Monday, January 8, 2018

An alteration of my being...

Another widow said this today, " I'm trying the 3 A's- Absorption, Adjustment, Acceptance.---an alteration of my being." She admitted struggling with all three as she stands at 8 months since the passing of her beloved.  Here I am, almost 18 months down the road and I, too, have had to face the 3 A's and somehow assimilate into my reality. Early on, I knew that acceptance was a given because when I looked backward my life was gone and when I looked a head, there was nothing but an empty road beckoning me with irresistible force.  I grit my teeth like before plunging into the cold water of a pool and accepted the shock to my body and forced myself to swim. I've never liked that cold water and I'm not a big swimmer. But I had to tell myself I'd become accustomed to it. It's a process. There is new adjustment, new accustoming nearly daily. I've been altered - yes, I'm not the same woman I was 18 months ago. I'm wiser to the fact that life is not tamable, that things happen that you absolutely cannot control and that sitting still, hoping the world will stop spinning, is not an option.

Sometime after you grit your teeth and dive into an icy pool and then experience the "getting adjusted" to the water part, you find that you begin to chill again and your teeth begin to chatter.  That's when you discover you need to get out of the pool. There was a time when I had to take the plunge into the bracing water of widowhood and let my body face the shock of the cold head on.  After wading about and making a go at swimming for a good long while, it occurred to me that I can climb out, grab a towel and allow myself some time to get warm.

My heart has bled a few times this year when I've see other women I know suddenly find themselves in this difficult predicament.  How we face an icy pool is different for everyone.  Some put a toe in at a time, sit on the ladder, worry over inch after inch of skin which must be slowly submerged. It's okay. We all have our own way of adapting to the chilling baptism of a widowhood. How we react when we find ourselves standing on that ladder and facing bitter waters is deeply personal. How long in takes to get in and how long it takes before we are able to step out of it is going to vary from individual to individual.  Take your time, rely on God, and do what feels right for you. Don't let anyone tell you that you cry too much or too little, that's you're moving on too fast or aren't letting go quick enough.  Widowhood is altering *being* and that work will be done on the timetable that is right for you, not for outsiders.

The reality of the alteration me and my world have undergone struck me today while I was painting baseboards and trim. Last time the bedroom was painted, my husband painted it. It was the color of coffee with two or three splashes of cream.  I sat on the floor painting the baseboards antique white to compliment the granite grey of the freshly painted walls. I thought - he sat here. He was the last person to sit in this spot and paint this. With every brush stroke I am covering over his work. I had sorted, sifted, bagged and removed things - I had rearranged furniture. Was I obliterating him from the room? It will no longer look like the space his handiwork had completed; inwardly, I flinched. But then I understood that beneath the fresh layer would always lie his work. His touch was forever on those walls and on that trim. Every brush stroke sealed beneath mine. As for me, I  no longer can live my life as Pat's wife but I will always be Pat's widow. and there are layers to me, albeit unseen, that will always bear the brushstrokes of our lives together.

"God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others." (2 Corinthians 1:4)

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

On never giving up ...

I recently found out that Winston Churchill is a distant cousin. Out of all the distant relations I'm finding connections with using Ancestry's "We're Related" app, he is my favorite.  His ability to inspire courage, bravery and and righteous obstinacy resonate with me. That wonderful British obduration strengthened the spirits of a nation. His charge to "never, never, never give up" has been a mantra for me so many times in my life.  I pair it with Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me."

This train of thought fits so well with a stanza from my favorite poem, "If--" by Rudyard Kipling.
"If you can make one heap of all your winnings

    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’"

I set this intention for my life - to resolutely, steadfastly get through whatever it is that I have to get through.  I cling to, not my own strength to see things through, but that with the determination to do so there is One greater by far than I who will see me through.

Churchill rallied the people during the horror and oppression of war; while we are not facing (thankfully), the horrors of the world at war, we are facing a spiritual battle. 

