Back in college, I was involved in a prison ministry program that put on retreat weekends for boys in a nearby juvenile prison. Which, much as I loved it, seems not to have been especially appealing to most of the other college students on campus. We always struggled to keep our numbers up and eventually reached out to nearby Wheaton College for help. It turns out that putting on retreats for juvenile delinquents wasn’t anymore appealing to college students at Wheaton either. (Wheaton College is a well regarded traditionally white, evangelical Christian college, for those of ya who aren’t familiar with the Christian college scene.)
The only thing I really knew about Wheaton was that the kids who went there were freaks. The whole place was a freakshow, really. I attended a Rich Mullins concert there and they had people patrolling the aisles making sure no one was dancing. Seriously. Because apparently there was always a concern that some kids would get carried away and start twerking to “Awesome God” and “God, You Are My God”. So, really the anti-dance patrol wasn’t weird, it was protecting us from a whole other realm of uncomfortable that the human mind cannot comprehend.
I never got all the details, but it turned out that everyone who was enrolled or employed at Wheaton had to sign a morality pledge which included agreeing not to dance. I think there was some exception that was made for married couples who wanted to waltz together off campus or something. Otherwise, no dancing, on campus or off, for any reason, in any season, if you were affiliated with Wheaton.
Fortunately, the Wheaton College kids never said a word or looked particularly uncomfortable when we swore and made dirty jokes and sat all leaned up against each other and danced like fiends to “Blister in the Sun” at the end of a long day on retreat. Although they may have decided to go find a quiet room to pray in once they listened to the lyrics.
Then, one night back at the church where we roomed while doing the retreat, one of the young Wheaton women bopped a little too deliberately to the music. Shook her tushy a little back and forth while snapping her fingers even. And a young man from Wheaton looked at her in shock. She was violating their pledge. He was required to report her come Monday morning. And she knew it. Not only was she dancing, but she was putting him in the position of having to choose what to do about it. You could almost see his world starting to come unhinged.
“Uh, what are you doing?” he asked her, trying not to look as uncomfortable as he clearly felt. Continue reading
There’s a bible verse from the ever popular prophet Joel which I turn to sometimes when I have sorrow over things I had lost. It says:
“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten . . . ” Joel 2:25
I have long believed that there is nothing I can lose that God will not return to me with interest. And that when it was returned to me, I would know it more truly and more deeply for having to do without it. Which may or may not actually be true, but I choose to believe it because life is better when I believe it than when I don’t. It helped me let go a little more gracefully, as I knew that I would receive it back in time. Sometimes it was cold comfort, but this verse gave me hope that life would eventually get better when I needed something to remind me.
Over the last month, I’ve started having the oddest sensation of being given back my good memories. It’s as if I’d completely forgotten that I really had been happy once. It wasn’t just something I told myself when I needed to shore up my confidence. I really was very happy once. I really did have a happy family once. I really did have an amazing marriage once. I really did have a good, although never perfect or easy, life once.
It’s like I’m coming out of this place where only the darkness existed and emerging back into the light. I can’t quite trust any of it and none of it makes much difference to my present circumstances, but it’s rather wonderful to be rediscovering the things that made my life good. It’s been like coming home and finding a box full of old pictures that had been lost in a move years ago.
One of the things I had lost was music. I wrote a post a while ago about realizing that I had forgotten how to sing nearly every song I knew a couple of years ago. The only songs I could remember were songs about God that I had learned while doing prison ministry. I would be singing my baby daughter to sleep and all I could remember were the same 4 or 5 songs attached to a time I would just as soon forget. Sometimes I choked on the words.
Eventually my daughter no longer needed to be sung to sleep and I stopped singing altogether. Which is something I’d done before, as you will remember if you have read my first book like a good little Upside Down World minion. ;) But there’s a reason that shamans will ask the sick and depressed, “when did you stop singing?” Sickness of the heart and a lack of music go hand in hand.
So, for whatever reason, lately I’ve been rediscovering songs that I used to love that I had nearly forgotten. Yesterday, I happened to hear the song Gloria by the Christian duo Watermark and I remembered what it was like to worship. My heart used to sing this song, once upon a time. (My mouth has a harder time.)
