Friday, April 6, 2012

The last first, Holy Week, and pie

(Fair warning: This might as well have been a novella. So get comfy before you start)

Easter has always been my favorite holiday. I love the anticipation and preparation of Lent, the sweep and thrall of the story of Passion Week, and the exultation of Easter morning. And it's perhaps the one time a year I still feel okay getting little-girl giddy over picking out a new dress.


Since I came to Kansas City to go to college, I've spent every Easter but one out on my grandparents' farm. Aside from the absolute magic that place has always held for me, there was something so deep-down wholesome and wonderful about having a big Easter dinner with cousins and in-laws around Grandma's table. It was one of the things that solidified Easter as my favorite holiday - doing my best to help and not hinder while Grandma pulled together a veritable banquet for 12 or more, scrubbing down the house so it shone, and Easter in that creaky-floored, white clapboard country church with a congregation who can't hold a tune to save their lives.


But this year is different. I won't be doing any cooking or scrubbing. I won't be going to "Grandma's house" at all. I'm headed to farm, but I'll be staying up the hill at my aunt and uncle's house, as my oldest cousins now live where Grandma and Grandpa did. I'll still get the big family meal, and I'm sure it will be delicious, but I'll be missing Grandma's special touch. All this may sound a bit maudlin, and perhaps it is, but I can't help it. This is the last first.


See, Grandma's cancer came back aggressively and unexpectedly last year. I was one of the last in the family to find out (occupational hazard of being one of the youngest - I still get "protected" a little too much sometimes), but by early February we all knew the truth.That the tumor on her neck was growing far too fast to be combated. That this was going to be a season of "lasts." The last time I could just call on a Thursday to say I was coming after work on Friday, the last wondrous meal she'd be strong enough to cook, the last quiet, comfortable afternoon staring out the window together, the last Easter dinner.

I was busy, but I tried to get out there every few weekends or so for a Saturday. On one of those occasions, she'd baked a pie and had it on the counter, just in case I was staying for dinner. I can't even remember the reason now, but I decided I just couldn't wait around for a meal and had to get back into the city. So I gave her a hug, thanked her for the thought, and left without a piece of pie. As far as I know, it was the last she ever made.

And then came Easter. When I arrived Good Friday evening, the house was full of cousins. Grandma was in her rocker, but obviously fidgeting as three young adults, two teenagers and my aunt attempted to prepare for an Easter Saturday brunch without Grandma's assistance. It was the first time I had it confirmed that Wanda Fuhrman truly could do the work of 8 normal women. It took us hours to get everything done and the kitchen clean - tasks accomplished with laughter and camaraderie, and more than a few moments of wrinkled brows and swallowed tears. We were showing Grandma how well we could manage without her so she wouldn't bolt up out of that chair and exhaust what little strength she had left. But for me, the truth was that I was learning how little prepared I was to manage without her, and realizing how quickly I would have to get prepared. The lump, which had been merely knot-sized on my last visit, had spread further up her neck and swollen the whole right side of her face. My aunt informed me that we were looking at a matter of weeks, rather than months. I cried most of Good Friday night away.

By Saturday morning, I'd come to the realization that I didn't have time to waste on tears. Aside from the fact I wanted to spend my time collecting memories with Grandma, I was quite literally too busy. The brunch was up the hill at my aunt and uncle's house, but Easter Sunday dinner was at Grandma's. So after Grandma had rested up from the strain of simply leaving the house, she, my aunt and I set about preparing for the second family gathering of the weekend. My aunt had to run into town mid-afternoon for groceries, and the car had no sooner cleared the driveway than Grandma was up and heading for the laundry room, walker thrust unceremoniously aside.

I knew the inactivity was driving her batty, but that didn't keep me from protesting all the way. “Let me do that, Grandma, just tell me what I need to do.”

So she did, and while I was loading the washing machine, she headed down the hall to get a broom and sweep off the porch. When I asked to take it from her, she moved on to the rugs to shake out. When I put the broom down to reach for the rugs, she said, “I think I'll go see to the dishwasher, then.”

I stepped in front of the door and did my best impression of her. “Now, Grandma, am I supposed to be letting you walk around without your walker?”

She looked at me with raised eyebrows and declared, “I reckon I can do as I please.”

