Friday, April 28, 2017

How to Stop a Pity Party in Mid-Whine




I have to admit that I've been known to throw myself some world-class Pity Parties.

Gatsby-esque affairs.

Hired a band and dancing girls. Champagne. Hors d’oeuvres. Banners. Balloons. Fireworks.

Whooooo-Hooooo!!!

“Of course you feel misunderstood. Of course your life is harder than anyone else’s. Of course your friends are oblivious to your pain…”

(Of course you’re being really stupid and selfish and narcissistic.)

Yuck.

So, I’ve had to learn how to stop it in Mid-Whine in 10 easy steps. (Mysteriously, it does work.)


So if you are ever tempted to throw yourself a party, please print this part out, and tape it to your morning mirror:

1.) Think of someone who is worse off than you in some way.
2.) Pray for that person.
3.) Think of something for which you are grateful.
4.) Think of another one.
5.) Think of another one.
6.) Think of another one.
7.) Think of another one.
8.) Think of another one.
9.) Think of another one.
10.) Give thanks.

(Steps 1 and 2 may be repeated indefinitely, as there are  a myriad of people who are suffering more than you are.)

Now get out there and spread some joy around!

***

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances…”

(1 Thess. 5:16-18)

 




Thursday, April 6, 2017

What Lies Beneath






My case of shingles has disappeared surprisingly quickly.

On the surface.

The red rash and blisters are almost gone. I can go out in public without terrifying people. A little pink calamine lotion, covered with a couple of dots of concealer… a good bangs comb-over plus sunglasses… and I’m good to go.

But the pain remains.

It waxes and wanes during the day. Sometimes it wakes me up at night. Hair-brushing is excruciating.

The pain varies from soreness to a dull hammering to a sharp stab, as if someone is sticking a thin knitting needle into my scalp or nose or the bone beside my eye. It’s a sneaky thing, appearing all of a sudden out of nowhere.

But I look fairly normal.

Similarly, Amie looks much better than she feels. The surface is shiny again, but the inner workings are still mending. A little makeup to cover scars, a couple of fake teeth snapped into place, and she is photo-ready. But every health care practitioner has told us it will take at least a year for “recovery.”

And they are referring only to the physical part.

At the end of February, we flew home to Georgia for a brief period so that my husband and I could attend a family wedding in Florida. Amie was to be “looked after” by my sister and other friends. After the intense pain and suffering of the previous 5 months, Amie was ready to “get well soon!” and get back to ‘normal’ life. Still on serious pain meds from recent jaw and oral surgeries (i.e., not-in-her-right-mind), she over-planned her time at home, trying to pack in as many get-togethers with old friends as possible. It was pretty much a disaster. She worked herself up into a manic state, wore herself completely out, and fell apart physically, emotionally and biochemically.

You cannot rush the process of healing.

More than ten years ago, I experienced a complete physical and mental health breakdown. It began with a severely bulging disc in my neck that virtually paralyzed my right arm for over a year. I was flat on my back for weeks. My husband had to sign checks for me and wash and dry my hair. (Not his gift.) Before that was resolved, I developed “sudden onset” fibromyalgia and arthritis. Then I was diagnosed with an unusual auto-immune disease that resulted in soft-tissue blisters that turned into MRSA that was resistant to antibiotics. (At that point, I was sent to Mayo.) 

The healing process from all of that was so slow that I despaired of ever being a functional human being again. For a while, the only happy thought I could come up with was, “One day I won’t have to wake up anymore.”

But here’s a funny thing. At my sickest point, when I could barely get out of bed, much less leave the house, people who saw me would say, “But you don’t look sick,” as if they suspected hypochrondria to be my only ailment.

With all of us, there is pain beneath the surface.

If you are human, you hurt.

And it takes time to heal. It is an evolution.

We may put on our shiny faces and nice clothes to enhance the exterior, but inside lie wounds and scars, buried deep in the darkest corners of our souls.

Rejections, abuse, rape, divorce, family dysfunction, failed friendships. Middle School. High School. Things we’ve done that haunt us; things that have been done to us that have harmed us  we like to keep the wounds of painful things hidden in the dark where we can’t see them. But in the damp darkness, they grow like mold, and spread: contaminating our relationships and sickening our souls, without us even realizing it.

