Monthly Archives: June 2013

Turn Off, Tune Out

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poster for The Matrix

poster for The Matrix (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of my all time favorite trilogies is “The Matrix.” I was captivated by its message immediately, and it becomes more relevant for me as I get older and life gets to be more complicated. I find myself frustrated by the programming that is all around us, and I am more determined than ever to create a better, more sustainable life for my son and his generation than what we have right now. I know there has to be a better way of doing things, but I haven’t figured out all the details of just what that is yet.

When Jaden and I went to see the therapist last week, she told me that she sees a lot of potential in me and if I were to finish my degree in Early Childhood Education, I would be a great preschool teacher. At first, I thought, “YES, this is what I need to do!”.

Then I thought, “NO, that’s a stupid idea!”.

The issues I am dealing with are that so much of what is needed to secure housing, sustain even a modest lifestyle, put food on the table, etc, requires being plugged into the machine. That machine is made up of ideas and philosophies which say that success is measured by wealth and possessions, that intelligent and talented people must go to school and put themselves tens of thousands of dollars in debt in order to prove their worth, and we are all mechanisms for the smooth running of the larger machinations at work.

I refuse to believe there are no other options available for someone like me who has had ENOUGH, and just wants to live a simple life. We don’t need anything extravagant. In fact, it is absolutely my intention to teach my son how to live with far less than we even have right now.

Learning to live with less opens many doors, the primary one being freedom from slavery to the dollar and to the possessions that dollar buys. I have been learning more and more about moneyless tribes and eco-warriors who are refusing to play the game of consumerism any longer, and are finding ways to get what they need through means which provide those things for free.  I would love to be part of something like that and to teach my boy that “waste not, want not” is not merely a cliche. But how to begin?

In 2007, when it was discovered that I had cancer, my whole world turned upside down. It was turned upside down and shaken, and everything that I valued in my world crumbled.  I had to give up the apartment I had worked so hard to get. That apartment was a symbol of my independence, a symbol of finally overcoming the depression that had kept me living with my parents for years. I had finally conquered the beast, and I was living on my own and loving it.

The circumstances also cost me the ability to continue working at a job that I absolutely loved. I was working for a non-profit organization that helped uninsured people gain access to healthcare. I loved my job because I was able to interact with people who had been slogging through the muddy trenches of a life and offer them encouragement. I had been through some hellish things even at that point, and I knew a thing or to about staying strong and choosing to go forward when the going gets tough. I loved going to work every day!

When everything that seemed important was stripped from me through circumstances that came at me nearly too fast to process, I was forced to evaluate what identified me. What made Stephanie…Stephanie? It turns out, I had based much of my identity on my job, on my apartment, on my things, on my friends, my educational pursuits, and myriad other false notions of worth. When all the false identifiers we use are stripped away, we are forced to create new ways of identifying ourselves. But how?

I think the first step is one I’ve already started doing, which is to unplug from the Matrix. There is an endless deluge of messages sent to us every day, through every form of media, telling us what we are, who we are, where we need to be heading, and why we’re a failure if we’re not willing to fall in step with those who are doing things “right.”  Our consciousness is constantly assaulted with empty messages which tell us that if we only had this or that, if we only looked this way or that way, if we only had earned our degree from this school or that school, if only…if only…

And the messages, when you get right down to it, are about control. If we listen to the Matrix and believe what it says, it tells us who we are to be, how we are to function, and what we are to think. It is my belief that this Matrix permeates every facet of culture, from the commercials we see to the sermons we here. Everyone wants a piece of us. Every institution wants some control.

I am frustrated because I am doing all I can to move Jaden and me into a more positive place in life, but I find the machine is working against me. As I haven’t worked in a number of years, my job options are limited. As I haven’t had money to pay many of my bills, my credit is shot, which in turn makes it more difficult to find a place to live. Everything in our system is designed to serve those who fall into step, and those who don’t meet that requirement will suffer for it.

Still, I refuse to plug in again. I refuse to accept that the only way to live a decent life is to resume my place within the machine, perpetuating the cycle of toxic messages. When I think back on all the jobs I’ve had, my favorite jobs were those in which I was doing the work that few others would want to do, whether it was setting up conference rooms at a hotel, or sorting cherries at the fruit packing plant. I enjoyed those jobs because my mind was at ease, I didn’t feel stressed, the job had a conclusion at the end of the day rather than leaving work with a bunch of loose ends to be dealt with in the morning. Those jobs were hard work, too, and I enjoyed it.

What is wrong with being happy with the simple things? If I am content to provide a life for my son and me that is simple, that is unpretentious, that is sustainable even when times get tough, who is anyone to tell me I need to do something differently?

