Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Prayer Please!?

OK, this is a biggie for me.  Being pretty close to bedridden for almost a decade with a mysterious illness that remains undiagnosed (though apparently HEALED at long last, thank You Lord with all my heart) led me through this bizarre journey with prayer.

I'm not going to go into the details of the mystery illness, because many MANY health professionals have been all over it ad nauseam over many MANY years, and not only have they been unable to just give it a proper diagnosis, but now that I'm better, the unilateral response has been a big SHRUG.  They're happy they're not on the hook for figuring out what it is anymore, or for managing the juggling act that was all the various meds and allergies and sensitivities to all the various meds used to treat the symptoms with NO IDEA what was actually causing the problems.

But I digress.  So when I was in pretty much constant pain for over a decade, occasionally I'd lose my mind and ask someone new (like a Bible Study group or a "God chosen" (aka RANDOM) person on the prayer team at the front of our church after a Sunday service) to pray for my healing.  

There were four general responses, depending on the circumstances:
1.      ADVICE.  Please just PRAY.  When someone is asking for prayer, they are asking for PRAYER.  When they want advice, they’ll give you details and ask for ADVICE.  Totally different things.  

  • Besides, with over 10 years of dealing with a mystery illness in 2 different countries, do you really think that if any of the LEGION of pick-an-ologist(s) thought there was benefit to "eating right for my blood type" or "making sure I had enough fiber" or "giving up chocolate cake and fried chicken" that perhaps I would have already not only heard of it, but TRIED IT!?  RAWR.
2.      PLATITUDES.  Requests were written into someone's/everyone's journal to be prayed over (or not) later, usually we ran out of time during the small group breakout to actually PRAY together;

  • So let me be clear: there's nothing wrong with writing down a prayer request, but it really should be followed up on, at a MINIMUM via email to the small group by whoever the discussion leader is so that the person being prayed for can actually benefit from the knowledge that the people they were vulnerable with actually give a shit.  I totally also believe that prayer works even if the person being prayed for isn't there to hear it (even by email!  Obviously we're praying TO GOD, and He hears everything), because I pray for people who would actually be offended if they knew I was praying for them... but between believers, at least TO ME, if I'm vulnerable with you, then I am trusting you to be responsible with it and treat it appropriately.  And hey, if I've asked you to pray about something, and you do, and then later you ask how it's going, I'm going to assume you ACTUALLY WANT TO KNOW THE TRUTH, even if it's not the "praise report" you're hoping for.
3.      PRAYER!  Someone laid hands on me and started praying fervently, passionately and at GREAT LENGTH for my INSTANTANEOUS delivery from this illness.  YAY! (sorta).

  • Again, in the interest of clarity, I actually think that praying for someone as soon as they ask for it, out loud, with them, with the full expectation that God will heal immediately is absolutely correct, Biblical, important and totally appropriate.  HOWEVER.  When someone limps up to you and asks for prayer for healing from chronic crippling pain, it's a good idea to pull up a chair for them unless you're the type to keep it short.  If you're not the type to keep it short, please be sensitive to the condition/demeanor of the person you're praying for.  Even the tiniest hands with the lightest pressure can cause excruciating pain if left in the same place for too long, and sometimes rubbing is a problem too.  Just check in.  Be sensitive. 
  • Please accept that sometimes God's answer to prayer is "No" or "Not yet".  Please choose to behave as though you believe that God has His reasons that maybe you aren't privy to!  And maybe whatever those reasons are have nothing to do with me, my level of faith, any behavior or unconfessed sin!  GAAAAH.  Different post altogether.  At any rate, I'm SO glad that whoever you are is a "prayer warrior" who is passionate about seeing God move through prayer.  Please just be sensitive to the needs of the person you're praying for.
4.      GOSSIP. "Can you provide me with the details so I can pray effectively?" is actually the NICEST, least intrusive, most respectful way I've heard this response, which feels a lot like pressure to share details that I was thoroughly SICK TO DEATH of repeating, or frankly, nervous about sharing.

