Tag Archives: unemployment

My Flight Pattern: Zoom-P-P-P-P-P-Zoom

I feel like a balsa airplane whose rubber band releases too soon.  I keep going p-p-p-p-p instead of z-o-o-m.

Balsa planes are low-tech—no engines, batteries, or even glue.  They have two pieces of wood for the body and wings, a plastic propeller, and a rubber band for power.   I used to play with these for hours.

images103U11YFTo make them fly, you hold the plane with one hand and rotate the propeller with the other until the rubber band is wound as tightly as possible.  If you do it right, the plane can zoom above trees and land in a neighboring yard.

If your finger slips off the propeller too soon, however, the rubber band unwinds and you have to start over.  The plane goes p-p-p-p-p.  It sits forlornly in your hand or plops to the ground.

Right now, I feel like I’m more p-p-p-p-p than zoom.  I get motivated and wind my rubber band for the next flight.  Then I lose momentum and go plop. 

One year ago, I looked for a new direction in life by starting this blog.  I was passionate about my new direction, my learning curve, and my writing.  I started to fly.  In January, my health went down the drain and I took a break from the blog.  Then I wound up the rubber band and got myself flying again.

By late spring, I realized that getting strong enough to enjoy my son’s wedding and manage the 500 details related to it would take all the energy I had, so I again set aside my blog.  Afterwards, I focused on recovery.  Done, done, and done.  Zoom in life, p-p-p-p on the blog!

Now I’m winding up the rubber band again.  Half the time, though, my drive goes p-p-p-p-p instead of zoom.  It’s hard to get restarted.

Thinking about balsa airplanes helps me get going again.  I remember that: 

  • No matter how many times you successfully fly the plane, your finger will slip off the propeller from time to time and the rubber band unwind.
  • After every successful flight, you have to wind up the propeller again.
  • The thrill of the flight is worth the effort, no matter how many times you have to start over.

Learning:  Pick up your plane and start again.  Flying feels great.

Trusting in Dawn

My mind feels like a twisted pretzel.  I don’t have a clue who I am anymore.  I thought I was figuring out the puzzle, until April 1st, when the Social Security Administration notified me that I fit their definition of disabled.  In addition, they don’t anticipate my condition improving sufficiently to warrant a review until 2016. That was a kick in the gut.

I was completely stunned.  I didn’t think I’d be approved until the next level of appeal.  But SSA thought my case strong enough to make their decision after only one appeal.  Holy cow.

After all this time, all the adjustments I’ve made, all the work I’ve done to come to terms with my health issues, and all the writing I’ve done about it; I realize that I still haven’t acknowledged and accepted what’s happened to my life.  As I often say, “’De Nile is not just a river in Egypt.”

Reading the SSA letter, I wept with relief.  The unknowing, waiting, and sense of financial instability were gone.  At the same time, I felt really weird being excited that I’m considered “disabled.”  Me?  Disabled?  Really?  What does this mean?  Does it change who I think I am?

I’m still me.  I look healthier and younger than I have in a decade.  My issues can’t be seen from the outside.  It’s the insides that don’t work correctly.  No matter how hard I try, I can’t get them back to what they were.  This is the hugely painful part of the joyful news that I’m approved for Social Security Disability (SSDI).

I know that other people have successfully walked this path before me.  Eventually I’ll untangle the pretzel.  I’m still the same me I was before.  Except that I’m not.  My health issues were a catalyst for important growth and change.  If the slate were wiped clean of those aspects of my life, I’d regret losing them.  Other than my physical health, my life is healthier and more balanced than it’s been in a very long time.

Part of the problem is that I want it all:  the new parts of me that have come from living with my particular set of issues…and the good parts of my former life that I’ve lost.  I don’t want the stress, the exhaustion, the lack of spiritual balance, and the unhealthy lifestyle of those years…but can’t I have the good parts back and do away with the bad? 

I guess not. 

Lost in this conundrum of identity, I couldn’t find an authentic voice with which to write last week.  Committed to authenticity in my writing, this is my first blog post following SSA’s notification.

I don’t know how to respond when people ask what I do.  None of my answers feels satisfactory.  I’m no longer employed, but not retired, laid off, starting a family, or beginning a consulting business.  I don’t think of myself as a homemaker, although that’s primarily how I spend my days.  I’m on disability but have no outwardly visible health issues.  I’m still a minister, wife, and mother, but these roles have changed.

If asked what I’m excited about, however, I can respond easily.  I’m excited about learning to write for the eye and the internet.  I’m excited about learning new skills and exploring the world of technology.   I’m excited about one son’s upcoming wedding in June and the other’s pending fatherhood in the fall.  I’m excited about the time my husband I now have together.  I’m excited about trying new recipes, doing house projects, finding bargains, and reading more than just Bible commentaries. 