It's a moment I cherish. A moment that makes me wince a bit, but one I would never trade. Much like Easter morning. I didn't go to church. Aunt Debbie couldn't leave Grandma that long, and I knew she needed the help. Grandma attempted to stay out of the kitchen, but it was rather a relief when she came over to inspect the deviled eggs Aunt Debbie was making. They were proving particularly difficult to peel, and most had fingernail gouges in the sides.

"Not my best work, is it?" Aunt Debbie joked. "Not as good as you could do."

Grandma gave a carefully calculated shrug. "Doesn't matter. These'll be fine." Then she walked back toward her rocker.

Aunt Debbie leaned toward me. "That's code for, 'I would never, ever put these on my table.' You'd better make an egg run."
I don't know if Grandma overheard that particular exchange or not, but I remember the expression of relief on her face when I came back carrying more cartons of eggs for us to boil.

I spent the next two weekends out on the farm, but by then she was on so many painkillers she was barely aware I was around. On the third Friday, two days before Mother's Day, I had my bag and pillow in my car, when I got the call leaving work. Grandma had passed away, with my uncle, aunt and cousins by her side, in the sunroom of her house. The way she wanted to go. At home, surrounded by family, at peace.

For me, though, peace has been an elusive thing. I've certainly felt it at times, leaned on Christ to get me through the worst days, but the abiding peace that isn't shaken by the sudden waves of grief - I still haven't gotten that figured out. Which is why I burst into tears the last time I made a pie crust, and again tonight when I made a perfect batch of deviled eggs for the first time ever.



This year of "firsts" hasn't been easy. First Mother's Day, first birthday, first Thanksgiving, first Christmas. But now we come to the last "first." And I find that, while for the most part, I feel more healed than wounded, I dread the finality of this Easter. Because once it passes, it will feel as if life really has moved on. I'll have to get used to the idea that, while the hole is still there, it isn't a gaping, fresh hurt any more. Because there are moments when it feels that healing could mean forgetting, and Wanda Fuhrman was far too influential in my life and heart for me to forget.

Eastertide is a season that draws on the whole gamut of human emotion. From the breathless wonder of Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper, to the horror of Jesus' torturous death on Good Friday, to the restless anticipation of Saturday, to the glory of Resurrection Sunday - it's all there. I've been pondering that over the last couple of days as I prepare for the weekend family get-together. You can't appreciate Easter Sunday without the three preceding days, can you? If it weren't for the pain associated with the day, the joy is incomplete. That's where I've been finding my strength lately.

So in conclusion: Love well and generously. Celebrate the pain and victory of Easter. And next time, eat the pie when it is offered. It might be your last chance.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Adopted/Christian issues #1: Perfection


Not even going to try to explain how busy/tired I was last week - just forging ahead with this post...

When I was a growing up, I was a good kid. Absurdly good. It wasn't that I never misbehaved, because I did, but I had a compulsion strive for perfection. Unlike kids who obeyed the rules to avoid getting in trouble, I obeyed because the concept of not doing what I was told was both foreign and somewhat frightening to me. Have any of you see Ella Enchanted? In my mind, obeying was like that. Even when I didn't like it, I HAD to do it.

After reading The Primal Wound, I realized that a large part of that compulsion comes from my adoption. An infant who is adopted soon after birth is still able to realize that his/her mother is no longer the one caring for them. So they go through the same emotional wounding as would any abandoned child. The only difference is that this happens in infancy, so people don't recognize it in the same way. Many adopted kids have some issues with the fear that their new family might also abandon them.

For some kids, this fear takes the form of acting out - trying to find the trigger that would send them packing. In others, the fear creates extremely well-behaved kids who are constantly striving to be so good their family will consider them indispensible. I was the second type of kid. In a nutshell, I felt that if I was perfect enough, I would never need to worry about people abandoning me again. So if my sister jokingly asked me to do the dishes when it was her turn, I jumped up to the sink. If I had to turn the movie off to help with dinner, I was off the couch before my mom finished talking. If my friends asked if I minded changing plans, I was consistently gracious about it.

(Lest my friends and family call me a liar - I wasn't like this 100% of the time. I'm talking about consistent patterns, not every single day of my life)

But this wasn't just about being a good kid, because when things like that came up, I didn't like it. I stewed over it, in fact. I still wanted to do what I wanted, but I felt constrained by this need to be the perfect kid. Because deep down, I figured I could earn people's love...

