Friday, July 24, 2015

En route, traveling light.

Before I moved to Oregon a friend gave me "After the Boxes Are Unpacked," a chirpy self-help book for Christian women. It was pretty good, but the way it was written suggested it was mostly for middle class mommy-types whose husband's professional jobs in business or the military brought them the crisis of dealing with moving companies and having to find someone new to style their hair or groom the dog. So, without husband, kids, dog, much in the way of money, or any particular concerns about who cuts my hair, I found that much of it didn't apply.

This move, nearly four years later, is more typical in some ways but less in others. Married now. Acquired, along with a ring and a husband, married-woman things like KitchenAid mixer and a couple of kids to miss and worry about and try to get through college (though they're not coming with us). But no moving truck this time. Don't need one. We're traveling light.

I went to Oregon with 25 boxes of books. Whittled that down to 16 for this move. And only three boxes of them are coming with us. At least a dozen boxes of files from my Caleb Project days went into the recycle bin. Hubs sold his moped, gave away the grill, packed away the camping gear, and said goodbye to a large collection of aging electronics. All told, we got rid of about 50% of our belongings (including nearly all the furniture) and left about 30% in storage back in Eugene.

With a mere 20% of our stuff in tow, unpacking boxes in our furnished apartment will not be so daunting. We hit the road again on Tuesday and plan to arrive in Columbia with our two Hondas, Saturday morning. Should be unpacked and moved in by nightfall.   

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Ledger Sheet

It would be great if the language of gratitude were my native language; it isn't. I still increase my own suffering by interpreting situations with an invisible ledger sheet in hand to record the pain, loss, or disappointment. At times I just count up my losses while overlooking or discounting gains and take the whole thing very much to heart. To change this approach takes a conscious decision rather than doing what comes "naturally" and getting upset.

I'm keenly aware that we moved out of our house five weeks ago and I still don't get to go home, not for another two weeks. We're staying with people when we're not in hotels, and moving from one set of circumstances and relationships to another, without the chance to go "home" to some more comfortable way of life in between. This vulnerable season has brought lot of my insecurities to the surface.

The first morning we were staying in the place where we're currently laying our heads was a rough one. I was the first one up and in my pre-coffee stupor got confused about how things were supposed to be done in this house and ruined the coffee maker. I filled the entire house with smoke, woke the household, and added to that ledger sheet of mine the humiliation of being laughed at by my husband and the folks we're staying with  (who were glad the smoke wasn't from something worse and happy to laugh it off, though of course we speedily replaced the damaged items).

I hate being discovered making foolish mistakes and being laughed at, though. So I took the whole thing very hard and just wanted to run out of the house and never return. Yeah, not really an option. And certainly an overreaction to the event.

Then over the next few days things like that happened again. Not so dramatic, just little situations such as often come when you are staying in another person's home and reminded that they want you to do things the way they would do them. My cross-cultural experience seems to make it worse rather than better as previous parallels come to mind, situations I navigated either poorly or well but where the same emotions surfaced.

So I wondered if there was anything constructive I could do with that. As I reflected on the strength of my own emotional response to these incidents I remembered occasions from when I was as young as five or six and received correction for things I often didn't know were seen by others as wrong or inappropriate. You know, "getting in trouble." At what point did my little brain decide that "getting in trouble" was the worse thing that could happen? How much as this affected the way I see myself, others, and God or how I navigate life even now (at least at times)? And what can be done, even without professional help, to heal the ancient wounds and improve my responses to these "trigger" events?

Deep questions. But probably good ones to unpack if I want to conquer my fears, stop taking myself too seriously, and grow in resilience.

 It's OK, Marti, said the gentler voices I'm trying to listen to more often: your pain and suffering are real and valid and it's OK to be stressed and worn out by all this transition. But are you willing to consider that there might be another way? Yes, I know there is another way, and I'm willing to lay this way down and consider other ways to look at things and other ways to respond.

One of the strategies that seems to work the best is to start a fresh ledger sheet: a list of blessings, gifts, benefits, and wonders. It doesn't take much more than just a choice to shift my gaze to see how this season of transition has been one with blessing after blessing, troubles averted, and unexpected gifts. I'm grateful for so many signs of God's hand on us and ways he's using this season for our good and to bring good things to others as well.

