Tag Archive: love


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!

Will You Forgive Me, Please?

I’m going to tell you a story. This story involves one of my sisters, but it’s not about her. It’s really about me. Because I’m the one telling it, and she’s not here to share her side of the story (which undoubtedly differs from mine), please remember that I’m talking from my perspective and how things affected me. I’d leave her out altogether if I could, but I haven’t been able to come up with a clever way to do that while still communicating effectively about what became a profound experience in my life.

I am a pretty competent person. It’s not that I know everything or have some super power that makes me capable of succeeding at whatever I try. It’s has more to do with my dislike of turning out work of poor quality. As Yoda said, “Do or do not. There is no try,” and I’d add that if I’m going to do it, I might as well bother to do it well. I don’t even have to like whatever it is to do a good job of it, and I don’t have to know how to do it. I’ll learn, teaching myself if necessary. I’ve been like this as long as I can remember.

I tend to be right. Some of that is merely accuracy combined with a habit of choosing my words with care. Some of that is conscience. I need to be morally right and try to keep from wrongdoing.  I care about justice in general. Been like that all of my life, too.

I’m not always the most humble or self-effacing person you’ll ever meet, either.  I’d like to think that I’m less arrogant than I used to be, but the truth is that I wasn’t particularly aware of how my pride was affecting me then, and it’s entirely possible I have blind spots aplenty still.

Throw all of that together – competency, conscience, a strong sense of justice coupled with outrage over injustice, and pride – in me, and you get a driven, stubborn, very pigheaded person who would rather drown than give up the ball to the other team. Playing water basketball as a freshman at summer camp did nearly get me drowned. One of the other team felt sorry for me and opted to try picking me up and shaking me. She didn’t get the ball, either. Anyway, get me to the point where I’m convinced I’m right, and I can become intransigent.  I won’t bend, buckle, or back down.

And proud of it.

I suppose you can imagine that this habit of mine occasionally caused problems. My relationship with my sister, who I’ll call P in this post, is a good illustration. P is a little younger than me, so the poor kid got to “enjoy” the same sort of home life I did. It was tough. It was really tough. We all dealt with it differently. I was quite the prig. My dad once called me something like the Pious with all the dark and twisted religious shades to it, and the comment was not completely wrong. P dealt with it in other ways. We butted heads a lot, starting young and continuing into adulthood. My dad leaving the family didn’t magically make everything better. We had all learned bad habits and lessons, and we had to learn new things and norms after he left. Learning, the process of it, is rife with mistakes, yes?

P and I had many, many differences of opinion. There was a lot of conflict, and it frustrated and hurt me. I felt like she was being very unfair to me. It didn’t seem to matter how hard I tried – it was not enough. I couldn’t make her happy with me or what I was doing no matter how nice, tactful, fillintheblank I tried to be. It didn’t improve my attitude or hurt feelings that I thought some of what she did was wrong and/or unlikely to help her get what she’d told me she wanted. I felt as though she twisted my words to use them against me and heard poison where I’d meant only and striven mightily to infuse kindness. I didn’t feel like I could trust her to look out for me. Things were getting pretty sour, and I was getting very tired of what I perceived to be me doing a lot of bending over backwards to avoid giving further offense. I was angry about that.

I had done everything I knew. I had tried to the best of my ability to work things out and improve the relationship. I had failed. It sucked. It was miserable. We were kinda, sorta not really speaking to each other, and I felt grief. She’s my sister. I love her. My guts were twisting into a knot to be on such bad terms with her.

So, in the middle of this confusion of feeling and attitude, I hear something from God that I don’t like . He tells me to show up at her house, ask her for her side of the story, listen humbly, receive, and then ask for her forgiveness. That was actually frightening. It was vulnerable. P hadn’t exactly been the safest person in my life. Her words weren’t safe. I didn’t want to go.

I did, though. I showed up, she was home, and I listened to what she had to say for maybe a couple of hours. I can’t remember for sure. It was a lengthy conversation, though. Somewhere in there, I gave her a simple apology. “I’m sorry. Would you forgive me, please?” No defensiveness, no excuses, no guardedness hidden in justifications, no feedback from me toward her – nothing self-protective. I simply and unreservedly owned the truth that I had hurt her (even if I didn’t mean to do it, even if only through ignorance, I had still caused her pain) and asked her to forgive me.

We parted ways on somewhat better terms, having expressed a desire to have a better relationship with each other. It hasn’t happened yet. Within a year, things had broken down completely, and at her request, I have not spoken to her since.

What was the point? Why did I have to go through all of that? Every once in a while, I roll it over again, and now seems to be the latest once in a while.

Why? What good did that do? I can’t answer that for her. I have no idea if that conversation and my request for forgiveness did anything for her.

I guess the why has a lot to do with why I went. I didn’t go for me. I didn’t go thinking it would make any difference in how my sister and I related. I didn’t even do it for her to “help” her or anything. I went because I believed that was what God was asking me to do. I obeyed and trusted Him with everything I had invested and everything I feared. It may not have helped my relationship with my sister, but it did change some things in how I related to God. It changed me. I might talk about that more in another post, but for now – have a good night.

I Believe in Love

I have been painting a wall blue today. It’s a beautiful, deep, rich cobalt, so blue it’s almost purple, and it looks really good on my wall. It will look even better once I get the last coat on and it’s had time enough to cure. Painting walls is a familiar task. It doesn’t take a lot of thought to run my brush and roller along, shedding blue onto white, so I’ve had plenty of time to think about other things. Curiously enough, I decided to listen to Leigh Nash today while painting, and the album is titled Blue on Blue. I didn’t remember that until most of the album had played through. Funny how a mind works, hm? Many of the album’s songs talk about love. I’m sure that had nothing to do with my thoughts dwelling on love while painting.

