Friday, February 24, 2017

Snapping

Recently, I snapped.

And I snapped at, of all places, a Christian women's conference.

Recently, my church hosted the "If:Gathering", a Christian women's conference that was livestreamed to hundreds of churches around the world.  It featured speakers such as Jill Briscoe, Jennie Allen, Ann Voskamp, and Lysa TeuKeurst.  About 200 women came to the event at our church, including many that were not members.   (My "snapping" shouldn't be construed as a comment on the conference itself, nor a reflection on the hard work of the women who were involved in putting it on.)

During one of the discussion sessions (where the livestreaming stopped), one of the suggested questions to ask was, what kind of pressures do you feel?

I asked that question to three other women around me.  I said that I felt shamed from both sides of the aisle:  from the belief that I'm somehow a traitor to the sisterhood because I'm not in a high-powered executive position to the belief that I'm not a "real" Christian woman because I don't have a lot of kids, don't homeschool, and work part-time.

I also have a lot of faith issues that I have struggled with over the years.

All of my frustration over faith, Christian womanhood, and other issues spilled out in one sentence:

"I want to be a good Christian but I don't know how!"

The women around me were very reassuring, and one of them reminded me that only God could judge me, not anyone else.

The Monday after the conference, I shared this event with the man that my husband and I go see every month for counseling.  The counselor asked me, what was a good Christian?

I started with, a good Christian woman gets up before the rest of her family and has her quiet time.

Frank objected, telling me that he didn't think the Bible commanded us to get up early in the morning in order to have a "quiet time."

My immediate response was, "Morning by morning I lay my requests before you," which is my paraphrase of a verse from one of the Psalms.  That's a verse that's been used to "prove" that you should get up first thing in the morning and pray.  Also, Jesus did it (Mark chapter 1, he got up early in the morning while it was still dark.)

I went on to describe the rest of my vision of a "good Christian woman" -- she prays for everyone except herself, because that's selfish; makes sure her husband and kids are fed well before going off to work and school; she homeschools because God forbid that you send a child to "godless public schools" unless it's for the specific purpose of being "salt and light".  She prepares herself before her husband comes home, and she'd better look good because if he doesn't have something good to come home to, he'll go looking for it somewhere else and you'll be responsible for driving him into the arms of another woman.  After she puts the kids to bed, she spends time with her husband; and if he wants sex, she'd better give it to him because if she turns him down, he'll go off and have an affair with another woman and it'll be your fault!

Not only that, you need to be at church every.single.time the doors are open, and the only acceptable excuses are illness and childbirth--and those, just barely.

Our counselor said to me that he heard a "plaintive cry" from me.  I added, "And it doesn't help when everyone lies.  The movement I was part of in college lied.  The movement I went to to get away from that lied."  People use the name of Jesus to lie.  (Not everyone who uses the name of Jesus lies, but there are people who do just that.)

So what's the answer?  Read the Bible and pray, right?

Well, first, which Bible?  I can't read Attic Greek, which was the language that the New Testament was written in; nor can I read ancient Hebrew or Aramaic, which is what the Old Testament was written in.  I have to rely on an English translation.  Let's see, there's the NIV, the RSV, the KJV, the NRSV, the ASV, the NASV, the Message, the HCSB . . . and, if you're brave enough, THE KJV 1611 version, which many consider to be THE only true authorized Scripture!

And even then, when I pick up the Bible and read, there's things that are pretty straightforward (like "love one another", "forgive as the Lord forgave you,") but if I pick up the Bible and just do a straight reading, there is nothing there that explains to me the period of time or the cultural context in which it was written.  I have to rely on people who know--or say they know--about Biblical history, Biblical culture, and Biblical languages.

Supposedly, the way you interpret the Bible is, what did it mean to the original audience?  But:  1) how do you determine the original audience, and 2) who decided that that was one of the principles of interpretation?  I have also heard of a so-called "spiritual" interpretation of the Bible, which I have no idea what it means, but it's one way that supposedly "proves" that Jesus came back in 70 AD, when the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed.

If I'm reading an English Bible, I'm dependent upon the work of a translator.  How do I know that the English Bible I'm holding in my hands is translated accurately?  The KJV 1611 was supposedly "translated from the original Greek".  But since then, there have been older manuscripts discovered that will affect translations made before those manuscripts were found.

