A Big Change

In November of 2002, at my parent’s house on Corona Street in Eugene, Oregon, I packed two big U-Haul boxes. One contained my clothes and some bedding, the other contained supplies for my cat, Max. My dad drove Max and me and my boxes to the Portland airport, where I walked through security with her in my arms and tears in my eyes. Vicki picked us up in Norfolk, Virginia later that same night and thus began my life on the east coast.

Fifteen years later, I’m headed home. Back to Eugene, to that same street on which I packed my boxes all those years ago, albeit a different house. This time, I’ll make the journey with my husband, son, our two dogs, two cats, and a truck full of what-remains-after-the-necessary-downsizing.

It’s incredibly bittersweet. We’re going to be much closer to my family (most of them) and much farther from Giehl’s. Isaiah doesn’t remember living anywhere except Philadelphia, and is pretty crushed to be leaving his friends. I’ve assured him that with relative frequency, he’ll be able to accompany me on work trips back east, and FaceTime was made for situations just like this. We’re leaving behind a church community that felt like home from the first day. I’ll miss hiking and running in the Wissahickon with amazingly supportive neighborhood friends, carpooling with Kristyn, book club, being ladies-who-lunch with Beth, and much, much more (not necessarily in that order).

I’m grateful that I’ll be able to keep my job after the move, that I’ll continue to be able to do work that I love and that is much needed. I’m grateful that the friends I’ve been able to tell in person have been supportive and are making plans to visit. I’m excited to see what new connections I’ll make on the west coast, what people I’ll be able to meet and partner with who might have otherwise flown under my east-coast-focused radar. I’m filled with joy and anticipation knowing I’ll be just an hour away from the Oregon coast, the place at which my heart feels totally at rest. And I’m so, so happy that we’ll be able to share day-to-day life with my mother and brother.

But the joy and gratitude and overwhelm is tempered by a palpable, sharp grief, at least for now.

If we are east coast friends, I hope we can stay connected in a meaningful way. I hope we can have a meal together when I’m in town and that you will text me West Wing gifs in the middle of the day just because. And I hope you know you’ll always have a place to stay on Corona Street.

provision, part one

Nineteen is too young to get married, but I didn’t learn that until I was twenty two. By then, I had thousands of dollars of credit card debt, a prescription for a cocktail of antidepressants, and bruises from where I periodically knocked my head into a wall in an attempt to feel anything but grey.

The time from my middle-of-the-night decision to divorce and the legal end of my marriage was two weeks. I had just turned twenty three and I thought it was the only way I had a hair’s breadth chance of happiness.

My mom and two best friends helped me pack a small trailer with a couch I loved, some clothes, CDs, and a load of books. I had the local U-Haul attach a tow hitch to my vintage Honda Accord, hooked up the trailer, flushed the cocktail of drugs down the toilet, and headed south on I-5 with my cat, Max, asleep on the seat beside me.

I’m fond of rain and cool weather, so naturally when I needed a place to start over, away from the disfunction I had stewed in for too long, I decided a couple weeks in Texas followed by a few months in Florida with my friend in the Navy was a great idea.

The Accord started to smoke just south of Sacramento and I called my ex, crying and screaming, cursing the car I’d taken from the divorce (the one we owned outright, that didn’t require a monthly payment). With no job, no college degree, and no money in the bank, I felt helpless and hopeless. He agreed to advance me enough to rent a U-Haul truck for my trip. After sneaking Max into a “no pets allowed” motel, I hobbled into Stockton, California early the next morning.

I had never seen blight before. Never driven past an empty park or iron-barred windows. I stopped at a gas station to use the restroom and was shocked when I walked in and every surface of the filthy room was covered with graffiti. I was sheltered, I was unknowingly racist, and I was afraid.

I found my way to the U-Haul dealer, which was the side business of a used-tire yard run by a middle-aged couple from Mississippi. The woman had dirty blond hair and yellow teeth and the man sported an impressive beer belly. They had thick Southern accents that my ears and addled brain couldn’t understand. It took a long time for them to rent me the truck. The details are fuzzy now, but they couldn’t find the truck first, then they seemed unclear about how to actually rent the truck to me. Perhaps I was their first customer? My patience wore thin as the morning dragged on, but I was finally able to load my couch, CDs, and books into a filthy 14-foot truck, drive my car onto the auto transport trailer I had to add to the mix, and continue south.

By the time I hit Los Angeles, it was rush hour and the busiest city I’d ever driven in was Seattle. I kept talking to Max, telling her everything was going to be just fine and to hang in there. But the engine temperature indicator on the U-Haul had skyrocketed into the red zone. Then I noticed steam coming from under the hood. Terrified of breaking down in the middle of the freeway, I took the first exit and pulled into a gas station parking lot. I fumbled for the rental paperwork and called U-Haul’s roadside assistance. Through tears, I explained my predicament and they agreed to send a replacement truck. Two hours later, a young man arrived with my own, very clean 17-foot U-Haul. It started to rain and he started to take the keys to the broken van and turn away. I asked if he could help me move my things from one truck to another and showed him how little was there. He said he wasn’t allowed, and it started to rain harder.

