Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Better Christmas



I felt it tonight as I heard the strains of familiar Christmas songs coming into my mini-van through the radio.

The Christmas spirit. 

But for me, and untold numbers of others, the Christmas spirit can be a mixed drink of the joy and celebration of the birth of Jesus, and some happy memories, shaken and stirred up with other unhappy memories and a vague sense of emptiness.

However Jesus never intended a celebration of his birth to be bittersweet, for anyone.

The day that was announced to the shepherds (and to all of us) with the proclamation, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior which is Christ the Lord!”  along with “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men,” has been twisted into a holiday garland with some other elements God didn’t include with His original gift.

I’m not talking about the commercialism.  (That was another year’s Christmas blog.) This year, I’m thinking about expectations.

We know our lives fall short of Eden, and we have all learned to accept or deal with that daily, some of us more successfully, and on some days more contentedly.  But we do it, more or less.

And then, the Christmas songs and commercials start.  And they bring with them attached expectations of the season they herald.

Above all, they pull up expectations of our relationships at this time of year.  “I’ll be home for Christmas.”  Expectations of family and friends being there for us.  “You can count on me.” Expectations of what we should experience together. “Please have snow and mistletoe and presents round the tree.” 

The media is cunning and cruel in the way it plays on this essential desire we all have.  Each commercial, each picture in every store window, each ad in every newspaper flyer depicts families and friends together, smiling, happy, warm, perfect.



And honestly, very few of us have the perfect picture.  Some of us are single parent families, and the holidays bring into focus our deepest sense of loss of the family picture.  Some of us don’t have living parents or siblings or extended family, or don’t have good relationships with our living parents or siblings or extended family.  Some of us are simply a long way away geographically from people we want to be with.  Some of us are single, and wonder if we will ever share a Christmas happily snuggled up by the fire with that special someone.  Some of us are married and wondering the same thing.
 
But as we experience these feelings, do we ever stop to wonder why the season that celebrates the birth of the ultimate Hope into the dark world is causing us to feel barren? Do we question why are we looking to our fallen human relationships to bring us light at a time when the focus is supposed to be on the Light of the world, Emmanuel, God with us?

Christmas is supposed to be a celebration of the birth of our relationship with God, through his son Jesus, and Their gifts of life and love and salvation to us.  This is the anniversary of God giving us redemption and friendship with Himself, wrapped up and presented to mankind.

This is a friendship and a redemption that can be experienced in spite of everyone and everything else around us letting us down and falling short.

As they inevitably do, and always will to some degree, this side of heaven.

But in the midst of  relational deprivation (or what we perceive as such), we forget have been given the ultimate Relationship.

A perfect Savior, who loves us perfectly.

If this were indeed our focus at Christmas time, we would be less melancholy, less frustrated, less depressed, and much less lonely. Of course, we would have to turn off the radio, and the TV, and stay off the internet and hang out with Jesus a while to experience it.

And while we may not find an image of that on Christmas cards or crooned about on the radio, I suspect it would bring us all a great deal more peace (inside) and goodwill (not just toward men).

That’s my personal goal this year.  To let all my disappointments and expectations that I attach to people at Christmastime go, and to focus instead on the one relationship that got the whole Christmas thing started.

Emmanuel.  God with us.   God with me.

Now that's the real spirit of Christmas.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Me, Midwife

Being a midwife means I get to enter the most sacred of places.

A couple’s life.

They seek out a medical caregiver. Someone trained to do prenatal care and handle complications, should they arise. But in the process of being that hired, skilled professional, I am going to hear things no one else hears. They are going to discuss details with me that they wouldn’t mention to anyone else.

Topics that include bodily fluids and their sex life.

And then, when it’s time for the birth, I get to go with them into their bedroom.

I know I’m not the only midwife who has sat at the end of the bed and wondered at the intimacy of this.

