Where we wrestle with the sublime, mysterious, powerful and often frustrating paradox of God's necessary grace.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

"Please, God, bless my farting."

"If our lives are the pages on which God writes, then He seems to be drawing cartoons on me." --Me.

How many of us spurn moments of grace because they're not big enough, flashy enough, or "important" enough?

I'm a member of a ministry team at my church that cooks dinner between the two evening services for the pastor(s), musicians, tech staff, and anyone who shows up. There's no place nearby to get food and with only an hour between services, it's impractical for these people to go home to eat and then drive back. So, we feed them.

I enjoy helping out this way, and my wife and I are very much a team in this. I think it's good for our marriage and our souls. Everyone who eats always thanks us and says how much they appreciate our efforts.

For a long time I was dissatisfied with working in this ministry. It's didn't *feel* like a ministry, I didn't sport a shiny halo like I assumed I would if I were, say, evangelizing or working with low income kids. All I was doing was making meatloaf and green beans. Where's the ministry in that?, I thought.

Recently I finally woke up to the truth. I had the wrong idea about "ministry." Yes, evangelism and working with low income kids are good, laudable, but they are not the only cards in the Holy Spirit's deck. Where do the evangelists and the child workers go when they need a hot meal or a cold glass of lemonade or even--gasp!--a beer? If I'm out trying to be like them, then I leave them hungry, thirsty and empty. I neglect my role in favor of one I think i should like better, and God is not honored nor His children, and grace is not served--in any sense.

So, too, we can easily overlook or ignore the earthy, the mundane in favor of the more "SPEER-chool." This weekend I'm struggling with severe stomach distress, my gut is full of gas but little of it is forthcoming. As I sat on the toilet a bit ago, hoping for an exodus, I prayed, "Please, God, bless my farting." I realized it was one of the first times I'd asked God for help in this. I knew God was good for help with cancer, broken bones, diseases and major crises. But farting? C'mon, our bodies don't get more basic than that. It's a mistake when we assume God is a god only of the sublime and not also the sticky, earthy, muddy, glorpy bits of humanity that make up the less attractive aspects of human life.

Then it struck me: If I can't trust God to help me fart (and burp), how can I say I trust Him to help me with the big issues in life? For me, there is no middle ground. Either I trust God or I don't. Either I allow Him to be God over every aspect of my life, or I don't. As I write this my gut is bubbling and percolating like a mad scientist's laboratory, so I trust in God He'll move things around me in His time to give me relief.

So: Please, God, help me fart. And thank you for teaching me that all things matter to You.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Update Oct 17 2009

Things have gotten better. Still not perfect, but now my problems are my own and not out of a pill bottle.

Thank you to everyone who prayed for me and emailed me support and encouragement. When you're in Hell, the first thing you lose is perspective. Special thanks to my wife who loved me and helped save my life.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Grace and faceplants in Hell

I apologize for the stretch of non-posts. For about a month I was snow skiing on the slopes of Hell.

My GP had prescribed Ambien to treat my insomnia. I was taking it dutifully and all seemed to go well. "Seemed" is the operative word, here.

At about the same time I was entering longer and more intense bouts of depression: Sudden onset crying jags, towering rages, insomnia, flash loss of temper, suicidal thoughts turning to plans. (I was going to drive out to a secluded spot and eat a round from my deer rifle.)Everything came to a head last week when I broke down and told my wife. I felt I couldn't burden any of my friends with this--either my problem was out of their league and they'd offer tepid armchair sympathy, or I'd tell them and they'd think less of me. Praying seemed to achieve nothing and I felt as if God either couldn't or wouldn't hear me, deliver me. My world had squeezed down to a pinpoint of pain. I felt nothing else and believed that would never change, until I ended my life and all the pain welded onto it.

My wife had seen my literal disintegration. We tried to think what was causing it when I finally mentioned a side effect of Ambien was depression and thoughts of suicide. She did the loving wifely equivalent of slapping me on the forehead and said, "Don't take the Ambien tohight and let's see what happens."
"But I won't be able to sleep without it."
"What's more important--your life or a night's sleep?"
"Oh. Yeah."
"You bet 'Yeah.'"

I noticed I felt better within 24 hours of stopping the Ambien. In fact, that night I was able to go out to dinner with my wife.

Within 3 days of stopping the Ambien, I felt better then I had in about a month. No more rages, jags, suicidal thoughts, cloud of black depression. It literally feels as if I'd been born again. I still have problems and "issues," but those are part of life and working them out is how we all stay human and humble.

Grace rescues us, even when we'd rather drown, even when we're blind and deaf, crying out in pain and misery. Even when we're convinced God's a joke or a lie or has better things to do. It doesn't wait until we're clean and cheerful and we've all got our shit together. God: No respecter of persons.

I like Him that way.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

I can't do it

I can't do it.

For me, four liberating words.
It's 2:39 a.m. and I can't sleep, can't seem to get comfortable, my inner jungle drums are pounding furiously if that makes any sense to you. (It barely does to me but I find it a most satisfying and interesting phrase so I'll stick with it.)

I drove up to my wife's family reunion in the Sierra mountains today and had a good time, most of the time. I didn't eat too too much, got to say hi to her relatives I enjoy, and sat in my new portable camp chair out on the deck, overlooking the San Joaquin Valley.

I like being up at that cabin (her dad's home) except for the altitude which makes my breathing more difficult.

I didn't spend the night there so I drove back to town and here I am in my office, somewhat agitated and also wheezing from not taking all my diuretics today. (Long story.) After getting up a few times I snapped on my bed light and pulled a book off my stack of nightstand reading. It was Anne Lamott's "Plan B."

It's been a while since I've read Anne and I'd forgotten how piquant she could be and how savory. Not to mention damn funny. She's everything I want to be in a writer except a possessor of a uterus. If you've not read her work before, Run--don't walk--out to your bookseller and get her book "Travelling Mercies" and read it cover to cover. At times she can be too Earth Mother, let's-all-eat-a-big-bowl-of-togetherness-flakes for my taste, and I absolutely disagree with her politics, but when she talks about God's grace-and she does; a lot--she is so on the money, so descriptive and evocative, so full of God's grace, she's damn scary. But in a good way.

In her book I read the chapter on the difficulties she faces raising her then-13 yr old son Sam, how maddening, terrifying, sublime, joyful and mysterious parenting and children can be. That chapter alone is worth the price of the book.

Her writing ignited a light bulb in my head. I realized one of the reasons for my discomfort tonight was my unconscious expectation I would or should be able to handle all the crap Life is flinging at me right now through the bars of the monkey cage.

- Eventually fatal heart condition
- Grief and rage over the disabilities I face because of my health
- Impending bariatric surgery
- Impending massive lifestyle changes in diet, exercise and attitude
- The necessary work of marriage.
- Step-dad to a 16 yr old w/ Asperger's and typical teen attitude.
- Anger at myself for the hypocrisy I see in me when I try to parent my step-son.
- Grief over never having kids of my own.
- Prolonged status as the villain in the family drama between R. and me.
- Impending conclusion to the writing of my novel and then the painful, frustrating process of casting it upon the editorial waters.
- Grief over feeling isolated in this town.

My list is my list, it's not to be compared to anyone else's, nor their lists to mine. My list is what I carry around inside my head.

And I can't do it any more.

I can't keep all those plates spinning. I don't have the energy any more. I'm too fucking tired. And I was too proud, too stupid to realize this years ago and thus save myself a shitload of grief.

So here's where God's grace must show up. All those plates are wobbling and moments away from crashing to the floor unless Jesus puts His fingers under them and gives them a flick. I dunno, maybe some of those plates *should* crash and break. That would make my life easier.

I don't know any more, apart from this: I know I can't do it any more. And that God is the only one who can. And in that is my freedom. I CAN'T do it. My limitations force me to face myself in the mirror they force me to come out empty-handed.

See, my metier has always been competence. I've usually been good at whatever I do and I'm smart enough I can see 10 seconds further down the road than normal people. So I have little patience with those who struggle with issues or areas I do not. So for me to hear the sound of my motor sputtering because it's running out of gas is particularly terrifying. So I get to meet my fears on the same level as everyone else does their own. My own limitations force me to face the fact I'm not any better than anyone else. My limitations knock away my blinders so I finally see the real me, the one everyone else but me sees.

