Author Archives: tinamarierees

This Is Where I Live

For the last few weeks, my senior pastor has been doing a sermon series on the book Not A Fan by Kyle Idleman.  It’s a good sermon series, and I have to say that on most of her points I agree with her.

To boil the whole series down to a single sentence: Fans like Jesus and the things that He stands for but have no skin in the game, or you are a Follower of Jesus who commits to do the things that Jesus would do, no matter what they are, how difficult they are, or how counter-cultural they are.

Please understand that being a follower asks some difficult things of you and might result in you doing things that make you look just a little over-the-top to your friends. Don’t worry…they’ll get over it and if they don’t, those people didn’t really love you anyway. Anyone who loves you ought to know that you are a seriously committed follower of Jesus and that nothing is going to get in the way of that commitment.

Having said that…I really struggled with her last sermon.

I’m pretty sure that everybody struggled with her last sermon, which was based on Matthew 19:16-22, otherwise known as the Parable of the Rich Young Ruler:

16 Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; 19 Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “I have kept all these;[a] what do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money[b] to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.  (NRSV)

I think that I have always struggled with the parable of the rich, young ruler because it seems to say that being rich keeps you from being truly faithful.  To me it seems to say that we must give up all of our worldly wealth before we can truly follow Christ, and there are people who actually believe that. They sell everything they own and give the proceeds to the Church and join the ranks of the poor just so that they can live out their faith. I can’t criticize that choice, although it seems a bit extreme to me; I don’t believe that is what Jesus is asking me to do.

I have to admit that I have given up considerable wealth for my God. I used to be a computer programmer, and back in 1997 (when I finally left my job to go to seminary) I was earning more than my husband because of how rare “mainframe” programmers were becoming. If I had stayed in my original career, I would probably be making six figures…easily making over $150,000 a year. That’s a lot of money, and sadly I’ll never earn anything like that as a counselor who gives away a lot of counseling for free…but that’s what God calls me to do.

I say this not to glorify myself (because really…I love my job. I wouldn’t want to go back to computer programming for any reason, ever) but to highlight that I have already set aside a chunk of material wealth for the sake of Jesus…and I still have a really hard time with my pastor’s interpretation of Matthew 19:16-22!

My senior pastor sees this passage as a demand to give up anything and everything that Christ asks us to set aside. I, on the other hand, keep getting hung up on the whole good vs perfect debate in this passage.  “Good vs perfect” is a debate that takes up a huge part of my life…and it is the one place where God constantly reminds me that I cannot be perfect for Him…that I can only submit to His will, and He will make me perfect.

Go back and read the passage again. Seriously, I’ll wait. Scroll back and read the scripture passage again. No, really…scroll back up the page and read the whole Scripture passage a second time.

Thank you.

Did you notice that Jesus, being asked about being ‘good’, states that only God is good? Jesus declares that only God is good (excluding everyone else) and then instructs the rich man to keep the commandments. I have always taken this as a sign that Jesus knew that being human was a major impediment to being like God…that only God was good and humans could do little more than try and follow God’s example.  To me, this means that humans can NEVER be good. Goodness is reserved for God alone.

That makes sense to me, because so much of this world is chaotic and screwed up. Heck, my own flesh is chaotic and screwed up! As I get older, more and more goes wrong with my body no matter how hard I work to stay healthy. This body isn’t meant to last for an eternity…only my soul is built for longevity and eternity. My body? I’m 53, so my body is going to return to dust sometime in the next 45 years.  I am, essentially, on the downhill slide to death. There is no hope for this body: it is mortal and it shall pass away. My soul? My soul is eternal and it will return to its Creator because it cannot be separated from its Creator.

Having said all that, I want to bring this passage of Scripture back to where I live on almost a daily basis: good vs. perfect.  I would LOVE to be perfect in the name of God!  I would love to perfectly care for my parishioners and my clients. I would LOVE to perfectly serve the Kingdom, never running out of energy or patience. I would LOVE to be the perfect wife, the perfect friend, the perfect daughter and the perfect mother…I would love to be perfect.  I have almost built an idol to my dreams of perfection.

But you and I both know that perfection just isn’t going to happen.

