Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Same God Then; The Same God Now

Today's Old Testament and Gospel readings come from very different times in biblical history and they deal with very different characters.  However, these two scriptures have much in common.

Both men are impoverished.  Job has lost all of his wealth, his property, his livestock; he has lost his family, and his friends have turned against him.  Bartimaeus is a beggar incapable of work in the ancient world.

Both men have some level of knowledge of God.  Job has "had heard of [God] by the hearing of the ear."  Bartimeaus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing through town and declared him "Son of david."

The texts tell us that both men are blind:  Job metaphorically; who only "now...sees [God]."  Bartimaeus is literally blind.

Both men are regarded by their contemporaries as problematic in someway.  For the first 37 chapters of the book of Job, Job's friends and family tell him that he must have done something to offend God that he has been judged and punished so harshly.  Bartimaeus is sternly ordered to be quiet when he cries out to Jesus for mercy.

Both men encounter God.  Job is responding in this morning's passage to questions God has posed to him.  Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus, the physical embodiment of God on earth, for mercy.

Both men's lives are changed after their encounter with God.  Job's fortunes are restored twice over.  Bartimaeus's sight is restored and he follows Jesus.  Both men see God.

After Job is restored, he celebrates with his friends and family.

Twice Bartimaeus cries out to Jesus.  After the second time Bartimaeus calls out to him, Jesus stands still.  Jesus does not approach Bartimaeus, but rather commands those around him to call Bartimaeus over.

In both of these stories, community is present: the first to celebrate Job's restored fortune, the second to bring Bartimeaus to Jesus himself.

Where these two men's stories appear to differ, however, is that whereas the text is clear that "the LORD restored the fortunes of Job....and the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before" in the case of Bartimaeus, it was Bartimaeus's own faith which made him well.

Looking more closely at Job, however, we see that God restored Job's fortunes after Job prayed for his friends who did not believe that Job was innocent; friends who assumed God was judging Job for sin, and this was cause of his downfall.

The depiction of God does not change between these two stories.  God is waits patiently for humankind to seek him, to approach him, to make their desires known.

In both of these stories, God is inviting.  God speaks to Job (sternly to be sure), but asks questions in a fashion that opened dialogue rather than merely telling Job what is true.  Jesus does not assume what Bartimaeus needs.  Rather, Jesus asks Bartimaeus what is he would like Jesus to do for him.

In both storeies, God is just and merciful, choosing to bless and honor those who are faithful, regardless of the worldview of their contemporaries.

In both stories, God is a God of healing and restoration.

In both stories, God has a focus on faith in community:  forgiving the transgressions of Job's friends because of Job's faithfulness; Jesus using the crowd to welcome Bartimaeus to the restoration of sight.

The truth of who God is is the same today.

God is still a God who waits patiently for us to seek him.  God is still a God who invites us into relationship.  God is still a God who asks justly.  God is still a God of mercy.  God still heals and restores.  And God continues to do all of this in the context of community.

We all have areas in our life where we need restoration or healing.  Everyone, at some point, needs a miracle.  Your faith, we are told, makes you well.  Your faith restores you.  Your faith brings you the miracle you seek.  Sometimes, choosing to hold to our faith in light of all evidence to the contrary is the miracle itself.

Where do you need a miracle today?  Will you choose, like Bartimaeus and Job, to believe that God is good, and capable, and waiting for you?  Will you choose, not only to know about God, but to see and to know God as well?  Will you do so in community, loving and serving God as one body with many members?

I hope you do.  Like Job who needed to see God for the first time, or Bartimaeus who needed to see again, we all need our sight restored.  It is within the context of community, with many voices and many images of God among us, that we see each other, ourselves, and God most clearly.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Joy of Bad Ideas

It is a terrible idea.  I know this.

I do it anyway.

A few times a week, on at least one of mine and Lili's twice daily walks, I jog a block.  Twice.

At 150 lbs overweight, this is a terrible idea.

My doctor, I can assure you, would agree.

My knees and hips agree as I pound the crap out of them.

The bruises that ring my knee caps agree.

The searing pain of shin splints agrees.

The tenderness in my foot that could easily be a precursor to a stress fracture agrees.

Regardless, I do it.  1/8 of a mile, in two 1/16 of a mile segments at the 1/4 and 3/4 points of my 1 mile walk, a two to three times a week.