Recently, people I know have experienced tragedies that seem totally senseless. (If you watch the news, there’s a whole roster of them every single day.)

I often wonder…

What lay beneath the thin veneer of sanity until it bubbled up into a froth of madness?

And, more importantly, how does healing happen?

Where does it begin?

I own a t-shirt with these words printed on the front: “What you reveal you heal.”  It reminds me of the 12-step saying, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.”

Dr. Alex Lickerman* writes, “in maintaining a healthy and happy life, concealing some truths is like swallowing slow-acting poison: one’s insides gradually rot.” (*author of The Undefeated Mind: On the Science of Constructing an Indestructible Self)

As is so often the case, effective secular principles are reflections of biblical truth:

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)

By confessing… sharing…. with a trusted fellow-sin-sufferer, the scary beasts are pulled out of their dark lairs, and into the light.

And light heals.

On every level.

Light therapy is now being used for everything from wound healing to pain relief to depression. Mayo Clinic states that light therapy is a proven first-line treatment for seasonal affective disorder, among other things. But if light is beneficial for physical healing, it is even more powerful for spiritual healing.

Sometimes, healing can be instantaneous. (Don’t we wish it could always be that way?) But that is the exception rather than the rule. Patience is a critical virtue in every type of healing... physical, spiritual, emotional. The mending most often occurs “little by little,” as we continue to expose our wounds to the life-restoring light. 


Jesus is the Light.

***


“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)


***


More about light therapy: http://photobiology.info/Hamblin.html

More about suppressing emotions:



***


Healing can be messy. It usually involves blood and guts. Scabs and scars. It’s not always pretty to witness.

So how do you deal with people in process?

Here is where I start:

I attempt to look upon every human being I encounter as a wounded child in need of help.

It doesn’t always work, but it’s a start.

The most evil person you know was once a helpless baby. Yes, even Hitler.  Even ….. (enter whomever you hate most in a field of current candidates… of whom there are legion.)

If you are still here on earth, then God isn’t finished with you yet.

He’s not finished with them, either.




Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Entertaining Angels (Unaware)




Neighbor's door in Los Angeles. (Anything goes!) Whatever the season, let us live with hearts and doors opened wide.

There are many Big Stories to be told, but I am not quite up to it yet. (Let’s let them marinate for now.)

Instead, I may shoot out a few vignettes every now and then.

Like this one, written a while back…


It was a complicated day, as they often are in a big city.

Several adults camping out in a small (kinda "ghetto-y," by Southern sensibilities) one-bedroom apartment in LA is not a pretty picture. Stuff piled everywhere. Hard to clean, even if you had the energy to attempt it.

Things are not exactly cookie-cutter cute in my relatively affordable (for LA) accommodations. When friends from Georgia came out in January, one said, “Oh, this reminds me of Seinfeld!” while walking down the stained blue-carpeted hallway to my door. (Actually, Seinfeld’s hallway looked like the Ritz compared to this one.)

Still, I’d hoped to have (at least the bathroom!) professionally cleaned before my husband returned to LA that night for Amie’s most recent jaw surgery.

As they say, it’s hard to find good help. Over the years, I’ve tried several different individuals and cleaning companies in LA, but nothing’s ever been a perfect fit. So I signed up for a new and popular service, hoping for the best.

(Now switching to present tense, for some reason…)

The morning of the appointment, I receive an email from the company. (“Your service provider can’t come. We will try to find a replacement.”) Back and forth, back and forth. Finally I am informed that they have found a replacement.

An hour and a half after the promised Cleaning Genius is to supposed to arrive… just as I’ve given up and started writing a negative review on Yelp… I’m startled by a loud buzz on the intercom.

A young, very tall, very dark, very serious young man is getting off the elevator as I run to meet whomever the company has sent. He is without a single cleaning implement. No vacuum cleaner, no mop, no broom. Nothing. He introduces himself as M.

I ask if he has anything to clean with. He tells me that he is sharing a vacuum cleaner with a friend, but the friend will bring it by to him after he gets started. He goes back out to his car to get the other supplies.

