The Divisiveness is Breaking My Heart…

I’m just blowing off steam.  I can’t remember a time when I felt so hopeless about the vast majority of  humanity.   No matter who says what, there are legions of people who are at the ready to deliberately be cruel and completely disinterested in the “idea” that those who believe as they do are just as passionate- and free to do so- as I am with my beliefs.  There is absolutely no reason or justification for name calling, belittlement, shaming, or anything else that just makes them sound  ‘holier than thou’ and pathetic  (whether or not they believe an God- or anything higher than themselves).   And yeah, I’m guilty.   I’m writing this from a place of pain- sometimes that comes across as anger – but mostly it just hurts.   The people I grew up with, especially from church, are no longer people I relate with in many areas, and that saddens me deeply.  I know that God knows my heart, and that I’d never opt to go against His will. I do question what humans have done to make Christianity so legalistic.

There is also  hypocrisy about many of  the ‘hot button’ issues.  In this post, I’m focusing on abortion- and being a Christian.  I can’t stand the idea of terminating a pregnancy.   BUT,  I understand why a woman would consider it, after being pregnant as a result of being raped in 1987.  I was very naive for a 23 year old and nearly immobilized by the options I had, for the situation I was in.  I couldn’t go the abortion route.  I just couldn’t do it, because my own values.     I never told  my mom about the pregnancy- the first question my mom asked me after I called to tell them about the rape was “Are you pregnant?”… like 6 hours after getting out of the ER, and 2 hours after leaving the police department, where I talked with the Sex Crimes detectives, in a hospital gown and gnarly raincoat from the hospital lost and found box.   Later, the dementia made it inappropriate to discuss it with my mom.  It would have confused her.   She had already told people I was moving back to my home to be a truck driver, because all she remembered about my moving back was that I was driving a U-Haul truck.

Adoption was a touchy subject as a viable option (though probably would have been the outcome had things not turned out as they did).    I’m an adoptee, and while I landed in a great home, there were always the questions about ‘why’ (I had some idea- young mom, couldn’t keep me… my birth mom and I  have a great relationship now), and the sense of “something” missing.  And what would I tell a kid later on in life, should he/she come looking for me, about the circumstances of their conception?  There is no way to make it sound like they were nothing more than a horrific, felonious mistake.  How does someone bring that into the world?   I realize that God can do a lot to help someone get through things (believe me, I prayed a LOT during the rape, and it was a huge source of comfort).  But what if the kid was not a person of faith, and had no belief system to get through something like that?  I would have done all I could to ease the blow- but I would not have lied.   Lies don’t ultimately soothe catastrophic pain.

I certainly didn’t want the kid, because of the ‘how do I explain the conception?’ issue, “who is my father?”,  and never wanting to have a negative bias towards the child in how I raised and treated it.  I didn’t want the reminders of that disgusting day every time I saw the kid’s face, though the child was never at fault.  I was frozen in terms of making decisions, but mercifully, God took care of it one morning, with some nasty cramping, and an unceremonious expulsion into the toilet.  I saw the placental side, freaked, and hit the flush handle.   I was about 12 weeks along.   When I told my dad about the pregnancy after I moved back to my hometown (16 years after the rape), he told me he would have sent me the money for an abortion… and he was a member of an evangelical church for about 60 years.   He understood the torment of that decision.  

I find using abortion as birth control out of laziness or not wanting to be inconvenienced by a child appalling and inexcusable (call that judgement if you want to- I call trivially expelling a pregnancy out of simple personal convenience horribly irresponsible).   There are plenty of good sources of birth control- the most reliable requiring a prescription (which makes Panned Parenthood a good source of medical care EXcluding abortions; they have doctors who will see a woman to do a physical  exam, do a PAP and screen for STDs,  take her medical history, and recommend the safest options to prevent pregnancy- you know… ‘planned’ ).   There are inexpensive prescription birth control pills out there, but they require a physician.  For those without a family doc, PP is a very good option.   I doubt that many right wing Christians will ever believe that (including family and longtime friends) and that’s fine.  Maybe some of them will open their homes and pay the medical bills for a woman facing an unplanned /unwanted pregnancy, and help place her child for adoption-  maybe keep it until the adoption agency and adoptive parents are sorted out.  That’d be great.  Unless someone will step up when they remove options, and offer their own solution on an active, personal level, I don’t think that they should have much say in what someone else does.

Condoms are good for a lot of ‘safe sex’ reasons… but they’re not %100 for birth control… still better than nothing- and anybody who has ‘frivolous sex’ with either multiple partners, or one with a known STD, is irresponsible if they don’t  keep a stash of more than they think they’ll ever need… At.  All. Times.   They are very good at preventing  many STDs (sexually transmitted diseases- some of which can be fatal, in a prolonged and nasty death, i.e. syphilis is easily treated early on, but can lead to dementia after decades with the  untreated disease).

