Friday, February 24, 2012

What I've Learned About Faith

A couple of weeks ago, so much of my life was up in the air. I didn’t have transportation. I didn’t have a job. And the pending renewal of my condo lease was looming. If I couldn’t find a job and/or a roommate within a couple of weeks, I would be looking at finding a friend to stay with or moving back in with my parents.

Just the thought of going through moving (on top of everything else) made me sick to my stomach.

The Sunday night before selling my car was tough. It’s as if I stayed up as late as possible to try and put off the sun’s rising Monday morning, knowing what I would have to go through with—knowing that I would be selling my car. My one asset, the one thing remaining from my old life, but really, it was even more than that.

That car was part of my identity.
We had a good run... 

Letting go of it meant letting go of the last piece of my old identiy—one I had worked so hard to create: a delicate façade of trying to be a perfect wife, a perfect provider, a perfect friend, a perfect daughter, a perfect artist.

What I ended up becoming was a perfect failure.

Monday, February 6, inevitably arrived, of course. I hastily cleaned out my car, dumping all its contents into reusable grocery bags and hauling it upstairs.

(I might as well admit right here and now that all of the contents of my cubicle from my Frito-Lay days were still jostling around in the trunk.)

My friend David met me for breakfast where we talked about some things that were on both of our hearts, and then we headed to CarMax. The selling process was rather unceremonious, and I walked out of there with a bank draft.

My friend took me to the bank, where I deposited the check and then drafted a cashier’s check for my February rent.

Then, he dropped me off at home, where I waited for my landlord to stop by and pick up the check. When she arrived, I was very open with her. I told her I didn’t know what was going to happen—that I was doing the best I could do, and I had had some great interviews, but nothing had yet turned into an offer. I told her I wanted to do right by her and give as much notice as possible if I was going to have to move out. A lot would depend on the next couple of weeks.

She offered to go month-to-month for the same dollar amount until I got everything figured out. I think she appreciated my openness, and up until this point, I have been a perfect tenant.

I breathed a sigh of relief.

I didn’t know what was going on in the background as all of this transpired. I felt strangely peaceful.

As it turns out, a former colleague of mine had run into a former colleague of hers. And although I don’t know the exact timing, I’d like to think it was sometime around the sale of my car. Anyway, he mentioned the need for an Instructional Designer, and did she happen to know anybody?

Indeed, she did.

She recommended me and introduced us via LinkedIn that evening.

An hour later, he emailed me directly and asked if I could come in for an interview Tuesday or Wednesday.

I knew my friend David was going out of town Tuesday afternoon and had offered to loan me his car while he was gone. I asked for a Wednesday interview and sent my résumé over to him on Tuesday.

It’s interesting to note that on Tuesday, I met my friend Michael for lunch, and we talked about the Laws of Attraction. That evening, I started making a list of what I wanted—in a man, in a career, for myself, etc.

The important part of Laws of Attraction is also describing why you deserve the things you’re asking for… and to be sure to only ask when you’re in the right frame of mind—a genuine place, rather than a place of desperation or greed.

And, I realized a few things—that I have already tasted a lot of what I want, I just haven’t had a lot of it all together at one time. I also realized how far I’ve come, to dare and to believe I am worthy of all that my heart truly wants. It was a good feeling, and I went to bed feeling positive and hopeful.

On Wednesday morning, I got up and prepared… looked over all of my work and put some samples on a jump drive to show them. I thought about what I might say and what questions they might ask. I combed through their website. You know—all the usual interview-prep stuff.

I expected the interview to last an hour or a little longer. You know—the usual.

But, I ended up being there for over four hours. I met with the President and VP. I met with a main Project Coordinator and I met the other two Instructional Designers. I met a few other people, too. It felt like I was part of the team and that was my first day of work. I felt welcomed. I felt energized to finally find a small company that has a great business model that really works.

On Friday morning, I got the job offer!

