(84) i hope it helps {flashback}

I press a bag with two granola bars and two bananas into his hands.
What is this? He looks confused,
overwhelmed by human contact perhaps.
I explain and feel embarrassed.
It’s not even lunch
barely a snack for a grown man
and it cost me less than $4.

I hope it helps, I say.
Anything helps, he mumbles
as if the words on his sign
have soaked into his soul.
I drive away,
heart heavy.

 

Originally written in my journal in April 2013.

(83) hero {five minute friday}

I’m lucky enough to know a few of them, those women who grip a little candle with white knuckles against the frightening darkness, who stand up to the experts, the white coats, the teachers, coaches and tell them the Truth. She is one of them.

I completely dismissed this friend, back when we were friends, but I didn’t even know if  wanted to be her friend. I snubbed her, felt that I knew how to live life better. But when she graduated college, it was more of a victory. School was easy for me, but hard for her. An extra year later and she triumphantly crossed the stage with her nursing degree. Not too many years later, she’s using it unexpectedly and she herself says that this must be why she has that hard-earned degree, that life-sustaining skill – so that she can handle endless nights and days of feeding tubes and IV lines and sterilization and complicated medication regimen and countless doctors’ visits and days and hours and months living alone in a huge city, far away from her husband, at the bedside of her precious firstborn who has fought so hard for life in just his first year of it.

I’ve asked her forgiveness and she’s been gracious enough to extend it to me. And I can see a little now that I was oh-so-wrong about her when we were roommates a handful of years ago.

***

a post that feels unfinished in response to Lisa-Jo Baker’s prompt for Five Minute Friday – five minutes of free writing, unedited, silencing the inner critic. Check out the other posts here.

(82) love, marriage and telling it like you (want to) see it

I read this tremendously moving love story written by a husband who lost his wife to cancer after just 4 or 5 years of marriage. He tells their story so sweetly, with such tenderness. It’s gripping to read how their struggle against cancer knit them even more closely together and taught them to treasure each moment with each other.

As I reflected more on this story, I wondered (and this might sound cynical, but bear with me):  If it hadn’t have been for the suffering they experienced together, had their lives followed a more “normal” path, would they have eventually found themselves bickering about whose turn it was to unload the dishwasher? Would they have even reached a point of frustration and disillusionment with their marriage, maybe even doubting for a moment that it had ever been “love at first sight?”

It’s possible. But here’s the thing:  this husband will always remember his wife in a certain light, he’ll always remember the details of meeting her, pursuing her, loving her in this powerful and beautiful way because that is the way he has chosen to tell himself the story.

I first heard this basic idea in reading a marriage book by John Gottman. He talks about the importance of nurturing your fondness and admiration for your spouse (which translates into having “retained some fundamental sense that the other [is] worthy of being respected and even liked.”) and writes that “…the best test of whether a couple still has a functioning fondness and admiration system is usually how they view their past.” (from The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, pp. 62-63).

I know that lots of stuff actually happens in life. Some things are truly terrible, regardless of how you frame and reframe them in the retelling. But at the same time, to some extent, we are writing our stories as we recount to ourselves and to others our memories and experiences. This seems particularly significant in relationships and marriage. Crazy stuff is bound to happen in any relationship. Some days will be extraordinarily mundane, others peppered with chaos. Maybe you’ll get slammed out of the blue with a huge horrible scary thing, like a big illness. But I guess I really want to practice retelling these things in a way that builds and strengthens the relationships I’m in.

Other than the couple I mentioned, the most striking example of this kind of reframing that I have seen lately is in my grandma. While Grandpa was a great guy in many ways, it seems that there were other ways in which he was not the easiest person to live with. Apparently my grandparents never fought, which I think was mainly accomplished through Grandma often if not always ceding to what Grandpa wanted. Yet they were married — and I am certain Grandma would say “very happily married” — for 65 years. Now that he has passed away, Grandma is able to redecorate and say things like, “I never liked that color!” To us kids and grandkids, it was an obviously imperfect relationship. But she has reframed her experience in that marriage in such a way that allows her to enjoy her new independence without regretting any of the last 65 years, to be soft and thankful rather than bitter and hard.

