Faith Is a Wing Suit Jump

Listen, GOD! Please, pay attention! Can you make sense of these ramblings, my groans and cries? King-God, I need your help. Every morning you’ll hear me at it again. Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on your altar and watch for fire to descend.

Psalm 5:1-3 MSG

Faith is a wing suit jump.

Or can be. Yes, some times life is not terrifying. Or anything like an adrenaline rush. Yes, those times can still be faith-filled.

But this kind of faith—this faith that we are living (namely eight people on a poverty-level-for-two-people income and no government support?)—I say is a wing suit jump. It’s downright emotional. By the way, I don’t mean some wing suit jump by a pro who designs his own suits and maybe teaches others. I mean like this is your very first jump or flight, and the only thing you can see is the next ridge or tree rushing at you, and the only sounds you can hear are the wind in your ears and your screaming. And (let’s say, just for kicks) it turns out no one has bothered to confirm whether or not your suit even came with a parachute for your final approach. I mean, it was supposed to, someone promised it would, but…did it, truly?

It really is too bad that I forgot what my own blog entry exactly previous to this one was about. I read it over just today and would have been well-served by going back to read it sometime earlier this week. For yesterday, especially, I was really emotional all day. [And all of this stuff is layered on top of the emotional exhaustion we live with all the time from grafting an advanced-age adoptee from trauma into our family.] This time around it was self-pity, some mild levels of desperation, and sadness. Most of all, I felt alone.

I was so hoping He would come through for us this month.

At night I learned that Tammy had been choking back hurt anger all day herself.

Rewind to two weeks ago…

We’d just been wrapping up the last home improvement project there was money for: painting the outside of our house. Originally we’d procured an estimate for work we knew we could pay for. But as the job progressed, problems popped up, much of the house needed re-pointing, and rotting porch boards/roofs couldn’t just be ignored.

So we knew the real final bill was probably going to be a shock, and I warned the painter ahead of time:

“Matt, we need to sit down and deal with that final negotiation carefully. These are the kinds of things where even friends can part enemies.”

Well, the final number shocked us more than we even feared. So I invited him over to come sit around the backyard fire and answer all my questions. We talked for a couple of hours about other stuff, and then began the money discussion after praying out loud for grace and help.

My number-crunching had left me with this: if we kept back enough money to pay our visa bill at the end of the month (a huge one with medical and dental bills, annual insurance premiums for home and auto, and paint and lumber for the house job), we had only one thousand dollars left. Oops, $700 had been mailed off that day for school taxes.

“So, basically, Matt,” I said as we sat there watching the fire die out, “for the $4300 I’m still going to owe you after today, I’ve got…$300!”

I couldn’t help but laugh hearing myself say it. How embarrassing. Could we have appeared to budget the final use of “the rest of our money” any more poorly? All I could say was, “God is going to have to provide for this one, Matt. I don’t know where it’s going to come from.”

Though I had shared with him my odd and spottily lucrative sideline of “checking the mailbox” (amazing him and rightly so), it hardly served as proof that God was going to foot this bill. But, to his credit, he said he wasn’t worried. We worked out dates for a couple of payments (I would go on to meet those, thereby transferring my unknowns to the visa bill) and set a deadline for final payment before Christmas.

But where was $4000—from our current vantage point a pretty big number—going to come from? In terms of our forecasted income, it was an unimaginable number, one at which a whole pile of generous people could throw $100’s (and be loved and appreciated for) and hardly make a dent.

But we were going to trust anyway. Wheeee! right?

And we did.

Until we weren’t. Feelings, the Enemy, whatever it all was, struck us down, and hope flickered out.

The final straw for me, I think, was, oddly enough, a blank check my parents had just left with us when they drove off home this week. (They were aware that we’d reached the end of our resources; they’d offered to make a loan, and they were simply leaving the final amount up to me.)

“And how might that be a burden?” you ask.

Believe me, I see it for the blessing it is. But we’d been hoping for God to pull through. We needed to feel (once again) not forgotten and not alone on this difficult path he’s set us on.

“But maybe this check IS how he is going to pull through, silly!”

I suppose, maybe. But it didn’t feel miraculous; it felt “nice.” Nice of them, not of him. But with the visa due date a week off, there was no choice but (short of dipping into retirement investments) to take the loan.