A terrible idea.

I do it anyway.

I do it because sometimes I need a reminder of why I started eating healthy and exercising again anyway:  I love running, and I miss it.

I do it because I love the feel of my muscles working harder.

I do it because I love the strike of my foot on pavement.

I do it because nothing seems to clear out my lungs quite like a run, no matter how brief.

I do it because I love the soft, loose feel of my body after.

I do it because while I'm focusing on form, breath, and balance, there is room for nothing else in my brain.

I do it because I love running.

It's a terrible idea, and I do it anyway.

I do it because that 1/8 of a mile, in 45 second 1/16 of a mile segments, is the best length of the journey.

I do it because those 90 seconds are the best 90 seconds in my day.

I am so very much looking forward to a time when it won't be 90 seconds at the 1/4 and 3/4 marks, but 30 minutes for 3.1 miles.  Oh, that glorious day.

It truly is a terrible idea.

Oh, how I love terrible ideas.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Getting In

When I was in kindergarten, I decided upon a cardinal rule for marriage.  This was a rule I developed out of a deep sense of injustice and longing for better things.  It was a rule I developed because I wanted more, so much more, than what was currently being offered to me in life.  It is a rule whose power has never really waned in my life.  It is a rule that I would like to believe has some degree of overlap with our gospel lesson this morning.  The rule was simply this:  Marry up in the alphabet.

Whenever my kindergarten class went anywhere--the library, the media center, the art room, the music room, gym--we lined up alphabetically by last name.  This meant that I was always the last to get anywhere.  And it stung.  What amazing things was I missing out on because I was not at the front of the line?

When it came to art class, did someone else get a better paint set or lump of clay?  Or music class, did the people whose last names ended in A get a music book that was in better condition?  Or when going to the library, did those at the front of the line get a better choice of book?  When it came time to go to gym class....  Well, that was the one time I can't remember really minding being last.

There was just this incredible sense of injustice at being last all the time.  And I decided I was not going to relegate my potential future children to such a position.  Thus the rule:  Marry up in the alphabet.

Jesus, however, seems to have another idea.  "The first shall be last and the last shall be first," he tells us. The place of need is the more exalted position.  Those with nothing will have it all.  Those who leave sister and brothers, mothers and fathers, families and homes for the sake of the gospel and to follow Jesus will receive these 100 times over again in this life and in the life to come.

The gospel lesson for this morning tells the story of a man seeking reassurance of his position; not only in this life, but in the time to come.  "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" he asks Jesus.

What is interesting about this interaction is Jesus's response, w is a curious one.  He begins by telling the young man to follow six of the ten commandments.

The ten commandments are typically divided into two lists.  The first four and the last six.  These are sometimes called the vertically focused and the horizontally focused; the upward focused and the outward focused.  The last six commandments, which Jesus tells this man he must observe are about loving other people:  honoring your parent, being honest, faithful, acting with integrity in your relationships.

And the man responds by declaring that he has "kept all these since [his] youth."  This is more than a little astounding to me at first blush.  Since his youth he's managed to be completely honest?  He's never told a lie?  Not even the tiniest fib?  He's never taken anything at any point that did not rightfully belong to him?

What is most surprising, however, is the fact that he claims to have honored his parents since his youth.  Since his youth!  I very clearly remember my youth and though, generally speaking, I'd like to believe I was primarily a compliant child, the fact is I know I didn't honor my parents at every moment of every day.  I broke that commandment in my youth.  A lot.  And yet, here this man is claiming to followed not only this commandment, but all the commandments.  Since his youth.

Looking at the scripture, though,and understanding the context in which this exchange took place, may shed some light on this man's confidence of his own righteousness.  The commandment to honor one's parents comes with a promise:  that you will live long in the land the God is giving you.  In first century Palestine, those who were blessed with wealth, education, health were considered favored by God.  One only earned God's favor by doing things right.

Those who were less privileged--the widow, the orphan, the poor, the infirm--were seen to have earned God's disfavor.  Sickness and poverty were seen as God's righteous judgment for sin.  We see a glimpse of this in John 9 when the disciples ask Jesus, "Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

Here we find a man who is first in his culture.  He is wealthy, and with that comes education, privilege, power.  This man comes to Jesus and seeks confirmation of his own righteousness, having been a good Jewish man all his life, having kept the commandments to love outwards.  "I've kept all these since my youth."

