Monday, July 30, 2007

Blessings and cursings, life and death

This day...
You set life, you set death right before us,
This day...
Every blessing and curse is a choice now,
And we will
Choose to be a blessing for life...

(John Waller, The Blessing)

Choices...lots of them, ahead.

For about a month now, I have been where Renee' Altson once described as "between death and resurrection." Not wanting to make any changes, not wanting to move forward, but not wanting to stay where I've been, either.

The photo above, which I found for some other topic entirely, is a picture of just where I am these days. I can see that there is a place to go - but I can't see where, and I can't be sure that the other end of the bridge isn't a sheer drop (or even if the bridge itself will hold).

At certain times, I would give up important (if not-often-used) body parts to be free of this malaise. There have been a couple times when despair has just washed over me, and I've been ready to just throw in the towel. There have been days when I just can't see any way out of the mess in which my family and I find ourselves....even, God help me, a couple days when the value of my life-insurance policy briefly seemed far in excess of my value in day-to-day life.

Those are sucky days, let me tell you. Thank God, they do not come often, and they do not stay long. But I often wonder, "How is it that you can be a man of faith, a man touched by God, a blessing to others, and yet experience such failures of faith, hope, and love so spectacularly from time to time?" It can be quite maddening...

I can't deny that at least a part of my struggles, especially in the last two weeks, have been prompted by the arrival of the summer issue of Epistle, the magazine of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC). This was the issue where many of my former classmates graduated - and many who didn't make it in 4 years were headed off to internships. In fact, one former prospective student, who I hosted for a Seminary Sampler visit while in school myself, is on his way to internship in Egypt this summer...

I hate to admit it, but it was really tough to see the photos of what would have been my graduating class, and to read the notices of ordination...

Bijou Simon...who Laila Barr, Mike Willis and I helped nurse through Greek class. Ian Reid, who was in several classes with me. Preston Hoffman. Erik Allen. All already ordained. Lisa Parker, Ben Ingelson, Patrick Shebeck...so many others, all graduated and awaiting calls.

Just about the time I would have told you I'd buried all those regrets, they came bursting back up out of the ground like something ugly and undead. I know, in my heart of hearts, that I'm in the right place. I know, beyond all doubt, that what I have been doing for the last two years has ministered to people in powerful ways. I know, I know....

So why does this still hurt so freaking much, at times like this?...

I suppose it would help more if things in the here-and-now were going better. Yet even with my presence and contributing to my sister and brother-in-law's situation, we continue to skate on the thin edge of disaster. And on Friday (my twin sisters' birthday), it sure seemed like the ice had started to crack beneath us. Sue's car had been running badly for a while - and when we took the car over to the repair shop, they wanted almost $2,000 to fix it - a 2000 Ford Taurus with 80K miles on it.

Somehow, there didn't seem much sanity in sinking $2k into a car that BlueBook.com says is worth between $2,800 and $4,000. On the surface, it just didn't seem like much sense. But by the same token, trying to get a car to replace it for $3k or $4k didn't seem like we'd get much of a better car than we had, to be honest. And either way, they'd have to tap into their 401k savings - which are meager to begin with. The picture was clear - "happy freakin' birthday," eh?

My sister's mental health took kind of a nose-dive after that. The birthday dinner at Biaggi's in Perrysburg was mostly good - but it was because of time with Sandy and Sue, and not because of the setting. The meal was the first time we had less than stellar food and service, which kind of sucked, given that we don't get to treat ourselves to a "good" meal all that often...

Sue kind of had a mini-meltdown this afternoon, and once she got past that, I kind of had my own later on. Sue's really been one of the buttresses of this situation, and when I saw her crack, I have to admit that I kind of lost hope for a bit. I kept thinking of the "Blue Collar Comedy Tour" skit, where one of the comics was on a plane which lost one engine on their approach to the airport. The comic's seat-mate, in a panic, asked him, "So how far will one engine carry us??..." to which the comic replied, "...all the way to the crash scene..."

It's at times like this that every sin, every time one has turned left and should have turned right, seem to stand out in sharp relief. If I'd only done thus-and-so, the logic goes, we wouldn't be here, we'd have more money, I'd be better looking, in better health, blah blah blah. In the language of recovery, this is called "regretting the past," and I can be a past grand master at it...

But it seems that almost every time I am in the car, the local K-LOVE Christian radio outlet has been playing the song by John Waller (whose chorus appears at the top of this post). And within minutes of hearing the song, I will invariably hear from my sister, or a sponsee, or any one of a variety of church and recovery friends from Kansas, Chicago, or Toledo.

And the day just seems better after that. That doesn't mean that the situation isn't bleak, or that somehow some angel is going to buy us a lottery ticket and make it a winner in the same week (though that fantasy flits through my brain a lot, at times). It just means that grace sufficient for the day's troubles is delivered, when and how I need it (even if it's not how I want it).

