Sunday, June 19, 2011

Crazy Faith: A Surprising Journey Part 3

This is part 3 of the saga of how I got here to Washington, so if you'd like to catch up, you can read Part 1 and/or Part 2, just so this makes sense (as much sense as it can make anyway).

So where were we? Oh yes, almost dying, and having things explode.

I entered the new year of 2010 knowing, just knowing, that something big was about to happen in my life. There would be a major change. I was able to recognize that God had severed some bonds to people that would have kept me where I was, which told me that God no longer wanted me where I was.

Of course, this did not mean that God severed all the bonds I had to the Bay Area. In fact, He managed to keep intact the bonds that would withstand distance. Friends with whom I danced, or gamed, or were housemates - all of these bonds held strong. In addition, I felt intuitively that I needed a dash of home before I could move on. So I went back to my home parish in Goleta, CA - St. Athanasius Orthodox Church. I saw them near the end of that painful struggle, when I was so spiritually exhausted that it was all I could do to get down there and collapse in their embrace. I didn't even have the words to tell them how their love and guidance supported me from hundreds of miles away, or how their love and presence healed me now.

In January, God pretty much guaranteed that I'd flee California by having my employer change my job description. Since I couldn't be a therapist with children, they had me doing administrative work in all three of the offices in the area since the previous summer (and for a wage that kept me only barely above the poverty line). After the new year, they kept me in San Mateo (the closest office to my home), and created a position for me as a scheduler.

It was a new position, so I was inventing the wheel here. Initially I had 100 clients to schedule, for two offices, and with about 45 therapists to serve those client sessions. For some of those clients, I had to schedule up to 25 hours of therapy around school commitments, doctor appointments, staff vacations, and other obligations. It was overwhelming.

This might be when the insomnia began. I had to be at work at 7:30 AM, but usually couldn't get to sleep until around 2 or 3 AM. I had to develop a system to collect scheduling information from schools, therapy teams, and families, and then assemble all of it into a coherent schedule for each client. At night, when I could sleep, I dreamed about the scheduling software, which was full of bugs. In March, the bugs got worse. For months, I had to deal with schedules where sessions just disappeared before my eyes. As if that wasn't bad enough, the management was only intermittently supportive. Our regional director once chased a parent away from my desk while she was talking to me about her scheduling needs. In her words, "You can't talk to Tanya while she's working." Since when had my indentured servitude begun? I worked long hours, often staying until midnight when schedules were due, and returning a few hours later. When my dad came to visit me in May, I had to fight my managers just to spend two days with him.

And all the while, I endured by remembering that God was sending me elsewhere, at some point. I knew I'd asked Him to "show me where to go," although I really just thought I was talking about my job, and not my actual location. I also realized, by this point, that before He was able to tell me where to go, He had to cut the ties that bound me to this place or I would never have listened. Now that those ties were severed, I was waiting for my marching orders. So I waited...

And waited...

And mused, and pondered, and grumbled. And waited...

I began to wonder if I'd somehow missed the message, if perhaps the email had ended up in the Spam folder or something. Was I missing something? Where was I supposed to go? In the absence of clear direction, I began to try figuring it out on my own.

I know. Bad idea. I ran through the options. I could go back to Santa Barbara. I definitely had community there. My home parish awaited me, as did a thriving dance community, and wonderful friends who had become family in my heart. But jobs were terribly scarce, and the cost of living was through the roof. Another option was to return to the Deep South to be with my family.

The Deep South. The very thought was oppressive. It's not the heat, it's the humidity combined with extreme heat, alligators, mosquitoes as big as my dog, fleas, roaches as big as my hand THAT FLY (and they move into your house no matter how clean you are), racism, intolerance, very few Orthodox churches, red states.

And that's when I developed compassion for Jonah when God sent him to Nineveh. Nineveh? Are you kidding me? I could hear Jonah asking. Maybe the bugs were bad there, too.

