Help Me Become a Working Girl in Nashville

Heya Cage-Free followers,

You may have heard that I’m packing up and leaving behind what was a particularly tortuous cage for me here in California and relocating to Nashville, TN to be near my family (the suburb of Mt. Juliet to be exact). The hubby is staying behind for at least a year to pick up his previous career as a peace officer before he went into full-time ministry 15 years ago, at a point in life when most his age are retiring. This not-at-all-easy option is our best shot at recovering emotionally (for me) and financially (for our family) from the last 4 years of church planting, nurturing and releasing.

I’m going to be free ranging like I’ve never done before (or felt allowed to do), and while this is indeed an incredibly exciting and healing proposition, I’m dealing with a great deal of stress and anxiety and battling my own cages of insecurity and self-doubt BIG TIME. I’m going to need to get out into the workforce and fast in order for us to maintain 2 households, getting out being the important part.

I worked full time from home as a medical transcriptionist for 13 years until I simply couldn’t hack the 40-hour work week and missing out on time with my kids visiting home from college. It was not at all a practical decision to quit as I was carrying our family’s health insurance, but it was either that or suffer another emotional meltdown from which I feared I might never recover and be useless to everyone anyway.

Then I went part time as an independent contractor for the last year until grinding to an absolute halt about a month ago. This too was outrageously impractical. At-home medical transcription is an introvert’s dream job with which I have a ton of experience and it can go wherever I do. The safe and sane thing would have been to continue on in Nashville without skipping a beat. But that’s the problem right there.

My heart stopped beating altogether in this old life. No part of me has been allowed to remain safe, much less sane. I quite literally…

CAN 

NOT

DO

IT 

I was rotting away mind, body, and soul, shut in my room alone at my computer with no real human interaction at work and mostly forced and painful human interaction outside the home in the form of church work for 14 years. That’s a long time to be miserable, but there’s my super power – to be the world’s lamest martyr no one asked for.

I have a tendency (and tenacity) to put up with highly undesirable things that are at least familiar rather than risk failure of the unknown to reach for something self-nurturing and fulfilling.

It’s taken me a lot of self-reflection and self-therapy to determine why I do that to myself, and I think I’ve recognized the root of this dysfunction is the fear of failure, more specifically the rejection and condemnation I fear will be leveled at me should I fail. Thus, I preemptively punish myself before anyone else can. I do this by consistently short selling and denying myself all the wrong things.

I’m intelligent, quick to learn, capable, well educated, and can clean up real nice on the outside when I want to, yet I have the hardest time letting any of these qualities shine. I suppress them mercilessly to appease the insecurity demon who shreaks –

“No one really wants to see you. No one will ever appreciate what you think or feel or bring to the table as yourself. Don’t show yourself or you’ll be rejected. You’ll only be accepted and liked drowning in mediocrity and conformity. Don’t move. Don’t speak. No one wants YOU. No one will ever want you.”

So I’ve consistently settled for what I imagine everyone else wants except for me out of safety lust…yet ended up traumatized and utterly broken anyway. Now I’m spitting mad at myself for the decades spent cowering instead of living and truly thankful for the massive rejection that killed me so that I could finally figure out how to live.

That’s where you, my friends, those who do care to see me and hear me and are invested in my well being, come in. I need you to not allow me to fall back into old familiar patterns of self abuse and dysfunction. I need your encouragement and connection, specifically connections for a job with, in, and through which I can truly live – spiritually, emotionally, and of course, financially.

I’ve got a legit resume ready to go upon request, but here’s my informal wish list and skill set.

What I’m Good At

  • Working within structure and protocol, following procedures.
  • Details.
  • Meeting deadlines.
  • Editing.
  • Communicating through writing.
  • Filling out forms.
  • Checking off lists.
  • Being support staff to the dreamers.
  • Being able to meet and often exceed expectations.

What I Need

Gah! There’s that demon again, telling me I should not ask for what I need, it’s selfish to do so, and no one cares anyway so why even bother. Then I remember I have absolutely nothing left to lose and everything to gain and he shrinks down to the size of a gnat…and I find great satisfaction in squooshing him.