When your plans fall apart - never give up.
When you are harshly judged and your feet begin to falter - never give up.
When you've been slighted, betrayed, or abandoned - never give up.
When the odds seem insurmountable - never give up.
When you feel devalued - never give up.
When you are just plain sick of the twisted world - never give up.

There is not one darned thing or one darned person who can separate you from the love of Christ. There is not one thing that this world can sling your way that His love cannot conquer.  And may you have to content yourself with knowing that you may not see the physical victory in this life, but as Shadrach, Mescach and Abednego knew, when having done all STAND. They knew this and proclaimed to Nebuchadnezzar, "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."

The battlefield you find yourself in the thick of may be on the job, with your health, within your family, even church - but never, never, never give up. Things may not look. They might look like it is time to throw in the towel or to run to a corner and lick your wounds.  Resist.  Ephesians 6:13 "Therefore take up the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you will be able to stand your ground, and having done everything, to stand. Because of this, take up the complete armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all things, to stand."

Never give up. Trust in the God who loves you and values you more than you can even fathom. Having done all, clothe yourself in Him and stand.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Strawberry Salad

This is a family recipe that is served at every holiday. It just wouldn't be a holiday without it.  Since food allergies entered our world, we had to do away with the nuts. I'm typing this up for posterity.

3 ripe bananas, mashed
2 boxes sliced frozen strawberries (or a bag of frozen, you will smash to smithereens)
1/2 cup to 1 cup chopped nuts (omit for nut allergies!!)
1 large box or 2 small boxes strawberry-banana Jello
1 3/4 cup boiling water
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin mixed into 1/2 cup very cold water
1 pint sour cream OR plain Greek yogurt

Smash bananas and strawberries, mix in unflavored gelatin mixture.

Mix strawberry-banana Jello with boiling water.  Add to banana/strawberry/gelatin mixture.

Spread half of mixture in a large glass pan (13 1/2 by whatever it is)
Chill in fridge until just set.
Spread with sour cream or yogurt.
Pour the rest of the mixture on the top.
Chill until completely gelled.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Thinking about my parents...

When you are going through hard stuff in life and your parents are gone, their absence becomes that much more profound. Would that you had that strong shoulder to lean on, that voice speaking up on your behalf and assuring you that "this too shall pass." Chances are they have been exactly where you are and would have a wealth of wisdom from the experience to share.  The older you get, the more you appreciate that truth - I'm glad that my journey to appreciation of my parents happened before they were gone.  Although I will always wish that it had happened sooner.

“Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.” -Oscar Wilde

I was not unlike other children and young adults. Growing up from starry-eyed child to the judgmental teen and 20-something,  I had my list of wrongs that I perceived my parents had committed against me that I would occasionally throw back at them, as did my siblings. Like Shylock, I wanted my pound of be in the form of an admission of guilt and the acknowledgement that my perception of the situation/memory/event was the correct one. I didn't want to hear a defense - none of us did. My late sister used to rail on about their failings, so seemingly we agreed on this or that and that seemed to shore up our point of view. Siblings have these conversations, compare notes, and build their cases. It fuels the fire, adds to the bitterness, and makes one feel very, very justified. We would occasionally blow off steam and let our parents have it in one way or another and feel very self-righteous about it.

I'll never forget my mother's shock and anger over something one of my sisters swears that she did. She had no memory of it whatsoever and that made the sister even angrier  that something so deeply painful to her had not registered to my mother. My mother, on the other hand, felt so unjustly condemned and misjudged that her reaction was more like, "If I did do something like that, no doubt you deserved it."  This reaction did not make matters any better. My mother was not one to apologize for something she did not recall doing.  She would never apologize in a more general way either.

My father was a different story. If you confronted him with some failure or misdeed you perceived he had committed, he would want to defend himself. He would try to get a word in, yelling if he must, about why or his side of things -- this was never well-received, because when you come embittered as a wounded, injured child you do not want to accept defense.  What exactly do you want?

