Monsters of One Kind and Another

Today is one of those days when I really need to stay away from Facebook. It is not just the obvious time-suck that I am trying to avoid (rather unsuccessfully, at that), but the engendering of the proverbial green-eyed monster. Yep. Everyone whose kid is being good, loving to write/read/obey/not act like any kid who lives in my house, everyone who is going on a fabulous trip, and everyone who is in general happy with his or her life is making me crazy at the moment. This is, of course, ridiculous. For one thing, I am not having a bad day, week, month, or even year. Finally. I simply seem to lack the basic human capacity to be happy for anyone today. Yes. I know. This is entirely my problem. See? Staying away from Facebook….

Unfortunately, my envy-monster is not the only one I’m seeing evidence of on social media today – or yesterday, either. The other two monsters kept me on the verge of tears yesterday – for strangers, no less, and I am afraid I’m too tired to do it again today. You see, one of the bad guys is cancer – in this case a stage IV brain tumor in a four-year-old. This is not my story, and I couldn’t speak to what the family is feeling or going through, even if I wanted to. I just hate the monster. HATE it. And yet I can’t leave it alone. I can’t just ignore the posts that are showing up on my news feed from disparate friends from Virginia Beach to Jacksonville. So I cry and pray – really eloquent prayers like: “Oh God, oh God, oh God. Be with them and thank you and oh God, oh God, oh God.” Our own cancer battle was a horror to us – and it still is a lot of the time…and it was a GOOD NEWS cancer diagnosis – with clean scans and remission and all that. And it was and is the single worst thing in this world that has happened to our family. I hurt for me and for them and for everyone, and I am having a hard time with happy. Because there be monsters here.

The other monster I’m struggling with today was perhaps best described by a certain Elizabethan playwright as outrageous fortune. We sometimes call it bad luck, Murphy’s law, or the effects of a fallen world – generally depending on our spiritual background. It is the bad things that happen…like massive, fatal car accidents that take children and devastate families. It is another horror that I cannot pretend to understand or explain, but that I cannot ignore. So I hug my loved ones, live my life in the best way I know how, and pray for all the hurting people out there – even if those prayers are wordless groans for pain I cannot fathom and fear in depths of my heart that I didn’t know I had until they started hurting. “Oh God, oh God, oh God….”

So there be monsters here. Petty ones and nasty ones and horrific ones and probably stupid ones. I hate them, but they give me words that I never found before I knew them. Maybe owning that reality will be the thing that allows me to enjoy the good things again. We are fighting to celebrate victories rather than to fear possible defeats, and seeing that facing the monsters works better than pretending they don’t exist might be a step toward that. I am also trying to come to terms with the reality that sadness and anger resonate with me more than hope does. (Cue worried phone calls from parents…I’m fine – don’t worry!) It is real to acknowledge that I miss my friend who was taken by cancer and that I don’t want to lose anyone else, and it is true that I don’t want anyone to have to bury a child or a spouse and that I hurt for them when they do. “Oh God, oh God, oh God….”

Are you fighting your own kind of monsters? Are they real or are you afraid they’re only in your head? Does that actually make them any less real?

I wrote the above, and then realized that it is mostly about me. Which is normal, I guess – I’m the one I know best. But it feels wrong to only share my reaction to something without giving you the chance to see the real stories if you want to. It feels selfish. “Oh God, oh God, oh God, help me love others and not just indulge my vicarious pain; let me remember that how I feel isn’t the main story here!”

A dear friend who has been fighting a monstrous grief of her own for the last year reminded all of us that a simple, practical, financial kindness to a grieving family is of more help than you might think. “There is nothing that anyone can say to ease the pain…nothing. But this tangible act of giving can keep a family from having to think about or worry about financial matters. Because sometimes, it takes all you have to just breathe.” Here are links, if you want the stories to touch your heart too…it may not be easy, but it is life in the trenches – and I think that is where we are supposed to be. So maybe Facebook isn’t so bad, after all….






