Thursday, August 28, 2014

Driving South, Driving Slow: Valdese, NC

I'm transitioning back to the South now...slowly, because there is a lot to digest, and a long car ride through beautiful countryside is a great..ahem...
vehicle to do just that.

I pondered my way through Wall, NJ, Troutville, VA and into Valdese, NC, where I would stop for an overnight.   

Why Valdese, NC?  An obscure location, with a remarkable story, one I've been involved with for the past four years: that of the Waldensians.  

I'll pick up the thread in 1848, when the Waldensians received religious freedom after centuries of persecution and near annihilation.  Peace brought a new challenge: their numbers then grew rapidly, too much for their land in the Cottian Alps to support them.  

A number of families began emigrating--across Europe, to South America, and the US: New York, Texas, Utah, Missouri, and North Carolina.  We had learned about the Waldensian colony in NC in Torre Pellice in 2012; I'd wanted to visit ever since.

In May 1893, a colony of 29 Waldensian immigrants found there way here in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, as they run through western North Carolina, and prepared for winter.  

Preparing for winter...29 people...11 men, 5 pregnant women, with 13 children under the age of 16.  No money, no houses, no food, no English (except for one person).  Build houses, plant crops, survive, and get ready to receive 200 more immigrants in November--and the onslaught of winter.  How did they do it?  More ponderings...but back to August, 2014. 

I drove into town on a Sunday, shortly after noon, and noted the signs everywhere: Waldensian History Museum, Waldensian Presbyterian Church, Waldensian Winery...even street names like "Italy St." and "Arnaud Ave."  You name it, there was a mural, statue, fountain or field identified with the Waldensian history.  

Only one of these venues would be open today; I waited patiently for The Trail of Faith Museum to open at 2 pm, picking through a McDonald's salad, one of the few culinary options in what is a fairly typical small Southern town.

More ponderings.  What were the North Carolinian Waldensians like today?  What were they doing?    Are they people of deep faith, or more secular, as many of their Italian counterparts have become?  Probably a mix, I decided, and hoped I could connect with some.  

I had all I could do to understand the accents in placing my McDonald's order.  But when the Trail of Faith museum village opened, Sylvia, the receptionist, welcomed me with a mild one, and understood my own NY-tinged mongrel accent.  I introduced myself and explained my interest in the Waldensians, and she promptly gave me a discount.  So the Waldensian generosity is alive and well in Valdese, I thought.   

We had hardly begun looking at the reproduction of the Angrogna Valley in Italy--where the Waldensians lived and where I had just lived for three months--with little lights indicating the locations of Bobbio, Villar and Torre Pellice, towns I've grown to love, when two ladies entered.   Sylvia excused herself to check them in, and encouraged me on into the video room.  

As I went, I couldn't help overhear their conversation: these two ladies had recently discovered the Waldensian history, and Valdese--so close to their homes in Charlotte, NC.  They wanted to learn everything they could in preparation for a trip to Torre Pellice planned for November. 

"Well, you might want to talk to that lady over there," Sylvia replied, pointing at me.  "She just got back from some time in the Waldensian valleys!" 

Eyes widened as they turned to look at me, a wonder of wonders, a live body who had touched the holy grail of Waldensian soil in the Motherland...we introduced ourselves as the video started.

To be continued...

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Transition Trauma

I first heard the term used in a nursing home about two weeks ago; since then, in that quirky way a thing begins to ping as soon as you hear about it, it's been showing up everywhere: transition trauma.  

"Dubbed 'transitional trauma' or 'relocation stress syndrome (RSS),' it's characterized by symptoms such as anxiety, confusion and hopelessness. Furthermore, the emotions involved in moving can trigger a physical reaction, especially in aging adults. Combine the physical and emotional toll, and the effects can take months from which to recover." (Huffington Post)

We were transitioning my mother from hospital to rehab in a nursing home.  While we grappled with the nursing staff on whether or not she would ever leave, Mom sat in her wheelchair, a ball of confusion and looping conversations, mostly just wanting to go home.

Today we brought my nephew back to college for his final year.  Always a stellar nephew, he is transitioning into such a Fine Young Man that I want to hug him relentlessly, take more pictures, freeze the good moments, and tie him to the bedpost so he can't go off and do something crazy like become an adult or something.

His parents, my sister and her husband, are preparing to relocate to another state; should they wait for Matt to graduate next May, or move now, as the housing market begins to turn against them? 

