know how these things go: a text arrives, and as you read it you feel the adrenaline kick in, and all of a sudden your heart rate is accelerated, and your breathing is erratic and shallow.

No one can really predict when this is going to happen, and no one is really immune from them.

Things happen.

Now, this was not a life-or-death situation. It was something that I have to navigate, but regardless, it triggered me badly.

What’s more, I also was planning to go to the hospital to visit a person from our community who’d asked me to come and pray with them. Hospital visits are neither my strength, nor my forté, and that visit alone would normally be a stressor for me; now with this trigger, I could tell my stress and anxiety was red-lined.

The proverbial crap had hit the fan.

So what did I do?

First, I named it. I was honest—first with myself, and then with a few other people. I created a bit of a boundary: “I can’t really talk about this other thing, because I’m really triggered right now and I need some space.”

Next, I took just a minute or two to breathe and pray. For me (like for most of us), fear and anxiety have a physical manifestation, and I know that one of the ways that I can create space to receive the peace that is available to me is to calm myself down. I learned a technique called “Box Breathing” that is very effective for these times: I breathe in deeply for four beats, hold the breath for four beats, exhale slowly for four beats, and then wait for four beats, and then do it again. Even doing this for 3-4 repetitions can significantly reduce the physical reaction to anxiety. After that I spent a few minutes in centering prayer, where I try to open myself up to the will of God. I don’t ask God for anything; I just try to put myself in a place where I am open to His will, and am silent and available to Him and whatever He has for me.

Then I called some wise people. There are a very small number of people in my life whom I trust implicitly for counsel and advice. So I picked up the phone and shared what was going on. They let me talk and vent, and then also gave wisdom, advice, and encouragement. In these times, I try to go beyond just venting MY emotions and also LISTEN to whatever it is they might be trying to tell me.

So I was more calm at this point, but I still had to drive to the hospital, and I knew that was still going to be a challenge for me. Plus, I wanted to be in as good of a head space as I could be when I got there: after all, THESE folks were experiencing a crisis and trauma as well, and I humbly wanted to help them as best I could.

I was still pretty sideways when I got out of my truck at the hospital, but as I walked up to the entrance, I said a short, simple prayer. I said, “Father, this morning I told you that YOU were in charge, and I would do what you told me to do. Well, I’m trusting that this situation is what you have for me right now, and so I’m here, and I’m going to trust that YOU are here too. I believe that you will give me whatever I need in order to offer something to this family.”

And THAT gave me the strength and courage to walk through the hospital door, take the elevator to the 6th floor, and to walk into a room full of people who were both scared and relieved, anxious and hopeful.

You see, every morning I try, as best I can, to put myself into God’s hands, to commit to doing HIS will. To letting Him be in charge.

After a time of centering prayer, and praying some of the Psalms, I use these words. The original version appears in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, and I slightly modified them for my life.

“Father, I offer myself, today, to you, to build with and do with as you see fit. Relieve from the bondage of self, that I may better serve you and serve others. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to your love, your power, and your way of life. I am ready now, Father, that you would have all of me, both good and bad. Remove any defect of character that would stand in the way of serving you or serving others. GRANT ME STRENGTH AND COURAGE to do your will. Amen.”

The truth is, I didn’t really get myself through that afternoon. Sure, I took some basic steps, but those actions merely created the space for God—at times through other people—to remind me of who I am (both good and bad). THEN, when it mattered most, I was able to remind myself that MY JOB is to do whatever it is that God has for me in a given moment.

(Which involves ACCEPTANCE that, in a given moment, whatever is happening JUST MIGHT be God’s will for me.)

Do the work He has for me, as best I can, and trust that He’s there, doing whatever it is that ONLY HE CAN DO.

As we say, “That’s the gig. THAT’S the job.”

Especially when the stuff hits the fan.

Truths

I’ve been doing an awful lot of deep work lately. 

After receiving the gift of a very painful wakeup call that I could neither cover up, deny, or ignore, I chose to start facing the truth of who I REALLY am, both in all of the positive ways as well as the negative ways. 

During this whole process I have been taking a hard look at the truths that have governed my life—again, both for good and ill—up until now. These are the truths that have driven me forward, often unawares. They truths have spurred me towards greatness, and also into very dark places. 

My counselor recently had me do a writing exercise that addressed a deep wound that I have carried virtually my whole life. As I wrote, two of these deep truths spilled out of me. Without going into too much depth, I share them here:

1. WHEN THE TIME FOR TESTING COMES, YOU WILL BE FOUND WANTING…

2. … AND THERE WILL BE NO CONSOLATION FOR YOU. 

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says that during recovery, “Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces (of our lives) are suddenly cast aside,” and new ones set in, and begin to guide behavior. 

