I had an experience yesterday that was so out-of-the-blue strange that I have to share it with you. I’m still parsing out the meaning of it all, and I hope you’ll forgive me if this sounds like some horrible “prosperity gospel” testimonial — WHICH IT ISN’T — but to paraphrase Jim Bouton, “This actually took place, Doctor.”
To give a little background … I’ve been fighting a low-grade depression for a few days now. Now, this happens to me periodically. I don’t have a really serious problem with depression (at least not anymore), the I-can’t-function-at-all, makes-me-think-thoughts-about-doing-myself-in kind that needs medication to correct. I know people who have, and I’ve had enough of a taste of it that I sympathize with those who do; I wouldn’t wish that on Ali Khamenei. But enough stuff had piled up over the previous week that I was feeling more than a little down:
- I found out a friend of mine has gone into rehab (I don’t know the details) and will be incommunicado for at least a month, due to the rehab facility’s “blackout” period to let him get some things sorted out.
- Another friend will be out of the country for the next five weeks — his company is having him training some people at their office in the Philippines. We’ll be in contact via e-mail, but still.
- The Supermodel has a medical condition in addition to her everyday struggles with CMT, so she’s got more doctor’s visits than usual in the next few weeks. (Her doctor’s visits always seem to cause me more stress than they do her. I wonder why that is.)
- My mom, meanwhile, is looking at having a liver resection (they’re removing a third of it), a quintuple bypass, and surgery for a brain aneurysm, all before the year is out if the doctors get off the schneid.
- The big trip to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom for my daughter’s eighth birthday ended up something of a drag. She had fun, at least, but almost everything in the place was ruinously expensive ($3.75 for a 20-ounce bottle of soda?!?), customer service … wasn’t, there’s no direct route from anything in the park to anything else, and it took two days for my right ankle to unkink after all the walking and standing in line. (Egads, no wonder Six Flags is bankrupt …)
- And I’m still seriously overweight, unemployed, and looking for actual Christian fellowship, none of which shows any sign of being resolved soon.
And then the topper came yesterday morning, when after less than a month, I got a rejection letter from the publisher to which I sent a sample of my novel. Their website says to expect a response in “4-6 months”, so I suspect getting it tossed back in about 4 WEEKS isn’t a good sign. That, and it was a form letter that had obviously been put on the copy machine crooked — that doesn’t help either …
So yeah, I was a little down about life. One of those times when you really just want to get away from it all, when you start having daydreams that Amy Adams will come and ask you to run off with her. (Hey, you have your wacky fantasies, I have mine.) Not in good shape. But at times like these, I know what to do.
- Lock self in office.
- Start talking to God and let Him straighten oneself out.
Well, boy, did I need straightening — so that’s what I did. And pacing around the office, going through the litany of weights hanging off my shoulders and sorting them by size and shape, I opened my mouth and was shocked by what came out:
“Jesus … thank you. For everything.”
Whaaaaaa? Where did that come from?!?
And yet I meant it. I realized that I trusted God to work all these things out — the medical problems, the personal problems, the unemployment, the novel, the deals with my friends, the loneliness of not having my friends around. I’d surrendered my life to Him, so all my problems were His problems, and even if I wasn’t capable of sorting them out, He certainly is! And in the meantime, He’s using them in my life to conform me to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29, yes?). It’s a no-lose situation, if you look at it that way.
It’s not like all the burdens dropped off me at that instant and I was suddenly deliriously happy. It’s more like I knew that they would drop off eventually, so I didn’t have to concern myself with them right now, so I could move on to whatever’s next. Which I did. Actually, what was next was noodling around on the computer and watching Conan O’Brien’s monologue from the Friday Tonight Show on Hulu, so it’s not like I was working on a cure for the willies or anything. (When you’re unemployed, you keep busy however you can.) But it was a step away from moping around feeling blue.
And then the phone rings.
I pick it up, thinking it’s probably my friend Geri (fellow novelist/ersatz literary advisor), whom I’d left a message for earlier after getting the rejection letter. Then when the carefully modulated, reading-a-prepared-text voice came on, I thought, “oh, great, a telemarketer …). But it was neither.
