Blocking the Tackle

Gandalf photo

We visited my husband’s centenarian grandmother yesterday, at a nursing home in Wisconsin.  Although we had a lovely – and lively! – visit with her, something happened when we were about to leave that was kind of interesting.  A woman who was walking up and down the halls tried to follow us out, but she was wearing a wristband that set off an alarm, and a couple of staffers quickly came alongside her.  They stood outside the building and quietly talked to her, as she became more and more agitated.  The woman pointed at our band of children, and you could tell from her body language that she thought she belonged to our family, and was upset that we were leaving without her.

It reminded me so much of how, during my dating years, my family members – especially my dad and one of my sisters – tried to “herd” me away from bad dating prospects and help me to make good decisions regarding men.  I was one of those girls who saw boys as Projects, not Partners.  Only three of the men I had dated since the age of 18 were grown, mature, Real Prospects — the rest of them were wounded, dysfunctional, angry or broken people – or even verbally or physically abusive.  I really thought that if I paid these men enough attention, showed them enough love, or said all the right things, that they would straighten up and flight right.

Riiiiiight.

You can guess how that went.

When you attach yourself to Projects, there’s no equality involved.  Your main job is to placate and attend to emotional wounds.  Your duty is to try to fill those holes that other people created before you even met the man.  Your desperate attempts to “fix” the person actually creates a dynamic in which the man loses so much respect for you, because they recognize that you will put up with – even encourage – bad behavior, all in an attempt to Save the Person.  So although it makes you feel good to reach your hand down and try to pull someone else up by your own bootstraps, it never works:

If you are successful at it, you are no longer needed, right?

If you fail at it, you have to keep trying, right?

I recently saw one of my Projects at the grocery store.  He was covered in bad tattoos, one of which was an upside-down star with a horned devil inside (that one was on his neck, for all the world to see).  He looked strung-out, worn down, and pathetic.  He was following a woman in her fifties who was verbally chastising him (like a mother would to a toddler-aged son), but you could tell they were together.  He saw me, and immediately turned tail and walked away.  The whole time I was in the grocery store, anytime I came across him in an aisle, he avoided my eyes, hunched his shoulders, turned the corner.

He was walking shame.

As well he should have been!  That man was too needy to chase me off when I decided he should be the next Project, and I proceeded to waste a year of my life trying to fix/help/save him.  He was verbally abusive, couldn’t keep a job, lied about staying off of drugs, went through the motions of becoming Catholic, was welcomed into the church and then totally lost his common sense because of the strain of trying to maintain a duality of purpose.

At which point we parted ways (yes, I actually had a limit!).

Leaving the grocery store, I did two things: I thanked God for the common sense and blessing of knowing when to cut him loose; and I prayed for him.  There must have been pity and shock in my eyes when I looked at him, and he responded with shame.  I know he is living a hardscrabble life, the wear and tear on his face showed it.  I pitied him and then thanked God that we didn’t end up together.  I also thanked God that I had so many relatives praying for me during that time, that I would come to my senses and leave that man.   Just like in football, they formed a line and kept me from permanently going after a lost cause.  The things that I would have ruined – and lost – if I had stayed with that man are just – incalculable.

I then gratefully thanked God for my life now – which, while not perfect, is certainly complete and grace-filled.

Everything happens for a reason — I especially believe that about those who form the line and block the tackle.  They stand in the gap when we are not strong enough to do it for ourselves.

 

 

 

 

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Affliction vs. Opportunity

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For almost three months I had been accosted by daily headaches, and only on the right side of my head.  I prayed about whether to go in early on, but wondered in the first month if the headaches were caused by my part-time job (cranky people wanting to get their meds, fluorescent lights, a chronically maladjusted co-worker), and so tried to dismiss my symptoms.  When I went to the doctor in March, she showed me that my previously-low blood pressure had been steadily creeping up since November of 2013, and put me on a beta blocker.  She also wanted to put me on a migraine medicine, but I pushed the issue with her, and she agreed to get some scans of my head.

The first MRI experience didn’t go very well – basically, as soon as they shoved the upper part of my body in the “open MRI”, I freaked out and asked them to cancel the test.  If it weren’t happening to me, I probably would have been cracking up laughing at my response.  Instead, they sent me to get a head CT with contrast (in which they inject a dye into your arm which promptly makes you feel like you have peed your pants!  thankfully, the nurse had warned me about that ahead of time). 

I knew something was up when a doctor from my practice called me the very next day, and asked me to sit down.  I was helping my mom to clear leaves from her flower garden and so refused, but I already knew what she would say, which was “We found something that looks like a meningioma, a brain tumor, on your scan.  We need you to get a sedated MRI as soon as possible.”  Believe it or not – I was relieved for a minute.  My nephew had had a very large meningioma removed from his head, and I knew that they are almost always benign; and the doctor said it was less than a centimeter, which to me sounded tiny.

