Thursday, January 28, 2010

45 I Still Believe

One of the truths of life that most people come to realize is that life has consequences, sometimes not immediate and sometimes unperceived, but always existent in one form or another. The damage that I had inflicted on my marriage and on Shannon resulted in me losing balance and all the drama you’ve read about, but the truth is that I continued to damage both her and Natalie after that suspension. It wasn’t intentional harm; it was just dealing with my own confused emotions and pain but it was still wrong. We all continued to try to figure out what to do but while working from our tenderness we were still both hurting, and once Natalie found someone else, she decided that everything was entirely my fault. It is a pattern far too often in our relationships that when we find a replacement for someone who has hurt us, then we remember ourselves as meritorious and others as being the cause of the failure. Natalie would paint me to some of our mutual friends as manipulative and herself as just some victim. This was a hard sell to anyone as she consistently was the one who came to my house and called me just as often as I called her. Neither I nor these friends denied that there was plenty of faults on my side but Natalie’s ears were deaf to the fact that blame went both directions. There were times where she’d leave me multiple voicemails in one night thinking I was avoiding her when I simply hadn’t gotten any of them. She had always been a girl of intense emotions and once I was the recipient of her anger, it came with conviction. There was a time where her first therapist, a non school one, had decided that I should be brought in to do a therapy session. During that session, I was as honest as I could be about the fact that I did have feelings for her and perhaps always would but that I needed to be faithful to my wife. She tried to point out to me that this was about me worrying about my career, that she and I had a “deeper connection.” I didn’t acknowledge that but responded that I’d made a choice at that point and that my main problem was when I hadn’t been making choices. Shortly after that was when she met David and our conversations ceased very quickly.
Natalie held on to her anger and would try over the next few months to affect negative change in my life. At New Horizons, where she had worked before I did as a substitute, was the first of what I should have read as a warning sign. In one of those odd things, she was scheduled to substitute for me on a day I was supposed to leave early. She had not shown up and so I had to call her from work and she said she wasn’t coming in. I was able to find another sub but had to explain the management that she had not been able to come in. While I did my best, as perhaps I am doing here, to minimize any wrong doing on her part, it was hard to do without explaining all the history between us (which I did not do). She showed up the following business day with her mother and tried to make the case that they should fire me. My manager let her know at that meeting that she would no longer be needed as a sub. She then talked to me about the event afterward and said that she couldn’t understand why someone in the twenties would a) be bringing their mother with them to explain things and b) let their mother do all the talking. My manager very pointedly said “that girl has issues that I can’t figure out.”
Still that wasn’t the last time that we would continue to clash. Apparently, after Natalie had completed all of her degree requirements, she felt the need to let the school know that we had violated the agreement of not keeping in touch. As I’ve heard it told, there was a frenzy of activity among school officials about whether or not to let Shannon, Natalie, and I march. Natalie wanted to be allowed to march and have us not do so, making the argument she should be exempt because she had been forthcoming after the fact. The school didn’t buy that because the explicit understanding was that if we kept in contact, then we all could likely be expelled and they were wise enough to see that it was too convenient for her to come forth with no personal risk. I was completely unaware of it while it was all happening. Truth be told, I actually didn’t want to march; I’d lost any desire for the pomp and circumstance plus it would be a reminder that someone else was giving the Class President speech. I was marching because I was the first in my family to graduate from college and my mother had flown in to see it. However, when she saw me, she was less than pleased with my longer hair. Anyway, we graduated and despite all that had gone wrong, when they announced my name, I was still the student they spent the longest time on. The school had a habit of announcing your name and certain of your accomplishment. Because I had graduated with two degrees, multiple honor societies, with honors and suma cum laude, they had to give credit where it was due. Ironically, the person who had to do that was Ileana Douglas who had told me I should be expelled. It well may have been imagined but I was certain there was disdain in her voice and in all frankness, it was not imagined that there was some satisfaction in hearing her having to spend the time reciting accolades.

I missed again a great point of grace when several of the senior class officers and a few students who knew of all that had gone wrong stood up to clap when my name and accomplishments were announced, partly due to the fact that I was in a hurry to get off the stage. But the point of grace that I didn’t miss was that when Natalie’s name was announced, Shannon stood up and cheered more loudly than she did for anyone else in all of the graduations we’ve attended before or since. When I asked her why she had done it, she said that she really was happy that we’d all gotten here and that she hoped Natalie well.

My mother stayed a few days after graduation as we showed her around Napa Valley and around San Francisco and then she flew back home. The day she left everything started unraveling again. Dr. Paulson let me know that the school would be recommending to the Marshall Islands that I not be allowed to go. The mission trip where I was going to be allowed to speak at let me know that I would no longer be. The director, Steve Case, was incredibly generous about it but said that he had to defer to his staff. The invitation to speak at my old church in South Bay was rescinded. The emotions of rejection and anger and everything I’d started to work towards again all came flaring up again. All the progress I had made up until that point was erased and I was further back than I’d ever been.

I made the mistake of calling Natalie and left a message saying that I’d like to talk to her and settle this so we could both move on. A few hours later, I had a voicemail from her boyfriend David saying that she was pursuing a restraining order and that there was court set up a few days hence. In between that time and court, she apparently tried to get various faculty members and a few of our friends who had been involved in the situation to come to court but none of them would. In court, she claimed that the letter that I had made apologizing and that the phone call I had made a few days before asking to talk were threatening. In California, there are two different kinds of restraining orders; there is one that last three years and another that lasts for a lifetime. She further elaborated that I was so dangerous that I needed to be ordered to be kept away from her, her boyfriend, and all of her family for the rest of their lives. The judge ended up being a level headed fellow and asked the right question; could she produce any of these so called threatening letters? He appeared skeptical when she responded that she was so scared she had thrown them all away. When asked about the threatening voicemail, she said that they had erased it so as not to hear it again. Anyway, no restraining order was issued for any length of time with the judge telling me that with a record of a hearing at court, obviously I would be wise to never speak to Natalie or her family again unless I actually wanted a restraining order. I’ve felt horrible about all that happened and wished that I could offer an apology to Natalie but she’d made it clear she was happy to move on without one. That court session was the last time I saw her and it is an incredibly painful memory that someone who had been a friend and a lover had this kind of ending.

The summer continued to be a time of confusion but eventually the Marshall Islands decided they would allow me to come with or without the school’s blessing and because I had no job prospects and had raised several thousand dollars for this project, I thought we should continue with this plan. Truth was all the uncertainty and perplexity made me appreciate the opportunity to take some time away. Shannon and I could probably use the time to heal without jobs that were going to turn into careers and I was still open to the fact that maybe I should try to rebuild both my faith in my God and in my religion. This was becoming less likely in my view as I had at some level passed the buck on my failures on faith but I still missed God. The soundtrack concept had already begun and I heard a song then that I applied to God. It was Mariah Carey’s, “I still believe.” Like a teenage girl, I’d listen to it with angst in my heart and tears in my eyes:

I know it’s crazy, but you still can touch my heart
And after all this time you think that I wouldn’t feel the same
But time melts into nothing, and nothing's changed

I still believe
Someday you and me
Will find ourselves
In love again

Each day of my life, I’m filled with all the joy I could find
You know that I, I'm not the desperate type
If there’s one spark of hope left in my grasp,
I'm holding it with both hands
It’s worth the risk of burning, to have a second chance

Maybe the Marshall Islands would have that second chance.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

44 Losing My Religion

Though normalcy was never established, a new pattern emerged and things started to get into a new groove, awkward and painful that it was. I restarted my 1000 days of running and life began to settle.

However, my frustration with the theology department both students and professors, with pastors and religious people kept eating away at me. These were God’s representatives and frankly the vast majority of them were being fairly mean and smug about their superiority. How hollow this all felt had helped me give up on my belief systems. Truth was that I was finding more peace from day to day without thinking about that. Since life wasn’t suddenly easier and at least temporarily better without it, I assumed and decided that the lack of religion might well be the better way.

The college had a policy that if students had fulfilled their chapel requirements throughout their academic career that they were excused from it the last part of their senior year. I had done so, of course, and being excused from it was one of the best and worst things that ever happened to me.

And in the midst of this, an event occurred which still strikes me as how funny life is. I was driving out near the school and there was someone hitchhiking. I picked up the guy and he looked remarkably familiar; we glanced at each other both did a double take and then I said, “hold on, before anything else, what is your name man?” It was Jeff and it was the same environmental engineer I had picked up years before. We chitchatted and caught up like we were old friends; this time instead of being so smug about ministering to him, I was happier to listen. He had recently had his sleeping bag ruined and by coincidence I had a sleeping bag in my trunk and after I drove him to exactly where he had to go, I gave him the sleeping bag and spend the rest of the drive very intrigued by the coincidences of life.

Shannon and I were making progress with each other, remembering that there was a long standing connection both historically and emotionally. I started to realize that I had made some big mistakes, the hurt and anger were still deep and began to thaw but it was years away from being made right. I focused on the few friends from college that I still have, the ones who had been my friends through it all and had not suddenly decided they were too good to be friends with such a deep sinner as me. Friends who are not your friends when its not convenient were never actually your friends.

My mind was still a quagmire, trying to reconcile why, WHY had I thrown away a dream 15 years in the making that had been achieved. But I spent as much time distracting myself from that thought as I could. I started bringing my laptop to almost all my classes and was using it to play computer games in the back of the class. I started playing pool more and going out with friends to eat at Denny’s until 2 o’clock the morning. I kept focusing on the play, almost any distraction would do.

