Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Biggest Heart I've Ever Known

Twenty-four hours ago I answered the phone and heard her voice. Her broken, weary voice. "Matt died. Matt died yesterday. He's gone." Amy proceeded to tell me in shock-induced detail the most heartbreaking story. Of deserted beaches and tides and gasping for air. Of being stranded on the sandbar with her two sons for over an hour, watching as the sea took her husband's body away. Of flagging down help and a ride in an ambulance. Of not needing to identify the body because his was the only one missing in the water.

Over two years ago I got a call. Amy was at the hospital. She was losing her baby. After miscarriage upon miscarriage, she had gotten this baby to 22 weeks. I spent the night with her boys while she and Matt spent the night laboring to bring a not-yet-ready-to-be-born baby into this world.

Two days later Amy poured her heart out in the most beautiful words which many of you read, which I shared in my post "No Words, Just Tears." Because there are times that there are no words, just tears.

There really is no way to fathom this loss. Matt was her stronghold. The love of her life. Her kind, compassionate, strong, wise, gentle, creative, goofy, quirky, hilarious husband of 20 years. And he was the father that every kid would dream of.

Who wouldn't want a father who was part Peter Pan, part Norm Abrams (the This Old House guy)? Who could build your tiny home and expansive lot by Bee Tree Creek into an Appalachian Neverland?

Matt Auten was all heart. The biggest heart I have ever known. All tender, gentle, humble, and often broken heart. He felt deeply and loved deeply. He was a brilliant musician with a voice smooth as butter. He was a witty wordsmith. He saw life the way it was. No delusions. No pretending.

He was the closest thing I have ever had to a little brother. He was a kindred spirit and fellow weather junky. He called me one day, "I am over by Home Depot and the sky is a Kermit Frog green." We shared a dream of storm chasing. We shared a love of severe weather and Diet Dr. Pepper and a hatred for poison ivy.

You could pour your heart out to Matt and know that he not only listened, but he felt it with you. No condescension. No fixes. No heady theological answers. Just compassion and empathy and a mutual need to cling to the grace and mercy of God in a world we don't understand.

On Tuesday that grace and mercy he so clung to was made made fully him. I picture him now, singing praises to Jesus on guitar, maybe those hymns I begged him time and time again to record. I see him there, surrounded by those babies he never touched, and by Baby Christopher, whose tiny finger he held for those few brief moments. I see him there, rejoicing and loving and maybe even building tree houses in heaven, while wearing shorts, no less. With a Diet Dr. Pepper in hand. I see his tears washed away.

But for his dear wife, Amy, who has experienced too much loss already, of babies who just weren't meant for this world, and now of her lover, rock, and best friend, my heart breaks. For his sons, who at ages 9 and 7, have lost their hero, there are no words.

No words. Just tears.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Connecting the Dots

When I was a kid I used to love those connect-the-dots puzzles (truth is, I still do). Having the artistic ability of a warthog, it was great fun to draw a line (never terribly straight in my case) from dot to dot and see, in the end, that it actually looked like something.

But the only reason my connect-the-dots artwork ever looked like something was because they had numbered the dots for me. Sometimes it was completely counterintuitive to draw a line from Dot 16 all the way across the page to Dot 17, when it would have been so much easier to go directly to Dot 20 right next door.

But following the numbers was the only way to get the intended picture and connecting the dots any other way would have ended up with an entirely different picture.

Now I am a grown-up. Or so they say. My life is filled with dots. But no numbers. Others' lives are filled with dots. But no numbers. Yesterday I discovered how easy it is to connect the dots in the sequence that seems most logical to me and come up with a completely inaccurate picture of somebody else. It breaks my heart.

I have asked for forgiveness. It has been most graciously granted.

I am learning. I am learning that the most logical connections are not the most accurate ones. In order to know where to go next, which dot comes next in the picture, I need to know more. I need to ask questions. I need to listen and listen and listen some more and even then humbly accept the fact that my limited skills may paint a less than full picture.

I do indeed see through a glass darkly.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Fellowship of Grievers

Robin Williams is gone. Suicide. I guess the darkness was too dark. The future too grim. The pain just too much. I don't criticize him for that. As many others have said recently, there but for the grace of God go I.

Depression has been part of my life, along with its buddies Anxiety and Obsessive Thoughts, for almost 40 years. Sometimes it comes. Sometimes it goes. Sometimes it has been crippling. Other times more like a little black rain cloud following me through the day. I have had my most intense depression as an adult and as a Christian.

One of the hardest things about depression is the loneliness. The isolation. The world around you spins on. The people around you continue to live happy, productive, and fruitful lives while your heart feels like it is being ripped out of your chest. You hurt. Yet you are alone in your hurt. It seems like nobody else in the world can understand. You long, more than anything, for somebody to look you in the eye and say, "I know. I know."

And that is the tragedy of suicide. You often don't know that somebody else was feeling the same kind of despair until it is too late. You don't find out that you had a kindred spirit until he is gone. And that makes the loneliness all the worse.

What is it about our culture that makes depression such a topical taboo? And what is going on in our churches that people cannot be honest and open about their pain? After all, Jesus was "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." (Isaiah 53:3)

I need to take that to heart. That Jesus is a kindred spirit. But can't we also learn from him? If the Savior of the world was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, then shouldn't it be ok to let others know that we hurt?

If indeed we are to "mourn with those who mourn" (Romans 12:15), how on earth are we supposed to do that if everybody is too ashamed to admit that they are mourning? I don't know about anybody else, but I need fellowship. Fellowship in pain and fellowship in grief. I need a Fellowship of Grievers. And maybe if we grieve together, it won't hurt so much.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Heaven Can Wait

I am a realtor. I see it all the time. People want heaven on earth.

Oftentimes I blame Martha Stewart or HGTV or Pinterest. All those magazines. All those shows. All those websites. All those ideas. To live well is to live out of a Pottery Barn catalog, or maybe inside the closest Ikea.

I get caught up in it, too. Though my affections are less stainless appliances, granite counters, monstrous master bathrooms and cavernous closets and more along the lines of farmhouses and small towns and wind blowing through my hair. I am sometimes tempted to pat myself on the back for being so much less materialistic than those obnoxious couples on House Hunters. 

I am not like that, I say.

But I want what I want. Perhaps as non-mainstream as it is.

Last month we drove right down the middle of Illinois. And I melted. Oh, how I longed for a life God has not given me and in a place he has not put me.

I dream of a white, foursquare farmhouse with an eat-in kitchen and window over the sink so that I could look out over the acres of corn and see the tornado coming (yes, seriously). Of course, this house would be on the edge of a small town where everybody knows each other and crime is nonexistent. I would spend my days working on the farm and my evenings sitting with my husband on our front porch. It would be heaven on earth.

But God has not called to live in heaven on earth, or what I perceive that to me would be heaven on earth. He has called me to live here. Where I am now.

My longings to tweak my exceedingly blessed life into my own personal hand-crafted heaven so easily pull me away from my true love him with my whole heart and my neighbor as myself and to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with my God.

As for the farmhouse in the cornfield? Well, heaven can wait.

Wanted: Medics For the Culture War

It has been over twenty years since I first began hearing about the Culture War. We were warned over and over again about how the world is going to hell in a hand basket and it is all their fault. They, those people who are not us, have cast off all moral restraint which is resulting in the end of the tidy world as we know it.

I heard it. I heard it some more. I still hear it. Them vs. Us. Everywhere. And we must get out there and fight that war. Kill those enemies. Or, if necessary, circle the wagons and wait out the whole shootin' match.

I may have overstated. I am not trying to be terribly offensive, but I am weary. And concerned.

I have mentioned a time or two that my father was a Navy pilot in World War II. He flew nifty planes in the Pacific Theater and, best I can guess from the bits and pieces I have heard, did some rather heroic things. During childhood the memories of his old Navy days graced the wall, complete with photos of uniforms and airplanes and medals and flags. He may have been the most patriotic man I know.

I was well into adulthood before I found out that his father, my grandfather, was in World War I. I never knew this man, but I hear that he was a quiet and gentle man. Instead of flying the planes or shooting from the trenches at the well defined enemy, he served in a different, much needed way. He drove an ambulance. According to my father, "he could make an ambulance GO places."

Where there is war, there are wounded.

When the economy goes in the tank, we tend to rail against whatever political or economic ideology we feel is responsible. Do we out as much energy into caring for the casualties of a failing economy? Do we give of our resources to those suddenly without a paycheck? Or a home?

When we hear that the percentage of children born to women out of wedlock is reaching 41% (or even 50%, as I saw recently), we shake our heads at the moral laxity, tighten our grip on our own daughters, and jump on the modesty bandwagon. But do we come alongside those women who find themselves lonely and overwhelmed? Do our hearts melt for those children who might not know what a father is?

