Monday, January 28, 2013

It Is Worse Than I Thought

This morning was not a good morning. I was on Day #5 of the Migraine From Hell and I was heading to the MD for my annual exam and labwork, which means that I had no breakfast and (cue Psycho theme) no coffee. To add to the the melee, I was battling a number of personal demons.

You know these critters. The beliefs and insecurities and obsessions and pathologies that rage within you year after stinking year and you cannot put those puppies to bed and move on with your life. Or you think you have done so only to find one rear its ugly head out of nowhere and you feel stripped of everything you are and all the ground you've covered and you wonder how somethimg so little can still be so big in your life after so long.

Anyway, I was facing down my demons in the car and getting really up close and personal with God and feeling like I was actually making some strides in the demon bashing department. I got kind of excited thinking how I was growing in grace and maturity and maybe people would one day look up to me and think I was wise and BAMMO! Like a 2X4 smaccked between my eyes. I was totally laid low by my self-centeredness.

I've never been good at anything but I seem to be good at this. Somehow I managed to turn a raw and real moment of struggle into race for self-improvement. I wasn't, deep down truly in my heart, interested in dying to my idols and resting in the arms of Jesus. I was interested in moving one more rung up the ladder of the Ginny Turns Into The Wise Woman That Everybody Admires Plan. It wasn't about my worsiping God. It was about wanting others to worship me. Plain and simple.

Tonight I found my problem while reading Tullian Tchividjian's "Glorious Ruin". It is called the theology of glory.

"In the theology of glory, life becomes a ladder. Each little victory or improvement brings us one rung closer to the top--which is always just out of sight........we communicate that God exists for our benefit, happiness, self-fulfillment, and personal transformation. These aren't necessarily bad things, and God isn't necessarily opposed to them, but God in Christ cannot be reduced to a means to our selfish ends. He is the end Himself!"

I may be the only person on the planet that can turn repentance into a self-improvement plan. I am so thankful that the gospel is big enough and deep enough and wide enough to cover this as well.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Gotta Get a Meal Ticket

Yes! I do! The above title was the name of a song in Elton John's  "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" album. I have not the foggiest what the it was actually about and I didn't listen to it much seeing how I didn't care for the tune (my only real criteria), but I find the title rather catchy and fitting for my predicament.

I was telling my husband just yesterday that if there was a responsibility, anything at all, that I could hand over forever to someone else, it would be meals and all that they entail: planning, shopping, prep, cleanup. Give me laundry. Give me yard work. Give me windows. Yes! Windows! Have me scrubbing toilets daily with a toothbrush or scooping poop in the yard. Reroofing? I don't care. Give me just about any domestic responsibility on the planet but just don't make me have to decide, day in and day out, what is for dinner.

It is all so wearying and I can't stand it. I cannot think of any other daily or weekly (or monthly even) activity that requires so much decision making, financial outlay, and energy output that produces such little reward. Think about it. On the most basic of scales you still have to do this. You have to decide WHAT you want to eat, the angst of which will be described in great detail below. You have to go to the store and purchase the necessary ingredients and, if you are anything like me, you will come home minus one key item, necessitating either another trip to store or a foray into your noncreative culinary skills. THEN you have to prep the stuff. Cutting and chopping and sizzling away, dirtying dish after dish. Next comes trying to get it on the table in a timely fashion at an appropriate tempererature for people who may or may not even be at home, much less have any desire to consume the fruit of your labor. A few blinks and a couple of mumbles later the food is gone (or the eaters have gone to Burger King in lieu of tonight's bizarre concoction) and you are left holding the .....dishes. Next comes putting the leftovers away, which means you have to venture into the bowels of the pantry for Little Plasic Containers That Have No Lids. Then it is dish after dish after dish, easier when the dishwasher is empty but, more often than not, it is full of clean dishes resulting in another wearying postprandial activity so that you can just tidy up and be done with the entire ordeal. It is completely unsatisfying.

Why...why....WHY is this so hard for me? I think part of it has to do with my history. I did not grow up with fond memories of Norman Rockwellesque family meals where we helped with the cooking and sat around the table, exchanging stories of our day, and gleaning wisdom from the pater familias. From the time I was 14 on I pretty much ate meals by myself, living on whatever was the diet food of choice until Lean Cuisines came along. Thank you, Stouffer's.

As a full fledged adult (at least they say I am), it is now my duty to feed my family, only any meal planning turns into a schizophrenic-like event. Holly Homemaker meets Frugal Franny meets Vegan Vanessa meets Paleo Paulette meets Organic Olivia. In the words of H.I. McDonough in "Raising Arizona", "Now there's what's right and there's what's right and never the twain shall meet." How on earth to even plan meals that appeal to my family and fit into our rather stringent budget, all the while satisfying the often conflicting opinions of the loud and incessant voices of the Virtuous Eaters, is totally beyond me. Even with my underutilized 4 year degree in nutrition from a large accredited state university, the buffet of sensibilities and options is disorienting and overwhelming.

The shopping may or not be an issue, given the day. Coupons are virtually impossible for me to track down, clip out, get in my pocket, and then actually remember to use. About halfway through any shopping trip I get tired and overwhelmed and hungry and have to pee and then feel guilty about all the money I am spending and bail on the entire excursion, arriving home with an odd assortment of things like bouillon cubes, kidney beans, cereal, and instant coffee.

