Sunday, June 24, 2018

Caregiving: The Weary Journey

To start the new year off with a bang, my parents gave our family a crash course in Caregiving 101.  In late January my Dad had a heart attack, or two, and then three days later my Mom had a stroke.  Then Dad had open heart surgery and Mom spent six weeks in rehab, where she sustained a concussion, black eye and neglect while the rest of us ran ragged trying to keep up with everything.  We all pitched in to help manage this "gift".

My oldest brother came into town from the Houston area to be present for my dad's quadruple bypass and has returned multiple times to file taxes, take care of bills, call attorneys, assist with errands, and give us little breaks.  My dad's sister came into town for three weeks and camped out at his house, fed the dogs, and visited both of my parents while they were in the hospital and rehab.  My nephew house and dog sat once my aunt left until my brother arrived from Denver.  My Denver brother took two weeks of vacation and stayed with my dad once he was home and drove him to see my mom in rehab every day, fed him, took care of general house maintenance, and took him to MD appointments.  My youngest brother and I bore the brunt of this crisis simply because we live in the same city.  We all used a lot of precious vacation time and days off to care for them.  We all sacrificed.

Guess what?  We are all very tired now, especially those who live in town.  For the first few months, my standard response when people would ask how I was doing was always, "I am tired".  Yet, that did not really convey the full extent of how I was.  Tired implies physical exhaustion easily remedied by sleep.  While I was, and still am physically tired, I was and still am emotionally tired as well, something not cured by sleep alone.  Once both of my parents were home the shit hit the fan, almost literally, but I will refrain from giving details of that experience.  Having both of them out of rehab was and is intense and more exhausting.  There are no nurses to do all of the dirty work; everything falls on us.  I have begun using a different word to describe my current state: weary. defines weary as: physically or mentally exhausted by hard work, exertion, strain, etc.; fatigued; tired; weary eyes, a weary brain.  characterized by or causing fatigue: a weary journey.
Ah yes.  Weary journey, THAT captures the emotional AND physical exhaustion of caregiving and how quickly it can deplete your soul.  It leads to a weary brain and weary eyes.  
When I was still opening this unwanted new year's gift, I was in crisis mode.  Just putting one foot in front of the other, trying to stand up straight despite the heavy weight that was suddenly placed on my shoulders.  It felt like I had just inherited twin newborns, both with special needs.  My own fragile health sickened the plot.  The physical and emotional exhaustion combined with my heart defect and POTS diagnosis was quickly taking a toll.  I am pretty sure I quit speaking in complete sentences and grunted a lot of my responses.  I wore dirty clothes and didn't wash my hair enough.  I forgot to brush my teeth and went to bed in my work clothes.  I even showed up at work without makeup, which should NEVER happen!  I looked a mess and struggled to keep it all together without bursting into tears for no reason whatsoever.

I spent sleepless nights at my parents' house; took over their laundry; administered medications; learned to manage the catheter bag; wiped bums; helped with showers; clipped toenails and fingernails; scheduled appointments; ran errands; purchased clothing and medical supplies; grocery shopped; batch cooked a lot of food so they had a supply of nutritious meals; tried to keep things clean; paid the bills; argued with providers over incorrect charges; filed a complaint against the rehab center; cooked dog food (yes, they cook their own and it is a pain in the booty); and attended every MD appointment with them; all while working full time and trying to maintain my own home. And I did it all WITHOUT CAFFEINE.  My heart defect makes it a big no-no.  The impact of this cannot be overemphasized.  I.MISS.CAFFEINE.   😢

Worst of all, my mother's normal temper became more extreme after her stroke. I was usually unprepared for her physical and emotional outbursts; they made me want to runaway, but alas I could not.  So, I learned to duck again.  It's hard to unhear the ugly names I have been called, or the countless times I have been told to go to hell, or worse, but I try.  It's a good thing the joy of the Lord was my strength (and continues to be) because I was quickly losing my mind and felt like I was going to have my own heart attack at any minute.

I can assure you that after dealing with everything for a few months, once the end of March rolled around and both parents were home, and my older brothers had left town, it did not take long for me to hire my nephew and teach him how to take over their laundry, learn to make a few meals, pick up groceries, administer medications and take over various other tasks on a daily basis.  I simply could no longer do everything and maintain my sanity or health, and neither could my youngest brother.  Not to mention, my nephew is much better at dealing with my mom's emotional state and does not push her buttons as much as I do.  And he gets paid for it.