Jesus responds by telling him that he is missing just one thing.  Love up.  Follow the first four commandments:  Love me, worship nothing but me, honor me, rest in me, follow meThis, Jesus tells us, requires that you give up everything that you hold to to affirm your value, your worth, your righteousness.  Whatever it is you are holding onto more tightly than you hold onto Jesus is an idol.  To inherit eternal life, you have love God more than you love those things.

How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.

"Then who can be saved," the disciples ask one another.  If the rich, with all of their wealth, with all of their privilege, with all of their power, with all of the favor God has showered upon them, if they cannot buy their way into heaven, what hope do the rest of us have?

And Jesus reminds them that they cannot do it on their own.  They have no hope of entering the kingdom of God based on their social and cultural worth.  Do not, however, forget about God.  With God, all things are possible.  The rich cannot buy their way into heaven, because heaven is not a reward you gain for amassing cultural capital here on earth.  Those the world privileges are no more important to God than those the world forgets, ignores, denies.

Still wanting to justify their fears, still seeking reassurance, Peter speaks the words we can be almost certain each disciple is thinking, "Look, we have left everything and followed you."

"This," Jesus says, "is exactly what is necessary.  For anyone who leaves it all for me and for my gospel, will reap a return 100 fold of what they've sacrificed for me.  Not only will they reap this return now, but also, in the age to come, they'll receive eternal life.  The first shall be last, and the last shall be first."

This is what it means to be a part of the kingdom of God:  to give up everything for the sake of Jesus and for the sake of the gospel, to follow him and to trust that God will meet your needs.

The kingdom of God does not exalt the wealthy and the privileged as the kingdoms of our world do.  The poor, the widow, the orphan, the infirm; the lost, the least, the last.  These are the ones whom God favors.  These are the ones who will be first in the kingdom of God.  These are the ones who will be favored and exalted by God, both in God's kingdom now and with an inheritance of eternal life.

Why, do you suppose that those who are last in this world's kingdoms are first in God's?    Because the rich man was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Perhaps the last and least become the first to enter God's kingdom because they have so little to give up.  They have so little to provide them any sense of comfort or security.  They have nothing, and nothing to lose by giving it all to follow Jesus.  They have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Jesus never says that the rich cannot get into heaven.  He merely states how difficult it is for the rich to get into heaven.  Those who have everything that the kingdoms of this world privilege have to give up so much that is considered "good" and must trust that they are giving it up for something better, something the kingdoms of this world tell us they are entitled to, that they deserve, because they have "done all the right things."  For surely if they hadn't God would not have blessed them so richly in this age.

What a shock it is when Jesus tells us that this is not the case.  What a shock it is to learn that being blessed with position and power in this life is not a guarantee of our position in the next.

Though the last will be first in God's kingdom, Jesus tells us the rich have the harder task.  They much choose to love God more than they love their possessions.  This isn't easy.  If it were, the rich man would not have gone away grieving.

Many who read and interpret this story come to the conclusion that the rich young man did not follow through.

The text, however, does not tell us this.  The text tells that Jesus instructed the man to "go," and he went; to "sell what [he] own[ed], give the money to the poor...then come follow me."  The text does not tell us what the man did or did not do after he went.

Jesus was followed by crowds numbering in the thousands everywhere he went.  Most of them are never named.  Do you suppose it's possible that this man was later among them?  Quiet, humble, and confident in Jesus's righteousness, rather than his own?

I certainly like to think so.  And I'll tell you why.  It gives me hope.

Though I am among the less privileged in American society, in the world, I am among the elite.  I may not have much in the way of physical capital, but I am rich beyond measure in cultural capital.  I am literate, and I live in country with a 98% literacy rate.  20% of the world's adult population can neither read nor write.

I am among the 86% of Americans with a high school education, among the 38% with a college degree, among the 7.6% with a master's degree.

I live in a country in which women are permitted to be educated.

I have access to clean water, medical care, housing, and adequate nutrition.

I may be among the last in the United States, but by virtue of having grown up in the United States, I am among the first in the world.  And like the rich young man, there are times when I find my worth, my righteousness, my security, and my hope for a future in my position and my accomplishments.

Jesus calls us to give up all of this, and to find our worth, righteousness, security and hope in him.  We are called to give up everything, and we have so much.

