Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Making of a Liar

One of my earliest memories has two scenes.

In the first, I notice a little knob on the inside of the refrigerator. It has numbers on it. I wonder what it does. When I turn it nothing happens. I shrug and go on about my 5-year-old business. End of story.

In the second scene, my father is enraged. He rounds up his four children and roars, "WHO TURNED THE KNOB IN THE REFRIGERATOR??!!" I am speechless with fear. Who knew that turning the knob was an offense on this level?

"Did you do it?" he asks my oldest brother?
"No," comes the answer.

"Did YOU do it?" he asks brother #2.
"No."

"Did YOU do it?" he asks me.

Oh my. What to do, what to do? Obviously, 'fessing up is going to result in serious pain.

In the split second of considering what to do, it occurs to me that the penalty for turning the knob and then lying about it can't be much worse than for just turning the knob. Plus, my 3-year-old brother is next in line and he seems like the one most likely to have done it AND to lie about it. I decide to take my chances. In a tone as close to my innocent older brothers as possible, I say, "No." He moves on to the littlest brother, who, unsurprisingly, also denies doing the deed.

Now what will happen? My father is still in a rage. "If the one who did it doesn't confess, I'll spank ALL of you!"

Now my 5-year-old mind is spinning again. There are two brothers to my right and one to my left. I figure I have a couple of things going for me.

1) I'm in the middle. If this plan is carried out, I will not get the initial fury. There's a chance he'll tire by the time he gets to me, even if he starts with my younger brother.

2) I'm the girl. Surely, that will bring me a bit of mercy.

3) I'm not the prime suspect. Apparently, my lie has combined with my general good behavior to keep me in the clear. Little brother is much more likely to get the blame.

I stand my ground. Not guilty!

I don't remember what happened next, but I know it didn't involve any spankings, probably just a warning to NEVER touch that knob! It also did NOT include any explanation as to what the little knob in the refrigerator does. I don't remember when I finally found out its purpose, but it wasn't in that moment. What I learned in that moment was that I had the ability, with enough fear involved, to look someone square in the eye and deny the truth. It wasn't the last time I practiced that skill. In a time when I had almost no power against the flaring tempers of the adults in my life whom I tried so hard to please, when any attempt to justify my actions was brushed aside as back-talk, I had this one weapon of self-defense. I could lie!

Interestingly, enough, despite my general commitment to being a good girl, my conscience was satisfied that truth was not a practical option in a world where curiosity, ignorance, and occasionally tossing aside the rules for a little innocent fun resulted in harsh punishment. Even now, as an adult who loves honesty, I am satisfied that my younger self made the best choice given the environment. I have often expressed my commitment to the truth in these words: "I will be as honest as people give me space to be." What a blessing it is on the rare occasion I find someone willing to make space for true honesty.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The stories we encounter

I have lived in the same small town for close to 40 years. My children were students in the local public school system from kindergarten to graduation. That is a lot of history with a community. Two of my three children have moved elsewhere, but many of their classmates are still in the community.

Last night my church hosted a "Parents Night Out" for local families. When I looked at the registrations, I recognized one of the parents as someone slightly older than my own children. She brought her sons and they were great additions to the group. As I interacted with them, I figured out who their father was. And then I began to count the deaths in their lives. As one after another came to mind, it struck me how much tragedy is in their history.

1. We interacted with their grandfather when we bought our land in 1980. He died of a heart attack a few years later, leaving a wife and three young sons. Those sons grew up and have struggled in many ways.

2. One of the three fatherless sons was the father of these boys. Before they were born, he was involved in a fatal car accident that sent him to jail for several years. Less than two years ago, he died in another accident, which sent another person to prison for similar charges. A few months later, I was talking to his aunt who said her sister was deep in despair, saddled with grief not only for the deceased son, but also for those who still lived. She died soon after. So the boys I met yesterday have lost both their father and grandmother in the past two years. They never knew their paternal grandfather.

3. As I thought further, I realized the maternal grandmother of these boys was the victim of a rare shooting death in the area when their mother was in high school. Hardly anyone around here has lost family to homicide. They are among the few.

Two personable boys at a church event. It was our first encounter with them. Only my long history in the area combined with a few clues I picked up here and there filled in part of their story for me. Otherwise, I would have never guessed.

Maybe it would be better if these boys could go through life and never encounter anyone familiar with their history. I wonder how many people like me see them and are reminded of all the public tragedies in their lives.

Of course, I don't know about the less public tragedies. Nor the victories and accomplishments of their family that haven't merited news coverage.

In cases where one meets new people, is it better to know nothing or something? Should we simply assume that everyone has challenges in their family and needs to be treated with tender, loving care?

