Monthly Archives: September 2017

God’s Persistent Love

I am busier than a one-armed paper hanger.

If you actually remember what that phrase refers to (hello…wallpaper?) you realize that I am basically saying that I have more tasks than I actually have ability  and strength.

Why do I do this to myself?

This is a topic that I’ve addressed before, since, well…I am who I am, and I don’t seem to be able to do much about who I am, and what I am is perpetually busy.  If I have free time, I find a way to fill it with something to do that is usually task oriented.

John Wesley would probably have nice things to say about how busy I am, only because John was the guy who would instruct the ministers he was about ordain, saying:

Be diligent. Never be unemployed. Never be triflingly employed. Never trifle away time; neither spend any more time at any one place than is strictly necessary.  Be punctual. Do everything exactly at the time. And do not mend our rules, but keep them; not for wrath, but for conscience’ sake.

I appear to have taken Mr. Wesley very, very seriously.

Despite my affection for John Wesley, I often ask myself why it is that I always overschedule myself. I wondered if there was something that I was covering up with busyness, something I was trying to obscure from myself or avoid processing. But nothing has ever reared its ugly head, not in periods of silence or enforced rest (ahhhh, sickness and surgery) or in periods of self-evaluation.  At the risk of sounding boring, I have failed to find anything ugly and scandalous enough to hide.

I have wondered a few times if my issue is with silence, but that doesn’t pan out either. I rather like silence because it allows me some time to explore the thoughts that I am often too busy to fully entertain. Silence gives me extra time for emotion and expression and for things like writing.

Hello there, reader! I don’t know if you realize this, but my relationship with you is entirely born from the joy of silence.  I made space for words, and suddenly there you were!

Occasionally I wonder if I just don’t like TV enough to sit and watch it for very long.  I enjoy watching TV and movies, but I always find myself doing something else while the TV is on, alternating between actually listening to the news or whatever crime show I’m watching, and some sort of craft, book, or task that I feel needs to be done. My husband will tell you that I am terrible about watching movies. If my husband wants me to see a movie, he has to take me to the movie theater because there is nothing else to do at the movie theater except watch the movie and eat popcorn.

So exactly what is my issue? (Trust me, there are many people who have contemplated this question across the ages: my parents, my husband, both my daughters, anyone who has ever worked with me, anyone who has ever been my boss…none of them has ever come up with a satisfactory answer. I am, apparently, a conundrum.)

Earlier today, as I was rushing through several undone tasks from earlier in the week, I came across a friend’s “talk” for the Walk to Emmaus, something I had promised to read and critique. As I read her talk, I came across a line that resonated with me a great deal:

“Achieving security is a lifelong process.  It is achieved through perseverance & the hard work of remaining open to God’s persistent love.”

That phrase…”the hard work of remaining open to God’s persistent love” touched me deeply.

One of the things that keeps me so busy is the desire to have a positive impact on those around me. I “do” so that others might experience God’s love, God’s provision for them, God’s desire for their wholeness and healing, and God’s presence in their lives.  My job, as a minister, is to bring Christ to the people who I encounter on a daily basis.  Bringing Jesus wherever I go is a busy thing, since everybody needs a little more Jesus than they are currently getting, and there are plenty of people who need way more Jesus than they are currently getting…and that requires someone who loves Jesus, someone with flesh on, to bring Jesus in the form of service and friendship.

Let me tell you, there is way more need for Jesus than I’m able to meet, and I run out of energy, compassion, and kindness long before the need for Jesus is exhausted.

You can see where this is going. I get busier and busier, trying to satisfy the needs of the world, finding myself falling short day after day. It gets discouraging and it can leave me feeling like I am not a very good vessel for Jesus because I can’t seem to hold enough Jesus to get the job done effectively.

This is where the phrase “the hard work of remaining open to God’s persistent love” hits me the hardest.

You see, I want to give myself demerits for all the work that goes undone, the comforting cards I fail to send, the people I fail to visit, the tasks I cannot complete…so when God tries to overwhelm me with his love, I am too absorbed in self-criticism to notice.

What would happen if we admitted that self-criticism is largely ineffective in changing us for the better, while it is also our most efficient way of blocking God’s unrelenting love from reaching us? What would happen if we admitted that we indulge our self-criticism, because it is easier to pick ourselves apart than to allow ourselves to accept love that we know we do not deserve in amounts greater than we can conceive of because it highlights just how frail, small, and ineffective we are?

The truth is that God’s love is so intense and so huge that it scares us.