While much has changed in the last 2000 years, this has not:  the kingdoms of this world still privilege the wealthy, still privilege the elite, still privilege the successful.  And Jesus still tells us that this not only does not grant us access to the kingdom of God, but it actually may keep us out of the kingdom of God.  We are still called to give up everything and follow Jesus.

I know that when I am called to give up something important to me in order to more faithfully follow Jesus, I grieve.  I like my stuff, and I have a lot of it.  But God calls us to give up our stuff, to stop loving stuff and start loving people.

Today's text does not tell us what happened after the man went away grieving, but I like to believe at some point this man, who was among the first in so many ways, chose to be among the last who began to follow Jesus before his crucifixion, and who continued to follow Jesus after.  I like to believe this, because in those moments when I grieve the idea of given up even more, even everything to follow Jesus, I know I'm not alone in that grief.  And I know that eventually, I will come to believe again that following Jesus in the kingdom of God is worth more than all the kingdoms of this world have to offer.

We are each called to give up everything to follow Jesus.  Some of these things are easier to give up than others.  Some of these things we will grieve deeply.  But the promises Jesus makes are promises he keeps.  What is Jesus calling you to give up today, in order to more faithfully follow him?  And do you believe that Jesus will keep his promise, returning to you 100 fold what you've given?  I hope you do.  And when we grieve the things we must give up, it is my hope that we will not grieve for long.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Voice of Grief

The voice of grief is quiet, cruel, and unrelenting.

"It's your fault," it whispers every time.

I made a mistake and less than a day later, Tim had died.

I did everything right and Willy Wonka died.

I did everything wrong, until that last fateful moment.  I made a change, and began to do things right, and Maggie died.

I am a horrible person and I do not deserve to be loved.

"You are at the center of these tragedies," grief says.  "Everyone who's ever loved you unconditionally has died.  What does that say about you?  You're dangerous.  You don't deserve love.  Everything you do ends in evil.  It's your fault they died."

It does not matter that in all previous cases I know this is not true.  With Maggie...I have to wonder if grief might not have the truth of it.

I wasn't prepared for her. I didn't plan for her.  I happened upon her one day, and had planned to take time to consider carefully whether or not she would be a good fit.  Before I could decide one way or the other, however, someone else stepped in and she was mine.

And I screwed it up.  I screwed it all up.

I wasn't in a stable position.  I didn't manage things well.  I didn't train her or get her adequate exercise like I had Willy Wonka.  She was full of energy all the time.  She was demanding of my time, attention, and affections.  She was constantly in my face, constantly kissing me or nipping my nose.

I wasn't prepared.  I didn't do it right.  I knew she needed exercise and structure and training.  And I failed to give her these things.  And because I failed to give her these things, she was clingy, needy, and suffered incredible separation anxiety.  She was loving and sweet and kind.  And at times, I'm ashamed to admit, I resented the amount of mental and emotional energy required to engage with her.  And it was my fault, because if I had just provided her with any exercise and training and structure, she'd have been more calm.

Then, I reached the point of being ready to make the changes necessary for health.  I began to exercise.  I began to take Maggie (and Lili) on walks twice a day.  But by this time, the harness and leash that I'd purchased when first I got her were nowhere to be found.

It didn't occur to me, living in the middle of nowhere, that it would be so necessary to have her leashed.  She always stayed right by me when we were outside.  On our walks, no matter how short or long, she never strayed far from my side.

Maggie wanted to go out 15 minutes earlier than we had been going.  I wanted to wait, finish what I was doing, and then go.  Then, I asked myself, "Am I really going to regret going early?  I can always come back to what I'm doing.  And if we leave this early, we can go further, get a bit more exercise in."

I saw the car coming about 1/4 of a mile away.  It was clear they were traveling at 60mph or faster.  Fifteen seconds.  I was struck by indecision.  Turn around?  Keep going?  Stop and wait for them to go by?

I moved to the very edge of the shoulder, standing in the beginnings of the ditch.  Maggie and Lili were sniffing something in the road, and I called them over to me.  They both stopped, looked up at me.  Eleven seconds.

"Come on, girls," I called.  "Out of the road!"  Ten seconds.

They came over to me, and stopped at my feet.  "Good girls," I cooed at them.  Seven seconds.

