Sunday, Jan. 15th (35/331): Private journeys

I attended a memorial service today for a dear friend’ husband, who passed away New Year’s morning while she was at church. He died peacefully in his sleep, just hours after they had shared an enjoyable evening, planning more of their future together after more than fifty-five years of marriage.

As I listened to the stories about this unobtrusive, remarkable man (whom I had never met), and especially as my friend shared briefly about what a wonderful support he had been for her, I was struck, by way of contrast, at what a private, sometimes lonely journey recovery can be. A few tears slipped down my cheeks as I felt my friend’s loss and also my own yearning for such a relationship. I wondered if I will ever know the kind of love and connection they had.

Barely three hours later, after listening to shares of a different nature at an ACA meeting, it occurred to me that the difficulty I’ve experienced in these past six or so months might well be a gift. Like it or not, I have been forced to take a hard look at the patterns of thinking and behaving in my life, and the patterns that don’t work have become abundantly clear, as has the amount of fear that drives many of those patterns.

The gift, for me, has been manifesting in the form of healing in my thinking around relationships. I used to think I could not walk this journey alone and I really didn’t want to try. But in the past six months, I have not only discovered I can walk alone (in human terms, for I know I am never alone in the sense that God is always with me), I have come to appreciate the value in finding my own way. I have discovered that I do not need a partner or spouse to encourage me, share the burden with me, or support me. Perhaps this is obvious to you; for me it is a revelation. No, a miracle. Even as I felt the longing for someone to share my life, as I listened to the story of one man’s love for his wife, family and friends, the “need” for such support was gone.

I suspect the main reason I am receiving healing in this area of my life is because I let it go and got out of the way of my own recovery. Interesting how that works. Without conscious effort, I implemented Step 3 in the 12-Step program: I turned my life and my will in this arena over to the care of God. Clearly, God has been working on me!

I’m not sure it’s quite the same thing, but an image that comes to mind is this: one way to get over a headache is to drop a hammer on your toe! It’s called “diversion” and it seems to be working. I think I’m a bit ADD that way – the best way for me to let go of something is to direct my attention elsewhere.

Now, if I can figure out how to apply this in some way to my job hunting goals, maybe I can really make progress!

Action step(s):

  • Putting God first several times today when I could have insisted on my own way
  • Setting out some clear goals and prayer requests
  • Being attentive to the money I was spending, with an awareness of what I actually have available to spend, and making choices accordingly

Sunday, Jan. 8th (28/338): Silliness really

It’s silly really. Writing yesterday’s post helped me discover that fear was the only thing holding me back from updating my address with the DMV. So I did it today! And I prepared and printed a voter registration form. (Apparently, since I changed counties, I can’t do it online. Bummer. It makes sense, but still.)

What’s scary about either of these things, you may ask? Probably nothing really. But these are governmental agencies and there’s a part of me that distresses at the idea of giving them my change of address since it probably isn’t really a “legal” address in the sense that I’m “staying” here, not “living” here. So if it isn’t my “legal” address, but I’m not actually living on the streets, do I check the “I have no home” box on the form?

I gave the DMV both my physical and mailing addresses when I moved into an apartment a couple of years ago. But this summer, they sent my parking ticket reminder to my physical address – which was actually no longer my address. Had it come to my PO Box – i.e., the mailing address – I would have received it right away. Fortunately, I had already paid it. How dumb is that?

Jury duty actually pops up from either the DMV records or the voter registration records. I guess they figure they increase the odds of finding you. The last time I got a jury duty summons was a date when I had a commitment I could not change. Fortunately, I was able to change it, but I have worried that I might soon get another summons at my old address, not know it, then have a warrant sworn out for my arrest for ignoring it!

The truly silly part for me today was after I pulled my car registration and insurance cards out of my glove compartment. I supposedly needed my car registration to complete my DMV form online. I grabbed the four slips of paper I saw from my glove box to make sure I had what I needed. (I rarely clean these out of my car. In fact, I think there’s a collection of old registrations in the box by my feet. It’s waiting for me to go through it and sort/purge/file.)

I looked at the old registration and insurance forms and pondered for a few minutes. Do I need them for anything? My address on one of them was an old physical address. Hmm. Might I need either of them for anything? Finally, I boldly turned on the shredder and stuffed them in it, while part of my mind shrieked and worried, “But what if I need them?!”

