life

Exit 224. I need to be patient with myself.

It’s time for another hiatus.

Life is just overwhelming right now.  I’ve been really busy with the usual work responsibilities.  My schedule got disrupted a couple weeks ago, with two days of school canceled because of smoke blowing down from the recent fire in Butte County.  (Just so you know, I’m about 100 miles from any areas that were actively burning, so I was never in imminent danger.  But the fire was so big and the wind so strong that smoke spread all over Jefferson and northern and central California.)  Although those two days gave me plenty of time to relax and prepare for my trip to visit my family for Thanksgiving, it also gave me more work to do this last week to adjust for having missed those two days.  I also have a lot to do around the house.  Laundry and dishes pile up so quickly, and I have a few home repairs I need to address as soon as possible.  Life definitely isn’t all work; I’ve been making time for fun too.  It’s December, which means lots of fun holiday events with friends, in addition to the usual game night group and my Dungeons & Dragons game.  The UC Davis football team is also in the playoffs at their level (NCAA Division I-FCS) for the first time since the school’s athletic program moved up to that level in 2004.  We won, and going to that game was totally worth it, but it also took up half of my day.  (There are eight teams still alive in the FCS playoffs, and there won’t be any more home games for UC Davis, so I won’t have any more games to go to this year.)

I need to take time for myself sometimes.  I need to be patient with myself that I can’t get everything done.  And I need to realize that sometimes it’s okay to spend money to get something repaired, rather than trying to do half of the things myself, and not doing a good job of it, and letting the other half of the things go until they cause worse problems down the road.  That’s especially true now that money isn’t as tight since I’m not barely scraping by on a private school salary anymore.

So in the interest of not trying to do too much, I’m going to take a few weeks off from this blog.  Whatever holidays you might be celebrating during this time of year, I hope they go well, and I’ll see all of you in 2019.

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Exit 223. I can learn something from the way that they lived their lives.

Death.  Never an easy topic to discuss.

Comic book writer Stan Lee, the creator of Spider-Man, the X-Men, and many other superheroes, died a couple weeks ago.  I recently saw the movie Bohemian Rhapsody, based on the true story of Freddie Mercury and the band Queen.  Freddie was only 45 when he died, and yesterday was the anniversary of Freddie’s passing in 1991.  My pastor knows another pastor in the same denomination whose toddler granddaughter recently died unexpectedly and suddenly.  And, hitting closer to home, a friend from the church I went to when I first moved here lost his battle with cancer this weekend.  He was only 30; he was in the college group at church when I first started going there, and his older brother was one of my first friends when I moved here.

I feel especially bad because this guy and I had kind of grown apart.  We didn’t argue or have a falling-out or anything like that; we just grew apart from natural causes as life took us in different directions.  The same thing happened with me and his brother, who no longer lives in California.  I’ve grown apart from a lot of people over the course of my life, and I’ve always told myself that no one is in the wrong here, that growing apart is just a natural part of life.  But now I have to accept the fact that it had been well over a year since I had seen him face to face and now I won’t get to see him again.

Death also always makes me wish I had known people better in their lifetimes.  Like I said, my deceased friend and I didn’t really run in the same circles anymore.  Similarly, at the memorial service for another acquaintance who died unexpectedly in 2012, I learned all kinds of things about him that I never would have expected.  And, as I have written before, I didn’t really discover Queen’s music until the months just after Freddie Mercury’s death.  But I can still appreciate everything and everyone in my life now, because I never know what will happen in the future.

And I can learn something from those who pass away and the way that they lived their lives.  In the case of my friend who had cancer, he was one of the nicest people anyone would ever meet, being kind to all of those around him and committed to knowing God and living for him.  And that is something we can all learn from.

Exit 221. The best I can with the life I’ve been given.

Recently, one of my friends shared on Facebook that her daughter was pregnant, and that she was going to be a grandmother for the first time. This announcement was significant to me because of how I know this grandmother-to-be: she was in my high school graduating class.

I’ve known for years that this moment would be coming soon, and I’ve been dreading it. Having children was never on my radar, I’ve always felt like I was missing out on something special because of that, and now I’m old enough to be theoretically having grandchildren. It’s quite likely that she isn’t even the first grandparent in our graduating class. Quite a few of my classmates already have adult children (we’re in our early 40s currently), and at least three-fourths of my classmates I have heard nothing from since we graduated. I know of people my age and younger who have older spouses and step-grandchildren, and I know of someone in the class a year older than us who was a grandmother at age 39. But it hits home a little more when it’s someone whom I’m actually in social media contact with.

