My definition of “crisis” is: that experience in which we find out what we’re made of and what we believe.
I am not saying I look forward to them or want any more this year, just that I know they’re character-building.
If you’re facing loss this year—perhaps loss of income, health, housing, family members, animals who’ve been your best friends– you already know about the need to be grounded in something solid enough to get you through.
Often the very time you have to come to terms with a world that is not working for you, you have to be on your feet, moving– no time to stop and reflect on what you believe. You have to already know what you believe or develop it on the spot.
What step to take next? Will it do anything to resolve the situation?
I hate being scared in desperate moments, because it kind of wipes out all hope of figuring out what to do with calm rationality. If survival is taking up my life’s energy, I don’t want to be further drained by negative emotions. I am learning from this experience why we need to work on negative emotions before the emotions do us in more than the crisis itself.
When I see personal disaster heading toward me, I’m supposed to know better than worry. But I know I give in to this unhelpful state of mind at least some point in the day. I unburden myself to people I think will listen, and take every action step that seems reasonable. My praying shifts to intense mode but I think it should be there all the time. More work on this, too.
Worrying adds nothing and it sure takes away peace of mind. Those of us who say we rely on God whose power is the supreme reality have no business insulting the supreme reality by acting as though He is not up to the present situation.
So my story is–this year I lost comparatively minor material things like my computer, phone service, internet and cable connections.
Life goes on.
You shift to public computers. Maybe you get limited access, uncertain internet connection, microwaved food smells—the result of a volunteer supervisor who is always eating or talking about it. Maybe you compete for air in a small room in an old building where only two windows open and the same supervisor generally prefers them closed. Maybe the flu circulates often, (the supervisor coughs and sneezes and clears his throat a lot without covering mouth or nose) but you show up, wash your hands when you leave, and hold on.
There will be a time when a private computer will be available to work with, in peace, tranquility, and cleaner air, in the future. Work towards it.
Then– more major things disappeared from my lif: my car, which wore out before I could replace it, and three weeks ago, my housing.
That kind of exhausted my “holding on” patience. A cloud formed over my head.
An unpredictable little crisis, the lack of housing stems from two factors: house-sitting commitments for the winter months, and a rental lease coming due two months too early to make everything work out neatly.
Even though I have used mental resources and spiritual beliefs to weather each thing, the housing situation wore me down during the three months I tried to find alternate housing. I could see the date approaching for which I had nowhere to live.
In the back of my mind, the real issue behind the frustration was not yet being able to afford property on which to build my dream house and conference center. I had thought, by this age, to have this dream up and running. It felt like failure. If I were smarter, faster, better, this wouldn’t be happening. I would be in my own little cabin, in a corner of that property, and no rental leases would budge me.
This dream, now ten years strong, drew me to this beautiful agricultural valley and its bordering mountains, in 2004. My dream was to purchase a huge property with plenty of breathing room, and finding designers who create wonderful natural structures from wood, stone and glass.
I had to overcome lifelong illness first. You get as healthy as you can if you want to really enjoy living your dreams.
So far, I have managed to retrain as a career coach who helps people follow their preferences and passions in creating work they love to do, (through Valerie Young at www.changingcourse.com). As well, a wonderful health book found me, the kind that which details how to turn around illnesses that traditional medicine has a hard time solving. My health and weight changed remarkably. That story is for another posting.
I am grateful to have achieved those things. It’s just that I expect to stay in “full steam ahead” mode every day. I am learning about the value of daily small steps, though, in the process. They add up to forward movement, and are a good reason not to ever give in to inertia.
I should state here that I am the most fortunate of people to have a success team partner who also trained as a career change coach. She did a stellar job keeping me anchored and encouraged during this year’s challenges. Many times I printed out her perceptive messages to reflect on.
Back to the dream property. It would be on one of the mountains overlooking this valley in Nova Scotia, of course.
I envision the conference centrer as a geodesic dome of wood, stone, and glass—beautiful inside as well as out. Sustainable energy, certainly. I am influenced by Bill Strickland’s (Make The Impossible Possible) belief that beautiful settings are essential in inspiring people to learn how to create what they need in their lives. No less me.
