Tag Archives: God

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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Oh, Poop!

I have a friend who is very near to death, and last night I had the honor of sitting at her bedside while her husband caught some needed shut-eye.  I watched over her, dispensed her medications, and cleaned up her poop.

Yep…I wiped my friend’s rear end.

Why not? I did it with my children, and it wasn’t pleasant to clean their bottoms just because they were my children, believe me.  That was some rank stuff…stinky, sticky, and nasty.  But I love my children, and their childhood needs were okay with me, so I did what it took to take care of them no matter what their needs were or how unpleasant those needs were for me to deal with.

I love my friend, too…and her needs are okay with me, no matter what they are. I am, however, really aware that some people are freaked out by the idea of dealing with another person’s waste.

I understand that feeling. I wouldn’t want to do something that private for just anybody, but I would do it for anybody who really needed it.

I guess I’m just weird.

No, seriously, I’m weird, because lately I have been reading a book called The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters by Rose George.  ***

We are blessed in this country with things that we take for granted—life saving things that have changed our society, like clean water and waste management/sanitation. So often we forget these two things are tied together and that without them both, our children and our elderly stand to die of simple water-born diseases like cholera and dysentery. Diseases like these are quickly fatal and yet easily cured with oral re-hydration salts. In the past, developed nations like the US have compassionately focused on providing inexpensive packets of oral re-hydration salts to countries without adequate sanitation and clean water.  After all, no one should have to die for the want of a small packet of salts that costs mere pennies to provide.

But what is it to save a life, if you do nothing to stop that person from risking their life by taking another drink of water? What is it to save a life, if you leave the person you saved in the same horrific conditions that made them sick in the first place?

“If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food and one of you says to them ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?”  James 2:15-16

That’s a good question, isn’t it?

While I have no hard and fast solutions to offer, The Big Necessity has educated me on the connection between sanitation and clean water, and the following video offers a chance to do something about providing clean water.

Clean water will not solve all the problems of these developing countries, but I cannot continue saying ‘Go in peace, drink your fill of water and be well!’ and do nothing.

Please, watch the following video and join me in trying to make a difference.  If any of you have other charities or organizations that you know are addressing sanitation and clean water, feel free to post links here in the comments. Finally, buy The Big Necessity and educate yourself about the thing that no one likes to talk about.  Flush toilets are not the only answer. If fact, they are not the best answer to our sanitation needs and they are unwisely using our scare water supply, a resource that we can ill afford to waste.

https://www.facebook.com/charitywater/videos/345530615923943/

www.charitywater.org

And that, for this week, is the whole poop, so to speak.

 

***  https://www.amazon.com/Big-Necessity-Unmentionable-World-Matters-ebook/dp/B004SICIVY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1518124999&sr=8-1&keywords=the+big+necessity

 

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 Full Catastrophe

It’s family disaster week.

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

I hate that Murphy guy.

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

So…the mom brag moment!

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

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

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

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

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

Some days are good. Some weeks are good.

And then…

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

Yeah, my parents don’t read this blog.

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

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

I feel like we are at the breaking point.

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

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

Disaster.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Our Privilege Is Showing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well…I’ve got news for you.

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

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

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

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.