I'm terrified to move; afraid that if I begin to walk in either direction, they'll head back onto the blacktop.  The car is so close, and it isn't slowing down.  It isn't moving over to the far side of the road as is customary in our area.  I hold my breath and watch it approach.  "Stay," I say to the girls.  Five seconds.

Maggie begins to move.  "No!" I yell at her.  She looks up at me.  I glance at the car, pale green, four door, midsized sedan.   Three seconds.

Maggie looks up at me.  Two seconds.  And she darts into the road, Lili right behind her.  "Maggie!" I yell.  One second.  And she turns to me.  Lili continues to the far lane.  Maggie begins to turn back, and it's over.

The car begins to slow after impact.  It stops several yards beyond me.


I look at Maggie's body.


I look at the car, stopped.  I continue to stare at it.  Why are they just sitting there?  Why haven't they gotten out?  They just sit there, stopped, in the middle of the bridge.

I look back at Maggie, and do the only thing I can think to do, the only thing that comes to my otherwise completely empty brain.

I scream.

I look back and forth, back and forth as I scream.

I continue screaming until my substantial lung capacity has been depleted.

I look at the car, and I am silent.  I look at Maggie, and see Lili has approached her.  I look at the car, and it pulls away.  Half a block farther away, it slows.  Then, it takes off again, gaining speed, and disappears over the hill west of town.

Looking at Maggie's body, all I can think is, "I have to carry her home and bury her."

I approach her.  How to pick her up?  I'm squeamish.  Her body is still warm, but cooling quickly in the cold of October.  I grab her body by the scruff of the neck, her entrails hanging from her body.  There is no blood.

I carry her in one hand while I dig my phone out of my pocket with the other.  I call R.  It rings four times, and I'm routed to voicemail.  I hang up and redial.  After two rings, I'm routed to voicemail.  I hang up and redial.  After two rings, I'm routed to voicemail.  I hang up and redial.  R answers.

I tell her Maggie is dead.  She prays for me.  I continue my trudge home, Lili on my heels, Maggie's body in my hand.

Once home, I lay her body gingerly on the back porch.  I take Lili inside.  I grab a spade from the front porch and a shovel from the back as I return to the backyard.  I dig a hole.  2 spades long, 1 spade wide, 2 spades deep.  I use the shovel to remove the dirt I've loosened with the spade.

I return the shovel to the back porch as I retrieve Maggie's body.  I lay her in the hole, curling her body around her intestines.  Too late, I realize that the shovel would come in handy for moving the now loose dirt back into the hole.

I kneel at the edge of the hole and begin to scoop handfuls of dirt onto Maggie's body.  "I'm sorry," I tell her.  "I'm so sorry."  Now, finally, I begin to cry.  "I'm sorry," I sob, moving more dirt.  "I'm so, so sorry!"  I've run out of loose dirt, and begin to pick up the larger clods.  "I'm sorry, Maggie!  I'm sorry!  I'm sorry!  I'm so sorry!  I'm sorry I wasn't a better doggie mommy.  I'm sorry I failed you!"

At last, I'm at the point of replacing the grassy clods of dirt.  Three big ones.  I place them on top.  I stand and press them into place with my foot.

I tamp down my pain and grief.  I walk into the house.  "Where's Lili's harness," I ask my mother in a tight voice.

"I'm not sure," she answers.  "Probably in the van."  The van my father dropped at the shop earlier this evening.  In the van, likely with Maggie's harness as well.

I look around, my eyes moving frantically over every surface.  I see an old red harness from who knows which pet of bygone days.  I grab it and make my way towards Lili.  "I just buried Maggie," I tell my mother.  "After I get this on Lili, I do not want it taken off of her."

Lili evades me.  My mother hugs me.  I text my closest friends.  "I just buried my dog," I write to them.

B calls and we talk briefly.  Others text love and reassurance.  Because they don't know the truth that grief is whispering to me.  I am a horrible human being and the worst doggie mommy who ever lived.  I didn't deserve Maggie's love, and I don't deserve Lili or her love either.  That's why she won't come near me.

I lie in bed, my body curled around the seed of grief that has been planted in my heart.  I watch TV on my laptop, because I don't know what else to do.

My younger brother and my father come home.  I can hear my mother's voice, but I cannot make out what she is saying.  It doesn't matter.  I know she is telling them.

