Friday, February 6, 2015

A Little More In Touch with Reality

I had a dream. (I hesitate to open with this, as I always hear the voice of Dr. MLK ringing in my head as I'm saying it. Some sort of posthumous warning against plagiarism, perhaps?) But I did. Most dreams escape my memory shortly after I realize I've had them. And very few are vivid enough for me to want to punch Scott right in those perfect teeth of his for flirting with that blonde in Accounting again, and then lying there asleep next to me like nothing just happened! (There is no blonde. There is no Accounting. Except in Dreamworld.) But it happens. Last night's dream was a two-fer. Quite vivid and quite profound:

I was who I am today, I mean, personality-wise. Not nearly as neurotic, and a little wiser I'd like to think. But I was young again -- twenties or so, in my twenties-or-so body. There was some sort of meet 'n greet going on in my mother's living room. A very beautiful, but equally young Asian girl in a black dress was there. She looked fabulous in the dress, but began matter-of-factly pointing out to us small holes that had formed in the lace. And while it was apparent to me I'd never met her before, I knew she was having a party that night and I had been invited. My mother was making pleasant chit-chat with this young woman, asking relevant questions and simply being her charming, forty-something self. Before I knew it, my mother and I were in my truck -- she was driving -- and we were leaving the upper entrance of our development, headed to this party. In the darkness, Mom (who in reality hasn't driven for about two years) navigated cross traffic like a pro. I was putting in my contacts made of boiled chicken (ok, that was the really weird part), when suddenly I remembered I didn't have "the gift" (and no doubt, pants. Aren't most dreams pantless? Not for you? Ok, forget I said anything.) Mom acknowledged that we'd have to go back, yet breezed past the lower entrance of our development. As I started to object, she put her hand up, or shushed me, or said something -- I'm not sure -- but I instantly settled back, trusting that she had it all covered. Within seconds we had come to a stop; she pulled off the side of the road, across the mouth of a gravel drive, the very last place -- and this is where it gets tricky -- I recalled from a previous dream, I'd taken her driving. Somehow that fact was significant to me. As I was coming to this realization, my mom collapsed, sobbing, to the floor and agonizingly confessed, "Sometimes we just need to stay home." I rubbed her back, comforting her, reassuring her. "You did good today, Ma. You had a good day today."

So that was the "vivid," but what was so profound? First of all, I'd give almost anything to be who I am now and in my twenties again. I messed things up so badly back then, that having a second chance at making better decisions with lasting, far more altruistic consequences? Well, let's just say, that would be a dream come true.

And, this raven-haired, size 4 beauty so casually discussing the flaws in her attire? It was her party after all; who wouldn't want things to be perfect? But she was so confident, so in the moment, that all of that superficial stuff was of no consequence to her. She was honest and pure in her desire to be with others.

I'm going to skip Mom's pleasant chit-chat for now, but the boiled chicken eyewear? Yeah, I got nothin'. Not enough iodine in my diet, maybe.

As for Mom driving? That was past Mom. Mom that logged hundreds of miles each year running us to and from school, sporting events, activities, parties. Mom that volunteered for homeroom mother, crafting costumes and cupcakes. Mom that was always there for us. And settling back, letting her be Mom again -- even for a split second -- was such a comfortable feeling from the past -- one I'm sure I never fully appreciated until now.

But that Mom taught me a valuable lesson about what not to do as well. That Mom was all about her kids' lives, choosing to never really have one of her own. She immersed herself in the lives of her children because they were safe. They were her children; they needed her and therefore, couldn't/ wouldn't leave her; they wouldn't reject her. What she settled for was not love but need; it was good enough for her. In elementary school we did an experiment with a seed, placed in a baggie with a paper towel. Water it long enough and it will sprout. Fail to give it soil in which to take root, and eventually it will die. Mom thrived in her role like that seed -- taking off like a shot, brilliant green, but no roots in the world. She had no friends to speak of; she thought less of herself than anyone else did; she put up enormous walls to keep everyone out, for fear they would hurt her. The only one truly hurting her was herself. And that's where the chit-chatting, charming Mom of Dreamworld becomes so poignant: like the young woman in the black dress, this Mom was honestly getting to know others and letting down her guard, and -- the ultimate irony of Dreamworld -- being real. It was nice seeing Mom confident and happy; a sort of fantastical redo for her also.

