Why Two Days Changed My Fussbudgetness.

Lucy, from the comic strip Peanuts, was often referred to as a fussbudget. Over the past few years I have become a fussbudget, my heart traipsing around the landscape of complaint, unbelief, and fear. Recently I described it to someone as brooding. I can’t seem to nail down a solid description of my state of mind. Needless to say, my silent grump grump aint helpful to those in my proximity.

Then two days, one right after the other, a couple of weeks ago, shook me out of my inward sourpuss self. May 17th two of my children decided to take a giant leap…out of an airplane. Be honest, what do you think of first when skydiving come to mind? Exactly. What if the chute doesn’t open? I don’t see this thought as pessimistic, but realistic. Planes have wings to keep humans up there in the wild blue yonder, unless some zealot or deranged person uses one as a missile of mass human destruction. My son and daughter fell to earth with hardly a thud, safe, exhilarated, and the determination to do it all over again. (They’re adults, what can I do? I know what I can do… Give them an Applebee’s gift card for their birthday next year. Yes, they jumped on our dime right into their bucket list.)

The next day my longboarding (i.e. big skateboard for riding hills, not do stunts) daughter took two of her brothers to surf a local neighborhood. She was merely 3 to 4 inches off the ground and fell to earth with a thud. She dropped and rolled, but in the dropping she sustained quite a blow to the basil part of her skull. 911 was dialed, and an hour or so later she was in a medically induced coma for a closed head injury. She had a basil fracture, broken cheek bone, but no other broken bones. There was hardly a scratch on her otherwise. Barbara and I were beside ourselves with concern as the first twenty four to thirty six hours were a roller coaster of emotions and worry as the doctors came and left with assessments.

I said short prayers to God.

Not today. No funeral today God. Help!

            Other people said the longer prayers. Lots of people said the longer prayers. Our entire family is grateful for the longer prayers, and all sorts of other support through this reality. Today our daughter is in a state of the art rehab facility called Mary Free Bed in Grand Rapids Michigan. Today she is. Today she is the same captivating daughter after her chute didn’t open on that hill. Today she is a self-proclaimed “safety nerd” as she deeply regrets not wearing a helmet. She is not finished healing, but is coming along much faster than predicted.

Thank God.

That is the reason I am writing about these two days. This is why I confess to the world and God my own fractures. Just because we are human, we flake out sometimes. Come on, admit it. God went looking for Adam and Eve in their nakedness. Why would God not look for us? I know this opens up the Pandora’s Box of why many things don’t make sense, all the way from 9/11 to a weak baby chick not surviving. I, for one, need to hop off my little private, arrogant self, and admit I have a lot less control than I thought.

Today, I thank God for those who continue to hold us through prayer, presence, and embraces. Life is mysterious. God is mysterious. So, if you find yourself in a fussbudget frame of mind, that’s okay, no judgement here, but consider the possibility of coming out from hiding. God is looking for you, along with some human humans.

Prayer:

God, thank you for all the loving people in my life. You show up when they show up, whether I admit it or not. Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Amen.

 

Thanksgiving Thoughts 2014

Seeded grapes, marbled purple, had to be sliced in half and the seeds removed. I think this was the most labored part of making the fruit salad. The marshmallows were quartered and soaked in the pineapple juice. Dates were added eventually. I miss the fruit salad. There was more to it. I’ll have to ask my sisters and make some this year.

There was always more to Thanksgiving. Our house sat on a hill at the dead end of Grand Avenue, next to Valley One Dorms of Western Michigan University. One Thursday out of fifty two, set aside, set for more. More people around the table with mix matched chairs.

I remember the foreign students and the varied colors of their skin. Their voices were colorful too. They talked, and I tried  hard to unscramble the words to fit in my brain. My Mom had eyes on a middle-eastern student named Afiff (pronounced Ah-feef) one year. His name would come up each Thanksgiving thereafter.

I sure would like to see the little kitchen again. Same size as the bathroom above it. Two vital rooms of a house with ten children. Calls of nature they were…eating and eliminating, and the rooms for each call weren’t big enough. The electric stove with swirled coils on top, when on, reminded me of the Hitchcock movie Vertigo. In the belly of the stove the bird was basted periodically. Inside the belly of the bird, home-made stuffing, incubating.

