Tag Archive: faith


Narrow the Road

“But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:14

The road leading to life is narrow and found by only a few. I suppose this could make Christianity sound like some goofy, exclusive club with unnecessary barriers to entry. A small gate could be considered hidden. I’ve also heard this explained that, compared to the wide gate and broad, destruction bound road in the previous verse, Christianity just isn’t as attractive or well advertised. I have this glimmer of memory of a picture of two gates. One was huge, glitzy, and definitely designed to get attention. The other was small and rather plain. It wasn’t drawing much of a crowd. One more idea (I think) I’ve heard associated with this verse is that only a few find life because, being narrow, the road is treacherously easy to lose. If it’s not actually lost, you might just fall off of it.

I suppose all of those interpretations have some validity, and I’ll bet there’s a bunch more out there I’ve not even considered. But… “narrow the road.”

“Narrow the road.”

Ever been near a stream on a hot, dusty day? Maybe there’s a little breeze stirring the pine needles and rustling the dried grasses. The stream is babbling happily away. A grasshopper startles and leaps, wings buzzing against the quiet. There’s not much going on. It’s a sleepy afternoon, a dreamy afternoon, a time to be lost in thought, to ponder. A smooth, round stone comes to hand. It’s perfect to roll over one’s fingers, to idly toss in time to a thought. Up and down the stone goes, its texture catching the sunlight, shadows deepening and shifting as it twists in the air, making a soft slapping noise as its caught. It has rhythm.

Up.
Down.
Up.
Down.
Breathing in.
Out.
In.
Out.

“Narrow the road.”

Life slows to a contemplative crawl.

Breathe in. Another toss. “Hmm… ‘narrow the road.” It reminds me, in this deep and quiet place, of this:

“…Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus.” Hebrews 12:1b-2a

Maybe the road being narrow has little to do with leaving people out, a lack of advertising, or a slippery slope. Maybe it’s got more to do with focus and dedication. What do you have room for in your life? What takes up space? What’s keeping your eyes busy? Can you fit that through a small gate and travel with it along a narrow road? I can’t. When my life is too busy, too full, all I hear is noise, and I need space for my life to spread out and let me breathe. I’m hindered. I’ve lost my focus. My eyes aren’t fixed on Jesus at that point, and if I’m moving, it’s probably like a ping pong ball. I’m bouncing between all the clutter in my life.

“Small is the gate…narrow the road” – not everything will fit. Sometimes I just need to let go of things and keep running.

Advertisements

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.

Experience, Painful Lack

“You don’t know what it’s like!”

In my last post, I talked about how a person’s experience can be held against them. In this post, I want to talk about how a person’s lack of experience also can be held against them. It’s “damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” right?

“You don’t know what it’s like!” I’d be surprised if you have never been told this, or something like it, particularly if you’ve ever spend much time around kids, who sometimes assume it would be impossible for any adult to understand the trials of being a teenager. After all, adults have never been young, right?

All kidding aside, lack of experience can make for some tricky relational navigation. Let’s say I’m talking to one of my friends about what things were like for me growing up. My friend can’t relate to my experiences, because her’s were different.  She has a great relationship with her dad and was generally far more sheltered than I was. Here I am, angry, hurting, spitting and snarling, and we both know that by my standards, her life was cake. What does she say to me? How can she advise me? Encourage me? Comfort me? Almost anything she could offer, I could fend off just by saying, “You don’t know what it’s like.”

And it would be true. She doesn’t.

Let’s move on to another conversation. My roommate, who is going to be a darn good teacher some day soon, had to write a reflection paper for school on generational poverty. She’d been to a conference where the featured speaker was Dr. Donna Beegle. Dr. Beegle grew up in generational poverty and managed to climb out of it. She now tries to educate inexperienced folk about poverty. If you’re interested, you can read all about it on her site, but I’m talking about Carey, who had a paper to write, and she was stuck. You know what was choking her? She doesn’t “know what it’s like.” What could she have to say to people drowning in hardship she has never experienced? Not only does she lack the potentially helpful voice of experience, people who are struggling can be quick to snap out rejection and question what right Carey would have to even open her mouth. After all, she doesn’t know what it’s like.

And that’s true. She doesn’t.

But here’s a question – do I or anybody else who has ever been hurt have the right to demand the silence of those unwounded?

I’d say no. Even if I don’t agree with what they have to say, even if I think they’re out of touch with what I think is reality, even if they’re pushing all of my buttons and sore spots, I don’t have the right to force them to be quiet. It’s pretty accusatory, aggressive behavior to demand someone’s silence and/or agreement by saying, “You don’t know what it’s like.” It is behavior that starts to blur the line between victim and victimizer. Maybe I’m just messed up (which is likely enough, but I bet I’ve plenty of company!), but it is too easy to use my past to bully somebody into doing what I want.