The other thing that happened then was that I was writing my senior Honors thesis. It was about God asking Abraham to kill Isaac. I looked at tons of different angles, the Christian one, the Muslim one, the Jewish one, Freud’s, Jung’s and various others. Then I presented my own: it may well have been projecting but my position was essentially that this story might be best interpreted as Abraham imagining something that God wanted wanted. The request appeared so unreasonable that I chose to think that it was Abraham who was unreasonable rather than God. The position was more complex and more elegant than this and I found that people in general were rather receptive to it but theology types were really bothered by it.

As my fatter, longer haired self started to get more at ease with life, I started to feel incredibly guilty about what I had done to Natalie. The conversations between us had stopped abruptly and not cleanly. I wrote a letter to her apologizing at length about all of the events that had occurred. The initial events were wrong enough but the handling it afterwards were just as bad with me even having taken back a piece of jewelry I had given her and given it Shannon. I believe she even saw Shannon wearing it once, Shannon’s own way of dealing with it. None of it from any of our angles was healthy. She never responded to the letter but I had hoped that it would be received well.

In the midst of all this, as the school year rounded out, an old friend called. Leandro Bizama, from high school, called to check on me. We had been in contact with each other throughout the crisis and he had been supportive and very kind and now he had an idea. He knew that my mind and approach was still in a dark place but he thought that maybe, just maybe there was still something there worth salvaging. He was going to be going to the Marshall Islands for two years as a missionary; specifically a high school teacher and the school needed another religion teacher and another English teacher, mine and Shannon’s degrees. I blew him off and told him it was a ridiculously stupid idea and that I was quite done with all this. Apparently over the next couple of weeks, he talked to Shannon a few times and sold her on the idea and she slowly and methodically started working on trying to get me to do it. Some of the people I talked to really liked the idea, they figured if I could succeed out there plus be a way for a couple of years, I would have re-earned my wings. Back in high school, our academy had put on a Jewish Seder. We had tried to replicate it as best as we could with the food and customs although we obviously violated one gigantic concept as we had the tables set up in the shape of a cross. Still, I did it all in earnest including taking in the bitter herbs in their entirety (most people passed them up after barely trying them). Not too long after the event, I completely lost my lunch all over the lobby. Leandro and Shannon cleaned it up for me and then each of them kind of sat with me and patted my back and tried to help me feel better. This attempt to get me to go to the Marshall Islands felt remarkably similar.

Eventually, they prevailed on me but I wasn’t in the right frame of mind. I said to myself and to several people at the time that I had failed God, my faith and the church and that I was going to the Marshall Islands to pay penance and then I was done. They pointed out the obvious fact that we weren’t Catholic and didn’t pay penance and I retorted that it sure felt like plenty of the people over the last few months. This was not the best frame of mind to go with but I always work best with a goal in my mind and set my mind to raising money for this project. I raised a couple of thousand dollars which was far more than more people ever raised for these projects. I’m not anything if not hardworking and not enthusiastic.

With that in my mind, I felt a little more at ease and so I started to look forward to being a missionary. I also took a speaking invitation to go do an evangelistic series down in Mexico shortly after graduation, a sermon late in the summer at the South Bay Adventist Church. But it was a mistake because I was now heading to graduate as a theology major, taking sermon invitations, and heading to be a missionary with faith being merely a functionary attribute, something that for the first time I gave more lip service to than I felt. Still I was not just abiding my time to graduate and move away from this place and to paying penance.

43 Somewhere in the Night

The next few weeks and months were a complete nightmare or at least that’s how I overdramatized them to myself. Feeling like I had failed at everything in my life and not ready to face up to it, I started to lose my sense of identity. For the first and only time in my life, I grew out my hair and started shaving less regularly. I started to gain weight; having thrown away 600 plus days of running, I was running two or three times a week if at all. I also got into emotional eating, enjoying oreos and too many things just to get through the day or night. My sleep schedule was sporadic at best and inexplicably I would wake up in tears or frightened from a nightmare I could not remember. My days of waking up in a good more were suddenly suspended.

The practices for A Midsummer Night’s Dream were the highlight of my life at that point. I don’t know whether it was ironic or appropriate that pretending to be someone else was when I felt the most at ease in my life. I had always been part of dramatic endeavors throughout high school and college but they were mostly an amusement. I started putting together these dinner parties that were murder mysteries that were fun but were also pretending to follow a character. I was pretending every chance I could get because pretending was now therapy.

Speaking of therapy, I went to it but and while it started well, it became one of the most dishonest things in my life. I had grown unreasonably mistrustful of almost everything and believed that the therapist was somehow going to report what we did in therapy to the school since he was employed by them. I therefore feared being forthright and also thought that perhaps if I could paint myself as better to him that maybe there would be a path back to all that had faded so fast. He never did either and merely reported whether or not I had shown up to our weekly appointments.

Shannon would not move back in for a while and during that time I was still regularly in contact with Natalie. There were times we even met late at night to see each other; we would pretend like it was to talk in person but there was rarely any talking. This was due to many factors but one of them was that I wasn’t sure how much I blamed her for my problems. She was proposing that we wait this out and that we then start a life with each other; she had a ten point plan that sounded incredibly attractive. I thought about it constantly and I didn’t pursue it as much because of the history I had with Shannon as the fact that it would almost certainly make sure that my career in the ministry wouldn’t be resurrected. A number of people were concerned with this; it bothered Shannon to no end that at times it seemed more were concerned with that than with the fixing of our marriage. There were days if you’d asked which one of those two I would pick if it excluded the other I wouldn’t have had a good answer. There were plenty of days I might have said both but just as many where I would have said neither.

I continued to try to connect with God, trying to listen for a direction, for some validation, for some hope or some measure of grace. While in retrospect I imagine there were things that I could have interpreted as such, at the time, I actively missed them. Joseph Charles, one of the theology majors, would come by and take me running, probably being responsible for about 80% of my runs during that time. Sal Garcia, another theology major would come by and just talk, carefully if not consciously avoiding anything heavy. Myron Widmer, one of the theology professors, said that he didn’t know what happened nor was it any of his business but that I should know there was a friend there. Julia and Orlando regularly checked on me. But where I focused was that by and large, lots of the psychology majors and professors were the people who were most prominently there. Professors like Dr. Fulton and Dr. Schneider were consistently there to lend an ear. Students like Winter, Christi, Rose were always lending smiles and were the few friends who kept coming over as if nothing had happened. Perhaps because I was uncomfortable with how I had failed my faith, the vast majority of people I was talking to at the time were people whose faith was not a significant part of their life.

But I was severely off balance and therefore rigorously not focusing on kindness. The gossip around campus was heavy with it almost all being focused on me. Shannon was amused once when while waiting for me in a campus lobby, a couple of students passed by and said hey wasn’t that guy the theology major who was suspended for having threesomes while sitting on a couch across from her. The academic dean scheduled a meeting with me to encourage me to not march because I was an embarrassment to the school and making sure to point out that the discipline committee had gotten it wrong and should have expelled me. The chair of the honor department, now a college president, was working hard at trying to convince the honors committee that I should not be allowed to graduate with honors. The professor of the theology senior seminar, now the chair, was bothered by how angry I was coming across in class and spoke to Greg King about how maybe it would be best if I took this class independent study to be less of a bad influence on the rest of the theology majors. What I missed then was that none of those things had happened! I was incredibly angry because there were people who had wanted harsher things but I overlooked the fact that none of those things prevailed.

That anger kept taking me to darker places where I was sometimes yelling at Natalie, other times at Shannon, other times at God, and not nearly often enough at myself. I am not sure which was the cause and which was the effect but in a vicious cycle, the theology department, both faculty and students, withdrew themselves from me and most of my friends became people who had little to no use for religion. I kept complaining to anyone who would hear about how we talked about grace until people actually needed it, not cluing in on just how much I had received. Dr. Paulson, the dean of the school, gave me the sagest advice that I would receive then but I would see it as nonsense at the time. She let me know that I was talking way too much and that maybe I should realize that through this time silence was a better route. She said “less is more” but I interpreted it only as one more person who was just trying to get me to sit down and shut up.

I got a new job then through somewhere that Natalie recommended me. It was a group home working with juvenile delinquents trying to straighten them out for the real world. The place was called appropriately enough New Horizons. The job they offered me was 8 hours on Friday evens and 15 hours on all day Saturday. This effectively meant that I was working the entire time I was conscious on the Sabbath thus ending my church attendance. This was a mixed bag because it allowed me to get some distance from it but it also let me think that I was fine if not actually better without church and God. I started to realize or at least imagine that I was far more like those juvenile delinquents than I was like the people at PUC. I was a minority, raised in poverty who had never been part of the main crowd; I was not like those privileged middle class kids who I’d been attending school with for so long. I decided to become a victim of my own life and interpret these events as not that big of a deal. It was just these conservative, republican up tight puritans who just had such a narrow world view who couldn’t handle it. When we have a hard time living with what we did, its amazing how many of us want to blame anyone but ourselves.

Natalie also needed an escape pod. She had always had an obsession with the biblical character David, making comments about his story and loving pieces of art dedicated to him. She started hanging out with a guy who she eventually began to date who was named David of all things. When the relationship was still relatively new and she and I were still meeting and not talking, she confided many things about him to me. She was disappointed if not angry that I wasn’t more jealous but at that point I was so emotionally exhausted I could have barely managed it if I’d tried. This, thankfully, led her to draw closer to him and away from me. He, never having met me, only had a limited perspective but as our conversations started to dwindle away she seemed to be painting a picture that I was a manipulative jerk and he was reinforcing it in his pursuit of her in a cycle that reinforced their connection.