Five months later things have stabilized, but I still struggle.  I have a much shorter fuse.  Little things bother me instead of rolling off my back.  I am physically exhausted and get sleepy by 9:00 pm every night, but the very sleep I need eludes me when I crawl into bed.  I have not cleaned my house for months.  Often my mornings start with care coordination before work and end with phone calls and research before bed.  On weekends I spend all day or several hours at my parents' house either cooking, shopping, running errands, or refereeing my parents, because honestly, they act like children more often than not.  And then I get up the next day and do it all over again.  It's the worst version of Groundhog Day.   I rarely get a day OFF and when I do I spend a lot of it sleeping or binging on Netflix, blissfully ignoring all of the things I need to do for myself and my own home.  It is a lot like parenting I guess, but there are two households and two locations, which makes it tricky.

Caregiving is an important job, it is where the rubber meets the road and I get to live out my faith and learn to love better even when it is a sacrifice and I don't get a return on my investment.  Aging is part of living and I want to help my parents age well.  Yes, caregiving is hard, but it is also a privilege....most of the time.  😅  But that does not mean I do not grow weary.

Galatians 6:9 exhorts us to not grow weary of doing good.  Honoring my parents, choosing to love them and serve them is GOOD work, but boy howdy is it HARD.  Most of the time I really do want to be there for them, because I love them and it is the right thing to do.  But there are days.......

In all honesty I could use some down time right about now, to help with the weariness of doing good, but it will be another three months before I get a more than a weekend off from work, and my weekends are usually full of the work of caregiving.  All of my sick leave and most of my vacation time was spent already this year.  At this point I feel a bit like "The Little Engine that Could".  The constant refrain in my mind is "I think I can, I think I can" and I keep hoping it will turn into "I know I can, I know I can" before it is all said and done, just like the little engine in the cherished book of my childhood.

Admittedly, I am not an expert in caregiving.  Thankfully I do not have to do it alone.  I cannot even fathom doing more at this point but many, many people do SO much more than I do with so much less.  Knowing that makes me feel guilty.  I have to force myself to admit that there IS a lot on my plate and I should not minimize the impact it has on my life.  I am still trying to figure out how to make everything work; learning as I go is my motto.

Although I know very little, I have learned a few things:
  1. Caregiving is HARD.  It has all of the responsibility of a job without the pay or benefits.
  2. Caregiving for aging loved ones is a lot like parenting in reverse, except no one knows it is coming.  It is not a happy surprise, there are no parties to celebrate.  It is sad and sobering.  Caregivers are not training and launching someone into the world, they are helping someone they love very much live their best life until they leave the world.   
  3. Caregivers need someone to commiserate with who has or is walking through the same thing. 
  4. Caregiving is a mix of heartbreak, fear, joy, hope, tears, work, sentimentality and privilege all tangled and knotted together like the most delicate of necklaces.  Good luck untangling everything!
  5. Caregivers need breaks.  Stress damages the body and caregiving, especially while working or caring for one's own family is a lot of added stress.  It saps your energy and can easily lead to illness.  And yet, caregivers will feel guilty for needing and taking breaks.
  6. Caregivers will be pulled in too many directions and will face challenges at work or in their families as a consequence.  They may be sad and overwhelmed a lot. 
  7. Caregivers often put their own lives on hold, which is problematic and leads to resentment and more guilt.  They should go to dinner with friends, go to movies, take time to do what they love, take time to do their own laundry and chores, go to parties, RELAX, and stay in close contact with their friends and support system.
  8. Caregiving for aging loved ones is a long, often slow process of saying goodbye.  Caregivers know that their loved ones are not long for this world.  They carry the burden of knowing that each decision they make affects the lives of those in their care and will often sacrifice their own needs because time is running out.  It is a delicate balance between helping those they love live independently for as long possible, while knowing that they will need to step in and assist in ways they never imagined all while still maintaining their own lives and health.
  9. Caregivers find it difficult to make plans because an emergency could strike at any moment.  Going out of town can lead to angst and fear of what might happen.  
  10. Caregivers have to remember that it is hard for the person receiving care too.  Maybe they have lost their independence.  Maybe they cannot communicate.  Maybe they cannot move without assistance.  Caregivers have to love and serve in a way that allows the person receiving the care maintain his or her dignity.
  11. Caregivers will make a lot of mistakes.  The learning curve is steep and lightning fast.  There will be things that they miss or simply do not know, and they will feel guilty for their lack of knowledge.
  12. Caregiving is a sacrifice, but more importantly it is a privilege. 

