Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bad Manners

I lost my cool today. I was checking my email, and had a piece of spam that simply put me over the top. This is the third email I've received from this company in the past week. I have only shared my email address with one entity in the last week, and I'm starting to think that they've sold it to a mailing list. And so, after opening my inbox, shouting, "What is your fucking problem?" at the offending email, and explaining my frustration and suspicions to my two friends, Gabe and Ashley, who were in the room at the time, we began compiling a list of basic practical maxims.

1) Do not kick crippled homeless people
2) Do not molest children
3) Do not take canes away from elderly individuals
4) Do not tie down small animals and cut off their limbs
5) Do not roast babies
6) Do not engage in bestiality
7) Do not drown kittens in a sack

and the maxim that started it all:

8) When a person brings the body of their only animal to you for cremation, DO NOT sell their email address to a pet supply company.

It's just bad manners.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

How I Entertain Myself, Take II

This is a thought I had almost two years ago, but seem like a fun bit to share to day:

If we assign a value (we'll call it the J-value) to a particular junk food in order to quantify its "junkiness," does the use of artificial ingredients [sweeteners--S, preservatives--P, colors--C, hydrogenated fats--F (all of which are another type of junk "food")] cause an increase in the J-value of the particular junk food in question?

For example, is sugar-free Jell-O, which contains Aspartame, "junkier" than regular Jell-O, which is sweetened with sugar? If so, is the increase in the J-value direct (JxS) or exponential (J^S)?

How I Entertain Myself

A totally disturbing look into what my brain comes up with in moments of boredom:

If the prefix "re" means "again" and veal is baby cow, do you suppose that the origin of the word "reveal" has something to do with Evangelical cows? You know, cows that have been born again?

Friday, March 26, 2010

On Grief

I am grieving.

Willy Wonka, my beloved companion, the world's greatest dog, died this past Tuesday. He woke me up around 4:30 in the morning, trying to get into bed with me. Half asleep, I reached down to pick him up, and he collapsed in my hand. Due to the lack of muscle tension, he slid from my grasp and fell to the floor. The drop was about six inches. I knew the moment his body landed that it was over. It was the sound of dead weight, as though I'd dropped a sack of potatoes or a four pound bag of sugar from a significant height.

Still, the sound shook me immediately from sleep and into complete panic. I scooped him up, ran from our apartment and pounded on my neighbor's door, seeking help. Slowly, drawn by the commotion, people began to look out from their rooms, and we were able to get Willy Wonka to one of our neighbors, Janine, who is an Emergency Room Veterinary Surgeon. She checked Willy Wonka over, and administered care. His heart stopped beating not long after.

The vet assured me of the following things:
1) Whatever caused his collapse led to the fall;
2) Whatever caused his collapse led to his death;
3) The event was catastrophic, and while it was good to seek help, there was never any chance of survival; and
4) Willy Wonka's death was quick (within 10 minutes of his collapse) and painless.

I knew the moment I heard his little body hit the floor that it was over. This was confirmed when I picked him up, and felt his weight in my hands, saw his opened, unseeing eyes, and saw his mouth, opened slightly. He was completely non-responsive, and his pupils were so dilated I could not see his irises. Apart from the beating of his heart--about 40 beats per minutes, I would estimate--there were no signs of life. All of the energy, joy, warmth, love, and spirit that he carried (too much to believe would fit into such a tiny body) were gone.

Still, I took him to the one person I knew could help, if help was at all possible.

Then, I sat in the hall outside of my apartment, surrounded by friends, people who loved me and had loved Willy Wonka, and I cried, holding my little dog, and trying to absorb the reality that my little family of two was now a family of one. Janine talked me through my options for disposing of Willy Wonka's remains. When I was ready, two dear friends, Ashley and Anastassia, and I took Willy Wonka's body to an animal hospital. He will be cremated and his ashes returned.

I am grieving.

It is not the experience I thought it would be.

The last time I lost someone significant was on Wednesday, November 7, 2007. My mentor, Tim Fauvell, died of a massive heart attack. His death was also completely unexpected, instantaneous and painless. He was also surrounded by loved ones.

When I received the news of his death, I was devastated. I spent the next four months in bed, gained 115 pounds, and could not perform the basic skills of daily life (I think I showered 8 or 12 times in those first four months). One of my greatest fears in the past year has been that I would find myself in this position again.

I'm not.

Perhaps I have learned to grieve well. Perhaps I have learned to grieve in a healthy way. I thought that was the case initially. Now, I think differently.

Sitting in the hospital, saying good-bye to Willy Wonka's body, I was struck by one thought, "I know who God is." This was naturally followed by, "I know who Jesus is; I know Jesus was in the room when this happened; I know Jesus is here with me now." This thought was followed by a vivid mental image I have kept with me in the past four days--Willy Wonka running, with all four legs and all the joy he had in this temporal life, through the grass in a meadow of wildflowers, up a hill. At the top, Tim was waiting. He scooped up Willy Wonka, who turned in Tim's arms to look at me. Tim waved and called to me saying, "Don't worry. We'll be here waiting for you when it's your time, too."