These two ideas and attitudes—amongst others—have guided my life for virtually 45 of my 50+ years. And I can see their pathology, the damage they inflict on my soul (and thus, the damage that they indirectly inflict on the people I love and care about). Even as I can ALSO recognize the strange gift that they have brought to me—hours and hours of pursuing and honing my craft and clarifying my vocation—I also wonder, “What ideas and attitudes COULD or SHOULD replace them?” 

Just taking the opposite, maybe they could read like this: 

1. YOU ARE ENOUGH. FURTHERMORE, THERE IS NO TEST; JUST LIVE YOUR LIFE KNOWING THAT YOU ARE ENOUGH…

2. …AND WHEN YOU FALL (FOR ALL OF US SURELY FALL), THE GOD-WHO-SUFFERS IS THERE WITH YOU, AND SO ARE OTHERS WHO LOVE YOU. 

It will take a while to fully live out these truths. But for now, maybe the place to start is to just be able recognize them, and remain AWARE of them as I move through life. 

All of us have these guiding ideas, emotions, and attitudes, and to the degree that we wish to experience healing in this life, there is a beautiful and spacious invitation to discover for ourselves what they are, and then seek to embrace their opposites. 

The Second Call

When I found myself “at the bottom,” with my life in shambles, a dear friend told me that if I chose to accept the gift of surrendering my life and learning to live in a new simple way—trusting God, cleaning house and serving others—that not only could I survive, I could actually grow through that trial. “If you do go on this journey,” he told me, “you will get to know yourself for the first time.

Since then, I have lived my life, one day at a time, according to this new, simple program.

In somehow choosing this new path, I believe I have received what many call, “the second call.” I read these words this morning, from Brennan Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel.

Second journeys usually end quietly with a new wisdom and a coming to a true sense of self that releases great power. The wisdom is that of an adult who has regained equilibrium, stabilized, and found fresh purpose and new dreams. It is a wisdom that gives some things up, lets some things die, and accepts human limitations. It is a wisdom that realizes: I cannot expect anyone to understand me fully. It is wisdom that admits the inevitability of old age and death.

The second journey begins when we know we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the morning program. (That’s really good-EC.)

The second call invites us to serious reflection on the nature and quality of our faith in the gospel of grace, our hope in the new and not yet, and our love for God and people. The second call is a summons to a deeper, more mature commitment of faith where the naiveté, first fervor, and untested idealism of the morning and the first commitment have been seasoned with pain, rejection, failure, loneliness, and self-knowledge.”

Brennan Manning, Ragamuffin Gospel

Over the past six months, I have experienced more pain, rejection, failure, and loneliness than I could have ever imagined possible, let alone endurable.

And yet here I stand (with, I hope, just a little self-knowledge).

This “second journey/call” is exciting, but also terrifying, because for the first time in a very long while, I’m aware that I am NOT in control, and nor am I meant to be. I am trying very hard to put my life in the hands of the God of Abram, and Isaac, and Moses, and David, and Elijah, and John the Baptizer and Jesus and Paul… and everyone else who embraced the mystery and took a step out their front door to follow the CALL to “become who they are meant to be.”

Poison

Poison.

It’s not what you think.

It’s way trickier than that.

It’s when you start doing the thing that you think is the thing, but what you’re actually doing is creating something that you think the thing is supposed to be, so that it can get the likes it’s supposed to get…

The retweets…

The shares…

When did creating become a commodity in my life?

It’s snuck in, that’s for sure.

I used to have a musical, songwriting friend, and we would have this argument all the time…

Him: “Let’s get together and play guitars on our back porch.”

Me: “Let’s book a gig.”

Him: “Let’s just write songs that no one has to hear.”

Me: “Let’s book a gig and share them.”

You see, I get this about me: I love the audience. I have been performing since I was 5, and I’ve gotten pretty good at it, and pretty used to it. With music it seemed like such a natural fit.

But then I started dabbling in writing, and wow they had these things called “Blogs” and you could publish to the world!

So I would write, and I would publish.

And I would write, and I would publish.

And I would write, and I would publish.

So much so, that writing began to equal publishing.

Writing = Publishing… ?

And sitting down to type always meant looking over my shoulder, or more accurately, “out there” to the world.

I’m not sure you can really write like that.

You’ll always pull back. Or nudge things this way or that way to make them more palatable, or more fantastic.

(Or, at least, I will always tend towards those behaviors.)

Click bait, anyone?

The book Writing Down the Bones is really all about this; creating a writing practice that gives you a safe space to get stuff out.

As Mick would say maybe, “empty some blood on the page…”

But I haven’t got that habit back in my life just yet. I’m still struggling. Turning the Wi-Fi off while I write is a beginning step, but it seems as if there’s another place to go that’s even more simple, more analog, more primal than this.