Cranberry sauce in a can. I recall the sucking sound as it slurped out onto the serving dish while I tried to suppress a childish red faced smirk. I poked at it like it was the plump little white guy in the Pillsbury dough commercials. Cranberry sauce from a can didn’t giggle when you poked it. It jiggled, but didn’t giggle. The burgundy blob was sliced like hard salami. Each slice would flop over like someone sticking out their tongue.

As I sit here plunking the keys I wish there was a way to pluck up each of my siblings and bring them back to Grand Avenue to sit around the table and eat mashed potatoes and turkey gravy. If sentiments could move mountains, I would tilt the ranges so each brother and sister would roll towards the end of Grand Avenue, next to the valley. I would call my Mom and Dad. They would sit at opposite ends of the fully leafed table. We would hold hands and thank God for the gifts we were about to receive and these our guests.

We would see us, be us, the ten of us before we broke out into lives of our own. We could hold our breath again waiting for Mom to spill something down her front to mumble “fiddlesticks” or something more colorful. Dad would toss in dry jokes and his crooked smile. John would fall out of his chair laughing after Marge spewed a mouthful of milk on the buffet table. We would say “pass this” and “please pass that” over and over like a scratched Beatles White Album.

Then space and time pulled us to our destinies. The good God gave us free wills to choose roads on which to travel. Can’t we double back? Why is there so much separation? The physical distances, the emotional disconnects, while dysfunctions thread in and through us. Time has severed the memories, thinned them out. What once was, shall not forever be, for we aren’t who we once were.

Oh so dramatic!

We have reunions now. Every three years we bring our presents to squint at our pasts. At our reunions a song of thanks and reclamation is sung when we gather to eat. “Oh, the Lord’s been good to me, and so I thank the Lord.” It’s a song that stirs the tanks of remembrance. It’s a song that brings me close to crying the hand-picked tears of reunion, and separation. Hello and goodbye tears brim and roll down and pinch eternity into a single moment. Sometimes that is all we have, moments of eternity sliced and flopped over. Right now, that is all I desire. To be right where I am, squinting in the now, making eye contact, and thanking God.

 

[My Mom and Dad had ten children. Barb, Ellen, Rob, Pat, Mary and Margaret (twins), John, Jerry, Peter, and Carol.]

Worry, a Gift From God

Around this time last year the season of disorientation began. I got off the roller coaster, more like pulled off. My counselor recently described my life as one of going round and round on a roller coaster. When the coaster came to the end of the line I didn’t get out. I sat and waited for it to roll again as my family watched. They watched me ride and ride and ride. Church involvement, writing seminars, retreats, parts in drama’s and musicals, and my family grew without me. They watched me come home and give them a nod and head for the books and poetry that protected me.

I asked God years ago if he had a nickname for me. The answer was John-boy from the T.V. show The Walton’s. At first I didn’t get it, but considering it further, the name made sense. I was an observer, sometimes a silent one, other times not. I wrote stories and poems about what went on around me. For me it was easier, more natural, to make observations instead of engaging in the myriad of present moments of a large family. The true John-boy observed and wrote, but was also present and engaged in the rudiments of family life during the great depression. I haven’t put down my pen as it were. I have hope to become a full-fledged John-boy, engaged, present, and writing in the cracks of silence afforded me.

A slow deliberate reorientation is taking place. Grace and forgiveness is eroding the self-contempt of the years the locusts have eaten. New rules of engagement are being formed, for my family, for God, for the world. I look for more clear and present moments. It ain’t natural, but it’s coming along.

One sign that I am heading in a good direction is worry. I told my wife Barbara that I haven’t worried this much before. She didn’t even blink and said it was because I am engaging with my family. I know God told me not to worry, but in an odd sense I am grateful for the ability. I now have the opportunity to respond to the “be anxious for nothing” verse. Just this morning I awoke and my son Nathan was gone to work. He works for a snow removal and landscaping place. The roads were icy and I prayed “keep him safe.” That’s all. Simple anxiety removal, even if I have to pray it over and over. God told me it was okay to keep asking for the same thing anyway.

I am thanking God for worry today.

Hope, One Motivator of Creativity.

“If I have to sweat for it, dear God, let it be as in Your service. I would like to be intelligently holy. I am a presumptuous fool, but maybe the vague thing in me that keeps me in is hope.”

Flannery O’Conner, A Prayer Journal

Flannery talks about a novel as a holy endeavor. Basted in hope she wrote. Ah, the top three: Faith, hope, and love. She mentions hope. I too, would like to be intelligently holy, but hope dawdles behind my presumptions.