A while back, I started a post by saying that one day I want to be able to write a post that’s all “God is great! He healed my wounds and lifted me from the pit!” But I gave up lying a while back. So, this isn’t that post yet. But I finally remember what it is like to be able to do that. And it is so good. Enjoy!
I wish I could crash like the waves
Or turn like the autumn leaves
In effort to praise You
I wish I could smell like the forest
The fragrance lifting a mighty chorus
In effort to praise You, in effort to praise You
But I’m such a limited creature
And my words can only paint so many pictures
But somewhere I think I read that I am
Treasured over all creation
So I know that I must try
I wish I could roll like the thunder
To leave the earth below in wonder
In effort to praise You
I wish I could fall like the summer rain
And every drop would sing Your name
In effort to praise You, in effort to praise You
But I’m such a limited creature
And my words can only paint so many pictures
But somewhere I’m sure I read that I am
Treasured over all creation
So I know that I must try, I must try
Gloria, glory in the highest
Forever I will hide myself in Thee
Gloria, glory in the highest
Forever I will hide myself in Thee
Every breath that I breathe
Every moment in my history
Is an effort to praise You
An effort to praise You
Gloria, glory in the highest
Forever I will hide myself in Thee
Glory in Excelsis Deo
Gloria, Gloria, Gloria
-L & C Nockles
After 5 kids and 19 years of parenting, I have finally discovered the Holy Grail of parenting. The one thing you need to know in order to lighten your load and teach them to be responsible, thinking, healthy people with good judgment. As early and as often as is safe and feasible, start repeating these words to yourself: “meh. I’m sure they’ll figure it out eventually.”
Seriously. Try it. It’s a long term strategy, but it works. And it’s much, much, much easier than continually forcing your will on another human being who is clearly lacking in judgment. I know it’s hard to believe, but kids are capable of learning on their own. They do think about things. And it’s much easier for them to admit when they are wrong when they don’t have someone standing over them demanding that they do so.
If there’s one mistake I made as a mother, it’s that I have a tendency to over-teach. I’m a good teacher and I know a lot, so I mostly missed the downside to this habit. While me providing in-depth, detailed instructions on everything makes it easy for my kids to learn, it also means that they view me as a walking instruction/information dispenser and so have no responsibility to figure anything out on their own. If I’m not available to provide the required instructions, might as well just wait until I am available to deal with the issue.
Shockingly, the one thing they did figure out for themselves was how to use my teacherly impulses to manipulate me. They all know that I have a Pavlovian response to the sound of a question being asked and will automatically launch into a long-winded (but interesting) answer or story when asked one. Which comes in handy at bedtime, chore time or whenever they want attention from me. It’s entertainment and a diversion tactic all in one! But in the meantime, my 16 year old would claim that the kitchen was a mess because he wasn’t sure where anything went and the world will fall apart if he puts the cake pan in the wrong cabinet.
I’m still susceptible to “ask mom a question” tactic, but I figure that at worst they’ll end up being good listeners and there aren’t nearly enough of those. However the one thing I wish I would have understood better 19 years ago is how to use a lighter touch in instructing my kids. If I had it to do over again, I would leave more room for my kids to reach their own conclusions, do dumb things and take time to learn some of life’s lessons for themselves.
I think we underestimate how competent our kids actually are at this process learning how to be human. We forget that they think about what we say and they want to be good so long as it doesn’t mean giving up on having fun. They are capable of self-correction. Maybe not in the moment, but over time. They want to find solutions to their problems. And if you can learn to refrain from stepping in to correct and direct them at every turn, they will figure it out . . . eventually.
Seriously. My teen even started wearing a jacket to the bus stop. Eventually.
Everyone I know is at least a little worried about me. And I can understand why. I have long moments when I am completely certain that I have lost my mind. I am continually sick and am in pain on a daily basis. I can barely keep up with my minimum standards that I rely on to keep my children from showing up at school looking and smelling like they might have spent the night in a homeless shelter.