  • Flexibility – I’ll get the work done well and on time, but I work best when trusted and enabled to go at my own pace in my own style, which will always include being available for my kids first and foremost. I’ll have my parents’ help, which is huge, but I’d still ideally love hours that coincide with my kids’ school schedule and freedom to handle the inevitable unforeseen childcare needs. As my Littles quickly become not so little, this will become less and less an issue, but their care must and will come first. Some partial work-from-home options would be the bomb.
  • People – So I basically just said I’m happiest when given a task and then left alone to do it, which is totally true. That doesn’t mean I want to BE alone. I like being an independent part of a whole. I like supporting and feeling supported by a team, working toward a goal together as we each are allowed to shine doing what we do best. A bit too Kumbaya? Maybe. But this is my dream list, so yeah, gimme a smallish group of coworkers I can get to know well and we’ll join hands and get to singing…then break and go do our thing.
  • Structure – I can survive long periods of instability and take unpredictable events in stride, but I cannot thrive that way long term. If clear expectations and ground rules are set, I’ll be the happiest camper working like gangbusters within the system.
  • Money – I need to make some. Full time with benefits would be ideal for the bank accounts. Demon brain turd is back, telling me no one would ever hire me for a full time salaried position. Squooosh.
  • A good therapist – Completely serious. Nashville area Peeps, hit me with your recommendations. Still a lot more work to be done to silence demon brain turd and I could use some professional help.   

What I Love

This is stuff I’m passionate about doing, things that charge me up. The ultimate dream job would be getting paid to do what I love, but these are things I’m always going to find time to do with or without a paycheck.

  • Communicating important things – Usually in writing. As of the last few blogging years, important things worth communicating have been almost exclusively about whatever God there is and church culture. I do actually enjoy public speaking and teaching as long as it’s something I feel is of deep personal importance to a willing audience. I think my ultimate dream job would be a college professor teaching anthropology and comparative religion, but that would require a lot more schooling, so I ‘spose I’ll concentrate on a not-so-ultimate dream job in the meantime to finance that one.
  • Seeing people – Truly seeing them, listening to their stories, learning from them and connecting; being constantly challenged to shed my preconceived notions about people, myself included, and having my perceptions broadened. I’ve very much enjoyed one-on-one counseling and facilitating courses in emotionally healthy spirituality. I’ll be looking for every opportunity to continue this.
  • Writing – I absolutely love it. Writing is my one true creative outlet in which to communicate the important things. I’d love to write a book sooner than later. To get paid for that would be ultimate fulfillment indeed.
  • Lots of alone time to reflect – Can one be paid to have lots of alone time to reflect? If so, THAT right there is my dream job. In lieu of that, I suppose a job with a sane predictable schedule that would allow me to structure my life around health and wellness would be the next best thing.
  • Performing musical theater – For reals, I do. Haven’t allowed myself to even entertain the idea for many years, but now that my heart is beating again, it’s saying it would love that very much.

So there you have it, my friends. If you have any connections for possible employment, I’d be ever so grateful. Let me know if anyone is interested in my actual very basic resume, and feel free to forward this post to those you suspect would enjoy it. Cheers and thoughts and prayers and hoorahs also most welcome. Nashvegas, here I come!

Talk To Me – A Book Review (and personal mantra)

As an introvert, the advent of social media has been huge for me, Facebook and blogging in particular. It’s where I’ve found my voice and strength, before which I was clueless that I possessed either. It’s also where I’ve found the best and most fulfilling social/spiritual connections.

Over the last 5 years, while my local church relationships have withered and died to almost nothing, my e-relationships have blossomed into a lush and vibrant garden where I thoroughly enjoy spending most of my time and energy tending to the souls of myself and others.

I spend a great deal of effort trying to keep my head above the putrid toxicity of political/religious rants and absurdly ignorant and arrogant memes that is often my Facebook newsfeed. With practice (and a great deal of epic failure), I’ve gotten a lot better at saying what I feel needs to be said with clarity and kindness. As a result, I’m instantly drawn like flies on poo to people I recognize are doing the exact same.

Qasim Rashid, an Ahmadi Muslim, is one such insta-beacon of light piercing the darkness of vitriolic dogma and hatred. I started following him on Facebook a couple months ago and was delighted and encouraged when my newsfeed started filling up with these gems –

  • Love for all, hatred for none.
  • Freedom of conscience for all people regardless of faith.
  • All people, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or background, are children of God and all humanity should be cherished, nurtured, and elevated.
  • Recognizing the dire need for (and tragic scarcity of) humble servant leadership.
  • Crucial investment in support and education of children and protection of the oppressed.
  • Taking time to reflect on and learn from our past, especially our failures.
  • The importance of honest, respectful dialog and the sharing of our stories.