We keep thinking that God’s love is like human love, and that one day God will realize that we aren’t worthy of His devotion, adoration, and overwhelming love for us.  We keep waiting for God to ‘dump’ us, in so many words. We are afraid to accept is that God is head over heels in love with us despite all our frailties and failures and stupidity and stubbornness. God’s love is not stymied by our refusal to believe in its breadth and depth, God’s love is not diminished by our sinfulness or our failure to acknowledge His greatness.

God’s love is absolute, and as humans, we have trouble believing in absolutes.

So we get busy, thinking we need to earn what is already ours.

We self-criticize, trying to become worthy of something that was granted to us at our birth and that will never be rescinded.

We cling to the idea of ‘good enough’ because it freaks us out that nothing we can do will change God’s opinion of us.  It freaks us out to realize that God thinks that we are…

Magnificent. Beautiful. Captivating. Inspiring. Precious. Deserving. Lovable.

It is beyond comprehension to believe that God thinks we are worthy of salvation.

Listen…there is nothing wrong with trying to have a meaningful life, or wanting to make sure that you serve others, or desiring to leave an impact on this world.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to bring Jesus to a hurting world.

Just remember that there is nothing that you can do to increase your value in the eyes of your Maker.  He decided that you were utterly precious before He even formed you in your mother’s womb, and nothing you can do or not do can separate you from His unending love.

All that is left to you is “to do the hard work of remaining open to God’s persistent love.”

Go ahead…stop everything that you are doing and take a moment to let yourself feel the flood of love and grace that are yours in Christ Jesus.

It’s enough to knock you out of your chair, so be prepared to hang on. And be prepared to cry, because nothing can prepare you the way that His grace will make you feel or the way that His love will make you whole.

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Sing Along With Me

Last week, as I was leaving a family dinner at my parent’s house, my Dad hugged me and said quickly “We need to talk.”  He sounded concerned, and so I decided to take him out for coffee later that week so that we could have some privacy.  My Dad is retired and has dementia, so he is home with my Mom 99% of the time; because he can no longer drive, his life has become limited to the things he can do with my mother.  I figured that my Mom could use some time alone, and my Dad could use an excuse to get out of the house, so we set a date to go out for coffee.

By the time I could get to my parent’s house to pick up my father, he had already had two cups of coffee and really didn’t feel like having more caffeine, so instead we opted for a late lunch.  I gave him several options, but his dementia kept interfering with the conversation.  After about three rounds of asking him to pick what kind of food he wanted for lunch, I finally blurted out  “Tacos or salad?” and he quickly replied “Are you crazy? Tacos!”  I’m still learning how to effectively communicate through the fog of his dementia.

While we were still on the way to our lunch, I asked him what he wanted to talk about, and he opened by saying “You probably don’t want to hear this.”  My standard response to anyone who says such a thing to me is “It doesn’t matter what I want to hear, if what you’re saying needs to be said.”

I should have kept my mouth shut.

For the next 10 minutes, I had to fight to overcome the urge to put my fingers in my ears and loudly sing “LA LA LA LA LA LA LA!”

What is it with older parents who suddenly start revealing deeply personal things to their children?  For several years now I have thought perhaps my parents were just unusually candid, but recently a colleague told me that her father has been making similarly shocking (and occasionally unwelcome) revelations to her.

It must be one of the provisions of joining AARP: Once you get over 65, you must overshare with your adult children.

The funny thing is that until recently, I thought that my parent’s habit of oversharing was simply an extension of their honesty with me when I was a teenager. My parents never hid the truth from me about their own teenage mistakes, challenges, and outright failures; my parents believed that I could learn from their life lessons without having to repeat them myself.  Even back then, before I realized how rare it was to receive such a gift of honesty from my parents, I greatly appreciated their candidness.  Please understand, I was not one of those saintly teenagers who never gives their parent’s any problems.  The truth is that I was an obnoxious teenager (especially during my freshman year of college) and I know that I tested the limits of their patience many, many times. Despite that, I valued my relationship with my parents and respected them. Hearing stories about their struggles with self-esteem, or the social cost of refusing to go out drinking with their friends, or the ways they were singled out as nerds because they valued learning…it made it easier for me to believe that high school only seemed like it would last forever. It made it easier for me to believe that one day I would find my group and discover that I was perfectly normal.  The idea that I would one day ‘fit in’ was balm to my incredibly nerdy, chubby, over-achieving, academically-focused self.