There was even a time where I was talking with Natalie on the phone where I couldn’t figure out why she was vehemently denying some less than flattering things she’d said about him until I realized he was listening in. While we haven’t had contact since then, I understand she eventually married him and they are doing well together.

As I felt more and more alone during this time, my prayers eventually all but ceased and my care about these things then started to fade. God, his department and his church had failed me when I needed them most and those people who were most disconnected from those ideas had been there the most.

42 Crazy

The next few days are blurry at best. I am not sure why this happened but I think because of both the public nature of fallout and who I was, the school was compelled to react and held a disciplinary committee meeting to determine the fate of the three of us. Shannon was off in Texas and could not represent herself so she wrote several lengthy pages about her view on it. It was shredded afterwards and I never saw it and one of the people on the committee told me to not try to but that that if I ever did to realize that it was one point in time for Shannon and to see it as such. Natalie and I both took turns before the committee and spoke with each other in the lobby and also at some length with each other afterwards. It was a few days before Christmas when all of this broke down. While at the time this thought never crossed my mind, it must have been incredibly inconvenient and bothersome for those faculty to have their Christmas break ruined by my drama. I don’t envy their role, having to figure out what to do with this poster boy kid who most of them had embraced mentally. Most of them had at least done it physically… To have been a fly on the wall of that room…

I don’t remember how long the decision took but I’m almost certain they didn’t decide it for a few days. The silence was just eating away at me because I had no clue to what would happen. The president of the college, Richard Osborn, was kind enough to sit down with me during that time and while showing the fact that he was disappointed conveyed a great kindness about the fact that humanity was hard and that he would make sure I wasn’t expelled for this. (Over the next few months, there would be multiple kindnesses like this, there would even be some kindnesses that I would grossly misinterpret because I was off balance and because I chose to focus on the people who were being cruel. As this story continues, know that when I tell those stories, I am not trying to be a victim of my own life, I am just reflecting what I remember and trying to tell the story honestly). Dr. Ashworth was on the discipline committee and I still can’t decide how I feel about the fact that he said this showed “a consistent character” issue because of things that he “knew about but wasn’t at liberty to share.” I go back and forth between appreciating that he didn’t say it but a little annoyance at that he referred to the previous episode.

Natalie had previously planned to spend Christmas with her father (her parents were split up). Shannon was at her parents and had made it clear she didn’t want to talk to me. I had gone from having both of their time and attention to neither. I was just planning on staying at home alone; I’d had a couple of invites but they were pity ones. I had actually left the light and the heater off the entire time after Shannon went home so I was consistently literally in the cold and dark. Natalie’s mother was kind enough to invite me over for Christmas eve and I went. She had apparently spent a good part of the day cooking up really good food and I went there and because I was in crisis mode, I went there and verbally beat myself up in front of her and didn’t eat any of her food. The incredible rudeness of this didn’t strike me for several days.

I went home and the phone rang around 8:00 PM. It was Shannon and she finally was ready to talk, not necessarily about the crisis but just talk. We had a history of five years and she wasn’t ready to throw it away though she was thinking about it. So we talked and talked and talked, sometimes about what was going on, sometimes about what the last few days had been like, sometimes awkward painful conversation, at points venomous angry conversation. We have a tradition of hanging up an ornament representing the most important event of the year on Christmas Eve and that was the only time we weren’t together but I did it while talking to her on the phone. It was an Eiffel Tower, representing our trip to Paris that summer. The conversation just kept continuing with no sign up wrapping up and then I noticed the time. It was 11:30PM.

After the initial hundred days of running right before our marriage, I had decided to run a thousand consecutive days. At this point, I was at over 600 days and suddenly I had a very odd decision to make. In order to make these 1000 days work, my ocd had led me to pull over the car and run in dress clothes at 11:30 at night, to run up and down stairs in a subway in New York at 11:30 at night, to get up at the crack of dawn because I would be crossing the international date line (always had to be local time). I considered than finding an excuse to get off the phone just to keep the streak going. The conversation wasn’t really going anywhere as some of it was just rehashing many things but this was the first chance she’d given me to talk to her. I weighed it out and decided to stay on the phone which I did until almost 2:00 on the morning, her 4:00 AM. We fell asleep on the phone.

The school eventually came back with the decision that we were all suspended for 1 week, we were forbidden from talking to each other (unless Shannon decided that she wanted to fix our marriage), we would have to go to therapy until our graduation that June. This meant that some classes had to be rearranged (Shannon and Natalie were in the same major) and for a brief moment our role in the school production was up in the air. The school yearly put on a play and Shannon, Natalie and I had all tried out for it. That year it Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dreams. Shannon and I both had tried out for the part of Puck and she had gotten it but they liked me enough to bring me back and gave me the part of Lysander. Natalie had not gotten a part. It was ironic that in the midst of all this I was cast in a part where I go back and forth between being in love with two girls. Shannon fairly quickly decided to officially state that we were going to try so the ban on us speaking was lifted. In addition to this, the school required me to resign from pastoring the two churches and from being senior class president.

Shannon came back to PUC and to her credit and my chagrin; she moved out and moved in with a friend that I’d introduced her to, Donica Ward. My pride wouldn’t allow me to admit this to essentially anyone and while it was fairly obvious to many friends and neighbors this had occurred, I don’t believe I ever owned up to it to anyone.

I’ve always been the kind of guy who has an excessive amount of energy and to all of a sudden have no job, no positions, no wife living with me and everyone gone on Christmas break was driving me nuts. They then got back and it was worse. The school had further added that during the week I was suspended I wasn’t allowed to step on campus so I was in exile in my own home with no wife. My friends for the most part didn’t know what was going on so they didn’t know to come by and I was still so ashamed and proud that I couldn’t face up to any of them. Plus the school gave us this vague directive about the fact we weren’t allowed to talk about its decision. The Angwin church was on campus so I figured I couldn’t go to that either and it wouldn’t make sense to go to either of the churches I had pastured so even on Sabbath I was home alone. I tried to pray and talk to God on those days but it felt hollow from both ends. More earnestness didn’t seem to help the situation and the prayers got less frequent.

All of this pent up emotion and confusion had me on edge. So the Sabbath that was two days before we were scheduled to start classes, in a frenzy and an act of desperation, I threw a bunch of my clothes into my car and was headed to Texas to my mother’s house. I didn’t have much of a game plan beyond that, whether or not I would continue college or not or graduate at all wasn’t crossing my mind. I got as far as Napa where I got a cell phone and for some reason I checked my answering machine messages before heading out and there was a message from Greg King, the chair of the theology department, asking me to come to his house. I drove back the half hour to campus and he tried to get me to stay, saying I still could have a bright future. His wife then said what was meant to be a very kind thing but is probably still the most painful thing anyone’s ever said to me: “Satan is out to get the best and the brightest and you let him do that with you.” I was a long way from home.

41 Fallin' Apart

Shannon and I, oddly enough, went to New York that year for Thanksgiving. We were going to go the year before but because of the 9/11 attacks had put it off for a year. We had a good time going to the museums, catching a couple of shows, seeing all that New York has to offer. Part of the reason it was a good time was that we were away from Natalie but it was a very uncomfortable vacation. There was en elephant in the room or rather across the continent that was weighing in on us. Truth be told I was still very much in love with my wife but I was also in love with another girl and that couldn’t be held. The I love NY things everywhere certainly contributed to the tension.

We had a couple of arguments and even spent some time apart doing some things on our own. We were staying with her family and the tension at points was thick enough to where frankly speaking, they thought I was a jerk. There’s no way to spin that they were completely right, that Shannon was asking me to stop this stupid experiment and get back to real life, the one with her that I had committed to.

Shannon and Natalie’s friendship faded fast and quickly it became evident that this was not sustainable. But I was loathe to quit all that I was doing wrong, almost if not worse than a drug addict. Natalie was too hesitant in quitting as well, perhaps because she thought this was the only way to deal with her emotions for me. I pushed the point of no return when Shannon went to a dinner of the theology departments to represent me and found out that I had been with Natalie and not at anything of consequence. We had a gigantic fight in the car that night and I essentially dared her to leave. This was shortly after the Christmas break has started. We had just finished our finals and had no real commitments except work for almost a month.

When we got back to the house, Shannon called my bluff, got out of the car and walked away. I tried to walk after her but it became painfully obvious that for the time being, she was not going to be stopped. I called Natalie and explained to her the drama and she said she would be right over. As corny as it may sound, it was a dark and stormy night when she left. It was windy, rainy and about as miserable weather as you can imagine in Angwin, California. To cap off a perfect evening, the power even went out. In my mind, the utilities and the firmament were laughing at me.

I had laid down the gauntlet and Shannon would break it. She came in with Craig Philpott who kept insisting “he was only a guy holding a flashlight” though he told Natalie that she should go. Natalie had some lame answer to that. I wished the verbiage was a little more dramatic but I can’t remember any of it so it must not have been. They packed up some stuff and then they left. And then…Natalie and I were in the dark.

We talked for a while…wondered what Shannon would do…I asked Natalie to stay because I wanted her there…no, I just didn’t want to be alone…or maybe I wanted her there…I don’t know. She left nonetheless and in the biggest stupor of my life, amidst quiet, angry tears, I fell asleep.

At 3’o clock in the morning, I woke up, rather I was woken up. There was Craig again, with the flashlight and the same line and Shannon getting more stuff. I tried to get her to talk. She refused to engage me. Then she left. Again.