The “morning after pill” is often misunderstood –  sometimes for deliberate political purposes,  to stoke the fires of misinformation.  The morning after pill DOES NOT TERMINATE pregnancy.  It prevents implantation.  There is no pregnancy without implantation.  There is no life without implantation.  Many women “miscarry” these unattached zygotes throughout their life, and never know that fertilization ever happened.  A fertilized zygote (with the potential to become a baby) is essentially nothing without implantation.

Bottom line:  Women are responsible for what goes on in/with/to their bodies when it comes to sexual activity and pregnancy.   Don’t do the “well, he should have brought the rubbers”.  Nonsense !!  If you’re having sex, you are the one who needs to be responsible for the consequences.   

About late term abortions…  I think this is often misunderstood as well.  There are times when ‘pre-term delivery’ (what it is called medically) to end the pregnancy is the only way to save the mother.  With neonatal intensive care being what it is now, there are  maximum efforts to resuscitate the baby and care for it with the hope that it will survive, and hopefully thrive.  Babies as early as 23 weeks are successfully cared for in NICUs. (I’ve heard of a few at 22 weeks, and seen 24 weekers with my own eyes)  That’s before the third trimester !  Pre-term deliveries are ONLY for medical emergencies.  They are not abortions.  (Could there be heinous individuals out there that do them?   Yeah- there are heinous individuals who do just about anything… but pre-term deliveries aren’t the same as abortions. Period.).   Look at the Duggars and their little Josie… they’re about as conservative as folks come- and they “got it” about the reasons for doing the pre-term delivery because of Mrs. Duggar having eclampsia, which is fatal if the pregnancy is not ended. Pre-term delivery IS the cure.  There was never any thought of Josie not getting care.    But the ‘far right’ loves to use inflammatory terms to garner support for candidates.  Unfortunately, inaccuracies abound, and that just fans the fire. Those that say that the mother dying is “God’s will”,  when there is a way to save, her baffle me… to me that is deliberately letting the mother die.  God doesn’t give us ways to take care of emergencies and then not expect/allow us to use them. Why lose two lives when you can save one pretty much for sure (nothing is every %100 in medicine), and probably both?

But bottom line about abortion, in my eyes?   It’s not my decision to make for someone else.  Legislating morality is muddling the religion and state line.  We are not a “Christian” country.  Many of the founding fathers did have a Christian background, but they were very careful to design our country to separate church and state to avoid legislating morality.   We are a country of freedom OF religion.  Once we impose Christian values into law, we open the doors to have parts of Sharia law, or Buddhist values, or whatever, into laws for everybody.   Laws don’t stop abortion.  And just because something is legal doesn’t mean I have to participate!   The government isn’t responsible for determining my decisions.  I have to answer for my own choices- NOBODY else’s.     Again- I don’t like the idea of termination a pregnancy at all.   But I’m not going to focus on people  I can’t control at the expense of ignoring things that could make a positive difference for more people (cue the “but the baby is a person” folks… yeah, I do believe that there is a blooming human in the uterus- and that’s why I wouldn’t choose to have an abortion myself). What is the benefit of being  judgmental over an issue that is between the woman,  HER conscience, and God?   I can’t live her life. But,  I’m also going to extend to her an ear to listen to her fears and conflicts- and gently talk to her about other options, helping in ways that I can.  And prayer is always going to be heard… God can direct the outcome.

So where do I find hypocrisy?  The same folks who are furiously self-righteous about being pro-life couldn’t care less about the health care availability for the “post-born”.    Jesus was ‘into’ taking care of folks medical issues.  You know- that whole “Great Physician” term?   He didn’t ask if people had a good job with adequate coverage to reimburse Him.   He didn’t ask if they were  purposely out of work just so they could stay home with bills piling up and no hope of a better life.  He didn’t ask if their medical needs were the reason they couldn’t find suitable work.  He didn’t deny ‘medicine’ because someone’s prescription drug plan didn’t cover His ‘medicine’.   He just healed them out of compassion.  Everybody remember that?   I know.  It’s not talked about much anymore.  Compassion isn’t a great political word, so it gets lost.

Matthew 25: 41-46   41“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ 44“Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ 45“Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46“These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Yes- those verses talk about visiting the sick, and not healing…  check this out:
Ezekiel 34: 11-16.    11“ ‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.”       It’s all about care, compassion, and bringing the ‘sheep’ together.  This is talking specifically about Israel- but I can’t imaging God not wanting those who love His Son to be treated differently.  And He will strengthen the weak !  He’ll help the injured.  Because of love for His people.  In the Old Testament that was directed at the Jewish people.  In the New Testament, and after someone makes the choice to believe that Jesus is their Lord and Savior, He extends that to us as Christians as well.

