Return to the Lord

Hosea 6:1

“Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.”

Yesterday I celebrated my 50th birthday by going to the gym, shopping with my husband, and going out to dinner.  All day long family and friends sent me their well-wishes.  If ever I felt loved, yesterday was the day.  I was flying high and enjoying every minute of it.  However, you know the saying, “what goes up, must come down.”

Today is not my birthday.  I woke to my typical aches and pains; maybe they were even a little worse than usual after all my merry-making yesterday.  I went to the chiropractor for an adjustment, then traveled to meet my in-laws for a birthday lunch.   It was once last glimpse at the mountaintop before I got a long look at the valley.

Just a little while ago, a phone call signaled a continuing family conflict, the taxman affirmed what we thought would be bad news, and then the baking project I was working on didn’t yield as much as I was hoping it would.  Three strikes and I plummeted fast off that mountain of love into the valley of “how am I going to fix this mess?”

Fortunately, I was quick to acknowledge my helplessness and remember to look back “to the hills from whence cometh my help.”  God, why do you seem so far from me when just yesterday you seemed so close?  I mean, didn’t I celebrate Easter two days ago with shouts of “He is risen, He is risen indeed, Alleluia”? Didn’t I go straight from celebrating Your victory over sin, death, and the grave into a virtual love-fest? Why is my faithfulness so fleeting?  Why Am I so quick to forget your goodness?  Why do I think that the God of the Universe, who willingly sent His only Son to die for my sins, won’t also walk with me through family difficulties, financial trials, and a tiny little thing like mis-sized cinnamon rolls?

Because I am bent on turning.  When the road gets a little rough, I assume I’ve got to get tough.  I don’t often consider that God has placed a rough road in front of me so that He can assure me of His presence and provision.  I forget that He has carried us through sickness, joblessness, tragedy, and loss to much better places than we ever thought possible.

Just this morning, a mere nine hours ago, I read in my Bible study of Hosea the words posted above, that “God has torn us to pieces, but He will heal us.”  I read that way before the triple threat of a mere hour ago.

Jennifer Rothschild asked me in the Hosea study, “What is the greatest affliction God has placed or allowed in your life?” I listed a few things that have been quite challenging.  Her next question, “Can you see how that wounding has been part of greater healing?”  My response? “Absolutely.”

Can I see how the situations placed before us right now might be part of greater healing?  Yes.  Do I wish that they weren’t happening? Yes.  Do I trust God enough to watch and see how He works even in these difficult times?  Obediently, at this moment, I say yes.

I refuse to lose hope just because I am sitting in the valley after a delightful trip to the mountaintop.  I’m not going to fashion a golden calf.  I’m going to trust that God is still working, just like He was Sunday and yesterday.  I’m going to to believe that any bumps in our path have been crafted by Him to draw us closer to, not further from, Him.  I’m going to believe that although right now we seem wounded, in just a little while He will heal us.

And won’t He just do it.

Guys, He’s God

Have you felt the oppressive weight of hopelessness?  It seems that everywhere I turn I hear the message of doom and gloom.  Just this morning I heard reports of yet another devastating terror attack — this time in Brussels.  For the past several months the political rhetoric has fostered fear and hatred. I myself have been troubled by the uncertainties in my life. It seems that people all over the world are feeling desperate — hopeless.

What kind of hopelessness drives a person to strap a bomb to himself and willingly die while taking out the lives of others?  What kind of fear causes people to lash out at complete strangers?  What kind of desperation keeps me awake at night?

It’s the kind of fear that has forgotten that God is God.  It’s the kind of hopelessness that believes that our future is in our own hands.  It’s the kind of desperation that wonders how life would’ve been different if I would’ve made different decisions along the way.

This kind of fear and hopelessness is not new; “there is nothing new under the sun.” The Israelites, standing at the base of Mount Sinai, while Moses was talking to God, started freaking out because he was taking too long.  They were literally bearing witness to the presence of God and they forgot about Him! So, turning to their own resources, they fashioned a golden calf, yes, that’s right, a baby cow made out of their jewelry.  And, they started to worship the freshly minted calf, saying that it had brought them out of Egypt.

Say what?

Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?  I mean much more ridiculous then strapping a bunch of explosives to one’s body and walking into a crowded subway thinking that that will solve the world’s problems.  Much more ridiculous than thinking that my 401k will give me security.  Much more ridiculous than imagining that I will be happy as soon as I drop twenty pounds. Way more crazy than staying up all night wondering if I made all the right parenting decisions.

Those Israelites, man, they were crazy.

But no crazier than me. They had merely turned their faces away from the mountain and, that quickly, had forgotten that their salvation was right in front of them.  I’ve turned my face, too.  Over and over again.  I have taken my eyes off of God and looked instead to my own strength, or the strength of those around me, to be my salvation.

