Category Archives: Relationship

What I Found in the Nursing Home

I wrote this a few years ago, when my Mom was still alive.

I suspect we most clearly demonstrate who we are when we respond to the weakest, the most vulnerable, the least pretty, the unwanted. I think I am beginning to learn who we are via the modern geriatric facility.

There are certainly all kinds of people to be found at work there. There are people who do their jobs and go along to get along with the culture they’re plunked in; and there are people who go about their jobs with objective integrity, beholden to no one but the source of the highest truth they recognize.

Thank God for those people. I think the culture in which they work is making them swim upstream.

My mother is in her upper 90’s. Until three years ago, she lived alone. She needed no medication until she was over 90. She has lived a life of determined independence and no nonsense.

At the same time it was a life of willing service and self-sacrifice. Her one marriage was no picnic and she usually worked alone. She raised six children and helped cared part-time for several of her grandchildren. Her direct descendants number over forty. It has been a self-determined life of solid accomplishment.

The mind of this housewife was more sharp and active, her judgements on current events more insightful than many much younger, who would think themselves much more in-the-know.

Then, mini-strokes, a stroke. Dementia. There is no short-term memory. She is helpless against emotional vicissitudes.

We cared for her 24/7 in her home for three years. My siblings and I and three aides divided the time. She used a walker and got around in her home. She ate well, was healthy, and watched a lot of TV. When this lady who never went to bed caught a bug and ended up there nevertheless, she recovered but still couldn’t sit up in bed. We couldn’t do for her what she needed, she wasn’t going to get up, and she was developing a pressure wound.

At the same time, she was finally running low on the money my Dad left her thirty years ago. In a little while she would not be able to pay her bills or hire the aides. So it was time. Time to go to a home. They would take all she had, and care for her for the rest of her life. She would have rehab, treatment for the wound, and a home til the end. That, to my understanding, was the deal.

Unfortunately my siblings and I were under a misapprehension that a place which operates for the stated purpose of caring for elderly people is prepared to care for elderly people. That such a place should not be surprised when elderly people are people: that they are imperfect, retain their personalities and independent thoughts; nor when they are elderly: that they are cranky, ill, difficult or have dementia. When they are not entirely in control of their feelings or their actions, when they are not entirely compliant.

My mother couldn’t remember where she was or why she was there. When we weren’t there to answer her questions she filled in the blanks with invented content. The content was invariably paranoid. She reacted to her invented narratives–she was angry and difficult. She became belligerent. She tried to escape; she was going home.

She was not being a jerk. Her brain was wearing out. She couldn’t remember.

First they tried two medications. They didn’t work. The last few days, she was so heavily drugged she could hardly stay awake. But she never moved off topic: going home.

So they kicked this 96-year-old wheelchair-bound woman with dementia out of their place. Take her somewhere else. How quickly can you place her?

In other words, they took her in because she had dementia, and they kicked her out because she had dementia.

This private facility has a long waiting list. They could easily fill her half-room. And that’s what matters: all beds filled with people who aren’t much trouble.

We move on to Home #2. It is a state facility and for her it’s the last option. She does not know this, of course. What she knows is that she’s in another unfamiliar place, she can’t remember why she’s there, and I keep telling her she can’t go home just now. It’s bare and impersonal, and there are men with dementia who are permitted to roam into her room, mess with her stuff, and roam back out. When we arrive she usually has been looking for me all day. She’s fretting that someone told her I was on another floor and I had to go out. Or I’m finally there to pick her up from the store; she forgot to bring money. Or they arrested her and she wants to know how much she needs to get out.

The other home was homey. We personalized her space and everything stayed put. In Home #2 we cannot personalize the room. Her belongings have a way of wandering off.

One evening in week two, I am in the open bathroom washing my hands. I hear an aide telling my mother, disrespectfully and forcefully, that she must go to the bathroom and get on her nightgown now, as though she is an defiant child and the aide is an exasperated parent. I come around the doorway to find the aide standing over my mother behind her chair, with her hands on my mother’s arms, struggling with her. I still don’t understand what the aide was trying to accomplish.

Involuntarily I make WHOA-what-the-heck-are-you-doing sounds. The aide gradually backs off her manhandling but seems irked that we aren’t backing her up. She thought we would be cooperative in getting my Mom changed for the night. (By the way it is 7 pm.) She leaves the room.

I report this to the charge nurse and I am approached by an ascending order of supervisors to recount the incident. Every one is focused on the necessity for my mom to be toileted according to schedule. (I should have pointed out that my Mom is mostly continent; she will tell them if she needs to go.) Two days later, we meet with a higher supervisor and recount again. She agrees that the aide’s attitude and actions were all wrong. But my mother needs to be toileted at a minimum of every eight hours or all sorts of bad things will occur.

