Thinkative Thoughts about the Holiness of Now

Am thinkative at the moment.  The adrenaline from thinking Husband would be gone for Ingrid’s arrival has worn off, and the last few days I’ve spent just thinking about what my focus is, what my direction is, where my life is going, and what things look like now.

So much changed so fast.  From the moment I said, “I do” til now it seems like life has been nothing but immensely big sometimes wonderful, sometimes terrible changes.  So many things that are now facts of my life, I never would have seen coming four years ago.  So many things that I am trying to learn to accept as part of my landscape weren’t even a shadow of a thought when I got married.  And these changes continue.  These next few months will be full of changes.  Mostly good, but not altogether easy.

But now I have this forward direction to go for this time being when we aren’t in the midst of ultimate crisis.  Now, I am working through questions like:  Do I want to continue staying home, or am I just spinning my wheels?  How do I contribute to the world?  Would I be a better Mommy if I was engaged outside of our home in more capacities than just church functions and small group gatherings? 

And…. do I have the guts to try more?  Can I rise above the inadequacy I feel? 

Most importantly, what am I doing right now to fulfill the purpose that I was created for?  To Be God’s by being Val?  In the midst of Mommyness….  and Wifeness….  and pathetic housekeeperness….  what is it that I’m doing that has purpose and meaning? 

How can I more incarnationally live my life?  How can I live each of my moments as God’s?  How can I be present to His presence when I’m doing dishes, changing diapers, and building block towers.  This week, I’m going to try to get a grasp on that again.

One slice of that that I was hit by tonight:  Can I remember and reclaim the sacramental nature of my marriage?  I love the sacraments because they are little bits of God that we can touch, and feel, and experience with our senses.  How does that translate to the sacrament of marriage?  How does my relationship with Husband allow me to reach out and touch the face of God?  To interact with Him?  To realize His interactions with me?

You see….  Just thinking….  Adjusting to the changes.  Preparing for the ones to come.  Marveling at what is that I never expected.  Longing for what I miss.  Hoping for what lies before me.  Trying to be present to the holiness of now.

Thinkative.

Hey readers–How do you stub your toe on the holiness of now?  Where do you draw back and see God or the spiritual staring back at you?  How do you become present to it?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

The Book of Job and The Smoking Stigma–An Object Lesson

AKA–Myth #3:  Smoker’s Bring Lung Cancer on Themselves

So…. the book of Job.  I realized yesterday that it may be my favorite book of the Bible, which, if you know anything about the book of Job makes me sound like a pretty depressing person.

But here’s why I like it:  It was written to turn conventional wisdom on it’s head.  Conventional wisdom that is still spewed forth in everyday life, churches, workplaces, etc. all the time.

The conventional wisdom goes something like this:  Lead blameless life, reap blessings.  If blessings aren’t coming.  You screwed up.  What did you do wrong?

Nowhere is this thinking more prevalent than in the world of Lung Cancer.  I’ve said time and again that the most common (and most insensitive) comment I get after people find out my Mom had Lung Cancer is, “Did she smoke?”  As I have said elsewhere , it is undeniable that smoking increases one’s risk of Lung Cancer, but to say that it always causes it is foolishness.

So let me tell you my Jobian story of the week.

Yesterday at Bible Study, we were waiting for the pastor of our church to arrive so that we could begin our study of the most depressing book of the Bible.  We’ve come to expect that on days when a memorial service is held, our Pastor will arrive wearing his ministerial looking garb:  not exactly a suit…  kind of the pastoral version of one.  As such, it was noted that our pastor had a funeral that day and it was noted that the service was for a congregant who was 49, had two teen-aged sons, and had died this last weekend after battling cancer.

Someone asked what kind of cancer she had.  Now, I didn’t know this woman, but I knew what kind of cancer it had been.  I keep tabs on these things now.  She had battled Lung Cancer.

And then it came–in a roomful of people who barely knew this poor woman the question came–“Does anyone know if she was a smoker?”

I piped up with my usual ‘trying to educate the public’ answer saying that it didn’t really matter.  Her smoking status wouldn’t make her death any more or less tragic.  I mentioned that the incidence of Lung Cancer in non-smokers is on the rise, and really anyone is at risk:  non-smokers, former smokers, and current smokers alike.

This was met with the explanation of, “It’s just something you try to make some sense out of.  To find out if there was a reason.”

