My life is a circus……..

The classic Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus gave its last performance last month. How sad! But I am here to tell you that the three-ring circus is alive and well, at least in my life…….

tightrope

The first ring of my three-ring circus is my role as a tightrope walker. The pressures of living as a baby-boomer, sandwich generation, healthcare professional and aspiring writer keep me precariously balanced. Add to that the pressure of longing to be a Proverbs 31 woman who could care for and provide for her family with the ultimate devotion and skill while serving the Lord and her community selflessly. She lived with a higher purpose, leaving a legacy for her family. She was a master at cultivating family relationships and friendships, old and new, with the ultimate hospitality. And she was to do it all in a 24/7 time frame! Do you think that life is even possible? I find myself constantly longer to be better, accomplish more, live my writing dream. Having impossible goals is not fun! It sets one up for a chronic sense of failure. Even though I know I do accomplish so much, it seems there is always more to be done. My expectations of self set me up to feel inadequate, even as I know that I am doing the best I can. I long to be like a woman of the “greatest generation” who could do so much with so little, for whom hard work was the essence of life. And I have heroes like Mrs. Mildred Sterling, who until just a few years ago was teaching Sunday School as she approached the age of 100 years. Or Mrs. Mary Formby, an extraordinary soul who excelled in intellect, hospitality, grace, and faith. I only hope that at the end of my life I, too, will be able to say as Paul did (and, as Mrs. Formby surely could and as Mrs. Sterling will) :

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  2 Timothy 4:7 (NKJV)

th90Z32R6O kissing the enemy

The second ring of this circus is the world we live in, kissing danger (kissing the enemy?) every day. Terror attacks across the globe are common. There seems to be a pervasive streak of personal violence across our land, with daily reports of murders across our communities. And then there is the overarching danger associated with foreign powers trying to disrupt our democracy coupled with the “vanishing American adult” mentality (see Ben Sasse’s book by the same name) that has resulted in the election of a president who has never before served in private office, a president who values his own opinion above all others, a president who makes his own rules, and a president who disregards the time-honored protocols of our justice system, proven relationships with our allies, and simple human decency and honesty. His promise to “drain the swamp” is resulting in the formation of a more ominous swamp fueled by ego, nepotism, disregard for human rights and emotions, and a corporate executive, as opposed to statesman, mentality. The system of checks and balances as envisioned by the founding fathers is no longer checking or balancing power.  Political party lines, instead of ethical and moral truths, have become the guiding force in our nation’s capital. There is widespread lack of understanding of basic civic principles and, therefore, a tendency for many across our nation to apathetically ignore or excuse what is happening in the nation’s capital. Ring #2 multiplies the stresses of ring #1 exponentially. My only hope is to trust that God is in control, and that His plan will prevail.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts. Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55: 8-9 NKJV)

thWVWH0IIN elephants

Ring # 3 is perhaps the most tragic. For I am seeing in evangelical circles a tendency toward judging others without remembering that we are all sinners, saved only by the grace of a loving God. In the name of Christianity, believers accept the circus in ring #2 as a demonstration of conservative values at work. I am having a crisis of faith. It is not a crisis of whether or not I believe in God. It is not crisis of doubting my salvation. It is a crisis of not understanding how we can call ourselves Christians while demonstrating and endorsing a judgmental and intolerant mentality. It is a crisis of wondering how God’s family can expect everyone to be alike–well-trained Christians who, unprotesting, “go with the flow” instead of demonstrating truly unconditional love for all God’s children, instead of hating the sin, not the sinner, and instead of recognizing the inherent personal rights this country was founded upon. I resist being the well-trained elephant sitting in the pew, obediently accepting everything said and done, silent about my own convictions.  I don’t want to be a well-trained, docile Christian, who never rocks the boat. Maybe sometimes the boat needs to be rocked. I want to be a thoughtful, kind, loving, and faithful member of God’s family, unafraid to recognize, and, if indicated, speak, the truth. Remember, Jesus said:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” Matthew 7:1-2 (NKJV)

AND, when questioned about how to punish an adulterous woman,

…..“He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” John 8:7c (NKJV)

I, for one, am not without sin. But I am troubled and concerned and tired of the circus. I pray for a change of heart in the United States of America. I pray to turning back, not only to God, but to the fundamental truths of democracy upon which this nation was founded and to ethical and moral behavior. The Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus may have closed. Let us not let democracy be the next casualty.

 

Words set free…..

I think I am a Martha………..

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”      Luke 10:38-42 NIV

Just coming off a long stretch of exhausting “other work”, I have neglected writing. I am upset with myself about that. Trying to get away from whining  about tiredness and too much to do and other excuses has led me to think about my life and what is really important to me.

I can relate very strongly to Jesus’ friend, Martha, while wishing that I were more like Mary. Mary had the gift of instinctively knowing the priority of the moment. She didn’t care if the house was clean, the beds freshly made, and an impressive meal in progress. She cared about Jesus, being still beside him, drinking in his words, dwelling in his presence.

