Thursday, November 11, 2004

A Decision Made

Yesterday some things started to unfold that required a decision from me. A couple weeks ago I noticed that there were a couple of local paper delivery routes listed for areas close to my home. Initially when I mentioned the idea of paper routes to my PO she discouraged the idea because she thought that collecting was involved. That isn’t the case. All fees are taken care of by the mail. So this would be pure delivery.

I got the exact routes from the paper office today. There are two, with 27 accounts on each one. The income is about $80 per month. The papers arrive about 3:30am and have to be delivered by 6:30am. The paper supplies the rubber bands and bags. I would be able to finish the routes in time to go to the Transformation Network and the piecework job (if they get another contract). That means I could possibly make $475 a month. I don’t know how they pay at the TN, but the paper routes are considered contract work so I would be responsible for taxes and such. Having some income sounds good, especially since Nelson is definitely going to have to look for work. They have no jobs lined up until they start on the house in the spring. I mean Christmas is fast approaching as well as Penelope’s first birthday. The Kia needs work. And Nelson’s truck is still waiting to for him to be able to afford a part so the work on that can get done. If he’s not working for the builder he won’t have access to the work truck so there’s some serious expense.

But back to the paper route…I meet tomorrow with my PO and I will have to convince her about the paper routes—if I want to do that. I’m just not sure. We’re coming in to some serious winter weather and is that very meager wage worth the work that is going to be required. And we won’t have health insurance, which is something to consider with colds and flu and unshoveled walks.

When Nelson got home last night, we talked about the paper route idea. I began to realize that this was an idea born out of desperation. I had been weighing the pros and cons for most of the afternoon and I decided it just wasn't worth it.

Here was Nelson's take: why would you take any job that only paid $2 an hour? Granted Beth doesn't make much more than that as a server, but she also gets fairly good tips--so it doesn't compare.

So I continue to be unemployed, but looking.

I meet with my PO in a few hours. A friend had asked me about what type of work my PO was requiring of me. The problem is that there have been no suggestions posed by the PO and really no expectations given. I'm hoping that my volunteering at the Transformation Network will suffice until somthing better comes along.

Here's the thinking behind why getting a job is required (or at least my take on it): work resulting in pay enables criminals to first and foremost pay their fines (not an issue for me, since mine is already paid); second gainful employment keeps the ex-con occupied so that they can't return to crime; and finally, work (supposedly) improves the ex-con's self-esteem so that they won't be tempted to return to crime and will work to continue to improve their life.

There are some flaws in this thinking as it applies to me, but I can see some validity for others--maybe.
Flaw #1: The jobs that will generally hire persons who report their criminal status honestly, are low paying, low satisfaction, and provide little to no incentive to keep the position, let alone improve the quality of one's life (or their family).

Flaw #2: Persons who end up taking these positions are usually so deameaned that it doesn't take long for feelings of inadequacy, futility, and hopelessness take over.
In our depressed economy, where there are far more people looking for work who have no criminal background, the opportunities are few and extremely far betwen. It is illegal to lie about one's criminal background (and grounds for immediate dismissal). And trust me, it only delays the inevitable to not tell when not asked.

This morning at devotions at TN at one point we were talking about how we tend to try and control things in our lives (can I get a witness?). One of the responses that may not look initially like control is withdrawl, especially withdrawl from risk. My example was my frustration with applying for work and the temptation to withdrawl so as to avoid further rejection. There was real resonnace and support from the others around the table. I felt normal. It wasn't necessarily a "good" feeling, but I sure didn't feel alone.

Goodness, that was probably more than was necessary to just say I'm not going to take the paper routes. But in saying that, I realize that I have to deal with still being unemployed. I don't need to respond to that in desperation, but be okay with where I'm at and trust. Trust. Trust the process. Trust that at the right time the right job will be mine. And until then, be fruitful and productive in whatever ways I can be.

Monday, November 08, 2004

A Devotional Revelation

Overflowing Blessings (A Spiritual Reflection)

This morning I went to Transformation Network for morning devotions. I wasn’t sure what I was going to find, how it was going to be. This week the guys were told that they needed to start presenting the devotions. The leader wasn’t expecting them to follow through. Fortunately, the guys proved him wrong.

J2 presented the devotion. He used Psalm 23. He made some good points. Then J1 pointed out something I had never noticed before. He reread the verse from the Psalm where David describes how God prepared a table in the presence of David’s enemies, and instead of being fearful or overwhelmed in that negative situation David looked at the cup and saw it overflowing.

