Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Next Step

Introduction: First Thoughts

As I sit down to write this, I realize that, even as I write for others to read who might be interested, mostly I'm writing (more journaling than anything, I suppose) for my own benefit, to help clarify thoughts, anticipate goals, and plan things as much as I am able. With that in mind, I welcome your company, your prayers, your thoughts and feedback, and your help, to whatever extent you are inclined and able to give it. Thanks for looking over my shoulder as I write.

Part 1: What Came Before

When I first started to drive a truck over 8 years ago, I was literally starting my life over. I had been sick for about two years (with what was finally determined to be Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome [CFIDS] or, more popularly and very incorrectly, simply as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), was going through a very painful divorce from my precious wife of 10 years, Charlotte, wasn't in ministry, didn't even have my substitute career as a stockbroker, and the faith that had once formed the boundaries and framework of my whole life was gone.

I didn't really care about living back then, thought my life was over in all the ways that mattered, and, though I wasn't going to actively end it, many times in those days, I certainly just wished my life could be over. Many nights when I first started driving a truck, raw with pain and anguish from the death of my marriage, I curled up in a fetal position, keening and moaning (it was beyond crying, and I hope I never hear that awful sound again), praying to a god I didn't believe in any more to please-please-please-god-please just let me go to sleep and not wake up.

But, I always woke up, and always climbed behind the wheel to go to the next place. I didn't even care where it was. In those earliest, darkest days, my handholds of sanity were primarily the contact I had on the phone with my Mama, Daddy, my Nanny, and my sister, Cindy. They never let go of me, were always there for me, and always let me know they loved me and cared whether I lived or died.

And, over the days, months, years, and the miles, the crucible of my greatest pain in that big truck slowly, mostly imperceptibly to me at the time, became an incubator of healing.

In fits and starts, I slowly began to rebuild my life from the inside out, questioning everything, reconsidering all that I had once considered valuable, testing everything, and one day I realized that I had a life again. And I was enjoying it. The natural wanderlust I had always had was satisfied in always being on the road, going to new places, seeing parts of this land that I had only dreamed of seeing, especially out West. Driving out West, especially in the mountains, was healing in itself for me. I also had time on the road for the things I enjoyed most: reading, writing, thinking deeply about things great and small.

This joy was only magnified and intensified when I was able to begin driving with my long-time friend, Terry. And, I have to say, that in the years since, he has been the witness, the encourager, the healer who has done more to help me rebuild my life than any other single person I've ever known. He has seen me at my worst, has encouraged me to be my best, has taught me, listened without judgment, loved and accepted me, and has remained a true and faithful friend even when I didn't know how to be that in return.

It is a rare gift for a person to know that another person knows all his (or her) deepest secrets, failures, doubts, fears, and still be accepted and loved no matter what. I have been doubly blessed in that: my great friend Terry and my Daddy have both been the keepers of my darkest thoughts and I have been met at every turn with the gift of love, acceptance, healing and forgiveness. For that, I am grateful and blessed beyond words to measure it.

And that is the reason that, whatever else I do the rest of my life, my primary goal is to be that “soft place to fall” (thanks Dr. Phil for that phrase) for those who need it. To give what I have so freely been given, even when it wasn't deserved: to love without condition, to listen without judgment, to just be with another person in quiet empathy and understanding. If I have a ministry today, that's what it is. Nothing more, nothing less. And it is enough.

Part 2: The Present Moment

When Terry and I decided to take a team driving job in Topeka, Kansas, in January, 2010, it was for the money. Our company was offering a nice sign-on bonus for teams that would stay in Kansas for a year. Terry and I both knew we weren't interested in staying in Kansas for more than a year – we had no connections there. And, besides: it was Kansas! Who would want to live permanently in Kansas – of all possible places, surely not there. Not us anyway.

Of course, you know with thoughts like that, it wouldn't be that simple. It never is. Terry found a wonderful reason to stay in Kansas (or anywhere else he would have met her) in the person of his sweet wife, and now my own friend also, Shannon. I would be glad we came to Kansas for that if no other reason. It is truly a rare blessing, one to be treasured, to find love so sweet, no matter where it is found.

And, for me, moving to Kansas was a good thing as well. For the first time since being on the road, I had a regular home, regular time off, and in some respects, the outer trappings of a life off the road. I discovered that being off the road allowed me to engage my other deepest passion, perhaps the motivating passion of my life since I can remember: helping other people. That desire was realized when I met Jon and his wonderful family through my work with Big Brothers and Big Sisters here in Topeka.