It is easier to fight an enemy out there than to love a neighbor in here. Up close and personal. Where things might get messy. Hands dirty.

We can debate and campaign until the cows come home. We might very well be right in our position. But the wounded are not healed by arguments or upright moral standing. The wounded are healed by kindness and compassion, mercy and grace, and love.

My grandfather may not have been a war hero. He will never go down in the history books. His actions didn't change the outcome of any battle. But I can guarantee you that to those wounded soldiers, his presence, his care, and his willingness to go to scary, messy places meant the difference between life and death.

The Culture War has plenty of soldiers. It's time we trained to be medics.

Monday, July 21, 2014

What Will They Remember?

Recently I spent some time talking with an older woman about her parents and grandparents. Who they were. What they did. What they were like. It is so easy to see people of the past as just names on paper. Dates in a book.

As she talked I found myself amazed at how very real these people had been. Not just real in their existence but real in their personalities. Adjectives flowed describing people who lived and breathed and laughed and cried before cars were in the road and plumbing in the house.

Adjectives like forceful, domineering, caring, tidy, frugal, sharp tongued, opinionated. These people who have been gone for decades suddenly came to life in my imagination and it got me thinking. How do I want to be remembered?

It is no secret that I struggle. A lot. I beat myself up. A lot. My husband calls me a guilt magnet. A lot.

There are so many things that I should do, but I don't. There are so many things that I should be, but I am not.

So, so, SO many shoulds.

I should be more productive. More disciplined. More accomplished. More competent. More "together."

But is that how I want my children and grandchildren to remember me? To be described to the generations that follow?

What about this?

"She was one smart cookie."


"She looked great for her age!"


"Wow! Gubby! What a figure!"

No. No. NO!

I don't want to be remembered to the generations that follow for my accomplishments or impressive abilities, my beauty or my brains.

I pray that one day they will say of me...

"She was kind. She was compassionate. She was gracious. She was loving. She was merciful. She was understanding. And she was fun."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Emotional Pornography

(Sometimes I just have to write a painful and honest post. There may not be another person on the planet who can relate, but if there is, if my post is of any encouragement at all to somebody who has struggled with the same thing and has felt so alone, then I count my vulnerability  worth it. If you cannot relate, well then perhaps one day, somewhere, you may come across somebody else for whom this is a significant topic in their life. And you can say, "I know somebody else who has struggled with that." Think of this as continuing education of sorts.)

I was boy crazy from as early as I can remember. I cannot remember ever a time in my childhood where I commented, either out loud or in my mind, "YUCK! BOYS!" Boys were never yuck to me.

I married my best friend. Ours was not a terribly romantic relationship, as per the movies and all . . . no stars in our eyes and fireworks in our hearts, ours was more of an "I trust you more than anybody on the planet and I cannot imagine a day without you" sort of relationship.

I learned about love from the movies. I learned about marriage from nobody. You can imagine my horror when, a few months into our marriage, I got a crush on another guy. I didn't know this was possible. I didn't know what to do.

I didn't understand why, when I was married to my best friend and a wonderful man by any account, I could have a heart that longed for somebody else and for something more.

It was when my husband began working long, long hours that my fantasy world really kicked into gear.

You hear so much about pornography, the huge number of boys and men addicted to it, and also now the huge number of women who find it strangely enticing. This is not the kind of fantasy I am talking about. There was nothing sexual to this.

I was tired and worn out physically, emotionally, spiritually. My heart was empty. I wanted to be rescued by my Knight in Shining Armor. That couldn't happen because I was married. But it didn't mean I couldn't dream.

I didn't get into those Christian romance novels. I didn't need to. My imagination was good enough on its own. But romantic movies would floor me. One story line, one scene, and I would find myself longing for the person on the screen rather than the person by my side.

A few years later I heard the term "emotional pornography." It had a name.

Like sexual pornography, emotional pornography is based on a lie. It distracts from the here and now to convince you of something that doesn't even exist in real life. It promises to quench your thirst for love, all the while making you thirstier than before.

I was in the thick of it one day, begging God to fill that hole in my heart that had me longing for something more when I had a glimpse of insight. It didn't explain the whole problem and did not absolve me of responsibility, but it made sense as to why I was so darn vulnerable.

Back when I was in counseling for my eating disorder, the counselor asked me who the men were in my life. Nobody, I said. He was shocked. Did I have a relationship with my father? No. Grandfathers? No, they were dead anyway. Uncles? No. Both my parents were only children. Family friends? None. He was actually a bit shocked and said that every girl needs a father or father-type figure in her life to give her validation. Who knew? Nothing more was ever said.

Fast forward to middle age and my male-hungry heart. I realized that I had never had a reasonably close relationship with a male that did not have the potential for romance attached. I had no idea what it was like to be loved and respected by a male, with no ulterior motive whatsoever. Not a clue.

I began to understand how huge the hole in my heart was and how pathetic my attempts at filling that hole had been. Like pouring teacups in the Grand Canyon. I realized that that hole in my life can never be filled by anyone other than God. It was unfair for me to expect even my husband to be able to do the job that he was never created to do.

Eventually I realized something else, another hideous similarity between sexual pornography and emotional pornography. Just as we cry out against sexual pornography and how it turns women into nothing but objects meant to satisfy, if only for a moment, the insatiable appetites of sex-hungry men, emotional pornography was turning men into objects to satisfy my ever present hunger for love and affection.

Just as sexual pornography distorts the view of sex in real life, emotional pornography distorts real life as well.

Just as sexual pornography becomes an all consuming, self-centered addiction, so emotional pornography turns in on itself, pulling you away from the people who love you most and from the people who you are called to love.

I am not saying I have licked the problem. I am sure the temptation will always be there. I now know what I can and cannot watch and when I am falling into the trap immortalized in my favorite line from Sleepless in Seattle: "You don't want to be in love. You want to be in love in a movie."

I now have to talk myself through the lie of fantasy that is the romantic comedy or chick flick. But now I know it is a lie . . . like all kinds of pornography—a lie.

Most of all, I have to rely on God to fill my Grand Canyon of a heart so that I can turn and love the man God has called me to live my life with, my best friend and husband.

Beyond Mommy Blogging

(I wrote this blog post about 6 weeks ago but, for whatever reason, failed to post it. There was a lot I left unsaid, mainly because I am a wimp. Then Jamie the Very Worst Missionary hit it out of the park with this post and said what I wanted to but haven't. These are the words I was able to write.)

There are a lot of Mommy Bloggers. There aren't so many "Moooooooom" (said with the inflected tone of an irritated teenager) Bloggers. This has always baffled and bugged me.

Sure we can all giggle and guffaw at (and relate to) you Mommy Bloggers and your grocery store expeditions gone wrong, your trash infested cars (we called them "rolling dumpsters"), your sleepless nights with barfing toddlers, your tiny Picassos who choose the dining room wall as a canvas. We get this. We have our own stories.

Don't get me wrong. I love these Mommy Blogs. In an era of Parenthood Perfectionism it is nice to see that normal kids, and normal moms, exist out there. I believe it is of utmost importance for moms to see other moms dealing with the same stuff. There is a camaraderie in the ranks that I believe is good and necessary to keep moms from putting too-high expectations on themselves and too-high expectations on their children.

And, the truth is, you HAVE to laugh at it all, or you would cry. "Embrace the chaos" was our motto when we insanely chose to have four kids in six years. Chaos actually sounded like fun. (What were we thinking?)

But there aren't so many "Moooooooom (insert rolling eyes)" Bloggers out there. In fact, I  have hardly found any. And this is hard. Because, in the absence if the real good, the down and dirty of it, the war stories from both within the ranks and those who have (amazingly enough) survived, life gets lonely, and we can feel hopeless, like we are the only ones.

A couple of dynamics happen here, not only are we now unaware that anybody else out there is going through the struggles that we are with our teenagers, this is when the achievement announcements begin to roll in. The praise and adulation of the very kid who, just a few years earlier, smeared his poop all over the neighbor's dog is broadcast all over Facebook.

Gone are the streaking toddlers, and the pea slinging 3 year-olds and the preschooler who just colored every square inch if her baby sister's body in technicolor Sharpies. We are now given a steady display of honor rolls and Eagle Scouts and college scholarships and ballet recitals and MVP awards and student missionaries ad nauseum. It is an endless parade of evidence that their kids have it all together and are going places. And endless evidence that they DID IT RIGHT as parents to produce such assets to society.

What happens to the rest of us? We wonder. Is this what matters? Did we do something wrong? Have we failed our children? Are we the only ones slogging through this meat grinder?

