Fear and Loathing in Rainier

“Remember what happened to Lot’s wife!” ~Luke 17:32

Thirteen years ago, as a part of my seminary experience, I was asked to preach a sermon on the above text. I really had no idea what it meant, or where to start. Over the next few weeks, as I studied the story of Sodom, Gomorrah, Lot, and his family, my eyes were opened.

It’s really a fascinating story – especially the personal issues of Lot and his family. Although there are many layers to the story, I came away with a new understanding in light of Jesus’ words in Luke 17. Indeed, while Lot’s wife may get a lot of criticism for the act that led her to be turned into a pillar of salt, my study helped me realize Lot’s role in all of this.

In fact, one author says that it was Lot’s hesitation and fear that caused his whole family to hesitate and be afraid. Lot was “stupefied by sorrow” and unable to leave his home. This fear, this sorrow, and this hesitation almost cost him his life – and certainly led to the loss of his wife.

This story has haunted me for the past thirteen years. I never want to be a man who hesitates and drags my family back. And yet, I never believed there was a risk of this happening. I love adventure, I pursue risk, and I welcome change. And yet, the story still haunted me.

A week ago Friday, I was a mess of tears, confession, and understanding. I realized – with naked humility, how fearful I have been over the last several years. Now, in a climax of pain, we were selling most of our belongings, giving our house back to the bank, and leaving friends and family for destinations unknown. I was paralyzed, exhausted, and numb. I was stupefied by fear.

The Backstory:

In 2007, as we approached the end of our church planting contract, I grew anxious that our funding would not be renewed and our blessed community of faith would die. My fear caused me to stop leading and start pushing. My passion for my friends, my team leaders, and those who were finding a new way to relate to God caused me to lose sight of our original vision. Instead of trust and courage, I became a driven and burned out tool.

This attitude created a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom and we soon found ourselves living in Oregon, pastoring two traditional rural churches. My Smiling Son was just six-weeks old, and my Wonderful Wife did not adjust well to the dreary Oregon gray. It was a perfect storm of postpartum depressionseasonal affective disorder, and leadership burnout. I really tried to rise above the storm and be the professional I was called to be, but my concern for my family far outweighed my concern for my career. Unfortunately, I expected our new church family to understand. They did not.

In the Fall of 2009, we suddenly found ourselves without an income. My fear spiked. Now, with another gray Oregon Winter approaching, house payments looming, and no work to be found – I sunk into my own deep depression. I was angry, but with no way to express it. I was terrified, but with nowhere to run. I was discouraged, but seemingly, without understanding. I, like Lot, was stupefied by sorrow.

It seemed like a good idea to reacquire my paramedic license, and that proved to be fairly simple. Ten months later, I was employed as a working paramedic in Portland. The pieces seemed to fit together just in time. Our mortgage adjustment was dependent on employment and we were able to stave off foreclosure. For a few months, things seemed to be moving forward again.

Unfortunately, this paramedic gig required a three hour round trip commute to Portland, four days a week. At first I was working day shifts, but I soon found myself working nights. The hours were killing me – and hence my family. They never saw me, I was grouchy and sleep deprived, and the job is considered one of the 10 most stressful today. In addition, I was making 30% less than I was as a pastor and we were unable to stay out of debt. (Although we had no financial debt, we avoided putting new tires on our vehicles, the kids hadn’t seen the dentist in a couple of years, and we put off many high cost living expenses.)

Finally, in a desperate attempt to stay afloat, we quit making mortgage payments in order to take care of some necessary expenses. The house was now worth about $100k less than we originally paid for it, and we were hoping the bank would renegotiate the loan. We didn’t cause the housing bubble, nor did we do anything to make it burst. We didn’t buy too much home, but over the last five years, we’ve lost over $100,000 in real estate capital.

The bank denied our loan modification and moved us into the foreclosure process. At this point, we were on a fast track to losing our house – and our pending short-sale fell through. With foreclosure pending, we began to pack.

Unemployment – Again:

During my recent two years as a paramedic, I tracked my sleep. I was averaging six hours sleep per day. This wasn’t working. If you’re familiar with sleep deprivation, you know it will kill you. I was gaining weight, getting depressed, and slowly losing my ability to cope with my life, family, and job. I seemed to be getting sick all the time and I had no PTO (vacation or sick-leave) left. I was trapped – again. There appeared to be no way out. This job was killing me and killing my family.

