Monthly Archives: March 2014

Running in the Dark

For the past few months I’ve been running in the dark a few times a week, literally. To get my run on requires a 6am start. Running in the dark was born out of necessity; my wife leaves for work at 7am. Once the missus leaves it’s Daddy time, and the various parental todo’s of getting the 4 year-old daughter and 5 month-old son up and ready to head out the door kick in. Food. Clothes. Diapers. Milk. Cell phone. Car keys. That sort of thing.

The morning run is a fairly straight forward pursuit. It involves a path that looks like one big rectangle.  You begin, take four turns, and return back at the beginning.  For me that beginning is home.

running in the dark

After taking one of these four turns this morning I noticed something odd: the front gate on the house to the right was open. That gate is always closed. And behind that gate is always has a big dog barking. Crap. Better keep running. The next sign something was amiss was across the street. There was a house across the street.  There had never been a house across the street before, how did that pop up out of nowhere? Super strange.

The final wake-up call that I was in foreign territory was the song playing on my iPod. I’ve listened to the same 5k play list for years now. After a while you can track time, location and distance, at least to a certain extent, by what song in the 5k list is being played. In this case Linkin Park’s Bleed it Out was playing. That can’t be right. At this turn the play list should be two songs ahead, that’s when Rage Against the Machine’s Killing in the Name normally starts.

crazy good song, and album
crazy good song, and album

Crap.

I’m Lost.

Decision time.

Do I forge ahead in the dark and hope I can find my way back home? Or turn around and get back on the path? The problem with forging ahead was the unknown, not knowing if I’d passed the street our house was on. This detail would decide whether the next turn would be a left or a right. It would also determine whether I’d get even more lost, or be back on track.

There was also an element of time to consider. My wife needed to get out the door for her morning commute. I needed to get the kids ready to go and head to the church office. The clock was ticking.

Crap. Crap. CRAP.

Unsure of exactly where I was at, and unsure of what was ahead, I chose to turn around. It felt a little embarrassing. It probably hurt my pride a bit, I really should know our neighborhood better by now, right? Heck I’d run this same EXACT route several dozen times.  Later at home I apologized to my wife for being late and sheepishly explained about getting lost. She smiled, continued to get ready for work, and gave me a kiss goodbye a few minutes later. All was right in the world.

The experience, for as little a part of life as it was, got me thinking. When else had I taken a wrong turn before? How long had I taken to realize it? Had I decided to forge ahead – in the dark at times – or turned back to find my way? One example that came to mind was with my last career. I had taken a wrong turn toward following the values of corporate America. The farther along this path I got the more  lost I became. The darker things became.

The experience also got me thinking about the concept of home.  Home can be many things. For me home is family, friends, and a faith community.  When I get lost in life I turn away from each of these in various ways. The results typically suck. Depression. Isolation. Brokenness. Yuck.

What about you? What wrong turns have you taken in life? How did they turn out? Are you in the middle of a wrong turn now? Are you forging ahead, hoping to find your way in the dark, or considering turning back to a better path?  Does the path lead home?

TR02-The-Path-Home

art from Herbert McCabe that resonates

Why I Walked – Part 7 – Answers

On August 14, 2012, after thirteen years with the same company, I quit my job, with no plan about what would come next. In retrospect it was more than that; I walked away from a career, away from a six-figure salary, and toward something entirely different. Here’s why.  (Part 7 of 7).  Missed the start? Rewind to Part 1.

Answers

Once I decided to pursue the pastoral gig things just began to fall in place. There are only nine seminaries in my Lutheran denomination, and the closest one is in South Carolina, a long hike from South Florida. Initially I thought taking this path would require moving to seminary. When your wife has a good paying job, you’re a father, homeowner, and plugged into to a supportive local faith community…well, that’s a lot to consider. Then my wife learned Luther Seminary in St. Paul MN, had a distance learning option that enables students to take many classes online. Excellent!  Scratch having to move off of the barrier list.