So when Qasim put out the call for bloggers interested in reviewing his new book Talk To Me; Changing the Narrative on Race, Religion, and Education, I jumped at the opportunity.

This book was entirely my jam because it consists of personal stories; about a third of them Qasim’s and the remainder from dozens of his friends and colleagues representing a veritable smorgasbord of religious and cultural backgrounds. I’ve always maintained that a personal story will eat doctrine and dogma for breakfast 100% of the time.

My absolute favorite example of this is from the Gospel of John where the religious leaders (the gatekeepers and witch hunters) interrogated the blind man Jesus had healed on the Sabbath. Rather than celebrating and marveling with a man blind since birth now blessed with sight, they ridiculously obsessed over Jesus’ heresy and “wrongness” of religion, picking apart every aspect of the miraculously healed man’s story until he blurted out, “Listen guys, I don’t know what to tell ya about this Jesus guy except once I was blind but now I see.”

I’d have to say I found the chapter of Qasim’s book written by an atheist advocating for the humanization of nonbelievers and the religious alike to be where all the narratives came together for me. I don’t care if someone credits Jesus (as I do), the Quran and the prophet Muhammad, Hinduism, Buddhism, humanism, any combination of or absolutely NO isms for their enlightenment. If the end result of any “ism” is the belief that the best we can do in this life is to do for others what we want for ourselves – THAT person shares my religion. THAT person is not only my brother/sister/mother/father, but THAT person is my partner and friend and someone I want to shoulder up with to move mountains (or at least a few piles of dirt) in whatever time I have left on this earth until I return back to it.

In an effort to move a tiny parcel of dirt, I’m asking each of my literally dozens of faithful readers to head on over to Amazon and buy a copy of Qasim’s book here  – Talk To Me; Changing the Narrative of Race, Religion and Education (and then read it, of course). Also please do me the favor of sharing this blog post on Facebook (sharing any of my blogs is like validation crack) and then do yourself a favor and follow Qasim on Facebook and Twitter @MuslimIQ.

Peeps of all persuasions, above all, whatever you do (or don’t do) double check your motivation and make sure it is love – never fear. That is the essence of our connection with each other and to whatever God there is.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love… No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. – I John 4

I Am Vain

Gospel of Snark blog post from this time last year. The tally of complete emotional/spiritual unravelings in the process of planting, nurturing and then letting go of Four Creeks Church stands at 3. I felt during each one that I was going to die. I was right. Over the last year my laziness and vanity were finally starved into oblivion. Jimmy and I are so very, very relieved to be on the other side among the dead-living and immune to the bites of the living-dead.


 

In preparation for facilitating a new round of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, I’m going through the little twice-daily devotional book Day by Day (formerly The Daily Office) for the third time. This morning I came across one of my favorite quotes that I strongly related to the first time I read it 3 years ago.

“I am busy because I am vain. I want to appear important. Significant. What better way than to be busy? The incredible hours, the crowded schedule, and the heavy demands of my time are proof to myself –– and to all who will notice — that I am important…I live in a society in which crowded schedules and harassed conditions are evidence of importance, so I develop a crowded schedule and harassed conditions. When others notice, they acknowledge my significance, and my vanity is fed.

I am busy because I am lazy. I indolently let others decide what I will do instead of resolutely deciding myself. It was a favorite theme of C.S. Lewis that only lazy people work hard. By lazily abdicating the essential work of deciding and directing, establishing values and setting goals, other people do it for us.” – Eugene Peterson

Scazzero, Peter (2013-03-26). Daily Office (Kindle Locations 346-347).  Kindle Edition.

I AM LAZY

My entire adult life in church in ministry has been miserable and drowning in busyness and physical and spiritual exhaustion because I am a lazy ass. We’re talking pathological here. I’m extremely passive as a result of equally heavy doses of nature and nurture. I was raised in a culture with a double whammy of indoctrination from both family and church that the “right” (and only) way to live was to abdicate “the essential work of deciding and directing, establishing values and setting goals” and to let authority (parents/church) do it for me.  For the most part, having a naturally passive personality, I was happy to let others dictate life for me because it was easier, because…I am lazy.

My laziness is rooted in fear – fear of facing the discomfort of conflict. It’s much easier for me to conform and play by the rules in a system I have no responsibility in making than to take responsibility for my own, because…what if I get it wrong? What if someone doesn’t like it?

