Category Archives: God

Quack!!!

So here we are…it is Holy Week again, and this year I am not quite ready.

The last two months have been really hard on me. I lost a very close friend to cancer after spending months doing everything I could to take care of her and her family. And then on 1/29/18, my father fell and broke all the bones in his face, advancing his dementia in ways I never imagined. He will not be allowed to live at home with my mother in his home ever again, and he will never be the man he was on January 28th, 2018.

I am grieving in more ways than you can imagine.

But this season, while grief-filled and painful, has been truly good for me.

I needed to remember that God resurrects everything to a new and different life, to a life that couldn’t be imagined before death, to a life that only Heaven owns.

My grief is so overwhelming that I cannot seem to see beyond the grief and the pain. I look at my friend’s family and at my own family and wonder how we will ever go on. I don’t quite understand how we are supposed to smile again, to laugh again, to feel like life is good again.

And then, out of the blue, someone reminds me of what it is that God lends us to deal with all our pain.

I went to see my massage therapist this morning because my last appointment, only a week ago, revealed that my body is telling the tale of all the stress I’ve endured since Christmas. She asked me to book another appointment with her as soon as possible, even though I normally book an appointment with her only once every three weeks. After her recommendation, I booked another appointment only 7 days after I’d last seen her, knowing that it would be 14 days after that before I could see her again.

She and I talked this morning about all of my stress and everything that was weighing on her heart, since she has children and children always weigh on our hearts.  Her sons are becoming teenagers, and I found myself sharing all I learned when my daughters became teenagers and so much went wrong. I shared about the group of people that saved my daughter, my relationship with my husband, and my entire family.

My massage therapist fixes my body and improves my life, and I do what I can to give her tools to heal her own body and fix her life. Our gifts differ just enough that we are able to help each other at the same time.

During my massage, as I related all the things that have happened with my mother and father since I last saw my massage therapist I realized something really crucial.

I have lost my sense of humor when it comes to my dad.

My family deals with almost everything with humor, even when we have to use black humor that other people would frown on, just so that we can get through difficult times.

My mother and I have watched my father lose his wits, his mind, his sense of self, and his self-control. He has threatened my mother and assaulted his caregivers (medical and otherwise) until we had to resort to extreme measures to help him. After 3 weeks in a psych ward and much medication, we thought we might have finally recovered my father…the man we all miss, the person we wish were with us instead of the violent, unruly, mentally unwell man who woke up after breaking all his facial bones.

Nope.

Not. Even. Close.

The situation has broken my heart and strained my relationship with my father. There is only so much hatred and threat that I can listen to before the child in me wants to run away. I cannot hear my father threaten my mother…not for long. I was so excited, anticipating the man that we would receive when he came home from the psych unit medicated and peaceful; for a hot minute it seemed that we had found the man we knew and loved and then…disaster!

It was during my massage, talking with the woman who restores my body, that I realized that I had abandoned the coping mechanism that restores my mind.

Humor.  I have lost my humor when it comes to my father’s behavior.

I could argue that there isn’t anything funny about physically assaulting my family or the nursing staff. I could swear that there is nothing to laugh at when you are facing horrific levels of liability for the damage done to some tiny woman who chose to provide care to those who are aged and losing their memory.  And there is nothing funny about a man who thinks his family has abandoned him, that we have left him to die when he needs us most, despite the fact that we are making the best possible choices for his care that we can, even when the care we choose comes at considerable cost and sacrifice for the family.

The situation isn’t funny at all.

And yet…

Why aren’t I allowed to laugh? Why aren’t I allowed to be silly, unreasonable, unaccepting of the tragedy that I cannot escape?  My mother laughs at the tragedy of her chronic illness. I laugh at the tragedy that I inherited from that illness and the fact that I get sicker every day. I laugh with my daughters when they report that they also inherited these illnesses, since we have only once choice: laugh, or cry. We laugh about what we cannot change, or instead we choose to weep daily, soaking in our tragedy.

I. Choose. Laughter.

No matter how much it all hurts, I choose laughter. No matter how much the whole situation sucks, I choose laughter. Laughter has gotten me through so much loss in the past that I know it will not fail me now.