At least the money situation’s looking up. My husband was laid off – again. So he’s using the severance package he got to pay the bills while he gets a new business he was asked to be CEO of off the ground. And without the costs of a daily commute, we’re even paying the utility’s down! Yay us!
Anyhow, I suppose I can understand why people are a bit worried about me. But I have the very distinct feeling of having just fallen together. Which really looks an awful lot like falling apart and is at least as scary.
Those of you who have been reading my writing for a while may have noticed an ongoing theme that I touch on from time to time which I believe the technical term for is “abject misery”. Or maybe you were fooled by the occasional off colored joke. I can be pretty good at hiding my true feelings sometimes. But you know, I may have given off a few telltale signs.
Anyhow, the truth is that what is alarming about me and my life right now are the same things that are letting me know that I’m coming together rather than apart. I’m finally safe enough to let go of the last threads of my sanity so that the mess that my life is can finally be redeemed. I’ve never been (or felt) this safe before. I’m finally able let myself fall apart, confident that God has placed people around me that I needed to survive and come out the other side as something other than a crazy bag lady and drug addict.
I’m sure that as time goes on, I’ll be able to share more about the process, which I learned a great deal from. But that’s like a book and I’m ready to tap out at about the 400 word mark here. However, I did discover what’s behind my super amazing ability to write with a child on my shoulders. It’s not nearly as amusing as that picture of Olivia sitting on my shoulders, unfortunately. It turns out that along with depression and a history of PTSD, I have a dissociative disorder that dates back to before I could talk.
Which is yet another reason I’m making the people around me nervous. Unlike other mental health problems, dissociative disorders don’t have any genetic basis. They are always the result of trauma and are almost certainly much more widespread than is commonly thought. Many people who have them are completely unaware of the fact that they are having problems.
The most severe type of dissociative disorder is dissociative identity disorder, also known as multiple personality disorder. You know – 1 woman, 69 personalities. The very definition of shockingly crazy. Fortunately, I don’t have that. My various personalities all know they aren’t real and are serving in a strictly advisory capacity.
Looking back, I can see that I have a history of overcoming the problem and making it work somehow. Like being able to write with a kid on my shoulders. For me, the biggest problem is the way it affects my memory and attention when I am not in control of it. Like when I have to ask my kids to repeat themselves 4 or 5 times because Mommy can’t focus on what they are saying at all. Or when I send out a post without a title again.
A dissociative disorder is always alarming because of it’s roots in severe trauma and the fact that it’s associated with a lot of negative life outcomes, some of which I have experienced. But mostly, when I learned that I have a dissociative disorder, I felt like I was being given permission to own my cool super power.
Well, that’s what I feel like in between the times when I think I’ve lost my grip on reality and have to go to my husband for reassurances that our children aren’t in any danger of being removed from our care because of me. Which is progress. I spent most of July and August asking him how he can be so sure that none of the kids is laying in bed at night wishing they were dead. Which might alarm some people, I suppose. But it’s just part of the process. It’s an ugly process, but at least now I understand what’s happening.
At any rate, as I mentioned above, I was showing signs of this problem at an age when I could barely talk. Between the ages of 1 and 3, I frequently displayed signs of having withdrawn entirely from my surroundings and sometimes from my main caregiver for extended periods. This is usually considered the worst case scenario for a child who has experienced trauma – that he or she would withdraw so completely that they would come to find their own internal reality much more interesting and engaging than the world around them. (And yes, I know for a fact that some of you just thought, “well, it is!” And you’re right. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to get there. Severe childhood trauma is the wrong way.)
As it turns out, I seem to have withdrawn deep enough to find God in my inner most being. And he led me back out again. Then when I was ready, he lead me back into the abyss so I could take back all those bits and pieces of my heart that got left behind along the way. But I’ve shared about as much as I have time and energy for today.
So yes, I know that I am alarming people. I know that I’ve alarmed some of you readers as I occasionally hear from a few of you expressing concern. And I’m so glad for that. It lets me know that I am seen. That I’m no longer buried so deep that I feel invisible. And it reminds me that there are plenty of people who can respond to someone in pain with compassion. Which can be easy to lose sight of in this world. But I’m still here. And so are you.