I sit there in the soft glow of the bedside lamp, and rub the woman’s feet. I watch the husband lie curled up next to his wife, putting counter pressure on her back during contractions.

And she moans.

And my gaze wanders to the wedding pictures on the wall over the bed.

And I consider that they are about to give birth to their baby in the same place he or she was conceived.

Only this time, I get to be there.

I am there when she screams. I am there when she sobs. I am there when they both laugh and cry in relief when their baby comes exploding out of her body and they kiss and embrace their child together.

I am the keeper of her secrets, the words she may have let slip in her anguish. I am the keeper of his secret, that he is not the tough guy the rest of the world thinks he is.

I wrap up the naked child in a blanket and teach the new mother how to nurse. I wrap up the bloody sheets and remove the placenta while the parents count fingers and toes and call relatives with the happy news.

I make the family comfortable in their warm nest, and then I go out into the dark alone.

This is what it means, to be a midwife.

It means I will share a couple’s intimacy for a moment.

And then walk away, and let them keep it.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Screwed



Sometimes you just have to say it.  

They totally screwed me.  

Not a nice thing to say.  Not very Christian. 

But really accurate. 

Trying to be nice, trying to forgive, knowing you must let it go, doesn’t make it go away.

And I want to be honest about that, even as someone who is supposed to have it (mostly) together. But really, don’t be under any delusions.  Christians don’t really have it all together.  Not even Christian missionaries, or Christian home-schooling families, or Christian leaders, or Christian pastors. We’re pretty much just slogging along through the messiness of life doing the best we can, which may not be all that great sometimes, but we keep going, mostly because we can’t help it.  We just do what we are wired to do, and so we can’t actually take any credit for it when it works out well either.

So let me insert a quick warning at no extra charge:  Any Christian that looks like they have it all together, talks like they have it all together, and acts like they have it all together is most likely either fake or lying. Don’t trust ‘em.

‘Cause everyone has been hurt.  And when you get hurt, it HURTS, no matter who you are.  Doesn’t matter how much you try to do the right thing, and react in the right way.  It still hurts. And leaves wounds and scars.

And the healing process isn’t always linear.  It isn’t step by step in the direction of relief, every day faithfully applying a little more antibiotic ointment of prayer and Bible reading, doing better and better until one happy day, TADA!  All healed up!

Nope.

Some days you almost forget what happened. 

And others you can’t get away from it.

Why is it so hard?  And what is the solution?  I found some illumination in the book Messy by A.J. Swoboda. (Thanks, Laurel!)

“If Jesus, in His all-powerfulness can do anything, why didn’t he come out of the grave without scars?  Why leave the scars?  What is so important about the healed wounds? In regard to community Jesus created, he chose to minister in His woundedness.  Not without it.  That is, out of His pain and anguish came His love.  Jesus embraces us with his wounded hands.  It is a lie to believe that community will make us better people.  It won’t. Community will hurt us.  Truth be told, I have been more hurt by Christians than I have been by any other group in the world.  Community won’t make us better people; it will make us crucified people.  The key is the realization, and the reality, that crucified, resurrected people are able to love like Christ did.  Some of us simply refuse to resurrect.  If we have been crucified, hurt by others in community, and not been resurrected, we are not being Christlike.  To be Christlike, in the deepest of senses, is to be crucified and resurrected.  False community is built on resurrected people who hide their wounds.  That is not real resurrection.  Real resurrection still shows signs and markings of the pain.” 

Now that makes sense.  Especially if you take my crude modern expression “screwed” and substitute it with “crucified.”   They totally crucified me.  “They” being other Christians of course.  Just like the religious leaders crucified Jesus.



But the best part of this story is that Jesus got revenge for getting screwed, um, I mean, getting crucified.  Wait, what? Yeah, totally.  

 “But Jesus’ revenge is very different. He called it resurrection.  His way at getting back at the world for killing him was by being raised from the grave.”  (Messy and AJ again.  Thanks, man.)