Does that sound at all familiar to anyone?

In my relationship with Christ, I spent many, many years stewing over the fact that I was obligated to do what He said. Oh, I did it, and I did it well. And sometimes I even enjoyed it. Overall, though, I felt trapped in this arrangement where I followed a lot of rules and tried to love God, and in exchange, I got to go to heaven eventually. I really thought if I was just perfect enough, that would be what it took.

But the problem, both in my relationships with others and with God, is that perfection is unattainable. I couldn't do it. So I lived with this constant fear of people "discovering" that I wasn't perfect and walking away. Or with Christ, I was sure if I ever broke one of His rules, well, that forgiveness stuff He says he offers probably wouldn't apply to me because I knew better. I grew up in the church, and I knew what I was supposed to do. If I messed up, that was it.

Thankfully, I figured out that forgiveness is, in fact, free to me as well as to the next person long before I read The Primal Wound in January. But it did take until I was about 19 for that message to even begin to make a difference in how I viewed God. Up until that point, I was trying to prove that I was good enough for Him to love me.

When I finally embraced the idea of a love I didn't earn, couldn't possibly hope to earn, and realized that what I was missing out on was the joy of that love - it revolutionized my faith. It gave me a peace I'd never had, even with being a pastor's kid and having heard these truths discussed for years. I realized that my salvation, since it is given freely and not something I can become worthy of, is only one piece of the story. The rest is in the love and the growing through that love.

You can't be perfect enough to earn love. Not from other people and not from God. God is not going to throw up His hands at you and demand to know why you stumbled. He's going to help you back up and keep going. Just like any good father would.

Friday, March 16, 2012

We're all adopted kids

I've had this idea percolating for a while now, so I thought I'd go ahead and jump in with it and see where it goes:

Back in January, I read a book called The Primal Wound. It deals with the psychological effects of adoption on kids who are adopted at birth or within a few months. Before the 1980's/90's, the prevailing theory was that if you got a child placed quickly enough, they would escape the emotional trauma of separation from birth parents. But research shows that newborns recognize their mothers. Conversely, they are aware if the person they are placed with is not their mother. So the infant experiences the placement with adoptive parents as abandonment - the person they've been connected to for 9 months has vanished from their lives.

I'm not here to debate the pros and cons of adoption. I was adopted at 6 weeks old, and count myself blessed. To my mind, the book simply points out that even kids who are adopted into loving, functional homes are going to have emotional baggage attached. I did, however, discover a lot about myself and the reasons I act the way I do because of that book. Things like the reason I am perfectionist who absolutely panics when I make a mistake, or why I single certain people out in a crowd, or why there are certain fairly normal things people do that send me into a tailspin.

We'll get to all that, probably in more detail than anyone but me cares about. The point of this post is that as I've worked through all these realizations, I've found multiple parallels to my spiritual life. And it makes a lot of sense. We describe salvation as "adoption," we view it as being taken from a fallen, sinful condition and being made a part of the family of God, an acceptance that comes because of a choice - God's and ours. I think for people who have grown up in the church, this feeling of being the kid adopted at birth can really mess with
There are a lot of points I'd like (and am going) to make about this, but I thought I'd start off with the biggie. So, later this weekend or Monday, look for this post:

Adopted kid's phobia #1: What if my new family abandons me like my last one?

I want to be sure I've got all my thoughts in order before I proceed, but this ensures I'll make time to make it happen. :)

Have an excellent weekend, and an excellent St. Patrick's Day!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Time to come back

Yes, I know I've been absent for... we won't discuss how long. I know I haven't been particularly connected via electronic means lately. I've wondered why I go through periods when blogging seems tantamount to ripping my toenails out with pliers, or getting on forums is such a demand on my mental energies. I've come to the conclusion that it's because I'm an introvert. And just like I turn from my real life and lose myself in the more disconnected world of the computer, at times I must pull away from the 'Net and find myself in real life again. So if I drop off the cyber-map for a while, rest assured I shall return, more chatty than ever, after I've given myself my blog vacation.

