Friday, September 25, 2015

Could Divorce Be the Answer?

Scott and I have what some might consider to be a unique relationship. In fact, there could even be a few folks at work still shaking their heads about it. Scott tends to be a bit loud, obnoxious, demanding, grumpy, self-centered -- and those are his better qualities.  I, on the other hand, am a picture of self-control and moderation. Ok, not really, but I am much quieter; much more laid back, and cheery. What really makes us work, is that I was him. I know exactly where he's coming from; and believe it or not, deep inside that hard candy shell of his lies a gooey sweet center just screaming to get out. However, this is also what makes our relationship volatile from time to time: egos butting heads; demands pulling against one another; strengths bulldozing over weaknesses. We get on each others' nerves. But we both know the other is our best friend and the one to whom we made a promise for a lifetime; and we both take the promise more seriously than we do feelings, or nerves, or bad moods, or chicken for the third night in a row, or whatever.

Having such a great relationship, and having had some truly awful ones, makes me sensitive to those dealing with the latter of the two. Right now I know of at least five couples who have begun divorce proceedings, are considering divorce, or fight like it might be in their not-too-distant future. I've heard all kinds of rationalizations -- some of which I believe I might have used before -- as to why divorce is not merely the best option, but the only option. And if they asked me -- which they haven't -- I would tell them divorce just might be inevitable, but the problem is so much bigger than whether to divorce or not, and there's something you need to do first.

Years ago, my ex-husband (now friend) and I willfully, selfishly annihilated our relationship and made a mockery of our marriage. It had gotten emotionally abusive and physically violent. I was so twisted in my thinking, in my expectations that I couldn't even recognize myself. Suicidal thoughts. The "lows" to which I stooped. Hateful things I said... Within a few months, with great counseling and God's grace, things began to turn around -- for me -- and I'd made a decision: to give my husband the divorce he'd been begging for all those years. Talk about freedom! No more stress. No more fighting. I didn't have to hate him anymore. But as we put our names to dozens of sheets of paper, and shelled out even more -- ridiculous amounts -- of "paper," it dawned on me this was never a question of whether or not to divorce, but an issue of my behavior. What choices am I making, regardless of my spouse's?

Divorce is not a great choice, nor should it ever be a first choice; but sometimes, it is the only one. Personal behavior, however, is always a choice; and there are multiple options. Couples who are struggling need to check themselves -- not each other -- repeatedly. How am I responsible for this situation? How will I react to this situation? Will I react? Am I doing all I can to: raise my children properly? communicate kindness to my spouse? remain above the fray? have a good day? set a good example? keep my promise? maintain a peaceful home? a safe home? Whatever. Time and time again I have said, "If I had been then the person I am now, I think we still would have divorced, but I'm certain it would not have caused the damage it did to our children, each other, and anyone else who was collateral damage by the time we were done." It wasn't divorce that left a trail of destruction through the lives of our children, it was the two of us.

Choose wisely.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Hell of a Thing

I heard the carillon song of the Mister Softee truck on my mother's street one evening -- a cool, end of the summer evening; when the sun going down was just as bright and beautiful as it had been all day. And my heart broke. I knew, if she'd been there she would have been sitting outside on her front steps, soaking up the last moments of a perfect day. I knew, if she had been in her "right mind" as she was only a few short years ago, she would have been waiting, change in hand, to get her ice cream. I knew, if she was walking just a bit more slowly than usual or caught up in some reverie, the driver would pause a little longer, knowing she was a faithful patron. I knew, if I had heard the familiar melody, I would not have stopped to imagine her slowly enjoying every sweet, cold lick of her favorite treat; I would not have given the comfort I'd found in something so simple a second thought; I would never have considered this would not go on forever.

Mom has Alzheimer's Disease. Or some form of dementia. Something worse than what we used to casually call "senile." There is no diagnosis because we chose not to pursue one. Irresponsible, perhaps, but sometimes honoring the wishes of the people you love can be the bigger responsibility.

She can still read -- thank God! -- but can't really discuss what she's read. She can still tell time, but it means very little to her. She can sometimes identify relationships, but rarely remembers the names that go with them. She dresses herself, but has difficulty accurately determining appropriate clothing. One minute she is charming and expertly covering her malady; the next, she is childlike and insecure. She will still jump at the offer of ice cream, but she no longer calls me at all ungodly hours of the night to pick some up for her: Mom lives with us now.

The move has taken more out of her than I would have liked. I had hoped that within a week or two I would see more of the Mom that, though aged and sometimes tired, carried herself with the esteem and assurance that greeted me each time she opened her front door -- her front door. I had hoped I would see an angrier Mom who rebelled at having her whole house -- her whole life -- whittled down to a room in our house. I had hoped that Mom could, at least, enjoy whatever time she has left.