Saturday, December 02, 2017

The stories I tell (or not) -- 1970-71.

My oldest brother turned 18 in 1971. He was a senior in high school. I was an annoying 7th-grader invading his space in the church youth group. The Vietnam War was winding down, but young men were still being drafted for combat duty. I have two related memories from that time.

The first memory is a snapshot of sitting with my family in our living room watching bouncing ping pong balls being drawn on television. Each ball represented a day of the year. The tension in the room was high enough to sear the picture into my memory. I remember the relief when May 26 was drawn late. The military never came calling for any of my four brothers.

The other memory is less condensed. It happened over the course of weeks at the church youth group meetings as my two older brothers and their classmates approached their 18th birthdays. Several of the young men had come out of pacifist traditions -- Amish, Mennonite, or, in the case of my brothers, Quaker. How would they register? How should they register? This was not just a hypothetical case-study from the lesson book for them. They had to actually make the decision and sign their names on a line. Were they fully available for the draft or were they truly "conscientious objectors"? The Church of the Nazarene would support them in either position. Where did their conscience lie?

I don't know how my brothers registered. I know one young man from the group was drafted and did "alternate service." He had registered as a conscientious objector.

I saw that young man last Sunday. He is around 65 years old now. His wife, whom he met during his alternate service was there with him, as were his parents and one of his daughters with her husband and children. Four generations still attending the same church where those discussions happened so long ago.

So many memories.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Stories

A recent online Christianity Today article by John Koessler gives advice to Millennial pastors on how to minister to Baby Boomers. In it, Koessler quotes a youth pastor's advice to: "Listen well, even if [Boomers] ramble, get stuck on one nuance, or tell stories that are way off topic." Koessler admitted some of the advice might sound condescending, but it got me thinking as I close in on my sixtieth birthday. How many times are younger people just being polite as they listen patiently to my rambling, off-topic stories? There is a reason why we older people tell stories. We have so many of them! I have spent almost sixty years accumulating stories! But I don't want to weary my young friends with them. Besides, I write better than I speak. I'm thinking it's time to close my mouth and uncap my pen. After all, blogs are made for recording one's personal adventures, right?

Shame

Recently I embarrassed myself. I am learning a new skill very slowly and publicly. I am making mistakes. I do my best and am embarrassed by how far short my best falls. It makes me want to find a hole and crawl in. Or quit. Walk away from it all. At the same time, I'm reading about shame. Shame has many sources. It has one remedy -- a full relationship with the One who made me as I am and calls me daughter. I'm still working out how that relationship helps when I fall flat on my face. Again.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Observations of a CASA volunteer

Lawyers in suits; social workers in "business casual;" parents in whatever outfit they can find for a court appearance. Some of them wear the garb of prisoners, complete with shackles. These are accompanied by officers in uniform.

I watch them come and go. They all have stories -- those in tailored suits and those is jumpsuits. The stories of the parents have intersected with the Department of Child Services. Their missteps are being aired behind the closed doors next to me. I will hear only one of those accounts today. Only a handful of people, including the judge in his robe will hear more than one. No one will hear them all. Not in a lifetime.

What brought these people here? What back stories lie behind their current stories?

I have lived in this relatively small jurisdiction almost four decades. As I look around I realize I know one of those waiting for their turn in the courtroom. At least I knew her as a teen. Now she's a grandmother and our paths seldom cross. We chat for a few minutes. Her granddaughter had drugs in her system at birth and is in foster care.

I was wrong. I heard more than one story today. It is a sad one.

As I continue to sit alone and wait for my turn in the courtroom, a lawyer approaches a mother nearby and instructs her to make an appointment with her office. And keep it! As the court-appointed lawyer walks away, the mother says, "I need to see about getting another attorney. I can't handle this!" The lawyer keeps walking with no indication she is listening. I was warned about her during CASA* training. Someone to watch out for. The young mother continues, "I don't have a phone! I don't have a vehicle! I don't even have a place to lay my head!" The lawyer is gone and I'm not sure who the mother is addressing. Being in her line of vision, I make eye contact and invite her to tell me more. She vents some frustration, repeating her assertion that she has nothing. I have nothing to offer beyond sympathy. She wanders off. I try to imagine the life of someone who doesn't even have an old car to stash their stuff in. I wonder about the rest of her story, how she got here, but realize I'm unlikely to see her again once I leave this place.

So many sad stories. I will not fix anything for anyone today. The best I can hope is to possibly remind a few that God hasn't forgotten them.