That hit me so profoundly, especially given how things have been going for me these past couple months. Too many times I looked at the cup and contrary to my optimistic personality, I didn’t find the cup half full, I saw it much closer to empty. How does that happen?

I believe that answer is to be found in the first verse: The Lord is my shepherd. I have everything that I need. When I look at what I don’t have, when I focus on what I feel is missing, I find that the cup is looking pretty empty. But when I allow my eyes to focus on what is present the perspective is very, very different. I see the family and friends who have faithfully stuck by me through even the darkest of times. I look down and see the handy laptop computer on which I’m typing. There are so many people, so many things. My cup really is overflowing. I have everything I need and then some.

This Psalm is often read at funerals. So often, that it is unfortunately associated more with death than with living. I needed the reminder. My cup of blessings is overflowing. It doesn’t mean that everything is rosy. It doesn’t mean that I will like the way things are going. It does mean that as I look at my life, and the way things are going I’m going to choose to focus on what is present, not on what might be missing.

In some ways I really feel like I’ve been in a cycle. I am even more convinced that this move was the right thing to do. I’m not sure I would have come to this awareness when life was as easy as it was in Urbana. I had to move through the doubting and the loss to come to the perspective of blessing.

So, I wonder how Nelson will make this part of the journey. When he came home today, he informed me that he was going to have to look for a job. The house that we moved here for him to build has been officially put off until spring. Come next week, maybe even later this week, there isn’t any work needing to be done. He’s going to head over to Home Depot and put in an application. They’re building one here soon, too, so that may even be a possibility. His cup is feeling a bit depleted, but we both trust that we will have everything that we will need.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Transformation Network

Yesterday I had a meeting with two men who head-up the Transformation Network (TN) here in Ashland. I was clued into to them while meeting with one of my former seminary professors, Mike Rueschling. He recommended them for a couple reasons. First, he knew that there were groups and experiences being offered there that I could benefit from participating in and also he felt it might be a place where I could use my gifts.

I learned about some of the opportunities when I called on Wednesday and talked with Dan. One of the things that the TN offers is a Sunday morning worship time. They did this primarily to meet the need of individuals who had criminal records and wouldn’t feel comfortable in a traditional “church” setting, but also for sexual offenders who weren’t permitted to attend “church.” Both Dan and I were wondering why my PO had not recommended this as an option for me.

So on Thursday I told my story again to Dan and Bob. They asked me questions and I gave them honest answers. They described their offereings. (They don’t like to call them “programs” so it becomes challenging to not use that term.) I asked them questions. There was a lot of information laid on the table.

One of the things offered is a work program. They do piece work for one of the local factories. The pay isn’t all that great, $5.50 an hour, but that sure beats $0 all to pieces! They’re on a break right now, but as soon as they start back up I’m going to access that. Mostly what I’ll do (according to the way Dan is thinking now is assemble the boxes that the others will put the pieces in).

There is a morning time of devotions and prayer before heading to the factory at 7:30am. The problem with participating in that is I’m usually putting Nelson’s socks and shoes right about then. We’ll just have to see how that works out.

There are a couple of studies offered. One is affiliated with Lifeskills International. This is the only offering that costs and it’s on a sliding fee scale. They have a men’s group and women’s group. If I take the group twice and do well, I could be recommend for the leader training–in Colorado! That would be down the road since my PO is clear that she doesn’t want me leading anything right now. There are two other studies and a midweek prayer and Bible Study.

One of the things that TN is working on is turning one of the large areas in the building into a non-alcoholic/non-smoking Sports Bar. This will be complete with the typical chotzkies and memorabilia for decorations, TV’s, and grill food. Since the guys are on shut down from the factory they are putting in time on this project. The goal is to offer a place for gathering that is positive (aka within the parameters of most PRC requirements) for developing relationships. I think it’s a really neat idea.

Nelson and I spent a lot of time talking about the meeting and everything I learned. He seemed really skeptical, but at least willing to check things out. It’s hard for him to adapt and feel comfortable. I think in the long run he’s going to do well. Much of what was discussed at TN reminded me of the kind feel and ministry that we a part of at Southside (our church in Springfield). Hopefully, he’ll see that too.

So, on Sunday morning we’re going to attend “church” together at TN. I’m really looking forward to it. It’ll be the first time in two months.