What was I thinking?  That God was taking too long? Wasn’t I bearing witness to His presence and His power in my life?

Mm-hm.  I was.  And still, I turned.

Over and over I have found that I am not my own salvation.  In fact, when I turn to myself, I unfailingly make my situation even worse than it was to begin with.  Just like the Israelites.

You would think that God would get angry.  You would think He would say, “That’s it.  I am done with you. We’ve been over this.  I’m not giving you another chance.” But He doesn’t. He pulls us close; He says, “I’ve got you. It’s gonna be ok. Remember, I’m God.”

Oh, yeah.  Guys, He’s God.

Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

One of those days….

Did you ever have one of those days?  I had one this week.

It actually started the night before.  My husband was out of town, so I stayed up a little too late watching Netflix and crocheting.  Yes, I know, I am a rebel. Full disclosure — I was also sipping wine.

I set my alarm for 7am when I crawled into bed around 11:30pm because I had a physical therapy appointment the next morning at 8:15 about thirty minutes away from my home. (No, I don’t need more time to get ready.  My PT knows that I roll out of bed, fix my tea, and then drive to her.  I don’t always even comb my hair.)

When my alarm went off, I groaned, creakily rolled out of bed and realized that since my husband was not home, I would have to be the one to take the dog out for his morning duties.  That accomplished, I came back in and got dressed.  (Yes, of course I took my dog outside, on a college campus, in my pajamas. The students don’t even point and laugh any more.)

I dressed, made my smoothie, a cup of super strong black tea, and my special morning green tea laced with lemon, cinnamon, and honey.  Since it was nearing time to leave, I crated the dog and started shuttling my parade of beverages out to the car.  I put a water bottle and my black tea in the cup holders.  Then, I wedged my smoothie behind my purse on the passenger seat.  My green tea?  I set it on the floor of the driver’s side for ‘just a moment’ while I ran back to close the door.

I know you see what’s coming…and this is only the beginning.

I shut the door, ran back to the car, and climbed in, forgetting that I had placed my tea on the floor thirty seconds earlier.  My size 9s kicked the dainty little cup and dumped six ounces of sticky mess onto the floor.  Since I was now running short on time, I reached in the back seat and grabbed the sheet we use to protect the seat from golden retriever hair.  I shoved it onto the driver’s side floor and proceeded to my appointment.

When I arrived at the physical therapy office after my thirty minute drive, the office manager greeted me with, “I have you down for 9:15.” “Oh, ok, mind if I hang out here for an hour?” “Not at all.”

I pushed away the thoughts of an extra hour of sleep or drinking my beverages at home and found a seat on the couch in the waiting room.  I checked my emails, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, then set my phone beside me on the couch and grabbed a magazine.  When the magazine, a local healthy living piece, suggested that my ground was ready to plant peas and spinach, I leaned over to get a pen out of my purse to make a note.  Just then I heard a swoosh-clunk and realized that my phone had slid down the space next to the cushion on the couch.

I slid my arm down the same space and realized that I couldn’t reach my phone to retrieve it.  I stood up to remove the cushion to get better access only to find that the cushion wasn’t the removable kind.  I got on my hands and knees to reach under the couch only to find that the bottom fabric was taut and secure.  After another attempt to fit my arm down the crack, I looked over at the office manager — yes, the same one who had informed me that I was an hour early — and asked her for a little help.

Together we examined the couch.  We reached into the couch.  We tipped the couch forward.  We tipped the couch backward.  Finally we discovered a small tear in the underlining of the couch.  If we tipped the couch backward then lifted one end higher than the other, we could coax my phone to the opening and free it.  Mission accomplished. Phone freed.

But wait, there’s more.

I drove directly from my appointment to cast my vote in the presidential primary.  That took a grand total of ten minutes — no complications.  Phew.  So, I drove home to clean the tea out of the car.  Just as I entered campus, my car informed me that I had forgotten to get gas.  It was gasping on the remaining fumes.  So, I turned around and drove back out to get gas, then returned home to deal with the sticky mess.

The sheet I had shoved under my feet was one of those cheap microfiber ones, so it hadn’t really absorbed anything. It had just provided a barrier between my shoes and the mess.  I grabbed a towel and started wiping up the goop when suddenly I felt a sharp pain in my low back.  I slowly rose to standing to assess the situation.  “Come on, I gotta clean up this mess!  I don’t have time for an injury!”  In fact, I didn’t just want to clean up the tea, I wanted to wipe down the interior of the car, maybe run a vacuum, then put a clean sheet on the back seat.

