Exploring where life and story meet!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Answer is always C, right?

The weather, the phase of the moon, our parents, our race/gender/religion/socioeconomic situation/relationship status, our education or lack thereof, a down turn in the economy, that guy at work, our genetics, bad luck, our weight or metabolism or health...there are a million reasons, or rather excuses, why we are the way we are: unhappy, unsettled, uncomfortable, restless, dissatisfied with life in general and ourselves in particular.  But we think life will be better when we fix the problem: lose the weight or get a new job, or get counseling for things beyond fixing, like our childhood, but it never lasts, not for long anyway.  We're like the kid before Christmas who has his heart set on X, life will be so wonderful when he has X, but two weeks after Christmas, X is gathering dust in a corner and life is probably the same, if not a little more drab since X failed to fix it.

It isn't a new diet or boyfriend, it isn't travel to exotic places or adopting a dog; all that is wonderful for its own reasons but none of it will fix your life.  As a culture, we are obsessed with finding the problem or placing the blame outside ourselves, certain that Something must certainly be the problem, if not This then maybe That.  But nothing helps, we're still left feeling like a square peg in a round hole; like a jigsaw puzzle missing the last piece.  It is the root cause of most of the evils in society and the world at large: someone decides to do something drastic to fill that gap and thousands suffer as a result.  But those at the top are just as empty as those of us at the bottom of the heap.  Power, fame, riches don't fill that hole any more than anything else.

I grew up in an emotionally vacant home, at least of all the good emotions; we had plenty of anger, shame, fear, and frustration.  I've been trying to change that in my own family, but somehow managed to collide head on with my in-laws.  They are extremely decent and nice people, but as a mother and daughter-in-law, they always seem to rub me the wrong way.  I think I've finally figured out why.  They both had rather wretched childhoods as well, leaving them scarred emotionally, and now that they are grandparents, they are trying to somehow 'fix' those scars by living vicariously through my kids.  And being thus scarred myself, I've let them pretty much walk all over me only to resent it bitterly later.  It's pretty much the same thing in the wider world, though the root cause of the injury varies from person to person, we are all trying to get whole and healthy through our relationships (or protect ourselves from further injury by social isolation), be it friends, lovers, kids, grandkids, employers or employees, we're all a bunch of burn victims trying to piece ourselves back together in the ICU with nary a physician in sight.  This isn't to say we don't have good and honest intentions, we do, but we are so broken and hurting, and this yearning to be happy and whole is so strong and subtle a part of our nature that we do it quite unwittingly; it is very much a part of what we currently call the human experience.

Some people want to medicate or educate or breed it out of humanity, others think the whole race is too flawed and the only answer is annihilation.  To some, science or technology must surely find an answer be it artificial intelligence or genetic manipulation.  Some embrace their base nature and the evolutionist's creed, eager to be the strongest and thrive amidst their depravity.  But nothing will fill that gap or sooth the unsettled soul, for there is no 'balm in Gilead,' or at least not on this mortal earth, or perhaps I should say wasn't, for the Great Physician has come and we no longer need to sew up our own wounds.  But we are unwise children, too wise in our own eyes to see that we are wounded, let alone in need of a doctor; we continue to look to X to make us happy, and if that doesn't work, there is always Y...but the Answer transcends the whole alphabet, a single letter won't suffice, we need the Alpha and Omega and everything in between, nothing less will satisfy.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Looking for ET in all the wrong places?

The last time I watched 'ET' was in Spanish class in high school, and all I can remember was that epic line, "ET telephono a mi casa."  'Green Eggs and Ham' didn't translate the best either.  ET might have actually been better in Spanish, but in whatever language, I really never liked it.  But it could be worse, my husband was a substitute German teacher once and got to watch the first 45 minutes of 'Finding Nemo' in German seven times in one day, ugh!  But this post isn't about linguistic translation or even pop culture icons, but rather modern culture's obsession with finding non-terrestrial life somewhere, somehow, somewhen, especially a sapient variety.  But it isn't just aliens, we've gone through werewolves, ghosts, robots, vampires, and are currently weathering a zombie phase: anything to find we are not alone, that there is more to reality than the span of our heart beats.

