Some of the best memories I have are found in those times of unemployment when we had no real idea how that next bill would be paid. Yet, strangely enough, there was a contentment present. A contentment with my circumstances and a contentment with life. Take away the rat-race and politics that come with employment – the social expectations and inevitable over-spending – the insecurities and stress – and put in place an incredible wife and life partner who shares that same contentment in just being. Well, it has been the closest thing to this side of paradise that I have ever experienced.
I was fired and although there was the eventuality of facing the reality of bills that needed to be paid, I found myself looking forward to just being. I spent a good portion of the days looking for work, chasing down leads, writing cover letters, tweaking my resume but that was entwined with working out in the yard, tending to the roses, rebuilding our front pathway, our front fence, playing with the children, and then as the day came to a close, sitting on our swinging bench, on our back patio, with my wife snuggled in, staring at the large mountain range that we had an amazing view of from our backyard.
Time slowed down. In a practical way as well. We never did manage to get our van going again and eventually we ended up having it towed for scrap. We walked everywhere and my wife would take the wagon and walk downtown with the children for groceries, forming a bit of a parade as she walked back home. The wagon would have bags of groceries, with enough space for a child to rest when they became tired, and the others helping out, like carrying a gallon of milk that was as big as their body. We were an unusual spectacle but we marched to a different beat and we were okay with that.
After losing the job at that restaurant my employment options dwindled down to non-existent. It was taking less time looking for work because there were no jobs. I was calling up business connections I knew from years past, asking if I could do janitorial work for them in an effort to find something. Nothing. In fact, it would be nine months of nothing. Nine months before I received a paycheck again and I fought hard to get that first paycheck once again. But I digress.
I want to press on with the story but I need to pull myself back for a moment because something significant gets lost in this time of nothing. Something was present. The calm rhythm of life – a life without the rat-race – left us content but wanting. The financial reality existed. That feeling of obligation to provide for my family never left. The uncertainty of the future always lingered at the back of my mind. Not enough to cause distress and certainly not enough to interfere with the place of contentment that I found myself in – regarding enjoying my wife and my family – but enough to compel me to a place of spiritual obedience under the cult leader.
Having walked through a tremendously traumatic year I was still asking questions and processing loss, all in the context of figuring out my spiritual identity. I was asking the big questions of God and although many of them had been answered enough for me, there were still some left, and I was anxious about them. I was anxious about my own state of brokenness and desperately wanted to be ‘whole’ again in order to be a much better husband and father. At least that is how I felt whenever I was around the cult leader, which during this season of unemployment, was a lot.
He further solidified his place in my life by reminding me of my past. He would remind me of those broken and fragmented conversations he had with me when I was at my lowest moments and he reminded me of my past wrong-doings – like I needed to make amends to him over my transgressions. In the moment it made sense to me. Each word he spoke made sense to me. I wanted to be a better person and he was noisy enough in my life that I became convinced that his words made sense. There wasn’t a long enough period of silence to try and figure out what it was that I was feeling about it all. We would receive almost daily sermons delivered via email, then the phone calls, the prayer meetings, the counseling sessions, and Sunday gatherings in the basement of his home. Then there were the complicated rules of engagement around interacting with his wife, his son, his daughter, and his wife’s twin brother.
This was my full-time job, and it was all I could do to figure out how to not get fired from it.
Obediently I marched to the beat of his drum. I learned his language and allowed it to replace my own definitions. Interaction with my wife, my children, and anyone else was under his strict supervision and interpretation of events. Because of the trauma that I had walked through – both in my long ago past, then with my brother, and then again in losing my son – life held a lot of uncertainty and it was his mission to set it all straight and to help me understand the whys of it all. Apparently, what that really meant was because I was so fucked up and disobedient a lot of shit would happen in my life. Fortunately for me, if I would follow his teachings completely he was willing to lead me to a place of forgiveness and healing so everything in my life would be good again.
In the moment this all made sense. Even though that place of forgiveness was kneeling before him and his family, begging them for it.