And HOW do you determine which commands were only for the audience that a particular book of the Bible was written to and which ones are for all Christians, for all time?

My biggest bugaboo is, everyone believes they are right and can "prove" it by Scripture, but too often, the conclusions that people come to are diametrically opposed to each other.  So how do you know who's right?

I have really felt like, lately, that I need a doctorate in theology, plus a minor in Biblical Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic, to know what the Bible "really" says.  I'm reasonably intelligent.  I know how to use different Bible tools such as a interlinear Bible and a dictionary of Biblical words and terms.  I know how to use a concordance.  But putting it all together so that I really understand how God wants me to live and to worship?  And putting it all together so that I can discern true doctrine from false doctrine?  I sometimes think it's impossible.

We argue about everything, and I mean, everything.  My religious tradition, Churches of Christ, argues over instrumental music, whether or not you can have a kitchen in the building, what the role of baptism is, in what order to do worship (communion before or after the sermon?), how communion is passed (are bread and juice passed separately, or is it okay to pass them together?), are we allowed to take communion more than once a week?  Other Christian denominations argue about what "modest dress" is, whether or not women can preach (don't get me started on this one, I don't have the energy to fight), the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism, and on and on and on and on.

I have read my Bible, prayed, looked up Scriptures, attended retreats, conferences, seminars, gatherings, church services, small group meetings, asked questions, gone to counselors, and talked to people until I am practically blue in the face, and I am no nearer to getting my conclusions figured out than I was when I started.  I believe God exists and I believe Jesus is his son, and salvation is only through him.  But anything else?  (I do admit, I'm very good at "yes butting", as in, "Yes, but . . .")

I'm afraid of getting it wrong and going to hell because I got it wrong.  I am afraid of being shamed by other Christians for my conclusions.  I'm afraid of going before Jesus on Judgment Day and then, and only then, discovering that I'm not getting in because I got one little jot or tittle of the New Testament wrong.  "You believed in Jesus, repented of your sins, and were baptized by immersion for the forgiveness of your sins, but you gave your contribution monthly instead of weekly, and you should have figured out that I meant for you to give your contribution weekly because of what Paul wrote the Corinthian church:  you should set aside a sum of money on the first day of the week.  So, sorry, you don't get in."

And when I've seen the question of legalism raised, I've seen the response, "But what about obedience?"  Does obedience equal how well you precisely follow some sort of Biblical pattern?  (I have heard of the concept of "precision obedience", meaning, doing exactly what God says exactly the way he says it.)

And, when someone teaches a lesson, or writes down a Bible study . . . how do I know that there's not some sort of hidden agenda there?  Or whether or not I'm being led to a predetermined conclusion?

Okay, the answer is probably, "You need to make up your own mind," "You need to study it out," "You need to learn to think for yourself and come to your own conclusions."  But I often think that when we say that to people, what we are really saying is, "Study it out and come to your own conclusions . . . as long as I agree with them."

And to be honest, the idea of "studying it out" brings to mind piles of reference books, pages of note-taking, and hours and hours of research that I just do not have the time or the energy for.  So that leaves me even more overwhelmed.

No wonder I'm frustrated.

No wonder I'm tired.

No wonder I'm overwhelmed.

No wonder I snapped.

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

I could have told them that . . .

An article in today's New York Times states that the effects of childhood bullying last "well into adulthood."

I could have told them that.

I was bullied for the first time in 1969.  I was either five or six years old, and four girls blocked me on the sidewalk on the way home from school.  I didn't understand what was going on or why they were doing it.  I even asked one girl, "Hey, girl.  Are you nice?"

When I told my mother what happened, she said, "Just ignore them."

Thus the stage was set for twelve years of unrelenting bullying.

Sometimes teachers did something.  Sometimes the kids were talked to.  More often than not, it didn't help.