And now let’s listen to a pretty song about how it’s all going to be alright. Because it is. And now I know it. Praise God.
If you’re falling together, these are for you, btw:
One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? “And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” ~ Luke 39-43
Over the years I have heard this interaction between Jesus and the thief on the cross explained mostly as a demonstration of power. Jesus has the power to forgive sins. Jesus has the power to defeat death. Jesus has the power to secure salvation from hell fires to those who recognize him. Even as he was dying on the cross, I have been told, Jesus was demonstrating his great power!
And I suppose there’s some truth to all of that, so far as it goes. But I can’t help thinking that most of those who point to this interaction as a display of power are missing what actually happened here. Jesus’ didn’t tell the thief who defended him that he was going to be with him in paradise that day in order to demonstrate his power. At least not in the way we often think of it.
What Jesus really did was give a man facing an inevitable, excruciating death the only comfort anyone could give to someone in that situation. “It won’t last too long,” he says, “and it will be OK when it’s done.” As the man suffered his trial of crucifixion, how many times did he repeat Jesus’ assurances to himself? How much easier was that man’s death because of Jesus’ words to him? And I can’t help but wonder if as the thief on his other side suffered, if he did not turn his hope towards Jesus’ words as well.
When all you can do is endure pain and suffering, this is really the only comfort anyone can offer: it’s not going to last forever and everything will be wonderful when it’s done. The power Jesus displayed was the willingness and ability to show love and offer comfort, even in the midst of his own suffering. May we all strive to be so powerful.
OK, so let’s talk about free will. I’ve had several people ask me to explain my understanding of it lately, so apparently it’s a subject of interest. As the conversation usually breaks out, you have free will on one side and determinism on the other. Free will says we make our own choices. Determinism says that everything is decided for us. Free will is a mental illusion and nothing more.
Now, to be frank, I’ve never had much interest in the subject of free will. The reason being that it makes no real difference in how we live our lives. If the reality is that I have no actual free will, then either choice I make will be the inevitable which is more confusing than helpful when faced with a decision. How do you pick the “right” path when whatever I choose is inevitable. It’s a supremely unhelpful concept when you have to make some decision.
As a practical matter, I must chart my course as if I had free will. Even if predestination is true, the illusion of free will is such a powerful internal sensation that for all practical purposes, it’s my reality. That being the case, what difference does it make is from some cosmic perspective everything is predestined?
Now, my personal understanding is that we have incomplete free will. There are simply too many factors which can take away our ability to choose freely to say that we have unfettered free will. Like I can’t stick my elbow in my ear. Seriously, I’ve tried and I just can’t do it, not matter how much I freely choose to. Or take someone who is facing extreme poverty, war, crime, sickness, oppression, etc. People’s options can become so circumscribed by circumstances that free will loses any real meaning.
However, within the limits we are working under, I think we have complete free will. More than people even realize, in fact. I believe strongly that we are always free to choose to do anything we want, so long as we are willing to live with the consequences. Not only do I believe that, but I believe that this attitude is key to living a life of freedom, wisdom and power.
The problem I have with free will enthusiasts is the often unstated assumption that having free will means we are all captain of our own ships and masters of our domain. If life is directed not by outside forces, but by the direction of our free choices, then clearly we are all responsible for those choices and the consequences of them. It is my opinion that this is why the idea of free will is so popular in American Christianity. We like to judge. We feel that it is our duty to judge. When we refuse to judge, we end up with reality TV shows featuring Flavorflav in hot tub filled with erotic dancers. If we have free will, then people are culpable for their own choices and our job of warning people away from such things is both simple and a moral imperative.
Now, if you are fairly privileged; if you are not impoverished, under-educated, disabled, living under oppression, haven’t suffered significant trauma, don’t have a chronic illness, aren’t being held hostage by stoned pirates, etc., then free will is very appealing. It means that a fairly direct line can be drawn between what is good in your life and the good choices you made and the bad choices you turned away from. You can take responsibility for both your poor choices and the good choices you made which allowed you to overcome them. You are free, wise and powerful.
