Important Disclaimer

Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation.

It also does not represent my children's perspective, nor my mother's; they think I am funny, but misguided.
(Quick update: only my mother thinks I'm funny now.)

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Herky Jerky

I've been re-reading C. S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters after a conversation with a colleague reminded me I haven't read them in years. It's been two decades, in fact. I am so clearly different from the just-barely-woman I was at 20. Since then I have married, divorced, borne (and partly raised) two sons, buried my mother-in-law, finished two degrees and dropped out of a PhD program. I have moved 8 times and have been ordained as a pastor. I've buried 4 cats.

So many joys and sorrows, each leaving their mark--laugh lines, stretch marks, ragged scars. This business of carrying the marks of what we have done, what we have experienced, goes back to Cain, doesn’t it? Who among us dares to deny sanctuary to another?

It’s been a difficult year—perhaps my most difficult. The landscape of this life is familiar, but surreal, constantly shifting, and I feel out of step, as if I am dancing to the wrong song as the rest of life moves to a proper rhythm. My feet aren’t planted—like a kid carrying too many balloons on a windy day. I have longed this year to float away into fantasy and wishful thinking. As unbelievable as life has been this year, my daydreams are just as
plausible and much more pleasant. Daydreams, however, have the unpleasant habit of disappearing on the slightest wind and leaving me behind, still scraping boils in the ash heap (see the book of Job).

I’ve been reading The Screwtape Letters again after all these years and after all this mess, and I can see how I have shaped and changed. I can see the ways in which my own demons and devils have worked their ways, but also how God has claimed my life. In the middle of this dreadful year, I have no doubts as to Christ’s claim to me, nor to the Spirit’s promise of redemption and reconciliation. There will come a time when all is set right. In the meantime it is my portion to live well what is set before me. I couldn’t have said that 20 years ago.

The Screwtape Letters are C.S. Lewis’ flight of fancy, in which Screwtape, a minion of the devil (or Our Father Below), advises his nephew, Wormwood, who is beginning his first effort to secure a human soul for the devil. Screwtape writes:
Keep his mind on the inner life. He thinks his conversion is something inside him and his attention is therefore chiefly turned at present to the states of his own mind— or rather to that very expurgated version of them which is all you should allow him to see… It is, no doubt, impossible to prevent his praying for his mother, but we have means of rendering the prayers innocuous. Make sure that they are always very “spiritual,” that he is always concerned with the state of her soul and never with her rheumatism.
This passage led me, oddly, to re-reading Ecclesiastes—that depressingly simple simply depressing book which makes the claim that all is vanity, a chasing after wind, a meaningless jest with an unhappy ending. Whatever this life we live, however well we live it, it will end the same way: death and forgetfulness. All we are and all we have done will be forgotten in the vagaries of time. I have found comfort in knowing that this year too will be forgotten, erased like the tide washes away sandcastles. However I live this year will matter very little to anybody 50 years from now. In a century, if humans haven’t extinguished ourselves, nobody will pay the slightest attention to this blog and my musings. So then, eat, drink, and find enjoyment in my work. Ecclesiastes has no other remedy than that.

Oh, I’m rambling now. Dancing herky jerky to somebody’s smooth rap—like the mom dance in the car, involving the steering wheel. The other night I drove some students home in the church van, and they turned up some hip hop whatever full blast. There was a surreal quality to driving the van with that music—I’m not sure how to explain it. I assured the students that yes, this music was my jam, and made some robot moves at a stoplight that had everybody falling over laughing. Out of step, out of sync, out of everything.

It’s been that kind of year. I live such an oddly public life, between the blog and the social media and the working for so many churches. My children are involved in my ministry, so most of the time, when I am working, I am also parenting. Our family dynamic is full on display, and while many of you have kindly patted my shoulder and assured me you don’t judge, we are nevertheless publicly exposed. We struggle with that. Take, for instance, the house we live in: it is a square house on a corner; one set of windows faces the church sanctuary and the preschool playground; the second faces the preschool classrooms; the third faces the neighbors (who are fortunately kind souls); the fourth faces a busy thruway, constantly trafficked by school children and their families. I have flashed everyone in Lawrenceville at least once, despite my investment in curtains and bathrobes. I am not complaining—just stating our reality and claiming this house as a metaphor for the rest of my life. It is a public space in some ways.