So far, weariness has defined the first half of 2018.  I do not want it to define the second half.  I am learning to rest in the arms of Jesus and focus on the joy of the Lord instead of the sorrow of my circumstances.  Whatever brings you sorrow, and whatever makes you weary, I hope you can find you strength and rest in Jesus too.    

Tuesday, June 19, 2018


Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash
Have you ever been turned around?  Certain you were headed in the right direction, only to discover that you were on the wrong road the entire time?  Or taken a wrong turn thus ending up on the wrong road?  Or somehow missed the sign for your exit and stayed on the right road for too long and then........ it became the wrong road 

Finding the wrong road is a frequent occurrence in my life because I was born directionally challenged.  All attempts to teach me how to find my way have been unsuccessful.  I failed Map Reading 101 in school and in the real world.  That is a nice way of saying that I get lost easily and ALL.OF.THE.TIME.  Although sometimes I actually just wander because I am the curious type, usually I really am lost.  

There is no way to quantify how many times I have been lost, er, 'turned around' in my lifetime.  There are countless stories of my inabilities to figure out what direction I should take.  And anyone who has been "blessed" to travel with me gets to experience the frustration of this disorder with me.  😊✈😃

Do you remember that scene from Friends where Joey and Chandler are lost in London?  Joey puts the map on the ground and stands on it convinced that it will tell them what direction to take.  Cue HUGE eye roll from Chandler.  Well........I actually did that while traveling in Krakow, Poland, but it wasn't to get laughs, it was to get "unlost"!  And do you know what?  I got a HUGE eye roll too, just like Joey because, shockingly (perhaps only to me), IT.DID.NOT.WORK!  My high hopes were dashed.  Instead it had the effect of confusing us MORE and guaranteeing that we were hopelessly lost and on the wrong road.  Sorry Lyndel!

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash
It takes an abundance of talent to be so skilled at finding the wrong road, and I am so good at it that I can get lost before starting!  The first time I traveled to Europe I was a 24-year-old, brave, naive, VERY GREEN, international traveler, and completely alone; just a girl, her backpack, A LOT of traveler's checks, and NO place to stay.  I did not know one soul on the entire European continent.  Not.One.   And I could not just call home for help either because it was LONG before cell phones were common; before ATM cards were "safe" to use for travel; and before navigation systems were available to anyone other than airline pilots.  😉 

But, I was determined.........until I landed in Munich bleary-eyed from jet lag AND the unfiltered cigarettes that I was forced to inhale on the nine-hour flight. (Again, it was A LONG time ago when smoking was still allowed on airplanes!)  All of my courage was scared into submission as I looked around completely lost in the airport.  I had not even made it into the city yet and I was already so lost and frustrated that I sat on a bench and promptly fell asleep.  Denial is how I roll.

Do you know that creepy feeling you get when someone watches you sleep?  Me too.  I had it in spades when I awakened after my short nap to notice people observing me.  Icky.  To be fair, I must have been a sight to behold with a huge backpack, sweatpants, no makeup, messy hair, and probably snoring like a freight train.  Panic started to rise up as I attempted to figure out what to do.  The nap had helped me think a little more clearly, but the German language was beyond my ability to comprehend and was no help in getting me "unlost".  I desperately needed assistance.  Tears were leaking from my eyes when I eventually found someone to help me navigate the subway out of the airport.  Of course, 17 miles later I realized that I didn't get off at the right stop.  It was a classic case of staying on the right road for TOO LONG and thus ending up on the wrong road

And of course, once in the actual city center I could not find the youth hostel either.  I stumbled on it after being "turned around" for almost an hour only to be turned away.  Seems there was no room at the inn.  It took a few more hours before I finally found a place to stay.  By that point all I wanted to do was go back to the airport and fly home.  Because jet lag.  Yet, I persevered, eventually found the right roads in each city and ended up having the most amazing experiences in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic.  I am so glad I stayed the course, even when it was hard and scary.

