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This is My Job, Part 2

September 22, 2009
Photo by Leamington Malfoof

Photo by Leamington Malfoof

(continued from yesterday’s Part 1) Summary:

I’ve been a little off my game lately. Well, OK, I’ve been a lot off my game.  That’s OK though.  I needed to retreat and pull back a little.  I’ve been hiding out in my cave.  Even though I saw the unemployment coming – and knew it was for the best – it still hits like a ton of bricks.  Especially when I’m the sole support for three other people and two cats.  Then there were three surgeries in as many weeks – granted one of those was only a teeth-cleaning and minor cavity repair – it was still surgery!

Several weeks ago during my quiet time, I heard God saying to me (by the way, I don’t hear Him audibly) to take some time and rest.  It’s OK to hide out in the cave for awhile.  I thought I was slipping back into the abyss.  I was discouraged and broken – but God said I needed to recover. Three surgeries in three weeks, newly unemployed, the stress of the past year’s conflicts, financially broken, and ostracized by my spiritual community – yeah, I agreed.  I did need a break.

I needed that permission. As a fighter – a self-confident achiever – I was going to make it work.  But the God who loves me said, “Take a break.  I got it covered.

As I begin to crawl out of this cave, I am better prepared to face the fight ahead – it’s not over – but I have to admit that I’m not quite up to speed. I’m feeling a little tenuous about life in the great big world.  That’s OK though.  I don’t have to bite off more than I can chew.  It’s still one day at a time. . .

Two Worlds

For almost two years I’ve felt like I was living in two different worlds.  It’s an odd place to be, but when one ends up in a job situation, that isn’t a good fit, it is sometimes necessary.  Now, if I were just an employee – say in a production, or service-oriented position, it is easy enough to “just put in the time.”  However, the higher one climbs in areas of responsibility, the more important it is to have personal and professional synchronicity. Without that harmony, someone is going to be unhappy.  And when you’re the leader, and your values don’t match those of the organization, it’s time to leave.

Photo by Joseph Thornton

Photo by Joseph Thornton

I’m not a quitter though.  I figure that I have a lot of room to change, to grow, to adapt – I see conflict as an opportunity to improve relationships.  I do not fear conflict – I don’t always enjoy it, but I don’t fear it.  So, when things began to unravel last year, I saw it as a great opportunity for me to improve my interpersonal and leadership skills.  What I didn’t take into account was that other people don’t always have the patience to work through the conflict.  So around May of this past year, I knew it was over – others had already given up hope on a successful resolution of our values conflict.

In fact, during my daily Quiet Time, I came to the realization that I was released from that position. But I wasn’t given permission to quit.  As a spiritual person, I seek to hear the voice of God in my heart.  If you’re not a spiritual person, that may sound strange to you.  If you have trouble separating religion from spirituality, this concept may even be offensive to you.  But hear me out for a minute:  I’m not a very religious person either.  And yet, I am on a spiritual journey.  But I don’t always know what that means, or where I’m going.  To the bystander, it may look like I’m lost – wandering – and there are times that is true – but for the most part, I’m being lead by a Power greater than me.

Serenity Now

To me, it’s about serenity.  If I lose my serenity, I begin to lose my ability to survive.  Seriously.  It was just a short time ago (almost two decades, but who’s really counting?), that I was dying.  Lost in a world of mind-altering substances, I was either going to die in a horrible car accident, kill myself, acquire some drug-related disease, or fall into an abyss of insanity.  However, through the grace of God, I discovered a path out of that mess.  Ever since, I have continued to move forward, one day at a time.

Yet, there are days, weeks, months, and, unfortunately, longer, where I lose sight of the serenity that brought me out of the hole I fell into. I find myself beginning to slip back into that pit of desperation.  And being blessed cursed with self-confidence, I begin to claw at the sides of the pit, trying to pull myself out.  It’s worked, sometimes – but if I slide deep into the pit, I usually can’t gain traction on my own.  Usually the only way out at that point, is to surrender.  Like a swimmer in trouble, I have to relax and let the lifeguard rescue me – as long as I keep struggling, I only hinder the Savior’s efforts.