I point out that a young, fit person wrestling with a 96 year old woman in a wheelchair might cause bad things to occur as well. I am quietly puzzled that she seems to be more concerned with charges of neglect than charges of abuse. I press the point politely: what happens in the case of a non-compliant patient refusing to be toileted after eight hours? The answer: we must, and do, force them.

My mother was not compliant and would stay that way. It was the core of her being. She was old and weak but she thought she could take anyone. Doesn’t anyone else see the potential for harm?

Let’s be honest: the staff, the family, the culture– we see the nursing home as a waiting room for eternity. It is unspoken, but we actually perceive some human beings as unwanted.

Should it be that a good person who’s lived almost 100 years faithfully devoted to others, at the time when she is most vulnerable, weakest, most helpless, should suddenly have to adjust herself to other people’s priorities? Shouldn’t someone with 40 descendants be able to count on as much reciprocity as she needs? Is it countercultural to expect that someone in the most dependent part of her life should find that her world responds with that which she requires?

I contrast what I see every day with another scenario. My Mom surrounded by family, people she remembers and trusts. Feeling secure in the center of someone’s home. Her needs tended patiently for as long as she needs.

We did just this as long as we could. My mom had physically deteriorated so much that we could not adequately care for her. Even accompanying her in the shower resulted in mini-strokes. Soon after entering the home, it became clear that she needed medical expertise close at hand. The goal became: someone visting every day to orient and reassure her.

But institutions promote accomodation. Our default is the warehouse for people who are not easy, not pretty, not fun, not independent.

My Mom is so dependent, and yet she is very independent. Her current context responds unfavorably to her independent attitude, even while they resentfully suffer her dependence. One spends a lot of time staring at the ceiling in the dark, trying out plans for a better situation. But I’m afraid such plans are made difficult by the status quo and the desire we have to get on with our own lives, uninterrupted by someone else’s needs.

The real question: what does each of us do when the context tells us a given level of care is good enough, when the environment requires and expects a given level of care? How many of us decide our actions are adequate–or even good–because we have met the standard expected by the culture in which we work? And how many of us have a higher independent standard which requires a higher standard of care?

Won’t most people accommodate the context in which they work? And what if that context does not address the patients’ needs but some institutional self-interest?

I don’t want to suggest it’s all bad. By far most of the workers I have observed are doing their jobs with integrity and care. They try to relate to my mother kindly and she receives good care. Recently, they found a med which keeps her calm and un-agitated without making her druggy. They’re only people after all–trying to accommodate someone who is belligerent is just about impossible, and dealing with a pleasant patient is much better. So my mother gets along with her caregivers now, much of the time.

But I have seen what we human beings tend to do when we perceive the context we’re in as a settled given: we accommodate. And if the given expectations we’ve accepted are being challenged, the challenger too must be caused to accommodate. Only the few will put the needs of the challengers, like my Mom, before the institution’s expectations, because they act according to an overriding law.

What If We All Have the Same Purpose?

We encourage one another to make a difference. It is a worthy goal–to make the world better, to leave something positive behind. We esteem the people who make their mark. Not to think ourselves shallow, we also value the quiet achievers–those behind the scenes who make a difference but don’t ask for glory. We call them more noble.

We value the loud and the silent achievers for what they’ve done. Showy or shy, our worth is based on our accomplishments.

Our elderly parents tell us that they would be ashamed to be on the receiving end of care:”I don’t want to be a burden.”

Have you seen “The Drop Box?” This is a documentary about South Korean Pastor Lee Jong-rak, who takes in abandoned babies. He has constructed a box, a pass-through, on the side of his ministry home in which people may leave infants which they cannot care for, no questions asked and anonymously. Without the box, many of these babies would be abandoned in the dark on the streets of Seoul, and many of those would be found dead by next morning. This happens.

The opening of the outside of the box trips an alarm, and Pastor Lee rises in the night to run to receive the babies. Most he has passed on to social services, but 18 have become part of his family. Almost all of those are disabled. His own biological son is a severely disabled young adult.

This is what Pastor Lee has to say about his disabled children:

“There are children who rely on the help of others to survive their entire lives. Many people think it is better for them to go to heaven as quickly as possible, because life on earth is too difficult for them. But God sent them to the Earth with disabilities. They’re not the unnecessary ones in the world. God sent them to Earth with a purpose.

Disabled children teach many people, change many people,and help people reflect upon themselves, which is why they are the educators of society. Even these deficient, feeble children, these really weak children, live with smiles on their faces.”

The Drop Box: Rescuing Hundreds of Babies in South Korea

But here is an equation which we find difficult to resolve.

In our achievement-oriented society, aren’t we all valued by our ability, our accomplishment, our visibility? If accomplishment equals value, then the handicapped, who cannot accomplish, are of little value.