I have peace. My friend Gabe commented on it this evening. "I could tell you'd had a revelation," he said. "You wear this new knowledge. As soon as I saw it, I knew you'd be fine."

I do not have peace because Tim was waiting to receive Willy Wonka. I do not have peace because of the promise that they will both be waiting to receive me.

I have peace because I know who God is, and I know who I am in God.

With this knowledge comes a deep assurance that everything is right, in an ultimate, cosmic sense. Jesus came to reconcile the whole of creation to its creator, and that work was accomplished on the cross. We may not see this reality when we look at the world today, but this makes it no less true.

I do not grieve like those who have no hope. I grieve as one who has been separated from a dear friend for an indeterminate length of time. I grieve as one who knows that God is in control. I grieve as one who does not know what or why, but who trusts the One.

Because I know who God is, and who I am in God, I grieve in peace.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Holding the Jagged Edges

John 5:1-9a

Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for feast for the Jews. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie--the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, "Do you want to get well?"

"Sir," the invalid replied, "I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me."

Then Jesus said to him, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk." At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.


I went to a play last night--Next to Normal. It was astounding. As one who rarely has trouble finding something to say, I find that there really aren't words to express how incredible this play was. The acting was phenomenal; the story itself was extraordinary.

It is the tale of a woman who has a nervous breakdown. It is not her first. In the aftermath, as the truth of what is happening to her and within her, we see the ways in which her brokenness is affecting those around her. It is at times funny, but more often than not heartbreaking. She reminds me of the man lying at the pool of Bethesda. She reminds me of people in my own life whom I love deeply. In some ways, she reminds me of myself and parts of her story resonate with parts of my story.

"Do you want to get well?" This is what Jesus asks the paralytic. I think in many cases it is the same question he asks us. Jesus approaches us in all our messy, wounded, broken humanity and he asks us, "Do you want to get well?"

I have participated in many bible studies that look at his passage, and I have always left fairly disturbed by the reaction people have to the response given by the paralyzed man. Inevitably, someone says, "He's just making excuses! He won't even answer Jesus' question! He's not interested in getting better; he's just interested in justifying what's wrong with him." It is a judgment against a person whose greater circumstances and whose very heart we do not know. It is a harsh judgment, and it makes me sad to hear it, especially when it comes from those I know and love.

Here's the rub, though--too many times, I think they're right. Not about the man in the story. Oh, no. It seems I have enough empathy for an individual whose encounter with Jesus 2,000 years ago is recorded in eight verses of the New Testament. No, too many times that is the judgment I pass on people I know--people whose circumstances and hearts I do know.

It's not kind. It's not compassionate. It's not Christ-like.

Watching Next to Normal last night, and seeing myself in the main character, Diana, I was reminded of a time when Jesus asked me, "Do you want to get well?" and my reply was, "No. I'm not ready." Jesus respected my response. This is largely the reason I disagree with the interpretation that the man at Bethesda was making excuses--Jesus never forces his healing upon us. He extends to us an invitation.

But so what if it is true? If we are to be imitators of Christ, does it really matter all that much if this man is making excuses or simply sharing a frustration? What if the man had said, "You know Jesus, I really don't want to get well. I'm not ready to let go of my mat"? Do any of us really have the right to judge that? Too often, I respond as if I do.

Here's what so amazing about Jesus, though--He never does! Jesus never judges our brokenness, no matter how tightly we hold onto it. Nope. Jesus just pulls out his own mat, plops down in the dirt next to us and says, "Tell me about it." Jesus chooses to meet us where we are, to join us there, and he sticks with us until we're ready to move.

A little over two years ago I faced circumstances that broke me. As Diana sang, "What happens if the cut, the burn, the break was never in my brain, or in my blood, but in my soul," I knew what she meant. I know what it is to have a broken soul. I know what it is to want to hold onto that brokenness. I know what it is to believe that holding onto the brokenness is the only way to hold on to what was lost that broke you in the first place.

After two years, I woke up one morning, and I said to Jesus, "Okay. I'm ready now. I want to get well." Jesus said, "Get up! Put a leash on your dog, and go for a walk." I got up, I put a leash on my dog, and I went for a walk. Every single day. For the last two months.

I have no desire to go back to my brokenness, though I was initially hesitant to leave it. I love my life, and while I still miss what was lost, I no longer mourn that loss. I know now that holding onto Jesus and saying, "Yes!" to his healing do not further remove from me what was lost, but rather allow me to fully appreciate what I had. Choosing wholeness, letting go of the brokenness, allows me to hold onto the love.

There are people in my life who are deeply broken. I know their circumstances. While I cannot, at times, fathom how they could continue to hold onto their brokenness, I see why they've made the choices they have, how they've come to the place they're in, and I understand how some of them see no other option. They do not know Jesus, and do not know that he's sitting on a mat, in the dirt, next to them, offering them something better.

