Category Archives: Purpose

How Dare You?

Every now and then, middle-class white privilege comes flying across the room and smacks me in the face, stunning me with it’s overwhelming contradictions and ignorance. Good old Dr. Phil delivered one of those slaps to me earlier this week. It was, in a single word, infuriating.

Forget for the moment the actual people involved in the show, because their stories are always so much more complicated and nuanced than what is presented in the 45 minutes of the show that their issues occupy. In the end their actual problems are scrubbed, simplified, and then painted into tropes of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, or ‘victim’ and ‘bad guy’ so that the audience can boo and catcall at all the right moments.

Can you tell that I am not a fan of Dr. Phil’s?

Anyway…the show I happened upon featured two older parents who were frantic because their unstable daughter was living on the streets with their two year-old granddaughter. Their daughter, who had a history of substance abuse, financial instability, and relationships with violent men had proven herself to be a frequent liar, which led her parents to distrust anything and everything she told them about how she was providing for their grandchild. The thrust of the show was whether or not the parents should report their daughter to CPS for her inability to care for their grandchild, as evidenced by her homelessness.

When Dr. Phil finally allowed their daughter to speak (shriek and whine, actually) on her own behalf, he questioned who was caring for her toddler while she worked as a stripper. His disdain for her choice of employment was evident in his tone. When she stated that her daughter was in a licensed daycare, Dr. Phil responded “At 10pm at night? You have your daughter at a daycare at 10pm at night?”  It was obvious that he did not believe this possible.

How does this whole episode smack of middle-class white privilege?

Let me count the ways.

  1. Being homeless is not a crime, and being homeless with children does not make you an unfit parent.

We have to stop criminalizing poverty! Not making enough money to have secure housing does not mean that you are a negligent and abusive parent, in the same way that providing a nicely appointed home in a nicely groomed neighborhood does not prevent child neglect, domestic violence, or child abuse.  While economic instability does increase parental stress levels, there is not a one-to-one relationship between poverty, homelessness, and child neglect/abuse. The idea that the parents should call CPS on their daughter just because she is homeless is evidence of the myriad ways that we pathologize poverty in this country.  We consider the impoverished and especially the homeless to be persons of low character who have failed to successfully become adults, who are incapable of achieving stability without permanent outside assistance, and who obviously have no interest in creating stability for themselves or their family.  This is an absolute lie. While I concede that there is an underclass of persons who are chronically homeless (usually due to mental illness and extreme substance abuse), chronic homelessness is a rare situation.  The truth is that the majority of homeless people are only temporarily homeless due to unexpected financial challenges. Assistance focused on giving the homeless a chance to re-establish financial stability, improve personal health (often the loss of health becomes the impetus for becoming homeless), and increase skill levels (for more lucrative and stable employment) is the key to long term stability for the entire family.

  1. We cannot continue to denigrate sex workers.

Conservatives love to complain about unemployed single mothers and the public “handouts” they receive…and yet when that same young mother gets a job as a sex worker (stripper, prostitute, webcam girl, etc) she is labeled a ‘fallen woman’ and considered to be woman of low moral quality and a bad mother.

Let me get this straight: if she can’t provide for her child, she’s a bad mom, and when provides for her child in a job that you disapprove of, she’s a bad mom.  You’ve got these women in a very tight bind.  A single mother who doesn’t have significant job skills often finds that the best paying job is in the sex industry.  That same mother often finds that the job that affords her the most time to be present to her children (while they are awake) is in the sex industry.  Jobs in the sex industry often pay far better than unskilled “respectable jobs” like grocery cashier or medical assistant. I once listened to the complaints of a young mother of two whose divorce left her working 12-hour days as a dental assistant just so that she could earn enough money to put a roof over her children’s heads. By the time she got home at 6:30pm, her children would only be awake another hour or two before she had to put them to bed. She realized that returning to her job as a stripper (her job prior to her marriage) would earn her more money while allowing her to be home during the day when her children were awake (thus saving daycare costs). She paid someone to bathe her children and put them to bed and then sleep in the house while she worked from 8pm until 2am.  The money she was able to earn was sufficient to pay for her evening childcare, pay off her student loans, and provide for her monthly bills while affording her an entire day to be at home with her children.  How amazing that the stripper would have more time to be a good mom than the dental assistant that she used to be!  Stop calling sex workers immoral and recognize that good single mothers will do almost anything—including sacrificing their self-esteem and even their bodily safety—to provide for their babies and this is virtue, not a moral failure. Shame on you for thinking otherwise!  And no, I do not believe that compromising your morals or bodily safety is preferable to getting more skills, but getting skills costs money and takes time…something single parents rarely have in abundance.  And by the way…single fathers struggle just as much as single moms, but often find that a job that risks their physical safety (i.e. traffic construction, high tension wire maintenance, etc) pays best…so they risk their physical integrity for their children as well, but at least the jobs they choose are respectable. Add ‘male’ to the list of privileges that slapped me in the face.