So, like an athlete, I know that I have to stay spiritually strong. The way to do that, is to spend regular time in prayer and meditation.  I need quiet, quality, and quantity time (I call this my QT3) with my Higher Power, my God, my Creator, my Savior, and my Master.  He is my Universe.  He is my Life-source.  He is the air I breathe.  Through Him, I have found serenity – and that serenity has given me life.

But that still doesn’t mean that I’m a very religious person.  In fact, I still struggle with most of the trappings of church.  Not because all those trappings are bad things – but mostly because I’m still a pretty broken person and I chafe at people telling me what to do.  And that doesn’t mean that religion has it all figured out either.  Generally, it is led by some pretty broken people too – and they shouldn’t be telling anyone else what to do, how to think, or what to believe.

So, where was I?  Oh yeah…

Photo by Marc Benton

Photo by Marc Benton

Last May, during my QT3 over the course of a week or two, I heard God releasing me from the responsibilities I was employed to do.  Just a few months earlier, I had begged Him to release me – but He said no.  There was more leading to do there.  Last May, I was told to let go.  I was done.  There wasn’t anything else I could accomplish there.  It was a tremendous burden to be lifted off my heart and shoulders.  And yet, He has not released me from spiritual leadership.  As the Dad in our family, I have a responsibility to lead – spiritually, emotionally, and in a whole bunch of arenas.  But this is different.  The call to spiritual leadership came to me in January of 1999 – and I’ve not been released from that.  In fact, it has been reaffirmed and bolstered!

The next few months were hard.  Because even though God had released me from that assignment – as a pastor of a local church – I wasn’t given permission to quit.  I know, to some of you this sounds very mystical, metaphysical, and surreal.  Believe me, I sometimes question my own sanity when I read this stuff.  Some people pass it off as my own pathology, others understand the mysticism, and still others completely dismiss it – without any explanation.  That’s OK – I’m not preaching, I’m just telling you about my journey – my perceived wanderings – my reality.  It’s OK if it’s different for you.  That shouldn’t affect our relationship.

Eventually the decision was made to terminate me.  My acceptance of that decision probably came across as arrogance.  And my last presentation to the congregation was not pleasant – for me, or them.  But it had to happen.  In fact, I wish we could still dialog – I never like ending a relationship in the middle of conflict.  Nobody wins in that situation.  I still care about those people very much – and it hurts me to think that there are unresolved issues.  However, I can only speak into people’s lives as they give me permission.  That is at the heart of my core values – attraction, not promotion.  Discussion, not preaching.  Dialog, not arrogance.  Humility, learning, cooperation, authenticity, and transparency – not pride.

As the final days of my employment approached.  I was feeling relatively confident.  The one-day-at-a-time-serenity, that has become a part of my life, allows me to not project my fears too far into the future.  However, the prospect of living without health insurance and not knowing how we will continue our mortgage payments, make it really hard to be totally fearless.  And yet, I see this as another opportunity for spiritual growth.  Learning to trust and obey.

Obedience

It was obedience to my God-inspired values that got us into this situation.  Why would I abandon those values in the middle of the storm?  If I did abandon those values, I would not only be unemployed, but I’d be a hypocrite – and that wouldn’t make any sense!  That would be like marrying The Wife, “for better and for worse,” but leaving when the honeymoon ended.  My relationship with God isn’t about the immediate gratification of my immediate serenity.  It’s not just about my immediate happiness.  Rather, it is about my longterm survival and continuing on a path of enlightened growth – holistic growth.

My walk with God isn’t about behaving better.  To me, it’s not about morality.  I wouldn’t even say it’s about eternal life.  To me, my spiritual journey is about vision and hope.  The values, the serenity, and the spiritual disciplines all add value to my life.  They give me a vision of who I can become – and that gives me hope.  Without that vision, when I look too deeply into the mirror, I don’t like what I see.  Without that vision, I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to hide my true self from others – and worse, trying to hide from my self.  In fact, the more closely I walk with God, the more freedom I have to be authentic and transparent.  It’s amazingly freeing!

The reason I tend to shun religion is because I don’t see a lot of freedom.  I don’t believe I’m the only one that feels that.  From my perspective, I see a lot of people fleeing religion because of the “shoulds.”  Too many shoulds.  As my friend Bridget said to me yesterday, “religion makes people feel bad about themselves.”  From my perspective, the shoulds create shame – who among us is able to live up to all the shoulds?  We can’t – it’s too much.