But we aren't alone.  And our modern search for the extraterrestrial is a little ridiculous when you consider our planet was actually invaded two millennia ago, and not just by visitors from another planet or even another galaxy, but by Someone from outside our own reality.  Yeah, wrap your mind around that one for a minute.  It's like me physically trying to cram myself into one of my own books: ain't going to happen!  But He managed to do it.  But we're still watching the stars, hoping someone is out there, somewhere, when all we need do is realize that He's already come, we aren't alone any longer, at least if we don't want to be.  There are all sorts of conspiracy theories about the government covering up all traces of alien visitations, but this is the original and still the most controversial.  And no, I am not giving any credence to the theories that say various visions or miracles in the Bible were actually alien phenomena such as Ezekiel's 'wheels within wheels.'  I speak only of the advent of deity within mortal flesh, the Word made Flesh that dwelt among us.

I am currently reading through the Gospel of John, and it is very intuiging to see some of the language he uses and the word pictures he paints, emphasizing this point; this from the same pen that wrote Revelation, now there's a vision!

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews.  But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36)

This is one passage that caught my eye, but there are many others, especially the first chapter and the passages in chapter 17 where He prays to the Father about His disciples, implying that His followers too are also somehow separated from the world they once knew.  We must still abide within the world, but we are no longer of it, for ours is the Kingdom of Heaven.  So for all those longing to leave behind this troubled and broken humanity, whether you want to join the giant blue cat people from that one movie, run off to become a Jedi, get bit by a radioactive spider, or fall in love with a vampire, this yearning isn't weird or restricted to geek culture: it's innate within our very souls.  We were made to be something more and certainly not to be alone.  And the great news is we aren't.  We just need to know where to look, or perhaps rather to Whom. 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Set in the hearts of men

Lately I've run across several comments or articles on social media written by adoptees or adoptive parents about a common theme: the adopted person's search for wholeness in their biological roots.  There was the article about adopted Korean children going back to Korea and finding they had no place in that society.  There were cries of many an angst ridden teen who felt the key to their identity and future lies in their genetic past.  What I find interesting about this yearning, this longing, this feeling that things are not right, that I don't fit in or belong here, is that it isn't just an adoption issue.  What these uneasy young people are missing is the fact that everyone feels that way, not just children with non-biological parents.  I'm not saying that adopted children don't have a unique set of circumstances to deal with, but rather this anguished cry of the longing heart isn't peculiar to the adoption community but wrings the heart of every single human soul.

Look at the popular films of our age.  In 'Dances with Wolves' and 'The Last Samurai' we find this longing is fulfilled only by forsaking the modern culture into which one was born and embracing a different, seemingly more enlightened or peace-loving culture.  In 'Avatar' we discover that it is not even a particular culture that is the problem but rather humanity as a whole, thus the only way to find our place is to abandon not only our culture but our species as well.  It is the same for the adopted child: if I am unhappy in my current circumstances, I must find fulfillment in my biological roots, only to discover that their genetic parents are just as ordinary and unfulfilling as their adoptive parents, both being merely human.  Others, especially young women, look to romance to fulfill them, only to find a love interest or spouse isn't the key for that particular lock.  It may be career, success, family, fortune, fame, or a million other good and worthy pursuits that we look to to make us whole, to complete and fulfill us, to give us meaning and purpose, but nothing satisfies.  After the initial excitement wears off, we yet find that unquenchable longing still there and our hearts more bitter and jaded than ever, until we give up in despair and become so cynical and toxic that life is miserable indeed, not only for ourselves but for all those around us.