Just writing or talking it out helps put my melodrama into perspective and provides the objectivity I need to carry on. If I don't want to take all this out on others, it helps to keep a journal handy. If I use it to record troubles, it lightens them. If I use it to record blessings, it gives them extra weight.

See also: Counseling (2010 post)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Identity Shifts

My decision to get married a few years ago brought with it a whole kit and caboodle of new identities. I became not just a wife, but a seminary student wife, fire department wife, and guy-with-a-host-of-health-issues wife, as well as a parent. And not just a parent but a swim team, water polo, band, and Boy Scout parent. And as a stepmom, I lurked somewhat in the shadows on those parenting roles, not feeling the full weight of them but also unable to confidently take a place among the moms because the kids already had a mom and she was probably there too. A relief in some ways; a tension in others.

All these new roles might have helped me make friends. That sort of happened. But the circumstances were stacked against me; my background and interests were generally quite different from those of the people in the circles where this new life has taken me. It was hard to find  common ground. I often felt I didn't have time for friends and/or I couldn't be a good friend because I had all these things I had to do with or for my new family, including getting dinner on the table every night and trying to put in a full week of work (not always successfully).

Now Chris is done with seminary. This week he leaves the job that has sucked so much life out of him, and he'll be leaving the fire department soon, too. And his health is pretty good now. Neither of the kids will be living with us. Swim team and water polo are behind us, and we'll be 3,0000 miles away from any band concerts or Boy Scout events... and from the regular round of Wade family birthday and holiday gatherings too.

Yup, just over three years into parenting, I'm an empty-nester. Sometimes I joke about that because I know how funny it sounds. But it's weird funny as well as ha-ha funny. I feel some of the same mix of grief and relief, pride and concern, that "real" parents feel about having the kids out of the house.

What will the next year or so mean for me in terms of identity? I'll still be a wife and parent, of course, but the job descriptions are quickly changing and the emotional price tag has just been drastically reduced. My social calendar is practically empty. But I can have friends again, right? At least theoretically? I know, it's not automatic, and I'll still be working full-time and going to school. But I'm praying for a good friend or several. A supportive small group. A church where I can serve and connect with people in more meaningful ways than of late, and yes, maybe even a book club...

Thursday, June 11, 2015

People don't need good advice.

"People don't need good advice, they need good news," one of my Twitter feeds tells me. "My friends appreciate my advice most if it’s brief and wrapped in encouragement. Advice is a seasoning, not a meal," says another.

"Few people like to be told what to do or how they should do it,"  says a leadership guru I also follow. "Leaders often inadvertently discourage their staff by being overly directive."

Many of us get defensive when someone tries to tell us, to our face, what to do. Like little kids are wont to tell their older siblings: "You're not the boss of me!" Just listening to another offer unsolicited advice is tough for me... I find it hard not to leap to the advisee's defense and defend their right to reach conclusions and make decisions on their own.

Despite this resistance to being told what to do, why do we we embrace advice so readily when it comes from a more impersonal source? Few can resist seeing what someone else has to stay in a those ten-steps-to-success, eight-mistakes-you-might-be-making, or five-things-you-need-to-do-right-now sort of list-icles.

Maybe it's like reading your horoscope or a fortune cookie. You know you can take it or leave it. Whereas when a friend, colleague, or family member puts a finger in your face or starts laying out a case, whether harshly or lovingly, about what you (yes you, personally) need to do, emotions are provoked. You know that a response is required.

What do you think?

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Odd jobs, new ones, and those soon to be obsolete

About a year ago I wrote about a woman I met who had one of those jobs I didn't know people had... as a pretend patient to train medical students. New jobs crop up all the time these days. Back in the late 50's when my mother's parents urged her to become a teacher (a suggestion that didn't stick) they probably had no idea that the career as a software tester she'd eventually pursue was even an option. Who'd imagine it? As Douglas Adams once said,

“Anything that is in the world when you're born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that's invented between when you're 15 and 35 is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you're 35 is against the natural order of things.”

One of my favorite movies, Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy's Desk Set, explores the tensions of a group of information specialists afraid of being made obsolete by a computer, one that probably had less power than the phone you carry in your pocket.

