Expect a disaster … or not

By Philip Pfanstiel

There are a lot of experiences in life that we don’t see coming, we soldier and suffer through and then something strange happens when we come out the other side… we are thankful for the experience (and yet never want to go through it again).

A year ago today (Feb 2) Tamara filed for divorce.  The past year is something that I never saw coming. 

In many ways this past year has been a slow motion disaster.  And yet in others it’s been the most miraculous and meaningful year of my life.  A strange dichotomy to be sure.

I knew that no matter what the obstacle we could overcome it and prayed and believed until the end for restoration / resurrection.  And yet having fleece after fleece returned the exact opposite of what one prayed is very confusing.  I never rejected, but I have accepted the rejection… if that makes sense.  I’m at peace with it, and will do everything in my power to minimize the bad and maximize the good that is found in any paradigm shift.

The point of this article is not to dissect the divorce.  I honestly don’t like airing my dirty laundry and my hope is still that God would use this for the good of all involved.  So I don’t intend to ever dissect the divorce publicly.  If blame must be ascribed, then I’ll take it (and deservedly so).

The point is more about the “phil”osophy or approach to life.  I read a great line from Matthew McConaughey who quoted a wise old man he met, “I’ve had thousands of crises in my life, and most of them never happened.”

I thought this was so profound.  I see myself as a pretty positive person.  I see things as improving, getting better, and I dream really crazy dreams – and put action into seeing them fulfilled.  But there was a pessimistic, passive aggressive, grumpy side lurking below the surface.  One of the great things about this year is how exposed I’ve been (not by my choice) and how this exposure has forced me to deal with things.  Again, not something I want to ever go through again which is why I’m so intent on dealing with my crap and laying the new foundation properly.

Disaster or Miracle.  Which one do we expect to happen?  The truth is that in life both will come and more than a few times.  The difference is that life is lived in the space between.  Those expecting miracles will still have their disasters.  And those expecting disasters will still have their miracles.  The key is found in what John Lennon said, “life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”

For me my new MO (I’m expecting it to stick) is to expect good things.  Expect people to accept me.  Expect my plans to succeed.  Expect my prayers to be answered.  Expect a miracle.  In the Tulsa area they will say “keep your expecter up.”  We have lots of Christian / Faith clichés that seem silly but contain some pretty powerful truths – if one can get past the initial lingo shock.

I’ve had opportunity this year to believe the best about people and believe the worst about people.  When you believe the worst about people you can sabotage and undermine the very relationships you desperately need.  A self-fulfilling prophecy a Goth would nihilistically accept with sardonic joy.

Don’t ask me how I know.  Dirty laundry is staying wherever my dog Ash took it.

Conversely if you (me, we, one – pick your pronoun) believe the best about people you will occasionally be betrayed / stabbed in the back.  And it will hurt.  Hurt like nothing you’ve ever felt before.

But … believe anyway.  Because most of the time people will rise to your level of trust, belief, faith in them.  I don’t know what the ratio will be, but Jesus had 12 disciples and one betrayed him and the rest abandoned him.  And yet He still believed in them and on the cross restored John and after His resurrection He restored the other 10.  And the amazing thing about those disciples (minus Judas Iscariot who never repented) is that every single one of them rose to the level of faith that Jesus had in them.  They all (except John) died a martyr’s death instead of abandoning Jesus a 2nd time.

I will say this about the divorce.  I felt betrayed, but I know Tamara and I don’t think that was her intention.  I think we all do the best we are able with the filters and perspectives that we have.  I’ve been imbibing a series called “Mercy over Judgment” by Keith Moore and it is so powerful.  There are many reasons we are not to judge but the one pertinent to this article is because we don’t know the other person’s heart.  I have hurt Tamara and many others that I love deeply this year – and yet that has never been my motive or intention.  It is (going forward) my opinion and my approach to ascribe to others the best possible motives.

I’ll end it with a story I’ve never written before (and you’ll see why).  My family moved to Tulsa in 1980 and they had me repeat Kindergarten because of speech and developmental delays.  In 1st grade we moved to a house and quickly made friends with the two girls next door.  We had a pool in the backyard and had the two girls (Erin and Carrie – not their real names) over to swim a lot.  One day after swimming Erin, Sam (my younger brother) and I went into the house and changed in the same room.  Nothing happened, but something was mentioned as we quickly changed.  I didn’t think anything of it.

The next year I moved schools and ended up in the same class as Erin.  I was so excited to be in the same class as my friend.  I was always the quarky kid so friendships were much harder for me than for my brother (who everyone likes immediately).  Then at some point that Fall Erin told all the kids about that day we changed in the same room.  I’m not sure exactly how she conveyed the story but it morphed into something very sinister, creepy and perverted.  When the other 2nd graders confronted me they called me a pervert and other bad names.  It still hurts, and while my life has in many ways been an open book – this is a chapter I don’t often visit.   I’d rather burn and bury all copies of it.

That label … that rejection … that feeling of being worthless … these things are hard to break, despite how twisted and untrue they are.  Making friends was even harder for me after this … not really a surprise.  I’m sure the kids never thought another moment about that story … but it followed me. 

In the future I may pen a blog on how to reject, not accept, the spirit of rejection.  But I accepted it and it handicapped me for decades.  Some good things came out of it.  I was always the first to befriend the outcasts … we were kin.  My quarky sense of humor developed out of a desire to be accepted and I figured if I made fun of myself … then maybe others wouldn’t.  I knew which pawns I could sacrifice and which pieces of me to guard with my life.

Looking back though I have no animosity toward Erin.  Even then I didn’t because I knew the rest of the story.  The summer between our 1st and 2nd grade years Carrie (Erin’s sister in 3rd grade) was hit by a car and killed while crossing 81st street to go to the store.

Hurt people hurt people.  Erin hurt me because she was hurting and had no idea how it would affect me – she was not a mean person.  I pray for Erin and I hope and pray that her life is blessed and that she is healthy, successful and happy. Most of all my desire is that she knows and is walking with Jesus.

When we’d swim together we’d talk about God.  My brother and I even prayed with Erin and Carrie once.  They came from a Unitarian family and were French Atheists (as they described it – although it took me years to find out what that meant).  My mom told me, around the funeral, that the year before we had moved in some Bible students had lived in the house and had led Carrie in the sinner’s prayer.

The reason I share this is because 1. I love tangents.  They’re organic and like lightning (they are powerful and hard to aim).  2. We don’t know the hurts, pain, and confusion that cloud the thinking and how it affects the people that betray us.  In their mind they probably aren’t even seeing what they do as a betrayal – they may even see it as a good thing or a kindness.  And to be honest our own hurts, pain and confusion can cause us to feel betrayed when we weren’t.

While that wound really hurt me, it didn’t sink me.  In fact it developed some of the traits in me that I’m most proud of (sensitivity and humor).  And this past year… well, God gets to write the last chapter and His redemption stories (aka Joseph, Jesus, Paul, etc…) are some of the best in HisStory.

To try to tie back to the original thought (I read somewhere that good authors do this so I thought I could pretend); we can believe for miracles or disasters.  Time will present ample opportunities for both, but the caliber / base of our life will be defined by our thoughts and expectations in the in-between times.  As for me and my house, we will expect disasters … I mean miracles.  Sorry my mind was day-dreaming and I forgot what the point of the blog was for a second.  Oops.  My bad.