However, what I know from experience is that for someone who is not so privileged, the teaching of free will becomes a trap of condemnation. If you made a bad choice, it was because you freely made a bad choice and therefor can be held accountable for the consequences. It doesn’t really matter if you were so stressed and overwhelmed by circumstances that you couldn’t think straight. It doesn’t matter if you were in so much pain that your judgment was compromised. It doesn’t matter if you were trying to escape a dangerous, untenable situation by any means possible. It doesn’t matter if you made your choices without the sort of maturity or information that would have allowed you to make a good choice. You made your choice. It was a bad choice. It’s all your fault, so don’t expect any coddling or sympathy from the good people who knew better than to choose so poorly.
In fact, so deeply ingrained in a lot of Christians’ thinking is the idea of free will that the church is well known for resisting psychology, many social justice concerns and calls to display greater compassion towards society’s undesirables. Frequently such things are seen as excuse making by and for those who are unwilling to take responsibility for themselves. The fact that the average church goer is better educated, happier and wealthier than the rest of the population means that a lot of white Christians, in particular, haven’t ever spent years on end being pushed past the limits of their ability to cope and so have no real idea what life is like for those they see as excuse making failures.
If we admit that things like trauma, oppression, addiction, mental illness, poverty, abuse and ignorance remove at least some culpability for people’s poor choices, then the answer is to do something about the sources of trauma, oppression, addiction, mental illness, poverty, abuse and ignorance. And really, it’s much easier to tell people to buck up and get their acts together. In practice, free will enthusiasm is frequently an excuse for eschewing any responsibility for lifting burdens, ending oppression and righting injustices.
Of course, I am writing this as a child of western culture which is excessively married to the idea of free will. There are plenty of people who come from cultures that are excessively married to the idea of fate. I suspect that for a person who has been told that life is all up to God and fate, the idea of free will is exactly what it should be – a source of freedom, wisdom and power. But for someone like myself, the idea that fate has its say is a comfort to me. It’s a bit of reprieve from a harsh, judging and demanding world that blames me for all of my own suffering.
In the end, only God really knows the extent to which life is and isn’t in our control. It is foolish arrogance to claim to have such knowledge ourselves. The best we can do is accept that even if it’s not our own experience, for most people, life is continually circumscribed by circumstances beyond their control. Not every obstacle can be overcome through force of will. Sometimes we are completely powerless and just going along the best way we can figure out how. Yet, when an option presents itself, we do have the right to choose, so far as we are able. And frankly, many people do not take full advantage of the free will they do have because they do not consider the full range of options available to us. As usual, the best answer seems to be both/and rather than either/or.
Now, this may come as a shock to some of my long time readers, but sometimes I make jokes that people thing are inappropriate. Like maybe I throw out an animal sex joke in the middle of a discussion of scripture. Which I don’t think anyone should be offended at; animal sex jokes and scripture go waaaaaay back. But you know, there’s just no pleasing some people.
The thing is that this isn’t a problem that’s confined to my writing. I frequently laugh at things other people don’t think are funny. For example, I was once telling a couple of women the unbelievably hilarious story about my wedding. As I got to the part where my uncle got set on fire, I looked at one of the women and realized that she had started crying. Which both made me feel bad and made me laugh even harder.
Conversely, I’ve been known to laugh at things people say, thinking they were joking only to discover that they were perfectly serious. And, you may not realize this if you have better social skills than I do, but that’s uncomfortable. Yeah. Continue reading
I was once offered a job simply on the basis of how I said my name. People sometimes stop me and ask if I sing. I had a teacher who let me into class without a late slip if I would say my name for the class. Such is the great power of my voice. Which I, of course, think is weird. If my voice is so great, shouldn’t I have more money than I do? It just seems like the two should go hand in hand or something. Ah well.
Anywho, as I may have mentioned already, I was a guest, along with a dude named Thi’sl and a dude named Joshua, on the Moody Radio call-in show Up 4 Debate over the weekend discussing the church and it’s handling of racial issues. And I’ve had several people ask for the link to listen to it online. So here it is. Right here. This is the link. Click it.
