Slow Poke

If I had to name the god of my First Attempt, I would name it SLOW POKE.

Secure In My Insecurity

For the first time in my life, I felt comfortable in the world of men. I had learned how to properly bullshit, posture, repress my feelings, and fake it… in other words, I lied about my manhood just as much as most men in America lie about being secure in their manhood. That was the biggest thing I had figured out as I participated in a four month long group with a bunch of men: They all faked it. They felt like they were still 19 or maybe even younger. I felt like I wasn’t a man at all, so I merely lied and postured more than they did.

At the same time I had learned to be secure in my insecurity about manhood, I had my last counseling session. The woman mentioned that I should look into the certification in “Formational Prayer” that she had because I had the personality and gifting for it. I understood what she meant because people have always felt comfortable unloading their deepest, darkest secrets onto me. I’d always enjoyed that role, too. It felt like my sweet spot.

Sweating into My Bandana

I started working the sandwich line at Great Harvest. I’d watched cooking shows like Top Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, etc. so I figured I could handle something as simple as making sandwiches for a lunch service. I learned quickly that there is a profound difference between Baking and Cooking. In baking, the yeast dictates the rhythm of the day. In cooking, the customers dictate the rhythm of the day.

I couldn’t handle the chaos and unpredictability. One minute I’d be cutting up with the other person on the sandwich line, the next minute ten tickets would be on the line and I’d be sweating into my bandana, on the verge of an anxiety attack. I’d feel the customers’ eyes on me, waiting for their sandwich. The urgency consumed me from the inside out. I started snapping at my coworkers more. I wore a plastic smile when I handed the customers their lunches. I also started drinking as soon as I got off of work. I would pick up a Tall Boy from the gas station if there wasn’t anything to drink at home.

Everything felt wrong about my job. I’d pray about my work, telling God I couldn’t keep making sandwiches for a living, and he would respond by telling me he loved me. Some days that was enough to dial down my fears and frustrations. Other days, all I wanted to do was thrust a middle finger into the air and tell God he needed to get with the program and move faster.

There was a cancer growing inside of my mind when it came to my work. Over and over again, as I’d talk with my customers, they would look at me and ask, “why are you working here?” They could see that I had the tools, experiences, and intellect for something more than blue collar work. So could I. The question I heard from them over and over again ate away at me.

I felt like I was made for more than sandwiches. One of my coworkers told me, “my life is Cold Cuts and Mayonnaise.” We both laughed in disbelief at our station in life.

My Highest Honor

Carrie joined me as we took our class with Healing Care Ministries in Ashland, Ohio. One of the first things the presenter, Terry Wardle, said was, “People will run for freedom if we just show them the direction.” My eyes started to tear up as he spoke with conviction about Jesus’ unconditional love. He shared experiences from his broken past, weaving them into neuroscience, psychology, and spirituality. One minute we would be laughing and the next we would be weeping.

One of the exercises that we did there was called Safe Place, a standard tool in Therapy that Terry (and others) had put a Christian twist onto.

“Close your eyes and imagine a place that is totally safe. Picture it like a postcard. Once you have that place, step into the picture and engage it with all of your senses.”

I had done this with my counselor. My Safe Place was a gravel road on my In-Law’s farm. I went to it with my imagination, taking my hand off of the steering wheel of my life, letting the Holy Spirit guide me.

“Are you there? Good. Now invite Jesus to join you. Ask him to speak, do, or show you whatever it is he wants to.”

I was suddenly shifted from my normal experience in Safe Place. I was standing on a small, grassy hill with God (an African man in simple, white clothing) and Jesus (a Middle Eastern Jew in simple, dark brown robes) at my sides. We were looking at another hill that had a Bishop standing on it in his holy garb. He had the tall hat, the gold detailing stitched into his robes, sunrays shining on him, and everything. He was surrounded by a crowd of people, hanging on his every word as he taught them.

I wanted that acceptance. I wanted to be seen and loved by people. I wanted to teach them about Jesus. It was what people had told me my calling was since High School.

God spoke to me, as he held a bishop’s hat above my head, “Now, I am going to give you my highest honor.”

I nodded my assent.

Suddenly, in my Safe Place, there was a blinding flash of light. God was still standing before me but his hands were empty. Jesus stood at my side, looking at me with pride and love. I looked down at myself and I saw that I was now wearing the same simple, peasant garments that Jesus was wearing.

