Monday, April 28, 2014

Helpers

We are a helpful people.  Have you noticed this about the human race? When there is war or famine or disease we often show up in droves. One grandmother used to point out during times of disaster what she dubbed 'the helpers.' This grandma was right wasn't she?  Shortly after every crisis we see some helpers show up.  She would remind her family to look for them, not to focus on the crisis focus on the good of humanity.  Usually they are not enough of them, but there are always people with heart.  Showing up doing their part to make the pain of what's before them lessen.  

Shortly thereafter follow the critics, the people who are telling everyone who is doing nothing that the people who are doing something are doing it wrong.  Then the critics usually turn on the people who need the help saying they aren't doing enough to help themselves.  I have found this attitude rampant in other areas in our helper/critic society.  This attitude is ever present toward the poor in first world countries.  From a point of blissful middle-class ignorance people sit in their mortgaged houses with their stocked refrigerators never having to consider visiting a food pantry for anything but a few volunteer hours and a pat on the back and they talk about the poor in this country like they know.  Like they've been there.  Like they're educated on what they should do and shouldn't be doing.  

You'll see things like this:

A quote from a CEO from a fashion company mocking our poor because they make $35,000 a year and in China they'd be rich.  All the while ignoring the fact that in China your $35,000 might feed your family but over here without the dreaded beast of the welfare system and some local ministries that worker making $35 grand is shit out of luck to feed and house his family of four. 

Or popular quotes on Facebook and other social media sites that say things like "What we really mean when we say we're poor in this country is that we're having difficulty maintaining our standard of living."


No actually that's not what we mean.  I say we because yes I consider myself poor financially.  Very much so.  I live on the edge of not being able to provide for my family on a weekly basis.  And I don't mean I can't provide for their standard of living as some smug middle class snob wants to think.  I mean I can't buy milk without counting quarters, regularly.  I mean I don't ever buy anyone birthday gifts other than my children.  I mean that the car insurance payment drafting out of my account and not bouncing it is a miracle.  

I'm not saying this because I want your pity or your help.  No I don't.  Not at all.  We are ok.  We have made it thus far and we will continue to make it.  But I want to give some of our more comfortable members of society an idea of what it's like to be poor in America.  

Here's what it's like:

You pick the kids up at school on Friday afternoon and you try to figure out if you absolutely have to drive anywhere on the weekend because if you can avoid it and stay home then you might be able to drive work and school for an extra day next week.  If you don't do that and take that extra drive to Grandma's house this weekend the following Thursday you are cursing yourself because you can't get to work/school wherever you need to go.

You need groceries and your food stamps have run out (yes the poor in America are on food stamps and so am I) but you don't have any milk so you rummage through your cabinets and see what you can return to the store that you don't need so that you can buy the baby her milk.  You do the same thing for gas money all the while thanking God that grocery stores sell gas now.  You do this once a month or more.  

You've been on the other side of more than one condescending conversation with a middle class lay leader or a pastor asking for help while they maybe help you and chastise you about using their help to buy cigarettes.  Seriously?!  (It makes you hate the church a little more every time that happens).  They want to help you budget.  You want to punch them in the throat as they tell you very sweetly how you could get out of your situation.  Do you think I'm willingly sitting here in your office subjecting myself to your condescension because I want to?  No none of us are.

You're afraid to eat or buy certain foods at the store because it might mean there's not enough for what your kids like or want to eat. 

Your kids think packing their lunch is a luxury because they qualify for free lunch at school and it costs you less money in groceries when they buy so you don't let them pack very often.  And when they do they're really excited about it and you bite back the tears so hard every time that happens.

You haven't been inside a mall or to a shopping center in a year or more.  

You know what it's like to have less than $20 to your name for months at a time without that ever changing.  

You know the name of every government program that could possibly help you.  You have applied and you know how long the bureaucracy will take before you get a response, which most likely will be no and you'll be screwed again.  

