Why do I stand by?

So I called my ex yesterday, my son’s biological mother.  First time I’d spoken to her since he went into the mental hospital.  I’d missed and/or avoided calling her back right away after he got out…for a number of reasons.  One of which is I have now had two therapist/counselors tell me that my son continuing to see him mother in the current circumstances are detrimental to his emotional and psychological health.  So how do you discuss this?  I have been asked if I have ever considered legal measures to change visitations and offer more protections to my son, so that he doesn’t quite come back the wreck he does….  but so far I haven’t, although I’ve talked to a lawyer several times before.

So why do I stand by and just let this happen, every time he goes to see her?  I’ve asked myself that many a time, particularly when I’m in the middle of one of my rants about the condition he comes back in or when something injurious happens to him.  Part of it has been financial.  Rarely in my adult life have I been fiscally solvent.  It wasn’t until the last couple of years that I have been in a place where I could start saving money and paying my bills more or less on time.  Lawyers and courts cost and I have not wanted to go farther into debt or start something that I was not sure I could afford to finish.

Part of it has been a fear of what would happen with my relationship with my son.  We are still very gingerly working our way to a better future together…and what a wrecking ball would I throw through that if I started this process?  I have also had a neutral relationship with my ex.  While we don’t always get along we have not had really any serious disagreements over anything to do with my son and it’s hard to rock the boat unless there is a clear and present danger…but that’s what makes this so hard, because the danger here is slow growing and often can be hidden.  But I know this, so why else?

I also, after speaking with his psychiatrist the other day realized that part of my reluctance stems from a sense of what I can only describe of the “pot calling the kettle black” syndrome.  As much as I have railed against the drama, stress and chaos of what happens at his mothers, it’s not like it’s exactly stress or drama or chaos free here.  Both of my son’s parents, her and I have struggled with healthy and positive relationships, we’ve both had money troubles…. I look and I find it hard to say that yes, he has been better off here with me than with her.  I believe that, looking at her other two children.  I believe that because of the support system and help I have in place for he and I.  But that small voice in the back of my head just won’t shut up.  And my conscience just won’t let me forget it.  After all, I can’t guarantee that my son didn’t experience emotional harm in my home.  I am not sure what all my partners over the years said or did, particularly while I was working nights for three years.  I can’t say I’ve been perfect with my temper or always pursued the healthiest option for him.  I know I’ve been aggressive verbally at times with him when I shouldn’t have.  I’m always trying to get better, but it’s a process.  I just… I don’t know…  it is hard to look at the other person who helped you bring such a wonderful child into this world and say “You are not healthy for him to be around right now.”  No matter my own personal feelings on it, it’s hard.  And I don’t know that my mental, emotional or psychological hurts are healed enough to begin that journey just yet.

But I’m not sure how much longer my son can wait…

Staring it in the face

So it’s been a while since I put anything up…hmm… Not as long as I thought though. Maybe I am getting better at getting back to writing stuff more regularly?  Riiiiight.  I wouldn’t hold my breath either.

I came up against this reality not long ago.  But first I want to share something with you.  As I was praying in my room this morning, just sitting on my floor talkin’ to God, my eyes wandered around and across to an orange page on the floor not far from me.  After reading it the story on the page really hit my gut as being in direct answer to my prayer.  God truly can act in the most amazing ways in our lives…so, here it is —

The Cracked Pot

A water bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on each end of a pole which he carried across his neck.  One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water in his master’s house.  Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments.

But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.  After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream.

“I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you.”

“Why?” asked the bearer.  “What are you ashamed of?”

“I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master’s house.  Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don’t get full value from your efforts,” the pot said.

The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, “As we return to the master’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.”

Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some.  But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again the pot apologized to the bearer for its failure.

The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side?  That’s because I have always known about your flaw and I took advantage of it.  I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them.  For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table.  Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house.”

This story really hit me today as I was thinking about how I felt my own efforts in my ministry, my work, my relationship were not up to where I’d like them to be.  But then there’s the moral too, just to add icing to the cake…

Each of us has our own unique flaws.  We’re all cracked pots.  But if we will allow it, the Lord will use our flaws to grace His Father’s table.  In God’s great economy, nothing goes to waste.  Don’t be afraid of your flaws.  Acknowledge them, and you too can be the cause of beauty.  Know that in our weakness [God can] find our strength.