I went to sleep again. More confused and naively but full heartedly believing that when I woke up in the morning, like so many other times in life, it would be ok. I didn’t know how but this had to be a nightmare that I would wake up from…that magically perhaps Shannon might even be there in the morning…perhaps that they both would be…but at least her. She wasn’t. That was the last time I ever fully trusted someone.

The next few days were a blurry of activity. By sheer coincidence, Greg King, the chair of the theology department called me into his office the next morning. Apparently, he had found about what was going on the last few weeks and wanted to talk to me about it. I assumed, incorrectly, that it was because of the previous night’s activity. It turned out that someone else had somehow been suspicious (Natalie had been leaving my house oddly enough on many mornings) and had talked to Greg King. I spilled my guys to him about much of it and that may have been the most unguarded I ever was about it.

A few years before, Shannon’s parents had found some pictures of me in various states of undress in her home. They had been taken in college dorm room, the worst one being one of me from the back and going into the shower. This was beyond evidence to them that I was corrupting their daughter. They had sent the pictures to the theology department with a letter that I clearly had issues and that they should kick me out of the program. The theology department had convened and let me explain it as what it was, an idiot move by a college freshmen and told me to be smarter. This attempt to force someone’s hand had caused a big rift between Shannon and her family, a rift I was happy to feed because her family was against me. My egocentric selfishness made me have strong venom against those who were trying to point out my faults because I still wasn’t ready to deal with many of them. It had been a missed opportunity on my part, perhaps the department’s part, but mainly mine to deal with some of these issues that I’d struggled with since high school. Like before, I was the only one who knew all the connections and like before I thought ignoring them would make them go away. Obviously this had not been true. I wonder how much Greg King thought about that as we talked about this new Natalie episode. I certainly did.

Shannon caught a flight to her parents the day proving the old adage that home is where when you go, they have to let you in. For several days, she wouldn’t take my phone call at all and her parents, who were already not fans of me, made it clear I wasn’t to call their home anymore. I went over and talked to Natalie and her mother about it all. Natalie’s mother had also for the first time heard about all of the happenings and her main point was to press us to see if we were in a position to deny it. I was still so shaken up about everything that I was going on that I was spitting at the mouth.

The days were dark and I had no clue what to do with myself; people wisely advised me to stay away during pastoral duties. I was home alone in the cold and there were times I would go into a catatonic stare with occasional tears just streaming as I would just collapse. A friend of mine, Orlando, was so worried about me that he started sleeping on my couch with just a couple of weeks left till his wedding. He also hid all my knives because he was afraid I would hurt myself. While that thought never crossed my mind, I’m not sure I would have minded had I been hit by a bus around that time. I kept running then; after the initial three months before my marriage where I had lost all that weight, I had decided I would run 1000 consecutive days. I was at over 600 days when this was going and I kept running because it was the only thing that felt normal. In something that felt entirely appropriate, several of those nights were cold rain and one was a pounding hail. I kept running in it, letting it beat my face and body feeling extremely narcissistically that this was God showing his displeasure.

40 Un Dia Normal

The politically correct version of the story would be that one of us immediately realized that this was either completely wrong or at least unsustainable but the fact of the matter was that each of us somehow had enough issues to try to keep it going. It was our own little social experiment and for a little over a month, it was fine. We were all sleeping together in the Biblical sense (if you want more details than that, you’re reading the wrong guy) and we were all friends. Natalie was all but living at the house. Shannon and Natalie had a few classes together and they were hanging out together. At some level, we were embracing our periphery, living a double life, having our own little secret. We were living in a reality that made us feel special and unique and at some level privileged.

In the midst of all this, I ran for class president. I lost by one vote when there were tons of people and we moved on to the other positions. At this point, my ego was riding fairly high and so I wasn’t really interested in any other position. I wanted the position because I believed I owed PUC a big debt and wanted to serve to thank them but also the class president got a speaking slot at graduation and helped choose the speaker. Shannon and Natalie had both been there but after the vote for president was set, they both left to work on some project. I stayed thinking it was incredibly rude to lose and leave. By some strange account, the guy who had been elected had actually run without being eligible and so a second vote was held and I had a new opponent but I prevailed and was elected. The girls were very surprised about this when I got back to my place and we celebrated in very inappropriate ways with plenty of jokes about Mr. President.

At first, ironically enough, living this double life helped me have a distraction from the other double life I was living where I was espousing a far more conservative approach than I actually had at my churches. In a surreal moment, Natalie, not a regular church attendee, even showed up to hear me give one of my sermons. It took off the edge that I’d been feeling and for a while I was on top of my game. I was the captain of the cross country team and had picked up my pace so much from the previous year that I was winning races. I was in the best shape of my life, the lightest I’ve ever weighed and the fastest I’ve ever been.

Things kept clicking. The churches were running well and I was being embraced as a positive change maker. The senior class booth won first place in the fall festival and raised way more money than we expected. We even got the speaker that I wanted to for graduation (Bart Campolo). Essentially, I had both a wife and a girlfriend who got along with each other.

Nonetheless, this rosy outlook on life couldn’t hold out forever. My usual confidence turned into a bravado swagger. I even started regularly telling this joke about this old man who goes to confession and says to the priest “I am 83 years old but last night I took two twenty year olds home with me and had sex with them both all night long.” The priest tells him to do five Hail Mary’s and the old man responded that he wasn’t Catholic. When the priest asked him why he was telling him the story, the old man responded by saying he was telling everyone.

Natalie had a life of her own and so there were plenty of times were it was just Shannon and I. We continued to host both the theology department and the psychology department for study sessions and meals. In our own way, all three of us had decided that even though this was unusual that we were “capable enough” to sustain it indefinitely, even forever. I even gave Natalie a necklace replica from the Lord of the Rings. We got way too comfortable with this to the point to where Natalie even had a picture of her and I in her room up at all times including during the open house when all students and staff paraded through the dorms (Adventists schools don’t allow opposite gender people in the dorm during this occasion). She took it down after one of the vice presidents, Lisa Bisell Paulson, gave her a weird look about it. But still we were “in love” and had our own charming little habits like we were playing house. Natalie’s initials were NY and she suddenly got very fond of the New York paraphenelia that said I heart NY with my initial being I.

I got too comfortable with it, too arrogant and suddenly started spending too much time independently with Natalie, going with her to one of my favorite art museums, going with her to lunch. I started to see myself as exempt from the reality that everyone else inhibited and thought that just as I was about to pull off getting two degrees with honors in four years that I could keep two girls happy with full knowledge of the other. I had a full time job and a full class load and was still keeping a 4.0, why couldn’t I do this? This is not to say that I didn’t have strange bouts of weirdness about it but I was dismissing the doubt. Life was going so well on so many facets that I simplistically thought that if things were going that well it couldn’t possibly be that big of a deal.

The obvious question is how I justified this morally or religiously. Initially, this was harder than I thought but there is an old principle that if our actions and our thoughts contradict each other, we’re far more likely to change our thoughts. I turned to the Biblical patriarchs and prophets and some of those who were incredibly used by God had multiple women attached to them. It was incredibly immature but so was I and my weaknesses were ruling me.

I even told a few select friends about it and while their reaction was definitely that it was a series of stupid decisions, their approach of whatever works allowed me to keep it going. I was very selectively choosing who I told because I knew there would be those who would condemn it immediately. There were clues there that should have grabbed more on to me. Natalie was not telling her mother nor her father although I did have dinner with both of them during this time. I was not telling my best friends at the time or a single one of the theology majors. I was too involved now to want correction and the sex was a positive but the truth is that I now had both Shannon, my destiny the girl of my dreams, and Natalie, the gorgeous girl who had gotten away and now was back. It was a self fulfilling sickness.

However, the time that I was spending with Natalie alone was starting to wear me down as well. The double life couldn’t be sustained forever in part because Natalie and I were hiding how deep our exclusive affection to each other was from Shannon. Another reason was that Shannon got tired of playing house and while it might have been a fun game for a while, games needed to come to an end. I also started to grip the fact that to sustain this I would have to drop the lifetime dream of being a pastor but I wasn’t sure which one of the two, that dream or this lifestyle, I wanted to keep more. This came from an infantile and selfish place but I kept telling myself that I had worked against being selfish for so long that I deserved this exception, this alternate reality.

This stupidity was bound to fall apart but when it started to crack, I fought it tooth and nail. Shannon said to me that this was enough and that we’d had our fun but it was time to grow up and I was arguing with her that she couldn’t just take things away that she had allowed on a dime. It was now only a matter of what and when this would disintegrate but I’d grown so cocky about it I never saw it coming.

39 Sometimes When We Touch

Shortly after getting back from England, I was back pastoring, preaching week after week, conducting Bible studies, visiting church members, living the dream I had pursued since being an infant. Then by some coincidence, I crashed into Natalie’s mother. The thought of Natalie had haunted me for quite a while; she was the girl that got away. I’ve come to realize that far more guys than I would have guessed have these illusory girls and she was mine. She was stunningly good looking, very bright and because her father had been a pastor, she had these quirky beliefs about God (even if she was dismissive of organized religion). She also had this dramatic flair, an intensity that few people can carry off well. Natalie had spent the last two years in Greece and even so we had stayed in poor but occasional contact. This illusion that she was the one that got away had allowed me to make a couple of phone calls to Greece and she had made a couple as well. They were more intense than was appropriate. She was coming back to PUC and her mother invited me to her welcoming party a few days hence. I went back and forth on it knowing that I had unresolved emotions for her and originally decided not to go. But when the day of it came, I was coincidentally not too far from her house and showed up. On the way there, while pumping gas, a man tried to sell me a dozen boxed roses. I sat there and thought way too long about the fact that I was now thinking about buying roses for a woman besides my wife. I bought them and some chocolate the guy was selling and headed over to the party. Apparently her flight had been delayed so she was not there and I was at some level relieved because I had another appointment to get to. Just as I was about to head out, she arrived and I was the only non-family member there. She gave me a big hug as a greeting and I excused myself almost instantly after saying hello. She walked me to my car where the chocolate and roses still were and I reached into my car and did the right thing…sort of. I handed her the chocolate and took the roses home to give to my wife later.