I looked over at the bishop and his crowd. Understanding began to dawn on me. I wasn’t going to get the honor I was looking for from a title. I wasn’t going to get the crowd adoring me. I was going to be one of the masses, serving from among them, as one of them.

I opened my eyes thinking, “Fuck that.”

It Ate Away

Even with the generous wage J.P. and Michelle were paying me, it wasn’t enough. Every few months I’d get a call from Carrie saying, “Don’t buy anything. The checking account is empty.”

One month, that call came with more than a week left until my next paycheck. We lived off of what we had in the pantry and our freezer. Looking back, those were some really good meals. We created masterpieces out of our leftover ingredients. Our culinary creativity carried us to my next check. However, knowing that every few months we were in the same situation ate away at me. It ate away at Carrie, too.

The other thing eating away at me was everything vague and dark around my gender. I was deeply ashamed of who I was. I kept asking Jesus to heal me. I used all the tools I had been given by the church as I approached this part of myself.

Jesus never spoke directly to my “sexual fetish”. He just kept telling me that he loved me and that I needed to relax.

His love, while beautiful, wasn’t what I wanted. I needed him to heal me. I needed real, practical change.

Shot Out of a Cannon

My counselor had been right… I was made for this work. That class in Ohio had really given me the direction I needed. I felt like I had been shot out of a cannon because of how clearly I felt purpose and direction coalescing in me. As a result, I sat down with my brother-in-law. He was helping me file the paperwork to start my ministry doing “Pastoral Care,” aka “Counseling,” but under a Minister’s License rather than a Therapist’s Certificate.

He asked me as we were filing the paperwork, “So, are you doing a Non-Profit or an LLC?”

I felt the answer the Holy Spirit gave me. He wanted me to start a Non-Profit. He wanted me to depend upon him for my provisions, much like Hudson Taylor had. This was the god that had protected me from SARS while I was in the middle of the infected zone. This was the god that had provided a job for me in Houston one week before my son was born. He had proved that I could trust him.

I looked at my brother and said, “LLC.”

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t depend upon someone else for my financial provision. My faith wasn’t big enough.

My Own Direction

I felt an immense amount of pressure. There was this calling to do Pastoral Care and be reckless with my finances that I couldn’t do. I was spending hours in the pressure cooker of the sandwich line at Great Harvest. I was needing that daily drink and not just wanting it. My sexual fetish was eroding the ground beneath me.

God was turning out to be a slow poke.

I needed him to do things faster.

I finally had enough and, for the first time, I took my life into my own hands. I was going to determine my own direction.

I started exercising more and dropped down to 155. I shaved off my beard and bought contact lenses. I trimmed all of my body hair, finding a balance between what I wanted (shaving my whole body) and what Carrie needed (a hairy, manly man). I did my best to be gender neutral and felt my anxiety lower in the process.

Lastly, I asked my best friend for a job with his company, selling wine and spirits. My bestie was a kick ass bestie. Within a month of asking, I had an interview scheduled with him and his boss.

When the first tire of my car hit the parking lot of Glazer’s Distributing, I felt the Holy Spirit say, “You can have this job but you won’t find contentment here.”

I accepted their job offer a few weeks later.

Live With the Consequences

I was in front of everyone at my second class with Healing Care Ministries. I had volunteered to be the teaching model for the lesson.

Tears welled up, my cheeks flushed with the shame I felt, and my voice cracked with emotion as I told my story, “At the end of this class, I’m going back home to a job I know I’m not supposed to take. It’s outside of God’s will for me. I just couldn’t handle the pressures of the lunch line any more. I couldn’t handle the anxiety over needing to trust God to provide for me and my family.

“I’ve already quit my old job and my new company is waiting for me. The decision is made and now I have to live with the consequences.”

My facilitator, a guy named Jeff, guided me to my safe place and left space for God to speak to me. Jesus comforted me and told me I could still serve him selling alcohol. He told me my customers would need to experience his love through my voice and actions. I left the class more at peace with what I was about to step into.

Another 100 Cases

According to every personality assessment I’d ever taken, I was God’s Gift to the Sales World. The personality test I took as part of my Glazer’s application process scored crazy high and also showed that I had Management potential. Everyone, including myself, was confident that I would destroy my sales goals and make all of my customers happy.

