Category: Character


Germination

The memorial service for my maternal grandmother is today. She died a little more than a week ago, and she was my last grandparent. They are all gone now.

The loss hit me harder than I expected. It’s not just that I lost my grandmother. It’s that I’ve lost all my grandparents. An era has ended.

I can’t say I felt terribly close to my grandmother. She was my grandmother. I loved her, I respected her, and I did a lot of chores for her. Unload the dishwasher, organize the pantry, help put up wallpaper, bring in more firewood, feed the birds, weed the garden, water the plants, get the dogs water… The list goes on. Grandma – I also remember her being a bit cranky and fussing. Oh, my, yes – she fussed. I was always being told to brush the rats out of my hair, to hold still while she dug wax out of my ear, to… whatever. She couldn’t just ask. She had to fuss, fuss, fuss about it.

The negative, the things I didn’t like or found frustrating, are all too easy to recall. It’s much too easy to feel superior and think that I’m somehow better than her. After all, I can just ask. I don’t have to fuss. Snark, snark, snark.

But that’s really not fair. My grandmother, however cranky, fussy, and overly fond of the color green she may have been, still gave me a heritage worth remembering. Even those “negative” things have helped shape my perspective. Perhaps I didn’t feel a tight emotional bond with her, and maybe her presentation wasn’t always fantastic, but I did learn a lot from Grandma. Things in myself that I now value highly started with my experiences with her.

I learned that I don’t really care for the color green in all its many splendored shades. Green was Grandma’s favorite color. Her house was a riot of green. Grandma seemed to believe that if it was green, it must match, and so my eyes were assaulted by a painful confusion of lime, kelly, olive, hunter, spring, forest, and all shades of green. All green was good! This was not pleasant, but it was incredibly informative. It helped develop my eye for color and form, and that’s been useful as I’ve shot photos and created stained glass.

Grandma loved a bargain. She’d hit up thrift stores, flea markets, and garage sales. Between her and Grandpa, they’d come home with the most incredible junk. I mean, really, junk. It was stuff that may have been worth recycling, but they were going to fix it up, and it would work just fine for ________. I can’t say I ever thought those were fun presents to receive, but I learned to see possibility, to make good use of scavenged materials. Not everything has to be new.

Coffee, particularly Black Butte Gold, is one of my favorite daily rituals. One of the reasons I drink coffee is because my grandmother did. She was always making a pot of coffee or looking for her (green) coffee mug which she’d set down somewhere. Sometimes she or Grandpa had flavored creamers to put in the coffee. Was their coffee good? My, oh, my, no – they were drinking canned, ground coffee, but I learned from them that a hot cup of coffee shared with friends and family can be a wonderful experience. I later learned, from other sources, what a good cup of coffee tastes like, but I wouldn’t have tried it if I hadn’t already learned from Grandma the habit of sharing coffee.

Long trips taken with my grandparents were well seasoned with comments from Grandma directing me to look out the window. Fuss, fuss, fuss she would until I turned my head and watched the countryside. I often preferred my current book, but she wasn’t happy until I was looking around me. It so annoyed me as a child, but it certainly helped develop my ability to observe. It also broadened my curiosity. The more I see, the more I wonder. I wouldn’t have that without Grandma.

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned from Grandma? It’s this recognition of seeds planted, of habit germinated, of gratitude for the beginning she helped to give me. It’s odd. In some ways, I’m the person I am because I didn’t want to be like her, and yet the truth is that I took what she offered and learned invaluable lessons.

Thanks, Grandma. I hope I always made you proud, and that you always knew I loved you.

Modesty, Expectations, and FYI

It was with interest this week I read a blog post on modesty. Perhaps you’ve seen it, FYI (if you’re a teenage girl) by a blogger named Mrs. Hall at Given Breath. The post has certainly been making the rounds. I popped onto Facebook (yeah, yeah, I know – *I* got onto Facebook) just to see what people were saying. Some were for, some against, and some in between. Myself? I didn’t like it. It bugged me, and it’s been hard to put my finger on exactly why it did. It provided a great opportunity to think, though!

On one hand, Mrs. Hall is really offering a great reminder to folks, that the world is an increasingly public place. Everything ends up on the web, the information will probably remain available for years to come, and it’s not smart to assume that a privately posted picture, comment, or anything else will remain private. It’s usually pretty easy to download, right click, screenshot, copy, paste, and repost it more publicly. Barring an apocalypse, your info *is* going to be out there for others to find. What do you want them to see? Do you think you’ll still feel that way in 10 or 15 years? Heck, how about next week?