I had hoped so hard for something better.

I guess I just couldn’t help getting discouraged.

I guess $4000 was just kind of too big to expect anything.

But oh…I was so hoping…

And then this:

I opened an email from our CPA. He’d finished preparing our taxes. I was half-expecting a penalty because I’d procrastinated and wasn’t even sure our extension lasted until October like it had when we were living overseas. As our paychecks never even had taxes withheld, I had no thoughts of a refund. [And I can see why, as after looking up the eight other years this CPA has done our taxes, I saw we had to pay once, got a refund twice (including last year at $549), and all five other years leveled out at a $0 liability.]

But this year, he said, there was a refund:

Four thousand dollars.

 

If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.

II Timothy 2:13 NIV

 

And now, God, do it again—bring rain to our drought-stricken lives. So those who planted their crops in despair will shout hurrahs at the harvest. So those who went off with heavy hearts will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.

Psalm 126: 4-6 MSG

Will I Allow Myself to Be Swung?

Perhaps like your dad may have, my dad used to swing us when we were little. He’d make a swing seat with his arms and begin that slow increase of motion until… WHEE! In a woosh of release, out goes the body and I’m shooting towards space. Dad’s got my ankles, and after I go vertical, there’s the rush back towards earth and through his knees.

Then, wooWEE! Back up again.

I find this life of faith akin to being swung like that. 

I don’t know how long it will last, and I honestly can’t say I’m dying for it to last at all (though I see it’s where he wants me for now, and, who knows, perhaps for always).

I doubt anyone who has not experienced “not knowing where money will come from next” will have a clue what it’s truly like. Just as I have no clue what it is like to not know where my next meal is coming from. My situation hasn’t gotten that dire, therefore I haven’t experienced the corresponding feelings.

But I find that, in difficulty, I can’t help but mine for truth. It’s not complaint, and it’s not a a lack of gratitude. It’s processing. And it is probably the “Thank you’s” I get for being honest that keep me writing. Perhaps, in some small way, it’s a piece of what I have to offer.

Tammy and I are so tired. Often one of us falls asleep (for the first time) on a kid’s bed during putting them down. But the other day I fell asleep on my steering wheel in the driveway after getting home from work. It’s a too-little-gas-for-too-long-a-time-yet-here-comes-tomorrow-look-out!-you’ve-got-teens-and-little-ones-and-you-gotta-get-up-anyway kind of life, that’s all. Millions have worse.

Do you remember being swung as a kid? It was fun.

And, if you can recall, if it was someone other than Dad offering the swinging, it was never quite the same, certainly not the first time around. Sometimes that first time never took place, as kids have second thoughts about risking so much with just anyone.

Some aspects of our family economics in 2017 I would compare—to continue the metaphor—to what it might feel like to be swung against my will by a stranger. In other words, not fun at all.

Not that God is a stranger to me, certainly not. But that requirement to trust so fully with so little beneath me has been frankly that new to me. Most of our closest friends, other international workers, probably learned to walk these paths years ago, but we’d always belonged to an organization where you didn’t raise your own support. And I’ve found my feelings stuck and unable to follow what I said I believed. They’d never acclimated to having to have that much real, practical, grocery-money faith. 

Oddly, our “swinging” first became more comfortable when we lost our paychecks on January 1. I guess there was no longer any future kaboom to be afraid of. That loss was upon us.

And then we saw him provide. Miraculously. For the whole month. Big gifts.

Well, here goes. Eight people is still a whole pile of people to be responsible for, and next month is coming. I’m holding on white-knuckled here, but maybe this won’t be the total end of me. 

Like a new family friend had me. I accept the swinging, but I’m apprehensive and waiting for it to end.

February we were provided for in littler ways, but still provided for.

Wonderful. Perhaps a little less of a shock. Like a familiar uncle had me, now.

Thanks, Uncle, for the swings. But just sit-swing me, OK? I’m still going to hold on to my ankles.

March came and not much else—some of the former fears rose up again.

But then, a job.

And five months, now, I’ve been there (long enough to have health insurance, yay). And we’re pretty clear on its inadequacies to put enough groceries on the table. [In fact, I just figured out: since my start date, 2/3 of the money that’s come in our door has been from paychecks, and 1/3 has continued to come from God’s provision through people, with the balance of our needs covered by savings.]

