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Feeling Cranky

Warning: I’m venting.

I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.

I have spent my entire life dealing with autoimmune illnesses, many of them un-diagnosed for years while wreaking their havoc on my life and my health.

I do my best to remain healthy in light of my illnesses. I attend a variety of exercise classes to avoid repetitive motion injuries and to challenge my body in different ways (weightlifting, weight bearing exercises, dance fitness, yoga, rowing, walking, etc.) I eat relatively well and avoid processed and fried foods. I lost over 100 pounds almost 11 years ago and have kept 100 pounds of it off.

Despite all that, my health problems continue to get worse.

Some of it is just age: arthritis always gets worse with age.  My hands haven’t gotten any larger, but my knuckles sure like to grow, as do my bunions and every other arthritic joint on my body. And I have some really weird arthritic joints, like one on my collarbone and another on the side of my foot. I think my quest to be unique might have gone a little too far in this case.

It isn’t aging that is making me angry.

It’s all the crap on the internet that tells me that my autoimmune illnesses are my own fault, and if I’d only eat their diet/take their supplement/do what this specific doctor says, that I’d be pain free and living life like a 20 year old again.  Supposedly, autoimmune illnesses come from a leaky gut that is caused by a crappy diet that fills your body with toxins…and that’s why I’m sick. Bad Tina…look what you did to your body!

First of all, I had each and every one of these damn autoimmune illnesses by the time I was 20 and had already sought medical help for almost all of them. I spent much of my teenage years seeing doctors to try and deal with what we thought were outrageously painful menstrual cramps. The doctors even prescribed opioids to help with my pain (they did absolutely nothing to stop the pain).  Years later I found out that the pain was due to bladder issues and that opioids and other pain relievers are not effective on the pain from this disease, which is what makes that particular autoimmune disease so disabling.

It is disheartening to have spent your life dealing with progressive illnesses that can’t be cured while simultaneously dealing with people and internet posts that tout total cures. I get that Western medicine doesn’t have all the answers. Believe me, I get that really well, since the cure prescribed in 1975 for my vitiligo was to make me take medication that made me photosensitive and then have me sit in front of a sunlamp to induce a sunburn on the de-pigmented spots. That’s right…my doctor prescribed cancer-causing treatments (that did absolutely nothing to stop the spread of the vitiligo) for my disease. Fun.

I’m just tired of being told that my autoimmune illnesses are related to a leaky gut because my diet is filled with processed Frankenfood…when my autoimmune illnesses were so bad that my parents were told to move out of Chicago when I was still preschool age; the doctors hoped that a better quality of air in the open country would stop my chronic bronchitis.  We moved when I was four years old, and I had been a sickly child from the time I was born. Apparently, Similac causes leaky gut. Or maybe it was Enfamil.

I am frustrated and angry. I feel helpless to stop the progression of my illnesses and even my PCP is talking about this leaky gut stuff. It’s not that I’m unwilling to try diet-based solutions, it’s just that this has been all 55 years of my life and nothing has changed. Moving me away from Chicago when I was a child stopped the chronic bronchitis but didn’t stop the problems with my lungs. I still have bronchitis and pneumonia way too frequently because I have allergy related asthma (I didn’t get that diagnosis until I was 50…when I was a teenager, the doctor told my parents I was ‘allergic to ozone’ and that’s why I was having trouble breathing during the summers. WTH???)  If living on infant formula didn’t change anything, and moving to the ‘country’ didn’t really change anything, and eating vegetables and fruits from my father’s garden all spring, summer, and fall didn’t change anything, and advanced allergy testing and special allergy serum didn’t change much (I am better, just not cured), and the pain-causing autoimmune illnesses just keep getting worse, what the dickens am I supposed to be doing that is going to make it better? What magic food am I going to eat (or not eat) to reduce my C Reactive protein levels?

I am beginning to feel like no one knows what is going on, including me, and that I am being used like a human guinea pig by doctors and internet hucksters, all in the hopes of accidentally creating an impact for a few months so that I’ll proclaim myself cured and make someone else a bunch of money.

