A season of discomfort

We were going to hike last Saturday. We were on the road, heading north east to a National Park and I was so happy to be getting out of the city. And then the car died.

Our car is only 2 years old, we bought it last September. It's a great car and we've never had a problem before, in all the many miles we've driven. But Saturday's plan for a fall hike on Thanksgiving weekend was not meant to be.

Without telling the whole story, as I am wont to do, the car died on the side of the road, from what appeared to be an electrical problem. We called roadside assistance and were towed to a Mazda dealership.

Instead of hiking for the day we joined a Thanksgiving meal at our friend's house in the neighborhood. Our friends are newlyweds and they were hosting their first Thanksgiving dinner at their apartment, literally just down the road from where we live.

They generously invited friends and strangers (through the Friends for Dinner program which matches local families with international students for the holiday meal) into their new home, everyone bringing a dish to share and our family of five bringing extra food and extra seating.

walking to our friend's for supper, down Beaubien
carrying food and folding chairs

We enjoyed a second Thanksgiving feast on Monday with dear friends from our homeschool co-op. This one was planned for and anticipated. But without a car we had to rely on our host to pick us up with all with our food - salads, veggies, potatoes, appetizer, and dessert offerings - and to schlep us home afterwards with the leftovers. Good friends.

I had been really looking forward to getting out of the city and was disappointed that we couldn't get into the woods on Saturday, especially this time of year with the leaves changing color. But the experience of being part of our friend's first Thanksgiving was a unexpected gift.

I'm working hard at looking for and appreciating the unexpected blessings in life right now. Even if it's just finding beautiful snails in the ditch while waiting for the tow-truck to arrive.

We're in a bit of a difficult period with work and finances, career and vocation.

When we came home from our road trip we had a letter waiting for us, from the government, about our taxes. It wasn't good news.

At first, the news sent us into a minor state of shock, like sticker shock, but for your taxes. After shock we moved into brainstorming mode. Then we moved into "acquiring a debt to pay another debt". I think they call this robbing Peter to pay Paul. We're currently in "looking for new employment" mode. Something that needed to happen regardless of the tax bill but became imperative because of the tax bill.

Damien is actively looking for a different situation with his work. He's looking for full-time employment or a long term contractual relationship instead of the short term projects he's been doing for a handful of clients over the past few years.

He'll still work from home (at least this is the current plan), there are companies that hire programmers and developers to work remotely, but the objective is a more steady source of income that we can budget and depend on reliably.

I too am looking for work, and that has presented the opportunity to walk through a roller-coaster of emotion with regards to self-worth, confidence, security, and a lot of other stuff I struggle with.

That process has reminded me of all the things I don't have figured out and the places I feel like a failure. I want to be a writer but I can't pursue that, right now, as a primary income source because the path is not clear to me for how to do that. And I don't have the luxury of time right now to futz around with it. I just need to work and be contributing to the financial bottom-line of our household. And I need to do so in a way that doesn't compromise, too much, the responsibilities I still have to home and homeschooling.

That much I know. But the rest, I don't know. I don't even know what I truly want. I don't have a vision for my future, a plan. I don't know where I'm going.

I felt much the same after the AT, like we had expended all our energies for years on this one project and I didn't know who I was outside of working towards that goal. So I focused on home and hearth and getting our family established in Montreal, finding community. And those projects have been successful.

And now I need to move forward and I need to earn money but I have no idea what I'm aiming for, what I'm trying to achieve. I spent a lot of years happily following a vision my husband wanted to achieve until it wasn't a happy thing anymore, for either of us. And now.... what?? What's my vision? God, I wish I knew.

Brienne's art

As I wrote this I was reminded that I wrote a series of posts on vocation last fall. I was looking for vision then, as I am now, and I was able to find a resolution, of sorts.

What am I aiming for in a career, a vocation, in my work? What is my vision?

Quite simply to do the work before me, and live the things I'm called to do. And I'm trusting that the work in front of me will evolve into the next stage. I don't need to be frustrated or feel forced. Perhaps instead of paddling upstream I can find a movement in which to flow.

When I look back and read this, I ask myself this question: can I still trust that the work in front of me will evolve into the next stage? Truth is, I feel I'm starting the next stage and I have no idea what I'm doing. And the trusting part is hard.