You know how we know that? Because when someone asks Jesus what they have to do to be ‘good’, Jesus makes it clear that there is only one person who is good and that is GOD. That’s it: God is good and everyone else falls short. We have, in so many ways, no hope of being good. But the rich young ruler insists that he’s followed all the commandments and that he still feels unsure of eternal life.  So Jesus makes a statement that is actually a question—a very meaningful question. He says:

“If you wish to be perfect…”

If only God is good, how the heck is anyone on Earth supposed to be PERFECT???!  Doesn’t that seem impossible?

Literally, having told the rich young ruler that only God is good, Jesus then says “If you want to be perfect, you must…”

And of course, what Jesus lists as the requirements of perfection are far beyond what the rich young ruler is willing to do. But that shouldn’t surprise any of us, because perfection is always outside of our ability. There is no way to be perfectly faithful, perfectly sinless, perfectly giving, perfectly patient…especially when Jesus tells us that only God is good.

Essentially what Jesus is saying to the rich young ruler is “If you want to try to attain Heaven all by yourself you are going to have to be PERFECT…so here goes…” and you know that the rich young ruler is NOT going to be able to pull it off.  Perfection is way out of our grasp if only God can be good.

Big surprise there, huh?

Not really.   I think all of us knew that there was no way for us to be perfect in God’s eyes, because if we could be perfect all on our own, why did God send Jesus to die for our sins?

Makes no sense, huh?  Yeah…that’s the WHOLE idea.

The reason that I struggle with Matthew 19:16-22 is that it sits in contradiction to everything I know about God and Jesus.

I can’t be holy enough to impress God—that’s why God sent Jesus to die for me.

I can’t rescue myself from my mess…that’s why God sent Jesus, to recue me from everything that I can’t seem to escape.

I can’t perfectly fulfill God’s law…and Jesus’ death frees me from having to obey that law.

I can’t…I never could!  But Jesus? He can…He will…and He always has been able to do all that is necessary for us to achieve eternal life.  Everything we need is present in Jesus Christ.

That’s the whole doggone point!!!  And that’s the point of Jesus’ discussion with the rich, young ruler.

There is now way that we can earn salvation on our own…only Jesus can do that for us, and without Him, we have no hope.

Don’t bother trying to be perfect. Heck…don’t even bother trying to be good, because according to Jesus, only one is good, and that One is God!

When it comes down to it, all that Jesus wants from us is to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. (Micah 6:8) Those things are within our reach because God has placed them fully within our reach.  Perfection? Not. So. Much.  Perfection is out of our reach. Even goodness is out of our reach.

That ought to clarify the ‘good enough’ question.

You’ll never make it. You don’t have to.

God already decided that He loves you and wants to save you.

All you have to do is believe and accept that you will never, ever be good enough…even though you are more than enough for God to sacrifice His son to save you.

It’s a paradox. Just go with it.

Amen.

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That Is Not Chocolate…

I have been feeling particularly weary lately. I think I’ve had a little too much news.

But it’s Thursday and it’s time to write a blog post, and if you wait for inspiration you will discover that you will hardly ever write anything. So I opened up MS Word, and I sat down to write.

I sat, and I sat, and I sat.

My butt hurt from sitting and it was close to 1pm so I got up and ate lunch.

Then I sat back down in front of the computer and…well, I sat and sat some more.

I think you know where this is going.

I think part of my problem is that there is so little to say that isn’t a rehash of the last few weeks: I’m tired. I’m overscheduled. (No kidding Tina, tell us something we don’t already know.) I’m weary of the situation with my parents.  I have too many people that I’m trying to take care of: family, friends, parishioners, clients…parents.  And then to frost the crap cupcake life seems to have handed me, I listen to the news.

Hurricanes. Total destruction. Mass shootings. Cancer. Death.

You know what they say, don’t you?  When life serves you crap cupcakes…

…??!

I’m at a loss here, people!  What do you do when life serves you crap cupcakes??

I decided that a little prayer might shake me out of my doldrums and put me into a better place. I bowed my head to pray and found myself sitting in silence with nothing to say. I cried, and I think my heart had a few things to say, but my mouth didn’t have one good word to speak.

That’s when God encouraged me to get out my Bible and play the lottery.

You know, Bible lottery…when you open the Bible to a random spot and just start reading to see what the Lord needs to say to you right now.