After all, a student was coming to walk Chester with me, and the Dean requires that we take him off campus to walk, so we were going to have to take my car, and I didn’t want this student to see the evidence of my carelessness.  I walked around a bit, grabbed the vacuum and a wet soapy wash cloth and went back to finish the job.  By the time I was finished, the car, good ol’ Suze Cruze, was looking quite snappy — at least on the inside.

However, after maneuvering a couch and cleaning out a car, my body was experiencing some post-traumatic stress and pain.  I had fifteen minutes until the student would arrive, so I iced.  Then we walked. Then I iced some more.

Then I tutored.  Then I iced.  Then I tutored.  Then I iced.

I’m happy to say that the following day my chiropractor was able to put everything back where it belonged.  I wish I could say that he also was able to repair the disfunction in my brain that misunderstood my appointment time, forgot about the tea, neglected putting my phone in the pocket in my purse that was especially designed just for phones, and overlooked an empty gas tank. I mean, he’s a chiropractor, not a miracle worker.

I’m also happy to say that I was able to laugh my way through all of this.  I hope I made you laugh a little bit, too.

Proverbs 3:4

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

Danger! Danger! Danger!

One dichotomy of thinking that I have clung to in various ways for most of my life is a bit embarrassing to admit:

If I am thin, I am valuable; if I am fat, I am detestable.

This belief led to a certain degree of self-loathing in my adolescent and young adult years and then propelled me into the disordered thinking and distorted body image that supported an eating disorder and remnants of one for much longer than I would care to admit.

‘Thin’ as defined by me has meant a variety of things. Its worst definition was a denial of self — a refusal to care for my needs in favor of controlling my body to attain and maintain a particular size.  Over the years, the definition morphed into something more socially acceptable — a particular dress size, for instance, that could be maintained through regular exercise, an aversion to excess, and a more private critical eye that was still always trying to find a way to weigh just a little bit less.

‘Fat’ as defined by me has meant anything over a particular number on a scale, laziness, apathy, and a refusal to take charge of one’s life.  I had been ‘fat’ in my younger years.  I didn’t like myself then, and I wasn’t going back.  I had control over my body.  Fat people were simply ‘less than’ me.

See why I am embarrassed?  I had put myself into a category, ‘thin people’, and, in so doing, had positioned myself in opposition to those outside of that category.  Now, in my defense, this was not conscious.  I would have never admitted this out loud.  I pride myself in treating people fairly, not judging a book by its cover, but looking on the inside to find value and worth.

But, I’m admitting here that I have been a hypocrite. And, as with almost every other judgment I have made in my life, my judgment of ‘non-thin’ people has had more to do with what is inside of me than what is inside of them.

I know this because in the last three and a half years that I have been dealing with health issues, I have been slowly putting on weight.  It’s now up to twenty pounds.  My clothing size has changed.  The number on the scale has exceeded my ‘safe number’.  I don’t like how I look.  I don’t like how I feel.

I’ve been trying to accept it.  I have bought some new clothes.  I have done a lot of self-talk.  I have continued to exercise.  I have continued to watch what I eat.  I keep telling myself, “this is not a failure; it is a disease.” Or, “you don’t have control over this, you will have to adapt.”

So last week when I went to see my doctor, I said, “My weight keeps climbing.  It edged up again this time, didn’t it?”  I think inside I was hoping she would say, “you don’t have control over this, you will have to adapt, it’s part of the disease.” But do you know what she said?  She said, “I want you to keep track of everything you eat for a while, so that I can see what is causing this.”

Gasp. You mean it’s something I am doing? I might be able to control this?

Danger! Danger! Danger!  All the alerts are going off in my head.  Keeping track of what I eat was a gateway to anorexia over thirty years ago.  Each day I tried to eat less and write down less. If I write down what I eat now, I will fall back into this disorder.  I can’t do that!  I have to let myself eat whatever I want.

Did you hear the dichotomy? Either I eat whatever I want, or I will have an eating disorder. It’s simply not true, but this is challenging territory.

Can I be attentive to what I eat without being restrictive? Can I assess what I am eating without the pressure to trim down? Can I trim down without dieting? Am I comfortable allowing my doctor to see everything I eat (or don’t eat)?  Am I willing to let her speak into this?

Before I could go too far down the rabbit hole, I blurted out in her office, “I used to be anorexic….” Phew! I got it out.  “Well,” she said, “we don’t want to get anywhere close to that, but we do want to make sure that what you are eating has a healthy ratio of fat to protein to carbohydrate.”

I didn’t initially want to follow her directions.  And then, I wanted too badly to follow her directions.  I started thinking, “well, I could lose those twenty pounds and get back into all of my old clothes….” That’s all it takes for me, really.  Just a quick thought and I am off and restricting.  Quietly.  In private.  Hiding my plans from others who might want to stand in my way.