It was a few more weeks until school started and my sense of obligation to living the dream kept wearing me down and it started draining my marriage as well. Because I felt that I needed to be represented at functions of both churches even when they conflicted, Shannon and I started splitting up more. She would go to one function and I would go to another. Truth is that there came a point where I was so worn out where she was kind enough to go to these functions when there wasn’t a conflict just so I could stay at home to do nothing. Achieving your dream wasn’t supposed to be quite this exhausting was it? No one expected the things I was trying to achieve; I had unrealistic expectations of being the perfect pastor while no one else did and certainly no one including myself thought I was achieving it.

One Saturday night, the first Saturday night after school had started, Shannon and I headed home and I was frankly exhausted. I wanted nothing besides going home and crashing but when we arrived we had a voicemail…from Natalie stating that she was in her dorm room not doing much and wanted to bring a gift that she had brought back from Greece. She came over and the gift was nothing other than a beautifully ornate and elaborate chess game on marble with the Greeks and the Romans as the opposing side. Shannon didn’t play chess then or now so it was clearly obvious who the gift was for. Nonetheless, we set up a chess game where the two of them “together” played against me and in the only time I’ve ever done that, I let them win. They laughed and giggled it up and had a great time giving me a hard time about the fact that they had won. We made some snacks and late into the night we headed Natalie home; I drove her back to her dorm myself and doing so told her that there were just too many unresolved issues between us and it would be better that we kept some space between us. Natalie said I was just too intense about it and relax. I went home and told Shannon the same thing and she said I just needed to let things to and start my senior year freshly. Shannon and Natalie were in the same major and thus some of the same classes so they had decided that they could be friends and here was my wife and the “girl who got away” entering the picture with me being the one who reconciled them. I think Shannon was trying to keep the approach of keep your friends close and your enemies even closer and Natalie was trying to fix the past and keep our relationship to at least be existent even if it wasn’t going to be romantic.

That night was when I “officially” lost balance: having achieved my dream of becoming a pastor was wearing me out, the girl who I had way too many unresolved emotions was back in my life as somewhat of a staple, and my senior year had started with me feeling distant. I’d been in a hurry to grow up and had not achieved it.

A few days later, the poster boy was being once again to fulfill a role. There were a series of chapels that occurred for all the beginning freshmen. They invited various faculty members and a few students to speak at them, one speaker per each of the 10 sessions. It was very flattering once again to be invited to speak and it was becoming very clear that I’d now achieved quite a status on campus by some virtue. In one week’s time, two different departments had asked me to represent the school in a place where only a handful of students had been chosen.

Shannon had an evening class the evening these chapels were held. Natalie came to hear me speak and I talked about the practicality of faith. I went on at some length about how if faith doesn’t result in serving the community, it doesn’t have any point. It echoed JFK’s idea that while on earth, God’s work must truly be our own. Natalie was in the front row beaming and listening contently. Afterwards, we were talking and she wanted to go see this rock where I went to think. The fact that it was nine o’clock at night didn’t seem to bother her and it didn’t register enough with me. I took her out there and in the midst of talking, all the unresolved emotions we had were clear and she made a comment about how she trusted me so much she would be fine if we were both to take off all our clothes that nothing would happen. I was twenty one, married and a pastor and I absolutely should have known better but I went along with it and believe it or not, nothing actually happened that night. Let me be clear when I say I went along with it, I don’t meant that somehow I was innocent, just that I didn’t outwardly began this conversation. For crying out loud, I had violated something sacred by taking her to the spot where I went to commune with God. Natalie may well have been opening herself up because she believed that I had done so.

Within a day or two of that for reasons I can’t explain other than idiotness, conflict of emotions and young adult lusthood, I was now thinking about Natalie quite a bit. She called one night after Shannon and I had gone to bed and I honestly can’t recall how it happened but she ended up coming over and spending the night. She stayed in our bed with us with me in the middle. Again, nothing happened that night but the thoughts that were going through my mind were less than pure and they were shared with both of those girls in the following days (though not that night). If I could control any moment in history, I would have the phone ring than or have someone knock on the door or have a fire. It’s cheap wishing I know but any snap back into reality right there and then would have helped prevent a lot of the mess I was about to dive into. Unfortunately, I had made choices where I deluded myself and started to fade into my own reality. Because of that, a day or two later we were having a threesome.

Many theories have been proposed to me about why I made this poor choice. A friend of mine has suggested that those choices were made easier by Shannon and Natalie both wanting to have a relationship with me and not worrying enough about the other because all three of us had much growing up to do. Another one has said it was learned behavior because I’d gotten away with too much with girls without any real consequence. Yet another’s analysis is that I’d been treated as an exception too long and that here was one more time where I thought the rules didn’t apply to me. One more chime was that I was a complete hypocrite and that this was who I really was and that I was faking the other stuff all along. Another was that it was learned behavior from my family having many sordid sexual tales in its stories. Perhaps, another one chimed in, I got into this because I was trying to sabotage my own ministry because I’d become to troubled and restless within it.

The truth of the matter is I don’t have a clear idea of why this happened in a way I can explain into a neat box. Maybe as the story progresses from here, someone else will be able to figure it out but I can tell you that it wasn’t just about sex with two girls (I’d passed up that opportunity explicitly). No, it was because it was those specific two girls, both of which I had strong emotions towards. It would be na├»ve to say that the physical pleasures weren’t enjoyable (ie I’m not a drinker but people wouldn’t get drunk if there wasn’t some upside to it as most people aren’t drinking only for the drunken effect). Part of it was immaturity but none of us were so immature we didn’t know better. But on that night where the phone didn’t ring and no one knocked, I had foolishly started a series of decisions that would define far too much of my life.

38 The Sound of Silence

Shortly after that, it was time for the school year to start but either right before or right after it started, an event occurred at PUC. An Adventist TV station, 3 Angels Broadcasting Network, came to PUC where they were going to do a show in which the main presentation was a question and answer period. Three students were chosen to be on the panel along with some faculty: Jon Thorton, Lindsey Abston, and myself.

Jon Thornton was a guy who was full of life and energy and personality. He had this moppy afro that was very large and a smile that lit up well beyond the room. (Ironically, because some older Adventists can be offended at things like hair, they felt the need to address his hair right at the beginning of the broadcast by suggesting that maybe he should give some of his hair to Doug Bachelor, the bald host.) Lindsey was the definition of reasonable conservative. By and large, she always took the extreme tradition position that the right branch of the church espoused but she did it with such kindness and such a gentle demeanor that she highlighted just how compassion served causes better than “just being right.”

If I remember right, it was an argument about faith and reason. I am not sure why I was chosen but I suspect it had something to do with the fact that I was quickly developing into a poster boy for the department. They were willing to bypass my argumentative nature because I was the married kid who was already actively pastoring a church. My personality was secondary to what I was accomplishing.

Lindsey and I had been friends for a while at this time and I remember expressing shock at the invitation. She rolled her eyes and pointed out that I worked too hard at being oppositional but I was doing things the department wanted and that I was eloquent and surely that helped. The struggles I was having were both intensely private and public simultaneously. I asked the questions publicly but because people know that my nature was both inquisitive and at times oppositional, it went unnoticed. The private part that I didn’t share with anyone that I should have were things like the fact that my call to ministry had started to feel hollow, that I was collapsing on bathroom floors just so I could hide and breathe.

The event was relatively simple and no one said anything particularly controversial. However, several administration, teachers and various people I didn’t know made it clear to me afterwards that they thought I had done a good job and they were glad that I was becoming a pastor. It was then that I realized that while I had achieved poster boy status that I was unclear as to whether or not I wanted it. Like any other human being, I was glad to receive attention and truth be told my personality was such that being the center of such a massive one was at some point well received. But things were starting to crack and the doubts I expressed to Lindsey were far deeper than I was letting most people know.

None of these struggles were to say that I was suddenly some mopy guy. One of the best parts of being me is that I almost always wake up on the right side of the bed, sleep well and wake up in a good mood ready to face the day no matter what yesterday was. There were just moments, hours where simple things overwhelmed me. People who weren’t of the faith didn’t bother me much and I’d begun to lose track or think of them as lost souls and sometimes more as people who disagree with me. More often, people of the faith bothered me plenty and this was heavy on me. I thought that if I was truly in love with God, I’d want His message to succeed and realize that He used us imperfect vessels to promote it. Perhaps, if I’d been a little more grown up I would have realized that sometimes family bothers us in a way that people outside of family never can. The church and his people were my family and that may well have been all that was going on but that wasn’t registering.

