Sunday, March 28, 2021

On Ramona Quimby and Parenthood

Every so often something transpires that gets you thinking yet again about an issue that you thought you had wrestled to the ground. 

Beverly Cleary died. Now, if you don't know who Beverly Cleary was, she was an amazing and prolific writer of children's literature and, most notably, the author of the Ramona Quimby series. While I didn't read the Ramona books as a child, I certainly read them as a parent to my own children.

Ramona was a spunky kid. My mother would have called her a "rascal." She was full of mischief and fun and so very outside the box. She was perhaps the kid who, in my timid compliance, I was afraid to be. She was so much like the kid I had living in my own home. She was a relief. Here was a lovable kid in literature who was, well,  just a kid. She made being a spunky kid OK and not a sin. 

I was reading Ramona to my kids at a time when the Christian culture and its views of child raising were a very dominant force. And it was all, all, ALL about obedience (first time and joyfully, by the way). It was all about training (I had one mom call me and ask me how I trained my kids to make up their beds because her 2 and 3 year-olds weren't making up their beds completely and neatly). It was all about making sure the kids' needs came second to any parental needs. It was all about seeing the sin in every action and weeding it out via strong discipline and the intentions of the heart. It was all about doing so much more. So very much more. It was exhausting and I just couldn't get on board. 

And yet I felt the judgment. And I suppose I still feel it. I know that I can't say much to parents with children younger than my own because I have little credibility. After all, none of my kids have followed the desired path that most Christian parents have for their children: homeschool or Christian school followed by Christian college followed by marriage to a Christian spouse followed by adorable Christian grandchildren. 

After all, I have a daughter who had a baby out of wedlock at age 20. What can I possibly know about parenting? I obviously did it wrong. In fact, all of my adult children have gone through rough periods in their teen and adult years. Life hasn't been a pleasure cruise on the highway of life for any of them. 

I am sure that there are plenty of people who look at our family and think, "If they had done X and Y and Z, then these things would have turned out differently. If they had been more structured, more disciplined, had family devotions, had higher expectations, required more, weeded out the idols of the heart...then adulthood would have been a pious piece of cake." 

But you know what? Any regrets I have are actually very different. I don't wish I had been more rigid, I wish I had been less so. I don't wish I had been more strict about how some of my daughters wanted to dress, I wish I had made less of a deal about it. I don't wish I had been more insistent on obedience, I wish I had been less focused on conformity and more on what was going on on the inside, not in an inborn sin nature sort of way, but in a "What is happening developmentally inside my child right now and what does he/she need?" sort of way. 

And you know what else? I LOVE my adult children. I LOVE that they have had so many different life experiences that are informing and enriching their perspectives and their ability to relate to others. Every one of them has a compassion and acceptance for people that is amazing and humbling and beautiful.

And I love that having children who have made mistakes and bad decisions and also good decisions and decisions different from what I would have chosen...I love that having kids who have their own minds and their own needs and their own lives apart from my management has made me more understanding of all sorts of families. 

I can cry with the mother whose child has walked away from the family and God. I can encourage the shocked parents that this unexpected grandchild will desperately need their love and care. I can sit with frustrated singles who desperately want to but can't find a spouse because I have seen up close and personal the challenge it is to find a mate. I can go to bat for single mothers because I know the oppressive burden they carry. I can see the red flags in abusive relationships and come alongside those who need encouragement and support. I have realized that God has a different path for everybody and some of those paths are considerably messier than others. And I have realized that messy can be insanely beautiful. 

Perhaps that is what made Ramona so very special. She was messy. She had her own way of doing things. And in all of it she was so very lovable. Ramona, in many ways, gave me permission to raise regular, real kids and love them for it.

Thank you, Ramona Quimby. 

And thank you, Beverly Cleary. Rest in peace. 

Monday, March 15, 2021

Missing Fruit

David French posted an incredible article about Beth Moore leaving the Southern Baptist Convention. But it wasn't just about Beth Moore leaving the SBC, it was about the cruelty directed at her as she gradually rose to challenge some of the deep-seated ideology and tipped a handful of their sacred cows. His article was about what was missing in response to her. The Fruit of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. 

I see this all the time. I see this everywhere. Ideological war means that there is no weapon off limits. It's your job to defend your system of belief, no matter what means you use to do it. And the most preferred weapon, it seems, is cruelty.