I must admit I’ve been feeling a little like a fifth wheel some lately.  As I’ve mention previously I was recently ordained a minister and not only that but as of the first of this year, am also a co-pastor in my congregation.  I’m still busy at work and my son and I are starting a joint family therapy bi-weekly session to start working on how we relate to each other.  Things there are much much better than they have been, but at times it’s still a struggle.  And to top it all off, and this is really one of the most important things for me (and one of the most wonderful), I’m engaged to be married and the wedding is in about 4 months….  So… it’s not like I don’t have a bit on my plate I suppose.  But like the pot, I was feeling more and more aware of my flaws, rather than the beauty God had been (and continues to) using my flaws to create.  It was a good reminder and comes at a good time for me.

I am not perfect.  I screw up, make mistakes, don’t take advantage of the opportunities afforded me, ignore people I shouldn’t… but like the pot, if I listen to the water bearer, the bearer of the Word, acknowledge the flaws in my life and make room for His word… well, then… grace and beauty are only a part of what He can do with my life, and with yours.

Listening

So I was driving into work today and I heard the following story about the Russian “Bruce Springstien” : http://www.npr.org/2011/01/04/132620334/yuri-shevchuk-russias-musical-advocate-for-democracy

And one line at the end really spoke to me, particularly in light of the people we minister to at my home congregation and with respect to the people I have worked with in the past in my work in social services.  The line was “Look at me and do not be silent.”  This may perhaps be even more true for me now than a year ago for two very different but very important reasons.

First, the coming out of my father.  It has made life very exciting and challenging at times, but I don’t think I have ever seen my parents happier and more at peace together than they are now.  I feel it every time I am around them and it has made my own relationship with him better than ever.  But it has also forced me to really examine where my own hidden prejudices and fears drove me at times.  It’s one thing to have friends and other cherished loved ones who deal with the social stigma (unfortunately) of being gay or transgendered or something other than what is considered “normal.”  There is still distance that can be maintained, an impersonality to it that I am ashamed to say I was all too willing to use as an excuse to not write, to not push, to not stand…to see and yet stay silent, as the marginalized were marginalized more and more.  The challenge for me now is how to stand up and make my voice heard.  I still struggle with making myself something of a target, but how can I do any less?  If I believe, truly believe in the phrase that “God loves us all, every one,” then aren’t I obligated to go cheerfully into those situations and places where the hurt linger, where fear tries to divide and where hate attempts to rend apart?  Oi…  Scary, but exciting too.  In the manner of doing something right that always feels a little scary and exciting.

The second has to do with my own faith journey.  As of Halloween (which is so appropriate for so many reasons) I am now an ordained minister in my denomination.  And as of January 1st, I am now a co-pastor in my congregation.  We are called constantly to see the “other” or maligned in our midst and to speak up for the protection and benefit of those around us.  Even when that makes us uncomfortable.  And that’s always interesting…  I just got a new neighbor in my building and I must admit I’m a little less than enthusiastic about them.  It’s nothing definite, just a hunch, but I have gone from leaving my door unlocked regularly to making sure everything is closed up properly before I leave.  And I wonder… is it me?  Is it justified?  Is focusing on keeping the material things I have safe worthier than braving my own shortcomings and reaching out to these people?  Granted it’s only the third day they’ve lived there, but they have already forced me to confront a reality of my perception…that I had, in the back of my mind, somewhere, that I was “different”…maybe even “better than”… and that’s not what I am to be about.  I am to witness bravely, to build new and lasting relationships through which the love and grace of God can shine, past the torrid mess of my own preconceptions.

Who am I to sit in judgement?  I am to see God in the other…and to not be silent any longer on the love God has for each of us.

So where does the Fall find me?

Inspiration Point
Rainbow at the point our last day at Yellowstone

Interesting places I suppose, would be the somewhat cryptic and flippant answer.  But in truth I’m not entirely sure how else to describe it.  So far this fall, I have become involved with a wonderful young woman in a relationship that probably was not a surprise to anyone else but me.  My son has started 7th grade and is dealing with depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts and other such joys of middle school.  I’ve been dealing with stress and anxiety that may be behind what put me in the hospital for about 5 hours the other day on suspicion of having a heart attack.  I’m due to be ordained a minister in just over a week and a couple months after that take over as co-pastor in my local congregation.  I have hit a rough patch in my relationship with my best friend and am struggling to figure out how to move forward in love and friendship without causing any more pain to him as it appears to be largely my fault we got to this place to begin with.  There are family issues, health issues, friendship issues, work issues and other issues, but when is there not?