This is a perfect example of the absolute insanity of my thoughts at times – which is why I have about a million and a half pieces of paper I do not need cluttering my room and filling up my storage units. (Yes, “units,” plural.)

However, the good things is that I noticed today how much easier it was to change my address and register to vote than ever before and how little anxiety I actually felt when I shredded those old forms.

I hesitate to get too excited about how significant these small steps are. Yet I believe something is changing in me, that these small, even baby-sized steps are actually adding up and making a difference in my life. I know that God is also working on me (probably doing most of the work), since my steps are truly small, indeed. Still, it feels good to have taken these steps with such ease!

One more thing… My aunt and uncle received their gas/electric bill this weekend. It is $390! For one month! That is literally almost half my monthly pay right now. That’s why it surprises me that this actually became a helpful reality check for me. My life has been so topsy-turvy in terms of living spaces for the past 3 1/2 years that I have no idea how much a typical utility bill might be. Theirs may be higher than average because they are older and need to keep their home warmer than some people. Plus they have everything imaginable on automatic timers that must use some kind of juice to run. Still, it helped me realize that just as I need to “grow” my income, I need to get a more realistic picture of the cost of living.

I suspect there was something about that eye-opening moment that helped make the whole DMV/Voter Registration piece easier.

Action step(s):

  • Changed my address with the DMV
  • Re-registered to vote (since I changed counties)
  • Shredded a couple of old forms despite the fear!
  • Went through the stack of literature I brought home from yesterday’s meeting and was able to throw out a whole bunch of those. (Why not tidy up those files as well!)

Thursday, Jan. 5th (25/361): Hard but good…

Today was hard. Early this morning, my fearful thoughts ran something like this:

  • What if I called the staffing agency?
  • They might demand time I’m not (yet) willing to give and try to make me do something unwanted or want me to put everything else on hold…
  • Augh! I don’t want to call! I’m afraid it might start a chain reaction!
  • New possibility–>I could get clear on what I’m willing to do.
  • Here’s where I get stumped…
  • I could call and be willing to set clear boundaries around my availability.
  • What about being open to either direction? [i.e., admin assist work and ministry]
  • Eek! What I really want to do is some kind of ministry; if I jump into office work, I might get stuck there.
  • How do I let go of this fear???
  • What are all those presumptions I’m making about these…

A little later, as I did my morning reflection time, the verse that spoke to me was: “Do not judge according to appearance…” (John 7:24) I thought about my present circumstances. I’m staying at my aunt & uncle’s because I don’t have the money to actually pay rent, no matter how low. My monthly paycheck from my part-time job lets me pay some of my bills and buy some food and gas. I sort of get by. If it weren’t for the occasional financial gift from friends and the like, I don’t know how I’d make it at all. All this is to say that this is a very rough patch for me at the moment.

The challenge with looking for work is that because of my financial need, I don’t feel free to pursue the work I’m passionate about because it doesn’t come in a neat package with a regular paycheck. I’m also on this intentional journey to break through my fears, and finding employment is one of the scariest things for me. Right now, things appear really bleak and, from the outside,it might look like I’m doing almost nothing to change my situation. But the truth is, I know I’m doing some of the hardest work there is.

Still, the financial piece has made it hard for me to relax and simply get on with the stuff (I don’t know how to do very well yet) that could lead to improving my financial situation. I attended an interview workshop today. It was very helpful, even though it triggered my fears as well.

Later, shortly before I met with my sponsor, I was reading the preface and intro in Opening Our Hearts, Transforming Our Losses, an Al-Anon publication. It was timely to read about grief when I’ve had these bubbles of grief trying to rise to the surface. I especially liked what it said on page 7 – that I don’t have to confront everything all at once and I can be patient and gentle with myself, trusting that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. That’s worth rereading for me.

My sponsor unwittingly helped me get the tears rolling. (Thanks be!) She named and affirmed that things are hard for me right now and that it’s okay to say that it’s hard. I don’t have to pretend that it’s not. I so needed to cry…

I appreciated coming across something I wrote a year ago that’s helpful for me now: The process of healing is not likely to be a straight line. It was a relief to recognize this. When I feel afraid, I feel like I’ve lost faith, like I don’t trust God to take care of me. My sponsor reminded me that God knows how hard this is for me and my feelings of fear are a normal, human response to the very real challenges I’m facing. I’m so grateful that it’s okay to be human and that healing is happening even when I don’t yet see the results.

