Monday, June 26, 2017

Pictures and Words

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, yet there are plenty of times that I'd prefer the words. I just don't see how a picture really communicates everything. It can show you your surroundings. Your externals. But a picture can't tell me your thoughts, ideas, feelings. A picture won't necessarily let me in on the struggles of your life.

Pictures are subject to such interpretation. Whether it is a picture of a smiling parent, a mischievous child, a beautiful sunset, or even a totally trashed living room after the toddler has had her way, a picture may trigger something in me, but it still doesn't tell me about you. It still doesn't connect me to you.

People are excellent at filling in the gaps with assumptions. You post beautiful picture after beautiful picture and I assume that your life is beautiful. You post nothing but smiles and I assume your life is nothing but smiles. You post nothing but weddings and birthdays and happy photos of happy times and I assume that that is your life. All the time. Pinterest worthy and Picture Perfect.

But words....words....if you use the words and if you are honest with your words, words tell me about you. They might tell me that it took 3 hours to get your toddler to sit still in order to brush her hair (hey, you're like me!) They might tell me that that smiling dad broke your heart when he left your family (hey, you're like me!) They might tell me that that beautiful sunset came as a much needed reminder that God is still on the job of making ugly things beautiful because you just went through two months of hell on earth (hey, you're like me!).

Facebook these days seems to be nothing but pictures. I don't get it. I need words. I need connection. I need to know who you are in the inside.

I don't have problems with pictures sprinkled here and there, but add words to them. Tell me about them. Tell me about you.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

On Rest

I have never been so tired in my life. I look in the mirror and am totally shocked at the pathetic creature staring back at me. Like a half-dead possum in the headlights. My husband says he has never seen me so tired. So completely empty. So raw. As if I have no skin left. Indeed, there are times when my skin actually hurts, as if it is telling me physically where I am emotionally. I have no guard. No protection. I am a tire worn to the metal. A truck running on fumes.

There are times when I worry. Just how close am I to totally losing it? What if I snap? What if my mind totally goes in the stress and exhaustion that is my life? What if I become one of those women who wanders the streets wearing a bad lipstick job and silly hats, handing out candy to children and rocking back and forth at bus stops. And people will say nice things about my husband and how he is such a kind and faithful  man takes such good care of that pathetic wife of his. They might even bring him casseroles.

I need rest. My pale, haggard face in the mirror says it. My worn out body says it. My trembling voice says it. My broken heart says it. My soul, if it is still in there somewhere, says it.

I have never paid heed to the whole Sabbath thing. It seems so pious. So legalistic. All those things that people say you aren't supposed to and are supposed to do. It seems a burden that was more than I could bear, the very opposite of rest.

I am in no way a theologian, but it seems like we got away from the original purpose of the Sabbath when we made all those rules...those rules which vary depending on where you grew up and who your family was. If the whole purpose of the Sabbath is for rest because we need it and God knows we need it because he knows we are but dust and if he told us to "Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy" and if indeed holy means set apart, then it means that God wants us to set apart a day to rest. So basically, we get a day off.

I don't know about you, but I don't think we need to parse words about what that means and what that doesn't mean because rest means different things for different people.

Last month I had The Week From Hell. It was seriously one of the hardest weeks of my life. Then came a Wednesday when I had absolutely nothing on the calendar until 5:30 that evening. No clients. No appointments. No childcare. Nothing.

I got out the lawn mower and spent the day cutting the grass and crying. The hum of the mower, the physical release of stress as I shoved my partially functioning, non-propelling machine up our hills and over our rocks, the calling out to God to be merciful to me and my hurting daughter. The quiet when I could sit on the porch and just look out at it all and cry some more. I look back at that day as the closest thing I have ever had to a Sabbath. I needed it so badly. I need another one. I need them all the time.

I'm not good with boundaries. I take on way too much. I get overloaded. And even if I don't take on too many physical burdens, I take them on emotionally. Your problems become my problems. Wheee! My counselor (Yes, I'm in counseling. Everybody should be, in my opinion.) is really working with me on setting boundaries. It is a hard thing for me. I feel so responsible for so very much. In fact, one characteristic of people with OCD (moi!) is that they have felt a hyper sense of overresponsibility their entire lives. So boundary setting is huge for me right now.

Discipline means preventing everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you're not occupied, certainly not preoccupied. In the spiritual life, discipline means to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn't planned or counted on. - Henri Nouwen 
Discipline has always been a bad word to me. It has always meant to me either punishment or doing more and trying harder. I had never, ever considered the idea of discipline as doing less. Protecting myself. Protecting my time. Creating the blank canvas for God to work.

The idea of a Sabbath is growing on me. The word doesn't even scare me any more. It no longer sounds like something more I have to more hoop I have to jump through to please God. Instead I am seeing it as just what it is. A gift. A gift I really, really need.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Ministry of Listening and an Invitation to Spill

I am by no means a film connoisseur. I restrict my viewing strictly to educational or entertainment purposes. That said, one of my favorite movies is Legally Blonde of "Bend and SNAP!" and "Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t" fame.