The reality is, the experiment of turning our backs on the value of hard, “low level” work hasn’t turned out so well. We have thousands and thousands of people earning college degrees, putting themselves in debt, and then never using their degree for anything other than something impressive to hang on the wall. The message which told people that this is what they need to do to prove their worth and intelligence has been a toxic one, and we have a nation of students in crisis because of it.

“Dirty Jobs” host and creator, Mike Rowe, has commented many times that there are hundreds of thousands of jobs available for skilled laborers, but there aren’t enough younger people learning trades these days to be able to fill all the jobs. Turning our backs on the value of hard work and a simplified life is having dire consequences for us as nation. Somehow, we collectively came to believe that the only living worth pursuing is one that offers a short work week and very little “grunt work.” The phrase “work smarter, not harder” has been taken to its extreme, and we now have a whole lot of smart people who have no idea how to work as hard with their bodies as they have with their minds.

All of that, because of the messages the Matrix is sending out. When I told the therapist that I was having a difficult time finding work because of the toll cancer, old neck and back injuries, and so forth have taken on my body, her immediate suggestion was that I earn my degree so I can find better work. On the surface, that makes sense. After closer inspection, though, it doesn’t seem like the best move. Going into debt on a gamble that I will find a job to pay off that debt is foolish. I much prefer to find a simpler way to live.

It can be done. The more I turn off and tune out, the more my awareness is elevated, and the more solutions will come to me. I will not plug back in.

Wake up, Neo. The Matrix has you.

On Writing Swell

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Writing journal

Writing journal (Photo credit: avrdreamer)

I continue to write every day, with the intention of coming up with something that closely resembles a good book. I am a writer. It’s what I do. It’s what I’ve always done. It has always been my primary form of self-expression, because when I write, I feel free. I couldn’t imagine not being able to write. I think of all the tragedies that could possibly befall me, losing my ability to write would come in second only to losing my son.

So, it is difficult for me to understand why writing with the intention of writing a book has proven to be so difficult. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I am used to letting my writing go wherever it would like to, rather than using anything even close to structure. When I was in college, I wrote papers, and I wrote them well. I nearly always earned a perfect score, and a few of my instructors asked permission to use my papers as examples for future students. So, it’s not as though I don’t know how to create structure. I am finding, though, that I’m not very good at doing it when I am thinking of writing something more than a few pages long.

*sigh*

I think part of the block is the subject matter I am dealing with. It is difficult to mine my heart and brain for all they’re worth when it requires me to walk down roads I have willfully ignored for a long time. There are many parts of my life as a pre-teen and a teenager that I don’t recall. It isn’t that I recall them but the memory is hazy. It isn’t that I don’t recall every detail. It is that there are fairly long stretches of my past that I simply do not remember living. It’s all a blank. Yet, I know that some of the most important aspects of how I got from there to here are living within those blanks.

I may have to do the unthinkable and dig out my old journals. I have journals from twenty years ago, right up through to now, which surely hold many clues as to what it is that I am trying so hard to remember and then, perhaps, forget all over again.

I am quite certain that not all of my problems in my present life are related to the fact that I didn’t get along with my mother and that I couldn’t play a musical instrument. Sometimes, it is necessary to go where you do not want to go to get to where you need to be, and I believe that’s the case with this book I am writing. It is going to require me to unearth things I buried long ago, dust them off, and examine them for key pieces of evidence.

Writing is not for the faint of heart. Honest writing requires a person to dig deep. It requires a person to write to the pain, to the point that the hurt can be keenly felt, and then keep writing through to a resolution. No stopping midway, no turning back and retracing your steps,  no pretending you didn’t just go where you just went. Honest writing requires an element of raw humanity.

This is the point I’m at right now. Pushing through the discomfort of churning up memories I’d rather not, and writing it down to help make sense of my story. It’s not an easy process, but I think it will be well worth it when the story is written in full.

The Aftermath

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Flag of the United States, re-colored with the...

Flag of the United States, re-colored with the colors from the gay-pride flag (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We knew this would happen, didn’t we? We knew that the decisions made by the Supreme Court of the United States regarding equal rights for same sex couples would have a swift backlash from the conservatives, most of them of the Christian ilk, who feel threatened by the idea of their neighbors having the same rights that they enjoy.

I grew up in church. I know those people. I grew up in a time when the intent to portray gays as the most vile sexual deviants was a widespread phenomena in Christendom. At least, it was within the circles in which I traveled. If a church wasn’t doing something to show “the truth” about gays to its congregants, then it was passively allowing the so-called “gay agenda” to take root in society and blossom into full blown Queerdom, where seeing same sex couples entice children into compromising relationships would be the norm, where heterosexuals would be targeted to be seduced and changed by the gays in the community, where seminaries and Bible colleges would be forced to teach that homosexuality was perfectly acceptable, and, hey, maybe Jesus himself was even gay, we don’t know.