Such tensions haven't gone away, but gotten "worse." Today I came across an article from a 2014 edition of The Economist assessing the likelihood that various livelihoods will disappear as people are replaced by machines. The article is behind a pay wall, but here's a chart summarizing their predictions along with a caption:

"Which jobs will be obsolete in 20 years and which are likely to survive? We looked at the impact of automation in an article last year. Telemarketers and accountants beware. Personal trainers, dentists and the clergy are unlikely to disappear any time soon."

Monday, May 18, 2015


It's about time for another email update, but meanwhile, here's the inside scoop on our plans!

SCHOOL: School is wrapping up for the Wade family...
  • Chris graduated with his M.Div. a week ago (and there was much rejoicing!)
  • I wrapped up my grad school semester May 15 and am off until the end of August.
  • Our daughter Haley is in finals week, though as she hopes to stay in California for a summer job, we may not get to see her again. Glad we flew her in for her dad's commencement. She starts her senior year at Biola in the fall.
  • Daniel is coasting through the last couple of weeks of high school and will graduate on June 6, just under three weeks from now. He will stick around Eugene for the time being, continue to work as a life guard/ swim instructor, and start community college in the fall.
MOVING: Yep, this is our summer of transitions!
  • May 23: Garage sale #1
  • June 6: Daniel's graduation
  • June 13: Garage sale #2 - furniture must go
  • June 14-28+: Stay with C's parents while he continues to work
  • June 20: Finish cleaning rental house and turn in keys
  • Late June/early July: Final trip to WA
  • Date TBD: Load up our two cars and head to Colorado
  • July: Vacation and visit friends in CO, then continue driving East
  • Aug 1: Move into (furnished) apartment in Columbia, South Carolina.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

"I can't believe Gilbert is dead!"

I grew up spending as much time with my nose in a book as with my friends; probably more. As an addiction, reading had some good side effects but some downsides too. My ability to make real-life friends was sometimes enhanced by the insights I gained from my imaginary friendships but also hampered by the limited amount of practice I gave myself with real people. It was often easier to retreat to re-reading a favorite book (where I could be sure that everyone would behave just as they had last time) than to get out there and learn the lessons of the playground. Even now, I sometimes struggle with frustration when others don't say the lines I've written for them and when scenes don't unfold according to script. Though I think that happens to non-readers, too.

These days many seem to find television and movies the more satisfying, engrossing medium. "Today, the TV set is a key member of the household, with virtually unlimited access to every person in the family," says the sociologist George Gerbner, who compares the power of television to the power of religion. "The more time people spend 'living' in the television world, the more likely they are to believe social reality portrayed on television."

I am not surprised to know people who feel more connected to characters on the screen than to neighbors, classmates, or coworkers, and maybe even family members. But when you add on the continued growth of celebrity culture, it has some funny effects, doesn't it? We start to feel as if musicians, athletes, and other celebrities are our real friends. And you can actually meet them. Follow them on Facebook. Write to them on Twitter. They are real people, even if their "brands" are carefully managed.

But what about actors? The job of these men and women, explicitly, is to present themselves as something other than they are... to portray the characters that, in a novel, would live only in one's imagination: Now they have flesh and blood.

A number of people I know were recently upset and saddened by the death of Canadian actor Jonathan Crombie. He's best known for portraying the young love interest in the much-beloved 1985 movie Anne of Green Gables. He was still in his forties and died rather suddenly of a brain hemorrhage, so that ups the tragedy factor.

Yet why were the fans sad? Few, I suspect knew much about the actor or had followed his modest career these last 30 years, much less his health, family, or inner life. They were sad because Gilbert was dead. Of course Gilbert was a fictional character and had never been alive in the first place.

What do we make of this? A healthy sign that one's imagination, empathy, and sense of play are still working, or something more ominous and distorted? Is it different from children playing with dolls, animal-lovers attributing human motivations to their pets.... or me crying over a book? (which seems perfectly justified! Or.... okay, maybe it's the same thing.) Is it a matter of degree or effect, a question of whether they express a healthy creativity versus an obsessive, corrupting, or idolatrous one?

We live in a post-modern day and age where it's hopelessly old fashioned to defend the notion of a common "reality" or the importance of being connected to the "real world." Under such conditions, it would seem like nonsense to evaluate these behaviors in terms of how they reinforce or distort our sense of and taste for what is true, real, good, or best. Wouldn't it?