I’m beginning to think that the best thing I can do is to not believe any of the pseudo-science and stick with what I’ve been doing for 55 years: rest, exercise, eat healthy foods, and get up and get on with it no matter how crappy I feel. So far, that’s worked. I also think a fast from the Internet might be a good idea.

Vent completed. Thank you for listening.

And while we are at it, please be kind to the people around you. Not all illnesses/disabilities are easily visible and evident, but they are challenging and disheartening at times. And if you are the person suffering from illness and disability, know that whatever you are able to do today is amazing and enough! Hang in there!

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Keeping Feminist Balance

I have a feminist itch that I need to scratch, but I am heading out of town in just a few minutes. Please forgive the lack of editing and textual mistakes, as my time to write this was extremely limited.

I have been listening for the last few days to the controversy over Joe Biden’s actions. If you are unaware, Vice President Biden has a habit of approaching people, specifically women, from behind. He places his hands on their shoulders, leans in to speak candidly into their ear, and most recently coupled this behavior with sniffing the woman’s hair and planting a kiss on the back of her head.

Some Democrats and feminists are saying that this kind of behavior, which is overly familiar and just a bit creepy to women, renders him unfit for the office of President.

That’s a bit difficult to swallow knowing that President P*ssy-Grabber has been in office since 2016 and grabbing a woman by her genitals far exceeds Biden “kiss them on the back of their head and sniff their hair” behaviors in terms of offensiveness.

But I digress.  Let me explain what I find so disturbing about the Biden controversy.

The first problem is the repeated assertion by the women complaining that Biden’s intentions don’t matter.

On CBS This Morning I heard the interviewee say “His intentions don’t matter. It’s about how (the behavior) was received.”  There is certainly some sense in this statement, since many men have defended their bad actions by saying that didn’t intend any harm, or didn’t mean to be disrespectful, when they behaved in a deplorable fashion.  The thing is that there are many different behaviors that can come under the label ‘deplorable’. Apparently, Congresswoman Lucy Flores finds having her hair sniffed, her shoulders touched, words whispered into her ear, and being kissed on the crown of her head ‘deplorable’ and I am not going to disagree with her own assessment of how she wants to be touched.

My issue with this argument is that it has been used against women in rape cases for years. You know…the ‘what were you wearing? Why were you out that late alone? But you were drinking…’ arguments that are so common in rape cases.  Basically, women are told that by dressing provocatively, or by being drunk in a public space, or by being out late alone…or any combination of those three…THAT THEY DESERVED TO BE SEXUALLY ASSAULTED BECAUSE THEY WERE ADVERTISTING. After all, it wasn’t her intentions in getting dressed and having a drink that mattered, it was how the man received (chose to interpret) that behavior that makes it reasonable for him to sexually assault her. Women have suffered under the ‘but you were advertising…’ argument for so many years, and now we are going to turn the tables on men and tell them that any behavior can be considered sexually inappropriate, even when it has nothing to do with sex, simply because the woman received (chose to interpret) it that way?

Are we really sure that we want to make this argument just because women have more power now?  Do we really want to turn the tables on men and treat them the same hateful and oppressive way that we have been treated for centuries?

The second problem is that the media has established a false equivalence, where all bad behavior by men is considered to fall under the #metoo movement.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, sexual assault in my late teens, and sexual harassment at work, I can tell you that I’d much rather have a man I do not know touch my shoulders, whisper in my ear, sniff my hair and kiss me on top of the head than to ever have another man rub his crotch on my leg or my hand while telling me what sex acts he wants to perform on me. I never again want to have a doctor touch me inappropriately during an exam that requires absolutely no skin on skin contact, especially in that region of my body. I’d take a dozen kisses on the head and hair sniffs to avoid even one more minute of unwelcome sexual contact.

There is absolutely NO equivalency here.

After all, if there is an equivalency here, you have to ask why Biden is not in prison like Bill Cosby, who only raped women after he had drugged them into a comfortable sleep. That’s not so bad, is it?  Personally I find Cosby disgusting…and again I’d rather be head-sniffed than drugged and raped, but apparently some feminists find Biden’s actions so deplorable that they consider this a #metoo moment.