That is a good question.  You might easily say "an apology" but chances are it will be deemed insincere or without "enough" admission of guilt. If the parent were to come crawling to your doorstep begging forgiveness?  Eh, maybe - but it only would last until the next time something cropped up. They could likely plead for forgiveness in a letter written in their own blood, but at some point or another it wouldn't be enough. One of us would always demand more - even though more was some intangible, undefinable something that could never be truly satisfied.

I remember my mother distinctly telling me (and overhearing her tell my sisters) that she hoped one day we had children who did the same thing to us.  My father was a different story - I may not have fully realized it then, but I discovered over time that it deeply wounded him and that he would spend sleepless nights and hours with the priest worrying and fretting over mistakes he made, wondering if it was all true and he was really a monster, and if he was a monster, could he be redeemed?  As in so many other things - I am my father's daughter and even if I don't know for sure what I've done, I can guilt myself like a master.

A fantastic thing happened after I got saved -- I wish I could say that it happened all at once. It didn't.  But that thing was that I first began to forgive my parents for whatever I had believed they had done. Secondly, I began to grasp the concept that they were not perfect nor ever professed to be. And thirdly, I began to understand them as human beings.

When I was at that first stage where I began to forgive my parents for whatever I had believed they had done to hurt me, I was at a point where I had discovered the forgiveness of Christ for my own sins. Like the Apostle Paul said, "Christ died to save sinners of whom I am chief."  Man, I had a laundry list of faults, shortcomings, wilful and ignorant sins that I could never pay for. Jesus paid it all, so who was I to not forgive my parents?  This changed our relationship drastically.  I wish I could say I was perfect in my forgiveness and stopped bringing up real or perceived ills in arguments and in moments of anger.  As time went on those things came up less and less.  My relationship with my parents kept improving.

They started growing older, lots of things changed.  I began spending more time with them as adults. My mom and I would go for frequent long walks together or she would drive me to appointments.  I got to know so much about her life, the things that she cared about  and the things that had hurt her over the course of her life - and she would listen to me. Were we always perfect in listening to each other? No, sometimes we had other things on our minds or were distracted but I remember that I was just happy to have this time together.  I was finding out the person behind the parent - the person who had a whole heckuva lot going on, struggles, fears, etc, that were unrelated to me and definitely played a role in how she parented.

My father and I had so much in common and as our relationship changed with that forgiveness he shared his fears, his worries, the way he beat himself up about not being able to rescue the world.  One of the things about my dad that often got everyone so angry was his trying to guide and direct.  I learned that this wasn't out of "narcissism" or whatever stupid thing we children had decided in our profound wisdom was motivating him -- no, it was his desire that we be safe, that we be "on the right path," protected, the best we could be.  He wasn't trying to manipulate or control our lives - he just genuinely cared and was acting on his love in the only way he knew how.

When I began to understand them as human beings, hallelujah! That brought my memories of the past into perspective.  I was able to let go of crap that clogged up my own soul and was able to remember all the great, awesome things about them that I did enjoy and love so much.  Instead of fixating on how they had failed me (or how I felt they had failed me) when I was a child, instead of ruminating over every harsh world or action, I found that I was seeing clearly the thousand more days, times, situations that were not part of our unhappy childhood narrative.

My mother's answer to being accused and judged was to retire back "home" to Florida, away from children and grandchildren. Her thoughts were "if they want me, they can come to me." I do not blame my mother for that. She reacted in a way that was consistent with her personality type. My father was different - he was the initiator of phone calls, always, always trying to maintain a connection.  When they did ask me to move to Florida after the birth of my first baby, my mother was happy that "I came to her."  Were things always perfect? Things happen -  relationships get tangled with a mess of actions and reactions. Did we get under each others' skin from time to time? Yes. Perfect relationships never will exist when you are dealing with imperfect humans.  Iron sharpens iron.