In this case, the blog vacation was a good thing. I realized at some point that I've fallen into the trap I swore I wouldn't. In the last three years since I graduated from college, I've done a lot of talking about writing. I've done a fair amount of writing, too, but mostly talking. I've talked about potential novels, I've talked about researching publishing houses, I've talked about how my dream was always to push forward with my writing when I'm young because I knew it was what I'm meant to do, and I didn't want to wake up at 40 and suddenly remember that fact.

But I still had this mindset of, "Yeah, that'll all happen. Someday. Not now, of course, I'm fresh out of college. I'm way too young and inexperienced to be thinking about stuff like that."

Here's the thing, though. I'm not "fresh out of college" anymore. According to some job applications, I am officially "mid-career." And it's high time I reallized that and quit hiding behind my degree as if its newness negates its value. I still refer to myself as an "English major" not someone who holds a "Bachelor of Arts in English Literature." It's gotta stop. Because if I don't stop it, I'm going to wake up at 40 and say, "Oh, right! I was going to be a writer when I grew up!"

So I got proactive. I have a friend who is doing her best to break through my apathy toward my novel. I met with the owner of a local music and arts academy and I'm now going to be teaching writing classes for them in the evenings (if you live near Kansas City, look up Greenleaf Music and Arts Academy and sign up!). I also contacted a publishing house about the rights to adapt a series of short stories into one-act plays that Greenleaf can perform. And the weird thing is, I got the writing gigs on the basis of my credentials...



Yeah, that still throws me a little. I find it really hard to believe that my degree or my writing experience is something other people will take seriously. So when Edna (Greenleaf owner) was impressed by my resume, I caught myself minimizing the achievements on it. Thankfully, nothing I said seemed to sway her from her opinion that I was smart and experienced enough to be trusted with the minds of the kids that come to Greenleaf.

If this all sounds like bragging, I apologize. It's just such a weird feeling to realize that the biggest stumbling block in my path was... me. I was the reason I wasn't going anywhere, because somewhere inside I was still the 17-year-old who finished high school a year early and headed off to college. I think that extra year was somehow embedded in my mind as a buffer between where I am and where I want to be. "It's okay, I've got an extra year."

But I'm 24, going on 25, and I think it's just about time that "extra year" was declared over. It's time to get busy. And I can't wait!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Scandalous Christianity: Politics

I was going to save this for the actual election season, but there's been so much emphasis on it already that I felt like this was as good a time as any to post this.

Let me be clear: It is NOT my intention to endorse ANY candidate through this post, nor do I expect it would swing anyone's vote if I did. It IS my intention to focus on the responsibility that the other 99.9999999% of us have during this time.

A few months back, my Sunday School teacher posed the following question to us:

If you had to chose between a Christian with no administrative or leadership skills, and an atheist with perfect credentials - who would you vote for?

I could hear the rumble of, "Christian, of course," throughout the the class. So, would anyone like to take a wild guess what I piped up with?

"I'd vote for the non-Christian."

The ripple of disapproval was almost palpable. So I gave my explanation.

"I don't think that God would call a person with no leadership skills to fill that post. I don't believe that just voting for a Christian means that I've done my patriotic duty for my country. And I really don't believe that putting a Christian in that position just to say a Christian is there is doing anything for the well-being of the country, or the reputation of Christians."

While I am known for being an agitator in that class, I admit there were a few seconds when I thought I might have just given someone a heart attack. To the credit of my fellow classmembers, they followed the discussion with me, and gave me plenty to think about. Perhaps when the election itself is a little closer, I'll dig deeper into that conversation. What I want to talk about today is the attitude of a Christian toward politics.

First off, I just need to say this. The political rantings that go on during an election year just make me want to throw up my hands at the lot of us - and I'm only 24. I don't even want to think of how sick of it I'll be when I'm in my 30s and 40s.

Can someone explain to me why it is socially and morally okay to completely attack another person's views, intelligence, religious beliefs, moral convictions and personhood because that person is running for president? If I disagree with someone I come into contact with, I may offer my own viewpoint in a reasonable, logical way. I may use strong words to explain why I feel this other person is wrong (though if you ask my friends, they'll tell you that is rare). What I won't do is make our point of disagreement into a commentary on the relative worth of the other person and pass judgement on their entire existence because we disagree. It's ludicrous. And if it's ludicrous to do that to some random person, then it's ludicrous to do it to a presidential candidate.