Photo by Dmitry Sovyak on Unsplash
Venice was another adventure in finding the wrong road.  Have you ever been?  Did you ever have the pleasure of getting lost on those beautiful, dead-end streets?  It's easy to do.  But my friend, Steph, and I took it to a whole new level.  We were so lost that we could not find the gondolas. Yes, embarrassingly you read that right. The gondolas.  The same ones almost every tourist pays way too much money to ride.  We saw them in the water, aware that lots of other people figured out how to board them at the ENTRANCE, but we never could because we were always on the wrong road.  Surprise, surprise.  No gondola rides for us!  But we did get gloriously lost in an amazing city, so there's that, and there are always lessons to found, even when you are on the wrong road.

You would think I'd have learned by now.  That the GPS systems, 24-hour cell phone access and good ole' experience would have helped me stay on the right road.  But guess what, I still get lost.  A lot.  One day, as a seasoned, thirty-something, I found myself turned around while driving my nephew somewhere new.  He was just a little munchkin at the time, but he knew I was frustrated, so in between giggles he tried to encourage me by saying, "Wobin, it's fun to get lost with you."  Guess what?   We have now had fun getting lost together in New York and New Jersey too!  Apparently he got the same defective gene as I did.

So, hear is the deal, when giving someone like me directions, it is best to use small words and, please, DO NOT expect me to use a compass or understand what way to go if you say "head west".  Um, is that left?  I need VERY obvious instructions.  Say things like: "Back out of your driveway and turn right onto your street.  Drive to the end of the street and turn right.  When you see the pink house with the yellow roof on the corner of the street, TURN LEFT.  Keep driving until, blah, blah, blah.  You get the idea.  Telling me to head east and take a right in 100 feet is like speaking to me in Greek.  Keep it simple and specific.  It's better for both of us that way. 

All of these experiences correlate very well to how I live my life.  Sometimes when I think I am on the right road I find out that, nope, I have always been on the wrong road.  Sometimes I am truckin' along on the right road when, bam, I take a wrong turn and, you guessed it, I suddenly find myself on the wrong road.  And sometimes, I start out on the right road, but get a little too comfy and fail to pay enough attention to the signs telling me it is time to exit, so what was once the right road turns into the wrong road.

I wish I could tell you that I have it all figured out, but to be honest walking by faith instead of sight is counterintuitive to me.  Figuring out which direction to go is where my faith intersects with actual living.  More often than not I think I know best and usually end up on the wrong road, but God has a way of redirecting me, kind of like GPS. 

Make no mistake, being lost is hard.  Walking the wrong road, although full of valuable lessons, is painful.  And even with God's help in the form of a road map, a guide to help me interpret it, and a companion for the journey, it is exhausting, WITH the Trinity on my side!  Today I am grateful that He never tires of turning me around, pointing me in the way I should go, forgiving my failures, and loving me without condition. 

I am learning to trust that He knows exactly what he is doing, regardless of whether the road takes me through a desert, up a steep hill, allows me to enjoy the view from the top, or leads me to sulk in the valley.  The only way to thrive and find joy in the journey is to listen and follow His directions.  I have to believe that His eyes will see for me and he will move my feet in the right direction so I can spend more time on the right road

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Little Red Microwave

I am the proud owner of a little, red microwave, and although it is petite, it is just right for my tiny, red kitchen.  My cute microwave has all of the buttons I need and very few bells and whistles.  Every time I use my little, red microwave I remember why I have it and I shudder.

You see, six years ago I almost died in a fire (you can read about it here: 20 Seconds to ToastThe Tale of the Wooden SpoonsOverexposed.)  The aftermath left me burned, depressed, homeless and without much stuff to call my own.  But, I was relatively intact and I had my faith and my dog plus a lot of support, which helped me survive.  After three months of living with amazing friends while my place was gutted and renovated, it was time to move home.  As a welcome gift, a VERY kind neighbor, Ray, gave me a very nice, white microwave.  It was HUGE, had a lot of options and was an extravagant gift at a time when I had very little cash or material possessions to call my own.  It was so kind of him and I still get emotional when I think about it.

It was a very good microwave.  It even came with me when I purchased my very own home in 2014.  And although I am very happy and content with my life, sometimes a little bit of PTSD rears its ugly head and it takes me a second, or four hundred to come back to the present day.