Getting to know my parents, accepting them as individuals, not pigeon-holing them in the role of "my parents" was a continual awakening.  When I go back to some of the times in my life that show up on my list of traumas, I can now in my maturity see the stages my parents were going through at various times.  When I was a mouthy tween and teenager,  my parents were struggling with the weighty cares of mid-life. Mortgages, debts, job stressors, passed-over-promotions, marital problems, health issues, vehicles, craziness in other siblings' lives, a myriad of troubles that had an effect on whatever else went on in their lives, including parenting.  To think that I felt perfectly comfortable judging them for this or that reaction that upset me saddens me.... did I expect them to be super-human perfect beings immune to sin? Ridiculously, yes. Did they ever react in anger? Did they say things too quickly that came out wrong? Sure - but didn't I? Heck, yes. Did they have a right to defend themselves if they chose or make excuses,explain themselves in some way?  What court of law does not let the accused provide a defense or an alibi? They had their own anxieties, battled with depression -- and once I got old enough and wise enough to "get" the whole picture, it became an awful lot easier to develop a completely different perspective and give up my childish "right" to feel embittered.  Hebrews 12:15 says, "See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many." 

My friend's husband said, "Everybody wants mercy but they don't want to give it."  We enjoy amazing love shown to us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.  He chose to forgive us, we who do not deserve it at all -- we love that mercy. How can we be stingy about extending it to others?

When it all boils down to it the things in my life that were good, the things in my life that hurt like hell, the good times and the bad, they shaped me and molded me into who God wanted.  He chose those parents for me. He chose my siblings and I to be their children. He allowed them to make mistakes for reasons that are His.  I am so grateful that I realized this while my parents were still alive so they could know that I was sorry for judging them, sorry for condemning them, blaming them, and sorry for not appreciating them.  Instead of fixating on fleeting failures - because in the grand scheme of things the good outweighs the bad - I choose to focus on the happy, the funny, the uplifting.  Books my dad read, nature hikes, singing in the car, listening to the radio and having girl talk with my mom, learning about family history and foreign languages, dreams that were fulfilled and dreams that were never realized.

My parents have been gone now - Mom since 2001, Dad since 2011. I miss them more than I can say.  Funny thing - irregardless of what sort of ungrateful children any of us were, they were our staunchest defenders and advocates. I could use that belief and that unconditional love right now when I spend sleepless nights worrying, ruminating, second-guessing or condemning myself.  How good it would be to go for a walk with Mom right now or take my Dad for a long drive. Having walked the other side of this road, I'm sure they would have good advice to give -- after all, they were flesh and blood people who have experience being on the receiving end.

Mom and Dad - I love you. I miss you.  One hour with you would be amazing - I could really use a pep talk and some of your Mama-Papa Bear fierce devotion. Thank God that I know I'll see you in glory.

Monday, November 20, 2017

When you need to hear "If-"...

There are definitely times when you want to throw in the towel, give up, let go, fade away, vanish... Times like that it is always good to pull out this poem and make an effort to rally. Sometimes it works. At the very least it is a reminder not to give in to the temptation to drop out of this dog and pony show, that you can strive to be a better you.

If you can keep your head when all about you 
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, 
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too; 
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master; 
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim; 
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same; 
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone, 
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, 
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, 
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, 
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Source: A Choice of Kipling's Verse (1943)

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The god of pop psychology is NOT the God of the Bible...

I was going through a great deal of stress and decided to seek counseling.  I made it clear that I wanted a Christian counselor.  I received a counselor that was a "Christian," that is,  she had some sort of loose faith in Jesus and considered herself a "spiritual" person. The first words of advice she shared were completely anti-Scriptural and steeped in pop psychology. To me, the Phd was meaningless because the wisdom to be shared was worldly wisdom, foolishness to God and a waste of time for me. Colossians 2:8 states, "See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ." Transferring to an actual Biblical counselor made all the difference.

