Thursday, January 11, 2018

Going Grey

A couple months ago, without much forethought and quite on the spur of the moment, I made an executive decision. I am going to let myself go grey.

It all came from a photograph. Usually the decision is the other way. You see a photo of yourself that showcases your cellulite or your wrinkles or your aging locks and decide that you have to do something, anything, to ward of the sands of time.

But this time I saw a photo of myself with my husband, Matt. He, with his salt-and-pepper, still mostly pepper, hair and his saltier beard and he looked so distinguished. So natural. So much like home. And there I was next to him. My hair with that unnatural for me hint of, mixed with a mousy brown and it looked so unnatural. And I wanted to match. I wanted us to be a set.

I never dreamed I would be one to dye my hair in the first place. I had always looked younger than I was and, being the youngest of four children, longed to catch up with everybody else. Then I married Matt, who looked like a mere babe himself. We were a pathetic set. We appeared to be teenagers playing house. We couldn't be taken seriously in stores. Waited on, even. Several times door-to-door salesemen came to the door of the home we owned and ask to see one of our parents. It was irritating. I should have cherished it.

Around the time we turned 30 that changed. Matt grew a beard and I had our third child and then our fourth and the stress of being so over my head in parenthood took its toll and nobody ever mistook us again for teenagers playing grownup. Sigh. I missed the good ol' days.

But still, hair dye was not on my radar. I'm not a hair dye kind of person. Or a makeup kind of person, really, beyond anything I can apply in 7.2 seconds. I don't even wear jewelry beyond my wedding band and a pair of earrings. To me, the hair dye was left for the bleach blondes and the "fancy" ladies who wanted to pull the wool over everybody else's eyes and pretend to be somebody they weren't.

Then it happened. I was 39 and a friend of mine a handful of years younger was in labor. I got the call in the middle of the night and went to the hospital to provide some moral support. As I was walking into her hospital room the nurse stopped and asked me, "Are you her mother?"

Crestfallen: dejected, discouraged, disappointed, disconsolate, downcast, despondent, woebegone, forlorn, humiliated. I felt all of them. And then I went out and bought a box of hair dye.

Fast forward fifteen years. Fifteen years of fighting off the inevitable. Fifteen years of longing for somebody to say, "I never dreamed you were that old!" "You don't look old enough to be a grandmother!" "Can I see your ID please?" (OK, that's a bit of a stretch.) But you get the picture. I wanted to not only not look older than I was. I didn't even want to look my age.

But that isn't me. I am nothing if not honest. Sometimes painstakingly so. I am so much of a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of person. And I wish the world was like that, too. No games. No putting on masks. No pretending. If I've spent most of the past 10 years living one great experiment in vulnerability then why on earth am I covering up who I am? Who set the arbitrary ideal that grey is old and grey is bad and old is bad?

In the book Going Gray (why can't we decide how to spell it?) by Anne Kreamer, she chronicles her own journey from decades of dying her hair to embracing her grey. In it she says that, by the age of 50, fifty percent of women are at least fifty percent grey. That's a fascinating thought. How many of us cover the grey because we think we are the only ones? How many of us know women who continue to color their hair well into their really old years and it looks downright odd? Why did so many of us drink the Kool-aid?

Anyway, I've decided. I am what I am and my hair will be what it will be. Yes, it's a bit scary. I'm terrified of the day I get offered the senior discount. Or when I am mistaken for my older sister's older sister. Or when it is ever so obvious that I really am my granddaughter's grandmother, and not just a mother on the older side. I am sure all those days are coming. Some have already come.

With only about 2-3 inches of grey coming in, my granddaughter has taken to calling me an "old lady."
Last night, a gentleman asked what our relationship was with the 2 young women a few yards away. Matt answered that they are our daughters, and this man said back to him... to my husband...not to me...but to my husband, you know, the one with the GREY beard, "But YOU look too young to have daughters that age!" Translation: but this haggard old thing here, the one resembling Granny Clampett or Old Mother Hubbard, she's washed up and hung to dry. It was disquieting, to say the least. But, strangely enough, it didn't deter me.

There comes a time and a place to put away some things. To step out. Or in the words of Theodore Roosevelt (and Brene Brown) to step out into the arena and dare greatly. No, this isn't a bull fight or a boxing match, but it does take courage. To take on society's values and turn them on their head. And to take on my own value of myself. And seeing my worth in my appearance. In my body. In the things that are aging, changing, mellowing...if you will.

For me it is time to throw away the endless pursuit of youth and physical beauty (at least by our screwed up society's standards anyway) and channel my energy into the things that really matter. Kindness, integrity, compassion, humor, authenticity, courage, mercy. Those things I can be no matter what color my hair is.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Beyond Behavior

People communicate. One way or another, they communicate. They don't always use words. The powerless and children (who are almost always powerless) are less likely to use words. They may not know the words or be able to find them. Or they may fear (or they may know) that their words will fall on deaf ears. But they communicate all the same.