It’s also probably a good thing to remind young ladies that some young men out there actually are reaching for purity, to maintain their own innocence and modesty.

But, man, something just didn’t sit right with me. One outstanding burr is the blocking policy. One “sexy selfie” posted, and the offender gets blocked. I know – parents want to protect their kids. Good parents want to keep them safe, and social media doesn’t necessarily offer a lot of parental control tools. But… what many do offer is some form of private messaging. Why not practice a little bit of Matthew 18:15-17? Verse 15 has what I’d consider to be the important part. It says this: “If your brother or sister[a] sins,[b] go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” Why not talk to them one on one, point out in a nonconfrontational manner that the photo might be a bad idea, affirm their innate worth, and give them a chance to make a different choice? Why not try to win them over? Then, if they are still posting questionable pictures, send ‘em a regretful explanation and block them. Without that outreach, blocking seems like a mini shunning from an exclusive club, and that can’t feel very good.

Another thing I thought about was how I wouldn’t want somebody talking to or treating my little sisters that way. By “that way,” I don’t mean Mrs. Hall or anything she wrote specifically. Modesty is a big deal in a lot of Christian circles. I mean I don’t want them feeling confused or ashamed or hurt or guilty because they were given the idea that they’re somehow wrong, bad, or responsible for some young man’s struggle with lust.

Here’s something else. This attitude that the female needs to dress more modestly (however modesty happens to be defined by that person) in order to protect males from their own lustful hearts – it stinks. To high heaven, it stinks. Practically speaking, I don’t think it works. All it does is set up scapegoats. Emotionally speaking? Now, I haven’t ran into trouble (that I know of) regarding my state of dress or undress. What I do have, though, is a background of childhood abuse, and this issue does push some of those buttons. Part of what I learned living in an abusive situation was to try to modify my own behavior to help change my father’s behavior. I learned that he was dangerous to provoke, and I learned to try to make sure I wasn’t provocative. It didn’t work all that well. I was never able to control my dad’s behavior by changing mine. That’s not my responsibility, and I’d say the same is true for modesty issues.

Furthermore, there’s an old story that reminds me a lot of the idea that women have a responsibility to protect men. I get the stumbling block argument, I really do. I’ve certainly heard it enough (and agree to a limited extent), but what I’ve not heard mentioned too frequently in modesty discussions is this other story. It should be. As far as I know, it’s the first recognition of nakedness in the whole Bible! I’m talking about Adam and Eve, of course. Maybe you know the story. If not, here’s a link to Genesis 3, and I’ll give you a summary.

Eve, encouraged by the crafty serpent, ignored God’s command and ate fruit from a forbidden tree. She also shared it with Adam. Upon consumption, they were suddenly aware and ashamed of their nakedness, made coverings, and hid. When they eventually, shamefacedly, appeared before God, He asked for an account. Look at Adam’s answer. He said, ““The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” God’s response, some few verses later? He said this:

“Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;

   through painful toil you will eat food from it

   all the days of your life.

18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,

   and you will eat the plants of the field.

19 By the sweat of your brow

   you will eat your food

until you return to the ground,

   since from it you were taken;

for dust you are

   and to dust you will return.”

Boy, that doesn’t sound like fun, doesn’t it? I’d like to point out a couple of quick things. The first is what Adam said is still heard today, I think. It’s somewhat different. In the case of modesty, it might sound like, “That girl You put here with me – she put skimpily clad pictures of herself on Facebook, and I checked ‘em out!” The second, sobering observation? It didn’t seem to matter to God that Adam didn’t directly pick the fruit for himself but rather took what was offered by Eve.

Think about that, huh?

There’s one more thing I don’t quite understand about Christian modesty teachings and that inclination to expect females to protect males. Maybe I just missed it, but I don’t remember any place recorded where Jesus demanded that a woman cover herself in order to preserve His purity. Seemed to me that Jesus saw people as people (even if they were lousy Samaritans!) and modeled for us relationships filled with forgiveness, provision, grace, and love.