  • This one deserves a STORY or two.  The BEST story I have actually has nothing to do with healing, but wow, this behavior has become so common that it’s a "mea culpa" joke at Women of Faith conferences.  First, my second-best story…

After struggling with this chronic pain thing for about 8 years, I was attending a new Bible Study at our (pretty new to us) church, and we were divided up into smaller groups for sharing insight about the homework and prayer requests and building up community in a more effective way than can be achieved through a video-driven lecture facilitated by one leader of 40-mumble women.  So we filled out our typical "please put me in a group with my bestie but not with so and so" sheets of paper and handed them in on the first week.  Week two rolls around, and when we split off, we all introduce ourselves to the group, and I rattle off the typical "My name is Nickie, I'm married to Chris, he's a bass player new to the worship team, we've been coming here about 6 months, we are a blended family with three teenagers; two girls who live with us full-time and a son who recently moved back to Canada to live with his mother."  (THAT story may appear in a different post later about Shepherding, it’s still pretty raw 4 years later).

At any rate, we made the rounds of the table, everyone else delivered their own version of the typical intro, and we reviewed our first thoughts about the video we just watched.  Then came "prayer request" time, and when it got to my turn, I asked for prayer about our son moving back to Canada, and for my health, because the stress of his move back was making the pain much worse than usual, and I was having some new complications with an already dysfunctional female plumbing system. 

The situation with our son was pretty raw and fresh.  The situation with my health was pretty familiar and aggravating for the old stuff, and pretty gruesome for the new stuff.  I really didn't want to go into the details, because the first was emotionally excruciating and the second was exhausting and embarrassing.  But there was a gal at the table who immediately went into “problem-solving” mode.  She wanted all the gory details about everything, and I responded with “I really don't want to go into it, God knows the details” which was really unsatisfying for her I guess, because she WOULD NOT LET IT GO. 

Not only did we not get to actually pray together as a group, but three other people in our group of 8 didn't even get to share their own requests, though I'm sure they weren't really eager to be vulnerable with this barracuda at the table anyway.  Even when our table leader stepped in and insisted that we move along out of respect for me and the others at the table, she would NOT let it go, she eventually followed me out to the hallway, HOUNDING me for details about my reproductive system!  The only reason she didn't follow me to the PARKING LOT is because she had kids to collect from childcare and I did not.

Which set off all my alarms that I'd had freshly installed from my BEST story, which was just prior to this and had contributed to the change of venue to our new church…

So our son has Asperger's Syndrome, and he is my husband's son from his first marriage.  I'm not going to share HIS story on the internet because it's not mine to share, but that part of his story is kinda like saying he's a boy with dark hair. It's a descriptor and is actually more germane to this story than the color of his hair.  At our previous church, there was another family who had an adopted son who also had Asperger's Syndrome.  The really important factors here are that we were two mothers struggling to really connect with our adopted/integrated teenaged sons who had specific issues with relating to other people on an emotional level.  If you want to learn more about Asperger's, check the internet, you’re here anyway. ;)

At any rate, my family was under siege with struggles with our son, most of which was typical teenager stuff, but it was all aggravated by the stepmom factor and confused by the Asperger's issues on top of it all.  This kind of stuff is hard for any parent to navigate, and I was feeling particularly fortunate to have made a connection with someone who could relate to me as a mom of a special needs child that also wasn't biologically mine.  In that weird way that some relationships build artificially quickly when there’s a lot of common ground to talk about, we became pretty close pretty fast, and I shared with her some ways in which this struggle with our son was affecting our marriage.

Pretty deep stuff, actually.  There was some real heavy lifting going on.  It was tough enough that I wasn't really surprised when life got too busy with our personal dramas to spend a lot of time together for a couple of months. 

So imagine my shock when someone COMPLETELY OUTSIDE THIS PARTICULAR CIRCLE OF TWO (four if you count the hubbies, six if you count the boys, but really, I don't because they weren't in the room while we were "sharing") expressed surprise that I was still wearing my wedding rings because she’d heard that "things were SO bad" in my marriage "because of what was going on" with our son.  Yeah.  Lovely.  Miscellaneous person that I'm not close enough with to share anything with directly has intimate details about my MARRIAGE that could ONLY have come from ONE SOURCE.  And was SO UNASHAMED about the gossiping behavior that she actually tried to engage ME in gossiping about MYSELF!

Gotta give them credit for brass ones.

So to bring this around to the POINT of this post and the blog… how can we be REAL with each other when we aren't SAFE with each other?  How am I supposed to continue to share deep, painful journeys with people when I have so much experience with them either disregarding me altogether, disrespecting my actual needs in the moment, and using my vulnerability as fuel for malicious gossip?! 