So reflecting again on the beautiful love story of the couple I mentioned at first:  Maybe their story is no less or more beautiful than mine or anyone else’s. But he has figured out a way of looking at life, those years with his wife, through a beautiful perspective. He is seeing it all through a different lens than the ones we habitually employ.

And I want to use that lens.

I want to practice writing the story of the relationships I’m living in, of the marriage I’m a part of, in that grateful, honesty-tempered-with-unflagging-optimism, loving, believing-the-best, sort of way that I can. I want to remember to treasure the moments that I’m given, rather than imagining moments I’d perhaps prefer. I want to be tender and gentle and unconditionally self-sacrificing toward my husband instead of wasting time frustrated over whatever the latest thing is that I think he should change. And I think a lot of this is connected to how I recount our story to others and to myself.

***

P.S. If you are or someone you know is in an abusive marriage/relationship, please don’t try to reframe the story; get out, seek help, find a safe place. I am writing the above for those of us who are in good and healthy, albeit difficult, relationships, and not to in any way excuse abusive behavior in a relationship.

(73) grace on the kitchen floor

I sat on the kitchen floor
in the midst of the unfinished process of the day’s life
mostly just a heap of dishes waiting there
and a half-finished meal in process
and the floor in constant need of mopping

And this beautiful, small person
climbed all over me,
welcoming me to her level
with overwhelming affection,
sharing my tea and
showing me what life really looks like.

There was so much grace in that moment;

That is where I want to live.

(64) on being human

What does it mean to be human?

My husband got me started watching this show that he had seen before and liked called Battlestar Galactica. It’s the sequel (made in the 2000s), sort of, to a show of the same name from the 1970-80s. I guess you could categorize it as a sci-fi drama (my bro-in-law says it shares more in common with a drama like Downton Abbey than with most other sci-fi stuff!). Anyway, I deeply disliked it for about a season, but I’m somewhat trusting and my husband is quite persistent and, in the end, he was right. I liked the show. No, I love the show (not as much as I love him…but anyway).

And I love it mostly because of the way the writers and characters dance with and around this question that I guess maybe I am wondering at as well: What does it mean to be human?

Long before the first episode of Battlestar Galactica, the human population on a cluster of colonies on planets in a distant galaxy created robots called Cylons. Eventually the Cylons rebelled against them, war broke out and the Cylons were driven away. Over a period of years, the Cylons evolve and come back to wage war against the humans again. But the trick is that now some of the Cylons actually look human.* But they aren’t human…are they?

So just what is it that makes us human?

Perhaps the deeper question is better articulated this way:  What is the source of our personhood and/or value as a person?

Is it enough to just look like a human? For the humans faced with the frightening prospect of humanoid robots, looking like a human is not enough.

Is it our capacity for emotion that sets us apart? Our capacity to give and receive love? Is it our anger? Our desire for justice to prevail? Our longing for meaningful relationship? The desire that draws us toward sexual relationship? The ability to procreate, to participate in creation, making flesh in our flesh, bringing new life into the world? The capacity to feel pain, to suffer grief? The Cylons have all of this capacity, all of this ability.

Is evil a part of being human? In one scene, a Cylon plainly states that murder is what makes humans human. And we do see that the thread of evil, of inflicting harm upon one another, running through the course of our history, almost as far back as we can trace.

Perhaps it is our limitations that make us truly human. Later in the show as you learn more about the evolution of the Cylons into humanoid form, you learn that the humanoid Cylons were “designed to be as human as possible.” One Cylon “model” complains, “I don’t want to be human! I want to see gamma rays! I want to hear X-rays! And I want to – I want to smell dark matter! Do you see the absurdity of what I am? I can’t even express these things properly because I have to – I have to conceptualize complex ideas in this stupid limiting spoken language! …I’m a machine! And I can know much more! I can experience so much more. But I’m trapped in this absurd body!” (from Season 4, “No Exit”)

Or maybe the certainty of death is what makes us human. When a Cylon dies, its consciousness is simply reborn in a new body. In that way, they cannot really die as humans do, stepping through this uncertain doorway, leaving the known of life behind. And so another Cylon model muses, “We…realize[d] that for our existence to hold any value, it must end. To live meaningful lives, we must die and not return. The one human flaw that you spend your lifetimes distressing over… Mortality is the one thing… Well, it’s the one thing that makes you whole.” (from Season 4, “Guess What’s Coming to Dinner”)

Perhaps this seems like useless babble. But here is the thing. What we believe about the true meaning of being human will shape the way we interact with other beings. The belief that the Cylons are “things” and “machines” rather than persons gives the humans license to treat them in absolutely horrific ways. How many times has this happened in our real human history? Far too many. Any time we are able to distance ourselves from “the other,” whether he or she be Jew, black, gay, Muslim, female, whatever, we are leaving room for tremendous abuse of that “other.”