God invented laughter, and I truly believe that just before he committed his spirit to God, that Christ looked down on all the Centurions gathered at his feet and laughed.  Those foolish children believed that they could kill the one and only son of God; they believed that they would win and that Jesus had no chance of succeeding. What a disappointment…and what a blessing!

When I look at the history of my Savior, I choose laughter.

When I visit my father and he is fixated on his anger at my mother, I have decided to start quacking like a duck to distract him.  When I quack like a duck I am going to remind him that I cannot change my mother’s choices and that I really want to know about him, about his new life, about his new friends and his new domicile. I want to tell him about my own life, about my own children (that he doesn’t recognize anymore) and my ministry.

I may have to quack like a duck every 10 seconds to keep him focused on something other than the life he has lost; the life that makes him angry and violent. I’m good with that. I’ll quack as often as I need to in order to unsettle him, to distract my dad from his fixation on my mom and his beliefs about her unfaithfulness and bad behavior. In the end, all I want is a father that I can relate to, separate from his beliefs about my mother. I cannot hear his hatred, anger, and judgment about my mom anymore. It is toxic to my soul, since his thoughts are all based in fear and delusion.

I am going to quack like a duck because it makes me laugh, and it just might work.

Please pray for ducks to assist me, and for God to make mercy for my father out of ducks and humor.

By the way, I found an awesome shirt that refers to raccoons as “Trash Pandas”, bears as “Death Floofs” and bunnies as “Boople Snoots”. I need that kind of humor, and so I am choosing to quack like a duck and smile when I think of “Boople Snoots”. I’ll let you know how it works.

Thank you for your prayers for my family. I know that you are praying because there is no such thing as Christians who read about pain and don’t pray. I appreciate you more than you know, even when I don’t know your name.  Blessings!

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Not Sure What I’m Here For

The other day a friend called me a ‘do-gooder’. She was quite angry with me at the time and it seemed that she meant it in a negative way. I can think of a million words far more hurtful for her to say, and while I am grateful that she didn’t use any of those other words, I have to admit that ‘do-gooder’ hurt quite a bit.

I have to laugh when I admit that, because the idea of being called a do-gooder isn’t something I would normally avoid. Honestly, if a non-Christian said that to me I’d actually feel complimented, even if they didn’t mean it that way.

Doing good is what I aim for, you know?

My friend Teri is dying, and it has been a rough time since November.  Every day she is a little closer, and recently her family had to have a hospital bed put in the house, along with her IV pole and pain pump and all the hospital supplies that come with caring for the dying. I have been a small part of that care and have been honored to be allowed to be that close to her family at a time when family is all that matters.

The stress of all of this has had me listening to Christian music; something I don’t normally do on a daily basis.  I’m too busy dancing in my car to ‘Despacito’, trying to remember all the choreography I learned in my Zumba class. I try to get to Zumba once a week so I can get some of these urges out of me. It’s better to act them out on the dance floor than in my car, where the drivers around me fear that I have lost my mind or have some sort of severe movement disorder. Anyway, in times I stress I find myself turning to my Christian music to sustain and strengthen my soul, and Teri’s imminent passing has had me soaking in Christian music for a good week now.

Of course, the Christian music on my iPod is almost all from the time of my call. It was what I was listening to when God was breathing down my neck, trying to get me to let go of the safe path He had placed me on when I graduated college in 1986. Since I wouldn’t listen to God back when He originally called me (I was 17 and didn’t think that a female minister was a thing that existed), God graciously gave me an eleven year-long career in computer programming. It was fun and I Ioved it, but God was only willing to let me hang out there for a while until finally He wouldn’t take NO for an answer anymore.  It was at that point that I found myself listening to Christian music 24/7.

I have spent the last several days wrestling with term ‘do-gooder’. Yes, I truly do want to do good things, but WHY? What am I hoping for?

Of course, I could easily say that I am following where God leads me and that I do it for Christ alone. Man, that would be good press, but it would also be a lie.

When you ‘do good’, you get lots and lots of accolades. People say nice things about you. People think nice things about you. People are glad to see you because they know that you are here to help.  In the end, doing good gets you a reputation, and it’s definitely the kind of reputation that you want. It’s impressive!  The problem is that getting a good reputation is a quick way to inflate your ego and start doing the ‘right’ things for all the ‘wrong’ reasons.  After all, you can’t let people start thinking you don’t care or that you no longer want to help them, right?  Do-gooder to the rescue!!  Stand back, I’m about to do some GOOD!

