On crying…

I am so tired of crying. I’m tired of runny mascara, a stuffy nose, swollen eyes, and a scratchy throat. I’m tired of my kids worrying about me, my husband feeling unnecessarily guilty and helpless, and of friends and family wanting to help and being unable to do so. I’m not even a classic watering pot. I’m more like a completely full pool into which one raindrop falls. The surface pressure breaks and a positive deluge ensues. Once I start, no act of will drys my eyes and no amount of kindness soothes my nerves. In fact, I often tell friends not to be nice to me – it just gets me started. Because what my pool is full of is anger and grief. I am so mad. So, so, so, so mad. With no one to be angry with. I always thought that if something tragic befell me, I would be mad at God. After all, He is sovereign. Nothing that happens is outside of His control. But I’m just…not. I hate this and I wish that cancer wasn’t something we had to deal with, but I don’t believe it’s some sort of divine punishment – it’s one of the really horrible parts of living in an imperfect world. So I’m mad that Adam is sick without being mad that the God who could heal him without chemo isn’t doing so. It does’t even make sense to me…but there it is. Of course, what I just wrote implies that there is any visible cancer there to be healed, and there is not. Adam shows no sign of disease, and yet we are following the recommendations of his doctors to proceed with chemo and radiation to give him the best possible statistical chance of avoiding recurrence. Adam is not always sold on this course, I’ll have you know. He keeps trying, very subtly and with a playful attitude, to get the doctors to let him out of this. It’s not working. I wouldn’t even let him, I don’t think. Because I am a product of my modern upbringing and I trust the doctors’ wisdom. So I’m mad, and I’m staying mad. And I am so sad about the impact this has on all of us. And I cry. And then my friends hurt, and their hurt is another raindrop and brings about another deluge. And, oh how I wish this year was over. Because I hate it. So much.

But don’t think there is nothing sweet about this year. The care and concern of our friends…the shared tears, the shared rejoicing over the small bits of good news – those have been almost unbearably sweet. Because nothing is truly bearable. Yet, we persevere and thank God for all the love He has shown us in the form of the love of our families, friends, and even strangers. And I look forward to the time when I can see the good that this year will bring. Because it has to bring good. I have no idea how it will look or when I will be able to see it. But I know that “God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, those called according to His purpose. For those He foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers [and sisters].” Romans 8:28-29. So the good…it means we get to be like Christ. It means we get to be in a really big family, a family full of those with a common purpose. And some times it means we laugh together; but often, it means we cry. And maybe I’ll just be a better cryer. And maybe one day, I won’t hate it so much. Maybe one day, all that I know to be true will feel true too. I yearn for that day.

Very worst? Really?

http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2013/july/very-worst-trend.html

Being a Christian does not mean that I’m like all the other Christians in the world, but that we all seek to be like Christ. There is nothing Christian about pretending a perfection we don’t own. There is also nothing Christ-like about wallowing incessantly in our imperfections. The impossibility of following Christ is that we, broken people, are given a gift as though we were never broken at all, and then we are called to honor that gift by choosing to obey a law that cannot save us. We are, in Christianese, sinners saved by grace and constrained by a law that, apart from the work of Christ, can only condemn us. And we do this because of and out of love. Inexplicable, ain’t it? Ineffable, even. But we don’t all agree about how we are supposed to love God and love each other. We don’t all have the same vision about what it means to obey the commands of a holy God. Some of us are always reverential while others comment irreverently on our poor attempts at holiness. Some think that representing Christ in a fallen world means never showing weaknesses because that would imply that Christ isn’t enough…and He is. Others are committed to authenticity and don’t want to imply to anyone that they have achieved perfection this side of heaven…because none of us do. Both sides have strong Biblical arguments and righteous intentions. And both have a hard time being moderate in their position, so they tend to find the other inexcusable.

I should say now that I fall on the latter end of the spectrum. I am so clearly not perfect and so intensely not interested in pretending that I am. The simple act of not sharing feels like pretense to me. I like self-deprecating humor and am encouraged by other people’s honest tales of redeemed brokenness more than by stories of unrelenting optimism. I love Jamie Wright’s blog. I still laugh out loud at the “Worst End of School Mom Ever” post by Jen Hatmaker. I fight personal offense when I read the above article, because I too write about what a mess I am. But. It’s not incorrect. It just lacks balance. It implies that only serious people are really Christians. It ignores that Paul called himself the chief of sinners. It ignores that the blogs in question continually turn to Christ as the only hope in a messy life. It ignores that C.S. Lewis didn’t only write Mere Christianity, he also wrote about a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb…”who almost deserved it.” I’d have an easier time reading the meat of this article and assenting to the undeniable fact that Christ doesn’t allow us to wallow in our brokenness if it didn’t feel so ungracious toward people who have done nothing but share honestly from their own lives. Lewis’ philosophical words are great, but there has to be room in the family of God for the comedian as well as the theologian. Self-deprecation doesn’t deny Christ’s work in our lives. As Christians we do test ourselves and question each other…but we are supposed to do so in love. And we aren’t supposed to challenge each other to uniformity of personality, but of purpose. We are all different and the only one we are supposed to be made in the image of is Christ.