That sounds bad. We don’t approve of our own equation. It does not reflect well on us. So we add to that evaluation this item: the disabled are relieved of accountability to achieve. They can’t accomplish so we won’t expect them to.

Does our equation make sense yet? What can we add to make it work?

Since achievement equals value, maybe the disabled have some sort of consolation purpose. We think things like: perhaps they’re here to make us appreciate that we don’t have to endure lives like theirs. They inspire us to be grateful for our well-being. Maybe their purpose is to smile in spite of their horrible and pointless existences. That must take some special grace that I don’t have (and don’t want.) They have value without achievement.

Maybe this kind of thinking soothes our secret horror at the thought of living like they do but it may also be a way of soothing our consciences while we find some way to value the value-less.

But that doesn’t work either. Our generosity is toward ourselves; it does nothing for the recipients of our pity. I am afraid that our concern is with easing our own feelings rather than with helping the person who needs our help.

But back to the equation.

If the disabled are of value even though they cannot accomplish, how can I be of value because I achieve? If my abled-value standard is true, how can disabled people be of value?

If the able aren’t valued by the disabled’s virtues, and if the disabled cannot be valued by our achievements…

We are using two scales. Two equations are necessary: one for the able, another for the disabled. If so, don’t we assume that there are two scales for two different classes of human beings?

That’s rarely a good idea. Eugenicists usually start here.

In God’s economy, there must be only one set of balances. There must be an objective value measure to which all human persons have access. What if we are all valued in the same way? Must we not all ultimately be weighed on the same scale?

The crippled child cannot be weighed on the same scale as the highly accomplished and physically unchallenged adult, and come out equal.

It may be better to weigh the able on the same scale as the disabled. What if— in God’s measure, which is after all the true reality—we are valued the way they are? What if the able are judged by the disabled standard?

What do we have in common?

If we have the same purpose they do, then no one’s true value is accounted because of his accomplishments. Then value must be intrinsic and unearned. It must mean that all our purposes must be attainable without the aid of our accomplishments. That we all have value, regardless of our abilities.

What if we are valuable even though we have nothing to give? What if our value has nothing whatever to do with what we can do?

What if we are greatest when we have nothing to give?

We are all put on Earth needy, dependent, and disabled. Do babies have lesser value? Some people remain dependent. What can our common purpose be?

What if everyone‘s purpose is to be the object of the care of other people? What if we are at our greatest when we are receiving? What if you– no matter how capable you are— are here so that others may care for you?

Let’s be honest. In practice, most of us would find that humiliating. But what if your whole purpose is to become humble?

People were bringing the little children to him to place His hands on them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. When Jesus saw this, He was indignant and told them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them! For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”…

We struggle against being dependent; dependence makes us insignificant. Accepting help is humbling. We want to be the giver, the person who makes a difference.

Almighty God is glorified when one person cares selflessly for another person, and when we spend ourselves on another who is needy.

Turn that picture around. We overlook this perspective: God is glorified and honored when we accept care with humility and gratefulness, and receive love which we cannot pay back in any tangible manner

Pride is the root of all sin and God values humility. Can it be that what God desires most for us is to be in relationship, and to engender love from others? Are we here to inspire grace in others?

Let us remember the most fundamental equation in God’s Word. The most significant thing we can ever do is to accept God’s salvation when we have nothing to give in return, no way to earn it and no way to ever pay it back. The greatest thing we can ever do is to submit to rescue while acknowledging our utter helplessness, and to thank, love and acknowledge our Rescuer. This is our eternal condition.

Psalm 34:

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him…
The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
he delivers them from all their troubles.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

A universe where Pastor Lee’s adult son– unable to see, talk, or walk, nor even to comprehend– and I, physically and mentally able to accomplish much–are on truly equal ground, of fully equal yet inestimable value, makes sense. The equation works.

Regarding “Women’s Day” and Similar Stunts

“A Day Without a Woman.” Are we still doing this or did it flop?

So my new feminist overlords want me to be a woman who refrains from:

Paid job (Ah–but not the unpaid job!)

Emotional Labor (What does this mean)

Childcare (Please arrange for a competent substitute before you do this. And do explain to the children that, on every other day, you are being forced to care for them by your patriarchal oppressors.)

Diapers (Please don’t make the babies suffer. Secure a competent substitute.)

Housework (No complaint here. But can’t you refrain from this without an international event?)

Cooking (No eating.)

Sweeping (Why precisely sweeping…?)

Laundry ( Because men never do laundry.)

Dishes ( Because men never do dishes.)

Errands ( Because men never run errands.)

Groceries ( Sure– buy your groceries another day.)

Fake smiles (Only women have fake smiles; and all women’s smiles are fake. So no smiles — take that.)