And therein lies the problem, because it is God’s desire that we ‘do good’ to please God and only God, and not to get a good reputation, or feed our own ego, or to get people to praise us.  Except it is incredibly hard to do ministry without anyone seeing you doing it.  You know, before I became a minister I could be a little more anonymous in my ‘do-gooder’ behaviors. I could do good things for God alone.  Now it is expected that I will do good because the congregation calls me Reverend and all that…and it’s kind of hard to hide your good deeds so that God alone is aware. The praise starts rolling in and your ego starts swelling and all of a sudden you don’t know what your motivation is anymore. Do I do this so that others will appreciate me, or am I doing this so that God can be glorified?  It’s not an easy question to answer.

So there I am, in my car, headed to Teri’s house and my iPod is blasting songs by Sara Groves and Caedmon’s Call and Chris Rice and Third Day and I am feeling it!!  I can’t stop the tears from flowing, and I remember just how I felt when I received my call. I wanted to die to self. I wanted God to absorb me, to obliterate me, so that all that was left of me was my desire to serve Him and please Him and do His will. I was so in love with God at that point in my life, that it was a wonder my husband didn’t accuse me of infidelity. It was an intense experience, and anyone who knew me then would use that exact word to describe me: intense.  Let’s just say that Jesus and I talked often, and God and I were on a first name basis, and I was on board with whatever the Father wanted, no matter what the cost.

The funny thing is that here and now, in 2018, I can get in touch with that desire to die to self and be obliterated by His Spirit…but I can’t really say that’s what I want anymore.  It’s not that I don’t want that, it’s that I don’t want that in the same way. You see, back in 1996 when God was calling me into ministry,  God was calling me away from everything I thought I was going to be, so that I could become exactly what He wanted me to be. I had to let go of my career and my image of myself and my desire to earn the big bucks.  I had to lose the arrogance that had grown in me from realizing that God had given me the big brain, which made me a highly desirable employee/consultant. It was good, being in IT and being really smart. People wanted me to work for them, and I worked for the highest bidder. Life was good and I was good at programming and I knew it…but none of that was what God wanted from me anymore. God wanted me to submit to His will, to go to seminary, to lose my arrogance and my bravado. God wanted me to step out into the unknown and let Him lead me to serve His Kingdom. I had to let go of everything. It was terrifying. I begged God not to take my husband and my children from me. I was terrified of what God might ask of me…pretty much on a daily basis.  This was why I was so intense in my desire to die to self. I wanted God to obliterate my self so that I could be nothing more than His servant and stop desiring to have anything other than what God wanted me to have.

So…think for a moment.  Can you imagine God obliterating you and being glad to do it?

Yeah…me neither.

You see, I have two daughters and their individuality and their personalities are truly precious to me. I would never want them to give that up because it is the most delightful part of God’s creation in them.

Why it never occurred to me that my Father, God Almighty, would never want to obliterate me, I just don’t know. After all, He created me to be ME, to be an awful lot like an extremely faithful squirrel on crack!  And for some reason that I cannot begin to understand, God appears to think that having a squirrel on crack in ministry is a great thing.

Either God has an epic sense of humor, or…

God has an epic sense of humor.

So I sit in my car, driving to and from Teri’s house, doing my best to be present to her and to her family and to provide God’s love and care to them in the most difficult and painful time.  And all the while, God sends me songs from the very beginning of my call into ministry to remind me of my intense desire to serve him, even at the cost of my own self and everything I held dear back then.  He comforts me in my grief and then reminds me that I am doing exactly what He called me to do.  God called me into ministry to be with the suffering and the lost, to bring His love into the darkest places, to remain with those who think they have no value at all so that they can learn just how deeply He adores them and how highly He values them.

I am…I am a do-gooder. Yes, I am! I am not the best do-gooder, or the most graceful do-gooder. I am not the most knowledgeable do-gooder, either. But I do good in the name of Jesus the Christ, who did the most awesome good that could ever be done for all of us.

And that is enough and it pleases the Lord God Almighty.

Amen.

 

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!

 

The Sharpest Sword and the Uncontrollable Arm

This week I met with a female client whose husband is incredibly self-focused and verbally abusive to her and their two sons.