There are SO many other things that are saddening me these days- but this is one of the things that separates me from the people I grew up with.  That’s hard, but I’m not going to simply follow the herd when I have strong feelings and thoughts of my own, based in compassion.  I became a nurse to help people.  I miss that.   It’s hard to feel like an outcast- and I don’t anticipate anybody being willing to have a discussion – not to change minds, but simply be heard and maybe even understand a little of where I’m coming from.  But I know God does.  People who aren’t part of the community I grew up with (at church) understand… but within that church group, I feel like something they’d just as soon throw out with the trash. And that hurts.  Lots of talk.  No action.

But, whatever.  I’m rapidly losing interest with humans in general.  It’s “safer” to write here, or just keep the front door locked, and screen calls.   But I won’t lie.  I’d love to hear someone with the same spiritual background tell me that they ‘get it’.   That they understand.  And that I’m not “bad”.    I realize that in the grand scheme of things, the opinion of a human is pretty meaningless.  But it would still be nice to be understood.  I do find intense comfort in knowing that God hears my cries, and knows my heart.   ❤

 

Sharing Christianity With Love and Warmth

Sometimes it’s hard to be taken seriously as a Christian, as so many Christians come across as painfully judgmental in their tone and overall intolerance- towards those who don’t believe exactly in what they do. We can be our own worst enemies when trying to encourage non-Christians see how Christianity really is an amazing way to get through this life, and that it just gets better!   This age of so much communication being done between strangers with no interpersonal connection doesn’t help much. Reading comments about online articles, stories, etc. are horribly mean and hateful- and the Christians are among the worst at times.  It makes me sad.   I try SO hard not to be one of ‘those’ Christians (and also not to judge them– they have their reasons for their beliefs, even if I disagree with how they come across, at least with how I’ve perceived them in specific online conversations or about specific topics… and I’m not good at that).  I want to be used by God, not drive people away from Him.  That can be a lonely place.  The ‘holier-than-thous’ have no tolerance for ME, and I don’t fit in anywhere because I see approaching people out of love and respect being more important than being ‘right’.

I’m very limited physically in how much I can interact with people (Christians and non-Christians), and so much of what I am exposed to is lacking the ‘in-person’ body language and non-verbal subtleties needed for complete communication. I base my fairly open and ‘cleaning my own side of the street’ approach to a lot of topics based on my belief that Jesus spoke much more about love than He did about judgement.  Jesus loves everybody, and took the ragtag bunch of people around Him to be the ones He kept the closest to Him.  He didn’t look for the legalistic Pharisees. He didn’t take the ones who could recite ‘rules’ twenty-five ways to Sunday.   He chose the hookers, thieves, the poor, and later, even those who used to persecute Christians to help spread His message. Paul was a huge factor in the spreading of the message of Christianity in those early years, and he was horrible to Christians prior to his conversion !   Who am I to only seek out the superficially ‘acceptable’ people to care about?  Appearances mean nothing, both good and bad. (I LOOK very unfeminine, and pretty ratty a lot of the time. Because of some medical issues that make having hair actually a safety issue, as it gets me overheated very fast, and that triggers a lot of unpleasantness, up to losing consciousness… so I look stereotypically ‘butch’, because my head is shaved, and I don’t wear a lot of girly clothes… a t-shirt with flowers is about as ‘foo-foo’ as I get… that’s just me.  I’ve gotten a lot of nasty ‘looks’  and comments over the years about that).  God can use anybody who is willing!  Even if they don’t ‘seem’ like they’re capable of a meaningful relationship with Christ, or ‘look’ like a bonafide Christian 😉

It’s kind of a lonely place at times to not ‘tow the line’ in some very rigid manner. God meets us where we are, and I think we, as Christians, need to show the love of God in ways that fit the person we’re interacting with.   I don’t ‘fit in’ with how I view some very controversial topics in the conservative Christian community.  I believe in the Bible, and that it’s the inspired Word of God.  I also look at the social, scientific,  and cultural norms at the time the Bible was written, and look at ways to learn more about how that translates into today’s society. I am very aware that I don’t know everything.  But no matter how I view something or someone, I feel an obligation to love the person as someone God created in the womb first, and do all things in a way that doesn’t make them run from any message I may have about how God can have a real place in their lives, no matter what any person’s beliefs, strengths, or weaknesses may be.  What good does it do to judge someone, and push them away?  That isn’t the goal !  Jesus told Christians to go into all the world and preach the Gospel… not judge those who will benefit from hearing it (as in everybody !).   God didn’t appoint me, or any other human, to be judgmental.  Matthew 7 is very clear on that.  The Bible is also very clear on doing all things in love.  Focusing on the good, and showing everyone the definition of love in I Corinthians 13, and the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians.  Those are our standards.

