Jessicas and Jills

March 14, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Life, Religion 

I recently wrote about the interesting parallel between my current rough period of life (being out of work) and a previous rough period of life (the high school/college period).  There’s another interesting parallel.

I’ve noticed that when my life is going the worst there are angels who enter my life and help me through the rough patch.  What’s interesting is that a number of them tend to be women of about my age with the same first name.

In high school, the rough patch involved trouble with my parents (that continued until age 21) and trouble socially at school.  I won’t go into the problems with parents, but assume that they were worse-than-average oldest-child teenage stuff.  The social stuff at school stemmed from the fact that I was fairly geeky and therefore not in the in crowd, plus the usual teenage hormone/dating/angst stuff.

In high school, a bunch of the angels were named Jessica.

Jessica Sunshine was two years older.  She was a bit of a mentor to me.  She taught me most of what I know about stage lighting, but at the same time taught me much about life.  She was a sympathetic ear at times, and a role model.

Jessica Bernstein was someone who took me seriously when those around me did not.  We shared a number of classes, and I even tried to help her get through calculus during senior year.  She was someone who could brighten my day and see the good side of me when others didn’t (or I couldn’t).

Jessica Meyerson was the closest of all of these to me.  She was someone who entered my life in a significant way at a time when I had made the choice to exit a group that had been a very large part of my life.  We kept in touch after high school and during the summer after freshman year, we spent a lot of time hanging out in NYC.  It would not be hyperbole to say that she kept me sane that summer at a time when my relationship with my parents was about as bad as it could get.

And then there’s another Jessica.  She entered my life through my very early involvement in the greater Presbyterian church.  I believe that if she had not been taken from us tragically, my life might have been very different.  I still remember her every January 22.
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There were others who helped me at that difficult time in my life.  There was a Tim, 2 Walters, a Linda, and many others.  It is just interesting that there were so many Jessicas.

Today, it seems that Jill is the name of some of the angels.

Jill van den Heuvel is responsible for helping me find my current church congregation.  She has also taught me courage in the dark times of life through her own example.  If I didn’t have my church in my life right now things would be much harder, if not impossible.

Jill Cifelli has been a mentor, friend, and fellow traveler on life’s path.  I first met her in her role as Interim Associate for Pastoral Ministry at my church, when I was looking for a church.  She and I just completed co-chairing a church committee, something that may be repeated in some fashion as we move into the future.  And she has walked with me in the darkness of the current economy.  She brightens my day just by saying Hi, talking about life, or just waving like a maniac across the Fellowship Center.  She is such a spiritual person that one can’t help being nourished by her spiritual overflow.

Jill Kahlenberg is a fellow Lenox survivor, a friend, and another bright spot in my life these days.  She and I are traveling on the same road through the economy at the moment – though she is doing it with a more positive outlook.  Although we only speak every month or so, every encounter helps heal my soul for much longer than the actual interaction.  It’s good to have another person in my life who is so intelligent, organized, and driven to work for good.

I am lucky to have these Jills in my life at the moment.  There are others who are helping as much:  a Carolyn, a Barbara, a Sara, a Lorelei, a Rich and a Grier, an Axel, a Gooitzen and an Elsa.  But the common name seems to have shown up again.

Thanks for all of them.

Faith and Discomfort

February 11, 2009 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Job Search, Life, Religion 

As my readers know, I’m going through a tough time right now.  Being out of work for 6 months (tomorrow) is very difficult.

I have often heard people make statements about people going through difficult times (unemployment, death in the family, personal health problems) along the lines of “he/she has his/her faith to comfort him/her”.  Or people speak about how their faith has been a comfort to them, creating a feeling of peace.

I don’t get that.  I can’t think of a single experience when my life was difficult where my faith was a comfort to me.  I can think of several happy times where I’ve felt something akin to “God in the room” and once akin to “God in my heart”.  But those have never been difficult times.  When life gets tough for me, it seems like God is absent.

For me, faith has always been more of a discomfort.  I’m Presbyterian, and like all Reformed people I believe that we are not as good as we can be and must always strive to better ourselves.  For me, faith is part of what pushes me to be a better person.  Faith is a Discomfort.  Faith is a way to push me off of my comfortable pattern of behavior in order to better myself or help others more.  I’ll never be perfect.  Faith pushes me to be better.

My pastor did a sermon on this that clearly stuck with me as I remember it over 2 years later:  The Discomforter

That’s great while things are good.  When things are bad, faith is still pushing me to improve.  At that point I’m in a more fragile state – needing to be reminded that I am good.  And my faith is telling me otherwise – that I can be better.  The conclusion that is easy to draw is that my lack of perfection (or distance from perfection) is the reason for what happened to me.  This is particularly true in work-related trouble – it’s easier to take a pass on personal reponsibility with a bad situation in a family member or a health situation.

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So for me, faith is more of a discomfort.

There is one exception.  When life gets me down, the people who help me the most (aside from Carolyn) are church people.  They do their best to understand what is happening with me, and to try to keep up with my life even though that might involve hearing unwanted bad news.  Church people will pray for you, and even if God is not hearing those prayers you know that someone out there cares for you – and usually not someone who wants something from you.  I’ll admit it – I’m not an easy person to deal with when experiencing heavy negative emotions, but they keep trying.

I know what you’re thinking.  You’re saying to yourself, “Hey, Mark!  Those people ARE God’s presence for you.”  And you’re probably right.  And I do realize that and appreciate it (though that appreciation may not make it through the emotions that I’m feeling to the surface).

I just don’t get faith as comfort.

So God – thank you for your people who you have sent to help me.  There are too many of them to list here, but know that I see their efforts and appreciate them.  Amen.

Prayers for our Moderator’s Family

November 15, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Religion 

Please pray for the family of Bruce Reyes-Chow, PC(USA) General Assembly Moderator.

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