Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Addiction and the Bolton Strid

I have noticed a trend recently. More and more obituaries including the cause of death of a young or middle-aged person, and that cause being a drug overdose ending a years-long hell of addiction. I read another story today about a beautiful young woman who in college tried heroin...tried it....tried it...and she was hooked.

The problem is that you don't know, when you try a drug, if you will get addicted. What sort of gamble is that?

In the north of England is a picturesque little creek called the Bolton Strid. It is, in this one area, only about 6 feet across. It looks innocent enough and people can be tempted to jump or wade across it. The problem is that nobody who has ever fallen in to the strid has survived. In fact, they don't even find the bodies. Apparently if you go about 100 yards upstream, the creek is about 30 feet wide. So, in effect, this quaint little creek is just the river turned on its side. Nobody knows how deep it goes or how many underground caverns there might be that hide the bodies that he waters gobble up. Nobody in their right mind would be fool enough to risk jumping across the strid, with so great a risk.

There isn't much of a difference, really, between hopping the Bolton Strid and trying heroin or meth or cocaine or opioids or, perhaps for those who are genetically predisposed, alcohol. It can be so tempting. The risk looks so small. It can promise so much.

I get it. I get the temptation of drugs. Maybe not of cocaine or meth. But there have been times in my life, quite recently in fact....ok.....to be honest...ongoing....I have times when I am so tempted to track down and gulp the leftover Percocet from some family member's surgery because I am in pain. Emotional pain. I just want to not hurt so bad. I want to not feel so intensely the despair or guilt or loneliness or hopelessness. It is just too much and I want it to stop, even just for a few hours. Yet I know that one pill could so very easily lead to another. And another. And those pills change your body and change your brain and before you know it you may never, ever be the same. That is truly terrifying to me.

I would imagine that on a hot day, a jump in the water would be nice. If you are worked up into a sweat, covered in mud, or perhaps dying of thirst, a babbling brook or a nearby river might seem like the answer to your prayers. You long to feel relief. The water calls.

When I look at pictures of the Bolton Strid I am appalled that there are no fences around that stretch of water. There are only signs warning people away. I noticed the same thing at the Niagara River, just above the falls. You can walk right down to the edge, jump in, and be gone. There is nobody there...nothing there...to protect you. You have to make the choice yourself. You have to make the decision to stay away from the edge. You have to keep yourself safe.

It makes me stop and wonder what can I do to keep myself safe? What about others? People I love? What sort of fences can I set up?

I am not an addict but I can see how I could easily be one. I've been known to flush the tempting substance down the toilet to prevent myself from covering my pain with pills. I read recently that the opposite of addiction isn't sobriety but connection. That is something to think about the next time the longing for immediate relief in the form of a substance rears its ugly head.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Living Below Sea Level

I live below sea level. Well, not physically. Physically I am about 2275 feet above sea level in the Southern Appalachians. But emotionally...well, emotionally I'm below. My husband calls me The Netherlands. Prone to flooding. Dependent on dikes and windmills to keep the water out and the land dry and productive.

I have have days that are dry and sunny and all is well, thanks to the dikes and the weather. But dikes have to be maintained and dikes aren't foolproof. Waves can overpower them. Cracks can form and let in the sea. And weather can be unpredictable Some days my life goes from sunny to storms. My world floods. I drown. Again. Time to repair the dikes. Crank up the windmills. Pump out the water. It takes work. Hard work.

My husband says The Netherlands are beautiful. Me, I prefer mountains. But God has made me The Netherlands anyway. (I'm only a small percentage Dutch and not prone to cleaning as they do. I guess it's all that water they have.)

Much of The Netherlands is alluvial soil, brought in from eons on floods. This is what makes the earth so rich, so productive. I see that pretty much anything in me that is beautiful is the result of my weathering the storms and the floods. I pray I can grow a crop of tulips.

I remember the old tale about the little boy with his finger in the dike. I don't want my husband to have to be that boy. He says he doesn't mind. He signed up for the job. My tulips are for him.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Plan D and Real Estate

Sixteen years ago this month I started to feel the first tremors of the coming earthquake which would change the trajectory of my life. For the past 12 years I had been a mom. Just a mom. Well, not really. I had earned a bit of my keep by screening kids' books for a catalog and fact checking for a magazine and occasionally substituting for the school librarian. I had toyed with the idea, now that my youngest was in school, of getting my Masters Degree in Library and Information Studies, seeing how I have an unusually strong passion for information and the past decade or more of my life had entailed reading children's literature for often several hours a day. But before grad school was the GRE. That formidable opponent. And the realization that I hadn't had a math class since 1983. And I had a bad case of Mommy Brain. Sigh.

But while I hemmed and hawed over my future pursuits, the ground was quaking. My husband worked for a wonderful kids' magazine, a startup that relied on outside funding to exist. It was close to being self-supporting, but not quite there. Then 9/11 happened. The financial world reeled. And then our world did.

By November we knew there could be changes coming to the magazine due to the rocky financial landscape. What would happen? Plan A, stay the course. Plan B, enact a few changes and budget cuts to stay afloat. Plan C, perhaps more drastic changes. We were eager but upbeat about what the future held and considered ourselves relatively flexible people, able to ride the waves.

The first, or was it second (?), week of December I was standing at the kitchen sink when my husband walked in the room and said, "Well, they are going with Plan D." Plan D? Yes, Plan D. Pull the funding. All of it. No magazine. No job.

8.9 on the Barker Family Richter Scale.

We were faced with a number of options, all of them involving relatively drastic changes. With 4 kids in Christian school and a desire to stay put if at all possible, we rooted around for what to do.

As I said before, I had been at home with the kids for 12 years. In my previous, childless life I had worked both as a Registered Dietitian and a secretary/receptionist but my registration had lapsed years earlier and I had not kept pace with the technological skills now needed for most office work. I was, in effect, unemployable except at the most basic level. Then my husband said those words.
"Time to get your real estate license, honey."
Sometimes the aftershocks are just as terrifying as the quake itself.

In his defense, he wasn't just pulling things out of a hat. He and I had been fascinated with real estate since we had bought our house in 1993. We would crawl in bed at night and look through the weekly real estate newspaper together because in the olden days this is all you had to go on. I had helped a number of friends find houses and had even gained a bit of a reputation as the go-to person if you were looking for a house. So, to my husband it made sense. Put my real estate fascination and skills (?) to work. Literally.

And so it began.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Where I Disagree Openly and Loudly With Elisabeth Elliot

I'm sorry people but I just flipped a biscuit (and one I didn't bake, either, as I'm so not the Queen of Domesticity). I read this quote by the ever revered within our circles Elisabeth Elliot.
“The way you keep your house, the way you organize your time, the care you take in your personal appearance, the things you spend your money on all speak loudly about what you believe.'The beauty of Thy peace’ shines forth in an ordered life. A disordered life speaks loudly of disorder in the soul.” - Elisabeth Elliot
You've got to be kidding me. Where on earth does she get off on equating a tidy house with tidy soul....and does one even want a tidy soul?
A disordered life may have absolutely nothing to do with a disordered soul. It may have much more to do with circumstances, free time, finances, skills and gifts, temperaments, wiring of the brain, cultural emphasis, and priorities. A messy room is supposedly the sign of a creative person. A messy desk, a genius. People with ADD have a real struggle with organization, an issue totally outside of their spiritual condition. Some people have the inclination, the time, the motivation to be super tidy and put together. Others place other priorities ahead of housekeeping and personal appearance and others may just be struggling to keep their head above water.

My concern with this quote is what it is telling young women. Does how you keep your house really a reflection of who you are on the inside?
In one of Elisabeth Elliot's essays, "Little Things," she emphasizes this idea again, telling us how important the little things like neatly made beds and flat toothpaste tubes and swept corners are. She was taught this herself by a woman who chided, "Don't go around with a Bible under your arm if you didn't sweep under your bed." And to that I want to ask what the **** she is talking about.

