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Category Archives: Grief

George Holecz and God

There are stories nestled within stories here. I mainly feel compelled to tell the story of a man named George Holecz who I came to know briefly and somewhat indirectly.
George’s story unfolds within a context of a group of men who were a big part of my journey and that group of men — self-described and nicknamed as “Zealous for the Word” existed in a context of a church in Nanaimo BC.
I can see no way of sharing George’s story without telling about the context, since God used the context to create the story.
If you can visualize a story as an egg, Christ Community Church (CCC) in Nanaimo is the shell, the men’s group is the egg white, and George’s story is the yolk in the center.
I like to use yolk, because it can easily sound like joke (especially coming off the tongues of folks with Dutch accents). And there is a good measure of God’s joke here — God’s playful sense of humour. George mirrored some of that playful sense in his character. The outer context loop or shell is a story that shows me that in the Kingdom of God “what goes around comes around” or “you never know where an obedient, faith-driven action will lead.” George’s journey came into that shell and if you know a bit about how God sometimes works these loop stories, it makes sense there and brings glory to God even more because of the context. One central narrative line is how George went from recipient in the story, to participant and contributor, but the most striking one to me is how he has gone from being perpetually homeless-by-choice to going to his eternal-chosen-home. I hope I’ve not given it all away in this brief description and that you will still enjoy a tale of how God can work to bring people home.

Either of these links should take to you to the story: or else just click on the underlined text here:

http://wp.me/P4R5s-6o

https://pastorpete.wordpress.com/lifelessons/homeless-by-choice-george-holecz-and-his-journey-home/

 

I am not good at not wielding power!

I currently feed myself by being the caretaker in a summer Camp run by a church. I was the chaplain last summer and am biding my time until that role kicks in for 2010 again.

Recently, delegated regional leaders from the various congregations met and decided to put the Camp up for sale, hoping they can find a buyer who will commit to protecting the increasingly rare environmental treasure the camp is, and who will let Christian camp ministry continue. If both are accomplished there is no doubt God will have had to be active.

I was witness to this process as an employee. I was not an active delegate, not an appointed clergy person, I was merely an employee of the camp witnessing others undertaking the process of making a choice. It was agony! Being powerless to the point even of being voiceless pushed many of my buried inner buttons. And in that there was a lot of hard learning for me.

I need to admit that I failed to remain powerless. I “used” my knowledge with words and process and cashed in on my awareness that I had some respect – some ‘trust equity’ in the room – to finagle a chance to address the decision making body. So I failed to accept my powerlessness and clutched and grabbed for power anyway. I largely knew what I was doing. I didn’t strategize to accomplish it, but when little opportunities presented themselves, I instinctively leveraged them, I pried them bigger, so I could have a voice and feel empowered. Others did not have the opportunity. They were kept powerless. How frustrating that must be.

I didn’t know until this series of events how much I need to have power and voice. Alternatively also, I became freshly aware how much as a clergy person I was used having extra power and was accustomed to ‘managing’ such processes. In the past I “presumed” it was my responsibility to maneuver every step of things in a certain direction. If I were up on the podium, I would believe I was “doing my job” in that manipulation. So I was not angry so much at the leaders. I was astounded at how it felt to be on the receiving end of that kind of treatment, and astonished at how badly I needed to be the one dishing it out rather than receiving it. I don’t believe these words I’m typing can adequately share how frightening that is and how afraid of my sick need for power makes me. It does.

 

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Twist of faith

The last Saturday of November started out as one of those kinda aimless days. I had a bit of work-work to do and I had some house work also. Deep down I was an unhappy camper for reasons I can’t always get at. I just know what I feel, not why.

Earlier, I had come to the awareness I am content with my work situation, but I am not fulfilled in it.

In conversing with God about this the way I do, I made pretty clear I was discouraged, and I desperately needed something to strengthen my confidence and hope for the future. And just in case the wireless heaven-line was busy that first time, I repeated it. “Hello: I need a new sign of hope.” It was said in various ways with various levels of lament or gate-of-heaven smashing defiance. A few requests found the happy humbler middle.

I went about my day, tugging my proverbial bootstraps as if by moving the boots I was motivating me.

It worked. I got busy and my request for new hope – for a sign from God – became a vague darkness in the back of my mind and depths of my heart. I remained alert for signals, looking for them to come in ways I expected: an email from a church inquiring further about hiring me; or a phone call from the bank saying there’d been an error in calculations for all my life and they had $10,000 for me… that kind of thing. Nada. None of that happened. I was watching carefully, remember!