God has been a huge refuge for me during some really hard times.   When I was raped, He was Who I called out to (silently, in prayer) to give me the strength and wisdom to get through it, and escape.  With the chronic medical disorders I’ve got, God is Who gives me the strength to just deal with another day, even when I just want to curl up and sleep until things get better (problem with that is that the disorders are chronic, progressive, and not going to get better).  When I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia, my comfort came in knowing that no matter what happened, I’d go on in eternity if I died.  I’d be able to reunite with fellow believers who have died, such as family, friends, and people I’ve read about over the years.  I’d like to share that comfort with others.  I’d like others to know that no matter how alone they feel, God is always around.  When I was in the middle of the last eating disorder relapse, I’d ask God every night literally to just let me wake up in the morning.  He answered all of my prayers during all of those times.  I’m still here.

I don’t run around with my religion on my sleeve (though I do have a few cool t-shirts with messages on them ),  but I will be specific about my beliefs when asked, or when I decide to write about it.  I strive to live my beliefs (and I can always improve !).  I believe that salvation is  a choice.  It is not possible to be ‘good enough’ or ‘earn’ a place in Heaven.  Believing in Jesus, His death on the cross, and resurrection as a payment for our sinful nature -by simply being human- is how I believe people get in to Heaven.  The Bible is very clear on that.  But, there are no pre-existing criteria to ‘qualify’ as a Christian. It’s simply telling God that I know I’ve sinned (we all have, and anybody who is at the age of accountability- which varies with individuals and developmental stages and capabilities needs to make the choice for themselves to seek forgiveness), I ask for forgiveness, and I believe that Jesus died to pay the price for my very human nature and choices that have grieved God, and separated me from Him.  I believe that  Christ physically rose from the dead. I believe that He’s going to return one day to gather Christians still alive here on earth, as well as those who have already left this earth. A lot of really ‘good’ people will be left behind.  I believe that when my earthly life is over, my eternal life begins. And I know that no matter how other people, including  Pharisee Christians, see me, God knows my heart.  That is more important than human acceptance.  I don’t ‘do’ legalism…  I cherish my relationship with the Lord, and other Christians.

I also believe that people have the right to decline God’s offer, and by not making a choice, they actually do make a choice.   They have the right to their beliefs as  I have the right to mine.  My beliefs mean that I only see one way for someone to be ‘saved’, and eligible for eternal life.  But it’s not my place to ‘judge’ someone for not wanting or believing that (I can be sad they don’t choose the same beliefs, but it is NOT OK for me to judge that person).  Those who don’t believe as I do will say I’m being judgmental for saying that there is only one way to Heaven… my answer is this: what is in the Bible didn’t come from me.  God made it a choice, whether to believe or not.  He didn’t create us to be robotic followers.  He gave us all free will. But He wants everybody… He won’t push anybody away for any reason…. so how could I possibly think it’s OK for me to judge anybody for making their own decisions?  🙂

Humans (often Christians) screw up the Bible, and how Christianity is perceived, more than any other factor on earth.  The Bible itself is fairly straightforward, and with religious and historical scholars having written volumes on the various cultural, social, and scientific things, it’s easy to see that God’s plan for our salvation is timeless.  It was seen as heresy when Jesus died and rose again- a conspiracy of major proportions.  Some people still see it as such. Some just think it’s bogus.  That’s their right.  It saddens me, but I still accept that they have the choice to believe what they will.  Faith comes with continued belief, and it’s different for everyone.  God didn’t make us all identical cookie-cutter people (pretty great, eh?), so we all ‘do’ this journey in our own way.   And, we can pray for those who don’t believe, and continue to be kind and compassionate towards them.  How will they ever find Christ if Christians are the first to bail out on them?

To me, the requirements for salvation are absolute; there is only one way to become a Christian-  BUT there are as many ways to BE a Christian as there are people… . It’s a choice.  It’s an active belief, not a passive assumption.   God can use ALL of us 🙂 

I believe that God can use anyone who makes him/herself available to Him.  He doesn’t demand perfection. He doesn’t demand we ‘speaketh’ in a completely unnatural way when we talk to Him.  I am not a fan of religion at all (mindless rituals and rules)… God wants a relationship with every single person on this planet. 🙂  He waits until we seek Him, but then we are His forever.  He won’t force Himself on anybody.  He gave us free will.  And, He has a single requirement for being with Him forever…. belief.  Faith grows over time, but belief is a choice.