Names are called. Charges are trumped up. Insults are lobbed. Accusations fly. The road to reasonable discourse is blocked by intricate policies, procedures and the assault on one's character. A minor difference in cultural preference or a distance, debatable theological stance comes front and center as the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth and if you are on the wrong side of that truth, you are on a slippery slope. You are a heretic. You deserve to be burned at the stake.

There is only one word for such vitriol. Evil. This is pure, unadulterated evil. 

And yet it can be evil cloaked in the most pious of garments. 

Make no mistake. This is about power. 

In her memoir Notes on a Silencing, Lacy Crawford makes the astute observation: 

It is only when power is threatened that power responds. 

Jesus encountered it. Beth Moore encountered it. You may have encountered it. 

People. Listen to me. Let go of that power. It is not your ideology that makes you significant. It is not your piety that makes you holy. It is not your purest of pure theology that makes you acceptable to God. That is all a lie from the pit of hell. 

We bring nothing to the table. NOTHING. That is the whole point. So if we bring nothing to the table, then someone whose views diverge from ours, that person can take nothing away. They are not a threat. 

Let go. Let it go. Let go of your "precious" (yes, think Gollum here) that you feel so rallied to defend. Let go and embrace a God of love and compassion. A God who can himself defend truth. 

You can embrace those who are different than you. You can make room for other ideas. Other perspectives. It is possible to disagree and still treat the "other" as of value and created in the image of God. 

Last I checked there were two commandments: to love God with all we are and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Last I checked, loving our neighbors as ourselves didn't involve name calling, slander, insults, and threats. 

Don't worry. I know. I need to remember this, too. After all, what good does it do for me to defend God my ideas of God if I am not reflecting the character of God? The next time I post something I need to check and see if there is a spirit of cruelty in my words or if they reflect the Fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. 




Tuesday, March 9, 2021

On "Why?"

I am an insanely curious person. When something happens, I want to know why. I want to know the reason behind the reason behind the reason. I want things to make sense. They may not be pleasant, but at least they make sense. 

Remember as a kid? Remember asking why? "Why?" "Because." "Because why?" 

I used to think that in order to be a good Christian I had to have answers. All the answers. I had to be able to articulate the truth and debate the doubter. I needed to have the final trump card to turn the skeptic devout and to comfort those who, like me, were always asking why.

But as I have gotten older, scrambling for answers hasn't done a lot for me. In fact, it has left me with just more questions. The snake eating its tail in the shape of a question mark. There is so much I just don't know. 

Job's friend assumed they knew a lot. When he was sitting in his ash heap turned home place, his friends all decided that what he needed was a good explanation a la theology class. They oh so confidently dished out their explanations, their reasoning, their proclamation of God and his ways. Only they were wrong and they went down in history as Exhibit A in bad theology and what not to say to one who is suffering. 

What makes us think we have to have the answers? After all, God tells us that our ways are not his ways and our thought are not his thoughts. Certainly there are more things than not in this world, in this life, that are hidden, and hidden for a reason. And wasn't the temptation to eat from the knowledge of good and evil? Then they would know it all. Then they would be like God. But they aren't. And we aren't. 

Then we need to stop it with all the dogmatic decrees. For over 2000 years those who believe in the God of the universe and all creation have disagreed on so very much. If God wanted it so clear, would he not have made it so? 

Austin Fischer in his excellent book on doubt, Faith in the Shadows, says that "...when we claim the Bible clearly teaches something that has been rigorously debated by the best and most faithful minds for thousands of years, we could at least have the decency to blush. A couple thousand years of mercurial biblical interpretation suggest we're not very good at being honest with ourselves." 

When we think we have to have not just an answer but THE answer, we grow frantic. We grow grumpy. We grow proud. As if the whole of creation depends on our understanding of it. And when we think we have all the answers, we then become highly prescriptive, shrinking the Kingdom of God down to our preferences and dishing it out in student handbook form. Homework turned in late gets a zero. No skirts above the knee. No chewing gum in class. There's a place for everything and everything is in its place. If this, then that. Vending machine Christianity. 

I no longer try to understand a lot of things that don't make sense. I no longer try to have just the right answer to every question. And I actually no longer trust anybody who thinks they have all the answers. 

I've learned to say, "I don't know" in an awful lot of situations. Because, well, I don't. 

In the 1993 film Rudy, Sean Aston plays Rudy Ruettiger, a young man who is desperately grasping for his lifelong dream of playing football for Notre Dame. In his conversation with a priest, Father Kavanaugh (played by Robert Prosky) he asks some hard questions. The priest's response is the best line in the movie, and my favorite movie line of all time.

