In one of my Facebook status posts, I took a moment to summarize the year 2011 in short form:
“2011 was a year of personal insight, growth, and introspection; with the introduction of new and now cherished friends. It was beautifully difficult at times, and called from me a deeper faith in God and an appreciation of life’s hard gifts. I pray 2012 will open itself daily as it, indeed, comes from the hand of God. I ask God to help me be a better man, father, and lover of life in the coming year than I was in the last.”
During 2011, I took a look backward at my life experience and the forces which formed me into who I had been up to that point. In the course of my graduate classes, I was exposed to information which helped both in looking backward with new understanding to help me interpret my memories, and to find a process of reframing my life in healthier ways. In my emotional and spiritual life, then, 2011 was an oasis of growth. However, financially, it was really tough. I took steps backward, fighting discouragement and struggled not to lose hope. The gracious part of the experience was threefold:
Living the Lord’s Prayer…
I learned to live The Lord’s Prayer (which is better named “The Disciple’s Prayer). I have essentially been homeless since September, 2011, and have been staying with Lyle and Jan Gibbons, who generously openned their home to me while I transitioned to Portland (the original plan) and now to Florida (the current one). During this time, I have come to understand some of the feelings homelessness brings. While my experience hasn’t included cardboard, shopping carts, and sleeping under overpasses; I have come to know the haunting pull of despair and a disconnection to my own capabilities. I have fought both these temptations tenaciously.
In the summer, I also lost my transportation when my pick-up broke down and I had to build up enogh cash to get it fixed. I learned the extreme frustration and complication of relying on public transportation in an affluent, suburban county which seems intent upon ignoring the practical, systemic obstacles to those in poverty trying to climb out of an economic sand pit.
I was often hungry during the latter half of 2011. Honestly, that wasn’t totally a bad thing. I have continued to keep the weight off that I lost in 2006 and 2007. I learned the hunger is worst, and most distracting, during the first day, but isn’t as bad afterward.
Through all these difficulties, I have discovered God’s provision in every day. I prayed:
“Our Father, Who art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done
In earth as it is in heaven.
Give us THIS day, our daily bread,
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
Lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom, and the power,
And the glory, forever…
I began to audaciously pray this prayer in simple faith and hope. I then watched to see what the day revealed as I continued in my responsibilities. It became amusing and excition to see God’s creativity in providing for my needs. Sometimes God used other people… MANY times God used other people. At other times, God used my own ideas and strategic planning to make it through each day. I found both of these ways of meeting my needs to be God’s wholistic method and process of provision. I found myself living in expectancy and thankfulness: Faith.
Life is tough, but so am I…
I found that I am tough, mentally and physcally. The past 5 years have thrown obstacle after obstacle in my path, yet I have fought to go forward. I realize that God provided the steel in my spine, the physical strength to keep going, daily provision, and the beauty in the natural world to refresh my soul; but I had to willfully access the steel and strength, receive the provision, and acknowledge the beauty. Part of being tough is also asking and accepting help when necessary. Life is a team sport. Nobody can make it alone, and sometimes it is toughest to admit your own insufficiency. Tough people are willing to give and receive help. I have done both.
I’m a good man…
I am a good man. Although acknowledging that fact feels a little weird and somewhat conceited; I am reminded that humility is honesty about both personal strengths and weaknesses. God gave us three initial gifts: God’s Self, our Self, and others. I am God’s gift to myself. I am created in the image of God… and that is good. My weaknesses serve as opportunities to form wholistic communities by connecting to God and other people that are strong where I am weak. In turn, my strengths become a conduit of God’s grace to others. Living in this way is a generative, co-creative synergism: A return to Eden… before the snake…
In the spring of 2009, as I began to look into the possibility of returning to school; I began the process of determining how I could give my life in a way that would make the biggest fundamental difference in the way people lived their lives. I determined that Spiritual Formation was that quality.
The manner in which each of us is spiritually formed affects all other aspects of our life and self. Our spiritual self is like a spiral galaxy with the Self at the center and from which spin the planets and stars of actions, attitudes, and intentions. A healthy spiritual galaxy is held together by the gravitational pull of love holding the planets and stars in healthy patterns of influence. An unhealthy galaxy spins out of control, violently hurling the planets into space in self-absorbed fear, without the connectivity of love. The result is a continual loss of the componants of the Self, and increasing isolation.
Spiritual Formation is the process we are each undergoing which transforms us into either of these galaxies. Every one of us is being spiritually formed. The question is: How intentional are we in the process? Are we seeking to actively engage in the process, or have we set ourselves adrift in the spiritual universe, like a cosmic pinball?
In order to find a university/seminary with a program inSpiritual Formation, I used a very post-modern research method: I Google searched it. One of the first sites which sprang from my search was George Fox Evangelical Seminary. Upon reading about the program and the history of GFES, I found that it, and it’s sister university, George Fox University; were Quaker in tradition, faith perspective, and intentionality. One of the faith componants of my familial heritage was a great-grandfather who was a Society of Friends (Quaker) pastor. My own life experience also included forays into disparate Friends’ congretations for revivals with my evangelist father.
I then began classes in the fall of 2010. I had to wait a year because I couldn’t pull off the necessary finances to do it in the fall of 2009. Waiting for the next cohort to begin in 2010 seems now to be divinely influenced. When I travelled to Portland, and the GFES campus in August of 2010 for orientation; I was ill-prepared for the depths of connections I would make. I found a group of people struggling theologically with many of the same questions as I. I found a rich mix of faith- and life-perspectives which feathered into my own. At least two guys were from the same denomination I grew up in, with similar tensions and questions about doctrine and practice. Two guys were divorced, or soon to divorce, with similar marital death-stories to mine.