I fall in and out of the trap of neglecting early morning quiet time with the Lord on too many sleepy mornings. I have let my physical complaints and “want-to-do’s” and my “need-to-do’s” take priority. The most telling clue to my true “Martha” status is my OCD nature about household chores. No, I am not as obsessively “clean” as I was in my youth, but the dishes have to be done, and I cannot go to bed without picking up the “lived in” clutter of a room. And I can all too often descend into the distracted and complaining mode that Martha exhibited. I, too, can be “worried and upset about many things.”

What’s the answer?  I’m evaluating the way I do my devotional time. I’m eating healthier. Now, if I could only fit in exercise (my excuse is the six to eight thousand steps I make a day at work). There are only 24 hours in a day, seven days in a week, and weekends fly in fast-forward fashion. It’s all about baby steps, I think. Small changes, taking one day at a time, and reminding myself each morning that Mary knew and took advantage of what was important in life. Maybe, as I remind myself, I will do better at doing the same.

I thank you, my readers. Writing is my release and helps me assess and analyze and, hopefully, adapt to life’s challenges. I wish the same for you.

 

 

 

If you’re happy, and you know it . . . .

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands (clap, clap);

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands (clap, clap);

If you’re happy and you know it, then your smile will surely show it;

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands (clap, clap).

I have, as many children of my generation, sung many renditions of the above verse. Things about stomping one’s feet or shouting Amenall to demonstrate one’s inward joy. But what happens when that inward joy, any outward sign of happiness, the basic desire to live are subtracted from a life? I have experienced it, not personally (although sometimes I think I may get there!), but as an observer, a caregiver, a mother. And, just to make things really clear for you–IT’S NOT PRETTY.

Our journey through this struggle has encompassed eleven years of our lives. Of course, I know it really began prior to that, but I was in the state of blissful ignorance/denial that parents sometimes love to embrace. The doubts sometimes haunt me. If I had recognized it sooner, would things be different? Would my child’s body be unscarred, her mind clear, her moods stable? Would the fear of losing her be relegated only to things like motor vehicle accidents and terrible physical illnesses and terrorist attacks and vicious murderers? Would I no longer take a deep breath before going to wake her in the morning, my heart seized with the fear that this time she would not awaken to my touch?

I suffer with her, you know. A recent relapse resulted in the most vacant expression I could ever imagine would cross one’s visage. Her eyes were deep wells of emptiness, and I knew we were, once again, in trouble. I knew that because she couldn’t hide it, and, believe me, she is the ultimate master at putting on the good front. Carefully dressing, accessorizing, making up her face, and always smiling sweetly in the presence of others. She is a loving, sensitive, tormented soul dedicated to suffering in silence so no one will be worried. Little does she realize that I see through it all.

ECT is the course of treatment at present, with its frightening and debilitating memory loss. However, she not only now smiles sweetly and silently, but also sleeps and eats and graces us with an occasional laugh that lights her face with forgotten joy. And, I will gladly and gratefully take that in trade–to replace the fear that she will finally, in desperation, tired of the torment, convince herself that life is, indeed, not worth the struggle.

Dear Reader, I know we all have our ups and downs, heartbreaks, disappointments, and generally bad days. I pray none of you or your loved ones have the burden of true, life-threatening, intractable depression. I wrote this for me–a catharsis of sorts–but also for you. If you are one of those suffering, hang in there, get help, don’t give up. If you are one of the fortunate ones who are “happy and you know it”, don’t just clap your hands. Get down on your knees and thank God, for that is one of the greatest blessings you will ever know.

The story of a coat. . . .

DSCN0669

There it is, a rather unremarkable Liz Claiborne, down-filled car coat with fleece lined collar, black in color. It keeps one quite warm in the frigid winters that we are reluctantly becoming accustomed to here in Arkansas. We are becoming used to them because of the introduction of “polar vortex” and “arctic blast” into the vocabulary of our local meteorologists. This coat may look somewhat nondescript, and that quality is central to this story, which is (unfortunately) all-too-true.

The reader may be aware that a couple of weeks ago we experienced here in the mid-south the rapid and brutal cooling that follows the path of an arctic front that dipped unusually deep into the heart of our great country. I doubted the predictions and left for work early one morning clad only in my usual long-sleeve undershirt, scrubs, and a fleece jacket. Mid-morning found me impressed enough by the frigid temp as I left the hospital to drive across town to the clinic that I called my sweet, always-willing to help husband and asked him to bring my heavier down coat from the closet to me. He delivered it to the clinic while I was seeing patients, and my return trip to the hospital was oh-so-much more comfortable! Thank you, sweetheart!

