Monday, August 26, 2013

Recovery time

When I stepped down from my job, I had a strong sense that I needed to stay home for two years and focus on my girls. Part of me wanted to get another job right away, but staying home seemed so clear. I'm beginning year two, and it occurs to me how much I need this time.

The girls are in a transition: one off at college, the second a senior and struggling with what she wants to be "when she grows up," my baby starting high school. They are all-consuming to me. And yet, these two years are not just about them.

Our pastor preached yesterday about how everyone should get involved, don't just attend Sunday morning, take ownership of our church's mission in reaching the world. When we got into the car, my youngest slouched against the door in the back seat and with a sigh said, "I suppose we're going to get involved now?"

My answer was no, no more than some fellowship and a little service. Not the old pattern of being at the church before the doors were really open and staying until long in the afternoon. I referred back to the "two years." When I quit graduate school, I spent two years sorting through what had happened with my college education, finding my spiritual and political footing after a time of trial. Now, having left a church we loved and served wholeheartedly, my whole family is still finding our footing, testing our foundation, and taking a deep breath.

On the church staff where I served, we experienced a moral sink hole, and I thought, wow, I'm going to take a year to grieve this. Various events after that kept me from really having that year of grieving; sometimes life is just messier than we'd like. I tried to google this issue of healing emotionally from big life events. Maybe I didn't know how to ask the question. I couldn't find anyone talking about it.

When my mom finished her chemo treatments, for a cancer we feared would kill her, she was told, "Congrats! Come back in three months." And there she was, back on her own doorstep, physically weak, thin, overwhelmed, and small. Congrats! You're still alive, and your medical treatment is over. Really? She looked like a near-drowned, ematiated cat. No help to put her life back together. No understanding that she was now entering another stage of healing. She really hadn't "arrived" anywhere yet.

I spoke with a mom recently whose daughter battled cancer in this last year, only in her early twenties. She sounded exhausted: the time they had given to treatment, the money, the neglect everyone else in the family had suffered during this incredible focused time of fighting.

Recovery time. I wish there was a bracelet or t-shirt or bumper sticker.

I once heard of an African tribe that handled trauma this way: the afflicted person, the one who survived the loss, would just sit around. Do nothing. For however long it took to heal. And the community would watch and be understanding. Then one day, he would rise up and return to normal life.

I couldn't find our Western "five steps to total emotional health." So let me throw out a few things that I have learned about recovery. It takes longer than you think. You question a lot of things and sometimes feel very frustrated at the lack of answers. Sometimes you have a bad day emotionally. It is draining to do all the work, but each day is a gift, and it does get better. People can help. Time alone can help. Don't let yourself drown in it. Just as you fought through the trauma, you will fight to recover your footing.

And I also know that God is good.

(The photo of a snow-covered chair was taken by Bonnie Camp, resident and photographer of the Oklahoma Panhandle.)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Watch this video, become a better person

My friend Brian is running across Mongolia. 1500 miles. His family is on the journey with him, and I think often how none of them will ever be the same: Brian for making this choice for them all, the children getting to experience the "out of the ordinary" at such a young age, his wife for her willingness to grow in this adventure. I have three reasons for wanting you to watch this video.

First, I want it to replace something else you are spending your time on. Several years ago, I spent about a half hour going through my mail. I had an L.L. Bean catalog, some jewelry or department store sale ad, and a Compassion publication. I thought, what if? What if I just stopped flipping through the mail that just wants my money? When my family needs shoes or clothing, I know how to find and buy them. I don't need to feed my discontent by looking at catalogs. Instead, I can feed my soul by reading publications from Compassion, Samaritan's Purse, Focus on the Family. Even in the mail that comes to my house, I can be careful about what I set before my eyes.

Secondly, I'd like for you to commit to educating yourself about the world. It is not The Secret Life of the American Teenager. It is not That 70's Show. There are real hurts and ways of life you have not considered, and knowing about the world--especially opportunities for hope and improvement--will make you a better person. Take five minutes to imagine the life of an orphan in Mongolia. A child soldier in Sri Lanka. A girl sold by her parents to a pimp at age 12 in India. If you take the time to be sad just a little today for some of the suffering around the world, you will be imitating the heart of God. If you don't take time to even care, let alone do something, then how will hurting people know that anyone is concerned? You have to start by knowing enough to even be concerned.

And finally, not only will this video raise your awareness of orphans in Mongolia, but I hope it makes you think of the "little thing" God has put in front of you. It doesn't feel life-changing. But you can do this, this little thing. In His hands, it's enough. It's obedience.

May your day be blessed.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The strategy of Sorry

My daughter and I have been playing Sorry, the board game. You begin with your pieces in a holding area until you draw a card that let's you start on the board. You win when all your pieces get home. The cards determine your move, whether forwards or backwards, kicking an opponent back to Start or getting switched yourself to somewhere you didn't want to be.