I send him out on the tiny patio to sweep, as Amie is not feeling well and moving slowly. After her shower and meds, she says hello to M. and gives him too much information about her accident in explanation as to why she is missing teeth, limping, etc. (Although, of course, he did not ask.)

At this point, Amie’s friend Mark arrives and immediately gets to work on his computer, trying to finish a project before their day trip to Orange County.

Secretly giddy about the prospect of a little alone time away from my favorite adult-child roommate, I discourage Amie’s idea of going out to eat for lunch. Mark wants to keep working until the last minute. He asks if I have anything they can eat at the apartment to save time.

Although the cupboard's pretty bare, I dig out whatever I can find in the frig. A little sandwich stuff and some leftover 4-day-old Shepherd’s Pie I wanted to get rid of. Not even real Shepherd’s Pie, the healthier fake version with cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes.

While we eat, M. is in the bathroom, on hands and knees, cleaning the floor. When he comes back into the living-cooking-dining room, we’re just finishing up. I feel a little rude.

“Would you like something to eat?” my mother’s daughter asks, expecting him to decline because of his tight schedule and late start for the day.

“Yes, please.

“Sandwich or shepherd’s pie?”

“Shepherd’s pie, please.”

I dish out the left-overs and start to rush around again, but feel bad about him sitting alone at the folding bamboo table that serves as our dining table in exile.

I sit down across from him, and make perfunctory conversation.

“Where are you from?”

“Uganda”.

I make a few pleasantries about Africa in general.

The serious expression turns into a full-blown smile.

“Have you been to Africa?”

“No, but my husband has been to South Africa. He’s always said that I would love it.  Maybe one day.”

He tells me Uganda is fairly safe for tourists.

I ask a little about his life… how long has he been here… how does he like America…

He cleans his plate. I ask if he would like some more, and he smiles, “Yes, please.”

At the end, as he stands up, he says, “This is the best meal I have ever had in America.”

I am taken aback. Almost wounded by his words.

He starts back to work, but the vacuum cleaner never arrives.

When he has done all he can do, he tells me, “I must go to my next job, but I will be back. Please don’t report this to the company. This will be on my own time.”

At 5 or 6 that night, he shows up and starts vacuuming quickly.

I am ready to put on my nightie and get off my tired feet, but I sit on the sofa and mess around on my computer until he’s done.

As he’s leaving, I slip him a ten.

“Thank you, missus. This is the most beautiful home I have ever seen in America. You are the most kind person I have met here. Thank you for your kindness.”

I just stare at him with my mouth slightly open until he concludes with, “I will be praying for your daughter.”


I am a woman whose life is wracked by sin and failure.

But at that moment, I realized that I was the hands of Jesus to that young man.


And he was Jesus to me.


                                                   *****


Perspective is everything.

Katherine and Jay have taught this with their lives.

There is always someone better off than you are.

There is always someone much worse off than you are.

I ran across these words on Ann Voskamp’s blog:


Perspective is a giver. Comparison takes.

Perspective is generous. Comparison pares down the loveliness of your life until it appears a thin shred of its former glory.

Perspective carries us through life laughing. Comparison evokes cursing and frowns and grumbling.

(Kate Merrick)


My encounter with M. reminded me:

Our little is someone else’s much.


Let us remember to share the little we have until it multiplies blessing like loaves and fishes.

In the end, it always come back...

with interest.


"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." Hebrews 13:2


*Was it a coincidence that the left-overs just happened to be Shepherd's Pie?


Monday, March 6, 2017

(a modern-day) Margery Raves On: Some Thoughts on Lent

(a modern-day) Margery Raves On: Some Thoughts on Lent

Some Thoughts on Lent





Guess what I’m giving up for Lent…

I’m giving up trying to give something up!

Traditionally, Lent has been associated with penance, fasting, and abstinence… sacrificing pleasures or vices as a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice. A time of reflection and repentance, for some Christians it is a joyful, deeply spiritual thing.

I’ve always been an abysmal failure at it.  Basic human nature is such that the more you focus on giving up the thing, the more you want it. C’est moi.

