Saturday, January 26, 2008

The rewards of getting older

Finally, you get to the view of yourself that others have always had. The topography of your idiocies and your screw ups are as deep now as your facial wrinkles. That's clarity. When you wake up in the middle of the night screaming "Holy Crap." That's real clarity.

Mellowing Out
As any premed student knows, an organism has to rest for a while, especially after more than five or six "clarity" events lest the organism turn into a dead one. Mellowing out is the manifestation of that self-preserving process. I'm going to be a smart alec and tell you there's a name for that. It's called the general adaptation syndrome, identified by Dr. Hans Selye. That's why we get sick after cramming for a test, or coming off a particularly stressful, clarifying event.

You finally get that you've earned every wrinkle, every fat pod and by Gosh, you're going to cash in, eventually, some day, when you feel like it. Time is on your side, yes it is. Kids cash in way too soon.

An increase in the capacity to empathize
What a gift. Then, in turn, you get to give. What a deal!

A decrease in your capacity to take a bunch of baloney from people, especially ones in your life you always thought you couldn't live without Yeah, even those.

Boundary setting experiments
This is the one of the best rewards so far. It goes with the first one, clarity--followed by the planned result--mellowing out (also above).

Or ask the guy who falls off the tower of a skyscraper how his day is going and he replies most of the way down, "So far, so good!"

So far, so good. Great days ahead!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

A thing called Karma

Sometimes it takes a life time to understand why we did the things we did. Sometimes we get paid back in spades.

What was I thinking?
Part of getting on in years is dealing with the wrong things we've done to our kids. After so many years, most denial goes away--ours and theirs (the ones we've wronged). That passage in life is very, very painful and needs real discipline, honesty and introspection to get through to the other side. There's the adjustment to what is as opposed to how it was supposed to be.

Meanwhile, that introspection can seem interminable. With each revelation, a new mourning and adjustment period sets in, then more guilt, more anger because more fantasy is thrown out about who you thought you were, more...and more. Will I ever be forgiven, will I ever forgive myself? The time passes too quickly not to be reconciled, it would seem. Isn't that the point of working through these problems with your family? Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, we can't change their minds. They're bitter and have the right to be. Nothing you say will change that now. Maybe never.

Sadly, relationships between parents and children change dramatically when these realizations become too great to keep from each other. That's when the results of your past catch up with you demonstrated by standoffishness, loss of intimacy and fun and even more importantly, being cut off.

My mother was a very complex person--brilliant and accomplished-- ahead of her time when it came to human relations...I thought. She told me on her deathbed that she had held on to the wrongs she'd allegedly done to me. It was then she came clean about some of the more unfortunate times between us. It's funny. When a person loses one parent as I had eleven years before, you become very aware of how special that last one is. I couldn't hold it against her...and she did say she was sorry. Saying sorry was something my mother never said in her life to me. In fact, when I had done something wrong as a little kid, I'd say I'm sorry. She'd respond, don't say you're sorry, say you'll never do it again.

She also told me I was like her emotionally. I'm still working on that reality.

Forgiveness of one's self sometimes is held up by the lack of forgiveness of others. Maybe that's backwards. And the rest takes care of itself. Wishful thinking gets you through the day sometimes.

Thanks for the read.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Jewish problem

I feel an affinity to Jews. Maybe the moment a Jewish soul left its body at Auschwitz was the time I was conceived and infused with that soul.

But, I'm a Christian, not really a believer in reincarnation. Who knows? Maybe God just gave me a gift.

My fascination with anti-Semites and other racists, bigots, et Al.
I have had dreams of concentration camps and Kristalnacht in which I felt I was a participant. When I was a kid I watched every movie and documentary I could about the Holocaust and Hitler. Every "Victory at Sea" episode caused me distress. I read book after book of Jewish history and the Third Reich's hatred of it all. Although not an obsession, anti-Semitism has had an effect on me. I've always felt there's something I should be doing to help people understand the horrors of anti-Semitism.