Flirting (Awww. Because we’re so dumb we want permission to feel alright about not being forced to flirt.)

Makeup (Because every other day I mindlessly obey male-dominated societal expectations by applying the slave-paint as expected. We all know the fashion industry, the make-up industry and popular women’s magazines are totally male owned and operated.)

Laundry ( I get to not do laundry twice today.)

Shaving (It’s March. Not a problem.)

The women most likely do be excited about not doing these things probably aren’t doing them already.

So my niece is supposed to abandon her 14 month old son for the day? Her cousin, who cares for him on weekdays should refrain from caring for him also?

Are these the things which make me a woman?  Are these things exclusively feminine? Are these the things that oppress me?

If all the women who keep our society rolling every day really did strike, the results would be bad indeed. I don’t mean the few who will actually take a paid day off from their jobs, or the few who will pass off their childcare to another woman. Or that dishes will not be done. I mean the things women do that really make this world go around.

 Do we achieve peace and harmony through anger? Do we change minds by taking our ball and going home? Also,  if you think you need someone’s permission to strike, then aren’t you admitting that you’re a puppet every other day?

As a mere homemaker, I do what I do intentionally. No one forces me and I don’t need anyone’s permission to stop.

The most embarrassing aspect of an event like this is that it can only appeal to 1%-ers; meaning all of us in the first world. People with leisure, time and money to play at it. It accomplishes nothing for the woman who is actually poor, hungry or powerless. You couldn’t promote a movement like this in places where there was actually a problem. If you have the opportunity to choose to take the day off and shop at only small, female-owned businesses, you are one of the privileged, not one of the oppressed.

That being said, I’ve read some commentary from people who ought to know better along these lines: Even if women really struck, the world wouldn’t fall apart. Now if MEN went on strike, everything would grind to a halt.  An unfortunate sentiment which would encourage some to say we need a women’s strike.

Please, think about the women in your life refraining from the things they do every day which keep your world running smoothly. Think about what you wouldn’t know without what the women in your life have taught you. 

Let’s not confirm the division. Anything which is about dividing the sexes, about pitting them against one another, including the championing of one sex at the expense of the other…all of it tends toward destruction, conflict, tragedy. Nothing good can come of it.

Why? Because we were meant to be compatible, complementary, supportive of each other, invested in each other’s well-being, health, wealth, progress, and good outcomes. We were meant to do things together which neither of us could possibly do alone. Rather than seeking the destruction of one another, we were meant to build together.

And it unwittingly confirms the predictions God made about us at the beginning of human history. Men and women would struggle with each other for supremacy. We would perceive inequality where there was none and fight for our turf.

I think of myself as a human being. We human beings need to love each other, support each other, strive for better things together. If I divide myself from half of the planet, and half of the people in my life, I suffer for it, and so do they.

Gimmicks accomplish little, and division is nothing if not destructive.

 

 

Grief is Real but Memories Are Too

Sometimes time crawls. I am frozen.

The empty space is just a matter of fact. Everything else goes on. The landscape changes. Her house, my house, which I see out my front window, becomes less recognizable by the day. I can never go back in.

Distracting images float into my thoughts regardless of what I am doing or thinking. The last time I saw her, realizing just how very much I will miss her crooked fingers.

How can someone with such a huge presence be gone?

In my mind, I often find myself in that room where we found her nearly every day. We are watching M*A*S*H or looking vainly for a good movie. I am watering her plants and my husband is shooing away one of the wandering residents. Or we are wheeling her out of the dayroom to the gazebo, an escape she loved for as long as possible, to watch the sky over the trees past the other resident buildings.

Or she is still at home. We are sitting with our feet up on either end of her couch recliner, watching episode after episode of Law and Order, or old movies on TCM. Later I’m in her kitchen baking this week’s cookies.

Or I am sitting by her bed on that long Friday. On Saturday my siblings are arriving gradually, one by one, faces distorted briefly as they come in. I’m staring at the picture over her bed in which she stands between my two brothers looking fully twenty years younger than she was.

Mostly I find myself just hovering there in the room with the afternoon light slanting in then dimming toward evening. My husband and I are just with her.

How can such a huge presence be gone?

Here is a conversation from one of those afternoons under the gazebo. My mother, with dementia but articulate as could be, had been indulging in a confrontation with some of the staff. Now, calm:

Mom: What are those buildings? It looks like a school.

My husband: No, it’s just some of the other buildings here.

Mom: …Maybe they’re teaching manners to the elderly.

My husband: They assume they already have them.

Mom: … …Obviously we don’t.

She never lost her true self. I have stories.

Now, no matter what happens, or what I do, I just cannot feel right. I imagined that grief was a little ball of black twine inside of me. I’m getting along OK, I don’t feel any way in particular, I’m just getting through each day. I will feel normal in awhile. Just wait.  I am frozen.