That was back in the 1990s. The church at large had gone from ignoring the gay community, to blaming gays on the spread of AIDS in the 1980s, to trotting them out as the perpetrators of the most vile acts against humankind in the 1990s, to blaming them for terrorism and natural disasters as we entered the 2000s.

The last one still happens, and it happens every time there is a catastrophic event. Most recently, the gay community was blamed for the shooting at Sandy Hook, and then blamed for the tornados in Oklahoma. After all, if we would stop tolerating those scary gays and their gay behavior with their gay lovers, maybe God would stop being so mad at us straight people and would stop allowing gunmen and natural disasters to rip our nation to shreds.

That’s the logic within many circles on Christendom. I have no doubt that the gays will likely be blamed for the predicted drought that is supposed to sweep across the nation this summer, despite the fact that the drought was predicted well before DOMA was killed and Prop 8 appeals were dismissed.

It is not a surpise to me that The Orange Wonder,  Speaker of the House John Boehner, stated that he hopes more states will outlaw gay marriage. While DOMA has been struck down, it is still within the power of the 38 states who still haven’t legalized gay marriage to ban it outright. This makes yesterday’s victory all but utterly meaningless for same sex couples who live anywhere but within the states who have offically legalized gay marriage. The striking down of DOMA is a big step forward, but Boehner and those of his ilk will likely not rest until all options to withhold equal rights from same sex couples have been aggressively pursued at the state level.

This saddens me greatly, because I really do not understand why it is that some people are so threatened by the idea of others have equality. We do not live in a theocracy, so saying that yesterdays SCOTUS decisions threatens our Judeo-Christian foundation really doesn’t hold water. Our Constitution was written to be malleable for the precise purpose that as our country evolved, the laws could evolve with it. Whereas gays were once considered sexual deviants and predators of unsuspecting straight people, most of us know better now. Many of us have at least one gay friend, and I can only speak for myself here, but I have never felt in any way threatened by their wish for equality.

The striking down of DOMA doesn’t mean straight people now have to turn gay. It doesn’t mean that heterosexual marriages are now null and void. It doesn’t mean the rights afforded to heterosexual married couples are in any way diminished simply because gay couples in some states are now allowed to be legally married and enjoy those rights, too. It means none of that. It just means that love is love, and a person shouldn’t be penalized by the law for who they fall in love with.

At this point, there is no doubt some nefarious idiot who is asking, “So if they fall in love with a CHILD, they should be allowed to marry them and consumate the marriage?! After all, people can’t help who they fall in love with!”

To which I say, again…You’re an idiot. Nobody is asking for anyone to accept pedophilia, or bestiality, or any of the other ridiculous scenarios that are presented as a way of attempting to discredit the validity of same sex marriage. Don’t be a moron.

So, while I am happy about yesterday, that happiness has been tempered by the stark reality that it doesn’t change things for a whole lot of same sex couples in this country who would like to be legally married. It is also evident that there are many people who hold public office that are going to fight hard to keep same sex marriage from being legalized in the states where it remains outlawed. This saddens me more than I can say, because I truly don’t understand the reasons behind it. All people want is equality, and that shouldn’t be perceived as a threat.

So, what gives?

Love Wins

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Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Stained glass at St John the Baptist’s Anglican Church http://www.stjohnsashfield.org.au, Ashfield, New South Wales. Illustrates Jesus’ description of himself “I am the Good Shepherd” (from the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 11). This version of the image shows the detail of his face. The memorial window is also captioned: “To the Glory of God and in Loving Memory of William Wright. Died 6th November, 1932. Aged 70 Yrs.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

U.S. Supreme Court building.

U.S. Supreme Court building. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My head is still spinning as I write this, and my heart is full of joy for my friends whose lives will be directly impacted by the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act on the grounds that it is unconstitutional. I was on Twitter when the decision was handed down, and it exploded with celebration as people became aware of it. It was a virtual party, celebrating love and equality. It was an historic moment in which I was able to participate in my own small way.

In the moments that followed, the decision was handed down that the Prop 8 appeal was dismissed on standing, making same-sex marriage once again legal in California. My heart was dancing, and there was an air of celebration that was palpable, even through the Twitter feed. I am so glad I happened to be there in that moment.

I am happy for my friends whose lives can now move forward without restriction, who can marry the people they love and know that they have the same rights, the same protections under the law that heterosexual couples have. This is something that should have happened a long time ago, and I am one Christ-follower who is happy that the “moral majority” didn’t win this argument.

