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


  1. That's one helluva ride. Make me think of "grandma" from the movie "Parenthood." This was after Steve Martin's character told his wife that he quit his job and she told him that she was pregnant.


  2. That really is a great scene, Meeshka. And yeah, this may scare the crap out of me, but as Grandma put it, "You get more out of it." :)

    I hope you are well.