Along with the conference dome, there would be a music hall (does two pianos sound too grand for this dream?) and dining hall with skylights and a south exposure. Well, better throw in a greenhouse, too. What a great place to work on a winter’s day, around plants, light, and sunshine!
On Saturday nights after the evening meal in the dining hall, we—workshop participants and friends, old and new– would push the tables back, and hop around to expert fiddling and banjo playing.
For sure there would be gardens, the edible kind and the restorative kind that are a delight to the senses and help you regain your equilibrium.
My own dwelling—that simple one-room log cabin–would be tucked up in a corner of the property, behind a stand of trees. A second small cabin nearby, complete with sauna and wood heat, would serve as guest house. I am not sure where I am housing those future workshop participants, yet. On the property? Nearby motel?
The dream, after ten years, is still intense. At times I can picture it completed, with workshop participants arriving from anywhere and everywhere in the world. I like to think they would be excited about gaining tools and techniques to create work that’s right for them and about connecting with each other. They might find a team partner as good as mine!
I can picture certain people I would like to visit at meal-times, enjoying yummy repasts in the dining hall. And I hear singing in the music hall—and maybe other places as well.
Many days the whole thing feels close and attainable, and so very right. As I write this, I sure am happy. I feel like I’m there.
Other days I cannot seem to effect any forward movement on things near to my heart, and imagined voices in my head are going, “how are you going to do that?” (These voices, like career-change coach and author Barbara Sher writes, almost always sound sarcastic and critical.) And there is no shortage of real voices, either, informing me how foolish my dreams are. Don’t want too much, because you don’t get what you want in this life. Settle.
As aggravating as things can get at times, I know I‘m not going to settle. I believe life was meant for living, not settling.
Back to the housing problem, which was about finding temporary accommodations for two months–almost everything rentable is taken up by students just now.
I posted notices online, in the town, at the university, in church bulletins, and knocked on doors with my card. I was even hoping to find a retired person who owned their own home who might not mind having company for two months.
Despite trekking around country roads asking for information, my best efforts to find a temporary place to live came to nothing. Suddenly, on October 31, it was time to move.
There was no Plan B, like “moving in with Mom”. I couldn’t think of a single person who might agree to take me in for sixty days.
But I did ask someone. And so, on Hallowe’en night, after moving all day and doing the final cleaning, I stashed last minute items with my kind-hearted neighbor. Then set off on foot, cat tucked into a sling made from a sheer curtain, knotted at the back of my neck by my neighbor, who then zipped my jacket around the cat.
Rain dripped off my umbrella and shoulder bag. Wynnie rested his front paws contentedly outside my jacket and looked around with great curiosity at the Trick-or-Treaters passing us. It was long since dark.
“They have homes to go to,” I told Wynnie. “We don’t. This is not fun.”
But he registered only a sense of adventure, so I didn’t belabor the point. If we were going to be homeless, at least we would do it together.
Exhaustion set in, almost as soon as we left what had been “home”. We were headed for the highway, to beg a ride.
The day before, while putting my belongings in storage, I recalled a newspaper story I had once seen about a man who had nowhere to go, and was sleeping in his storage unit, with his dog.“Is that going to happen to us?” I asked myself. It seemed hugely possible at the time.
For the next curve ball life throws at me, I want to have developed the toughness to prevent myself from giving in to unhelpful thoughts and images based on negative feelings. Feelings have never been any measure or predictor of reality. I did not end up living out of my storage unit, so why should I have ever tortured my mind with that image?
As we moved toward the highway, I thought about the words taped up on my wall throughout this year of loss:
- Don’t imagine the worst and call it “reality”
- Don’t reckon without God
(I had picked that part up from the books of Catherine Marshall, who wrote A Man Called Peter, Christy, Something More, and others. I’ve also heard it reinforced in hundreds of sermons. )
- Who needs my services?
- World Headquarters of Possibility Thinking
The “who needs my services” part, and “world HQ of possibility thinking” seemed totally irrelevant to the moment, though.
My last practical step that morning was to ask a lady I had done some work for if I could possibly stay with her family a little while. It was definitely not an ideal time to ask, but she and her family have their beliefs, too. They would not see me without a roof– at least for a week. After that I would have to have something else in place.