Elle Wood's first day of class at Harvard Law School proves horrifying on a number of educational and personal levels and she parks her fancy ride haphazardly and staggers with rumpled hair and a tear-stained face into a hair and nail salon. The manicure lady, Paulette, looks up and takes notice.
Paulette: Bad day?
Elle nods. "You have no idea."
Paulette: Spill!
What a beautiful invitation! Who doesn't want to be able to spill. Just spill. To pour their heart out to another human being without encountering judgement or chastisement or correction or fixing or lectures or debate. In effect, to be listened to. To be heard. To be known. We want it. We need it. But we aren't good at doing it.
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. (James 1:19)
It seems that the first part of James command gets lost in the mix. How often do you hear a sermon about listening? Or read an article or blog post? We hear so much about the use of our words. What we shouldn't say (slander, gossip, false witness, profanity, the Lord's name in vain) and what we should (the truth) and sometimes we hear about how we should say it (in love). Sometimes we even hear about the value of keeping silent, so as to avoid sin. Proverbs is chock full of such wisdom and James later waxes eloquent about the destructive power of the tongue. We even have classes on logic and debate so that we can better communicate the wonderful truths of our biblical worldview. 

But when do we hear about listening? The thing is, listening is essential to all relationships. But listening is hard. It requires a humility to listen. It forces you to set aside your own agenda. It requires a certain level of other focus. It is proactive. I am going to go out on a limb and say that I do not think that you can truly love a person unless you are willing to listen to them.

I can already hear the pushback. "Aren't we told to teach one another and exhort one another and encourage one another and speak the truth (in love, of course) to one another?" Sure we are. But we aren't called to all of that all of the time. And how on earth can you know if you are to encourage or exhort unless you spend the time listening. Listening to understand not just listening to formulate your own response or fix the other person. 

Even Dietrich Bonhoeffer (and who can argue with him?)wrote of what he called "The Ministry of Listening."
“The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear.
So it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him. Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking. 
Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too. 
This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words. One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit he be not conscious of it. Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies.”
I often hear people say that they don't know what to say to someone in crisis or someone that is hurting. You don't have to say anything. Offer to listen.

Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable. - David Augsburger 
Listening gets you outside yourself. Outside your well prepared answers. If love is all about laying aside your own agenda and desires, indeed your own life for that of another, there is not better way to do it than listening.

Monday, May 22, 2017

God is No Santa Claus

I have a friend who is in a tough spot financially, yet he is hesitant to go to God with his need. When I asked him about this he said because he had it beat into his head growing up that "God is not Santa Clause."

I know what he means. I've heard it, too. And really, nobody can stomach a greedy spoiled brat squealing "gimmee, gimmee, gimmee!"

But the message that God is not Santa Claus sent another message as well. It went something like this. You can't go to God with any issue where there is the possibility that you may be at fault because you would be expecting God to bail you out instead of suffering the consequences of your own sin.

So basically, the message my friend got is that God is this guy who you can go to if you have jumped through all the right hoops and lived the holiest and best of lives and then you can approach him with your needs and hope that he may hear you. But to me that sounds like Santa Claus. Only less so.

God is not Santa Claus. But he is not less than Santa Claus. He is much, much, much more. He is Creator. Protector. Provider. Healer. Shepherd. He sets the captives free. He does not pay us as our sins deserve. He rejoices over us with singing.

What does Santa Claus do? He makes a list and checks it twice and wants to find out if you're naughty or nice. With Santa Claus, we're all toast. There is no grace and mercy with Santa. He expects us to pull our own weight and to it right all the time. And then, and only then, will we get what we ask for.

God knows us inside and out. He knows our frame. He knows we are dust. Earthen vessels. Prone to wander. Yet his word tells us that he is a good, good father and he loves to give good gifts to his children. Gifts that we don't earn.

He also tells us to come and to cry out to him. To tell him our needs. To depend on him. To hide in the Shadow of his wing.

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!  Matthew 7:11

Santa tells us we need to be on the nice list.

No! God is no Santa Claus! That is a very good thing.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The King Who Wouldn't Leave

King George VI never was meant to be king. He never wanted to be king. He was shy. He stuttered. Anyone who has seen the movie The King's Speech knows this story. But his brother, Edward VIII, abdicated the throne in order to pursue marriage to a twice-divorced American woman and in short order the monarchy fell into his unassuming and gentle hands. Not only did he inherit the reign of the entire British Empire but, along with it, the brewing of WWII.

Within 3 years, Great Britain was at war. On September 7, 1940, Germany bombed London, killing around 1000 people, most of then in the East End. Less than a week later, the courtyard Buckingham Palace itself took a hit while the Royal Family was there. Rather than complain, the Queen stated "I am glad we have been bombed. It makes me feel we can look the East End in the face."

Even though it was strongly advised that the Royal Family leave the country for their own safety, they did not. The Queen explained:

"The children will not leave unless I do. I shall not leave unless their father does, and the king will not leave the country in any circumstances, whatever."
No wonder the country loved him so. Here was a king who, not only had suffered the same trauma as they had, the same deprivations (they used the ration books like everybody else), here was a king who refused to leave his people during the hardest of times. He wouldn't leave. He. wouldn't. leave.