These are good aspects of my life that will eventually help me understand who I am at this time in my life and into the future.  But that hasn’t happened yet. 

I used to think I was a quick study.  Yet, six years after my heart diagnosis and 18 months after leaving my pastorate, I still haven’t figured out how to be the new person I need to be.  So much for being a quick learner!  I want to have gotten it all figured out by now. 

The Social Security Administration is correct, as much as I don’t want to admit it. I’m trying to use recent experiences to incorporate this into my consciousness.  For example, I attended two lovely bridal showers recently that exhausted me so much I cancelled all my plans surrounding them.  Last week, I left a Lenten study group halfway through the evening because a skunk had sprayed nearby and triggered my asthma.  If I’d been leading the group, or making a pre-funeral visit, my asthma would have been problematic. 

Darn.  After all this time and evidence, I still hope I’ll wake up in the morning and discover the last six years were just a dream. 

Wisdom says that isn’t going to happen, however.  So instead, I’ll be a new shoot sprouting from a seed.  The shoot is of the seed and wouldn’t exist without it, but looks quite different from the seed as the leaves stretch above the ground.

I will awaken from the dream I’m in, but my waking won’t negate what has happened to me.  It will be like the morning dawn that brings light to the world.  Dawn doesn’t change what exists.  It gradually illumines what is already present, makes the shadows flee, and nurtures life.  That’s the dawn for which I hope and in which I trust.

Into the Void


The two million adults who will lose unemployment benefits this month have been on my mind.  Many of them step into a void each morning that comes from not having a job to go to, people to work with, and an external structure to organize their day.  I replay their stories, telling myself that if they can face that void bravely, so can I.

Until a year ago, I, too, had somewhere to go each day, work that brought me into contact with other people, semi-tangible ways to bring good into the world, a public role and presence.  I was surrounded by people in whose life I was interested.  I had colleagues with whom I chatted about life, worked on projects, and created new ideas.  If I shirked a responsibility, didn’t complete a task, or did mediocre quality, someone noticed.  Like the shell of a shrimp, these provided me external structure, accountability, and identity.

I expected to shed this shell in retirement, not while I was still young.  When I developed heart failure and had to leave my pastorate, the shell cracked years before I was ready for it.  Now, like many who are self-employed, unemployed, on disability, or recently retired, my external props and structure are gone.  

Now I provide the motivation for what I do each day.  If I choose, I can sit at home for weeks, answering the occasional phone call and doing nothing.  Probably only my husband and I would notice.   A lack of external structure is one of the most bizarre feelings I have ever hadFor the first time in my life, I am completely dependent on myself to create purpose, meaning, human interaction, and forward movement.  Compared with my previously overloaded life, this is a strange universe for me.

I have a healthy dose of self-discipline and determination, so I imagine that after a time, I will develop an engaged lifestyle adapted to who I am now.  I imagine this version of my life will include family, friends, writing, reading, church, volunteering, cooking, music and photography.  I imagine I will have more space to breathe, pray, meditate, and think than when I was a full-time pastor of a busy church and trying to manage heart failure.

My current life is neither better nor worse than my earlier one, it is merely different.  Radically different, but just different.  Adjusting to the difference is where I encounter The Void.

Thinking about The Void, reminds me of when my family got lost on day trips or was in a difficult predicament.  At such times, I confidently told them, “Think of this as an adventure!  We’ve never been in this place before and probably never will be again.  Pay attention to where we are.  It’s an unexpected gift!”  Granted, in the moment, it was not always received well by the people around me, but it was true, nevertheless.

Also true:  I forget this perspective of adventure when I am the one who is lost and running late, or in a circumstance I dislike.  Thinking of it as adventure doesn’t cross my mind.

Like now:  I so want to reach the destination of knowing what is next in my life — or at least have a roadmap — that I am not paying attention to the goodness of the here and now.  “Pay attention, Barbara, you have never been in this place before, nor will you be here again.  Consider it an adventure, an unexpected gift.”

Easier said than done.  However, if I stop plowing through the void and pay attention instead, I can learn from it.  I imagine I will gain insight into myself—what I really want and need, and who I am underneath the external props.  I will rediscover that my true identity rests in God, not an external structure.  I will grow in ways I cannot imagine yet.

Being angry and frustrated at the void prevents me from learning what it can teach.  As with getting lost on the road, the void is not where I want to be, but it is where I am.  The next time I experience a void in my life will be inherently different by having survived the void once before.  Since I will only travel this specific territory once, I would do well to pay attention, learn, and see it as an unexpected gift.

I cannot yet consider this void an adventure.  I am not yet walking my talk.  So I will say it again in the hope that repetition helps me live it:  It is better to consider new territory an adventure than to let frustration and anger its gifts.

Living in The Void is an adventure in becoming a new person.  I can feel it happening already.  I had better tape this on my bathroom mirror before I forget it:  The Void is an adventure!  Live it!