So now we were making our way twenty-five miles to the farm, in the dark and wet, without a car. I didn’t bother feeling sorry for myself that my car had died, the month before, but that didn’t stop me from recalling the many times I had shot out to the farm for vegetables, quickly and easily.
That was then. This was now. I liked then a whole lot better!
Buses don’t run out here in the country on Sundays, and try as I might, I couldn’t think of a single person with a car who would give the “yes” answer to a request for a ride. Maybe I didn’t consider my list of acquaintances with clear thinking, I don’t know. There was no one right around me who would have done it, anyway.
Taxi fare was out of the question.
I dragged myself up the bank to the road. By this time my four-footed pal had stopped viewing our walk as “adventure” and was howling his unhappiness. I wanted to do the same.
My back ached from the final clean-up and his weight around my neck. I forced one boot in front of the other, reaching the edge of the highway. I was not new to hitch-hiking. But this time it was in rainy darkness. I had read news stories of people displaced from their homes by armed takeovers, running by night for their lives. See how easily my mind identified with them, and yet I do not live in a war zone and have never had to run for my life.
I rested on the edge of the highway a couple of minutes, wanting to howl my fatigue and hopelessness.
Then I thanked God for helplessness (Catherine Marshall ought to know I take her advice seriously) and committed to Him our need for a safe drive. I stood up, cautiously edging a leg over the guard rail, cheek down to Wynnie.
I knew our chances of being seen on the road were limited. I had neither a light, nor reflectors, nor light clothing. Even Wynnie is coal black.
The third car stopped. It was a former military person, passing through to visit his brother at a military base.
“I could make out an umbrella, so I knew it was a woman, and you seemed to be holding some kind of animal,” he said. Bless him for stopping! This stranger, whose name I should have asked, drove us to the door of the farm. If he had not, I don’t think I could have walked another step.
I can only marvel at the timing of God’s loving hand. While I was wondering “what now?”, He already had the right driver moving toward us at the right speed. No way I can frame that as a coincidence. It was nothing I did. My negative feelings did not wipe out the help coming all along, so they were pointless. Feelings are not the real us, writes Catherine Marshall– the real us is the will.
A week later, I was writing the church secretary about the incident. Her email said, “God knows your circumstances and is taking an active interest in your life.”
Yes, Penny. If only I can remember that for the next scary moment.
You don’t get a bulletin announcing how God is going to provide. You simply trust Him with your heart in your mouth. Active trust, doesn’t mean– for me, yet—that all fear is gone. But I would like it if it did. Hopefully I will develop in this regard. Rather, active trust amounts to a decision you make about Who or What you depend on when the chips are down.
One day when my brother and I were still teenagers, Mom announced, “Some people go down in adversity—you two go up.” Not much choice, there. I remember the living room in our small sixties apartment which was turned over to my Marine brother, on leave from Vietnam at the time.
Mom couldn’t know when she said it that Wayne would be gone in six weeks, giving his earthly life in a medical evacuation mission. Or that she herself would be gone in two years.
It looks like I get to be the one to try living it.
Well, I really do prefer being an overcomer to not being able to deal with what life throws at me. But I have to be honest and say I would much prefer being an armchair overcomer to actually living it. Let’s just watch someone else do it on an inspiring TV program and then get on with a safe life!
However, I firmly believe hardship and loss are just things I’m passing through. I’m not planning on living here, permanently.
I am also not letting circumstances define me. I am determined to create a future with the things that are presently lacking from my life, even in the current economy, or perhaps especially in the current economy.
That future contains the conference center, and the fiddler in the dining hall Saturday nights, Bonnie, my friend, and team partner reminds me. People will be coming from all over the world to find out how to follow their dreams, and hook up with like-minded people. She won’t let me give up on that. Lucky for me.
So it seems appropriate to title this blog UP FROM HERE. I don’t know if Mom had in mind all those years ago what I would do with what she said, which was probably nothing more than a spur-of-the-moment lesson for her kids. The teenage me certainly had no trouble dismissing it from her mind. But I’m glad today for the directive. That is one of the things that helped to form my Crisis Beliefs. Life might change, but probably is not going to get easier from here on out.