Sure, because of the Mommy Bloggers, you know that you are not alone when your toddler smashes every egg in the carton or tells old Mrs. McGillicuddy that she is fat, but do you know that you are not alone when your teenager . . . ?

See? Here is the problem. We can't post that stuff. Our kids aren't oblivious toddlers whose cute, though messy, antics can grace the very public forums of social media and blog posts. They are living, breathing, READING people who deserve the privacy to grow and develop and become the people God intends them to be.

Sure, I want to be able to share the more mature chaos and drama that rocks our home on a daily basis but, out of respect for my children, I can't. That doesn't mean that I don't long for camaraderie. In fact, I need more than ever to know that I am not the only one in the trenches.

Maybe some parents DO have those Most Excellent Parenting Skills. Maybe some managed to pop out children wired to be exceptionally mature and focused and driven and happy, all rolled into one. Maybe some are able to skim over that very delicate stage of life called adolescence without so much as a scratch. But I would imagine that those are few and far between.

I once heard somebody say, "If you do it right in the younger years then you will not have trouble when they are teens." I just don't think I can buy that bill of goods because there are no formulas and one look at what is happening physiologically and neurologically within the bodies and brains of teenagers is enough to make you want to run far, far away.

But you can't. Because you are the parent. In my case, you are the mom. A mom who needs to know that other moms are there with her. In the trenches. Struggling to survive.

Please don't get me wrong. I love my children more than life itself. They are so wonderful and so unique. Life is no cakewalk for any of them, and if I look at it from the long term perspective, I think that is a good thing. I want to be able to love them through all of the growing and developing and pulling and pushing and questioning and weeping and gnashing of teeth.

I just can't do it alone. I need other moms. My trench is lonely.

If you need a friend in combat, let me know. I will be there for you.

Monday, April 21, 2014

This Mother's Biggest Regret

Two months ago our youngest turned 18. Next month she will finish high school. From many angles, we are done. By the standards of our culture and our legal system, all four of our children are now adults.

This is a huge milestone for most parents and it is for us as well.

Now I am somebody who is always full of regrets. Much more than I should be. It is easy for me to look back and regret so much and, at times, wish I could start over with the wisdom and experience I have now, but with the energy I had then. Sigh.

I was amazed then, when after sifting through all of the regrets I have from my 24+ years of parenthood (and there are, surprisingly, fewer than I would have expected) one regret stood high and tall above the rest.

I regret all the times I caved to peer pressure in what parenting my kids should look like.

I cannot recount to you how many times that I did or said things, not out of a sense of deep conviction or love, not out of prompting by the Holy Spirit, but because somebody out there told me that was what I was supposed to do.

I will never get those times back. And for that I weep.

I will never get back the times that I was harsh or rigid or suspicious, when I held the line (or tried to) in areas that didn't really matter.

I will never get back the times I let my frustration get the best of me, because my children were not living up to my expectations, because somebody out there had painted the picture of what my kids should look like.

Most of all, I will never, ever get back the times when I let the guilt of not living up to the standards of what a good parent should be suck everything out of me so that I had nothing to give to the children in my care.

In trying to live up to others' expectations of what a good mother is,  I robbed my children of the only mother they had. 

I can't go back. I can't have a do over. And even if I could, I am sure that, in my fearful, spineless, insecure way, I would cave again.

So, instead, I pray that God will redeem those times when I was harsh instead of compassionate, when I was rigid instead of flexible, when I was suspicious instead of trusting, when I was self-absorbed instead of engaged, when I was fearful instead of confident, when I was frustrated instead of patient, when I was indifferent instead of loving.

And I pray that somebody else can learn from me. If you are getting the pressure to raise your child in ways that go against your grain and your gut and in ways that are not prescribed by God himself, then trust the Holy Spirit in your life to guide how you love and raise your own children. Confidently trust that he gave these kids to you and not to those other people out there who seem to have it all figured out.

Don't cave. Be the parent God made you, not the one somebody else thinks you should be.

And to my children, please please know that I am ever so sorry. I am sorry that I tried to stuff you into somebody else's mold. I am sorry for failing to see just how wonderful you are in your own ways because I was too focused on the wrong goal. I am sorry if I gave you a very, very wrong sense of the character of God, because I failed to give you grace when you needed it most. If I could give you back those times, I would. I love you more than you will ever know.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

On Un-Straight Paths

If you want to go west from North Carolina to Tennessee, there are several routes you can take. None of them are straight and none of them are easy.

The most straightforward way to go is via I-40, which follows the Pigeon River through the Pigeon River Gorge in the Great Smoky Mountains. Most everyone now agrees that blasting a route through the gorge was a mistake seeing how, every few years, a piece of mountain comes tumbling down, blocking the road for weeks or months at a time while highway crews clean the mess up and engineers scratch their heads and devise a new way to keep the mountains up and the road clear.

I have driven this stretch what seems like a million times since I first moved from Tennessee to Western North Carolina in 1986. But it wasn't until I had a newer car with a built in compass (I love those things) that I got a real kick out of driving the gorge. You see, you can be driving on I-40 West toward Tennessee and look up at your compass and it says you are heading east. And it is right. 

The road is not straight. It can't be straight. You have to trust the street signs and the map and believe that you will indeed get west, even though you are driving due east.

An even stranger setup takes place 50 miles east. Immediately west of downtown Asheville, NC is the not-so-harmonic convergence of 2 interstates as well as a surface street on the Smoky Park Bridge. Yes, these all meet on a bridge over the French Broad River. 

The Smoky Park Bridge is a dreadful thing and the bane of existence for anybody who has to drive it on a regular basis. I am convinced (but have never had it confirmed) that there must be more wrecks per linear foot of pavement on this bridge than anywhere else in the state. 

Three years ago I road with my newly permitted driving daughter as we crossed the bridge, and crossed three lanes ON the bridge, during rush hour while I was having a hot flash. Nothing scares me any more.

But the interesting thing is that when you leave downtown Asheville and head west out of town, as you cross the bridge, you are on I-240 West and I-26 East AT THE SAME TIME. It baffles the heck out of visitors and, well, going east and west at the same time kind of breaks the laws of physics. 

Driving west yet going east? Going east and west at the same time? It seems counterintuitive but get yourself a map and your bearings and it all makes sense. 

You see that I-40 has to follow the Pigeon River THROUGH the mountains so it doesn't have to go OVER the mountains and that involves, at times, an almost corkscrew level of winding in all directions. 

You see that I-26 comes from the north (even though it says it is coming from the west...sheesh!) and I-240 comes from the east and they have to cross the bridge together before parting ways a few miles down the road. 

With a map it all makes sense. 

As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. — Isaiah 55:9

I have to remind myself of this. A lot. My life doesn't always seem to be heading where I think it should. There are too many twists and turns. I get carsick. It can seem like everything is going the wrong direction. It can seem like I am going the wrong direction.  I am tempted to doubt God's recommended route and am convinced that there must be an easier, more straightforward way. One with road signs that make sense, not road signs that say west when my compass says east. Not road signs that say west and east at the same time. 

I am on the ground. I can't see the map. God has the ultimate vantage point. He knows where the twists and turns are heading no matter how perplexing and counterintuitive they may seem. 

My job is the stay the course and trust the One who says "This is the way. Walk in it." (Isaiah 30:21)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Prepping To Give

I don't watch TV mainly because I can't watch TV. We don't have cable and, with the mountains all around, it would take a pretty expensive antenna for us to be able to pull in any stations from the air. That said, my viewing is limited totally to the internet.

So you can imagine my disappointment (that word is not near strong enough) when I discovered that my favorite shows, "Chopped" and "House Hunters," had been removed from Amazon Prime. For two days I was at a loss until I hit upon an interesting offering on YouTube, "Doomsday Preppers."

"Doomsday Preppers" is a National Geographic documentary series that features  people preparing for an upcoming disaster. This is not just any upcoming disaster, but THE disaster, as in "the end of society as we know it" kind of disaster.

The disaster itself varies from biological warfare to civil war to an electromagnetic pulse that will fry all electronics to massive volcanic eruptions to governmental genocide to total economic collapse to, well, you get the picture. Whatever the disaster, the result will be chaos and starvation and violence and looting and lots and lots of death. And the solution seems to be the same. Store up enough supplies for a number of years, get yourself a bunker and an escape or "bug out" plan, and, by all means, have enough fire power and ammo to defend your turf, your goods, and your family.

I am totally fascinated and, I must say, highly entertained.   The entertaining part is just how creative these people are and to what extent they will go. Most of these people seem to have significant financial resources, a decent amount of free time, and a whole lot of technical know-how to go to the lengths they do.

