Monday, April 18, 2005

Not nearly where I would want to be...

It has been a weekend of uncomfortable anniversaries - and realizations.

Friday was the LSTC Gospel Choir's annual benefit concert; a year ago Sunday, I missed the recording of their CD because I was in Kansas City. Sunday was also the one-year anniversary of my final meeting with my denomination's ministry candidacy committee - the one where they told me, basically, that any hopes for being an ordained minister would be indefinitely postponed until I eliminated all my personal debt. And a year ago today, my friend, mentor, and adoptive dad, Rev. Tom Housholder, died of a heart attack, after a long battle with Parkinson's disease.

It was particularly appropriate (in a warped way) that I celebrated Sunday's anniversary by contracting a particularly vicious urinary-tract infection. Because as I trotted back and forth between couch and bed and bathroom (about every 4-6 minutes!) it just focused me even more on how pissed I was about the condition of my life, a year after it fell apart...and how little I've done to put it back together.

Back a month or so ago, I really started to realize how depressed and how listless I have become over the last year. Housekeeping has become a real chore; any attempts to provide decent nutrition have been pretty much by-the-wayside (spanning the range from not-eating to over-eating, but definitely spending more time at the "over" end of the spectrum). And a couple close-encounters-of-the-wrong-kind late last week at the temporary job I've been at pointed out that somewhere in the last couple months, I stopped being there to "be of service" and somehow became the fat guy with the attitude.

And, with these realizations, I started to realize how much I have been cut off from any real spiritual encouragement or formation. I don't remember saying, "Screw you, I'm not playing!" Quite the opposite; I've really tried to focus on being "sunny side up, suckin' air and sober." But over the last year, I was engaged in several searches - for a career, for a job (any job!), for a church home, for a way to do ministry "without a collar." And in every case, somewhere along the line I just lost hope and gave up. I just got tired of trying to start over (yet again...) and just withdrew from the fray. Somehow I just gave up on facing truth in my life - about much of anything.

As you might imagine, those have been some damn painful realizations.

The spiritual books and tapes sit on the shelves, or piled next to the winter clothes that haven't been put away. I've read most of my Scripture online, recently - but I have to admit I haven't read much that hasn't been connected with a devotion or a topic I was writing on. Oh, there have been bursts of interest - but the embers seemed to cool quickly...

The only thing I haven't given up on in the last 12 months has been my committment to remaining sober. I've gone to meetings, been of service (even when I didn't want to). The 12-step programs have been all the "community" I have been able to hang on to for quite some time - and I don't even want to think what it would have been like to lose that. On Easter Sunday, a guy known by several of my AA friends jumped in front of an El train for much the same reason, I'd guess...

But today is a new day. The antibiotic is kicking in; I've been able to write this whole post without leaving for a bathroom break; the sun is out; and I've made it to 9:30 AM without overeating. And today, I guess I'm fractionally more willing to pick up the spiritual tool-kit I've been given and start to use it.

Between now and June 30, I need to decide what I'm going to do about a living situation (the lease at the seminary is up then) and full-time permanent employment. And there's definitely a gnawing fear that lack of attention about the employment thing might really hog-tie me about where I can live. However, for today those are long-range goals; while they need attention, they really aren't number-one on my list, today.

I really need to get back to the practice of "one day at a time." Yesterday, I was reminded of what I was asked after my first AA meeting by the man who became my first sponsor. Bob S. asked, "Steve, can you just not drink for one day? Just for 24 hours?" Somewhat annoyed, I snapped back, "Hell, any asshole can do anything for 24 hours!" And Bob smiled and said, "Yeah? But what about you?"

I'm sure it's just a coincidence that a whole series of otherwise-boring events conspired to have me leading a little AA meeting in Hyde Park on Saturday night that I haven't gone to in over a year (I usually try to do something fun, or go elsewhere, on Saturday night). But at this meeting, they read a wonderful little Alanon reading called "Just For Today," which I really needed to hear. I reproduce it here as one of my new morning devotions:
Just For Today

Just for today I will try to live through this day only, and not tackle all my problems at once. I can do something for twelve hours that would appall me if I felt that I had to keep it up for a lifetime.

Just for today I will be happy. This assumes to be true what Abraham Lincoln said, that "Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be."

Just for today I will adjust myself to what is, and not try to adjust everything to my own desires. I will take my "luck" as it comes, and fit myself to it.

Just for today I will try to strengthen my mind. I will study. I will learn something useful. I will not be a mental loafer. I will read something that requires effort, thought, and concentration.

Just for today I will exercise my soul in three ways: (1) I will do somebody a good turn, and not get found out; if anybody knows of it, it will not count. (2) I will do at least two things I don't want to do - just for exercise. (3) I will not show anyone that my feelings are hurt; they may be hurt, but today I will not show it.

Just for today I will be agreeable. I will look as well as I can, dress becomingly, keep my voice low, be courteous, criticize not one bit. I won't find fault with anything, nor try to improve or regulate anybody but myself.

Just for today I will have a program of action. I may not follow it exactly, but I will have it. I will save myself from two pests: hurry and indecision.

Just for today I will have a quiet half hour all by myself and relax. During this half hour, sometime, I will try to get a better perspective of my life.

Just for today I will be unafraid. Especially I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful and to believe that as I give to the world, so the world will give to me.
If I were to check all the things on that list that I have stopped doing over the last year...well, there'd be a lot of checks. But if I'm going to spend this day even thinking about trying to get ready to walk with God, then I can't be beating myself up for what's been done. If God's name really is "I AM," then I'll only find that Power and that Love in this day - not in yesterday or tomorrow.