At the same time, the presence of my niece made The Deep South almost attractive. My family had always been the best part of the South for me. We are closely knit, and get along almost all the time. Kind of unheard-of in modern family dynamics. My parents are crazy in love with each other (it took a LOT of hard work from both of them to get to that point, but still...); my sister and brother in law were beginning a new life, and my niece was growing into a brilliant, hilarious little girl. My family made the South almost tempting.

But this idea came from my own logical reasoning, which had thus far landed me in one of the most expensive locations in the country, with a job where my pay had been reduced by over $7/hour after all was said and done, and where I was now a stress zombie. So, I wasn't likely to put too much stock in my own seemingly brilliant ideas.

Still, I was waiting. I waited for God's direction for five months.

Back in February, giddy from finding my tax refund in my bank account, I'd had the foresight to purchase a plane ticket to Seattle, and the entry fee for Camp Jitterbug - three days of lindy hop instruction and celebration. I went three years before and knew that it would be amazing. I knew I'd need this, and I did. On Thursday night, just before Memorial Day weekend, I boarded a plane for the Emerald City.

Matthew Howe, a gifted chiropractor and one of my dearest friends from way back in Florida, and his gorgeous fiance Carrie picked me up from the airport, and the mantra began:

You should move to Seattle.

I smiled politely at first, but they kept at me, taking me by the Lenin statue in Fremont after breakfast the next day, and then to Matthew's office for a quick tune-up before all the dancing began. I adored Carrie immediately (it was my first time meeting her) and she gushed about how wonderful Seattle was as she took me around to run errands, while I sat in the passenger seat quietly grateful that Matthew had found her.

I was staying with a hostess this time, and I discovered that she had mastered the public transit system, and was willing to share this arcane knowledge with me. She also joined the chorus Matthew and Carrie started.

No really, you should move here. You'd love it.

And of course, there was Camp Jitterbug itself. More on that some other time. Let's just say, it was blissful.

At the end of Camp Jitterbug, I met another friend of mine, a recent transplant from the Bay Area and a gaming buddy. He drove me around the east side of Lake Washington, showing me another side of this green city. I marveled at the trees that were everywhere, how lush it all looked, while Trey told me about his life here. We grabbed a sandwich for lunch, and it was at this time that he began his own campaign.

You should look for a job here. I swear he must have said it a dozen times in the course of a single afternoon before he dropped me off at SeaTac.

Now, I'm pretty astute about a lot of things. But when it comes to subtle communication directed at me, I'm a little slow. I can see it in hindsight, but in the moment, I just can't always read the message. It's part of my charm, I'm told, that people can watch a guy flirt with me and I can just be absolutely oblivious; or I can miss little clues that everyone else can see about situations I'm in. I do know this about myself. It's why I'd been worried that I missed God's marching orders. I actually remember praying, "You're going to have to make this really obvious, You know. I don't want to miss this."

I guess that's why God decided to do away with subtlety altogether and just flash a bright neon sign at me. After an entire weekend of different people chanting the same thing at me, I sat on the plane on the way home and thought, "Seattle, huh? It would be cool to live in a temperate rainforest...."

Maybe I wouldn't have to go to Nineveh after all, even if my family was there. At least in Seattle I'd be able to breathe and go outside.

And this is where things got really cool. Next time, I'll tell you just how cool.

For now, I leave you with this: on that trip back to the Bay Area, I became aware of the first inkling of a hint of a Plan. I began to see the past 9 months in perspective, and realize the genius of how it all played out, painful as it was. I realized that God answered me when I called out to him with my broken heart and my desperation. With the exception of the weird and wondrous way I found the Orthodox Church, I don't know if I ever really realized that God was listening that closely to me. Maybe He had a hard time hearing me through the walls I'd built around myself. Maybe He could hear me just fine, but I couldn't hear His responses for those very walls, and then resented the silence. Nevertheless, a hint of wonder crept into my being, and for the first time in a while, the possibilities before me made me smile.