Very worst? Really?

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.

I am so not good at happy posts….

It is so much easier to write when I am sad or angry or frustrated than it is when I am happy. There is a corresponding preponderance of somewhat negative posts on here. I have found that I am also loath to write when I am emotionally exhausted from the ravages that chemo wreaks on our family. On the treatment days, all I manage are the bare necessities: getting to the cancer center, helping Adam with whatever he needs, feeding the children, and enforcing a very lax bedtime routine. Other than that, I spend my time zoned out and wasted. Who needs mind altering substances? Watching someone I love go through physical and mental torture is quite enough to take me out of my head. But then I have a hangover. I spend the first few days after treatment trying to get back into my head. So no, those aren’t days where I’m likely to write positive posts either. But I’m tired of writing laments. I want to feel better. I want to…I don’t even know what I want. I feel like crying out much as my 10 year old has: “I want life to be normal again…I don’t want everything to be bad anymore!” I don’t even think that everything is bad…but I can’t quite work myself out of the funk today. I am sort of disappointed in myself and it is making it hard for me to greet anything with any reaction other than grief, fear or anger. I am so mad and sad and the end seems so far away. And my husband is getting weaker and more tired every time. And my kids are acting out and needy. And I have nothing left to give. I am so tired. And yet, tomorrow comes. Every tomorrow comes and they bring little comfort and less rest. And I know that my hope and comfort and rest are in Christ…I know it. I just wish they felt a little more hopeful, comfortable, and restful. An infinite God promises an infinite peace…but I live in a finite world that is not there yet. Which is why so many comfort themselves and others with the hope of peace in heaven. And I know that heaven will bring just that. But to get there, I have to leave here…and leave some behind. And somehow, that is no peace at all to me right now. GI Joe might be right: knowing may indeed be half the battle…but half a battle is no kind of victory. At least not tonight. Tonight is a night for mourning…again. So here’s to remembering that weeping endures through the night, but joy comes in the morning. (That’s a paraphrase of Psalm 30:5 which I actually know because of Anne of Green Gables….)

Not to be outdone…

After the shout out from my husband on his blog post, I feel motivated to write something. He prefaced an excruciatingly gut-wrenching post by saying that I am better at expressing emotions than he is. So I’ll just have to say: whatever the general truth may be, it will not be so in this specific case. Because nothing that I am going through right now – and don’t get me wrong, I hate lots of it – nothing is as hard as where he is. And complaining about any of it seems superfluous. Does this suck? Hell yeah. He’s sick, I’m exhausted, he can’t keep food down, I can’t stop comfort eating – we both feel like our own personal brand of shit. Sorry. Sometimes you just gotta call a spade a spade. And our kids are stressed too. They do understand what is going on, but have even less emotional framework in place to deal with it than we do. Everyone is melting down and we are constantly waiting for the next round of whatever – chemo, emotional breakdown, overwhelming fatigue, refusal to cooperate – you name, we’re dealing with it.

And I could say that we’re okay because we are dealing with it. That would be true. It just doesn’t touch the middle of the night crazies that we are both feeling these days. I’m trying to Banish the Banshee. I was doing well until Adam lost his dinner in spectacular fashion…all over the living room floor. At the same moment, I realized that the children had been wasteful. Cause, you know, CARDINAL SIN…. That was it. I lost it. I did manage to do the majority of my wail outside. In fact, every dog in the neighborhood – and at the Puppy Palace down the street – joined my lament. They must have thought it was a moon call. So tomorrow I start again…again. Like everyone else does. Because none of this is fun or easy, but where else is there to go? This is the life to which I was called and I love it. This is the specific life God has for me. That is no more nor less true in the midst of the hell on earth that is cancer. And God will handle it and me. And my kids are and will be so much more than the sum of the results of my parenting successes and failures…thank GOD for that. So…tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…. Whether it creeps in a petty pace, or the sun’ll come out, or it’s another day…we will stay the course. Because there is nothing else to do. And there is hope in that.

