Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Crazy Faith: A Surprising Journey Part 5

When I last left you, Greta and I were in a log cabin in Woodinville, Washington, buried under several inches of snow. And lovin' it.

If that was the end of the journey, it would still be pretty awesome. But there's actually more. Moving here did not magically make my final settlement appear. It did not instantly give me a source of income. It did not miraculously make everything in my life alright. However, it did allow me to really see how incredible my life is, and give it space to become more so.

I grew close to my housemates pretty quickly. They were all talented, wonderful individuals, and all strong personalities (which had its issues as well). In addition, I found something that I didn't find in the Bay Area, something that I cherished, and something I didn't think I'd ever find unless I went back to Santa Barbara. I found a church home.

So much of St. Paul Orthodox Church in Lynnwood reminded me of my home parish in Santa Barbara. The people were genuinely wonderful, warm, and welcoming. Not that other churches hadn't been. There was just something...intangible. But it felt like home. I had a spiritual support system again.

My legal struggle with the insurance company for my old job seemed to come to a resolution when they offered me a really tiny settlement. Mind you, they'd speculated that I would someday need a surgery (spinal fusion) that runs usually around $100,000. And the medical coverage would have covered that. However, I didn't want a spinal fusion. I wanted preventative care that would keep me from getting a spinal fusion, because a spinal fusion should be the last resort. Right?

I don't understand the logic (if we can call it that) of insurance companies. Rather than pay a smaller amount of money to prevent a procedure, they'd rather pay 10 times that amount to actually get the procedure. It makes no sense! I'd already begun a preventative measure of my own, and was paying for it out of pocket. My work with the brilliant Dr. Matthew Howe was already healing me, but to pay for the remainder of it would take a good portion of this settlement. Part of this work - called Network Spinal Analysis - is about helping one's body heal itself, about reconnecting ourselves to our body's innate intelligence about what it needs. And part of that was recognizing that I had been so traumatized by my last job that I could not go back into a job that would take so much out of me, even if I did love the clients.

This insurance company was willing to pay me about 10% of what that surgery would have cost, and I was too sick and tired of them to argue. When I first heard about it, I thought it was 30%. A month later, my attorney explained it to me (which he'd evidently done inadequately before), and I took it anyway. I was just done.

Of course, this was not easy. My aspirations of starting a dog food company were shattered, and I engaged in a full blown, panic-induced tantrum that would have made a three-year-old proud. I scared one of my housemates, as well as the dogs. Strangely, a few days earlier, I'd gotten an email out of the blue from an organization with whom I'd interviewed, asking me if I'd be interested in a position that was about to come available. At the time, I still thought I was going forward with the dog food business, and I told them no.

After getting this news from my attorney, I second-guessed myself. Was this the right thing to do?

When my emotions calmed down, I settled into a feeling that surprised me: peace. It was the oddest thing. I had a peaceful acceptance of this situation, and I had total faith that God was still there, still working, and still taking care of me. It wasn't in the way that I'd envisioned, but He was still there.

Perhaps more than landing in a beautiful log cabin in the woods, even more than finding a church that felt so much like home to me, this is what surprised me. I felt peaceful. I had faith.

For someone who'd been a practicing Wiccan just a few years before, this was quite a shock. I didn't know I was capable of this.

Meanwhile, my mom very sternly told me that I should have taken that job, and that I needed to be sending out resumes everywhere I could.

But I'd done that. I did it for three years in the Bay Area, and had done it quite a bit in Seattle as well. All to no avail. Most people wouldn't even call me back. It had become clear to me that this was not the right way to go about supporting myself. I needed to look for a different way.

Two days after finding out about how small the settlement would be, one day after discovering this strange sense of peace, two things happened: one which would affirm my faith, and one which would challenge it.

On the morning of April 29th, five days after Pascha (Orthodox Easter), I woke up to an email from an online university, offering me a course to teach. I'd gotten this job three years ago, but they never had a course to assign to me since I completed my training just as the economy was tanking. Three years of campaigning by a good friend of mine who worked there led to this offer, just in the nick of time. I was flabbergasted that my faith, once again, had yielded such results. God really was taking care of me.

One of the things that made me move from a religious practice like Wicca/Paganism and into Orthodoxy (via a long, circuitous, and frequently painful route) was the fact that the Orthodox faith was a path of devotion. I didn't get that from Wicca. Wicca taught me lots of things, things like empowerment and personal will and strength. I needed those at one time. But when it came down to it, I saw too much personal will and much less of a deep wonder of the Divine in that environment. And also...well, I think God was waiting for me. He'd sent me on a journey that would prepare me for Orthodoxy, oddly through Buddhism and Wicca. But He was ready for me to arrive where He meant me to be. Moving into Orthodoxy was, for me, a way to move into surrender and devotion that were somehow still empowering. There are many forms of Christianity, and I do not find these elements in all of them. I have never been called to surrender my will like I have as an Orthodox Christian. I have never experienced a sense of devotion in any other church as I have when in an Orthodox Church.

I was humbled beyond words that my clumsy attempts at faith and devotion left me open to experience this incredible sense of being cared for in ways I never would have imagined.

But then, the other shoe dropped. That afternoon, I got other news.

A good friend of mine from Santa Barbara, the lovely Erin Glaser Hall, died that day. She had a rare form of cancer that took her life in just a couple of years. She'd been married less than two years. She was 28 years old.