Let’s not discuss the fact that I am still nerdy, chubby, and a notorious over-achiever; the only reason I’m not currently academically focused is because I’m not in school anymore. I have, however, found my people and feel like I am relatively normal.  The fact that I found a husband who is almost exactly like me…except for the chubby part…has made a huge difference as well.

Back to my parents.

So there I was, in the car with my Dad, listening to him say things that in all actuality I did not want to hear. Let’s just say that his sharing was intensely personal.  All I could do was listen, because I didn’t have any good advice for him; I’ve never experienced anything like what he’s experiencing right now.  I’m 53 years old and in relatively good health. My father is 76 and he has vascular dementia; the stroke that brought this on happened eight years ago.  He has been slowly losing himself ever since, and the loss gets greater and faster every day.  That’s what dementia does: it steals your “Self.” You think you know who you used to be and who you are now, but what you think you know keeps shifting and changing and getting lost in the haze that fills your memory.  Dementia steals your ability to observe yourself and your performance; it keeps you from honestly admitting to all that you cannot do and from understanding how your deficit impacts those around you.  Consequently, my father cannot drive anymore and he blames my mother for that even though he failed to pass a driving evaluation designed to evaluate people with dementia. My father cannot travel anymore because he becomes disoriented and afraid in unfamiliar places, but he swears that he and my mom don’t travel because she doesn’t want to go anywhere. He doesn’t remember his own behaviors towards my mother over the last few years (or months, actually) and so he can’t understand why she reacts to him the way she does when he raises his voice.  Dementia has stolen the life my father imagined that he and my mother would have after he retired, and now dementia is even stealing his past.  During our lunch together I was stunned to discovered that my father is forgetting key details of his parent’s lives, which tells me how advanced his dementia has become. Any attempts on my part to jog his memory and try to remind him of the history that I remember (especially the things that have occurred in his family since I became an adult) only serve to frustrate and anger him.

I sat in the car, listening to all my Dad had to say, feeling helpless to relieve his emotional distress and helpless to stop things from getting even worse.

Just as we got to the restaurant my father turned to me and said “I know that I shouldn’t tell you these things, but I feel safe telling them to you.”  He could barely look at me.

So I looked at him and said “Daddy, you tell me anything you want to tell me. You get no judgment from me, no matter what.  I’ll always be here to listen to you.”

This is all my father has to give me now.  He can give me his truth, no matter how twisted and ill-remembered it is.  He can’t help me fix things around the house anymore because he can’t follow instructions.  He can’t give me good advice because he can’t keep his own wisdom from getting twisted up with vague memories and everything comes out wrong.  There is so much that he can’t do for me, and so many, many things that I cannot really do for him either.  But neither of us needs the other to do anything, really.

Maybe all that is left for us to do is to listen.

My Dad can tell me things that he knows I don’t want to hear because he knows that I am safe, and that word means more to me than I can tell you.  My Daddy trusts me, and that is the greatest gift he could possibly give me.

My prayer today is that God grant us each someone safe to share our truth with, and that God make us a safe space for someone who needs to say the words they know that no one wants to hear.

Amen.

The Full Catastrophe

It’s family disaster week.

Actually, there is nothing “family disaster” in what I’m about to say; in fact, what I’m about to say probably reflects the same family life most people have in their fifties. Some days are good, some days are bad, some days are both good and bad, and some days feel like Murphy moved into your house, took over your bank account, and decided that he personally has a vendetta against you.

I hate that Murphy guy.

This will serve as your one and only trigger warning: if you are already overloaded with family drama, I’ll see you next week. Otherwise feel free to read on.

So…the mom brag moment!

My oldest daughter called me and told me that wonderful things are happening at her job. Since she hasn’t told the world yet I won’t give you details, but let’s just say that the money is getting significantly better, she’s about to become very happy with her job and her commute, and she hasn’t felt this valuable to a company in a really long time.

It was so surprising that she was a little stunned and overwhelmed, but I’m here to tell you that she totally and absolutely deserves all of it.  Yes I’m her mom but dang that girl is bright and capable!

To put the icing on that cupcake, she told me that her partner (who is a professional photographer who does mostly BMX races) has been marketing himself a great deal in San Francisco because she travels there twice a month for work…so why not fly there together, you know? Well, after showing his work around town he got hired for a 3 day commercial shoot for a major fashion designer!!  Seriously, when I heard this I squealed out loud and he’s not even my kid.  Again…they haven’t told everyone yet and so I am keeping some details under my hat, but OMG a major (MAJOR) fashion designer!