I know what I'm doing day-by-day. I've got my daily lists and plans, volunteer commitments, home management, and two of my kids still need my active guidance and investment in their education. I have resumes to prepare and some projects to bring to life and hopefully sell. But the question that feels like a huge aperture of unknown, is what am I really doing? What am I working towards now? Now that I'm nearing the end of my first career.

A lot of things feel in flux right now. Damien's work. Getting our finances on a better footing. The kids in the teenage years. Who will they be in a few years? Where will they live? Who will we be in a few years? Where will we live? (Questions of location are a real thing when you're location independent with work, have a history of moving, and a compelling need to travel and explore.)

How will we do life without the kids at home? (Will they ever leave home?) Who are we going to be in the next stage? How do we get there?

I thought I'd recover more from the hurts of the past few years. I thought maybe I could find my old self again. But when you embark on the journey of trying to discover who you really are, who you find is not who you were.

And I realize I never will "recover" back to who I was before. I'm not going to move forward into my forty-something life with the zealous confidence and self-righteousness I felt as an eighteen, twenty-five, or thirty year old woman. That's a good thing, but man I miss that girl's chutzpah, even if it was a decidedly first half of life energy.

That woman is not me anymore. She's part of me, as much as my six and fourteen year old selves live inside me, but I don't make decisions from those stages of growth and development. I move from where I am now. What I've learned. What I know. Who I've become.

But, where the vision was so clear at fourteen, eighteen, twenty-five and thirty, it's not anymore. I'm guessing this is a middle life "thing".

The experiences of this past month - settling back into our Montreal groove, Celine no longer homeschooling, and the crisis and upheaval in our finances and work - has cast into stark relief the discomfort I am experiencing in this stage of life. This discomfort can sometimes be forgotten in busy schedules and summer travels but I think it still finds expression, like an underground spring, in my anxiety.

And yet, in this present season of noticeable, palpable discomfort (all the unknowns, and waiting and work) my overall anxiety has been on a steady decline while we've been facing some very difficult situations. Yes, decline.

So something is going on inside me that is positive and life-giving (and maybe life transforming) in this time and space. I feel very observational about my life, if that makes any sense. I experience emotions, thoughts, feelings about everything going on right now. I observe myself in that space, as much as possible without judgement. And I "practice" accepting where I'm at, where my marriage is at (and the distance I sometimes feel in that relationship during times of stress), where my kids are at. Accepting without always needing to change, manipulate, or control things so I feel better.

Sitting with the discomfort.

And I try not to dwell on past decisions that landed me here (at the current discomfort I'm experiencing) or focus too much on the unknown (and scary) future but choose to be present for my life, in this moment and day. And then I try to live a course of action that is loving and compassionate towards myself and others, and constructive. Regret, worry, and angst are rarely constructive.

I feel unsettled right now. We are waiting on the decisions of other people that will affect our life circumstance (in Damien's job search). I need to earn money and I don't feel super-confident about my ability to do so. Even without those extenuating circumstances, I experience sadness, frustration, disappointment, and disillusionment about life. These feelings are more insistent as I enter this stretch called "midlife". But right now, in this time, during this month, I'm not anxious. I'll take it.

(Of note I have established a disciplined meditation practice which I discuss in a video interview with my mom, I've changed up my supplement routine a bit - taking GABA, L-Theanine and a liquid B complex - and I've been using a really helpful resource to further understand and deal with my anxiety. Maybe these things are helping.)

Things don't resolve as fast as they once did for me. Back in the earlier days of mothering and marriage I looked to the next thing, almost always outside of myself - a purchase, a behavior change in my husband, a shift in circumstance (when we buy a house, when the kids sleep through the night, when we move, etc...) to resolve the discomfort I would experience. And if I couldn't resolve the discomfort, or if resolution was not forthcoming, I would often discharge it. The discharging of discomfort is how we hurt each other and ourselves, through our words and actions.

My discharging of discomfort in the realm of financial (in)security, over the years, has established some negative patterns of communication in our marriage and affected our relationship in that area. This is something I'm working on.

Changes do resolve a present discomfort. And we are actively trying to make changes in our life, changing work specifically, to resolve a present discomfort. But when we resolve this discomfort, a new one will arise. After you encounter this pattern enough you start to clue in that discomfort is part of the human experience. It must be borne.