I’ve been dreading this because it is just a reminder of the fact that having children has never been something to consider for me, which in turn is a reminder of my failure to form or have a romantic relationship. I am constantly surrounded by reminders of this, and it makes me feel like there is something wrong with me.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. I can just keep doing the best I can with the life I’ve been given. And I have plenty of reminders of experiences I’ve had, and continue to have, that wouldn’t be possible had I had children. This isn’t what I naturally think about first when this happens, but I need to learn to change my thinking.

And besides, most of the greatest human beings who ever lived weren’t like everyone else.

Exit 219. I don’t know how to let go.

I’m not well.  Not mentally and emotionally, at least.

I don’t want to talk about it.  But I realized yesterday, as everything was falling apart, that there is something deeper going on that what appeared to be happening on the surface.

I don’t know how to let go.  I don’t know how to forgive.  I don’t know how to move on.  I’ve been carrying around decades of burdens and rejection and hurt, and I just don’t know how to move on.

I think about things that I was successfully able to move on from, to try to figure out what to do about this.  And it turns out that it might not have been so successful after all.  Sometimes forgiveness happens because whoever or whatever I’m mad at apologizes or makes an effort to make things right.  But I can’t control that.  I can’t control other people.  And sometimes it looks like I’m able to forgive someone on the surface, but then their true colors show again later, and years pass and I’m still angry and carrying it around.  Or sometimes I just manage to distract and numb myself for long enough that the anger I’m carrying around doesn’t affect my ability to be a functioning adult… most of the time, until something happens like the last few days, and something that is truly insignificant in the long run triggers an avalanche of anger.

I just don’t know what to do with this.  I can stay away from certain people or places where I am likely to get upset, but that’s just a Band-Aid.  I’m scared.  I hope I haven’t done any permanent damage to myself, my friendships, or my career.  Fortunately, I see my therapist this week.  That’s a start, I guess.

Exit 218. Everything will be all right.

I’m ok.

Everything is going to be all right.

Sometimes it feels like the world is falling apart, like everything is hopeless.  But it’ll be all right.

Things might not turn out the way I would want.  Things might end up completely different.  I might have to make some major changes.  I might have major changes forced on me.  I might stay here for the rest of my life, or I might have to flee with nothing but the clothes on my back.

But everything will be all right.

And I’m fine.  I just needed to remind myself of that.

Exit 216. Knowing that I haven’t been forgotten.

I’ve been away from this site for a few weeks. Sorry. Life just got in the way.

I’m ready to hide from the world for a long time. The world is quickly descending into madness.

Yesterday I got something completely unexpected in the mail. I have a friend on Facebook who observes National Handwriting Day. She asked for anyone who wanted her to send a handwritten card in the mail. I said sure, as I had in a previous year as well. National Handwriting Day is in January; she got behind this year, but the card still came in the mail, finally yesterday. I had completely forgotten about this until I saw who it was from. She isn’t someone I see on a regular basis anymore. Life just changes, and I haven’t seen her in person since she made the post about National Handwriting Day in January.

Even in this mad, chaotic world, little things like knowing that I haven’t been forgotten can really make my day sometimes.

Exit 215. Time to tear it down.

Something came up this morning at church that I had never noticed before, something very relevant to my life currently.

Moses delivered the nation of Israel from slavery under Pharaoh, but because of their unfaithfulness, God did not let them enter and conquer their rightful home for 40 years, until all the unfaithful have died. They don’t learn their lesson, and at one point, they complain to Moses about the living conditions in their nomadic state.  God punished the unfaithful by making some of them die of snake bites.  The survivors asked and prayed for forgiveness, and God told Moses to make a bronze statue of a snake and put it somewhere for people to look at it, to remember God’s faithfulness to them.  Anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and live (Numbers 21:4-9).

Hundreds of years later, Israel is an established nation with a king… well, briefly. They plunge into civil war and divide into two nations. The northern kingdom did not follow the commandments of God, and the southern kingdom mostly did not either, although there were a few southern kings who did bring the people back to following God during their nonconsecutive reigns.  One of those was Hezekiah, who lived about 700 years before the coming of Jesus.  The Second Book of Kings says that “He [Hezekiah] did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his [ancestor] David had done.  He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones, and cut down the Asherah poles.  He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it.”  (2 Kings 18:3-4)

The bronze snake that Moses made was still there, over half of a millennium after Moses’ time. But its original purpose had long since passed. All of the people who looked at it to heal their snake bites had been dead for a long time. For the new generation, it was not helping them to look to God and worship him, or to remember what God had done for them and their ancestors; instead, it was doing the opposite, serving as a focal point for the worship of other gods.  God himself had completely disappeared from the worship that was happening at the snake.  So Hezekiah finally realized it was time to tear it down.