I beg to differ. Screw it. I differ and I refuse to beg. I am a woman, and there is no equivalency here.

The third problem is that we offer men who behave badly absolutely no chance to redeem themselves.

What is the path to redemption for a man who commits a bad action? What does a man have to do to be considered ‘rehabilitated’ or to have ‘learned his lesson’?

Some of you might think that we shouldn’t allow for ‘second chances’ because they are nothing more than a chance to re-offend, another chance to behave horribly, and in all honesty, you are not wrong. Giving anyone a chance to redeem themselves always involves the possibility of re-offense.  On the other hand, women have suffered for centuries from labels that made them unredeemable, labels like “adultress” or “fallen woman” or “unwed mother”.  It wasn’t so long ago (in my lifetime, and I am only 54 years old) that young women who became pregnant out of wedlock were sent away from their family and community to a home for unwed mothers where they were expected to give up their child after birth. Women unwilling to give up their baby were often not allowed to return to their family’s home lest they bring ‘shame’ onto their family. The Scarlet Letter describes how women were branded as an adultress and shunned by the community for their action, despite the fact that the man was not held accountable.  The horrifying reality was that the real scarlet letter wasn’t a ‘letter’ sewn on their clothes (as portrayed in the movie) but a letter branded onto their skin so they could not ever escape judgment.

Women have suffered for years under the concept that once stained we cannot be redeemed. If you believe society has changed beyond that, just take a close look at Monica Lewinsky.  While Bill Clinton continued his life and went on to earn handsome money for public speaking and book tours, Monica was forced to live off of family and friends for years before finally crafting a life as a woman who speaks out against bullying, which she deals with even now, over 20 years after she became the ‘harlot’ who sexually dallied with a President.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not advocating for clemency for men who commit acts of sexual violence. That needs to be dealt with using our justice system, and they can work to redeem themselves inside that system. I am asking for a path to grace for men like Louis CK and Joe Biden, men who behave badly and need to change their behaviors after offering a heartfelt apology for their failure to perceive how their behavior impacted others.

If we let our outrage at the tidal wave of horrible behavior that is being revealed every day keep us from crafting a road of grace—a path to redemption—we risk losing a sense of proportion regarding bad behavior. We risk creating false equivalencies between acting badly and being a sexual predator. And we risk our outrage becoming so ever-present that it becomes background noise and easy to ignore. We cannot afford to lose the progress that the #metoo movement has made towards challenging male privilege, so we better spend our outrage wisely, lest we win the battle and lose the war.

 

Have you seen my brain?

No, seriously. I could have sworn that I had my brain just a minute ago, and now I can’t find it anywhere.

For all of you who ask questions like “When was the last time you knew you had your brain?”  I am pretty sure I had my brain last December, and I think I might have even had it for part of January. The truth is that I can’t remember the last time I used my brain, which could just be the reason that I can’t find my brain.

Spectacular.

What can I say? 2018 has not been the best friend to me. Some years just suck more than others, and so far, this year has had more than it’s share of icky events.

My father broke all the bones in his face in late January, beginning a chain of crises and consequences that forced us to put him in into a memory care facility, a psychiatric hospital for seniors, and finally a memory care facility for seniors with behavior issues.  (read)

My friend Teri died of breast cancer in early February, only a few weeks after the beginning of my father’s multiple crises. (read this and this)

Finally, my father died in early May. (read)

I wish I could tell you that everything has been sparkling and wonderful since all the crises and tragedy have stopped, but that would be a lie. On the other hand, there has been a good deal of fun since the beginning of the year.

I went to visit my daughter and her husband in Portland in late April.  Trust me, Portland is always a good time.

My mom’s best friend came to visit us for close to a month in June and we always have fun when she’s around.