For the last three years, Jon and his family have become my family here, and have helped me to stay connected to what matters most in this world, and it's given me an opportunity to serve and give in small ways that have been returned to me in so many big ways. And that connection has kept me anchored here in Kansas, mostly content and happy about it. If you have read any of my writing, in blogs or on Facebook over the past few years, you have read the words I've written so many times: “I will stay in Kansas until my work here is done”, or words to that effect.

At the same time, over the past couple of years, many of the things I have enjoyed most about driving a truck have come to mean less to me than they once did. I have found myself longing for the chance not just to have the external framework of a life apart from the road, but the actual life itself, mostly the connections to people I care about. And the things that I've never liked about driving over the road (driving in winter, being constantly fatigued, being disconnected from people I love) have grown recently to be more of a struggle for me, where they weren't that great a struggle before.

All of those circumstantial elements have come together with this internal sense in my heart that I first sensed last year, last summer, that change was on the way. I had no idea what it was, but was content that when the time was right, I would know what it was and would know what to do about it, if I needed to do anything at all.

I have always thought that when I came off the road (and I thought I probably would at some point), I would move back to Texas. I have many connections there that are as important and dear to me as any I have in the world. Since leaving Texas in 1991, to move to Chicago, I have longed to be back there. This sense was only intensified after my last trip to Texas last year, which I wrote about in my series of blog entries called “My Texas Odyssey”, and which some of you have read.

Then, in December, my Nanny passed away. And, in those last days of last year, being there with her and my family and people I love and care about in Georgia, something happened in my heart that I can express no reason or rhyme to because I do not know. It just happened. That's all I can say. It happened because it was supposed to happen.

I began to think that maybe I would move back to Georgia, even though the other two times I moved back to my hometown, once when I was in college in 1988, and another time in 2006-2007 to help take care of Nanny, it was never a place I wanted to go back to permanently. It just never felt like home.

So, it was rather counter-intuitive to my assumptions and my past experience to even begin considering such a thing. But, I just held on to it, let it be there, along with my equally compelling desire to move to Texas, to see where it would lead, if anywhere.

In the middle of all this, we had the worst winter of driving that I can remember. Perhaps there have been worse winters, but this one affected me very differently in any case. And several weeks ago, sometime in April, after being stuck in Wyoming during a winter storm, while driving down toward Las Vegas out of Utah with howling winds and a dust storm, I was hating the road and that truck so bad, and right in the middle of that storm, I knew it was time.

And, to myself, I decided right then and there: it's time to start working on getting off the road and moving back to Georgia. Just that simple. It was said and done. And, even though the storm was still raging outside, I had the sweetest peace in my heart that I had had in many months. I knew it was The Right Thing To Do.

I told Terry when he woke up, and he was like, “ Well, I've been waiting on you to decide something. It's about time. It's a good thing.” His words sealed it for me.

It is time. And it's right.

Part 3: Into the Unknown

So. That's pretty much it. My intention is set. That's the easy part. The hard part is working all that intention and decision out in practical terms to start my life again in a place I never dreamed it would happen.

There are many things to contend with: I know getting off the road will mean many changes, mostly good, some very challenging. It is almost certain that doing anything else after driving a truck for 8 years will be a huge adjustment. It is almost a certainty that doing something different will mean a reduction in income. And, because of my own poor decisions the last few years with regard to credit cards and living on the road, I have created an additional challenge in that arena that I could wish didn't exist. And yet, it is there, and must be dealt with.

There are many things I am looking forward to about making some of these changes: mostly reconnecting more with people I love, and devoting more energy to the things that are important to me, especially my writing and some other personal family-related projects.

I am excited. I am scared. I am confident. I am riddled with doubt. I am hopeful. I am overwhelmed by the obstacles.

I know that no amount of planning can guarantee outcomes. Indeed, one lesson I am trying to learn more and more is the simple lesson of acceptance, of being unattached to outcomes, letting what needs to be just be. Not trying to control what I can not and am not supposed to control. It is the idea captured most effectively in the words, “Your will, not mine, be done.”

The final result of all this is not so important, I think, as the process and journey of getting there. And I intend, as much as I am able, to enjoy that, and using all the wisdom I have to plan the things in my control, leaving the rest to God. Where it belongs.

So, over the next few months, as I begin to actively look for a new career, a place to live, and all the practical things that entail beginning again, I ask for your prayers. And, if you hear about something that might work for me, feel free to let me know. I'll keep you posted. And thank you.

Until next time . . . love and peace to all.