Anne Lamott would have said it a hundred times better, funnier, and put in some nice bits about flowers and nature, so for the sake of quality control, she should write this blog. However, she's got a son to raise and books to write, so you, Gentle Reader, are stuck with me.

Okay. I'm off to bed, I've lanced this wound and it bled out all this text stuff which I arranged on the blog screen in front of you and which you have done me the honor of reading.

I pray you run into your limitations sooner rather than later and that Jesus is the one who flicks your plates spinning, and you let Him be the one to catch your plates--or let them fall.

Friday, July 31, 2009

"You don't have to save him."

This afternoon was difficult for me. Yet it laid the groundwork for a major life lesson.

The morning was rolling along reasonably well. The Sturdy Wench was puttering in the litchen, getting food ready to take up to her FIL's house for a family reunion this weekend. I was ambling about, doing whatever it was that I do.

Then my oldest sister called. J. said she hadn't talked to me in a while and wanted to know how I was doing. We chatted for several minutes, exchanged news about health and family and work, then in closing she said, "I don't know if you know this, but R. (my middle brother) has read some of your writings and--"

"Stop. I know what you're going to say." I explained R. had misinterpreted what I'd written and rather than hash out the miscommunication, he assumed I was trashing the family and being the Ungrateful Chylde, so he declared I was no longer his brother and no longer a part of the family.

I added I had made it clear to R. I was ready to talk whenever he was, but I would not fight with him nor squabble over details. He would have to initiate the conversation. I said, "Let R. be R."

That conversation with J. brought up a lot of anger in me toward R. for the venomous things he's said about me, so I've got my forgiveness work to do.

Then my best friend Chris called. We chatted for a bit and talked about family issues. He said the last time he'd visited me I had said something that struck him and stuck with him on the drive home. As a result, he decided to forgive his father for his failures and sins and now he's in contact with the man, altho his father doesn't remember the visits because of his Alzheimer's.

Then came my appointment with Dr. Julie.


I walked in quite angry. I told her what happened and how I was feeling, and also talked about some issues I had with my 16 yr old step-son, D. She helped me see it was all right for me to be angry at R. I just had to be careful not to live in it.

Now, here's the big, big moment:

We were talking about D., and how frustrated I was at the way his raising was being handled by his mom and dad, and she said the magic words: "You don't have to save him!"

I don't have to save him.

I can come down from my big ol' cross and just be me, so what if it irritates me his folks are doing or not certain things? I don't have to save him. His mom is perfectly competent, even if she and I disagree on some ways he's bing raised. He's being raised right on all the important issues: Character, Personality, Spirituality. He's a good kid and so what if he has wretched table manners? He has wretched table manners and if he chooses not to correct them, then he'll pay the price for it. As the SW said, sometimes you have to touch the stove before you know what "hot" means. I also have boundary work to do. I get to keep my boundaries (which are good things.) I can use this experience to let R's choices be his own and I don't have to get sucked into a pity party for him nor must I take responsibility for his emotional state. Now I can let him go, stop carrying him around like a heavy suitcase.

Dr. Julie elaborated I could apply that to R. as well. In the past, I had tried over and over to reach him to get him to lose weight and take care of his health. He always ignored me. Now, I can let him go as well. If he chooses to eat himself into his grave or a stroke, then that's his choice--he's an adult and he can do as he pleases.

So now I feel a huge weight has rolled off of me. I don't have to save D. or R. or anyone else. The only person I can work on saving is me, and even then, God's got that under His control so I can take a number and siddown.

So God's grace shows up sometimes in the damndest ways and in the most unexpected situations. This is God refusing to abandon me to my flesh or to let me drown in myself. Because now that I have this tool from Dr. Juile, it's like a big part of my emotional swamp has been drained and now I have the dry land on which to build a little more of the kingdom of God within me.

This doesn't mean I abandon D., or R., or stop caring about them and what happens to them, it means I let them be them. I'm finished trying to be their personal Jesus.

Now I think it's time I listen to Johnny Cash's version of that song.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Jesus Shovel

Hi there.

Sorry for the lack of posts. I'm trying to finish my novel and so have devoted most of my casual writing time to that. Rahter than than keep you hanging around waiting for my posts, I'm going to take a vacation from blogging here for the month of August. I figure if I have an official vacation, I won't feel guilty about not updating this blog.

Okay, onto today's topic. Please bear with me on this one.

The Parable of the Talents

Matt 25:14 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey.

Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money.

After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them. “So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ He also who had received two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’

“Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’

“But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest.

So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. ‘For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Okay, Bible versifying over, you can breathe now.

I never understood this parable. To me, the master came across as a cruel jerk, punishing the third servant unfairly. Then I was reading a Jim Butcher novel from his "Dresden Files" series, and in it a priest quotes this parable and then explains his understanding of it. I realized I had been looking at the parable from the wrong direction.

The talents can also represent us--our selves, our souls and spirits. What makes you, you and me, me. The first two servants invested themselves in the outside world and profited thereby. The third servant played it safe and hid himself away from the warmth and light of life. He took no risks. He entombed himself.

How many of us are scratching at the inside of that jar? I'm guilty of hiding away from much of life. "Do you know why?" he asked rhetorically.

I was absolutely convinced, adhering limpet-like to the rock-solid, unquestioning conviction that life could be cut to order. It could be neatly bagged and tagged, dealt with quickly and easily with the right amount of self-discipline, smarts, good character and breeding. O, and money. You just had to want to and needed a few tools.

Aside from the fact I was an idiot, I was wrong.

Allow me to quote a line from the wonderful movie Parenthood, as spoken by Grandma: "Life is messy."

Let me repeat that: Life is messy.



Advertising has sold us a load of shit, TV in particular. It's sold us the idea life is resolved in 22 minutes and 4 commercial breaks, or in 97 minutes with optional car chases, aliens and lovely-yet-ditzy heroines who always get the right guy at the end. My life has never once worked that way and Sandra Bullock has yet to fall into my arms. I suspect your life suffers a similar lack of congruence to the Hollywood model.

I didn't want to admit life was messy so I hid myself away in a Mason jar and buried it deep and dark. No light = no exposure = no risk.

But life is messy. Always was, is, always will be.
The only thing pure, clean and un-messy? Death. Except...I'm not ready to go there yet.

So now with the help of the sagacious Dr. Julie and love of my wife and good friends, I'm digging me up, gonna unscrew the lid and let me out for walkies in the air and light.

Join me?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Israel Kamakawiwo'ole

This song reduces me to tears when I hear it and see the video. Not sure why, though I have guesses. But it can-openers my heart in an instant, like nothing else. Just when I thought my heart was rusted shut, here this comes today.

Dear God, Thank You for the can opener. It's a lovely gift. --Ken

Israel Kamakawiwo'ole


Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Plea for Grace from the Biz Bag

I need grace--and not a little of it.

For the past few days I've been struggling with a lomg-standing, deep emotional hurt. Rage has been bubbling up inside me, despite my efforts to short-circuit it, ignore it, or anaesthetize it with stimulation and activities. I feel like I'm jumping up and down on a giant cork in the throat of an active volcano, desperate to prevent an eruption.

Today was a communion Sunday at church. Initially I wasn't going to partake, I felt I wasn't...what's the right word? Deserving? Clean? Together? Holy? and I didn't want to run the risk of "eating and drinking condemnation" to myself. But as the crowd filed past my seat and thinned, I heard a voice in me, warring with the voices telling me to stay seated, that I was unworthy and isufficiently "spiritual" for communion, saying "Go, partake. Communion is for you who AREN'T together, holy, perfect. Communion is for the UNdeserving. Communion is for the lumpy, the sinful, the broken and the half-healed.

So, afraid I was going to piss off God by tracking in mud on his nice white carpet, I stood up, went to the table, and ate my communion nibble. I then had to pee so I walked out to the lobby where the bathrooms are, and I met a guy I knew and we had a good talk for several minutes. I enjoyed seeing him again and talking with him.

I still struggle with believing I have to qualify for God's grace, that God doesn't give me as much as he gives Joe Bob because Joe Bob reads his Bible, prays, tithes, witnesses, attends church thrice weekly, et cetera. You know--all the "good Christian behaviors."