With the impending foreclosure, we began to make plans to move closer to my employer. Our thinking was that I could get more sleep if I didn’t have that three-hour round trip commute – plus, we wouldn’t be spending $600 a month (this includes maintenance, insurance, and all operating costs – more than just fuel) on commuting costs – another big drain.

But as we prayed about this, we felt impressed that the Lord had something else in mind. As far back as last January, we heard Him saying, “get ready.” We didn’t know for what, but we knew we would be moving.

In May, I reached a point where the stress of the job and the sleep deprivation were too much to bare. I could no longer sit, cooped up in that ambulance, for 12 hours straight – four long nights a week. At first I went out on a stress leave, but eventually I resigned (see this great article). My Wonderful Wife said she’d rather live in a tent than to continue living the way we’d been living.

Liquidating and Packing:

We sold our furniture and other things through Craigslist and garage sales. We threw out several pick-up loads of junk and we donated equal amounts to charity. Then came the tough task of packing. This whole process involved giving up valuable possessions. Some had real financial value, that we sold for pennies on the dollar. Other items had some real emotional and nostalgic value. And still others, had very real and practical value, but would cost too much to store, move, or keep.

We spent hours procession our stuff (affectionately referred to as crap!). Should I keep this box of electrical supplies I spent $45 on, or sell it all for a dollar in the garage sale? Should I keep this cherished item, lovingly painted by my late Mom, or give it to a charity? What about this toaster? What about these books (we got rid of about 15 boxes of books)? The emotional and physical toll, of combing through our stuff was huge.

But it’s when the time came to load everything in the truck that my energy began to fail. As I sized up the remaining boxes, and estimated what would fit into the 800 cubic foot truck, I knew we still had to eliminate about 50% of our remaining stuff. This is where the really tough choices happened. Going through one’s closet and throwing out perfectly good shirts, pants, and socks. Throwing away shelves, tables, and chairs. Giving away cherished artwork, favorite books, and food. It was exhausting.

This was the day my friend Terre came over and gave us a boost – but we are still only barely packed.

Originally we planned on leaving our house Sunday, September 30th. But as the weekend approached, we knew this was unreasonable and we moved our targeted date to October first. That day came and went, but we hopefully expected to be out the door by Tuesday afternoon. As Tuesday crept by, it seemed as if we were making very little progress. On Wednesday, my Wonderful Wife proclaimed we were living the movie Groundhog Day. Everyday, we got up, faced our discouragement, moved boxes of crap around, and then went fell into our makeshift bed (blankets on the floor).

It was daunting.

My fear and discouragement mounted to the point where I realized I was truly living out my worst fear – to be stupefied by pain, sorrow, and fear.

Broken:

On Thursday morning, October 4th, with no end in sight, I was ready to give up. Of course I couldn’t – but we felt so alone. Several people had helped us, but there was still so much to do. We felt alone, discouraged, and devastated  Emotionally  physically, and spiritually – we were done. But we plodded forward, to once again pull out the blankets and collapse into our makeshift bed.

On Friday morning, I could barely bring myself to crawl from between the blankets. I prayed for strength, prayed for relief, and prayed for a miracle. After breakfast, we sat on the floor and for the first time I admitted my fear. It began to pour out. I realized, for the first time, my failure in trusting God – for the past several years I had been trying to make it happen on my own strength.

“Then he said to me, ‘This is what the LORD says to Zerubbabel: It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies'” ~Zechariah

This had been a text we have frequently referred to for the past several years. This has been our goal in ministry, and every other aspect of life. But on this particular Friday morning, I came to realize I failed to fully rely on God. I failed myself, I failed my family, I was hopeless. I wept, I confessed, I prayed, and I sought God and reconciliation to His ways. My Wonderful Wife listened, and we prayed together. I was broken, and healed.

That afternoon, we hit the road – but it was late. So we spent the next 36 hours at my brother’s house before finally getting on the road on Sunday – fully, a week later than we planned.

(to be continued…. I read listened to a book on the road and I can’t wait to tell you what I learned – you will find the continuation here)

 

 

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