Rejection and criticism wreak havoc in the life of a comfort junky. It is deeply, desperately ingrained in me never to be/act/think wrong. It’s the worst. I feel the worst. I am the worst when others think I’m wrong. It’s not that I have a need to convince anyone that I’m right…no, no, no. I just want to avoid at all cost the risk of anyone thinking or believing I am wrong…because in the system I come from, the wrong person is not respected; the wrong person is not worthy of love; the wrong person must be stopped, condemned, corrected and made right immediately or forever rejected because – THOU SHALT NOT BE WRONG.

I am lazy mostly out of fear of being wrong.

Comfort and safety are my #1 inherited family idols that I was taught to hold up as supreme and noble motivation. Over time, they insidiously morphed into a lazy, dishonest, hot mess of an inner life while I feverishly expended energy maintaining a squeaky clean, socially acceptable, respectable outward life. I became grossly church busy for 18 years as the wife of a minister at the expense of my family, my health and my sanity because…I am lazy.

I repressed and denied my true thoughts and feelings and allowed people to direct me down soul-sucking paths I didn’t want to go because I have tremendous safety lust and…I am lazy.

It’s taken me every bit of the 3 years I’ve been working in EHS “going back in order to go forward” in order to identify and unpack this baggage. To no longer be conformed to the pattern of my world and be transformed by the renewal of my mind is an intense and prolonged process – a gnarly, epic wrestling match.

My entire Church World experience had sold me on an alter call, some tears, and a one-and-done prayer and doubling down on the rules as the answer to all Christian struggles. God loved me enough to utterly break me before I was ready to get over myself and my laziness in order to stop buying (and selling) the shit substitutes. But wow did that love feel like death…because it is; death of SELF in order to live as Christ.

THE SCARLET “W”

The planting of Four Creeks Church saw my worst fears realized and magnified on a personally horrifying scale. We stepped out of the established church system in which we’d worked and served faithfully our entire adult lives and set aside it’s comfortable human traditions and secure structure to embark on a grand experiment to see if a church that preached and taught and modeled Jesus alone and the exclusive inclusiveness of his Gospel of Grace could fly.

Starting out, we honestly thought we had the full support and partnership of our home church. If anyone had told me we’d end up completely rejected and unsupported just 9 months in, I never in a million years would have been on board to sacrifice so much or take such a personal risk for myself and my family – absolutely not my M.O. as a comfort junky and safety slut.

And why were we rejected and dropped like we were hot from the fires of hell? Because we were wrong in the eyes of a few influential and very vocal church people. Our teachings on prayer, worship, love, how to be the church and do life were all wrong. It didn’t matter if they were all taken straight from Jesus’ own words and example – it challenged the long established system, which, in Church World, is the ultimate in WRONG.

Rather than be associated with anyone or anything that had a reputation for being wrong, even the nicest and more sane personalities in leadership distanced themselves from us and let us go, out of sight and out of mind, to fend for ourselves so they could try to get back to safe and established business as usual without being sullied or inconvenienced by our scarlet “W” of wrongness.

WAKING UP ANGRY

I’ve heard it said anger is a secondary emotion and that it’s really an expression of underlying fear or hurt. In my case it was a massive sucker punch of both. I’ve also heard it said, “Jennifer seems angry in a lot of what she writes and shares on Facebook.”

Um…yeah…and DUH.

You don’t open up the flood gates of a lifetime of repression and resentment and get a gentle trickle. When my eyes were pried open and I saw things clearly for the first time, I woke up angry, terrified and in a tremendous amount of pain, and very, very much on my own with God alone to figure out how to deal with it. What intimacy and reality in relationship with my Father I have found there.

Pardon my French (or don’t…I truly, honestly no longer care), but since one of the first things that earned us the scarlet “W” was me using the wrong words, I’ve freed myself up to use all the words that best express my frustrations and to try to get across just how much of a cluster mind fuck this experience has been to have everything I thought I knew, every system I’d ever trusted, every rule, every certainty utterly and completely destroyed in order to build new and completely different…in faith.

I AM VAIN

The laziness, the repression, the grief, the bitterness are all quite familiar traveling companions to me at this point. I’ve worked very hard to honestly identify, embrace and submit them over the last 3-4 years. But, as EHS has a way of doing, a brand spankin’ new layer of dysfunction was brought to the surface and made visible to me this morning.