The thought of your kids need field trip money or going to a scouting event strikes fear into your heart because it will mean you don't have gas money for another week.  

You don't ever go out for girls night because buying dinner out is not something you can do.

You know what a pawn shop looks like and you're very aware there's nothing else left in your house that they will take.  You may have pawned your own jewelry to pay your daughter's daycare bill.  

Someone has given you winter coats for your kids because you couldn't buy them.  

Your landlord is on the verge of evicting you all the time.  

You own nothing except your car which you're constantly worried about insuring or paying for.  

Having a pet for your kids could mean not feeding them so you don't get a dog despite the fact that you desperately want one for them.  

When your kids or you need a hair cut this sends you into a panic because you still only have that $20 and their haircut alone costs $35.  


There are many more things I could tell you about what it looks like to be poor in our country but I think you get the picture.  I sincerely don't want your help.  I really just want you to understand what you do not know.  You do not know what it is like to be me.  You do not know what it like to be that man or woman in the ghetto.  You do not know what it is like to be the 70 year old Grandma living alone.  You do not know.  So please stop acting like you do.  Because you don't and you have the ability to be a helper instead of a critic and it's such a better thing to be.  

Even now in my situation, as unpleasant as it is I have been able to find ways of being a helper and every time I do I'm so glad I did.  The poor in our country and other first world countries don't want your pity; it's a burden for them to bear.  They want a better job and the ability to pay their bills.  They don't want to need to show up on your doorstep.  It's humiliating and dehumanizing and they hate it.  So please don't scoff at us, at me, at them.  We don't want to be here; trust us enough to begin to believe that we are doing everything we can to get out of this situation.  Maybe from that foundation we can all become helpers and put the critics out of a job.



After reading this I realize you have a glimpse into my personal financial struggles.  Please do not attempt to help me directly, if you want to help someone in need there are great ministries that do good not condescending work for the poor in our country. I'd be glad to direct you to them.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Words of the Son

In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says:

God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

God blesses those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

God blesses those who are humble,
for they will inherit the whole earth.

God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
for they will be satisfied.

God blesses those who are merciful, 
for they will be shown mercy.

God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
for they will see God.

God blesses those who work for peace,
for they will be called children of God.

God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.



God (the Father) and I have our disagreements.  I don't like the way he proceeds sometimes.  It frustrates me and because my relationship with that particular member of the Trinity is the most fraught with tension; he's the one I usually take it out on.  

But this Jesus of mine, I know him.  I could never call him a liar.  I've seen his character tested through the pages of Scripture and in my life.  I know what he's like.  Those words he spoke up there, they're just the panacea I need for this ache in my soul for justice and mercy and peace.  So today I'm choosing to believe what he said is true.  

After everything I have written and said that probably comes as a shock to many of you.  But my journey is never a straight line.  I'm finding comfort here.  I hope you can extend me the grace of understanding that and find your own comfort somewhere today.  

Monday, April 7, 2014

When Being Angry Doesn't Cut It Anymore

They say (whoever the proverbial they is) that anger is an important part of lots of emotional processes.  You have to go through anger as a stage in grief.  You have to go through anger when coping with a life change you didn't sign up for.  You have to go through anger when handling terminal illness or overcoming an addiction or or or lots of other things.  You get the point.  Anger, it happens.  It's normal.

I have been angry at a few people and specifically at God.  In some ways I'd like to stay there.  It's easy to wallow in my illusion of grandeur and recount my ex's perpetual idiocy and remain angry.  It's easy to scorn God and brush him off because he's not the type of guy who'll scream back in my face.  It's easy to be angry over other people's choices that negatively affect me or my family.  It's easy to be angry.  And all of those "they" people say it's a good thing.  It's easier. It feels safe and like self-protection.

But what happens when it stops being enough?

What happens when you realize you're wallowing and sitting and choosing to remain stuck?

