Friday, December 6, 2019

Winter

I have come to love winter. It just might be my favorite time of the year.

I love the colors. The faded russet of the oak leaves, some fallen and some clinging to their branches until spring. I love the light brown of the cornfields, harvested and sitting empty until ready to give life again. I love the deep green of a grove of pines poking through the mottled brown of the mountainsides. I especially love all of these colors against the backdrop of the gray-blue of winter cloud cover.

I love the crispness of the air. It makes me feel like I can breathe. I love the starkness of the landscape. I can see better. Every tree branch is outlined and out my front windows I can see for miles and miles, a view of the distant mountain peaks across the county and into the next. No other season can hold a candle to the sunsets of winter.

And then the sounds of winter. Winter is the quietest season.

There is a stillness to winter. A slowing down.

Winter, of all seasons, is a season of rest. Animals hibernate. Plants hunker down underground. Life seems to be reduced the the bare essentials.

I feel like I am in a season of winter. And I need this season of winter. I need the quiet. I need the pace. I need to be able to cut away to the bare essentials. I need to see clearly.

I know winter may not look productive. But, for the most part, it is a good and necessary part of life.

If you want to buy a piece of land, look at it in winter. That is the season when the vegetation dies back and you can assess what you have. The barrenness of the landscape allows you to see.

I seem to be in a season of winter, not just on the calendar, but in my life. I am slowing down. I am craving quiet. In the stillness of winter and in the barrenness of my own personal landscape I am able to take an inventory. I am able to see more clearly who I am and who God is and why he has me on the planet in the first place.

For everything there is a season....

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

A Severe Mercy

I've told this story before. Many times. And probably in previous blog posts. Who knows? I can't remember anything. I am indeed a brainless wonder.

But I tell it again today and for a couple of reasons. First I tell it because sometimes the healing is in the telling and the being heard. And second, I tell it because, in spite of the intense pain and subsequent damage, it had to happen. Bear with me and I'll tell you why.

Yesterday was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. The Tuesday before Thanksgiving will always be a day that sticks in my mind. And in my heart.

It was November 1977. I had turned 14 a few weeks earlier and had a fresh set of braces (AKA the "Grill of Shame") gracing my teeth. I felt awkward and ugly, thanks to my newly found hormones and mouth full of metal. Fourteen is an awful age.

I was in 8th grade. My older sister was a senior. My oldest sister and my brother were away at college. Early in November my mother called my sister and I together and told us, almost casually, that she and my father were getting a divorce. I didn't think a lot of it and I certainly wasn't surprised. My dad had hardly been around for the past year and I had known for a long time that that there were other ladies in his life.

Over the course of the next few weeks I noticed that some of the furniture and various household items gradually made their way into our garage. And then on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, as my sister and I drove into the driveway from school, I saw it. Empty.The garage was empty.

That moment was the turning point for our family and for my life. It wasn't so much that I lost my dad that day. I had never really had him. But I lost my family. My mother broke down and didn't recover emotionally for years, if ever. We became fractured and scattered. Each seeking stability and love and happiness wherever we could find it. At 14, my options were limited. I was alone.

And yet....and yet it had to happen. Theirs was an unhealthy marriage at best. Each brought their own pathologies into the relationship. Each was so needy in their own way. But after years of living with an unfaithful husband my mother finally did what she had to do. She hired a private investigator, gathered the evidence she needed, and filed for divorce. I do not blame her for this. It was hard. It was devastating. It was shameful (at least in her eyes). But it was necessary.

And that is the point I want to make. Divorce is sometimes necessary. Despite all the collateral damage that comes from divorce, and I am well aware of such damage, it is still sometimes the lesser of two evils and oftentimes a severe mercy.

Yesterday, as I was pondering the day that shattered my family, I read that Wayne Grudem, the top dog, so to speak, in systematic theology in the Evangelical world, has changed his tune on divorce. Until recently he had held out that the only biblical reasons for divorce are adultery and desertion. Since getting to know situations where victims were incredibly damaged by abusive marriages, he has taken a second look and determined that abuse is also a biblical reason for divorce. Funny how, when the theoretical becomes concrete, laced with pain, your views of things can change.

Now I have read some other statements of his that greatly concern me, like how restoration of the marriage should always first be pursued, and I have my own thoughts on that that perhaps I will share in another post. But I was thrilled to hear that he had changed his mind on this and this is why: he has a tremendous amount of influence in theologically conservative circles. Many people, many leaders, take their cues from what he teaches and have thus kept victims trapped in abusive marriages or face church discipline for pursuing an unbiblical divorce.

So, yeah, that's huge.

I guess, what I am saying is that divorce, as horrible as it is, is sometimes necessary. And it is funny how, on a day that still brings a feeling of emptiness to my soul because of divorce, I was yet finding myself thankful for it.