Hey.

I want revenge for getting screwed too.

Except my revenge seems to be taking a little longer than three days.

Wait. I'm having a flash of revelation.  If I haven't resurrected from my hurt yet, that must mean...I haven't died to it yet.   Haven't gotten over what they did to me.  Haven't starved this offense to death by refusing to feed it with thoughts of frustration and self pity. Haven't completely let it go and said as Jesus did from His heart "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Never mind. I may be a hard case, but I refuse to give up.  I'll die to it.  And then...

Look out.

“It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, He’ll do the same thing in you that He did in Jesus, bringing you alive to Himself.” – Romans 8:11, The Message

Okay then.

Bring on the revenge.  

I mean, 

the resurrection.


(PS- And remember, never trust a Christian with Botox. Figuratively speaking, of course.)

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Pain Redemption


“This is going to be more painful than you could ever imagine.”

Jesus turned from where He had been sitting at His Father's feet, and looked up at His face. He carefully considered His Father's words as His mind went into the future. After a time, He replied. “Yes. That flogging and crucifixion will test my physical limits in human form as the sacrificial Lamb.” He paused, glanced down at His perfect hands thoughtfully, and then back up. “But if that is Your plan, I will manage to endure it.”

The Father put His hand on his Son's shoulder and looked deeply into His eyes. Eternal gaze flowed into another tributary of Eternity. “I am not speaking of the crucifixion.”

“What then?”

“The greatest pain Your brothers and sisters on Earth now experience is not physical.”

Jesus directed His thoughts to the past, his Omnipotent consciousness turning deliberately though the pages of mankind's history. It was history He had participated in.

He thought of all the different kinds of pain the first sin had brought into Their perfect creation. A flood of carnage, deterioration, sickness, and perversion had been released when Their best friends Adam and Eve had exchanged sweet Divine friendship for a carnal saccharine lie. That one sin started a downward spiral that spun deeper and deeper into a cesspool of darkness and evil that now affected every life form from its beginning until its death. That inevitable death was the ultimate price of sin, owed by everyone and everything.

Jesus remembered how devastated He had been when His best friend Adam traded their daily companionship for that cesspool, in essence throwing their friendship into it like so much garbage to be swallowed up. He had been shocked to see Adam not only turn on Them, but also lash out against Their friend Eve, Adam's soul-mate and lover, and try to blame her for his own mistake. She in turn blamed the deceiver. Then with their mutual trust and respect destroyed, those two were at odds for the rest of their days. He remembered how that betrayal begat more betrayal when just a few years later Adam and Eve's son tricked and murdered his younger brother out of jealousy. He recalled how their descendants carried on the tradition until the present day when it seemed everyone on earth could go from so-called love to hate in a human heartbeat.

And then He knew. His eyes and thoughts met that of His Father's. “Is it...?” He swallowed and cringed.

“Yes.”

“And is really worse for them than for Us?"

The Father sat back and considered. “From My perspective, probably so. Unlike Us, they cannot live or feel in any time but the present. When hurt, their emotions, in the present tense dimension, quickly consume their bodies and their minds. This emotional pain instantly fills their tiny internal reality, making it a suffocating prison. Many never escape.”

He paused. “But that is only My perspective from here. You will have the opportunity to find out first hand what human emotional pain truly feels like.”

“All kinds? I am to experience every one?” Jesus drew back, pondering. “I know the prophesies We gave to Isaiah tell of My rejection by Israel as a whole, but I guess I wasn't thinking of how that would actually feel when coming from family and friends.”

The Father's expression was inexorable. “Yes. You will experience rejection and hurtful questioning from siblings that share Your human mother and grow up with You. You will be doubted by the same neighbors that greet You and ruffle your hair every morning of Your childhood and adolescence.” He paused. “And You will have both a deserter and a betrayer in Your inner circle of friends.”