I’m tired of making resolutions I probably won’t keep, giving in to temptation, and then feeling even worse about myself.  A lying voice sneaks up to whisper “Failure” in my ear. Like our original ancestors, I pull away from God in shame. Instead of feeling closer, I feel further away than before.

But, while he was visiting here, Jesus repeated these words from the Old Testament:

I desire mercy and not sacrifice.*

What if instead of sacrificing chocolate or wine or carbs or cussing or unkind thoughts, I asked for MORE.

more mercy, instead of judgment…
more love, instead of indifference…
more patience, instead of aggravation…
more acceptance, instead of bitterness…
more joy, instead of heaviness…
more abundance, instead of lack.

The Christian life is about provision, not deprivation.
Satiation, not starvation.
Bounty, not depletion.

More, not less

Lent is a time when I want to feel closer to God. More God-centric, less Me-centric. When I focus on my shortcomings, it builds up an invisible wall.  Low self-esteem is still Self-oriented, not God-oriented. A sense of unworthiness is a barrier that must be overturned.

How to break down that wall between the Holy and the Un-?

Draw close to God, and He will draw close to you.**

It’s that simple.

Like a child, run back into Daddy’s arms. Clean or filthy, naughty or nice, He embraces the one He loves like no one else. He draws you close to His boundless  heart, glad that you are safely home from wherever you’ve been wandering.

And He will give us More.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”***

The main thing God wants to give us more of

is Himself.

“On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” ***

Christ in me.

Recently, a wise friend shared an analogy with me. She told me that when she was in a time of having the life crushed out of her, she envisioned herself with an oxygen tube sucking Life out of God. The source is infinite and inexhaustible. There is always more.

The best gift that God longs to give us is more of His Spirit. That is one prayer that is always answered. How much more will your Father give good gifts to those who ask Him!

This Lent, I am coming boldly into the throne room and asking for more from my loving, limitless Father. More abundance, more mercy, more grace…

more of Him.

I am praying that for all those who read this as well.  (Yes, even you.)

...so that the Spirit may flood our beings with such love and joy that selfishness and sin will be flushed away by the flow of living waters.

And the sacrifice we offer will be a sacrifice of praise.


*****


* Hosea 6:6 and Matthew 9:13
** James 4:8
***John 14:20


I have a favor. If you are interested in more thoughts on life and faith from a modern-day Margery, would you please give me thumbs up in the comments? Helps to know I'm not just blowing steam. Thanks!!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Sweetest Spot



This morning, my friend Mz. B. unknowingly answered a question I’ve been pondering all week.

The thought process started during a (supposedly) daily reading.

The statement jumped off the page at me:

“Our hearts ache, but we always have joy.*


How is that even possible?

Isn’t that an oxymoron?


(Yet even as those doubts appeared, a deeper truth whispered

Yes.)


My heart has been aching so much lately that it feels more like an overly ripe uterus.

Heavy. Full. Sore. About to burst.

Because our family has been through a somewhat similar catastrophic experience before, there’s a part of me that thinks I should have this thing down pat. There’s also an external expectation that since “we know the ropes,” it should somehow make it easier. This ain’t our first rodeo! We got this!

But, no. 

Although I know from our previous experience (and many others) that miracles do happen and that God does indeed work everything for good for those who love Him, it does not negate the terrible heartache.

My heart is broken… shattered… yet again.

And it’s almost worse this time.

No, it really is worse this time.

But all during this long, hard week, I’ve been whispering that phrase, “Our hearts ache, but we always have joy.”

As I’ve said elsewhere,* I’ve been actively looking for joy in the external world. I find it most easily in the faces of my grandsons. But it’s there, too, in the blue skies of LA, the slender palms that sway, the cool breezes that caress in the shade, the vivid flowers that have survived the drought.

But I know that the apostle Paul was talking about a deeper kind of joy.

A secret place.

***

Mz. B. is a special friend who has supported and encouraged me through the tragedies of my adult life. She made me feel sane during the years I was away from home after Katherine’s stroke, not by grand gestures, but by frequent and consistent little things. She would shoot me a text or short email, or leave me a quick voicemail with news from home. A word of encouragement, a joke, a scripture.

