A Latticed Place
Updated: Jan 28, 2020
The Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory lists the top 10 stressful life events as:
1. Death of a spouse: 100
2. Divorce: 73
3. Marital separation: 65
4. Imprisonment: 63
5. Death of a close family member: 63
6. Personal injury or illness: 53
7. Marriage: 50
8. Dismissal from work: 47
9. Marital reconciliation: 45
10. Retirement: 45
Rounding out the top twenty are:
18. Changing to a different line of work: 36
20. Taking on a Mortgage: 31
Sheri and I, like most people, are currently experiencing—or have recently experienced—several events on the list. Both of us are starting new careers, and we recently took on a new mortgage. We both have health issues to manage, and we both recently retired from jobs we’d held for years and years. Our stress level is pretty high. The Life Stress Inventory isn’t intended, of course, to point out, “My stress is bigger than yours!” Rather, it’s a tool for coping. Situational awareness is better than situational dullness because there is a positive correlation between life stress events and illness.
So, with the preceding as an introduction, I’d like to use this week’s blog to tell a personal story. The faith system to which I belong promises comfort. In other words, life’s inevitable difficulties will never be more than we can handle—divine coping mechanisms are always available. That’s the story I want to tell.
In July of 2019, Sheri and I put our home of 23 years on the market. It was the first and only house we ever purchased. Both of us were raised in broken homes complete with addiction, abuse, and instability—with no small number of our residences being trailer houses. Don’t get me wrong, some folks live in beautifully manicured mobile home villages—but we didn’t. Enough said. Owning a frame house, for us, was an achievement. Once we purchased our little bungalow, we worked hard to improve it.
When we decided to sell, our small-town housing market was slow. It took months to get an offer. It was only a 90-day wait, but it felt like ages—then we went house shopping in our new city. And boy, did we find a beautiful place! Sheri wept openly as we walked through our perfect house. She never dreamed we’d live in such a fine home. It had it all, landscaped yards, beautiful flow, an adjacent green space, and a three, yes, a three-car garage. Our offer was accepted—we had never felt more blessed.
That very weekend, I was scheduled to lead a Man School men’s retreat in another city. Sheri stayed behind in Idaho while I traveled back to Montana. Just minutes before the first session of the meeting, my phone rang. Our realtor was on the line. He told me that the deal had fallen apart. The house the seller intended to buy had unresolvable inspection issues—so, she was taking her current home off the market. I was stunned.
I had to inform Sheri so she could resume our search. The closing date for our sale in Montana was already set, and we needed someplace to move into! My stomach knotted because I knew I was about to break her heart.
I made the call, and it did break her heart. I could neither hold her, being hundreds of miles away, nor could I stay on the phone to talk her through it, the conference was about to start. I left her devastated and dismayed. It was like a punch in the stomach.
In the faith tradition to which I adhere, we believe that comfort sometimes comes via communication. That is, we believe God knows us and speaks to us in a way we can understand. We’ve had experiences that seem to confirm that belief. I know not everyone can accept that. If you’re a person of similar faith, you might call our experiences prophetic. Or, if you’re of a different spiritual persuasion, you might explain our experiences as connection with a higher spiritual plane. Or you might think it’s just our subconscious minds filling in the blanks, like in a dream. Or you might think that the whole thing is just silly.
In this blog, I’m not trying to convince or justify. I just want my readers to understand the story.
At the end of the conference, an attendee approached me and said, “I think I have a word for you.” He meant that he thought he had received, and should therefore deliver, some prophetic insight. He said, “The house you’re going to get—and I can’t tell if it’s already there or if you’ll install it—will have a garden lattice.”
I thanked him for his love and concern, and I filed the information away in my brain. Then I returned to Idaho and rejoined Sheri in house hunting. We looked at a score of homes and settled on three final candidates. The clock was ticking. But the luster was gone; the process didn’t feel special—we were just buying a house. It was a business transaction.