I still have a job, a roof over our heads, good friends and family, food on the table and a life filled with other numerous blessings.  I am finding time to spend in quiet prayer and study.  I am hanging out with my son more as we try to figure out how not to kill each other, even as it seems both our lives pick up speed.  My girlfriend lives just across the hall so I get to see her everyday.  I am surrounded by loving examples of God’s love for each of us and I thank God for it each day.

That does not mean I don’t struggle.  I am stressed about my son, although I think we have him in a good place at the moment, there is a part of me that struggles with feeling a bit like a failure as we go from family therapist to school counselor to psychiatrist even though plenty of folks tell me I shouldn’t.  We are both learning new coping skills and ways of handling stress although I think he is learning better than I am.  I hope so at least.  I would just as soon he not have as stressful a life as I have had the tendency to do to myself.

I struggle with how to be a better friend.  I get nervous when people get too close, start exerting too much influence in my life, even when it’s my decision to allow that to happen.  As I’ve been reading up and learning about reactive attachment, which coincendently may be part of my son’s issue, I am surprised at how many of the qualities apply to my life.  I don’t blame this for what has happened, but it has caused me to rethink how I have handled people getting close to me in times past.  It causes stress to me when people I care about and who are close to me do not appear to approve of my choices and/or decisions, even if they do not feel strongly one way or the other, I have had a tendancy to put my own uncomfortableness onto them creating an unhealthy/unhelpful view of how things really are which makes it difficult at times to find solutions.  I really would like close and healthy relationships with people and I have been getting help, counseling and training on how to do that, but don’t let anyone ever tell you this is something that comes naturally.  Being in community, living in community is messy and hurts and is not easy.  But the rewards of being in that sort of loving unity with other people is something that it worth giving up lots of other things for.

One of the challenges I suppose I face as I move forward is that I struggle with being vulnerable.  I am a wounded person.  I have scars, anger, hurt, loss and grief as part of the tapestry of my life.  That has been part of what this blog is about.  A safe, neutral ground to allow this stuff to get out.

But I am also a beloved child of God.  I have value, am loved, and am of worth.  The key is for me to be willing to accept that, not only from God but from those around me who are also part of the community I am a part of.  Only in this way can I be a wounded healer.  It is not up to me to be perfect or fine or for things to be 100% good in my life before I move out in ministry.  This is true whether I am a priesthood member or not.  The only thing priesthood does for me is allows me to broaden the way in which I serve the people around me.  It doesn’t make me perfect or make me more spiritual or more deserving or something.  It is a covenant between God and me and the denomination I belong to.  It is a willingness to learn to be vulnerable, to serve, and in one respect to fail.

What I mean by that is to fail to rely on my own strength and instead rely on God.  Part of the challenge I face is in letting go of the illusion of control over my life and place it in God’s hands.  I am still responsible for my own actions, the good and the bad.  But as a minister in the service of God it is not about me, or my desire for recognition or anything like that.  It is about failing to be proud and wise and strong as the world tells us we ought to be.  And it is about being humble and foolish and weak, so that what is shown through our lives is the power of God at work.

I don’t know yet exactly how to balance everything out on my plate at the moment.  I will admit that.  I don’t know that I am making the perhaps the best choice by accepting all this at once.  I know I believe in my calling to the priesthood.  It just took me not wanting to push for it to get here and now I have to figure out how to answer the call faithfully.  I know that I cannot do it all as pastor or even co-pastor by myself, without all those around me and in my community.  I will make mistakes, there will be stress and trials and I will see sides of people that will hurt me.  But I also believe that God is with me as I move forward into this as well.  Grad school is on hold at the moment and I’m okay with that.  Work is lightening up my load to give me time and space to deal with things and is looking to get me additional co-workers to help carry my responsibilities.  I am still on track to mix up my social calendar enough to open up more slots and am learning to say no with less guilt.  My son and I are working together to become a better unit.  We are both getting training and help from counselors, psychiatrists and therapists.  At the end of the day I’m not entirely sure if I could do any more.  I am sorry for the hurt I have caused and I will work to heal those rifts I have contributed to.

