Monthly Archives: June 2015

Why I don’t expect God’s gonna smite us over last week

I stood in the parking lot of Tijuana Flats this past week and held my daughter. I’m probably not going to see her for a year as she ventures off to the Pacific for her next adventure in living life like it’s valuable and precious. I closed my eyes and took in the scent of her and wished for the moment to be sealed in my memory forever so it wouldn’t go away.

Once again, through my children, I felt love. I’ve known this incredible person all her life. You could take away her accomplishments and her smile and the way she can drop character and become super goofy at the drop of a hat. You could take away the pretty blonde hair and the biting sense of humor she picked up from me. You could take away everything and I’d still love her.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus asks if your child asks for a fish to eat, would any parent give him a snake? If he asked for an egg, would any parent give him a scorpion? (Actually, if your child is a 12-year-old boy, he might think the snake and scorpion are cool, but…) If we, who aren’t as good as God know how to give our children good things, then how much more does God?

I might give them Guns and Roses or certainly U2, but never the Scorpions.

I’ve been angry at both of my children. I’ve wanted to kick their little asses and rattle their heads until the two working brain cells collided with each other and produced something that might resemble a reasonable thought. I’ve sent them to their rooms lest they remain in my sight and produce out of me a rage that would make Darth Vader scared.

They left a soda can on the living room floor again! Even I don’t want to be around for that!

But I’ve never stopped loving them. And I can never, ever turn them away. I can’t imagine my children going through the worst week of their lives and being too angry to offer an embrace to let them know they aren’t alone.

Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son

The only way they’ll be out of my life is if they choose for that to happen. And even then, if they came back, I’d run to them and embrace them and love them like they’ve never been loved before.

Even if they were gay.

I know enough not to give my children snakes and scorpions. My Father, who is the perfection of love, is a far better parent than I am. He can love perfectly.

Even if they are gay.

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I needed a hug. And then I gave a hug. And I think God found it beautiful.

Yesterday was horrible.

Normally when you have a bad day, there’s a specific event that makes it awful. The day I got laid off. The day the dog died. The day the house burned down. The day the ball went through Buckner’s legs.

None of the things that happened yesterday matched the house burning down, at least not for me. But right now, there’s a doctoral course in multidimensional channels of deep, fast-running crap going on.

You survive days like yesterday. What else can you do? Life is a full-contact sport. You take your lumps and keep playing.

In an unrelated note, yesterday the Supreme Court said gays and lesbians can obtain marriage licenses. And there was much rejoicing and gnashing of teeth and gloating and angry sullenness. One pastor even said that he loved his creator so much that he’s willing to set himself on fire because of the ruling. (I can’t speak for his creator, but the guy might be missing the point.)

A monster killed nine people because they were black–and spared some so they could tell all their friends. In response, we argued over whether this is terrorism. We yelled at each other over whether a specific flag should be flown at a state capitol (which seems wrong to me), or on private property next to an interstate highway (not right, but certainly legal). Then we argued over whether it’s right to have said flag removed from Amazon when you could buy Nazi merchandise.

In a room someplace in New England, a woman’s body succumbed to cancer. She left behind a husband and two kids and because of the way she was and because of her job, a pebble fell into a pond and the waves will be felt all over.

When that final piece of crap dropped on the sundae, only a simple embrace made the day bearable.

There was no rage. No vitriol. No angry statements about tolerance or racism or God’s judgement. Just an embrace that made an ultimately awful day a little more survivable.

Aside from opposable thumbs and the ability to use toilet paper, our search for meaning makes us unique among the life on this planet. Not riches or happiness. Not the most toys or the coolest gadgets.

Meaning.

There is very little that’s more meaningful than just being there, in the room with someone who’s having one in a long procession of awful days. Than the embrace during that horror that doesn’t fix anything, but lets you know you aren’t alone.

Christian Scripture teaches that the Holy Spirit is part of us–that a piece of God is actually in us. If that’s so, then when you sit with someone going through hell, God is with them through you. And when you embrace someone who feels like everything is crumbling around them, God is using your arms.

That’s substance and meaning. And while that other stuff is important, we’ll never find the peace we seek when the last word is spoken with rage.

I’m not outraged. I’m not paying attention. I needed a hug. And then I gave a hug. And I think God found it beautiful.


Monday morning motivation: Just showing up makes a difference

Author’s note: This is something I wrote to urge myself on. If it sounds self-righteous, please keep in mind that it’s not for you. It’s for me. If you get value out of it, so much the better. 