I am even amused. It cracks me up that they are showing the fruits of their labor on the general public. Showing their secret stash of food and secret stash of 127 weapons and their secret stash of medical equipment and their secret entrance to their secret bunker and where their secret getaway or "bug out" jeep is hidden. Secret, indeed!

As entertaining as it all is, but I also find it quite unsettling.

I know people who I would imagine have done some prepping and Western North Carolina draws plenty of people who want to live "off the grid." The more remote properties for sale around here are sometimes even be advertised as a "prepper's paradise." I have friends who rented such a cabin, complete with hidden bunker and porches on all four sides from which to shoot at your neighbors when they came for your food.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to prepare for an emergency. There is nothing wrong with making sure that you have several weeks or months of food on hand in the event of a natural disaster or economic downturn or whatever worries you most. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be self sufficient and live a sustainable lifestyle, growing your own food and generating your own power and such. There is nothing wrong with having a weapon with which to protect yourself and your family, should it come to that.

But I do have a problem with the attitude of "I am going to stockpile everything that my family will need for life and, when word gets out that I have the goods, I am going to fend off anybody and everybody with bodily harm or death."

I don't know, I guess there just seems to be a "looking out for number one" attitude. As if you are the only one that matters. Your family is the only one that matters. Let's circle the wagons. It's us against them. It's us against everybody.

I'm just not sure that is what Jesus called us to do.

On Sunday evening we sang this incredible hymn at church.

Let Your Heart Be Broken 
Let your heart be broken for a world in need:
Feed the mouths that hunger,
Soothe the wounds that bleed.
Give the cup of water, and the loaf of bread.
Be the hands of Jesus, serving in his stead. 
Here on earth applying principles of love.
Visible expression, God still rules above.
Living illustration of the living word,
To the minds of all who've never seen or heard. 
Blest to be a blessing, privileged to care,
Challenged be the need, apparent everywhere.
Where mankind is wanting, fill the vacant place.
Be the means through which
The Lord reveals His grace. 
Let your heart be tender and your vision clear;
See mankind as God sees, serve Him far and near.
Let your heart be broken by a brother's pain;
Share your rich resources, give and give again.
—Bryan Jeffery Leech

Feed. Soothe. Give. Serve. Care. Fill. Be. See. Share. Give and give again.

I just don't see where it is the godly response to run and hide in a hole when things go wrong. I don't see where it is a godly response to stockpile food that you do not plan on sharing with those who may suffer starvation. I don't see where it is a godly response to shut yourself off from the world and everybody in it and defend your little kingdom with as much firepower as a small army.

Now I do not know where these preppers stand in their relationship with God and so they may not know the concepts of compassion and generosity and selflessness. They may not know the idea of pouring yourself out for another person and giving without expecting anything in return. So perhaps I should not hold them to that standard.

But I do see the gloom and doom attitude among believers all the time and I could see that it would be easy to get caught up in the frenzy. My prayer is that, if you do, if you decide to stockpile food and supplies and protection, make sure you stockpile plenty of encouragement and compassion and mercy and generosity to go with it.

And give and give again.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Good Old Days That Weren't

I grew up hearing about the Good Old Days. A lot. Perhaps it was because, being a child of the 60s, I hit the planet during a time of particularly acute social upheaval. The fact that my parents were both around 40 when I was born, and this during a time when most couples were reproducing in their 20s, may have had something to do with it. The psychedelic, acid rock, drug-taking, sex-rocking, war-protesting 60s were a far cry from "their day."

The Good Old Days talk grew old. And frustrating. I didn't understand why my parents were so privileged to have grown up during such an innocent, honorable, grand, hardworking time when I was stuck with everything that was evil in life. They were The Greatest Generation. This generation selflessly survived the Great Depression, valiantly saved the world from evil in WWII, and built the greatest nation on earth, all the while (supposedly) refraining from 4 letter words, premarital sex, too much liquor, and, basically sin of any kind.

You can imagine my surprise, while sauntering through the book of Ecclesiastes, when I stumbled across this verse:

Do not say, "Why were the old days better than these?" For it is not wise to ask such questions. (Ecc. 7:10)

I was struck with the fact that this Good Old Days mindset was not new. Not new at all for, as the author says earlier in Ecclesiastes, indeed "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again;there is nothing new under the sun." (Ecc. 1:9)

I still see this though, this longing for the Good Old Days. I see it all the time when the true hideousness of our current culture shows its colors. I see it all the time in families, as they raise their children, and long for a simpler time of prairie life and one room schoolhouses and barns and chores and horses and buggies. I saw it, and sometimes still, see it in myself. Sometimes I need a reality check.

The reality is that three of my four great grandmothers died prematurely, for lack of the most basic of medical interventions that we now take for granted. Two of them died of infections that, today, would be easily cured with antibiotics. The other one died of "lockjaw." Tetanus.

Then I came across this family in my husband's genealogy. Take his great, great grandfather. Born in 1812 to a well educated, prominent family. Educated at West Point. His first wife and newborn son die. He remarries 11 years later and begins a family. Remember, this was a wealthy family and if anybody could afford the best medical care around, they could. Following is a list of the birth and death dates of his children, with age at death in parentheses:

Clara, born July 5, 1851, died May 23, 1853 (22 months)

James, born August 8, 1852, died June 2, 1853 (9 months)

Harriet, born November 7, 1853, died May 22, 1855 (18 months)

Julia, born January 25, 1856, died July 5, 1889 (33 years)

Emma, born February 23, 1858, died February 15, 1885 (26 years)

Benjamin, born December 31, 1859, died January 2, 1945 (85 years

William, born January 30, 1862, died July 7, 1862 (5 months)

Caroline, born October 15, 1863, died July 26, 1864 (9 months)

Mary, born April 4, 1865, died March 7, 1873 (7 years)

Albert, born February 24, 1867, died April 8, 1958 (91 years)

George, born September 7, 1868, died July 12, 1919 (50 years)

When my husband's great, great grandfather died in 1892, he had already seen so much loss: one wife and nine of his twelve children, six of them before the age of two.

What I found interesting and heartbreaking is how these losses just happened, over and over again. I have yet to delve back into history to try and correlate any of these exceedingly premature deaths to outbreaks of cholera or Yellow Fever or malaria or diptheria or any number of the other illnesses that could sweep across a city in the blink of an eye. But how terrifying to never know when the next fever would bring a funeral and lifelong heartbreak rather than a few days in bed.

I recently read another article. This one tells the story of a family in Kansas around the turn of the (last) century. You can read the story for yourself here. The family lost eight of their nine children in less than a week to diptheria. The article does go on impress upon the reader the seriousness of theses illnesses and the need for immunizations, but that is not necessarily my point. (If you are tempted to start a vaccine debate here, do not. I say it again, DO NOT! Go somewhere else and do it there.)

My point is that we all seem to long for those Good Old Days, even though they held such widespread unimaginable heartache and loss.

Maybe there was something good to it all. Maybe it was seeing up close and personal the fragility of human life, the uncertainty of the future. Perhaps there was something character building is seeing how desperately out of control you are of the most dire of situations. Maybe people valued one another more because of that. I don't know.

What I do know is that, given the present day alternative, I would rather not bury child after child or die, myself, prematurely from childbirth or TB or a bad cut on my foot.

I guess God is right. It is foolish to look back and long for the Good Old Days because, in so many ways, they weren't good at all. And more importantly, God didn't put us back then. He put us now. And in some ways, now is very good.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

What We Haven't Taught Our Children

(Disclaimer: I understand that there may be some parents who have done an excellent job with regard to this topic. I applaud you. I am addressing what I see as an overall trend.)

I have been doing a lot of reading on child sexual abuse, especially that which takes place within the context of the Christian community, be it a church, school, or home. While reading I have been brought face to face, time after time, with the words of Jesus as to how he sees, and we should see, children.

He actually tells us not only that we are to open arms to the little ones, but also that we are to become like them. He teaches a very compassionate view of children.

Maybe it is just me but I don't always see this compassionate view being played out in the Christian community. Perhaps it is because there is so much emphasis on teaching and training and disciplining, that we begin to see these children as a project to be completed  or an obstacle to be overcome.

But in all of the teaching and training in obedience and personal responsibility there seem to be a couple of truths that get left out. And these are vital when it comes to abuse.

1.) Obedience. We teach our children obedience. Obedience to parents. To teachers. To authority. Some tack on not only the need to obey, but to obey immediately, willingly, and cheerfully. But do we ever teach out kids that there are times when it is important NOT to obey? I think it blows our minds to think that any of our children might ever be in that situation. But it happens. And we need to face that.