I am sure there is probably more I could say on all this, but this has already turned waaaaay more long winded than I planned.  But I am equally sure that this next year is going to be amazing, challenging, joyful, stressful and filled with new things.  May we share the path and walk the walk together in the light.  Peace and blessings.

Long overdue on silence…

It was recommended to me that I blog about my experiences several weeks ago at a silent retreat before they escaped into the recesses of memory.  Admittedly part of the reason I have not yet felt overly compelled to do so was because some of the experience of change was still flowing so powerfully through me.  The rest though… part of that was just plain laziness I think.  Or me being passive aggressive again.

So…

I don’t know that I’ll detail everything yet, some things I still feel like I’m processing, but one thing I definitely wanted to share was my time as a fisherman.  Or rather, what it meant/means to follow in the footsteps of a fisherman of God.

I started off the weekend with a strong sense of expectancy and for those who have never attended a silent retreat, you go the entire time without speaking, for however long the session is, in this case a little over 36 hours.  It starts on a Friday night, all day Saturday and then Sunday till early afternoon.  It’s at a campground far removed from road noise, cell phone signals and the like.  I leave my music, internet, tv, etc behind and bring just me, my bible (and this time St. Augustine as well, although we didn’t get to rekindle our conversation, he had to move aside for Peter) and stuff to wear.

I didn’t think I had an agenda in coming, other than to get away from all that is my life for a bit and re-connect, re-fresh with the source of all my joy and peace.  I thought I didn’t have an agenda…but I did.

I may not have wanted to recognize it, but it was there… and it made it difficult for the beginning of the weekend to get myself into the mood.  I don’t know that I have good words to describe what my agenda was, but what happened to me was I was reminded of and directed to consider two very important words – Forgiveness and Trust.

FORGIVENESS –noun

1.

act of forgiving; state of being forgiven.
2.

disposition or willingness to forgive.

TRUST –noun

1.

reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.
2.

confident expectation of something; hope.
3.

confidence in the certainty of future payment for property or goods received; credit: to sell merchandise on trust.
4.

a person on whom or thing on which one relies: God is my trust.
Both these words resound in my mind and won’t leave me alone.  As I’ve stated before the first declaration I need to learn, to feel the truth of in my bones is the fact that I can be forgiven, that I can forgive myself, and that I can forgive those who have hurt me most.  I was reminded that in some cases the act of forgiveness is a matter of acknowledging to God that I can’t do it on my own, but to express a willing desire to allow God to move into that part of my life and begin to make it whole.  Forgiveness is a process, not an end product and it doesn’t mean all is forgotten, nor that the slate is wiped clean.  What it means, to me, is that the weight of the pain and anger et al is no longer chains binding me down, holding me back.  I don’t have to go be best friends with the people who have hurt me, but I can let go of my own responses and give them over to God who is big enough to handle it all and fill the space in my heart with God’s peace and love.  And if I’m going to keep moving forward on this desert journey, that’s one thing I have to do… let go and ask for God’s assistance, cause some things I am too human to forgive on my own.  But I am willing to allow God to work in my life to bring healing, and that’s a step forward.
Trust is something else altogether…
I suppose were I being completely upfront I’m not sure it’s something entirely different, but it too has been something I have really struggled with.  Trusting myself, trusting others…or not as the case may be.  Putting limits on the amount of trust I was willing to hand out, capped the amount of trust I was willing to receive back.  It made it hard to trust the one in whom I should have had the most trust.  To truly believe in where I was heading and the things I have been called to do.  See also me asking forgiveness for this…
Making the realization that these two watchwords need to be special attention in my mind I started doing a lot of praying and continued reading in my daily Bible.  I’m working on making all the way through the whole book in a year… so far I’m only a week behind… not bad all things considered.
During this time however, at the retreat, my father brought to my attention a book on St. Peter and the trials he faced and the struggles he failed to overcome and the ones with God’s assistance he triumphed over.  I started reading it and as if scales dropped from my eyes (and it’s the first time I’ve ever understood that phrase) the devotional prayers and the story of this man from Galilee hit me like a ton of bricks.  One of my earlier posts referenced Jesus’ call to Peter that first day when he called to him from the shore to toss his nets on the other side of the boat.  Upon reaching the shore I imagine Peter and I know me, struggled with taking  that first step off the boat to follow this Messiah.  I’ve written some more I’ll share on here later, but for now I wanted to share this.
After that weekend I’ve stepped off the boat…
My shore legs are still wobbly and I’m not sure how this all will turn out.  But I’m finally following the footsteps of one who wants to dance along the shore with me and bring me into the joy of a true fellowship with my fellow human beings.
The path begins here…