Hope seems always like the odd man out of the big three. Hope often suffers from the middle child syndrome. Faith, HOPE, and love. Faith the firstborn, always leading the charge, self-motivated, moves the mountains and such. Love, the baby, the spoiled, everyone goo gahing over it all the time. Hope tucked in the middle, often overlooked, underrated. I don’t know what Flannery thought of faith and love, but she uses the term ‘vague’ when referring to hope, at least when it comes to writing anyhow.

I hope to keep on writing. Hope, whether I acknowledged its presence or not, is what encouraged my fingertips settle on the keys this morning.

A friend asked me, “do you have hope?”

“Yes.”

“Well, hope doesn’t disappoint.”

I put those words in the glove compartment of my heart. Poor ole hope, tucked away again. But not forgotten. I knew where to look for it this morning.

Do you have hope? Put faith and love aside for a moment. I know they are close siblings and all, but for a moment pay attention to the middle child.

Flannery-O'Connor 1947.jpg

Flannery O’Conner

Carry Ons, So We Can Carry On In Authenticity.

“Why is it our childhoods carry so much weight?”

Sure we must move forward, but if there was nothing behind us we wouldn’t have anything to move forward from. I realize splitting semantic hairs might slosh some philosophy around, but this is two lives together, melding past with present to reach for the future.

My wife and I talk a lot about our upbringing and the baggage we packed. I believe our good experiences sometimes get stowed in the cargo hold, while our carry-ons, filled with the disappointments, keep dropping on our laps from the overhead. We’re sitting next to each other, so often our stuff gets mixed together when we hit some turbulence. We try to help the other sort the mess out. We divvy up his and hers, zip up the bags, and put them back up where they belong. We try.

Lately I’ve been trying. Barbara, my wife, hasn’t stopped trying. In the midst of a large family, with two adopted sets of four children each, added to our four bios, the turbulence settles like a fog periodically. Yes, that’s twelve children. Twelve. So to deal with our personal “stuff” is tricky amidst all suitcases laying around. We become baggage handlers and run out of hands. I say we loosely, because for the majority of our journey my independence has left my wife flying alone with the children, pre and post adoption.

So, “Why is it our childhoods carry so much weight?” That’s what Barbara and I ask each other from time to time, not in so many words. Often the question doesn’t form from our lips, but plays out in our ‘doing life’ together in our ‘Cheaper by the Dozen’ existence. Our late night debriefings after a turbulent day occasionally drop personal baggage contents in our laps. My baseline is to disengage, sweep issues under the tarmac, and hop a redeye to a book, or write, or ride the lawn mower with headphones on. I know these activities are not bad in themselves.

Counselors. I have experienced many. Group therapy. Yup. “My name is Jerry, and I have baggage.” They have to start somewhere. Sure I’ve gone into therapy with an immediate issue in my lap, but a good counselor will quickly see beyond it and help explore origins. Origins mean childhood, upbringing, and apparently parents. Always. The reason for this is not to help me settle into some victimhood, fall asleep with headphones on, and entirely miss the flight experience. I see it as the counselor offering me a window seat to gain perspective to experience the fear of flying, or heights, or clausterphobia along with the wonder of flight.

Wonder is one of the updrafts of childhood. Sometimes childlike wonder wanes under imperfect parents, culture, religious ambiguity, and lands into adult realities far too soon. The flight lands, and childhood is taxied to the myriad of concourses of grown-ups. The baggage is pulled from the carousel and the perspective of wonder is diminished.

I realize I might have stretched this aeronautic metaphor a bit, but simply put, my childhood matters. The good and the bad and the in-between. It is part of the mystery of the whole or ‘hole’ I carry around with me.

I imagine the flight attendant offering me something to drink. I choose a glass of wine and lift it toward the other passengers as I glance out the window.

Prayer: Oh God, you knit us in our mother’s womb. You saw us when the turbulence shook us when we were yet children. Come help us be as little children again, and hold us in mid-flight. Amen.

Elton got me thinking today…

 

Dad. Father. Good to hear from you.

I talked to God the other day. Seems weird to admit. I mean, shouldn’t people of faith be talking to God every day? What about praying without ceasing and all that?

I’ve got a confession to make. (as if I haven’t made one already) I function like a closet agnostic. I struggle with the earthly father, heavenly Father connection. The string theory which ties our experience of our child/father relationship and projects those belief systems onto God. You know, like the child who grows up with an angry dad and only receives the Bible verses of the vengeance of God. Or the girl who grew up being sexually abused by dear ole dad and sees God as a God of conditional love.