  1. Why does Dr. Phil not know that there are licensed daycares open 24/7?

Stop for a minute and think about all the places that are open 24 hours a day.  Local pharmacies. Gas stations. Certain grocery stores. Police stations. Fire Departments. Every. Single. Hospital. Who do you think is staffing those places? Do you honestly think that every single parent working in those establishments has a parent/partner/friend who can care for their children while they work? What drugs are you ON?

Seriously, people, it stuns me that educated middle-class white Americans like Dr. Phil do not realize that it is normal to have certain licensed daycares be open 24 hours a day to provide for the single mothers and fathers who work the night shift so that they can benefit from the pay differential that you get when you work late night shifts. The tone of disbelief in Dr. Phil’s voice when he asked “10pm? You have your kids in daycare at 10pm?” was stunning to me. It illustrated a level of disconnect from the experience of persons who are not affluent, well educated, married, and WHITE that defies reason. Good Lord, how disconnected are we from the rest of the world when we conveniently forget that Emergency Rooms are fully staffed and open all night and that the people who work there have children, too.

This is what I mean when I say that middle-class, white privilege punched me in the face. I was horrified, not just at how Dr. Phil was treating the young woman he was addressing (because that was disturbing as well) but at the implications his words had to millions of other young parents struggling to care for their children. His caustic tone and thoughtless words condemned hundreds of thousands of women and men who choose to be sex workers so that they can provide for their children; condemned hundreds of thousands of men and women who work all night while their children sleep in day care centers just so that they can get the pay differential to afford fees for the Pop Warner football league and the gymnastics program their children desire; condemned the tens of thousands of homeless parents who struggle to keep their children safe and to provide food and clothing when housing is beyond their reach. **

It would be great if we could all live in an optimal environment, and no one is doubting that truth. It would also be great if we could stop condemning and pathologizing the folks struggling at the fringes; the folks living in the margins who are doing their best to survive every day. Let’s not make their burden any harder than it already is by heaping our scorn and disdain onto them. In fact…how about we do the opposite and offer them a hand? Not a hand-out, but just a hand…a hand of friendship, acceptance, and comaraderie so that they know that we see them and that we are willing to listen. After we’ve done that, and only after we’ve done that, can be begin to know what they really need and how best to help them find that optimal life, the optimal life that we so value. To do anything less is hypocrisy and disdain for the God that created us all.

 

 

** On a single night in January 2017:

An estimated 184,661 people in families — or 57,971 family households — were identified as homeless.

Almost 17,000 (16,938) people in families were living on the street, in a car, or in another place not meant for human habitation.

Over the course of 2016, roughly half a million people in families stayed at a homeless shelter or transitional housing program — 292,166 were children, and 144,991 were under the age of six.

Source: National Alliance to End Homelessness  https://endhomelessness.org/homelessness-in-america/who-experiences-homelessness/children-and-families/

 

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I Am Not Happy.

Lately I’ve had a case of the blahs.

I’m irritated with everything. I’m tired of everyone (hi honey…love you!). I am tired of my counseling practice and sick of being giving. I’m sick of weighing more than I want to but am unwilling to actually do what it takes to change that.  The worst part is that I am tired of caring…about pretty much everything. Every time I pull up next to a homeless person, I close my eyes and sigh because the feeling that I am supposed to do something for this person is draining the life out of me.  I know that sounds mean, but it’s just how I’m feeling right now.