One mild autumn day in 2016 something odd happened.  I was home cooking dinner (very odd) and noticed a weird smell.  I assumed it was my gas stove heating up so I wasn't too concerned at first, but as I finished cooking and sat down to eat, the hideous smell remained.  It was very strong and reminded me of the terrible chemical smell that haunted me from the fire.  Immediately my stomach churned.  Even Zeus was upset and begged to go outside where he proceeded to sit a safe distance from the kitchen.  He warily watched me through the window as I began to investigate the origin of the smell, google gas leaks and call a friend.   Before I knew it I had convinced myself that my house was going to blow up imminently, with me in it!  I joined my dog outside and called 911.  The operator told me to leave my home and wait for the fire department to respond.  Gulp, maybe I wasn't being paranoid.  Maybe there was something seriously wrong after all.  Well, the operator didn't have to tell me twice!  I frantically grabbed my purse, phone, and dog, got into my car and drove down the street, shaking uncontrollably while I waited for the fire department to arrive.

My mind was racing as I pleaded with God over and over again to please keep me safe and prevent another fire.  While I was certainly scared at the thought of an explosion, I was more terrified of being trapped in a burning building again.  Just the thought of it and having to recover again almost paralyzed me, because I was certain that would be my fate since I was on a first-name basis with Murphy and his stupid law.  As I sat frozen with fear, my next door neighbor noticed and walked down to see if everything was okay.  He looked at me strangely and obviously thought I was overreacting as I told him what was happening.


I was NOT going to blow-up that night!  Instead I let myself be a shaking, crying, hyperventilating mess, because I knew there was no controlling my reaction at that point.  Adorably, my dog was equally upset, but also confused because, weren't we just going for a ride???  

Finally the fire department arrived with sirens blaring and flashing, cue the ugly/hysterical cry Oprah warned us against.  I was in full-blown panic mode by this point and nothing any of them said helped calm me down.  They thoroughly investigated my house and could not determine the source of the odor, but after testing everything with their fancy equipment they assured me that there was no gas leak and it was safe to return.  

I have to admit, I did not really believe them.  But I finally reentered my home and tried to calm down.  Dinner was left uneaten and I eventually went to bed, but even one wink of sleep was out of the question.  I obsessively made sure the windows in my master bedroom could be opened in case I needed to make a hasty escape and slept fully clothed with my purse nearby, an extra cell phone charger and anything else I might need if the house went up in smoke.   And I prayed.  A lot.

The next day the smell was still there but less intense.  I started scouring my kitchen trying to find out what had caused it.  Do you know what it was?

It was that damn white microwave!  

Somehow part of the plastic on the inside door had burned and it had created that awful, acrid smell.  Being completely rational I immediately hauled it to the outside trashcan because there was no way I could ever trust it to work properly.  I did not want to go through another fire......  And that is how I came to own my little, red microwave.  

Of course there are many more instances of this ugly reality, like the time I went to see a movie.  Just minding my own business, looking forward to relaxing and enjoying a matinee, no big deal..... Well, I had just settled in for the show when the fire alarm sounded.  My eyes were as wide as saucers as I furtively looked around in a growing panic.  I grabbed my purse and was about to leave when a theater employee came in and said there was no fire, it was just a false alarm.  Whew.  I settled back in but my heart was pounding and I was still feeling nervous.  The lights went out and then the fire alarm sounded again!  What??   An employee rushed in and said it was REAL and we all needed to exit the theater calmly.

Um..........................................................seriously lady?  

Calm was not exactly my response as I raced past individuals who were walking in super slow-mo.  What was wrong with them?  Didn't they know we could all die at any second?  And in my irrational state I think I even pushed past children.  Shudder.  PTSD brain was firmly in charge and I was laser-focused on surviving.  Ration gave way to panic and in my mind all I could see was the thick, black, billowing smoke that almost choked the life out of me in 2012.  I felt the suffocating feeling of not being able to breathe, the terror of being trapped, and the pain as my hand was seared from touching the metal staircase.  All of that panic and all of that terror because of what turned out to be a false alarm. It took a year before I would even step foot in a theater again.  