So, for those who are private and reverent and keep their messes to themselves: you are real and are loved by God. You are right that God calls us to do good and not to wallow in our sin, mess and brokenness. He made you to protect your inner self and He redeems you without changing that reality of who you are. And. For those who are performers and irreverent and share their messes: you are real and loved by God. You are right that you are not yet in your glorified state and being a Christian doesn’t automatically fix all your brokenness. He made you to share your inner self and He redeems you without changing that reality of who you are. He uses both types of people to show the world who He is and that He loves us. Let’s show each other grace and strive together instead of struggling against each other.

Hold on a second….

I don’t expect everyone to agree with everything I write, or even anything I write. You are entitled to believe me petty, immature, misinformed, foolish, and any manner of other things that I frankly strive not to be. But I’m not going to leave comments to that effect on my blog. The opinions expressed here are mine and divergent ones are allowed…but mean or disrespectful comments will be deleted. Even if I made them…maybe especially if I made them. To that point, if you are female and don’t mind being called a girl, that’s cool…for you. It hit me wrong the other day, and no amount of aforementioned stewing changed that for me. This is not a moral issue – of that I am well aware – it is a preference issue, and I explained the reason for my preferences to the best of my ability. If that makes me an immature brat, so be it. Maybe I’ll grow out of someday.

But as for the idea that offending someone, especially when the offense was innocently and unintentionally offered, being the offendee’s problem: I’m not sure I agree. I hate accidentally hurting people, but I know that I do it. It most often happens because I say too much. Looking for the right words means going through many of the wrong ones first. My instinctive reaction is to lash out at the one I’ve offended, presumably in an innate “the best defense is a strong offense” sort of way. I didn’t intend to hurt anyone, so I am angry at them for having the temerity to be offended…. But why am I so bothered by the need to guard what I say (or write, for that matter)? If you can forgive me when I say things that bother you, I can strive not to do it. Why is that so hard? Why is loving people in a way that is meaningful to them, even when it is foreign to me, offensive? Why would my desire to share a way in which people could love me better be offensive to others? Why is it offensive to learn that I don’t like to be equated a child? Or that a word means something to me that it doesn’t mean to you? I call myself a bitch when I am one. That seems much more likely to offend….

So. To be clear: I am not angry at anyone. The overheard comment was not aimed at me specifically, but was used to make a statistical observation. The population in general was adult, not juvenile. The males were referred to as “guys,” not “boys.” Our word usage is often based on cultural context – there is something in mine that makes “girl” mean – at least in part – young, inexperienced, or innocent. I’m not those things. Sorry. In my cultural context, there is no equivalent word for “females of indeterminate age.” My preference, when it is clear that children are not being referred to, is to default to “women” instead of “girls.” Preference. That is all.

This has nothing to do with some sort of life-experience pissing contest. I am no better (or worse) a person because of the situations that I have experienced, nor will the fullness of years that God sees fit to grant me change my innate value. It follows that no person, young or old, can be thus judged. We are all younger than some and older than others – “I am older than I once was/And younger than I’ll be/That’s not unusual…” (thank you Paul Simon). We all still have real feelings, real opinions, real beliefs and are still worthy of respect. Even when others disagree with us. This isn’t, for me, about measuring my…maturity…it is about sharing myself.

 

 

Don’t Call Me a Girl

Sometimes it’s the little things. Like when I overhear someone refer to all males as guys and all females as girls. Somehow, that was just too much for me the other night, and I’ve been stewing in my irritation ever since. Why? Good question. Why should I use up my already admittedly limited brain space with such a silly thing? Because I don’t have a girl’s job or a girl’s struggles. My joys, trials, triumphs, failures, costs, and rewards are not that of a girl. I am a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, an aunt, a cousin, and often, a right bitch. My peers and I lie, cheat and steal and have been lied to, cheated on, and stolen from. We have husbands, lovers, parents, children, family and friends who need us and whom we need in turn. We have loved them, hated them, and even buried them. We laugh and grieve and take deep breaths to make it through the day. We have careers and responsibilities that we relish and resent. We are so many things. But none of them is defined by “girl.” When I was a girl, my life was different, not less important or less worthy, just different. Someone else carried the burdens that are now mine, and that someone also reaped the benefits that I am now privileged to call my own. I don’t want today to be confused with those by-gone ones. Because through age and experience, I left girlhood behind. I am a woman. And I may or may not be more emotional than rational, or care more about feelings than thoughts, or embody some other stereotypical feminine trait. Still, don’t call me a girl.

