Terms and Conditions

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I’ve spent the last few weeks avoiding coming to terms with my trust issues. The simple exercise of writing a list of those I trust turned into ten days of me either avoiding my journal entirely or staring at a blank page and then walking away.

With the start of Lent, I have found myself thrown back into the same emotional grist mill where I spent all of Advent. I kind of expect the teary moments this time around and that’s okay. I can handle those. That sounds like such a simple thing. To be able to cry and be okay with the tears. But the reality is it has taken a long time for me to get to this point. To stop believing the lies that crying over things that hurt is a sign of instability or weakness.

What has been so much harder to come to terms with has been my anger. This time of year always sits like lead. The end of January to the end of March is always haunted by memories of my father’s last weeks. The one place, the church,  I often turned to for solace has become so tainted that it is no longer a sanctuary and the church I have moved to is still too unfamiliar to be completely comfortable. I’m angry that I have been driven out of my refuge. I deeply resent being betrayed and abandoned by people I trusted, most especially my pastor and confessor. Every time those tears come because I’m feeling adrift, the anger comes raging up behind the tears.

So here I am. Second Sunday of Lent. A blank page in my journal staring back at me. Trust. Who do I trust? There is a list. It has more people on it than it used to. But is a very gradational list. I trust only up to a point. And that point depends on the situation and the person and our relationship.

Am I on my own list? No. Or maybe a better answer would be: Not yet.

Is God on my list?  Cautiously, yes.

How is that God, who loves me unconditionally, is so hard for me to trust? Because too often what I’ve known as love has always been conditional.

Conditional love can be defined, broken down, and understood. Cause and effect. Action and reaction. Expectation and reality. That makes it strategic. That sets up the conditions that are the rules of the game. They’re a pattern, a puzzle to be figured out; terms to be agreed to. I can learn how to play that game. What risks to take. What strategy to use. And when the stakes are too high, to walk away.

Unconditional love is a total unknown. There is no game and therefore no strategy. There are no terms and conditions to agree to. Unconditional love just is. Which means there is no control. And that is terrifying. Things beyond my control have a nasty way of coming back to hurt me.

I know enough of God to know God doesn’t work like that. More than ever before, it seems like Lent for me means working through who God is not. The tears, the anger, the resentment, the betrayal and abandonment, the broken trust: none of those came from God. But if I can hand them over, God will take them.

If… for two little letters that’s a really big word.

 

 

Farewell Old Girl

For over eleven years, my Dandie Dinmont Terrier, Dusty, has been at my side – or sitting on my foot as I write – but this morning I came down the stairs and no one was waiting for me. I went to run errands and came home to empty silence. The welcoming bark is no longer a part of coming home.

After a year of declining health, Dusty suddenly went downhill in less than 36 hours. She was too sick to be given a grand last meal or a nice long ride in the car. All I could do was sit by her in the very early hours of yesterday morning and talk to her. She let me know it was time. She was ready to go home. I woke up my boys so they could come down to say goodbye. Forever devoted to her ‘puppies’, after they bent down to kiss her, she bravely forced herself to her feet, shook herself and trotted to the back door to go outside in the yard one last time. She walked down into the yard, then looked for me to come get her. She had walked her last steps.

My boys decided to come with me to the emergency vet, all of us knowing that it was Dusty’s last ride. We reached the decision to let her go as a family and stayed with Dusty until she was peacefully snoring from the sedatives. We went home with an empty collar and her paw print set in clay. We’ve been looking at old pictures, laughing and crying over a dog that was so different from any I’d ever know.

She brought unquestioning, unconditional love into our home. When life got really rough, her floppy ears heard many whispered fears and confessions and her fur absorbed many tears. For this human, she was the right dog at the right time and we had some long talks about faith, trust, steps and staircases. Her alpha dog, terrier badass personality never changed but as her health failed, she reluctantly learned to trust our help and finally surrendered to being held and carried when she was weak and in pain.

We humans aren’t real good at accepting what we can’t see so God sent us dogs. Dogs are a sort of sneaky gift, almost a Trojan horse, full of other gifts like love, trust, forgiveness, and acceptance. Their big eyes and playful antics mask the many lessons we learn from them over the years when we thought we were just playing fetch. They never see our faults. They only see the goodness in us, even on our worst days. Their only mission here is to show us what unconditional love looks and feels like.

Well done Old Girl. Well done.

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My Different 40 Days

While all of Christendom has been reflecting on these 40 days of Lent and counting down to the joy of Easter, I’ve been reflecting on a different 40 days. I’m going to turn 40 on Holy Thursday and I’ve been keeping the countdown since before Ash Wednesday. My friends have asked why it’s such a big deal to me. “Really Chris, it’s just a number,” they say. “Don’t let it get to you.” But that’s just the thing, it’s not getting to me, or at least not in a bad way. It’s a reason to reflect on where I am I life and then celebrate where I am. On my 14th birthday, my dad passed away. At 21, I was too busy planning my wedding. At 25, I was busy planning for my first son to be born. At 30, I was too busy chasing a preschooler and a toddler. At 35, I was too busy dealing with my divorce and the first major crisis with my eyes. I decided 40 is mine. Come hell or high water, I’m celebrating 40! A fellow classmate and member of The Turning 40 Club posted a link to an article that listed 40 things every woman should do before she turns 40. I read it and tallied my score (32 out of 40) but I was disappointed in the list.

‘Get married. Get divorced.’

Wait a minute, I didn’t get married with the intention of getting divorced.

‘Have an affair.’

Destroy a marriage is a goal?

Several had to do with sex. While exploring my likes and dislikes, I certainly wasn’t keeping score against some arbitrary list. If I was, I could’ve added a few the author of that list had missed.

Overall, the general idea was for a woman to learn to be her own woman. I guess we all get there by our own road. So in the end, I had to write my own list.

My 40 List

1. Let myself fall in Love.
2. Let myself fall out of Love.
3. Get long fake nails
4. Hate them. Get rid of them.
5. Get a tattoo.
6. Love it. Get a second tattoo.
7. Dye my hair a color not found in nature
8. Write a book.
9. Let someone else read the unfinished draft.
10. Publish a book and not obsess over the sales.
11. Keep a journal every day for a year and go back to re-read it.
12. Recognize a mirror moment.
13. Hold that moment sacred without analyzing it.
14. Date a man old enough to be my father. Figure out why I needed to.
15. Write an angry letter to God. Let Him write back.
16. Sit God in an empty chair and give Him a piece of my mind. Switch chairs and see myself from His seat.
17. Love someone unconditionally.
18. Remember to experience the world with awe and wonder.
19. Write a prayer from the depths of my soul.
20. Allow someone other than God hear it prayed aloud.
21. Go on vacation alone to a place I’ve never been before.
22. Be still for twenty minutes a day.
23. Buy an impractical expensive pair of shoes.
24. Buy a meal for someone who is hungry and cold.
25. Never forget that person’s eyes.
26. Understand the 12 Steps.
27. Learn to recognize Karpman’s drama triangle. Stay away from the corners.
28. Ask the hard questions.
29. Accept that there aren’t always understandable answers.
30. Re-read Alice In Wonderland.
31. Find a trusted advisor.
32. Actually take their advice.
33. Speak my mind even when it gets me into trouble.
34. Explore my faith even if it means questioning the big stuff.
35. Figure out I answer only to God.
36. Go to Confession and admit to everything.
37. Bask in forgiveness and mercy.
38. Screw up again. Repeat 36 & 37.
39. Accept that I’m a work in progress.
40. Take 4 days to celebrate all of the above.