Someone mailed us a check for almost as much as my job provides in a month. We’d just made a trip to speak at their church after many years away, and they wrote a sweet letter reminiscing about Enoch (now 17) and Haddie (15) in their church nursery.

“God told us to make a provision for these children.”

Wow, God.

Then someone gave us $500. We got gift cards for groceries. Others have given $100 or $50, $20 or $25, all summer long. Sprinkling joy over dread and difficulty (what life with a kid coming out of trauma can feel like every single day, though our whole family knows absolutely this is what God has called us to). A Mainland Chinese friend (not wealthy in the least) truly humbled us with a gift of $1000. Someone else gave more.

Wow, God.

Then a guy gave me his motorcycle. Someone gave me a motorcycle.

Now, a motorcycle is not a need. Not even close. But owning one has been a dream of mine since I sold the last one, and it touches core values deep within me like freedom, independence, adventure, solitude.

WOW. GOD! You’re providing wants?

And what’s happening is this: I find my feelings catching up with what I’ve always said I believe:

There Has Never Been Anything to Fear.

Even when Fear knocks on the door yet.

Will these gifts stretch enough to pay this massive family dental bill?

How much of that special summer money is going to get siphoned off by these hearing aids?

Do we ever get any mail that is not a medical or other bill?

Will this kid’s fears drive him to eat 3x the amount of an adult man forever?

Wait A Minute.

Dann, it’s Me. You’re not being swung by some stranger. Yes, all these people showed you kindness, sent you money, but it’s not friends or family running this show. I AM swinging you, don’t you know?

It is beginning to get drilled down. I’ve always known it, of course, but deep down, now, it’s becoming enough to affect me at the knee-jerk level. My first-response thoughts.

This life of faith is the best way to live. Though clearly in the world and to the world it makes no sense. It’s nonsense. But it’s…dare I say, fun? It’s life.

The hard and the harder. The bad and the good.

And if that’s true, doesn’t that mean I want more of it?

I want to not know how he’s going to pull it off?

I want him to build in me more and more and more and more and more trust?

So…even though I’d pick stability (if I could pick such things) and a salary that feels like a better match to my age/education/experience/abilities/whatever (or at least one that could support my family)…I find this competing desire within me as well. At least sometimes. At least when I started writing this entry. I think.

‘Cause—however rapidly towards earth I hurtle—I really do know who’s gripping my ankles.

It’s Dad.

So…more, Dad, more! Swing me more.

Pay Attention

It’s only eight miles out to Nine Mile Point. Apparently it must have been named for something other than its distance from my house. From my house, however, I can see the Nine Mile Point Nuclear Station out the window any time I want, a plume of cloud by day and bright as fire by night, they keep it so lit.

Awhile back, I took my first drive out there to see it in person and up close. Actually, I was there to inquire about jobs, as the plant is one of the area’s largest employers.

Who knows what I was thinking:

“Hey, any open slots requiring a Master’s in Intercultural Studies? Or ordination?”

“Say, do any of your scientists require translation from Mandarin?”

Maybe I was hoping for something janitorial; I can’t quite recall. This was pretty near to the low point of our low Fall. And my mind was bursting to over-full. On the drive out I noted the slate sky and the stiff wind as trees bent noticeably even though bare. But mostly my mind slogged through all of our difficulties over and over again. They’d long since become what appeared to be beyond what we could bear.

Then my day changed.

I was less than a mile from my destination, and suddenly my windshield was filled with the side view of a pickup.

“What the…!? How does this idiot not see me? 

What in the world are you doing! Stop!

Yet he wasn’t stopping. Walzity-do-la-day, merry-as-you-please, here he came, right across my lane.

I jam on the brakes.

Veer left.

Screech towards him and brake harder, veering further left.

I’m going to hit him.

Broadside? No, perhaps I’ll eek out a front fender slam.

I’m still veering.

Whoa, could it be that I’ll possibly get so far left as to only clip his front bumper? Or, even so far that he’ll be hitting me…

Amazing how the mind can engage so many thoughts and possibilities during emergency.

Miraculously––though he never stops––I am (and it feels like finally) around him completely and out of the intersection, barreling towards the far shoulder of the cross road.