And she goes on with "So many lives seem honeycombed with small failures, neglectful of the little things that make the difference between order and chaos." Holy crap! I'm the freaking Swiss cheese of failure here.
Since when....SINCE WHEN...was the measure of a woman how tidy her house is or how neat her appearance? I know that may have been a thing in the 1950s but DANG! It sure ain't biblical.
Yes, Jesus tells us to be faithful in the small things and we should. But should those small things not be matters of eternal value? If indeed we are given the answer to what God requires of us and if indeed that answer is to "do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with our God," then I think the little things we do should be about that kinds of business.
Now I'm not saying that you have no business cleaning your house or making sure your hair is brushed. Some people can't function otherwise. But to make the assessment that the state of a woman's house or her appearance or her organization is indicative in some way of the state of her soul is ignorant at best and ultimately cruel. You are putting on a woman a burden God never asked her to bear.
Did Jesus not call the tidy, goody-two-shoes Pharisees "whitewashed tombs"? I bet they sure looked great on the outside, and had smooth sheets, too. And Mary, she shirked her domestic duties and plopped herself down at the feet of Jesus to listen. Yes, making a meal was a good thing but spending time learning and listening to Jesus was the better thing and he said so.
I truly believe that to be faithful in the little things may have quite the opposite outcome than Eliisabeth Elliot was shooting for. If I am really faithful to what God is calling me to do, it might mean spending more time listening to a heartbroken friend, caring for a curious and lively granddaughter, reading books about experiences I've never had so that I can understand my friends better. It might mean rubbing my daughter's back after she's had a tough day at her very strenuous job or listening to my husband hash out a difficult thought or spend hours combing back through the real estate listings trying to find the best property for a client. It might even mean taking a long walk to keep my mind clear and my body healthy. And if in all of this there is a dust bunny population explosion, then so be it.
I know people who are doing wonderful good in this world and just don't have it in them to include a tidy house in the mix. I am not saying that organized and neat is wrong but I am saying that to equate a disordered house with a disordered soul, that is just plain wrong. And to publish it for women all around to read, well that is even worse.
I know Elisabeth Elliot has written down a great amount of wisdom through the years but this time I think she gave her preferences and her cultural upbringing with spiritual coating that God never intended.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Panic Responsibly

It has been a heck of a year. Lots of bad stuff has happened with the typical forecasts of more to come. Some people are able to handle the bad stuff with a clearness of head and a calmness of demeanor and a reliance on accurate information and critical thinking skills. Others go into widespread panic mode, freaking themselves out and spreading their existential angst over everybody near them, like a cold, wet blanket of doom.

One of the first things I remember learning about emergencies is that you are supposed to stay calm. I now see why. Panic does you no good. Think about all the collateral damage done by panic. Wikipedia has an entire entry, and a quite long one at that, for human stampedes. Take a spin through these disasters and you'll see that, even when there is a tragic event, a fire or shooting or collapse of a stage, that triggers the stampede, it is the stampede that does by far the most damage. In fact, there have been situations such as in 1913 when in the Italian Hall in Calumet, MI, somebody yelled "fire" and 73 people, including 59 children, were trampled to death in the panic to exit the building. This situation is particularly horrifying because there was, in fact, no fire.

Perhaps because I am genetically wired to anxiety, I pick up on each message of coming oppression or inevitable disaster. The nice thing about having been on the planet over 5 decades is that I have seen these prognostications come and go with almost ludicrous frequency.

I remember hearing in 1976 that Jimmy Carter, our newly elected president, was the antichrist because his name, James Carter, started with J.C. like Jesus Christ and that James and Carter had the same number of letters as Jesus Christ. Then it was Gorbachev was the antichrist because his birthmark was the sign of the beast. Then Bill and Hilary Clinton's posse of government officials were going to come take the children away from Christian parents, to be raised by the state. Then Obama was the antichrist or Hitler reincarnated, with a plan to put all of us Christians in prison, a la Holocaust. And throughout all of this there have been the ever present predictions for the end of the world, one as recently as for this past September 23, though that dude changed his mind the day before, so as not to embarrass himself, I presume.

And through all of this, much of this panic has been spread by those who claim to have put their faith in a sovereign, loving God. I don't get it. I don't get the paranoia. The distrust. The hand wringing. The fear. And the spreading of fear. To be honest, it just isn't helpful. It isn't encouraging. And it isn't even true.

What is true is that none of us...NONE OF US know what will happen today or tomorrow or next week or next year. I don't think we are supposed to. Henri Nouwen in his book Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life says this:

The Christian Community mediates between the suffering of the world and our individual responses to this suffering. Since the Christian community is the living presence of the mediating Christ, it enables us to e fully aware of the painful condition of the human family without being paralyzed by this awareness. In the Christian community, we can keep our eyes and ears open to all that happens without being numbed by technological overstimulation or angered by the experience of powerlessness. In the Christian Community, we can know hunger, oppression, torture, and the nuclear threat without giving into a fatalistic resignation and withdrawing into a preoccupation with personal survival. In the Christian community, we can fully recognize the condition of our society without panicking. 

Paranoia, conspiracy theories, and Chicken Little's mantra of "the sky is falling" really do nobody any good and oftentimes do nothing more than spread gloom and doom to an anxious world that needs, more than anything, compassion and encouragement. It is irresponsible to cry "fire" into social media and stand back as people stampede each other to death in an emotional frenzy. Can we be what Nouwen says we can? Can we recognize the brokenness in our world without panicking?

Whether it is North Korea or mass shootings or earthquakes or hurricanes or the moral demise of society, there are wise and helpful ways to respond. Panicking isn't one of them. So in the midst of all of these tragedies, stay calm, trust God, and reach out in compassion to your neighbor. And if you must panic, panic responsibly and keep it to yourself. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

On Institutions and People

I'm no history scholar. I grew up in the American South. Tennessee, to be specific. I do not remember ever learning that the Civil War was not about slavery. That came later. That came from the mouths of friends who were concerned about the role of government in our lives and feared the encroachment of Big Brother. States' Rights seemed to be a dream of the past. One they would fight for as well.

I appreciate the view of smaller government. I do. I understand. But the problem is that in the situation surrounding the Civil War ("The War of Northern Aggression," some call it), those states' rights were protecting something the South held dear. Slavery. (I fully expect to get a history lecture from somebody telling me this isn't true. Sigh.)

It is one thing to hold an ideal surrounding an institution. It is another thing when that ideal impacts the life of a living. breathing person.

One of my passions is waking the Church (not one in particular but the Church at large) to the damage done when a church chooses to protect its own name over caring for a person within the church, such as when there is sexual misconduct or abuse within the church. Everybody scuttles around and pretties everything up in order to protect the institution and the victim gets lost in the shuffle, often being treated worse than the perpetrator. The same often happens in cases of domestic violence, when the institution of marriage is held up as so sacrosanct while the person within the marriage who has been violated is viewed as of no value whatsoever.

Even in parenting, you can have a principle that gets placed before the person you are trying to parent. Think of the parent who demands their child stop crying and when the child doesn't stop crying it is seen as disobedience and punished as such and come to find later that the child is crying because he is intense pain, be it physical or emotional. And somehow the parent was putting his allegiance to a principle (my authority) over the care of the child (why are you crying?).

Any time an institution or a principle, which is created for the human being, gets priority over the human being itself, something is wrong. Jesus said that about the Sabbath. That he made the Sabbath for man, not man for the Sabbath.

I know people love the principle of small government. I know they love the principle of states' rights. But principles should never, ever come before people, be it parenting or church or the governing of a nation.

You can't visit atrocities on an entire race of people and think it is OK just because it is legal, as was done in the American South. You can't defend the people who defended the right to visit such atrocities just because, in their eyes, that form of government was more important than an entire race of people. They really weren't heroes.

When will our heart break for every man, woman and child ripped from their home or born into slavery or sold away from their family? When will our heart break for that and not defend it in the name of states' rights? When will we mourn for our collective past instead of celebrate it? When will we weep?