The man I was married to for three months is a Czech who grew up under Soviet rule. At age 18, he took a train to Sweden to see the Beatles, decided never to return to his homeland, then bounced around western Europe until he somehow finally ended up in Canada. The longer we were together the more I realized his deep anti-Semitism. Soon I found out more: although his father was a Czech underground fighter against the Nazis, and later settled into a career as a high level Communist state bureaucrat, he was still secretly a supporter of Hitler. Many Europeans had the same attitude, he told me proudly. I still couldn't believe it.

I recall another time I was shocked at what seemed to be the pervasive hatred in Europe. An Austrian neighbor, I'll call her Petra, showed her bigotry openly. I was introduced to many Europeans through her, and again their subtle hatred became more obvious with each cocktail.

Similar observations made me even more interested in historical back stories. Why were the Jews so hated? Why were they treated like second class citizens? Why were such a fantastically bright group of people so belittled? I was sheltered as an American child, I couldn't have known the reality of such blind hatred unless someone taught it to me or I read about it. Understanding the hatred was out of the question. I just needed to see how it was demonstrated.

I sought out fictional accounts of the Exodus (the mass migration to "Palestine," now the State of Israel) by Leon Uris and others. Their characterizations display the Jews' courage and adaptability. One of the most meaningful quotes comes from one of the Uris chapters (paraphrased): I can make into a home where ever I can plant and grow flowers in a window box, spoken by an early Palestine/Israeli housewife upon seeing the Negev Desert for the first time. The woman had just finished planting her window boxes in the faraway Jewish Ghetto of Warsaw, saying the exact same thing.

With prayer, devotion to God and daily watering, her flower boxes soon were overflowing with blooms, as green grass and orange groves covered the desert surrounding her.

This story in no way trivializes the plight of the modern Jew. In fact, it indicates to many that although they live in an impossible situation, they have become a proud people by virute of hard work and their pragmatic response to those who wish them dead.

My grandmother traveled to the Holy Land in the early sixties. She was struck at the difference in cultures, then worried about the 1948 Jewish promise to "take care" (her words) of the many displaced Arabs. Today, that small group has grown into more than Isrhandle.

God's plan
Christians are taught that the Jews are God's chosen people and that they are in His hands and are open to salvation as well through Christ.

Meanwhile, I pray for the modern day Palestinians' acceptance of solutions that are equitable and manageable. It doesn't look promising, however.

Thanks for the read.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Holding On

I'm tired of politics
I've decided to concentrate on fulfilling a deep, nagging need to delve into my faith and the word of God. Studying and writing about politics can bring you to a point where you must acknowledge your personal helplessness in a world of sadness and despair.

Sustaining one's faith in God while the rest of the world goes nuts has never been easy; however, I've always known there was something much more important and sustaining. Of course, that is the absolute belief that, although we are in strife and fear, God is the end all, the Alpha and Omega.

Back story
I'm not new at this religion thing. My ancestors were among the first Quakers to arrive on North American soil in the 1640s. There were also Presbies and Disciples of Christ preachers, church founders, lay leaders (my mother, Lois V. Layman, was named one of the twelve Pillars of the Christian Church-Disciples of Christ in the 80s) , teachers and naturally, singers in choirs. That family tradition is still alive today.

I went through a rebellion when I was in my 30s, much to my shame. I was not a good role model for my children and it pains me that I did not instill in them the patterns and habits of good Christians. Somehow they came out okay, each one of them professing to be a Christian, believing in the resurrection and deity of Christ. God doesn't have any grandchildren, I guess.

Later, when I married (again), I was blessed to be "yoked" with another mainline Christian. My husband's faith, which is mature and unfailing, came as a result of strong parenting and regular involvement in church affairs. When I fall short, I can always count on him to help me figure it all out because I trust his faith in God and the longevity of his spiritual understanding.

In the 90s, we became very active in a large church in Orange County, California. In fact, we were so active and involved that our lives took a spectacular turn towards good for about six years. But it was not to last. Unfortunately, as humans, our preacher and choir director had feet of clay. They were discovered in flagrante delicto--in the church office yet.

I knew of the affair, not from gossip or knowledge per se. I just knew the two were involved with each other (call it intuition). They each knew I knew (call it guilt). However, I told no one except my husband about my suspicions.