If nothing in the physical world can satisfy, if there is an answer, it must lie in the metaphysical, philosophical, or spiritual realm.  Apparently new age spirituality/the occult is gaining popularity again as people desperate for that answer begin turning over old stones that our modern scientific age has long scoffed at, but when the modern scientists repeatedly tell us that we're all one big cosmic accident and nothing matters, it is no surprise our meaning hungry souls begin to look elsewhere for more satisfying answers.  The problem with 'spirituality' is that it is as ill-defined and vacuous as the concept of 'truth' in our post-modern-life is whatever you want it to be age.  Sure, you can have your 'spirituality' like your favorite coffee or burger: exactly the way you want it, but that just makes it another shallow consumer good that is ingested and leaves us hungry and unfulfilled a few hours later; it doesn't give answers to life's greatest questions or fill the longing depths of our soul.  Sort of like going to a rock concert and feeling connected and exhilarated for a few hours, only to get in the car, tired and overstimulated, for a long, lonely drive home or being the one left alone to clean up after the party/wedding/graduation.

So what is the answer, if it isn't in science or relationships or success or foggy spirituality?  Is there an answer?  Why would there be this longing if it didn't have a fulfillment?  Hunger or thirst would be rather odd sensations if we had neither food nor drink to fulfill them or a biological need to have them fulfilled.  It is a spiritual thirst, a metaphysical identity crisis that afflicts each and every one of us.  We may mistake it for a need for more money, a better house, a nicer car, or the latest tech or the longing for a relationship or a job or whatever, but deep down it is 'deep crying out to deep,' the very deeps of our soul crying out to the deepest things in and beyond creation.  There is a Living Water to quench this divine thirst, One who promises to give rest to the weary, and a very Father to the orphan.  We are all of us orphans, we are all searching for our true Parent, in this we are all adoptees, longing for our true Home.  And there is One to whom we can each cry, 'Abba, Father!'  

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Parenting in context

"For this child I have prayed."

It's cute, it's catchy, it's a Bible quotation, what could be better?  This little verse is very popular amongst the Christian adoption/infertility community, at least as judged by Pinterest.  I certainly understand the sentiment, having sojourned in that valley myself, but I think they need to finish the statement.  It's a little like the Noah's ark themed nursery decor or putting 'Goodnight Sweet Prince' on your nursery wall: good intentioned cuteness but when taken in the original context, probably not a great choice for the nursery.  Sure, we all love the cutesy animals but that's not the point of Noah's story, rather we so often overlook the cataclysmic judgement on widespread wickedness that had so corrupted the world that only 8 people could be found upon the whole face of the earth who still kept the faith.  And in our SIDS obsessed culture, I'm not sure putting the last words spoken to the dying Hamlet on your little prince's wall would be a great idea.  And then there's the much celebrated Jane Austen ten pound note being released in the UK, except the quote on the pleasure of reading, though nice, is spoken by a jealous Caroline Bingley, who has absolutely no interest in reading except as a tool that might win a little of Mr. Darcy's attention, perhaps Miss Austen might find it amusingly ironic but it is rather disappointing to her numerous fans who otherwise might be rather excited about this honor for their favorite authoress.

So what is the mysterious context of this particular snippet?  We must go all the way back to the story of Hannah in the Old Testament, before David and the Kings, back at the tail end of the period of the Judges in Israel.  Hannah is barren and miserable, though her husband is supportive and accepting of their infertility, he just doesn't get her misery.  One day she is sitting outside the temple praying in such anguish of heart that she is actually chastised for public drunkenness.  But her prayers are heard and eventually she has several children, the first becomes a great Prophet called Samuel.  Here is the whole quotation:

"For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord." I Samuel 1:27-28.