My action step(s):

  • Attending an interview workshop.
  • Doing some research on chaplaincy positions/requirements.
  • Testing and improving my skills on MS Word and Excel 2007.
  • Meeting with my sponsor.
  • Letting go my self-imposed need to work tomorrow (when I’ve already fulfilled my hours for the week).

Day 19 – Friday, Dec. 23: Small steps, progress and momentum

Too often I’m in a rush to have things happen. I don’t just want change, I want it now! I’m learning that most things don’t happen that way.

This morning I was thinking about the small shifts and progress I’ve noticed this week. Nine days ago I had a massage. I had not realized how tight my muscles had become until I finally felt them relax near the end of the session. The odd thing was that the moment I headed back to my car, my low back felt like it was going to give out. I wondered if my muscles were finally so relaxed that the lack of support had become evident. The following morning, the simple task of bending over felt alarmingly unstable. I was motivated to do something.

The next morning, I did just a few minutes of core strengthening exercises before I got in the shower. It took probably less than five minutes. It was short, simple and repeatable. I’ve continued doing this each time before my shower and I can already tell a difference. I’m keeping it short because I know it won’t remain repeatable if I do my usual thing, which is to start pushing it and trying to get a whole lot done in a short period of time. I have been addicted to the “quick fix” for any number of things for as long as I can remember. But I finally get, truly get, how unhelpful the quick fix can be. Perhaps over time, I’ll even stop being tempted to seek it.

A networking techniques workshop I went to at JVS yesterday was packed with helpful information. Among the many useful things the instructor said were two words that seemed to capture what I was feeling this morning. The words were “motivation” and “momentum.” My back pain had provided the motivation; now I was experiencing some momentum.

This morning I did just a bit more during my short core “workout” (if you can call five or so minutes a “workout”) and it was rewarding to discover two things: one was that I could actually do things that I know I couldn’t have done even a week ago; the other was that I had enough wisdom to still not push it. It’s when I feel a bit stronger that I’m most tempted to start pushing myself. “Oh! I can do more now – let’s go for it” pops into my brain and I overdo things, suffer the consequences, then give up entirely.

Sound familiar? Naw! You’ve probably never ever done anything like that!

There were other small-step progress noticings as well. This week, I was at a gathering with both familiar and unfamiliar faces. What I realized this morning, probably because of what I learned at yesterday’s networking workshop, was how much more I had talked to people I didn’t know than usual. It wasn’t a huge difference, but it was a difference. I’m considering the possibility that networking might also be something I can learn in small steps. I hadn’t actually thought of it as “networking” while I was chatting with people, but that’s what it was. Maybe if I keep up the baby steps, it won’t feel so scary when I’m intentionally networking.

None of these were big changes, yet they felt significant because they were noticeable. Maybe there’s such a thing as gently-increasing momentum. I’m not sure yet, but what I’ve experienced this week feels good, and repeatable.

Today’s action step(s):

  • Allowing myself to be flexible with my schedule and my plans. In that letting go, errands were surprisingly easy and I enjoyed many moments of grace.
  • Finishing up the tasks at work that would allow me to enjoy some much-needed time off next week.

Day 15 – Monday, Dec. 19: Falling behind or catching up?

I’m not honestly sure whether I had unrealistic expectations when I set my goals for this blog or simply underestimated the challenge of limited computer access. I have come to realize that trying to take “action” toward my goals every single day does not allow much room for grace. Nor does it allow me room to grow or to integrate what I am learning – especially if I put narrow parameters on what form the steps of the journey take. However, I still prefer to think in terms of my intention to daily attend to this project and it remains an ongoing conversation in my thoughts.

 I don’t have access to an online computer right now, as I am writing this, and actually the power just went out, so I have to shut my computer down for now…

 Power’s back on for now. We’ll see if I can complete this entry…

I’m learning a lot about letting go these days. Most of my weekend, which began Friday evening after a full day’s work, was spent at InterPlayce in the Life Practice Program – our final weekend for this group. The weekend was full of opportunities to dive into the things that are “up” for me, which includes my fears. I came home too tired to even think about tackling anything “productive.” After the first week or so of working on this blog until past my usual heading for bed time, I have been reluctant to push the envelope. Even now, I should be getting ready for bed – I really need the sleep. But I’ve missed too many days already.