I can’t imagine NOT believing what I do.  I can’t imagine NOT believing in Jesus, or His death and resurrection.  I can’t imagine NOT believing that He is coming back.  I can’t imagine NOT having the absolute assurance of Heaven when I die. To me, it takes a lot more faith in “nothing” than it does in a loving God whose Son walked the earth in human form over 2,000 years ago.  I also don’t see humans as a lot who are higher up on the reliability scale.  I couldn’t believe in a mere mortal.  Just wouldn’t work for me.   I’m glad for my upbringing in an evangelical church.  I’m thankful that I had good experiences with how God was taught to me, and that I had several outlets that were wonderful experiences to reinforce what I’d learned (youth groups, summer camp, working at the same camp during 2 1/2 summers, choir, etc).  I’m also very glad I read through the BIble cover-to-cover on my own a few times, so I saw what is in there for myself…. not JUST how a pastor saw it. I’m thankful for study Bibles with amazing notes from reputable Bible scholars to enhance my understanding.

I wish that for everyone. 🙂

Talking About Things That Hurt…

I think that for the most part, people mean well.  Even with blinding avoidance of some topics, I don’t think malice is behind what seems like apathy, or even repulsion.  My guess is that it’s more a matter of just not knowing how to approach some topics, especially if that topic is linked to some sort of instability or potential ‘trigger’ for harm.  In my life, that applies to anything related to my hospitalizations for being suicidal, or having attempted suicide (though I never really wanted to die…I just didn’t know how to get out of the pain associated with eating disorders).  It’s just not something that is covered in “Social Conversation 101”, and add a church background that repels any sort of mental pain as some type of spiritual weakness, and the doors and mouths are shut when the exact opposite is needed.

I love that I grew up in a church that was a great social and spiritual setting. The kids’ and high school programs were a lot of fun, and the place where most of my friends hung out.  I have deep gratitude for being raised in a church, and while I haven’t been to any particular building for many years (related to my job for a lot of that time, and otherwise my health limitations), my belief in God and Christianity are strong.  I’m not ‘rigid’, as is often associated with evangelicalism.  When I was growing up, the beliefs I learned were just how it was.  I then spent time as an adult reading through the Bible on my own, and found so much less judgement and hostility towards ‘non-believers’…that those who hurt are who the Bible is meant to attract, as well as give guidance to those who do believe. It’s not meant to be  a ‘weapon’ of pompous piety.  I was embarrassed at the narrow-minded acceptance parameters that I’d grown up with, and I also felt that I understood being on the ‘wrong’ side of what was acceptable.  My high school and  post-high school years were an intense period of  general unrest, eating disorders, and suicidal depression that never happened unless I wasn’t eating properly. During those years, suicide was something that came up more than once… yet I couldn’t really discuss it with anybody who knew me very well.  My parents found out I was mentioning some dark topics, and then chastised me for ever talking about such a thing; I had nothing to be all that upset about, why did I want to make THEM look bad?  All about them.  So I didn’t talk anymore. Until I got away from home.

I had worked at a wonderful church camp during the summers before my senior year in high school, freshman year of college, and half of the following summer. I’d met some incredibly caring people, and I’d disclosed a bit about the depths of despair I’d felt with the eating disorders and accompanying depression with a select few of them.  I did talk about suicide with one of them, that I remember, during a semester break when I was working at a missions conference that she attended at the University of Illinois, where I went to school.  She was also quite young at the time  (though older than I was, so I was sure she knew just about everything, being in her 20s !), and she was a major source of encouragement.  When someone is in the midst of not knowing if they even want to live, it’s not that helpful to tell them they’re not doing something ‘right’, and she didn’t do that. She did focus my thinking towards the lies in my head, and more on my/our Christian belief system.   I adore this friend to this day, and while  it  wasn’t her ‘job’ to be my counselor, she did the best she could.  Now, many years past those miserable early adulthood years, I do agree that focusing more on being what Christ wants of me, and less on the superficial things like weight  and human perception (at least how it was then) is very much what I want to do, and needed to do back then.  But as a scared, malnourished, ashamed, and depressed eighteen year old, I didn’t really get it.  But at least she talked to me at all… I didn’t feel safe talking to about %99.9 of people I knew (or didn’t know, such as therapists).  And she listened, which was ‘enough’ to help me hang on.  She gave me her time.

Sometimes,  just having something to hang on to is ‘enough’ to get through another day, and maybe that next day isn’t so bad, so it’s easier to see making it through the day after that.  I don’t think it’s a sin to have ‘negative’ emotions. I think that there can be sinful choices in how they’re handled sometimes, and I also think that there are times when people are so deep in the weeds that they need someone to look to while they try and climb back to tended ground.  I also don’t think that mental illness is a sin or sign of spiritual weakness.  It’s an illness,  and those who suffer from it (and it is suffering) are seen as being spiritually weak  in many church settings.  That is SO sad.

I can only imagine Jesus looking down at those who are hurting emotionally, and wanting those who claim to know Him to reach over and encourage and gently nudge the ones in pain so they  keep adding days to their lives until the oppressive clouds lift, and they  see daylight again.  I don’t see Jesus adding shame and judgement to someone who is already struggling to see that the next breath is worth taking.