Here are some reactions to the Supreme Court’s decisions, as reported by Religion News Service: http://www.religionnews.com/2013/06/26/religious-leaders-react-as-doma-struck-down-by-the-supreme-court/

I realize this decision will receive a swift backlash from some members of the Christian community. I realize this decision will be perceived as a threat, although a vague one, to some who believe that giving another person the same rights as you have somehow diminishes the value. I understand there will be people who will make the ridiculous assertion that allowing same-couples to marry and have equal protection under the law will open the door for the legalization of child brides, pedophilia, bestiality, necrophilia, and having sex with cars in public settings. I don’t understand why, but there are a great number of people out there who feel threatened by providing equal rights to homosexual couples, and for that, I apologize to those who have to face that discrimination and ignorance.

At this time, I want to say that I am sorry to those who have been hurt by things done against homosexuals in Jesus’ name. I am sorry that you have been misrepresented, maligned, and marginalized. I am sorry that so much of the rhetoric used to describe the gay community has alluded to gays being sexual deviants who want to harm children. I am sorry that you have been presented as being a militant group that wishes to undermine the value of love, family, and commitment for heterosexual couples and their families. I am sorry that you have been consistently presented as being a viable threat to the United States of America, and that your community has been blamed for everything from skinny jeans to natural disasters that wipe out entire communities. I am sorry that so many who say they follow the example of Christ have chosen to single out your lifestyle as one which so angers God that he sends hurricanes and tornados, gunmen and terrorists, to our nation in order to show his displeasure with you. I am sorry the church has not loved you better.

It is my hope that this day will be the beginning of change for the church and those who profess to be followers of Christ. I hope that this day will mark the beginning of understanding and celebration of the diversity God has created in the world. I hope that this day will mark the beginning of a celebration that love is love, and no one need be left out.

Love wins. Every time.

Four Years Ago…

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English: Michael Jackson with two fans at the ...

English: Michael Jackson with two fans at the Kahala Hilton Hotel. Photograph by Alan Light, early February 1988 Türkçe: Michael Jackson Khala Hilton Oteli’nde (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was about this time, maybe a little later, on this day four years ago that my mom arrived at my apartment to watch my 6 month old son so my sister and I could go to a Love and Logic parenting class. Being a new mom, I was ready to get out of the house and have some baby-free time, and my sister and I went to class and enjoyed good discussion and laughter for the next hour or two.

When we were heading back to my place, I never imagined what was waiting for me when I got home. I walked into my apartment, ready to take my sweet baby into my arms, when my mom said to me, “Michael Jackson died.”  I was stunned. I really thought I had misunderstood her.

“What?!”

As she repeated the words, my gaze drifted to the TV screen where the awful scene was playing out, the words “Michael Jackson Is Dead” emblazoned across the bottom. Like most of the world, for the next hours, days, and weeks, I would try to make sense of what happened, try to understand how it is that he could just be…gone.

I got tired of watching all the speculation. I got tired of hearing anyone who had ever had anything to do with Michael Jackson step forward as if they had been best friends, and they alone knew the King of Pop’s secrets. I was especially sickened when Rabbi Shmuley Boteach used Michael Jackson’s death as a means to make an extraordinary profit, claiming that Michael would have wanted their private conversations published for the world to see, and, of course, Michael probably also wanted the good Rabbi to make money off the public’s desire for answers.

I think what summed it up best for me was when Jimmy Fallon did his weekly “Thank You Notes,” and he wrote something like, “Thank you, woodwork, for letting out everyone who has ever known Michael Jackson, because it’s really important that we know what his cook thought of his ‘Dangerous’ album.” I thought that was pure genius, and so did the studio audience, apparently. Enough was enough, and Jimmy said it well.

I wasn’t a major Michael Jackson fan during his lifetime, I’ll admit that. I never doubted his innocence when the heinous allegations about child molestation were made, and I couldn’t understand how Martin Bashir could have gone out of his way to earn Michael Jackson’s trust, only to so severely edit the footage of the interview as to make it appear like something it wasn’t. Was Michael naive for trusting him? Perhaps. That doesn’t make the act any less vile.

When Michael Jackson died and I saw the feeding frenzy begin, I really felt sad for him. No one would leave him alone in life, and no one would leave him alone after his death was announced.

Like millions upon millions of others, I went to see “This Is It,” and I think that was when the magnitude of the loss first hit me. Here was a gentle soul, maligned at every opportunity, his message distorted and filtered through the media that so loved to hate him, and it seemed that the world never really knew who he was.