Next came jumping through the various hoops of getting the green light to enter seminary from the local Synod. In Lutheran terms a Synod is a regional group that helps coordinate various things for local congregations. They also walk with people that have the inkling to journey toward becoming a pastor, giving guidance and support along the way. Working through these various hoops involves lots of little steps, things like a 1-1 interview with a pastor, getting background checks, being evaluated by a psychologist and taking three hours of psychological inventories. That part was fairly interesting. Beyond wanting to see if potential clergy have any red flags – fortunately nothing big popped up there – some of the testing is designed to measure what careers or vocations would be a good fit. The career inventory came back with “very high” for “social domains including religion, spirituality and counseling.”  Excellent, so far so good.

writers-block
one last ‘lil block to sleuth out…

Something I struggled with was writing a 10 page paper about my faith journey, one of the many requirements from the Synod. Likely the goal of this paper is for the Synod to gauge your writing skills. The other goal is to get a better sense of who you are as a person of faith and to understand how you got there. Sitting down and putting pen to paper my mind froze. What the heck was I supposed to write? Fortunately my brother invited us back home to visit for the holidays which turned out to be a great way to remove this roadblock. After going to two church services on Christmas Eve, including to the church of my youth I was able to compare and contrast where I had started this faith journey as a child and where it had led. At that point the words for this paper flowed out of me.

After that it seemed like the more open I was to the possibilities, the more life just unfolded. Over the past year I have been accepted to and have begun seminary, started working part-time at our local congregation as their Director of Ministry, had the joy of welcoming our second child to this world, and purchased a new home to fit all this new life. It’s been thrilling.

What does this call to be a pastor look like? For me it is to offer this new life I’ve found, the life after coming out of the darkness of depression, to others. In progressive, action-oriented, Christian terms it is to encourage people to heal the sick. To feed the hungry. To stand with the oppressed, the poor, the immigrants, and those treated by society as less than.  Maybe, just maybe, I’ll even be able to recycle some of those market research skills, of understanding differences between people and use those skills  for a Higher purpose. Screw helping banks sell financial products. Now I’ve got something much more interesting to market: Jesus.

liberationtheology2

Why I Walked – Part 6 – Questions

On August 14, 2012, after thirteen years with the same company, I quit my job, with no plan about what would come next. In retrospect it was more than that; I walked away from a career, away from a six-figure salary, and toward something entirely different. Here’s why.  (Part 6 of 7).  Missed the start? Rewind to Part 1.

Questions

Once the healing was far enough along, right around November 2012, I began to poke my head out and look around, to tackle the ‘what next’ of walking away. At first it was challenging, after doing one thing for so long my last career had become an identity. Early on my wife challenged me to clean out the garage, admittedly a simple task. I had been buying huge stashes of video games with the intention to resell them online, and had never gotten around to it. “Give yourself a job” she told me, sell those games, and clean out that garage! Not the most thrilling thing, but it was a start and I had a goal to work toward.

Cleaning the garage really is good therapy
Cleaning the garage really is good therapy

After some thought I narrowed the list of next potential careers down to three, a clinical psychologist, a school guidance counselor, and a pastor. Each field was attractive, tho I also honed in on potential downsides for each.

Being a clinical psychologist was definitely interesting, but the social isolation of sitting in a quiet room and often spending time with people in a certain dark place in life, hmm, that didn’t sound too different from what I had just come out of. As a school counselor I’d be able to help kids along their path, but then there’s the red tape of the educational system to deal with. I wasn’t a huge fan of being a middle manager in corporate America, it’s possible being a school counselor wouldn’t be that different either.

not everyone is designed for middle management. or ties. or suspenders.
not all are designed for middle management.  or cufflinks. or ties. or suspenders.

Then there was this path that had attracted me for some time, of being a pastor. The downsides were plenty, including high expectations from others and four years of education for another Master’s degree – man that’s a long time. The bigger issue I’d heard from other pastors was also of isolation, that it’s lonely leading a congregation. Had even heard that you couldn’t have friends in the pews, if true that would really suck.