As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.  It's all I can do.  I choose to foster friendships with people and try to protect their trust the way I wish mine had been protected.  I try to be the safe person I'm looking for.  When someone asks me to pray for them, I pray.  Right away WITH THEM if I can.  I try to stick to the list they've given me and try to let God be God of the details, since even if the details HAVE been shared with me, all I can really know for sure is that God has details I don't anyway.

For the rest of it, I guess I choose to post all my struggles on the internet so there are no juicy secrets to share behind my back anymore!

And off I go to a new Bible Study tonight.  Prayers please!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Light and Levity

My Step-Dad passed away this spring.  (I know, you were all ready for “light and levity” and we’re starting HERE?! Yes, we are. Bear with me).  It was very sudden, apparently he had a heart condition that nobody knew about (himself and his doctor included) called “pinpoint stenosis” which basically means that his arteries were so jammed up that only a pinpoint-sized space was left open for blood to flow into his heart.  Which also means that he wasn't getting enough oxygen to all his various bits and pieces, including (especially?) his brain.  So he wasn't really making good decisions all the time, especially recently, though he DID file his taxes, put new tires on his car, renew the plates and pre-pay the next two years’ worth of insurance, so that was nice.

He also had diabetes, but he tracked his blood sugars and insulin shots and his food like I've never seen before… we found a STACK of notebooks all faithfully filled out with times and what he ate and how much and what his blood sugar was and when he took a shot and you name it.  The detail was pretty significant.  So I know for a fact that he had 1 cup of coffee in a French press every morning with half a banana for breakfast.  Sometimes an egg if he was feeling rowdy about it.  Lunch was generally half a can of tuna with 1 tablespoon of miscellaneous sauce (mayo got boring I guess, day in and day out, so he branched out to poppy seed lemon and Thai peanut and BBQ sauce).  There was usually a piece of bread in there somewhere during lunch, it was the big meal of the day.  Sometimes he had the second cup of coffee from the French press, I’m sure he microwaved it, to which, I wonder weird things like “If you’re going to go to all the trouble of grinding refrigerated beans fresh and boiling water and farting around with a French press, what on EARTH would possess you to NUKE the second cup?!  BLEH.”  Dinner was invariably a frozen hamburger patty, also microwaved (you could SO TELL from the microwave, ICK) with BBQ sauce or mustard, followed by a ¼ cup of frozen yogurt.  He lived in the fast lane, my Dad. Oh yeah.

So imagine our surprise when we opened his cupboards to find FORTY CANS OF GREEN TEA.  The green tea had green tea!  And not just garden variety “normal” green tea, it was pomegranate green tea, and lemon green tea, and wheat-grass green tea, and all kinds of crazy-ass variety in there.  Sauces by the gross too… EASILY 20 bottles of Kraft BBQ sauce of three different varieties, 10 or 12 bottles of that poppy seed citrus fish sauce stuff too (that stuff turned out to be pretty good actually).  And the TUNA, oh my goodness the TUNA was EVERYWHERE.  Seriously, it’s like he had a big burst of energy on April 16th, filed his taxes, dealt with the car, did a bunch of laundry, met with a friend for their weekly coffee date, went to the library to check out half their science fiction section, stocked up on groceries from his favorite discount store to last through the next YEAR, got tired, stayed home for a week, logged food until the 27th of April, felt punky, took a nap and died (thankfully, in the middle of the coldest cold snap week on record in the history of history).

He was found on the sofa in front of the TV in his classic “napping” pose (which was rather corpse-like when he was living, I have to say; my siblings and I regularly walked in on him napping and had that pregnant pause waiting to see if his chest was moving!) flat on his back, ankles crossed, fingers interlaced on his chest, just like he’d been laid out in his Sunday best for the Big Box.

At any rate, when he was found, my brother and sister and I were all living on the West Coast, and he was in the home he'd inherited from my grandparents in Winnipeg.  So my sister and brother took a ferry to Seattle and we all piled into a van and drove 30 hours straight to get there to get things sorted out.  We got to talking in the van on the drive… and my sister had been the main point of contact for the Medical Examiner in Winnipeg, who had mentioned that we might want to “take precautions” because he had clearly been there “a few days” before he was found, and there was a “significant odor” and of course, the sofa was still “in situ”… hmmm.  Fun times ahead.  Let’s just say that Dad was never much of a neatnik in the first place, mkay!?  My sister was rightfully concerned about What We Would Find.