Whereas it seems me who does few of those things gets the left hand of relationship from our Father. Doesn't the "golden child" in any family get all the rewards and the affection? I feel like I'm perpetually slouching in the kingdom of God.

Yes, I know the problem lies in my misperception of God and His; that knowledge doesn't make this any easier, it just means I know there's a way out of it. SOMEwhere, dammit. And, pain in the spiritual and emotional ass that it is, I won't give up looking for it, hoping for it, trusting God will somehow get me to it in time.

LOL...oddly, this is how I know God loves me. Any other deity would have drop-kicked my whiny ass into the Biz Bag by now. But God is long-suffering, and I mean LOOOONG. And He absolutely does not give up. That simultaneously fills me with joy and makes me weep in despair. When will He stop pursuing me and abandon me to the fate I richly deserve?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Here's A Video of Grace

It's amazing what can be accomplished by people moving together in grace.

June 13: Fixed link

God: The Original E-Ticket Ride

Lately I've been looking for images that show the feeling, the impact, the reality of grace--something to see in front of you versus reading about it in text.

In the previous post, "Redneck Bellyflop" summed up (for me, anyway--maybe not so much for you, Pru ;) ) the idea that sometimes one must hurl onseself bodily, without a safety net, into grace; it doesn't always "droppeth as a gentle rain from heaven."

One of the aspects of God I find terrible (in the classical sense) is "the Lion of the tribe of Judah." God is not domesticated and neutered, "he's not a tame lion," he is absolutely uncontrollable, unpredictable. He is no respecter of agendas, prejudices and biases, back pockets or rubber stamps. Our fears, hatreds, loves and lusts do not control Him, frighten nor offend Him.

It is precisely this aspect of God I find most attractive and most terrifying.

When you're about to get on a roller coaster for the first time, do you feel butterflies the size of Buicks in your stomach? Are you anticpating the fear, the ecstasy, the jolting, the universe squeezing your world through the toothpaste tube of such vivid joy and terror?

It's terrifying because He's not safe. ("''Course He's not safe!" snorted Mr. Beaver. "But He's good.'") He will not hide our weaknesses and shield our dignity to the detriment of our soul. He's ruthless. But, as Mr. Beaver said, He's good. Good informs everything He does because He is good, the embodiment, the perfection of it.

It's terrifying because there's no visible control, God doesn't have an OFF button or a volume dial. He'd be a lot easier to deal with if he did (along with FAST FORWARD or REWIND buttons). 'Course He'd be someone else other than God, then, so it's best we can't control him and turn Him into a pet.

In the end, I think our lack of control over God is exactly what we need to come to an end to ourselves, our ruling egos.

(Note: For those of you too young or who never went to Disneyland when their ride admissions were based on issuing paper tickets, an "E ticket"--marked with a large E--admitted you to all the most exciting rides.)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Sometimes the best way....

Sometime the grace of God is best received with a leap and a lunge.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Forgiveness, blood, and 93 cents worth of grace.

Dr. J and I spoke this morning and she asked me how I was doing with my brother's ex-communication of me from his view of the family.

I explained it was an unusual situation for me to be in because it's never happened to me before, so I guessed I was doing as well as could be expected. One thing I quickly learned: I have to stop myself from re-reading his comments and email to me or I'll quickly grow furious and want to deck him for the hateful things he's said about me. This is my limitation, not his or anyone else's. It's my inability to let the situation go to God.

So, I take a deep breath whenever I see my thoughts and feelings head that way and forgive him all over again.

When I lived in Texas, I worked almost two years to forgive a woman who hurt me deeply. There were days I had to go to God six, seven, eight times a day or more and forgive her all over again, because I had embraced bitterness toward her yet again. The good news is as time passed, so did the depth of pain and bitterness I felt toward her. Now? I never think of her unless I'm writing about forgiveness and bitterness, and even then there's no emotional trigger in saying her name or thinking about her actions toward me. I've seen, close-up and in ugly detail in others and--worse--in myself what bitterness and unforgiveness can do to a person. It's toxic beyond belief, it destroys everything it touches; it imprisons, then defiles, then kills. It's the spiritual equivalent of nerve gas.

So yeah, I choose to forgive my brother again. I'll probably have to do it again in 15 minutes, and maybe again in 15 more minutes, and so on.

Here's what I know about forgiveness: To forgive is not to forget. It does not excuse what happened, nor does it mean the forgiver has to "play nice" and shake hands with whomever he or she forgives. Forgiving has not a damn thing to do with being "nice." You can forgive someone and still act like a sonofabitch to him or her because forgiveness is all about the forgiver giving up the right of retribution, of revenge, against the target of his forgiveness. Forgiveness is you surrendering your right to get even, giving away your right to blood.

I see forgiveness is a primal thing, powerful and transforming. It's not this namby-pamby, Pollyanna "kiss and make up" our culture has morphed it into. It costs us to practice it fully and honestly and that's appropriate. If someone casually tosses off an "Oh, I forgive you!" just as he would a "Thanks for dinner," then IMHO it's not forgiveness. True forgiveness should cost a little blood, I think.

For forgiveness to be forgiveness, there has to be a chance it won't be anything at all--that the forgiver will decide *not* to forgive that moment, that day.

So that's where grace comes in. God must give us the grace to forgive, to forgive once, twice, three times, four, five, six, eight, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 times, 500, 1,000 or even more! Without the influence of God in our world, real forgiveness would be an unknown, I think.

Time's gotten away from me, so I'll end here and continue with the 93 cents of grace later. Thank you for reading this.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

"Losing my verbless religion...."

From Don Miller, "Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality":

In a recent radio interview I was sternly asked by the host, who did not consider himself a Christian, to defend Christianity. I told him that I couldn't do it, and moreover, that I didn't want to defend the term.

He asked me if I was a Christian, and I told yes. "Then why don't you want to defend Christianity?" he asked, confused. I told him I no longer knew what the term meant.

Of the hundreds of thousands of people listening to his show that day, some of them had terrible experiences with Christianity; they may have been yelled at by a teacher in a Christian school, abused by a minister, or browbeaten by a Christian parent. To them, the term
Christianity meant something that no Christian I know would defend. By fortifying the term, I am only making them more and more angry. I won't do it.

Stop ten people on the street and ask them what they think of when they hear the term
Christianity and they will give you ten different answers. How can I defend a term that means ten different things to ten different people?

I told the radio show host that I would rather talk about Jesus and and how I came to believe that Jesus exists and that he likes me. The host looked back at me with tears in his eyes. When we were done he asked me if we could go get lunch together. He told me how much he didn't like Christianity but how he had always wanted to believe Jesus was the Son of God.


I found Miller's thoughts unsettling, intriguing, satisfying, even a bit frightening. Most of all I found them resonating with my heart.

Christianity as a religion has always been distant to me, something familiar but never anything to which I wanted to give away my heart and soul. It felt alien, clunky, spiritually inbred, dead but was animated by legions of feverish fans who couldn't imagine any other way of the wotld. For a long time I embraced it because I didn't know any other way to approach God, Jesus, the Spirit. Imagine your favorite grandparents who live at the end of a steep, deeply rutted, muddy dirt road. The only other ways to reach them is to walk or ride horseback.

In the past few years I care less and less about it as a religion, a system, a thing.. After reading "The Shack" (which, despite its many faults presents a compelling picture of a deeply personal God.) I want the Jesus from that book, I want Aslan frrom C. S. Lewis' Narnia books, I want Jesus as a person, not a concept or dry historical figure.

Thus, I want His grace as a verb--active, do-ing, be-ing, go-ing. May God grant me, and grant you, the verb of grace today from the hands of the living Christ.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Rotary oscillator, meet biological waste product

Well, it's hit the fan now.

My brother R. found this blog, read enough of it to send me a GFY email a few hours ago accusing me of hating him, calling me ungrateful, "the phoniest Christian I know," and swearing he'll never ask me for help again.

Part of me wants to saddle up and counter-attack, venting the considerable amount of bile I've just realized I still have toward him, listing the ways he's been a sonofabitch to me.

I asked my wife how I should respond to him, and she said do nothing for now. I think she's right. If I respond tonight, he'd not hear anything constructive I said. I don't know if I'd be able to resist the temptation to counter-attack.

In essence, doing to him what what he's doing to me.