That afternoon, I signed paperwork accepting the offer… just after signing a two-year renewal on my condo lease.

And, Saturday, I took care of the one missing piece: buying a car.

No longer did I have to settle for a cheap “cash car”. I could actually finance a car, and apparently I’ve done something right over the last year or so, because I managed to get a great interest rate.

So… I bought a 2009 Honda Accord.

I started my new job the following Tuesday, and I’m quite happy there. I didn’t just get any job, after all. I got a job that truly fits me and my personality. I fit, too. I get to use my strengths, my background, my education, and I get to work with great people in a great environment, too!

I feel pretty strongly that letting go of the Acura—the last piece of my old identity—was the very thing that set into motion the chain of events that happened within a span of just five days.

I’ve learned so much over the past few months—about myself, and about others. I have received an abundance of love, support, and energy. I’ve learned just how little money I really need.

There were times when I quite literally didn’t know where I would get the money to pay for my next meal, let alone my next bill. And yet, I didn’t ever truly go into panic mode. I found that in just the nick of time, I would get a donation for writing group, someone would buy a piece of jewelry, a friend would generously buy me dinner, or something else would happen and suddenly—I’d have $100 again.

I have learned the real value of money, and with all the time I’ve had on my hands—I’ve certainly had ample opportunity to examine my spending habits from the past. I realized that I spent entirely too much money on stupid things. That realization has helped me renew my focus, come up with a more realistic budget, and of course renew my awareness of where my money really goes.

I bought one thing in the last two or three months that I didn’t need. One. And that was BrenéBrown’s new book, The Gifts ofImperfection, which I recommend to everyone. (I bought it after hearing this awesome podcast, by the way.)

That’s pretty different for me. In the past—even when I was in a financial pinch—I would have found ways to spend money on stupid things like a new sweater or pair of shoes. I didn’t do that this time. I needed every dime I got to pay the phone bill or the grocery bill.

What I’ve learned about faith over the past few months is that I had to fully trust in God before I could have it. (Maybe that isn’t the case for you, but for me—it is.) I made that choice, to fully trust, back in December when I refreshed the Step Beyond training through Pathways. That was pivotal for me, and ever since December, I have felt a deep sense of peace.

Even through this crazy storm of my life, I have felt an underlying sense of peace. I did my part—looking for jobs, applying for jobs, asking for help, reworking my résumé over and over, connecting with people who might be able to help, and in the meantime continuing to pursue my passions so that I didn’t go completely insane.

And because I did my part, I was able to—somehow… let go of those things that were out of my control.

I took a leap… a leap of faith.

It didn’t feel like a leap, though. It felt like a daily practice, and there were some very dark days, to be sure.
Happy me, in my favorite shirt. It was my grandmother's.

But instead of turning completely inward during the darkness, I turned to God. I turned to friends and family. I turned to writing. I turned to all of the things that feed my soul, and I was never truly alone. I walked through this storm with dignity. I have emerged stronger and more solidified in my faith, with priorities revamped, focus restored, and a brand new appreciation for friends, family, and even acquaintances who have in one way or another been so willing to extend a helping hand… just for me.

To me, faith is a choice (and, like all things, it takes practice). But it is not a choice easily made, and I had to be in the right place, spiritually, to be able to make that choice.

I had to be on my knees. 

I have been through some of the most truly humbling experiences of my life over the past months, and I have learned so much along the way. But this time... instead of being knocked down to my knees by external forces, this was an inside job. I had to be willing to go to my knees myself. Humility was a choice. I recognize now that all of the lessons in humility that I've had over the past months (years?) led me to this point, so that I would have the courage to willingly go to my knees when it was time.

I believe faith is about stepping forward and doing something incredibly hard, and trusting that even when you have no clue what the outcome will be—you will be okay. For me, this time, it was the past few months culminating in the biggest leap of all—selling my car.

In my willingness to let go of control and trust that I would be okay, I gained deeper understanding of what it means to walk with God and to let Him carry me when I am too weak to take the steps myself.