"We are so blind and deaf. The world is transparent. God is everywhere whispering to us, talking to us, shouting at us. Usually we do not hear. Sometimes we do. Then we know that everything is grace." ~ Rev. Fr. Andrew M. Greeley

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Crazy Faith: A Surprising Journey Part 2

In Crazy Faith Part 1, I set up this insane journey I'm about to tell you about, by telling you how I threw a challenge out to God, and inexplicably, He answered me.

Now, some people are mortified that I did this, that I spoke this way to Him. I mean, He's God. He could, you know, smite me and stuff.

Now that I put it that way, I guess He kind of did.

The hubris of issuing demands like this to God notwithstanding, it really wasn't such a bad request. The terrible, wonderful magic of it all is that in my sheer desperation, in my certainty that my life was meant to contain more joy and less stress than this, a tiny crack appeared in my prideful heart. I mean, it was itty bitty, a hairline fracture, really. But it was evidently enough for God's Big Toe to wiggle in and force open the door. "For if You desired sacrifice, I would give it; You will not be pleased with whole burnt offerings. A sacrifice to God is a broken spirit. A broken and humbled heart God will not despise." (Psalm 50:18-19, Orthodox Study Bible)

Thank God for desperation profound enough to make me vulnerable. Thank God that it found a way for the walls around my life, my ideas, my heart, my firmly-held beliefs around who I thought I was supposed to be, to crack and subsequently crumble. Incidentally, these were walls that I built, or chose to have built, around my life. And He showed me unequivocally where those battlements were weak.

Once God kicked in my door, with Love in his eyes and with a gentle "You wanted Me to do this," He set fire to my life. He created the very sacrifice He needed from me.

It was far more brutal than I imagined it could be. Two days after issuing that demand, my most recent work injury was exacerbated by an incident on the job in which a sweet 4 year old Indian boy begged me with tearful eyes to "hold [him] tight" while his mother and a case director pulled thorns out of his bare feet, which he acquired while exuberantly playing Scavenger Hunt. As requested, I held him tightly and tried to distract him with silly questions ("How many eyes to do I have?"), as he struggled against me in reaction to the pain. By the following day, I could no longer work. My neck injury was simply too painful.

Once again, the doctor put me on limited work status, and gradually my clients disappeared from my schedule. The final straw was losing my favorite client, again without a chance to say good-bye. (They finally relented and let me say good-bye a month later, which was still horrifically painful.)

But in addition to that, one of my best friends, a woman with whom I shared a loving and soulful bond (we were the Dancing Depth Psychologists) moved to Boston. And two weeks after that, the person I was seeing, with whom I thought there was a deep bond, dissolved our relationship. Within 6 weeks of asking God to radically change my life, He had done so in an immensely painful way. I fell into a deep grief that lasted until the new year.

The thing is, at the time, I knew this was answered prayer. I just knew it. I knew God was trying to get through my thick skull...something. But I couldn't figure out what He was trying to say. I understood that transformation was occurring. Of that I had no doubt. It just hurt so much.

I don't remember a whole lot from that time. I didn't dance much, because of my injury, so I lost that conduit to joy. I hadn't found a parish that felt like home to me, although I'd visited a few. I wrote dark poetry to try to express some of my turmoil, but mostly I remember waking up every day and trudging to work, then coming home to either sit numbly in my room, or hang out with a few friends, including my housemate, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth was a blessing to me. Anyone who thinks that God only blesses us with people who share our religious practices is missing out. Elizabeth is a professional astrologer, a wonderful massage therapist, and a spiritual leader in her community. We were an unlikely pair - me with my icons of saints, her with her crystals - but we worked. I firmly believe that God knew I'd need someone strong enough to live in the same house with me while I went through my painful struggle, and loving enough to nurture me through it. We would take walks with my dog late at night, after she returned from work, and talk. We only ever encountered one other person playing with his dog that late at night (it was usually around midnight), a friendly man with a Russian accent, and we'd jokingly speculate that only Canadians and Eastern Europeans would ever be out that late acting for all the world as if it was daylight. Silly dayfolk, thinking the day ended when the sky turned dark. Sometimes we watched Firefly or V on her computer, drinking beer and eating popcorn. Elizabeth's friendship and love created a space that allowed me to feel all of this without judgment. And when I needed it, she could make me laugh until we both snorted.

