The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done

Lavado y arropadoI was there, but I don’t remember much about it.  They tell me it was hard – 36+ hours hard.  Then the nurses called the doctor and interrupted his night out on the town.  He arrived at the hospital shortly thereafter and decided that I wasn’t going to be delivered conventionally.  That’s when he did the C-Section on my Mom.  Not surprisingly, she gladly shared this with me whenever I was being particularly difficult.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.  Once born, it was discovered that I was born with a severe, bilateral, cleft palate and lip.  Although one out of 500 people are born with some sort of cleft palate, many are relatively unnoticeable.  Mine was one of the worst.  Of course this made for a difficult childhood – and I certainly wouldn’t want to repeat my teenage years.  Those years are hard enough already, but kids with differences – even subtle ones – never have it easy.  Interestingly, there are very few “normal” teenagers, but that doesn’t stop the ostracizing and abuse. 

My second year of college, at age 18 & 19, was a hard year.  Between loneliness, undiagnosed (and therefore untreated) seasonal depression, and testosterone-driven angst, I ended up making some poor choices, which led to an ill-advised marriage.  This marriage came crashing down around me two and a half years later.  At the time, which I barely survived, I thought this was the most difficult thing anyone could ever face. (By the way, I don’t think 19 year olds should be allowed to make major life-altering decisions like this.)

It took about five years to recover from the divorce…

It took about five years to recover from the divorce.  The methods I chose to recover only led to deeper crises.  Getting out of that cycle required major lifestyle readjustments, and walking away from some good friends.  Still, this wasn’t the hardest thing I’d ever done.

In 1995, I left a career I loved and was good at. Not just that, but I left the safety and security of a good job – a job I would have retired from last year. Turning in my letter of resignation, selling my house, and moving to California – it felt like I had jumped off a bungee jumping tower – without a bungee cord.  Several times I mentioned to others, this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  It turns out, I was wrong.

Pat Connelly (LOC)A couple of years later, after making some really good friends, I packed up and moved to Michigan.  It was a repeat of 1977-78, lonely, and a gray-Michigan, Winter-induced, seasonal depression.  I wish I could say I handled it with fewer self-administered, medications – but, unfortunately, that would be a lie.  At least this time I didn’t make any life-altering decisions during that season of despair, and I spent less time wallowing, and more time recovering.  I must say, it was a much healthier end-result by appropriately dealing with the illness, not just treating the symptoms.

You know the saying,

“What doesn’t kill us, will make us stronger.”

So, now, with all this new found strength, my beautiful wife and I dove into entrepreneurship – we headed to Colorado to start up a a new type of church.  “A community for people who have given up on church, but are still looking for God.”  It was a great experience, we made some very dear friends, and then suddenly, it was over.  We thought it would be so amazingly successful, that the funding would continue.  It turns out it was too far out of the box, and the funding ended.  We suddenly found ourselves moving to Oregon.

Our second child was just born, we left the comfort and safety of a truly loving community, and now, once again, we are in a dreary climate without friends.  It was Hell.  H. E. L. L. I thought it was the hardest time of my life – but, again, I was wrong.  It got worse.

How could it get worse? Well, instead of dealing with the despair and depression in dysfunctional ways, we were able to establish healthy boundaries and we sought to reach out for help.  Well, unfortunately, it turns out the people we reached out to were not safe.  They didn’t like our boundaries, and they didn’t like us sharing our reality.  Long story short, they burned us.  Now, not only were we fighting for the survival of our family, but now we had people trying to take away our livelihood.

Under that pressure, I began to crumble.

Don´t shoot me in the face.Under that pressure, I began to crumble.  Instead of helping the situation, I gave them more ammo.  I’m a terrible politician, I’m not very tactful, and in the face of threats to my family, I got angry.  I pushed back.  In politics, anger is never an asset.  I made some mistakes – nothing immoral, nothing bad – but politically dumb.  So, again, I thought this was the hardest time of my life.

Once again, I was wrong.  I was terminated last Summer.

We found ourselves without an income, ostracized from the club called church, and without friends.  The stigma, the weather, and the financial pressures were intense.  I’d like to say I handled it with aplomb.  But I didn’t.  I’d like to say I was able to pull myself up by my bootstraps, laugh in the face of failure, and press on to new goals.  Well, one out of three is sometimes the best one can do.  Survival was all we hoped for at times.  Clearly, up until this point in my life, this past Winter was the hardest time of my life.

“May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, hard hearts, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live from deep within your heart where God’s Spirit dwells.” ~Franciscan Blessing

We have been devastated emotionally, spiritually, financially, and socially. Our marriage has faced incredible pressures.  My mental health was fragile, at best.  And spiritually, I have merely clung to a thread of hope.  Socially, we lost contact with most of our dear Colorado friends, and the new friendships we were developing here have basically evaporated.  Some were a part of our ouster, others were afraid to be associated with us.  We thought last year was Hell – it turns out, it was merely purgatory.

I’m really not interested in seeing if this pit of despair goes any deeper.

Suddenly, in the last few weeks, things have been on the upswing. After nine months of preparation, my National and Oregon paramedic certifications came through, I was hired to be a street-medic in Portland, and I picked up a part-time contractual position working on a cardiac research project.  It’s like it all came together in a perfect storm of respect, gratitude, friendship, and employment.

Old friends came out of the woodwork to congratulate me, post positive recommendations on LinkedIn, and give my new employer positive words.  Friends welcomed me back, offered support navigating the bureaucratic minefields, and generally just respecting me.  I haven’t felt this loved and respected for years!  On top of that, I’ll be doing some contractual, one-day-a-week, cardiac research work.  Things have definitely turned around.

Now, on this side of the chasm, I can honestly say that as the Serenity Prayer so eloquently states, hardship is truly “the pathway to peace.” Accepting that is the key!

Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace…”

So, after much prayer, sulking, and cave dwelling, we can finally see the light at the end of this tunnel of love. We’ve discovered who are our true friends, we’ve made new friends, we’ve been able to better define our purpose and family vision – and the most importantly, we are getting out of a career that most find hurtful to their families.  We are glad to be free!

Thank you, truly, from the bottom of my heart, to all those who have not abandoned us, gotten tired of our whining, and have remained with us through this journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. You are awesome!

(Yes, you!)

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  1. Steven says:

    I feel honored to know you and look forward to many many more good discussions and a deeper friendship, bro.

    1. gwalter says:

      Thanks Steven, I appreciate this!

  2. gwalter says:

    Thanks KC – powerful life lessons from “my” story – and yours, I know. I really appreciate the support!

  3. J.R. Reed says:

    It’s been way too long since I stopped by for a visit. I promise to make the time to comment more. Good stuff, bro. Good stuff! Happy Fathers Day!

  4. gwalter says:

    Thanks J.R.!  It’s been a week – but I appreciate the encouragement.  Happy FD to you too!

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