My brother comes up.  He sits on the bed with me.  He puts his arm around me in an awkward hug.  He rubs my back and cries with me for a few minutes.

Next, my father comes in.  He repeats the process, though his hug is much shorter, and he kisses my hair.  I begin to cry harder, wishing so many things were different.

Wishing I were a good person.

Wishing I were a better daughter.

Promising I will be a better good doggie mommy to Lili than I was to Maggie.

Wishing I deserved the love I've lost.

Wishing I didn't believe that quiet, cruel, unrelenting voice whispering, "It's all your fault."

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Timer in My Head

The timer in my head first started blaring when I was 24.  It was my last year of undergraduate study, and I woke up one morning with this alarm blaring.  It made a noise like this, "If I do not make a change, I will not live to see 30."

After graduating with my B.A. in Religious Studies, with a double minor in Criminology and Women's Studies, I moved to NYC where I began my master's degree.  It was the perfect time to make a change.

It was excellent timing for a number of reasons:  new place, new people, new opportunities, new culture.  It was also a simple reality that everything was within walking distance of where I lived.  Nothing I needed was more than a mile away.  Being loathe to spend money, I never took a cab and avoided public transit when I had the time and energy to walk.

By the end of my first year, I had dropped three dress sizes.

Then, I got a dog.  Suddenly, walking was not optional.  It was mandatory.  I was also determined to feed my dog the healthiest of fare.  It occurred to me as I researched pet foods, rejecting any product that contained artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors, or preservatives, that it was ridiculous to feed my dog better than I fed myself.  If I was not willing to feed Willy Wonka unhealthy food stuffs, why would I eat it myself.

By the end of the first semester of my second year, I had dropped another 3 pant sizes.

At the beginning of my second semester that year, I decided that while walking and eating healthy were great, I wanted to up the intensity.  I began running, lifting weights, and doing yoga.  Nothing major, just enough to feel a burn and sweat.  A lot.

By the end of the second semester of my second year, I had dropped another 4 pant sizes.

At the beginning of the first semester of my third year in graduate school, Tim died.

I couldn't see past the pain.  Everything hurt all the time.  I couldn't get out of bed.  I couldn't exercise.  I couldn't take care of myself, let alone my poor dog.

Not being able to function, and living once again in the Midwest, old habits returned.  My sedentary lifestyle was once again in full swing, and highly processed, high fat, high sugar foods with zero nutritional value helped me regain 7 of the 10 pant sizes I'd lost.

After two years of this, I went back to NYC.  I finished my degree.  In January of 2010, as I entered my final semester in graduate school, the timer in my head went off again.  And I dropped two pant sizes by the time I graduated.

Graduating, however, meant losing my rhythm, my routine, my home, my community, my life(style).  It meant that in an ever tightening job market with no real prospects and no experience, I moved back to the Midwest.

I regained a pant size.

But I wanted it to stop there.  I wanted to take control of my health and not have my weight and activity level be dictated by the place or the culture in which I lived.

This didn't happen.  I failed.  Oh, after a year, I found a job, and I was diligent in the first 8 months.  I dropped that pant size.

But then Christmas came, and as I began making gifts for others, there were delightful treats around.  The first bite is what does me in every single time.  Having not eaten refined sugar in months, I was suddenly eating it all the time.  A square of fudge here, a caramel there, a cupcake, a cookie, or 6.  And I regained that pant size.

Once the holidays were over, I decided to get back to the lifestyle I wanted.  But I couldn't.  It was too hard.  There were too many pressures.  At home, at work, at church.  There was always something to snack on.  The snacks were never healthy.

God knows how, but I managed to stay within the same pant size.

Then, a few months ago, the timer in my head went off again.

I knew it was time.  More exercise, less processed food.  But I hit the snooze button.

I tried.  But the task seemed daunting.  It seemed like too much.  I had worked, and worked, and worked before, and failed.  I had worked and worked and worked again, and failed.  I just couldn't try and fail again.  So, I put it off.  I'd try for a day.

Eat healthy.

And revert to old patterns the next.

Take the dogs for a walk.

Once a month.

Life felt out of balance.  I felt like an awful doggie mommy.  Just downright evil.  More than failing to eat well and get exercise, I was failing to take care of my Magpie and Lilidog.  A horrible human being if ever there was one.