More background: On Father’s Day, my family had taken me to California Pizza Kitchen. CPK, like many other chains, offers its patrons a chance to fill out an online survey on how their service was (the details are printed on your receipt). As an incentive to participate, they say that they’ll enter you in a drawing for some amount of money. The Supermodel and I always do those surveys, figuring why not, you never know.
Well, the lady on the phone was calling from a company called Promotion Mechanics, which it turns out runs the survey system for CPK. And they’d selected my name out of the electronic hat for the month of June. And they wanted to send me an affidavit and a W-9 form to fill out so that I’d be legally cleared for the check they were sending me. For one thousand dollars.
Well! Needless to say, I was cooperative, had them e-mail me the forms, printed them out, filled them out, had a friend who’s a notary (and interestingly, the wife of the friend who’s right now on his way to the Philippines) notarize the affidavit, and had the paperwork in the mail within two hours. Now I just have to hope the United States Postal Service does its usual solid job getting my letter there, and by the end of the month I’ll be holding the check and asking God how much of it He wants me to set aside for Him.
Now, it would be too easy to ascribe a simple cause-effect relationship to this, to say, “I was thankful to Jesus and trusted Him, and as a reward He gave me a thousand smackers.” You may have heard stories like that — it’s a minor variation on the traditional evangelical testimony: “I was totally messed up, I got saved, and now I don’t have any problems at all and my life is perfect, thankyouJesus!” I’ve heard a lot of those, and they began to get increasingly annoying because … well, I’d given my life to Jesus. And I was trying to follow Him as best I could. And yet I still have problems and my life isn’t perfect, so why is God taking such good care of Brother So-and-Such and holding out on me? And then I’d try even harder to do better, thinking that if God wasn’t blessing me as much as him, it was probably my fault. You can see where that mentality leads, I think.
In time, I learned a few things:
- I learned that most of those people giving those testimonies were just as bollixed up as I was, but just didn’t say so publicly.
- I learned that too often in evangelical circles, we are encouraged to not talk about our weaknesses, as it would supposedly “make the church look bad.” (In reality, it’s part of how you get those weaknesses dealt with — as Andrew Greeley said, “we air our dirty laundry in public because it’s the only way to get it clean.”)
- I learned that there isn’t a mathematical relationship between how good you are or how spiritual you are and how smooth your life is or how much cash you’ve got. I’ve met saved, Spirit-filled homeless people on one hand, and on the other hand I haven’t heard Bill Gates speak about a powerful relationship with Christ. (If you have, let me know — that would be interesting.)
- Most of all, I learned that God has a different plan for everyone — and it usually doesn’t involve a nice, smooth glide through life. In fact, if you are a claim-the-promises-of-God type, what about His promise that “in this world, you will have tribulation” (John 16:33)? Not to mention how his disciples ended up — ten of the twelve (eleven of thirteen if you count Matthias) were murdered for their faith, according to legend.
So can anything be learned from what otherwise seems like a “lucky break”? I think so. The Supermodel’s take on it all was that “He found us faithful in a little, so He’s giving us more.” In that mindset, God isn’t just handing us cash to blow however we will — He’s entrusting us with it, to use according to His guidance, because we’ve done at least okay with what He entrusted us with before. That makes more sense to me than the “blab-it-and-grab-it” nonsense that’s growing like mildew in so many congregations. He’s got a plan — for us, for the world — and He’s giving us tools to carry it out. So I’m going to operate along those lines, and see what He wants done.
True story. Every word of it. I know, it’s hard for me to believe, and I was there at the time. I’m still a little down. I still don’t know who to send my novel to next, or if my wife and my mom will be all right once the folks with the Ph.D.s are through with them, or where I’ll find a job (thought I did mail out a resume to a place nearby, the same time I sent out the affidavit and the W-9). But I trusted God with those things before, however imperfectly, and I’m going to trust Him with them now. And we’ll see what transpires.
Because who knows what He has up His sleeve next …