As time went on, my grief didn’t wane. As recently as within the past 12 months, I’ve been plagued by awful, sad dreams about him. Attempting to make sense of why I kept holding on for so long, I began to read about him. I realized that the world had been given a gift in Michael Jackson, not only as an artist but as a human being of love and light, and a lot of the world had chosen to believe the dirty press about him rather than considering that perhaps he wasn’t who he was made out to be. The more I learned, the more I realized that, famous though he was, there was a large swath of the world’s population that didn’t know him at all.

I am not plagued by nightmares anymore. As I’ve said before, I suspect he may yet be alive, but even if he isn’t physically alive, the spirit of all he did lives on through those who have taken the time to get to know the man behind the contrived personae put forth by the media. I am grateful that I took the time to listen to the nudge in my soul that told me to investigate and dig deeper, learning for myself who he really was/is.

My beautiful son is 4 1/2 now. When we first listened to Michael Jackson’s music together, we were about thirty seconds into “Jam” before Jaden said to me, “I want to go to his house! I want to go play with him at his house!”. If that were possible, I would gladly allow that. A month or so ago, Jaden was asked to bring his favorite song to school. I asked him what song he would like to take, thinking he would pick a song from a movie he liked or one of his kids’ CDs. Without hesitation he said, “Michael Jackson!”. When I asked him which song he wanted, he picked Man in the Mirror. I thought that was a sophisticated choice for a child his age. He’s an old soul. And, in my estimation, a good judge of character.

I have seen a shift in Michael Jackson’s fanbase. Whereas once upon a time there may have been a large following of people who saw him as an entertainer, there is a large following now of people who see him for the immeasurable good he brought into the world, the inspiration he gave to others, the compassion he showed for people from all corners of the earth and from all walks of life. There are always going to be people in the world who will doubt him, who will choose to believe the worst, who will never let die the accusations made against him despite his being found “not guilty” by a jury of his peers…and that, after a gut-wrenching trial that he sat through, day after day, all his secrets exposed, trying to remain dignified and vibrant despite the daily kick in the teeth the trial was.

There are always going to be people who will want to relegate his place in history to that of a heinous criminal who got away with his crimes. I will not attempt to change their minds, but I will say that I believe the jury got it right, he was not guilty of the things he was accused of doing, and is perhaps one of the most giving, compassionate people in modern history.

It saddens me that, even today, people go out of their way to say and do hurtful things where Michael Jackson is concerned. However, there will always be jerks. There will always be “haters.” I choose to believe that, today of all days, love wins.

Love always wins. For all of us. Today is a good reminder of that.

God bless you, Michael Jackson…wherever you are.

English: Michael Jackson 2nd June 1988. "...

English: Michael Jackson 2nd June 1988. “Wiener Stadion” venue in Vienna, Austria. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Getting Started

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English: Book and apparatus for writing. Engra...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, I took the first step toward writing the book I’ve talked about writing for the last few years. I didn’t write anything monumental and it will all likely have to be scrapped, but the point is, I got words on paper and I’m on my way.

The blank page is intimidating. I think every artist can relate to that, whether they are a writer, a painter, or an origami extraordinaire. Writing something that you hope people will want to read someday is especially intimidating because all I can think is, “What if this is total crap writing? And who would want to read about my life, anyway?”.

Yet, I know I have a story to tell. My life hasn’t been easy, and I know there are a lot of people out there whose lives haven’t been easy and just need to know that they will not only survive, but will get to a place of thriving. My life is hardly perfect right now, but whose is? We each have a story to share, and in sharing our stories, we encourage each other as well as spark inspiration toward change.

I am currently reading Brennan Manning’s book, “All Is Grace.” He, too, wondered who would want to read his story, and as it turned out, many did! People don’t relate well to perfection. Most people have hardly lived the perfect life, and if they tell you they have, they are either lying or selling something or both. People need to know that we all have struggles, and we all need hope.

In the introduction to the book, Philip Yancey included a few lines of poetry that I think speaks well to our need to understand that struggling is not something to be ashamed of, but it something to drag from the darkness into the light so we can all be made better for our honesty. He shared:

Ring the bells that still can ring.

Forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.

Leonard Cohen

So, here’s to writing a book about being beautifully, imperfectly human, and learning a thing or two about grace along the way.

Dreaming

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dreams and wishes. 62/365

dreams and wishes. 62/365 (Photo credit: nicole.pierce.photography ♥)

Sometimes, I feel like God is saying to me, “Let’s dream together for awhile.” When I feel that nudge, I let my imagination run for awhile, thinking of all the things I’d like to do, if only…

My dreams often involve things I would do if I had a lot of money. And I mean, A LOT of money. I have no interest in wealth or possessions for my own benefit, but there is so much I would love to be able to do for others that I can’t do because…well, I don’t have loads of cash.

