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