Sunday, February 22, 2015

A post Ash Wednesday relfection

(This piece was composed during the same sleepless night last week that gave birth to my previous post.)

Kay is brilliant. I have my brother-in-law Vic’s word on it, last Thanksgiving. It happened as the adults sat at the dining room table sipping wine after dinner, and the younger set (we can’t quite call them kids anymore) shared imaginative stories in the next room. He said, “Kay is brilliant.”

Now I love my daughter, but I’d never thought of her as brilliant. True, she is amazing, but I know about the socks on her bedroom floor that never seem to make it to the laundry. I suppose it's easier for me to see her shortcomings because I'm so close. (Isn't that the way for all of us?)

Of course, I realize that your child (or your grandchild or niece or nephew) is likely brilliant, too. That’s the incredible thing about talking to you about a young person, any young person. I can use all kinds of superlatives to try to convey my wonder at the nature of one child. And no one with young people in their heart could fail to understand that this is not me bragging about my child, but is instead the love of a parent for the star in her life.

I see it in people every day. Christine just blooms as she talks about her boys. But, then again, I think she's like that when she talks about any of the kids in Sunday school. Listen to Brian talk about his three children and you’ll know - if you don't already - what a loving dad sounds like. I've been swept off my feet listening to one person speak about the fierce protectiveness he feels for his grandchild. I've grown teary listening to another talk about her hopes and fears for her grown, yet not quite grown children.

We just finished up a sermon series on the Beatitudes at First Church. At our Ash Wednesday service last week, I reminded those gathered that “You are blessed,” in one variation or another, as I wiped ash crosses across dozens of foreheads and hands.

Children are blessed, as are we who share their lives and all those who were once a part of our younger lives.

You are blessed, we all are. Believe it. And live it.

It’s almost five o’clock now. I think I’ll go back to bed ad try to get some sleep (see previous post.) or maybe I’ll try to sleep in the bathtub.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The 2-for-1 Rule

It’s all Dagger’s fault.

I seem to have developed a cat dander allergy in recent years. Dagger, our lovable tabby, likes me most particularly. Whenever I leave my bedroom door open, he makes a point of laying on my bed – so I try never to leave it open, except of course, when I forget. Then he jumps onto my bed and sleeps, and later, I lie down and don’t.

He’s never been the best at grooming himself. We used to laugh when, as a kitten, he’d give himself a bath. First he’d swipe his paw a couple times across his mouth, then he’d wipe-wipe at his ear while lick-licking at the air. Back he’d bring his paw to his mouth, but again no tongue action until the paw was once more at his ear, then lick-lick in the air. In all fairness, he’s gotten better since then, but he’s never been as interested in personal grooming as his sister. Shiva’s a stickler for hygiene.

So there I lie, not sleeping because I’d woken up at 2 a.m. and, what with the sneezes and the drippy nose, I couldn't get back to sleep. And I remembered what I had wanted to practice during Lent.

Last week, someone in a study had shared, “When the kids were little, we told them that if they said something negative about someone, then they had to say two positive things about them.”

It was actually the second time I’d heard her say this, but this time I thought, “I could do that,” and I wrote it down so I’d remember – except, I didn't. My memory’s a bit like a sieve sometimes, especially when I have a lot going on, and honestly, I had a lot going on last week.

Monday and Tuesday, I tried to remember what it was I was going to work on for Lent. Gratitude? I’d thought of that, yes… I was going to put up a giant sticky note and, each day, add things for which I’m thankful. I’d already thought about how I’d design it and use different colors, and where could I find some fine line markers so I could add all the names I’d want to put on. There was the whole VIM team… the people from Caring ministries… Missions… the Concerns and Actions team… all the musicians… Maybe I’d post it on my door and offer to give blank sheets to other people who wanted to do the same thing…

About then, I realized that this had morphed from a possible spiritual practice into something else entirely, and I went back to the drawing board. That’s when I heard the 2-for-1 idea again. Maybe I could do that.

Over the weekend, I had one more idea, but decided it wasn't right, so I tried to remember the other one – which brings me back to why I’m awake at 4 a.m. As I lay in bed, I processed the day before and remembered a moment when I said something in a way that I wished I hadn't. Why did I say it that way, just mentioning the one part that I wished he’d have done differently – when I could have said so many other things good about the person, his gifts or his effort?