I have been listening to her struggle with her anger and frustration with her husband for months now. At first, she wanted to know what she was doing wrong, thinking that she was the problem. Then she began to wonder if she was perceiving him and his behavior incorrectly, or if she was judging him too harshly. She repeatedly blamed herself for her inability to stop her husband’s behavior from impacting her sons, swearing that if she didn’t become upset when her husband was being verbally abusive she would somehow be able to stop him from verbally abusing their boys.  Then she started asking if there were techniques to help her ‘deal’ with his constant anger and demeaning words.

Lately, though, she has been asking me if he is doing this on purpose or if this is simply how God made him.  She calls her husband a narcissist (and I agree with her) and she wants to know if his narcissism is a choice that he is making or if he can’t live any other way—in other words, was he born like this and if so, does this mean that it’s not his fault that he behaves poorly?

That is a difficult question to answer.

You might wonder how we even know for sure that he is a narcissist. Well, his behavior speaks volumes, but it always helps to rely on greater knowledge.  The Diagnostics and Statistics Manual (version 5) helps me in my practice quite a bit, and it provides a list of diagnostic criteria.  Mayo Clinic provides a simplified version for the public here.

While all that is very useful knowledge, diagnosing my client’s husband won’t change anything for my client.  Also, because he’s not the one seeking counseling, any conjecturing we might do about what causes his behavior is only that: conjecture. It neither gives us a path to helping the situation nor does it give my client any real tactics for dealing with her abusive, self-focused husband.

So back to the question at hand:  what if he can’t help it? What if this is just how God made him? Isn’t it wrong to be angry at him for things he has no control over?

I have a couple of thoughts on that.

First, I don’t know that I believe that God created a narcissist. I can, however, accept that the perfect spirit that God created happens to exist inside a fleshy body that developed incorrectly, growing a brain that lacks empathy and expects total obedience to every demand and whim. Lots of us live with bodies that don’t quite function correctly.  Lots of us suffer with brain injuries after strokes or with dementia or with mental illness…and I don’t believe that God enjoys watching us struggle with our broken flesh.  I also don’t believe that God creates broken flesh.  I do, however, believe that God created a perfect spirit to reside in that flesh, and that God forgives us for the failings that our broken flesh causes.  And yes…that means that God forgives this man for being abusive, even though God didn’t create him to an abusive husband and father.

Having said all that, I offered my client an allegory:

What if her husband was born with a right arm that suddenly would strike out and punch? What if her husband had no control over the violence that his right arm would suddenly commit?  Imagine him, sitting there in a movie theater, enjoying the show when he suddenly his right arm threw a punch, striking the man next to him in the face.  “Oh, I’m so sorry sir! I didn’t mean to punch you like that. It’s just that my arm…I can’t control it. It just does that. I’ve been like that since birth. I’m so sorry.”  A few moments later, his right arm strikes out again, punching the gentleman next to him a second time.  And then a third punch. And a fourth.

How long do you think this could go on before my client’s husband would be forced to leave the movie theater? How long before someone said “If you can’t control your arm, then at least be responsible enough to sit where you can’t punch anyone!”

In other words, if you are an adult** you are responsible for the impact of your behaviors on others even when you “can’t control yourself.” Just because you “can’t control yourself” doesn’t mean that you are unaware of the impact of your behavior on others. You do not have the right to expect others to ignore the impact of your behavior on them simply because you can’t help yourself. You do not have the right to expect accommodation at the expense of the well-being of others.  You do not have the right to expect a consequence free life because of your twisted flesh.

Not sure about that?  Ask yourself…do you think that God leaned in to his sons when they were born and said “I made your Daddy in such a way that he’ll always be abusive and hateful. Too bad for you! He can’t help it so you just have to deal with it! It’s not his fault, so it’s your burden FOREVER!”

I don’t believe God is like that. I believe that God forgives us for the failures of our flesh, but I also believe that God desires for us to realize our responsibility to protect and respect others.

The saddest part?

My client looked at me and said “I know this is sick and wrong, but I wish that he’d hit me. Then I’d have no excuse to stay. I could leave him.”

My heart breaks.

All I can do is pray that she hears God whispering “Leave him. Don’t worry…I’ll take care of him. Please…for your sake, for the sake of your boys…leave him before he destroys you.”