My story involves a man who was a middle child, a poster middle child. He had an older brother who became a priest in a strong Catholic family, and a baby sister who went into nursing. My dad was just a fireman. Today that would be a distinction par hero, but then not so much. He grew up scrunched between two bookends that held their parents esteem.

I don’t remember much connection with my dad. He was busy providing in an era when bringing home the bacon was the only requirement. I struggle with the same tendencies. In the area of work ethic, my dad’s example was impossible to miss.

Anyway, last week I caught myself praying for connection with God, so I could be more connected with my family. In a big family like ours it seems I would trip over connection by simply walking in the door. Connection takes effort, awareness, and intention.

Last week in a tense portion of my work day a Micheal W. Smith song popped into my brain and looped for an hour or so. I hadn’t heard the tune in quite a while. The refrain kept circling. “Your grace. Your grace. I’m nothing without you.”

I texted my wife the words. We both love Smitty. Her response was “Love him!!!!” I texted back “I wasn’t even listening to anything and this song just popped into my head and dad’s talking to me.” I had meant to write “God’s talking to me” but autocorrect put dad in there.

Sometimes it’s the little things eh?

Have you ever heard from God in a personal way?

 

 

T. S. Elliot’s Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock. J. Alfred still sings.

Prufrock, J. Alfred. Thank you for being a part of my life and memory. Although I didn’t “get” all of Elliot’s sung interpretation of what love you had for another, I quote, as others do, your great lines of passion and mystery. I know C.S. Lewis disagreed with T. S.’s description of an “evening spread out against the sky like a patient etherized upon a table.” So what?

Last night I saw the patient being etherized as the sun drifted off to sleep in the west. The colors blended as if in a drug induced coma, laying (lying?) on the air as the evening shifted and settled into night. I dared to describe it to the two sitting with me. I didn’t do justice to what all six of our eyes were taking in. “I dared to eat a peach” and was so glad my “you” was next to me. The “you” of “Let us go then, you and I.” Barbara, my friend and confidant.

One of my daughters sat with us as she measured out her “life in coffee spoons.” She in her tussle with depression may be asking if she “dare disturb the universe?” Poor thing, I know all too well the resounding clang of symbols which drown out life. She has disturbed my universe, and I am the better for it.

“It is impossible to say what I mean.”

Ah Prufrock, so accurate your aim. Isn’t it Lewis that said in his last novel, Til We Have Faces:

“Child, to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that’s the whole art and joy of words.”

The art and joy of words? Indeed. All anyone ever wants, at the core of connection, is a transference of exact meaning, is it not? Yet your love song, J. Alfred, is riddled with subtlety and it draws me back again and again. We don’t necessarily need blanket statements but blankets to warm our disconnections. Blankets big enough to wrap around our “I and Thou” as Buber said.

So whether it is “Let us go then, you and I,” or the “I and Thou” of existence we non-atheists adhere to, the subtle connections keep us moving toward growing old with “our trousers rolled” each rolling up the other’s.

Most of the quotes above are from Eliot’s poem unless otherwise noted.

Below is the poem in its entirety.

http://people.virginia.edu/~sfr/enam312/prufrock.html

Do you have a poem that has drawn you back to it over and over?

The Laziness of Despair. The Nerve!

What? It takes much effort to despair. There is the resistance of asking the questions to break despair’s vice grip on this hand-cuffed free agent. To disengage in the tension of all there is to be tense about… that takes work. It takes energy to avoid the linear or circular arguments as to why things are the way they are. Lazy Mr. Merton?

That is like what my friend told me about loneliness. “Loneliness is ultimately selfish.” My first thought was don’t take my loneliness away from me. Ha. How selfish that sounds. Oh, the arrogance of island living. “No man is an island.” That was the parting phrase after that same friend dropped everything and listened to me gripe and grumble over unresolved tensions which clamored for my attention.

My wife, the one closest to me, labels it stubbornness. Despair has whittled me down to a stub on the inside. Oh, woe is me. I am victim, hear me whimper.

I suppose loneliness and despair are kissing cousins. A pair indeed. An undynamic duo nurturing any passive soul willing to engage in their auspices.

We are not lazy, my wife and me. Even now I am thinking about what I can physically accomplish this day. But personally I can clean the outside of the cup, spit shine it, straighten things up, but on the inside is a dank, musty ole grave. Stubborn. Selfish. Set in stone. My heart can continue to acquiesce to the lonely lazy despair or…

Look to a good God, who is Love, and operates in justice, mercy, and grace. Who holds my tension if I set it in His open palm… you know, the one with the hole in it.