What happens when you know the anger is not real anymore, it's a cover for what's under there, underneath that emotion.

And underneath that emotion sucks because once you strip away the anger you've got all kinds of real crap to deal with: pain, loss, hurt, despair, confusion, worry, anxiety....  and the list goes on and on.

Underneath that cover emotion.  Underneath that anger that you now realize is just an illusion.  That stuff down there.  That's the stuff that keeps you up at night.   That stuff, that's where the work has to be done.  That work that feels overwhelming and impossible because your heart believes there is no healing for this pain.  This wound doesn't have a panacea, and the antidote for this disease hasn't been invented yet.

Those so called experts say there's five stages to things like this:
1) Denial and Isolation
2) Anger
3) Bargaining
4) Depression
5) Acceptance

They also say that these things don't tend to progress in a straightforward manner but you can bounce around all over the map.  Which makes sense to me because I think I've hit the first 4 stages many times over the last month or more.  Well maybe not bargaining, I don't see myself as a one to strike a deal with God or anyone else.  I never feel like I have a lot to offer on my side of the value equation.

Eventually, and that time is now for me, you realize though this isn't getting me anywhere.  I'm angry and frustrated and it's doing nothing for me.  Worse yet, I'm coming up with excuses to remain angry.  All of this is doing nothing for me.  My now illegitimate anger isn't aiding me in any way.

So I'm done.  If I feel angry I'm not going to stuff it but it's time to move on.  God and I well, I'm still very not okay with him.  You won't catch me posting about his goodness any time soon.  But he's there or here or wherever or everywhere and I'm here.  So I guess we'll co-exist for a while and see what happens.  Like roommates in college that inhabit the same space without talking.  That's the absolute most I can do with him for now.

The other things that have made me angry, well some of them there's just nothing to do about.  I guess that's where I'm embracing despair.  Or complacency.  Or just moving on to acceptance.  It's uncomfortable for me to embrace that.  I'm a fighter.  I don't like to feel like I'm giving up.  I don't quit.  So I'm going to try to frame it differently, I'm not giving up, I'm moving on.  I have a life.  I have a future.  I have wonderful children.  There are things to move forward for, but I'm feeling weak and spent and tired.  My steps are slower, but they're still steps.

Tomorrow is an intimidating relentless proposition.  But I'm making peace with my present.  As the anger fades I have realized it has gotten in the way of some more positive emotions I have beneath the surface.  I think it was doing that on purpose...  My emotions beneath the surface were muddled.  A whole lot of anger covering: some sincere disappointment, mixed in with some real compassion and intense concern for others, mixed in with despair and loneliness and resignation, mixed in with a desire not to quit and a desire to do exactly that.

But it's all got to be dealt with, one small piece at the time.  While moving forward.  And not covering it up with anger.  It's time to move outside of my comfort zone.  To the next phase where I admit I'm not just a passionate woman who's raging at God, but I'm a bit of mess.  I don't have this together, I don't know how to heal from any of this.  I have no idea what I'm doing here.  I've gone through a lot of shit in my life, I'll spare you the list because it makes me feel the apostle Paul.  But this, this I don't know how to get through.  I know these muddled confusing emotions must be turned and faced.  They all need a seat at the table and to be given the voice to speak their truth.  But it doesn't really feel like that's going to get me anywhere.  So here I sit, at best a civil roommate with my creator, giving up on my anger, wondering where to go from here.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Expected Repentence

So after you throw a shit fit and scream at God you know the next step right?  The next step, assuming people don't jump down your throat immediately is that you repent.

You say you're sorry.  Apologize to God and anyone who heard your fit.  You return to your previously held belief system and you get in line.

Except when you don't.  Because you can't.  Because the wounds are too fresh and constantly ripped open.  Because while you hugged your kids extra tightly tonight you still felt that ache in your heart.  The ache that says maybe all this time you've been wrong.  Nietzsche wasn't right either, God's not dead.  But this God that you've worshiped for 30 odd years, he's not tenable to you any longer.