Somewhere along the line we are going to have to start looking at people as people and put them first.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Legacy of Loneliness

My father was the only child of a rather reserved house painter and a chronically depressed nurse. During the Depression, he mother would drive from their small town in central Massachusetts into Boston and work all week at Massachusetts General Hospital, leaving her young son and her husband to fend for themselves in a very stoic environment. His childhood was, from what I have gathered, intensely lonely and that colored his ability to relate to people for the rest of his life.

He came by that loneliness honestly, perhaps. His mother suffered much the same fate. She was an only child as well, the daughter of a Standard Oil executive from Ohio and a younger woman from the Deep South. Her parents's divorce circa 1903 when she was around 5 years old was a devastating blow and changed the course of her life. She spent six months with each parent. As an adult she refused to visit the South.

My mother was an only child as well and I heard from her how badly she longed for siblings her entire life. Beneath the backdrop of her Depression era childhood was the constant theme of loneliness.

I have always been against the idea of only children for this very reason, having seen my own parents suffer so much. Yet you don't have to be an only child to struggle with loneliness.

If I am totally honest, I would have to say that a common thread throughout my childhood, especially into my teen years, was loneliness. Perhaps that is what comes from being the youngest. The one who is left out and left behind when the others have moved on with their lives.

Yet I have a daughter who struggles terribly with loneliness. She isn't an only child. She, like me, has three siblings, but she is not the youngest. Yet she can feel that loneliness with the same intensity.

It left me wondering....can loneliness be inherited? And I looked it up and found articles that say that indeed it can. Depending on who you read and what study it can vary in terms of what percentage of loneliness is genetic vs. environmental but studies show that there is indeed a genetic predisposition to loneliness. In effect, your genes may help determine if you interpret your circumstances as lonely or not.

I find this in some way comforting, like it isn't all in my head. I'm not imagining it.

Now, from what I've seen, all the studies have been on people 50 or older and my primary loneliness was in childhood, though I can certainly experience intense bouts of it still today. The studies talk about how, because loneliness is so dangerous...a strong a predictor of early death as obesity or smoking...people need to learn to read the cues and find ways to address loneliness in healthy ways, the same as we would address health concerns. I think it is so important to take loneliness seriously. Treat it like high cholesterol or high blood pressure or diabetes.

What makes us lonely? What keeps us lonely? How can we learn to reach out to each other in our loneliness?

And for kids? Kids have so few resources. How can we love and care for and teach kids to let us know when they are lonely? How can we be a community that wipes out loneliness?

These are just some thoughts. I would love to hear your ideas. 

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Maybe Too Personal

I'm going to get personal here. Who me? Yeah, me. Of course. 'Cause that's what I do.

A couple of days ago I wrote about the fear of the Slippery Slope and how that pertains to the disagreement and debate over the role of women in the church. I've written before about the need for women to be listened to, respected, and protected. And I've thrown it out there in saying that, regardless of where you come down on which roles women can and can't do within the church, we really, really want to matter.

I'll be honest here that my experience with men, especially older men and men in authority within the church, hasn't been terribly positive. My opportunities to speak up have been limited. My words have been misunderstood or ignored or corrected. I feel that there is little value in my presence. Yes, I "feel" that way. Another bad word.

Here is the issue for me. I grew up with very little interaction with my father. The interactions I did have with him were oftentimes corrective in nature. He could be brusk. And forceful. And scold. Then he was gone. I had no grandfathers in my life. No uncles. No family friends. I had no males in my life whatsoever that told me that I had any value in who I was. This left in me a gaping hole and a terribly skewed view of who God is and what he thinks of me. Then I am in a church of all male leadership. Authority figures. Like my father. Like God.

I was a disappointment when I was born. My father desperately wanted another son. I found the letter my grandmother wrote to him after I was born, telling him how sorry she was that I was a girl. You know what? I can't change that. I can't change the fact that God saw fit to make me a girl.

But it is so hard to go into churches where there is an all male rule of authority and rarely be engaged with and or listened to and then, when you speak up, to be chastised that you are doing it wrong. Do you think that in any way that helps me view God as any different than my father?

Diane Langberg is one of the best of the best when it comes to understanding people and pain. She explains how victims of childhood trauma, while they may fully believe the truths of Scripture, feel that somehow they are the exception when it comes to their relationship with God and how even thought they know the Bible says that he loves us, they believe they are the exception. She says that

One of the things that turns this around is ...others in the Body of Christ, who become the incarnation of God's love in the flesh for that person. It's over time, loving them through their anger and their fears and their struggles...speaking truth into their life with grace--over those years of experiencing in the flesh what they should have experienced in the flesh as children--that love begins to go in, little by little. 
 So it is the incarnational work to be in community with somebody who has been so injured because the Body of Christ becomes a representative of God in the flesh for the survivor. 
Her point is that, just as neglect, abuse, pain, and suffering happen through relationship, so does healing.

I'm sorry if this makes it sound like I am just going on a royal sob fest. I'm sharing my heart. But it isn't just my heart. This is the experience of thousands upon thousands of women out there. For once I know, I KNOW I am not the only one.

Think of every woman who has been sexually abused by the time they are 18. Think about every woman who has experienced control and abuse at the hands of her husband, maybe even an apparently fine, upstanding Christian husband. Both of these statistics alone are around one in three. One-third of the women in the congregation who have been traumatized by a man! THINK ABOUT THAT! Then think about all the women who grew up without a father. Or with a father physically present but emotionally absent, or perhaps even physically or verbally abusive.

I would dare to say that it might be the minority of women who enter the church doors with a remotely positive view of God as a kind and compassionate Father who values them.

So do you see how very damaging it can be to women when we are shoved aside? Left to have our own tea parties with cookies and doilies? And if we speak up we are put in our place? Do you think that in any way that helps us see God as one might care about us? Value us?

How men treat women within the church matters. It matters a lot. We aren't scary. We are't trash. We aren't out to seduce you and ruin your reputation. We aren't out to grab at all your power and run down the streets with it, squealing with glee. We are here, wanting to matter. Again. I'm a broken record on this and I've said it and I'll say it again. We want to matter.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Slippery Slope Slides Both Ways

If I've heard it once, I've heard it a thousand times. All the worry about the slippery slope. Give an inch, they'll take a mile and then more. An easing up of rigidity and before you know it we are all going to hell in a handbasket of warm, mushy, good-for-nothing feel-goodisms and have failed at our role as hardened warriors for God.

This is what I've seen when it comes to some of the issues within the more conservative church these days. The one that primarily comes to mind is the role of women. I've read and watched more debates than are good for my stress level.

Here's the problem. You have the complementarians on one side and the egalitarians on the other. And somewhere you have a lot of women, over half the church, best I can tell. And you have entire denominations of men saying that women cannot preach, and cannot teach a man, and then they say they cannot be an elder or rule over a man in any way, and then they say they cannot be on committees, and then they say they cannot be deacons, and then they say they cannot lead worship, and some even say they cannot speak in church at all.

I've watched one denomination debate the role of women. I've watched them want to have women as part of the conversation and seen men blow their stacks at even having women as part of the conversation. Why? Because of the slippery slope.

The reasoning goes like this. If you open up the conversation about what women can do, like perform deacon-type work, maybe even be called deacons (gasp), you are on the slippery slope to liberalism and before you know you you are no better than the wretched mainline denominations that have no place for the Word of God.

Excuse me, but I fail to see how talking about issues, really talking about them, talking about the millions of women in churches who may not be fully used to their potential because they are not allowed to do anything but hold babies, teach Sunday School, or cook casseroles, I don't see how talking about these issues is in any way a laundry chute straight to hell. To me it seems to be seeking greater stewardship of gifts and better allocation of the gifts at our disposal (not to mention the ringing of the Liberty Bell for those of us who like neither kids nor cooking).

