Sunday, September 15, 2019

More Than I Can Handle

“I just said, ‘Listen God, if you don’t give people things they can’t handle, I’m just going to say I can’t handle this, so please handle this,’” she says.
“I had this very frank conversation with God saying, ‘I’m just going to turn over this situation to You, and I’ll work as hard as I can in whatever way You can guide me, but there’s no one else I can turn to in this situation.’”

These aren't my words. They belong to Jeannie Gaffigan, wife of comedian Jim Gaffigan. She said these words to God after the diagnosis of a pear-sized brain tumor. I read these yesterday. They stuck with me. This morning I had a conversation with God and used these words myself.

Now, as far as I know, I don't have a pear-sized brain tumor, though it might be a better explanation for my overall forgetfulness, inability to focus, and brain fog than my current belief, that there is a starving weasel inside my head gobbling my brain cells, or the most likely possibility, that those damn hormones are to blame for it all.

No, I am not staring a huge, life-threatening BIG THING, the way Jeannie was. But nevertheless, I am overwhelmed by so many of the smaller things and yet things that I cannot handle. My heart aches with the stress, confusion, challenges and struggles of my adult children, as they work to find their way. I want to be there as a stable and safe place for my granddaughter. I want so badly to serve the often complex needs of my clients well. As I transition to a new company, I want to learn the ropes with confidence (not in large supply) and competence (do I have that either?). I wrestle with this middle-age stage of life where I question what I have done and what I should do and why I am here and why do I feel like it is all over (am I all washed up?) when I could quite reasonably live another 35-40 years, given my genetics. The more stress I am under, the harder it is to fight off the internal prosecutor who tells me I am a failure and turns the mirror into a reflection from the House of Horrors. And sometimes it seems like there are things knocking to bust out of the Pandora's Box of my past. Things I just don't think I have the time or the energy or the focus to deal with, but things that are screamer louder and louder to not be ignored. And over all that is my wrestling with God. With who he is and what he expects from me and is he really there at all and why does everything churchy make my skin crawl and my stomach turn?

So this morning I told God it was all just too much. I could never handle a brain tumor. But I can't handle all of this either. So I am asking God to handle this, please. Please. I'm not sure, but I think he heard me.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

They Say

They say not to throw the baby out with the bathwater but sometimes the bathwater has become so thick with filth and slime and chunks of refuse and sometimes the baby is so covered with the mud and mire that he is more swamp monster than baby. Sometimes you can't find the baby at all in the foul-smelling, toxic stew. And so sometimes you have to dump it all out, mud, baby and all, and begin the rinsing and the cleaning. Slowly. Gently. Until you see a baby again. A baby who was born to give sight to the blind and bring justice to the oppressed, to heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds, to feed the poor and heal the sick and raise the dead.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

On Deconstruction

The idea of the deconstruction of faith has been buzzing around the interwebs for quite some time but it came to the forefront recently when homeschool world hero turned pastor turned seminary student Josh Harris announced not only that he and his wife are separating but that he no longer considers himself a Christian. Weeping and gnashing of teeth and all sorts of name calling and finger pointing have ensued.

While nobody but God knows exactly where Josh Harris is and where he will end up regarding his faith, many people I know, myself included, have or are in the process of deconstructing their faith.

I want to say this for the record, lest some get up in arms: deconstruction is not the same as destruction.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines deconstruction as the act of breaking something down into its separate parts in order to understand its meaning, especially when this is different from how it was previously understood."

For many of us, that is precisely what we have been doing.

I've likened it before to the process of cleaning out my purse. When it gets so heavy and overloaded and I can't reach in to grab my keys without jamming my fingers into a pile of exploded ink goo or a melted Hershey Kiss, I have to dump everything out, determine just what I need, and put back only the essentials.

Or think of it like this:

A house on our street has a super steep and quite dangerous set of stairs to the basement, making the prospect of carrying a basket of laundry, much less a wiggly toddler, down the stairs rather terrifying. The new owners are fixing this and in order to do so they have to tear out the existing stairs. Demolition is loud and messy and has resulted in a big-ass pile of debris but it is absolutely necessary before they can build the new, safer set of stairs.

Some of us are just now starting the demo process. Some of us are busy slinging crowbars and sledgehammers. Some of us are watching as the storms of life do the demo for us. Some of us are sitting, dazed, on a pile of debris, too exhausted to move. And some of us are getting a vision for what our faith can and should look like and are starting the building process.