Well. That certainly put a dent in my spiritual life. I must say, though, I was not lily white in this drama. My own desires and ego put me in that church as it was known for its choir and musical ministries. I was still singing at the time, and although I thought maybe I had lost my solo quality voice I hoped there'd be an opportunity to share my "gift." Again, because I was driven to church so that I could "perform," I had set myself up. I just couldn't figure out why our choral director, who had a doctorate in conducting, wouldn't choose me for solo work. There were talented, wonderful, younger voices who could do the job, but I didn't think I was chopped liver.

My ambitions were quelled because of the great preacher's anger toward me--remember, he knew that I knew--and I suppose, looking back, that was the reason I wasn't in the 'real musicians' clique. I should add that I was very close to the musical director.

This hurt me deeply and made me very angry. However, as I said earlier, I told no one of my suspicions that his infidelity to his wife was the reason I wasn't allowed to sing. In hindsight, again, I probably just wasn't good enough. I'll never really know.

I am certain of one fact: my need and desire to sing far outweighed my devotion and desire to sing to and for God. I was singing for me only.

Do as I say, not as I do
In addition to the choir involvement, my husband and I participated in a very dynamic home bible group. Included among the six couples were one of the former church pastors/missionaries, in addition to the chairman of the church board. Each of these couples were at odds with the rather egomanical Dr. Preacher, to the point that the preacher actually declared a war against our group. I suppose he was fearful that his secret would get out, especially since my husband and I were so close to the decision makers in the church. Isn't it amazing how guilt affects one's perception?

More distrust and dissension in the church took place which did not involve us: two associate pastors were fired, the chairman of the board was asked to resign, along with two other important leaders in the church. I suppose with the troublemakers finally gone, the preacher and the choir director finally had the run of the place. They thought. The denial finally was replaced by hard, cold fact that the preacher was being indiscreet with the beautiful choir director--and beautiful she was. They both were.

Denouement and revelations
On the heels of that terrible experience, my husband and I moved to another county and have yet to find a church home. We're still looking.

I realize now that the pain and betrayal we experienced was meant to show me my own shortcomings. I'm actually thankful for the revelation that my spiritual walk wasn't true. Rather, it was a foray into show business and an attempt to recreate my childhood family.

Secondly, I became filled with the Holy Spirit, which I'd never realized prior to our affiliation with this church. I've never looked back. All the Sunday Schools, church choirs and retreats before coming to this church were nothing but activities. I can thank the gifted preacher for that. He was first and foremost a fabulous speaker giving sermons that clarified the message and word of God and reached my soul. Our disgraced minister, a man who holds two doctorates from two major theology schools, and his fall took him to even deeper ignominy, sadly. He was denounced and shut out of North America's oldest protestant denomination, his wife left him, his grown children sick with grief abandoned him, and now he sells encyclopedias.

The gorgeous choir director, another Ph.D in conducting, a wonderfully gifted singer, composer and conductor, is no longer in a position to demand much more than directing a high school glee club or pep band.

I don't know exactly how God handles this stuff. I am told that He holds His leaders to higher standards than the rest of us. Their mutual transgressions and their legacies include the abandonment of a fabulous music program at the church, a long list of hurt, disenfranchised people and the loss of grace in their own lives. I have to hope there has been reconciliation for them both.

"Well, You Ain't Dead Yet, Honey..."
That quote is from my great Aunt Nellie in response to someone saying they'd "never, ever do such a thing."

I thank God for the experience. I've forgiven the preacher and my friend, the choir director, for their betrayals, even though it's taken nearly ten years. After all, I'm still growing too.

Thanks for the read.

The Dr. Preacher and the Beautiful Choir Director are now together in Colorado. They have their own personal church and are married, claiming to have five children (his two girls and her two boys and one girl). Evidently they are doing it their way. Where Mrs. Dr. Preacher ended up, I don't know. I do know that she was battling breast cancer the last time I heard of her.

Since this was written, we have found a church home among the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, where we sing, sing, sing! Miracle of miracles, these people actually think I can sing! LOL