As to how we frame the happenings and situations that are less than what we’d like, Barbara Winter, career coach and author of Making A Living Without a Job, as well as the newsletter Winning Ways, (www.winningways.com), tells the story of how she had once stayed at a YWCA in a strange town. She was giving a career- change seminar. It was raining, she had taken the bus, and the whole trip was stressful and hard. Years later, she found herself staying in a highrise hotel in the same town, overlooking the same YWCA. This was a well-appointed hotel. She reflected on how her circumstances had changed. “I had to stay “down there” the first time, she concluded, “in order to get up here”.
She would say there is an order to things—a progression. One thing serves as a stepping stone to another. Know it as you take your purposeful steps. You’re on your way, with small daily steps.
About realizing we may have to pass through our present trial in order to get someplace much better: while acknowledging that life is often less than ideal, I suggest working on two things in a crisis– YOUR BELIEFS, and taking the best possible ACTION you can at the moment.
Oh, and attitude of gratitude, despite what’s happening. (If you want to send out your gratitude to some impersonal “universe”, just know that I am expressing mine to the God who has revealed Himself through Creation and through Christmas and Easter.)
Add in one more essential belief: you are NOT STAYING HERE—no matter how long it takes, you’re moving on to a better future.
Maybe you were born to adversity, or maybe you’ve had very little of it until recently. Maybe your Mom gave you no choice about being an overcomer in bad times, either. I’ll bet you have some amazing insights to offer from your own experiences.
If you plan to make your life experiences count for something by growing your beliefs and ability to take action, stick around. This is not just for our own sakes, but for others who need us.We are not watching our life story unfold in an hour-long TV program. We are living it and recording it ourselves.
Your obituary may not record that you had an easy life with no challenges in which everything went wonderfully well, and accomplished all you set out to do, dying safely in bed at home.
More likely it will read that you had to overcome so many challenges that you went on to do great things for your community and society in general. And left a light on the path for others to travel by.
A memorable radio program I heard last year talked about how the best use of your life is to spend it in the service of something much larger than your own life. I guess that echoes the sentiments of the famous George Bernard Shaw quote.
I hope there is no “lofty” ring to this message, because, I am experiencing the struggle as I put one foot in front of the other, like you. I haven’t arrived at the Brighter Future, yet, but I’m working hard to get there.
If there is a simple message, it’s that we are headed better places, and we are not giving up.
Earlier in this decade, there was an interesting documentary on CBC TV about British “Guest Children”. It described what life was like during World War II for British children who were sent out of range of the bombing in London. One story in particular stood out for me. As I recall it:
A twelve-year old girl and her brother were placed on a ship bound here, (Canada), by their parents. The ship was torpedoed crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Before they sailed, her parents had asked her especially to look out for her younger brother. After the ship was hit, she found herself alone in the water, clinging to an overturned lifeboat. Then, a hand came up on the other side, another girl holding on in the dark wet coldness. Less alone now, but prospects still seemed bleak.
“Didn’t it occur to you,” asked the interviewer, “ that you might not make it? Not much hope of a ship seeing two small girls in the Atlantic Ocean without a sail or a flare.”
The lady, now a senior, paused a moment. Then, looking directly into the camera, said emphatically, “we had come this far. We were not in the business of giving up.”
This young girl might have been about six years younger than my own mother. Was she raised under similar influences, I wonder?Did she get the same attitudes in her parents’ home as my own mother who then passed them on to us kids? What causes some to give up when no help is in sight and others to hold on, blindly trusting?
After some time in the water, they were picked up by a passing ship. She was put to bed in a state room. The day the captain came by to see how she was doing happened to be her birthday, and he seemed to have been informed about that.
Sitting up in bed, she noticed how big he seemed in his greatcoat. He announced, “I have a birthday present for you”, and stepped aside. There stood her brother, who had been hiding behind the greatcoat. She said she was very relieved to be able to tell her parents she kept him safe.
Like this courageous woman, whatever we are passing through—it may be horrible, and you may have to remind me of my own words if the pattern of loss continues for me— you and I are not in the business of giving up, either.
I do hope we are able to practice being “rescue” captains as well, when we are able. The world sure can use a lot more of them, with or without greatcoats.