Here’s another question – have we nothing to learn from those with different experiences?

I had lots of bad experiences as a kid. There’s no rollback, do-over option. Those are my experiences, and I can’t change that. I do have time ahead of me still to learn new things and have other, hopefully less injurious experiences, but that’s not necessarily going to make up for what I lost. Relying on new experiences to learn new things is also pretty slow. Two or three good experiences probably won’t suffice to retrain years of bad habits. Fortunately, there are options. You know what Proverbs says? Proverbs 12:15 says, “The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.” Proverbs 19:20 says this: “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.” I can’t go back and experience what it’s like to have a great father, but I can listen to my friends who do. And if I start squawking and squirming, you know what they can say to me? “You don’t know what it’s like.”

And, oh, is that true! I don’t. I don’t know what it’s like, but I’m so glad that other people have different experiences. I’m glad they can tell me about their lives, and that not only can I be happy for them, I can also learn something about my life by listening to their stories and letting the truths in them challenge the truths I’ve experienced. That’s not easy – it’s honestly easier to try shutting them down – but I’d say the insight I’ve gained has been well worth the discomfort of being challenged. Just because somebody hasn’t struggled through my exact struggles doesn’t mean that there is nothing of worth in what they might have to say about my situation.

Personally, I hope that people like my friends, people who haven’t had some of the negative life experiences that others have had, continue to speak up. I hope they continue to share. I hope that they faithfully continue to offer what they know to be true and right even if they “don’t know what it’s like.” I hope they never allow themselves to be silenced by another’s sneering pain and, with tenderness and courage and grace and love, continue to talk about goodness and justice and hope. I hope they know that what they have to say, their often quiet, sometimes tentative words, are just as important as what anybody else might have to say.

Working As a CNA

I’ve worked as a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) for 15 years, give or take. That’s a long time, and it’s unusual. Most CNAs I’ve known work, at most, in that position for a few years. Then they either tire of it (burnout is common) or finish up their nursing degree. A CNA with a year under their belt is pretty experienced. Somebody like me is just plain old. It’s funny to consider. I’m in my mid 30’s. I’m not old. It’s just my job experience, honest!

As I said, burnout is common. Looking back over my time in the job, it’s not hard to see why. I’ve had two back injuries, gotten whiplash in my neck from a kick, been bitten, pinched, slapped, and otherwise physically attacked. I couldn’t begin to guess how times I’ve been called names and verbally abused. I’ve been splattered with just about every bodily fluid. I’ve been stuck all day sitting with the crazy and the violent to keep them “safe.” I’ve had to work holidays and weekends and night shifts and therefore missed all kinds of events with family and friends. I’ve worked twelve hour shifts and not gotten breaks. I’ve worked shifts shorthanded and rushed about trying to plug all the holes. Lots of shifts, we haven’t even been shorted staff, and there’s still been far too much to do. Let’s not forget that patients die. Whether it’s sudden or expected, death is never an easy thing to face. And besides all of that, it can be very hard to get respect, to be anything but taken for granted and buried under delegated tasks. It can be dangerous, humiliating, and difficult.

The job can also be boring. To be the one who helps people bathe and to the bathroom, to walk and to eat and to give them water, to make their beds and pick up their stuff and check their vital signs is not exactly intellectually stimulating. Once the basic techniques and precautions are learned, it’s pretty much rote behavior after that. Technique can always be refined, but I don’t find that it taxes my brain. Sometimes, it’s really not good for me. I’m pretty smart. I need intellectual challenge.

So if my job is not so awesome, what I am still doing working at it? I could give a lot of reasons, some of them good, some not so much, but what keeps me showing up when I’ve just had it is that this is the job I believe God’s given to me. While it’s not great for my brain, and it’s sometimes been hard on my body, it’s been awesome for my faith and for my heart. I’ve learned a courage and resiliency I never expected to experience, and it’s a great way to serve.

To serve – healthcare is a service industry. I keep hearing over and over that Americans expect good customer service, and that my hospital attempts to achieve great customer service. We do get very positive feedback, but that’s not really what I’m talking about when I talk about service. You know Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God not only humbled Himself enough to dwell among us, but also enough to wash His disciples’ feet? I’ve seen that done a few times for weddings and what have you. It’s touching, but I figure Jesus probably had some much dirtier and gnarlier feet to clean. People did a lot more walking 2,000 years ago. The climate was hot, and I’d guess the roads and paths were mostly dirt. I’m thinking, “EW!,” but Christ washed them, probably from His knees, hauling around a basin and towel. That’s service.