My grief, while punctuated by pain (and also joy), was mostly characterized by a terrifying numbness. It ended when a few things happened within days of each other.

1. I almost died on Christmas Eve.
2. I went to a performance of the band to which my former romantic interest belonged. Misunderstandings ensued.
3. Things started exploding in my purse and backpack.

After visiting some friends on Christmas Eve in The City (San Francisco), I was on my way home when a giant GMC pickup (a 2-ton truck maybe? - it was beastly), started to turn left, apparently not seeing me in the intersection (I had the green light). The driver stopped his vehicle less than 6 inches from my driver's side door. I looked past the great big GMC on the grill into the mortified faces of the people in the cab of the truck, and realized I was flinching, waiting for the impact. I kept on driving, numbly realizing that I had been spared, but not knowing why. I just kept muttering, "Why did You spare me? Why didn't You take me?" The only thing I could think of was that there was still some purpose to me being on the planet, although I couldn't possibly fathom what it was. The previous few months had all but convinced me that what I should really do is close up my heart for good, so that nothing and no one could get through, except for my family and a few close friends. If I got a better job, I'd make sure I didn't open up to clients or form any deep connections. It was safer that way.

A few days later, I decided to attend the musical performance of my former romantic interest's band. He played guitar for the band, and I really enjoyed hearing them play again. As I watched him, I realized that I absolutely adored hearing him play. It was wonderful to be able to share that again, and it made me feel good to know that our struggle to maintain a friendship in the aftermath of the breakup at least resulted in my being able to enjoy this once again. He really was brilliant at what he did. I barely talked to him after the show. I was more engrossed in talking to my friend, Tiffany, who was also there, so I gave him a quick hug good-bye, and he told me it was good to see me.

A few people mistook my attendance there, and my joy at hearing the band, for an inability to let go. However, for me it felt like the beginning of real release - from him, from grief, from what my expectations had been. I could just go and enjoy the music, and appreciate him for his gifts.

Or not. Two days after that, he banned me from attending all future performances, for fear that it would upset his new girlfriend. He didn't even have the guts to introduce us. Release complete. I don't like cowards.

Just after the new year, I opened my purse to find a bottle of ibuprofen had popped open, spilling its contents all over my purse. A day later, the same thing happened in my backpack with a container of chocolate covered raisins.

Now, being trained in depth psychology, I tend to look at events like this with an eye toward symbolism. It's like reading your life the way you would a dream (Carl Jung advocated this approach). If these two events had been in a dream, how I would I look at them?

I wrestled with this elsewhere, and this is what I came up with:

"On the second and third days of a brand new year, something in the dark places I carry around with me has opened up. The words that came into my head when I started to make the connection were:

Emergence, eruption, uncontained, contents under pressure, opening, it's time, overflowing vessel, I’m ready, spilling over, burst container, energy, matter, what matters, this brings something new in its wake….

Medicine and sweetness. Something that heals, and something that rewards. These are the potentials for this new year. Something is waiting to burst from me, to emerge from my depths and darknesses. Something in me will be contained no longer.  ...This seems to imply that 2010 will bring healing."
That year, 2009, had certainly contained a lot of love. My friends were amazing, and I had a housemate who had created a home in which I could truly be myself. I was able to see the deep love that existed, despite the radical transformation my life had undergone. I finally started looking forward to 2010, to see what would erupt from my own depths.
And with that, I've decided this post is long enough. You'll have to wait for Part 3 to see how all this manifested, where I had some insight into what Jonah must have experienced ("Nineveh? Are You serious?").