Our kids need to know that it is ok not to obey in certain situations. When somebody wants to touch them. When somebody does something to them or in front of them or shows them something and makes them promise never to tell. Our kids need to know that it is not a sin to say no. Or to share a secret. Even if somebody made them promise never to tell. Obedience always, at all cost, can be exceedingly dangerous.

2.) Sinning vs. Being Sinned Against. In the Christian community, at least within my corner of it, there is the ever present reminder that children are born with a sin nature. Our job as parents is to teach them and train them and discipline them, all the while reminding them that Jesus came to die for their sins. All too often, it is the teaching and training and disciplining that get the airplay with the apparent goal of well behaved kids. Even if the kids do begin to really grasp the idea of their own sin and the need for confession and repentance, they aren't being told the other half of the story.

It is no wonder that children who are abused feel that the abuse is their own fault. That they are the ones who have sinned. We teach them that God honors good behavior. So when something bad happens that must naturally mean that they did something bad. It is important to understand that in so many cases of abuse within a Christian environment, the abuser actually blames the victim for the abuse.

We do a disservice to our children when we don't equip them with an understanding of what it means to be sinned against.

Sin is an uncomfortable topic but it is everywhere. Everywhere in the Bible and everywhere in our world. So we talk about it. A lot. It seems to be easier to manage our sin (or so we think) than it is to manage our shame. We don't teach out kids how to handle shame because I don't think we know how to so it ourselves. But it is time we learned.

We will be sinned against in this life. Our children will, too. Our children need to learn how to turn to God and to us out in their brokenness without fear of punishment for a sin they did not commit.

Raising kids is hard, hard work. Jesus reminds is that he wants us to receive and protect them while we train them.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Remembering Reggie

(This post was started on March 10, which is why I mention that date and its significance.)

March 10 is a date that will always stand out in my mind. First, because it was my parents' anniversary. They made it 31 years and 11 months as a married couple before the papers were signed and the gavel came down (do they do it like that?) and they were declared no longer man and wife. That was in 1978.

From that day, March 10 took on a new meaning. It was the painful reminder of a union that no longer was, and of a marriage gone bad. And it was a day to try to figure out how to cheer my mother up or, more often than not, avoid her and her pain. I say this to my shame.

It was another 18 years after their divorce and a full 50 years after their marriage that March 10 took on a new meaning. All because of Reggie.

Reggie was special. Everybody knew that. Never had I met a man with such kindness and compassion and humor thrown into one person. After he and his wife, Carole, had their three children, they began fostering . . . and adopting. Over the course of years they adopted two special needs children from Korea, were guardians for 2 children, and fostered 65, some short-term and some for much longer. Reggie and Carole were a blast and one of the most down-to-earth couples you'd ever meet.

They lived in a doublewide on the side of a mountain way outside of town and drove an ancient baby blue and navy passenger van. When that van opened you never knew how many kids would come piling out. It was like a cheerful, rolling circus.

I first got to know Reggie when we worked the church nursery together. Every Sunday morning we, and another worker or two, would sit on the floor with the Crawlers. I love that age. They are old enough to play with but not so old as to boss you around. (I hate it when kids boss me around.) We would talk about anything and everything.

Now, I have been blessed—or afflicted, take your pick—with the trait of social invisibility. My husband didn't believe me until he saw it happen with his own eyes . . . over and over again. During that time in my life being invisible was particularly painful.

I could be talking to a person and they would, in the middle of our conversation, turn their back and start a conversation with someone else, as if I wasn't there at all. Or I could chime in to an ongoing conversation, only to be completely ignored. Or sometimes I would speak up, only to be cut off by somebody else, as if wasn't even there. I really hated being invisible.

But I wasn't invisible to Reggie. If I started to say something and got run over by somebody else in the room, Reggie would hear them out and then turn to me and say, "Now, Ginny, what were you saying?" Nobody had ever taken notice of me like that. He actually seemed to care that I existed on the planet.

Over the next few years, Reggie, who was 20 years my senior, became part father figure, part big brother, and part friend.

Then one day he had to go to Duke University Hospital. He had the worst of the worst diagnosis: Melanoma. Over the course of a year he would undergo treatments and surgery and treatments again. He was undergoing yet more chemo around Thanksgiving and didn't feel like eating any of the usual fare. We went out of town that year for the holiday, so I bought a turkey on sale and saved it.

By late January, Reggie was feeling better. Much better. And had just been given the incredible news that he was cancer-free. Time for a celebration!

I cooked up the turkey and all the stuff that goes with it. I wanted to bring him and his family a belated Thanksgiving dinner. Reggie said no. I was 37 weeks pregnant and there was snow on the roads and he was in NO way gonna have me going into labor out at his house. So instead, they came to ours.

I still remember looking out the window as they arrived. Their monstrous van was broken down so they came in their smaller car. To this day, I have no idea how they stuffed that many people into one vehicle. It was like a clown car at the circus. Kids just kept coming out.

After supper my husband was making coffee. He asked Reggie if he took anything in his coffee and Reggie said not unless it was really bad coffee. Well, we had instant coffee. Reggie took one sip and said with his characteristic mixture of gentleness and humor, "I'll have some milk in mine." We all howled.

On Valentines day we saw him at church. He said that the next day he was having to go to the doctor because he was having bad headaches and was hoping it was just his sinuses. I still remember where I was standing when he told us.

The next evening I gave birth to our fourth child. The following morning I called Carole and Reggie to tell them about the new arrival. Carole greeted our news with her usual wonderful enthusiasm, never hinting at what she now knew. Not wanting to upset me or diminish my joy in any way, she chose not to tell me her news. The doctors had discovered melanoma cells in Reggie's spinal fluid and this was the source of his headaches.

It wasn't long before Reggie was back in the hospital and then on to the local Hospice facility. Once he was at Hospice, I would go and visit, taking my 3 week old baby with me. The minute I stepped in the door, the nurses would run up and grab my baby and pass her around. I suppose they all so longed to take hold of a new life in the land of the dying.

On March 9, my husband and baby and I spent a long time there at Hospice. Reggie had extreme difficulty communicating by this time, so we did most of the talking. I laid my three-week-old daughter on his chest and he rubbed her back. It was so fitting to see Reggie, even a dying Reggie—maybe even especially a dying Reggie—with a baby. Beautiful.

My husband stayed the evening, reading Reggie funny stories. He was unsure whether Reggie was conscious at that point until he let out what seemed to be a laugh at just the right moment.

The next day we were going to go back to see him. I was going to take my baby and get a picture of the two of them together. Then I got the call. Reggie was near the end. Could I come pick up their kids and hang on to them?

The rest of the day is a blur. After Reggie died we went back to Hospice with the kids. I saw him as they rolled him out. Perhaps this is the mercy of an evil like cancer, that once it is done with you no longer look like you any more. It was so obvious to me that the person they were wheeling out was no longer Reggie. It was only his shell. He wasn't in there any more.

It was March 10. Again a day of loss. A mournful chord.

This is what I loved about Reggie. And love about Carole. She buried him, and I think this was his request, in his khakis, flannel shirt, and slippers. No fanfare. Just love and comfort and humor in the midst of grief.

His funeral was the largest I have ever attended. The funeral procession seemed to stretch for miles. He was buried on a sunny, breezy March afternoon. A beautiful day to say goodbye to a friend.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Homeschooling "Freedom"

An excellent article came up today regarding some of the controversies that have hit the fan in the more extreme arenas of the homeschooling movement and it was a call out to the movement to face these things head on and not to avoid the elephant in the room. It is an excellent post and I agree with everything the author says. I would just add two words.

". . . for some."
"I’d go so far as to say we believe it is the best option."

Turn that into "I'd go so far as to say we believe it is the best option for some." and I'm good.

Because I don't believe that homeschooling is for everybody.

I know that I may be going out on a limb here and taking some risks by saying some of the things I am about to say. Homeschooling is one of the darlings of the Christian community but, as a movement, it has been around for three decades now and should be strong enough and secure enough and wise enough and humble enough to hear these words.

I must say that, in my circles, the pressure to homeschool is immense. Most families I know homeschool. Most of them are not rabid homeschoolers, the type that believe that putting your child in any school is a violation of the commands of God, but there is nevertheless a peer pressure there.

I felt years and years of guilt for not homeschooling. I'm not sure why, because I would have felt more guilt for having murdered a child or two or four, which is what would have happened had I given it a shot. ("Honey, the thought of you trying to homeschool strikes terror in my heart" are the words that came out of my husband's mouth when I first suggested it.)

I know people who have homeschooled for a few years only to decide that their children need to be in school. And they NEED their children to be in school. And that is OK. But, from what I hear, there is a sense that putting your kids in school is a sign of failure. Other homeschool moms try to talk them out of it. What is that about?