I have had such a hard time with bitterness because I am vain. I am most vain when you mess with or challenge…

My family
“I can’t believe those gossip-mongering, power-playing church biddies said such things about my husband and actively campaigned to put us into financial crisis. Could they really not see how amazingly good my own children are and what obviously fabulous parents we are to think we could possibly be a bad influence on anyone? How could anyone in their right mind with any compassion in them whatsoever justify doing that to any family, much less one so *perfect* as mine?!”

Oooh girl, that’s some hardcore bitterness coming from someone so *perfect*

My work ethic
“None of you understand how I’ve worked my ass off apart from church as a corporate peon, full time for 13 years; working holidays, even weekends and then exhausting myself 3 services on Sundays plus rehearsals, all with my family in tow. I never got away on weekends for family fun time. Why did I do that for so many years only to be rejected the second we stopped entertaining you? Not only did you not appreciate my sacrifice, you went above and beyond to treat us like shit. Ungrateful assholes.”

Oh so much bitter…even if I alone am responsible for making myself the lamest martyr on the planet fueled by my own dysfunction. It’s a lot easier and even feels kind of good to resent church people rather than myself. Ick, it’s a lazy and vain combo. That’s unattractive and thoroughly anti-Christ. Way to be Jen.

My intellectual integrity – 
“Oh no they didn’t! They did not just haul out the most tired and ratty scripture sound bite out of context to try and shut me down and shut me up.”

I suffer from the delusion that if I just explain myself clearly enough, citing sound evidence and reason about how I got to a certain view of scripture, that people will accept it (and me). I’m so very cool if you hold a different view…just don’t ever, EVER, denounce me as wrong for holding mine unless you want a deluge of scripture references explaining their context and blog links to help make my point and justify myself. I’m learning, albeit slowly, that hardly anybody appreciates that the way I do, and that hurts and then starts the whole sick bitterness merry-go-round spinning again. I’m getting better about not buying a ticket for that ride, no matter how tempting it is to justify myself, but vanity is a true beast in this scene. It just can’t handle people accusing me of being wrong in the name of God on the internet.

THE PERFECT VULNERABLE STORM

All of my weakness and vulnerability is tied up and on display at Four Creeks, not the least of which my laziness and vanity. I had what amounted to round two of an emotional breakdown last month. Thankfully, it wasn’t anywhere as debilitating as round one had been right after we launched Easter 2012, but alarming enough for Jimmy to panic a little and text the older children, “Mom is losing it again guys…help?” Poor guy is just not okay when I’m not okay. I love him so.

Here we are almost three years in and in more dire straights financially than ever. We had some people leave. It was a long time in coming and it needed to happen, but it was still very, very scary. For the first time in all this I entertained the possibility that we just might be forced to fold this thing and quit at a time when the few faithful people we do have are beginning to really catch on and run with us. Oh how the bitterness welled up fresh out of me as I wrestled with that thought. I love these people and what we are doing together so, SO much. The thought of having to quit now after enduring so much was too much. Then the thought…what on earth would my life be like not being in ministry, not even going to church for that matter. I just couldn’t see myself going back into a traditional evangelical church setting ever again as a free person. That was mind blowing to consider.

I spent a few sleepless nights and a lot of tears trying to wrap my head around those possibilities. A lot of crying out to God these words, “What more do you want from me here? I’ve done everything I know to do, said everything I know to say and now slammed up against yet another wall. Seriously God, WHAT DO YOU WANT?” Silence.

Then the bitterness welled up in me more fierce than ever. “It shouldn’t have to be this hard. None of them see. None of them care.”  Jimmy was off driving for Uber in those awful wee hours. I was truly feeling tormented and utterly alone and unseen. In those toughest moments of panic came a whisper…

“I see you. Until that alone is enough for you, you’ll stay stuck.” 

The fog of fear lifted a few weeks ago, but it all made sense this morning when I realized it is my vanity that keeps God alone from being enough; His provision from being enough; His acceptance and love for me being enough. Vanity feeds off people providing those things, and my vanity, having been brutally kicked in the crotch, spawned quite the formidable bitterness monster. The only way to kill that nasty beast of SELF?

Faith.

Laziness and vanity have a hard time putting down roots in a life of faith. Faith perseveres and strains and sacrifices without need or desire for human recognition or approval. Faith is aiming for a much farther and grander target than instant gratification. And as my two biggest and oldest vices starve and wither the deeper in faith I dare to go, the more familiar I’m getting with the bravery and humility that are my new traveling companions.