God does not always work among us in the same way.  God’s work in one place at one time might not work in another place and time, and God might have not intended it for that place or time.  At first, this didn’t really seem right to me.  Isn’t God constant and unchanging?  Well, yes, he is, but these two statements are not necessarily in conflict with each other.  God can still be constant and unchanging while working in different ways specific to certain times and situations.  God worked through the reformers of the 16th century to bring knowledge of the Scriptures to the common people and work against corruption in the church.  But in the USA in the 21st century, most people know how to read and have access to the Bible, and taking down the kind of corruption that churches today may see will require God working in a different way, even though the ultimate principle of turning people back to him and away from corrupt and fallen earthly institutions remains constant and unchanging.

Another example just came to me now as I was writing this.  Many people who have not studied Christianity in detail tend to think that God was so different in the Old Testament compared to what he is like in the New Testament or now.  In the Old Testament, God often told his people to make war with and destroy and kill neighboring countries.  And, as we just saw, once he sent snakes to bite those who questioned him.  How does one reconcile this with all of his commandments about love, or with Jesus’ self-sacrificial love?  The short answer is because in the time of the Old Testament, the time had not come yet for God to send his Son to Earth.  First, he had to prepare a nation through which Jesus would be born, and in order to this, he had to remove all the corrupting sinful influences from this nation… hence, the making war with neighboring countries.  God no longer tells us to make war with countries that have different beliefs, because this is a different time.  Jesus came to bring the message of salvation to all, and we can send missionaries to teach other cultures about Jesus, and we can lead by example.  God is no longer preparing a nation to give birth to the Messiah; that happened already.

This concept extends beyond the idea of Christianity, and it makes me think a lot of my struggles in trying to figure out life and adulthood.  Twenty years ago, I made friends by being involved with two college-age Christian student groups.  That was good.  Some of my closest friends over the years have come from doing that.  But that does not work anymore.  I now live in an area where most churches are geared toward families, not college students, because that is who lives here.  And very few churches have youth groups for 42-year-olds.  So I have had to look for other ways to make friends.  Nothing has changed, and I don’t have to change any of my core beliefs.  But what worked in one place at one time doesn’t always work for other places and times.

Sometimes I feel like the last one standing for God, like I am desperately hanging on to God’s truth while the world descends into chaos around me.  But maybe it’s not that black and white.  Maybe some of what I hold on to is ways that God isn’t moving in my life anymore, and maybe it is okay to let go of some of these ways without having to compromise my core beliefs.  Maybe this is what is getting in the way, why I feel like my life isn’t exactly progressing in the right direction.  But how do I know what to hold on to and what to let go of?  As always I will only know with prayer, and listening to the Holy Spirit, and knowing God’s Word.

Exit 214. Insomnia is infuriating.

Nothing seems unusual for the first hour.  For all my life, it has never been unheard of for me to take a while to fall asleep.  But if I am still awake after an hour, a feeling of dread starts to settle in.  Usually by then, a feeling of having to go to the bathroom has settled in as well, so I get up and deal with that.  I go back to bed and try to relax.

The end of the second hour is when I really start to feel doomed.  I can often tell by then that I’m just not going to be falling asleep.  Usually by then I have to go to the bathroom again, and I’m desperate to get rid of as many distractions as possible that might keep me awake all night, so I get up again and go to the bathroom.  It is at this point that I try doing something else for a bit to get my mind off of whatever is keeping me awake.  If I work the next day, I’ll make my lunch now; that’ll give me an extra few minutes in the morning just in case I do happen to fall asleep.  Sometimes I’ll read for a while.  Eventually I’ll try going back to bed.  I’ll set my alarm for about 45 minutes later than the time it usually goes off, so that I will wake up with the absolute bare minimum amount of time to get ready and dressed in the morning and not be too terribly late to work.  Every minute of potential sleep counts.

If I don’t fall asleep at this point, I start questioning why I am being punished with this inability to sleep.  Am I just subconsciously, or consciously, worrying about something?  Was it because of something I ate?  Did I just eat too much too late at night?  Did I drink too many caffeinated beverages?  Was I looking at too many screens too late at night?  I start to get angry and frustrated over the lack of consistency.  I remember other nights when I did whatever it might have been that is keeping me awake, but had no trouble falling asleep.  Why do there seem to be absolutely no rules here?  Insomnia is infuriating.