If grace means anything to me, it means I get to love my brother even when all I want to do is hurt him as I've been hurt, when all I can see of him is entirely negative.

This, I think, is the work of grace. So much of me begs to throw his sins in his face and trumpet my virtue as victim.

So I will shut my piehole. I will ask God for His grace on both of us and on anyone else who becomes involved. I will pray for R., and pray honestly, not one of those "God, help him not be such an asshole" POS prayers.

I considered taking down the blog in case R. notified our other sibs about it and they read it. Their reaction would likely parallel his. But if I do that, it seems to me I wouldn't have the courage of my words. I stand by everything I've written here. (Certainly I could have phrased some thoughts more clearly or more diplomatically.)

If I've been nothing else on this blog, I've been as honest as I can. I've confessed my sins publicly and laid claim to the mea culpas which seemed appropriate to me. I won't promise my perceptions are accurate, but given what I know and feel and remember, I've done my best to tell the truth.

This blog is my way to work out the incredibly messy and often painful road I walk toward God's grace. It's also the way I can show how God's grace meets me where I am and demands only that I allow myself to be loved by Him.

R. will calm down in a while, perhaps we can talk then.


ADDENDUM 21 April:

R. has told me he wants no further communication with me and suggests I'm no longer his brother. (Oh, and I'm still a lousy Christian. He's right, it's a main theme of this entire blog.) I responded I would not fight with him and he should do whatever he had to do. That's where things stand for now.



No change.

Monday, March 30, 2009


Jer. 2:13 My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

It's time for a new direction for this blog.

I've explored my faults and inadequacies in detail, and explored my frustration with God and the working out of our relationship. There's only so much navel-gazing I can take, and I've reached my limit.

So, let me first say what this blog is NOT going to be:

It's not a happy-clappy isn't-Jesus-wonderful-I-could-just-hug-him-sooooo-much expectoration of pink fuzzies.

I still expect God to be God and continue pissing me off by His refusal to do things my way.

What will the blog be?

More than ever I want to honestly and without game-playing explore grace and its work and working in our lives. I confess a gloomy apprehension after reading all three of Ann Lamott's books (Traveling Mercies, Plan B, Grace Eventually) and realizing she's doing what I want to do here but doing it infinitely better.

I want this blog to be about growth and healing, redemption. I want to use lots of verbs: I went, I saw, I spoke, I touched, I felt, I ate, I puked, I prayed, I gave, I cried, I laughed, I redecorated. (You still awake? Just had to test on that last one.)

This blog will mostly chronicle my weird little walk of faith but I don't want the focus always on me. I want to have discussions with you, Reader.

So what do I know about grace? I know I experienced it this evening at church. The pastor cited the above verse as part of his message on addiction and I felt it resonate inside me. I knew I'd been guilty of "digging my own cisterns," i.e., letting my negative feelings about God stop me from taking the necessary cincrete steps in pursuing a relationship with Him. I feel like God called me to start the journey home.

Okay, okay--this is all subjective, touchy-feely stuff and I'd be suspicious as hell of it if someone else told me they experienced this. In my defense of my experience, I say: 1) This is my experience for me, I'm not putting it on anyone else. 2) God has worked this way in my past occasionally, so I do have some history of it. 3) Sooner or later I think most every believer will have a moment of unseen/unspoken connection with God, something inexplicable to skeptics. As long as the experience does not contradict schripture, nor draw one away from God, I don't see a problem with it.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Grace, mud and blood--but first, the news

Remember the WW2 news announcer greeting? "Good day, Mr. and Mrs. America, and all the ships at sea!"

That's a bit how I feel. I'm in my lighthouse here on the rocky coast broadcasting to anyone who comes within range, broadcasting until they leave again, some to return, others not. I find this satisfying in an odd way. When I lived in Texas, for two years I worked as a radio DJ from 6 pm - midnight. I grew accustomed to the red, green yellow, white lights glowing on the control board, the dark street outside the waiting room illuminated in pools of light by streetlamps, the lights of passing cars flashing by.

I played music, ads, read public service announcements ("First Baptist Church is having a brisket barbecue Saturday on the grounds from 11-4 to raise money for their mission teams. Side dishes served will be potato salad, green salad, cornbread and butterbeans. Cost is eight dollars a plate, children under five eat for two dollars."). A highlight was when, during bad weather, the teletype just outside my control window chattered into life and the National Weather Service ordered all stations in an area to broadcast a weather advisory. For my area of Texas, that usually meant possible flash-flooding, but I did get a tornado warning once.

So how does this bit of nostalgia tie into the topic? It doesn't, I just shoved it in here, like a nice tablecloth to go under the main meal. ;)

This Sunday in church Brad, the preacher, taught on the Passion, Jesus praying in the private garden.

John 18:1 When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley.

The blood from the thousands of daily Temple sacrifices drained into the Kidron Valley, so when Jesus crossed it, He had to step through mud, blood and all kinds of wretchedness. I took comfort from this. We as humans are little versions of the Kidron Valley, we are comprised of our own blood, mud and goo. All our sins )large and small), all our lies to ourselves and to others, our pride, our greed, etc. Yet Jesus doesn't let our filthiness dissuade Him. He plunges right into the worst of who we are, undaunted, coming to redeem us from what we think of as ourselves but is our fallen nature, and reveal to us, to others, and to the Godhead our real identities: sons and daughters of God.

This means I can stop trying to be good, trying to be perfect, trying to earn God's approval, trying to earn the approval of others. Everything I touch in my own strength is touched by my fallen nature, marred by finger smears and thumbprints of mud and blood. But when I am redeemed, then Jesus makes all things new and past things are no more, even though it may take years, decades for that reality to become reality.

This doesn't mean Jesus redeems me and bang! my life is now perfect and I'm ready to go on a talk show. No, my flesh is still my flesh, it's still present and I still wrestle with it every hour, every day. Most times I lose, a few times I win. (But then I get proud and boasty of that fact and I lose all over again.)

What changes is the kernel of reality buried deep, deep, deep within me, as far underground as it's possible to go without coming out the other side. Like a seed, the kernel slowly, o so slowly! twists and writhes and soon sends out shoots and tendrils, and in a chemical exchange straight from God's greenhouse, it exchanges my pain, my sin for grace as a tree exchanges carbon dioxide for oxygen.

The kernel's mission is to reach the light, and to that end it labors unceasingly, every day, every night while life exists in me and in you.

It's not a fast process, never has been, never will be because of the dynamic involved. It's also often a painful process as deep-seated hurts, sins, scars, are brought up to the surface and to the light.

So Jesus approaches us through our Kidron Valley, slogging through the muck, the filth, the mud, the blood, to give us grace within us.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Grace and the Long Reach

Tonight I experienced again the pleasure of seeing God loves humans and gives us grace freely and deeply despite the fact we are complete screw-ups.

I had learned this several years ago, but the lesson was lost, buried under a pile of busyness, anxieties, depression, fruitless and half-assed attempts to remold my life to something the family protocols in my head would approve of.* (Yes, I know--more on this later. Please bear with me.)

The picture at the top of this text is from the movie "Smart People." It's not the best movie I've seen, I had to force myself to sit through the ponderous and tiresome first 2/3 of it. The final 1/3 makes up for the beginning, tho. In it, you see the characters begin to come alive, like Lazarus shuffling from his tomb.

Throughout the rest of the film, the characters make the painful decisions to come alive instead of remaining in their half-life of anger, fear, resentment, bitterness. In herky-jerky steps they walk.

An ending scene in the credits is the visual hinge-pin for the movie.

The characters are all deeply flawed, scruffy, wounded, mistrustful of others and themselves. Yet despite their many, many flaws (well illustrated through the movie), they choose life, choose to live, choose to walk away from death. I got the feeling Jesus was watching over my shoulder and raising His fist in the air at the end, exclaiming, "Yes! That's what I meant about all that Kingdom of God stuff!"

For me, throwing away the desire to continue attempting to earn my (now dead) parents' approval has been more difficult than I would have believed. Some people dispose easily of this in their lives, I cannot. It has deep roots. But, thanks to counseling (the wonderful Dr. J, take a bow please!), the love and support of my wife, the Sturdy Wench; and mostso the grace of God, that boulder is being levered from the riverbed of my life and soon to tumble away into wherever such things go.