Pray with me, please. There are way too many women and men staying in abusive relationships, worried that God will somehow judge them for leaving a relationship where the bruises aren’t physical and obvious.

As a woman who believes in a Christ who suffered a great deal before he died, trust me…words bruise and inflict wounds far greater than you can imagine. That’s why the Romans, who had already beaten Jesus bloody and were about to execute him, hung the words “King of the Jews” above his cross. They knew that whips and torture weren’t enough…they needed words to finish the destruction.

Through God’s grace alone, those who sought to kill Jesus won the battle but lost the war. Let us pray that all those who seek to destroy with words lose in the long run…and please God, sooner rather than later.

From my words to God’s ears!

** Adult in terms of mental development as well as chronological age. One of my colleagues has a son who is in his 30s and has the mental development of a 4 year-old child. In my opinion, his disability makes it so that he should never have to be fully responsible for the impact of his behaviors on others.

Holy Discontent, Batman!

Do you remember when I told you that I had a case of the BLAHs? I realized that God had placed some holy discontent into my life to get me out of my rut and move me forward.

Things were getting better there for a while.  I got a workbook about burnout and compassion fatigue. I started reading it and took the tests to see just how burned out I was, how badly beaten and fatigued that my compassion had become.

Guess what? I’m not burned out and I don’t have compassion fatigue.

Apparently, the longer you are a practicing counselor the more likely you have let go of unrealistic beliefs about what you should be able to achieve and have accepted that you will have unlimited capacity for compassion and giving.

I took those tests and discovered that I was just fine, scoring somewhere in the range where folks who’ve been in the industry over 10 years tend to score.

It was great relief.

I also started doing things that bring me happiness just to do them. I started baking regularly and trying new recipes for weekend dinners.  It was fun! I love to bake and I love to watch baking shows.

I was starting to smile and laugh and feel human again and I felt like my holy discontent was lifting.

And then…

A colleague gave me some feedback that was very uncomfortable, and while I’m not sure it’s accurate, I’m also not sure that it isn’t right on the money.  I have chewed on this feedback for more than two days now, and I’m beginning to find streaks of truth that I want to understand more deeply.

It’s not fun. I’m teary and uncomfortable. I feel vulnerable and exposed. I don’t like this one bit.

On the other hand, I told you that God has this kind habit of putting people in my path to help me discern His will, and then I asked Him to break my heart and set me on fire for His Kingdom.

Well…my heart feels a little broken and this person was definitely in my path.

As much as I don’t like it, I do believe God is answering my prayer.  And while it isn’t comfortable, answers to prayer are always good news.  I also know that following God’s will can be profoundly disturbing when you first start down the path, but God always works amazing miracles around us and in us when we submit to Him fully.

It appears the holy discontent train has left the station with me on board and I am on my way.  I’ll keep you posted as things develop.

My Curmudgeon Speaks

Yesterday I drove a friend home from her chemotherapy appointment. She was starting a new regimen and wasn’t sure how she’d react to it, so she wasn’t sure she would be able to drive herself home.  I was grateful that I was able to help her, considering there isn’t much else that I can do to help her deal with having terminal cancer.  She, on the other hand, was sorry that she had to inconvenience me.  She is uncomfortable with the ways that cancer has forced her to rely on friends for help with stuff she used to be able to easily handle on her own.  I think anyone in her situation would be terrified of just how helpless they could become and how much they might have to rely on others to care for them and for their family before the whole thing would be over.

And you can’t really blame someone for feeling like that.

I don’t think anyone likes to ask for help from others. For some of us, asking for help makes us feel weak and incapable. Here in the US, we like to think of ourselves as independent and resourceful; we don’t rely on others, they rely on us.  How that equation is supposed to work is beyond me. If everyone relies only on themselves, then being reliable for others is impossible.  The math of this equation is beyond me, and I have two master’s degrees, so I’m not going to try and figure that one out. Instead, let’s deal with the assumptions that come with asking for help, one at a time.

Here we go, folks:

The truth is that humans are weak and incapable— every day, all the time, in one aspect or another of our life and health we humans are weak and incapable. Get used to it. No matter how healthy you are today, your body is ultimately frail and bound to fail.  Eventually we will all need the services of a surgeon, a physical therapist, a mental health counselor, an oncologist, a rheumatologist, or a neurologist (just to name a few.)  Eventually the frailty of our body will cause us to rely on our family, our friends, hired help, and even skilled nursing facilities just to be able to attend to our daily needs.  Our bodies are fascinating machines, capable of so much but they are also capable of terrible amounts of sickness, frailty, and failure.