From what I understand, homeschooling is about freedom. The freedom to educate your child as you see fit. And that is wonderful and I am so thankful that it is an option for families. I am all about freedom.

But what started out as freedom is not about freedom any more. It is coercion. And guilt. And a very narrow definition of what it means to be a Christian family.

What is true about homeschooling? What is true is that SOME parents have the appropriate skills and desire to educate their kids at home and with the various educational tools that are available outside of either a public or private school setting and THESE parents often do an excellent job.

What is NOT true about homeschooling.

-Homeschooling is NOT something anybody can or should do.

-Homeschooling is NOT the best educational option for all children.

-Homeschooling is NOT a measure of your love for your child.

-Homeschooling is NOT a measure of your love for God or obedience to God.

-Homeschooling is NOT a measure of your worth as a woman and as a mother.

-Homeschooling is NOT the only biblical way to raise your child.

Like it or not, there are a many, many organizations out there who teach these lies and there are many, many parents who believe them. These lies are crippling the Christian community and driving a wedge between parents that need not be there. These lies are producing the fruit of all legalism, the pride in those who DO IT RIGHT, and the despair in those who FAIL.

What started out as freedom has turned into law.

Where is the gospel in that?

What Being Sick Taught Me

I don't often feel bad. I mean, I don't often feel bad physically. Emotionally? Ha! That is a different story. Sigh. But I am not one to get sick very often. Oh, for years I would get the annual cold but sinus irrigations and antibiotics and treatments of all sorts were just not part of my life.

Somehow though, the older I get, the easier it seems to catch whatever is out there. Last October I turned 50 and this winter I have managed to be sick more often than not. It may have something to do with my own miniature, adorable, live-in germ factory (at 20 months she is learning to share . . . at least share her germs . . . well), but whatever the cause, I have been sick. A lot.

(When doing research on what decreases the immune system, I could come up with only one culprit that is really an issue for me, and interestingly, it's the first reason on every list I read: Stress. Bwahahahaha!)

This last bout of illness was the worst. The flu. For you people out there who wonder if you have the flu, well, based on my experience, if have to wonder, then you don't have it. It is like having to decide if you were just hit by a tricycle or an 18-wheel semi.

I used to actually LIKE getting sick. Especially as a mom. Getting sick, especially REALLY sick, was a Get Out of Jail Free card. A mini vacation of sorts. Guilt free. When I had my hysterectomy back in 2007, people asked me about it. Was it bad? Heavens, no! IV morphine and the History channel? Fantastic!

But I digress. This year has been different. When I haven't been sick—and I must add that some of my bouts have been mostly of the common cold variety—I just haven't felt good. And because of the string of cold upon cold, mixed in with the stomach bug and then topped off with the flu, I have grown ever so weary of just not feeling good.

I hate it. I hate feeling physically weak. It makes me feel useless. It makes me feel worthless. It makes me feel vulnerable. It makes me feel like there is an entire world going around out there and people going on with their lives and it is all passing me by.

I don't understand why God does things. I still try to figure that out even though experience has shown that that is a useless pursuit. But one thing that I have gained through the past few months is a greater empathy, admiration, and respect for my friends who suffer physically with chronic illness.

We live in a world that idolizes physical health. We are told that we can write our ticket. That by exercising the right amount and eating the right foods and taking the right supplements or avoiding the right (or wrong) chemicals, we can be guaranteed a long and healthy life. We are told, sometimes by inference and sometimes outright, that if we are sick or if we suffer from some chronic medical condition, well that is our own damn fault. (Excuse the language but somehow it is fitting.) And that is a lie from the pit of hell.

Before you get all funkied up about what I just said, yes, it is true that a healthy lifestyle can prevent a number of diseases but GOODNESS, PEOPLE, we don't have THAT much control and it is time we admit it. Quit being so arrogant as to assume that your health guru has the truth or that because your health regimen works for you, it will be the savior of somebody else. There is so much we don't know and acting like we do doesn't help anybody, least of all those who suffer and who have to wade through all prescriptions and recommendations and treatment options for themselves.

Dang it! I digressed again. What I am trying to say is that I now have a glimpse (and I understand that it is only a glimpse) of what my suffering friends face on a daily basis. And I want to say to those friends . . . you people out there with lupus and Crohn's and various other autoimmune diseases and cancer and diabetes and debilitating back pain and all those other conditions that are too many to name . . . I respect you more now, and more than you know. You are not weak to me, you are strong.

Friday, February 28, 2014

No Longer Credentialed, but Still Thinking

Growing up, in our family room we had what my mom called a "hutch." It was some kind of two-part, buffet-type piece of furniture with cabinets on the bottom and shelves on the top. It was massive. The shelves, originally intended to display china or serving pieces, were chock full of cookbooks . . . and diet books. Lots and lots of diet books.

My mother was never, ever overweight but that didn't stop her from pursuing the cultural ideal and trying every new diet that hit the books. I started young reading those books and educating myself on the likes of cellulite and calories and the tricks of the trade. By age 14, I was all-out dieting. By 16, I had gotten pretty darn good at it. What began as an innocent "lose a few pounds" effort turned into an eating disorder. And it almost killed me.

After I began recovering from the Pit of Hell, which included my first encounter with a registered dietitian, I chose to put much of the knowledge I had already gathered to good use. I opted to major in nutrition at the University of Tennessee.

I was part of the Coordinated Undergraduate Program in Dietetics, which basically crammed four years of academics plus a one-year internship into just four years. The early-on classes were tedious (general chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, analytical chemistry, to name a few) but the later classes I loved. Body parts and diseases and lab values and consumer trends and on and on. And I loved working with patients.

My first job out of college was at a hospital here in Western North Carolina. I dealt with some general med-surg patients and I had the orthopedic floor, but my main responsibility was inpatient cardiac rehab nutrition education. I developed a voracious appetite for the latest research and even considered moving deeper into the medical field as a physician's assistant. Instead, I met my husband.

When he moved to Atlanta, I followed him there and got a job at another hospital. This time I was thrown into some areas that were way out of my comfort zone (ICU) and others that had my heart (Eating Disorders). There, I was primarily responsible for the nutrition portion of the Preventive Medicine program. It was a great job and paid quite well but the management was terrible and, after a few months, I quit.

Little did I know, when I quit, how hard it would be to find another job in the field. At the time, 60% of the registered dietitians in the state of Georgia were in Atlanta and a large number of them had gotten their Masters of Medical Science degrees from Emory. How can anybody compete with that?

After three months of job hunting, I gave up and took a job as a receptionist at my church denomination's headquarters. I never worked in the nutrition field again. Two years later, hugely pregnant with my first child, I gave up trying to take the Continuing Education and paying the large annual sum to keep up my professional registration. Thus ended my life as a registered dietitian and credentialed nutrition professional.

That doesn't mean, however, that I haven't paid attention. I have watched fads come and go lately with more vigor than before. People no longer have to pick up a magazine or book to find nutrition information or misinformation It is all right there now at the click of a mouse or, even better, on their phone.

I have written before a number of times about why I don't jump on these bandwagons. I have ranted about all the questionable advice out there.

I may no longer be a credentialed professional (that doesn't stop a lot of people anyway) but I would like to be able to share some of my thoughts. I do believe that my formal education has value. I believe that my work experience in the field has value. I believe that my recovery from an eating disorder has value. I believe that what I have learned about people has value. And most of all, I believe that what God has taught me about food and priorities and life has value.

So brace yourself for my opinions, coming soon, to a blog post near you.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Known By Our Scars

Several years ago my youngest child had her appendix out. On the way home from the hospital she asked to go by school, and I obliged. Next thing I knew, she was standing there, shirt partway up, showing her entire 5th grade class her beautiful new scar.

Kids are like that. The bigger the scar, the better. Scars come with stories of adventure and risk and danger. Scars, to them, are like trophies. Medals of Honor created from flesh.

Then something changes. Adults usually aren't like that. We hide our scars. We go to great lengths via clothing and makeup and even plastic surgery to make sure that nobody sees. Nobody knows. But why?

My friend Jeff is a military chaplain. Recently, he wrote about an experience early in his chaplain training:
One visit will always stand out in my memory.

As soon as I walked into the room, I saw the man sitting in a chair in his hospital gown with his knees spread far apart.

I introduced myself and that I was here as part of a seminary course, learning and providing hospital ministry.

He introduced himself with a smile rather loudly and (as he began to pull his gown back toward his groin) immediately asked if I would like to see the scar from his prostate surgery.

I wasn't sure if he was serious or not, but I knew that I seriously did NOT want to look at that part of his body—much less after a surgery.

So I smiled nervously, turned my head to the side, held up my hand to block any potential view and said "no thanks" laughing slightly.

