Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Proverbial Truck

Thirteen years ago, after dealing with the lawyer, the insurance, the financial institutions and I don’t know what else after my dad's death, my mother continued on, making sure her will, power of attorney, and such were in order. She said she didn’t plan on dying anytime soon, but you never knew. As she said it, she could step off the curb and get hit by a truck.

Mother arrived from Pennsylvania yesterday for a week’s visit. And between anticipating this and reading an interview of a woman who actually was hit by a truck, I’ve been thinking.

We each have our stuff – situations or conditions – that could get in the way of our enjoying a full life. Maybe your body seems to betray you with disease. Maybe you struggle with an eating disorder. For some, death visits loved ones far too often. It could be addiction… mental illness… relationships (or lack thereof)… job struggles… or any one of a zillion other things.

Part of my story is about trying to get healthier as I live with autoimmune disease. I could talk a good while about diet and healing – and sometimes have – but, we all have our issues. We’ve all been hit by that proverbial truck.

What is it for you?
And, how do you respond to it?

One thing I finally realized after years of feeling miserable about parts of my life is that it’s up to me how I respond. There are things I can control and things I can’t. The way I live with what life gives me, that’s what matters. Now, I’m not saying we should be in denial. Or that we should just suck it up and paste a smile on our faces. Neither is good for our well-being in the long run.

But to a great extent, we control how we feel. We’re in charge of how we react, what we do or don’t do. Okay, you knew this. My question – for me as well as you – is, are you living it?

Everybody has their stuff. Best not assume mine is the worst or the best. It almost never will be. Remember Jesus’ idea: Don’t sit at the head of the table. You might get bumped for someone more important. (Note to self: Don’t assume I have the worst story.)

God knows life is not always easy. Even when it's good, we can be sure change will come. What to do? Here’s my list:
  1. Live! As fully as I can, celebrate what is good. This life is a gift. Once the present moment is gone, we cannot wish it back. Don't give in to fear. Live. Now.
  2. Laugh! As often as possible. Alone. With others. Look for opportunities to relish the moment.
  3. Cry! Whenever needed, just try not to stay there.
  4. Be gentle! With myself and everyone else. Just because they don’t tell me doesn’t mean they’re not suffering, too. Assume they have pain, and treat them with love.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

I don't do that!

“How can she believe something like that?!” Have you ever been amazed at another person’s way of thinking? Yeah, me, too.

I've been thinking lately about how we judge each other. All of us. We hear them talk, or see something they do, and think, “I wouldn't do it that way.” That’s judging.

Last month in the course of some pastoral conversations, I found myself needing to say, ever so gently, “You might be judging this person.” (Honest, I was quite caring.) And, each time I said something like, “Do you think you might be judging them?” the person responded, “Oh, I’m not judging!” But based on what they were saying and how they were saying it, some judging was clearly happening.

It seems we've conditioned ourselves to see judging others as something so bad we can’t bear to think we’re doing it ourselves. Judging is what other people do… about:
  • People who vote conservative, believe FOX News, or take the bible literally.
  • People who vote liberal, hug trees, or see scripture as a metaphor.
  • People who are messy or sloppy, let the grass grow long, or wear too much makeup.
  • People who are (overly) neat or organized, or shave their lawn, or dress severely.
  • People who use poor grammar.
  • People who are (overly) concerned with using language correctly…
From my own personal list... My dad died from complications of COPD and for years, every time I saw someone smoking, I wanted to shake them. I’m bothered by people who act like they know more than I do, especially when they don’t. I hate when people use Round-Up even though it’s public knowledge that it’s a neuro-toxin. Oh, and when people make excuses! That just steams me. (Even though I do it myself.)

Yes, I judge… too much. Don’t you? I thought so. There’s no shame in it, really. It’s part of the human condition. But that doesn't mean we just accept it in ourselves. I know someone that would regularly say, "I've admitted it. That's the first step." And maybe it is. But some of us never seem to care to get to the second step of working on it.

Synonyms I found for judgmental include critical, disapproving, disparaging, negative, arbitrary, and subjective. I've started wondering if maybe we need to re-package the wording to make it easier to face the elephant in the room.

After Markus* attended a conference last year, he shared his notes with me. One particular piece stayed with me (and I've been trying it.) Here’s my paraphrase:

If you’re having trouble with someone (or some group) do the following: 
  1. Sit on the floor;
  2. Draw a circle around yourself;
  3. With all your being, pray to G-d to transform everything within that circle.
It's not what you look at that matters. It's what you see.
Henry David Thoreau

Senior pastor here at Appleton: First United Methodist Church

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Vague Sense of Unease

The waters closed in over me; the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped around my head at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me for ever;
yet you brought up my life from the Pit, O Lord my God. 
                                                          Jonah 2:5-6

Some days I wake up and the world’s a good place. I stretch and smile and thank God for another day. I may lay around a few minutes longer than I’m supposed to, but I’m ready for the day, trusting that God is in charge.

From there, the day isn't necessarily splendid. Work may press on me. I get caught up in maintenance instead of ministry. Kay and I have a rub. I miss the mark too much. But in the end, it’s a good day.

Other days I wake up feeling like there’s a weight resting on me. I still stretch. I thank God for another day, if I remember, but I don’t smile. Lingering in bed may take the form of hiding. At breakfast, Kay asks a couple times how I’m doing. This is a clue in for me, as she's an astute daughter and sometimes realizes I’m having trouble before I’m aware myself.

This was me a couple weeks ago when I read Emma Gray’s description of her own anxiety: “When you feel as though you have a small child made of frenetic negative energy trying to beat her way out of your body.” She could have been talking about me.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the U.S., affecting 18% of the population. And, women are twice as likely to be affected by Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder, and Specific Phobias.

Online research plus time with a counselor indicate that my anxiety is a personal challenge, but not a disorder. Karen Swartz, from the Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Center, says the big difference between worry and GAD is the frequency of the symptoms. People with GAD worry 5 hours a day while those without worry about an hour a day. My "challenge" is taxing enough but I feel for people who live with the disorder – to doubt and anguish over things five hours a day!

What can I do to stand in solidarity with strangers I may never meet? The only answer I have is to challenge the mental illness stigma. I want to be whole and healthy. Don't we all?

Silence is what keeps the stigma alive. The stigma keeps people from seeking treatment. I've been silent about too many things in my life. I will do so no longer. Would you join me?

I’m thankful for my health, but still I wonder about that girl inside, vibrating with sorrow, who every so often breaks through to the surface of my consciousness.
  • Did it start with the bullying in junior high? Does it matter when it began? 
  • How can I care for this creature, validate her so that she doesn't feel the need to wreak havoc in my days? 
I've worked on this last one – having an interior conversation to find out what this piece of me needs. My most vulnerable selves seem to be the 4-year-old creative child, dependent on others and scared by uncertainty, and the 6-year-old who has learned the rules but not yet learned finesse. We “talk.” I affirm. My results have been mixed – sometimes helping a lot, sometimes not at all – but good enough that I'll try again another time.