This reminded me of situations I've been seeing on social media which promote ideas that are not Christian in nature. Pop psychology is founded in secular humanism.  It is deeply woven with the philosophies of man. Pop psych tells you that you deserve certain things.  It tells you to set boundaries, to walk away from difficult people. If you research how this stuff fits in the Bible, you will see certain things loosely tied in with Scripture and a whole lot of stuff that doesn't come with any Biblical support. The Bible tells you to love sacrificially. It tells you that you need to affirm your self-worth and self esteem. The Bible tells us that we were made in the image of God but that sin has corrupted us; we need a Savior. Pop psych paints a picture of Jesus - when it acknowledges Him at all - as a kumbaya surfer-dude who just wants us to be happy. Did I remind you that Jesus drove the money-changers out of the Temple with whips?

You will find that the Bible tells you that you are to forgive others “even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32). Specifically, we are told to imitate the forgiveness of Christ (Col. 3:13). We examples of the Prodigal Son, Joseph and his brothers, Hosea and Gomer, and well, the whole Bible. Forgiveness is a cancelled debt, an elimination of the record of wrong-doing.  Now, does any person want to love in such a sacrificial way? Does any person have the necessary strength to do that? No, but what a wonderful Savior we have.  The Word tells us that love covers a multitude of sins.  His love upholds us and will get us through.

So where can we draw the line? Scripture is *very* specific about what instances merit blocking someone. 1 Corinthians 5:11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls himself a Christian who is sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or verbally abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. 12 For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 But God will judge those outside. Remove the evil person from among you.

Should this go on forever? No. Paul revisits the issues in his next epistle to the Corinthian church. 2 Corinthians 2:6 The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. 7 Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.  The Bible doesn't condone the idea of cutting off a Christian brother or sister.

We are actually supposed to care about causing "excessive sorrow" to someone - even someone we think has wronged us or is in some way making us angry enough to make us think that cutting them out of our lives is the right thing to do. We're supposed to be those guys who pray for those who persecute us and do good to those who despitefully use us.

On the stupidity of choosing money over my dogs...

On the stupidity of choosing money over my dogs

They say a dog owner and her pet
Begin to look like each other over time
Waking up to that cold empty bed
I realized
I am indeed like my dogs
Maybe I look like them
Maybe I don't
But my soul looks like theirs
My dogs need love
More than a pat
More than a “good boy, good girl”
Here or there
They need full body
Mutual adoration fests
The kind of affection that says
“I love being in your presence”

Yet here I sit - and I miss them
“The money is good”
“You'll get ahead”
“Good for your resume”
“We'll be together”
And so I left, left them in the care of others
Deprived them of the love they were
So accustomed to
I deprived ME of the love
I was so accustomed to
Following a job
Following a man
Like a dog, stupidly assuming that
What I needed was what everyone wanted to give

My heart broke when I saw
That they were being treated
So unlovingly
So unkindly
Sasha's mask, greyed in that month like she had aged a hundred years
Charlie, stooped and slinking
Fearful and heart-broken
We reunited with joy and love
Tails wagging, hearts singing...
But now I'm trapped
Trapped in a job and in a place
Where a pat on the head and a good girl
Are all the affection I get

I found them love, I found them
A temporary home
Away from kids who pull tails
And throw rocks
Away from adults who say
“Go away, dog!”
And lock them away
And as for me...
I drove away with a man
With a hard heart
Who loved neat and clean
More than he loved me

Dog hair is a badge of love
It's a daily nuisance that screams
“I am loved!” like the toys that
Children leave scattered on the floor
Dog hair is scattered on my soul
It's a sign of mutual appreciation
And my heart bleeds to have
A lint brush required to stroke away
The hair of my beloved furry ones

Dogs, they don't turn away morning snuggles
Dogs, they don't need to go turn on the TV
Read the sports page
Have their coffee
Have a thousand reasons why they can't pile together in fur and skin, wet noses and belly rubs
Why being with you isn't a great way to start the day
Yet here I am, the fool that chose the money
Over the faithful love
Over the unfailing love
Over the ecstatic, joyful, consuming love
Of my dogs