And all the time, more than the smaller clothes (the purchase of which was traumatizing) and attention from men (which was always uncomfortable at best) and fitting in a smaller space in the world (this was great on airplanes and in movie theaters), the thing I missed every single day...was running.  Because when I run, the whole world disappears.  It's me, and nothing else.  The one-two of my feet hitting the asphalt.  The inhale-exhale of my breath.  The heat and sweat and looseness of my muscles at the end of 3 miles.  Every.  Single.  Day.  And there complete bliss of an utterly empty mind.  Because running was the one thing that required such single-minded focus that I didn't have space in my head for anything else.

It came up this weekend.  This conversation began about health and choices.  In the last few months, as I've made many false starts, I've realized they haven't been for nothing.  Rather than 6 cookies, I eat 2.  Rather than a "bigger" bag of chips, I eat the actual single-serving bag.  When I don't have the energy to cook, I choose salads, hummus, and veggies for the most part, over burgers (no bun) and french fries.

But it still wasn't enough, I realized.

What was missing in all of these healthier food chooses, was the intention and single-minded focus I had when I was determined to make healthy lifestyle choices.

What was missing was that I was prioritizing everything in my life but me; so that when I got home at the end of the day, I was drained, tired, exhausted, and didn't have the energy to care for myself or my doggies.

So, no more.

Intention.  Single-minded focus.  No more snooze button.

First on my list:  walking my dogs 2 times a day, 1 mile each time.  It isn't much, but it's all I can commit to right now.

Second:  mindful eating and a food diary.  This helps with portion control and ensures that I am getting what I need both in regards to calories and nutrients, generally speaking.

Third:  new shoes.  My current shoes are at least a year old.  I need new ones.  And I'm buying them Friday with my next paycheck.

I've made it thirty.  I want to see forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty....

And I want to run again.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Questions About Jesus's Humanity

If Jesus was fully divine and fully human, and if he was crucified, buried, and resurrected, post-bodily resurrection, is Jesus still fully human?

Do emotions make Jesus "more" human or do emotions make humans a clearer reflection of the divine image?

And what were the thoughts underpinning Jesus's emotions?

We often get glimpses of Jesus's emotions.  We read in the gospels that he was angry, he was moved with pity (though a better translation might be compassion), we read that he wept indicating he mourned.

Other times, though, we get no indication of either Jesus's thoughts or his emotions.

How much easier would it be to interpret a text if the writer had given us just a bit more?

In Mark 8:17-21, we read, "Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: 'Why are you talking about having no bread?  Do you still not see or understand?  Are your hearts hardened?  Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?  And do you not remember?  When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?'  'Twelve,' they replied.  'And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how man basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?'  They answered, 'Seven.'  He said to them, 'Do you still not understand?'"

But how did Jesus ask these things?  Couldn't the writer just tell us, "And thinking about how stupid his disciples were, Jesus angrily asked, 'Do you still not get it?' silently tacking on, 'you freakin' morons.'"

Or how about, "And thinking how foolish his disciples were to be so concerned, Jesus asked, 'Do you still not understand?' slightly bemused and with a smile playing upon his lips...."

Or again, "Thinking about how short-sighted his disciples were, how much they needed to learn, and how little time he had left, Jesus sighed with frustration and asked, 'Do you still not understand?'"

Or how about, "Thinking about how he desired to be known by his disciples as intimately as he knew them, Jesus asked, 'Do you still not understand?' a tone desperate longing  in his voice."

All we really know is what Jesus is reported to have said.

Another passage that stumps me as to what Jesus is thinking and feeling is John 21:15-17.

"When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?'  'Yes, Lord,' he said, 'you know that I love you.'  Jesus said, 'Feed my lambs.'  Again Jesus said, 'Simon son of John, do you love me?'  He answered, 'Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.'  Jesus said, 'Take care of my sheep.'   The third time he said to him, 'Simon son of John, do you love me?'
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, 'Do you love me?' He said, 'Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.'"

For those you who do not have a concordance immediately available, the conversation in the contemporary vernacular goes something like this:

"Peter, do you love me?  Completely and unconditionally?" Jesus asked.

"Yeah, Jesus.  You know I like you!  I love you like I love me some peanut butter chocolate chip cookies or like I love singing in the shower," Peter replied.

"Okay," Jesus tried again.  "But do you love me?  Are you fully committed?  Are you all in?"