It has been over six years now, but there are still things that trigger panic.  Last week I attended an active shooter training.  You might be thinking, Robin, you were in a fire, not a shooting, how could an active shooter training trigger PTSD?  Well, I'm glad you asked.  The training was an intense three hours.  Our psychological response during a life-threatening event was covered in detail.  It was crucial to know how panic can cost you your life in that type of situation.  To demonstrate he played 911 calls and showed photos from active shooter events.  Then he played a video that had nothing to do with a shooting.

It was a video of people trying to escape the Station Nightclub in Rhode Island.  In 2003 one hundred people died and two hundred and thirty were injured when a fire broke out in that nightclub.  The video he showed was from a survivor's cell phone.  People were in a panic, pushing and shoving each other as they attempted to escape a raging fire and the thick, billowing smoke.  Thirty-one of them died in the hallway at the entrance of the building.   Others died steps from an open window, and still others were next to emergency exits when they died.  Panic had cost them their lives.  It was tragic.  Sitting in my chair as the video played I looked calm; however, my  heart rate rose to over 140 and I was near tears.  It was extremely upsetting and my physical reaction lasted the rest of the day.  I had been there.  Just outside of my own front door, with the thick, billowing smoke stealing my very breath I could not figure out what to do.  Panic almost killed me.

Six years later my dog and I both still live with it.  The slightest bit of smoke and we are both nervous, even when it's just my cooking!  I unplug every small appliance all the time whether at home or work.  PTSD is serious and scary.  I can joke about it only because it is not worse for me.  There are others who suffer much more than I do.  It does not just "go away" and is not something that can be easily controlled, although anyone can learn to cope if they have help and a lot of patience.  Thankfully, my faith is the biggest source of peace in my life.  It helps me control the panic, although it usually takes me a just a little bit to get my bearings and "let go and let God" as they say.  That is MUCH easier said than done.....  But, for whatever reason God has decided to keep me around for awhile, and even though I have battle scars from living this life, I am grateful to still be still living it.  Just beware that if you are around the next time I see smoke, smell smoke, or thing there is an imminent explosion, I may panic and push you out of my way as I try to escape.  Don't judge.  I'm a work in progress.  😊

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Big "E"

The eye doctor removed my glasses and instructed me to look at the wall in front of me.  "What do you see?" she asked.  I could sort of make out the largest letter, the big "E", but only because I already knew what it was.  We both chuckled because even though we KNEW there were a bunch of other letters projected onto the wall, we also knew that I could not make them out for a million dollars because she had my glasses in her hands.      The thing is, my unaided vision is severely limited.

After the doctor worked her magic by asking me over and over which lens helped me see the letters clearly, I was given a new prescription and whisked away to the display of eyeglasses so I could pick out a new pair.  It would not be long and I would have new glasses to help me work, read, drive, cook and even walk down the street better than I had been managing with the old ones.

The first time I was fitted for glasses and contacts was a really long time ago.  My mom never believed that I had difficulty seeing and declined to take me to the eye doctor.  She was convinced that I only wanted glasses because when I was in third grade my best friend had needed them.  Ha, I wish!  What third grader wants to be called four eyes?  Finally a test at school when I was thirteen convinced her that I really did need visual help.  Driving home from my first eye doctor appointment with a pair of contacts stuck in my eyes, I was delightedly reading road signs and pointing out all of the things I could now see.  It was like scales had fallen from my eyes!  I was so excited to have VISION restored and to see all that I had been missing.  Everything was brighter, everything was sharper and nothing was blurry.  It was amazing.

One of the weird things about wearing contacts is getting used to putting them in your eyes and then keeping them there.  Though it took more work, I simply saw things better when I was wearing contacts than when I was wearing glasses.  Plus vanity.....  

In the beginning I could not put in my contacts alone.  My older brother, himself a contact wearer, had to be enlisted to help me learn how to put the contacts in and how to take them out safely.  I had to learn to put eye drops in to keep my eyes moist.  I had to learn how to SEE differently than I was used to seeing and I needed help to do it.

Isn't that a lot like faith?  I don't know about you, but thirty-five years after I became a Jesus Freak (look it up if you don't get the reference.)  I still frequently need help to see things differently because now I see through a glass darkly (I Corinthians 13:12a).  I don't see well physically OR spiritually without help.  I need the clarity of the Holy Spirit teaching me the ways of God and a community of friends who can help give me a different perspective so I can grow in wisdom and grace.           