And then I got the MRI (with the hand-holding assistance of my lovely husband and something called Xanax – also lovely), and the neurologist said in his report to my doctor that he felt it was “atypical” – a category that they lump tumors into when it looks something other than benign, but not as aggressive as an obviously cancerous malignant brain tumor. 

Uh-oh.

What the????

For five weeks I got to hold my breath (in between anxious calls to my sister, the mother of my nephew who had had that craniotomy) until I met with a neurosurgeon, THE guy in Western Pennsylvania for meningioma treatment.  I also got to enjoy daily, chronic bad headaches and a new ringing in my ears – both of which led to me acting like an 80-year-old because I was so distracted – “what, what did you say? What do you want me to bring upstairs?.”

That was fun.

That IS fun.

So now I felt afflicted: ear ringing, minor or major headaches all day, having to skip out on my women’s groups or other activities when my head felt like it would split open like a melon, getting irritated by my children – because, of course, the pain is WORST during my busiest mom times, which is 4 to 8 pm.  Part of the time, I felt sorry for myself (and my family), part of the time, I felt PISSED. 

Mad at God. 

See, as much as I would like to believe the opposite, there is a part of me that thinks that – if I am a good person, a good Christian, do works of service and mercy, give to my church and my prayer group and the food pantry, that I should be EXEMPT from this crap. 

“Crap” being suffering.

And then I read the book of Job.  AGAIN.  Job was a Man of God.  The Lord Himself, when questioned by the devil, called Job “blameless and upright.”  God allowed the devil to take everything from Job: his children, his sheep and goats, his HEALTH, his fellowship with others (as his body was so afflicted that worms had set up camp in his flesh, and his skin had started to break open).  At first Job was accepting of these things, and still praised God (as I had). 

And then, he got mad.  He complained to his friends, rent his clothes, rolled around in the dirt, and said to God “I loathe my life.  I will give free utterance to my complaint; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.  I will say to my God, why hast thou condemned me?”  One of his friends responded, “For you say, ‘My doctrine is pure and I am clean in God’s eyes.’  But oh, that God would speak, and open his lips to you, and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom! For he is manifold in understanding.  Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.”  He then tells him to suffer with grace; that if Job lifts his eyes to heaven, that all these afflictions and bad circumstances will be lifted from him and he will have more children and flocks and health than Job had before.

And then for TWENTY-SIX more chapters, Job bemoans his fate.  What is that in real time, a couple of weeks??? He bitched, and he moaned, and he rent his clothes, and he yelled at his friends. 

And finally, after all of that, the Lord responds!  “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you will declare to me.  Where were YOU when I laid the foundations of the earth? ….Have you commanded the morning since its days began?…Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep?….Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, that a flood of waters may cover you?…etc.”  And Job, chastised, answered the Lord: “Behold, I am of small account…I lay my hand on my mouth.  I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.”  And God answered Job by reminding him of the relationship that they had had before Job was afflicted:  “Can you draw a Leviathan from the sea?…will he speak to you soft words?…Will he make a covenant with you to take him for your servant forever?…etc.”  and he continues to list the ways that a Leviathan that seems to be unstoppable –  is NOTHING next to Job’s God – the God speaking to him and questioning him – the God who was promising to restore to Job everything he had lost, and more, including numerous more days on the earth – 140 MORE years in which to prosper.

And Job stops.  Stops complaining, stops moaning, stops whining.  And remembers.  And declares aloud that he knows not what God’s plan is, and then repents before God, and covers himself in dust and ashes.  He is ashamed.  And he knows that even though he rent his clothes, and spoke ill of the Most High God, that his life and his belongings will be restored to himself.

I think, regardless of what happens from here on out, that I need to open this book every week.  To look at how quickly I crumbled into harshness against God, into grumbling, complaining, whining about my pain. 

To look at how my circumstances can serve to slow me down, to remember to be grateful, to see this pain as something to offer up, to find a way to be gracious, regardless of the circumstances. 

To see this as an opportunity for grace, and for the suffering to bring me closer to my God, and to others: to my husband, neighbors, siblings and friends, who continue to pray for me.  For those who have done little things to remind me that the love of God is apparent all around, if I just would lift my bowed head.  Who have joked with me, called me, texted me, made me meals on tough days, hugged me, cried with me, and who have let me talk when I am scared, frustrated or disappointed.  Who have been Christ’s hands and feet to me even when I’ve been acting like a spoiled brat.  For those who have encouraged me to run TO God, instead of FROM him.

Who have shown me, day to day, the face of God.

Who have blessed me.

May you, in your own suffering, allow others to love you.