Who wouldn't love a king like that?

Who wouldn't want a king like that?

We have one.

Jesus. Emmanuel. "God with us." He doesn't leave. He is with us. Our king is with us.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Regret Rant

I am going to go out on a limb (yes, another one) and be totally honest (yet again) because it has been a helluva week and my emotions are on the bloody side of raw and sometimes I just have to shout out what is on the inside so I don't explode and then I hope that maybe my saying what is inside me that I have never ever heard anyone else say might help somebody else who feels alone because they feel the same way but have never ever heard anybody else say it.

When my kids were little, we didn't have the internet. We had books and that tidy Focus on the Family magazine that showed up in our mailbox with the smiling upper middle-class families on the cover. You know, the magazine that told you that it was impossible to successfully raise a family while both parents worked? Yeah, that one.

(For the record, I told them to get me off their mailing list when I got one too many political mailings telling me that the Democratic president was going to send social services to my door to take my children away or something like that. No mom with an anxiety disorder needs to be reading that crap.)

Anyway, my access to information on children was limited. And so when my children began to struggle I had so few resources. I. just. didn't. know. The churches were pushing the Ezzo plan. Others were pushing catechism memorization and family worship. If you opened your mouth about an issue with your baby or child you were flooded with a barrage of advice, all in the form of you just need to do this or that and it pretty much came down the fact that I wasn't strong enough. Tough enough. Firm enough. Consistent enough. I didn't require enough. Have enough rules. I wasn't enough. Period.

Even the teachers interpreted, at times, some of the struggles as willful sin. "She's trying to manipulate you," she said. (No, she had a chronic UTI, by the way along with severe anxiety.)

Nowhere. NOWHERE. Nobody. NOBODY. Ever mentioned that maybe there may be something more going on. And so for years I beat myself up and tried harder. And for years my children suffered. And I never knew how to ask for help. And I was ashamed to because it meant that I had failed as a mother. And I hate that for my children. I hate that, for those who struggled with such severe anxiety, I allowed their childhood to be taken away because I didn't know what to do.

I can only say that I am thankful for the bad grades that forced me to get a couple of my children evaluated for ADHD. That is an easy one. That is one that some people at least recognize as legitimate (though I did have one teacher tell me it is the result of bad parenting). That opened the door to better evaluation. Better understanding.

I am intentionally leaving off details because I have not asked my children for permission to give details of their lives to the masses. But I want to ask their forgiveness. And I want to encourage other parents out there to seek help if something doesn't seem right. Before you let the people out there tell you that that you child is just behaving that way out of willful sin or manipulation and you have to train it out of them, check and see if something else is going on. There just might be. Children struggle with a lot of things besides sin.

God is a kind, gentle, and gracious God who knows our frame and knows we are but dust. Shouldn't we handle our children with the same compassion and kindness?

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Duo Doggie Disaster Walk

"There's no place like home. There's no place like home."

This is what I found myself mumbling halfway through my walk this morning and, like Dorothy in The Land of Oz, I questioned whether or not I would ever get back home again.

All because I decided to walk them. Two dogs. At the same time.

I usually walk my dog, Billie, a 6 year-old, 37-pound mutt of sorts, who never heard of things like listening to the hand that feeds you. But she is small enough and rather manageable, so that hasn't been that much of a problem. But then there's Aspen. Aspen belongs to my youngest daughter. Aspen is a 65-pound German Shepherd puppy who is strong as an ox and thinks she's a cat except when she's eating the house.

This morning I set out to walk Billie when I realized that another daughter was sleeping in in preparation for working a night shift as a nurse and I knew that if I left Aspen behind she would bark like a wild coyote right outside my daughter's window until we came home. What's a mom to do?

I see people walking two or three dogs all the time. They seem calm and collected and nothing like the circus act we were. At times one would stop and the other would go. And then vice versa. And then they would go at the same time. Different directions. I was a human wish bone. At one point my arms were so tangled in The Pretzel (a dance move I learned in seventh grade) that I couldn't figure out how to untwist them without dislocating a shoulder. And somehow I ended up getting turned around as both dogs this time pulled straight ahead as I careened along, walking...stumbling backwards, like some drunk sled dog driver.

Then the neighbor's chocolate lab, Cocoa (of course!) came down to the street for a visit and, seeing how Billie wants to eat him, I have to dig my heals in and then drag both dogs, walking backwards, yelling "NO!" at the top of my lungs, until I get about 4 houses away.

And mind you that this entire time I have a bag of dog poop in my hand that, with every twist and turn is swinging around like a party pinata and I am just waiting for it to break open, flinging its turd favors in my face and on my groovy purple bifocals.

But, I did it. I got home. Somehow, by the grace of God. The doggies look about as traumatized and worn out as I do. And I need somebody to remind me in a few days when everything in me starts to ache and I worry about the cause and my anxiety or WebMD or Dr. Google tells me that I have some awful disease, remind me it was only my bravery...or my stupidity. Take your pick.