Whenever I finally grasp a new spiritual truth, I act like my thirteen year-old-self on the car ride home all those years ago.  I get excited!  I see things clearly!  I finally see what I have been missing and for a little while all seems right in the world.  My attitude improves, I have greater peace and I feel hugged by God.  It is always an amazing feeling.  

But as time progresses, just like in real life, my vision starts to fade again.  I start having trouble seeing things clearly and I know it is time for a check-up.  I wish I could always see things perfectly but as the end of the verse in I Corinthians states, "but then I will see face to face."  Perfect spiritual vision is one of the promises of Heaven, and it will be glorious, but in the meantime I must pray for spiritual eyes to see and know the things of God.  I must let the Holy Spirit guide me.  I must seek help from friends and do the extra work required to see things more clearly, because even if I see things perfectly in one area, there are many other areas where my vision is skewed.  I am so grateful that even if my physical vision fades to nothing, my spiritual eyes will always be able to focus on the big "G"  as long as I walk in faith.  

And now I need to go make my eye appointment because my vision is starting to get a little rusty. 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

You Can Find Every Race in the Face of Jesus

"You can find every race in the face of Jesus."

Would it surprise you to learn that Jim Carey originated that gem?  Yes, the very same Jim Carey who starred in such sophisticated movies as Dumb and Dumber, The Mask, and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.

A man who is not sure if Jesus even existed understands something very important:

Jesus represents ALL humans.  Every.Single.One.

He did not come for the people of just one continent.

He did not come for the people of just one class.  

He did not come for the people of just one race.  

He came for everyone.

Jim Carey painting his portrait of Jesus

Our world is in trouble.  We could use a good dose of Jesus right about now, not religion, certainly not politics, but Jesus and his love, mercy, and grace.

Have you noticed that a lot of people are angry almost all of the time?  Just catch me when I'm driving and you will see what I mean.  I speak "sailor" expertly, especially when that person just cut me off, or is driving too slow, or appears to be putting on makeup, or is definitely texting.  I take it personally.  I am certain it was done on purpose.

Have you noticed that so many people are hyper-offended all the time? Sniffing out offenses like obsessive, rabid dogs.  Lifting their chins in what they are certain is "righteous anger".  And then shouting their opinion and reasons why they have a RIGHT to be offended, and by the way you should be offended too.  Take a quick look  at comments on Internet posts, letters to the editor, or listen to callers on talk radio, or even supposedly "unbiased" news media or radio commentators.  Sometimes we are RIGHT in our anger, but somewhere along the way we have lost the ability to have a constructive conversation about anything, let alone things that really matter.

Have you noticed that if you want to talk about race, and the very real problems we still have with it in our own backyard, you had better be prepared to duck because someone, somewhere is likely to be offended?  And Rodney King's plea falls on deaf ears.

Can't we all just get along?

Can't we all just take a deep breath and at least agree that the last few years have been tough for race relations in our country?  All of the death, all of the heartbreak, all of the pain.  Will it ever end?  Is there hope that we can resolve these issues and heal the deep, festering wounds?  Because even if you deny them, it will never change the fact that they are still there.

I used to believe that the state of our union was better than it has proven to be.  Surely the issues were more related to class than race.  But, I had never looked into the issue of racism in depth, probably because it did not really affect me or those closest to me.  That is sinful and ugly, but it is true.

When the Southern Baptist Convention fumbled last year something in me snapped.  I was so grieved.  Why?  I am a white, VERY white, woman.  I have not been personally affected by racism.  It has simply not been part of my experience.  And it certainly has not affected my immediate family, although it has affected some of my extended family.  But that did not relieve my grief.

And then my friend decided to start a Be the Bridge Racial Reconciliation Group.
And she asked me to join.
And I did not want to do it.
And then I did it because I knew God was moving in my cynical heart.
And then I started looking at the history of our country.
Not just the cleaned up version I was taught, but the uglier realities.
And then I started looking at the policies leading to systemic abuse, policies that were created by the powerful and elite on BOTH sides of the political aisle. 
And worse, I started looking at the history of the American church in the South.
And I was disheartened. Sometimes the truth can do that to you before it sets you free.