2 Corinthians 12:9: 'But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.'

I have no problem boasting about my many weaknesses, this blog is full of that. But I don't highlight my weaknesses to brag about them or to somehow garner Christ's power in the manner of someone reciting a magic spell. I'm not giving to get.

Rather, I will boast of my weakness and, despite them, the arrival of Christ's grace that, like His peace, passes all understanding and to boot is mysterious as hell. I wish I understood it but I don't--I don't think anyone can.

The characters in the movie reach for grace even though they don't know its name, they reach for it like a drowning man reaches for a life ring. All they know is they'll die if they stay where they are and will live if they grasp the life in front of them. That summarizes our fundamental relationship with grace.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Grace and My Bad Donkey

See, it wasn't supposed to be this way.

I was supposed to have created this blog and, as a result of my spiritual insight, wisdom, humor and honesty made manifest, been the toast (or at least the English muffin) of Christendom and bloggerdom and dum-de-dum dom.

Yes, I still see it all now...hordes of readers sharing their stories of grace, but always flocking to me for advice, insight; craving whatever pearl of wisdom fell from my full and slightly pouty lips, and I, well, of course *I* would bask humbly in the sunshine of adoration and approval, bask oh-so-humbly, just slathered in humble like a perfectly cooked chicken fried steak coated in crispy golden batter. Phone calls and email from journalists and bookers for talk shows punctuate the background, my wife amazed at her good fortune and blessing in being married to someone like me.

But would I let this go to my head? No, a thousand times no! I would have joined my hands in gentle prayer, looked heavenward beseechingly with my doe-like brown eyes, and humbly asked God for the strength to deal with all this homage and attention.

That was my plan, whether I admitted it to myself or not. "It was all going to be about me, frankly," said the hotdog.

I would have been good at it, too. Really good. I believe I'm good with fame and adulation. In fact, they're my meat and butter, they're like mother's milk to me, minus the icky part about drinking breast milk when I'm 47. Dammit, I would have been great as an idol of millions! People would've liked me, I would've really tried to help them, steer them toward God, toward honesty, just as long as they didn't require anything of me that mattered or cost me from my heart or soul.

I would've made a great Oprah!

And the cap to ll of this? I come back to this blog today to find those who've followed this blog in Blogspot do so no longer.

Ohhhhhh, God! Ohhhhh, God! I'm shaking my head at my raging ego and bloated throat sac of pride and I'm laughing right now. (I think God is, too, or I'm smoked.) I'm such a buffoon! ROLFMAO! I am so arrogant, so puffed with fear and pride and self-centeredness, it's a wonder I don't tilt when I stand up. Rilly.

You want to see grace, God's grace, in action? Here it is. That God should love me enough to shank my pride and yet give me the grace to laugh at my foolishness. That He should allow me to laugh at my own nakedness, yet still clothe me in His love, His grace.

And still more of His grace: That those of you who read this blog, continue to do so, and those of you who encourage me, continue to do so, and those of you who are my friends, continue to be so. That you all would continue alongside me in our trek to New Jerusalem when my head is puffed to the size of a small elephant...well, that's the realest grace of God. Thank you for sharing it with me.

This topic wasn't at all what I set out to write when I sat down here some minutes ago, but I think it's better than what I was going to write about. How often do you get a chance to really laugh at yourself?

So now that my ego's been deflated to a proportionate size for my age and weight, what say we keep on looking for grace?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

I'm recuperating from food poisoning so this will be short and heart-felt.

I wish each of you a Happy 2008 and a Merry Christmas. May God's grace and the love of your friends and family warmly wrap you and ease the loneliness, scars and wounds from daily life. May you carry that love and grace with you wherever you go, to pull out at times of need to light your way in the dark and heal your heart.

Thank you each of you for reading my words and contributing your own. Thank you for helping us all wrestle down God's grace.

Peace and grace to you and your families.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Grace and Farts

I'm sitting on an uncomfortable chair so this will be a short post.

Tonight I dared God.

No convoluted song and dance, I simply had reached my end. Today my wife had a party for her coworkers and they brought tons of snacks and goodies and I partook wholesale, despite my doctor's warnings about salt intake and despite the calories I was pounding.

I had tried and tried and tried to micromanage my salt intake and my eating and had failed spectacularly. In the Failure Olympics, I easily placed for Silver and was edging on Gold. Tonight's debacle was Olympic-caliber.

Afterward I felt despair. I have an appointment Friday with my doctor. They weigh me and my weight would not be down by as much as it should be, and I'll be retaining too much fluid in my body, and so Doctor and my wife would lecture me. They love me and they're trying their best for me, but I'm somehow deaf to them. I think I know why, but I'll save that for another post. I need to talk about the precipice first.

So, back to my failure. I reached my end. I knew what I had to do, but first, the preliminary: I stood up in the living room and and told God aloud, "Here's Your chance. Kill me, screw me over. I surrender to You. Nothing held back, no questions, no demands, no conditions. I surrender. Period. Do with me what You will."

Then I went into the kitchen and made a protein shake for dinner. I will put myself on a protein shake diet temporarily as I need to drop about 35 pounds ASAP. I know it's not a good idea long-term.

I didn't know what to expect. More edema in my legs? A sudden magical decrease in my weight or in my edema? I was hoping for that one.

What I got was the most powerful case of the bubbly farts I've ever had. Man, I was tooting like a tuba trying to blow Morse code under water, and it seemed as though it would never stop. I thought it couldn't get worse.

I was wrong.

Then I started burping, and then the trots began. "Everybody out of the pool!" screamed my gut. I wasn't in any real pain, just some discomfort. Unfortunately, my wife ended up moving out to the living room couch. She claimed her own gut was acting up, but I have my suspicions.

All this gastric sturm und drang continued for about two hours and then began to lessen. Now the symptoms are almost gone.

I really, REALLY don't ever want to go through this again. It's, I admit, funny--especially if it happened to someone else. But when it happens to you, it's still funny but not near as much. No doubt I'll remember this night as the night I surrendered to God and then farted all over Him.

This only happens to me, I swear.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Grace and the Jell-O of Ego

Good question: What am I doing here, in this blog?

I know my stated purpose: To examine grace in our lives, although so far it's only about my life. You haven't really shown up yet on radar.

So, again I ask: What am I doing here on this blog? Am I really throwing grace down on the table and wrestling with it or am I just jerking around like a pithed frog?

And you, Dear Reader--why are you here? What do you get out of reading my posts? Is it entertainment or something less or something more? I'm asking because I really, truly don't know.

I started this blog with the semi-gelid expectation it would become a popular (yeah, "popular"--so I have an ego...) port of call for believers wanting something chewy and wholesome in a sea of evangelical meringue. I didn't want it to be an endless whine nor a happy-clappy, Jesus-is-my-boyfriend brain fade.

I'm not thinking of folding my tent here, I'm egotistical enough I won't walk away from self-promotion, no matter how ugly.

So, if you're reading this blog, and you're getting anything out of it, positive or negative, would you please do me the kindness of telling me? Thank you.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Grace and my Buttered Butt

"Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit"

That's one of my stock "Well, I'll be damned!" phrases and it's certainly apropos now.

I talked to R. yesterday and he's made an appointment with a neurologist for an MRI this coming Friday. He also asked me for recommendations for a BiPAP breathing machine.

I truly, truly never expected him to follow through on those two issues. I don't know if I dare hope he'll get into recovery, though. But I hope he surprises me again. I like hoping for him.

I'm laughing now. God has slapped me on the back of the head with His grace, showing me I don't know everything and reality is infinitely bigger than my expectations.

So butter my butt and call me a biscuit. :)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Grace and One Day Soon

Damn. Damn. Damn. Family being family, so here we go again.

Here's relevant bits of an email my sister G. sent to us sib about our brother, R.:

Saw R. today and talked to his doctor for about 15 min. [M]y notes:

+ has pulmonary emboli, both sides, why is confused [lack of oxygen to brain]

+ has a mass in brain near pituitary gland, may not operate. neurosurgeon is evaluating case to see, may be able to treat medicinally

+ has atrial fib, long term, will need meds

+ rt lung-infection, radiologist will review, on antibiotics

+ is wearing the C-Pap, doing better sleeping

+ blood pressure has dropped at times, heart rate has been off so went back to CCU

+ urinary tract infection, on antibiotics

+ has "Rickettssia" bacteria from animals [his pets], I think this is in his blood

+ short-of-breath condition is better (still seems a problem to me)

+ infections-in blood and urine

+ neurosurgeon may repeat brain scan (MRI), mass probably not cancer, diabetes is under control.