But the slippery slope, you say.

I'll tell you this. The slippery slope slides both ways. One way to liberalism. But the other to oppression. And I know plenty of women who are feeling terribly oppressed right now. We can be looked past. Looked through. Talked over. Talked around. Ignored. Set aside. Patted on the head. But often not allowed to use the gifts we have to serve the people who need us. In effect, kept in our place. That, to me, is oppression. Or a set up for oppression.

I'm concerned that we only see the one side. We conservative types are so darn wigged out about the possibility of becoming liberal that we kill our freedom and suck the joy our of life in the mean time. There has to be a better way.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Pictures and Words

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, yet there are plenty of times that I'd prefer the words. I just don't see how a picture really communicates everything. It can show you your surroundings. Your externals. But a picture can't tell me your thoughts, ideas, feelings. A picture won't necessarily let me in on the struggles of your life.

Pictures are subject to such interpretation. Whether it is a picture of a smiling parent, a mischievous child, a beautiful sunset, or even a totally trashed living room after the toddler has had her way, a picture may trigger something in me, but it still doesn't tell me about you. It still doesn't connect me to you.

People are excellent at filling in the gaps with assumptions. You post beautiful picture after beautiful picture and I assume that your life is beautiful. You post nothing but smiles and I assume your life is nothing but smiles. You post nothing but weddings and birthdays and happy photos of happy times and I assume that that is your life. All the time. Pinterest worthy and Picture Perfect.

But words....words....if you use the words and if you are honest with your words, words tell me about you. They might tell me that it took 3 hours to get your toddler to sit still in order to brush her hair (hey, you're like me!) They might tell me that that smiling dad broke your heart when he left your family (hey, you're like me!) They might tell me that that beautiful sunset came as a much needed reminder that God is still on the job of making ugly things beautiful because you just went through two months of hell on earth (hey, you're like me!).

Facebook these days seems to be nothing but pictures. I don't get it. I need words. I need connection. I need to know who you are in the inside.

I don't have problems with pictures sprinkled here and there, but add words to them. Tell me about them. Tell me about you.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

On Rest

I have never been so tired in my life. I look in the mirror and am totally shocked at the pathetic creature staring back at me. Like a half-dead possum in the headlights. My husband says he has never seen me so tired. So completely empty. So raw. As if I have no skin left. Indeed, there are times when my skin actually hurts, as if it is telling me physically where I am emotionally. I have no guard. No protection. I am a tire worn to the metal. A truck running on fumes.

There are times when I worry. Just how close am I to totally losing it? What if I snap? What if my mind totally goes in the stress and exhaustion that is my life? What if I become one of those women who wanders the streets wearing a bad lipstick job and silly hats, handing out candy to children and rocking back and forth at bus stops. And people will say nice things about my husband and how he is such a kind and faithful  man takes such good care of that pathetic wife of his. They might even bring him casseroles.

I need rest. My pale, haggard face in the mirror says it. My worn out body says it. My trembling voice says it. My broken heart says it. My soul, if it is still in there somewhere, says it.

I have never paid heed to the whole Sabbath thing. It seems so pious. So legalistic. All those things that people say you aren't supposed to and are supposed to do. It seems a burden that was more than I could bear, the very opposite of rest.

I am in no way a theologian, but it seems like we got away from the original purpose of the Sabbath when we made all those rules...those rules which vary depending on where you grew up and who your family was. If the whole purpose of the Sabbath is for rest because we need it and God knows we need it because he knows we are but dust and if he told us to "Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy" and if indeed holy means set apart, then it means that God wants us to set apart a day to rest. So basically, we get a day off.

I don't know about you, but I don't think we need to parse words about what that means and what that doesn't mean because rest means different things for different people.

Last month I had The Week From Hell. It was seriously one of the hardest weeks of my life. Then came a Wednesday when I had absolutely nothing on the calendar until 5:30 that evening. No clients. No appointments. No childcare. Nothing.

I got out the lawn mower and spent the day cutting the grass and crying. The hum of the mower, the physical release of stress as I shoved my partially functioning, non-propelling machine up our hills and over our rocks, the calling out to God to be merciful to me and my hurting daughter. The quiet when I could sit on the porch and just look out at it all and cry some more. I look back at that day as the closest thing I have ever had to a Sabbath. I needed it so badly. I need another one. I need them all the time.

I'm not good with boundaries. I take on way too much. I get overloaded. And even if I don't take on too many physical burdens, I take them on emotionally. Your problems become my problems. Wheee! My counselor (Yes, I'm in counseling. Everybody should be, in my opinion.) is really working with me on setting boundaries. It is a hard thing for me. I feel so responsible for so very much. In fact, one characteristic of people with OCD (moi!) is that they have felt a hyper sense of overresponsibility their entire lives. So boundary setting is huge for me right now.

Discipline means preventing everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you're not occupied, certainly not preoccupied. In the spiritual life, discipline means to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn't planned or counted on. - Henri Nouwen 
Discipline has always been a bad word to me. It has always meant to me either punishment or doing more and trying harder. I had never, ever considered the idea of discipline as doing less. Protecting myself. Protecting my time. Creating the blank canvas for God to work.

The idea of a Sabbath is growing on me. The word doesn't even scare me any more. It no longer sounds like something more I have to do...one more hoop I have to jump through to please God. Instead I am seeing it as just what it is. A gift. A gift I really, really need.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Ministry of Listening and an Invitation to Spill

I am by no means a film connoisseur. I restrict my viewing strictly to educational or entertainment purposes. That said, one of my favorite movies is Legally Blonde of "Bend and SNAP!" and "Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t" fame.

Elle Wood's first day of class at Harvard Law School proves horrifying on a number of educational and personal levels and she parks her fancy ride haphazardly and staggers with rumpled hair and a tear-stained face into a hair and nail salon. The manicure lady, Paulette, looks up and takes notice.
Paulette: Bad day?
Elle nods. "You have no idea."
Paulette: Spill!
What a beautiful invitation! Who doesn't want to be able to spill. Just spill. To pour their heart out to another human being without encountering judgement or chastisement or correction or fixing or lectures or debate. In effect, to be listened to. To be heard. To be known. We want it. We need it. But we aren't good at doing it.
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. (James 1:19)
It seems that the first part of James command gets lost in the mix. How often do you hear a sermon about listening? Or read an article or blog post? We hear so much about the use of our words. What we shouldn't say (slander, gossip, false witness, profanity, the Lord's name in vain) and what we should (the truth) and sometimes we hear about how we should say it (in love). Sometimes we even hear about the value of keeping silent, so as to avoid sin. Proverbs is chock full of such wisdom and James later waxes eloquent about the destructive power of the tongue. We even have classes on logic and debate so that we can better communicate the wonderful truths of our biblical worldview. 

But when do we hear about listening? The thing is, listening is essential to all relationships. But listening is hard. It requires a humility to listen. It forces you to set aside your own agenda. It requires a certain level of other focus. It is proactive. I am going to go out on a limb and say that I do not think that you can truly love a person unless you are willing to listen to them.

I can already hear the pushback. "Aren't we told to teach one another and exhort one another and encourage one another and speak the truth (in love, of course) to one another?" Sure we are. But we aren't called to all of that all of the time. And how on earth can you know if you are to encourage or exhort unless you spend the time listening. Listening to understand not just listening to formulate your own response or fix the other person. 

Even Dietrich Bonhoeffer (and who can argue with him?)wrote of what he called "The Ministry of Listening."
“The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear.
So it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him. Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking. 
Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too. 
This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words. One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit he be not conscious of it. Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies.”
I often hear people say that they don't know what to say to someone in crisis or someone that is hurting. You don't have to say anything. Offer to listen.

Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable. - David Augsburger 
Listening gets you outside yourself. Outside your well prepared answers. If love is all about laying aside your own agenda and desires, indeed your own life for that of another, there is not better way to do it than listening.

