the answer always reveals itself.

I give you these words with severe trepidation.  Herein is ego suicide.

My collar is a shade of blue these days.  It used to be white you know but I’ve discovered the blue mercifully hides tear stains better.

I used to work for a church, in an office of my own with hours of my making and self-defined goals to be met.  My labor was almost all mental or some mix of spiritual at least.  I spoke publicly and led teams of volunteers to visions of grandeur.  I would get up from my cushioned chair to adjust the thermostat.  I wrote emails and judged by subjective parameters of creativity.  Coworkers were friends and friends felt plentiful.

I felt known by others.

I have a new office now and it’s behind the wheel of a truck.  Vinyl lined seats seep the odorous sweat of foregone drivers and by the end of the heated day I contribute.  The alignment is a bit off but the first turn of the engine in the early morning still seems to wake my senses more than the coffee.  The air blows cold but rules require the engine’s death when not moving so I relish the last waft as I pull up to the first house.

An exchange begins.  I have arrived on time to rid this residence of it’s pests.

I’ve thought of every way possible to make exterminating sexy but I just can’t map it out.  It’s a goal founded in my insecurities anyways.

I crawl into the spaces under people’s homes but in reality I’m just crawling back into my self again, my soul.  I wave a flashlight around concerned about another pair of eyes staring back at me but I think rather I’m looking for some universal truth hidden in the crevices of this house’s old foundation.  The same voice whispers from the shadows beyond, ‘How did you end up here’?  I swallow hard and descend.

Axiom and aphorism are my companions in the deep and the silence. Emerging from each house a small piece of the answer always reveals itself.  I’m getting paid to find bugs, fungus, termites, water but in the meantime I’m finding pieces of myself.  I’m certainly not the man I was before going in.  Perhaps I’m not really inspecting these houses.  I think they are inspecting me instead.

Doctors and lawyers hang well deserved degrees in their home offices as I spray beneath.  I look at the framed papers and they sullenly look back at me.  Should I hang my masters degree from my rearview mirror?  I laugh as I ponder the image but of course this would be impractical so instead I’ll hang if from my heart, my hope and my shadowy dreams.

I don’t feel as known by others now.  I’m here for a service and therefore temporary relationships become rapidly commodified.  I want to be known as more than the ‘bug guy’ but it’s why I’m here so let’s just do this and do it well.

I laud my fellow sojourners.  I praise those among us with the bluest collars.  Here’s a toast to the exterminators, the janitors, the bus drivers, the factory workers, the grocery baggers and those who craft delicately with fingers ablaze.  I salute the caste entirely.  It’s the communal therapy we offer each other in the predawn hours that sharpens the afternoon haze.

Not all who wander are lost but those who are lost certainly do their fair share of wandering. Everyday my ego dies a new death and everyday I am resurrected a new, better man.  Maybe I look better with a blue-collar anyways.  I’ve heard it matches my eyes.

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hope after.

So I finalized a divorce last year.  It didn’t make the cover of any magazine and when the summary judgement arrived in the mail it was to no fanfare.  In fact, I thought I would have to make an appearance in court but the county I live in doesn’t require it if all the facts are agreed upon between plaintiff and defendant.  I couldn’t afford a lawyer so I did everything I could by myself which, by the way, is quite the learning curve.  I should at least be a paralegal by now.

It’s been almost a year and a half since she gave me the news.  In the beginning, my heart was ground zero.  I would gather myself at the barricades to watch from out-of-body the wrecked remains of what once was.  Daily and nightly I laid flowers at the feet of memories.  I tried to piece them together to form some of type of narrative that might preserve happily-ever-after or a temporary sanity but to no avail.  As hours turned to days which turned to weeks and months, it was time and not a story that assuaged my broken heart.

For me, the devastation of separation and divorce wasn’t in loss of property or even mutual relationships, although I mourn such things.  It wasn’t even in the cultural stigma associated with being a pastor on staff at a church and having a failed marriage, although I fully explored the contours of such stigma.  For me, the devastation of separation and divorce were incarnated in a funeral that couldn’t quite happen.  There was no one or nothing to say with definitive finality, “good-bye”.  Normalcy was like a teasing desert mirage and my thirst for catharsis, or at least answers, went unquenched.

A lot of blogs, books and people mean well.  They say marriage is hard and you have to work at it and by God it is and by God you do.

But divorce…

Was I the drunk driver or was I in oncoming traffic?  How did this mess occur…I’m trying to piece it together now but it’s fuzzy.  Was I the victim or the perpetrator or was I…both?  I’ve spent the last year and a half investigating myself, trying to separate fact from fiction.