We'll get the advance directives filled out, dr. thought a good idea, he could have a heart attack anytime, I think. He should be DNR now.

So for the past few days, this is the last news I've had of my brother. Then, last night, I called my sister G. for an update. "Oh, he's home now, he went home yesterday afternoon."

WTF?! Way to keep me in the loop there, sister!

So I'm pissed as hell at my sisters they didn't tell me of his release and that so many important medical questions are still unanswered--what was the significance of the number 20, what about his pulmonary emboli, etc.?

So last night I called him and he sounded much better, almost his old self, except now he's channeling our dad. How can I tell? Read on.

R. asked me what the chances were of me coming down again and helping him for a few days. I replied, "Not good." (Driving that amount of time aggravates the edema in my legs and I have to deal with the consequences for several days afterward.) Even if I did go down, the amount of help I can give him is limited, I'm not strong enough to move him or help him if he falls.

Knowing R., he wants me there so he can avoid paying for a nurse or "imposing" on friends by asking them to help--even if they've volunteered. My dad was exactly the same way. Two years before he died, he was on one of his last cases before retiring, treating a horse, which kicked him and crushed him against the stall wall, beating Dad up pretty well. Dad's "friend," Dave (a fellow vet and a shitbag of shitbags) was there offered to take 82-yr old Dad to the hospital. Dad, being Dad, refused so Dave took him home in his Rolls Royce and dropped Dad off on the couch and left. Dad, who was bruised, contused, cut, crushed, in pain, and also taking blood thinners. Did I mention Dad was 82?

Anyway, my rage aside, I'm afraid, deeply afraid, R.'s behavior will remain unchanged for the better. He was sent home without an appointment with a neurologist and without a CPAP machine. He was given phone numbers and told he would need to make those calls himself. R.'s track record has been one of him absolutely resistant to seeking help and recovery. O, he'll dabble in getting help, he'll see a doctor a few times and maybe take meds, but he refuses to commit to recovering his health and he hates any recovery ("All those losers talking about God!" or "The therapist just asked me questions!") that requires him doing anything outside of his own strength.

So I am tempted to predict his health will tank again and this mess will repeat.

I don't know if I can go through those emotional surges again. I'm still feeling the fallout.

So my question to me is, where is God's grace in all this? This is a blog about grace, right? Am I just yammering about grace when it's easy (or easier) and convenient? Do I forget about grace when life cuts deep into my bones?


God knows I'm fucking this up tremendously, displaying the emotional maturity of a toddler. No one's going to read this and admire me for my spiritual strength. But this is all I know how to do: I choose to accept God's grace, right here, right now. I choose to let my brother's choices be his own, with all the consequences, and I trust God will uphold me through any storm that arises from them. I'll still get rained on and seagulls will shit upon me, but God didn't promise I'd be pretty, He just promised I'd be perfected, and that's a long-term, painful process. It's not even the goal I'm shooting for, to me it's an incidental. I'm here because of relationship. God is my God, my Heavenly Father, and I want to be where He is, talk with Him, tell Him bartender jokes and learn to love and be redeemed.

I want to learn about grace. I want to give it as much as I want to receive it.

Perhaps one day soon I can give grace to my brother.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Avalanche, cont'd:

My sister J. called an hour ago. Doctors found a mass in my brother's skull, but he can't remember what they told him, just the number "20." My wife says his symptoms could easily be the result of something interfering with the brain's proper functioning. We'll know more when my other sister, G., talks with the doctors today or tomorrow.

How am I doing? Here's pieces of an email I sent yesterday to a friend:

You also may not like me as much after you finish, although you'll understand me a bit more.

Still reading? Okay, onward:

I am holding up, but I don't know if it could be called "well."

Latest news is, my brother is doing better and has been transferred out of ICU and into a sort of ICU-lite ward. He's sounding stronger, according to my sister.

This whole situation has been an emotional whipsaw for me. Driving down there to see him was...I don't know. I don't want to use the term "traumatic", but it had its own drama and difficulties.

Then seeing him there, asleep in the bed in that godawful cramped, tiny hospital room, gasping for breath like a fish on a slab, and knowing I could be looking at my own future but I was definitely looking at my past.

(He and I had a bitter, antagonistic relationship growing up, colored by rage and contempt as well as surprising bouts of humor and affection. I remember at age 13 or so yelling at him I would laugh when he died. Typically, he then threw something at me, I believe, and I ran away. Welcome to my life. We later reconciled to a large extent after I moved home in my early 30s, but our relationship was still not an easy one for me.)

Seeing him in the hospital I wanted him to die so his suffering would end and so I wouldn't have to deal with him anymore. I wanted him to live because that's what you do with family, you don't want them to die, right? I wanted him to live because as a good Christian you don't wish death on anyone, right?

His condition improved, the docs were able to break his fever and stabilize his heartrate. Then two days later we hear he's been moved to ICU and his condition has worsened. The news is not encouraging.

By now I'm girding my loins to get the call from my sister: "He's gone." She and I, executors of his estate, start talking about disposition of property. I'm in this state for two days and then I hear his condition has reversed and he's doing better.

So now I go from planning his memorial to thinking about his after-care when he gets home. By this point I'm ready to drive down there and smother him with a pillow just so his condition won't keep fluctuating and carrying me along for the ride! (Insert complicated emotions emoticon here.)

Part of me wants him to die so I can be free of him and his controlling, manipulative behavior, his denial, his continual and unrelenting demand I be a properly grateful and unquestioning member of Mom's family. Another part of me is properly horrified at me wanting death for him and wags its finger at the first part. The first part is glaring at the second part and reaching for the neck of a broken bottle....

See? Only a few minor issues to be swept up from the rumpus room floor of my psyche, right?Heck, yeah! Woooo!

When I was in my late 20s I learned I would, sooner or later, have to forgive my brother. I've had to work through a shitload of forgiveness concerning him these past 20+ years, and I'm not done yet. Still have a long way to go.

Yet God continues to give me grace, often when I least expect it. The fact I am able to forgive him at all, even for 5 minutes, speaks of His grace. This is a road of stumbling for me, but stumbly or not, I'm on it. My motives are mostly selfish and self-serving--more concerned with my own survival than with any innate nobility or spiritual puissance. So I come to Him with my load of dross, knowing only He can transform it into something better.

In my mind, this is akin to picking up Hoover Dam and turning it around. Not gonna happen overnight. But happen it must and happen it will. Somehow. This is where I get to trust God's grace for me, in me, in the lives of those who love me.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Grace and the Avalanche

Some avalanches begin with just a snowball....

The Sturdy Wench and I drove down Saturday morning to see R., and that rumbling sound you heard was my emotional baggage slowly sliding down the mountain side but picking up speed and power.

The trip itself was physically painful, my right knee was a red hot railroad spike as I tried to find a comfortable angle that would let me drive and straighten my leg out as much as possible. I reached my limit just south of Bakersfield amid the eucalyptus trees on the sides of the highway and my wife and I exchanged seats while I gratefully stood up and walked around the truck before clambering into the passenger seat and a lesser round of pain. I had taken two acetominephen (sp?) before the trip, but clearly they hadn't been enough. Next time I bang down the leftover Naproxin. No more fooling around with OTC stuff.

We reached the hospital and, due to the hospital being old, added onto like the Winchester House, and under reconstruction, took the Death Star tour through bizarrely-angled halls and across miles of cutesy paint hall wall paint jobs until we reached my brother's room. We were the first family members to see him.

(My brother D. said he would drive down to see him that weekend but did not, and looks as though he won't be doing so this week, although he could surprise me. He'll be on a cruise all next week so he's out of the picture until he returns.)

I've never seen such a cramped hospital room. His bed had literally less than 12" of space around the left and right sides (I measured it with my handspan). There was a box fan on the tiny sink counter to his left blowing on him as the room was warm.

He was hooked up to an IV drip machine and was wearing an oxygen infuser hose around his face, feeding O2 into his nostrils.