Don’t make me get out my pen and start writing! Hand cramps anyone?

But I know I need it. I need the place to be raw. To get at the essence of things. To mess up. To be a beautiful disaster.

Ironically, songwriting is still a bit like that for me. Somehow, I just instinctively know how to be more free in that space. Not sure why. It may be simply that it’s just more honest and true to who I am.

Anyway. Desperately seeking space.

Let’s get there.

Wake Up Call

Typically, I am almost always reading SOMETHING from Thomas Merton (currently, No Man is an Island). Here’s what I started with this morning:

The ultimate end of all techniques, when they are used in the Christian context, is charity and union with God.

Discipline is not effective unless it is systematic, for the lack of system usually betrays a lack of purpose.

Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island

Well now: that’s clarifying.

But Merton’s not done.

He goes on (and yes: this is DEFINITELY worth quoting at length, and I have added some emphases where it struck me):

Good habits are only developed by repeated acts, and we cannot discipline ourselves to do the same thing over again with any degree of intelligence unless we go about it systematically. It is necessary, above all in the beginning of our spiritual life, to do certain things at fixed times: fasting on certain days, prayer and meditation at definite hours of the day, regular examinations of conscience, regularity in frequenting the sacraments, systematic application to our duties of state, particular attention to virtues which are most necessary for us.

To desire a spiritual life is, thus, to desire discipline. Otherwise our desire is an illusion. It is true that discipline is supposed to bring us, eventually, to spiritual liberty. Therefore our asceticism should make us spiritually flexible, not rigid, for rigidity and liberty never agree. But our discipline, must, nevertheless, have a certain element of severity about it. Otherwise it will never set us free from the passions. If we are not strict with ourselves, our own flesh will soon deceive us. If we do not command ourselves severely to pray and do penance at certain times, and make up our mind to keep our resolutions in spite of notable inconvenience and difficulty, we will quickly be deluded by our own excuses and let ourselves be led away by weakness and caprice.

That certainly can give you perspective before you walk out the door to live your life… if you let it.

Don’t Call Me a Leader (Morning Pages, 09.05.2019)

Good leadership comes from people who have penetrated their own inner darkness and arrived at the place where we are at one with one another, people who can lead the rest of us to a place of ‘hidden wholeness’ because they have been there and know the way.

Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

I’ve certainly been on my own journey of vocation lately. I’ve been to the depths, to (and at least partially through) the darkness, and emerged to ask the questions I’ve repeatedly wrestled with:

  • who am I?
  • what am I uniquely put here to do?
  • what am I uniequely put here to make?
  • how will I answer the call of vocation?

I’ve answered these questions, over and over, throughout my life, but always through a hazy filter of the false self, a mask that I cemented in place over decades of hiding, fear, and addictive behavior.

Now I’m trying to answer them from a new place, “the ground of my being,” from the truest self that I can muster, and apart from any pretense or ego.

One of the answers that I used to readily embrace was that of “leader.”

But now I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t like that word, that title. It conjures up images of stressful conversations and navigating measurements and metrics that can be difficult to separate from my self-worth. The title reminds me of the endless list of things to do, the vague feeling of, “Is anything getting done around here? Is anything changing?”

That title, that word, feels tired to me.

But here is what I ALSO heard: I may be tired of the TITLE, the NOUN, but I’m NOT necessarily tired of the VERB.

So while I may not have the title of leader currently (or ever again?), I WILL lead.

I WILL lead, which really only means trying to change what I can change and surrender to what I cannot.

Which is really just good plain common sense.

(PLUS a model for serenity… hmmmmmm…)

So you don’t have to call me a leader. But I will lead where and how I can. And I will try to do it from a new position of true humility, and honesty, and an intimate knowledge of my own limitations and potential for darkness.

And I will try—very hard—not to do this for my own sake, but for the sake of my friends, my community, and the world.

Just a Thought (Morning Pages, 09.04.2019)

“God loves us as we are, not as we should be, BECAUSE NONE OF US IS AS WE SHOULD BE.”

Brennan Manning

This very simple truth has the power to change everything.

If we let it.

(I invite you to just meditate on it for a day or two.)

But my experience is that often we’d prefer to NOT.

We would LIKE it to be harder:

“There’s NO WAY that God could embrace them; not with what THEY HAVE DONE.”

But a simple reading of the gospels would tell you otherwise.

(Christians still read the gospels, don’t they?)

It’s love and acceptance BEFORE repentance and life change.

It’s “let’s have a meal” before “clean up your act.”

It’s “embrace” before “challenge.”

(NOTE: life change, challenge, and transformation are all still invitations, it’s just that it’s important to keep things in the correct order.)