I think I have what they call compassion fatigue. But I’m really low on passion for life and I’m drained of energy and ‘give a damn’ in general.

I could easily blame my blahs on menopause and there would be quite a bit of validity to that if I did. I am in the throes of wicked hot flashes, leg and foot cramps that strike without warning, pimples on my face and on the nape of my neck that just won’t quit, too many sleepless nights, and periods that remind me of the Arizona desert: some months it seems the river has run dry and other months are so bad it’s like “Noah! Get the boat!!”

TMI, I know.

While I am not going to lie about the stress that menopause is putting on my body and my life, I am unwilling to write off my blahs as a little menopausal mood swing because this has happened to me before.  In fact it has happened more than once, and every time, God was trying to tell me something.

This first time it happened, I was still a computer programmer and my children were still babies.  God used a major case of the blahs to convince me that I didn’t want to be a computer programmer anymore, which made it easier for me to obey God when God asked me to abandon my career and go to seminary full time. In other words, God used a case of the blahs to motivate me to ‘move on’…to get out of my rut and get my butt moving in the direction that He was pointing me.  Years later, as I reflected on that time and my experiences, I labeled what I was feeling as “holy discontent”.  To me, holy discontent is when God makes us restless, irritable, and maybe even downright unhappy until we realize that things need to change. It’s not that anything is actually wrong, it’s that God is not interested in us getting too content in that space. Holy discontent is what God uses to make us let go of things are no longer serve a purpose in our life and to start heading in God’s new direction for us.

I’ve been in this place for a couple of months now and I have only realized today that it might be holy discontent that I’m feeling.

Can we just admit that I’m kind of slow on the uptake?  Thanks.

In reflecting on my holy discontent, I don’t think that God is trying to lead me out of anything, although I need to leave the door open to that possibility just because I don’t want to shut off God’s guidance in this experience. The last time God planted a little holy discontent in my life was back in 2015 and it was because God wanted me to start writing. (Hello! Welcome to my blog! If it sucks, blame God. LOL)

I have no idea what God is trying to do in my life right now, although my reaction to the homeless person—the feeling that I’m supposed to do something for this person—might be a clue.  I don’t know.  Luckily, though, God has always been kind enough to place a few folks in my path to help me figure things out during past instances of holy discontent, which means that I should start keeping my eyes open for those folks.  It’s always easier to find someone if you are actually looking for them.

There is something else I think I’m going to do. A long time ago, a seminary friend of mine told me that the best way to devote yourself to the work of the Kingdom is to let God break your heart over some issue. Once your heart is broken, she said I would know where God’s heart was breaking and that would be my invitation to build the Kingdom in that broken spot.

Back when she said that to me, my heart was on fire for the Kingdom and I knew where God was calling me to work…in the broken spot of mental health counseling for the poor…and I don’t regret following the Lord into that spot, not one bit.  Now the fire in my heart is down to glowing coals that desperately need some kindling and I am consumed with holy discontent.

But I know what I need to do.

Holy, holy, holy Lord…I know You see this world and your heart breaks.  Break my heart into pieces, Lord, and show me where You hurt the most.  Then set my heart on fire again and give me strength to do Your will, whatever it is.

I pray it for me, and as we move into Jerusalem this Palm Sunday, I pray it for you too.

 

God in the Grocery Aisle

I spend a lot of time with anxious people.

Some of them are anxious because they have anxiety disorders. Some are anxious because they are dealing with PTSD and trauma. Some are anxious because they have an addict in their household and they are exhausted from trying to save that person (and their entire family) from the consequences of addiction.  These folks have really good reasons for their anxiety, and learning to deal with the anxiety is about learning to accept what can’t be changed and address what can be changed (usually the answers to those two questions are ‘other people’ and ‘your own behaviors and attitudes’…but that’s another blog post entirely.)

Lately though, I have been seeing a woman who is anxious because…well, because…

Of life. She is anxious because…career, boss, bad friends, what now?  She is anxious because of life.