I nodded and sighed and got quiet, feeling as I always do in these situations that I had failed horribly at handling “The Question” appropriately.

And then the pastor came in and the study of the Book of Job began.

The story of Job, in case you’re not familiar with it goes something like this.  Job is a righteous man.  Satan (actually in this case hah-satan or ‘the accuser’) approaches God and says–that guy Job wouldn’t be so great at this righteousness business if everything was taken away from him.  God says–“Try him.”  And the story begins (note–I know this doesn’t paint God in the greatest light.  Something else we contemplated yesterday was the use of dramatic devices to move the story….  and I think this was an example of that).  First all of Job’s possessions are destroyed.  Then all of his children die when the house they are throwing a bash at gets blown in by a windstorm.  Finally, Job is afflicted with a terrible disease leaving him to mourn in ashes and scrape at his skin with a broken piece of broken pottery.

Enter Job’s friends.  They start out ok.  They show up and just sit with Job for a while.  But then they get tired of just watching him suffer and they start trying to ‘comfort him.’ Read ‘provide answers for his suffering.’ 

Job very insightfully sums up the dreadful attempts of his friends this way:  “Now you too have proved to be of no help; you see something dreadful and are afraid.”  (Job 6:21 NIV)

And what are they saying?  What is their explanation meant for separation borne out of their fear of suffering?  “You must be being punished for sinning, Job!  Repent!  Repent and your blessings will be restored!  You must have done something to make God mad at you.  You have sinned.  You have done something.  You are responsible for this tragedy overtaking you.” 

They sing this same refrain for something like 28 chapters with Job insisting that he *is* a righteous man.  They won’t listen.  Their paradigm will not be changed.  Suffering occurs only because we ask for it, they insist.  Suffering is righteous judgement.

Job isn’t as patient as everyone always says he is.  He gets mad.  He gets pretty darned angry at God, and on top of that, he’s angry that these three ‘friends’ of his won’t stop riding his back about his great ‘sinfulness.’  The whole book is a pretty dramatic account of how we deal when we’re approached with suffering.  And Job isn’t all that different from the rest of us.  He feels sorry for himself.  He wishes he would die.  Then he gets mad.  He demands an audience with God to air his feelings and demand an explanation.  But through the whole book the friends continue to insist that Job has brought this on himself.

So I sit there in this Bible Study and marvel.  It had been set up for me in the most fitting of ways.  Our very own Job story was presented to us right before our own study began, and most everyone in the room reacted just as Job’s friends did.  They placed blame for the suffering on the victim.

“She must have been a smoker.”  “If she was a smoker we could make some sense of this.”

Cancer is senseless.  The suffering that it causes–or that the treatment causes in the best case scenarios–is senseless.  It ravages lives.  Sometimes temporarily, and sometimes permanently.  It’s ravaged mine by taking from me one of the most important people in my life.  It is tragic and devastating whether it happens to a smoker or a non-smoker.  All cancer is.

And still I hear it when Lung Cancer comes u:  “Well….  what did they expect?  They smoked, right?  That’s what you get for making stupid choices!”

The book of Job serves a tremendous purpose in the Bible.  The story has perhaps been around since prehistory.  And it’s no mistake that it’s in our canon.  It has a very clear message to give to everyone, but especially to those of us who call ourselves ‘people of God.’

The message is this:  Bad things happen.  Senseless things happen.  And it’s not always explainable.  Most often it just is.  It sucks.  It hurts.  It does ravage lives.

But they don’t always happen to the people who ‘deserve’ them.  Really good people get sick and and lose everything and suffer immeasurable grief.  Suffering is not always a divine punishment or judgement.  Sometimes suffering just happens.  Like shit does.

And here’s the crux of it:  The keeping of God’s commands–the honing of our hearts’ desire for him–doesn’t come out of the ‘stick and the carrot’ philosophy where we do good and get a treat, do bad and get a spanking.  That’s a pretty shallow kind of love.

God wants the love of His people, and He doesn’t work that way.   He wants those who call themselves “His” to go deeper.   God wants us to love Him because He’s God.  Not because He gives us stuff.  Not just to avoid His wrath.

(And I am going to add my own belief here:  I don’t think God causes terrible things to happen to people capriciously….  I really don’t believe there always is “a reason” for everything.  But this is Val editorializing)

I’m not always very good at that…..  I’m not saying that I am.  I’m not saying that before my Mom got sick that I wasn’t someone who wouldn’t have asked, “Did she smoke?” trying to make sense of it all.

