Friday, December 28, 2012

The Foundation of Love

Tomorrow Justin and I will have been married for five years. We have been in love since 2001, but we have been friends since 1999. There are a lot of things I could write about my husband, but I thought the best way to celebrate this milestone of marriage was return to moment we became friends. Our friendship is the foundation of our marriage. Justin isn't just my husband, he is my closest friend. That has made our marriage possible, without a solid friendship we never would have made it this far.

We met our first week at Western, in the fall of 1998, but we didn't become friends until the next year. Originally, we didn't really like one another. He was rude to Jill at an audition and I decided he was a jerk. I told him what I thought of him, and he crowned me "Little Miss Can't Be Wrong" (In fact, he made it my batting song for our inter-mural softball team, and that is right, the Dr. D's Devils was a softball team full of theater dorks and we had theme songs to bat to) We existed in one another's peripheral vision. We didn't become friends until the summer of '99.

Justin spent a lot of time hanging out at the House of E, which for the summer consisted of Jessica, Adrian and I. He and Adrian were friends and he was just around. We would chat and laugh. I decided he wasn't too bad when he mocked me for dating someone who wasn't very smart, while we were shooting a gazillion jello shots before they went bad. The summer was fun, but we still weren't friends. We had just started to think the other was fun.

Our true friendship was born on a fall night at a party our mutual friend Brent threw for the end of dismal play entitled Friends With Benefits. At the time, Brent threw a lot of parties. His roommate  Brandon, worked nights at Winco and I can't imagine how annoying it must have been to come home to 20 some odd theater dorks signing ABBA in your living room.  Theater parties were focused on dorky dances, a marvelous costume or theme, and a lot of pure silliness. We did drink, but that wasn't point. The point was to dance and sing and generally be the goofy weirdos we knew ourselves to be.

When Jill and I arrived, I found myself accepting a drink from the Bryan, the bartender of the night, and out of nowhere Justin appeared to "fix" it. Bryan liked to pour STRONG drinks and Justin took it upon himself to not allow his female friends to suffer from alcohol poisoning. Somehow we found ourselves chatting in the hallway, discussing something that I am sure was truly deep and special. At some point a guy we didn't know, who was a friend of a friend, started hanging around us and being weirdly pushy. My roommate at the time, an interesting soul named Noah, came up and asked us for protection. Weird pushy guy kept hitting on her, in fact, weird pushy guy was hitting on every female at the party, and he was being aggressive with the dudes. There was non funny wresting occurring in the living room.

He appeared in the hall begging us for kisses. Being 21 and grossed out, we chose to go hide in Brent's room. The three had just sat down on the bed and settled in for a chat when weird pushy guy begin to knock on the door and beg to come in. The horrible truth hit all three of us at once, we had trapped ourselves in the room. Either this guy was coming in or he was sitting in the hall and yelling at us.  For a brief moment we were paralyzed, and then Justin started bouncing the bed in a rhythmic manner. Without a thought or a discussion, Noah and I begin to moan dramatically and bounce the bed with him. The yelling in the hall ceased, but the dude didn't leave. He started calling for other people to come listen at the door. Between giggles and general disbelief that he wouldn't leave, we continued our dramatic play knowing that our friends would understand what was going on and take, the now abysmally drunk, guy away.. Finally, he lumbered off and we sat on the bed and started to chat.

Noah left as soon as the coast was clear, but Justin and I stayed and talked about all sorts of forgettable nonsense and matters of great importance. I don't remember exactly what we discussed, and there was honestly no romantic sentiment to it. We never touched and neither of us thought it was a monumental evening that would lead to marriage and a miracle child. Our chat ended when Brandon came home from work to discover weird guy trying to get out of the house through their tiny bathroom window, and decided that he didn't want to be out in the crowd. Soon after, Jill found me and we went home, but Justin and I were officially friends.