And that’s when I remembered the 2-for-1 Rule. Since I couldn't sleep anyway I got up. Dagger almost tripped me as he waited like a shadow on the top stair.

You gotta love your pets.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

40 days

        For I recognize my rebellion;
            it haunts me day and night. Psalm 51:3 New Living Translation

Lent begins today – a 40-day season that begins 6½ weeks before Easter. (Mondays → Saturdays; Sundays are considered “Little Easters” and aren’t part of the count.)

Historically, Lent is a time to examine ourselves unflinchingly, admitting the ways we stray from God’s intention for us. Some of us are fairly good at admitting our individual shortcomings. But we’re not really practiced at thinking about our corporate sins (the ones we’re part of collectively) And, this corporate confession is an important aspect of “getting right” with God. It’s something we find many places in the Bible.

As I read scripture, I find spiritual leaders regularly confessing their nation’s sin to God. The people of Israel accepted that they shared in both the blessings and the consequences that came with the decisions their leaders made.

This idea of corporate responsibility is a tough one for us. We’ve been raised to believe that as individuals, we’re responsible for whatever comes our way as a result of our actions, and not responsible for anything else. But is this God’s way?

Doesn’t the state of the world leave room for all people – well-heeled & struggling, religious or not – to admit that things are not good? And that it’s not just someone else’s fault that world economies and natural ecologies are in the state they’re in today? When it comes down to it, aren’t we all in this together, just as much as the Ancient Israelites? When economies collapse or when another freak storm hits, don’t we all suffer? (If you think not, you might consider the increase in grocery prices after a surprise freeze in Texas or Florida.)

Part of the Good News is that each year, Lent invites us to take a hard look at ourselves – both individually and in community – to notice how well we play together (or don’t), how well we take care of the least among us, and to pray. We’re invited to spend these weeks practicing living our lives a bit closer to the way God has envisioned.

So, tonight Kay and I will join many others ‘round the world as we usher in Lent with worship – hymns & prayers, ashes on the forehead or maybe the hand, and remembering…

Remembering that
  • Lent is about drawing closer to God;
  • We’re expected to leadthe lives God calls us to live;
  • God is always ready to forgive us; and
  • Although God won’t shield us from the consequences of our actions, God accompanies us as we live with them... always.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Uncle Lee

My Uncle Lee died when I was about fourteen or fifteen. I say, died. Actually he committed suicide. I was old enough to hear at least some of the adult talk that week. Uncle Lee had gone into the garage, started the car and died in a carbon monoxide sleep. My mother’s younger brother, he couldn’t have been much more than 30 years old. He left behind a wife and three little girls, my cousins.

This was one of my first experiences with death – certainly my first personal experience with suicide. I wondered, why? Being only on the sidelines of this terrible family drama, I was left to draw my own conclusions.

I remembered the last time I had seen him at one of our houses for a family gathering. He’d been walking around, as if in a stupor, seemingly totally disconnected from what was going on around him. He stopped and looked at me – no smile, no frown, no words, just looking – and then he turned and walked away.

Thinking of the picture of him in a sailor hat, I remembered that he had been in the navy. In conversation, I learned that he’d been to Vietnam. Maybe it was only on this information that I decided the experience there must have led him to take his life. PTSD, long before it was given the acronym.

Only a decade or two later did my mother share with me that he had had Bipolar Disorder. His detached behavior had been because of the medications he was on. He had known how he was, no emotions, no interest. And he didn’t want his family to be tied to this highly medicated him. He believed they’d be better off without him.

So sad, even now. Such a waste of life.

I think of Uncle Lee – and quite a few others – whenever people talk about mental illness, particularly when I hear about the stigma of mental illness. What I have long wanted to know is, what is it about mental illness that creates in us the urge for silence and secrecy?

Too often, people are slow to seek help for fear of what other people will say. Or, if not what they will say, then how they say it (which is often more cutting than the other.) If you get a toothache, you go to the dentist. No one condemns you or tells you it’s your fault. Nobody expects you to suck it up and get over it. And that’s just a toothache! Mental illness can be debilitating!

So, what I ask is, what do we have to do differently in order to stop this absurdity?
What can we change?
Are you willing to talk differently if it means treating another person as if she (or he) matters and is valued and welcomed, NO MATTER WHAT?!

“More than 90 percent of those who die by suicide had 

one or more mental disorders.” 
(Mental Illness FACTS AND NUMBERS, The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), March 2013.)