I have great friends.  Including one who laughed at the fact that I'm going through this while in seminary.  He clearly has a lot more faith that God's going to come out of this still in relationship with me than I do.  Other friends have pushed me intellectually asking hard questions.  Another has suggested that perhaps I direct my wrath at Satan.

While all of these things have been interesting none particularly helpful.  Two things have been helpful so far hearing someone say, you are not the only person in this conversation who has ever hated God.  And seeing someone tear up when they talked about their own dark night of the soul.

Neither of those things heal my hurt.  Neither of them took away my anger toward God.  Redirecting it at Satan isn't working for me, at all. He's evil and I expect him to do evil to me.  But I thought for a moment that maybe at least I'm not alone.  Maybe there is company among these bruised and battered saints?

Maybe this weird combination of a raging Peter and doubting Thomas that I'm wearing right now is a coat that others have worn too.  And if that's true well maybe there's a way out.  A way out that has integrity to it.  Because I refuse to fake my way out of this.

Some have suggested that I appeal to a small God, I confess I have no idea what that means.  I don't know how to 'make' God bigger or smaller in my head.  Some have said doubt is normal.  Others have said they are proud of my honesty, because for so long they have wanted to say what they thought about God, but they were afraid to.

There is a problem with human suffering and how we interact with God.  Some people sail through this life without ever having to reconcile this problem and others, the unlucky of us, have to reconcile this problem every 5 or 10 years.  What do you do with a God who says he loves you when you are in intense and unrelenting pain?  If you go through suffering that is real, intense and palpable you must must must solve this problem.  If you don't reconcile this you end up settling for atheism, agnosticism or a totally insincere relationship with this creator who you claim to worship but don't actually.  I can't stomach an insincere relationship with God.

I have found one biblical companion in Job.  I have never been so in love with a biblical character (sorry Jesus but Job and I, we're one and the same).  I can hear him standing and screaming.  I can see the torrent of words flowing out of his mouth.  This guy I can identify with.  He's my guy.  I even can relate in the beginning of the book to Satan seemingly walking into the door to heaven and asking to curse Job, I sort of believe that's what could have happened in my case.  Perhaps slightly like Job I am aware that God's answer could very well be that he created everything.  He has the right to do as he pleases.  Although I find less satisfaction that Job did in that answer but then again I haven't had to stand before God as he said it yet either.

Job's friends have an answer for his suffering, it's a similar answer to why some of my more devout friends would say I'm suffering. "Job is suffering so much because he has sinned so much... with each friend's speech, of the anger of (Job at them for) applying this misguided theology to anyone who suffers)." (Dorsey 1999, 168).  Like Job when I hear this answer I often think, that theology seems a little off.  Why would we tell those in pain that it's their fault?  I remember someone once saying that children died because their parents had sinned.  My family walked out of that church service, I'm quite sure my sister wasn't lying dead in the cold hard earth because of anything my parents did.  Perhaps my approach is a little different than Job's because I don't tend to direct my torrent of words back toward my friends obliterating their shitty theology;  it's tempting but they're not really the object of my anger so I just walk away.

People like Elihu in the book of Job want me to shut up, stop saying all of these awful heretical things I believe about God but if you look at the book of Job biblical scholars will tell you "It is Job's speeches that the author wants the audience to hear, for they exemplify how a truly righteous person responds (with qualities such as integrity, honesty about one's feelings, etc.) to suffering, heartbreak, false accusations, confusion, and apparent abandonment by God himself" (Dorsey 1999, 168).  This is worthy of note because that means whoever wrote this book wanted us to know it's ok to be really pissed off at God.  I am a far less righteous person then Job, but it helps me to know that he was not an Israelite.  He wasn't one of the chosen.  I may be more of a sinner but at least he didn't have the exalted status of also being a Jew.  He was just a regular guy who really loved and tried to follow God.  I feel like I can identify with that.  Except I'm not a guy and I feel equally as screwed with as Job did, and I would say we both feel that way for good reason!

