[Note: This blog entry is not for the squeamish. Let the reader beware, as this essay discusses some rather intense aspects of my personal life experience.]
As is customary on the occasion, the outgoing pastor of our congregation, whose retirement takes place about an hour or so after this particular entry is posted, or more than likely by the time anyone else reads this, gave his last sermon this afternoon as the full-time pastor of our congregation “on the clock” giving a series of lessons learned in the various decades of his life. As he encouraged others to reflect on their lives and on the lessons learned, along with the possible second order repercussions of those lessons, I thought it would be worthwhile to share at least briefly three life lessons, given that I take the assignments of my pastor pretty seriously , that I have learned over the course of my own difficult life, along with some of the larger repercussions I have learned from them, and along with some lessons I still wish to learn if, as was the case according to the minister, at some point a switch will turn on in the mind that allows me to see things differently.
I was quite intrigued to listen to my minister’s own examples about what he had learned at various times in his life. Whether it was the experience of being the new kid, something I have faced myself a few times, or his discussion about the intriguing nature of answered and unanswered prayers and relating it to the task of being a wise and discerning parent, or his discussion of how he and others of his generation were given great positions of honor and responsibility at a very young age and that some people were simply unable to properly handle it, there was a lot of wisdom found in his reflection over the course of his life. He was both reflective, befitting the time and situation of his message, and sensitive to the lessons about life that came his way over the course of his own experiences. Though my own life experiences have differed greatly from his own, I would like to think that I am at least equally reflective of my life and equally desirous of finding wisdom from my own experiences and observations, and equally sensitive to the experiences and situations I have had to deal with. In that light, I would like to discuss some of the unforgettable lessons I have learned and behaviors that have changed as a result of my own life.
Some of the most important life lessons I learned I learned well when I was a small child. As a survivor of early childhood rape and incest, one learns a lot of lessons in the least ideal of circumstances. Among the most powerful of those lessons was that those in authority over me could not be trusted. They could not be trusted to act according to their duties and responsibilities of their office; they could not be trusted to look after my best interests and act in ways that would be appropriate and beneficial to me; they could not be trusted to behave honorably and decently. There are, as it may be imagined, a lot of repercussions of this particular lesson. As might be imagined, my relationships with authority figures in my life have been fraught with a considerable degree of concern and tension and unhappiness, not necessarily because I am a particularly rebellious person, but because I have such a high degree of suspicion of people in authority that most of them, quite understandably, have a great difficulty getting along well with me. My own initial suspicion leads quite naturally for them to act in ways that tend to confirm my lack of trust and respect in them, and so on and so forth, a negative cycle that is easy to recognize but not easy to do anything about. At least from where I stand, the loss of trust in authorities and the instinctive feeling of concern or even alarm I feel about the people who are in authority over me in any sphere of life has been a permanent lesson. Perhaps it was not the right lesson to learn, but it is hard to imagine that an infant or toddler as I was would have learned any different lesson from such a traumatic experience.
The second lesson I would like to discuss occurred in my mid twenties . Several months before I turned twenty-five, my father died of a heart attack six weeks after having a massive stroke at the age of fifty-nine. To make a long story somewhat shorter, his death and the repercussions of that death sent me into a period of major depression that lasted for five years and that made several drastic and permanent changes to the way I live, ways that have come with a fairly large degree of consequence, not all of it good. In the immediate aftermath of my father’s death, the reflection of the immense grief I felt, grief that included a sense of sadness that my father was never able to confess his sins against me to me and seek my forgiveness. I would like to think that I would have been gracious and polite and sought to make the moment less uncomfortable, even given the complicated feelings I have about him and his role in my life. Unfortunately, this process was not allowed to be private for several reasons. Before my father’s death I kept my considerable depth of emotion rather private and hidden, to the point where other people tended to see me as an emotionless robot of sorts. After his death, the immense grief and sadness I felt over his death, and the deep levels of anxiety and concern about my life ending up as lonely as his was, and ending as prematurely, was impossible to hide, which led other people to guess at what had happened in my early childhood, and that led them to spread it around a few years later during a time of church crisis as a way of discrediting my observations of others given the effect of that trauma. Some of the many lessons learned from that particular event and its aftermath was that life had gotten to a serious enough level that my emotional life had to be openly acknowledged, despite its dangers, and that I needed to be honest and open about my life, including the dark parts of it, lest others hear it with an evil spin from others before they hear it from me in its proper context. Needless to say, being induced into being more extroverted about my emotions and the darker aspects of life has been so far a permanent change, and one that has filled my life with a considerable amount of danger in the sort of relationships that I seek, given the fact that there are a lot of people who understandably do not want to have to deal with the sort of difficulties I bring to friendships or intimate relationships.
The third lesson I would like to discuss relates to my presence in the Portland, Oregon area. After what can politely be called a rapid, unexpected, and traumatic departure from Thailand, where I served as an instructor at a school for hill tribe teens and young adults , my prayers to not end up homeless and to find a place to land ended me with some very supportive and understanding roommates in the Portland area, one of whom I have known for many years. As the repercussions of this particular occurrence are still ongoing, and have been ongoing now for about three and a half years, I do not know all of the many life lessons that will permanently change my behavior, nor are all of those life lessons necessarily fit for public consumption. Nevertheless, there are at least a few life lessons I have learned. I know, for example, that God does hear and answer prayers, but His answers are not always the way that one expects. I did not come to Portland with any personal agendas save the desire to have a safe place for myself to live free of endless anxiety and debilitating stress, where I could work and serve others and live a life of decency and honor, and have the respect and honor of others, without any secret or wicked ambitions. My presence in this particular area was a matter of divine providence, for what it’s worth, and the only one with a plan regarding my being here was God. I’m still not sure what it means for myself and for others around me, but I am resolved to live the best I can, and hope that it works out well for others as well.
There is at least one more thing I would like to say before I close. In today’s valedictory sermon, my outgoing pastor commented on the fact that he had struggled with envy for the happiness and promotion of others in his life. Although I cannot say I am particularly proud about this quality, it is definitely one I share, especially when I see the lack of progress in particular areas of life that are subjects of frequent and continual and long-term prayers to God where the answer is silence and delaying for reasons that I do not understand. Is it a matter of a lack of patience, or some other kind of preparation that needs to happen? I do not know, and I may not know until after my life changes in ways that would allow me to look back in this period of life with the tolerant eye of someone who has been there and has no desire to go back there again. My life has had a lot of lessons, quite a few of them the result of painful and difficult personal traumas, and it is hard to know that one has learned the right lessons or if there is a lot that has to be unlearned, so that my life can be as good as it can be, without getting in the way and preventing any possible happiness or success.
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