I went from elation to a broken heart in a matter of seconds. How could God, Who could take such good care of me, allow this incredible woman to pass from the world so soon before her time? How could He take her from all of us, from her loving husband? Remember what I said about surrendering my will? Yeah. That again. Part of that surrender is the willingness to not have to figure it all out. To (gulp) trust.

I got this news just before I was to go to the home of a family I met just a few days before, at Pascha. On Pascha morning, after waking up hours past the time for which I'd set my clock, I arrived at church dreadfully late, and plopped my basket full of meat (and other goodies I'd denied myself all through Lent) at a table that looked not-quite-full, and then bolted up the stairs just in time for the Gospel reading and the Paschal Homily. Afterwards, I discovered I'd invaded the table of the McGinnises (or, as I call them, the McGinnii), who lived only 10 minutes away from me, also in Woodinville. They invited me to stay at their table, and share the lovely Pascha morning with them.

Now, five days later and awash in grief (with the incongruous backdrop of relief and elation at the earlier news), I could have opted to stay home. Strangely, I still felt compelled to go spend the evening with this family. I pulled myself together and drove to their house.

I wish I could describe the feeling of being gently welcomed into their lives, just as a part of my life was falling away. It was an immeasurable comfort to sit in their home, share a meal, and simply watch a movie. They didn't make all the pain and confusion go away. They didn't make a big deal out of anything. They couldn't possibly replace Erin or bring her back. It's hard to say exactly what made that evening so comforting, but maybe it was just their presence. I felt safe there, as if all this struggle had a purpose, and the purpose was to heighten moments like these, where a simple show of love and support can keep faith from taking too big a hit. God really does show up everywhere, and tonight He was working through the McGinnii.
It is from this broken-hearted moment that the title of this series comes.

You see, I think having faith is just a little bit nuts.

I think it's a little bit nuts to have faith that I will be taken care of when the settlement that would have given me a cushion turns out to be only a third of what I thought it was. How is it not nuts to have faith that despite my love for the clients, the sweet job opportunity that was presented to me is not what I'm supposed to be doing? And sometimes I think I'm off my rocker to believe that God took a beautiful young woman from this Earth, but left me here, all for good reason.

But I do have faith in that. I don't know what the reasons are. I don't know where this path will take me. But I have faith that I am being guided, no matter how much my mom or anyone else thinks I'm crazy for not doing what seems most sensible, and for taking the risk that God has something else, something really cool, planned that is just right for me. I have faith that there is a reason for all of this, for my grief over Erin, for my confusion and rage when the rug gets pulled out from under me, and also for my joy and my stubborn hope. Just because I don't know the reason doesn't mean there isn't one. So I have to have faith that this will all make sense one day.

See? Faith seems like insanity sometimes.

In the Orthodox Church, there are saints known as Fools for Christ. They're called this based on I Corinthians 3:18, which states, "Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise" (Orthodox Study Bible). Some well-known Fools for Christ have been Blessed St. Xenia of Petersburg, Russia, St. Basil the Blessed of Moscow, and St. Simeon of Emesa.

The thing about Fools for Christ is that people thought they were out of their minds. They did things that made no sense to the people around them, but they did them anyway. And often, this craziness turned out to be precognitive, or healing, or some other form of blessing. They were dialed in to God at a level that most of us can't even imagine. And in fact, most people in the times that they lived thought they were insane...until prayers were answered, until people were healed, until their ramblings started to make sense.

Now I'm not saying that I'm dialed in at that level, and I'm nowhere close to being holy. But I do get that in this environment where we're supposed to have the next several years planned out, where we are supposed to have reasons for everything we do, where we're supposed to be looking for jobs that are full time and provide health benefits, it is sheer lunacy to turn away from the sure thing and say, "No. I know God has something else for me."

I have not moved through this journey gracefully. Grace has happened to me and all around me, as I stagger around trying to make sense of it all.  Maybe I'm more of a Stumbling Idiot for Christ, blundering through a new habit of faith like I'm in a Molly Shannon skit (only without the armpit schtick). What I have to show for it are simple moments of joy and well-being that prove to me that I have been visited by Grace and led by God to such moments, in spite of myself. Some of these moments here in Washington have been:

  • waking up to peer out the window through the trees into the morning sky (grey as it may be), a soft brown dog snuggled up against me, the sound and smell of rain filling the room
  • hearing my church's choir sing The Beatitudes, and the smell of incense permeating that peaceful place
  • reading a thank you email from a student
  • teaching swing dancing at St Paul's
  • playing Dungeons & Dragons with new friends (and some old ones)
  • visiting a monastery on a nearby island, and having a long talk with a Norwegian monk over a cup of good coffee
  • going to a holiday barbeque at Castle McGinnis
  • laughing with my housemates
  • swing dancing (and watching Battlestar Galactica, though not at the same time) with a really good new friend from church - one who's reckless enough to do aerials with me
  • driving down the road and seeing the clouds suddenly break to reveal an ice-capped mountain range, or Mt Rainier looming over the city
  • standing in relative silence in the rain, on the property where I live, hearing raindrops land, and noting the exquisite color of green on the cedar trees
  • watching Greta frolic in the tall grass
Huh. Maybe faith isn't so crazy.