Then it occurred to me that my image was wrong. The ball of grief is not a little thing inside me. I am in it. My world is inside of grief.

I can only wait until it wants to go. The grieving person does not control the grief process. No matter how prepared you were for your loss, grief takes its own course. You are at its mercy.

It’s helpful for others to know this. Rather than trying (however sympathetically) to tell someone how to get through (or get over) their grief, we should walk with them through it. No matter how long it takes, or how unexpected the path. Just be kind and present. There’s really nothing else you can do. Or maybe the best thing you can do is to leave them alone with it and let them work through it.

I wish I had written down more of her memories. Let me tell you a little about my mom from my memory.

She was creative. Before she became too impaired to sew anymore, she had been sewing for about seventy five years. She could make almost anything. She never followed a pattern without creating her own alterations. My friend and I were looking at tote bags today at Hallmark and I remembered the huge, wildly printed, sometimes waterproof-lined totes my mom made. With handles that would never fall off. She loved color and loud prints. She was always stylish in her one of a kind handmade dresses. She made her hats, she made our Easter dresses and spring coats every year, she made my sister’s formal prom dresses (several), she made the wedding dresses for all three of us Mercer girls. She loved to make my children clothes: flannel lined denim baggy jeans with huge pockets and elastic waists, delightfully patterned little girl dresses, baby clothes, doll clothes, roomy fleece sweaters with reindeer and snowflakes.

How many of her carefully sewn gifts do I still have? Not that many. How did I let them go? This feels like infinite regret now.

She also loved cooking and was creative there too. There was a health-conscious era where all baked goods had what we called bark and gravel. There was always cake and the smell of cinnamon buns or cookies in the oven signaled the holidays. I have carried on her baking traditions, so at least that isn’t lost.

At the center of my mother’s personality was a diamond hard gem called Self-Determination. Maybe it was really called Opposition or You Can’t Make Me. She died with advanced dementia but that nucleus at the center of her being was untouched.

To the end she knew two things. She knew her children and their children, and she knew nobody was ever going to make her do anything she didn’t want to.

She gave up going to bed when her dementia was advancing. No amount of persuasion would  get her out of the recliner and into bed. So there she sat 24/7, dozing sometimes, awake sometimes, regardless of night or day. I once marched over to her house at 2am to convince her to get into bed. By 3:30 I retreated home, angry, exasperated and unsuccessful. The more I persuaded, no matter how I persuaded, the more her heels dug deeper.

She never gave up the idea of going home once she was in the nursing facility. This got her kicked out of the first place because she, with her wheelchair and strength of a kitten, was actively trying to escape. The second place had the locked-down unit where they’re supposed to be prepared for wanderers and escapists. They had to invent new safeguards and change procedures after she arrived. She pulled the fire alarms. They had to hide the elevator button.  She was going to bed when she wanted.

In her last conversation, aware that she had had a stroke, confined to bed, she was still asking if I thought she’d be going home soon. She. Was going. Home.

This is one of my favorite Mom stories from my childhood. She would not mind my telling it. My mother was well educated, articulate and intelligent. But few things in the neighborhood made my mom madder than people letting their dogs “go” on our property. If she caught some dog walker allowing their dog to do its business in our yard, or even our sidewalk, they would get an earful.  One day she saw a neighbor lady from around the corner doing this and my mom had had it. When the lady tried to justify herself my mother asked her: “How would you like it if I sent my kids over to go in your yard?”

Neighbor lady went off shocked. Little did the woman know that my brother loved this and would have been glad to do it.

I could fill a book with things to tell you about my Mom and maybe someday I will. She deserves it.

A Few More Words About Relationship

Thinking about your relationships eventually leads to thinking about the relationships you have which are not so good. If you are a conscientious believer in Jesus Christ,  you must be honest and circumspect with yourself about whether you have behaved rightly in those less than ideal relationships. Jesus put an extraordinarily high bar on our relationships.

I was thinking about a person, let’s say X, who I find difficult, who I don’t really trust. Walking away from the relationship is not an option. I must get along and I certainly would never want to be openly unpleasant to X if only for the sake of peace. But my approach has been to be emotionally distant and to give X no further opportunity to injure or make use of me. Sounds like a good strategy, huh?

Then I did something dangerous. I thought about Jesus. Did my part of this relationship meet with his approval? Did I reach his bar for relationship maintenance? And the clear answer was: absolutely not.

The imperative of relationship, Jesus’ imperative, is that we have total integrity in our relationships with other human beings. We are not here to make things easy or comfortable for ourselves; we are here to be holy and righteous. Our imperative, our command, is to persevere through relationships and make them loving to the extent that it depends on us. And what Jesus means by loving is this:

This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.