If I did, though…

When I left my husband, I stayed in a women’s shelter for a night. We are fortunate that such places exist, and I am glad that I had somewhere safe to go that night. When I was there, though, it became abundantlly clear that the shelter was hardly adequate housing, even temporarily, for women who were there with their children. In any given room, there were four or five women, and often several babies and young children. These rooms were just about large enough to hold a two or three sets of bunk beds, a couple of dressers, and a small closet. Putting a Pack ‘n’ Play in there was enough to make the quarters incredibly cramped.

The temporary housing is such that the women and their children are able to stay there for up to 90 days, so long as certain requirements are being met involving counseling, appications for housing assistance, etc. Again, it is wonderful that there is something available to these women and their children so they are not forced to stay with the abuser because they have no options. However, it was sad to me that there wasn’t something better, something more conducive to a comfortable transition from the home of the abuser to a home of their own.

So, if I had the money to do it, I would provide a good chunk of the money necessary to build a facility that can comfortably house families as they are going through the transition. The a private suite, modestly but comfortably furnished, for each family, with common rooms for socializing, group sessions, dining, and a common kitchen. The sleeping/living quarters would be private, though. I think there is greater dignity in that, and I think the woman and their children deserve that.

There is something to be said for a supportive community of women who have been through similar experiences, of course. When I left my husband, he turned on the charms and, for the briefest of moments, I thought maybe things could be turned around. Then another of the women there told me that I had better think about it and let him prove himself first. I was seven weeks pregnant when I left. She held a three month old infant in her arms and told me that she had stayed with her abusive boyfriend during her pregnancy, and it made her pregnancy very, very difficult. She told me that if my husband was going to change, he could still do so even if I wasn’t there, and I needed to think about myself and my baby.

I listened, and I’m glad I did because he would soon prove that he hadn’t changed at all, and I felt no regret about never going back. For that reason, I am thankful for the community offered through safe houses. Nevertheless, I think private quarters for families would be…amazing.

Another thing I’ve always wanted to do is donate cosmetics kits to Look Good, Feel Better, an organization that helps women who have been through cancer treatments. When I went through radiation therapy, I couldn’t keep any food down. I lost a tremendous amount of weight, so much so that my doctor told me that I needed to find a way to stop losing or I was going to have a whole new set of problems. Along with the weight loss, my skin suffered terribly. The skin on my face was peeling off, I was incredibly pale (more than usual!), I had dark circles under my eyes…I looked awful, and felt awful about how I looked. But, when I found the right cosmetics, skin care, and techniques, I could look decent and feel okay.

For a short time, I considered going to school to become a makeup artist, for the sole purpose of being able to use that skill set to help women suffering from cancer. Cancer is such a wretched thing. What it does to the body is horrific, and that takes a toll on the soul, too. For women, looking as sick as cancer makes them feel can be adding insult to injury. If we can look good, we can feel better.

As usual, though, money was an obstacle.

But, I still dream. There are so many things I’d like to do, if only I had a much longer life in which to do them!

However, I am only one person, and I have only this one life, and in that lifetime I don’t imagine I will ever be supremely wealthy, so my dreams of building women’s shelters and donating thousands of cosmetics will likely never come true. They could, I suppose, but likely not. Still, what little I can do, I try to do, and in that way perhaps I am seeding new dreams.

I am only one, but still I am one; I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

-Helen Keller 

The Impossible Has Already Been Set In Motion…

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (film)

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, I took a big step toward moving my son and me to a healthier place in life. As some of you may know, I have been dealing with some behavioral issues concerning my son for a long time. The problems we’ve been dealing with has had an impact on his ability to function appropriately at school, where his social behaviors are concerned. He is a wonderful, sweet, amazing, creative, imaginative, funny kid, and I am so blessed to be his mom. Still, there are issues that have been difficult to deal with, and after talking with his teachers, his primary care doctor, and other parents whose children have had similar issues, I finally took the rather terrifying step of going to a mental health professional to begin the process of getting services for us.

I am a strong advocate of mental health and good mental hygiene. I have no problem sharing my own mental health history with just about anyone, because I know that enough people suffer from depression and other forms of mental illness that sharing my story can offer hope to someone who is still struggling. However, getting services for my son is taking on a whole different meaning for me, because when I think about the problems that may present as we go through the assessments and evaluations, all I can think is, “I don’t want this for him.”

Of course, there is no “this” for him as of yet, and it is my own fear that is feeding my imagination. I also realize that even if it were to be discovered that he needed a little more help, it would be okay. The purpose of getting him services is to help him become the best version of himself he can possibly be, and right now, I don’t think I’ve done a very good job of facilitating that.

