Friday, November 6, 2015

A Gift Under the Family Tree

In three hours I will be leaving for the weekend. I don't have a thing packed, nor have I even located my suitcase. It's not that I am not excited about going. But I am a wife and mother. Those of you who are wives and mothers need no further explanation, but for those of you who are not...

I have spent the last forty-eight hours shopping, cooking and cleaning so my home and those in it do not spontaneously combust; or slowly, painfully fall into ruin; or starve; or find themselves forced to roam buck naked through the township, or whatever it is wives and mothers seem to think will happen when they leave their homes for more than thirty-five minutes at a time. I do not think it is humanly possible to fit another thing in the freezer. (I have been remiss, however, in fully stocking the pantry, and I must run out for crackers some time before I leave.) There are approximately six items left in the hamper: the one lone sock that always seems to be searching for the perfect match, two dish towels, a cleaning cloth, and two pairs of underwear. (Do you think I should wash them up before I go?) The fridge, which now resembles some sort of timeline in Rubbermaid history and is probably threatening the weight restrictions on the joists below, is running at full tilt -- More power, Scotty! I'm givin' her all she's got, Cap'n!

Why? Why do we do this? Expectant mother's "nest." Mother's anticipating the visit of a child home from college cook as though their lives depended on it. Wives love to see their husbands sitting back, enjoying the fruits of their labors, or still strive to "impress him" with a clean house or home-cooked meal. Mom's still work to provide for their families even when they can't be present. I realize I may sound a bit archaic; I realize the feminist movement has changed the way we define roles; and I do not pretend to like cooking and cleaning all the time. But I think many of our behaviors are simply innate; designed by God, if you will, to keep our family units and our society functioning optimally.

The family is important to God. He invented it. And even allowed for life's twists. We've been studying the Book of Ruth in Sunday school. Naomi was a widow with two married sons. When her sons died, leaving their wives widows as well, Naomi urged her daughters-in-law to go back to their families in other countries. One daughter-in-law did; the other, Ruth, stayed with her mother-in-law. They became family, despite the bond that held them legally being broken by death. Turns out, Ruth remarried, but she and her new husband continued to love on and provide for Naomi.

I know exactly how Ruth felt. There are bonds that just cannot be broken. There are things we do that, no matter what society dictates, or those around us consider old-fashioned or passé, we do them out of love. We do them because of some sense of relationship. We do them because we love others, and they are family. And we give to them the best way we know how -- with our whole hearts.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Blessed Are Those with Imperfect Lives

Aren't people with great lives some of the most nauseating individuals you'd ever want to meet? People with great lives seem to be the weaker ones of us -- the ones who ask others to pray for their neighbor who just won't quit shooting the grass clippings to their side of the common drive; this is the most trying thing they've ever experienced. People with great lives seem to be the most judgmental -- "Did you see her daughter moved back in, with her three children; not one of them looks alike. Wonder if they're on welfare." People with great lives tend to smile funny -- that smile that says, "I'm so much more together than you, but I don't want to appear superior so I try to smile warmly but it doesn't go well with my face and just winds up looking creepy." (or something like that) People with great lives pay for their children's college, lease their automobiles (they call them "automobiles"), invite their attorneys to christenings and Thanksgiving dinner (and they call them "attorneys"), own teenie-tiny dogs (I have a theory about the size of your dog being inversely proportionate to the "greatness" of your life), shop at Whole Foods weekly, and vacation yearly (and I mean vacation vacation -- not just use the FREE TRIP offer from the time share company and coupons from birthday offers to six different email addresses). People with great lives have been married to the same person -- for years -- have never been on public assistance, cheated on their spouse, considered cheating on their spouse, or had a mentally ill parent. I am being facetious, of course, but everybody seems to be looking for the "perfect life" -- or, at least, a great one.

I don't have a "great" life by any stretch of the imagination. My life might be joyous and exhilarating, filled with love and adventure, but it is an ugly stretch of highway that gets us from one milestone to the next. We can't pay our bills; we are poor enough to be poor, but wealthy enough to be completely on our own. We struggle with relationships and dysfunctional mentalities; we make mistakes and, on occasion, completely, foolishly disregard the rules. We get sucker-punched with tragedy and bad news, and sometimes we step into the ring and ask for it. We couldn't care less about discussing the neighbors' drama -- we have enough of our own. Our adult children have more tattoos than we do. We have exes, and skeletons, and processed foods in our refrigerator; we go to high-end grocery stores just to eat free samples for lunch. We sell our vacation time at work and dip into the Christmas fund to make the next child support payment. We have frequent flier miles at the lab and more than one doctor who addresses me as "the problem child."

So, how does all this happen, this disparity between lives? Are some people just so naturally favored while others get the short end of the stick? Well, it's funny, because when I was in the process of a divorce ten years ago, I had nothing. Just a part-time job, no support coming in, legal fees going out, a mortgage, two children to feed -- it was rough. I knew how far you could stretch a loaf of Velveeta (the Aldi brand, not even the name-brand stuff) and a pack of hot dogs. But the folks at work were clueless. I mean about my situation, not the hot dogs. I became known as "the Princess," and apparently, was thought to be living this charmed life. When I began helping with our church's food ministry years later, I knew exactly what some of these moms were experiencing, but they looked at me with my designer clothes (Goodwill, and from years ago) and thought I couldn't possibly relate. Sure, disparity exists, but a lot of the time it exists in the purest sense, right between our ears.