We are here to become holy. We are here to demonstrate by our every moment what the True God is like. And He loves perfectly. He invented love. He is love.

Yes, especially those relationships we could do without. That in law, that sibling, that old friend. The one who actually has done you dirty.

Rather than distance yourself, literally or emotionally, be ready to be real in that relationship and to engage with that person. Recognize that it will be challenging to stay in and stay righteous. It will probably be impossible. But you have access to a supernatural and inexhaustible supply from outside your own resources.

I’m not saying there isn’t a time to walk away from a relationship which is actually harmful or dangerous. There are people we must leave behind and not see again. And a break up is a break up— that’s a relationship that is over.

Most of our relationships, however, are not so. We should not be so quick to discard other people because our relationships with them are uncomfortable or challenging. It could be you are meant to face that challenge and learn from it. It could be you would be a better friend, or sister, or spouse because you learned how to navigate in that relationship and succeeded in making it a healthy one.

We don’t get a pass on leaving a relationship emotionally because it is a difficult one. We have a responsibility to make that relationship loving if we answer to the God who is love.

 

P. S. Can we do away with the terms boyfriend and girlfriend when the people being described are no longer boys and girls?  Relationship statuses which were meant to be left behind in teenagerhood because people were supposed to move on to more mature and permanent statuses (significant other) haven’t proved sustainable. But please, a 70-year-old does not have a girlfriend.

 

 

10 Ways Large Families Save the (Earth) World

1. I just finished wiping the icing off the bottoms of a bunch of birthday candles. I’m going to need those again in ten days, and again less than a month later. Why would I buy new ones when these still have a good inch and a half? Crumbs of old homemade icing never hurt anyone yet. I bet moms of two kids buy a new set of candles every birthday and throw them away.

Also, homemade-from-scratch cake costs about 1/20th of a bakery cake and tastes 20x better. Hydrogenated shortening kills; real butter doesn’t.

2. My son needed to do zero adjusting when he went to college and shared a room with two other guys. He shared a room with two guys at home too. Maybe my boys were unusual, but they never fought over territory. So at college my son was perfectly content with his bed and his desk; he let the other guys vie for lebensraum.

3. It is essential to learn patience when eight people share one bathroom. It is equally essential to learn sympathy and consideration for others (‘ bladders).

4. Bags and bags of clothing used to show up on our porch. We had never asked for hand-me-downs; people just assumed we could use them. They were right and we were thankful. It would have been difficult indeed to buy new clothes every season for every child. Most of the clothing we received was in like-new condition, and a lot of the items had price-tags.

Perhaps the most valuable component of these acts of generosity was that my kids learned that a second-hand item in good condition does not differ one iota from a brand-new one. There is shame neither in sharing nor receiving, and there is nothing which so inspires giving than receiving.

5. My kids are now adults who don’t expect the world to hand them all the amenities– partly because we didn’t teach them to expect gifts except on Christmas and their birthdays. They didn’t expect candy except on Christmas, Easter, and Halloween.

My oldest daughter was honestly judgmental about her friends expecting big gifts for Easter and lesser holidays. My kids know how to delay gratification, and although they do not always practice it, they know how to be frugal.

6. Reduce, reuse, recycle. It was our lifestyle before the motto was coined. I was raised by children of the Depression and learned to make my spending count. When I was growing up, we didn’t spend money on non-essentials but we had all we needed. We weren’t used to vacations and we were usually the last of our friends to get the latest tech like color TV.

We raised our kids with the same mindset: one not deprivation but careful frugality. Spend when you need to without regret, but save whenever you can for future needs. We didn’t spend much on vacations. We drove our cars until they were junk. Eating out or ordering in was a rare special occasion.

7. Contrary to popular assumption, big families have small footprints. We eight use approximately the same resources that the four of you, or the two of you, do.

At the same time they condemn parents of several kids for selfish and wasteful American materialism, my childfree acquaintances espouse the superior lifestyle of spontaneously flying the globe, to stay at the priciest family-free resorts, indulging themselves in only the finest and most select perks that the self-absorbed can devise. Driving further to shop for only the trendiest fair trade items.

I’ll compare my eight-person staycation expenses to your two-person dream trip any day you like. Guess who comes out using up more of earth’s precious resources? Virtue-signaling and Childfree -signaling don’t mix.

8. Happy families. Positive family experiences. Fostering a concept of unconditional belonging. We believe that being plunked in the middle of a bunch of other difficult human beings is actually according to a wise plan; we are each more or less compelled to learn how to live in peace with these other people, which teaches us valuable lessons about how to get along in a world full of other people.

9. Raising people who want to have children and build families, and who see the importance and enduring value of pouring their lives into others and investing themselves in creating a unique family culture which will continue to influence after they are gone.

In other words, small footprints may lead to small footprints.