There is a time and place for instructional discipleship, and a time and place for compassionate encouragement.  But silence in the middle of a rotating thunderstorm just doesn’t make sense.  It’s that silence that can be the last opportunity to reach out to someone who is spiraling out of control, and into a place of absolute helplessness and hopelessness, and ultimately suffocating darkness.  Even ‘just’ asking if someone wants to talk, and ‘just’ sitting with them can be enough to let them know that they matter enough to keep taking up space on the planet.  Nobody has to know all of the answers.  And it’s possible to have more questions than answers and still be a temporary rock in the middle of pain that feels like it’s going to last forever.  Being so afraid of doing something wrong that nothing is done is sometimes beyond useless. To someone who hurts, being glossed over by those who know them is worse than having something not be ‘perfectly’ helpful.  Perception in the middle of pain is often very ego-centric and inaccurate.  But a kind word in a gentle tone can ease so much.

There is nothing wrong with saying “I really don’t know how to help you, but I am so afraid for how much pain I see you in.  What can I do? I am here for you. You matter to me.”.   Having human limitations isn’t going to cause irreparable damage to someone. But apathy and inaction might.  I don’t think that anybody is ever the ’cause’ for someone else taking their own life.  If someone is resolute in their decision to at least try and end their life, they will do so. But when there are signs that something is wrong, I do believe that at least offering some human compassion and understanding can’t hurt.  And, no matter what, I’d rather know I at least tried.

 

 

Fragility and Resilience

There are just some people in life that ‘stick’ in memories.  Even after decades of no contact, and then with a reconnection on FaceBook, they bring back all of the good stuff that they’re associated with. Not just a fun afternoon, but the totality of the experience they were a part of years ago.  For me, that was an incredible experience as a camper and then a summer staff member for a total of 10 years at Timber-lee Christian Center in East Troy, Wisconsin (USA). Even though I went to a ‘solid’ church as a kid, Timber-lee has always been my spiritual foundation. People there live what they believe. It’s not lip service, and it’s not ‘on’ when people are watching only to be turned off when the kids leave. It’s legit.  It was 24/7 immersion in Christianity that was good.  Not the negative stuff that can be associated with Christians, but an authenticity that is hard to find. I couldn’t get enough of the place, and wanted to live there permanently (they didn’t have any openings for full-time campers…).

One of the people I first met when I was 8 years old became very ill this week, and her heart stopped. She was somewhere that provided her with near immediate CPR, and EMS was called. They got her heart restarted, and the ER she was taken to figured out the problem and opted for induced hypothermia (dropping her body temperature) and a coma to minimize any neurological complications (that nobody hears about with CPR). It’s assumed by most non-medical people that when the heart is restarted, all is well. That is the outcome in a very few cases.  Recovery is a process- not an event.

A couple of things have stood out in the four days since this happened.  First, I have learned an entirely different level of prayer.  I’ve prayed as long as I can remember, but I’m not sure that I’ve ever had someone come to mind as often as this incredible woman has, or that I’ve actually pleaded to God on behalf of someone else. I’ve prayed for healing for other people, but this has been different.   My sincerity in the past has been just as strong, and I’m not sure that I can really describe how this is different. It just is.

Second, I’m realizing how important those years at Timber-lee have been.  I’ve always been so thankful for the experiences I had there- whether the week long  sessions as a camper, or the 3 month sessions on the summer staff for 2 1/2 summers.  The people I met there are entwined with the experience.  They can’t be separated, and that’s  wonderful.  When I think of one, I’m flooded with the memories of the other.  It’s a package deal.  The feelings of safety, love, fellowship, and acceptance have never been replicated. Ever.

The fragility of life smacked me in the face four days ago (as it did much more so for those who are closer- her husband, and friends and family).  The experiences at camp have been my ‘go to’ memories to ferret out good days when I was going through rough times.  This week, there is part of that whole picture that is in trouble.  The reports come in daily, and I can’t get to them fast enough. I spread them to other pages where people are waiting for news. And we’re all praying.  There is hope.

I’m not sure I’m explaining myself all that well.  I’m  a bit overwhelmed, and in some ways I don’t feel entitled to that level of emotion, as we didn’t have contact for so long.  But it’s Timber-lee and one of the handful of people that has had an impact on me since 1972.  I even wrote a ‘report’ about my first week at camp when I was 8 years old, and she is in that ‘report’.  I got to see her in July, and it was so great to be back at the camp and see people who made it what it has been in my life.  And now she’s in a coma.