***Disclaimer: I’m not trying to pick on Mrs. Hall whatsoever. Her post and position, a position not uncommon in the circles in which I grew up, provided food for thought. I also am not a fan of females trying to tempt males. After munching on the forbidden fruit, Eve didn’t make out so well, either, ladies.***

Haters Gonna Hate

On my birthday, I did something a little different than the typical celebrations. I logged onto World of Warcraft, rounded up a couple of friends to throw rotten fruit, and headed off to WoW’s Brawler’s Guild to pick up an achievement, Haters Gonna Hate. I had to win a fight with at least 10 stacks of the *debuff “You Stink!” on me. It wasn’t terribly difficult to achieve, since I’ve not bothered much with Brawler’s Guild and am still on very easy fights. The basic idea of the Guild is fun: kill tough monsters by yourself, solo. Considering I’ve killed loads of old raid monsters solo, you’d think I’d love the Guild, but no. It’s a huge time sink (you have to stand in line to fight, and you can’t leave to do anything else) and intended by Blizz for vanity and bragging rights. Yaaaawwn – like I wanna stand around wasting a bunch of time waiting for fights just so I can brag about how awesome I am at playing WoW. I’d rather do daily quests. At least I get gold and stuff for those!

But, yeah, Haters Gonna Hate – something about picking up that achievement with my birthdate stamped on it tickled my fancy. It wasn’t a WoW fancy. WoW just offered an opportunity, and I took it. I’m not sure it’s a particularly positive fancy, either. May not have been particularly negative, though. I’m not sure. I’m thinking about it.

You know, there are people out there who don’t like me. I suppose that’s somewhat inevitable. With all the people and their varying interests out there, not everybody will like each other. It’s also understandable if I’ve been a jerk to somebody else. People don’t usually think highly of those who have been nasty. But there are some people out there who don’t really fit those categories, and they don’t like me. We don’t get along well at all together, and I really don’t understand why.

One notably broken relationship is with a sister. I’ve already written about it some, and if you want, you can read about here, in this post. Even though in the past I’ve made considerable effort, I don’t have a good relationship with her. Something about me is apparently so odoriferous that she can’t peaceably be around me. Guess I’ve got lots of stacks of “You Stink!” and it’s stuff that I can’t help. I can’t. I can’t change that I’m smart, that I’m honest, that I have talent, or that I’m competent, and I don’t really understand why good characteristics like those would be a source of grief and pain for myself or others.

I don’t get it.

And I don’t think I gonna.

And I’m pretty sure I’ll never change her’s or anybody else’s minds.

And that leads me to Haters Gonna Hate. I’m not saying that she or anybody else actually hates me (I hope not!), but there’s definitely some unresolvable conflict and animosity. Unresolvable… It is going to happen, and I can’t change it. But you know how you get the WoW achievement? It’s not by letting your character die and lose the fight. It’s not even by winning the fight. You have to win the fight after having been hit at least 10 times with rotten fruit. You have to win while you are “covered in rotten fruit and shame.” You can’t quit just because somebody doesn’t like you. You can’t quit because those folk are throwing rotten fruit at you. You can’t quit just because they’re trying to shame you. You have to keep going. You have to win the fight, even with all of that crap coating you.

Sometimes I need those reminders, even from silly things like WoW achievements, because the loss of relationship can make me sad and even melancholy. The truth is, though, that even when I’m down, I don’t have to be out.

Happy birthday to me!

* In Wow, a character can be buffed or debuffed. Buffs make a character stronger while debuffs weaken it.

 

P.S. Know what the best part is? All that rotten fruit shows as a character debuff, but it doesn’t seem to do a thing to actually weaken your character. It’s just cosmetic. There’s probably a lesson in that, too.

Luke 11 and Blackberries

There’s an interesting passage in Luke 11. It says:

24 “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ 25 When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. 26 Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.”

It reminds me of blackberries. Yeah, blackberries – I’ve got this (super fun, sorta) project that I’ve been working on in the last couple of weeks. I’ve been carefully grubbing up blackberries and their roots.

Himalayan blackberries love it here in the Willamette Valley. They aren’t native plants, which means that they don’t have terribly effective competition. Given half a chance, they reproduce faster than rabbits. They’ve become a real problem in some of my mom’s pastureland. Most of one field has a low covering of the stalks, the edges sporting snagged wisps of wool waving the sheep flock’s surrender.

There are many methods that could be used to clear the field, to sweep clean the house. Spraying it with an herbicide like Crossbow is pretty popular and probably one of the easiest methods. Herbicides can be effective, but there are possible drawbacks. You can kill off plants you want to keep or leave behind poisonous residues. Hacking, leveling with large equipment, and burning are other methods, none of which are terribly effective and all of which have cons. You see, blackberries have roots, highly resilient, life loving, strive to survive roots. Those roots don’t much care if you hack off all of the shoots above ground. Whatever. They’ll just wait until you’re not looking and put up some more. Death by flames? Haha. Most of those roots will survive just fine. Use large machines to gouge those roots up? YES!!!…. Maybe not so much. Some will die, sure, but some will just get uprooted, reburied, and start – you guessed it – putting up shoots. Those shoots won’t even have any competition but for the other weeds, ‘cause large machinery is nondiscriminatory and digs up everything. Too bad the sheep wanted to eat that grass, huh? It’ll look like you swept the ground clean, but those berry roots are just biding their time, waiting to shoot up and reproduce.