Reflection on these pieces…
As I try and step back and reflective on how things have progressed here, I am once again struck by my lack of trusting and God’s amazing provision. Why is it so hard to trust that even though I feel absolutely blindsided by events, God is not surprised by what’s going on in my life? Why was I so filled with despair and hopelessness?

When I moved here and was told I could attend church and couldn’t have the internet. I thought my world was falling apart. Then I got the internet back. Then I began to trust that God was/is preparing the best church situation for me. Then I was moved to the doorstep of the Transformation Network. And it all seems so good. And I wonder where all that despair and hopelessness came from?

I don’t even like the answers. I AM dependent upon things. I DO draw my peace from temporal things. I over-value the stuff of this life. I want to believe that life will make sense and be fair. Then, when it doesn’t I’m shaken and confused and I wonder how God could be missing what was going on. If I could convince myself that Jeremiah 29:11 is still true, then I start frantically looking for the lessons to be learned—as if failure to find the “right” answer would somehow negate the lesson altogether. In my frantic search I often miss that the lesson or truth was presenting itself to me.

And there it is. And here’s my prayer: God, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry for not trusting, for not believing that you really are in control. And more than that, for not believing that you really do have plan and purpose for good and to your glory. I get so stuck looking for my answer, that I am unprepared to receive your best. I am so busy looking that I don’t see your loving provision as it appears right before me. Thank you that your love continues. Thank you that you gently lead me. Please, please, please keep teaching me, keep revealing yourself to me, keep me mindful of the journey. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Being Recreated

Behold, I make all things new.

Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. The old is gone.

God uses things and people that are broken.

I’ve been doing some reading about brokenness and humility. Recently, someone suggested that I needed to be more humble. My first response was one of incredulity. How could I be more broken, more humbled? I felt like my life had been pulverized. I felt less than useless. I had squandered my purpose. God could no longer have a plan for me.

I had been an achiever. I was driven to produce and to perfection. Failure was unacceptable and yet I made choices that resulted in the loss of my position. I went way beyond disappointing people. I betrayed trust. I behaved in a manner that was despicable. The only thing I deserved was rejection and to live a life of despair.

In spite of my self-loathing, people continued to care about me. People wanted to hear what I had to say. They supported and encouraged me. They told me that God wasn’t done with me. I wanted to believe them but kept running into walls and barriers. And this woman, and an unbeliever at that, had the nerve to tell me I needed to be more humble? I didn’t get it…then. But I think I’m starting to now.

I think what this woman detected in me was a devaluing of my present circumstances. We had moved to a new county, a new region of the state. This resulted in my “starting over” in my probation. Things are different in the new location, stricter. Things that I took for granted as “rights” were being taken away. I was finding that I was sinking deeper and deeper into despair with each loss.

I decided to consider the invitation to delve into brokenness and humility as one from God (it makes me smile to imagine how this woman might feel to be described as an unwitting tool for God). I started by finding a definition for humility. I read somewhere (I thought it was, but I can’t find what I know I read.) that humility involved the willingness to give up one’s rights. That was a direct slap upside the head and invitation to an attitude check.

I had not been “appreciating” my situation. I was rebelling against it. Instead of coming to Jesus in my weariness and confusion to learn from him, to find his gentleness, I was trying to carry the burden alone. And, not only did I try to carry it all alone, but I was proclaiming the unfairness of the burden to anyone who would listen. I felt thoroughly checked in my spirit.

I had lived a life so full of myself. I worked to earn approval from everyone—including God. I proclaimed a message to others that I hadn’t fully taken into my own life. I was willing to admit that I was imperfect. I didn’t like it, but God said he would even use a “cracked pot.” What he was doing now was grinding the pieces into powder.
I kept asking how I was going to put the pieces back together. At some level I hoped to return to life as I knew it. I imagined that the process of healing would result in a restoration, a giving back so that I could move past what had happened and get on with my life and living out my purpose for God.

God had, has, very different plans. There will be a restoring of sorts, but his greater desire is to recreate me. That means I have to give up control. That means I have to truly trust him. That means what was, won’t be again. That brings tears to my eyes right now because I really don’t know what that means, or how it will look. What I do know is that I think I’m coming to the place where I’m willing to accept it and to open myself fully to it.

Beginning Thought

I want to use this blog for my spiritual reflections and processings. I believe that I am on a faith "journey" and I will learn and grow along the way. I find it helpful to put my thoughts out in front of me. The added benefit of this venue is the feedback received. So, here we go.