Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Still with us

Our God is with us...Emmanuel
He's come to save us...Emmanuel
And we will never face life alone
Now that God has made Himself known
As Father and Friend
With us till the end
Emmanuel...

(from "Our God Is With Us," by Steven Curtis Chapman)

... deep down in every man, woman, and child, is the fundamental idea of God. It may be obscured by calamity, by pomp, by worship of other things, but in some form or other it is there. - Alcoholics Anonymous, page 55
For three days, it seemed that "calamity, pomp, and worship of other things" left the field vanquished, and it was clear that our God is indeed with us.

The two weeks leading up to Christmas were another thing entirely. Without going into all the horrific details (including 2 separate 24-hour work marathons) I will categorically say this: by January 9th of the new year, a change is gonna come. It will be a change in situation, or it will be the serious search for new employment - but life is going to change dramatically. I am certain that my work life absolutely cannot go on as it has for the last thirteen months...and that's all I'm gonna say about that.

For me, the emphasis of my faith has always been on that word Emmanuel - "God with us." And perhaps it's why "the season" didn't feel like much before Friday, because it's been a real effort to see God with us in the mix of calamity and uncertainty around my family and I. I know, intellectually, that God has been present - the fact that I haven't had a heart attack up to this point is proof of that - but it's been hard to feel, to be sure.

The holiday began with a delightful Friday breakfast with my friend Ted. I told him how dry and drained and untouched-by-the-Spirit I had been feeling - and he reminded me that when he had gone through the tougher times in life, the only thing he could do at the time was to simply persevere. And I was reminded again of my dear friend Sandy Motsinger's image of "left-foot, right-foot" - just keep taking one more step forward. It felt more familiar than I wanted, of course...

Which, of course, led me to the apostle Paul's instruction, "Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand" (Ephesians 6:13, NIV).

And, thanks be to God, I am still standing...even if I was so filled with panic and loathing by the end of the work day on Friday that I could have just curled up and become catatonic. The whole weekend was an exercise in just trying to stay awake - my sleep patterns had been so disrupted that it was an extreme effort to just keep my eyes open....

The weekend continued with dinner Friday night at sister Sandy's in Findlay. It was a good time all the way around, even if we were suffering "sudden sleep syndrome" (SSS) by the time the meal was over. San is a step-grandmother (her husband's daughter has baby Faith), and that was going to take up a good deal of her time for the holiday. But I was delighted we could come down, have dinner, catch up, and see her beautiful Christmas tree. The calamities of work and life in Toledo haven't left much time to stay connected with Sandy recently, so it was good to spend time with her.

Saturday morning started with a gratitude AA meeting and breakfast, and the evening was filled with my sister Sue's favorite Christmas movies - "The Christmas Gift" with John Denver, "Christmas In Connecticut," Reba McIntyre's "The Gift," and (of course) "Scrooged." We'd already made it through "A Wish for Wings That Work" (with Opus from "Bloom County" cartoon fame), "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and the original animated "How The Grinch Stole Christmas". (I don't think I will ever be able to watch any other version of that show.) Sue and Jeff know about all the lines, but we still have to watch 'em all ("it's the rule," Sue says).

Christmas eve was a family reunion, with sister Sandy and husband Dave up from Findlay, and Sue's husband Jeff's whole family over for the traditional meal of pulled pork sandwiches and shrimp, then church with Jeff's family. Christmas Day, I started off the celebration by sleping in, then calling friends across the country (the ones that weren't out visiting others). I went down and saw a bunch of friends in recovery at the city-wide AA open house at the Toledo Senior Center, and then
returned to south Toledo for dinner at with Jeff's sister's family, and wrapping up the night with a gratitude gathering at the Monday Night Men's meeting.

There were no presents; Sue, Sandy and I made that decision a couple years ago, when Sue and Jeff were first struggling financially, and to be honest, I didn't miss it. Even as I was watching my sister open gifts with her inlaws, it somehow felt weird - the gifts were nice and all, but it just seemed to draw away from what the holiday was about. Yes, I wish I could do the shopping/gift thing with abandon, as so many do. But this Christmas, the gifts were all "family" and "friends" and "home" and "love," and nothing that would fit in a box under a tree.

The work-a-day (and night) world will arrive in about forty minutes. The chore now will be to carry the spirit of Christmas into the lion's den. I have signed myself up for a spiritual retreat January 19th-21st, put on by two Jesuits in recovery down at the Spiritual Center of Maria Stein near St. Mary's, OH. I'm carrying more than 70 hours of vacation time over this year - and it's the last year I intend to do that - so I have time to spare. And I need to take this time, too.

4 comments:

Michael said...

Some years back I oversaw a 30-day retreat program at Maria Stein. Besides my other duties, I had daily meetings with five people who were making the Ignatian exercises -- none of whom spoke English as the first language. I hope your short time there is refreshing, renewing and strengthening -- and that you find yourself and those giving the retreat speaking the same language.

I always tell people making a long retreat that it is perfectly appropriate to sleep a lot the first few days. Attention to the body is part of attending to the voice of God within. I hope you catch a bit of time to unwind right before the retreat.

~m2~ said...

good morning and Merry Christmas, my dear brother :)

sleep sounds like the ticket for you and i am thrilled you will be taking time off for a retreat. to mentally and physically get where you need to be, you have to be sidelined by it or leveled, as i was.

i especially loved what you wrote here: But this Christmas, the gifts were all "family" and "friends" and "home" and "love," and nothing that would fit in a box under a tree. well said, you.

peace be with you in the new year - i am hoping the day will come when i will be one of the friends you telephone across the miles :)

AnotherLostAngel said...

Steve

glad to see you made it through christmas. I did as well. It was a fairly nice time, but the holidays always give rise to many deep emotional conflicts, and they are taken out of thier glass cases I keep them locked in most of the time. As if they get get out of jail free cards.I dont actively invite them out...yet all of a sudden, there they are. And I am powerless to put them back away. they must drift back on thier own as "real life" elbows "the holidays" off the stage....sad, I think. Very sad. But saddness must be gods will. or me letting go of saddness is gods will. As usual, I have no f*cking idea what gods will is and trying to understand anything that occurs in real life in terms of gods will does me more harm than good.

Anyway...sorry to be a downer...merry chritmas.

pete

mike ashborn said...

Hi Steve Happy Christmas! I just wanted to add - God is even in the heart attack - I can testify to that as I had one just before Christmas, and now I'm home again, hanging on in there, too. Mike