I suppose this is why we’ve found the laborious method of grubbing up blackberries by hand to be the most effective. I get rid most of the roots, and I don’t completely thrash the other plants nearby. Much of the grass is still there, and especially this time of year, it doesn’t waste any time creeping into the empty space. Root removal by Rebekah helps evict those wicked berries and preserves and encourages other plant growth. If all I did was try to clean out the canes, even if I managed to kill off the roots, if I don’t fill the space with something else, those berries will be right back in there growing like mad.

That’s why the story in Luke reminds me of blackberries. I’ve never had any lasting success in keeping a field clear of berries without introducing something positive (plants, animals, etc.) to help control their persistent encroachment attempts. Likewise, I’ve never had any lasting success in my life in overcoming bad habits, repenting of sin, or being delivered of any sort of wickedness if the process stops there. Can’t leave the space empty. It leaves room for all of that junk and then some to make itself right back at home.

Back Pain – Blech

Last week was tough. A year and a half ago, near enough, I got injured at work. The patient didn’t mean to hurt me. He had been seriously shorted sleep, which does bad things for a person’s cognitive capacity. I think he mistook me for a piece of furniture. He tugged and pulled and leaned on me, which gave me a nice case of lumbar strain or something. I’ve spend so much time at doctor (MD) and physical therapy (PT) appointments since.

At this point, it looks like I’ve probably plateaued. PT absolutely helped. I am in less pain, and I’m stronger than I was about a year ago. I’m better, for sure, but I’m not perfect, and it doesn’t really look like I’m going to be, darn it. My MD thinks that the pain I’ve got is probably about where I’m going to live, and that it will occasionally flare and act crankier than that baseline.

I think my MD is probably right, based on my last round of PT. I saw some improvement, but it didn’t seem to help as much as it did before, and last week was definitely a flare. My back acted quite the brat and pulled obnoxious stunts like waking me up almost every night. I was too tired to think straight. That would be why there was no post last week. I wasn’t that organized. 😛

While I’m grateful for how much my back has improved (it’s crazy to think how much trouble it was causing me at first), I’d be lying if I said I was not disappointed. In fact, I could probably even claim to feel a bit depressed over it. Chronic pain is NOT fun. Obviously, it hurts. It causes fatigue thanks to sleepless nights. I have to spend time and energy managing it, and the super annoying thing about that is oftentimes I have no idea what causes flares of pain. The pain doesn’t necessarily correlate well with whatever it is I’ve been doing. For instance, this past week I spent some time out digging up blackberry roots and tossing them over a fence to a burn pile. You’d think that my back would hate that, but, no, no, seemed fine. I could tell I’d exercised, but had no spasm flares. The flare from the previous week was (probably, I think) from driving my mom’s van to pick her up at the airport. There’s something about those seats. I don’t really know that, though. It’s just my best guess. That random, unpredictable nature bothers me. It sucks to hurt and not know what caused it.

So in all of this, what am I to do? Where’s God? Where’s my faith? What does growth and trust look like here? I’m not quite sure. I’ve never been quite exactly *here* before. Some things don’t change – God is still good, I’m still loved, and all that – but a new situation has a tendency to freshen hard questions, such as, “Wow, this is hard! I don’t like it, God. Are You sure You still love me?” Besides that, my goals are shifting. I have been focused on improvement. Now I need to look at endurance. That’s harder for me. I like to fix things and make them better. I’m pretty good at fixing things, too, and I’m pretty happy with fixing things. Enduring? Waiting? Not so much, not really my favorite, thanks, anyway. But… that’s what I’ve got – a disappointment, something hard, and God still loves me. His grace is still supposed to be sufficient. It’s also changed how I feel about myself. I feel older, less resilient, like I’ve aged. That’s not necessarily an easy thing to handle.

So, yeah, what am I to do? Wait, pray, take the tricky and heavy questions to God and see what He’s got to say. That’s one of the things that doesn’t change. Questions, hard questions about life and identity that can gnaw guts out if held, should always go to God. He always provides. Guess if I wait around, I’ll get to see how.