What seems obvious to me as an outsider to the world of Battlestar Galactica may not always be obvious in this real world I live in. But I hope I continue to become more and more aware. That other being is a person just as I am. We are far more similar than different. What does it mean to be human? I don’t know if I can sum it up. But I recognize the personhood, the being human, in my self. And as I live alongside and brush past so many others, may I grow to recognize the being human in each of them as well.

 

***

*Okay, so this is a little bit of a spoiler. Sorry about that. But trust me, all of this happens in the first 3 hours of a 4-season show, so there is plenty more left unspoiled.

Although I do highly recommend this show for its beautiful and complex themes, characters and intriguing storyline, it isn’t for everyone. It does contain quite a bit of what I would call graphic (albeit not gratuitous) violence, as well as suspense, action sequences, sex, and alcohol. So do your research. But thanks for humoring me as I reflect on the questions raised through this show.

 

(63) not what it seems

“Listen to me, Derek. It’s not what it seems! It’s not what it seems…”

This line came to mind (without the Derek bit) as I scanned Facebook tonight and at first (because I lack the lightening-quick movie quote identification mental directory that my sisters have) I thought it might be from some really profound source. You know, C. S. Lewis or something. But no, this line is from a children’s animated film called The Swan Princess. Go figure.

This is the line that came to mind, though, as I was sort of trying to process some of the Big News Items of the day via status posts and vehement comment interchanges in the context of my earlier conversation with my brother-in-law and all the other thinking I’ve done on the pertinent topics without any real conclusions.

This line, “It’s not what it seems!” stands out because it’s partly why I’m hesitant (read: terrified) to take a stance. I just feel like I don’t know enough. And I’m strict about who I’ll mentally allow to take a stance. Everyone else, I’m happy to just be mad at. Myself included, really. I don’t know what I think and I’m mad about that. It’s laughable, really. But the thing is, what I’m trying to get to is, it’s not what it seems. I am certain that I don’t see the big picture here and I’m even missing a lot of the nuance and detail. And I’m also painfully certain that the Supreme Court (along with a good deal of other people, both strangers and friends who I love and respect) are missing aspects of the big picture and details here too. I suppose that selective blindness might just be part of being human.

But what if the pieces that we’re missing may lead to a society in 50 years in which speaking out against certain practices or relationships could be considered hate speech and could result in an organization losing tax exempt status or being shut down or worse? What if by trying to affirm the “rights” of all we are diminishing our future constitutional freedoms, like that of religion?

Or what if my starting point in understanding a Biblical perspective is too fresh, too recent? What if Sola Scriptura is, in fact, not really enough to fully understand this faith that I long for and adhere to? How am I to love my neighbor in truth, in total compassion, and yet in total integrity and faithfulness to a God who never changes even when I’m surrounded by a culture that never stops changing?

Or what if I really don’t even get what marriage is about, even when I am in the middle of trying to live it out? Should I be concerned with other marriages that form the fabric of my society? For a long, long time, I think, we’ve heard this cry of “be what you want to be! do what you want to do!” But that way of living can go on for only so long before my being/doing will be at odds with yours. Can we weave our societal fabric together? Or will we quietly tear ourselves apart?

The other thing is that Facebook is a simply terrible place for these kinds of conversations. (I would be happy to buy a friend coffee and have a real conversation about anything, truly. But I absolutely do not like to enter into Facebook debates.) Which is why I came here to blurt out all my unfiltered angst and scrape together shards of my big unmanageable questions, just so they are outside of me and maybe I’ll begin to understand better.

On the one hand, I am anxious because I just don’t know how to live the right way in this crazy, upside-down world.

And on the other hand, I am tremendously hopeful. I mean, did you see my niece smile earlier this evening? God knows, she could save the world with that smile. And I am a little less blind than I used to be because I know that it isn’t about living the right way, but about living like, in, with, filled by Jesus. And He is expansive and broad and endless. Which is a very, very hopeful thing to remember.