I have this friend who appears to have never smoked, cussed, drank (drank? drunk? I'm terrible with that), or done an illegal substance in her life. She's not worldly or wealthy by any means, but she definitely appears to have it all together. Her clothing is Talbots, and her IQ is far above average. But this lady has dra-ma! And she's not creating it! She has been through more stuff than any one individual should have to endure in a lifetime, taking a lickin' and still tickin'. And it just might be the craziness, ugliness and chaos of an imperfect life that causes her to help others with the same kind of life. She helps unwed mothers, feeds folks at a mission, works with the addicted, and teaches English as a second language. She would do without to provide for someone else. She will wade through the seediest lives of the seediest individuals simply to bless them. This is not some ego trip; she's not out to single-handedly save the world. This wonderful lady sincerely wants to help others because she herself has been so blessed. 

Blessed?! "Didn't you just say she doesn't have a perfect life?" She doesn't. But the same way our perceptions cause us to judge others for what they have or have not endured, what they can or cannot overcome, our point of view reveals to us the benefits of having gone through some stuff. She knows she would not be the strong, compassionate person she is today, would not be able to help those she helps, would not appreciate the things she has and the life she lives were it not for the blessings of an imperfect life.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Just Follow and Point; Follow and Point

Once a week I have the privilege of hanging out with some of the best women I know. We are diverse in many ways, but share one, very significant love: Jesus. Some of these women have endured hardships like no other, some give of so much time and talent it is hard to believe. You would never know by looking at them.

Because when you look at them, you see Jesus.

And that's the way they want it.

We recently had a discussion about conversations with those who do not know Jesus or have fallen out of relationship with Him; specifically those who are living a lifestyle that goes against God's Word and the character of God revealed in it.

(I believe God has given us our personalities, experiences, talents and quirks to use for His glory. We all approach ministry as differently as we approach our relationship with Him. That being said...)

I tend to use a "non-invasive" approach. I've often wondered if, when it comes to telling others about Jesus, I punk out. I don't pull the "World's Tiniest Bible" out of my watch pocket and begin flipping pages; I don't rattle off verses; I don't carry a sign with "John 3:16" in big, bold letters; I don't blast K-Love from my basement; I'm not going to visit your house and suck my teeth when I see your Bible gathering dust, or a copy of the Quran lying open on the arm of your couch. I simply say, "Hello." I start a conversation; I try to establish a relationship; I try to serve others. I don't refer to "The Man Upstairs," or hide behind my role in church as my "Sunday gig" either. I make no bones about who I am or what I do. I just don't expect you to follow me, or Jesus for that matter.

You see, I am a Christian. Following is my job. I am a follower of Jesus; that's what being a Christian means. By God's grace, I chose this. You make your choices. I hope and pray to show you a better one. But following, at least for right now, is what is expected of me.

And I point. If you ask, I will tell you precisely what God says about ___. I will debate you; if you question my beliefs, if you try to sell me your bill of goods, I will not hesitate to tell you the truth. If you and I have known one another for a while, if we are comfortable engaging in some tough dialogue, it's on. Whatever it takes, whatever the situation calls for, whatever our relationship allows, wherever the Holy Spirit leads, I will point. To Jesus. And nowhere else.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Learning to Let Go

Two weeks ago I participated in the Walk to End Alzheimer's. It was not what I anticipated. I had planned to walk with a friend. Two days prior, I picked up the phone to firm up our plans; her text message awaited: she had to cancel. I was disappointed. Saturday morning was beautiful; a perfect day for a walk. I made it to the site in plenty of time to visit vendors and get a sense of what this was all about; but the tables were staffed by home health care companies and assisted living facilities (not applicable), and walking my neighborhood alone is a far cry from walking alone in a group of hundreds of people. "I could just go home and walk the dogs. The money's been raised; there's no need for me to be here." I was bored and disappointed. It was the knowledge that I'd not posted here in weeks that kept my feet planted firmly in that lot and set my mouth to moving. Maybe I could find an adventure, but to do that, I had to let go.
It was then I noticed a couple holding an orange flower. An orange flower, according to Alzheimer's Association "rules", designates someone who has no personal connection to Alzheimer's, but is simply lending their support to the eradication of this menace. This young, upwardly mobile couple seemed to have stepped out of an ad for Prius or Morgan Stanley. Our brief chat was pleasant, but indeed, brief. I thanked them for their support.
I had my "team" picture taken. Don't judge; I was trying to make something happen here.

Then I saw someone who, like me, was alone. She had with her a purple flower. A purple flower is Alzheimer's Association code for a walker who has lost someone to Alzheimer's. My internal debate went something like this:

"You can't just walk up to her and ask her. No one is going to tell you about someone they lost to Alzheimer's. You are a total stranger."

"But that's what these people are here for."

"So what if she just lost the person recently, and she has a meltdown?"

"She looks pretty well-adjusted. Besides, most people love to tell their stories."

I finally convinced myself she was about to walk away any second, and I would miss an important opportunity, so I spoke. "I noticed your purple flower. You've lost someone to Alzheimer's?" And there it began. Our lives had included many of the same chapters, though the circumstances were very different; it was the fusion of divergent and parallel that caused the conversation to flow so freely. It ended two and a half miles, several minutes on the pier, a walk to the parking lot, several more minutes there, a ride to her car, the exchange of numbers, and a promise of lunch someday, later.

Such a simple thing, to approach a fellow human being and ask them about them. And yet, I almost allowed apprehension, disappointment, and expectations to block the path to friendship.