I went to grab my Study Bible from seminary because it holds so many good memories for me, but for some reason The Message just would not let go of the Study Bible’s jacket and so I decided God must be giving me a nudge and I grabbed The Message. I let it drop open and started reading the first thing that my eye fell on:

“Things are going to happen so fast your head will swim, one thing fast on the heels of the other. You won’t be able to keep up. Everything will be happening at once.”

Yes, Lord, that is definitely how I feel. It has been a horrible time, these last 45 days, and one terrible thing has happened after another. My nation is a mess. My friends are suffering and some are dying. My parents aren’t doing well at all. There has been too much destruction and too much death and too many tragedies. When does it stop?

I returned to my reading:

“Things are going to happen so fast your head will swim, one thing fast on the heels of the other. You won’t be able to keep up. Everything will be happening at once—and everywhere you look, blessings! Blessings like wine pouring off the mountains and hills. I’ll make everything right again for my people Israel.”

Wait, what?

This is the book of Amos, a prophetic book from the Old Testament. Amos spends the first 9½ chapters of the book telling the people of Israel that they are in major trouble, that God is letting the nation fall into ruin because of how greedy and unjust the Israelites have become; they utterly disregard God’s laws. Then Amos spends the last half of the 9th chapter sharing God’s promise to rebuild everything and lift His people back up.

Reading this really hits me where I live.

I’m not trying to say that God is punishing the US for its greed, overconsumption, and the widespread injustice that exists in our land…although I understand how some people can think such a thing. Personally, I don’t believe that God ‘punishes’ us because that doesn’t reflect a loving God and truthfully, God doesn’t need to punish us. We have free will and our behaviors have consequences; we do a pretty good job of punishing ourselves, if you know what I mean.

Much closer to truth would be to say that everything that is happening right now is just happening, randomly. We may have contributed to some of the cause by ignoring climate change, or by refusing to deny average citizens access to assault rifles, but in the end…bad things happen because…LIFE. Life is a mix of good and bad, of great joy and tragedy, of celebration and grief.  And no matter how righteous you are, you will suffer loss and destruction just like everyone else.  “…He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matt 5:45)

No matter what the cause of all our pain, God looks down on the destruction and suffering that envelops us, and speaks words of comfort:

I’ll make everything right again for my people Israel.

They’ll rebuild their ruined cities

They’ll plant vineyards and drink good wine.

They’ll work their gardens and eat fresh vegetables

And I’ll plant them, plant them on their own land.

They’ll never again be uprooted from the land I’ve given them.

God, your God, says so.  (Amos 9:14-15)

And suddenly I don’t feel so weary anymore.  This is a big promise that God has made, a promise made to the whole world, not just to US citizens. This is a promise to immigrants and refugees; to Christians, Jews, and Muslims; to men in power and men living on the street; to women and children who have never known safety even in their own homes; to nations glowing with peace and prosperity and nations sagging under the burden of war and poverty.

This is a promise to me and to you, as we stand here holding the crap cupcakes that life has given us thinking that this is all we can hope for, that this is as good as it gets.  It gets WAY better than crap cupcakes, I swear it does.

“You won’t be able to keep up. Everything will be happening at once—and everywhere you look, blessings! Blessings like wine pouring off the mountains and hills.”  Amos 9:13

If you spend your day staring at your crap cupcake, like will seem crappy indeed. Look to the mountains and the hills my friend, and pray for the blessings to flow like wine. Then put down your crap cupcake, and go talk to your neighbor and see if they need any help. Or you can pick up your shovel, or your pocketbook, or your flood/cleaning bucket *** and start doing what you can to help with all the suffering across our nation. And if you are too exhausted and worn to help anyone else because of your own suffering and destruction, cry out to the Lord and then ask someone with skin on to help you.

Life may be one giant crap cupcake, but that cupcake isn’t bigger than we are.

God, on the other hand, is!

 

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.

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.

 

Our Privilege Is Showing

I have a client who has been dealing with chronic pain and spinal issues ever since I started working with her over two years ago. Approximately 7 months ago, she went in for an injection to reduce inflammation and pain in her cervical spine (the medical description of what they did is beyond most of us, so I’m going to skip that.)