My husband and I celebrated our 30th anniversary and went on a sort of ‘second honeymoon’ that allowed us to revisit portions of our first honeymoon.  Then we went to San Francisco to visit our eldest daughter and RuPaul. RuPaul is utterly adorable and a total cuddlebg!  (BTW…RuPaul is our brand new grand dog.)

All in all, the laughter and fun have mixed themselves in with the sorrow. Although I have to admit that when it comes to that laughter, the majority of it comes under one heading:

INAPPROPRIATE.

You see, the laughter that I remember best happened at the strangest times and in the least likely circumstances.

I spent quite a few hours sharing hilarious stories, watching ridiculous YouTube videos, and in general cracking bad jokes with my friend Teri’s extended family, especially with her husband Andy and both of his sisters, and Teri’s brother Patrick. There were plenty enough hours of silent vigil and daily serious, tear-filled conversations. God knows there were so many difficult issues to deal with in those final weeks. The thing is that I was already good friends with Teri’s husband Andy, and you find yourself becoming fast friends with anyone who stands side by side with you in such an intense and difficult experience, so bonding with their siblings was quick and easy.  Each visit was filled with both laughter and tears, cementing our camaraderie in the face of pain and loss.

It was the perfect demonstration of bittersweet sorrow.

After my father’s fall and initial hospitalization in January, my mom and I spent hours on the phone. At that point, we were just trying to endure what seemed to be one horrible crisis after another, whether a health crisis or the realization that my father’s dementia and behavioral issues were so severe that most memory care units would refuse to admit him. His behaviors made visits very painful for my mom and me, and it was necessary for us to spend some time every day remembering the truths we knew about my father, both the good and the bad. Remembering the good often led to remembering the silly things my father used to do, which led to plenty of laughter. We found ourselves telling the same stories night after night, comforting ourselves with memories of the good times. It made it possible to go and visit him again the next day, knowing how difficult it would be for us to handle his behaviors.

After my father died, we started preparing for the funeral and going through pictures, which led to even more stories and even more laughter.  We wanted to make sure that his funeral reflected the joy and laughter in his life, and we got help from an unexpected source. Kathy, a seriously ill friend of our family, stood up at the funeral to tell a story she began by saying “I’m not sure this is appropriate, but…”   During difficult periods in her illness, Kathy frequently needed assistance with self-care, bathing, and grooming.  My father showed up at her house one day with a hedge trimmer. When she answered the door, my father said “Hey Kathy! I heard you needed help shaving your legs!”

I can’t even write that story without giggling.

God knows that I’ve laughed enough in the last few months to relieve all the tension of the first six months of 2018, so why is it that I still can’t find my brain?

I am working with a good friend on an end-of-life education project for clergy, and I am embarrassed to admit that I am seriously behind on my deliverables. Even worse, I have little to no memory of the planning and strategizing conversations that I’ve had with her over the last six months, which makes it even harder to remember what the heck it is that I am supposed to be delivering!

This is entirely uncharacteristic of me. I am not the kind of person who commits to things and then fails to deliver.

Okay…I used to be like that about 8 – 9 years ago, and then worked hard to stop overcommitting myself, which led to a much better consistency with delivery.

I find myself embarrassed to admit that despite making sure I am not overcommitted, I am still unable to consistently deliver pretty much anything except clean laundry and the occasional witty comment. After that, it’s a crapshoot.

I guess that I had hoped that my brain would return to normal after the stress of all the crises, tragedy, and death stopped.

Nope…not even close.

Grief is a process, and I have been plenty willing to take time to be sad and to allow myself to cry. You might have noticed the time I take to be sad, because it’s on Thursdays when I should be writing.

Yeah…not many blog posts for the last few months.  Thursdays come and I find myself sitting and staring at Facebook, or at my emails, or at my abortive attempts at writing that eventually get filed away under the name “Blog post STUB.” Some of those attempts are so stubby that there are barely three lines of text. Maybe one day they’ll blossom into a blog post where I string them all together and you will get to see just how dysfunctional my mind can be.

Or you could just pay attention my sense of humor and the things that make me laugh. Do that for very long and my brain’s dysfunction becomes immediately evident.