It is indeed, at times, a gift from God. A severe mercy.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

On Rape and Slaughtered Lambs

I was reading this morning yet another powerful article about King David and what we have heard called for forever it seems as his "adultery" and how this "adultery" was, in fact, rape. This article brings to the forefront the very destruction of the abuse of power.

I was reminded again of when the prophet Nathan comes to David and tells him the story. There was a  rich man with a whole ton o' sheep and there was a poor man with one lamb. He nurtured and cared for this one lamb and loved this one lamb dearly.

Some dude comes through town and the rich man wants to serve him so instead of choosing a lamb from his own ample supply, he takes the one lamb from the poor man to serve up to his guest.

This is where the story of the lamb ends. Nathan tells the dim-bulb David "You are that man" and David falls down weeping and cries that he has sinned against God. That is where the story ends for us.  We are taught that ll sin is sin against God. Poor Uriah was the poor man whose sheep was stolen from him.

But the lamb? We don't hear about the lamb. It is almost like the lamb didn't matter. Like so many victims of abuse don't matter.

But I stopped and thought about the lamb. The lamb was taken. The lamb was used to satisfy the appetite of another.

The lamb was slaughtered.

THE LAMB WAS SLAUGHTERED. 

She was a lamb that was slaughtered. Those who are abused by power and by appetites, those are lambs that are slaughtered.

Jesus knows. He gets it. Because he was the Lamb that was slaughtered.


Wednesday, September 25, 2019

On Casseroles and Private Pain

Making its way around Facebook is an incredible article called The Casserole Rules which talks about the unspoken rules, so deeply ingrained, which determine what crisis warrants support. Or at least warrants a vat of lasagna or that steaming pan of chicken, rice and broccoli glop that everybody makes and nobody has a name for.

Death. Sickness. A new baby. Maybe a bad car accident or even a house fire. Public pain. Shameless pain. Polite pain. When these things happen, the troops rally and the fridges and freezers fill. Nobody goes hungry. Nobody goes it alone.

But what happens when the husband leaves or a child goes AWOL? What happens when the wave of depression comes crushing down and you can't get out of bed? What happens when you have to spend time and money and more emotional resources than you even thought you had in the lawyer's office? The therapist's office? The pastor's office? More often than not there is silence. No acknowledgement. No support. And certainly no casseroles.

I remember this well in my own life when my father left. There was no public acknowledgement of his leaving. No obituary of the marriage. No neighbors rallying around. No extended family rushing in. Because of the shame surrounding the whole thing we weren't even allowed to tell but one or two people from the time he left until 3 months later when the divorce was final. It was a death with no grieving. A burial done alone.

In the 1990s Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control conducted a study looking into the correlation between childhood trauma and health problems across the lifespan and the association is staggering. They pulled together a list of 10 Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) and your ACE score is an indicator of your risk for all sorts of issues well into adulthood. You get one point for each "yes" to the following questions:

  1. Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? or Act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?
  2. Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you? or Ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?
  3. Did an adult or person at least 5 years older than you ever… Touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way? or Attempt or actually have oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse with you?
  4. Did you often or very often feel that … No one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special? or Your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other?
  5. Did you often or very often feel that … You didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you? or Your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it?
  6. Were your parents ever separated or divorced?
  7. Was your mother or stepmother:
    Often or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her? or Sometimes, often, or very often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard? or Ever repeatedly hit over at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife?
  8. Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic, or who used street drugs?
  9. Was a household member depressed or mentally ill, or did a household member attempt suicide?      
  10. Did a household member go to prison?
When I first read these questions I found it baffling that the death of a parent or sibling was not included. Or a major accident or perhaps a natural disaster. A dear friend had just lost her husband and I was well aware of the intense pain and trauma that she and her children were going through. The explanation is that the list comprises the most common traumas of childhood mentioned in the survey. But I think there is something else to it as well. The Casserole Rule.

Death and accidents and natural disasters are one time incidents that garner much social support. But look at the above list. These are all private traumas. Ongoing traumas. Shame-filled traumas. Traumas nobody wants to talk about. Traumas that, if talked about, make the conversation uncomfortable. And that is part of what makes them so very damaging. That a child enduring these kinds of traumas must do so alone. 

I don't have an answer, really. I wish we could talk about things. About the hard things we face or have faced in the past. I wish people didn't get so uncomfortable about it all. Shuffle their feet and laugh under their breath and change the subject. Or worse, put a smiley face on it. Tell you to be thankful. Pat you on the head. Find a way to tell you what you should have done. Or lob a scripture bomb your way. 

I wish that divorce, abuse, depression, wayward children, addiction, job loss, bankruptcy, special needs children got the same support as the more public and polite traumas. 

Perhaps it starts with being able to share these hard things in life openly, without fear of judgment or scorn. 

How can we do better? 

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.