It does not matter to me whether they haven't chosen healing because they do not want it, or because they do not know it exists. What does matter to me is that too often I have been the one pointing the finger and making accusations: they just want to make excuses and justify what's wrong with them. What matters to me is that I see how my heart has been hardened, and how I have failed to show others the love that Jesus has shown me. What matters to me is that my self-righteousness has wounded others, and led to more brokenness.

The next time I have a conversation with someone I love who is holding onto their brokenness and pain, I hope I can plop down on my mat in the dirt next to them and say with genuine love and interest, "Tell me about it."

I hope being loved by Jesus transforms me into a radical lover of others.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Excellent Life

I recently met a philosophy professor who told the group I was with that on the first day of his introductory class he asks the question, "What is an excellent life?" The students offer up some ideas and comments which grow and evolve over the course of the semester as they study philosophy.

I have never studied philosophy. My thoughts come, rather, from a study of my own life. For me, it is an excellent life.

I have the most amazing life. I love it. I love everyday. It all comes down to a single realization I had some years ago, which I, shortly thereafter, forgot. I have only recently reawakened to this truth. I know who I am. I strive to live each day with intentionality, choosing those things which I know I will never regret, and seeking in each moment to be fully present to the reality of where I am. When I seek to live each moment fully, I have immense joy.

This renewed realization came to me around the same time that I discovered this little gem from Paul Duke concerning John 13:

"he [Jesus] knows that both his origin and his destination are God (v.3b). Such knowing is the ground of loving."

Jesus knows from where he's coming and to where he is departing. Both are God.

The same is true for me. As a Christian, my identity is found first and foremost in Christ. I am a child of God. As such, I come from God. In this life, I am on my way to returning to God. In a very real sense, I find my self (re)turning to God every single day for wisdom, guidance, comfort, joy, strength, but above all love.

Knowing where I am coming from and to where I am going is the ground of all loving--love for others and true, genuine love for myself. Genuine, authentic love is, I believe, the mark of an excellent life.

This is not to say that I am perfect at this. It is my daily experience that moments arise when I forget my origin and my destination--when the immediacy and the strength of my drives and desires overwhelm me. I forget the reality of where I come from and to where I am going. My immediate wants are all that matter. The ground shakes. I fall. I fail. More days than I care to admit I fail far more often than I succeed. I do not love others well; I forget to love myself.

So, I have taped to my front door a small note that I read everyday as I head off to work: Know that both your origin and your destination are God. Such knowledge is the ground of loving.

I know who I am. Far more importantly, I know whose I am. This knowledge is the ground of loving. This is a knowledge that can change the world.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Confessions of a (Slightly Thinner) Fat Girl

Today, I missed my fat.

As a formerly very fat girl, who became an average girl, only to become a fat girl, and is now a slightly thinner fat girl, I knew this day was coming.

What was surprising was that it came so quickly. Seven weeks. That's all it took. Seven weeks and a guestimate of 35 pounds, and I miss my fat.

I remember the day I knew I had to make a change. It was my 24th birthday, and I awoke, unable to breathe. At 365 pounds, I was so heavy my weight was crushing me when I lay down. I woke up gasping for breath that day and knew that if I didn't make changes, I would die before the age of 30. Two years later, having made significant lifestyle changes including regular exercise and the consumption of primarily unprocessed foods, I had lost over 170 pounds.

Another two years later, following the loss of a significant loved one and some major trauma, and I had regained 115 pounds. Having been here before, I knew I would be here again. Last time, it took 18 months. This time, it took seven weeks.

I went shopping today. In general, I'm not a fan of shopping, and I usually find spending money to be an almost physically painful experience. Today, however, I enjoyed it. I needed panties that 1) fit and 2) aren't full of holes. I love lace and bows, polka-dots and ruffles. It was fruitful trip and I was delighted with my purchases.

As I walked home, a man leaving the post office looked at me. He scanned my body from head to foot to head and said, "Hey, gorgeous."

I would likely have had an excellent day had it stopped at that. Someone called me gorgeous, and it's not something one hears often.

But he didn't stop. As I continued on my way he called after me, "I sure would like to kiss you."

I felt visible. I felt exposed. I felt vulnerable. A complete stranger on the street saw me and spoke to me in a fashion that necessarily sexualized me.

As a fat girl, I was invisible. I was hidden. I was never vulnerable, and no one acknowledged that I had a sexuality. I was never spoken to on the street. I was never looked at in the face. If people looked at me (and they did), they openly stared at me from behind, their stares doing more emotional damage to my mother who often witnessed it than to me. As a fat girl, I was safe to walk down the street and know that no one would speak to me.

Today, a man on the street violated my sense of safety and security, verbally insinuating himself into my personal sphere, and he attacked my sense of dignity by sexually objectifying me. When I got home, I cried, and I talked to a friend about the experience.

Then, I put my panties away and played with my dog.

Today, for a brief moment, I missed my fat. Thanks to a good friend, I didn't miss it for long.