But I still want to understand. I still want to know what I think or what I perhaps ought to think, if there is an ought.

So besides that thing about Jesus that I wrote a couple sentences ago, I’m sure of one other thing right now: It’s not what it seems.

 

(53) one tiny step

I drove past that homeless couple at the stoplight on 1300 East again tonight. I’ve seen them there a couple times before. I rarely have cash these days, which is a convenient way to “get out of” stopping to give them anything. The light turned green and I turned up the street toward home and drove about a block, all the while with this heavy discomfort pulsing at the back of my mind and in the pit of my stomach. I was literally asking God’s forgiveness for ignoring what felt like maybe the tiniest nudge of His Spirit (hopefully? I am not fully confident that I’m super sensitive to Him, but here’s hoping) when I realized that I could be brave and go back. They were begging just a couple hundred yards from the grocery store where I had just purchased four tomatoes. I guess I could offer to buy them some groceries.

So I turned around. And drove back and parked in the parking lot. And approached this couple and asked if I could buy them some food at the grocery store and what would they like?

They were kind to me, in my bumbling attempts at generosity. They really seemed grateful. I went and bought a basket of food, for once ignoring the prices of things and just buying what seemed useful to me and what they had requested. It felt a little bit extravagant. And at the same time the bare minimum of appropriate giving.

I cannot imagine what it would feel like to be tired and not have a home to go home to. Or what crazy currents of life bring people like this couple to the point of standing at a stoplight holding a sign, asking for handouts. Or what it must feel like to stand there, being ignored, watching eyes turn aside to text messages or odometers or sandwiches, anything to avoid the guilt of acknowledging the blatant injustice humming in the air between the wealth of a vehicle and the poverty of an exposed street corner.

I didn’t ask them about their story. I guess it felt terrifying enough just brushing against such poverty. I’m socialized to be afraid of others taking advantage of me and I think I wanted to hurry off before they had the chance. I’m afraid to open up too much because I didn’t think I had anything else to offer them, even though a moment of fellowship with another human being might have been enough.

Maybe I’m just not brave enough yet to admit that there, but for the grace of God, go I.

I have been reading (more like gobbling up at a tremendous pace) the book 7 by Jen Hatmaker, which is probably part of why I turned around and went back to talk with that couple today. In the midst of her mildly crazy/extreme project to battle a lifestyle of excess, she responds to the common argument that it doesn’t matter what I do, I’m just one person and no one else cares with this quote from Steven Bouma-Prediger:

“If God is really at the center of things and God’s good future is the most certain reality, then the truly realistic course of action is to buck the dominant consequentialist ethic of our age–which says that we should act only if our action will most likely bring about good consequences–and simply, because we are people who embody the virtue of hope, do the right thing…

Our vocation is not contingent on results or the state of the planet. Our calling simply depends on our identity as God’s response-able human image-bearers.”

He’s talking about our responsibility to care for creation, but the idea extends to all kinds of responsible living, including coming to terms with our relative wealth and learning to love our neighbor. The exhortation to “do the right thing” resonates with me and maybe helps me overcome my timidity and fear a little bit.

In conclusion…I do not yet have a nicely tied-up conclusion. This book offers me some good starting places. I feel moderately hopeful and challenged on a somewhat deep level and more intrigued than overwhelmed, which is a good sign.

I’ve always wanted to change the world. Maybe I actually can.

***

P.S. Lest I get carried away being proud of my tiny success in returning to buy groceries for one couple tonight, it should be noted that I bypassed at least one other homeless person who was also standing at the corner of a grocery store parking lot (a different one). His sign said he was a homeless veteran and the thought crossed my mind to stop and give him the frivolous snack food I had purchased to mail to my husband, an active duty military guy who has plenty to eat and a relatively comfortable place to sleep tonight. But I didn’t stop. Or turn around and go back. And since it seems like there are more people begging on street corners here than I remember in any city I’ve lived in thus far, I am certain I failed to notice other similar homeless folks, just in my errand-running today. God forgive me and have mercy on me. I am so not good at this being-like-Jesus-thing yet.

P.P.S. A brief-ish introduction to 7, if you’re interested…