Obviously the issue of race and the church is a huge one and we just barely scratched the surface on the show. Hopefully I will get a chance to write some more thoughts on race and the church in the next week or so. If my brain will cooperate.
In the meantime, go listen to the dulcet sounds of my amazing voice. I don’t recall saying anything incoherent or ridiculous, but I’m too chicken to listen myself and find out. And I think I’m OK with that!
Hey y’all! I just finished my fancy pants appearance on Moody Radio’s Up For Debate. (That I told you about yesterday which you would know if you had been paying attention. See the things you miss when you’re not paying attention?) Anyways, I will get the link to the show up just as soon as it’s available.
Almost immediately after the show was done, I got a comment from a listener which addresses a concern I really would have liked to address on the show, but obviously, we could only scratch the surface in an hour. I think it’s an important point, so I thought I would share the comment and my response with y’all. So pay attention! ;)
On the Moody Radio show discussion about Ferguson you mentioned how you had prejudices and biases of which you weren’t aware simply from growing up. I agree whole-heartedly. What you didn’t mention is that the same is true for the black community, the hispanic community, the Middle Eastern community and the Asian community. We all have biases that we are taught as children. I’m a law enforcement officer in Orlando, FL. I have worked in the schools for more than 15 years. I encounter black kids and their families that have an automatic distrust and bias against me, simply because I’m white and a cop. This is a bias the children are taught. I also work in the parks of a private community which owns the parks. Part of my duties are ensuring that those who are using this private park are residents or guests of residents. My concern isn’t race, religion, or anything but whether the person is allowed in the private park. In 18 years, I can only recall one instance when a white or hispanic person challenged me for doing my job. On the other hand, I have had a 1/2 dozen black people insist or imply that I was checking them simply because they were black. By the way, all but one of these folks were NOT residents and did not belong. This is a racially and culturally diverse community and I have great relationships with young people and adults of all races. Please acknowledge the biases taught to the children by both races. Thanks and God bless.
-EE, Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I would just challenge you to consider that because of the way race works in this country, that the sort of defiance, hostility and distrust which you encountered among African Americans has its roots in legitimate problems which we as Americans have never dealt with, much less solved. As a white person, my prejudices were shaped almost entirely by the media, my community and the rare encounters I had with African Americans who were serving me in stores and restaurants. An the other hand, my husband has a lived experience of regularly being mistreated, of being belittled, of being threatened, of being afraid which occurred at the hands of white people. His discomfort with and distrust of white people is fundamentally different from my own prejudices. While I might wish an African American person would process and deal with his experiences differently, I had no right to tell him or her that s/he doesn’t have a right to be uncomfortable and distrustful after all that s/he has experienced and continues to experience. Of course, my husband’s a mature, educated, spiritual man, so he isn’t going to start resisting authority, being rude or hostile simply on the basis of race. But it’s easy to see how someone in a less comfortable, less experienced position would walk around with a negative attitude towards authority (which has always been the tool by which abusive, oppressive laws and customs are imposed on African Americans, btw).It’s interesting that you bring up working as a guard at a private park. When my husband was 8 his mother moved them from Texas to the Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago. As they were moving in, my husband noticed that the only playground was a set of swings on a blacktop surface. He asked his mom, “why did someone put those swings on the blacktop? Someone will get hurt if they fall off.” He says his mother bent down and spoke into his face, “honey, there’s something you need to understand right now. Nobody cares what happens to you here. If you fall of those swings and get hurt, nobody’s going to care. We might not even be able to get an ambulance to come and help you. You have to take care of yourself here because nobody else is going to make sure that you and your brothers and sisters are safe.” It was 1978 and she spoke the truth. Now, imagine living in a neighborhood where the playground is unkempt and potentially dangerous. And right near-by is a nice, safe, well equipped park. But you can’t go there. Because it’s not for you. It’s for the people who paid for it. It doesn’t matter that you and your family can’t dream of affording to live in such a place. Nobody cares about you and your problems. Put yourself in that situation and the hostility makes a bit more sense.Thanks again for your comment!Blessings,Rebecca