Saturday, September 19, 2015

Blessed community

Gronk's Grace team at the Walk to Defeat ALS, Rockford, IL, Sept. 19, 2015. Kris Grahnke in the middle with the White Sox cap, wife Michelle on his left. I'm in the front holding Eliza's green jacket; she's on my left.

There were many, many teams and groups and families at today's ALS Walk. Ours happened to be the largest group and the group that raised the most money. I credit my intensely social, hard-working, pumped-up advocating son Kris with most of this. He worked hard to get all these people enthused and to let them know how much this all means to him. 

But there's also the fact that this disease has hit him square in the middle of a young and expanding life, like the biggest gut-punch possible. This hurts and disturbs the rest of us, too, and upends our confidence in the future, in life itself. It means we've had to find new ways to keep doing what matters and what's meaningful. 

Everybody at the Walk today had had that gut-punch experience. There were power wheelchairs aplenty and loved ones well remembered on t-shirts and banners. Every now and then I looked around in awe, with a catch in my throat put there by the power of people coming together to help one another. I can keep saying life is good, God is good, because so many folks come out to support Kris and Michelle and the fight against ALS. They're not alone. 

Disease and suffering and trials and other things--being different, being mentally ill or addicted, being disabled--all these things isolate people. We think they do it to themselves, but really, it's all too easy to set the hurting ones off to the side. To leave it to the professionals to help them. To pity or admire or stereotype them away into a corner. To keep the mess and the fear and the helplessness away from lives that are tidy and nice--or appear to be.

I have that same catch in my throat sometimes when I go to Opportunity Knocks events. OK is a fun program my daughter with Down Syndrome attends--activities of all kinds and a community of "Warriors" and young adult staff. Everybody is respected, anything can be adapted, and they cheer like crazy. Their fundraisers are awesome, and often, I look around and feel overwhelmed to know that all these people care about my daughter's life and love to see and talk with her and her friends, right there in the middle of everything. 

I feel connected and understood in these communities of the hurting or the challenged in ways I don't necessarily connect with my church community. Why is that? We confess our sins together in church--we share that. But it's a ritual. The words are in the bulletin. They're said out loud, but even if our hearts are engaged, the thoughts are private. We go out to the narthex when the service is over and put up a good front over coffee and throughout the week. 

In groups of people with disabilities or disease, in places where their families and friends gather around the need to support them, the brokenness is right there on the surface. There's deep joy. There's tremendous power.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Randomly, on a Thursday

1. My meals today included a dish of fruit, cereal and yogurt, eaten two and a half hours after they were dumped into a plastic container and jammed in my lunch bag; a chicken sandwich made of bread from the dry loaf nobody else will eat, roast chicken chunks from four days ago united under a  slice of cheddar cheese; the last bits of stewed summer squash, also from four days ago; the crumbs of the pita chips at the bottom of the bag, and a late-night snack of Corn Chex and Pinot Noir (and yes, the acidity of the wine after the milk on the cereal is weird).

2. It has, nevertheless, been a productive day. And despite the fact that the next six or seven days look ungodly busy, I am upbeat and optimistic at the moment, even while wondering if there's something  pathologic about this.

3. I'm blogging while waiting for Stephen Colbert's Late Show to come on. But first there's Thursday Night Football's postgame show and the local news, both of which look like parodies of reality to me. Clearly, I should get out more.

4. I'm watching Colbert because after missing his whole first week and finally catching some shows this week, I remembered that his joy renews my faith in just about everything.

5. The hope here is to get to a very clever or heartwarming #10 on my "Randomly, on a Thursday" list. I am emulating the Yarn Harlot's "Randomly. on a Wednesday."  Go ahead, click on the link. You don't have to be a knitter to love her.

6. Let me just say, that in this situation, the hope is also the goal.

7. To that end, I must write shorter items to help my hope along.

8. Stories are pouring forth from the TV while it's on mute and my eyes are on my laptop screen. The commercial with a young couple driving their newborn home from the hospital in a bright red Mazda really gets to me--because you do drive differently with a car seat and seven to ten pounds of tender young life in the back seat. I remember that well, though my car was yellow.

9. Also, newborns. Their faces. Totally suck me in.

10. All life is precious and requires care and attention--whether we are caring for others or caring for how we spend our own time. I'm going to spend the rest of my evening with Stephen, my knitting and the inch of wine left in the glass. Hopes fulfilled!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Change and change back


"Change back."

The second is as inevitable as the first.

As sure as my widening bottom comfortably settles into the leather cushion of my favorite chair, my heart, mind and even my soul resist change. As surely as novelty attracts, it also repels.

Doing new things, or even doing old things in a new way, is like stretching a rubber band. The band stretches, because after all, that's what it's made to do. But it also stretches back and relaxes into its old shape. Change and change back.

Psychologists and others who study family systems or organizational behavior watch for that "change back" behavior, because that's where crunch time begins. Planning a new way to do things is relatively easy. It's also exciting. It generates optimism and hope, or just the relief that comes with abandoning old ways and the gripes and complaints that are attached to them.

But change meets resistance. I wandered off from writing for a few minutes to run a search on "change and change back." Got multiple definitions of the idiom "change back," but the first hit of any substance was "Trump says he will change Denali’s name back to Mt. McKinley." Seriously. Changing the name to "Denali" is itself a change-back, a restoration of the original Native American name. Because  it's kind of ridiculous for an ancient peak in Alaska to be named for all eternity in honor of a 19th century politician from Ohio who was admittedly elected president but who, 114 years later, is best known for being assassinated and succeeded by Teddy Roosevelt.  (The Wikipedia page on Mt. Denali is currently "protected from editing," I'm guessing there are folks who are trying to change Denali back to McKinley--all day long.)

Changing your behavior in a relationship can be very disruptive, even if the change you are making is in a positive direction. I know this from experience. When you stop taking the bait or stop assuming the guilt, the other person in the relationship will intensify the baiting and the guilting in order to get things to return to the way they were. Ceasing to dance that old dance might be better for everyone involved, but when feet know the steps to that old dance, that's the one they want to follow, even if it's ugly. Even if it's destructive.

Jesus went about Galilee and Judea preaching and personifying change. The religious establishment, represented by the Pharisees, said, no, that's not how we do it. Change back. Even Jesus' disciples, who followed him, attracted by something that was different about him—even they sometimes said, change back.

From Mark 8: 27-38, the gospel for Sunday, September 20:
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.  He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. (v. 31-32) 
Jesus' response acknowledged that new ways are hard and costly:
 If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. (v. 34-35)
Change is inevitable. Inevitably we all die. We all decay as we await that death, clutching ever more tightly to the known things in our lives, the idols that we think will stave off that inevitable final change.

But Jesus invites us to face death with him, face the losing of the familiar, the secure, the comfortable. By losing that life, by changing, we are saved.