It’s Tuesday, October 12, 2010, as I write. 8:15am. I woke up this morning in Canebrake Canyon, in the desert east of San Diego. I’m back at the desert home I have retreated to a few times in the past for days of silence. But this is the first time I’ve been here in a year.
The last time I was here, in November of 2009, I spent 6 days here, silent other than my cries to God. I gave a full day each to being present to five emotions: anger, hurt, sadness, fear, and joy. I allowed myself to feel that emotion to the fullest extent, then journaled and prayed and meditated and stomped around. And I healed. Really, while I’m sure some of this is my personality make-up, I am still – a year later – a bit surprised by how quickly I was lifted out of the overwhelming anxiety of what happened and fear of what was to come, how quickly God pointed me in a new direction, how quickly my heart healed.
There are still some wounds in there, I’m sure. I really don’t think I’ve stuffed them or buried them; I just think they’re the natural sensitive places left over from injury (very much like the sensitivity of the scar on my thumb that’s been there since 11th grade, in 1979). This residual sensitivity was made very clear to me a week and a half ago at the National Youth Workers Convention.
The week before the NYWC, I started to feel something I hadn’t felt in a very long time: anxiety. In fact, I was more interested in the foreignness of the feeling than I was in the feeling itself.
I lived with high anxiety (thanks, Mel Brooks) for my last two year at YS. It was constant. It ruined my sleep, lowered my productivity, and pushed my faith into numbness. My soul was a zombie soul.
So when I felt that anxiety again, for the first time since I left this canyon a year ago, it was more intriguing and encouraging than it was debilitating. I was intrigued by the realization that I hadn’t felt anxiety in 2011, even once. And I was encouraged that my life these days is so full of wonderful things and that none of them cause me anxiety (concern and stress from time to time, sure; but not full-on anxiety).
All that said, things were really uncomfortable for me the first day at the NYWC. Even driving into the parking lot of the convention center was awkward. And as I walked from my car to the room where I would check in as a speaker – passing lots of attendees and a handful of people I know – I was seriously battling the impulse to give in to emotional freeze (the gateway to zombie soul). I was twitchy, and distracted. I called an old friend by the wrong name. And I was totally living into that classic middle school reality of the imaginary audience: I felt like everyone was glancing my way and wondering (at best) how I was doing or (at worst) how I had the balls to be there after I had (my absurd projection of their thoughts) screwed this company up so deeply.
Eventually, I stood in the back of the opening “Big Room”, finding a little relational mooring point first with Christina, my Middle School Pastor, and later, with one of my closest friends and former co-worker. They helped normalize the whole thing for me, completely understanding how weird it was for me.
After 30 minutes, though, I realized I had a greater desire to go home and see my wife (between her trip to start grad school, and my trip to start my second YMCP cohort, I’d literally seen her for 15 minutes total in the past 14 days). So I went home. On my way home, I made the decision to give myself permission to lay low for the weekend – to engage or be scarce to whatever level I wanted, without guilt or shoulds. And, over the weekend, things really did shift for me. Engaging youth workers during my seminars was certainly key to this – sensing that I was ‘in the zone’ and had a place at the event.
But I also noticed the residual sensitivity of the anger/hurt/sadness/fear stuff of late 2009. I had a wonderful talk with Mark Matlock about this that was very healing for our friendship; and other similar talks. And I realized there are probably a few more of these talks that would be wise to pursue.
So, here I am in the desert. It’s about a month and a half away from the anniversary of when I came out here last. But today is only a week away from the one-year anniversary of my lay off. Make no mistake: I hope I have learned a great lesson about how not to treat an employee who needs to (for whatever reason) be let go. But my collection of descriptors, as I look back on this past year and take stock of my current reality are: gratefulness, peace (geez, I really didn’t think that would be possible), growing confidence, greater spiritual intimacy, and emotional health. And… the zombie soul is no more. In its place is a fully alive, warm-to-the-touch, responsive, tender soul. There’s surely still some fragility there. But I’ll take a fragile living soul over a tough dead one any day.