10. Today, a large family orientation usually develops within a faith orientation. Our society has moved toward smaller families with the advent of birth control and the cult of personal fulfillment. I might also say with the de-emphasis of faith culture and the growth of materialist culture. It is counter cultural to have large families and, counterintuitively, large families very often happen due to deliberate choice. That choice usually derives from faith in the intrinsic value of each person, given by a gracious God.

Because of this faith orientation, the lessons of other-centeredness, the value of family, the hope of enduring heritage, good stewardship of material wealth, sustainability, recycling and reusing–all part of a whole.

Bonus reason: I love my big family.

 

 

 

 

 

Hero Fathers

I attended my aunt’s funeral recently. She was the last of her generation in my mother’s or my father’s family.

Two of her children and one grandchild eulogized her and spoke of her affection and her infectious love of fun. It was acknowledged that she had had an unusually tragic childhood.

My uncle, her husband, passed away about fifteen years ago. Only honor was spoken for both parents. Yet I know there was such turmoil in that home. How does it all add up?

An extremely conflicted marriage which bore legendary stories produced five upstanding, moral, faithful, loving people. And each one produced functional homes and happy families of their own. Such is not always the case.

Somehow a couple who clashed tragically, worked together. They persevered to guide five children to responsible adulthood. The kids had two models who together covered most of the bases and who somehow taught them well to discard the bad examples and to emulate the good.

He was everything good in this world and protection from everything bad.

My cousin had this to say of her Dad. She borrowed it from her brother who wrote it for his eulogy.

It was certainly true for them and their siblings. I knew that he stood in the way between his kids and a lot of negative outcomes. The fact that all five turned out well is the proof of his success.

I knew him as a guy who had a way with stories, who loved to visit his elderly mother (my grandmother, who lived with us) on Wednesday nights for a glass of wine and a lot of laughs. According to his kids he was also a rock-solid course-corrector. In the face of nonsense, he was no nonsense. He poured out his whole life, all of his energy and time, for his family and for his kids.

And here is the thing that I think makes him truly remarkable: he stuck with a marriage that most today would have abandoned. This marriage was not one in which he found comfort, peace, or support. Clearly there was nothing in it for him for many years.

He stayed with his children.

Would anyone say this about him:

He was everything good in this world and protection from everything bad

if he had not chosen to stay and face the conflict every day, and owned the responsibility to keep his family on a straight course?

Today we are encouraged to live our own lives, to pursue our own particular brand of happiness, and to let go of what–and who–makes our lives anything but happy. Just walk away if you perceive another person as “toxic.” In other words we are encouraged to jettison difficulties, and to exclude what–and who–does not serve us.

How will we ever know what kind of people we are? If my uncle had not lived in the crucible, would he have known the steadfastness of which he was capable? Would his children know he was a hero?

It was a different time. He lived by an old code. Men were men. He stood up and did his duty. You can say all these trite things.

But it seems to me old codes and doing one’s duty, being a man and living according to a different time…knowing how men are expected to behave and committing to being a man…are all things that work. Thank God there are people who fulfill their promises, no matter how much it takes from them, who commit without turning back, who endure no matter what comes.

Fathers can be heroes, and my uncle was one.

 

 

Social Media Reveals

When you can’t say hello to your high school friend after a couple decades without a disclaimer: “Even though we would not agree on politics or religion, I have decided to acknowledge your greeting”–you reveal a lot.

Word of advice, when you can’t even say hi to an old friend without establishing your tribal identity, you have joined a cult. You’ve given yourself over, body and soul, to a controlling party.

You’ve bought into identity politics and applied it to yourself. Peer acceptance is essential, and the virtue signal to the self is as necessary as air. In every social interaction, your identity must be validated.

I’ve been lectured to by a close relative, who actually knows me apart from any cultural caricature, who applied abusive accusations based on a cultural caricature which she supposed fit me. I wasn’t even the offender in this situation but I was close at hand.

I’ve been unfriended, post-hidden, and even once blocked (I was relieved about that one; the blocker was actually getting scary). All of this long after I announced that I would no longer make political comments. I no longer do; I decided that social media is for socializing with new and old friends. Sharing news and pleasantries, songs we like, amusing anecdotes from our lives, and re-connecting with long-lost friends.

But re-connecting can be deflating at times. Warm and funny friends in high school reveal themselves to be cold and distant. Greetings after 30 years need disclaimers. It’s not enough to be politics-free. I am not sufficiently deferential to the essential political consensus. I’m not in the tribe, and so social interaction will be impossible.

All this is very sad. We’ve turned over social reality to social media virtual-reality, and we mistake the one for the other.

 

 

 

 

Return to Respect for the Marriage Bed

I am appalled when I hear of a young married man and woman being asked to spend nights apart because of ministry duties.