Sometimes, between the third and fourth hour, I get desperate.  I start lamenting whatever it is that is wrong with me that causes me to experience this hell.  If I have any in the medicine cabinet, I’ll take some medication for colds or allergies that causes drowsiness, even though I don’t have a cold and am not bothered by allergies.  That also gets me to the bathroom to take another bathroom break.  And this is when I start to notice the headache setting in.  A sense of dread begins to overwhelm me as I realize that I’m going to have to go to work tomorrow with this headache.   I contemplate taking a sick day, but then I realize that no one else can do my job, not being there just gets everyone behind, and preparing not to be there is often quite a bit of work in and of itself.  Most of the time, I just decide to ride it out and go to work anyway, and try to survive until lunch when I might get in a 20-minute nap with my head down on the desk.

Eventually, after a few more hours of helplessly tossing and turning, I realize that my alarm would have gone off by now had I not changed it earlier in the night.  I give up and get dressed and go about my day, simply hoping to survive until I get home, and hoping that it will be a long time before I experience this misery again.  Unfortunately, the nights of insomnia have become more frequent lately.  Every time, when I finally get to sleep after being awake for 30-40 hours in a row, I hope that these days are behind me.  We’ll see.

Exit 213. All of this has taken a heavy toll.

August is almost over.  It has been good so far.  The new school year is mostly starting well, although I have one class with all of the behavior problems together in the same room.  And I have had a lot of fun times with friends and family.

But all of this has taken a heavy toll on me.

I am exhausted all the time.  I have been having trouble sleeping again.  And at times, I have been short-tempered and irritable over insignificant things.

I need to get back into some healthy habits that have gone by the wayside during the last extremely busy few weeks.  Getting more exercise.  Eating less junk food.  Time in prayer and Scripture.  Stuff like that.

Hopefully September will feel a little more normal.

Exit 211. I see them running too.

I discovered classic rock in the early 1990s, my high school years.  As my teens wore on, I realized that I was enjoying less and less the R&B and rap that the remaining radio station of my childhood played.  By the middle of my high school years, the stations that played what I considered good music of that time period were gone.  MTV still played music in the mornings, and they had the show where they played the most requested videos of the day that came on in the early evening.  I watched a lot of that, especially during school breaks when I was home in the morning.  But when I was listening to the radio while in my room doing homework, or in the car once I started driving, I wasn’t finding anything I liked among the numerous R&B, rap, country, and Spanish-language stations that Monterey County was in range of at the time.  There were a couple of classic rock stations, playing rock music from a time period that spanned from the mid-1960s (my parents’ teen years) to the mid-1980s (my childhood).  Most of these songs were before my time, and I didn’t remember them.  Some of them were by artists I had never heard of.  But I came to discover that I enjoyed it.  Good music.

Some of these songs remained background music to me for decades, coming up every once in a while while flipping around the radio, without me actually paying close attention to the lyrics.  And sometimes, I will actually listen closely to the lyrics of a song like this for the first time, and I’ll have a sudden realization and find some meaning in the song that I had never found before.

Like this one.

Running On Empty was first released in 1977.  I don’t remember 1977.  I wasn’t old enough to eat solid food or wipe my own butt in 1977.  I probably was in high school listening to classic rock radio in the car when I first heard this song.  Or possibly it might have been while watching Forrest Gump, during the montage in which Forrest is running across the country; that movie was released a few months after I graduated from high school.  But I think I already knew of the song’s existence by then.

And I did have some idea what the song was about.  Life on the road.  Constantly moving from one place to another with no clear destination.  And that is a feeling I know well.  Sometimes I don’t know where my life is going.  Sometimes I feel like my direction and goals are unclear.  And I literally spent four months on the road in 2005 trying to find myself, not knowing the specifics of where I was going more than a week or so in advance at the most.

But then, a couple years ago, the song came on, and one part of the lyrics really stuck out to me, at the end of the third verse:

I look around for the friends that I used to turn to pull me through
Looking into their eyes I see them running too…

I see them running too.  Everyone around me has their own struggle to find their destination and meaning in life.  It’s not just me.  I’m not alone.

Knowing that doesn’t always help me find my answers or my destination.  But it still helps to know that my struggles are not unique, and that there are others running on the same road I am.