As much as I love writing, and as much as I love sharing my thoughts (and my sick humor) with all of you, the posting may be kind of spotty for a while because I seem to have misplaced my brain and I just can’t find it anywhere.  I’ve cleaned out a few closets and one of my file drawers in the process of looking for my brain, and Goodwill has benefitted massively from this process. Unfortunately, still no brain.

If any of you find any evidence of my brain, could you email me or post a comment here and let me know where you found it?

Thanks.

It Takes a Village For What?

I remember that when I was a young mother, that I used to look at my mom who seemed to be constantly handling one crisis after another and wonder why she couldn’t seem to get things settled into calmness. My teenage brother was out of control, emotionally and behaviorally. Her mother needed back surgery, but her heart was too weak to allow it. Her father had colon cancer. Her friend was dying of breast cancer. My mother’s overall health was a problem. My dad’s job involved so much overtime that he didn’t have time for doctor appointments, even though the stress of his job was so great that he needed a doctor’s care. My grandmother had to be flown to Mayo Clinic in Rochester so that she could have her back surgery. My grandfather had to be put into hospice. My dad ended up with major medical issues due to stress and overwork. My mom’s health continued to degrade. My brother continued to be a problem at school and at home.

I remember thinking ‘Wow…you can’t get a handle on your life, can you? What exactly is the issue?”

I remember thinking then that I would never be like she was, desperately trying to maintain control of the many things that defied any attempt to bring them under control. I swore to myself that I would not allow myself to fall into that fate.

Would you like to know how I fared in avoiding my mother’s fate?

Let me tell you: I am 53.

My parents are aged.

My children are adults, and not always in my control.

My parents don’t always make the wisest decisions, at least not according to my thinking.

My husband works too many hours trying to take care of everyone he needs to take care of.

I work too many hours trying to take care of everyone that I need to take care of.

My dad has dementia.

My mother is chronically ill.

I am a minister and a licensed mental health counselor. Everyone wants my attention and my time, and I am doling myself out in little pieces to pretty much anyone who asks me for time or attention.

Brace yourself, because here it comes.

I have turned into my mother!!!!!

No woman of my age wants to say those words, not ever. I’m not really sure we want to say that we have turned into our father or our grandmother, either.

In the end, we all wish that we could escape this crazy, drama-laden portion of life known as the SANDWICH GENERATION…and we cannot avoid this mess because there is no way to avoid the middle portion of life and all the implications of aging parents, growing children, and an aging body.

I find myself reaching out for support, sometimes directly to friends on the phone, sometimes via email, and at other times via social media on Facebook.

“Pray for my parents. My father fell and broke all the bones in his face…”

“Pray for my friend’s family. Teri and Andy have three autistic children and Teri is dying of stage 4 breast cancer…”

“Pray for my neighbors Sheri and Mike. They discovered a number of aneurysms in Mike’s major arteries after his TIA earlier today. Never thought I’d praise God for a stroke…”

“Pray for…pray for….pray for…”

Those posts always receive a flood of reactions and comments, each one offering support.  Some people take the time to offer you a prayer right then and there, on Facebook. Others promise personal prayer; still others offer to meet for coffee and give you a chance to unburden your heart.

I feel like a drama queen at moments like these, crying out to those who have ears to “PAY ATTENTION TO MY DISTRESS!”  And good Lord, don’t they listen?  Most of the people you reach towards pay attention to your distress at moments like those usually using 140 characters (or less).  At the very least they press the right version of the ‘Like’ button, and at the very most they comment.

Do you want to hear a funny thing?

It helps.

It really does.

I read those comments and reactions and I don’t feel so alone. Occasionally someone offers their own experience in a comment, reminding me that I am not the only person walking this difficult path. Sometimes close friends express their love in a post, and others call directly, asking how they can help.

I feel like a drama queen when I post, begging for love and attention.

By the time I’m done, I realize that God provides a mountain of people to lean on.

Some of them are virtual, responding only on social media.

Some reach out farther, emailing to ask how they can be most present to your distress.