Faith and reality were messing with me on various points and I wasn’t finding a good balance. In the middle of this, there was a big controversy because someone sent a very “accept gay people as they are” email with an attached local website and a racy picture to almost every single student. This was sent from a nonexistent anonymous email address. Homosexuality always being what it is among conservative Christians, gossip spread like wildfire. I don’t recall how I pulled off getting contact info for the guy but I interviewed him for the paper (but even then he wouldn’t tell me his identity). I drew quite a bit of slack from some of the theology professors when the interview and the preceding and following paragraphs didn’t have any condemnation of “the lifestyle.” It was one of the kindest compliments I’ve received when after talking to the website creator, he said that when we’d interacted in person I had never seemed homophobic to him and had always been incredibly kind to him. Lindsey and I had a few conversations about this entire event. She was always willing to consider opposing point of views and I even convinced her that while we could believe homosexuality was wrong that didn’t necessarily need to be the position that one held about it being legal and that it certainly didn’t necessitate us being mean. She agreed with me and to this day delicately, kindly and innocently still holds that gay marriage, while wrong, should be legal.

One of the student association officers that year had also gotten himself into a big sex scandal that year. This was on a very low key scale and chaplain Mike Dunn had known about it and had been helpful in keeping it private and allowing the officer to stay in place. It was all between consenting adults and so it was brushed under the rug and the officer served his term out well. I went back and forth on how much patience we should have with someone’s humanity about this. While I wasn’t completely certain or comfortable about the way it was handled, I ultimately supported what was done.

From having been incredibly guilt ridden about my own girl issues in high school and college including those with my own wife (before she was my wife), I had much sympathy for these scenarios and similar ones like the one with the church board member who had made a mistake or the things that had gone in England. They bothered me some because this was how I’d been raised but I also had decided that our better focus was on things like humanitarian, community and social type services and so I had started shrugging them off. I think the frank truth was that I’d failed to face adulthood properly in the bubble that had been my life.

Still, even as I argued with myself about my faith and questioned where God was, I could have interpreted some events differently. It was during that time that I picked up another hitchhiker that could have almost get me back to reality but I wasn’t paying enough attention. He was just a kid, 18 or so and essentially was homeless because he wasn’t getting along with his parents. He had a job but was sleeping wherever he could make a place. This was Napa Valley after all and the weather there is fairly reasonable but nonetheless after we picked him up from hitchhiking and he told us his story, he came and lived with us on and off on various days around this time. He was there for a good part of two or three weeks. He left and came back a few days later to thank us profoundly. I used that story for the next couple of sermons about showing gratefulness, keying in on how I had picked up many hitchhikers but this was the first one to be this grateful. I even compared him to the single leper who came back to say thank you to Jesus when he had healed ten. But the story wasn’t over: a couple of weeks later, when it was slightly chilly one night, he showed up at our doorstep and asked if he could stay again, a pattern he would repeat for a while. We allowed him to do so, in fact, it had gotten to where we left him at the house alone. This continued to do so until one day he disappeared very early one morning with $250 with him. I wasn’t bothered much by this and figured he needed it worse than I did.

I suppose in some ways things like this were shouting for my attention that everything was okay but I was focused on the wrong things and making big deals out of tiny ones. And I was becoming the type of person that I’ve grown up be most annoyed by, a victim of one’s own life where rather than take the bull by the horns you internalize some of it and complain about some of it but don’t deal with enough of it honestly.

Yet in the midst of all of this with the struggles I was having with the church, I was also having a hard time connecting to God. Both then and now, these were very closely associated in my head. There was a rock that you had to take a ten minute walk to that oversaw the entire valley. It was a scene that was inspiring. Jorge Gurrola had taken me for the first time there blindfolded shortly before getting me involved with Lighthouse. I had gotten in the habit of going there alone because it was a place where it felt like you heard the voice of God. By that time though I’d started going out there, it had become just a pretty scene and nothing more. Why did it seem I was trying to connect to God harder than it appeared he was trying to connect with me. I couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong: what if you achieved your life’s dream by the time you were 21 and it was wearing you out instead of feeding you? In fact I grew so frustrated at everything that was coming that one day I simply wrote out this essay to myself how I just wished for a life more ordinary. Couldn’t I just be more normal, just be a college student? But it was too late for that, you couldn’t just turn that off. I couldn’t suddenly accept the invitations to the parties and go drinking or goof off in the way that many of my classmates did. I’d made my bed and I needed to lay down in it.

37 That's What Faith Must Be

Shortly after returning from England but before the school year started, an event occurred which at first initialy really helped my faith; in due time, however, it really shook it. I was at church doing my pastorly duties when a bit of a commotion started in the lobby. It turned out that two brothers, just barely adults, had hitchhiked all the way from an unstable region in Southern Mexico to come to Angwin, a trip that just taken just over a week because they had felt that God had told them that they were to attend PUC. They had left with very little money, illegal status in the country and a great trust that God had called them to this school. I don’t recall why they felt PUC in particular (there are several schools closer to them in the Adventist system) but they had made it all the way to my church and now they were telling this great story in my lobby.

I was fascinated by this story, by the profound leap of faith to trust that God had called and that he would provide. The church family had various reactions: most were moved and wanted to help out in whichever way possible to help their dream become a reality, some were skeptical and suggested that this was very manipulative. The brothers stuck around, heard my sermon and then I invited them home for lunch. Few people I’ve ever met said things with the strong assurance that they had; at times the older brother (clearly the driving force) came across as arrogant and stubborn but one would assume that to leave home and country to carry on such a big gamble you would almost have to be. They had nowhere to stay so Shannon and I lent them our couches and gave them our food. Because they were staying at my house and I was often gone from home doing my pastorly duties, they spend their evenings with Shannon who felt much sympathy for them and was bothered by the fact they might have to go back. They were from an area full of not only poverty but conflict, instability and violence. She got to know them better than anyone else did and she was able to exercise that gift which has always been one of her best assets, seeing past the surface of people. She could see past the older brother’s arrogance to see that it was simply the way he demonstrated his faith in God, people, in life itself. The tools in his box were all big and blunt, not lending themselves to fine detail work but his sincerity was in the right place. The younger brother had a more quiet approach, definitely a follower but still believing quietly that doing the right thing, trusting, reaching out, leaping out was worth the risk. Landing on your face was the risk you had to take if you wanted to fly. They even had the complex addition to the formula that their English left much to be desired but they believed full heartedly each and every obstacle could be overcome. Shannon quietly dubbed them the miracle boys.

Since I had previously worked with the recruitment office, I set to work at trying to make things happen and set up appointment with the financial office, the recruiting office and even a couple of the vice presidents to try to make things happen for them. The reactions here were more “realistic” as PUC cost nearly 20 grand a year including tuition, books, room and board. The brothers were willing, wanting to work as much as possible to earn as much of that as they could. Everyone appreciated the story, even admired it but they kept passing the buck to someone else, recruitment officer to recruitment director to the financial advisor etc. Perhaps the worst reaction at all was from the academic dean, Ileana Douglas, who stated that who did these boys think they were, thinking that they could show up as beggars at our school and have us provide for all their needs. I argued with her and said that it wasn’t who they thought they were but more who they believed God was, but her practical nonsensical approach quickly shut down conversation. She was a business minded approach woman and she made no exception in this case. I implored with her to meet the brothers in person but she said she had nothing else to say to them (they had been to most of the appointments but she had made it clear she would only meet with me). PUC, like all Adventist schools, billed itself as a refuge for faith, a place that existed for the purpose of teaching God’s way to His people. It was a place of higher education but that education had a principle of conviction about God being the most important thing. Like all things of religion, it still had to live in the real world but that conversation with her made it feel like PUC was entirely a business.

We tried a couple of more meetings but the older brother’s abrasive personality was rubbing a few people the wrong way. Between that and the overwhelming financial realities, it quickly became evident that this dream of theirs was simply going to stay very evasive and not going to come true. Because I had become their advocate and had tried to help them make their dreams come true, the school was kind enough to let me be the one that bore the bad news to them. At this point they had so little money left between them, the school generously offered to pay for their greyhound ticket back and gave them some money for food along the way. They left it up to Shannon and I to get them to the greyhound station. One of them gave their traditional sweater to Shannon as a thank you and shortly after we left them, Shannon cried quietly for them. I personally was rather disturbed by the fact that their adventure had not worked out and prayed extensively about it. I spoke with friends about it and even led a conversation about it at church, trying to let the faithful help me balance how God and his people had failed the miracle boys so massively. Of course that wasn’t everyone’s interpretation but it was mine and I proposed it as such when I began the conversation. What had they done wrong other than believe? Of course I had no way to know that God had actually called them to PUC since he didn’t tell me. The answer that annoyed me the most then was the fact that if God had actually called them, he would have made it happen. While I understand the elegant simplicity of this proposition, you can’t have everything that works out be God’s will and have everything that doesn’t work out not be His will. Besides being too convenient, there are plenty of things that work out very poorly that I was not ready to posit on God. The counter argument that some things were the devil’s influence was again too simplistic for me because the argument essentially ended up being that what works out the way we like was God’s will, what we didn’t like was where the devil won.

Like many things in my life, I never found a way to reconcile the miracle boys story with my faith in God. Maybe it was because I had been an immigrant who had also come illegally and had so much of my own life work out so well. Maybe it was because the older one’s abrasive personality while more edgy than mine was just as less likely as I to state that faith has to have big repercussions in our lives. I have no idea what happened to them or what their failed adventure did to their faith but it shook mine up. In a world where people’s religion or their belief in God requires nothing more than weekly attendance at a meeting and occasional checks, they were willing to uproot and take a gigantic risk in both the travel and in what it would take to get into the college. God’s people and His school said just go back to your poverty and your war torn region; not one person even offered to help them find a job to save up money. The equation was too complex for them and so the miracle boys received no miracle but at least PUC gave them some t-shirts to take back home.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

36 Nothing Else Matters

In the midst of all this, I got a reprieve away from pastoring in the form of a summer abroad. I was required by the honors program to spend some classes studying somewhere else; that particular summer the program had arranged for it to be in England and the class I was studying was entitled Christianity.

