So… this is how I’m going to die… delivering a pair of tighty whities… I thought to myself as I stared into the headlights as I prepared to drive into oncoming traffic.
You’re probably wondering, like I was, how I got to such a lowly state.
It’s a long story, but it starts as many do… on a dark and stormy night.
I don’t make deliveries at night, and if I ever make an exception, it never happens when it was raining. This was the first and last time I will ever make an exception when raining. Through a series of miscalculations, unfortunate events, and funky property engineering at the house I had just delivered to my car was facing oncoming traffic with no way to turn around, no one who could help me, and most dangerously, no way to see the cars driving along the curvy road in the lane I needed to get into.
I have never felt so hopeless or helpless in my life.
This wasn’t just an awful night for a delivery driver. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back after a twenty-two-year series of unfortunate events that occurred like cycles.
I was in this position because I needed money. No matter how much my family played by the rules, worked hard, and did the right thing; without fail, something would happen that would drag us back down. Especially recently, it seemed like it was three steps back and one step forward.
I was out on this miserable night because my parents have almost died eight times since 2020, and even though they survived, they are not the same people they were in 2019. Despite having a sister that is amazing and helps where she can, with a family of her own and a career as a schoolteacher she isn’t available as often as they need, and this means, I have to find a career in this geographical area that is not only over-saturated with candidates but tends to have a culture that doesn’t accept me because I’m not like them.
The most infuriating part was that I had to do this because of injustice. I didn’t have this evening off because at my last two non-retail jobs, so called Christians lied about and sabotaged me so they could save their own skins or advance their goals. And my reward for not compromising my character was losing my job.
I was in this position, all by myself, with no one to help, staring into the headlights of oncoming traffic, at the precipice of some engineering witchcraft, waiting for traffic to pause so I could endanger my life and the life of others because someone had ordered tighty whities.
Despite doing the right thing.
Despite following the rules.
Despite the sacrifices.
As I slammed on the gas and drove into oncoming traffic, I prayed, “God, if you have a plan for my life that doesn’t involve me dying or being in jail because I’ve killed someone, you have to protect me. I have no other options.” I drove in the wrong lane just long enough to make sure I wasn’t going to run anyone off the road then successfully merged into my intended lane.
This valley I was in was one of the lowest in my life, and I was still shaken up the next day. A friend of mine (who coincidently is married to a very close friend of mine) randomly felt led to reach out to me and ask me how I was really doing – she received a wall of text from me.
I told her about my frustrations with my parents’ health. I vented about how all the schemes of my enemies caused them to prosper while I suffered. How I felt like a burden to my family, but I also didn’t know how they would fare without me. I lamented I was weary of all of this. I don’t remember everything I wrote, but I do remember I quoted Bilbo Baggins towards the end.
“I am old Gandalf… I know I don’t look it. But I’m beginning to feel it in my heart. I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”Bilbo Baggins
This was the conversation that my brain began working on and was what laid the foundation for three conversations I recently referenced in a blog. In that blog I hint about John 6:67-68 which is when Jesus, after feeding 5,000 men, walking on water, and teaching a truth everyone found harsh, asks ‘Are ya’ll going to leave me to?’ and Peter responds, ‘Where else would we go?’ (Christiaan’s paraphrase)
It’s such an interesting interaction that only John recorded. And fitting in with the style that John wrote, there are layers to it. The Greek he chose is so important and short of learning Greek, the amplified is the only English translation that really is able to do the translation justice. Because Peter doesn’t just say, ‘You have the words’ he was saying, ‘You alone have the words’ and that Jesus alone is our only hope.
“Simon Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You [alone] have the words of eternal life [you are our only hope].”John 6:68 (AMP)
It’s taken me almost forty years to come to the same conclusion that Peter did in less than three years.
Where else can I go? I have no choice but to trust Jesus in every area – for guidance and help in times of crises, for provision, and for my defense. I literally have no choice. When I say this, it’s not just Christian jargon or a meaningless platitude that someone who has a seminary degree has to say: ‘I trust God’. It’s a conclusion that comes from me not having any option but to embrace it.
It’s not humble bragging or me being pseudo humble to seem more holy. I’d rather not have to admit this, because I’d like to be able to say that I trust God and mean it, while still relying on myself for the day to day of things. It’s extremely humbling to admit this, because what it ultimately means, is that no matter what I do, I am entirely inadequate.
And the story before, and the stories that come after this are what has brought me to this conclusion and serves only for that purpose. I feel that some details, previously unmentioned, are important, because they show the odds I was up against, and how God so adeptly moved, outside of plans I had, to defend and protect me despite the powers of hell and schemes of man.
If the unfortunate events were a season, they’ve been a twenty-two-year season. And there are three, often overlapping, cycles that typically happen.
The Crisis Cycle has been the most frequent. Constantly in survival mode, with barely a moment to catch ones’ breath before the next crisis hits, whatever the crisis is, it demands ones’ full attention; they have to make quick reactions while maintaining a level head able to make decisions that affect the life and future of those involved. The body and psyche are designed to survive an occasional crisis, but it isn’t designed to live constantly in this state.