This process isn't pretty and can take time. We can lose hope and feel like heretics. But I believe that we all have a responsibility to ourselves and before God to examine who we are and what we believe and why we believe what we do. God isn't threatened by this. He gives us the freedom to work these things out. We shouldn't feel threatened either.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Online Shopping and the Memory Pouch

Lately I've been scrolling through the websites of those ads that float through Facebook, looking for a dress. I'm not really sure why I'm looking for a dress as I don't have a lot of occasions to wear a dress, but they look so nice and airy and I picture myself in one and it makes me happy, so I scroll anyway.

I saw a dress I liked today and then I asked myself, "But would that dress accentuate my Memory Pouch?" My Memory Pouch is the lump that my husband and I have decided to affectionately call that area of my front between my belly button and the nether regions. It's that know, the thing that looks like a fanny pack but isn't because it is part of you? The thing that might make some brave and/or clueless people ask if you are expecting but they won't because they know you're not because you have grey hair and wrinkles and sag in places. Yes, that place. We call it the Memory Pouch because when you have spent 55 years on this planet you have a lot of life and a lot of memories to store somewhere and, if you are like me, your brain sure as hell ain't doin' it.

Anyway, my reflexive response to seeing this dress was how would I look in it? And all you ladies know this. That those models are all 5'9" with thin, gangley bodies, no hips, and certainly no Memory Pouches. So it is hard to tell if I could pull off such a dress or would look like a sleeping bag poorly rolled into its stuff bag.

Then it hit me. When I see a woman with a perfect body, especially a woman my age or older with a perfect body, I feel a total disconnect. They aren't like me. They must have it together. They must have more discipline. More time. More energy. More something that I ain't got. And I step back and step away.

I remember one day watching Chopped. I hate cooking and I love watching Chopped. It doesn't make sense to me either. Well, after years of watching Chopped I have found that I really admire the women chefs who serve as judges. During this particular episode the judges themselves were competing with each other. Now they were no longer talking torsos behind the judges panel but full bodies, rushing, and chopping, and cooking. And I noticed that the chefs like Alex Guarnaschelli and Amanda Freitag, though both gorgeous in any estimation, had normal looking bodies. They weren't supermodels with killer culinary skills. And this may sound strange to you and maybe I am just weird like this but for some reason the fact that these highly esteemed, awesome, beautiful women had ordinary bodies gave me permission to have an ordinary body, too.

Those who spend any time reading my posts on Facebook or my blog posts know that I feel things intensely and have some pretty strong (an understatement that would make my husband snicker) convictions and one of my convictions is that the unrealistic expectations regarding women and physical beauty must change. I have realized that I cannot be simultaneously caving to these standards and trying to change them at the same time. That is why I no longer color my hair (and, yes, people now assume that I am older than my older sister).

Back to the dress and the Memory Pouch. What if I bought a dress I really loved and I let my Memory Pouch do its thing? What if the obvious presence of my Memory Pouch makes another woman feel more normal? More acceptable? What if having an ordinary body gives somebody else permission to have an ordinary body, too? Then it is all worth it. Bring on the dresses!

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Mother Love

When I was a young mother, the emphasis in parenting was all on training. Training your kids to do things. Training them to work hard. To do chores. To obey the first time. And cheerfully at that. I failed terribly on most of these fronts.

The emphasis was on structure. "Kids need structure," I was told again and again and again as I shrugged when asked about naps and meals and bedtime schedules and rituals. I wasn't so good at structure.

The push was always on performance. Either theirs or mine. A woman called me one day to ask how I got my kids to make up their beds neatly every morning. Her children were 2 and 3 and struggling to keep up with the program and she was baffled. Why on earth she thought I would have a solution, I'll never know.

Babies were supposed to be able to fall asleep alone and self-soothe. Kids were supposed to learn responsibility and competence and independence. I knew kids who, by age 10, were capable enough to run a small country.

What I never heard was how important it was to just flat out love on your kids. To nurture them. Rock them. Sing them to sleep. Listen to their fears. Rub their backs. Laugh with them inside their forts made of appliance boxes. Cry with them. And love them no matter what.

In Without a Map, Meredith Hall tells the story of a friend who gives blood every time there is a blood drive. When she tells her friend how generous this is her friend responds, "I only go because I need the mothering so much. It feels good to be touched. The nurses are kind and make me feel loved."

This breaks my heart that there is an adult woman out there who so desperately needs someone to nurture her, even for a few minutes, that she has to seek it out at the local Red Cross.

Mothers, love on your kids. Even when they make a mess or fail a test (even when they could have done better) Love on your kids when they make you proud and when they embarrass the heck out of you. When they grumble and grunt at you or roll their eyes. Love on them when they come home pregnant or come out of the closet. Be there for them. Be their safe place. Give it to them while you can. Love on your kids.

Nobody should have to go to the Red Cross to get mothered.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

In Defense of Medication

A few weeks back I was driving down the road when some words leapt off a sign and punched me in the face.