So we stopped in Spokane at the Super Walmart.  My brother and sister had never been to one before, so it was kinda shopping, kinda touristy and kinda Armageddon prep… at one point, in the laundry aisle, we looked into the cart at the gloves, disinfectant, drywall masks, Vicks Vaporub, plastic painter’s tarp, duct tape, garbage bags and paper towels and started a serious conversation about the need/futility of Febreeze… and we just CRACKED UP in the aisle at the mental image of dragging in random strangers off the street, blindfolded, and seating them on the sofa in the room where he died and filming a commercial while asking them to describe what they smell... and then it occurred to us that really all we needed was some pool chemicals and a saws-all to convince the cashier that we were going to dispose of the body ourselves… she didn't bat an eyelash.  Disturbing?  I think so.

At any rate, this IS the point of this post.  Losing our minds cracking up with laughter in the middle of a Super Walmart at dark o'clock over the TOTALLY absurd, inane and OFFENSIVE idea of asking people to describe the “fresh breeze and laundry dried in the sun” that they would smell while sitting on the sofa where my Dad DIED wasn't just bizarre, inappropriate and terrible.  Though it was all those things too.  It was also HEALING.  It helped my brother and sister and I bond over this NIGHTMARE we were walking into, while recognizing just how deep down the rabbit hole were already were, and we were still in Washington State!

God has wired us to have all sorts of wonderful chemicals released in our brains when we laugh.  Sure it makes the funny stuff funnier, but I know He’s not wasteful, so that had a specific purpose when He designed us this way.  We NEED those endorphins to kick in when we’re stressed, overtired, grieving and scared.  Laughter is the CURE.  We still had plenty of crying and anger and grieving to do, and its fall and I’m not done yet.  There’s a reason we refer to laughing as “levity”.  Laughing makes us lighter.  It lifts the burden by just a fraction for just a minute, and that’s all it takes sometimes to recharge our batteries and allow us to carry on.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Salt... and Light?

So let's chat a bit about LANGUAGE.  You know, the "salty" kind.  Most of the time I go through my day just basically being myself, and if something pisses me off, well then I say that it pissed me off.  But for a long time, something happened when I went to church... it was like going to my Grandmother's house, and while she didn't FREAK OUT if I said something inappropriate, I could FEEL the temperature drop several degrees while she LOOKED at me with that pinched-up-mouth expression on her face, and I just wanted to take it all back, rewind those words like a chewed up cassette by shoving a pencil in my ear and twisting HARD.  So I got all awkward and apologetic and embarrassed and started blushing and whatnot, all of which I'm SURE she was ABSOLUTELY FINE WITH, because "Young Ladies" do NOT cuss.

So. A little context.  I was grafted into her family when my mom married my stepdad when I was 5 years old, by which point I was quite the little wolverine child.  Seriously people, if I was CAPABLE of eating with utensils, it certainly wasn't a priority, and most of the time I ate at the coffee table in the living room while sitting on the floor. I'm sure I used a fork in some capacity, but I also wore bib overalls a LOT, and I learned early on that the (hidden) front of my shirt concealed all manner of sins.  :D  In contrast, my cousin was a year younger than I was, and was one of those dainty children that wore lace ruffle socks and frilly lampshade dresses and white gloves TO PRESCHOOL.  Yeah, I was pretty much SCREWED from the get-go.

So my behavior in church became kinda like those bib overalls.  When I got irritated, (if I verbalized anything at all!) the words coming out of my face would be something along the lines of totally unconvincing "Goodness!" or "Geez Louise!" if I was really ticked.  But there was a resounding "DAMMIT!" echoing in my skull, lurking around like tomorrow's laundry just WAITING for those bib overalls to come off (usually in the car on the way home from service)!  And the character assassination of "the offender" that would start up in my head was really something else.

And then something happened.  I got sick.  REALLY sick.  Like for a DECADE.  And somewhere in there, at some point, it just boiled down to not having the energy to edit anymore.  The filter came off.  It actually came ENTIRELY OFF for awhile, but wow, a lot of people don't actually want to know how you're actually doing when they start the casual "how are you today?" conversation.  And after awhile, I learned who was safe to share my stuff with, and who thought I was just losing my mind (I'm sure they were TOTALLY praying for me in those little clusters that would grow silent when I staggered by on my cane).  So the filter went back, but only partway, and only when it was context-appropriate.