This faithful little mother, so desperate for a child, then gives the miraculous answer to her most desperate prayer back to God.  How many that quote the first have the heart to do the whole?  But then is it not the duty of every parent to do just that?  For every child is a gift of God, no matter how easy or difficult was the conception or adoption.  They are not ours to keep, but rather a trust to guard and shepherd into the purposes and plans destined for them ere the stars were lit.  So be bold, parents, pray for a child, but be certain to raise them in context.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Hold it loosely

In a culture that idolizes fame, power, and material wealth, happiness and contentment via any other means is almost impossible to comprehend.  When we act only out of a hope of personal gain or out of fear of accruing shame or guilt, then our misery is assured.  The celebrities aren't happy, those who have attained the pinnacle of our society's definition of success, if judged by their rate of substance abuse, suicide, divorce, and other signs of personal and relational stress and dysfunction.  How much less are the masses, ever in desperate pursuit of this so-called success, ever to be happy?  Is life simply a meaningless striving before an infinite nothingness as the secular humanists would have us believe?  Is there no other option but pointless misery and then death?  Is there a way to fix things?

The good news is that it isn't yours to fix.  Our society glorifies ownership as the highest good, but we were not made to be owners, but are rather stewards.  Yes, we don't reap the glories of ownership but neither do we incur the stress, cost, and worry of being the big boss, the one who must pay or suffer when the market drops or disaster happens, the one left holding the bag when everything collapses.  We are given a physical body, a personality, skills and talents and interests, relationships, and the material necessities to make it through each day and those necessary to accomplish whatever tasks that are required of us.  Anything more is beyond our scope, interest, and abilities and reaching for it only leads to depression, burn out, pride, and ultimately failure and misery.  'Ye can be gods,' said the Serpent, and our forebears reached out and took the forbidden, and indeed we became gods: the gods of Ancient Greece and Rome, of Babylon and Canaan.  Unhappy, wretched, unscrupulous, capricious, fallen gods.

Then God became Man, the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us.  When man wanted to be God, the only remedy was for God to become Man.  We face the same choice as those in that ancient garden: will we abide within our appointed sphere, content to 'work and keep it,' or will we reach for the forbidden and ruin it all?  That ancient serpent promises happiness, our culture whispers the same, but of all those who have taken that fatal bite, none have yet tasted the promised nectar, finding only a bitter and wormy apple as a reward while their world collapses around them.  Let it go, whatever it is.  No material thing or human relationship is the answer to your problems or current misery.  Only by letting go can we potentially keep it.  Lose your life to find it, lose the world to inherit heaven.

Abraham trudged grimly up a hill, seemingly to destroy a miracle and decimate a promise, but up he went only to discover a greater miracle still.  In giving up his son, he kept both the son and the promise.  God gave up His son too, for us, but that Son was not spared at the last moment and we are the inheritors of that promise, the greatly blessed, though not of our own doing.  We didn't pay the Price, for we aren't the Owners.  We are called to shepherd Another's sheep, tend Another's vines, mind Another's store.  Your children aren't yours, neither is your body, your house, your car, your bank account.  You are born with nothing and nothing follows you beyond the grave, just your own naked soul which will one day give an account of how you used all that was given into your keeping. Will you find a proud and smiling Father on that Day, or a grim and severe Master, disappointed in your poor stewardship?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Put down the phone and pick up the shovel

If the nineties were cool, our current cultural atmosphere seems to be ruled by equal parts fear and anger.  We're all afraid to say the wrong thing and make someone else angry which in turn makes us angry...world without end.  I ran across this article about a new book addressing this very problem and I hope it will help people see the world we've created for ourselves and that each of us will do what we can to resolve it.  It has nothing to do with fixing someone else or changing someone else's viewpoint, rather, as the book urges, we must each look at ourselves and ask, 'how am I contributing to the problem and what can I do to change that?'  I think that's what the whole problem boils down to: we're all angry about something, blaming 'it' for our current disappointments and frustrations in life, somehow thinking that if 'it' was resolved to our liking or had been different, life would be far better.  So we hop on the internet and complain about 'it' hither and yon, until we've plastered our comments all over cyberspace from the trendiest site to the most obscure blog, while we may feel a sort of satisfaction, grim and cold as that may be, we really haven't done anything to resolve the actual problem and we're still miserable, so we complain some more.