There is one rather nasty problem with "Just For Today," however...each statement begins, "Just for today, I will..." And I know that just won't work for me. I have been trying to "handle things" for the last year - and I'm particularly unimpressed with my results, to date. For me, this little reading stops being a declaration of self-will and starts being a prayer when "Just for today, I will..." becomes "Just for today, would You please help me..."

Anne Lamott says that her two best prayers are "Help me, help me, help me!" and "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" Just for today, I'm gonna try to stick with that.



Keith Brenton said...

Sounds like a world-class goal to me.

I'm trying to sort out my career goal right now, too (and at age 49-1/2, it's about time!) ... just trying to figure out what's my equivalent to Jerusalem.

As in, "Jesus set His face resolutely for ..."

Michael Dodd said...

You go, Steve!

I have been fighting allergies for the past week, and feeling bad just doesn't help when you're trying to feel good. Yesterday at my Hyde Park meeting, which I planned to attend and just listen because I sound hoarse and nasal, the speaker talked about what she called "the four fears of the Apocalypse." For her, these were fear of economic insecurity, fear of failure, fear of rejection and fear of the unknown.

It cut too close to the bone for me to keep my mouth shut. I have recently left ministry after thirty years of working for the same Firm (Yawheh & Son, as some say) in their monastery office and begun a new job. I now have to pay all my own bills, face the reality of possibly inadequate health coverage and the risk of my employer going out of business, as nonprofits sometimes do in these unsettled times. Economic insecurity? Big time! Fear of failure? That, too!

I just moved in with my new Partner. Fear of the unknown and of rejection? Absolutely! We had words over the arrangement of spices and cooking oil in the kitchen yesterday, for God's sake. How silly is that? And we're going to live together forever? We had been waiting for the fight-from-hell, but I didn't expect it to be about salt and pepper. [I imagine this was far from the fight-from-hell, too.]

My nose is running and I have cold sores, so no kissing and not much else in the way of physical affection these last few days. Am I cranky? You better believe it. If you can't kiss, hug and make up, there goes half the fun of arguing.

Every phone call I made at work this morning led to leaving a message on a machine. Every phone call I answered brought at least one question I could not answer.

But as our friend Robin would say, "Did you drink?" No.
"Then what's your problem?"

Hang in there and I'll hang in there, and we can get together and laugh about it later.


Anonymous said...

Y'all move over and make some room for me. Allergies going nuts (due to abundance of cat hair, dust and pollen), anxiety level through the roof, and I'm getting overwhelmed and all forward progress is coming to a total and screeching halt.

On the posiive side --- give me a few minutes to *think* about the positive side. I'm sure there's one here somewhere. :)

BTW, the Alanon "just for today" sounds a lot like the ones for EA. THanks for the reminder that I need to think about those today -- just for today.

-- Mumcat

Faust said...

When we are disturbed no matter what the cause...

12&12 p. 90

Erin said...

"hope defered makes the heart sick"

I pray for you the fulfillment of hope.


Peter said...

It takes at least a year to go through the journey of grief and anger that you've gone through, before light begins to dawn.

Native plains people used to build a tipi for a widow just outside the encampment, and then keep an eye on her for her protection. As the year passed and the band moved, her tipi would be pitched a few metres closer to the main encampment, until after about a year, she would find herself "back home" with the band. They gave her the solitude and space she needed, yet the protection and slow re-integration.

Sounds like your time=table is right on the money, Steve.

Monk-in-Training said...

May God hold you in the palm of His hand, and may His illumination guide your path.

There are many ways to do the work of the Kindom without a Collar! I don't have one! :)

Unapologetic Catholic said...

Good comments. At least a year is neede to resolve a death of a person very close to you. When that comes right with a major career disappointment, the twin losses are mutliplied and I think you should consider whterh you've been holding yourself to too high a standard. Staying sober, employed and gnerally just coping through all of this is a great acomplishment by itself.

Peace of the Lord be with you.

Mitch said...

Steve. I know a woman who is haunted by a past. Alcholism, abuse, rape. It seems to me that she is always clinging by a thread, even though she has everything in life that she could need. Successful, self employed, surrounded by friends and family. But "handle with care", stamped on her forehead.

I can't be me around her. I have to tiptoe in her house, sit with my back straight. I just know that she is seeing through decades of terrible life. A dark storm always at the edge of breaking. I've pushed her storm before, stood and faced it.

I wish I could take it all away.

It's not your life, I know, but if there's anything I'd want her to know it's this:

Just for today I will be nothing, empty, and of no substance. Just for today I will open my eyes and see what is before me. Just for today there will be no past and no future. Just for today, I will be.

Just for today, I am.

Years ago during university I had a moment when I understood something deeply and I wrote on a piece of paper "I am", and taped it to my wall. Then I didn't understand it anymore and I fell back into my life. But I kept searching and that understanding came back, once in a while and then more frequently.

I don't know man. I'm sorry for your loss.

You write good stuff. Personal. I like who you are.

God is with you. Put Him on your shoulder, beside you, or above your head; anywhere, but put Him there. It's not that He isn't there already, just that you need to remember it. Remember it every five seconds. Every time you realize that you were distracted and come to. Everyday, forever. One long lifelong prayer: stay with me.