For the next two years, Justin, Jill and I spent many parties together. We sat in corners, or out on patios and were often joined by Brandon and Jason and Tami. He looked out for us and we looked out for him. He wasn't just my friend. He was Jill's too. When his roommate, who was female, went crazy and thought they were married he slept on the floor of Jill and mine's room. Jill bought him Ramen and he made us the "Big Salad", still the world's best salad. Throughout this time, we dated other people, and shared the uncool fact that the party wasn't really our thing, and a movie and a board game might be more fun. He was there the first time I went to see a counselor and finally talk about my Dad. I was there when he didn't get the role he wanted and the girl he had a complicated relationship with was being strange and mean. When I really needed to tell someone the things I couldn't tell everyone else, and I couldn't find Jill, he was there. He was my friend.

Ultimately, we moved passed friendship. A trip to Disneyland and Vegas, a tumultuous on again and off again affair.The frightening and exhilarating realization that something kept pulling us together,but that first night we laid the foundation for  our ability to talk about the hard things.  We were honest about who we were. It took a long time for us to get married, but five years ago I walked down the aisle knowing that I was marrying a man who loved me for who I was.  Our love is strong because our friendship is strong. Two years of dealing with infertility could rip a couple apart. What saved us was our ability to talk about things honestly. My 21 year old self was unaware that that night she was beginning "the" relationship of her life, and there were many moments along the way that made me ask if we would make it, but we always do.

I am thankful to be married to my friend. Now I can look back and see all our ups and downs as training for marriage. I can't wait to see what the next fifty years bring us.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Kindness, Forgiveness and Ending at the Cross

Today was a rough start to the kindness challenge. I would give myself a C- on having a kind and forgiving attitude for the day. My heart wasn't ready, and I found myself struggling to know how to respond to things. Does being kind mean not being honest about how you feel or setting boundaries? What is the line between kindness and interpersonal communication? If I am called to forgive "just as in Christ God forgave you", does that mean that I complete trust the untrustworthy and act as if nothing has happened? How is any of this related to kindness?

In preparation for this challenge, I have been doing a lot of thinking, praying, and talking with my husband. I have been trying to take apart Ephesians 4:23. Meditating on a verse and taking it one piece at a time is helpful to me. It makes me less overwhelmed and have a better grasp on what I believe I am being called to do. The second half of this verse, the aforementioned quote, is a struggle for me. This piece of scripture tripped me up for years. A poor interpretation helped me buy into the belief that I would never be "good enough" for God and should just stop trying. For years I believe that "just as in Christ, God forgave you" meant that I had to allow those that had hurt me back into my life and pretend as if there had been no pain and things were the way they were. If someone lied to or hurt me, then I would pretend that it hadn't happened and put myself in a position to be hurt again. I truly thought that God had called Christians to be humanity's whipping boy.  After all, through Christ God's forgiveness is complete. I am made anew and my sins are washed away, God has no memory of the horrid sinful creature I was, so clearly I had to act as if I had no memory of how others had hurt me.

This got tricky when it came to my Father. I loved my Father and I wanted to forgive him. I wanted nothing more than for everything to be ok, but it wasn't. In fact, my Father would often make choices that hurt me. I spent a huge part of my adolescence smiling and acting as if it I had no anger towards him, when I was seething with anger. This wasn't limited to my Dad, the boy who slapped me in front of my friends, in the middle of camp? Oh, I was fine with it, we were friends, no problem. The "friend" that I had since junior high, who manipulated myself and others and was cruel to my other friends through high school, well I smiled and kept being her friend. As I made these choices, I became increasingly resentful. What did God expect of me? I wasn't a super hero, and I had feelings. Why was I expected to be in these positions? Realizing that this wasn't what God wanted was a major revelation for me.

God calls us to forgive, but he doesn't call us to be fools. Forgiveness is a selfish act. By forgiving someone, we are letting go of the anger and spite that ties us to someone who has hurt us. We are moving forward and enabling ourselves to grow again. Bitterness stunts and maims us. However, it is possible to forgive without being a fool. In no way am I saying that we shouldn't strive to truly forgive and find ways to express love to those who have hurt us, but we should still be wise. Most often, people hurt us because they break our trust. When I was teen my Mom would constantly tell me that trust could be broken in a second, but take years to rebuild. She was right. Trust is fragile, and once it is broken it cannot be easily repaired. Time and a demonstration of the will to change and make amends are the only things that can repair trust. It can't be rushed or forced.