For the first three days I recorded what I ate quietly on my phone app without telling anyone.  And, of course, I limited what I was eating so as to ‘eat less’ than the prescribed number on the app. Sigh.

Then, I told my husband about the app.  Now I am telling you.  I am not going to believe the dichotomy any longer.  I have value and purpose regardless of a number on a scale or a dress size.  My weight does not define me.  I can watch what I eat without being restrictive.

I can evolve past this dichotomous thinking.  God has so much more for me.

Romans 12:2

 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

still learning

Parenting and teaching have changed me.  At one time I was a very black and white thinker.  Through more than two decades of parenting and almost that many years of interacting with students,  my firm, almost rigid beliefs about almost everything have been challenged and shaped. I am not the person I once was, nor do I want to be.

One of the lessons that I have learned is that there is always more to a situation than first meets the eyes.  Let’s say a student walks into my class late, unprepared, and seemingly unengaged.  It would be easy to assume that this student is apathetic about my class specifically, and perhaps education in general.  However, a closer look might reveal that the student was doing everything he could to get to my class on time, but his parents had their own timetable — they made him stay up to take care of a younger sibling all night, they got home from work late in the morning, and then made my student wait while they showered before they brought him to school.  My student wanted to complete the homework, but his sibling was demanding.  He wanted to be on time, but he had no alternate way to get to class.  Or, let’s say one of my children is snarky, disrespectful, and seemingly bent on opposing every direction I give.  I might assume that my role is to demand respect, give firmer demands, and heap on consequences, but a closer look, and some long hours of listening, may uncover some deep pain that the child is afraid, even ashamed, to share with me.  Acting out is not the problem; it’s a symptom.

Another lesson is that there is always a third option. “Mrs. Rathje, should I study education or medicine?”  “Mom, should I run track or play soccer?” “Would it be better if I took this job or if I didn’t work at all?”  My answer to all of the above, “Is there a third option?”   Why not consider a career as a nurse educator?  Is there any other sport or activity that seems interesting to you?  Is there a different job you could consider? more schooling? service learning?

Too often I have found myself trapped in either/or thinking:

  • Do I want to be a vegetarian or eat meat?
  • Am I a night person or a morning person?
  • Do I like contemporary or traditional worship?
  • Am I conservative or liberal?
  • Should I teach or write?
  • Am I a Spartan or a Wolverine.

Don’t be ridiculous, that last one was just to see if you were still paying attention.

In my earlier life, I found it comforting to ‘choose a side’.   I was forming my identity, after all. I wanted to find my place.  It felt too risky to remain fluid.  I wanted the security of saying that I was Lutheran or Republican.  I wanted a box to check.  I was anti-Disney, pro-Life, for the environment, and against dying my hair.

Here’s the thing: putting myself in those boxes positioned me against those who put themselves in other boxes.  If I liked only wheat bread, I might judge someone who only bought white bread.  If I only shopped at Kroger, I might look down on someone who only shopped at Wal-Mart.  I didn’t want to talk about it.  I didn’t want to listen to why they preferred white bread or Wal-Mart.  I knew who I was and that I was right.  No discussion needed.

Yeah, it limited me.  I cut myself off from all kinds of people and experiences.  Enter my children. And my students.  Early on they were willing to listen to whatever I had to say.   They were pliable.  They wanted to please me.  But over time, as they developed minds of their own, they began to question my positions.  They began to challenge my opinions.

How dare they?  I did not like this at all!!  After all, I had been being right for so long.  If I allowed myself to think differently, I was admitting that I had been — gasp — wrong!

But not really. That was some more either/or thinking.  Once upon a time I held certain opinions based on what I knew at the time.  Over the years, I have had many experiences that have taught me.  So, based on what I know now, some of my opinions have changed. That, my friends is called human growth and development.

And here is the most important thing that I have learned.  Life is complex.  Every belief is multi-faceted.  I can, for instance, like the story line of The Lion King and still hate the over commercialization of Disney, or, for that matter, its portrayal of female characters. These opinions can co-exist.  I can understand the health benefits of whole grains and still appreciate a nice loaf of French white bread. I can appreciate Wal-Mart’s low prices and still object to the business practices of the Waltons. I can enjoy both meat and vegetables or choose to be a strict vegetarian, but only on the weekdays.

The amazing human mind is capable of far more complexity than we give it credit for.  We limit its capacity to grow when we compartmentalize ideology into false dichotomies.

And that, my friends, the mother learned from her children; the teacher learned from her students.

 

Job 32:9

It is not only the old[b] who are wise,
    not only the aged who understand what is right.