We took a cue from HGTV and decided to eliminate the least favorite of our final three choices. After walking through the two remaining choices one last time, we both picked the same house. It was the best available home on the weekend when we had to make a decision; our timeline wouldn’t tolerate another week of waiting and looking.
While leaving the final property, as we headed back to the car, I noticed a side gate and decided to check that part of the yard. It was larger than I expected. As I closed the gate, something caught my eye. There, against the fence, sat a bundle of garden lattice. From somewhere deep in my brain, I remembered the “word” I had received. I wanted to have faith, but I was gun-shy. My hopes had risen so high, and then fallen so low, I was kind of in zombie mode. Sheri was, too.
In real estate, many purchases are dependent on the sale of an existing home. So, a whole series of transactions must align. This house must sell in order for that house to be purchased. Several buyers and sellers can line up in row. And each must clear several hurdles: title, financing, inspection, and appraisal. A misstep at any point can cause (what realtors call) a train wreck. We had a mini train wreck on our first attempt to buy in Idaho. I was almost crippled with fear that we would suffer another disappointment. My wife is a strong person—that’s why I can’t stand to see her in pain. When she’s hurting, it’s serious.
I began to meditate on my circumstance. Here’s what I learned, and I’d like to use an ancient story to illustrate. For some, this story is scripture. For others, it is literature. For others still, it’s propaganda. Hang with me for a couple of more minutes—the lesson will be worth it.
James, a follower of Jesus was put to death by Herod Agrippa I. Peter, another disciple of Jesus, was arrested and put in prison (I know a little something about prison). Herod intended to execute Peter, as well. (I suspect Pete’s disappointment was a lot more intense than merely losing out on a real estate transaction.) There he sat, a high-profile prisoner, bound with two chains between two soldiers, with multiple sentries guarding the perimeter of the prison. He was at number 4 on the Life Stress Inventory.
Then, according to the story, something trans-rational happened. An angel appeared. The chains fell off. The soldiers and guards were supernaturally incapacitated, and the gate opened on its own. Peter thought he was dreaming. Then something else happened. As the angel gave instructions, he told Peter to strap on his sandals.
So, in the middle of a miracle, where chains and doors and guards all acted outside of the normal laws of physics, Peter had to tie his shoes.
And that’s the moral of the story. There’s always something you should be doing. If you believe in God, then know that God wants you to develop. He’s not interested in lazy followers who don’t pick up after themselves—like the characters in the animated film WALL-E. Stress precedes growth. So, grow.
If you don’t believe in God, guess what? The same truth applies. You gotta do something to get something done. You can hope to be an outlier at the right place at the right time, but you better be ready for your moment. If wishes were fishes, we’d all have a fry. If you don’t take this to heart, then, like some bumblers on Shark Tank, you’ll leave without a deal. So, put down the beer, game controller, or computer mouse and tie your freaking shoes!
Oh, by the way. I’m posting this blog from my new living room. After settling in, I realized that the house we purchased is bigger than our original choice—so is the lot. I’m closer to the Spokane River where I intend to paddle board. The grandkids are closer. Starbucks is closer. The neighborhood is beautiful with curbs and sidewalks (I never had curbs before). The new house is actually better than the one I missed out on.
And Sheri is very, very happy.
Positive, growth-oriented people wring everything they can out of their creative subconscious. They use goals and affirmations to release drive. They positively embrace discomfort, recognizing that life begins at the end of their comfort zone.
For instance, marathon runners know they’re going to feel pain. They embrace the challenge. Many male runners apply adhesive bandages to their nipples because they know the rhythm of the long run will cause their running shirt to act as sandpaper on their chest. Instead of considering the pain an enemy to avoid at all costs, they view discomfort as just another problem to solve.
Affirmation of the Week: I use discomfort to inform myself about the nature of my situation, and to help me determine the best course of action. I re-focus my personal energy to accomplish what I want in conjunction with my goals.