It would be nice to be able to say I tackled a particular something-or-other this weekend, but the truth is, I came home and either headed straight for bed or unwound a little and then headed for bed every evening for the past three nights. The mail I picked up on Friday still awaits my attention (except the two Christmas cards from cousins). The piles and clutter still linger. My resume is not yet revised after some new and helpful suggestions. Yet I know all of these things will be taken care of in time.

It has also just occurred to me that I actually did do something this weekend that I have usually been too afraid to do in times past.

A colleague said something to me that felt rude. I was taken aback and already a bit out of sorts with so much on my mind. I chewed on it for a while and resisted the urge to say something snippy. When I finally found the courage to say something (which actually happened less than an hour later), we both managed to muddle through the conversation fairly well. I told her how it had felt to me; she felt sad that I had experienced her request that way. I acknowledged that I knew it was my problem and we actually discussed how both of us might have responded differently.

It may seem odd (or not), but I believe this is one of the first times I have ever directly addressed something like this and dealt with it head on. Certainly, it is the first time I have dealt with something like this so quickly. In times past, I would have continued to stew, complained to someone else, or generally avoided facing it at all. But I work with this person and want our relationship to be free of hidden resentments. When I acknowledged that it felt scary just bringing it up with her, she understood. Near the end of the conversation, when I (jokingly) asked her if she’d write a note to my sponsor, she gave an enthusiastic, “Yes!” 😉 and we high-fived for the both of us.

I realize this is actually the sort of random occurrence I hope will happen more often as I continue to hold the intention of walking this journey.

This weekend’s action step(s):

  • Dealing with an uncomfortable and awkward situation almost immediately after it happened.

Taking the plunge – setting the goal.

Six months ago, I moved into an apartment with a friend, eagerly anticipating a new chapter in my life. I had spent the previous six years in seminary, completing first an MDiv, then a certificate program. After living on student loans and going alarmingly into debt, I was eager to begin this new phase of my life. My education and training prepared me for many things…except how to do some of the most basic things of life. This past week, I moved out of that apartment because I hadn’t been able to make ends meet.

I have learned that I am woefully inadequate in my education around things that most people (I naively presume “most” people) seem to do with ease. This realization came through the  journey I began in Al Anon (the program for friends/families of alcoholics) barely a year after I started seminary. My 12-Step journey has shined a bright (sometimes annoying) light on the nature of this inadequate “education.”

But this blog is neither about my journey through seminary nor my program of recovery, though either my surface from time to time.

This blog is my way out of the fears that have held me captive, undermined my best-intended efforts, and generally made life far rougher than it has needed to be. I never realized just how much fear had seeped into the smallest details of my daily living until the past couple of months. My job search has been sporadic and inadequate. My move out of the apartment was ridiculously difficult, given the amount of stuff I’ve accumulated. And I realize I hardly know where to begin to change my life.

Yet change it I will, with God’s help – and maybe yours!

I was talking to my friend Di the other day and said something we both thought was worth remembering. It went something like, “Wanting to change isn’t going to change anything unless there’s action behind it.” Her observation was that action is a demonstration of my willingness to change. So this is my guide to the action I believe will transform me.

As I have watched myself struggle through the last two to three months, I have noticed more and more places where the underlying problem is actually fear. I would never have guessed as much, but fear has crept into my life in so many places that it’s become pervasive. And the idea of facing it head on is, well, terrifying! Surprise, surprise! So, this is my goal:

Learning (from experience) that changing patterns of behavior takes time, and being inspired by Julie Powell’s example in the movie Julie & Julia, I have decided that for the next 365 days, I will work on the many areas in which fear has led me to hold onto things I don’t need, avoid taking steps I do need, and generally gotten in the way of my doing countless things that would make my life happier and more manageable.

My plan is to daily tackle some task of letting go, clearing out, stepping out or doing any number of other things – big or small – that I have avoided doing or simply not known how to do and to use this site to track or reflect upon my progress. My hope is that you will find me and share with me your own experiences of breaking through fears or tackling the tasks that have been intimidating in your own life. Perhaps we can learn together. (And I would love to figure out how to have a “counter” on the site to count down the days.)

I talked with my son yesterday about starting this blog and expressed concern about how to begin. He told me to just go for it. He wisely echoed what was going through my own mind – that I could spend forever figuring out how to do this just right and how to do all the things I want to do on this site. And it could become just another way in which my fears derail my best intentions. So, here I am and here this is, for better or worse, learning to blog and learning to live fearlessly – or at least live with joy at the heart of each day!

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