But I’m starting to understand that some things are senseless.  And that our best bet isn’t always to try to make sense of them.

The best thing Job did was to long for an audience with God.  When he finally got to have his heart-to-heart with God, God let him know that he spoke of things he didn’t understand.  But he also rebuked his three friends, and as I learned from the study yesterday, in the end Job’s questions were deemed more ‘right’ than any of Job’s friends’ ‘answers.’

Most of all, it was reinforced to me yesterday that we are still afraid of suffering.  We still long to separate ourselves from it.  We still try to find loopholes so that we can believe it can’t happen to us.  We’re Job’s friends–All of us.  Trying to make sense of senselessness. 

It’s a shame that we do that so often by blaming victims of the utterly tragic.

I think we could all use a lesson from the book of Job.   We could all stand to be turned on our heads now and again to remember that sometimes bad things are just bad things.  And nobody asks for them.

De-surgified…. For Now

So apparently the Skipper…  well technically the chain of command…. came out today and said a big, “Or Not” to the whole deployment thing.  There is still a chance that they will go, but likely it will be later if does happen.  The word is that we’re back to the ‘regularly scheduled program’ of out and backs….  and now some other group is going….  with far less notice than even we would have had.  Which I hate for them.

And I am relieved and grateful.

But I also feel guilty and messy.

I hate that these other families will be going through this, with such short notice.  I find myself wondering how many babies will be born while their group is gone….   

I feel guilty that he’s not going anywhere, when so many other military members are having to spend 15 and 18 months away from their families because of this whole ‘surge’ thing.  I guess I felt….  kind of honored to be able to be among them in a weird sort of way.

I feel….  maybe a let-down???  A let-down from the rush of adrenaline, and thinking, and planning that I was doing to gird myself up for this. 

I feel so proud to be his wife when he is away.  I feel proud of him and proud of myself.  And I guess, some bizarre part of me feels sad that I can’t prove to myself that I can do *this* too.

(Apparently, I really do thrive on crises.)

I feel foolish that I mentioned it to people and that now it isn’t happening.  Will people think I cry wolf?  Not everyone understands that the reality of the Navy is uncertainty and last minute changes all the time.

Also….  well, we’d made this list of GOOD things that would come out of him going.  Though he was going to miss the birth, he was actually going to possibly get *more* time with Ingrid.  As it stands now there is a moderately lengthly ‘away time’ that will likely happen quickly after her arrival.  That is hard.  It will be hard for all of us to say good-bye so quickly after becoming a family of four.  I worry about what will happen now given this scenario.  What’s our trade-off?

But….  But…..  Val listen to these things:  I now will have a possible date to Dad’s wedding.  This is good.  I WILL probably have him there for the delivery.  That eases the hurt about him not being there….  that eases the hurt about Mom not being there.  That eases the fear of the hospital stay.  That eases the fear of the first few days at home with the new little babe.

That is good.  Yes, that is very good.

And so….  In this good news, now it is still my job to deal with what is in front of us now, and worry about the stuff that comes later then. 

I can do that.  I will do that.  I’m trying to do that.

Now please, no one strike me down for my ungratefulness….  I am grateful.  I am.  It’s just that I’m also….  Muddled. 

So the adventure continues.

Connections

Since moving here and finding a church that felt really, really ‘right’ we’ve been trying to figure out how to become ‘connected’ in that body.  We’ve gone to Bible Studies, we’ve taught Sunday School, I’ve been a nursery worker….  We’ve tried to find ways to serve, and interact and still we felt….  disconnected.

This past Sunday, our pastor and his wife held a meeting for folks in our life stage, and I am so very hopeful about what may come about as a result.

What we found was that we weren’t the only ones trying to become ‘connected’ there.  In fact, the longing to do so seemed to resonate with many around the table.  And…  plans were made and ideas shared about spear-heading an effort to put together a small group of some sort for our particular age group.  Even if that doesn’t materialize entirely, finding out that there were others feeling the same way may act as a catalyst to make something happen–even if in an informal way.

This seems like a teeny-tiny thing, I know.  But…  Navy communities are funny.  Yes, there are all of these stereotypes about June Cleaver looking women bringing casseroles over to one another upon move in/deployment/homecoming days.  That’s not how it works.  In fact, in today’s cynical world the transient nature of the folks who live in a community like this makes it difficult for anyone to really *want* to reach out and connect.  Hesitation is natural.