Photo by simonsterg

Photo by simonsterg

In my spiritual journey, I threw out the shoulds and instead I’ve embraced the vision of who I can become as I walk with God.  He invited me to join Him, to experience Him, to converse with Him, and to be embraced by His love – despite my brokenness.  And, as Robert Frost once said, “that has made all the difference!

Like any friendship, the more time we spend with someone, the more alike we become. Witness those happy, longterm marriages where not only do the spouses look alike, but their pets look like them too!  And because God is a stronger personality than me, I’m going to be more influenced by His personality, values, and actions, than he will by mine.  (It makes me wonder what churches would be like if they actually let God lead more?)

Oops! Where was I again?  I keep going off on these tangents…

Oh yeah…

So, as the date of my unemployment came and went, and the end of our medical insurance deadline passed, my boldness began to waiver.  And of course, that shouldn’t happen – right?  Not only was I feeling a bit cowardly, but I was also beating myself up for not being brave, like I should. Aurgh!

In the meantime, we were scrambling to get somethings taken care of before certain dates. I never realized before how much bureaucracy is involved in becoming unemployed.  We live in a very complicated society – as if you didn’t know. 😉  We were scrambling to take care of medical and dental issues, filling out unemployment claims, moving money around, ceasing automatic bill payment services, creating resumes, filling out applications, dealing with credit card companies, taking care of termination contracts, filling out forms, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera – blah, blah, blah…

It was hard.

There’s a story in the Bible that has been particularly poignant to me lately.  That is the story of David. He was anointed to be the new King of Israel at a very young age, yet it was a secret.  It was done in private and not ratified by the current leadership.  In the meantime, as David matured, God helped David to grow into a better man.  This growth process stepped on people’s toes – namely the current administration.  Saul, the first King of Israel, was not happy with the path David’s life was taking – and absent a good democratic process, he sough to kill David.

Through all of this, David did not fight back.  It wasn’t right, it wasn’t fair, and he didn’t deserve it.  He hid, he ran away, and he sought survival – but even when he had opportunity, David never took the opportunity to kill Saul.  At one point David and his followers are hiding out in a cave – Adullam’s cave.  It was a God ordained place of refuge.  This is where I’ve been over the last few weeks – hiding out in the Cave of Adullam.  I needed that.  It was God ordained.

Several weeks ago during my quiet time, I heard God saying to me (by the way, I don’t hear Him audibly) to take some time and rest.  It’s OK to hide out in the cave for awhile.  I thought I was slipping back into the abyss.  I was discouraged and broken – but God said I needed to recover.  Three surgeries in three weeks, newly unemployed, the stress of the past year’s conflicts, financially broken, and ostracized by my spiritual community – yeah, I agreed.  I did need a break.

I needed that permission.  As a fighter – a self-confident achiever – I was going to make it work.  But the God who loves me said, “Take a break.  I got it covered.

Loser

Now this is counter-intuitive to everyone I know.  People kept asking:

How’s the job search going?

What’s next?

Now what are you going to do?

And when I told them I was waiting for God to give me more instructions, you could see the disdain and exasperation in their eyes.  It’s as if I could hear them saying:

Loser.”

“Idiot.”

“No wonder you got fired.

It was hard to stand against the current in these conversations.

I have to inform you that living in a cave isn’t really a pleasant experience either. It’s dark, damp, drafty, cold, and kind of creepy.  Like the lava tubes around Mt. St. Helens, one doesn’t always know how deep the cave is either.  Or, worse, what is living in that cave with you!?

It’s hard to sleep in the cave.  It’s uncomfortable.  There’s no sunlight.  Spiritually, emotionally, socially, relationally – one is alone.  As John Gray says in his book, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus: “There is danger to the person who tries to enter that cave!”

(In other words, The Wife has had to deal with a grumpy, crabby husband for the past month)

As I begin to crawl out of this cave, I am better prepared to face the fight ahead – it’s not over – but I have to admit that I’m not quite up to speed. I’m feeling a little tenuous about life in the great big world.  That’s OK though.  I don’t have to bite off more than I can chew.  It’s still one day at a time.  One of the advantages of trusting in God is that I know He has it all covered.  “Look at the birds,” He says. “They don’t worry about tomorrow.  Yet, I take care of them.” And then the best part: “and you’re much more valuable to me than those birds!