As for what he looked like? Like a manatee beached on the sand, gasping for breath, his eyes closed, his upper lip wearing a small blackened rose of dried blood scab, his face painting his effort at breathing as he slept fitfully. I tried to wake him up (nurse said that was okay) but he couldn't maintain consciousness. He looked me, his light blue eyes (I'd never realized he had blue eyes before) trying to grab focus, then closing as he fell back asleep. This happened a few times until Cynthia, his nurse, walked in and began shaking his arm. "My dear! Time to wake up! Wake up, my dear, you have people here to see you, I need you to wake up, why aren't you waking up?!" She had to do this for a few moments and then he finally did awake.

She left the room and I stepped around the curtain separating his area from his neighbor's and looked at him as he registered my presence. He smiled and I touched his hand. It was the one of the few times I'd ever reached out and touched him, not to shake hands or slap him on the back. (You know, the Approved ManTouch™.)

We talked for a few minutes, he was coherent but slow, hunting for some words. His fever had broken and the doctors had given him a betablocker to stabilize his heartrate. I felt completely at sea, no idea what to say, so I tried to speak slowly and clearly, keep things short and simple and let him know my wife and I cared about him. I remembered my hospital stays and one or two visitors who wouldn't shut up when I was exhausted and wanted only to sleep.

We were there for about two hours, only talking with him for as long as he seemed to want to talk. My sister G. arrived, who lives nearby, and I became angry with her at her attitude but said nothing. She works and lives in the metro area and should have been the first one to see him, but she said she was busy working. (She works with patients in nursing homes.) To me, your brother being rushed to the hospital with arrhythmia and fever trumps your job, at least for a few hours. Well, she has the family reputation as the Angel of Death, the joke being you never let Georgia into your hospital room unless you have someone watching power cords and oxygen hoses because she likes to joke about disconnecting same in order to kill off people who don't lead productive lives and who are suffering. (Working with dying seniors for decades instills its own sense of black humor into you. I'm guilty of the same when I worked as a collector for a mortgage servicer.)

O yeah, this is about my brother. Okay, back to him.

He has an infection but doctors can't locate it, hence can't treat it. Because of his obesity, he can't fit into the CAT scanner and chest x-rays are unclear. So, the doctors are calling around to find a facility that can handle him.

Finally, my knee announced it was done and time to go home, so we made our goodbyes (R. had fallen asleep by this point) after the Sturdy Wench and G. talked with his nurse. No release date, no diagnosis.

In the car, the SW asked me what I wanted for dinner. I said, "To get the hell out of this city." She agreed and we left as the avalanche roared down the mountain.

Now I see the avalanche freightraining down the hill toward me, enormous clouds of icy white spume boiling upward, trees and rocks hurled out of the path as though they were tin toys.

This afternoon my other sister, J., called. R.'s been moved to cardiac ICU. As yet, no diagnosis and my sister G. says the cardiologist will release only limited info over the phone so she'll see him "Maybe tomorrow, maybe Thursday."

"Go see the cardiologist" you say? Why, whatever in the world would possess you to ask that? What are you, some kind of troublemaker?

Yet another reason for my rocky relationship with my family.

Right now I feel like I'm sitting shiva for him already. (No, I'm not Jewish but I wish I were.) If my sister were to call me now and say, "He's gone," my first feeling would be of relief his suffering was done and the sucking chest wound of our relationship was closed and over. The same feelings I had when my mom died.

Yet another reason for my rocky relationship with my family, part 2.

I'm already going through the mental catalogue of Things To Do To Settle His Estate. The calls, the emails, calling the Neptune Society for handling his remains, the closing of credit card and bank accounts, getting the death certificate, planning the memorial, dealing with friends and family, disposing of his property and his house, etc. All the stuff he and I had to do after the deaths of our parents.

Right now, my heart hurts. I feel at sea, lost, threatened, incapable of dealing with what's coming down on me. I feel rage my brother and I never connected emotionally, he was always too controlling, too needy, too hurtful, and I was always too needy for a love different than what he could offer, too easily wounded, growing up too often someone with no boundaries to respect.

It's after 1 a.m. Wednesday now, and I don't know what the day will hold. Either he makes it though today or he doesn't. The only thing I can do is pray for him, for me, for the grace to endure the avalanche as I try to swim to the top of this cold, boiling mass and keep breathing.

In, out. In, out. In, out. In, out. In, out.

Left foot, right foot, one in front of the other. Left, right. Left, right. Left, right.





UPDATE 3 Dec 2008:

From an email from my sister J.:

The past two days have been two steps back, one step forward. Yesterday morning we learned that R. had been transferred to the Cardiac Care Unit. This was not good news. He was unstable and his fever had returned. He was breathing with great difficulty.

This morning, he is "doing okay", to use the nurse's medical parlance. He's evidently able to get out of bed and into the bathroom.

I just called him and we spoke for about 5 minutes. He's still weak and not enunciating clearly, so it can be hard to understand him. He's anxious to get out of the hospital, so that's probably a good sign. However, I'm comforted to know that he has round the clock care until he recovers more strength and is feeling more ambulatory.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Grace and Me Standing Quarterless at the Vending Machine of Words

Hi there.

I apologize to you; I have no idea what I'm going to say. I have no message. Just some life I'm living, so I'll witter on about that for a few minutes to keep this blog updated.

This afternoon my brother D. called. Our other brother, R., was taken to the hospital yesterday too weak to stand on his own and with a high fever and irregular heart rhythym.

Later, my wife called one of R.'s doctors who told her his condition and that because they couldn't yet locate the source of the infection (they were running tests) they were unable to treat it beyond giving him a beta blocker for his heart rhythym.

Irregular heart rhythym? Ah, now he's playing on my turf. I had atrial fibrillation for about a year with occasional episodes of ventricular tachycardia. That means I, too, had an irregular heart rhythym until two months ago when I went up to Stanford and underwent a procedure wherein the doctors stopped my heart then shocked it back into life--rebooting it, so to speak, into a normal sinus rhythym.

I called and spoke to R. on the phone about 9 p.m. He was groggy but coherent and seemed in good spirits, given his condition.

My wife, the ever-lovely Sturdy Wench, offered to ride down with me tomorrow if I wanted to see R., and I gratefully accepted her blessing. She keeps me sane around my family and supports me when I'm around them.

This is a time I will need God's grace in unsmall amounts. Given my past and present problematic relationship with R., I'm afraid this won't be an easy visit for me or for him.

R. is the brother with whom I've had the worst relationship of all my sibs. He's seven years older than I am, so when I was growing up, we were often bitterly antagonistic. I hated him until the mid 1990s when our relationship began to thaw and later I moved back to LA and lived with him for several months. We got along fairly well by then, even though I still saw him as a provincial, overbearing control freak (which he is) and he saw me as a stupid, fumble-fingered, ungrateful child turning his back on his family (which I am, minus the stupid and clumsy.) Eh, so we have a ways to go.

There's some more I could tell, but I'll stop here. I refuse to scare away anyone who takes the time to read this blog.

Dear Reader, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas with your friends and family and you make merry in your hearts, loving and being loved. Peace and grace to you this season.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Grace and walking away from the mouse fart


So, now that I'm awake, what now?

First off, a realization: What had imprisoned me, and will do so again the moment I allow it, is my own fear. That's all. Just fear. Something that seems so overwhelming, yet also so small, thin and inconsequential.

How many of us fear someone, some situation, some circumstance or thing, only to discover when we're tossed into it, that our fear was papier-mache? Tinfoil, shadow and Popsicle sticks?

LOL! We were afraid of nothing but shadows and smoke!

Years ago I worked as a tech support agent for ACT!, a powerful contact management software application. I was a grunt, a first-tier support, the guy who's on the front lines, taking calls every eight minutes on the corporate 800 line. After a time, my boss called me into his cube and said he was moving me to the 900 number support line. This means the caller is now paying $3/minute to talk to me, and so only the better techs are on this line. No caller is going to want to spend $9 while the agent frantically surfs the company support knowledge base or runs off to find a second-tier tech to ask.

But me? On the 900 line? Man, I freaked out! What the hell was my boss thining? I can't do 900 support, I don't know the program well enough yet, my research skills are crap, I can't, I don't, I haven't, etc., etc.