Jesus was quiet for many measures. Then He asked, “Will I know which ones?”

The Father replied slowly. “As an adult, You will still be Divine in Your knowledge. In the fulness of time, when You start Your official season of ministry You will know their weak and evil hearts and yet still be Yourself, and give Your friendship to them.” He hesitated briefly. “The same way We do now, as much as We can with them in their fallen state.”

“Only their rejection will hurt Me more while I am a human.” The statement hung as a question.

“Definitely.”

Jesus sighed deeply. “Why is feeling all that emotional pain necessary?” He knew the answer, but desired to hear it in Word from His Father.

The Father spoke passionately. “Your primary mission is to show them how much We miss them, and the fellowship we had in the garden, the fellowship they were created for. Show Our passion for personal relationships by choosing friends. Then hang out with them, and share Your time, Your secrets, good times and bad times, laugh together, cry together, eat together, be hungry and tired together. You will worship Me together, pray to Me together, serve Me together. And then You will pledge each other loyalty and lifetime friendship. In short, You will show them everything good that has ever been in Our hearts for them from the beginning, and that is now being restored through You, the perfect sacrifice.

And during all this, You will also know the emotional agony of some of those closest friends hurting you. Some will simply let You down, many will leave You, others turn against You, still others will lie and deny they even knew You, and one...”

Jesus looked up knowingly. “And I have to treat him just like all the others.”

“Yes. And fully feel and fully bear the pain of his betrayal, as one of Your best friends. And then, after the fulfillment of all the prophesies, after Your resurrection and return home, when Your brothers and Your sisters left on earth cry out to You in the throes of their emotional pain after being cheated on, lied to, lied about, turned on, turned out, and turned against,

You will be the Savior and the High Priest who comprehends first hand their emotional agony. You will not know it in theory, or from a safe Divine distance, but having lived through it all as the Son of man with a human heart, Your perfected Divine heart will go out to them and they will be comforted.

You will remember what it felt like to have a family member, a best friend or a trusted religious leader who is supposed to be representing Me talk about You behind Your back, insult You to Your face, lie to You and about You.

In short, You will understand them, and the effects of sin on their lives, far more intimately than We do now.”

The Father stopped, and his eyes grew soft. “I love them so much. I can't wait to have them back, as close friends, the way it used to be. And when they come back, I want to heal all their pain; spiritual, physical... and emotional. That's why I'm sending You to redeem them.”

Strength and resolve flowed into Jesus as He met His Father's gaze. He drew a deep breath.

Then He grinned and stood up. “Well. That sounds like fun.”



Hebrews 2: 17-18: "Therefore, it was necessary for Him to be made in every respect like us, His brothers and sisters, so that He could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then He could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since He Himself has gone through suffering and testing, He is able to help us when we are being tested."
 


Monday, June 25, 2012

Filling the Grand Canyon

“There is a God shaped vacuum (void) in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus”- Blaise Pascal 

 Void (noun): 1.an empty space; emptiness. 2.something experienced as a loss or privation: His death left a great void in her life. 3. a gap or opening, as in a wall. 4. a vacancy; vacuum. 


Other things besides the absence of God can leave a void, a gap, or a vacancy in us.  It happens when things or people or circumstances that were meant, in God’s original plan, to fill us up, but dug out holes and left us empty instead.


Such as

  • An alcoholic parent
  • Absent or distant or work-addicted parent
  • A parent too emotionally handicapped for a healthy relationship
  • A dysfunctional family
  • Abuse by a parent or other family member 
  • Bullying
  • Divorce
  • Distant or absent extended family
  • Losing a best friend or friends
  • Being hurt in church by other Christians or a pastor
  • Rejection
  • Betrayal
  • Loneliness
  • An unfaithful, abusive or emotionally unavailable spouse
  • Sickness, chronic pain or handicap
  • An untimely or violent death of a family member
  • Miscarriage
  • Isolation
  • A heavy work load and/or busy schedule

Most people experience one of these or other void-inducing people, places or things in their lifetimes.  Each one can take another chunk out of our soul and leave us a little more empty.