Add in the networking challenges that present themselves when one has small children and the social confusion that comes as a result of leaving after less than a year, and spending ten months elsewhere before coming back, and things can get difficult

But connections are necessary.  When you are staring down a thing like giving birth while your husband is gone without a Mom or a Sister or someone to come in and help out and be that estrogen-laden shoulder to cry on (No Daddy, I’m not underestimating the help you will be.  I’m really not.  But there is a girly aspect to all of this), you understand how very necessary it is to have people in your life that you can count on.  We are blessed in having a very small circle of really good friends who we know we can call upon…  But still we long for more connectedness, especially within our church body.

And so…  Well…  I’m giddy excited, and hopeful, and I’m really just crossing my fingers that *Something* will come of all of this.

On top of that, we made another important ‘Connection’ yesterday.  We met our doula (‘professional-type’ who will serve as s support person for me whilst I labor with Ingrid).  We were leaning towards maybenot having a doula this go-around until….  Well until all the talks of deployment starting coming up and then I got on the phone fast.

She seems absolutely wonderful….  And it is a huge comfort to know that someone will be there in the room with me when this baby comes into the world.  The fact that this particular someone knows all sorts of good tricks for pain relief, and comfort measures is an added bonus.  I’m really all about doulas. 

So….  in the wake of news that left me feeling scared, and isolated, and alone, here is some hope in connections.  Very good stuff.

Why I Shouldn’t Watch Grey’s Anatomy….

Christina:  There’s a club.  The Dead Dad’s club, and you can’t be in it til you’re in it.  You can try to understand, you can sympathize but until you feel that loss….  My Dad died when I was nine.  George, I’m really sorry you had to join the club

George:  I don’t know how to exist in a world where my Dad doesn’t.

Christina:  Yeah, that never really changes. 

I could go on and on about….  the feelings that come over you when you watch your parent slip away from earth at an age too early for them, and too early for you (which is really any age for either of you).  I could bore you all in an account of the dripping, pouring, snot and tears that came out of me as I watched the episode.  I could talk about those last conversations that you have that you relive over and over again even though they were about the most mundane things on earth….  And I could talk about what it is like to stand watch, to hold your parents hand….  to rage against the fact that you’ve been robbed out of time that you should have had to say good-bye.

I could do all that in far greater detail than I just did.  But there isn’t any reason….  Because the quote above says everything.

26 Years and 18 Months

26 years–Yesterday was my birthday…  And I have to say it was the best birthday I think I’ve ever had.  Having Husband home had something to do with that.  I was giddy all day just with the expectation of the fun of the evening which was JUST what I wanted.  Husband baked me a cake, and even decorated it for me….  We had pizza for supper, and he showered me with gifts….  And tonight we have a babysitter and we’re going out to dinner as well.  It all just feels like so much more than I deserve.  And it probably is.  All I know is, I love that man.

It was our first time to be together on my birthday in the three and one half years that we’ve been married.  That’s Navy life, and we just let it roll off our shoulders when we can’t be together….  But it was so exquisitely special to be with him yesterday.

So now I’m 26, and I’m very ok with that.  Talking with another friend who also turned 26 this week, we decided that it sounds a lot older than 25……  You know–25 is still your early twenties–the naive part of early adulthood.  26 is when you start to ‘get it’ right? 

We’ll see….

18 months–Mom has been gone 18 months today.  That doesn’t seem real.  Obviously it is given the way life has changed, but most days it still feels like she is a real, solid, person that I could call and talk to at any moment.  Everything that happened 18 months ago and before still feels like yesterday.  I can recall all of it as though it were.  It still seems so unreal that I could be a girl without a mother.  I don’t feel that different, but then sometimes little things and big things remind me that life really *is* that different now.  I’m trying to accept life as it is now, since it can’t be how I want it to be.  The pain of losing her is still there, but I’m able to assimilate it into my life more.

I’m really struggling with the idea of having Husband gone for the birth….  and that makes me miss my Mama something awful.  Almost all of the women that I have seen go through the ‘Husband’s not there when the baby comes’ scenario have their Mom’s come and help them.  My Daddy will come, and that will be special and wonderful too (though I’m thinking the delivery room aspect could be a little awkward and I’m still trying to figure that out), but I know that I am still going to long for my Mommy…. 