Couldn’t be.

Pure coincidence.

😉

Love – in a state of reverie, I thought about love. The music, Ted Dekker’s Black, conversations with friends and family members, a coworker’s upcoming wedding, thoughts started as I moved from task to task at work yesterday, and who knows what all contributed to the thoughts drifting off the rhythm of my brush. I’ve been thinking about it. I’ll probably still be thinking about it tomorrow.

All these thoughts, some half formed or vaporous, intersected and coalesced into a single, strong, bold insight. I believe in love. I BELIEVE in love. I live for love.

I don’t mean a cute idea, a sloppy word, a nice sentiment, or even a verb. I’m not talking about ordinary love, like the love held for family, friends, communities, or a spouse. As wonderful as all of that can be, it is… inadequate. Insufficient. Pale imitations, all of them. Anemic shadows, too often selfish. These ordinary sorts are not enough, don’t last long enough, don’t fill me up well enough or long enough. They’re great, and I appreciate them, but they poop out. Those types of love get tired and stop, sometimes when my need for love is the greatest.

How about I Corinthians 13? Romans 5:8? Romans 8:38, 39? John 3:16? What about a love that never stops? That never quits? That gives? That is unending? That perseveres? That is transformative? Redemptive? What about a love that flows into and over, more than fills the need, straightens the crooked, and blesses the good? I believe in that kind of love.

That is how God loves me. That is how God loves you.

And it doesn’t stop there. The love God pours into me doesn’t have to stop at the edge of me, at my boundaries, changing only my life. It also pours into others. It can transform the love I offer from anemic to something more robust, something fueled by God’s love that can give more and go longer, something less concerned about me and more concerned about you. I can love others better because God loves me.

In that kind of love, I believe.

For that kind of love, I live.

I believe in love.

Blessings Found in Brokenness

In my last post, I talked about my revelation that God is truly good. That sort of interrupted all my yakking about brokenness, but I think it was a timely interruption. When God asked me what I would if I stayed broken, I’d already realized that He was good. I had a confidence and trust in His willingness to care for me that absolutely helped me to consider His question with less defensiveness than I had before. Please note that I did not say “no defensiveness.” I was hardly free from it. However, I was much more willing to listen. God is not out to get us. He is good. Brokenness: my lack of perfection, my deformed limp, my pain, my weakness – it might not be the end of the world.

As a matter of fact, it isn’t. In some ways, it’s been good for me. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that God has worked good out of it for me. I could quote some Scripture (Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” with its claim that God’s “grace is sufficient” certainly leaps to mind!) to slap a coat of religious paint on, but I’d rather just tell you about what I know and am learning about living with a limp.

The funny thing is that there is some freedom in limping. I didn’t expect that. For instance, I don’t struggle as much with pride. Neither do I struggle as much with being afraid of finding pride within me. Both of those battles consumed a lot of effort. I’m a gifted individual, and the pitfall of pride correlates well with giftedness. So does the (sometimes false) accusation of pride. I used to get so tied up trying to figure out where my real problem was so I could fix it. Thing is that a lot of my pride was tied up in my “perfection” compared to other people. Having to accept my own brokenness and let God’s grace be sufficient slapped that one down hard. It’s great!

I learned more sympathy. This would be a no brainer, right? It seems like learning to accept, instead of rejecting and fleeing and shunning, my own pain would help me to be more kind to others experiencing hurt and disappointment.

The world became less black and white. One of my friends gave me an interesting tidbit about abuse survivors. After making it through a world of overly simplified values (like, kill or be killed; fight or flight; fight/flight or be thrashed; bad people or good people; it’s safe or it’s not – I’m sure you get the idea), former victims don’t know that the world is full of greys and even color. It’s not all an either/or proposition. I don’t know if that’s true of every abuse survivor, but it’s certainly something I’ve seen in myself and in my family. Where it can cause lots of trouble is in relationships. It’s a rare person who is an angel or a demon. Most folk are quite the mix, and I didn’t assess that well, not even in myself. It made me unnecessarily rigid, and I lacked grace. Enter ‘“My grace is sufficient,” right?

I am more able to live with uncertainty, which goes hand in hand with the world not seeming as black and white. The unknown is not as terrifying. Nor do I assume it to be populated only with bad things. Good things must be there, too. I have more hope.

One reason for that is I learned that brokenness is not necessarily pathetic or despicable. It’s not a disqualifier. God doesn’t hate me because I’m broken. People don’t always deal well with it, but God doesn’t have that problem. Although there frequently is pain involved, the pain is not a disqualifier, either. God still loves me even when I hurt. Brokenness is not leprosy or cause for quarantine. It is not contagious. Ain’t nobody perfect, folks. We all be broken.

I am more able to learn. Rigidity doesn’t lend itself well to the acquisition of new information, experiences, or opinions. Even when a person tries hard, rigidity greatly complicates the learning process.

I always have someplace to go. Brokenness cannot keep me from God and His provision, instruction, and comfort.

I’ve learned more patience. Please note that I do not claim to be a patient person! But I’ve had to learn some, because limping precludes getting anywhere fast.

It’s helped me to forgive. Oh, my, that’s a good one! That’s freedom! Once pride lost its grip, and I accepted that I, too, am broken, I realized that my dad and I have that in common. He’s broken, too. He took things to extremes that I have not, but that’s no reason for me to feel like I’m somehow better than him. I am not without sin. I am not perfect. Accepting that at an emotional level definitely helped free from my burning desire to start throwing rocks. Of course I was angry with my dad. I should have been. He did not treat me well, but living out my life hating his guts and everything about him was a horrible way to live, because, truthfully, I have more in common with him than brokenness. For example, writing is not my mom’s thing. It was most definitely my dad’s.

Happy Independence Day!