One day last week, she was sharper than I'd seen her in months -- maybe even years. She rattled off the names of folks she hardly knew and talked about things with understanding and complexity -- not at all like the woman-child who clutched an old box and a stuffed rabbit the day she moved in with us. The following day, was nothing like the one before: fear and confusion marked her face for much of the day, and by late afternoon, a weariness that comes with spending an entire day not knowing what is going on. Yesterday and today have been fairly good: the weather is nice enough she can sit outside; I think the fresh air does her good -- she certainly enjoys it, and I can take care of some things without having to sit by her side and reassure her repeatedly. But sooner or later, a day or moment will come that takes away any sense of security and ease she might be feeling today. She will cling to me, not necessarily because she knows who I am, but because of what I am -- her caretaker -- and because I am familiar. I imagine what it must be like for her: waking up in a strange place most days; trying to catch on, but always feeling like the joke is over your head; not knowing where you are supposed to be or what it is you are supposed to be doing; living someone else's life.

It's a hell of a thing.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What Do You Expect?

In 1997, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters struck against United Parcel Service. It was one of the more dismal moments in UPS history, and one of the most significant moments in my history with the company: I learned received confirmation that neither side of the argument was any better than the other; I saw a disgustingly childish and vulgar level of bitterness and retaliation from both organizations. And I saw management who for sixteen days had crossed picket lines, worked ridiculous hours, and dug in wherever necessary, rewarded with barely a "thank you," and the excuse that the strike had done such significant financial damage to our company, no raises would be available to us the following year. "Time to tighten 'our' belts." Translation: your.

A couple years later: 9-11. Shortly after that: recession. Still "no money for raises." Nothing seemed to be breaking, except the spirits of UPS' frontline management. Not much has changed. Promotions are "fixed." The fat cats at the top give themselves ungodly raises. And the poor schmucks in the trenches remain just that -- poor and in the trenches. As a fabulous perk, the quality of management has deteriorated for myriad reasons; most of the folks promoted these days couldn't hold a candle to some of the less talented folks I worked with in the past. But I'm not complaining -- really I'm not -- just trying to prove a point: if I receive recognition; if the obnoxious, good-for-nothing I am forced to work beside gets what's coming to him; if I get a raise; if one of the capitalist swine sitting in the next board meeting decides to read some of the wisdom penned by Jim Casey and his constituents upon founding this company, and vows to return it to the people-centered success story it was, I will consider it a huge bonus. If not, it will be just another day in corporate America.

Pessimistic? Not necessarily. Realistic, I think. Last year I opened my check to find the largest raise I've received in years. Not like the "good ol' days," but definitely a step in the right direction. I was surprised; elated, in fact. My raise actually covered the increase in the price of my benefits this year! (Snarky, I know; but true.) Take a look around. Do you see many other companies that are treating their employees any better? It doesn't take a Rhodes Scholar to see people are -- literally -- starving for work; with a job market like this is anyone is going to pamper their workforce? I'd be nuts to walk into work tomorrow expecting them to tell me, "It's 'Waxing Wages Wednesday,' and we are going to pay you a double time just for coming in today!" Not gonna happen. And it's not personal; just capitalism in the hands of a worldly few; those with power taking advantage of those without.

So why are Christians so taken aback by all this? Why do we think we are entitled to good health, financial prosperity, wonderful marriages, exemplary kids -- or kids at all, white picket fences, and sound minds? Even Jesus told us: "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." He told us that so we would have peace about it: don't expect much from this world but trouble; I am your refuge and strength, and you are not of this world anyway! I don't expect a 39% raise this year: I'm not on the board of a large corporation; I don't expect the world to be a kinder, gentler place to me (or anyone else, for that matter) I don't belong to it. Why are Christians surprised by problems we encounter? Why do Christians even think they are our problems? Do you think Satan gives a rip whether you pay your mortgage or not? He doesn't care, just as long as it keeps the kingdom of God from prospering. If poverty keeps you discouraged -- Great! If a windfall keeps you distracted -- Fine! His beef is with God, and he'll use you anyway he can to accomplish his purposes.

If we as Christians get all caught up in this temporal stuff: what we deserve; how we're being plagued, we miss the point. This life has been entrusted to us, and we can choose to work as we are (hopefully) training to do, or we can expect something Jesus Himself has told us we are not going to get. We can rise up when the battle reaches our territory, fighting in the power of Jesus' name, or we can freeze like deer in the headlights, panicked because we are under attack.

“The point of your life is to point to Him." ― Francis Chan, Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God  

Let's get to that, and let God handle the circumstances.