I managed to come on into the room, make some small talk with him and continue on my way after a few minutes.

I don't remember what we talked about.

. . . or even if he talked at all.

I think it's fair to say that all of us want SOMEBODY to see our scars and still stay with us.

Scars vary. Some are in plain sight. Others are in more private locations. Some fade so much with time that they are barely visible. Others are a grotesque mangle of tissue that disfigures us. Small children stare. Polite society turns away.

Why are scars so important? Because they are part and parcel of who we are. Every scar has a story.

But sometimes the scars are not etched in flesh. Sometimes they are written on our minds and in our hearts. They are memories of trauma and heartbreak that can be just as, if not more, painful as anything the sharpest knife could inflict. And they can handicap us and disfigure us in in ways that cause polite society, and even the church . . . sometimes mostly the church, to avert its eyes.

Emotional scars aren't pretty. They cause us to limp along in life, stumbling around, often not able to conform to the tidy routines of our happy-face, family-friendly, Christian culture.

Emotional scars, more than their physical counterparts, make people uncomfortable. Early in our marriage, my husband and I were part of a small group in the church we were attending and the plan was for each one of us to take turns giving our testimony.

I had given my testimony a number of times in high school and college and had never been met with any negative reaction at all, so I very willingly volunteered to be one of the first.

The week before, a fine, upstanding, middle-aged businessman shared the story of his life as a drug dealer and biker before God crashed on the scene and transformed him. His story was met with rounds of "oooohh" and "ahhhhhh" and "Praise God!" This was great! So, with no fear or trepidation, I began to share my own story; unveil my scars, if you will.

I opened up and shared it all . . . the anxiety, the insecurity, the broken home, the drinking, the depression, the eating disorder, the three hellish weeks in the psych hospital, and the three weeks in the medical hospital where God finally reached down, snatched me up, and said "You are mine." I also chronicled what had been some continuing issues as well as areas where God had worked tremendous healing and growth. I shared my story, my scars, who I was.

Nobody said a word. Not during the testimony. Not afterwards. Not in the following weeks. I received a handful of condescending smiles and a couple of looks of concern, but that was about it. It was the equivalent of stripping naked and having everybody gasp in horror. My scars were ugly. I was unacceptable.

It has been 26 years since that day and I have shared my story just three more times. Two of those times resulted in the now familiar silence (and air of condescension).

What my friend Jeff said is so true. We long to share our scars and be met with mercy and acceptance (and possibly even respect)—not disgust or revulsion.

One time, when I was obligated to share my testimony and was trembling in fear, I found myself asking, "Who am I to be ashamed of the means by which Christ redeemed me?" If he used those terrible, shameful, painful years of my early life to bring me to himself, then praise God! My scars aren't ugly, they are beautiful!

But, then again, God knows about scars.
Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” — John 20:24-28
Jesus himself was known by his scars. The scars in his hands, his feet, were part of his story—the most wonderful story ever told.

Those of us who have scars (and from what I hear, that is all of us), we are in good company. There is no need for shame.

Can we do this? Can we brace ourselves and look at one another, scars and all, and see and accept who we really are? I hope so. Oh, I hope so.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

How a Book Almost Ruined My Marriage

It was 1984 and I was in college, involved in a campus ministry that put a premium on the spiritual disciplines, sharing your faith with any and everybody, and transforming yourself into a Spiritual Giant. Elisabeth Elliot's book, Passion and Purity had just come on the scene and and was all the rage in my world.

I longed for love. I longed for love so badly. I was a hopeless romantic and pathetically boy crazy practically from birth and, due to my own wiring and family dynamics, craved a level of unconditional love that had always eluded me. To be honest, I really wasn't at college so much to learn as to acquire a husband. And Elisabeth Elliot informed me on just how that should go and what that husband should look like, if not physically, at least spiritually.

Don't get me wrong. Elisabeth Elliot is a godly woman and I am sure that her relationship with Jim Elliot really was something special, but what that book did to me and to those around me was something altogether different from what was intended (maybe).

To the guys around me who read it and bought into it, it meant that dating and even really interacting with the opposite sex on anything other than a most casual and arms' length way was downright unspiritual. Guys backed off from friendships and started pouring themselves into other, what we now call "bro-mance" activities, leaving the girls to fend for themselves when it came to male interactions and to spend the weekends watching chick flicks and losing hope.

A funny aside here and a most excellent example: A few years later I had an almost relationship with what I seemed to think was Mr. Right. He was fresh off the mission field and checked all the Spiritual Giant, Godly Mr. Wonderful boxes. He stood me up for a date in order to go to a Christian Fatherhood conference (I drove four hours for that date). Yeah. That kind of thing was happening. It doesn't matter how you treat a girl (after all, they could make you sin!) as long as you are climbing the Godly Man ladder.

Anyway, that book, Passion and Purity stuck with me. I felt guilty (big surprise) that I couldn't get, and didn't even seem to want, everything in my life and in my male-female relationships to go just as Elisabeth's did with Jim.

I still remember one story from the book. She and Jim were holding hands in the moonlight and the moon rose and clouds came (or something like this) and the shadow of a cross was formed between the two of them. WHOA! Talk about God making things clear and spiritual. For whatever reason, God didn't make things clear like that for me.

Enter my (now) husband. He was a Christian. He grew up in a Christian home. He went to a Christian college. But he wasn't impressed by my superior scripture knowledge (certainly THAT would get me the right Godly Mr. Wonderful). He just was who he was.

Our relationship turned from friendship to dating back to friendship back to dating, ad nauseum. If we were dating, we kissed. If we were "just friends," we didn't. Otherwise, nothing changed. I trusted this man (really, he looked like more of a boy back then . . . still does . . . sigh!) more than anybody on the planet and I couldn't imagine life without him.

But he wasn't Jim Elliot. We didn't have that super-sized spiritual relationship where being with one another just made us want to praise God all day long or rush out and share the Four Spiritual Laws or spend hours in prayer for the souls of the lost and what our future should hold. And I felt so GUILTY about this. Certainly, this man could not be who God wanted for me because he is supposed to be ALL THAT (meaning another Jim Elliott).
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? — 2 Corinthians 6:14
I read this over and over again looking for more requirements for who I should marry. I couldn't find any. Was he a believer? Yes. But still I felt guilty.

Finally, a wise friend informed us that the Perfect Mate does not exist and then he kindly but firmly nudged my husband off the fence. We married 14 weeks later. But still I felt guilty.

I continued to feel guilty for 22 years, even as I watched my husband grow and deepen in his understanding of the love and grace and mercy of the God who made him and in his ability to love others as himself. I felt that I had indeed disobeyed God because I had not held out for the man who fit the description of Jim Elliot.

Maybe it is my own pathology here. I do have a tendency to panic that I am not Doing It Right (if you have read enough of my posts, you KNOW) and I tend to think that means that God is mad at me and hates me and he is going to punish me for not DOING IT RIGHT. Yes, part of that is my own OCD that reaches out and grabs for things to obsess over. Part of that is my own failure to understand the very nature of God. But part of it is how I also grasp on to any prescription out there that says "This is the right way to do it" when indeed, God never got that specific at all.

There was something about confessing to my husband my sense of fear and guilt and hearing him laugh, not in a mean way, but in a loving, "Oh, goodness, honey, so THAT was it?" sort of way. He knows me so well.

I hate that, for 22 years, I allowed a book and the ideals that were spelled out there, to get in the way of loving and enjoying the husband that God gave me.

Through so many different circumstances, the past few years have taught me to hold to the rules and regulations and advice and ideals and standards of others rather loosely, even when those others are on a pedestal to many.

My husband has loved me mercifully and unconditionally for over 25 year now. I am thankful that I can stop feeling guilty about what I think somebody else thinks I should have done and trust that God has called me to love him in just the same way.

And I do. I love him with all my heart.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Hamsters: Beware

A few days ago a friend of posted  on Facebook that she was considering getting her children a hamster and asked who had had experience. I giggled evilly and squealed in delight. Had she not heard my stories, I asked. No, she had not.


Hamsters were not our first pets. I think that would be fish. Fish are easily contained and, if the container breaks, you don't need more than a mop and a flush of the toilet. They were  interesting, for the most part, but failed to provide that hands-on pet experience that kids long for. Plus, my youngest decided that, instead of water, they might enjoy chocolate milk, and thus killed off the whole lot of them.

Next came birds. I cannot remember just how many birds we had, some were purchased and some were given away to us (their former owners clapping gleefully as they drove away) but I do remember that, one by one, they died off. I was baffled until I read that these tropical birds needed a room temperature of no less than 67 degrees. Woops!