What is this dreadful 'it' that has ruined so many lives?  It varies dramatically between individuals.  For my sister-in-law, she thinks the current presidential administration is the key to solving her problems and anyone who thinks otherwise is held in utmost contempt (like us).  For the insecure mothers among us, it could be diapers or breastfeeding or vaccines or organic or whatever, somehow feeling that shaming and bitterly criticizing how other parents do things somehow justifies your own parenting choices.  For my father it was his parents, they never gave him enough money or did X or Y that would have made his life better.  For some it is 'saving the planet,' and those of us who don't live in tiny houses or walk everywhere are little better than Hitler.  For others it is food: pick your trendy diet or avoid certain ingredients or only eat things from a certain source and all other ways of eating are completely unethical and amoral.  It can be anything, absolutely anything you are or aren't from race, gender, neighborhood, religion, money, politics, a rock band, a TV show or movie, family of origin, favorite color or pizza topping...anything that serves as the great excuse as to why your life isn't what you want it to be.  Anything you use to belittle or judge or criticize others to elevate your own value or blame for your current less than ideal circumstances is 'it.'  And everybody has one or more lurking under the bed or in the back closet, just waiting to leap out at an opportune moment.

But the truth is life isn't great or ideal, ever, for anybody.  It doesn't matter who you are, what you do, what you have (or don't), where you live, or what you like, life is hard, period.  Just look at celebrity culture if you think money or fame or success is going to make you happy: addictions, broken relationships, ruined lives, misery...  Sure, you can spend your whole life blaming your parents or the divorce or the adoption or your education (or lack thereof) or an addiction or some group of 'other' people that make it impossible for you to accomplish your dreams, but does that actually help you?  No, all it might accomplish is making others afraid or angry or discouraged when we lash out at them in frustration at our own wretchedness.  It isn't their fault, so let's leave 'them' out of the argument for a moment.  All this negativity does nothing but add to the seething mass of hatred and uncertainty already drowning our world and only furthers our own misery.  What can we do then?

Instead of lashing out against 'them,' let's turn inward and focus on ourselves for a moment.  Why are you angry, frustrated, discontent, or bitter?  Stop, falling back on 'it' as your go-to excuse won't resolve anything.  Dig past the obvious and get down deep, into the very knot in your soul.  It's tender, it hurts, that's why we instinctively lash out at others when they get too close, like an injured dog snapping at anyone who gets too near the wounded leg, even if they are trying to help.  Gently, gently, no judgement, no shame, just dig, dig, dig, and it may take a while.  We tend to bury it deep, shroud it in darkness and mist and obscurity, so much so we don't even know it's an issue.  We've all been hurt, we all carry some secret sorrow or shame, but we're all so busy pointing fingers that we don't understand we're all wounded and should be helping one another heal instead of wounding each other further.  What is it?  Bring it out into the light in all its ugly glory and let it go.  No, not forget it, acknowledge it but no longer let it hold sway over all your thoughts and actions.  Begin to heal, far easier said than done, but it is possible.  But it takes work, patience, and honesty.  Be gentle with yourself, and with everyone else too, they hurt just as much, they just don't realize it.

And someday, no matter how much it hurts now or in the interim, you will find Joy again.  Need some encouragement?  Go read Jane Eyre or Anne of Green Gables or Mansfield Park or Les Miserables or Lord of the Rings, wherein the main characters face external circumstances that range from the uncomfortable to the horrific, yet each understands, though often through much personal struggle, that it is who we are and the strength of our character that determines our happiness rather than our history or lot in life.  Bashing others over the head won't make us happy, it only makes them miserable too, so instead, let's bash our own secret sorrows, disappointments, injustices, and shortcomings over the head with all the vim we once used to scathe our 'enemies.'

Tuesday, October 3, 2017