Others call, giving you a chance to shed a few tears and relieve the stress just a little.

Some offer to accompany you to the hospital, offering support while dealing with the cold hard facts of all that has gone wrong.

And others do all they can to make room for your stress, offering to take on tasks, eliminate your workload, and do any small thing possible just to get something off your plate.

It’s at moments like these that I realize just how wrong Hillary Clinton was when she said “It takes a village to raise a child.”

The truth is that it takes a village to deal with every single stage of life. It takes a village to lean on. It takes a village to handle all the tasks that support a family. It takes a village to hear the pain of a single person. It takes a village to lift up a family in distress and let them know that they are not alone, no matter how bad things get.

It takes a village…no matter what the issue is.

If you ever wanted an answer to the question “Why does it matter if I go to church?” THIS would be it.

It takes a VILLAGE…and often the only village that you live in consistently is the one created by the people sitting in the pew next to you.  All the other villages you take part in are far more transient and disconnected than you realize.

My village is mostly made up of other pastors and other counselors (my two professions) and the few folks I know well in my neighborhood.  In the end, the majority of my ‘village’ is dispersed all over the state (although they are mostly in the East Valley) because I met them through my church.

Thank God for the village that is lifting me up while I make like a drama queen. I know that most of you don’t feel like I’m being a drama queen, but I do…and I love you all the more for not getting tired of my requests for prayer and emotional support.

I love you all and want you to know that my family could not survive without you. You are our hope and our greatest support, and God puts skin on and takes care of us through your hands.

It takes a village…to put skin on just one God and give Him feet and hands to get things done.

Praise God for the village.

Amen.

 

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.

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.

And That’s Exactly How I Feel

I ended up in an unusual discussion with a friend of mine today. She was commenting on the riots at Berkeley and her feeling that the riots happened because “the left” is unwilling to hear dissenting opinions.  I had to disagree, partly because I am a liberal and so technically part of the ‘left’ and I don’t really have a problem with dissenting opinions as long as the other person is able to explain their opinion to me logically.  The other reason I disagreed with my friend is because I don’t really believe you can categorize a group that is so large and diverse with just two words.

“The left.”

Is there actually such a thing? If there is, surely there must be “the right” as well. But can we so easily be divided into two camps?  Are we really so simple and so binary in our opinions?

If we are going to be honest with each other, no.  It isn’t possible to simplify our politics into two separate groups labeled ‘left’ and ‘right’ and then fully describe each group to clarify their positions.  The idea that we are so easily divided and defined is a fallacy that many politicians and journalists like to use when they make statements; it’s a great way of polarizing the issues and labeling your opposition as ‘other’ and incorrect in their thinking.

Except people aren’t so easily defined.

My parents are conservatives both theologically and politically and yet they are both disgusted with our new President and his latest antics. They are disgusted by Breitbart News and horrified by the taint of racism that hangs over Steve Bannon and several of Trump’s cabinet nominees. My parents have voted republican for as long as I’ve been alive, and their views have grown more conservative as they’ve aged, and yet they fail to meet the criteria of being in the religious right.

Why? Let’s start with the fact that neither of my parents is interested in the “Freedom of Religion” legislation that allows Christians to discriminate against LGBTQ persons on the basis that the LGBTQ lifestyle is counter to their religious beliefs.  To quote my mother, “If you find that kind of lifestyle sinful, then don’t live that lifestyle. Other than that, what’s the issue? They are people just like you and me, sinners just like you and me, and God loves them, just like you and me.”  Remember, this is my conservative mother who continues to believe that homosexuality is not God’s will and not righteous… and both she and my father believe that to discriminate against any LGBTQ person is to offend God and to commit a sin.  So are my parents ‘right’ or ‘left’?

Both?  Neither? Somewhere in the middle?

My parents are what I like to call Compassionate Conservatives, a group of people who hold their religious beliefs and morals close to their heart but refuse to use those morals and beliefs to exclude or openly judge the lives of others. They consider such behavior counter to God’s will that they extend the love of Christ to everyone, no matter who that person is or what their choices are.  In the same vein, they realize that their life experiences have led them to certain values, morals, and beliefs that other people who did not have those same experiences may not share. In fact, they openly admit that perhaps they would think differently if they had had different life experiences.