Monday, May 22, 2017

God is No Santa Claus

I have a friend who is in a tough spot financially, yet he is hesitant to go to God with his need. When I asked him about this he said because he had it beat into his head growing up that "God is not Santa Clause."

I know what he means. I've heard it, too. And really, nobody can stomach a greedy spoiled brat squealing "gimmee, gimmee, gimmee!"

But the message that God is not Santa Claus sent another message as well. It went something like this. You can't go to God with any issue where there is the possibility that you may be at fault because you would be expecting God to bail you out instead of suffering the consequences of your own sin.

So basically, the message my friend got is that God is this guy who you can go to if you have jumped through all the right hoops and lived the holiest and best of lives and then you can approach him with your needs and hope that he may hear you. But to me that sounds like Santa Claus. Only less so.

God is not Santa Claus. But he is not less than Santa Claus. He is much, much, much more. He is Creator. Protector. Provider. Healer. Shepherd. He sets the captives free. He does not pay us as our sins deserve. He rejoices over us with singing.

What does Santa Claus do? He makes a list and checks it twice and wants to find out if you're naughty or nice. With Santa Claus, we're all toast. There is no grace and mercy with Santa. He expects us to pull our own weight and to it right all the time. And then, and only then, will we get what we ask for.

God knows us inside and out. He knows our frame. He knows we are dust. Earthen vessels. Prone to wander. Yet his word tells us that he is a good, good father and he loves to give good gifts to his children. Gifts that we don't earn.

He also tells us to come and to cry out to him. To tell him our needs. To depend on him. To hide in the Shadow of his wing.

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!  Matthew 7:11

Santa tells us we need to be on the nice list.

No! God is no Santa Claus! That is a very good thing.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The King Who Wouldn't Leave

King George VI never was meant to be king. He never wanted to be king. He was shy. He stuttered. Anyone who has seen the movie The King's Speech knows this story. But his brother, Edward VIII, abdicated the throne in order to pursue marriage to a twice-divorced American woman and in short order the monarchy fell into his unassuming and gentle hands. Not only did he inherit the reign of the entire British Empire but, along with it, the brewing of WWII.

Within 3 years, Great Britain was at war. On September 7, 1940, Germany bombed London, killing around 1000 people, most of then in the East End. Less than a week later, the courtyard Buckingham Palace itself took a hit while the Royal Family was there. Rather than complain, the Queen stated "I am glad we have been bombed. It makes me feel we can look the East End in the face."

Even though it was strongly advised that the Royal Family leave the country for their own safety, they did not. The Queen explained:

"The children will not leave unless I do. I shall not leave unless their father does, and the king will not leave the country in any circumstances, whatever."
No wonder the country loved him so. Here was a king who, not only had suffered the same trauma as they had, the same deprivations (they used the ration books like everybody else), here was a king who refused to leave his people during the hardest of times. He wouldn't leave. He. wouldn't. leave.

Who wouldn't love a king like that?

Who wouldn't want a king like that?

We have one.

Jesus. Emmanuel. "God with us." He doesn't leave. He is with us. Our king is with us.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Regret Rant

I am going to go out on a limb (yes, another one) and be totally honest (yet again) because it has been a helluva week and my emotions are on the bloody side of raw and sometimes I just have to shout out what is on the inside so I don't explode and then I hope that maybe my saying what is inside me that I have never ever heard anyone else say might help somebody else who feels alone because they feel the same way but have never ever heard anybody else say it.

When my kids were little, we didn't have the internet. We had books and that tidy Focus on the Family magazine that showed up in our mailbox with the smiling upper middle-class families on the cover. You know, the magazine that told you that it was impossible to successfully raise a family while both parents worked? Yeah, that one.

(For the record, I told them to get me off their mailing list when I got one too many political mailings telling me that the Democratic president was going to send social services to my door to take my children away or something like that. No mom with an anxiety disorder needs to be reading that crap.)

Anyway, my access to information on children was limited. And so when my children began to struggle I had so few resources. I. just. didn't. know. The churches were pushing the Ezzo plan. Others were pushing catechism memorization and family worship. If you opened your mouth about an issue with your baby or child you were flooded with a barrage of advice, all in the form of you just need to do this or that and it pretty much came down the fact that I wasn't strong enough. Tough enough. Firm enough. Consistent enough. I didn't require enough. Have enough rules. I wasn't enough. Period.

Even the teachers interpreted, at times, some of the struggles as willful sin. "She's trying to manipulate you," she said. (No, she had a chronic UTI, by the way along with severe anxiety.)

Nowhere. NOWHERE. Nobody. NOBODY. Ever mentioned that maybe there may be something more going on. And so for years I beat myself up and tried harder. And for years my children suffered. And I never knew how to ask for help. And I was ashamed to because it meant that I had failed as a mother. And I hate that for my children. I hate that, for those who struggled with such severe anxiety, I allowed their childhood to be taken away because I didn't know what to do.

I can only say that I am thankful for the bad grades that forced me to get a couple of my children evaluated for ADHD. That is an easy one. That is one that some people at least recognize as legitimate (though I did have one teacher tell me it is the result of bad parenting). That opened the door to better evaluation. Better understanding.

I am intentionally leaving off details because I have not asked my children for permission to give details of their lives to the masses. But I want to ask their forgiveness. And I want to encourage other parents out there to seek help if something doesn't seem right. Before you let the people out there tell you that that you child is just behaving that way out of willful sin or manipulation and you have to train it out of them, check and see if something else is going on. There just might be. Children struggle with a lot of things besides sin.

God is a kind, gentle, and gracious God who knows our frame and knows we are but dust. Shouldn't we handle our children with the same compassion and kindness?

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Duo Doggie Disaster Walk

"There's no place like home. There's no place like home."

This is what I found myself mumbling halfway through my walk this morning and, like Dorothy in The Land of Oz, I questioned whether or not I would ever get back home again.

All because I decided to walk them. Two dogs. At the same time.

I usually walk my dog, Billie, a 6 year-old, 37-pound mutt of sorts, who never heard of things like listening to the hand that feeds you. But she is small enough and rather manageable, so that hasn't been that much of a problem. But then there's Aspen. Aspen belongs to my youngest daughter. Aspen is a 65-pound German Shepherd puppy who is strong as an ox and thinks she's a cat except when she's eating the house.

This morning I set out to walk Billie when I realized that another daughter was sleeping in in preparation for working a night shift as a nurse and I knew that if I left Aspen behind she would bark like a wild coyote right outside my daughter's window until we came home. What's a mom to do?

I see people walking two or three dogs all the time. They seem calm and collected and nothing like the circus act we were. At times one would stop and the other would go. And then vice versa. And then they would go at the same time. Different directions. I was a human wish bone. At one point my arms were so tangled in The Pretzel (a dance move I learned in seventh grade) that I couldn't figure out how to untwist them without dislocating a shoulder. And somehow I ended up getting turned around as both dogs this time pulled straight ahead as I careened along, walking...stumbling backwards, like some drunk sled dog driver.

Then the neighbor's chocolate lab, Cocoa (of course!) came down to the street for a visit and, seeing how Billie wants to eat him, I have to dig my heals in and then drag both dogs, walking backwards, yelling "NO!" at the top of my lungs, until I get about 4 houses away.

And mind you that this entire time I have a bag of dog poop in my hand that, with every twist and turn is swinging around like a party pinata and I am just waiting for it to break open, flinging its turd favors in my face and on my groovy purple bifocals.

But, I did it. I got home. Somehow, by the grace of God. The doggies look about as traumatized and worn out as I do. And I need somebody to remind me in a few days when everything in me starts to ache and I worry about the cause and my anxiety or WebMD or Dr. Google tells me that I have some awful disease, remind me it was only my bravery...or my stupidity. Take your pick.

