All posts by Dan

Context really DOES matter…

How could this possibly be good?

Over the years, I’ve come to trust Alick implicitly. But that doesn’t mean I always understand where he’s pointing me. At first, after I had settled down, explained myself as best I could and listened to his first thoughts which were something like, “This is great news! God is doing something really special in you right now…” I was taken aback. But I quickly recognized the profound truth of what he was saying.

Something in me knew this was “good”. Well, necessary. This was catharsis. It was a healing. A bone being set, a joint being put back into place. More precisely, it was the presenting symptom of an injury which had gone undiagnosed (really just ignored by me) for too long and was now demanding attention.

Alick went on to walk me through the process he felt was under way. The losses of the last few years had accumulated to such an extent that they began to pull away at my personal coping mechanisms, one could really say my “personality”. All the things we each depend on to navigate our world, the things we tell ourselves and come to believe, the things we seek reinforcement from others for, the lies and truths that make up who have become and how everyone around us expects us to be. Like a landslide, when the weight of that loss got great enough, it sloughed away, pulling with it all the tools I had come to depend on to make it in life.

The accumulated losses collapsed and carried with them the topsoil, trees and plants of who I am, exposing the bare earth beneath. Seen by itself, with no context, this is a disaster. But Alick did what he does, and lifted my vision to the bigger picture.

Context of 2014 Oso Landslide

When you see the site of the Oso landslide from up close, it’s hard to imagine anything but the enormity of the event. It’s monstrous. It killed 43 of God’s children. There is no way to see it as less than a tragedy…from up close, because it IS a tragedy.

But from 8 years later and several thousand feet in the air, you can ALSO see something else. In the larger context: you see the Stillaguamish river remaking the valley. You see fertile soils being deposited on the flats. you see space being opened for new growth. You see the (largely) natural processes of erosion and fluid dynamics, the water cycle, geology and basic physics on display…and it is…in its own way and its own context…wondrous.

This was going to hurt. It already hurt (and honestly, it continues) but with a larger context in mind, with the idea that God was doing something, that something new was coming, that something broken was being healed and that, though painful, all the “natural processes of life were at work”, I felt I could hang on.

I left that meeting feeling better. A glimmer of hope. But there were still the losses to recognize, to name and to confront. The landslide wasn’t over.

Gaining Empathy

I returned home from the trip, which was partially redeemed by a couple of lovely days with my kids and a friend who came to pick me up.

I was feeling fine when I got home, but a row ensued with Brenda shortly after getting home. The content of the conflict isn’t relevant here, but what occurred afterward is.

A Metaphor

I spiraled. I wound up weeping uncontrollably on our bedroom floor (to be clear: not because of anything Brenda said or did) but because I found that suddenly, I had run out of resources to cope. If you’ve ever had an ageing laptop, then you know one of the symptoms is a message that pops up out of nowhere which reads “Battery Critically Low”…then the thing just suddenly goes black. Yes, I suppose if one were monitoring the little battery icon more closely, one may have had a slightly earlier warning, but the point is, the machine itself gives almost no warning before it shuts down.

That’s what happened to me. Each minute seemed to lead me into greater darkness. Again, exposing the details of that darkness is not necessary or helpful here, but it went something like, “Everything in my life is either failed, broken, incomplete or altogether gone.” My mind was spinning through relationships, work projects, my spiritual life, finances, the house, the garden, my parenting, my husbanding, my compassion for the lost, my self-control, my aging body, my character…and all of it was a wreck ; beyond repair. I couldn’t think of a single thing I have done that wasn’t somehow corrupted…by myself.

The minutes turned to several hours which ended only due to physical exhaustion. The next day, I managed to get into the AC3 office for work, sort of trying to ignore what was happening and “soldier on”. By about 11:00AM I found myself in that spiral again, but this time it was due to a series of technical problems with my computer and the network at church. There was an explosion of rage followed instantly by grief, that sense of overwhelming failure returned and then a sensation I had never experienced before: I thought I was going to die.

It’s irrational, but inescapable. I can’t conjure the precise thoughts or feelings after the fact, but it was very real. I felt a compulsion to get back to that place on my bedroom floor. If I didn’t get there, something very bad was going to happen. I was barley able to physically control myself, trembling violently, difficulty breathing, it was awful. Thank God I managed to safely (though unwisely) drive myself home. (Thank God also that I had the Chaplain vehicle that day, or I’m not sure what I would have done. The thought of having to interact with another person to ask for a ride while in that condition was horrifying).

I don’t know for sure, but I think I had a panic attack. Let me just apologize here and now to everyone who in the past, I may have internally “rolled my eyes” at when they talked about this. If this was a panic attack…my God…it’s awful. Empathy achieved.

I flopped into “my spot” again, and traveled that dark spiral for several more hours, until once again, I was simply too exhausted.

Brenda was a great help. She prayed, asked others (some of you, I’m sure) to pray, and finally reached out to Alick (my Anam Cara) for help. He made time for me that afternoon, and I literally fell into his arms, weeping and for the first time, could articulate (at least somewhat) a coherent idea of what was happening:

I was overwhelmed by loss. Loss, like flood waters, was washing away the surface of who I am to expose what was beneath…and it wasn’t good.

Or was it?