To make a long story short, things didn’t go well. Somehow, they injured a nerve during the injection, and my client noticed immediately that she was unable to use her right hand; by that evening my client was in the ICU receiving huge amounts of medications to elevate her blood pressure so that they could maintain blood flow in her spinal column.  She lived through the ordeal, but was left with excruciating pain in her left arm and very little function in her left hand.  The muscles in her hand are wasting, she can’t move her fingers very much and cannot use the hand for anything more than a paperweight. She can’t tie her own shoes, pull up and button her own pants, or pick up anything that requires two hands. She struggles with simple things like showering and getting dressed, and it’s almost impossible to do the things that would allow her to take care of her family.  Worst of all is the constant searing pain in her left arm that increases any time she puts any pressure on her left hand. Physical therapy is so agonizingly painful that she cannot eat before she goes to therapy or she vomits.

Sounds awful doesn’t it? Aren’t you glad it isn’t you? Me too.  Sadly instead of giving her a place to share her emotions and honestly talk about her agony and suffering, friends, family, and even her doctors all say the same thing to her:

“Aren’t you glad it isn’t your right arm?”

Well…yes, she is grateful that she is still able to sign a check, or write a note to another person. She is grateful that her dominant arm wasn’t impacted.

But how is that statement supposed to be comforting to her?  Imagine what it would be like if I lit your left arm on fire and it had to stay on fire for the remainder of today, just today…not 7 months of agony, like my client.  Would you welcome people saying “Aren’t you glad it isn’t your right arm?”

I’ll bet not. I’ll bet you’d want to scream “Make it stop! Make the pain stop!  I can’t take anymore!”

But no one is going to make it stop for my client. Barrows Neurological can’t make it stop. The malpractice suit isn’t going to make it stop. Pain medication barely touches it because it’s nerve pain. Nothing…nothing…NOTHING is going to make it stop.

Aren’t you glad it isn’t your right arm?

People say things like that for a number of reasons. First, they cannot feel just how much pain she’s in. Second, they don’t understand that this may be permanent and even progressive. Third, they don’t realize how much they use both hands when they need to get things done.

But the biggest reason that people say this is because they don’t want to have to acknowledge my client’s immense suffering. The idea that life can randomly, arbitrarily deal out such horrific suffering is more than most people can bear, and so they push the idea away with bland platitudes and stupid statements that demand the suffering person “see the bright side of things”. You know, because, happy and all that!

You see it in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in some of the statements on social media.

People asking why Joel Osteen didn’t open up his church to provide refuge. “If he had just opened his church…”

People stating that the people in Houston should have evacuated. “If they had just gotten out of Houston…”

People criticizing the unwise actions of those who tried to drive out of Houston after the flooding was severe. “If they had just listened to the news they would have known…”

Isn’t it easy to armchair quarterback someone else’s tragedy?  Isn’t it so clear what they should have done, how they failed to respond correctly?  Don’t you feel righteous and correct and so much more…informed and wise…than those people who should have just ….

Yeah. Once again, we’d rather turn a blind eye to the random, arbitrary suffering of others than to face the truth: no matter how hard you try to do life correctly, horrible things will happen that will almost destroy you and there will be no good reason for the destruction.

And that’s what I mean when I say Our Privilege Is Showing.

When we sit in our dry, climate controlled homes, relaxing in our comfy chair, criticizing the failures of those who are suffering because of natural disasters, we are exercising the privilege of safety to erase the suffering of the endangered and the refugees.

When we demand that sick, suffering individuals look at the bright side of their illness (Aren’t you glad it isn’t your right arm?) we are exercising the privilege of wellness to erase the suffering of the sick and disabled.

When we refuse to acknowledge the hidden disabilities of those whose chronic illnesses are not immediately visible we are exercising the privilege of wellness to punish those who refuse to be openly and visibly disabled and refusing to believe their claims of disability because they don’t meet our ‘criteria’…even though even though the government and the medical field has established clear criteria for disability.

Anytime you ease your own discomfort with someone else’s situation by dismissing their suffering or their struggle you use your privilege to make that person invisible.

Well…I’ve got news for you.

God’s children are never invisible to God. God sees all of His children: the well, the sick, the wealthy, the poor, the adequately housed, the homeless…all of them. And He sees you when you decide not to see suffering, sorrow, loss, disaster, disability, homelessness, poverty, discrimination, and inequality.

Never forget, God is watching. What will He see you doing?