You will make a difference today, simply by being there. Your presence will make things different than they otherwise would have been. Maybe the difference will be slight, a smile aimed at the person who really needed it. A silly joke at just the right time.

Maybe it’ll be huge–an idea that only you can see that will save everyone a mountain of work or a pile of misery.

The difference you make is up to you.

It’s easy to see the limitations of the day and of future days. It’s easy to see diminishing possibilities and to be worn down by the accumulation of everything. It’s easy and, in some cases, perfectly justified. Sometimes you get to have extraordinarily crappy days. Maybe this is one of them.

But maybe not. And maybe your simple presence, ready smile, or foolish joke will make all the difference for someone else.

Just showing up really is half the battle. Making a difference for others–and being open to letting them make a difference to you–that’s the other half. That’s the harder half.

That’s the half that makes the day worth it.


It’s about me, but not really

I was a flaming a-hole today. Not that kind that comes from spending the day grazing at Moe’s. More like the kind that comes from being exhausted and stressed and beaten down by the daily grind that promises to exist as far into the future as I can see.

It’s hard, this existence. It could be a hell of a lot harder, but that’s hollow blessing some days.

Like today.

The way I hurt myself was by hurting other people. By being surly and unapproachable and mean and bitchy and less than the sparkling conversationalist I usually am.

There’s a very good possibility that the next day I don’t feel the way I typically feel will be the first day I stop breathing. When you come to that realization, it’s hard to see a circle of suffering that extends beyond yourself.

But it does. It affects my wife, my kids, the people I work with. It affects the guy at Publix who needs time-lapse photography to capture his movements as he checks out my four items with all the efficiency of a statue. It affects the jackass who had no clue where he was going this morning on Dale Mabry Highway this morning and decided we should all get to avoid being hit by him while he meandered his way to figuring it out.

Sigh.

 

On the one hand, it’s okay. I have Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME). I get to do that sometimes.

On the other hand, I’m not the only one. My wife has to watch a man she counted on, loved, and hopefully admired become a shell of himself. She has to watch the breadwinner meander through some permanent fairly scary health problems at a time she’s too old to start a new career.

My kids get to watch their father suddenly seem very old and wonder what that means to them.

My partner at work gets to watch as I miss things I normally don’t miss, and as I knock off early because I have to save my energy–all while she works late. Again.

It’s a hard thing to keep in mind.

To me, this is largely about me. But it isn’t solely about me.

It’s about them, too.

I’m lucky because they’re very patient with me. But I need to take care that I don’t take the patience for granted.


Lessons from Charleston

 

The simple fact is that a man walked into a church last week and killed nine people because of the color of their skin. Then he decided to spare some of them so they could spread the word.

As much as I hate to agree with some of the people making this point, that’s simply terrorism.

Dylann Storm Roof isn’t part of a great, organized conspiracy aimed at killing all who don’t toe the line. As much as Rolling Stone would like to convince you otherwise, he’s not the product of a Republican strategy to weaponize its members. There’s no grand conservative conspiracy that cuts taxes and supports second amendment rights because they can’t say the n-word any more. (Yeah, some idiot at Rolling Stone actually made that assertion.)

But the simple fact is that I can go to church and never consider the possibility that some will kill me there because of the color of my skin.

The nine people in Charleston weren’t Michael Brown, struggling for a police officer’s gun. They weren’t a guy with involvement in 20 criminal proceedings. They weren’t gang-bangers or trouble makers. They were people praying at their church.

And a 21-year-old man who professed that the races should be separate killed them because they’re black. Because they supposedly rape our children and are taking over our country.

You can argue that we should ban guns to make sure this never happens again. You can argue that we should allow guns in churches. You can argue that this political movement or that is responsible for these murders. You can argue–and I have–that a lot of these mass shooters took psychotropic drugs when they were teenagers and maybe we should consider that.

But the simple fact is that nine people are dead, and if I was a black person going to a prayer meeting this week, I’d probably feel a lot like the people who flew immediately after September 11–understanding that the odds of my dying are functionally zero, but unable to stop from worrying.

It’s worth considering that this almost didn’t occur. Dylann Roof sat with these people for an hour before he started killing, then said he almost didn’t do it because they were so nice to him.

Yelling at other people–presuming them guilty because of their political beliefs isn’t going to help fix this. Self-righteous anger and self-assured chest beating isn’t going to fix this. Finger pointing and shouting won’t, either.

We need more people who make it harder to harm those we don’t like and fewer who feed the divisions among us.

Most of the people yelling at each other are horrified by what happened. Maybe it’s best to start with that shared horror, rather than our political differences.