And then tonight, when I brought the topic of the car and losing faith up at the Monday Night Mens' AA meeting, within minutes two different people suggested a fellow AA guy who has "is a miracle worker with cars." So I will call him tomorrow, and we will see what we can see. Perhaps, there is hope after all...

Of course, part of the daily surrender in this deal means that we may yet end up car-less, or on the street, or in some apartment somewhere. We may yet become one of the thousands of foreclosures sweeping across Ohio (and the nation) and need to walk away from this home and this life.

But for today, God has set before me life or death, blessing or cursing. And today, at least, I "will choose to be a blessing for life."

My life, and my family, are valued more than just by our possessions or our address or whatever. All I have to do is read the comments on so many of these postings to know that. When I hear the voices of people whose lives are enriched by my presence, my words, my writings, I know that the old UCC ads are right, and "God is still speaking..." Still speaking, and still using broken people and broken tools to build the Kingdom.

For tonight, that's good enough...

9 comments:

Im A Foto Nut said...

Dear Brother,

I have prayed for words of comfort to give to you and nothing that comes to my mind seems to be right. Then again, why should I question what the Lord has given me to say, so I will just say it.

When I was a kid, growing up in an alcoholic home, there were many times where my parents didn't have jobs, and we lost more than one of our homes to forclosure. I remember one such time that we had to move to another town, and use some friend's Camper Trailer, and we lived in that for 4 months. Did I mention it was in Michigan, and it was winter, and the trailer didn't have a bathroom? I was young then but I am assuming we needed to do that because my parents didn't have the money to get another place without saving some again first.

I remember times when we had meat loaf with more bread crums than hamburger, and burgers made from ground liver because it was cheaper. Home made clothing, and well you get the picutre.

But I also remember never being scared about not having what we needed. I was clean, and well feed, and for the most part happy.

You know what my life has been like since my divorce. I guess my point to all of this is that I have experienced a heck of a lot of Wilderness Time, to guote Brother Joe, but yet, I have AlWAYS had what I needed. Even though it wasn't what I would have liked.

What gets me though it is my favorite verse. Phil 4:13 I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.

If you trust that the Lord will take care of you and allow him to do so, then he will.

I have been where you are dear brother and know how hard it is not to worry and fret, when you constantly feel like you are drowning. The only thing I can do is to say I will be praying for God's Blessings on your family, and that I have trust that He will give your family the strength it needs, to withstand whatever comes your way.

In Christ,

Tim

Heidi Renee said...

A trustworthy mechanic, who can count his worth? A working car you know is better than a car you don't - that 3k or 4k car could also need $2000 work next month... sigh.

You're in my prayers today Steve - hope the clouds break soon!

John Z said...

Brother Steve,
We too in Florida constantly seam to facing the giants, then out of the blue our church is doing a series on the movie Facing the Giants. If you haven't seen it rent it,( it was not like hopscotch but we already know the laughter behind that). Ann and I were up because we believe that God does have aplan for us and we will sell our house and move to Florida fully.
Keep the faith!
John

Lorna (see through faith) said...

thank you for visting my blog and your kind and thoughtful words.

Seeing the names of others who you should have graduated with hurts and stings more than it should - I know cos I'm there too - and as for finances we just borrowed from our 17 year old to make ends meet - but in this month of July my faith has been re-kindled.

And that's what I'm praying for for you.

Thank you for taking time to encourage me. It was a blessing :)and you are too! Because you write with honesty and bravery.

Life does suck sometimes (sorry for the terminology) but God is good all the time.

Hope said...

Man, I got teary as I read "God is still speaking..." Still speaking, and still using broken people and broken tools to build the Kingdom."
I head for rehab on Saturday. Your honesty here has been one of the influences that brought me to this point in my life. Your honesty and courage were motivating factors in my going back to AA last year, reaching out my hand and admitting I needed help. I would read your words and think to myself, this man is honest in a way that I find it hard to be. If he can be that honest and keep putting one foot in front of the other, accepting life on life's terms maybe I can learn to do that, too. Reading your words made me want what you have in recovery. You still have it. And I still want it.
As a former food bank user and welfare recipient I know the stress of leaping from one stone in the river to the next, never knowing if the next leap will land one in the water. It takes all one's energy to leap. It's exhausting.
I pray that for today you are given the strength to leap and the strength to stay in this day alone.
You come to mind when I read this verse in Philippians: "I thank my God each time I think of you and when I pray for you I pray with joy."

Poor Mad Peter said...

Keep on swimming, Steve man.

Keith Brenton said...

I still love you, man.

Keep serving the church God has put you in to serve and be served by - your friends of Bill are friends of God, too.

No flowers of the field and birds of the air stuff from me. You know it better than I do.

renee said...

sometimes we are in that in-between space for years. it's long and scary and lonely. But you are not alone. Others are in that space, too. And we hear your cries for help and your sadness.

Scott said...

Monday Nite Men's... man, do I miss that group... I've seen many tears cried and butt's peeled in there... if it's the one I am thinking of anyhow, in SW Toledo on Heatherdowns...

prayers for you, good luck with your car...