The next morning comes way too fast and it's my time to die on the 900 line. 8:00...no calls yet. Whew! 8:01, no calls yet. 8:02, no calls yet. 8:03, 8:04, 8:05, hey I might survive this day, I might--8:06 RIIING! SHIT! My sphincter slams shut and I wonder how hard it is to collect unemployment as I clear my throat and stab the TALK button on my phone. "Thanks for calling ACT! support, this is Ken, how can I help you today?"

I breezed through the call. It was cake, I don't remember who or what it was, (probably blown index files or something) just that I answered the caller's questions quickly and without hesitation.

Damn, maybe I can do this!

And maybe I could, and definitely I did. In fact, I was on 900 support for the next year or so until I was promoted to the internal Help Desk at the company.

All that fear and anxiety, none of it worth a mouse fart.

I don't know if fear is a habit I can completely give up in a few minutes or a few months. Maybe not even a few years. But God hasn't called me to be fearless next year or next week. Rather, He calls me to trust Him a half-percent more than I trust in my fear. He calls me to be fearless only in my trust of Him, and that's problematic for me, given some of the issues plaguing our relatiosnhip. But, if I can set aside my fear of Him not being Him, then I think we'll go places together.

Like maybe off this dunghill and out into the sunrise....

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Grace of No More

Pardon the brevity of this entry. The irony of this, given what I'm about to write, does not escape me.

Imagine if you will you have woken from sleep to find you are imprisoned. Bent over, knees to chin, spine twisted, arms and legs pressed into your body almost to their breaking point, your chest compressed so you cannot breathe, your own body heat threatening to roast you unless lack of oxygen kills you first.

This is how I felt 15 minutes ago.

This feeling came like an arrow from a clear sky. No warning, no line of thought going on noticeably in my head pointing to this realization.

I woke up in jail.

Not just in any jail--my jail, a cell I built for one inhabitant: Me.

And not just any cell, but one designed to force me to live small, to live inoffensively, to limit and to punish myself so much more greatly than my family could that their hearts could not help but be moved by my efforts and my plight to compassion, and then to love me.

As a result of living an insufficient, immature, cramped, stunted and trifling life, I have also been living unsuccessful and unsuccessfully.

I don't want to live like this any more. I want out. I want out and I want out now. My parents are dead, I can never win their approval. My siblings are so focused on material success their love for me comes with a price tag--the expectation I will perform for that love, like a circus dog jumping for a treat, to earn their love and approval.

Screw them and their clown suits and their love-at-a-price.

What I see as a spark of life right now within me I want to become a blaze.

I want to push the walls of my cell apart, stand up for the first time, breathe freely, see sunlight and feel it on my skin.

This is where I need grace. This is where I must have grace or I die. There is no half-way here, no diet grace, no compromise. This is where I need the quickening of the Holy Spirit and the power of the hand of God, to shatter down my walls as He did at Jericho, as He did in the Reaving of Hell during His three days in the tomb.

Or I will die in my own prison.

I will die small.

I'm telling you this because someone else needs to know this about me. I need to tell you this so I have no more excuses to hide, to dissemble, to put on a dog-and-pony show to distract you from asking me the hard question and thus forcing me to answer honestly.

I'm telling you this so I admit my need for grace. Admit it to you, to myself, and most importantly, to God.

Okay, God; now it's Your turn.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Grace of the Fried Egg Sandwich

Grace is no respecter of dignity and dignity has no place on your plate when it comes to eating a proper fried egg sandwich.

They're not best approached by thinking, they're too subtle and too simple for that.

Look: Fried egg sandwiches make no sense to the rational mind. Who on earth would put runny-yolked fried eggs between slices of toast and eat the thing as though it were a normal sandwich?! Madness! And laundry bills! As inconceivable as they are, they are perfect examples of God's graces to us because they transcend so many of our human limitations.

Fried egg sandwiches make sense only as a matter of the heart, the soul. They are an elemental thing: Egg, bread, condiments, salt, pepper--these are all basic foods, nothing trendy here, these ingredients are what the world eats every day, has eaten every day for millenia, and will continue to eat.

You cannot find a single country where eggs and bread (or something like it) are unknown. Pick a religion, pick a political structure, it doesn't matter. Pick an environment, a culture, a time--none of these determine the worth or the deliciousness of a fried egg sandwich. A fried egg sandwich stands outside times and seasons and all man-made strictures.

The fried egg sandwich is the great social leveler. A fried egg sandwich is good eaten in freedom or under the jackboot of totalitarianism. A fried egg sandwich calms the mind and enriches the soul no matter if you're rich or poor, high or low, educated or not, smart or simple, man or woman, slave or free. Race is irrelevant. Age is irrelevant. Religion is irrelevant. A fried egg sandwich is as good tasting on the shores of the Colorado river as it is in the jungles of Myanmar as it is on the pampas of Argentina as it is on a glacier in the Antarctic as it is on a nuclear submarine at the bottom of the ocean as it is on the Space Shuttle orbiting the Earth.

No matter if you're a Forbes-listed billionaire or you restock the vending machines at truck stops--the savory runny yellow glory that is the fried egg sandwich is no respecter of persons or shirtfronts.

Fried egg sandwiches never claim to be the be-all, end-all of gastronomy. They're far too humble for that. For cying out loud, it's a sandwich! Yet fried egg sandwiches have a cachet, a down-to-earth attraction and an inner humility--utterly free of pretense--making them welcome and accepted on the poshest of plates as well as wrapped in paper towels (yes, towelsa) and eaten on a crowded subway.

I can name a hundred foods more glamorous--but glamour isn't the point of a fried egg sandwich. Is a platypus glamorous? Of course not. Neither is a fried egg sandwich, and for the same reason.

But what price glamour in the face of a fried egg sandwich? None at all. Only the sad people, obsessed with running endlessly on the hamster wheel of "society," scorn the fried egg sandwich. A fried egg sandwich is an earthy, welcoming, casual piece of eating that laughs off "shoulds" and sham.

It is real eating; wholesome in every way, a method of connecting you, the eater, to what the Japanese call wah, translated as "harmony."

Eating a fried egg sandwich is curiously ennobling. When you're standing there, leaning over the sink, a dish towel or yesterday's t-shirt napkinned on your chest, you are as much a lord of your personal realm as the pope or the president. You've chosen to cast away the unhealthy caring about what other people think and instead you're focusing on what's good. what's immediately in your hands, in your mouth, on your face.

Fried egg sandwiches are not only a satisfying snack or breakfast or even dinner, they are a cure for what ails you, comforting you with their savoy simplicity and wholesome charm. Thus they nourish the spirit as well as the body.

As Benjamin Franklin said about beer, so I say about fried egg sandwiches: They are proof God loves us and wants us to be happy. So, make for yourself or for your loved ones a fried egg sandwich today and step into a quirky mess of God's grace, into the great community of being human, of being a happy child of God, of yolk and running down your chin. And onto your shirt. (The towel never gets it all, really.)

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Grace of Gratitude

This is a short post--I'm over on my time but I wanted to get this published.

I choose to be grateful. Here are four things for which I'm grateful.

1. Saturday and Sunday were trying days. Saturday my wife (the lovely Sturdy Wench) and I helped set up for a wedding and then Sunday we set up for a brunch at our house for about 15 people. My wife did the wedding cake, helped decorate, while I helped move tables and chairs, ran errands, did grocery shopping at 1 a.m., et al. Generally acted the strong back and weak mind so necessary in endeavors like these. ;)>

Normally this much physical activity would have had me on the floor, but after the cardioversion procedure, I was tired, yes, but not dead on my feet. (Which, btw, were sore as hell but I got over it.)

So I'm grateful I helped my friends and in turn received the physical grace to do so.

2. I'm grateful for my friends Steve and Margarette; they stayed with my wife and I this weekend and it's been too long since we've seen each other. I was able to connect with them, open my heart to Steve, and receive acceptance, humor, empathy and understanding grace from him in return.

3. I'm grateful for Dr. J. ("Dr. O" as I've sometimes called her on this blog but I think I'll call her "Dr. J" as it pleases my sense of whimsy.) I get to see her in a few hours and take another step toward wholeness. I'm grateful to know I'm not crazy, not alone, and hope is for me. Thank you, Dr. J.

4. Thank you for reading this blog. I only know about those who leave comments, so if you lurk, thank you for reading anyway. Thank you also to those who leave comments.