Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Leading the Blind

Earlier this morning my husband shared with me an amusing podcast from This American Life. A man by the name of Ryan Knighton was sharing some rather humorous stories of life as a blind man, husband, and father. His first story involves trying to find a telephone in a hotel room and just how disoriented he gets. At one point he made the following statement: "When you are blind you can't assume anything. If you get a picture in your mind and you get it wrong, you just live inside your mistake."

Hold everything! That is my LIFE! I am forever assuming that I know what is going on. I form this entire picture in my mind of what life is and what God is doing and I get it all wrong and I end up living in my mistake. Instead of admitting my blindness and asking for help, I just forge ahead, assuming that I've got it all figured out, and I end up fumbling and bumbling around, or worse yet, lost and heading for disaster.

But God doesn't leave the blind to their own devices or misinformed guesses.

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
    along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them
    and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do;
    I will not forsake them. (Isaiah 42:16)

I am thankful that I don't have to live inside my blind mistake. Instead of making assumptions, I can trust the God who sees it all.

One of Those Days

Ever had one of those days? Those days when you just feel kinda nasty? You move through life like groggy molasses, expecting to look down and find cannonballs glued to your feet. Your hair strangely resembles the broom you've had since 1992 and you feel all bloaty-like and your clothes are too tight but you know that if you were to lose any weight it wouldn't come off the wobbly parts and puffy bits but only off your face, which is already too thin, leaving you to look like the cover of some Dust Bowl Years documentary. 

A friend makes a comment about seeing a house that has been poorly maintained and you wonder what on earth he would say about YOUR poorly maintained house. But it is not for lack of trying. It is just that no matter what you do, the Powers To Undo are just stronger and faster and more persistent. The dog pulls used feminine products out of the bathroom trashcan and chews them up in the yard, leaving a very intimate welcome mat for whoever dares venture onto the property. You look in the bathtub and wonder why one small person can possibly need eleven bottles of personal care liquids and 3 razors and hasn't she ever heard of consolidation or at least a trash can? It doesn't make sense. It seems that nothing makes sense.

You were so productive yesterday but today is another story. The refrigerator you cleaned out yesterday smells like rotting broccoli today because you forgot all about the veggie drawer. The rain dribbles and the dogs snooze and you want to snooze, too. It could have something to do with the Benadryl you took last night to ward off the itchy ankles, but maybe not. Maybe having two productive days in a row is too much to ask. Maybe being still has its merits, even for, or maybe especially for, someone who feels so desperate to earn her keep. Maybe, just maybe, it's time to take all the questions and all the angst and all the pride and lay it at the feet of the One who tells me to be still and know that He is God. Maybe we need days like this, too.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Broken Mother's Day

Ugh! You'd think I'd like Mother's Day. But it seems like nothing but overkill to me. A day to stimulate the economy and raise the guilt meter. Greeting cards and jewelry stores and restaurants all seem to cash in on the day aimed at celebrating a woman in the one role in her life where she will never, ever feel like she is doing a good enough job.

I had a mother. I am a mother. My daughter will soon be a mother. As far as I can tell, we are (were, in my mother's case) human beings. Made in the image of God, but made of dust. Our culture has gone totally, certifiably nuts when it comes to mothers. We aren't to be mothers, regular people like you. We are Mothers: Superhuman. Mothers: Infallible. Mothers: Omnipresent Mothers: Omniscient. Mothers: All wise. All powerful. All good.

You moms out there, don't tell me you don't feel that pressure. But you know what? That is not a definition of a mother. That is the definition of God. (Westminster Shorter Catechism: God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.)

I suppose there has always been pressure to be a perfect mother ever since that hives-inducing Proverbs 31 chapter showed up, but I think that, with rise of the Information Age, where instruction and opinions can be had at the turning of a page or the clicking of a mouse, the expectations have spun out of control.

We are told that our choices in feeding, immunizing (or not), disciplining, scheduling (or not), training, nurturing, and educating our children will determine who they become and where they go in life. Young mothers write blogs on the holiness of this calling. Educators urge parents to raise the trajectory of their children's lives. Alarmists tell you that giving your child a vaccine will make them autistic. Doctors tell you that NOT giving your child a vaccine will give the entire country polio. And on and on and on, ad nauseum. And it's ALL UP TO US.

Since when were we God? What makes us so powerful? I think some of this is a backlash against the career woman movement so that stay-at-home moms could feel important. I remember the first time I heard the saying "The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world," I felt a sense of pride and significance. I hear that now and totally freak out. Don't give me that kind of power. I'll screw it up. I'm just a person and a very broken one at that.

I had issues with my own mother. Over time, and upon reflection after her death, those struggles that loomed so large are disappearing in the rear view mirror, growing smaller in the distance. But at one time in my life I was actually afraid of my mother. I didn't know how to interact with her yet be my own person. I didn't know how to love her yet stay safe from a vortex of dysfunctional relations and unrealistic expectations. A counselor commented to me, "Your mother seems awfully powerful." I agreed. "More powerful even than God." I agreed again. Wow! "That is sin. You are attributing to your mother the power only reserved for God." This wasn't just a light bulb moment, it was a whole illuminated sign of light bulbs. Like Times Square on New Year's.

Aren't we doing the same thing? Aren't we, when we expect the mother to be the be-all-and-end-all of her child's existence, giving her too much power? When we expect the mother to be the lawgiver and rule keeper and trainer and sustainer and provider and coach and comforter? When we expect the mother to make all the right decisions and create all the precious moments and grind the wheat and cook organically on a budget and connect with her children in all the deep levels and mold their conscience and right their wrongs and motivate and never, ever, ever grow weary or need a stiff drink?