The promised quotation correction

Because the actual line from The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley is better than what I managed to cobble together from memory, I present it to you. It is a bit of internal monologue as the main character, Harry, attempts to define her feelings about insomnia: “I rarely feel much the worse the next day, except for a sort of moral irritability that seems to go with the feeling that I ought to have spent all those silent hours asleep.” My moral irritability comes more from spending silent hours reading when I ought to be working. But hey – that’s how I learn all these cool quotations, right!?

Finding Heart and Brain Space

I really like how I feel when I am accomplishing things. As much as it sounds like paradise to be able to sit around and do nothing but read, the reality is that those days leave me feeling cranky and dissatisfied. There is a phrase from Robin McKinley’s book, The Blue Sword, that perfectly captures it: “moral irritability.” As in “she wasn’t exactly tired, she just felt a sort of moral irritability that came from the belief that she should have spent those hours in sleep.” (I don’t actually have the book here with me at the cancer center, so that isn’t exactly right. I’ll correct it when I get home!) So yeah, moral irritability. That uncomfortable feeling of knowing I should have done something, but the reality that I didn’t…and even that I just couldn’t. I am fighting inertia that is bone deep and related not to physical fatigue, but to mental and emotional exhaustion. I miss my husband. I miss relaxation untinged by grief and stress. I miss being able to plan for even the immediate future. I miss sharing the decision-making. And I feel guilty for feeling so negative. Because Adam is still here and we have every reason to hope that he will recover fully. He will be back and so will my so-called normal life. And I am so thankful for that…though I’m often hesitant to count on it. Maybe that is what I miss the most: that sense of certainty as to what the future will hold. So I don’t have the strength of heart or head to plan anything concrete. I am balanced precariously on a beam and cannot see the end clearly, so my equilibrium never quite stabilizes. I know that this feeling won’t last forever, but for now I am fighting paralysis. My big achievements are along the lines of getting the floor swept, the pool treated, the taxes sent to the CPA, and the laundry done. I still stink at getting the dishwasher unloaded, but loading it and doing the hand-washing are doable tasks. You will notice that getting the bed made is not on the list…not an oversight. We can’t even get the trash taken to the road about half the time. Grocery shopping and cooking are also spotty. No one wants to eat. And I hate cooking for an unappreciative audience, even at the best of times. So I keep wondering why I feel so tired at the end of the day. And how it is that I have no energy to write. I don’t even have the attention span to finish reading books half the time.
But. I don’t want to stay here, and I am trying not to give in to the exhaustion. I want to find space in my heart and in my brain to do both those things that I need to do and the things that I simply want to do. The exhaustion-induced inertia and the attendant moral irritability are…exhausting. The cycle is deadly. On the one hand, there are things that are simply going to be true during this time in our lives while Adam is in treatment, and there with be a natural recovery period after it is over where we will address many things. On the other hand, I can’t put everything off until that point and simply hope that it will all get better “later.” I keep thinking of the Brandi Carlile song that says “even a fool can tell you / someday never comes.” But still, someday Adam will have to recover strength, will regain some of the weight he has lost and will overcome chemo brain. Someday, we will take a celebratory family trip to Disney World and he and I will take a belated birthday/anniversary trip somewhere too. None of that can happen until chemo and radiation are done. But how low will I let myself get in the meantime? Will I let myself gain weight through comfort-eating, knowing that I will just have to lose it again? Will I let my kids and myself get lazy, knowing that we will have to relearn a how to live with discipline and rules and chores eventually? Obviously, I can’t remove all the stress form our lives or expect any of us to move through our summer as though nothing weird is going on. But there has to be a happy medium; something in between pretending nothing is wrong and wallowing in the wrongness. So I am writing. And I am spending more time reading my Bible instead of only disappearing into fantastical fiction. I am cleaning the pool, doing the dishes, swiffering the dog hair off the floor and even cooking some of the time. I am even trying to watch what I eat so that I can stop gaining one pound for every three that Adam loses. I need to start exercising because that commercial about depression hurting? It’s true. Whether I am depressed or just stressed or whatever, I hurt and I hope that exercise will help. So just like Adam has to mentally prepare for chemo, I have to mentally and physically prepare to be a single parent for most of one week out of two. And that preparation is finding the end of the beam we are balancing on: having to remember that our focus is on God – an immutable strength outside of ourselves who sustains us and to whom we give all praise. I may prepare, but I am starkly aware that none of the ability comes from me. At least, I can but hope it will work out this way…because all I can see right now is the space right in front of me. I will trust the end of the beam is there and I will continue to look toward where it must be. Because maybe finding heart and brain space is really about having faith that it is there somewhere. Because where else is there to go?