He did not go with me today, which gave the therapist and I time to speak openly about the factors that may be contributing to the problems we’re experiencing. I know that my son’s behaviors, good or bad, hardly exist in a vacuum and there is plenty I have done along the way to contribute to where we are now. As a recovering addict, I can’t deny that my substance abuse most certainly played a role in how we got to where we are today. I also can’t deny that my recovery may be somewhat confusing or even frustrating to him, regardless of how simultaneously happy he may feel about the fact that his mom is present and fully engaged in the moments we have together. Genetically, I have contributed my own messed up brain chemistry to the mix, coupled with his father’s long history of alcoholism, paranoia, anxiety, depression…My sweet boy was born into this world with some of the odds utterly stacked against him, and there may be some genetic factors contributing to the behaviors that have become so problematic.

Beyond that, the therapist and I also discussed the thing I’ve known for a long, long time: We need to move. After a discussion of the dynamics that exist where we are right now, ranging from a lack of support in the form of Narcotics Anonymous to help me stay the road of recovery to the need for Jaden and me to be able to be in our own place and develop our own dynamic as our own…albeit, very tiny…family, the therapist said that she is going to push me hard to take the steps to make that move, because she believes it could be the thing that is going to make all the difference for both Jaden and me.

As we talked, she told me that she sees that I have a lot of potential as a person, and that is being stifled right now. The challenges I have faced with my health have created a need for further education so I can get work that isn’t going to exacerbate existing physical problems. She continued to encourage me to proceed with getting services to help sort out what is going on with Jaden right now, and at the same time to look into resources available to help with moving.

It’s a daunting task. Moving is expensive, and I have no idea where the funds would come from. Still, I took today’s meeting as another indicator that the changes I am working toward in life are right, they are good, and only better things will come as I plot this course.

I refuse to live in fear. I refuse to think about moving with an attitude of want or scarcity. Everything we need has already been provided, and is making its way to us as we speak.

One of my favorite movies is “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” The way the movie starts is a foreshadowing of the good fortune to come. The narrator begins, ” This is a story of an ordinary little boy named Charlie Bucket. He was not faster, or stronger, or more clever than other children.His family was not rich or powerful or well-connected; in fact, they barely had enough to eat. Charlie Bucket was the luckiest boy in the entire world. He just didn’t know it yet.” If you’ve seen the movie or read the book, you know that Charlie Bucket was a boy who seemed to have all the odds stacked against him. He came from a poor family which had no prospects of their fortunes ever turning around.

My favorite, most hope-filled scene is when we see Charlie laying in his bed, staring up through the hole in the roof of the Bucket family’s dilapidated home, his eyes bright with wonder as he basks in the glow of the tales Grandpa Joe had just finished sharing with him about the mysterious, elusive, endlessly wondrous Willy Wonka. We can only imagine that as he drifted off to sleep that night, he was dreaming of the impossible meeting of a man who accomplishes impossible things.

The narrator then kindly shares with us that it is on that very night, while Charlie and the whole Bucket household slept, that the impossible had already been set into motion. The change of their fortunes was on its way, the work had already been done, and it would arrive to them…even after a series of what seemed like insurmountable setbacks…in precisely the right time. The finding of the golden ticket was only the beginning of a chain of events which culiminated in greater abundance than either the Buckets or Willy Wonka could have ever hoped for.

So, it is with lessons learned from Charlie Bucket that I look toward what is to come for us. I will continue to take my steps in making the changes I see necessary for us, and do so with the expectation that the resources we need to make the changes are already on their way here.

On Death and Life

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Death

Death (Photo credit: tanakawho)

I love cemetaries. The older, the better. I love to walk through the cemetary and read the headstones, particularly the older ones which are often quite poetic and beautiful in their commemoration of a life once lived. There is something peaceful and soothing to me in realizing that life is finite. No matter what we’re going through, this life doesn’t last forever. It really puts our problems into their rightful place.

I’m not sure where this love of cemetaries started, although I suspect it began when I was quite young. When I was little and my family lived in Pennsylvania, we attended Open Door Chapel, which my grandparents pastored. It was a simple country church, beautiful for its lack of pretense. As with any good country church, it has a sprawling cemetary behind it. I never gave it a lot of thought. It was just part of the Sunday morning experience to wear our Sunday best and make a passing nod toward inevitable death as we walked into church to celebrate one believed to have conquered death and all its trappings.

I vaguely remember going to mid-week services there, which took place at night. Again, seeing the cemetary awash in moonlight never scared me. When my brother and I were acting like fools, my mom would say to us, “Behave or we’re going outside to have an event!”.