Get used to it.  It isn’t a pleasant thought, but it is important to remember that birth is a terminal disease, as the mortality rate for human beings (as it is for all other living creatures) is 100%. If you are born, you will eventually die, and the majority of people will not come on their death suddenly but instead through a process of decline and increasing disability that will require the assistance of others in order to meet simple daily needs.

Having said that (rather bluntly…but I was hoping that we could talk turkey here on this blog)…

As a counselor, I frequently ask my clients why they have not asked friends and family for assistance when they are really struggling, and I get a host of reasons:

“I don’t want to be a bother.”

“I can never repay them for all their help.”

“I don’t want to be beholden to anyone.”

For my thoughts about the first one of those reasons, see the section above.  You will be a bother occasionally, and that’s the way life works. Get used to being human for the sake of everyone who loves you, please.

But what is our issue with needing to ‘repay’ the good that is done for us?

We seem to view assistance from others as if it is a loan we receive from the bank, requiring repayment with interest.  This is especially evident in the statement “I don’t want to be beholden to anyone.”  This betrays the belief that any assistance we receive is like a debt held over our head to be called in at random when it will be most painful or perhaps even destructive.

Folks…our friends and family members are not loan sharks lurking around, hoping that we’ll need something from them so that they can squeeze us later for whatever we’re worth. If the people who supposedly ‘love’ us behave like that, perhaps it’s time to consider finding a new group of friends and putting some distance between ourselves and our extended families, because there is no love in behavior like that.

The other thing that this attitude betrays is a transactional sense of friendship and love. “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”  There is nothing wrong with reciprocity; it gets a lot done in this world. The thing about reciprocity is that it creates a closed system where you only ever give to someone who can give back in equal amounts.  The implication of such a system is that we often end up refusing to give to someone who cannot give back in equal amounts, and that puts service and random acts of kindness out in the cold. It also reduces all of our most loving relationships to simple transactions where we give only so that we can receive in kind.

And that seems to be a huge problem in our society these days: many of us refuse to give to others unless there is something explicit that we can receive in return.  And don’t start on me about how giving to others “feels good”, because the people who refuse to be beholden to others only give for the “good feeling” when their giving is to faceless others like the poverty-stricken folks in Africa.  It’s easy to give to faceless others, and so much harder to give or receive when the face before you is not only known, but in close relation to you; giving like that creates the emotional debt of “beholden-ness” that these people are trying so hard to avoid.

What would happen in the world if we simply abolished the concept of repayment when it comes to kind acts? What would happen if no one was ever beholden to the one who helped them?

I would remind you that Christ, who died so that we might know eternal life, did not expect a payback for his love or his sacrifice.  You cannot give God anything as God possesses everything.  God is not ever in need. Christ did, however, expect that we would take the grace and forgiveness that we received because of him and pass it on.  He asked that we go to all corners of the world, making disciples and teaching them everything that he taught us…basically he asked that we give away all that we’ve learned from him and all that we’ve received from him, and then teach the next recipient to pass it on just as we have.

Jesus…turns out he’s the guy who invented “Pay it Forward.”

Perhaps that’s the answer to our feelings of indebtedness when someone helps us. Don’t pay it back! Take the grace that we’ve been given and pay it forward to the next person who needs us. Give to others as we have been given to. Help others as we have been helped.  And give without thought of repayment because we have been given to by Jesus without any thought of repayment.

And when that day comes that we can no longer give to anyone—on the day that we find ourselves helpless to pay anything forward ever again—let us pay back the service we receive in humble thanks and genuine gratitude, something else that is in short supply these days.

Thank you for enduring my curmudgeonly frustrations.  It isn’t often that I want to use this space to rail against human foolishness.  You are a generous, giving reader and I intend to pay your kindness forward with a less curmudgeonly post shortly in the future.

That is all.

Holy Week Schmoley Week

This is Holy Week. It began with Palm Sunday (which was last Sunday, April 9) and ends with the celebration of Easter on Sunday, April 16.  In between those two days we will remember the last supper of Jesus and his disciples on Maundy Thursday, the crucifixion of Christ on Good Friday, and the agonizing experience of the disciples as we await the resurrection during the Holy Vigil on Saturday.