Secondhand Judgment

We've all heard of secondhand smoke and the terribly destructive health effects. The American Lung Association tells us that there are hundreds of chemicals in secondhand smoke. That even a short-term exposure can trigger a heart attack. That thousands of people die each year from the results of secondhand smoke. That there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

And yet what is secondhand smoke. Smoke breathed in by people who are not even smoking. People who are innocent bystanders. People who live with, work with, hang with, the smoker. Or sometimes perfect strangers. How many can remember a meal ruined at a restaurant before the glorious No Smoking laws of recent years?

Yet I think I have hit upon something just as damaging. Secondhand judgment. As I see it, secondhand judgment is judgment that isn't spoken, verbally or non-verbally, directly at you but it nevertheless effects you, much life secondhand smoke.

Here is a painful and/or humorous, depending on the mood, example.

I am a realtor. I have been in thousands of houses with hundreds of clients over the past 15 years in the business. Sometimes it is obvious that people have spent months of time and boatloads of money to prepare their house for the market. Either that or they are full on Perfectionist Champions of the Homeowner Stratosphere. Sometimes the house is totally trashed, smells of dog urine, and looks like the 2 year-old has been in charge of housekeeping or maybe keeping the family hoarder under control. And then there are the Average Joe houses. These are the houses where they obviously haven't had the time or the money or the HGTV-level ooomph it takes to sparkles their houses up all shiny. These look like houses people live in.

Here is where it gets hard. I have buyer clients who will be totally grossed out at the Average Joe houses. They will see the fingerprints on the trimwork, the coffee stains on the carpet, or the dingy bathtub that hasn't seen a Magic Eraser in months or maybe years. They don't not say, "Hmmm. I think I would need to hire Merry Maids to clean this place up a bit" or "I would want to replace this carpet." They don't say, "I can see that by the amount of Little Tykes crap in this house they must have small children and therefore don't have time to keep up with the avalanche of housework." No. They make judgment. "How can anybody live like this! This is disgusting! I can see they don't take care of their house." Sometimes even, "Who lives like this?" That is where it gets awkward and painful. Me.

Me. I live like this. My house gets away from me. Our carpet is 12 years old and we don't have the money to replace it. The dogs have eaten it up and why replace it while we have a Monster Puppy still living here anyway? I have a bathroom shower stall that, no matter how much I scrub, it forever looks dingy and gross. We have exterior maintenance issues, such as a 28 year-old roof, that would signal to the more militant types that our house is in an advanced state of disrepair. And none of this is because we don't try. We do. But we have limited resources of time, money, energy. We have different priorities. We have different lives.

Where am I going? Secondhand judgment looms large on Facebook and even in personal conversation, particularly when it comes to mothering. We are sometimes (and only sometimes) careful to not criticize a mother to her face. But the comments. Oh, the comments! The comment you make on Facebook about the kid acting up in the restaurant and the obviously dud mom who wasn't getting her act together? That directly effects the mom reading the post, who is now afraid to take her kid to a restaurant, fearing the same level of judgment. The comment you make about how your kid will never have an iPad or wear a short dress or eat sweets, that comment directly effects the mom who, for whatever reason has made different choices.

You don't have to go up to a person and say, "Hi. You are doing it wrong. I am doing it right. I am better than you," for it to be judgment that damages and can even destroy.

Some of the most painful parenting moments in my life have not been said directly to me about my performance, but have been made about the performance of others in my presence. Much like with Picky Perfect Homebuyer, I want to say to Superior Parenting Guru, "Don't come to my house."

I say these words to myself as much as to anybody else as I know that I can be excessively opinionated. You learn the best lessons the hard way. Through pain. I hope that I am learning that my words matter, not just to the people I speak them, but to others who hear them as well. May they be gracious ones.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


In the spring of 1975, something happened to me. It was triggered by a terrifying movie I saw and I became obsessed with keeping myself safe from the devil. I felt vulnerable, a wide open target, and so I made up rituals for protection. Counting rituals. Chanting in my head. At times I would be paralyzed and feel doomed. A hopeless condemnation to some evil fate.

A diagnosis of depression, anxiety and giftedness (they go together), plus a 6-month stint on antidepressants seemed to calm down my raging mind and the fears receded. I never, ever told the psychologist about those fears. I didn't have the words for them. (Aside: I have since read that the actual diagnosis of OCD didn't exist in 1975, though mine was a classic case.)

Fast forward to 2011. The Summer From Hell. My daughter had left home and left our family to live with her boyfriend and I was a failure as a mother. I was convinced that God hated me because I hadn't done it right. I hadn't trained her right. Hadn't taught her enough. Hadn't done the family devotions. Hadn't homeschooled her. Hadn't nurtured her appropriately. Hadn't made her sit still in church. Hadn't had one-on-one Bible studies with her. Hadn't taught her how to sew and cook and raise a garden. Hadn't made her memorize the catechism. Hadn't drilled into her the character traits she was to have to be a godly woman. Hadn't created in her more personal discipline by making her take piano beyond her interest. Hadn't followed the Ezzo Reign of Terror. Hadn't had enough family dinners and enough stimulating conversation. Hadn't gone camping enough. These were all things that I was told I had to do to be a good mother (Back then I was also supposed to grind my own wheat...seriously, it was all the rage). And I was not enough. I had not done them enough or at all. With her or with any of my 4 kids and I was convinced that God despised me for it.

I would sit in my car during church sob. I couldn't enter the building with those godly people who "did it right" when I was such a failure and an affront to God. I hated myself. I wanted to die. I thought that perhaps that would be the best option out there because then Matt could get a wife and the kids could get a mother who could "do it right." 

Some people might say that motherhood was an idol to me. I will say right back that if that was the case, then it was an idol that I took down again and again only to have the Church raise that idol back up into my face. By that I mean that these messages were forever coming from the Christian culture that I lived in...church, Christian school, friends on Facebook, articles, etc. I don't know how many times I heard from Christian leaders "if you do it right, then.....," as if parenthood is a vending machine.

But somehow I knew there was something more to it. I saw a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with OCD and the little bell in my head went ding, ding, ding. Of course! The rumination. The obsessive thinking. It all made sense. I remembered my 11 year-old self. It reared its ugly head again, made worse by my stress and my menopausal state. Later that day a friend mentioned the word scrupulosity. It was the piece of the puzzle complete the picture.

Scrupulosity is a form on OCD that obsesses over religious or moral issues. It is exactly what was going on back when I was 11, the average age of onset for OCD, by the way. It explains so much.

It explains why I am so sensitive to the "shoulds" out there and the wagging fingers and shaking heads and the culture where no matter what I do I am not "doing it right." Scrupulosity is particularly terrifying because your soul or favor with God depends upon your ability to perform your compulsions and live up to the highest of standards, much life a stereotypical OCD's health depends on his ability to keep his hands germ-free.

I have to fight every day for the truth. I have to fight hard. I have to fight against all of the things that our Christian culture throws at me that are nowhere required by Jesus who said that his "yoke is easy and his burden is light."

Martin Luther suffered from scrupulosity and much like Martin Luther, I find the additional requirements that the Church heaps upon its people to be an affront to God and a burden my soul cannot bear. This is why I speak so strongly about this. My life depends on it.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Rummage Sale

It is no secret to anybody who knows me remotely well that I have been battling intense disillusionment with the Church. In the past few years there have been times when I have felt like giving up on it altogether. Some people find my admission offensive...and get defensive. But alas! I am what I am and my experience is what it is.

I do have a theory that the Highly Sensitive Person (its a thing, really, I'm one of them) struggles more with Church. We notice more. We sense more. We feel more intensely. Things don't just roll off our backs.

This morning I was worried. I was beginning to despair that perhaps there was no place for me in the Church when my husband shared with me this reading from New Monasticism As Fresh Expression of Church.