During the week I had written a report to the board in of the camp I live and work in, a report in which among the good things I had to share I had mentioned two things I was dissatisfied with, two things that frustrated me in my work. One was an extremely slow desk computer, the other was a lack of a reversible drill, either corded or cordless to make some of my repair tasks more efficient. Numerous times I had done repetitive screw turning by hand. Reporting these irritants was more about venting and getting things known. It was done without serious expectation of change. Maybe it was even a precursor to the glum feelings Saturday morning. It likely had some self-pity in it. I’m good at that (He said with insecurity-covering-ego-pride, another thing he’s good at).

Well, I need to tell you that it wasn’t until this morning, the day of writing this, Sunday, when I picked something up from where I had set it down yesterday that I realized very unusual, non-coincidental, sign-like things had happened, and I missed them completely, even though I was part of it. I made no connection in the moment.

Saturday a lady came to the camp to do some cleaning as a volunteer. As I went over to check if there was anything she needed and to describe what I’d done to prepare for her arrival, she opened her trunk and said “could you use a cordless drill? And I have a cordless screwdriver here too. Here, take them. I don’t have a use for them.” And so I picked them up, duly thanked her dully and started walking toward the camp workshop to put them away. She said: “No no no, keep them in your house, use them for yourself” and so, my steps a little lighter with a load that was now mine, I dropped them off in my back room and went back out into the dull weather to do some things.

Later, the two guys from the camp board who do the property work came. They said “We’re here to see if we can speed up your computer with new memory chips and a cleanup, and Pete, we brought you a cordless drill” to which I replied “I already got one” and I fetched it and enjoyed seeing their tool envy. I can’t remember ever having others envy tools I had. But still, I was nonchalant in the bigger picture sense of things. No lights were going on for me.

Nothing registered until Sunday, when I pulled the cordless drill out of it’s neatly compartmentalized box with bits and attachments each with their own cubby, and I realized it had two batteries with the charger, it was a 14.4 volt Mastercraft (newer units, I knew, had voltages in the teens, older ones were below 10), a nice darker blue colour that I like with bright yellow buttons, it had an adjustable clutch for if you were either drilling or driving screws, it was not only reversible but had two speeds and, most significant, it looked like it had probably been used once on a Sunday afternoon it was so clean and unscathed. And I held it in my hand, and felt the heft and balance of it and imagined the torque and whine of it, and the ability to reverse and to adjust the clutch… and I realized something unique had indeed happened the day before.

For this lady to show up with a drill, particularly not knowing anything of my whine in my report, and then for those guys to arrive ready to address my concerns when I didn’t expect it, well I had to admit it was notable or remarkable at the very least, and worth a silent restrained-Reformed “thank you Lord” (Hallelujahs are too charismatic in such situations, as is Holy Celebration Dance). And for it all to happen that same day, within hours of my lament! Quite something. I’m not sure how to interpret the sign though. I’m reluctant to give it too much meaning. I’m watching my email still, and waiting for the bank to call…

Somewhere in me I know my problem is that I’m missing the billboard message. I’m missing it because I’m not liking it. It doesn’t fit my plan, my agenda, my hopes and aspirations. God seems, at least at the time of writing, to be reinforcing me where I am with hope signals on request. My problem is my agenda is not the same as Gods.
Who’s going to change agenda’s first?
Stay tuned. The batteries are charging. Will a green light go on for Pete, or will it stay red?

 

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The pain of a friend’s death

I got a call this morning that one of my male friends – the rare kind that you can call anytime about anything – died suddenly of heart failure. I am writing him a farewell letter that I will share with the family, since I won’t be able to make it to the funeral.

Here is an early draft:

Well Henry, what you used to say turned out to be true. I’m hurting. You’re the one who told me you wanted people to hurt, in words something like this: “if it doesn’t hurt to say goodbye, you haven’t connected, so I want it to hurt to say goodbye.” Knowing you are physically gone hurts. So you did it! As I think this, I can hear you, your softly rumbling voice in the memory of my head saying a resolute but unsmug “Well. Good!”

And as I hear that the hurting turns mysteriously comfortable. Oh pain is still there, but the warmth of that flagrantly open and honest admission I know you would make spills down my face and I feel lighter… yet more grounded, and I find myself celebrating the connection we had, and it becomes hard to tell what kind of tears these actually are. They are glad-sad tears, and then they are sad-glad. There is joy in them, gladness about the connection that can’t be erased by your death, value in the experiences we shared, appreciation of the enduring wisdom of the insights we were led to together in our many seemingly rambling yet Life-finding conversations.