I spoke with my psychologist about this, and her insight was very helpful. Her response to this potential downside of isolation and lack of friends was, “Oh I don’t know about that. Maybe a pastor is just like everyone else in the community, being right beside them all the time, being part of the group. And then sometimes, like Sunday mornings, you’re just asked to talk a little more.”

community-manager
Maybe the pastoral gig could be the kind of leadership I so dig, if so …sweet!

Whoa, that was an angle on a career I could live with! The primary role of walking alongside others, a purely relational endeavor, with an occasional speaking part to the larger community. With that answer I decided to take the initial steps on this pastoral path.

Continue on to Part 7 – Answers.

Why I Walked – Part 5 – Resurrection

On August 14, 2012, after thirteen years with the same company, I quit my job, with no plan about what would come next. In retrospect it was more than that; I walked away from a career, away from a six-figure salary, and toward something entirely different. Here’s why.  (Part 5 of 7). Missed the start? Rewind to Part 1.

Resurrection

In some ways my challenge with social isolation (see Peeps for more) and lack of meaning in the day job were killing me. It may be that the depression was a result of spending so much time in one world, in “Corporate America”, while yearning for another – yearning for a community with Higher purpose. Over the years these disconnects only grew:  I became more disillusioned with the values of the former while being increasingly drawn to the latter.

“Depression is a kind of death” says Parker Palmer, and looking back egad I can see that. Part of the death in depression is that the brain literally stops functioning properly. When it gets really bad, logic and reason stop working almost entirely, and the brain only functions using the raw emotions of fight or flight. When you work in market research and need to create and analyze, think logically, and be accurate this becomes a huge problem. At one point my mind was so scrambled that the basic calculations I did daily on the job would take three or four times as long to do. Often I’d do the same calculation multiple times, not able to trust my brain that I’d arrived at the correct answer. Sometimes I hadn’t.

The light - and light - literally leaves
Brainscan of depression: the light literally leaves

The death of the job came on August 14, 2012, when I handed in the two-week notice. Not able to fend off the descent into depression that came this second time, not able to fully embrace the corporate values I was asked to foster and uphold, it seemed like the only sane thing to do. Several people close to me encouraged me to take FMLA, some time away from the job to heal up. Looking back that was probably a more viable option than I realized at the time, I just couldn’t see it from within the fog-cloud of depression. Looking forward it still wouldn’t have resolved my issues with these underlying corporate values I was never quite sold on, so maybe the whole thing would have just repeated itself again anyways.

After quitting, the depression got worse for a few months, the whys and what next questions were haunting. My psychologist refers to this time as detox, where the biochemical effects of depression, including low levels of serotonin begin to return to their normal, pre-depression levels.

Then an amazing thing happened, I began to heal. Many people speak of this rebound from the ailment as when the Fog is lifted, and I totally understand that metaphor. Personally my reaction to healing was of shock, I remember thinking, “Oh my gosh, I’m still here, I’m still here!’

the fog lifted, and light began to shine down again

Another metaphor that started to come into focus once the healing began was of being raised from the dead, of new life. Over the past several years, while all of this was playing out, I became more and more involved in our local, Lutheran church and had met and befriended many Peeps. In this other world, of faith and grace, things began to make more and more sense.

In Jesus there is a role model for death and rebirth. The rebirth can be understood as a means for how we choose to treat others, and why we do what we do. Have problems? Bring them to the cross, die to self, and be reborn with purpose. This always made sense to me on some level. After coming out of the depths of depression it has taken on new meaning. It also created some questions on where to go from here.

Continue on to Part 6 – Questions.

Healing-Hands

Pajamas now on Facebook

for any facebookers out there – i’m definitely a fan – Pastor in Pajamas is now on facebook. Click through to Pastor in Pajamas on facebook and *like* if you do. The page will be updated with blog posts, memes of a certain flavor, and an occasional image or three of silly pajamas new and old. It’s a great way to keep up with recent posts. Enjoy!