It’s a busy week.

But what does that mean…Holy Week?

Are the other weeks not holy? Do other weeks somehow mean less?  Is this week more meaningful because of the historic events that we commemorate and celebrate?

I realize that some of you will call it blasphemy when I say this, but no…not really.

Holy Week is not any more ‘holy’ than any other week.  Holy Week does not imbue the days with special meaning, nor does it hold back any of the normal events that can occur during a week.

For instance, today is Maundy Thursday, and today the US bombed Afghanistan using the largest non-nuclear weapon in our arsenal.  Can we all agree that bombing another nation (even for good reasons like eliminating an ISIS stronghold) does not qualify as an action that is holy?  And please don’t start talking about how we must stop ISIS before they kill more Americans, because I understand that…and bombing and killing people is still not a holy action. Remember, God does not love the American people more than He loves the members of ISIS. And if, for some reason, you don’t agree with that idea, then you and I need to admit that we are not practicing the same religion at all and that perhaps you should find something else to read, like maybe something off infowars.com?

Are we all on the same page now? Good.

The truth is that Holy Week is just another set of seven days, like all the others sets of seven days that come before it and after it.  A week is a week, and every week is made of seven days…and a day is a day is a day, and that’s all there is to it.  None of them is holier than any other.

And this matters, because…?

There are two major reasons that this matters.

  • Setting aside certain days as holy gives us permission to forget that all days are holy to God and all people are holy to God. There is no time or person or situation that is not holy to God. All of creation belongs to God: time, space, people, plants, animals…you name it, it belongs to God and everything that belongs to God is holy.  Christian vegans will tell you that they became vegan because they could no longer sacrifice the holy lives and bodies of animals to satisfy their need for food and clothing items.  While I am not vegan, I get where they are coming from.  Proclaiming all thing holy has implications for how we treat the environment, how we treat material objects, how we treat the animals we farm, and for how we treat each other.
  • If everything is holy all the time, then we human beings are holy all the time, and this has huge implications for how we treat our bodies. It isn’t just the obvious stuff like how we eat, how much alcohol we drink, and whether or not we exercise, but also how often we take time to laugh, how much of our resting time is dedicated to connecting with friends and family, and how much time we take to simply contemplate where God is leading us in this life. I can’t tell you how many people set aside extra time for spiritual practices during Lent or Advent who then fail to set aside time for spirituality at all during the rest of the year (outside of time spent in corporate—church—worship). Think of it this way: we need to feed our spirits just like we need to feed our bodies. Imagine what would happen if we took time for meals during Advent and Lent but then failed to eat (except once a week) for the rest of the year.  How long do you think you’d be healthy if you did that?

I understand that many people need special holy times so that they don’t become habituated to the holy. This is a common problem for clergy because we spend a lot of time around what are considered to be sacramental things. It’s easy for those things to lose their sparkle, their special value, when you are around them all the time. This is why I’m not suggesting that we stop practicing things like Holy Week, or that we let them pass without setting aside extra time to observe all that they mean.  There is nothing wrong with the Christmas and Easter seasons; actually the problem is that we make them into singular events instead of exaggerations of our daily realities.

I am suggesting that we put a little more value on the rest of the year, that we allow each day to embody a little of the holy for us. Perhaps that would involve becoming more mindful of the blessings that God is raining down on us all the time. Perhaps that would involve becoming more aware and appreciative of the kindnesses we experience through others who are often total strangers. Perhaps that would involve taking time to appreciate the beauty of the smallest things in creation: flowers, fallen leaves, grass clippings on the sidewalk, a cloudless sky. Sometimes it might be as simple as letting yourself stop and actually taste the coffee you are drinking, looking for those herbal notes that Starbucks swears exist in the Sumatran beans they roast.

If all of creation is holy, then holiness is waiting around every corner to stun you with its power and fill you with awe and gratitude.  The world is a wearying place for souls, and awe and gratitude are excellent remedies for weariness.

This Easter, I wish a year of holy days and sacred discoveries for you.  As for me, I’m about to get a cup of Sumatran roast and sip it very slowly.

Happy Easter!