Grace is HARD

There are times when I wish that I had an anonymous blog where I could post all the truly profane things that I want to say. And yes, I am wishing that now. I am also refraining from making said anonymous blog so that I have some degree of accountability and motivation to treat people who anger me with grace. I want to go all Julia Sugarbaker on some people whose bad behavior caused many people, Adam included, to lose sleep last night and to spend a large portion of today putting out proverbial fires. Adam was in the middle of his third chemo cycle and needed to sleep. Instead, he worried, prayed, typed, and oh yeah – threw up. I don’t want to be gracious to the people who are now gloating about the bad behavior. I want to verbally excoriate them. I want to rip them a new one. I want them to see the banshee in all her fury. I want them to hurt. Because we all hurt. But grace isn’t about not having a temper tantrum when we are pleased with someone. Grace is about choosing to show love to those who deserve our displeasure. It is about seeking to confront humbly, to reconcile and restore relationships. It is about refusing to indulge in self-satisfied rants, even when our attempts at reconciliation are rebuffed. It is HARD. And I haven’t succeeded. I have ranted to a few chosen friends, for whom I am soooo grateful, by the way. I have been profane. But by God’s grace, I have prayed too. For restoration, for grace, for patience, for forgiveness. For an end to the conflict and the gossip about it. And for a change of heart for all of the offenders – every one of us. Because grace would be so much easier if we weren’t all such complete…well, you know.

O children, children….

For anyone who has not had the privilege of watching the old animated version of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, the title of this post needs to be said in a tired, sad, disappointed, and even scared sort of tone. For those who have seen that particular masterpiece of literary adaptation, I’m quoting Aslan, tone and all, when he realizes that Lucy and Susan have followed him to the Stone Table. Why you ask? Because my children are Doing It Again. They are fussing and fighting over sink time to brush their teeth. They are descending into a madness of bruised egos and name calling over updating the chore chart. They are forgetting their lunch boxes because they are too busy defending their dignity. DIGNITY?!?! O children, children….

Do you ever wonder, in your heart of hearts where no one else can hear the wondering, if you look as ridiculous as “those people?” Maybe for you “those people” aren’t children, but some other group that you have written off as foolish, inept, or otherwise contemptible. Because for me, while I hesitate to use those particular adjectives to describe two of the most beloved people in my life, my children are still the height of utter ridiculousness. I laugh, I cry, I yell, I encourage, I chastise, and I say “o children, children” in the voice of an animated lion. And I am aware that others do the very same thing when they look at me. Maybe without the movie quotation….

Have you ever been to a dance recital and seen the two- and three-year-old ballerinas? They may be adorable, but graceful is generally in short supply. They are playing at learning to do something that they simply aren’t developmentally ready to do well. Which is fine…wonderful, in fact. It gives us all hope. We may be no more skilled or masterful than the average two-year-old ballerina, but we are learning something new in life and our loved ones think we’re great. But lets not get arrogant here…we’re still turning in circles, often in the wrong direction and at the wrong time, with our metaphorically diaper-clad butts sticking out for the world to see. But God loves us anyway. And hopefully we can love ourselves and those around us too. And dignity? I guess it’s relative. And maybe not as important as some of us would like to think!

PS Speaking of credit where credit is due, I must tell you that the two-year-old ballerina image is from my mom…who is great…see the last post if you haven’t!

To my Mother, on her birthday…

The original document that became this post was a gift to my mom. Some of the jokes may not make sense to non-family, but I think most of it is universal! If you know her, wish her a happy birthday today!

To my Mother, to commemorate the anniversary of her birth (which occurred in Eugene, Oregon some sixty-odd years ago…during a blizzard…uphill both ways).

