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, 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 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 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.