Because we are pleasure-seeking, in our basic brain chemistry (which is not a bad thing, this is how humans have evolved to obtain the necessities of life) we will "naturally" seek a way out, a solution, a resolution. We will endeavor to avoid pain and discomfort.

But our "higher order" selves, our spiritual or "conscious" selves, when nurtured, come to realize that the discomfort must be borne. And that bearing our discomfort, learning how to accept the challenges and heartaches of life, is how we love one another. Which is our highest calling as humans. I think this is, in part at least, what Jesus is talking about when he tells his disciples "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me".

The situation with our car resolved itself easily. It was the alternator. Our car is under warranty. Mazda is fixing it. If only the other problems in our life would follow that straight trajectory.

If that were the case however, we would miss out on the opportunity that discomfort affords us. The opportunity for personal growth and "a more honest doorway into lasting communion".

In Falling Upward, the quintessential guidebook for the spiritual transformation that is facilitated through midlife crisis, Richard Rohr says:

God knows that all of us will fall somehow. Those events that lead us to "catastrophize" out of all proportion must be business as usual for God - at least six billion times a day. Like good spiritual directors do, God must say after each failure of ours, "Oh, here is a great opportunity! Let's see how we can work with this!" After our ego-inflating successes, God surely says, "Well, nothing new or good is going to happen here!" Failure and suffering are the great equalizers and levelers among humans. Success is just the opposite. Communities and commitment can form around suffering much more than around how wonderful or superior we are. Just compare the real commitment to one another, to the world, and to truth in "happy clappy religion" with the deep solidarity of families at the time of a tragic death or among hospice workers and their clients. There is a strange and even wonderful communion in real human pain, actually much more than in joy, which is too often manufactured and passing. In one sense, pain's effects are not passing, and pain is less commonly manufactured. Thus is a more honest doorway into lasting communion than even happiness.

I've accompanied the reading of Falling Upward with also reading The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp. They pair really well for seasons of brokenness and redefinition and re-formation through that breaking.

In one of my favorite chapters, Breaking the Lies in Your Head, Ann speaks to how we respond to pain and our emotions

Grieving how plans change - is part of the plan to change us.

What happens if you just let the brokenness keep coming? Surrender. Let the wave of it all break over you and wash you up at the foot of that cross. What if I lived like I believed it: Never be afraid of broken things - because Christ is redeeming everything. {my note: this is the true message of the resurrection}

Feelings are meant to be fully felt and then fully surrendered to God. The word emotion comes from the Latin for "movement" - and all feelings are meant to move you toward God.

And then Ann applies a Christ lens to Buddhist teaching. Buddhist teaching has been a very helpful guide to me in the past couple years, teaching me about non-judgement, awareness, self-compassion and acceptance in the experiences of pain, discomfort, disillusionment, etc.

I don't have to fix things, I don't have to deny things, I don't have to pretend away things. Could I simply feel the brokenness of things - and feel that's okay? Could I feel okay being un-okay, trusting that Christ is always making a way?

So I come back to the present discomfort of finding work (and all the insecurities about self that dredges up), and watching adolescents grow into young adults, to questions about our future, the state of our finances, the gaping yawn of vision for "my second career". I'm reminded that if we can hold onto each other through this discomfort, if we can bear our cross and not discharge our discomfort onto each other in hurtful words or actions, this is where the relationship will truly deepen. Our relationship with God, self and each other.

I think this is exactly where I'm supposed to be. But it's uncomfortable. I have no idea when I'll see through to the other side. I don't even know what the other side is. Will it be "job"? A project? A new vision for our marriage? An opportunity? A financial turn around?

Or will it be a further transformation of heart, a deeper trust and awareness of my true identity which doesn't rely on anything changing in my circumstance but in my communion with the Divine.

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  • gracemarieatx

    gracemarieatx on Oct. 14, 2017, 1:25 a.m.