Now, this meant that my mom would be taking us out to the outhouses, the only bathroom facilities the church had. The outhouses were in close proximity to the edge of the cemetary. I remember one particular incident in which my brother and I must not have heeded her warning, and she marched us outside to the outhouses. I remember feeling no fear, because I wasn’t the one about to be spanked (I have no idea how I dodged that bullet). I remember the moon was full that night, there were clouds drifting through its glow, and the cemetary looked like a beautiful place to me.

Perhaps I was just a strange child. I couldn’t have been more than 3 when this event took place, because I was 3 when we moved to Michigan. Whatever the case, I think that is where this appreciation for cemetaries started.  I don’t get to visit cemetaries very often anymore, as gas is expensive and there aren’t any “old” cemetaries within walking distance.

When I was in Bible college in Lima, New York, there were glorious old cemetaries peppered throughout the small town, all well within walking distance. My friends and I were frequent visitors there. I’m not sure what it is about death and religion, but they seem to hand in hand nicely. Perhaps it is the promise of future glories that make death at once so frightening and appealing to those who believe heaven exists only in the afterlife. I used to believe that way. Now, I’m not sure that waiting until we’re dead for life to really begin is the best policy.

I used to believe that this life was something we’re just passing through, kind of biding our time until we die and get to go to heaven. Don’t judge me. It’s something a lot of Christians believe, even if they don’t come right out and say it in those terms. The t-shirts bearing the phrase “This world is not my home” were all the rage when I was a teenager, and I took that to heart. I came to believe that this life is something meant simply to be endured, and so long as we’re faithful to Christ, we can look forward to an eternity in paradise, making this stinking rotten life worth the trouble.

As I get older and I put more days behind me than I might have ahead of me, I see the foolishness of such thinking. I think that to adopt such a point of view turns us into zombies. We may look alive, we may be animated and articulated as a living being, but to believe that everything good, everything that makes life worthwhile, comes only after death immediately invites a certain measure of death to take place while we yet live. I don’t think there is any freedom in the notion that heaven is a reward for a life well lived, while at the same time seeing that life as being intrinsically flawed and fallen, thus hardly worthy of being allowed to exist.

I could digress into a whole soliloquy on religion, but I won’t. Not at this point, anyway.

What is in my heart today, at this very moment, is the yearning to experience heaven right now, because I’m not entirely convinced that heaven as I’ve been taught to believe in it actually exists. I thinkt here is something that happens in the afterlife, but I’m not sure exactly what it is. So, rather than put all my eggs in the heavenly hereafter basket, I wonder what would become of us if we were to believe that at least something like heaven could exist here and now.

Some would interpret this as license to experience everything “the flesh” desires, because there is the idea that heaven must equate to pleasure, and pleasure is often interpreted as a strictly physical experience. However, what if heaven were more about a state of being? What if, instead of the majority of people in the world focusing their energies and efforts on creating the best possible afterlife for themselves, we focused on living with peace and kindness and gentleness toward each other right now? That would create a paradigm shift, an entirely new zeitgeist from which to operate.

I am grieved when I see what is happening in the world around me. People are often so unkind to each other. All out for #1, right? People are battling depression, addiction, disease, and fear in record numbers. More people are dying by suicide in this tragic world we’ve created than ever before. People are despairing.

Many might say, “Well, people need Jesus.” I agree, people do. But what does that mean? Does it mean praying a prayer and ensuring a place in the uncertain hereafter, meanwhile the world carries on as usual? Or does giving people Jesus mean taking the focus off of the perceived ultimate goal of leading someone in “the sinners prayer” … which is found nowhere in the Bible … and instead making the goal to do as Jesus did, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, setting free those held captive by physical and invisible chains?

My faith has changed. My ideas have changed. It is no longer enough to say that this world is not my home, I’m just passing through on my way to a better place, life is short so I must pray hard, and myriad other catchy phrases seen on bumper stickers and t-shirts throughout Christendom. I am here, so this world is my home for however long I am a part of it. I am just passing through, and I have this one chance to get things right and make the world a better, more peaceful, kinder place, brighter and lighter because I am a part of it. Life is short, so it must be lived well.

We’re here, we’re all in this together, and none of us gets out alive. Eventually, we’re all going to be food for worms. In the short time we have here, which is merely a flash in the pan when compared to the larger scheme of things, we have the chance to bring love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control into the world…a world that badly needs it. I need it. I think you probably do, too. We can decide to make this life the best it can be, right now. We can choose to bring heaven to earth.

Heaven doesn’t have to wait until we’re dead.