But the end of my dream is where we are today. My mom is very tired some days. She worries about forgetting, and the stress of that causes her to forget; new situations and environments upset her tremendously. She has trouble differentiating between days, and recognizing family members. My childhood has been all but erased, and except for a couple of intense memories, hers has been as well. Sometimes repeating the same information day after day can be tedious and painful. After all, this is not how this is supposed to be -- a child mothering her mom, grandchildren and great-grandchildren she can't even recognize. But seeing this play out before me as I slept, made me realize just how grateful I am for the opportunity to be there for her on difficult days. And though I can't trust her to always remember to eat, much less use a stove or drive, she remains Mom, if only in the shadows of my dreams.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Are You #Blessed?

I am currently dealing with the reality that I have cancer -- not again, as it seems it never left, but where and how much seems to be the issue at hand. But please, please, please -- that is not the takeaway. I am #blessed. First of all, had I not been diagnosed with Grave's Disease last winter, it could have delayed the treatment and care I have received from some wonderful professionals, at moderate expense, thanks to the job that pays the bills, the job that God gave me over 25 years ago in preparation for this very issue. #Blessed. Secondly, although I am not sure how all of this will turn out in the end, I can rest on a promise made to me in Romans 8:28:
"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose."
All things, for good. All is pretty self-explanatory: every last thing. Good and bad however, are pretty relative terms when we use them. Chocolate ice cream is good. Strawberry ice cream is bad. But ask someone with an allergy to chocolate, and chocolate ice cream can be very bad. When God uses "good," you can bet it's very good for those who love God.

Following Jesus is all about giving thanks in all circumstances and being able to say, "I am blessed" in a completely different way than the world would say it. Matthew 5:2-12 says you re blessed if you are concerned about your moral condition even though your concern is making you look like a loser in front of the guys in the locker room; if you mourn for worldly people who couldn't care if you were dead; if you are humble (you keep it to less than eight selfies each day); if you love to do what's right even when everyone else is doing what's wrong; if you forgive people who steal your stuff or bully your kid or lie about you to get a promotion you totally deserved; or if you take it on the chin everyday from that boorish ignoramus at work who thinks God is nothing more than a fairy tale and Christians are losers. That's some pretty tough criteria. However, it does not say you are #Unblessed if God provides you with a brand new car after you've ridden the bus for the last twelve years, or a set of triplets after you've adopted five other children. Those are blessings as well!

Jamie, the Very Worst Missionary, in her post "#Blessed," says she believes "blessed" is grossly misused and should no longer be part of a Christian's vocabulary. I take issue with this most obviously, because the word is used at least fifty times in the Scriptures; I don't think God would encourage us to desire blessing if we weren't even supposed to use the word. I think it's quite proper for Christians to use it; in fact, I think we should be using it more, and Jamie's argument supports that:
"You would never come across a status update that says, 'Terrible accident killed half my family. Funeral is Monday. #mourning #SoBlessed'
"'Wish I could kick this effing porn habit. I want nothing more than to live a life that honors my spouse and my God and my covenant with them both. #Blessed and #desperateforrighteoussness.'”
Why not? Aren't we blessed in all circumstances? As a matter of fact, I know a mother who recently lost her daughter. She is struggling, she is sorrowful, she is even distraught in some moments, but she has chosen to find the blessing in every day. She knows her Heavenly Father is seeing her through each moment of each day, and she is no less blessed because the days are difficult.

Scott Dannemiller, in his article for Huff Post, "The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying," echoes Jamie's opinion that feeling blessed because of material goods is an insult to those who are not financially prospering. He also adds:
"[W]hen I say that my material fortune is the result of God's blessing, it reduces The Almighty to some sort of sky-bound, wish-granting fairy who spends his days randomly bestowing cars and cash upon his followers."
So, if Tim Tebow tweets "#Blessed," is that some commentary on my financial status, my athletic ability, my looks, my masculinity, my relationship with God, what? "Oh, woe is me. I am so unblessed because I am not a rich, publicly ridiculed, single dude who is out of a job and has had multiple injuries as a result of a possible bone-crushing, career-ending job." It is God's choice whom and how He blesses; "the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike" (Matthew 5:45). If I am offended by someone else's gratitude, after I re-examine the Scriptures about God's sovereignty, I need to spend a little time getting over myself.

Instead of eliminating the use of "#Blessed," I say we more frequently recognize the depth of our blessing, and show others just what it means to rejoice over those blessings in all circumstances:
"Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength;
He will make my feet like deer’s feet,
And He will make me walk on my high hills." (Habakkuk 3:17-19)