    Hi Renee,

    Thank you for being so honest. I too, am in a discomforting place and when I catch myself thriving (like right now when I'm making dinner whilst VERY tired and irritable) I try to recognize it and celebrate that, even just in my own mind. I also try to be realistic and set realistic goals for myself when things are tough - just simple measures of success I can be proud of (like did I get to work on time even though I didn't get enough sleep last night? Yes? Go me!). Right now my husband and I just starting the process of paying down $30k+ of debt (my student loans and his CC Debt) and it is very, very hard. We are both working two jobs & almost 120 hrs between the two of us each week, this phase of life is TOUGH. It sounds like yours is also but I really admire your commitment to see it through.

    Not to mention, the books you are reading sound so inspiring. I found a real comfort when I read F*ck Feelings by Dr. Michael Barnett last year - it was a firm encouragement when I really needed it.


    • Renee

      Renee on Oct. 14, 2017, 3:29 p.m.

      Gracemarieatx, Thank you for sharing your own struggles and financial burdens. They're real. I hear you on the celebrating small successes. Like making dinner when you're tired. And realistic goals are so important. We don't get into messes overnight and we don't get out of them overnight either.

      I think there's a lot of wisdom in the idea of F*ck Feelings, which I haven't read. As a culture we seem to place so much emphasis on "feelings" and feelings are just that, feelings. They are not reality, they're indicators of something but not truth.

      Like I can "feel" distant from my husband during times of stress, and those feelings will actually influence my actions (I will engage less, start harboring dark thoughts...) but the reality is not that my husband is distancing himself from me, it's that he's stressed and super preoccupied with the burden of supporting our family, he's not upset at me, he's thinking how can he do this job well because he loves me and the kids. Ironically, I can create the very reality I fear - the distance - in how I respond to my "feelings" about the situation. That's a sobering thought.


  • Kris

    Kris on Oct. 15, 2017, 9:26 p.m.

    Oh this post spoke to me! We, too, are in a financial conundrum. We are at a crossroads with our farm. We aren't sure we are going to be able to hang on to it due to terribly poor crop prices, the sudden loss of my husband's mother which led to paying for her funeral and a whopper of an inheritance tax. We were hanging on by a thread to begin with but this has put us on the brink of disaster. I, too, am looking to go back to work after a two year break. I'd love to have a meaningful job but for right now, I'm going to have to take what I can get. Unfortunately, job prospects in our area are few and far between. I'm so sorry you are going through this, but selfishly, I'm so glad to hear the viewpoint of someone else going through a tough situation. I guess it gives me hope that we aren't alone. Thanks for posting this!


  • Tammy

    Tammy on Oct. 16, 2017, 5:15 a.m.

    Renee, what a pleasure to read your writing. I love your heartfelt honesty. We made a really rough decision today to move back to our Maine house after 5 years of living in NH. I, too, am feeling that discomfort. It's not what want. But it is what is necessary for our family at this time. A few weeks ago, our pastor here in NH challenged us to take something that was holding us back from moving forward and leave it in the altar. He had us come, write it on a peice of paper and physically leave it there. I wrote the word REGRET. Just like you said, how did I get here? What past decsions have caused us to be in the situation we now find ourselves in? Where do we go from here? Is going back really what God wants from us? I cry out to hear His thoughts, His guidance. I say 10 times a day, "Lord, i will not take back the regret I left on the altar". So taking, by faith, the step towards the most logical decision....I pray we are not repeating mistakes. The peace and happiness Phil and i both experienced after deciding to go back, seems to be a confirmation. Yet the discomfort is also there. Not a home I would prefer to live in. Not the location I find ideal. And giving up living in NH also saddens me. But I know this is a season. That was what I felt today as we sought for peace and guidance. We go forward trusting that "the steps of a righteous man are ordered by the Lord". He can redeem our bad decisions, somehow. The discomfort will have its work in us. It's part of life. I love the books quotes you have. So sorry for rambling. I hope this made a tiny bit of sense. Your writing really resounded with me. I needed to read this tonight.



  • Amy

    Amy on Oct. 17, 2017, 6:52 p.m.

    I have been in a season of high personal discomfort for two years now with little break. It started when one of my children developed an unexpected severe mental illness. I just read the new book by Katie Davis Majors called Daring to Hope: Finding God's Goodness in the Broken and the Beautiful. Anne Voskamp wrote the foreward. It is a great book which spoke to my heart about the season of discomfort I am in. If you need another good book or books to read, I definitely recommend this one and also Katie's prior book.


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