Being left, separated from someone I’ve known for so long forced a despairing or rather, a flattening.  My ideas of God, commitment, happiness, community, eternity, objectivity were no longer safe.  In the subsequent months of separation I chose to pursue and know only that which I could touch, taste and feel.  Despite making choices that my religious traditions had taught against, I still prayed that grace would find me somewhere in the margins and the sleepless nights.

Time has mercifully passed and what I’ve emerged into these days is far less a forced optimism based on [fill-in-the-blank] circumstances or cognitive-behavioral therapy.  Rather and in contrast to optimism, I find myself in a decently sized hope.  A hope that my value as a person is so intrinsic, so expected by the universe that negotiating my worth doesn’t depend on a full social schedule or esteemed vocation.

There is hope after because I look up and Orion’s belt still hangs in the midnight sky.  There is hope after as I look around and name those encamped but imperfect guardian angels like Tracey, Rachel, Blake and Jonathan.  I look down and there is my adoring black lab, Lacey who looks back up after 7 long, crazy years…a sneaky gray creeping down both our beards now.

I recently heard someone say “write to let people know they’re not alone”, so here is to that glorious merit.  The answers to God, commitment, happiness, community, eternity, objectivity remain elusive but not impenetrable.  Such things reveal themselves in the consistent, undeserved graces of others and the long drives to nowhere.  You are not alone.  If you are on the precipice of divorce, in the midst of separation or just even haunted by some deep anxiety, you are not alone.

There are so many subsequent facets of the human condition that I have discovered via my own anxieties but are nowhere near new to life or those around and before me.  So here then I offer the words of Christian Wiman from ‘My Bright Abyss‘, musing his poetic theology from a cancer-stricken body to offer me solace and conclusion:

“What you must realize , what you must come to praise, is the fact that there is no right way that is going to become apparent to you once and for all.  The most blinding illumination that strikes and perhaps radically changes your life will be so attenuated and obscured by doubts and dailiness that you may one day come to suspect the truth of that moment at all.  The calling that seemed so clear will be lost in echoes of questionings and indecision; the church that seems to save you will fester with egos, complacencies, banalities; the deepest love of your life will work itself out like a thorn in your heart until all you can think of is plucking it out.  Wisdom is accepting the truth of this.  Courage is persisting with life in spite of it.  And faith is finding yourself, in the deepest part of your soul, in the very heart of who you are, moved to praise it.”

In this I remind myself once again, that there is hope before, hope during and hope after.

On this, my 30th…

I suppose I was looking to wake up feeling different or smarter as I embark on my 31st year. Alas, such forlorn thinking is reserved for the movies. Rather, I woke up just a little more grateful for those people in my life I call “friends” and a little more grateful for the grace of God.

I suppose I didn’t deserve the previous 30 years and to remember that I don’t deserve this day might serve my gratefulness a little more too. I offer this note of thanks to every single individual that I have crossed paths with, perhaps even leaving in my wake a trail of pain, love or ambivalence. To each of you, I say thank you for sowing a piece of yourself into my tapestry and letting me sow a bit of myself into yours.

It’s not easy to look back on the choices I’ve made that have caused others hurt but to look back on those choices at all is itself an act of God’s mercy. I believe more today than ever before in the notions of sovereignty, providence and free will. I believe more today than ever before that life is a gift and to celebrate that gift is divine.

To those who might read this and are suffering under the weight of an unfair hand, I admonish you with this simple word: “wait“. Time can be the cruelest of enemies and the best of friends. The gift of time is perspective and the gift of perspective is contentment. Settle deeply into the weight of what ails you and know that waiting will yield your catharsis.

For those of you who know me and my life at the intersection of introversion and extroversion, I offer you this brief poem in an unusual moment of lucidity:

Time waits for no man
and I list blissfully in her arms
like a babe cognizant of a
distant tomorrow.

Time waits for no woman
and I resist her grip
like a toddler longing for
the freedom of open space.

Time waits for no child
and I gaze unyieldingly
at the choices of a
blurring yesterday.

Time waits not for me
as I’m confronted with the
choices of a new day
and another year.

Time waits for no man
to discern how absolutely gracious
she has been for the gift of
time.

On this, my 30th…I am loved and so are you.

the waiting room.

The young man sits and waits, with anxious thoughts and sweaty palms.  He was here last week and the routine is the same.  Come in, sit down, grab a magazine and watch the faces of people coming and going.