There are times, when trust cannot be earned back. When the glass has been shattered and the hurt too deep. This is true with my Dad. I love him very much, and by the grace of God I have come to a place where I am not angry at him, and can truly forgive him for the choices that he made, but I can't trust him. He has proven to be untrustworthy. His mental illness makes it so he doesn't know what reality is. Therefore, he lies without even realizing it. He believes his lies. I can love him, and I pray for him, but I have to do these things from afar, because his dishonesty is too chaotic and at time dangerous. I have no choice but to trust that God has a plan for my Father and that he will find salvation before his death.

I don't believe that God expects me to rush in and allow my Father to bulldoze my life, nor do I believe that I am supposed to come to a place of healing or forgiveness without Christ. Little things are simple to forgive, a mean friend can be forgiven and prayed for, but the big things; moments that irrevocably change you or those you love, the realization that someone has hurt someone truly innocent, or the painful knowledge that you are dealing with a person who is suffering with an addiction or mental illness, these are hard to forgive. I would say they feel impossible, because even when I get to a place where I am no longer angry I find myself unable to trust the person, or people involved. These moments are also hard, because you can't forget them. The change your relationship forever, and the only way to heal is to find a hazy starting point. Nothing will ever be the same again.

So often, I thought this verse meant that forgiving someone was to return things to the way they were, and when I found it impossible to do that, I felt like a failure. I have been meditating on this idea for the past several days. Through my siblings, I have learned that each of us forgives in our own way at our time. I couldn't forgive my father when my sister had, nor could I expect my other sister to do so when I had. We all had to find our own way to healing and peace. If each person if finding their own way, then there is no way that it can all go back to the way it was. Any attempts to do this can cause more pain, the one who isn't ready to forgive is angry that they are being put in a position of pressure, or they can feel as if their feelings do not matter. As family and friends, this is a situation in which we must let God take the helm. He is the only one who can sort out this mess, and he has no expectation that it will be exactly same. He will use the time and pain to work in the hearts of each person involved and show them what he wants them to learn from the situation. Finally, God does not expect us to be fools. We are told "not to walk in the path of sinners". If someone has proven to be untrustworthy on a large scale, we should be cautious. If their actions have harmed others we should be even more cautious. We are still called to be loving, but we have to be honest and aware of what is happening. Time may give the person who difficult to trust a chance to make amends, but in the situations described above, copious amounts of time would be required.

What does any of this have to do with kindness?  Kindness is a demonstration of love, and demonstrating love is one clear way to reflect the changes that God is working in my heart. However, it is difficult to demonstrate love if your heart and mind are wrapped in an attempt to sort out how to forgive those who have hurt you, or how you will heal fractured relationships. For all the happiness and miracles that this year brought our immediate family, it also brought a lot of pain to our extended families. There is a lot of hurt and resentment and trust has been shattered. At times it feels as if it will be impossible to come back from. When discussing how all of these familial events fit into the kindness challenge, Justin kept returning to the idea that there isn't any anger, but there is no trust and when there is no trust, how can you start the healing process? I think you start by letting go and trusting God to guide you to make wise choices.

This brings me back to my C- for the day. In order to let go and let God guide your choices, in order to have a calm heart that is ready to look for ways to promote kindness and reflect love on others, you need to go to Him and prepare your heart before going out into the world. I started the challenge with an unprepared heart. I was stewing in some hurt and let that lead me to be snappish. If I had started the morning by going to God first, I may have turned that hurt over and been prepared to focus on how I can use my words to uplift and empower others.

On the first day of the kindness challenge, I learned that this will be impossible if I try to do it on my own strength. I need to leave my pettiness, my bitterness, my anger, my inability to forgive at the Cross. I have to accept that my love, my kindness, my struggle to forgive isn't enough. "Just as in Christ God forgave you" is not, as I believed for so long, a call for us to ignore who we are and pretend to ok, but  a call to embrace who we are, weak fallible humans, and recognize that we need Christ to accomplish these things. In order to complete the challenge, I am going to have to go to the Cross every day, sometimes more than once, and leave it all there. It begins and ends there.