I remember getting laughed at for how I played volleyball.
I remember having my Girl Scout hat yanked off my head and thrown out the school door, and when I went back to get it, the door being slammed and held so I couldn't get back in.
I remember a classmate deliberately marking wrong answers on a test I'd gotten right, and in pen, so I couldn't erase it.  (This was a case where we exchanged papers and graded each other's papers, and it happened in either the second or third grade.)
I remember being bullied on the bus.  That's why I refused to let my son ride a school bus the first year he was in school.
I wore an Adidas shirt to school one day and heard, "I'll never wear mine again."  I was also asked, "Did you go to the Adidas concert?"
I was asked, "Do you know what a call girl is?" knowing that no matter WHAT I said, I was going to be laughed at.
I've had my movements mocked.
I've had lies told about me.
Someone even sent a letter to the editor of our local paper and signed my name to it, and it was published.  (It was about drunk driving and it said that I was 18, when I wasn't.  I was either 16 or 17 at the time.)
I have been asked if I was gay.
I've had books stolen.
I've had shoes thrown in the trash.
I've had my hair pulled.
I've had things stolen from me.
I was pushed into a gym locker hard enough to scratch the top of my head.
And the overlying message has been, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.  It will never stop.  You are not allowed to fight back, because if you do, you will be punished but they will not be.

I want to know why.
I want to face some of these bullies and demand to know, why?  Why pick on me?  What did I do that was so horrible that you decided to make me your target?
And I want to know where the adults were.  There were a few times that my parents talked to teachers, and it helped for a while.  But it never stopped the bullying.

I think the bullying in school set me up to be spiritually bullied in college.  When you are told that you have to put up with being bullied, you put up with being bullied.  It becomes your norm.  So, when people in the church treat you in a way that you were treated in school, you accept it--especially when it's labeled with "this is all in the name of God and to help you be a better Christian."  So you put up with being told that you HAVE to be at church at every single activity, and no excuse is acceptable (except maybe illness).  You put up with having your actions questioned and criticized. You put up with feeling like you're a bad Christian because you don't lead a Bible study or haven't converted anyone to Christ, or haven't been out on a date in months.

Even today, it is very easy for me to project onto people that "they don't like me", "they will be out to get me" when the odds are, they do like me, or, they are not thinking about me at all.  And recently, I've figured out that my fear and visceral reaction to criticism is a fear of being shamed.  It's not, "Here's some corrections you can make in your life to help you," it's, "You are a defective, bad person because of what you did."

Since 1990, I've been in and out of therapy, and this is the main topic that keeps sending me back.  I deal with depression and anxiety, low self-esteem, and other related issues.  I fear confrontation because the bullies always seemed to win.  In the last fight I ever had on a school bus, I told my parents afterwards that "they'd won.  I'll do anything they say."  My mother yelled back at me, "Don't you dare say they've won!"

But they had.

They destroyed my self-esteem and squashed any sort of fighting-back mechanism I had.

The study cited by the New York Times was just published in JAMA Psychiatry.  It followed 1,420 subjects in western North Carolina, and it assessed them four to six times between the ages of 9 to 16.

They didn't need to do all of that.

They could have just asked me.

I could have told them that.

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

This Is Us . . . and I am Randall.

I've been wanting to write a post about the TV show This Is Us for some time.  Last night's show gave me the perfect opportunity to do so.

(Note:  This post contains spoilers for last night's episode, as well as for some aspects of the series.)

For those not familiar with the show, NBC-TV's This Is Us followed two stories simultaneously.  The first story is that of Jack and Rebecca Pearson and their triplets.  The triplets were born in 1980.  The second story is that of the triplets--Kevin, Kate, and Randall--in the present day.  They are now 36.

Last night's story devoted much of its time to Randall.

Randall is adopted.  He is also African-American.  In the present-day portion of This Is Us, he is married with two young daughters and works as a commodities trader, a very high-stress job.  He was born the same day as Jack and Rebecca's triplets.  His biological mother died giving birth, and his biological father left him at a firehouse. Randall was taken to the hospital by one of the firemen.

In the first episode of This Is Us, we learned that one of Jack and Rebecca's triplets died at birth. They ended up adopting Randall because they felt that they were meant to have three children.
We also see in that first episode that Randall located his biological father . . . who ends up living with Randall's family.

In subsequent episodes, we learn that:

  • Randall's biological father is dying of pancreatic cancer
  • Rebecca has known who Randall's biological father was for all of Randall's life, and never told him
  • Randall found out about Rebecca's secret at Thanksgiving, and he is still dealing with the emotional fallout
  • Randall was identified as "gifted" as a child and was placed in private school
  • He struggles with perfectionism
  • His accounts are being split with a co-worker 
  • He temporarily went blind as the result of stress
  • Last week, his hand was shaking at the end of the episode
Last night, we saw Randall start to crumble.  

