Saturday, August 27, 2011

thankfulness in the midst of bad times

I have been unemployed for almost two years. I pretty much have no money now and have failed to land any steady work. I don't know how long this jobless phase is going to last, I just know that I haven't managed to end it despite persistent efforts.

What I am certain has had nothing to do with my failure in the job hunt is having a disability. Nobody owes me a job but I can certainly try to do what I can to land work. I often look back on the last seven years and feel like I should have done something different, something to make myself more employable than I seem to have been in the year.

There are a lot of things to be afraid of when you have no job, no money, and come upon the two year mark facing down failure after failure. I've applied for burger flipping jobs and been shot down. I've applied for data entry. I've applied for data management jobs. I've applied for clerical work. My vision, which I'll get to momentarily, is so remarkably poor I can't do assembly work and in the last week I've discovered that I'm even less likely to be able to tackle that stuff than before. I don't think I've been discriminated against for having a substantial vision disability but it has also meant that there are a lot of jobs I realistically can't consider because the jobs are in places too inaccessible to me in terms of time to consider.

But in the last week I had a pretty big scare. I have no real history with headaches so last Wednesday when I had a slight headache I could make a necessarily obscure joke referencing a Harold Pinter play and leave it at that. By Friday however I experienced a headache of a strange and terrifying power. I felt like my head was being sawed open with a power tool, or as though someone was using a straight edge to skin my head. It felt like part of my brain was getting dug out of my skull.

Then I began to notice that vision in my left eye had deteriorated. Things were more fuzzy than before. I ended up meeting with my doctor. True, I'm in poverty but I can't afford to not see my doctor when I get an excruciating headache for the first time in my life coupled with a noticable decline in the vision of the left eye. Put those two things together and there's very few good things that adds up to for normal people.

I ended up in a marathon of medical appointments in the old `hood I used to live in more than ten years ago. By the end of the day I got my first CT scan. Nobody I know had mentioned CT scans and it feels weird when you're run through the scanner and then you feel like your brain is getting microwaved. It felt a little weird. I also saw my eye doctor and my regular doctor. The short version is my doctor and his assistants were very afraid I had had a stroke. Well, it turns out what I have is expanding cataracts in the left eye coupled with a recent onset of nasty headaches. Everyone else in my immediate family has been dealing with headaches for decades. This last week happened to be one in which my lessened left eye vision coincided with migraines.

So this week I am grateful for cataracts and migraines because those things aren't a stroke.

The apostle urges us to be thankful in all circumstances and sometimes there is a legitimate time to be thankful by way of negation. Of course I don't mean the Pharisee's prayer of "Thank God I'm not like that tax collector over there." I can be legitimately and genuinely grateful that the problems I have encountered in the last week in my physical health really are "just" cataracts and the occasionally agonizing headache. Paul could be thankful that he was blinded by the Lord and later healed by the Lord's mercies. Well, given the worries and uncertainties I had this week about what was going on with my health I can be glad I just have cataracts and headaches. If you've never had a massive macular detachment you may not appreciate why I keep saying "just cataracts". Trust me, if you have had a macular detachment you won't be wondering at all!

For Israel in exile being stuck in Babylon or the prospect of going there was lame. The prophet Jeremiah, famously, said to those in the exile to settle down, live, raise familys, and pray for the benefit of the city. Why? This was the city that embodied all the destruction and judgment the Lord rained down on them, wasn't it? Well, the exile, stern as it was, was God's better plan. When the Lord said He kknew the plans He had for Israel, plans to prosper them and not to harm them that plan was the exile! I didn't choose that at random, obviously. Thankfulness to the Lord even in exile is still possible. The thing about the cultivation of thankfulness to the Lord is that we can do this in the midst of misery. When Paul wrote "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" he wasn't talking about being able to scale tall buildings in a single bound like Superman; he was writing about how he was able to live not only with plenty but also with want. We also know that he was able to go on to martyrdom through the same Christ who strengthened him.

Even among those of us who bill ourselves as evangelical conservative Protestants, perhaps most especially because that's how we bill ourselves, we can sell ourselves on the idea we, like Peter won't sell out. We can sell ourselves on the idea that we're sold out for Jesus and then go straight back into assuming that if we're living in Jesus then the victorious living shouldn't stop and God's signs of divine favor constitute material success and popularity. The Christian emphasis on perservering in the midst of suffering has little to do with some ascetic renunciation of the world but a recognition that life in this world will necessarily bring with it some occasion for suffering and failure. The saints of old faced the feeling of being losers and failures and feeling forsaken and we know through their prayers and words in the scriptures that we are not alone in this even though we all, when we come to the dark valley, do feel alone.

So I can continue hunting for work and continue tackling writing, as you can see I'm doing in earnest. I can also, thank God, resume tackling my big writing project for Mockingbird.

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