Our privilege is showing.  Aren’t you glad it’s not your right arm??

Epic Fail Birthday

This has been one of those weeks when I feel like an epic failure.

Not that everything has gone wrong this week. Far from it; in fact, many good things have happened this week. What has me feeling like an epic failure is that something went wrong with one of my clients—like wrong—and she quit therapy abruptly, which usually causes me to seriously question if I am burnt out, if I am in need of a tune-up of my skills, or if I am just slowly losing my mojo as a therapeutic person.

Obviously, I cannot share any specifics of what happened, since I want to (and legally need to) respect my client’s privacy. Let it suffice to say that we had a major parting of the ways over a religious issue; my client is very conservative and is an activist in this area, and I am a committed progressive that does not believe that my morals should ever dictate what other people are allowed to do. We have laws to dictate behavior; after that, my morals should stop with me.

I have to admit that I view this person as an extremist. I say that because she holds an ethical viewpoint that labels anyone who disagrees with this viewpoint as immoral and of lower personal character.  I also view her as an extremist because she spouts “statistics” and “facts” without really examining if those statistics and facts meet the test of simple logic, which means her belief is unexamined and also unchallengeable.  After all, how do you challenge someone’s viewpoint once they have chosen to simply accept whatever data they are fed by their ‘leader’ without any critical thinking?

This is where I got into trouble with her.  She was sharing her views and statistics, and I lost my ability to smile and remain silent.  And of course, that loss is why I feel like an epic failure right now. I’m not okay with losing my patience with someone and arguing against their opinion. I’m not supposed to speak sternly to a client, ever. I’m not okay when I act like this whether it happens with clients or just with people in general. Sadly, I find myself behaving like this often enough for me to be embarrassed to admit to it.

It’s my birthday today, and I keep hoping that my increasing age will grant me greater amounts of patience, compassion, silence (oh how I could use some ability to remain silent!), and wisdom.  While I often get really nice presents for my birthday, God has not yet chosen to shower me with the gifts of patience, silence, and wisdom.  I don’t know that I actually need to be more compassionate that I am, but I often think that I would be better at tolerating extremist viewpoints or just generally stupid behaviors and viewpoints if I was more compassionate.

Then again, maybe if I didn’t give a damn that would help too.

But I digress.

I keep waiting to grow up, to become more of all the things I thought I would become with age. It isn’t happening, at least not the way I want it to.  I won’t deny that age has granted me a number of characteristics that I didn’t possess at 22. I told my oldest daughter not long ago that the greatest gift of aging is that you calm the hell down. Actually, I think I said it more colorfully than that. Nonetheless, I have calmed down a great deal since my 20s. I have also become a bit more comfortable with having others tell me that I have screwed up. Sometime in my 30s I decided that being wrong isn’t as horrible as we like to make it out to be.  Discovering you are wrong is embarrassing and it hurts your pride a little, but only just a little, as long as you don’t act like you’re being accused of a capital crime and start defending yourself as if your life was on the line. The truth is that being wrong represents an opportunity to learn from someone, to thank them for their honest feedback, and to prove yourself to be a responsible and accountable adult. Oh yeah…and you get to be certain, at least for a moment, that you are now just a little ‘righter’ than you were a minute ago. Nice, huh?

Growing older has also granted me the wisdom of realizing that things are never as great or as bad as they seem, and that I need to step back and let things unfold, instead of going straight into freak-out mode. I used to freak-out over the slightest little thing that didn’t go well…now I moan a little and grump a bit, and then get on with dealing with whatever it was that just happened. I suppose that this could come under the heading of ‘Calm the hell down’ but it also contains a great big piece of ‘Look for the good to show up, because God always sneaks in a little good into everything’. God has a funny habit of blessing me even in the midst of the ickier parts of life, which has led me to start looking for the hidden blessings in just about everything.

You know, considering just how much aging has blessed me with already, I guess that it’s reasonable to hope that sometime in the next 30 years, God will sneak a little patience, silence, and wisdom into this hard head of mine. Maybe He’ll drop a little more compassion into my heart just for fun as well.  In fact, perhaps this particular epic failure will contain the seeds of great things…a few more hidden blessings from God.

So for my birthday, it appears that God has gifted me with hope that I’m still growing up and growing wise, and that is a very nice present indeed. Well played, God.  Well played.