"Discontentment is a gift to the Church. If you are one of those people who has the ability to see things that are wrong in the Church and in the world you should thank God for that perception; not everyone has the eyes to see, or to notice, or to care. But we must also see that our discontent is not a reason to disengage from the Church but to engage. Ghandi said, 'Be the change you want to see in the world' -- our invitation is to 'be the change we want to see in the Church.' There are things worth protesting - in fact 'protest' is half the word Protestant - but we also have to be people who 'protestify.' For too long Christians have been known by what they are against than by what they are for. We have often been known by what we hate rather than by what we love. But Church history is filled with holy dissenters, rabble-rousers and prophets. It has been said that every generation of Christians needs a new reformation, that every age needs a revolution. As some Church historians have pointed out, every few hundred years the Church gets cluttered and infected with the materialism and militarism of the world around it. We begin to forget who we are. One historian has said that the Church needs a rummage sale every few hundred years to get rid of the clutter and to cling to the treasures of our faith. "
It is amazing how in the matter of a few words God could pull me from the brink of total disillusionment to a desire to engage and to gave me to courage to work for the change I think the Church so desperately needs. And I am all for a rummage sale.

It is high time we got rid of the crap we have accumulated along the way. The materialism and militarism. The cultural particulars that we are so convinced are biblical mandates that we load them onto the broken backs of weary souls. It is high time we got rid of the racism. The nationalism. The sexism. The elitism. The Christian perfectionism. The my-theological-formula-will-fix-you-ism. The institution-is-more-important-than-the-person-ism. The circle-the-wagons-ism. The looking-out-for-my-own-ism. The church-as-social-club-ism. The health-and-wealth-gospel-ism. The my-way-of-doing-things-is-better-than-yours-ism. The you-only-fit-in-here-if-you-pretend-to-have-your-shit-together-ism.

We have to get back to the basics...do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with our God...and embrace the rummage sale concept and offload all that other crap. Then again, maybe we should just take it to the dump instead. I have a truck.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Factory Presets and Renewing My Mind

I have a problem. I run from God. I run from God a lot. Every time I feel that I haven't lived up to some hyper-spiritual expectation, I haven't jumped through all the hoops, checked all the boxes, performed up to par and obeyed all the shoulds...every time my life isn't what I've been told it is supposed to be (told by who? I'm learning to question), I run from God.

I have always viewed God as the taskmaster. The angry father. The disappointed mother. The boss who expects more than I can produce. I don't know why. It seems to be written in my DNA to fear God in this way (not in the way respectful "fear of the Lord" sort of way). Maybe it is my wiring (OCD, anxiety, Highly Sensitve Person, you name it). Maybe it is my life experience. It is likely a combination of both...how my wiring interprets my life experience.

This frustrates me about myself. I will go days, sometimes weeks, running from God because I feel bad that I haven't lived up the the shoulds. I haven't read my Bible for X number of minutes (in college I learned 30 minutes minimum was required), I haven't parented up to some standard, I haven't relished some great theological insight. I haven't done enough. Been enough. And so I cower, duck and run.

And then something will remind me that I am running from a God I have made up in my mind. Not the one who is there. The one who is there is kind and compassionate and eager for me to run to him, not away from him. That his yoke is easy and his burden is light. And I have to reset my view of God all over again.

I get frustrated that I have to set and reset, again and again. And I remember the radio in our old truck.

We have a wonderful, rusty, beat-up old '91 pickup truck that I love to drive, even with its quirks, and they are many. The only thing that really bothers me about the truck is the radio (well, that and the fact that if you roll the windows down they won't roll up....oh, and that the windshield wipers only work every 8 seconds....but I digress). One of our kids put an after-market radio in it a few years ago and never hooked it up to the battery, the end result being that, every time I turn off the truck, it loses the radio stations I have set and goes back to the factory presets. Every time. Factory presets are never the stations I want to listen to. It isn't a big deal if you are going a long distance (which I rarely do in so unpredictable and gas-guzzling of a ride) but if you are doing a lot of starting and stopping, it is just a pain and you have to go in and reset your stations over and over and over again. Small potatoes in the broad scheme of life, I know. But I can't stand to drive without good music.

My brain is that radio. My factory preset is that God is scary and angry and disappointed in me so I must dance the perfect steps or flee the building. I think this way. I live this way.

It may be that every morning, every hour, perhaps, I need to reset my mind, like I do those radio stations. Maybe this is what Paul talks about when he tells us in Romans 12 to renew our minds.

I am sure somebody will take the analogy further and say I just need to hook my mind up the the battery and I won't lost my stations. Maybe. But I haven't figured out how. And maybe that is what heaven is for.

All I know is for now I have to live with my own factory presets. Every day, I have to remind myself of who God is and that I don't have to run. That's the music I need.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

You Are More Than Your Body

I grew up in a weight obsessed culture. Most of us did. It is still there. It seems that, for my entire life, being thin was the most important goal in life. It was the message I got, whether overt or covert. And that message is still out there. There's no denying it.

But lately I have heard from all sorts of fronts that "strong is the new skinny." In some ways that sounds great. People can attain strong much easier than they can attain skinny. Strong seems less flashy (sometimes). Less vain. Strong comes in handy for pretty much anybody. It performs a valuable function in health and self defense and moving appliances, which I do with an alarming frequency.

But even strong can fail you. Health conditions can creep in. Accidents can change your life in a split second. And if your identity has become that you are strong, you are setting yourself up for more pain because one day you will be weak.

When will we learn that we are not just our bodies? That we are more than our bodies?

A while back I listened to a TED Talk by Janine Shepherd. Janine was an Australian cross country skier who was set to compete in the Olympics when she was hit by a truck while on a bike training ride. She talks about her time in the hospital while she was in traction, not knowing if she would ever walk again, in a ward with others in the same boat. She talks about the relationships that were formed there. These people had all been stripped of everything other than who they were on the inside and yet they connected via conversation without the ability to move or even see one another. They connected at a heart level.

She reminds us that we are more than our bodies. That a broken body isn't a broken person. The heart of the person remains and that is who we are. Our thoughts, our experiences, our fears, our longings, our beliefs, our ideas. These are all still there on the inside, broken body or not.

I think it is important to remember that as we try to turn the tide away from an unhealthy pursuit of thinness that we don't just turn it into an unhealthy pursuit of strength or fitness or health.

Because we can lose all that in an instant.

Because we are more than all that in the first place.

Friday, April 7, 2017

You've Always Taken Me Seriously, God

Lately I have taken to reading The Message for my Bible reading. I know some people will gasp in disapproval and shake their heads but I needed to shake things up a bit. When words become so familiar they can lose their meaning. In The Message, Eugene Peterson doesn’t give us a direct translation of words so much as he tries to communicate the ideas of God’s Word in ways that are more accessible. It is less formal. Less churchy. More raw. I am all about raw. I AM raw.

This morning I was reading Psalm 61 and came to this.

“You’ve always taken me seriously, God.”

I have to be honest here. I’m not the kind of person people take seriously. Perhaps it is part personality, part birth order (does anybody ever take the youngest seriously?), in some situations part gender, and other times part I don’t know what. But I really don’t command respect in people. My words don’t count for much. My ideas, concerns, experiences, views on things, they don’t carry credibility with a lot of people. Especially people in charge. Powers that be and all.

But God….

“You’ve always taken me seriously, God.”

Somehow these words bring it all into perspective. So does it really matter if other humans don't take me seriously? The Creator of the universe does.


Saturday, February 18, 2017

Addendum: For Divorced Parents

I had one additional thought (for now, of course) after I posted my on my Plea for Divorcing and Divorced Parents and this I feel can't wait.

I know that, upon the devastation of divorce, one or both parents can be emotionally obliterated. As one friend said, divorce is like an abortion, it damages, dismembers and takes away life. So of course those experiencing divorce may be facing an emotional ground zero, where everything is laid to waste. Of course.

Again I make a plea. This plea. Please do not ever, ever, ever look to your children to meet your emotional needs. Sure, things will change. Household duties will change. Someone besides Dad will be taking out the trash now or cutting the grass. Kids might have to get after school jobs or learn to make supper because Mom is working late to make ends meet. It is expected that kids will have to show some flexibility with life's new circumstances. But please, never, ever, ever look to your children to be a substitute for what you lost, or perhaps what you never had, in your spouse. 