Taking meds to make you healthy is like getting a loan to make you rich. 

I just about ran off the road in a mad rage with steam puffing out my ears and my eyes all Cruella DeVille-like. I am so so SO freaking sick of the idea that medication is not only unnecessary, it is downright bad.

This isn't the first time I've encountered this ideology. I once saw a meme that basically gave you the option: a basket full of fresh, healthy produce or a spoon full of pills. As if a it is an either/or proposition. As if eating your fruits and veggies will mean you don't need to swallow those evil pills pushed on you by Big Pharma and the corollary being that if you need to take those pills, you obviously aren't doing it right. People, this has got to stop.

While it is true that eating in a healthy manner and getting regular exercise can reduce your risk of a number of illnesses and while it is true that many people, in changing over to a healthier lifestyle, have been able to reduce or eliminate their need for certain medications, it is also true that there are so very many conditions out there that are NOT impacted by the food you eat because there are so many other factors at play. And to those who have these conditions,  this anti-medication bias is discouraging and downright cruel.

While others out there may brag that they don't take any medication for anything or that their Grandpa Carbunkel is 87 and still isn't on any meds, as if it is some sort of a professional accomplishment or test of his character, there are a lot of us....a LOT of us, who take daily medication. And for many of us, taking medication isn't because we refuse to give up our Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls or our 3 packs per day of Marlboro Lights or our PBR 12-pack. Many of us take medication because our conditions are not in any way related to our food or exercise choices. We take medication because we struggle with faulty wiring, intense pain, hormonal imbalances, a crappy set of genes.

Nobody relishes the idea of having to take medication on daily basis. But many of us do so because that medication makes a huge difference in quality of life, in the ability to function at our jobs and love our families and do the things we love. For some of us, that medication means that we will be able to stave off the debilitating effects of disease for years longer. And for some of us, that medication means the difference between life and death.

Please be gentle then, you who have stellar bodies and naturally mentally healthy minds. Please use restraint, you who believe that your herbal remedy or special diet is the right potion for everyone. Please respect that some of us (and I say us because I am one of us) need medication for reasons you might not understand. Please trust that we are not lazy or stupid or easily duped by some corporation but that we make informed decisions based on benefits and risks.

And please stop with the pithy sayings. And, for the record, sometimes taking out a loan to build wealth is a wise thing to do.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Doing Better

Sometimes it's a big thing, a life-altering tragedy, a death, a disfiguring illness, or financial ruin that breaks you down. But sometimes it isn't. Sometimes it is the accumulation of smaller things. The kick in the belly while you are down. The second, third, fourth blows to the already fractured skull. You are left flattened. Motionless. Unable to move on. And wondering where the hell God is. You can't see him. You can't feel him. You can't touch him. And you are all alone. Or so it seems.

Kelly Kapic, Covenant College professor and author of Embodied Hope, says this in an interview with By Faith Magazine:

One of the reasons our suffering can be so difficult is that in the West, including in the church, we have become so individualistic. We put all the weight on the isolated person, rather than also seeing that person within a larger community. 
Employing the ideas of faith, hope, and love, I try to argue that we need each other if we are to live this Christian life, and that seasons of suffering just make what is true undeniable. I want people to know that amid their difficulties, it shouldn’t surprise them to have really hard questions and doubts about God, about His seeming absence or unconcern, and about their struggles. 
During these difficult times, we must lean on other people; when we struggle to believe in God’s compassion and presence, they believe for us; when we find it almost impossible to hope in the promises of the Gospel, they gently hope for us, embodying those promises to us; and when we feel alone and afraid, they are genuine physical representatives of God’s loving presence. Alone we are in trouble, but together, we are sustained in faith, hope, and love.

I'll be totally honest here. I don't think we as a church know how to do this. Oh, we are good at fixing others. Giving advice. Teaching them. Rebuking them. We are trained in right theology and saving souls and personal piety and whatever manifestation of that we prefer. But we don't know how to come alongside the suffering. Hold them up. Stand in the gap. Plead for them and with them when they can no longer plead for themselves.

Too many of us have opened up and begged for help only to be set aside, ignored, chastised, patted on the head, or worse. Nothing is more painful than begging for support and care and being met with silence, pat answers, or reproof. As one friend said, "I've learned to be very quiet in the church is messed up..."

People, this should not be.

We in our fragile shells of humanity cannot go it alone, (no matter how much we introverts want to try). At some point we need each other. We are called to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. We are told that if part of the body hurts the whole body hurts. Then why is it so damn hard to care for each other?

People don't get in the way of ministry. People are ministry. We are called to be the flesh and blood of Jesus to one another. If we can't even love each other what business do we have trying to tell people God loves them?

We can do better. We are called to do better. We had better do better. I want to do better.