But this group. This group is good, and hard, and educational, and sometimes uncomfortable, and deeply spiritual.  We all recognize the need to dive deeply into this conversation because we are Christians of all races, classes, and cultures.  What a beautiful way to show the transforming work of Jesus.  Not only do we want to be transformed personally, we want to be change agents just like Jesus was and still is.

But this group.  This group is demanding.  It requires that all of us, no matter our race, look at the reality of our own prejudices.  How our own upbringings and experiences have shaped our attitudes.  People of every race, every culture and every class are guilty of holding prejudiced views against those who are different from them.  No one is let off the hook when it comes to examining dearly held, but flawed beliefs.  A quick review of history proves it.  So let's just say that we are all pulling big ole' planks out of our eyes.  And somehow our vision is clearer.  Funny how that works.

But this group.  This group is safe.  It has created an environment that allows a white woman like me to ask questions that I would fear voicing in a more public space.  We have our very own safe space even though we're not in college.  😊  This group allows each of us the freedom to say things that might offend.  Because we took the time to know each other's hearts early on, we reap the benefits when we discuss the really hard and ugly stuff.

But this group.  This group is personal.  We know, love and ENJOY each other.  We laugh, cry and argue almost every time we meet, but we always end with laughter and hugs.  It's how we roll.

But this group.  This group is special.  I have learned so much.  I am honored to call each member a friend and I love them all to pieces!  It is always beneficial to listen and understand how others experience the world.  I was surprised at how unaware I was of the deep hurt a lot of them carry.  Awareness is a good thing.

I have learned a lot of things I wish were not true about myself and my own prejudices
I have learned a lot of things I wish were not true about this country..

It is hard to see the ugly truth when I am safely ensconced in my bubble.  It's a good bubble, usually clean, mostly safe, and pretty comfortable. And you know what?  There is nothing wrong with my bubble, but I have to remember that it makes for a cloudier view than I would have otherwise.

One thing I have faced is my own defensiveness as a white woman.  It took me some time to recognize that, in general, our system has been set up to favor those of Western European descent.  I made a lot of excuses in defense of this country before I finally began to see things differently.  I know there are many of my friends, family and probably my two readers 😜 who disagree, and I understand why.  Terms like micro-aggression and white privilege are used aggressively now and any disagreement from a white person can get you labeled as a racist faster than you can spell Mississippi.

So even though it's risky, I will be honest outside of my safe space and tell you that the term white privilege makes me bristle.  Please hear me, I know that I am privileged.  I cannot speak for anyone else, but my problem with the term is that when it is applied, in effect it discounts all of the hard work that many white people have done to get where they are.  I personally do not believe that I have benefited from white privilege to the extent others may assume.  I have sacrificed a lot over the years; health, creature comforts, expensive homes, etc.  I also started working full time at 16 and spent years working 70 hour weeks to save money and ensure I could take care of myself.  Now, nearing 50 I am finally seeing some of the fruit of those years of hard work, but I still work a lot, live very frugally and save like a crazy person.  American-style poverty was a reality in my youth and I am not interested in returning to it.  So when you tell me my fruit is because of white privilege it offends me.

BUT, and this is a BIG, FAT BUT, it still doesn't mean that our system is set up to dole out equality to everyone.  Gulp.  If you disagree that's okay, but I would encourage you to do your own research.  Look at ALL points of view, not just the one you identify with and then look at studies and old newspaper articles and actual encyclopedias and real books.  Then go LISTEN and TALK to people from other races AND classes.  Get to know them and really try to put yourself in their shoes when they tell you of their experiences.  Then form your opinion.  And for the record, I am not just talking to white people.  This has to apply to everyone if we want to see permanent change.

As I write this I wonder if anyone cares.  I have no platform.  I am just a boring, kind of frumpy, overweight, white woman. Who cares what I have to say?  And you can probably rightly fault me for not saying enough even after reading all of these words.  Perhaps I'm sugar-coating things because I am afraid of judgment.  I don't know, but even though I am tempted to delete this blog or never publish it, I am compelled to say a few more things, specifically to my fellow Caucasians.

It is time to STOP calling the police because someone of a different race is sitting in a coffee shop.  

It is time to STOP calling the police because there are people of color renting the Air BNB across the street.  

It is time to STOP calling the police because you don't like the person of color falling asleep in the study hall.  

It is time to STOP denying that there are serious racial problems in our country.