The Resource Cycle typically strikes before or after the Crisis Cycle because crises cost resources. Each surgery, job loss, unplanned repair, store closing, or any of a multitude of unexpected bills costs money, time, effort, and emotions. One can only tighten their belt so much. And if caught up in a Crisis Cycle, like my family has been, one might find themselves able to pay down the credit cards that were charged up and replenish their savings just in time for the next crisis to hit.
After 9/11 my dad lost his job and wasn’t able to get a new one because of a hiring freeze in his field. We exhausted our built-up savings and retirement after two years of under/unemployment. My family rallied and painted/cleaned offices and homes to pay for electricity and other essentials. We quickly got past any shame in shopping with EBT cards or relying on food pantries and eventually had to declare bankruptcy. We thought we were past it when dad got a job that paid him enough to pay our bills – until he went blind. Sixteen surgeries later, he has sight in one eye, but this was a one step forward, a lot more steps back.
Thankfully, the most insidious of the cycles is the least frequent. It’s the Character Cycle, unlike crisis and resources, your character is attacked, or you suffer in some way because you have character. In my experience, my character exonerated me from the rumors of a jealous friend who wanted to be popular; I was penalized for not sacrificing my character; or there was some mix of both.
In the times it happened to me the ones leading the attack claimed to be Christians, they often were those I considered friends, and more often than not involved a Church. So, when I read the words of David in Psalm 55, they resonated with me in a very visceral way.
“It is not an enemy who taunts me – I could bear that. It is not my foes who so arrogantly insult me – I could have hidden from them. Instead, it is you – my equal, my companion, and my close friend. What good fellowship we once enjoyed as we walked together to the house of God… As for my companion, he betrayed his friends, he broke his promises. His words are as smooth as butter, but in his heart is war. His words are a soothing as lotion, but underneath are daggers!”Psalm 55:12-14, 20-21 (NLT)
The past, now twenty-three-years, of continuous and overlapping cycles, have taught me some very important lessons that I just realized – all because of a delivery of tighty whities on a dark and stormy night.
No amount of preparation or precaution on my part can help me avoid any of the cycles. In 2017, I had a lot of debt; I owed the debt collector’s money, and my credit score was in the 500s. In 2019, I had paid off all my debt except for school/car, settled with all the debt collectors, my score was in the 600s, and I had saved 25% of my yearly income in a retirement program – a year later, I had debt and my savings/retirement were liquidated.
It doesn’t matter what I do. But this isn’t some sort of fatalism doom and gloom. It’s recognition that things are out of my control and that’s ok.
Every crisis we’ve faced, we’ve eventually emerged from. As of late, we are a lot more battered and broken than before…
But we aren’t beaten.
The doctors told me an average of every 4.5 months that my mom or dad are lucky to be alive considering their situation. They shouldn’t be alive…
But they are.
When my dad was unemployed and unexpected bills came in the mail… we received anonymous gifts or a contract to cover the amount. At one point, we were investigating how far behind we could get on our mortgage prior to being foreclosed on because we couldn’t afford to make the payment. While we suffered, some of our friends received an inheritance…
They paid our mortgage for at least three months.
When dad was completely blind and had to spend multiple weeks on his stomach for a minimum of 18 hours a day. My sister, mom, and I were upset that if he stayed blind, he’d never be able to read again…
Dad had a peace that passed all understanding.
As I lamented to a friend, I’m thankful they’ve survived everything, but it would be nice if my parents weren’t at death’s door to begin with…
There are two stories I want to share that I didn’t realize how helpless I actually was in the situation, and that without realizing it God was working to defend me in a way I couldn’t regardless of all the planning and right decisions I made.
The first was at my last corporate job. I wrote about the gaslighting I experienced in part two of The Gaslight Saga. In short? I didn’t violate the ethics policy at the request of the director of HR who wanted me to buy from her friend at a higher cost and without shopping around. It didn’t matter that I had saved the company 4x my salary in the six months I was in that position. It didn’t matter that my boss was my friend and a fellow seminarian. He was a willing accomplice. He rubber stamped the lies she wrote about me in Performance Improvement Plans, intentionally sabotaged me, in one example, by giving me an assignment he admitted I had no way of completing within the assigned deadlines, and tried to gaslight me that there was something wrong with me.
There were no amount of facts I could bring forth to protect myself. Yes, they forced her to re-write the PIP’s, so that by the end, my PIP had something like I needed to smile more and be happy when talking with others. My time there ended when, as last resort, I contacted the corporate lawyer (per the handbook) to ask about protections against retaliation by HR. At the end of day, I was terminated, effective immediately for violating my PIP, with no severance and forced to give up my remaining vacation days the day before a four-day holiday weekend. That night, I applied for unemployment from the Georgia Department of Labor (GaDOL) – I was deemed ineligible. There was nothing I could do. It was unjust. I was being punished for doing the right thing. If I had followed the advice of my boss/friend and just ordered the items so I didn’t get on her bad side, I would have still had a job.