It only took us a few minutes to move my soggy belongings from one truck to another. I hugged him, thanked him profusely, and got into the new truck. I slept that night at a friend of my dad’s, in Claremont, California, just a few blocks from where Dad grew up, and the next morning started to head east. The next night, I stayed in Phoenix, with another friend of my dad’s, a woman whose husband was dying of brain cancer. We talked about faith and marriage and new beginnings. Her son was a fan of the Bare Naked Ladies, but didn’t have their first album. We went out to my huge U-Haul and I dug it out of one of the CD carrying cases. The cover was still wet from the previous afternoon’s rain.

My plan was to drive east to San Antonio, Texas, where I was picking my new roommate up from the airport and from there to head south to his apartment in Corpus Christi. I drove late into the night in Texas, looking for a place to stop. There was snow on the side of the road, and construction. It was harrowing to drive a big truck towing my car along a narrow highway, the lights from oncoming traffic and construction barriers dancing in my already pretty crappy vision. I saw a wolf on a ridge at the side of the road, or a deer, and started to worry about hitting an animal, to boot. But Max and I made it safely to a motel, and we rested another night.

The next morning, I piled Max back into the U-Haul and headed for the San Antonio airport. Despite the mishaps and breakdowns, I had hours to spare and was planning how I’d spend the free time as I pulled into the airport complex, trying to follow the signs for oversized, long-term parking.

But excitement or fatigue or bad signage led to my truck pointed straight at a dead-end in the handicapped parking section of the airport parking garage. Every spot was filled. My 17-foot truck, with the Accord firmly strapped to an auto transport trailer, was hopelessly trapped, and anyone who came looking to leave that little section of the garage would be trapped with me. The thought of inconveniencing someone was almost as mortifying as the thought that I’d never be able to leave the San Antonio airport.

For about half an hour, I tried to reverse out of the garage, but the trailer kept jackknifing. I flagged down a man returning home from a business trip and asked him to help. He tried and failed for a few minutes and said he needed to move on. Panicked and panting, with my little Nokia phone almost out of battery, I dialed 411 and then airport security, to beg them for help. They said they’d come if and when they could.

As the battery on my phone died, a lightbulb pinged in my head. Working as quickly as I could, I loosened and removed the straps holding the Accord to the transport trailer, backed it carefully off and parked it around the corner. Defying all liberal arts major stereotypes and a history of trying to fix things by hitting them, I unhooked the trailer from the U-Haul (wires and all) and pulled it like a rickshaw away from the truck, around the corner, and to the front of my car. Freed of its trailer burden, I could now back the U-Haul out of the handicapped parking section with ease and did so, then quickly hooked it all back up again and pulled out of the dark garage into freedom, with a half hour still to spare.

Tomorrow…part two, or, when things got really bad (but also good).

a list compiled in retrospect: 24 things to ask before you book on airbnb

  1. Apartment or house? How many units in the building?
  2. If apartment, is there a secure entrance?
  3. If apartment, what floor is the unit on? Is there an elevator? Does the elevator smell of urine?
  4. Does the entrance to the building/house smell of urine?
  5. Is the entrance to the building/house conducive to hiding individuals with nefarious purposes? Are there little alcoves right in front of the door serving as excellent hiding/sleeping spots?
  6. Carpet or hardwood?
  7. If carpet, installed which decade? Describe origin of visible stains.
  8. Are sheets and towels provided? Toilet paper? A garbage can?
  9. Where is the nearest Target?
  10. Water: drinkable or diarrhea-inducing?
  11. Central heating and cooling? If no, are the windows painted shut?
  12. Is smoking allowed in the building?
  13. If there’s no central air and smoking is not allowed in the building, is the bed situated in front of a window under which the neighborhood teenagers gather to smoke pot every day from 6:00-8:30 pm?
  14. When you lie down in bed at night, are you faced with the bottom half of gold-plaited male mannequin? Is it oddly slender?
  15. When I look at the bed and sofa, what is the likelihood I will suspect they contain bed bugs?
  16. Is there a shower?  Or are guests limited to baths?
  17. If shower: would you describe the shower pressure as firehose-like, normal, or the equivalent of tiny fairies splashing you with morning dew?
  18. Is there a spider nest hidden in the bathroom window?
  19. Is your toilet “fussy”?
  20. Is there wireless? Does it work regularly? Does one of your neighbors have a wireless network called “Penis Penis Penis”?
  21. Is there food in the refrigerator? When’s the last time you looked in there?
  22. Is there a coffee maker? Do you only buy decaf coffee and herbal tea?
  23. Will one find silverware in a drawer, or will one search frantically for flatware for fifteen minutes before realizing it’s all stuffed into a glass near the coffee maker?
  24. Do the coffee shops in your neighborhood open before 6 am? Before 7? Come on…before 8?!
  25. Please select the number of hours your neighbors practice musical instruments, sing, or watch their theater-sized TV with full surround sound daily: 1-5; 6-10; more than 10.

anxiety

I’m traveling tomorrow morning, early, to the west best coast, first to go to a conference and then to visit my family in Oregon.