And Peter replied, "Ah, Jesus.  You know you're important to me.  I totally facebooked you last week!"

Finally Jesus asked Peter, "Peter, do you like me?  Are we friends?"

And Peter was sad that Jesus asked him this third time if they were even friends and said, "Jesus, you know everything.  You know that I like you.  You know that we're pals."

What did Jesus feel when he asked Peter, "Do you love me?" and Peter responded, "Lord, you know that you're my pal"?

Did Jesus feel like a failure?

Did he ever wonder if he had loved Peter well?

Did he ever wonder if he had loved people well?

Did he ever wonder if he had done something wrong, that Peter loved him, but did not love him?

And what was it like for Jesus to entrust his entire flock to someone who wasn't as invested in Jesus as Jesus was in him?

Did Jesus ever wonder if he was doing it right?

And when people responded with anger or fear, did he ever doubt his ability to love people well, to effectively communicate his love, respect, and care for them, to live out the truth of his being the divine presence on earth?

Did Jesus ever feel like his actions might not be good enough, but have no idea what to do instead?

Or did Jesus recognize that people are messy and broken and that he could only love them as he was called--unconditionally--and trust that God would take care of the rest?

Was Jesus confident in anything he could not quantify, rationalize, or reason with?

Did Jesus ever feel unsure and insecure when it came to things he couldn't make sense of?  Like....people?

If Jesus really was fully human, how human is human?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Therapy As the Psychological Equivalent of a Pelvic Exam and Pap Smear

I had an appointment with my therapist today.  My therapist is incredibly gifted.  And smart.  Her office is a safe space and that in itself has immense value.  I'm not, strictly speaking, "in" therapy.  I was for about a year and a half after Tim died.  The grief was unbearable and undercut my ability to deal with any other problems in any of my relationships or in life.  Therapy was a great place to learn how to manage my grief and how to engage in healthy relationships, and how to set boundaries to keep relationships healthy.

After 18 months, though, I was so good at processing issues, that my therapy sessions went something like this:

Me:  So, this is what happened....and this is how I felt....and this is the trauma I recognized behind the feeling....and this is how I stayed present in the moment and resolved the issue at hand.

Therapist:  That was an appropriate and very healthy way to handle this situation.  Why are you paying me for this?

Me:  Because I don't trust my instincts yet, and it helps to have a professional assure me that what I'm doing, which feels healthy, actually is healthy.

Eventually, I came to trust my instincts.  I came to believe that if I am experiencing emotional health in my life, my friends are remarking on my emotionally healthy choices, my therapist is affirming that I am emotionally healthy, then indeed, I'm healthy.  Therapy came to an end.  And while it was sad to leave the warm, inviting, safe space of my therapist's office, I built warm, inviting, safe relationships in my life to take it's place.

Now, I kind of believe that therapists are the psychological equivalent of gynecologists.

I figure it doesn't hurt anything to have a check-up once a year.  Make sure everything is working properly, that there are no pre-malignant thoughts in my process that might lead to cancerous emotions and relational death.

Usually, I arrange a check-up with my therapist when I'm facing a situation that is familiar enough to a previous experience that I am mostly sure I can handle it in a healthy way, but which is sufficiently different from any other previous experience that I kind of doubt my ability to handle it in a healthy way.

Sure I'm asymptomatic, and my flow is regular.  I'm not sexually active, so there are no worries about STDs or pregnancy.  But, you just never know when something might be wrong, and it never hurts have a few cells scraped and look at under a microscope.

And thus, today's therapy session went something like this:

Me:  So, when I called you a two weeks ago to make the appointment, I was facing a situation that I wasn't sure how to deal with, and it was causing me a fairly significant degree of stress and anxiety.  After making the appointment, I decided to try and resolve it on my own, and I did so.

Therapist:  This is so typical!  You know how to process!

Me:  I know.  But this is a special case, so I was hoping, though I've already dealt effectively with this situation that I could get some feedback from you in regards to moving forward, and to verify that my view of this particular aspect of this particular relationship is okay and healthy.

Turns out my therapist agrees with me, though she did offer some fabulous challenges for me today.

And thus, I am still healthy.  A little neurotic at times.  But healthy.

It was like getting the postcard in the mail 2 weeks post-exam with the "No issues found" box checked.

Having my mental health reaffirmed by a professional is a pretty fabulous thing.