Unless you’re a Yankees fan, of course.


The view from here…

The last few months have been really hard.

Really. Hard.

Work would’ve been enough. Or the health thing (by the way, for the record, I have Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. Hooray, right?) Either of those things on their own would’ve been enough to make things difficult. When you put them both together, it leads to a long string of days in which I switch on the laptop and wonder how I’m going to do it today. And how I’m going to face the endless parade of days until something in one of those two areas changes for the better.

In the middle of that ongoing dusk-like existence, it’s easy to lose track of the things that provide the color.

Getting this condition, at this time, is bittersweet. On the one hand, it sucks. I’ve covered this already. My former way of life is gone, most likely forever. There’s a very good chance I’ll never run again, or do P90X, or anything of the like. There’s a decent chance I’ll get worse, potentially a lot worse.

My condition is complex and mysterious. There’s no single diagnostic that can show this is exactly what I have. There’s no cure. Not even a proven treatment plan. The symptoms even vary from person to person and day to day.

I’m doing well now, relatively speaking, and while there’s no guarantee my world will shrink to my bed, the odds of that happening are a hell of a lot higher now than they were six months ago.

But I did say bittersweet.

I’m not glad I have this. I’m not glad for my struggles. But they’ve allowed me to see some things I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed.

Like how truly supportive and patient my wife is. Like how she’s more concerned with my health than how it’s going to affect my ability to win the bread. Like how willing she is to put up with my mood swings and distance as I try to make sense of things. Like how much extra stuff she’s done because I can’t. Like how willing she is to adjust our budget to accommodate what’s good for me.

Like how amazingly pro-active my church is. I won’t lie. My pastor is big on saying that the difference between someone who isn’t sure of eternity and someone who is, is as simple as surrendering. Sometimes you can’t really appreciate God until you have to truly rely on him. I’m not saying I’m there yet, but his love is teaching me how, how to kneel (yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah).

Like how tough I really am. As it turns out, I’m a tough, stubborn son of a bitch. Who knew? Either that, or I’m incredibly stupid. (I am, after all, a Mets fan.)

Like the people at work who are being incredibly supportive. In particular, people have come forward in ways that will humble me for as long as my brain functions.

This is changing me, in a lot of ways that suck. But it’s also changing me in ways that change my view of things, people, and myself. They make me stronger and sturdier and better able to appreciate things I used to take for granted.

I guess I’m lucky to have this; there are, after all, two kinds of luck. But that means I get both of them. And I get to see things differently as a result.

It doesn’t make up for not being able to run ten miles, but it beats a stick in the eye.


Redefining winning, among other things

Robert B. Parker

In one of Robert B. Parker’s earlier novels, Spenser says that the stereotype about men and women is backwards. Women are the more detached and rational sex, while men are more emotional. Guys are too often wrapped up in honor and what a man should be. Their ego and pride–both useful things in a lot of situations–get in the way of a pragmatic solution.

As a guy in Western culture, in particular since I started working out, I’ve grown accustomed to the fact that there’s nothing out there I can’t muscle through. There’s no challenge that can’t be met with preparation and the properly applied amount of really hard work. In short, I believe in bootstraps because I’ve used them. I’ve rebuilt myself using the Bible, Tony Horton and Shaun T., and a never-ending procession of early-morning work outs and Florida torture runs.

If you aren’t getting results, work a little harder.

I can’t work harder. I can’t muscle the problem to death. No amount of jump-knee tucks or curls or pushup jacks can resolve this problem. You can’t win by working harder than the other guy. But putting in the extra hours, you only make your inevitable loss come more quickly and cost you more.

Trying to run through this wall will only result in you winding up bruised and  cursing the wall.

It’s not a condition that allows for honor and fury and muscle and being a big damn hero.

This is a condition that requires pragmatism and certainly requires that you put away the concepts of honor and ego, which will surely bury you alive. (It doesn’t help that the vast majority of people who get this are women. As a guy, that makes it harder.)

It’s a condition of diminishment and inability. It’s a disease where the only way to win is to radically the definition of winning.

That doesn’t mean that winning’s impossible. Laura Hillenbrand won. Stevie Nicks won. Cher won. Michael Crawford won. You just have to be pragmatic about it. Laura Hillenbrand won in spite of not leaving her house for two years.

Laura Hillenbrand

Winning means working harder, but not in the normal way. You have to work harder to figure out a way. And you have to give yourself permission to fail along the way–and if we’re dealing with stereotypes, guys tend to be horrible at that.