So anyway–taking the bad with the good and knowing that it’s all part of life.   

Surge

Surge

–noun

1. a strong, wavelike, forward movement, rush, or sweep.

It’s not a word I use a lot.  Not one I have much need for.  The Navy uses it some to describe the deployable status also known as, “We’ll send you out whenever the heck we want to send you out.”

This week, however, the word is everywhere.  It’s the latest Bush word, and nowhere near as entertaining as “The Decider.”

I’ve had quite a few conversations in the last four or five years that have completely changed the lay of my land.  And you’d think I’d get a little bit used to that.  And, well, the truth is, I have gotten a little bit used to that or I wouldn’t be able to feign matter-of-factness about them all as well as I do these days.  There was, “I leave for Basic in December.”  There was, “Will you marry me?”  There was, “There is an opacity in the lung.”  There was, “It’s Stage IV.”  And there was, “She’s gone.”

This week it was, “You know how President Bush is talking about “Surging Troops?”

It’s not that we weren’t expecting a deployment.  This is Sea Duty.  We expect them all the time, and we generally have a very tentative set of dates for the Navy to blow out of the water anytime they feel like it.

But this time it was the Evening News crashing into our living room (surging if you will)  and telling us that time is very likely going to be shorter than we thought.  Much shorter.

And oh by the way–Were you counting on your husband being around when you gave birth to this baby?

Yes the news is, that there is a high likelihood that Husband will be part of the ‘Surge.’  And that he will go at a time which overlaps with the due date and the first weeks of Baby Ingrid’s life.  There is a *small* chance that his time to ‘surge’ will be sometime later (also pretty crappy timing…  but not over the due date), but that chance is small.  Or else I’m fairly certain he wouldn’t be released to freely speak of it all.  So for now we’re living life like it’s happening, because to do otherwise would be foolish.

The upside is–I keep telling myself there is an upside–It’s a ‘short one,’ just like the anticipated later one was going to be.  (I still laugh that military wives talk about 3 or 4 months without their husbands as a “short period of time.”).  We are undeniably lucky in that respect.  There are troops being extended for six months who have boots on the ground right now and have had for too many months to be fair.  There are folks gearing up to be part of the ‘surge’ who will be gone for much longer than Husband will.  Our time-frame is a piece of cake when put in that perspective.

But the timing of it just really sucks.

So here I am again, trying to wrap my head around yet another unexpected change of plans, and trying to tell myself that yes I can survive giving birth without my husband here.

I know it’s doable, because I know others who have done it.  I know it’s doable, because look at what I’ve done so far.  I know it’s doable because anything that must be done, gets done.  Because you just do it.  And God gives you the strength you need to do it, as you need it.

I’m still not sure I really want to.

Here’s another bright side–I will now be part of an elite club.  The “I Gave Birth to a Child While My Husband Was In a War-zone” club.  It’s a club that you hear about upon initiation to the “Military Wives Guild” but that you kind of keep elevated in the, “Surely I don’t have enough fortitude to do what those ladies had to,” category.

What I’m finding out is, it’s not about fortitude.  It’s about life happening and walking through it because you have to.

So anyway, this all sounds very dramatic doesn’t it?  And it really isn’t.  I’m going to do something that women have been doing since Military Service began.  My husband will leave and come home as he does many a time, and this time he will be able to look forward to the exquisite joy of meeting his beautiful little daughter upon his return. 

Still I know he’d rather be here with me.  Still I know I’d rather have him here with me.

Still I wonder how I can possibly give birth without his hand to squeeze until the blood no longer goes near it and it’s ghostly white.  I wonder how I can possibly get through those first intense weeks with a newborn *AND* a toddler without him to help, to cry to, to lean on in every sense of the word.  Still I ache at the thought that he won’t be here to take in with me the exquisite beauty of that amazing new little being that will be laid upon my chest.  I ache for him.  I ache for me.  I ache for Ingrid and for Little Miss and for all of us.

We’ll do it.  I’ll try to do it with as little drama and whining as I can muster.

And some months from now I’ll look back and go, “Yeah.  I did that.”   In the meantime I gotta get my way through the, “How am I gonna do thats?” 

We will get through this newest ‘surge’ of emotion, of activity, of challenge, and we’ll find our way back to calmer seas again.  We will.  We must.