Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Those Flashing Lights


I was nineteen—old enough to know better. My yellow Maverick was a clunker and needed more attention than I was willing to give. In a hurry to get to work, I cranked the engine, threw the car into reverse, checked my mirrors, and backed out into the street. I turned on my favorite Hall and Oates tunes and raced through town.  Over the music, I never heard the steady ding ding ding and the red light flashing on the control panel. However, once I got on the highway, I noticed the smoke pouring out from under the hood. By then it was too late. The engine block had cracked. I learned a valuable lesson that day—glance at my dashboard from time to time.
Now jump with me 10 years ahead.
 My friend Rick made a similar mistake in his personal life. He overlooked the warning signals of an impending disaster.
He whined, “It takes 80 percent of my paycheck for child support. I have to move in with my sister. It’s not right, man. It's oppressive. I’m already a month behind and my ex is complaining that she can’t afford school supplies for Heather.”
Society might call Rick a deadbeat dad, but they didn't know all the facts. He had been a decent Christian father for years. He brought his daughter up in church, attended her recitals, clothed and fed her well. But when his marriage ended, he found himself paying a mortgage for a house he no longer lived in and paying court-ordered child support far above the standard of living he had provided for his daughter prior to the divorce.
Over the following months I saw him become bitter and resentful toward his ex-wife as well as the courts. When he turned to his church for moral support, he was met with indifference. After a while he stopped going to church. He began drinking more and visiting his daughter less and less. Rick eventually lost his job, was arrested for a DUI, and lost all visitation rights with his daughter. Within five years, he had become exactly what society had labeled him: a deadbeat dad.
His trouble wasn’t the lack of income. It wasn’t the fault of Rick’s ex-wife or his church. It wasn’t even his drinking. The root issue was that Rick refused to stop and look at some warning signs. He never checked his dashboard to see that his forgiveness gauge was in the red. Had Rick noticed these issues early on, he might have been able to avoid a disaster.
As I went through my own divorce, I often forgot to add the oil of gladness to the squeaks that annoyed me. I forgot, at times, to filter my tongue or take time for something as simple as refueling. Sometimes the engine light was flashing like crazy, but I was too busy staring into my rearview mirror, fixating on past events I could not change.

What is your initial response or cycle of thought when things spin out of control? How do you usually react to these “breakdowns” in your life?