That afternoon everything was harder than it should have been. Procedures that should have taken 45 minutes took 90. The procedure that should have taken an hour took almost three. There was an extra procedure added on. Suffice it to say that when I finally left the hospital, I was very glad to be doing so. I drove toward home in a state of exhaustion. All I wanted was a quick bite to eat, my pajamas, a rerun of Castle while holding my husband’s hand, and deep, dreamless sleep. That’s what I wanted.

However, I generally check on my 88-year-old mother on my way in–her house is about a mile before ours–and this day was a day for a face-to-face visit. It would be a quick one, I vowed to myself. And, it was. She assured me her arthritis was not acting up too badly and the psychotic cat (that she loves dearly) was in a mellow mood. She bemoaned the fact that Thursday night TV was just unacceptable. I agreed, hugged her, and said good night.

As I approached my vehicle, I pulled a set of keys from my pocket and began pressing the “clicker” to unlock the door. No headlights flashed. I pressed the lift-gate button. Nothing. I pressed the panic button. No horn sounded. What could be wrong? I guessed the thing had batteries. I tried to open the door lock with the key, but couldn’t get it to work. After a couple of minutes of futile attempts, the wind biting the exposed skin of my face, I reentered Mom’s warm house and called my husband, for the second time that day, asking to be rescued. Soon I saw the lights of his truck and went out to show him how the stupid “clicker” wouldn’t work. And, I am just so tired, I complained. Did you bring your extra set? I couldn’t even get the key to open the door. See? And I pulled a set of keys from my pocket and pressed the door lock button, and headlights flashed and the door unlocked. I stood in stunned disbelief. Just a short while ago–but, wait. Those first keys–were they different, somehow? Reaching into my pocket again, I pulled another set of keys from it. Oh, no! I had swiped somebody’s keys! I must have picked them up unthinkingly. One of my co-worker’s is stranded at work on this awful night. And, no, I don’t feel like figuring it out, but I’ve got to……….

Once again, my knight in shining armor steps in to rescue me, his dramatically distressed damsel who was alternately in a state of panic or whining about what a terrible day it had been already and I was just too tired to deal with it. I called the only physician left in the cath lab at that late hour. Yes, she was sure she had her keys. I finally obtained the numbers of all the cath lab team that had finished the day with us. They were home and had driven themselves home. Sure, they had their keys. My husband and I drove to the clinic to see if anyone seemed to be stranded there. Nope. All appeared well. Lot empty except for cleaning staff.

My shoulders slumped. My head throbbed. It’s no use, I murmured, near tears of frustration. Go home. I’m out of ideas. And, we did. Drive home, I mean. And I ate something–I can’t remember what. And donned my PJs. But no Castle, I said. Bed for me. And, somehow, I slept.

Awakening the next morning, I was immediately aware that the key mystery remained unsolved. I readied myself for work. It was still freezing cold, and I donned the black coat. It was only as I was sitting in the driver’s seat glaring at the mystery keys which accused me from the console, that I really looked at this coat that had hung in my closet for almost a year between wearings. Somehow the fabric of the coat was not quite as shiny as I remembered. It really didn’t look the same at all. And, didn’t my coat have a zipper closure and snaps? This one has toggles?! And the cuffs are different! I became suddenly aware of the humiliating truth. I had not only swiped someone’s keys. I had stolen her coat. Granted, it resembled mine. But I HAD KEPT IT ALMOST A FULL YEAR–EVER SINCE THE LAST ICE STORM LAST WINTER!!!

The mystery was soon solved. I routinely hung my coat in the nurses breakroom on 2North, where I daily entered the hospital.Today I held the coat in question up for all to see. Does anyone recognize this coat? I somehow have the wrong coat. And these keys were in the pocket. The charge nurse exclaimed that she did remember that last year one of the nurses had searched in vain for her coat after staying at the hospital for three days during that last big ice storm. And she had had to have her car rekeyed. Had feared it stolen, as a matter of fact. She took me to the manager, who verified the story and contacted the victim, who, of course, is the daughter of a dear couple, her mother a former co-worker. (Let’s just magnify the humiliation and mortification by making the victim someone you really like and whose family you know.) As a matter of fact, the manager said, your coat is still hanging in the breakroom. We’ve wondered who it belonged to.

So, I now have my coat. She has hers. I have apologized excessively. She has been only too gracious. She did say that my coat hanging in the breakroom began to bother her through the summer. After all, her coat was missing and someone didn’t even care enough to take theirs home. It just reminded her of her loss. So, there ends the mystery of the coat and keys. But another mystery remains. A friend of mine insists that there should be a lesson to learn from this. That all such embarrassing moments that so prove our imperfection as human beings should be used to make a point, to illustrate a sermon, to teach a truth. There should be a moral to the story, so to speak. I confess that the lesson escapes me, at least for the moment.

If the reader can find one, please let me know. Till then, I’ll just wallow in my embarrassment! (Not really. Confession is good for the soul, you know!)