She’s a great lady and I love working with her. She’s really serious about the change she’s trying to achieve and actually remembers what we talk about and tries to work on it between sessions. She is what we counselors call a YAVIS client: young, attractive, verbal, intelligent, and social. Personally, I’m guessing she’d be really thrilled to know that I label her as a YAVIS client, first because she’s a little older than I am, and second, because YAVIS clients are usually there to see a counselor because they are having an existential crisis instead of serious mental health issues.

existential crisis:  a moment at which an individual questions the very foundations of their life: whether this life has any meaning, purpose, or value.

During our last session, my client brought me a list of what she thinks she needs to be working on in counseling.  One of her goals was to work on finding a purpose for her life, a larger reason for being. She felt like her current career, while it earned her a good living, was not very meaningful and did not provide her with sufficient purpose.  She wanted to find her purpose in life so that she could get busy living out her purpose.

That was when I put on the brakes.

You see, what I heard my client saying was that God’s purpose for her life was something other than what she was doing right now and that she wouldn’t really be living out her God-given purpose until she found that purpose and then began to fulfill it, daily.  In other words, “I’m not doing what I need to be doing and my life has no meaning or purpose until I do the thing I need to be doing.”

Wow…that’s a troublesome idea.  And I’m betting that my client is not the only person who has this idea.

The problem with this idea is the way we tend to define purpose.  Purpose is a big, weighty word that implies something deeply meaningful, something incredibly impactful…our purpose is supposed to be the thing we do that makes a difference in the world.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? And for most of us, our purpose is tied in pretty heavily with our careers or our daily jobs.  I’m guessing that any job that helps us fulfill our God-given purpose is going to be something impressive, like a teacher, a civil rights lawyer, or a doctor; a trauma counselor, or a pastor or maybe a person who works with the disabled.  There are plenty of careers that will fill our lives with purpose and give us a chance to make a difference in the world.

Actually, it doesn’t matter what you are doing as your career or as your current job…if you are out there, living your life, doing your best to be good human being then you are fulfilling your purpose right there, where you are, and that’s all there is to it.

Personally, my favorite job that makes a difference in the world is…

The cashier at the grocery store.

Yep…you read that right. The cashier at the grocery store.

A couple of years ago, I went grocery shopping and was just overwhelmed with the sheer amount of stuff I needed to get done that day. I was harried and in a bad mood, wishing that I could clone myself so that the work would get done quicker.  When I got to the front of the checkout line I immediately started writing out my check (okay…it was probably closer to 20 years ago) and didn’t even look at the cashier. He greeted me with a casual “How are you today?” and I answered truthfully “Harried.”   He immediately replied “I know! Doesn’t it make you feel really alive when you’re busy like that?”

That was when I looked up at him, thinking I was going to find myself face to face with Happy Elf, or The Grocery Unicorn, or some other mythical creature of that sort.  Instead I was greeted by a man obviously going through chemo. He didn’t have a strand of hair anywhere on his head and he was bone thin and pale.  He was grinning at me, genuinely happy to be ringing up my groceries and talking with me. He radiated joy.

It was an instant attitude adjuster.

I didn’t feel guilty or shamed. I didn’t feel like a bad human being. I just suddenly recognized how profoundly lucky and blessed I was to be standing there, totally healthy, buying groceries for my growing family. I was blessed with sufficient funds to feed my children without worries. I had a list of tasks as long as my arm because my children were healthy and active, and because both my husband and I had full-time jobs which meant that I had to do all my errands and shopping on the weekends.  I was very busy…and it did make me feel alive. Burdened, but gloriously alive.

Talk about making a difference in the world!  This guy had his purpose nailed and he was living out that purpose, right there, ringing up the groceries at the Albertsons.

The key to fulfilling your purpose to know, first and foremost, that you are able to fulfill your purpose in life exactly where you are, doing what you are doing…right now.  You don’t have to wait until you finish your degree or until you change careers or until you get married or get divorced or…anything.  You are valuable where you are right now, doing whatever you are doing.

If you want to fulfill your purpose in life, start by being yourself…be who God created you to be, all the time, and give your gifts to the world whenever you can. Be the best version of you that you can, and do your best to draw out the best in others.

And if God calls you to a bigger purpose, or to express your purpose in a different way, know that you have been living a meaningful, purpose-filled life every minute until now and are about to go on an adventure to see what other great things God can do through you.

Enjoy your adventure!

I’m sure enjoying mine.