Sound too simplistic? Well, just remember every island is surrounded by water, and if we walk long enough we will touch the edge of the water’s great expanses and be refreshed.

Prayer: Oh God, thank you that I am not too much for You. Thank you that my tension can be placed in your palm. Thank You that I am never alone, and hope is just a prayer away. Help those who find themselves in similar states of mind and give them grace to turn to You. Amen.

God, Human People, and the Paralysis of Blame.

I keep telling Barbara to focus on one thing at a time while maintaining the big picture in the peripheral. I found it nearly impossible to do either separately or melded together like peanut butter and jelly. There are many many things on which to focus in this village we call home.

We attended church and I wouldn’t engage. God has been a thorn. Sorry God, I know it isn’t your fault. If it was your fault, you wouldn’t be a very desirable God now would you? What isn’t? What is the ‘it’ of ‘it’ all?

“Life is difficult,” as M. Scott Peck said. Agreed.

Some would pinpoint their fingers at the free will, free fallin’ humans who choose and choose and choose. I choose. You choose. They choose. All the bad choices in the world, of the world, and by the world. The free falling humans aren’t the first choice of blame though. The fingers point up to the Invisible God first it seems.

God. You have been lost. Not because you have run away to hide (Which is the reason that floats in the back of my mind), but because I have lost sight of you. Eye have. Even as you prove yourself over and over to me, the miracles you place in my way every day, I see, hear, smell, taste, and touch with little more than a glance into the invisible faith in and of You.

“Without faith it is impossible to please God.” Hebrews 11:6

I had a dream the other night that I was standing at an Alter. I looked up to a person holding out one hand. “Would you like to come and surrender to God?”

“Yes! Yes!” I knelt and wept uncontrollably, as I have done before without thinking of the circled pattern of my spiritual state over the years. Trust poured over me, in me, through me. “Whom have I in heaven but Thee?” I didn’t feel the need to push my fingers in His hands or thrust my hand into His side. My doubting Thomas lay sleeping within the dream. I told the dream to Barbara on the way to church. She asked me how I felt about it and I said it was just a dream. Then church. Then stubbornness. Then distrust.

God really isn’t to blame. Neither are the human people within any given church (which is another reason I have shut down in stubborn pouting). In the end, blame isn’t the ultimate cauterization of rips and tears in the soul. Blame only keeps the wounds open, even the self- inflicted kind, of which there are many.

“Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus

Forgive. Forgiveness. Forgiven. Thank God!

Do you ever get stubborn? Do you ever lack faith and forgiveness? How have you found your way out?

Prayer Thoughts After the Philomena Movie Credits

It’s strange how a movie can lift you away from your current reality only to plop you down more solidly in your current reality. The movie wasn’t about any circumstance our family is experiencing, although I think a movie could be made about our reality, its current weight as well as its past. The movie gave me hope to live in the here and now with more authenticity and strength.

Religious experience sometimes has the same effect. I distrust my own faith; a distrust that has grown from lack of proximity and communication. I take heart in the fact that I am off my antidepressant and not depressed. But a flat-line emotional state is not the opposite of depression. It is a respite from a switchback path up a mountain. This is the level ground in which my heart rate can be stabilized before more ascension. A good life is always an upward climb. An authentic life is an immersed heart under pressure of a new altitude.

My wife feels every little stone along the path, and lets me know. I trudge along quietly like some sort of monk that has misplaced his prayer rope, the one with the knots in it. There was a man in the movie grumbling along, dissing God, and pointed out every injustice as if God was the sole owner of each. The lady he helped had a steadfast faith in her Catholic roots with a sensibility about life that flowed naturally from her heart out beyond her lips. In the end, forgiveness kept her moving up the mountain.

Forgiveness. That passive aggressive antidote for bitterness and victimhood. Passive, because it is a release of personal revenge and retribution. Aggressive, because it is the stay against the calcification of our own hearts.

“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Jesus

In our current reality sometimes they do know what they do. More acutely, we do know what we do. Forgiveness often is the most stretched when it is our own selves we need to forgive. In either case, whether it is us or them who we need to forgive, forgiveness must remain a viable option in order to continue our ascent to finish well this mountain climb called life.

God, help us to forgive even as you have forgiven, amen.