As a nurse, I know the possible outcomes. I worked in a coma stimulation unit at a brain injury rehab center many years ago. I saw some horribly sad situations. But I also saw some amazing stories and recoveries.  The people I took care of had been in comas for many weeks to months before they started showing signs of improvement, and the injuries were often because of external trauma (accidents). The damage had been more extensive, and intense. They started out in much worse shape, at least structurally; many had parts of their brains or skulls removed because of the damage.   My friend has already been reacting well to commands, and her reflexes are good. That gives me much hope for her outcome. Yet, I also know that there are no guarantees.  SO, while I’m thrilled every day with the updates, I hold back because of what I know and have seen. And yet, to the part of me that is still seeing Timber-lee as only existing with the people I knew there still like they were, I can’t allow myself to accept anything less than a full  recovery.  And that’s what I pray for, as do many, many others.  This woman is cherished.

I guess when I remember Timber-lee, I’m transported in time to the age I was then, and the feelings I remember when I was there.  It’s technically just a ‘place’…but it was much more than that to me.  I saw how Christians live in a way that I wanted to emulate.  When I’ve been in situations that were literally life-threatening, my first thoughts  often go back to something from camp.  That’s my feel-good place. It’s where I felt the most freedom to be who I really was during that time in my life.  And, I learned so much from the people I met there- either as a camper or on staff.  It also played a role in why I became an RN.

My friend who is sick is one of those examples of being a Christian that has been a role model, even in the 30 years we had no contact.  Her life has had an impact on tens of thousands of lives as she’s worked at the camp for decades. When I’ve thought of her over the years, I smiled.  When I hear music that she taught the music groups, or camp songs we sang, I smile.  When we’ve had FaceBook contact, I smile.  She’s a ‘feel good’ person.  That’s a quality I respect and admire so much. And she’s a very solid Christian, in ways that encourage and inspire- not judge or demean.

So, this is a hodgepodge of words that may not make sense.  That’s OK.  I just needed to write this.  I’m praying that her recovery exceeds expectations, and she can resume her life with this being just a blip in the totality of her life.  I can’t express what Timber-lee and the people I associate with it really mean to me. It goes beyond just a ‘place’.  The experiences were  heaven-blessed.  So many times the good I got from there helped  get me through some really lousy stuff. I can’t really explain that either, except to say that I felt that the God I saw in the people I met there was more real to me because of having been there.  Maybe that’s it- they showed me God.  They made Him more real.  I knew about God from the time I was very young, and believed in Jesus as a young elementary school kid…but I met Him at Timber-lee, through people like this friend who now needs Him to surround her with healing and restoration.

This one’s for you, MK.

Christianity: Ritualistic Religion vs. Relationship

I’ve never liked the term ‘religious’.  For me that invokes mindless rituals and a lack of personal interaction with God.  Sort of a Monday through Saturday apathy, but a false piousness on Sunday when people are looking.  I don’t like that.  For me, Christianity is a relationship- and it’s not about being in a specific place on a specific day.  Going to a shoe store doesn’t make me a shoe.  Going to church doesn’t make me a Christian.  What I do seven days a week makes more of a difference than whether or not I show up at a specified building on Sunday.  Yet I can’t ‘do’ anything to earn heaven.

I grew up in an evangelical church, and for me it was a great experience. The other kids were fun, the youth groups were active and kept us busy with activities and ‘field trips’, and the chaperones were generally goofy enough to not be embarrassing adults, but grown up enough to keep us from getting killed. The senior high choir even did week long tours during Spring Break to Kentucky and Washington, DC, and everybody came back in one piece. We had fun.

The teaching part was also a positive experience.  None of the pastors hollered. I don’t like to be hollered at. If someone wants me to listen, they have to treat me like my ears work, and I’m not in trouble before they even get started. Hollering is punitive to me. Normal volume gets my attention.  Just about everybody who had a pastoral position had a great sense of humor- that was also crucial. I didn’t want to sit through an hour long service with someone that sounded constipated and annoyed.  During the time I went to that church, I was lucky.  Humor was intact.  I learned a lot.

Sunday School teachers were also great role models. I remember several of mine. I even taught kindergarten Sunday School for a while, and it was a lot of fun. We had the curricula all spelled out, and projects to help reinforce the lessons.  There was singing, and with little kids, a fair amount of hugs. One of ‘my’ kids came from a moderately rough background. Her mom wasn’t in the picture much, and I was near the same age as her mom.  She tended to hang out with me a bit closer than the other kids.  I still have her school photo from 1984.

People who don’t grow up in a church often think that TV ‘Christians’ are representative of all of us.  Um, NO !  There is no magic handkerchief, or vial of oil (probably Crisco), or need for someone to pray on my behalf.  I’ve got the direct number. It’s “Hey, God?” 🙂 , or “Oh, Lord” 😮 – depending on the tone of the prayer or conversation.  I don’t always get very formal- sometimes I’m even sort of ticked off. God can handle my anger. He can handle my frustration and He WANTS to hear about my pain.  The Psalms are full of examples of David’s pain- and God used  him to be the lineage from which Jesus was born.  Check out YouTube and Amy Grant’s ‘Better Than A Hallelujah’… we don’t have to follow rules to pray and be heard! Just be open, and let God know what’s going on. Good or bad.