I was imagining life like a giant, more complicated Sorry board. We start in all different corners of the board, with desires that aren't always good for us. As we play, things happen to us that hurt and set us back, disappoint and frustrate us. Our goal is to get home, but on my huge, imaginary board, the way isn't always clear. The game is a mess, and you can't stop playing.

When I played board games with my grandmother, we always looked for opportunity to thwart each other. Rarely did we choose a move that was less cut-throat than it could be. My middle daughter and I don't play that way. We all the time pass up opportunities to knock the other back to Start. Such a move usually only happens if it's the only choice--and without trying, it still happens a lot. We harm each other's progress.

Even though we don't intentionally harm each other, we never try to help.

Life is like this when we submit ourselves to chance. We develop strategies that we try to live by, but we are hindered and wounding and just trying to reach our goal, and things happen beyond our control. If we do try to help others, it always seems to be a set-back to our own progress.

You have to submit to something in life. I choose Christ. His way is service and sacrifice, and sometimes on the board, it really seems to hurt. And yet, I really believe that some day there's going to be a big flash, and the whole board is going to change. The things I've been working towards, I will have attained. Choosing to follow Him will be revealed as true reward, and the goal that everyone has been scrambling for will shift.

People hurt me, and life is just sometimes painful all on its own. But I know that chance isn't in charge of the cards dealt to me. I know Jesus is walking with me, even if He is invisible to others and sometimes even me. And I know I will reach my goal if I don't give up. After all, no one gets to stop playing. I might as well play by the best rules I have found.

The sunset photo is courtesy of Bonnie Camp, who photographs her life in the panhandle of Oklahoma.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Talking about God and chayote squash

About a year ago, I began ordering from a produce club. On Saturday, I pick up a basket of produce, about half fruits, half veggies, and then go home and figure out what to do with it. I don't know what I'm getting any given week.

Initially, I ordered every now and then. And the produce was a little overwhelming. I'd have a bunch of leeks, so I'd look up recipes. Hm, the leek-stuffed salmon looks good. Off I'd go to the grocery store to buy salmon and all the other ingredients in order to follow the recipe. This approach, for at least half the items in the basket, was tiring.

Slowly, I began to cook with the veggies without bending so much to recipes. I like to throw things in a skillet with onion, olive oil, and a little meat, a little seasoning. Sometimes I serve it on rice or spaghetti; sometimes we just eat it in a bowl. Turns out there are a lot of foods that can be eaten this way. If I don't know what to do with a veggie, this is now my go-to plan. And I don't have to run to the store to accommodate the produce. My life has adapted. I have new skills.

Still, when I would entertain, I would definitely spend a lot of money at the store. Last week, however, was another turning point. We made plans rather last minute with some friends. I already had planned to try a new recipe, a copy-cat of Olive Garden's Zuppa Tuscana. After all, I had kale and potatoes to use up. Since we had company, I used lettuce and tomatoes on hand to make an Italian salad, and a bunch of romas along with the remaining kale and some basil from my porch to make a sauce for pasta. I bought a loaf of bread at the store--that was it. Even for company, I used what I had. This has been one of the most satisfying changes in my life, this contentment in my kitchen, using what I have and not scrambling for something else.

In the course of the evening, I found myself telling our friends about the lifestyle changes we've made and how they have benefited our health. As always, my thoughts turned to our spiritual journey.

Do you talk about God with people?

Part of what makes me excited about my adaptation to fresh produce is that it is different. This is a new change in my life. Five years from now, I may be talking about it less. Of course, five years from now, it will hopefully be so incorporated in my life that the suggestion to eat more fresh food will be natural to anyone struggling with energy or health concerns.

Part of why I talk now is that I have grown in the past year. I have learned something new, and I like to talk about it. In your walk with God, are you learning? If so, you will likely talk about it. Maybe not the first awkward nine months. During that period, it is more natural to seek advice and counsel. (What do you do with leeks? How did your family consume three quarts of peaches last week?) But learning leads to interaction.

I'm currently thinking about leadership and human nature. Haven't you seen that in my blog? I always like to think about grace and rules and choices. Haven't you seen that in my blog?

If you are not learning about God and His mysterious, wonderful ways, you likely have prepackaged food sitting in your pantry that you make again and again without thought. Mac and cheese with green peas. A can of soup. Burgers and fries. Grilled cheese. A bowl of cereal.

You should go to church. You should read your bible. You should be nicer.

What would you do with an eggplant?

(By the way, I haven't made the recipe featured in the photograph. Feel free to try it --click here--but you'll probably have to go to the store.)