I used to travel with abandon and without a care in the world. I’d throw a bag together and head out for an impromptu road trip, eagerly anticipated opportunities to go overseas, and relished the adventure of wandering through new places alone.

These days, that joyful excitement is tinged with a hefty portion of anxiety, particularly when I’m heading off without Isaiah in tow. I start to feel it in my belly weeks in advance – that crunching, churning, acidic fear. I feel my heart race. My sleep is restless and filled with disturbing dreams. I feel guilty for leaving my son so much, even though he’s here with his dad and a half-dozen surrogate parents who genuinely love and appreciate him. I know I’ll wake up the morning of travel, in the early morning hours, and feel a deep dread. I know when the plane takes off and lands, or hits a little patch of turbulence, I’ll cling to the arms of the tiny seats and pray “Please Jesus, please Jesus, please Jesus.” I’ll try to remember my friend Lily’s image of angels carrying the plane on their wings (even though I know, I know…physics). I know when my son and husband get on a plane a few days later to come meet me (forgetaboutit burglars, we have an awesome house-sitter), I’ll fret for their safety until I meet them outside of the security area in the airport. I know I have life-insurance and a living will and that if I do die, they’ll get through it. Life will go on.

I don’t want to be afraid of dying. I don’t want to dwell on the thought that my son might die before I do. But I do. I do.

And while some might say that makes me a bad Christian, I say it makes me pretty human. A human with a slightly defective brain who tries her best to use crushing anxiety and chronic depression as opportunities to learn to trust, to release the idea of control, in a world that wires us for FEAR! FEAR! FEAR! and to chase the lie that we are our own gods.

There’s been a lot of nasty weather around here lately (cough-climate change-cough). Earlier today, a little band of thunder and lightening rolled through the region. It was loud, and a little scary, but not catastrophic. As expected, the local 11:00 am news spent the bulk of their 30 minute newscast talking about the lightening-heard-round-the-city and showering us with information about the storm and its aftermath (one downed power line, from what I gathered).

Yesterday on my drive in to work, a local radio personality was interviewing an automotive writer about driverless technology in cars and during that interview she said, “Any technology that will keep us safer is a good thing.” Not to go all tin-foil hat on you or anything, but when we start thinking that way, we’re only a skip and a jump away from allowing technology (and the people and institutions who control that technology) to rule us. Safety is our god. Power is our lord. And information technology is our savior.

Gosh, does that sound familiar? I can’t help but think of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in Genesis 2. God’s creative power has resulted in a peaceful, nourishing, cooperative paradise. Men and women are partners with other created beings. They are all cared for and in loving communion with the One who gave them life. But their desire for control, to “be like God,” outweighs their appreciation of these gifts. And so the story of human history is now the story of brokenness and longing. Longing for more power, but also for reconciliation and restoration. A constant tug-of-war.

That conflict is in me. I know that the illusion of control is dangerous and, ultimately, doomed to be disappointing. I know that I can’t predict the future, that my son or I or anyone I love could keel over dead at any point, anywhere, no matter what I do or don’t do. That wars ravage the globe and injustice runs deep and wide. My goodness, my preparedness, my checklists and procedures and precautions don’t add up to security.

“I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 40:1-3)

Security comes from the author of the universe. And we learn through Jesus that it doesn’t always look very secure. Jesus was crucified, many of his early followers were martyred. Jesus-followers today put themselves in harm’s way to be peacemakers and reconcilers. Think of this lone priest in Kiev, standing between police and protestors. That doesn’t look very secure to me. Think of medical professionals who enter countries ravaged by poverty, colonial rule, and war, called to minister through their vocation to those in desperate need. Think of the men and women who stand between warring gangs in the inner cities, trying to stop gun violence.

And think of the everyday people, like you and like me, who face everyday battles fueled by a culture of fear, violence, and injustice. Double- and triple-checking our doors and windows are locked at night, jumping a little bit every time the school calls in the middle of the day, choosing isolation over participation out of our fears of rejection or failure.

I hate to sound like a cheesy valentine, but I think the remedy for this fear is love. “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” (1 John 4:16b) God doesn’t abide in those who have it all together or get it all right. If you live in love, God lives in you. “Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgement, because as he is, so are we in the world.” (v. 17) Bring it on, crappy, broken world. Bring it on. I’ve seen perfect love in Jesus, and I’m trying to live in love the best I know how. You can’t throw anything at me that love won’t absorb. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” (v. 18) I know I won’t reach perfection in love. It’s far off, but I know that love abides in me, and that if I listen to that love when fear is screaming at me, trying to get my attention…my heart rate drops, by breath calms, and my mind starts to focus on something besides the chaos I create.

So, tomorrow morning, I’ll try listening to love instead of fear. And we’ll see what happens.  And I might listen to this a couple more times, too.