His accounts are being split.  His father is dying.  His family relationships are stressed and strained. And at the beginning of the episode, his wife's mother fell and broke her hip.

So, since Randall's wife needs to be with her mother, Randall hires a nurse to care for his father, William.

Within hours, he receives a call at work, saying that William has fired the nurse and locked her out of the house.  When Randall goes back home to deal with the situation, William gives a heartbreaking summary of how his body doesn't work right anymore.

Back at work, Randall comes in late to a video conference call, begins to give the numbers that they need . . . and he can't do it.  His co-worker has to step in and finish for him.

Randall, by the end of the episode, is in crisis and can barely function.

Next week shows Randall and William going off to Memphis on a road trip.  I hope this will help Randall heal and have some closure with William.

Oh, did I mention that this is the second father Randall will lose?

We know that Jack Pearson died when the triplets were in their mid- to late teens.  Kate has Jack's ashes.  We don't know yet exactly when or how Jack died.  (This has become the biggest question on TV since "Who shot JR?" in the early 1980's.)

Last night I realized something.

I am Randall.

I'm not adopted.  I'm not African-American.  I'm not part of a group of triplets.  And I don't work in a high-stress job like Randall does.

But I have a mother in assisted living.  My sister, who lives in the same city and state as my mother, does an excellent job of keeping an eye on my mother and getting her to where she needs to go.  But it's stressful.  My mother has a difficult time carrying on a conversation, and her activity is limited.

We have serious debt.  For the last year and a half, I've been working from home to try and pay it back.  It will probably take about six years to do it.  And there are days where the debt seems insurmountable.

Our son just turned 18.  He has autism.  Next month, my husband and I have a court hearing at which we will probably be awarded guardianship.  Practically, nothing will really change--Matthew will still live at home (and still have his iPod to watch :-) ).  But it just underscores how different our lives are from the average lives of parents of 18-year-olds.  Most 18-year-olds are deciding where to go to college, who to date, and getting their driver's license.  My 18-year-old may or may not ever do any of those things.  And always, there is the question of, what happens when we're gone?  (The vast majority of our debt is student loan debt that I accrued while going to court reporting school, hoping to get a job to pay for Matthew's future care.  I frankly don't trust that the governmental "safety net" is going to be there for him when he needs it.  But I didn't finish school because I was unable to get up to the required writing speed needed to graduate.  In fact, only 10% of people who start court reporting school finish it.)

I'm trying to come to terms with certain things that happened during my childhood (mostly bullying and the reaction to it from the adults in my life.)

I am also trying to deal with faith issues that, on some days, seem impossible to handle.  My major issue is, everyone believes they are right and they can "prove" it by Scripture, but when people end up coming to diametrically opposed conclusions, how do you know who's right?  How do you know who to trust?  (During a discussion session at a women's conference I attended recently, I had a mini-meltdown and said, "I want to be a good Christian but I don't know how.")  Compounding that question is the fact that I dealt with abusive, unhealthy religion both as a child and in college.  There was just enough good mixed in with the bad to make untangling them both nearly impossible to do.

I fear that the major reason I'm a Christian is that I don't want to go to hell, and that's no longer a good enough reason for me to be a Christian.  It's a valid reason, but I want more than just avoiding eternal punishment.

I have multiple chronic health issues--TMJ, possible adrenal fatigue, chronic bladder inflammation, back pain, depression and possible OCD, sleep apnea (I use a CPAP for the apnea).  I see doctors for all of them and take meds for some of them.  I also see a counselor for the depression/OCD.  But I don't hold out a lot of hope for me ever getting better.

I desperately need to lose weight.  Last year, I started walking and that worked for a while, then my foot started hurting, AND I pulled a calf muscle or ligament.  So I've switched to swimming--which involves me packing a bag and going to the pool, and that takes effort.  This past week, I've been sick with a cold (so has my husband) and so I haven't exercised at all.