Service on its own is not enough. I’ve worked with people who are practically automatons performing tasks. They act like machines working with other machines, never engaging on a personal level. That’s certainly been tempting to me. When I started working as a CNA, I was emotionally frozen, and I most certainly didn’t have the tools to embrace people in all the mess and need on any level other than a performer of tasks. I spent lots of time on my face asking God to teach me to love the people with whose care I was entrusted. That’s really what it is all about – loving people – and especially when it came to loving the world full of people around me in not personally reserved and safe ways, I didn’t know anything about that but some pretty words. Pretty words without deeds = pretty lame. I’m grateful for the opportunities to learn to love in a love challenged environment, to practice kindness, compassion, gentleness, and all of that when I am tired, incompetent, and ready to snap. I love seeing God come through and meet not only the patient’s or other staff member’s needs, but mine as well.

Besides all of that, as I’ve spent years fetching water and washing people, their feet included, I’ve realized something. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is a lot more important than I knew. One of these days, the person needing help from strangers might be somebody I love a lot, like my mom or Kimberly. One of these days, it might be me. Who do I want to be doing that? What kind of care do I want to receive or see my loved ones get? I want good care, of course. I want to know that they or I would have our needs met and be treated with the respect, dignity, and care due to every human being. If that is what I wish to receive, that is also the minimal level of care which I should be giving. I think about that a lot.

One of these days, I’m sure I’ll move on and be working another job. I’ll miss working as a CNA, but man! I’m sure richer for having worked the job!

God bless your day!

Why Do We Need Religion?

“So,” a friend wondered, “why do we need religion?” Great question! Really, that’s a great question, especially considering that she believes that she doesn’t need it. She’s not religious. She doesn’t believe in God, either, but does say that there are things out that defy explanation. That’s my paraphrase, and I may be misrepresenting her views somewhat. Don’t quote me! I know I’m not quoting her!

Anyway, it’s a great question. We’d been talking about all kinds of things – politics, religion, counseling, abuse, life, death – and she popped that one into the mix. For her, she wasn’t raised with much religion, and I’d guess that plays a part in shaping her opinion. She also mentioned religion has sometimes very negative effects. That’s true. Even if a religion claims to be good and beneficial, it’s not always angelic, saintlike, and completely positive. The Spanish Inquisition, Catholic priests molesting children left in their care, and the Salem witch trials spring immediately to mind. History is awash with examples of religions that, either thanks to core beliefs, misbeliefs, or being warped to serve dark lusts, cause harm to those in its vicinity.

The harm caused by religion need not even be that dramatic. Harm can be something as simple as burdensome guilt.

What good does religion do? Why do we need it? I think religion, particularly Christianity, because that’s the one I know best, can be very good for people. Let me share a few thoughts.

  • It has helped keep people healthy. I could be wrong about this, but I’d guess religion has been around longer than science has. In the Old Testament, lots of religious laws were given to the people of Israel. Those poor, overworked Jews weren’t allowed to do things like poop in their camps. They had to go outside and make sure it was buried because God thought it “indecent.” Any more, most people would call that sanitation and be completely grossed out by a pile of human excrement collecting flies within a campsite (“ew! ew! bad smell! disease! WTB toilet!”), but humanity hasn’t always had flush toilets and knowledge of disease vectors. Jews weren’t allowed to eat pork or shellfish, meat that sometimes came with illness causing friends. I could talk about it more, but I don’t want to take that much space. This article, Bible Health Laws, from Tomorrow’s World, focuses on the health benefits of ancient Judaism. Knock yourself out!
  • Religion ought to be helping to meet social need. James tells us that worthwhile religion involves activities like taking care of distressed widows and orphans.
  • For myself, I learned a lot about how to become the kind of person I wanted to be. My dad wasn’t exactly the greatest example of virtue, integrity, or how to treat others. No father is. They’re all heroes, I think, to their children and are emulated by their children. Then the children get a little older, realize that Dad does have some flaws, and must grow beyond that childhood ambition of being just like Dad. There are all sorts of ways a kid can go. I picked the Bible, God, and Christianity, and I learned a lot about how to treat myself and others better. Take a look at Matthew 18. It promotes humility, advocates good treatment of children, gives advice about how to handle conflict or sin, and advises mercy and forgiveness. I Corinthians 13 talks about the necessity of love and explains what love is actually supposed to be. Proverbs is chock full of pithy nuggets promoting wisdom, illustrating folly, and other valuable insights. Reading through Psalms and even some of the OT prophets like Isaiah or Jeremiah helped me to reach my heart and feel the emotions I was packing around with me.

In some ways, religion has been great for me. I’m sure there are lots of other reasons why it can be beneficial, but I’m out of time and brainpower today. How about you? Got any ideas?