In forty-three years of life, I’ve experienced some degree of almost everything on this list.  Occasionally, on bad days, I come to a place of pondering if perhaps there is more space than substance left inside of me.


And then on Father’s Day (always a difficult time for me) I got a deeper insight into something I had already experienced to some degree.


The greater the void, the more space there is for God to fill up with Himself.  And if I let Him do just that, let Him pour Himself into all the cracks and crevasses made by everyone else NOT being there for me…


I will have an opportunity for a greater experience of the Presence of God than someone who has experienced less deprivation and therefore has less space for Him. Inside me I have a Grand Canyon of vacancy made by loss upon loss.   But it means I also have a bigger void for God, when I remember to turn to Him to fill me up.


And when I do, He does.



And I perceive that I am experiencing another angle to a truth that Jesus taught, saying that the one who is forgiven the most, loves the most.  I will add, the one who has the greatest pain from the greatest loss has the potential to experience the greatest joy when that pain is relieved.  When the flood of His Presence comes pouring through a deep jagged canyon of a wounded soul, it is much more powerful that the stream that flows through the meadow of a happy life.


Yes. I have a God shaped void, and a parent shaped void and a husband shaped void, and many other voids too numerous and too personal to count or write.


He fills them all.

I am His Grand Canyon.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Stretch Mark Identity

On Fridays the Gypsy Mama blog (http://thegypsymama.com/) hosts Five Minute Friday. She picks a topic word and challenges her readers to throw caution to the wind and write about it for just five minutes, unscripted and unedited. This week's word was Identity, prompting this blog that one daughter described as disturbing, and another daughter described as awesome. Which kind of proves the point of The Stretch Mark Identity, (which I only edited a little, and only took slightly longer than five minutes to write). 

Having children changes everything.

Not just your previously smooth stomach and your clothing size, but deeper change more jarring than the striae roadmap on your abdomen and a muffin top spilling over the waist band of your jeans.

The stretch marks on your mind and your heart are the ones that change you the most. These are the scars from stretching your soul to include someone else in your nights, your days, your every decision, your every thought. This is the permanent adjustment of the shape of your solar system to include the revolution of a new planet. These are the marks that your children’s pain and struggles will leave on your heart forever.

Those are the biggest changes, the change that can never been undone, no matter how old your children grow. It is the stretch mark identity.

Being a parent will stretch you like nothing else in this life does. It will leave its mark on you. You will not be as attractive afterwards. But you just might be a better person, stretch marks and all.

I know I am.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Death Five Years Ago


Five years ago, I had just begun writing about my feelings in a public forum. Having recently separated from an abusive marriage, I was stretching my new found wings of transparency. Today I went looking for this particular blog. It was off on some obscure site where I had forgotten my password and had to recover it.

Found it.

It was good to read it, to remember how bad I felt then, and to gratefully realize how much the pain has eased since. As I turned and walked away from my parents' grave in the woods that day, it was as if I turned my back on their legacy of death and judgment. One step at a time, I've been getting farther away from the darkness and pain, leaving it behind, and walking toward life and light. And while there are still days when the sun goes behind the clouds and the shadows gather over my life with painful familiarity, I still know; I'm out of the woods. If I wait, the sun will come out again.

And it always does.

Blogged May 3rd, 2007 : On the same day as the campus shooting tragedy in Virginia last month, I was grieving my own loss. The first images I saw broadcast from Virginia Tech were on the TV in lobby of the second-rate hotel I was checking into, a few hours after burying my mother and my step-dad. I really didn't want to hear about any more shooting right then.