My last comment on this point: I've hidden posts from several Facebook friends because I simply got tired of reading the rants and the (in my mind) inappropriate bashing. I'd rather not have to continue this trend, but it is looking more and more likely. And yes, I feel that strongly about it that I choose not to hear from someone I trust enough to friend on Facebook rather than give tacit agreement to their vitriolic diatribes by seeing their posts day after day.


But everyone does it, and rising above just means you miss out on the action, right? How can your voice be heard if you're not exercising it? I've been working on this theory that I'd like to share with you all. I have to warn you that this is likely to be one of the more scandalous things you'll read here.

I think it's time to quit looking at the candidates.


....



I thought you all might want a chance to let that sink in. Yeah. I think the fingerpointing and the accusing needs to go away, because ultimately, we're to blame for the people who get nominated and elected.

See, the government is set up to be government "of the people, by the people, for the people." Which means that these people in Congress and in the White House have 300,000,000 bosses - us. Which got me to thinking: if their job security depends on doing what their constituents want, and what they ask for, then we wield more power than they do. Which tells me that the real reason the government is going to the dogs is... us.

Dream with me here, people. Let's say that during the non-election years, I focused all my time and energies into making a difference in my community? What if I volunteered and made real connections with people, and helped change their lives for the better? What if that became something of a catching movement? What if by the time election year rolls around, my whole neighborhood looks different because of these changes? What if that changes the way they vote? What if the will of the people was turned because of me doing all I could do to make a difference right here at home? (Please note - when I say me/I, I'm talking about each of us individually.)

If the face of this nation turns around, then the government would have to step in line, or get ousted. It's as simple as that. And I have a lot more faith in life change coming from one-on-one interactions than a congressional committee. Not to mention the fact that the average citizen is just as free as a presidential candidate to initiate change.

It has been said that you can't legislate morality. I'd like to set forth a version of the flip side of that equation: No matter what the do in Washington, they can't make me NOT stand up for my beliefs and use those beliefs to change lives.

So please, please, PLEASE stop the finger pointing and ridiculing. All you're doing is telling them that that behavior is okay, and you like it. Turn that energy to reaching those around you - and watch the world change.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tired



As I sit here with two Word documents and a plethora of tabs open, I realize that I am in no mental condition to write the post I had planned. (I'll give you a teaser, though - it's political in nature) As such, I'd like to open the polls to you.

What would you like to see on my Monday Scandalous Christianity posts? I'm open to suggestions for movies or books to review, or any other topic you'd like to debate.

And with that invitation, I'll off to keep attempting to write and review others' writing. Have an excellent evening!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Story-starved

Do you have something that is your emotional version of chocolate? You know, chocolate is to tastebuds as ________ is to my mood. (Yes, I'm aware that chocolate can and does fill the bill for both those comparisons).

For me, it's story. I don't care how I get it. It can be a book, a movie, an anecdote from a friend, a well-written status on Facebook, or a good computer game, for that matter. If there is a thread of narrative, I find it and sew it onto myself. Without it, my seams start to unravel. And no matter how many times I realize this, I still let myself get story-starved far too often.

I recognize the signs well enough. I become even more introverted, finding the company of others physically exhausting. My patience drops to about 1/8 its normal capacity. My sense of humor turns sour and downright hurtful if I'm not careful. And if I happen to cross paths with someone who is reading - well, let's just say catfights can break out.

For example, during the last three weeks, I've been immersed in moving into my new duplex. I'm thrilled about it and will post some pictures as soon as it's really settled. We're still shifting stuff around at the moment. I'm also aware of the stresses that come with moving, but the way I felt last weekend was akin to how I felt when I took three literature finals in a 36 hour period. The air was toxic around me for a good six feet.

So when I got home Tuesday, I went to my bookshelf, grabbed the first book my hand fell on and retired to my bed to read Catching Fire for two hours. Voila, it was as if the last two weeks hadn't even happened. Once my narrative craving was appeased, life was manageable again.

This is why I'm painting quotes all over my living room walls. I want to be constantly surrounded by my narrative threads, so at any moment I can pluck one up and tie a knot on my unraveling ends. I'm also putting patches of chalkboard paint around the house so I can satisfy my need to create narrative at a moment's notice.

So here's my very late New Year's Resolution: To not allow myself to become story-starved this year.

I'm looking forward to a satiating year full of awesome opportunities.

What's your intellectual craving?