Very few make eye contact.  Nobody really wants to be recognized.  Anonymity is a strange solace.  The illusion of control has been shattered and we have all surrendered to the mercy of complete strangers.

Last week was hard.  The counselor probed into some sensitive areas.  It didn’t feel fair to experience such forced vulnerability.  Exposure of the soul always led to this same choice.  Tense muscles, clenched fists, gritted teeth, anger or the pain of honesty.

More than pride is at stake.  Marriages are on the line.  Some are in this waiting room because they put themselves in it.  Others are in this waiting room because they love that person who did.  For all, the question remains, “Why do I have to be here?”

The young man dreads the waiting room.  Just once, he would like to leave this place without crying.  For once he would like to avoid some painful memory or relive a poor choice.  Why do all his choices have to be held under a microscope? Haven’t we all made mistakes?

He looks over to the person sitting in the chair next to his and remembers why he’s here.

His tears will never match the number of hers.  His pain will always pale in comparison.  Self-inflicted wounds have a tinge of justice…a quasi-karma is attached.  Her wounds are just unfair.

How many times and in how many ways can an apology take shape?  The balm of confession is most effective in solidarity.  You just keep doing and saying what it takes until peace breaks through.  The broken ways are made whole again through time and trust.

The waiting room.  They’ve both been here before.

His name is called and he looks up.  Standing there is a very masculine man with a voice like thunder.  He just asks one question, “Are you ready?”  A deep breath is drawn in like a diver before piercing cold water.  It’s into the office and away from the crowd.  No more anonymity.

It’s time.  The young man says, “Yes, I’m ready” and steps into his office one more time…

leadership mistake #2: holding resentment.

Walter Gramatte: "Confession" 1920

Image via Wikipedia

I just had a conversation today with someone I would consider a dear friend after a silence of 6 months.  This quiet period bred two things in me: a wandering mind and the idea of bitterness.  Without even realizing it, I was building a quiet cynicism towards this persons intentions and even their abilities.

Amazingly after talking, we both admitted to harboring almost the exact same resentment toward each other.  The context’s were slightly different but the theme remained the exact same: injustice.  Essentially, we felt that what happened to one of us should have happened to both of us.

It occurred to me that resentment typically comes from a sense of injustice.  The notion that fairness should be an overarching theme to my life has rapidly revealed itself to be an illusion.  Just like the illusion of control this myth of fairness seems to offer a system of false hope.  Real injustice breeds social change whereas perceived injustice potentially breeds resentment.

I know I’m being somewhat cryptic here regarding my own situation but would feel it a betrayal to reveal our conversation completely.  Still, he made an astoundingly discerning statement: “I guess resentment crept in because our relationship never got beyond the surface.”  This saddened me…I’ve known him for 10 years.

How could someone I’ve known for so long so easily resent me?  I think it’s because we didn’t practice that most difficult of tasks: accountability.  In our professional and personal lives we never held each other to a level of accountability that would sustain our relationship through the rough times.

The fact is, all long-term relationships have good times and bad times.  It’s in those bad times that we have to polish our ‘confessional’ skills.  It’s hard to bear resentment toward your brother and sister when we’re accountable enough to confess those seeds of indignation.

The irony is that I think God is capable of handling our resentments toward him, justified or not.  I don’t think you or I are capable of holding resentments toward each other though.  It’s like trying to breathe through a straw when you are around someone who causes a subtle anger in you.

What are some triggers for resentment?  Recurring thoughts of injustice, unfairness, failed expectations and frustrations.  What is the answer?  Confession.  I use ancient and liturgical terms but their remedy is no less effectual.  From the CEO to the cleaning crew, the executive to the cashier, find relief from resentment.  Find healing and hope in your honesty.

Maybe your expectations were wrong.  Maybe you got passed on the raise or the position.  Or maybe, just maybe, you did do everything right and everything you possibly could.

My hope for you?  Don’t be resentful, be free.

Did you pass or fail?

Today, somehow and somewhere you were given a test. Everday, in fact, this test is given although no sweaty palms were present. Maybe some studying would help or maybe you were tempted to cheat on the test. It’s not proctored and it is always multiple choice. Today, you were given an opportunity to pass or fail, not just to make an average and not just to make the curve. The test is called leadership and you were given an opportunity to pass or fail. You’re not leading numbers or values or ideas but you are leading people. Those other things will rise and fall with time but the test of leading people, truly investing in them…that’s the test. Did you pass or fail?