Seeking to have your child meet your needs is not love, it is an exploitation of a relationship for your own ends. To be blunt, it is abuse. I know it sounds harsh. But it is.

If you find yourself tempted to do so, get help.. Find friends. Find a support group. Get counseling. Something. No child, no matter what age, can bear that burden.

A Plea to Divorcing and Divorced Parents

Last week I wrote these words on Facebook:
39 years ago today my parents marriage was declared dead by the courts and buried. Even though it had died months, perhaps years earlier, that was the official end. February 10, 1978. It was one month, exactly, short of their 32nd anniversary.It is disconcerting that a marriage that old can up and die and I find myself eager to make it to the 32 year mark with my own marriage as if some family curse may hunt me down and doom me to a similar tortured fate. And yet I still have 3 years and 3 months to go before I hit that mark.I have to remind myself that a marriage that dies at 32 years probably wasn't super healthy at 29 years. That most marriages don't die out of the blue. Yet I have to be honest. Even though I am married to the one person I trust the most on the entire planet, I fear. Perhaps that is the legacy of divorce.I sometimes wonder if anybody else has a similar fear. If your parents' marriage failed, do you ever fear yours will, too?

This was a hard post for me to write. More vulnerable than even what is normal for me, Ginny the Transparent. My hands got sweaty and my heart raced as I posted it and I felt heaping blobs of shame fall upon my shoulders. But I did it anyway because I wanted other people who may share my story to not feel so alone. Because this is how we connect.

Perhaps that is the legacy of divorce.

I fear that some of you, upon reading that line, if you read it and are divorced, may have felt the evil finger of accusation and the branding iron of guilt searing your soul. That was not my intention. It was so not my intention.

My mother was the one that filed for divorce. She did not do it lightly. She did so after decades of infidelity on the part of my father. She did so with evidence. She did so in spite of the fact that it was the last thing she wanted. If nothing else, divorce was a downright embarrassment for her. This was the upper middle-class South in the 1970s. But most of all, she did so in spite of the fact that she loved him because it was obvious that he no longer loved her and had moved on.

Divorce happens. It happens a lot. We all know it. Sometimes it happens flippantly because "we fell out of love." Not so cool. Other times it happens because one party forsook their marriage vows to love, honor, cherish....whether by means of adultery, abuse, or desertion. At these times divorce is a legitimate option for the non-offending party. (This isn't meant to be a treatise on the theological aspects of divorce and remarriage.)

But back to what I said. My parents' divorce impacted me in a way I didn't even comprehend at the time. The actual time frame, from when my mother told me of their impending divorce, to the time it was final, was perhaps less than 3 months. My father moved out about 2 weeks after I was told of the divorce. (From then on out I saw him about once, maybe twice, a year, even though he lived in the same town.)

For my mother, the trauma of losing her husband of almost 32 years absolutely devastated my mother. I can remember her on the floor, sobbing, screaming, yelling, crying. I had no idea what to do. I was 14.

My mother never really recovered. Not anytime soon. She was terribly depressed. She would disappear for hours. She quit speaking to me altogether for a few months. Now I know. Now I know that sometimes trauma is so great that it totally overwhelms your ability to cope. (I know what it is like. I have been there with my own children. I have had my coping skills overwhelmed. Surviving seems too lofty a goal.)

What I am trying to say is that I, in effect, lost both my parents that day. At least for a time. There were many professionals over the years who told my mother that she needed antidepressants but she declined. I don't know, for the life of me, why she didn't seek counseling and as much support as she could. It just wasn't done back then. Not in her eyes.

What I am trying to say is that if you are a divorced or a divorcing parent, I plead with you to reach out for support and to get your emotional needs met in a healthy way so that you can be emotionally available for your children. They need you. They won't care (much?) if you are living in a dumpy apartment or somebody's basement or don't have the cool shoes like their friends. They will care that you are emotionally available to them.

There is no shame in doing what you need to do in order to be a healthier person for your kids. You are of great worth. To others. To them. Take care of yourself so you can take care of them.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Switching Battlegrounds

Before all the immigrant hoopla hit the fan, we were served an endless buffet of news about the Women's March and the marches around the world. Suddenly the pro-life/pro-choice beast reared its ugly head and Facebook became a battleground over the reproductive rights of women and the lives of unborn babies. Even posts criticizing Trump for some non-abortion related behavior brought out accusations of "you want to kill babies." It got crazy. I got mad. And sick of it all.

The problem is that I do think that we all can agree on much more than we disagree on. At least we should be able to. The other problem is that both sides are so intent on protecting and defending their cause that they can't hear the concerns of the other, creating an Iron Curtain of communication and understanding.

My pro-choice friends often are so protective of the right to an abortion that they don't want to hear that so many women are forced into having abortions by family members or boyfriends. They don't want to hear that women can feel guilt and grief for years, decades. Somehow acknowledging this threatens their position. But it makes them appear heartless. A woman I know told me of taking her daughter to get an abortion in the early years after Roe vs. Wade. She said a curious thing. "I didn't have any other choice." Somehow, now that abortion was an option, the other options weren't considered viable. An ironic statement for someone who chose the pro-choice option.

My pro-life friends are so protective of the life of the unborn that they don't want to hear how very hard a decision this is. That choosing life isn't as easy as Nike's "just do it."

A woman's body is created to bond with her baby. So the process of continuing a pregnancy and birthing a baby, only to hand that baby over to someone else, goes against everything a woman was created to do. Yes, perhaps it is the best choice for all concerned. But we cannot ever minimize how very traumatic this is for the mother. Or for the baby. I grew up with a front row seat to the trauma of adoption. I saw firsthand the toll that being adopted takes on the very core of a person. Again, some children can adapt quite well, but others cannot. Adoption can be a wonderful thing but it a hard, hard thing and is not something to be thrown at a confused young woman flippantly.

The other option is to keep the baby. Until recently that just wasn't an option. A single woman raising a baby on her own was unheard of and an embarrassment to all concerned. Now it is ok. In some circles, at least. Being a single mom is the hardest job in the world. You work your butt off to provide for you child and come home to no rest whatsoever because you have a child, all the while all your friends are out having fun and not inviting you to anything because you have a child and they don't "get" you any more, and you worry how you are going to make it and you might cry yourself to sleep and hope and pray that one day some man will be able to love you with your baggage and love this child that isn't his.

Sometimes keeping the child means having a constant connection to the child's father, which can be particularly hard if that man was controlling or abusive. Keeping the child may mean that you will be forever hogtied to a man who brought you nothing but pain.

So unless pro-life people are willing to step up and acknowledge and step in and help with the long, long term needs of women who choose to not have an abortion, they are going to lose any credibility.

But here is the thing. Please notice who I have been talking about. The woman. Because all of this is happening to the woman and her body. She is dealing with the consequences. But she didn't get pregnant by herself.

That is what I don't get. Why does it all have to fall on the woman? Even birth control? The pill, the IUD, the diaphragm, the foam (yeah, that one is weird....kind of effervescent). Even most forms of birth control fall on the woman, with their own risks. Except the condom.

Why don't men wear condoms? Because they don't like them. That just seems really selfish to me. Because condoms are awesome. The prevent pregnancy. They prevent disease for both partners. And they are free at your local health department, so I am told (we don't need them any more...haven't for years...so I have no need to go check it out). So why don't men wear condoms? From what I have heard, they don't think they feel things as intensely with that little raincoat on their member. That just really stinks. Because men want a more exhilarating experience, women have to deal with choosing between the three options listed above, all which are hard as hell. 

Where I am going with this? I don't really know except that I think the pro-life/pro-choice people have been fighting the wrong battle. We need to look at the deeper issues, such as the objectification of women (the topic for another post) and start to hold men accountable for their role in the painful decisions that run and sometimes ruin women's lives. We need to change the battleground altogether.