The group I was studying with was now the third honors groups I had been a part of with since I had taken a year out and most people did the abroad class between their sophomore and junior year. I knew almost no one or what perspective it was but in my very shy way I would be arguing with them in class in no time at all. We would argue about many things that summer, people were more discussion centered than in almost any class I had ever been in. One of the more memorable moments was when in an argument about various religions all being windows into God, one fellow theology major, Godfrey Miranda, eloquently stated “they may be windows but Jesus Christ is the door.” It’s always great when one can be that witty in defense of truth.

Interestingly enough, the whole adventure was a very different approach to religion than I had ever quite encountered. I was well aware that there were plenty of the students back at PUC who regularly skipped church and that perhaps a few of the staff did as well but I was not prepared for how different this summer would be than the rest of my Christian experience both by those within the program and those within the country of England.

The whole thing began with the teachers and I not having coordinated very well on how I would get to Newbold itself since I had a flight that arrived after all public transportation left. This ended up with me arriving at 1:00 in the morning and making friends with a crew that was working on some repairs. They were going to get off work at 7:00 AM and after hanging out and chatting and trading jokes and stories for a few hours (I was waiting till the subway system was going to get going again), they offered to give me a ride to the college, about a 30-40 mile drive. They were incredibly generous both in that and in sharing their tea and cookies with a complete stranger. What was incredibly fascinating was both how hostile they were both to religion and to Christians. The fact that I was attending a class on Christianity alone was almost enough to get the relationship to be a nonstarter. But after a few jokes and a clear understanding that the conversation was over if I brought up religion, we were able to connect. I would soon learn from making friends with a few British people that the attitude towards religion at large was skeptical at best and most commonly rather dismissive.

The Honors class as a whole ended up fitting well into that atmosphere. Because of weekend activities planned out by a few of us or by the class itself, it became such that essentially no one went to church on the weekend even when they were there. This didn’t just include the students but also the staff. They were happy sleeping in. Because of weekend trips and partly due to being absorbed into that culture, while I did attend church, that summer in England was probably the least consistently I did so.

Some of them were willing to argue about religion and discuss it and deal with the baggage that some of their parents had handed them but most were happy to shrug it off. I did have some intense discussions with people; one of them, Juliette, was adamantly against religion. A few years later she more readily accepted when a job offer came open at PUC. Another girl Christi would also argue with me though she mostly thought Christianity was more restrictive than reasonable. Eventually, she married someone who wanted to be a missionary and she also became more receptive to church teaching. Intriguingly enough, my ability to try to shrug off some of the minors in order to pursue a higher good was well what they may have been doing later in life. It was something that I couldn't decide whether or not I was disappionted with them in years later.

Another person who I argued with frequently then was Stephanie. This was not so much about me but more about her. She had dated this guy on and off since high school. The relationship seemed full of drama and, at least to me, dread but she kept going back to him or he to her, I’m not sure. We would argue and I never quite wrapped my mind around why she was so committed to this person when she was so great and there were so many more out there. She made an argument then that I didn’t understand till years later that connections with that much history and that much sentiment had a power that wasn’t easily undone and should not be easily thrown away. She would eventually marry the guy and they are still married to this day.

But these were not the only things that messed with the reality that I’d so comfortably inhabited at that point. People would go out drinking and come back to the dorm fairly buzzed if not outright drunk. There was a small group of people who were doing quite a bit of sexual experimentation in various states of undress in the dorm. I still cannot recall to this day why during one of those sessions they actually opened the door when I knocked for one of them (I didn’t know what was going on when I knocked). And when I say a small group people were in experimentation I mean they were experimenting as a small group (4 or 5 at a time). Shannon would spend some time there during that summer with me (originally she wasn’t going to but we got a last minute ticket because I couldn’t live with the fact that I would be in a foreign country without my wife). While Shannon was there, part of that group even offered to have sex with Shannon and I jointly. I assumed she was kidding and laughed it off but had to politely decline when it was awkwardly obvious that they were sincere.

There was also an incredibly awkward scenario where many of us suspected that one of the teachers was very inappropriately hitting on one of the younger members of our group. Whether or not she recognized this wasn’t clear but she was having a hard time in life and it was questionable whether or not he was taking advantage of that.

This is not to say that I was completely innocent during this time: I engaged in one awkwardly risque but relatively innocent game of truth and dare during that time; I had a beer at a pub with some British folk (to this day, I don’t typically drink but I always drink whatever people buy for me, especially in foreign countries believing the greater sin to be that of rudeness rather than that of imbibing). What bothered me was the level they had taken it to, it was not something I had been that close to with people within the Adventist sphere. These were the honors students, bright, capable kids messing with reality. The awareness that people have a lot of growing up to do when they are 19-21 never sank in with me at that age since that’s hard for it to personally apply when you’re married at 20 and a paid pastor by 21. It wasn’t that I was more grown up than anyone else but I had learned to pretend like I was.

Those conversations with Juliette, Christi and Stephanie and those sexual experiments kept going through my head. It was about being honest with yourself about your own humanity and perhaps exploring it. They were intelligent people but I dismissed their arguments as excuses to have your own way. Ignore things and they will go away, fit into the mold and you will, change for the better purpose. I was almost twenty two years old and was convinced that this had worked for me so far.

I even sat one day in the middle of campus thinking of all of this would mean. I had made out once with a girl named Beth when broken up with Shannon. I hadn’t really had many feelings for her and I felt incredibly guilty about having used her. Natalie and I had made out once while I was dating Shannon after Shannon had already come to PUC (I’d confessed to the whole thing to Shannon the day after it happened and we painfully worked it out). While it not happening may have eased the pain, I had been willing to let an abortion happen. I was starting to see that perhaps my mother’s hiding of my father and his painful attempts to be part of my life which I had dismissed were so long were more of a damage than I realized. My questions about my faith and my role in agreeing with some simple but sometimes silly church were literally making me collapse onto the floor and exhale in a bathroom. But I couldn’t, or at least wouldn’t be honest about those things because I had now achieved the dream I’d pursued since I was six. I was a pastor and it was time to be an adult. Whatever issues I had were best left underground; whatever I needed to deny myself was best denied. One thing and one thing only mattered and I was there, becoming a pastor and proclaiming the return of Jesus. The idea that being completely human and completely faithful was possible did not enter into my imagination. No one was force feeding me anything but I had a vision of who and what I was supposed to be and nothing else mattered.

I left back from England ready to finish the summer off as a pastor and to head into my senior year of college. I had already achieved my dream of being a pastor in a sense and now I was going to head back to finish off two degrees, psychology and theology with Honors. What could possibly go wrong?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

35 Harder to Breathe

I transitioned into my junior year of college and had to participate in a theology department right of passage: an externship (why it was called that I do not understand). The pressure as one of the few Spanish speaking theology majors was to do the externship with one of the local Spanish churches. I actually ended up with two churches, the St. Helena Spanish Church and the Napa one because these churches shared a pastor.

The vast majority of the externs were assigned to one of the local churches that had a full time assigned preacher and several elders. They got to learn a lot but often got to speak once or maybe twice during their entire year there. Because the pastor at my church alternated between the two, I got to speak between these churches almost every other weekend (I was at the opposite church that he was at typically). The churches were radically different; St. Helena was an older very traditional church dwindling in members and content to just have a place to worship week after week while the Napa church had far more youth and energy, a spirit of evangelism and vitality. I suspect that part of the reason that these churches were so different was actually fairly simple to explain. The St. Helena church was by and large composed of people who were associated with PUC, people who worked in the Adventist system and were inundated and were really looking mostly to worship in the language their heart spoke, Spanish. The Napa congregation lived in the real world, among people of various faiths if any at all and did not live in a town like Angwin where everything shut down for the Sabbath. Their faith was more alive the same reason healthy people are, because it had to exercise more, had to be fed with a better diet to sustain challenges of the real world.

The year at South Bay had changed many of my perspectives but I possessed the same fault then that I do now: since I had a position now even if I had previously believed the opposite, it was always right. Too infrequently in my life, have I had the grace to realize that perhaps different perspectives are both valid and necessary. No, in my view, there had to be a better way and a better truth. This isn’t to say that I didn’t try to validate the beliefs of my parishioners. Invoking my mother’s conservativeness, I tried to be what a good conservative pastor ought to be. I tried to dress the part (even to the point of taking off my wedding band when I was around church members since conservative Adventists have a problem with jewelry ), speak the part (my sermons still had some edge to them but it was edge about social justice and getting up and doing something, not about some theological premises I disagreed with) and at some level be the part. I hoped to convert Shannon into this cooking, cleaning Hispanic domestic woman like my mother had been. I over embellished (but truly believed) that her meals and her keeping the house in order were both spectacular and a great source of joy in her life. She was 20 years old at the time and still trying to figure out this marriage and this pastor’s wife thing and in her low key low maintenance way going along with the flow because she’s never been the type to fight battles that aren’t worth fighting (that’s my specialty).