Today, I opened her email and read these words:

“The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)

She reminded me of the answer to the puzzling paradox in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:

How can we have joy when our hearts ache?

Because the more sorely our hearts ache, the closer God comes to us.

In that place of pain and emptiness, we are stripped bare of our self-sufficiency. Finally, we stop our thrashing around.  The slightest half-turn to the Source of all joy, and He comes rushing in like a white-cap wave.

No matter what is happening in the external world, I can choose to retreat to that secret place of joy. It is the sweetest spot. Corporeal, visceral, as well as spiritual.

A heart-fluttering love overwhelms.

“…in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

I am going to crawl into my Daddy’s lap and let Him love.

***

(*2 Corinthians 6:10, nlt)

(This was written earlier in the week. Check caringbridge for more recent updates. Also, more joy pix to appear on my instagram account at kimberlytarnold.)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Sturdy Ship



“And I saw the river over which every soul must pass
to reach the kingdom of heaven
and the name of that river was suffering:
and I saw a boat which carries souls across the river
and the name of that boat was love.”


St. John of the Cross



A beautiful young friend, Claire, sent me the quote above soon after Amie’s accident. She wrote, “Although the rapids on your river seem unjustly piercing and terrifying, I am praying there are moments when you can feel the sturdiness of your boat....and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.

The Sunday morning after the accident seemed surreal and slow-motion. Instead of sitting in a pew, we were sitting in a tiny sterile waiting room outside the ICU. I turned to my son-in-law Jay, and said something to the effect that I felt empty. There was no Rhema* this time.

The moment I’d heard the news about Katherine’s AVM rupture over 8 years ago, words had popped into my head. I had no idea what an AVM rupture was. No idea how deadly and destructive. But as soon as I hung up the phone, strange words appeared: “Talitha Cumi!”*  As I wrote here, those words were to prove prophetic.

But the current crisis seemed different. There was a sickening déjà-vu feel to it all. I felt numb and hopeless after seeing Amie for the first time. Completely overwhelmed.

As I am wont to do in times of trauma, I played Bible Roulette. The Book opened to Isaiah 43. As I read these words, I got a chill.

“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
    I have called you by name; you are mine. 
When you go through deep waters,
    I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
    you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
  you will not be burned up;
    the flames will not consume you. 
For I am the Lord, your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

Reading the whole chapter, I felt a fragile peace descend. He is about to do something new. (v. 19)

As soon as we were allowed back into the room with Amie, I heard a ping on my Iphone. Looking down, I read this message from a particularly wise friend: “Praying fervently for you. Is. 43:2.”  Then, out of the almost 800,000 words in the Bible, she'd typed out the same ones I typed above.

Eureka!

I mean Rhema!

There was my promise.



I’ve had to cling hard to those words in the face of rising waves of pain and fear.

Yesterday was a frightening day. I sent out a plea for mercy prayers on Caringbridge. When we got back to the apartment, there was a gigantic box waiting at the door. Had I ordered something from Amazon I’d forgotten about? (That happens.)

No, it was a box of abundance from a special group of friends. Overflowing with tangible goodies of every kind, but, more than that, overflowing with things that are ‘exceedingly more that I could have asked or imagined.’ Love. Support. Solidarity. Compassion. Caring. Mercy.

This is the card that came with it:






Thank God for the gift of friends that keep us afloat when waters are rough and winds are wild. 

Thank God that he calms the storms with a word.


And thank God for the sturdy ship Mercy that safely sails us home.


++++++++++++


*The second primary Greek word that describes Scripture is rhema, which refers to a word that is spoken and means “an utterance.” A rhema is a verse or portion of Scripture that the Holy Spirit brings to one’s attention with application to a current situation or need for direction.


**Talitha is an uncommon feminine name meaning "little girl" in Aramaic, given in reference to the Biblical story in the Gospel of Mark in which Jesus Christ was said to have resurrected a dead child with the words "Talitha cumi" or "Talitha kum" or "Talitha koum," meaning "Little girl, I say to you, arise!"


(p.s. I had to struggle not to call this one The Love Boat.  But I knew I'd get "Nerd-Alerted" by Ames when she's well enough to read!)