And the rest of the time, I was HONEST.  If I was in pain, I said so. When I wanted prayer, I asked for it. When I couldn't do something, I said NO.  What a notion!  And one day, when it had been weeks of sleeping on the sofa in cat naps because the pain would break through the meds and wake me up, the sleep deprivation broke me right down into an isolated puddle of mess, and I'd FINALLY made it out to church for the first time in three weeks because I was just THAT DESPERATE FOR CHURCH, someone gossipy said something stupid and insensitive, I told her to "shut the fuck up for once".  In church.  On a Sunday.  In front of I don't even know who, because I was too blinded by pain and rage and the unfairness of it all.

And God met me there.  Not only did He meet me there, but He met HER there too.  And several people around us saw what was happening and stepped in and we had some real honesty for the first time in a long time in that church.  It was one of those moments that happen in the movies where you hear the needle screech off the record and time STOPS.  Because SHIT GOT REAL.  All of a sudden, we all remembered what the acronym for "FINE" stands for (Fucked-up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional).  And on some level, we're all "FINE".

Now don't get me wrong.  I'm not advocating that we all develop the skill of ripping each others heads off with profanity.  I do believe in being sensitive to my audience, especially if that audience has little ears in it.  But there's something new happening here, at least in my circle of influence.  People seem to be more willing to share their burdens with me.  Deep stuff.  Hard stuff, the kind of stuff I call "heavy lifting".  And the more I think about it, the more I think it's because I have somehow managed to project the aura that I'm not going to be shocked by what they share and judgmental because they don't have it all figured out.  Because it's now common knowledge that I don't have my act together, I certainly don't have everything all figured out, but I'm at least approachable with something that's fucked up.  Because they don't have to take the risk of sharing sensitive stuff while ALSO feeling like they have to watch their language.

In the context of integrity, which is what this blog is about, if God hears "fucked up shit" in my head, then if He is the Audience of One (the only One who's opinion really matters anyway), then I'm not doing anyone any favors by applying sanitizer to my tongue (within reason, of course).  I've maintained for some time now that I'm open to His leading on the subject, and I've read the scriptures about unclean language coming out of your mouth, and there are times when it is appropriate to "clean it up" just like I'd vacuum my house when company's coming.  But until He tells me to start cleaning it up for real on a permanent basis, I'm going to do my best to change my heart over certain things and let my mouth overflow from there.  At least it's true.

Apparently "light" is going to have to wait for next time.  This "salt" business had a lot of meat on it.

So here it is... and what it's about.

There's been a conversation whirling around and around and around me for months now on many fronts about what it means to be "real" with each other, and about how our communities of faith (which for me, is my church) should be a "safe place" to be ourselves, REALLY our REAL SELVES.

There's a general consensus (at least among the people who are talking to me about it) that there's a difference between our "Sunday selves" and our "Monday through Saturday selves".  OK, the word "selves" is starting to look weird because I've now used it far too often in a short period.  Carrying on regardless.

So this is what I'd like to write about, and talk about, and encourage conversation about.  I want to be the person God created me to be, and that includes honoring who I am in this moment, whatever that looks like. Sometimes that includes some salty language and ugly crying.  Sometimes that includes an adult beverage and feeling sorry for myself.  Much of the time it SHOULD involve a little more time on my knees or on my face at the foot of the throne of the King above all kings, but I'm trying really hard to stop "shoulding" all over myself.

Being the same, inside and out, through and through, consistently, is, to me, the very definition of integrity.  If that means that I have to be transparent about what I'm going through so that people really can see that the struggle within me is the actual struggle du jour (and hey, it changes pretty frequently, if I'm being honest, which is, after all, the POINT), then so be it.  Sunday through Sunday.

So I want to talk about what REAL really looks like.  I want to talk about INTEGRITY.  Some of the conversation is likely to be about what the opposite of those things are so we can identify them and learn to recognize them so we can choose to avoid them, but a bitch-fest is NOT the point here.  (And yes, that WAS some salty language in there, so if "bitch-fest" offends you, then either you're in the wrong place or you're about to be challenged by my choices.)