Job's words could be mine:
"I have no peace, no quietness.  I have no rest; only trouble comes" (Job 3:26 [NLT]).  Always, new trouble every day.  New questions I can't answer for my children.  New mountains for me to climb as the sole provider for this family.  New trouble every day.  It gets old.  It's beyond old.  I'm tired.

"If my misery could be weighed and my troubles be put on the scales, they would outweigh all the sands of the sea" (Job 6:2 [NLT]).  Yep.

"Teach me, and I will keep quiet. Show me what I have done wrong.  Honest words can be painful but what do your criticisms amount to? Do you think your words are convincing when you disregard my cry of desperation?" (Job 6:24-25 [NLT]).  Like Job I want an answer.  Please just show me.  Show me what the heck is the stinking plan here?  What is going on?  I promise given some compassionate understanding I will shut up!  Tell me what I did to deserve this, I will repent.  I don't understand!

"Lying in bed, I think, 'When will it be morning?' But the night drags on, and I toss till dawn" (Job 7:4 [NLT]).  It's very quiet from 1 - 3 in the morning and time moves at a relentlessly slow pace.

The edges of my anger are changing.  I feel a slight softening on the out rim like instead dark black night that inhabited everything there's a gray rim now.  I'll talk to God about other people, like a true hypocrite, I'm willing to believe that he may care about others even if he doesn't about me.  And I'm desperately hoping he does care for my loved ones.  But he has a history of not really listening to me so if you're asking me to pray for you, I might go elsewhere if I were you.

I will not produce the Expected Repentance.  I am waiting for a real one.  If that doesn't come then well I'll have no answer for you.  God eventually shows up at the end of the book of Job, he restores his fortunes and gives him a new family.  That's all fine well and good, but time is ticking on and I haven't seen or heard from him.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Beyond the Pale

The problem with Jesus dying for us.

How many of us take comfort of the cross?  Jesus died for us, right?  He died specifically to take our sin upon himself, wipe out our guilt and serve our death sentence so that we can be reconciled to God the Father in his holy state.

There's comfort in that right?  Yes Jesus, yes.  Please take my sin.

But what happens when it comes to him taking other people's sin?  What if he removes that person's sin? What if he allows that person to be reconciled to the Father?  That murderer, that rapist, that parent that wounded you so grievously, the pedophile... what if he decides to remove their sin?

To be real, he's already decided that he will.  All that person has to do is be willing, repent, submit, confess faith believe and Jesus will in fact forgive them.  He will allow them to be washed clean.

What happens then?

What happens to you?

What happens to your heart?  It's not washed clean.  It's still hurting and worse yet, you're not sure they really deserve it.  They don't seem sorry.  You haven't seen evidence of this faith and repentance.

What happens is now you're the judge.  Now you want to be God.  To play at his game of deciding who is worthy and who is not.

Jesus and his whole "I'm not willing that any should perish" thing?  Well that's rather distasteful to us.  Because we're quite willing that some should.  Not only are we willing, we'd be glad to give him our list. Or Karma our list or anyone our list.   As long as our list gets our measure and type of justice acted upon.  But we definitely don't want certain people forgiven, dancing in eternal happiness right alongside of us.


I don't hold to Karma, she's one lax judge if she does exist.  But isn't this how we want God to behave as well?  God, we're ok with you being God as long as you use the judging part of your character when we want you to and the grace part when we want you to.  But if you're going to give grace to the guy who killed my loved one and judgement to me when I fall short of a standard regarding lust well then all of the sudden we're less okay with him being in charge.

I can not reconcile this today.  I do feel like the standard of sin is on a sliding scale.  That feels like my reality even though that is not what Jesus teaches in the New Testament.  I'm not willing to go as far as some and say that certain people don't deserve to breathe my air, but I'd be more comfortable walking in their direction than Jesus' some days.