And that is the crux of the matter.

It is so easy for us to judge someone else as wrong from our personal vantage point.  It’s so easy for white people to throw out the line “All Lives Matter” when we have not ONE idea what it is like to fear racial profiling, to fear the police will shoot you simply because you don’t get on the ground fast enough after a traffic stop; we have no idea what it’s like to wonder if our black life actually matters to our local police or politicians.  It’s so easy for men to call women out on using the “woman card” when they have no idea what it is like to be demeaned, mansplained to, sexually harassed, sexually discriminated against, and to be passed over for promotions because management fears that you’ll consider getting pregnant sometime in the distant future, as if your brains and skills are worth less because they come with a uterus as standard equipment.  It’s so easy for financially comfortable people to give that dirty look to the person who pulls out their EBT (food stamp) card, yet they have no idea what it is like to live in a two income family and still not have enough money to pay for food and electricity if you also pay for rent and transportation, or for your child’s schooling and medical needs…or to be a single parent trying to figure out how to work and pay for child care and still have enough to cover daycare so that you actually can get a job.  Don’t even get me started on white privilege and the number of times I’ve had to explain that white men in sports cars don’t get pulled over on the assumption that a white man must have stolen a car that nice (which happens to young men who are black or Latino all the time.)

My point is this: YOU ONLY THINK YOU KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE FOR THAT OTHER GUY OVER THERE.

We only think we know what it’s like to be that other person, to live their life, to wake up in their skin, to face their daily challenges, to have to see the future through the eyes of their past, and to live with the things they fear.

And because we don’t know what it’s like to live their life, maybe we should try asking a few questions before we start judging them.

To give one example: if we wonder why the people of Ferguson rioted in the streets, maybe we ought to listen to them tell their stories of bad action by the police. Maybe we should ask them what it’s like not being able to trust the local police to treat them fairly and with justice, to fear that instead they will be unjustly arrested and perhaps even attacked by the police. Maybe we should try to imagine living in a city where you don’t know who to fear more: the criminals or the police.  Maybe we should try to imagine being arrested by policemen that we believe will do everything in their power to unjustly convict us.   Still wondering why the young men in Ferguson act in confrontational ways towards the police? No, me neither. No.  Actually, their reaction kind of makes sense in light of the reality they live in.

When I was a young girl I read Corrie Ten Boom’s memoir, telling the story of her resistance to the Nazi’s and subsequent arrest for hiding Jews. My father discussed the book with me and told me that true Christians stand in opposition to unjust authorities, even if it means that we will be arrested and punished.  My parents taught me that morality is greater than the law because God Himself declares what morality is…and the highest moral is love for all God’s people. To stand against an unjust authority is to act in imitation of Jesus Christ.  If I lived in Ferguson…I’d be resisting the local police for the sake of justice for my neighbor.

That brings me back to Compassionate Conservatives.

I only call them that because I’m liberal and I think we are a compassionate bunch, but I’m betting there are some conservatives who would disagree, and they’d probably have really good examples of liberals who have done horrible things in the name of being right (not ‘right’ but right as in correct.)

Maybe this whole deal—religion and politics—would work better if we just started being more compassionate, if we started working more diligently to see how hard the other guy has it before we rush to judgement.  Maybe we should assume that people have a good reason for the behaviors and beliefs we think are so strange and unacceptable.  Maybe we should even start asking more questions and listening more than we speak.

Holy smoke, I think I’m onto something.

Whether you are ‘right’ or ‘left’ doesn’t really matter, because we’re all just trying to do what is best for our country and our people.  Let’s start there: that we all want the same thing—prosperity and success—for ourselves and our country and then see if we can’t find some more common ground to stand on.

Because if we continue with this ‘right’/’left’ thing all we’ll manage to do is play tug of war, and I don’t think that’s how you run a nation unless you are running it into the ground.