TV preachers don’t work for me for the most part. There are exceptions, but the ones nobody has ever heard of except for the people awake during the 3:00 a.m. time slot used to  suck money out of the desperate and disenfranchised are pitiful in my opinion. But that’s just me.  God gets to judge their hearts, and He holds preachers and teachers of the Bible to a higher standard than us regular folks.   God judging hearts- that’s good news in my book.  What humans think of me is pretty irrelevant, though I’d want nothing more than to be a good representative of Christ- but in the long run, it’s God who will judge me. NO human’s opinion even comes close.

Judgement and being a Christian aren’t the same thing. Becoming a Christian is a choice. It’s an actual ‘event’ of praying to ask for forgiveness, believing that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, and rose again- and He’s coming back one day. That isn’t something that gets ‘revoked’.  People can choose to develop a stronger relationship with Christ- or not.  And nobody does it perfectly. People ‘backslide’ (fall away from their spiritual teachings and beliefs).  I routinely ask for forgiveness for stuff I do.  I will be judged one day before God- but my salvation is secure. My judgement won’t be the same as someone who has refused to accept Jesus.

I was also lucky to have a summer camp to go to as a kid for week long sessions. Between the summers before my senior year in high school and  freshmen year in college, and half of the following summer, I worked there as a nature counselor (and a few weeks of ‘cabin’ counseling).  Timber-lee Christian Center in East Troy, WI was SO much fun- and is still a very important part of my spiritual ‘roots’. People there lived what they talked.  It wasn’t put on for show. We believed what we talked about. For those of us who worked there, it was how we all lived, for weeks on end.  The immersion in 24/7 Christianity out in the open was special.  It wasn’t a ‘real life’ setting- but it was a huge blessing to have had those times there, whether as a kid going to camp, or a summer staff member.  I met people there that I’m still in contact with, and they haven’t become ‘less’ solid in their Christianity when nobody is looking…they were and are solid examples of loving Christians.  We do exist!  But we’re not perfect.

I’m not someone who spends a lot of time talking openly about my beliefs. I think as a nurse, I became less likely to just open up about God. When I was working,  I was at work to take care of patients, not preach.  (And, it could get me fired; being an example of kindness could do more than verbally ‘Bible-thumping’ someone)  It was that way for all religions.  If a patient mentioned something I also agreed with, I did smile and say I agreed. But that was pretty much the limit that was allowed.  I did support patients in their beliefs. For example, an orthodox Jewish patient needed matches (or a lighter) to light candles when his rabbi came on Friday nights. I had no problem finding those for him.  I took trays with pork products back to the kitchen at a nursing home for a Muslim resident.  I didn’t have to believe the same thing to be respectful.  I didn’t see that as a threat to my beliefs.

For me, Christianity is a relationship with God.  I’m physically limited as far as getting to an actual church building, but there is nothing wrong with my ability to read the Bible, pray, and have ‘general’ conversations with God.  I guess it’s a fine line between that and praying, but there’s communication.  I’ve read through the entire Bible a couple of times so I could see for myself what’s in there (and the study notes I had). Mostly what I learned is that I still have a lot to learn.

I also learned that it’s not my job to cram Christianity down anybody’s throat. It’s not my job to be offensive in my beliefs.  Being a Christian isn’t about ‘making’ someone believe something.  To me, it’s more about being willing to tell someone what I believe, and hopefully living in such a way that I don’t push people away.  The Bible is clear about being gentle in one’s approach to nonbelievers.  That gets missed a lot when the sensationalistic preachers are interviewed for TV, or taped as they holler on the streets.

Christ is about love.  John 3:16 is a common verse, and talks about how God sent His only Son to die for our sins and give us eternal life if we believe Him. What gets missed is John 3:17- that God didn’t send His Son to condemn the world, but that through Him the world might be saved…. there are so many more references in the Bible about love in regards to God and Jesus than there are about judgement and condemnation. Will God judge those who reject Him?  Yep… but He also isn’t cramming Himself down anyone’s throat….it’s a personal choice.  Free will.  If you don’t want Him, that’s up to you.

Religious rituals aren’t paths to salvation. It doesn’t take much to repeat an action without thought behind it.  A relationship is personal.  It’s voluntary and individualized.  I much prefer a relationship with  God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit.   I don’t ‘do’ Christianity exactly the same as someone else, and they don’t do ‘my’ Christianity either- which is the beauty of a relationship.  The big things are belief and faith.  Those are relatively simple decisions.  And continuing to aspire to be the type of believer that will please God is also a decision. I might not get it perfect all the time, but God does know my heart, and that is very reassuring.