This is the first of two blogs on the misfortunes (literally) of the last six months and the amazing events happening now. After reading this, please subscribe and stay tuned for the next story, on the adventure of a lifetime.
Ted Kennedy Jr.’s story about going sledding just after losing his leg left me teary and gasping for breath. Here are his words as his eulogized his father:
But today I’m simply compelled to remember Ted Kennedy as my father and my best friend. When I was 12 years old I was diagnosed with bone cancer and a few months after I lost my leg, there was a heavy snowfall over my childhood home outside of Washington D.C. My father went to the garage to get the old Flexible Flyer and asked me if I wanted to go sledding down the steep driveway. And I was trying to get used to my new artificial leg and the hill was covered with ice and snow and it wasn’t easy for me to walk. And the hill was very slick and as I struggled to walk, I slipped and I fell on the ice and I started to cry and I said “I can’t do this.” I said, “I’ll never be able to climb that hill.” And he lifted me in his strong, gentle arms and said something I’ll never forget. He said “I know you’ll do it, there is nothing you can’t do. We’re going to climb that hill together, even if it takes us all day.”
Sure enough, he held me around my waist and we slowly made it to the top, and, you know, at age 12 losing a leg pretty much seems like the end of the world, but as I climbed onto his back and we flew down the hill that day I knew he was right. I knew I was going to be OK. You see, my father taught me that even our most profound losses are survivable and it is what we do with that loss, our ability to transform it into a positive event, that is one of my father’s greatest lessons. He taught me that nothing is impossible.
For reasons that will soon be clear, the last six-nine months have been like traversing a slick driveway, worrying that I might break a leg, slide into traffic, or worse. Basically, I felt like a victim. The can-do attitude that was had anchored me in past years was buried in a snowdrift. I knew there was a loving Father* out there and that nothing is impossible (eventually!) but I couldn’t feel His strong, gentle arms carrying me up that hill I couldn’t climb alone.
In the past, when those dealing with feelings of victimization came to me for ministerial support, I would listen sympathetically and reassure them that they are not bad people and they are not alone. Then I encourage them to get therapy (if appropriate) and do three things: 1) create some beauty – art, gardening, music, writing, anything – in their lives; 2) reach out to those in greater need; and 3) make a list of five-ten simple easy-to-do things and complete at least three of them. In doing so, they will regain some semblance of self-esteem and slowly – with the encouragement and help of others – their lives will turn around. Good advice, no?
But now I was on the receiving, not the giving, end of such wisdom. Recognizing that I needed professional help, I made an appointment with Dr. Dark Chocolate, M.D., Personal and Family Therapist. Seeing my maladjusted state, he recommended regular sessions. When he was unavailable, I went to one of his colleagues at Self-Help Therapies, P.A., either Ms. Freecell, M.S.W., or Mr. Spider, M.F.T. The three of them also recommended group therapy, so I joined four-six others in regular Red Wine Group sessions. (I always came away feeling better after these meetings, especially when Dr. Chocolate led them.)
And why, you may ask, did I need such intensive psychological and spiritual support?
Looking back, it probably started when I resigned as pastor from the church, although I believe it was the most loving thing to do. It had became clear that I was a lightning rod for disappointments that began before my tenure and would continue long into the future unless I withdrew from the situation and let others take over.
Soon afterwards, I was asked to support an amazing project developing a cultural awareness programs for non-native Alaskans. I was thrilled to research and develop a lecture series, educational web programs, and traveling exhibits that would introduce people to the gifts and challenges of the Iñupiat (Eskimo) culture. Unfortunately, just as we were hitting our stride, the project imploded when political issues and financial stresses halted the effort. I fell hard.
About the same time, the adult son of a close friend was helping me with yard work. After a year of trust and appreciation, he returned to his previous drug and gambling habits – and also stole cash, checks, and equipment from me. I understand how hard it is to get clean from one’s addictions (as shown by my need to visit Dr. Chocolate on a regular basis), but I nonetheless felt betrayed.
Then the biggest trauma – the cancer that broke my spirit and turned me into a victim – concerned my tenants. I had moved from the larger (upper) unit to the smaller (lower) unit as a way of saving money when I left the church, renting to a lovely couple with two fine boys. When the recession hit, the father (a self-employed contractor) could not find work. Monthly rent payments were late or for partial amounts. I tried to help by recommending him to friends and hiring his wife to help on my website; I worked out a new payment plan. Seeing them in tears, I paid to get their dog out of the pound after he had run away. I loaned them money for a much-needed date. While I was not their minister, it seemed that I had become their savior.
And then the payments stopped entirely. She received a minimal salary as a freelance web designer and office manager, and he had no work. They begged; I implored; things got worse. The fact that California law greatly favors the tenants did not help. So when they owed me over $6,500, I finally evicted them (after all, I was unemployed and broke also). My anxiety was heightened because they lived above me, and I feared for what they might do to my house, my dog, or me. I had to wait a month until they actually left – another $2,000 lost. In the process, for the first time in my life, I was paralyzed by fear.
I changed the locks, struggled to regain my footing, and slowly inched up the icy hill. Friends sustain me; tomatoes ripen despite aphids and weeds, Kyrie’s four puppies are healthy and growing, and even the occasional stranger brings words of comfort and good will. In particular, I thank Alan Olson who wrote to tell me that he had enjoyed my website and blogs and wondered why I hadn’t written in several months. He ended: “So, I am just a voice out of the cyber-virtual fog of the internet, calling out to encourage. Keep writing, keep encountering, keep expecting that what you see before you is only a veiled covering for what truly ‘is;’ and lies beneath the surface.”
Like Teddy Kennedy’s words to his troubled son, simple expressions of encouragement can also be the steady voice of hope. Thank you, Alan.
Yes, grace happens!
But wait! – there’s more! If you call 1-800-THANK-GOD within the next 10 minutes, we’ll double the offer and you can have two doses of grace for the price of one!
… About three weeks ago, Carla Friedrich, my best friend when we were at the Pacific School of Religion, put a note on her Facebook page asking for volunteers to join in a service trip to Nepal and help her develop a film and business plan for opening a new orphanage. Details will be in the next blog – coming later this week.
And, then, when I told Dr. Chocolate about Nepal, he decided that I was no longer in need of therapy. However, he gave me the address and phone number for a 12-step program that could be helpful. It’s called 12-step Elliptical.
I’m heading there now….
* I apologize to myself and others who cringe at the idea of a patriarchal god, but the image of Teddy Kennedy’s care for his crippled son and God’s love for all of us is just too beautiful not to use.