God created human society. At humanity’s core is the intimate relationship between man and wife.  It is the nucleus of the relationship between man and woman; it is the Big Bang which creates the family; it is the center of all human relationship. Church, village, nation, world–all human society springs concentrically from the source of this physical/spiritual union between man and wife.

God designed the marriage relationship as a human mirror of His most intimate, unconditional and expressive love. His love for His Bride.

The marriage bed is respected and set apart — or made sacred — by God the Creator. Have we bought into the world’s evaluation of married sexual relationships? The newly married couple–wink wink–now can have some legal fun. No big deal if they have to put other priorities before this bit of self-indulgence.

No, no, no. This is what God has to say in His Word about married sex:

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Hebrews 13:4

Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. Proverbs 5:15

Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth. Malachi 2:15

God designed the first years of marriage as a special time when a couple nurtures and builds their love. He knows that physical expression binds the two together in a connection so close that we can hardly comprehend. It is a mystical union meant to reflect the faith, constancy and intense affection that He has for us. It is how we seal the ownership of one another, heart, body and soul. It is a time to develop a new wordless language unique to each relationship. It takes time, intentional effort, and self-sacrifice.

But I’m in a struggling ministry and I’m needed, you say. If you are married, you will never have another ministry which supersedes your marriage. It is your Number One Ministry Priority. The cultivation of your marriage as an expression of God’s gift, and its maintenance as a representative of God’s unbounded love, far surpasses any other ministry goals over time.

We are here to represent God to a world which needs Him. We are here to love God through loving (verb) His other human creations. How better to do that than to live out a marriage as He designed, since your marriage is an example of how God loves each of us?

The marriage bed is not to de slighted. It is the far more important than the world knows. Let’s be the ones who respect the marriage bed. The freedom of the married man and woman, particularly the newly married couple, to cultivate this most vital foundation—unhurried, unhampered, undistracted—should not be infringed by anyone. No one should tempt a newly married man or woman away from the marriage bed, from the right to spend private time together overnight in their own home. The marriage bed takes precedence over other relationships. The marriage bed comes far before any other ministry responsibilities.

And no man, and no woman, having recently married, should submit to a request to spend an overnight apart from his or her spouse. To do so is to slight the other, and the marriage, and the Lord who sealed your union.

How do I know? This is what God has to say on the subject of young marriage:

“When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out with the army nor be charged with any duty; he shall be free at home one year and shall give happiness to his wife whom he has taken.” Deuteronomy 24:5

God is not winking and nudging at honeymoons. He does not think the man and wife self-indulgent who enjoy their new intimacy. Even our Creator respects the marriage bed and tells us that it is of first priority over virtually all others.

Who Will Stand?

We are lost in an unfamiliar town. We are–all–looking for familiar reference points. But in our search for home, we are only getting more lost.

The world where we grew up is long gone. The world we felt we had mastered as adults is past. The world we recognized as changing quickly–but still secure–is quickly vanishing. The world you depended on just last year, obliterated by a furious need for quixotic social micromanagement, gone.

The culture of the left is imploding. Hollywood, no longer content with lecturing the Man and its audience, has turned its newfound strident sanctimony inward and is cannibalizing itself.

And the sanctimony will not be satisfied until every molecule of what we called culture–sports, entertainment, social media–is policed, weighed, and certainly found wanting. According to whose scale no one really knows.

Many commenters left and right have observed that progressive culture is eating itself as well. Upholding unexamined faith in a hundred contradictory premises is exhausting. The political left is splitting into increasingly smaller and increasingly self-important factions. Substitute tribes for families, congregations, and communities–and you get war.

Washington culture is sick and highly contagious. The political right is ineffectual because it is complicit.

Some on the right may cheer the downfall of the culture of the left. But let’s think about this for just a minute. What will replace it?

If it is true that our progressive elites are going down, if we are about to enter a new paradigm…what will that be? If it is true that the chickens have come home to roost, that the world that the change agents worked for is unsustainable, that the practically-atheist context is about to collapse under its own weight of illogic and to vanish in its thin moral vapor…

Are we who watched and shook our heads and abstained, we who prayed and criticized from the margins, we who talked good games about the world we would prefer…are we prepared to come into the vacuum and be what we were meant to be?

We gratefully accepted those margins because that little space gave us cover. It’s much easier to feel righteous when you can shake your heads at the unrighteous from the CCM-approved safe space.

Are we, the faithful, ready to take dominion over the earth, not in any political or socially-engineered sense, but as living representatives of the Creator? The people whom He has redeemed and called His own, the people who are called by His name, the people who He has commanded to represent who He is to an uncomprehending world—we have a calling. And it may be that, instead of hiding our lights under bushels in our contemporary Christian ghetto, we will soon have an opportunity to refresh the culture with His presence.

Are we ready?