Monday I leave the Northeast, where I have spent the better part of the past two months transitioning with my family, to return to my home of the past 8 years, in the South, only to begin another transition.  My lease expires in December.  Where to next?  

A layer of complexity increases my own anxiety: financial losses meet looming retirement.  Increasing my cash flow while contemplating my next housing option has be to played against that backdrop.  As finances collapse, do I retire early and take my losses, or slug it out four more years?  Slug on, the counselors, strangers, and my inner compass agree.  Relocate now to where I want to retire (those sames voices encourage), but where is that exactly?   Near my sister (yes, the voices nod)?   

O Transition, my constant companion....

"The realness of transitional trauma has led to the burgeoning of the cottage industry of move- management firms as 78 million baby boomers head into their retirement years,"  chirps the Huff.  I want to call one of those firms and ask them to solve my life for me, but I probably can't afford them.

The process of disorientation I quoted in my last post pales in comparison to what William Bridges calls the 'larger process of letting go of the person you used to be and then finding the new person you have become in the new situation." 

Letting go, and in search of that new person, I dedicate this post to my mother, nephew, sister and brother-in-law in transition, and to those of us in the family navigating with them.  

One day we'll all find ourselves on another shore, waving goodbye to the old selves, settling down in the skin of our new selves, perhaps with an adult beverage in hand, the kind with the little umbrellas.  May we do it well, with grace and style, and may we stay forever young.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Transition: Connecting Dots

Transitions..." the natural process of disorientation and reorientation that marks the turning points of the path of growth.  Throughout nature, growth involves periodic accelerations and transformation: things go slowly for a time and nothings seems to change--until suddenly the eggshell cracks, the branch blossoms, the tadpole's tail shrinks away, the leaf falls, the bird molts, the hibernation begins." (Transitions, William Bridges)

I'm re-reading this classic book on transitions, a rare and unique work.  I highly recommend it, if you want to understand the internal dynamics of transition, not just the how-to of navigating externals.  I'll throw a few more of its nuggets in future posts on this thread, but first--back to the exercises!

Did you all do your homework?  If not, back up to the previous post and catch up!  If so, let's press on.  If you don't believe in the Triune God of orthodox Christianity, you may want to skip this post entirely, or adapt it somehow to your belief system.  If you do, let me know!  I'd be curious to see what you came up with.

For this next step, you will need to list names of God that you know.  If you don't know any names, look here for some ideas, and jot down your favorites.

Now connect the dots with your previous list: what names of God correspond to the emotions you are feeling, or the words you associate with transition?  What do you think God wants to reveal about himself to you in this transition?

For example, words in my first list were:

  •     bracing (for it)
  •     chaos
  •     complexity
  •     joy/excitement
  •     unknowns
  •     work
Names of God our group came up with included:

  •     Creator
  •     Father
  •     Initiator
  •     Provider
  •     Shepherd
  •     Faithful One
  •     Judge
  •     Way
  •     Truth
  •     Life
  •     Counselor
  •     Wisdom
  •     Shield
Connecting the Dots: as I connected my emotions/thoughts with these names, I came up with:

Bracing for it  = Initiator.  God initiated this transition, so he will bring it to completion.   I also got a sense of God's joy and excitement about what he's up to in initiating this transitional period.  I decided to focus on my own joy and excitement as a shared emotional state that I am enjoying with him in this transition, in spite of the chaos, confusion and unknowns.  He will fulfill his purposes in it, and I will receive gifts along the way, and at the end.  Not without pain, but no pain, no gain, right?!

Chaos = God brings order out of chaos.  He
is a God of order, not confusion.  
Complexity = Wisdom, Counselor,
who understands all the issues and is able to shepherd me through them.

Bottom line: I relaxed.  God let me know "I've got this!"

Coming into the debrief/retreat time in Colorado, I didn't know how I was going to sustain two years of transition on so many levels I barely knew where to begin.  Did I have it in me--emotionally, physically, spiritually, psychologically?

Leaving, I had two pillars of hope on which to continue the journey:

. focus on the end goal; and there will be gifts along the way, of all kinds;
. my primary goal of obedience as a disciple outweighs inconvenience, unknowing, doubts, financial tests, housing mysteries, geographical changes, family complexities, and vocational shifts.  I do like simplification! I will walk this road of transition, and not shrink back into my clamshell where it's safe and cozy. 

As the psalmist says, "Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord."

Simple.  Keeping on keeping on. 
One foot in front of the other.   
See you next time!  Let me know how you've connected some dots!