Two months into the job I was talking to my boss’s boss on the phone. Both of our voices were growing louder and louder as we talked about Yellowtail Reserve. He was leaning on me to sell some and I wasn’t budging. I kept telling him it wasn’t going to happen. All of the places I had Reserve were full and no one else was interested.

When that call ended, I called my boss/bestie and told him that I couldn’t work like this.

“What are you saying, Dallas?”

“I don’t know.”

As I ran my route that day, I kept waiting for them to meet me, take my computer, and fire me. I was hoping for it. The assessments had been wrong. Totally wrong.

I woke up in the middle of the night, every night, stressing out about my sales goals. ‘Where am I going to sell another 100 cases of Yellowtail?!’ was the thought that haunted me and woke me from my sleep. I would wake up at 5am and get straight on my work computer for an hour of emails. I would hit the road and be at my first store by 6:30am. I would drive all over Lafayette and its surrounding cities in a frenzy, trying to hit all of my accounts by the 4pm deadline for transmitting the next day’s orders. Then, I would circle around to my largest accounts and work the shelves to make sure my wines and spirits looked great. When I would get home, I would check email for another hour, with a drink in my hand. I would have another drink after dinner. If I was really stressed out I’d have a third drink to make sure I fell asleep easily.

A song by Ray Lamontagne was on my Spotify starred list and I would cry every time it hit the chorus:

Will I always feel this way?

So empty.

So estranged.

I felt completely cut off from my faith. I knew I had wronged god and my life had been consumed as a result of my self-determination.

Unwind Those Tightly Bound Cords

I remember the exact moment that I knew I had a problem. I’m not proud of it, at all. As a matter of fact, it’s one of the most shameful things I’ve ever done in my life. I was driving down Ambassador Cafferey Parkway, on my way to Albertson’s to beg the Liquor Manager to buy a case of something I knew she didn’t need nor want. I had my sample bag open and I was pouring myself a Long Island Iced Tea from the sample bottle as I drove down the road. I was drinking and driving at 3 in the afternoon.

Alcohol became the cure-all for my life.

Want to dress in your wife’s clothing? Have a drink.

Stressed out about Patron Gran Platinum? Have a drink.

Bored? Have a drink.

Hanging out with friends? Have a drink.

Hate yourself for letting God down? Have a drink.

I savored the caramel sweetness of bourbon as it hit my tongue. I searched my mind for the right word for what I was tasting as I drank a Washington State Pinot Noir. I analyzed the beer, searching my experience homebrewing to guess at the methodology the brewer had used when he made it. Above all, though, I drank to remove the tightness in my chest. My anxiety lived right above my heart in all of those muscles. Alcohol had the power to unwind those tightly bound cords.

No one told me I had a problem but I knew my relationship with alcohol was wrong. I knew I couldn’t stop drinking. I saw a hunger flash across some of my coworkers’ faces when a bottle of vodka appeared at a meeting. I recognized it because I felt the same way about that bottle. I wanted to baptize my problems in that spirit, maybe even hold them under and drown them.

I did what I always did with dark things in my life… I hid my problem.

Tiny Little Fingers

As I led my small group, I looked at my bestie and said, “I need my Friend right now, I’ll talk to my Boss later.”

I then told my small group that I was quitting Glazer’s. One of the men was frustrated with me for not being a Man of My Word… I had said that I was going to put in at least two years at Glazer’s when my friend hired me. ‘Fuck my word, I’m dying inside,’ was my unspoken response.

Later that night, my bestie put his Boss hat on and he walked me through what he needed from me as I put in my notice. I did so the next day.

A few months prior, my oldest son had told me, “I can’t wait for you to have a different job so we can spend time with you again.” I was already miserable and my son’s tiny little fingers were the only nudge I needed to jump off of the cliff and quit.

A Nine Month Long-Cut

I started my third class at HCM (remember what I told you, Evangelicals love acronyms) ten months after I had confessed my self-determination to the same group. With a smile on my face I told one of the women that I had spent nine months in the belly of the whale and that I knew what Jonah must have felt like when he was spit out.

God had developed the faith I needed to trust him in the most unlikely of places- selling Wine. It had been a nine month long-cut but God, the Slow Poke, had used those nine months wisely. He had taught me patience and brought me out at the exact same place I had been before I started my journey of self-determination.

This time I was going to do it right.

Read the next chapter: Interlude 3.

2 thoughts on “Slow Poke

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