A one point we had a dog. For six weeks. His name was Otis. A friend had found him and told us he was so calm and sweet. Yeah, right. He was all and sweet because he was starved and scared. Once he got a full belly (thanks to my 1 year-old and his sugar mama) he turned into a different beast altogether. If there was a canine version of the DSM-V, he would likely have had every diagnosis in the book. He went to live on a farm.

And somewhere along the way we got cats. But that is another blog post altogether.

Thrown in the middle of all of this zoological mayhem came hamsters. I think we started with them one at a time, but they never lasted long and heartbreak was palpable. So one day we walked into the pet store and bought two. (Cue Jaws music of doom.)

The lady at the store said that they were both girls. We believed her. I am not sure how long it was, maybe one week, maybe two, before we noticed one of them looking a bit on the roly poly side of life. How could she be pregnant, we asked. Didn't the very young pet store clerk know the difference between boy and girl hamsters, we asked. (Insert head bang against wall.)

And then they came. Hamster babies. Lots and lots of hamster babies. So cuuuuuuute were these itty bitty hamster babies. But then the hamster parents were at it again.

They say that living on a farm is the best way to teach your children the facts of life. I say that you need not fear if you have no funds with which to purchase acreage and livestock. You, too, can have an all out anatomy/physiology/life cycle classroom in a couple of square feet right there in your own home! Purchase a couple of hamsters and let nature take its course.

Pretty soon there were who knows how many generations of hamsters have unprotected relations with one another with the frequency and gusto not normally approved of in polite society. The kids got an eyeful. Then things turned really weird.

The baby count started to go down. One day a litter would have seven pups (is that what they call them?) and the next morning we would find only five and a new phrase entered our vocabulary: culling the litter.

Yes, culling the litter is what mama hamsters, and I guess other beasts as well, do when they think that they can't take care of all their babies. Well, duh, lady. By then the cage had taken on the population density of a New York tenement in the 1880s, and probably smelled just as bad.

Trauma hit a new level when we witnessed the said culling. There was Mama Hamster, cheek full of something, munch munch crunching while muffled squeaks reached our horrified ears. She was eating her young. The thought crossed my mind to use this as an object lesson for the kiddos. "See what mommies do when their children don't obey?" But I thought better of it and refrained.

The Internet was a new thing in our house and so, with glee, I looked up why a mother hamster would eat her young and how to stop it. The suggestion was that, perhaps she was no eating them because they would some day turn into insufferable teenagers (which would be MY excuse), but because she was protein deficient. So we fed her, and all the young moms (it was a regular rodent midwifery clinic in there), scrambled eggs. Lots and lots of scrambled eggs.

The eggs worked. The moms quit eating their young and kept having babies. Healthy, high protein babies. Then one day they got out.

Memory fails me when I try to recall just how many we had to begin with and how many we recovered and how many we were giving away as fast as we could, but 46 total comes to mind. One day we had had enough.

I took the hamsters we still had (we had exhausted all our normal routes of hamster adoption) and stood outside the school building during dismissal. And I started giving away hamsters. To this day I do not know how I managed it. It must have been nothing but the mercy of God on a weary hamster animal husbandry specialist that moms throughout the car line did not send the hamsters back. (To you moms who I put on the spot, I apologize.) and finally, finally, we were left with one, which went to live in the first grade classroom.

So if you ask me about hamsters, beware.

Never Too Late

Today I read this blog post by Lisa-Jo Baker. The title sounded right up my alley and I thought it would tell the story of a kindred spirit, a seasoned mom who is looking back with pain and regret, but then I got to the part where the author talks about graduating into elementary school panic. Oh, my! Honey Bun, I thought, you have no idea. But I was wrong.

Every so often, when a baby is getting baptized at church (that's what Presbyterians do), I am hit with a flood of guilt, remorse and regret and find myself longing to start over and, this time, DO IT RIGHT. But I am 50 and tired and that ain't gonna happen.

But the author of the blog post isn't just talking about her very real but very limited experience with pain and regret, she goes on to tell the story of this man who really did do it wrong. Yet it is a story of hope.

It hit me a few months ago that my relationship with my children does not end when they turn 18. We wring our hands and fret and strive and push and prod and do all we think we must...must...MUST do to make sure that, by the time they are 18, they are ready to forge ahead in the world with the morals of a Puritan, the brains of a nuclear physicist, the drive of a CEO, and the compassion of the Good Samaritan. And if, by the time 18 rolls around, we have not wrapped up our job and rolled our product off the assembly line in a tidy package, well.....tough beans. You snooze, you....and your child....lose.

But there is nothing anywhere to say that our relationship with our children stops when they turn 18. The only thing that stops is our need to sign permission slips. Really, that is it.

I have four children. My oldest turned 24 yesterday. My youngest will be 18 in 9 days. Many would say that my work is done and I will now just have to reap what I have sown. Many would say that if they struggle now, it is my fault, because I didn't do it right back then. Many would say a lot of things.

But the man in the story knew better. The man in the story discovered that what mattered most was relationship. And the man in the story knew that just is never too late for relationship.

I spend a lot of times fretting over the Dos and Don'ts of parenting. But it isn't about Dos and Don'ts. It is about heart. It is about grace. It is about love. It is about second chances. And I will never regret those second chances.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

In Defense Of Facebook

Relevant Magazine put out an article today that I just can't really agree with.

The premise of the article seems to be, and I have heard this before from so many places, that Facebook is taking the place of real relationships. That our scanning and lurking and viewing people's posts has become a substitute for the back and forth, give and take, face to face messiness of real friendship. I can see what he is saying, but, in my experience, that just isn't so.

I believe that, for a lot of us, Facebook has not become the substitute for face to face interaction, Facebook has become the substitute for NO interaction.

Think about how many people live day after day with very little contact with other people, or at least other adults.

You have mothers of small children trapped inside their homes, longing for anything remotely resembling an adult interaction. You have people who work from home, a growing trend in our country, who would spend the entire day cut off from society at large if it were not for Facebook. You have retired people or those with chronic or debilitating illness who have trouble getting out and about who, but for the likes of Facebook, would spend a lonely existence glued to the television.

Ours is a mobile society. We have families separated by hundreds or thousands of miles due to jobs or military service. Pre-Facebook those people would be isolated and limited and out of touch. Today, they have options for connection.

But it is the essence of relationship that the author seems most concerned with:
In reality, community isn’t always supposed to be comfortable. Real community is messy. Real community is unedited. Real community involves taking time to actually be with people, even if that means finding time by making sacrifices. It means investing emotion into someone else’s life—even if you get nothing in return. It means getting hurt and getting involved. It means taking the filters off and embracing the parts of your friends’ lives that haven’t been cropped out of a picture or have gone unmentioned in a status update.

That description is so true. That IS what real community is. And I had a tough time finding it before Facebook. Living in a culture where everyone puts their best foot forward and keeps their cards close to the vest, not to mention where time and opportunities for interaction are limited, community was so elusive. For me, Facebook, to a certain extent, solved that.

I don't crop my life for Facebook. I DO communicate back and forth. I DO get involved. I DO get hurt. Facebook doesn't change that.

What Facebook does, however, at least for me, is provide an opportunity for connection. I can make a status update or share a blog post and the conversations start. Those who long for connection will chime in. Often these conversations will go out of public view and into private messages. And sometimes they will turn into face to face meetings. The ones that are, according to the author, so important.

And even if face to face is the ideal of relationship, it is easier said than done. For example, anybody with young children knows how hard that is. Mothers who work inside and outside the home alike can have limited time to set all aside for a 2 hour cup of coffee.

Members of my church are spread across 7 different counties. Getting together, face to face, is limited to Sunday mornings and (perhaps) another time during the week. There is limited opportunity to share the things of our heart in that sort of setting.

When I first moved to my town 20 years ago, I was terribly lonely. I was a young mother with 2 toddlers and a husband who worked long, long hours. It was hard to break in to the circle of already well connected people at church. I even remember overhearing one woman say, "I am relationshipped out. I don't need any more friends." And even though others didn't say it, I wondered if they felt the same.

You hear that others are lonely as well. But it is so difficult to know WHO it is that is lonely and WHO it is that is eager for the type of relationship that the author of the article describes. Facebook provides an excellent jumping off point for that.

My friendships have multiplied through Facebook. It is there that I can get to know people, their likes and dislikes, their ups and downs and their daily grind, and yes, if they are honest, even their struggles. This level of familiarity makes the getting together times, when they do happen, all the richer, because I am not having to start at square one.

Facebook is by no means perfect. I have had to take breaks from it myself for a number of reasons. But some of the richest interactions and relationships I have are, at least in part, because of Facebook. I don't think I need to give it up in lieu of "real" friendship. I already have it.