P.S. This was the song that ended our Christmas Eve service last night, and I it struck me as an anthem for this challenge.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Kindness Challenge

There is nothing I can say about the shooting in Connecticut that could properly explain my thoughts about the display of evil that occurred there. All I can do is pray for the families who are left behind and for the children who survived and have to cope with this. In an event such as this, there is nothing else to do but turn to God and pray. Pray for peace, for healing, and for all of us to find a way to focus on being kind towards one another. God calls us to be kind, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as in Christ God forgave you." Ephesians 4:32. (Being in Awanas, a children's choir and going to Grace Christian means that I have a large amount of verses that can be easily recalled with catchy tunes) This verse has been frequently popping into my head lately.  Before the horror of the Clackamas and Sandyhook shootings, God was compelling me to examine the example I set for my students, and my son, when speaking about or to others.

I am just finishing up teaching Flowers for Algernon for the sixth year in a row. I love the tale of Charlie Gordon and his journey. One of my favorite parts of teaching it is that it forces students to truly examine how they treat people who are different than them, and allows us to help change their use of the word "retarded" as a derogatory adjective. This was the first year I had students openly reject the idea that we should have consideration for those who are outside the norms of society. The argued things like "well you can't change how people speak" and "maybe people with Downs are being sensitive and need to get over it". I was shocked. Normally students are so moved by Charlie's passion over the treatment of the dishwasher that they express shame at having treated other students in negative fashion. A sophomore recently returned to my classroom to ask my help in crafting a letter that complained about the fact that a coach had used the word retarded to refer to another student. She, and the other students, referred to Flowers for Algernon in their argument that the district should not tolerate this. So, how was it possible that six years in my students were callous about this story and how it reflected society?

I would like to tell you that I had Dead Poet's Society moment and inspired them, but in reality I stared at them and then stated that I felt like they had lost their humanity. "We are in fact, speaking about people with thoughts and feelings." was the best thing I could think of to say. (One amazing young man did stand up and tell his peers that they weren't thinking about what it meant to be a good person who considered the feelings of others. I wanted to hug him) The next day, I watched them rip apart an amazing paper written by a recent graduate. None of them had the skill to write a paper of the same quality, but they only had negative things to say about it. In frustration I finally asked them where they learned to be so critical and negative. They thought about it for awhile and replied, "We can't think of any everyday examples of people being kind, but we see a lot of people being sarcastic and critical."

Wow. Along with my recent lesson about the power of words, this statement hit my conscience like a brick.  One of the major facets of my job is to be an example of someone who is kind, and I am clearly  not doing that. Add to that my new found awareness that my actions will be mimicked and adopted by my son, and my growing awareness that I have developed a habit of responding with snarky comments without being aware of what I am saying. My favorite mode of communication is sarcasm and judgement, and this has been weighing on my heart. I don't want my son to learn to communicate this way, and I owe it to my students to be a better example to them. Finally, I don't want to treat those I love this way. I want to get in the habit of uplifting those I love and break the habit of tearing others down.

I kept thinking about, but not doing anything to change, this situation when my friend Chris wrote about the same theme. His blog, and my feeling of helplessness at the recent horrific events, have pushed me to come up with a plan on how to fix it. I have decided to challenge myself to 51 days of being conscientiously kind. There are 51 days between Christmas and Valentines and I feel that this is clear season of love, so I am going to look for a way to demonstrate kindness through my words and actions each day. My theory is that by practicing kindness for several days I will break the bad habit and develop the good habit. All things take practice, and I am sure it won't be easy, but I feel that this is what I am being called to do. Does anyone want to join me and be accountability partners? My hope is that if even a few of us do this, it will make a difference. It may not end horrors, such as those we have recently witnessed, but it will help us heal. Hopefully, my students will be able to say that they have examples of kindness to emulate, and I can be proud when my son copies my mode of communication. Please help me out with some support. I can't do it alone.

Monday, December 10, 2012

No one said it would be easy.