And so is my grief. I blogged through lent on the subject of grief. And although I keep back private parts of my life, if you read those posts and didn’t realize I was going through something, then you weren’t really reading. It’s been a hard year, with layers of grief multiplying themselves one after the other. In the middle of it all, I broke a finger and had surgery, leading to 4 months of physical therapy. Do you know how hard it is to heal your body when your spirit is bleeding out? Contradictory impulses that refuse to be resolved. Herky jerky, surreal, unreasonable.

People have reached out in different ways, and in the impossible and impractical way of grief, I have pushed away some of you who wanted to be close, while clinging to others who wished for more distance. I am unreasonable this year. I have put my hopes and intentions out to the Universe, and the Lord has pointed in other directions. I have never really understood why the Lord could not accommodate Jonah’s preference for Tarshish. Was there no other prophet?

“Let me know what you need,” a friend said.
“I don’t know what I need,” I replied.
“You need a vacuum,” they said. “I’ll get one.”
And this morning a vacuum appeared at my house.

So practical.
So necessary.
So tangible.

What do I need?

--Prayer, yes, prayer. I covet those prayers. But pray for my rheumatism before and after you pray for the state of my soul.

--Food I didn’t have to cook, a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, a place to lay my head if I had an extra glass.

--Adult company, with whom I can speak of something, anything, that isn’t about my messy life. We can talk baseball—perhaps you can explain to me why people watch that.

--Quiet space to be left alone. How do you know when I need that instead of company? You ask, and respect the answer. No defensiveness, no offense, no constant emails and texts—once is enough.

--Keep promises as best you can (even as I am struggling to keep mine), and be honest and clear when you cannot. This year, in the middle of all this, a casual promise becomes a lifeline—don’t say “we should get together” or "I can help" if you don’t mean it. This year the let down hurts too much.

--For life to go on as usual. There are still programs to run, children to raise, the laundry needs doing, paperwork—dear God the paperwork. I’m still going, not because I am superwoman, but because what else is to be done? I have a therapist and vacations planned, and Sabbath days—don’t fret.

--To talk about anything else than what has happened. This week alone I have explained the last two decades of my life to two therapists, a social worker, school officials, and the five pastors I work for/with. How about them Lakers?

--To hear about your life, your joys, your challenges. Two people today apologized for talking about their own difficulties: “I’m so sorry, compared to what you are going through…” And on the other hand I’ve been taken to task: “There’s Ebola and Ferguson and ISIS and Palestine/Israel. Your life is so bad?” But that isn’t how it works. My grief does not diminish yours, and yours doesn’t diminish mine. Years ago I sat in a circle and listened to students share their sorrows. One girl spoke of a gun put to her head, the next sobbed about the death of her bunny. A third was dying of an eating disorder, the fourth was distraught because he had no problems. They all grieved. We all grieve. I don’t want your pity. I don’t want your pedestal. I have what’s in front of me and you have yours, and in 50 years none of it will matter or be remembered. It’s all vanity. So tell me about you today, while it still matters.

--Coffee shops should stay open later. To finish this blogpost, I’ve been driven to the bar.

--And finally, I need my internet company to stop functioning like an organized crime syndicate. No, I don’t want phone service lumped into my package. No, I don’t want a service package. No, I don’t want to take a survey. I just want my internet to work.

And I really am ok. Tired and sad and out of sync, but ok.

In the coffee shop earlier, an older man sat down near me toward closing time. Every time I glanced up he was staring at me. As I left, I realized that he had been sketching my profile. I glanced at it and he mumbled that he wished he could draw. But what he had drawn was so severe and so beautiful that it sent me running out the door. I should have taken a picture, but that too would have been vanity, and I was too busy chasing after the wind.

Blessings, dear ones.
I am grateful for you.

1 comment:

  1. Your writing speaks to me in so many ways...deep, true, and yes, the hurts are magnified when promises are broken...but also the reverse is true-- the "simplest" thing can send me into an orbit of gratitude-- i.e. someone holding the door, or a phone call from a friend, or a bill collector who actually apologizes for their screw up (before I even notice) or someone who drops off a box of clothes or has a conversation with me that doesn't involve the last "2 decades" of my life...Grief is a many splendoured thing...but an appreciation is far off and I get cranky and tired. Bless you and your grief.


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