Life is crazy…

Just about the time I think I get something figured out, I get turned on my head and have to find a whole new equalibrium.  Take my church involvement for example:  I agreed to start coordinating Young Adult activities mostly because I’m a bit of a social hound and really enjoy getting together, hanging out and meeting new people, so I thought I’d try to harness my talents in that direction.  I’m now in my fourth/fifth month of this and next month I’m jumping from one event a month to four (although I only have to be in charge of three of them).  I’m adding this on top of my son’s soccer practice, a weekly bible study, a monthly gathering of several of my close friends, bi-weekly game sessions and I’m not entirely sure what all else.  This is on top of taking over more responsibilities at work in dealing with the VA.

And of course, the whole point of all this… trying to raise my son to be a productive and positive human being.

I won’t say I’m feeling a little overwhelmed…or even a LOT overwhelmed for that matter… but it is a bit much to take in all at once.  Top that off with some happy, but surprising family news and as my father likes to say “Hang on to the roller coaster.!”

And whoa boy… I’m starting to feel it.  I can’t decide if I’m happy or not, or just hanging on for the ride.

My son and I have started talking, along with my father, about getting a family blessing for he and I to really ask for some joint healing.  It means as my son so pointedly put it “we’ll have to spend more time together?”  Hopefully we won’t kill each other.

He’s getting mouthier and flouting the boundaries a bit more, but that’s healthy and normal…even if I do want to strangle him when he cusses at the bus stop.  Fortunately threatening to wash his mouth out with soap still forstalls too much arguing and garners an apology.  Just the other day he tucked me into bed, got me a glass of water, and helped out around the house while I was down with a migraine.  All without asking.  I am so grateful for the kind and wonderful examples of people in my life.  He’s learning so much from all of them.

I’m feeling lead and have been granted some answers to questions my heart has been asking repeatedly and despite some effort on my part to not ask quite so often.  I would say I don’t like all of them, but that’s not entirely true.  I’m just not as patient as I’d like to be, but I’m learning.

I miss those friends I don’t get to see as often as I’d like to anymore.  My focus is shifting again and I’m only hoping it’s for the better.  I’m being challenged in subtle and obvious ways and trying to keep my eyes on the path.  There’s a reason they call it the straight “and narrow” one.  It’s so easy to get knocked off or pulled off.  Part of the reason I think I’m so looking forward to this weekend.  It’s going to be a silent retreat.  Away from the city and the noise therein, away from tv, phone, internet and all the distractions that come between us and God.  I need to take some time to visit with the Big G.  The next step is coming and  I need to make sure that I’m listening to where I need to be.  I can feel it coming…

“Hang on for the roller coaster…”

Still struggling with Single…but that doesn’t mean I don’t like it…

I had about ten people over last night.  May not seem like much to some and a really big event to others.  I threw the idea together for dinner and hanging out in about two hours.  Had food, had the time, had the desire.  It was also a realization for me…as weird as that may sound.  I’ve done things like this several times since the ex left.  I don’t need to ask anyone’s permission.  I don’t have to worry about double-scheduling (beyond what I do to myself).  I don’t have to think about if someone is in the mood to have people over or not.

I can just do it.

It’s a simple simple thing.  But something that for so much of my adult life I have not had the freedom to do.  I relax by hosting events and having people over.  This can be stressful for other people, I realize this, and as such was not able to do it much while I was married.  I like this.  I love my circle of friends, the ease with which they accept my invites, and the fact that if I want one or one hundred (although that might be a little much) over, I can do so.  I can go places, make plans, do things I enjoy (little things, or big things), hang out with people I want to.

I can have a full life.  And I don’t have to have someone’s permission to do so.

Do I miss being in a partnership?  Yeah.  But something else I’m learning is that most of what I miss from a partnership I can have in the relationships with the people I chose to surround myself with.  I’m still learning the dance, still make mistakes, still do too little or too much.  It’s a process.  But now it’s more of  a process of learning to be single, than perhaps the struggle it was a while back.  Maybe not a lot has changed.  But my perspective has… and that can make all the difference.

Single and likin’ it.