Anyway, trying to pretend to be someone else in order to placate your parishioners and to make your mother proud may work for many but someone who has a persona and personality as strong as mine, it was wearing me down. I can’t tell you that I realized it at the time and it may well not have been until I was writing this that I became aware of it or rewrote it into history but it was chipping away at me. There is a principle in psychology that says that if your actions contradict your thoughts, you are far more likely to change your thoughts than your actions. I guess I was hoping that I could fake it until I make it but what had worked at least a few other times was not working.

On the days I’m most honest it wasn’t simply the fact that I’d gotten past some of the conservative Adventist cultural values. I’d gotten past many of the Hispanic ones themselves. Shannon both then and now was very interested in learning more about my Mexican culture, improving her Spanish and being tuned to this part of me but it didn’t happen. The student organization of Latinos kept trying to recruit me to be a bigger part of their organization but I never petered out. My rationale was that these guys were almost exclusively children of immigrants, not actual immigrants like myself. I had up until then refused to become a US citizen and did for several years after that wanting to maintain my “Mexican identity” but the truth was that I was not from the US because I had not integrated myself well into it but I was also not from Mexico because I’d left.

This was all well and good when I was the pastor’s assistant, the student doing the extern program but then something happened midyear. The pastor I was working under, Pastor Dena, was hired as a conference official. The churches decided in the interim of finding a new pastor, they would “hire” me. They began to pay me a modest student salary and suddenly I was now “the pastor.” Interestingly enough, several of the church members around that time went from calling me Iram to calling me pastor, a notable few refusing to going back to calling me Iram even after I asked them to. The title I’d craved my entire life was actually incredibly intimidating to carry. Hispanic culture has a tradition on turning to titles and positions for authority rather than experience. The fact that I was now the pastor made people ask for my opinion and follow it more precisely than they ever had.

I was trying to pretend to be a conservative, traditional Hispanic Adventist minister and I was missing on key points but not admitting it to anyone including myself. I was struggling with a sense of idenity. The frustrations of the classroom and this were really weighing me down but like an athlete who is tearing down a muscle, I would not allow my mind to allow the fact that there was an injury developing which by use was getting worse.

This isn’t to say that there weren’t great moments during that time. People asked me to be part of their weddings, to help out with funerals, to dedicate children. I again took the approach that I had in South Bay of visiting people in their homes and their jobs and finding out about them. The stories of their immigrating into this foreign land from all over Latin America and finding a way to succeed in this country. I echoed their stories but they were better connected to where they had left than I had perhaps ever been. They were receptive to me and like the South Bay church, they liked me in their own way. They welcomed me into their homes and gave me advice on life and marriage and listened to my views on the Bible. Many took notes during my sermons and several asked for copies on tape or cd because they said that was the message they needed that day (I’m flattered that some of the sermons I wrote the are still used to teach students at PUC to preach)

One of the church board members at that time allegedly started having an affair. She was single and he was one of the church deacons and relatively recently married. This came up during a meeting of the disciplinary board and more than a few of the board members wanted to have their names removed from church membership, excommunicated if you will. This doesn’t have that often but it does occur. I fought it with every ounce of my vigor and argued that perhaps it was appropriate to remove them from church leadership but that we were not going to make this a spectacle. It was a relief to have that view prevail and showed me that grace had really become my method of operation when push came to shove. The people I had the most problem with were those who came across as legalistic. It really tore my mind then because I still wanted to be all things to all people and wanted every church member to like me. I would pace my living room floor at home and tell Shannon that I would find a way to both work with them and make progress with them. The belief that all people could be improved on by the grace of God and with some help from a good pastor made me try to work very hard with people but I was not recognizing that someone else wanting them to change would not be enough impetus.

Nonetheless, pretending to be someone else at my church, arguing with the theology majors, not having enough outlets for my energy, trying to change people who felt no need for change was wearing me out. It got to where for the last couple of months of my junior year and the beginning of the summer, almost every single Sabbath, I went into the men’s bathroom, locked myself in a stall, collapsed onto the floor and just started breathing deeply in and out to get my composure. The longer I did that the harder each week got.

34 I Can Only Imagine

After our marriage Shannon and I were at South Bay Jr. Academy for a little while longer. They held the second of three receptions for us (another one at PUC) and it was a great privilege. I believed wholeheartedly that I had now picked up the second and better half of my ministry team. We were going to chance the world and make it better while getting God’s people ready for His second coming.

In no time at all we were back at PUC for our junior year. Having been given old couches and old furniture, we moved into a one bedroom apartment. I had actually once again been clueless as to the fact that I’d been away for a year and tried to run for religious vice president while in LA. to only again have been summarily defeated. After one of the happiest years in my life, it was back to the grind of studying Hebrew and theology and psychology. As that year started I had another very shaking moment, finding out within a few weeks of my own marriage that the pastor who baptized me was having marital problems and that largely due to that he was no longer a minister. He contacted me a few years later after I had both been and stopped being a minister when he by chance crashed into my mother. He was apparently fairly heartbroken that I had not lived up to my promise and after we got off the phone wept in front of my mother.

There was a definite realization that year that I did not like school at all. I liked debating and I liked learning but the classroom concept of sitting there and getting lectured had grown old. I also was now part of a different class but because of the way I’d created my schedule I had as many classes with the senior class as I did with my own. I was back in the Honors program though with a different class than I had begun. Natalie had been the girl that I had argued with my freshmen year at first, then it had moved to Sophia. This year I argued with someone who had been with me in the beginning but now was a year ahead of me, Laura Aagaard. She was brilliant and clever and seemed to be able to think about the big questions and shrug them off unemotionally, realizing that sometimes the asking was as important if not more so than the answers; she said as much to me once and I wish I’d let that sink in more. She actually listened and then while half-rolling her eyes at the silliness I was arguing answered it with sharpness that could cut a diamond.

But the arguments I was getting very emotional from were with the theology majors. There were still brilliant people like Julia who seemed open to other perspectives but they were in the minority. The two I remember most vividly frustrating me were David Moore and Jason Decena. David frustrated me because he seemed to think that there was only one way things could exists, that our experiences had to be in a singular road, a narrow path. He was conservative and stubborn and wrong in my mind (we actually argued 10 minutes once about whether or not when you get into the presence of God that you immediately fall on your face). It took me years later that he was better than most of the people I’ve known since then or before if for no other reason than that he had passion and conviction. (I still have a lot to learn today but I’ve never been able to stomach people who don’t stand for something.) My main frustration was that he didn’t seem to give room that different experiences could be legitimate. It took a few years of growing up before I realized that by listening to me, by engaging in these sometimes trivial conversations he was considering them and his side of the conversation was far more humble than mine was.

Jason was the complete opposite; he was polite and listened and smiled and made jokes. One time we were discussing something that I can’t remember but was of critical important and I made some points on the chalkboard. After I had done so, he gets up and he gets the chalk and says that its always distracting to be in class because when people write on chalkboard, their butt jiggles and then he demonstrated. (If you’re reading this, I’m sorry you learned this because it means that you will be focused on the wrong thing at least the next time you watch someone write on a board). Then he smiled his 1000 megawatt smile and said something about how it was good that I was thinking about these things. Being right to him was secondary to showing that people could get along, that Jesus came first and we’d figure out the details later. Both David and Jason were musicians and could praise God with music and purer emotion than perhaps I ever did.

But I simply couldn’t stop arguing because I thought that there was truth and finding the right way mattered. Then and now I simply didn’t do a good enough job of living with the reality that ideas are secondary to the way they affect people. Everyone of these theology majors and professors had their own views which they believed wholeheartedly but they seemed to present it with their whole heart and while that’s where mine were coming from my arguments then and now came across as so harshly that it well might not have mattered if they were right. My arguments too often emerge as condescending and while the condescension is not intentional, it was because I was right and they were wrong. When people pointed out that I had even had complete 180’s about certain things and now was arguing the opposite of what I used to, it didn’t give me the kind of humility that type of awareness should.

One of my professors, Myron Widmer, a man with an incredibly kind demeanor and approach to him said to me then “You pick the hills you’re willing to die on and everything else is flexible and there are very few hills you should be willing to die on.” He encouraged me to try to connect better with the department on a human level and so I attempted to do so. Every time there was a test, I would hold a study session in my house initially for just the theology department but then for the psychology one as well. Shannon and I started having people over almost every Friday night for socializing after vespers and almost every Sunday morning for brunch. I helped create a theology department intramurals team, the Saints (we played almost every single sport and won less games than I can count on one hand over the course of the years). But as is my tendency I kept people at arms length, typically only very consciously having people over once. I told myself that it was so that I could be a more gracious host and have more people over but I had begun/continued my pattern of knowing everyone but letting almost no one in.

I almost became human at that time but it was ideas that ate me, arguing over them, academia encouraging my mind but I was failing to shape in any good way as a person. Part of this was that I would focus on ideas and the other part probably just as big was the fact that I was trying to be this model of a pastor. I am not sure where I got the image of what a pastor and his wife were supposed to be like but I was trying very hard to become that. Shannon was both young and low key enough to go along with it. I was happy trying to do it, seeing it at as a way to stay in shape if you will. It wasn’t that much different than my running. After the three months had ended, I had decided to take the streak to a 1000 consecutive days of running and I was doing it. I joined the cross country team and I was getting faster and becoming a better runner. I really imagined that if I put myself in the cookie cutter mold of a pastor that anything I had extra and all of the questions would get trimmed off. I was trying to “let go and let God” and a thousand other mantras. Let me be clear that during the beginning of my junior year it was fine. I was loving it in fact thinking that I was headed there, not even recognizing the frustrations as such but mostly as merely inconveniences but that can only hold for so long. And in retrospect, it was only a matter of time before it all came falling apart.