Meal prep is an adventure. I have about 2 squre feet of counter space and no knife skills. Suffice it to say that it is a miracle that I still have ALL of all of my digits. The meal itself produces little stress for me, as long as it is just our family. It is when we add non-family guests that I really freak out. What if they don't like it? What if the food isn't "right"? Have I offended them by serving tub margarine rather than real butter or conventional veggies rather than organic? Is it bad that my spaghetti sauce isn't organic or my salsa comes from a jar? Are they disgusted that I didn't spread the hot dog buns in a decorative fashion on a nice pottery platter? Are paper napkins an affront to their aesthetic sensibilities? What if we don't have the right manners or pass food the wrong direction? And are we supposed to wait until somebody (I've never figured out who) takes the first bite?  Maybe I was raised after wolves after all.

Cleanup isn't so much of an issue. If I don't have to do all the former, the latter is a piece of cake. You really can't screw up cleanup, unless you break the dishes, but since they are my own dishes I really don't care.  But you can screw up food storage. And this is where I fail again. Leftovers get left over for weeks. Spilled jars leak sticky fluid in the fridge, gluing the gallon of milk to the shelf. The hot dogs get poorly wrapped and wind up resembling petrified sticks of dynamite. And let's not forget all that produce that grows into a fuzzy, liquified goo in the back of the produce bin.

I could go on and on. You get the picture and is precisely why I say I hate, HATE meal responsibilities. Either it is cereal and milk from now on or I just gotta, gotta get a meal ticket.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tweaking and the Pursuit of Perfection

Earlier today a friend mentioned that quite often his clients ask him to "tweak" a project, but in reality want to make a major change. Most often they ask for a tweak because it would presumably cost less than a change. Funny how semantics work that way. I found it amusing that this topic would even come up because tweaking has been on my mind a lot recently. I think our culture has a huge problem with tweaking. It is like we're a nation of Tweakaholics.

What is tweaking, really? According to the Oxford Dictionary Online (it sounds credible, doesn't it?), to tweak something is to make fine adjustments to it. I think of tweaking is making it "just right". The problem is that "just right" is so elusive. Perfection really will never be found this side of heaven.

Tweaking is a luxury, really. It is what you do when you no longer have to get your most basic needs met and can move on to some level of fulfillment. The only problem is, that the tweaking is almost always done in an area that never will truly fulfill.

What if we collected the time we spend tweaking our lives and used it for some nobler purpose? What if we were less obsessed about what we look like or what we wear or what we eat or what we live in or what we drive and turned that time, energy, and resources in a more worthy direction? What if we spent the bulk of who we are in pursuit of things that do not fade away, wither, and die? Almost nothing we tweak can be taken with us. Not waistlines or kitchen counters or paint colors or hair or engines or term papers.

There is no perfection this side of heaven. We are told that "godliness with contentment is great gain" (I Timothy 6:6). We are to hold on to things very loosely. We are to hold on to life itself very loosely. Maybe we should try doing less tweaking and more loving. I wonder what that would look like.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

No Shame

I have pretty much been a wimp my entire life. All spineless 49 years of it. But every so often something happens that lights a fire under me and as my husband well knows, watch out. Sometimes it is seeing somebody else speak out with boldness that gives me courage. Sometimes it is getting so frustrated that I, as my grandmother would say, "bust a gusset". Sometimes it is just becoming so confident and at peace with my convictions that I cannot help but speak out. Today there was a harmonic convergence of all three.

The issue at hand is the Christian's use of antidepressants. (Note that when I am regarding antidepressants in their use to treat not only depression but also anxiety spectrum disorders and OCD) Now I have had a more intimate relationship with this class of drug than many people out there. Starting at age 12 when I could no longer function and had developed bizarre rituals to keep myself safe to age 17 while I tried to starve myself out of existence to age 24 when I reacted poorly to oral contraceptive use in early marriage and finally to age 33 when I could not longer live with a constant state of doom looming over my head and got on them for good. Antidepressants have been a part of my life for a long, long time. Every doctor I have seen in the past two decades has told me that my body obviously does not make enough serotonin. No doctor has ever seen a problem with their use.

Apparently a lot of Christians do. The concerns seem to go something like this: If you take meds you will feel better and therefore not address the sin causing your depression. Painful emotions are what drive you to Jesus and if you take meds you won't hurt and will not experience the depth of God's mercy. If you take meds you will become addicted to false something or nother. Meds are overused and it is unspiritual to be jumping on the bandwagon? I'm not sure really what all the hooplah is about, now that I think about it. I just know that taking meds, this class of meds, is a shameful thing for many Christians. 

Well, this is what I have to say. We seek medical treatment for all sorts of conditions but feel it is somehow unbiblical to pursue so for ongoing depression? What are we? Christian Scientists? No. We live in a fallen world in fallen bodies. Sometimes those fallen bodies can create debilitating emotions.What if the depression isn't a spiritual problem? Or what if it even only partially a spiritual problem? What if a medication can enable you to better see the truth of the gospel and the wondrous works of God? What if the medication clears the cobwebs from your brain so that you are better able to see your sin and repent with joy? What if the medication actually helps you to sin less and embrace God more? This has been so true in my life and in the lives of so many people I know. Taking antidepressants is not a sin. But I would dare to say that making somebody feel inferior or ungodly because they do take medication IS.

I know that that sounds very harsh. But to treat somebody who is pursuing healing in their life as somehow unspiritual because they may need medication is downright cruel. We aren't all alike. Life is not a level playing field. Some of us are stronger than others in some areas and weaker in others. We are not the same. And sometimes we need some help. 

Please know that I am not saying that drugs are the answer. Drugs alone are never the answer.  Only full dependence on the grace of God is the answer. But if taking meds enables me to see God more clearly and trust him more fully and be the wife and mother and friend that I need to be and live the life he called me to live, then I am going to take them. Without shame.