Our first meeting comes to mind. My second sermon as a student pastor. After, you came barreling up to me at some point and said words like “I’ll bet your professors love that sermon, but it didn’t do Dick-all for me!” Just what a rookie preacher LOVES to hear. But I needed to hear it. Truly. For I was in danger of heading off into preaching a heady gospel I was learning about at Seminary.

We became friends out of that somehow, and you introduced me to the gospel of the Sow-minary. A Gospel that fits the pig-pen of life. Today, partly due to how God used you to direct the shaping of me, I am no longer a pastor, but am working in the pig-pen of Addiction treatment, because church work was in part too neat, too tidy, too boxed in, and the whitewash baked on too well, the manure pit too unreachable to be able to raise a healthy stink that meant the land was being made fertile again.

So now I’m helping wean addicts off the swill they’ve been using and become addicted to because they believed that they should NOT feel, so they did not learn to acknowledge they have a soul, a spirit, and did not learn to nurture it, and came to find themselves in a hell where nothing would numb the inevitable inner pain that results. And they appreciate learning, slowly, how to feel and acknowledge and express pain and other feelings. They come to Life as they learn to get rid of their manure. So thanks for that Henry.

There is much more. I’m sure over the days more will come to mind. You and your outlook not only resonated with me, but they are woven into the fabric of who I am now, and the threads you put in are hard to identify.

Some memories that are flooding back can’t be shared in such a public way, such as some of the experiences we had making Elder visits. For a couple of these I still haven’t figured out what exactly happened, they are not explained in any expert’s book (you’re the one who gave me a new understanding of Expert: “Ex” means before, or used to, and “pert” standing for pertinent, so an expert is someone who used to be pertinent. The real pro’s are the ones who are still doing it). But the book I find the most similar stories in is the Bible. And the moving force in those events was definitely Spiritual and beyond or above what you and I were capable of. You encouraged me to explore these things. Yet I don’t think you ever did that intentionally. You went with whatever came, and I tagged along. Hmmm. Sounds like discipleship to me…

I still use some of the Semordnilapses and other word games you introduced me to now and then. Yeah, you didn’t know that’s what they were, but I just looked it up, and its the word palindromes read backwards. like LIVE and EVIL, and especially LIVED and DEVIL as an illustration that if we live in the past looking only backwards then the devil is likely having a heyday.

By now, you might be getting a big swell headed, so I need to remind you that you could be pig-headed too, and get so locked into something that the world outside of you would disappear. I remember the time you called me and begged me to come home with you because you knew you had really blown it with Jean out in the offsite barn preparing pigs for shipping, and you had been so trapped in your own stinking thinking that you totally trampled on normal conversation and created a chaos that met Jean’s inner wounds with salt… and well, you and Jean know the rest of the story, it’s not mine to tell. But boy did I learn about me trying to help you!

Around you is where I learned to make use of an ability to see patterns, to see when there is likely something behind what appears to be going on, like the Wizard behind the curtain. I just used that ability effectively just yesterday, where a group was amazed when all I did was show clear patterns in someone’s story.

A woman was talking about sneaking cookies before going to sleep at night and how that was wreaking havock with her Diabetes. She had already talked about other things she did to numb pain, and how she doesn’t remember having feelings since being 5 years old. She talked about how she has nerve damage in her feet from her diabetes and how that damage is traveling up her legs. Then she talked about how she has lived most of her life feeling as if she was only “living only in the top half” of existence. So I named the patterns I heard her speak of: I hear you say your life is about numbing your pain, and you are eating extra cookies at night to do that, just like you used alcohol at night before, and you feel like you are missing half of life and your abusive sugar intake is causing you to go numb from your feet upward. That alarms me!” The stunned reaction of all present when I said that surprised me. I keep forgetting that not everyone listens and looks for patterns and what might be said via them.

I remember exploring with you if there might be another way to avoid overeating other than willpower, because we both saw that deciding NOT to eat the cookie made us WANT the cookie more. And I began to learn to look at the cookie and not even want or need it, and it would stop “calling me.”

From that my mind wanders over to another shared learning, namely that “Humility pursued is already lost” or any virtue pursued can’t be gained by reaching for it. If you decide to be humble today, you are not likely to succeed, because you will be measuring all you do on a humility scale, and the moment you think you are doing well, any humility you had is gone. It’s so simple. Yet it’s profound.

What’s even more bizarre is that once you see that and let go of any need to be humble, people start calling you humble.

Henry, you were a humble, wise man. It hurts to know you’re gone. And that is good.