This is My Job

Yesterday when I got home from WordCampPDX (which was awesome!) the family was quite excited to see me.  Darling Daughter started screaming as soon as she saw the car, she and Smiling Son came running into my arms in the garage.  The Wife was quite affectionate in her welcome too.  (Have I ever mentioned how much fun it is to be a Dad?  I love this job!!)  Despite the turmoil; despite the crabbiness; despite the chaos; and despite the unknown of the future – they still love me.  (In a perfect world, this is what church would look like too.)

After spending some time together, seeing some of the things they’d done during the day (cleared some space of weeds and blackberries and planted strawberries, drawings, clutter-clearing, etc.), I went into my office to check the blog and social-network for which I just assumed responsibility.  I was busily checking tweets, comments, and editing posts – when in trucked Smiling Son.  He climbed up on my lap and we talked a bit.  He hadn’t been gone for more than a couple of minutes when in danced Darling Daughter.  She was caught up in one of her fantastic stories. I was the Father King and she the Princess Daughter.  She too sought refuge on my lap.

I saw through their thinly veiled masquerades though.  They just wanted to be with me.  I was OK with that – it was a good thing.

This morning, as I was in the bathroom, Darling Daughter came in and sought my attention.  “Just a minute,” I said.  But out of the corner of my eye I caught some body language that made me take notice.  She wasn’t hurt, per se; it was more like she had interrupted me (which she had) and would just disappear.  Something inside of me said, “Daddy.  Pay attention.” And I did.

In her hands she held three bird feathers.  Insignificant to you and I, but very important to a creative, intelligent, and socially aware four year-old.  As I squatted down to look at the feathers, I sought to dig the meaning or significance of these feathers to her.  Instead, she wanted to know why there was shaving cream all over my face.  She was fascinated by the process and asked me why I had to shave everyday?  “But why is there shaving cream on the back of your neck?” She asked.  I explained about my hairy neck.  The questions continued and I remained at her level – physically, emotionally, and intellectually – for awhile.

It was a connection point.  It was real.  It was intimate.  There was balance.  In the not-too-distant future, I’ll be watching her graduate from college, getting married, having kids, and moving away – not always in that order.  I am determined to take these moments and live fully within those moments.  The past is the past.  The future is yet to be discovered.  But right now, today, I have a Beautiful Wife, a Darling Daughter, and a Smiling Son who need there Dad to be present.

This is my job.

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10 Comments
  1. September 22, 2009 9:19 am

    Gary, you continue to amaze me. Truly. Wow. And we need to get together for some coffee or lunch still!

    • September 22, 2009 10:04 am

      Thanks for the affirmation Greg! (and yes, we do need to get together – let me know when you’re free)

  2. Rubyjean permalink
    September 23, 2009 8:53 pm

    Gary, it is not really important what “other people” think about how God leads us, or speaks to us. Most of us have a hard time separating what we want others to think of us and what God thinks of us. Or even what we think of ourselves.

    I think that you are too hard on yourself. After all, You are a Prince!!! A son of the King~!!! and also God doesn’t make junk.

    He does take care of the birds and the flowers, and He will you and your family also.

    The hard part of all this, is that so often it is painful, but didn’t Jesus say that the pruning hurts, but that the results will be worth it.

    Also, you are gaining a blessed amount of extra time with your rapidly growing children. Time that you will always treasure, and like you said, “you like this JOB!”

  3. September 24, 2009 7:38 pm

    Thanks for sharing this post with me, G. You do have an awesome job. 🙂

    As for your personal journey — I resonated with a lot of the things you said.

    Always remember that a live plant is perfect at every stage… whatever the season, whatever the weather.

    Blessings to you and the fam.

    • September 25, 2009 12:00 am

      Thanks KM! That is a great analogy.

  4. September 26, 2009 4:29 pm

    Awesome post…I have no wise words to add. Just a few words of admiration for you journey, thanks for sharing. Kim

    PS…tell the wife my sympathies on the grumpy hubby thing!

    • garyswalter permalink*
      September 26, 2009 9:26 pm

      I’m certain any grumpiness is just an internal perception on my part and The Wife would have no clue as to what you are referring to!? 😉

      Thanks for your support and affirmation. Also thanks for the Stumble thumbs up on Part 1!

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