I want to write.  I have now published a book.  But I am afraid I won't live long enough to write all the books I want to write, and I HAVE TO earn money to pay off debt.  I can't write full time in the hope that I may make money. The health issues I have often sap my energy, and the stress of dealing with my issues drain me even more.  (And then I think of Laura Hillenbrand, who wrote Seabiscuit while confined to bed with chronic fatigue syndrome, and ask myself, "So what's YOUR excuse?" and it makes me feel even more guilty.)

I'm also not happy with current events, and lately, I've been ignoring headlines about the latest antics of this administration.  But decisions they make WILL affect me, and my family, even though I have no input into them.

This week, I've used my cold as an excuse to rest.  With both my husband and me being ill, we've fallen behind on chores.  I finally did laundry just to have something to wear.  And it's not done yet. There's other stuff around the house that should be done (we have a sliding glass door that won't open and also an automatic garage door opener that doesn't work) and stuff in the house that I'd like to do (I'd love new carpeting and I'd love to paint the interior walls a different color) but just thinking about it adds to my stress level, and also, the money is just not there to do it.

I sometimes think that if I ask for help, I will be shamed for it.  I'm not even sure who to ask, or what to ask for.  And I sometimes feel like the act of asking for help is a reason to be shamed.  Especially when much of the help we need comes from public agencies.  I'm a political conservative, and I'm not sure how much the government should be involved in such help.  But sometimes, I've had to sacrifice those principles to the practical reality of need.  I didn't want to apply for the Katie Beckett waiver because I didn't think the government should be involved in our son's health care.  Trying to pay for his speech therapy on our own nearly broke us financially, and we've never recovered.  So we wound up applying for it and getting it.  In the last couple of years, Matthew has no longer needed the therapy that the Katie Beckett waiver paid for, and so we discontinued it.  There are two services I need to apply for for Matthew--the NOW/COMP waiver and vocational rehab services--and the idea of filling out and submitting the paperwork just simply overwhelms me.  (I may wait to do this until after Matthew's guardianship hearing.  We will have proof of guardianship after that.)

And admittedly, this is a selfish concern, but:  If Frank dies before I do, and I become ill or incapacitated . . . who takes care of me?  My son doesn't have the capacity to make decisions on my behalf.  And I don't want to be old and isolated, either.

Like Randall, I am very much a perfectionist.  Like Randall, I am faced with a ill parent.  Like Randall, I worry about bringing in an income.  Like Randall, I worry about my family.

Unlike Randall, my caregiving challenge is with a child.  Unlike Randall, I have a spouse with a stable job.  Unlike Randall, my ill parent is being well-cared for.  Unlike Randall, I can still reasonably function.  I am not sitting against the wall staring into space like Randall was at the end of last night's episode.

But like Randall, I am facing cumulative stress.

I am Randall.

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

18th birthday

He entered my life at 7:14 a.m. 18 years ago today.

His first act in life was to moon my obstetrician.  He was breech, I needed a C-Section, and they said that he was "backing into the world".

To say that he turned my life inside out and upside down is an understatement of the first order.

He is loved by us and loved by the people around him.

I can't think of a better way for someone to turn out.

Happy 18th birthday, dear Matthew.

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Allyn's Alley is now LIVE!

The title of this blog entry sounds more like an advertisement for a show at the Fox Theatre:  "Allyn's Alley, LIVE, for one night only!  Tickets on Ticketmaster at $40.00!"

But it's actually an announcement that my first book, a collection of blog entries, just went live on Kindle.  I uploaded the file yesterday and this morning, I got an email saying that the book was available for purchase at Amazon.com for Kindle.

The title is Just My .04, Adjusted For Inflation: Entries From Allyn's Alley, the Blog of Tina Seward. It's named after the signature line I use at the end of each blog entry.  I've picked past entries from my blog on the subjects of family, faith, news and politics, and "potpourri" (stuff that didn't fit in any other category).

A writer friend suggested that maybe a book of my blog entries could be encouraging to others.  I took his suggestion--and the help of my BFF--and the result went live today.  

So, if you want to know what my .04 is, hop on over to Amazon.com and look for Just My .04, Adjusted For Inflation.

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation. :-)

Monday, February 6, 2017

Wait till next year!

The tsunami of red and black that engulfed the Atlanta area this week has been flavored by the salt of tears and the sting of disappointment.

But we still love our Falcons, and we now resort to the time-honored cry of the underdog:

"Wait till next year!"

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.