And, truly, what I’ve learned over the past couple of years sank in, all the way to my core. I am loved. I am cared for. I am taken care of. I am not alone…

(These things are true for all of us, by the way.)

I am deeply grateful to accept these gifts and all the blessings I have received thus far.

I am drinking from my saucer, because my cup is overflowing.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

What a Day.

It started last night, really. When I knew I needed to get to bed, and I also knew that today I would be making the trek to CarMax to hope for the best regarding an offer for my car.

My 2003 Acura RSX Type-S (6 speed manual)
I thought about the first memory of driving it off the lot, when my now ex-husband had the dealership put a giant red bow on the hood when we went to pick up the car… the smell of the leather when it was brand new, the way it handled so tight, the way I thoroughly enjoyed breaking in the engine and spreading her wings…

Over the years, that car has been more than just a mode of transportation. It’s more than just a possession to me. It’s more than a way of getting from A to B.

I’ve always loved driving, of course. It’s a passion for me. But with my Acura being my first brand new car, ever, it does and will always hold a very special place in my world. Perhaps for those of you who view a car as nothing more than a mode of transport, substitute whatever other passion you might have, and you might start to see my point.

I went to bed and ended up sobbing for a little while, knowing that while I am fully willing to let go of this possession, it’s still a grieving process that I have to endure.

I woke up with a heavy heart this morning.

I had a great writing (and talking, and sharing) session with John, who is my guinea pig writing coaching client. He and I have become great friends.

I’d like to share a couple of things I wrote during our time together this morning. It will make this particular blog post long, but no one has strapped you to the chair and forced you to read it, ya know?
I’m tired of thinking about it, but I need guidance. I have asked for help—from friends, trusted mentors, and of course from God. I am with Him. I can feel his hand on me, on my shoulder, even now. But I don’t yet have any answers, and that is what is painful. I have listened—sat in silence in my car, in my home… listening to music is almost too much for my brain and my heart right now. Silence is what calms me… deafens my deep interior.
And still, I have no answers. And still, I am uncertain of what tomorrow brings—let alone next week. I am scared, yes—and still I am finding a way to function, to take care of at least the bare minimum of what needs to be done. I am low down on Level 2 of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs right now. Hunkered down. On my knees… still. In a way I never have before, I am submitting. It’s worse than uncomfortable—it’s painful. And I know why it’s painful: I am resisting.
I am still fighting it in my own way—it’s like I’m that black knight in Monty Python & The Holy Grail. My legs and arms have been hacked off by a sword, and still, I’m arguing with King Arthur as he quasi-gallops away.
“Come back here, I’ll bite your legs off!”
It’s useless. I know. And I get now what it’s about… denial. I am still denying that this is all really happening. I am still denying that I may actually have to lose everything. I don’t feel that’s the case—I don’t feel like I should have to lose everything. Is it a sense of entitlement? I don’t think so, but maybe I’m wrong… certainly wouldn’t be the first time.
I guess what I need is… answers. I have asked questions and certainly not the questions I used to ask (Why me? Where is this God everyone talks about so much? Why do bad things happen to good people?).
My questions are not so universal. Why me isn’t even in my vocabulary anymore.
I guess this feels… personal. Like maybe I’m not good enough for his favor.
I am sad that it's really come to this. That I really do have to sell my car. That I really am that broke, and that out of options.

That last line really stung, though. Even just to write it down was hard. I felt the resistance in my hand, but as tears welled up in my eyes, I knew I had to come clean with that level of honesty.

John reassured me that he saw faith in me. That even though I have these questions, there is still a peace about me that he hadn't seen before. I agree with him.