A short list of lessons my mother is proud to have taught me:

  • Jesus is never not the answer.
  1. The grammatical corollary: Sometimes double negatives are the best way to construct affirmatives.
  •  There are no neat compartments in our brains or in our lives: everything is connected. Like God and geometry. Ewww, geometry.
  • Problems never go away when we ignore them; they simply loom larger on the edges of our lives until they swoop in and take over.
  • Our strengths are our weaknesses. She told me this today, in fact. Again. Apparently I haven’t learned it well enough yet!
  • It is possible to be logical, rational, and correct in our arguments even when we are crying.
  1. The relational corollary: Men will rarely take us, or our patently superior arguments, seriously when we are in this condition.
  • Things are just things and we never need as much as we have, to say nothing of as much as we want.
  1. The hospitality corollary: We should share the best of what we have, not the least.
  • To damage a person’s sense of dignity is an unspeakable abuse.
  1. The sports corollary: Learning to lose well is at least as important as learning to win well. This also applies to checkers, rummy, Scrabble, gin, Trivial Pursuit, and Bananagrams. Among others.
  2. The charity corollary: It is better to provide a way for someone to earn something than to provide the thing itself.
  • People are endlessly fascinating.
  1. The nerd corollary: It is good to be a nerd, to be weird, or to be generally too much.
  2. The down time corollary: Down time from friends is not a bad thing, especially because I will otherwise never stop talking.

A rather longer list of lessons she may be chagrinned that I learned:

  • In a dressing room we never cry when we can laugh instead.
  1. The fashion corollary: If a dress looks good on neither of us, there is very little hope for it; but if it looks good on both of us, it is a marvel of sartorial splendor. I’ve always wanted to use that phrase!)
  • I should be able to install and/or assemble anything sold at Wal-Mart by myself – without breaking something further or harming myself.
  1. The electrical corollary: It is wise to have a voltmeter in the house to make sure no wires exposed during installation of, say, a ceiling fan, are hot. Don’t worry. Adam is fine. He twitches a little now and then, but he’s fine. I promise.
  • Getting lost is no big deal; in fact it can be quite amusing!
  1. The Atlanta corollary: Getting lost every time we go more than two miles from our house is truly funny…right up to the point that it’s tragic…which may or may not be the moment we back into a telephone pole.
  • It is a wonderful thing to laugh at all kinds of things.
  1. The family corollary: No one else will ever understand that the things we laugh at are funny. Even Adam. That is just sad.
  • Putting together puzzles is an excellent way to pass time while waiting for recalcitrant children and/or grandchildren to be born.
  • We can be optimistic about anything except Braves baseball, because if the other team scores, “it’s over.”
  • No cussing is ever okay…unless it’s in another language.
  • Traffic signals are often broken, so we may have to run that red light. This is also known as “traffic laws are more like guidelines anyway.” (Thank you Pirates of the Caribbean!)
  1. The authority corollary: We only have to follow rules that make sense.
  • Necessary life skills include: how to hit or pitch a softball, how to serve a volleyball, how to run a sprint, and how to high jump (scissoring technique, not Fosbury Flop).
  1. The anti-sedentary corollary: It is always better to be doing something than to be sitting around the house watching TV. (I got around this one by reading. A lot. )
  • There are no bored people, only boring ones who cannot entertain themselves. These poor wretches will be given jobs to do if they should happen to complain to their mothers.
  • It is a good and normal thing to hide from our children in order to accomplish simple things like reading or escaping constant chatter.  The bathroom or the space between the bed and the wall are excellent for this purpose.
  1. The phone corollary: Children will be their loudest when their mothers are on the phone.
  2. The bathroom corollary: No mother is allowed privacy when using the bathroom without first locking the children in their rooms.
  • Conformity is terrible. Independent thought is a mark of intelligence and there is even a time for outright rebellion.
  1. The parental corollary: Parents are always correct and therefore the above should only be practiced away from home.
  2. The respect corollary: Any authority figure deserves to be treated with respect, even when they are wrong. Don’t conform, but don’t be a smartass either.  Shoot. That’s not in another language!

Happy Birthday Mommy! I love you!