But if you buy into this whole Christianity thing that is not how it works.  There is nothing, no sin that we can commit as humans (beyond grieving the Holy Spirit but we're not exactly sure what that means) that places us beyond the pale of God's love and forgiveness.  This is meant to be a comforting notion, and it is in regard to us and those we love.  Perhaps there is a better way to see it.  A way that acknowledges the dissonance of our gratefulness for forgiveness along with our strong desire that the evil are judged.  If we can hold both of those things in our hands we might have a shot of finding a place of peace.

I'm not the judge, some days I'd like to be.  Today I'd like to be.  But I'm sure glad no one else can self-appoint themselves as my judge either.  And for that I am grateful.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Would you please say something?



I recently read a blog post about the power of this song when sang to yourself.  If you need a good cry this is definitely the one to play on repeat.  It has worked very well for me for a month or two now.  Tears on the edge?  Turn on the song.  Ahh there they are.  It's a helpful coping skill for making sure the tears don't show up when you don't want them to.  But after I read the other bloggers words, while my three children were tearing around my house I had another thought.

How many times do our children look up to us as parents and beg us in their mini souls to say something because they are in fact giving up on us?  Giving up on being loved enough by us.  Giving up on loving us enough.

How many times has my oldest looked at me and wondered does she see me? Does she love me?  Can I do anything right?  I need more than what I'm getting.  Is my Momma going to give up on me?  Say something Momma I'm giving up on you.

How many times has my middle wondered am I too much?  Too intense?  Too quiet at the wrong moments and too loud at others?  Is my Momma going to give up on me?  Say something Momma I'm giving up on you.

How many times has my youngest wandered aimlessly wondering is a loving Momma enough?  Will someone delight in me?  Will a man worthy of respect love me?  Can Momma teach me that?  What if no man loves her like that?  How then will she teach me?  Am I too much, too intense?  Is my Momma going to give up on me?  Say something Momma I'm giving up on you.

The gift and challenge of being a parent is seeing these struggles inside your children and meeting them there.  Knowing that I can't answer all their doubts and questions.  There are times that I will not be enough for them.   I can't really know what my children are thinking.  Which is probably a gift for which I should be thankful, but I remember what it's like to be a child.  I remember what it is like to wonder if I'm too much and simultaneously not enough for my parents.  After my sister died these thoughts plagued me for years.  I remember wondering if they saw me, if they cherished me, if they loved me or if all I was was trouble.

I imagine this is a struggle and thought process common to most children.  They need to learn that they are enough.  They also need to learn that our love for them is enough and will never cease.

But it also is a challenge for me as a single mom.  (I imagine the same could be true for married parents).  There are many many many times when I want to give up.  I want to give up on balancing all of the things I balance.  I want to give up on building a future for my children and myself and just embrace a mundane mode of survival.  I want to give up on pursuing emotional health.  I want to give on praying with my children because all they do is talk and ignore me when I pray anyway.  I want to give up on making this house a home.  I want to give up on trying to read with them regularly.  And so much more.  I want to quit because I don't have whatever it is I need in me at that day or moment to not quit.

But when I look into their eyes, the windows to their little still forming hearts, I know I can not give up on me.  Because giving up on me is tantamount up on them.  To be honest this can suck and it can also be awesome.  Sometimes it feels like drudgery.  I'm dragging myself toward goals that at the moment I have no desire to achieve.  I'm dragging them along with me which can weigh me down and also be like little mini bulldozers pushing me forward in the right direction.

I might want to give up.  But I don't want to give up on them and I don't want them to give up on me.  So I will say something, something for them....

Babies, I'm not going to quit. I want to but I won't for you guys.  There's the goal, and that's where we're going.  Please don't give up on me.  I won't ever give up on you.