For whatever reason, I ended up writing the last piece in third person. Weirdly, it’s as if I was writing it as it was happening to me.
Naked. Nervous. Foreign.
She read those words on the page—the page that described her sudden clinging to Jesus, the page that she had written, and suddenly a calm washed over her that she wasn’t even aware she needed. Deeper than peace, and something certainly not sustained or maintained by her. No. Serenity comes directly from God.
And gaining the reassurance she needed, from her friend, and from her own words, from the voice deep within her and the voice in every particle of air around her, in every cell of her body, in her very DNA: God’s voice.
The answer had come.
She felt it then—the understanding that her next step was selling the car, and just as she’d been saying the few days before, she said again: “I can only handle one thing at a time right now. What is the next thing?”
Only the next thing.
It’s the tiny details of all that could happen and all that could go wrong. It’s one thought leading to another thought and then a flurry of thoughts after that—of the worst that could happen, and the striving, the fighting, the resisting of saying, “How do I prevent that worst thing from happening?”.
That’s where she got overwhelmed… when she tried to provide her own solution before it was time.
She got that now.

I wrote some more after John left, I had some lunch, and I finally made my way to CarMax.

I had a great experience at CarMax, and the guy could tell I have an emotional attachment to my car. I got a reasonable offer, and I’m going to go through with it on Monday… I just need my car through the weekend (and I need to clean it out, which I won’t get to do until Sunday evening).

On the way home, I felt the tears streaming down my cheeks and on a whim, I pulled into Bachman Lake to watch planes land and walk around and stare at the water.

I didn’t realize I was in for a little treat… a little distraction, even.

I ran into these four clowns. In a row.
Ducks in a row...
 For whatever reason, they immediately took an interest in me and started following me around.

I walked for a ways and stopped at the most magnificent pecan tree. It immediately catapulted me back to childhood and the giant pecan tree in the front yard of the house I grew up in—the one that was struck by lightning and was badly bruised for a while, but over time, it healed up and kept growing. I often leaned against that tree, marveled at the bark, and gazed up into its branches, wondering what the world might look like from way up there.

I leaned against this tree and felt its power. I let it hold me as I stared blankly out at the rippling water.

The ducks plopped into the water and swam down to where I walked. They swam down farther and then doubled back and got out of the water right in front of me.

I watched them for a while. They watched me for a while. But this one was really stuck on me, apparently. I’ll call him Rusty, because his coloring was a little different from the others. He stayed near me the whole time I was at the lake. He didn’t get in the water when the others did. He stayed on the ground about 20 feet from me. When the others got back out of the water, he came closer to me.

And when I started to leave, Rusty followed me.

And then the rest of the ducks joined him.

They meandered towards a patch of clover, and I stopped, again remembering my childhood and wondering how many hours I’d spent in my front yard, searching in vain for the ever-elusive four-leaf clover.

Rusty was intrigued that I squatted down to his level to take a picture of the clover, and he stood very still, very close in front of me for a full minute, looking at me, as if he was posing for me to take this picture. So, of course, I indulged him.
Rusty, striking a pose
I walked to my car to see if I had any nuts or other acceptable food with me, and I didn’t. I heard some geese making a bunch of commotion. These guys were chasing everybody around, honking their heads off.

Just as I thought about leaving, though, I saw this guy.

A lone swan amongst a bunch of noisy geese and ducks.

He swam right up to me, and for a minute I thought he was going to jump out of the lake. He didn’t… but he did this funky thing with one of his webbed feet, sticking it out straight, above the water. I looked down at my hand and stretched my fingers wide, and realized that his foot was as big as my whole hand.

Yeah. That dude was big!

I realized today that I am taken care of. All of my needs are met. It felt like Rusty the duck was a little angel hanging around me, making sure I was okay. The pecan tree welcomed me, supporting not only my physical weight, but my emotional weight, too. And the clovers made me smile…

And the kindness of the CarMax salesman, and the sweet words John said to me earlier today, and the messages of support and love from other friends… all carried me through this difficult day.

And while I feel particularly emotionally drained…

Yes… I am okay.

And tomorrow is another day, where I will only be concerned with the very next thing in front of me.