I had no choice but to trust God.
I had followed all the rules and procedures.
I was innocent.
I appealed the decision, and the GaDOL investigated. I’ll never forget reading the findings and final decision. ‘[Company] claims you were terminated for not completing assigned tasks and having a bad attitude. After an investigation, it is determined that you did complete assigned tasks as able and did not have a bad attitude. You are eligible for unemployment.’ Words cannot accurately express how elated I was.
Just under a year later, I accepted a job at a church. The pastor, administrator, and I got to witness what happens when the leadership gets out of the way and let’s Holy Spirit do his thing. The church became a place for all people to be loved by God where they were, but too much to stay there. In just over the year and a half we were there, we saw more lives truly changed and the Kingdom of God expanded more than the church had been part of for decades previously.
Unbeknownst to the legitimate leadership, an unregenerate faction of “Christians” was intentionally undermining that work for all but three months of that year and a half. These individuals, masquerading as Christians, eagerly abused power they thought they had to bludgeon those who weren’t like them. As drunk as they were on their perceived power, they didn’t dare come against the legitimate leadership until after both the pastor and admin announced their retirement.
Believing me to be alone as I was the last member of the legitimate leadership remaining, with my dad weakened via heart issues and my mom fighting for her life in the ICU, this unregenerate faction ramped up their attacks of me and those who supported what Holy Spirit was doing through both emotional and verbal abuse. Leaders of this faction threatened me with physical violence and other members threatened to sue the church if I wasn’t fired. As we persisted, they sent their minions perform opposition research scanning social media and contacting friends to find dirt on their enemies.
This faction and those who supported them (through fear or ignorance) ignored my appeals to scripture and what was morally right. I couldn’t defend myself from the rumors they were circulating about me around the church and community – in part because I didn’t know what they were until later. But I did nothing wrong, and neither myself, nor anyone else in the remanent deserved what was happening to them.
In less than three years, I again, found myself in a position where I was unable to defend myself. My pastor and friend (the one who retired) advised me that when they eventually brought their charges I could and should deny any lies, but I could only rely on God to defend me. He told me that I had to trust God to confuse them, thwart their plans, and be my advocate. I didn’t fully comprehend what he was saying and prepared to fight anyway. Many of the remanent were new Christians and the onslaught was insatiable.
I felt like Glorfindel on the narrow path of Cirith Thoronath.
On the day of the church conference, the opposition filled the seats with ineligible voting members sympathetic to them. They ignored the church constitution in their lust for power and embarrassingly displayed Mark 14:56 as they stumbled through their obviously practiced and pre-written accusations against me eventually coming to the conclusion that even with a crowd ready to vote me out, they couldn’t use the accusations levied against me. They had to resort to having a “deacon” within the unregenerate faction misrepresent and outright lie about the financial situation of the church so they could vote to eliminate my position because of lack of funds.
That was it.
They pulled out all the stops. The now pastor and the rest of the unregenerate faction spent hours in secret meetings planning complex political maneuvers that came at the end of an over year long disinformation campaign to undermine and delegitimize the work Holy Spirit was doing. It culminated in a coup d’état that went off with barely a whimper, where the more coherent arguments against me were that my youth classroom was a “portal to the occult” because I had a rosery (blessed by the Pope) and a Pokémon on my desk, and that I was “teaching witchcraft” to students because I showed the children an episode of Veggie Tales.
Relying on God doesn’t always look the same. I learned, sometimes, God uses others’ rejection of you to protect you. He did this to me and others at the church. It’s because of the unregenerate factions’ abuse that they drove God’s preverbal sheep to shepherds that would nurture and care for them as the legitimate leadership of the church used to.
I was forced to rely on God to defend me, and I got to see it in the midst of coordinated assaults on all fronts, how God used what they intended for evil, to protect and save me and others from a hostile, abusive, and potentially dangerous situation.
Things aren’t perfect, I’ve not found a new permanent job yet and I don’t know what, if any, role the now pastor and unregenerate leadership have played in that. I’m once again in a spot where I’ve done everything I can do to prepare myself and all I can do is wait upon the Lord. There is no where else for me to go.
It’s not really funny.
The friend/boss at the corporate job once told in 2018 that if he had gone through half of what I had, he didn’t know if he could still be a Christian. I didn’t know what to tell him at the time – except to say, It Is what it is.
But what I would tell him now is that I have no other choice but to be one.
I can’t go to strangers; they have no reason to care about me.
I can’t go to churches; they’re full of imperfect people.
I can’t go to Christians; they’re constantly failing to be like Jesus.
I can’t go to my friends; they can betray me.
I can’t go to my family; their lives aren’t promised.
I can’t go to myself, because I’m woefully inadequate despite whatever planning and preparation I try to do. If left to myself, I’m sitting in my car, being rained on, trying not to get into a wreck after delivering tighty whities for $12.
Where else can I go?
Only one person has the words of eternal life.
And he, is my only hope.