I figured out several years ago that I have a choice. I can live my comfortable lifestyle while avoiding the sad tales around me. Or I can offer to listen to the stories and live with the discomfort of being aware of the pain around me while I'm doing well and realize my resources aren't nearly sufficient to make it all better for anyone. Maybe the awareness of my inadequacy is a blessing. That awareness reminds me I'm not self-sufficient.

I choose to listen. And sometimes people talk to me. I pray for these people. It truly is the best I have to offer them. And maybe it is no small thing to bring their pain to the God of all comfort. After a while I might even be moved to do more. CASA is at least a start. It gives me a reason to be sitting here today in the midst of the pain.
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*CASA -- Court Appointed Special Advocate. A CASA speaks for the child in CHINS (CHild In Need of Services) cases.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

A Forum Grieved


In May 1994 we brought home the first Windows computer to join our household. It came with several pieces of software, two of which have endured in some form -- Quicken for managing personal finances and America Online for email. I often cringe when giving out that AOL email address in 2017, but someone recently noted that it signifies a certain longevity - starting early and staying steady. Maybe. Or maybe I'm just old. Whatever the case, it still works.

In 1994, AOL was one of few options for finding one's way around the wild, frontier town of the internet. As the AOL community grew, discussion groups formed, including one for members and friends of the Church of the Nazarene. It opened a new door for me. After a while, I moved beyond AOL and stumbled across NazNet.com. I don't remember the day that happened, but by June 1997, I was thrilled by the opportunity to meet some of the participants in real life at the General Assembly of the Church of the Nazarene in San Antonio.

That was twenty years ago. In August 2017, the discussions at NazNet.com came to an end and the slate was wiped clean. Over twenty years of discovering I wasn't nearly so alone as I had thought in my experiences as a Baby Boomer raised in the CotN. Despite how numerous we Boomers are in the larger culture, I always felt alone and isolated in my church life, like no one else was dealing with the issues I saw around me. I read about how churches worked so hard to attract the Boomers (as they do now to attract Millennials), and, yet, felt like an invisible demographic wherever I participated in church life. It's all fine. I accept that church is not about me. But it's still hard when no one else shares your struggles or even seems to comprehend the questions that drive you crazy.

NazNet came along and introduced me to a whole new set of Nazarenes, the likes of whom I had never encountered in my life. It turns out I wasn't the only one left disturbed by viewing "The Thief in the Night" as a teen at church camp! I wasn't the only one to later question the entire idea of the "secret rapture." I wasn't the only one to see a disturbing gap between holiness as it was preached and the actual observed lives of holiness people. Who knew?

And now it's gone. We're being urged to join equivalent groups on Facebook, but it turns out there are no equivalent groups on Facebook.  And an attempt to recreate NazNet.com as NazNet.net is failing to thrive. It seems the NazNet glory days are over.

Still, it happened. It did what it was created to do -- opened up new levels of discussion among Nazarenes and their friends around the world. My joy in what NazNet gave me over these past 20 years far outstrips my grief at its passing. The words may be gone from naznet.com and even from the enormous collective memory of the internet, but they remain as essential elements of who I am as a person and follower of Jesus Christ today.

Thank you, Bryan Merrill, Dave McClung, G.R. "Scott" Cundiff, and all the rest who made NazNet happen. You have been a blessing.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Bad deeds (and good) exposed!


1 Timothy 5:24 The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. 25 In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever. (NIV)

In Sunday School recently, we read 1 Timothy 5:24-25. The main topic here is the exposure of sin, but Paul assures Timothy that good deeds are also eventually exposed.

It's sobering to realize my own sin will eventually be exposed. It is more difficult to believe that the sins others seem to get away with will someday slip past their careful efforts to hide them. And to resist the urge to try to help that process along. This passage is a good reminder that my efforts are not required to expose such sins.

Competing with the temptation to expose hidden sins in others is the desire to have others see and acknowledge my own good deeds. It's easy to be envious when the good deeds of others get recognition and mine are overlooked. This desire is strengthened by messages from the church like we find in Casting Crowns' "If We Are the Body":  If we are the body, why aren't His arms reaching ..." These lyrics expose those of us who claim to follow Christ as falling short in good deeds. My inner response to messages like this is a strong urge to point out all I'm doing that no one seems to notice.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns us against doing good deeds for show. He explains that when our goal is to be seen, being seen is our full reward.

To bring it together, Paul tells Timothy good deeds will come to light on their own. Jesus warns us against making a show of our good deeds. We're left doing our deeds of kindness simply as a humble offering to God and the recipients of that kindness without acknowledgment from the people telling us we aren't doing enough. We trust God to direct us to opportunities to do good in quiet ways and to be the One to reward us. Faith: believing the teaching of the Bible is true even when we don't see the evidence.

This is a lesson worth revisiting often.