We are expecting mothers to be God. But I know one thing. I'm NOT God. I am a mother. A terribly sinful, flawed, broken mother who tried her best on some days and gave it all up with a whimper on others. I love my children more than life itself, but there is no way I can ever be everything to them or for them. My mother didn't have the power to determine who I became. I don't have the power to determine who my children become. Only God can do that. And for that I am forever grateful.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


I love my dog but some days he can drive me positively mad. Chip is a big lumbering hunk of a beast who basically resembles a barrel with legs. We got him from Animal Compassion Network and, according to them, his mother was at least part border collie and only 40 lbs. When I was looking him over the Animal Lover People told me that he would only grow to "about 40 lbs." Idiot I was, I didn't realize that the darling  pup was likely already 40 lbs. with miles yet to go.

Chip has been a fabulous dog. Certainly the best dog we've ever had. Quite possibly the best dog on the planet. That is until it comes to walkies. For several years he was a good boy. He would poop in the woods and come when we called and say "please" and "thank you" (well, not really with words, anyway). He would stay in the vicinity of our yard, with no fence, and we could walk him off the leash for the most part. Good boy that he was, he was in voice command maybe 98% of the time with Matt and oh, maybe 80% of the time with me.

But there were times when he was a goner. Deaf as a doornail. That was when there was the smell of some critter about. It was like he could only have a couple of senses going at the same time so if his nose turned on, his ears turned off and he was all alone in the world. Just him and his little precious bunny, oh, so scrumptious.

Then one day he caught sight of a cat. Not any cat but the cat of an elderly couple on the next street. He took off much faster than I thought was physically possible, given his heft, and shut his ears to the hand that feeds him. By the time I got to the scene of the crime he was spinning himself in circles with poor, evil Fluffy affixed to his torso, resisting the pull of the centrifugal force by the sheer power of her claws. When it was all said and done, the cat was fine except for a bruised ego but refused to eat for days, necessitating two trips to the vet. A slightly nasty and condescending letter from her owner and $152 pet bill later, Chip was on a leash.

So, I had to walk the boy on the leash. A pain, of course, but he was emotionally traumatized and would refuse to walk that direction in the neighborhood anyway. So I took to going farther afield and he seemed happy enough until the day he got the hankering for chicken.

Remember that we had no fenced in yard for this pup. A short distance through some woods is an illegally placed camper type residential option whose occupants are not the most savory characters on the planet. One fall day I was busy with the leaves when Chip disappeared for a while. Later we got a visit from one of the characters. I don't think it was the one commonly referred to as "Wild Bill," but I could be wrong. According to him, Chip had eaten his chickens. Or at least killed them. Or maybe he was attempting to greet them up close and personal and all and was a bit too vigorous in his hospitality. I don't know, but they swore up and down Chip was the culprit and their precious chickens were gone.

Not wanting to start a feud with our neighbors, illegal as they were, Matt offered to pay them for the chickens. "Them's fightin' chickens!" Say, what? Mr. Take You For All You're Worth proceeded to tell us that these were prize chickens, worth $100 a piece. Knowing that we were being taken but not wanting to fight over something like poultry when there may one day be bigger fish (or chicken) to fry (there had been an easement dispute with the property owner), Matt coughed over the money in a show of good will all the while being told that if Chip came over there again they would feel free to shoot him. And that's when we fenced in the yard.

Back to my initial point. I love my dog but he drives me crazy. Turns out he's considerably larger than a Border Collie, perhaps part St. Bernard, and, with the onset of middle age and the confinement that comes from leash walking and fence-in living, he's grown into quite the portly fellow. The vet wants him to lose 15 lbs. but Chip isn't getting with the program. When I walk him I'm DRAGGING the dog up hill, all the while his collar is up around his ears, the only thing keeping it from coming off is the roll of fat that comes with it. It's like ratcheting  up the tension on an exercise bike, only I'm the one getting the exercise and he is ambling along looking positively miserable.

Maybe one day I'll have success with the Doggie Spa and Fitness Center and he will have energy again. But I'm not banking on it. Meanwhile, he is fairly self contained and happy, unless he's walking.

To Blog Or Not To Blog

It seems like at least five times a day somebody on Facebook is linking to somebody's else's blog post. Every so often I'll go in and read these posts and I almost always come away feeling like "why bother?" Why should I bother blogging when there are women out there who are so much wiser or funnier or more insightful and much better writers. I know, this isn't a contest and I am the last person on the planet to want to compete. I hate competition with a passion, perhaps from my years of always coming in last, but anyway, I sometimes wonder if it is worth the effort.

These blogger women seem so young and beautiful and talented and they all have like a gazillion kids and homeschool and have big gardens (organic, of course) and bake their own bread and, quite possibly, even grind their own wheat. They cook and love to do it and post recipes. They tell stories of great spiritual insights gained when conversing theology with a 4 year-old in a beautiful hand-smocked dress. They seem to have animals, too. They are all so perky, with their latte infused humor and Pinterest sense of style. Their children are gorgeous chore-loving cherubs, their husbands handsome and strapping, and their hormones mostly intact. Why write when there is already so much better stuff out there?

I do have things that come to mind. And friends keep encouraging me to write. But there are so many limitations. Already the hapless victims of my Facebook charades, two of my offspring do not want to be mentioned in any way, shape or form in a Facebook status, much less an emotion-laden blog. I must respect that. I must respect them. They did not sign up to have their life on cyber display, even if only 68 people ever view that particular post. I could go into greater detail with the struggles I had growing up but there I must tiptoe along a fine line between honesty and honoring the parents that brought me into this world. It's just so much more complicated than I thought it would be.

Life is messy. That is what I know. And, from what I hear, you are to write what you know. At least that's how it seems to work best for most people. But how do I write about messy and who on earth would want to read it? I am totally stumped.