My step-dad had been in the advanced stages of cancer. My mother was blind. They were both in a lot of physical and emotional pain. I would have like to have been a comfort to them, but they had cut me out of their lives years before. The last time I saw them was Thanksgiving of last year. Previous to that, it had been four years since we had seen each other. I went to see them, knowing I wouldn't be welcome, to tell them I loved them. I had no way of knowing it was the last time I would see them alive. Although it was painful to go and feel their rejection of me afresh, I am glad I went. I am glad I got to tell my mother I loved her one more time.

The next time I came, it was for their funeral. They didn't make it easy for me, even in death, to deal with the choices they made. Their last wishes were difficult to carry out. No coffins, no embalming, just a rough burial on their own land. As I stood looking down at the white cardboard boxes with their names and social security numbers printed on the outside down in the muddy hole dug by a backhoe in the middle of the woods, I felt like it couldn't actually be real. I broke down. It was one of the most awful moments of my life.

My mom's body was in that hole, next to the body of the man who shot her in the head with a shot-gun before shooting himself, a few yards from where it all happened. I felt myself slipping into shock.

I'm still not fully recovered. Maybe I never will be, in the deepest sense of the word. The mark this kind of thing leaves on one's soul is permenant, I think. I'm dealing with the finality of our lack of reconciliation in this life, all wrapped up in the horror of their violent death.

One of the last things I said to the two of them at the end of my Thanksgiving visit, was that I was looking forward to the day we were all together in heaven, and all the issues that had kept us apart were a thing of the past. They didn't comment. But that is something I can hang onto. They were pretty extreme in some of their thinking, but I do believe they were saved by grace through faith the same way I am.

I do believe I will see them again, and this time, they will be glad to see me. It would mean a lot to me for my mother to be glad to see me. I can't remember what that felt like.

By then, I should have forgiven my step-dad, and perhaps I'll be glad to see him too.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Liberia: Unfamiliar and Familiar



I have just returned from my fourth trip to the continent of Africa, and third to the country of Liberia. All my visits have been one month or less, so basically I’m still figuring things out.

And as a rookie, my observations, impressions, and reactions are all over the grid, hundreds every hour, as I process reams of external stimuli and the internal responses they produce. I take in smells, sights, sounds, tastes, feelings, and most of all, interact with people.
One side of my brain is telling me that like no other place I have previously traveled or lived, Africa is my opposite. These cultures, more than any other I have attempted to interface with so far, are the farthest from my own. Things I hold important, like promptness, clarity and exactness, are almost non-existent. Things I shy away from, like loud challenging verbal exchanges, are a part of everyday life.

But the other side of my brain keeps seeking and finding that common thread of humanity seen in every culture around the world. Good parents desire to give offspring a better life, mothers work hard and worry about food prices, men discuss politics, kids are all over the place, noisy, into everything, and always hungry.
And then, there are a couple of places where things really make sense to me.

The first is in church services. Here most things are familiar, whether they are in my language or not. Worship with singing and instruments, the giving of tithes and offerings, the message from the Bible, and yes even the inevitable boring announcements. Most of all I sense God here, a familiar Presence lingering in the middle of the heat and noise, reminding me He is the same God in Liberia that He is in Texas.

The second place of familiarity comes when I listen to women. When I dialog with midwives and with women who are expecting, I find amazingly common themes and issues to those that I deal with every day in America. When I ask the TBAs (Traditional Birth Attendants) what they worry about most, they tell me they are afraid of getting blamed if there is a death at an out of hospital birth they attend. When I ask women why they would stay home to give birth instead of coming to a clinic or hospital, they tell me it’s because they are scared they will get operated on, don’t like being separated from their loved ones in an unfamiliar environment, and shy away from rough treatment by clinic staff.

So while on the one hand I struggle to understand and adapt to a society totally different from my own, on the other hand I experience relief and confidence as I discover that under the culture there are needs and desires that are familiar.

Ones I know how to meet.

Liberia has much to teach me. And I now I know, with greater clarity, that I have something to offer Liberia too.

Sounds like a match, O.