They communicate by what they do and often that includes what we consider bad behavior.

I recently read Gregory Boyle's heart-wrenching and heartwarming book Tattoos on the Heart about his decades long work with gang members in Los Angeles.

You stand with the belligerent, the surly, and the badly behaved until bad behavior is recognized for the language it is; the vocabulary of the deeply wounded and of those whose burdens are more than they can bear. 

Several years ago I attended the Darkness to Light Training, led by my friend Steve Collins of Adults Protecting Children. Much of the training was in video form as we watched interviews with survivors of childhood sexual abuse. After hearing the stories, the survivors then shared how the abuse impacted their mind, soul, body, behavior. As Steve led us in discussion, he asked the question, "What do we call these kids?" And answered it himself, "We call them bad kids." The point being, we see the behavior rather than hear the language of defeat, the yelp of despair, or the cry for help behind the behavior. This should not be so.

We Christians talk an awful lot about the heart to be so focused on the behavior. I think it would do us all a lot of good to see the person behind the behavior. To ask what might be going on. To think outside the box of what we see. I understand that this can be hard. It is difficult to imagine the level of trauma or pain or mental illness or desperation that would drive people to do things we disapprove of. If you just don't get it, seek understanding. Listen to stories. Read books. Expand your horizons so that other life experiences are on your radar.

Sure, pride or lust or greed or selfishness or a downright wicked heart might be the reason behind bad behavior. Or it might not be.

Willful sin is not always the reason behind every act that doesn't pass muster. We are quick to punish the starving beggar who steals a slice of bread and slow to feed his gnawing hunger. I think there is such a fear of "excusing" sin and such an eagerness to jump on the admonishment and accountability bandwagon that we never even listen to the sinner...and thus miss the real message, the cry for help, and the opportunity to be Jesus to that person.

As Boyle says of his mission:
It's about gang members, not gangs. It's about infusing hope to kids who are stuck in despair. It's about healing the traumatized and damaged so that kids can transform their pain and cease to transmit it. It's about delivering mental health services in a timely and appropriate manner to the troubled young among us. Above all, it's about reverence for the complexity of this issue and a singular insistence that human beings are involved. There are no demons here. Just young people whose burdens are more than they can bear and who are having difficulty imagining a future for themselves. 

The pointing fingers and the Nike version of sin management, "Just Stop It,"  don't reach into the heart of a person in despair. Boyle's success with gang members has everything to do with looking beyond the behavior to the human beings dying behind it. Can we do that, too?

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Numbers Game

We humans love numbers. And sometimes numbers really do matter. Blood pressure matters. Temperature, be it body, outdoor, or oven...matters. Money matters. especially when there isn't enough, it seems. Weight matters...if you are on an elevator, that is (how many of us haven't done some hasty estimating and computing when stuffed cheek by jowl with 15 other people in a tiny box of steel) . Weight on the scale...doesn't matter as much...or at all (I tell myself).

We like to use numbers to count things, too. Every year I write down each book I finish. Nowadays I need this remember to what it was I actually read, brains cells being AWOL and all, but I started this practice years ago in order to have a sense of accomplishment. I needed to see that I had done something that stayed done. The more books, the more accomplished I felt. And somehow, being the insecure and flawed human being that I am, the more accomplished I felt, the better I felt. I have to justify my existence somehow. Right? Sigh.

I think it is only human nature to count. To measure. And to use those numbers to measure our worth. But I don't see this counting being anywhere in God's economy.

Eugene Peterson in The Message has an interesting take on the first few verses of John 4. The other versions I have read don't say this is actually what happened but I wouldn't doubt it, humans being what we are. We like our numbers and a good competition any day.

Jesus realized that the Pharisees were keeping count of the baptisms that he and John performed (although his disciples, not Jesus, did the actual baptizing). They had posted the score that Jesus was ahead, turning him and John into rivals in the eyes of the people. So Jesus left the Judean countryside and went back to Galilee. 

Keeping score. Really? Yes, really. It happens.

Churches count members and visitors and measure. All the time. It somehow determines the success of the ministry. The numbers.

And years ago I had a friend who was on staff with a campus ministry. Each Friday she had to meet with her superior and give an account of the number of people she had witnessed to and the number of converts. I think she even had a quota. As if the Kingdom of God operates on a budget. As if the hearts can be measured.

Bob Bennett nailed it.

You can show me your sales curves. Plot my life on a flow chart. You can count up your converts. And miss where it all starts. You can show me your sales curves. 
But there's just some things that numbers can't measure. These fragile pieces of priceless treasure. There's just some things that numbers can't measure.
In Matters of the Heart
Hope isn't another notch in the belt. Compassion can't be written in a ledger. The numbers game is dehumanizing. It strips us of our true worth, which can't be measured that way. We matter more than that.

I find it interesting that Jesus left all that baptizing and numbers behind and went back to Galilee.  But he went through Samaria. Where he encountered one woman. ONE. At a well. And we know how that turned out.