After our phone call was over I was so excited that I danced all around my house as I got ready for my Zumba class, where I danced rather exuberantly and with great joy.  I had to let the energy out somewhere!

It has been a good couple of weeks for my girls. My youngest passed her certification exam and now is a certified Pharmacy Tech (hello, big raise!) and my son-in-law got a great job at an airport with benefits and everything.  Considering that he is thinking of going into aircraft maintenance, this is a good job to have.

Some days are good. Some weeks are good.

And then…

I have written previous posts about the challenges of aging and how important it is admit and accept that you are going to require someone else to take care of you. I have written about the importance of working through the emotions of becoming more and more disabled before you come to that point, and understanding that aging doesn’t have to be about loss.

Yeah, my parents don’t read this blog.

My dad is 76 years old and has dementia; my mom is 70 years old and chronically ill.  Both of them are slowly losing their ability to be independent, although neither of them wants to admit it.

My dad is unwilling to admit that his dementia has reduced him to the point where he cannot live independently and needs a caregiver. My mom has been filling the caregiver role for eight years, with increasingly less and less physical ability to do so, and more and more emotional and mental stress related to my dad’s decline.

I feel like we are at the breaking point.

I talk to my dad and he unloads about his frustration and overwhelming confusion in combination with his anger with my mom.  You see, he still believes that he is capable of independence, and he keeps trying to live his life the way that he used to. He thinks that it’s my mom’s anxiety that causes her to stop him from doing maintenance around the house or driving. Sadly, my dad’s dementia has made it impossible for him to evaluate his own functioning, or lack of it. And he does keep trying to function, despite the fact that the results are consistently bad.  Over and over he’ll try to “be of use” and do the things he used to do around the house, but since he no longer remembers details or how things function he ends up breaking or destroying clothes, appliances, fixtures, you name it. He has lost or destroyed so many things that my mom is at her wits end, so she tries to stop him or she ends up criticizing him because he is doing it wrong and refusing to receive instructions on how to do it right. This causes him to become belligerent and angry and then he becomes aggressive and things just keep escalating until there is a huge confrontation.

That’s when I get frantic, emotional phone calls from my mom telling me just how bad it is, how agitated and aggressive my father is becoming, how exhausted and overwhelmed she is…and I gather resources and try to offer help to her…which she refuses most of the time.  Recently she revealed to me just how aggressive my father becomes when he gets agitated, and the last time I was at their home she had me take pictures of the bruises. It broke my heart to think that my father has become that guy and that my mother feels trapped in the situation.

Disaster.

Believe me, I have tried all sorts of things, and I have gathered all sorts of resources including an elder law attorney. Nothing is getting either of them to realize how explosive this situation is becoming.

I was up until almost 2am last night running it over and over in my mind, furious with both of them for the choices they have made and are making. I have a huge list of fears, with each one more terrifying than the other until the final one involves such a horrible occurrence that I would lose both my parents at once: one to death, and the other to the criminal justice system.

All morning I have been trying to interject more logic and less fear and anger into the discourse in my head, and I have realized that no matter how much I want to, I cannot make their choices for them. As much as I love and want to protect them, every attempt to help them make a decision that would admit that they need help because of their increasing debility seems to create a backlash of resistance and petulance out of my dad, which only serves to increase my mother’s anger with him.  I don’t want my desire to “fix things” to become the reason they end up in the next screaming, violent confrontation.

I fear that the best course of action is to sit back and let their choices drive what comes next and hope that none of my fears comes true. But I’m telling you, I’m going to get a hold of that elder law attorney and get papers that would allow me to file for conservatorship and get them filled out in advance. I’m also going to ask her for a referral to an attorney that deals with criminal charges against compromised adults. I can’t save them from themselves, but I can arm myself with information, prepared paperwork, and referrals.

And then I am going to sit back, close my eyes and meditate on raises, promotions, new jobs, photo shoots, and the incredible joy I feel when I think of what amazing women my daughters have become and what amazing men they have chosen as their partners.

In the movie Zorba the Greek, one of the characters gets asked if he is married and he says “I have a wife, children, house, everything…the full catastrophe.”

Life is a catastrophe, indeed. A wonderful, excruciatingly painful and beautiful catastrophe. I would complain, but then I think of Jesus’ life and all that He went through and I realize that even my Savior lived the full catastrophe, even if he never had a house and may not have had a wife and children.  It turns out that this is the nature of incarnate life, and I don’t know that I would honestly want it to be any other way.