"Son, in 35 years of religious studies, I have come up with only two hard, incontrovertible facts: there is a God and I am not him." 

If you ask me hard questions that will likely be the answer you will get. That is about all I know at this point. I think it is OK to let the questions be, to sit in mystery and uncertainty. Because, after all, I am not God. 

Sunday, March 7, 2021

What If?

A while back I wrote a post about healing. I shared about my frustration that, at my age, I'm still not "fixed." I still struggle with so many things. Sometimes intensely so. And I shared my epiphany that, just as alcoholics are called "recovering alcoholics" not "recovered alcoholics," so I will always be, at least in this life a "healing Ginny" and not a "healed Ginny." 

But that isn't really an accurate picture. Healing typically implies an previous injury to be healed from. And while I have certainly had my share of painful life experiences, some I have shared with you and some I have not. Some are "flashbulb" memories in my life, etched on my brain and some more vague senses of something terribly wrong etched in my soul. But there is more to all that.

While we can certainly have physically injuries we need to heal from, sometimes we don't heal from injuries. Some car crashes result in temporary handicaps. Some maim for life. 

Or sometimes we have conditions that don't require healing from, but coping with. 

The most obvious one I can think of is type 1 diabetes. There is currently no cure. Management is where it is at. Genetics can play a part. While lifestyle choices can create risk factors for type 2 diabetes (but not always so stop the finger wagging and shaming), that is not the case with type 1. There is no healing from type 1 diabetes. There is only management. Coping. 

Thus is the case perhaps with much of one's interior life. It is certainly the case with mine. I hit the genetic jackpot when it came to mental health (I refuse to call it "illness"). My paternal grandmother suffered from severe depression. My maternal grandmother was the most anxious person I have ever known. My mother dealt with both anxiety and major depression and obsessions over health and food safety. My mother was a chronic dieter with an abysmal body image (eating disorders are 50-60% genetic). My paternal grandmother and both of my parents were only children who suffered intensely from a loneliness they could never escape. 

I come by my pathologies honestly and, unfortunately have been exceedingly generous in passing them along (sorry, kids!). I have struggled since age 11 with anxiety, depression, OCD and since puberty with intense response to hormonal fluctuations. I am by wiring a Highly Sensitive Person. 

A few years ago a counselor told me that part of maturity is learning to manage your biology. So that is what I have to do a lot of the time. Sometimes my intense sadness is not a result of some still unhealed soul wound within me (though there are still way too many of those to count), sometimes it is just a result of my biology or "the weather," as my husband calls the storms that slam against my soul. 

Sometimes management means adjusting the dosage of my hormone patch (don't you mess with my hormone patch!) and sometimes it means taking some much needed down time to do a jigsaw puzzle or sudoku. Sometimes it means just sitting with the feelings and letting them near, without being so afraid of them. Sometimes it means waiting them out until they go on their way. 

While I will always be pursuing healing for those things within me that can be healed, I need to give myself grace and patience for those things within me that can't be healed because they are just part and parcel of who I am. Perhaps some of my issues are the result of a "broken Ginny" and others are just part of "wonky Ginny." They are how I am made. Who I am. 

We all have to learn to manage who we are, to work with our strengths and weaknesses. We also need to learn, to a certain extent, acceptance of who we are and who we are not. I was recently struck by these verses and a specific word in it:

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.  -  Psalm 139-13-14


Inmost. Inmost being. Could it be that when God created me he not only decided to give me blue eyes and a small bone structure and crappy knees but also a brain that sometimes gets stuck, undulating hormones, and a sensitive spirit? 

When it says "inmost," could it mean that the parts of me that some people think need healing and that I often wish would get "healed away" are the way God made me? Could it be that I can use those to speak truth and sit with another in empathy? Could it also mean that I need to manage some of my inmost being with medication (I'm talking to you, Paxil) in order to improve my quality of life and better love those around me?

I know many who sit in shame because of their inmost being. They wonder what is wrong with them that they still struggle. They don't have the promised peace or the victorious life. But what if that doesn't come now? What if "healing" and not "healed" is where it is at? What if managing our inmost beings, the wiring God gave us, is part of our accepting ourselves as finite creatures living in a fallen world? And what if those parts of us that we, and sometimes others, view as curses are actually just challenges, or even more, what if they are gifts because they make us more real? More relatable? And more dependent on God and each other? 

What if?