As I whip the wheel hand over hand like in those commercials warning such moves are for professional drivers on closed tracks, I continue to be flabbergasted by my friend now behind me:

What were you?! Didn’t your mother ever teach you to?

Directly in my path there’s a support wire for a utility pole, then some kind of brick sign or something, and I know utterly that I am on no closed track, even as my flapping hands sending the steering wheel in the other direction keep alive that niggle that tells me maybe, just maybe, however, I am that professional driver.

I’ve quit drifting left. Just miss the cable.

Fire hydrant! Shoot, now I’ve got to swerve way right. Still everything’s way too fast, and my choked-off questions continue vie for lip space with indignant spittle.

Finally it’s over.

I’m stopped along the gravel edge of the oncoming lane of my original road.

I whip my SUV into Park and whirl around to see the other guy. He’s on the same shoulder with his brake lights on. Obviously he must finally realize what he’s done.

I could have been killed, buddy

I could have killed YOU and had to live with it forever.

I put my hand on the door handle but don’t get out of the truck to go yell at him. I’m not even sure why. It wasn’t wisdom, as I wasn’t even emotionally regulated at the time. I wasn’t being chicken; I was outraged enough to be fearless. And it wasn’t laziness, as nothing can get me exercised like anger. Perhaps, more than anything, it was grace.

It was a matter of seconds driving down to the nuclear plant entrance, and I went through the gate with my heart still in my throat. I checked my rear-view mirror and imaginarily received the commiseration of the driver behind me, who must have witnessed the whole thing.

Dude, can you believe some of these drivers these days? I’m lucky to be in one piece

Hey, you’re lucky I was in front of you!

Then a different line of thinking:

Ooh, maybe God’s going to arrange things so this guy behind me is the head of some department here who has an open six-figure position for a guy with my exact (non)qualifications! And I’ll get the job based on his sympathy for this very incident

My mind sometimes. Tameless.

Shameless.

But my phantom future boss turned down a different side road, and I drove on in search of any building that looked like it had a door for the public. After circling a few parking lots, I saw a couple of guys walking to their cars carrying hard hats and plastic-wrapped uniforms.

New guys!

I drove over and put my window down to ask about applying.

“No idea, man. All jobs are posted on the website. Try that.”

Oh, right. 

He had just, effectively, reduced the experience of having my life put in jeopardy for the noble cause of providing for my family to one of having my life put in jeopardy in a futile exercise of stupidity.

“Uh, use the internet, dude.” I imagined him laughing at me.

Hey, in China we still do stuff in person, pal! I thought I could shout.

Instead, I pulled into a parking spot in order to immediately access the website while my hopeless subconscious conjectured possible bonus advantages for those savvy few who could access the company website from the epitome of proximity in the parking lot.

Alas, I got the same webpage I could have pulled up had I stayed home, and pretty much all of the postings were for people who had studied and worked with science and math and in nuclear facilities. Go figure. None were for people who were ordained, could masterfully order Sichuan meals, or had sat on a yak.

So I left, no less preoccupied than when I’d come.

But I was determined to not let it affect my driving, and I vowed to keep an eye out for crazies. I got back to the intersection of my incident and decided I’d take a picture of my tracks through the grass where life had flashed before my eyes. Instead I saw this:

OH. MY.

Not only did I immediately come to the conclusion that severe mental preoccupation isn’t necessarily all that much safer than more forbidden forms of driving impairment, this harsh truth jolted me: I was the idiot. The danger. The fool who had almost gotten one of us killed.

Oh, dear God, thank you, thank you that I did not jump out of my truck and run over to his to give him a piece of my mind. 

(Obviously it’s apparent by now that I could have ill-afforded it, anyway, but that’s beside the point.)

And, of course, I thanked Him for sparing both of us.

That guy had done nothing. Other than have to watch me screeching toward him as I blew my own stop sign at 50mph.

I stayed pretty shaken up the rest of the day, to be frank, and as more days went by I grew rather philosophical about the thing. For there is no place in life where not watching the signs will pay off. Of course while driving, but I want to pay attention, period.

What do my kids need? What is happening right in front of me? To whom would God like to direct my attention just now? I want to pay attention to goodness and to beauty. To Jesus.

Right this minute. Life’s too important not to.