Since Harrison's birth I have struggled to find time to do regular devotionals and have  been lax about attending church. Time is always flying and I am always behind. I was intellectually aware that having a baby was hard, but like everything else on this journey, until you are in it you don't really know what it is like. At this moment, I should be sleeping, but my mind is whirring away and by the time I get it to stop the boy will be awake again. Being a new mom is hard, no sleep, you are always guessing, just when you figure your baby out they change, and everything in life feels different. Not to mention the fact that my body, six months after birth, still does not feel like my own. Nursing means that I am still using it to nurture my child, and it just feels different. Clothes fit strangely, there is weird skin, the weight seems to be stuck, who knew hormones would be still be changing. This is not for the weak.

Keep in mind that I prayed for this, I begged God for this, I longed for this, and despite the above paragraph, I am thankful for all of this. However, I need to hold myself accountable and make some time for God or all of this will just get harder. In an effort to get back in the game, I have been doing and Advent devotional that I downloaded from Amazon. Tonight's study was about how John's disciples came to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah. As you may recall, John baptized Jesus and he was only a few months older. Elizabeth, another woman who struggled with infertility, felt her baby jump when she was visited by the pregnant Mary.

This part really hit home with me, because my friend Kristina and I were pregnant at the same time and our boys are about the same age apart as John and Jesus. Elizabeth knew that her son would be preparing the way for Mary's baby, but I don't think she knew how much he would sacrifice for this. When John sends his disciples to Jesus, he is languishing in prison because Herod's wife dislikes his ministry and considers him a social agitator. John knows Herod will kill him, but he also knows that if Jesus is the Messiah he can save him.

Jesus' response to John's disciples is to quote a passage from Isaiah about the things that the Messiah will do, but he changes it and says "tell him that I am". He knows that this will assure John that he is the Messiah, but he does nothing to free John from prison. In other words, John knows that he is dying for speaking the truth and fulfilling his godly purpose, but he also knows that there are no promise of ease or comfort. Jesus could have easily saved John, but instead John's head is served on a platter at the bequest of a young manipulative girl.

Why doesn't Jesus save John? And how must this have destroyed Elizabeth? Jesus doesn't save him because John's death served a larger purpose. He was killed by a man who didn't want to kill him, but was giving into the request of an angry and selfish woman. His death was unfair, and he did not deserve to die, but his death mirrored the death of his Messiah. Jesus was killed by a man who didn' want to kill him, but gave into the requests of an angry and selfish mob. Elizabeth watched her son die for the sake of his ministry, and was the only person on Earth who could have reached out and comforted Mary.

John's life and death are a great example of Jeremiah 29:11. God knew the plans he had for him, and they included physical harm, but John's death and life served to prepare the way for the Messiah. His Mother's struggles with infertility was part of the plan because it ensured that he would be born just a few months before Jesus. When I think of all the times she must have cried at not being pregnant and how she had been chosen for this special child, it gives me chills. This season is about the birth of Christ, but John was a miracle to his parents.

God doesn't promise us an easy life, nor do we get an assurance that we will know what our physical, mental, or emotional struggles will lead us to. John never lived to see Jesus' ministry and sacrifice on the cross. However, in that dark moment in prison, Jesus sent him words of comfort and I believe that John had enough faith to take comfort in them. I like to imagine that Elizabeth and Mary were able to comfort one another and find strength in their shared pain. Both of their miracle babies suffered unimaginable pain.

I don't know what the plan is for my miracle baby. I am reasonably confident that he won't be beheaded, but I know there will be times when he will suffer. He has already experienced physical discomfort and it kills me to hear his little "teeth hurt" cry. I can only imagine how much more painful it will be to watch him deal with larger trials. This is why I need to make time to meet with God on a regular basis. So that I can offer up my trials and be comforted, in order to be able to comfort the ones I love, and to be reminded that as much as I love my child, God loves him more. He knew about him before he was formed, and knows all of his days. When I get wrapped up and stressed, I forget this and anxiety takes over. This Advent I am working on meeting with God to parent and bless my personal miracle baby.