Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A room at the zoo

Last week, in a conversation with Paul, Dorris was convinced that she had a room at the zoo.

No, she wasn't speaking metaphorically. She actually thought she was living at the zoo. 

She was so convinced of her new living arrangement that she was able to persuade another resident they were both at the zoo. Not only that, Dorris was trying to find her way back to where the tour began so her friend could be escorted out of the building since she obviously did not have the authority to be there.

The next time she spoke with Paul, she was just as certain that she had a room at the library. Her most recent phone call to our daughter Anne, insisted she was living at a bowling alley.

Rest assured, the facility in which she lives is quite calm. Other than the large birdcage, it in no way resembles a zoo, a library, or a bowling alley. 

These episodes of surreal living arrangements occur right after a late afternoon nap. For this reason, I think she is carrying over her dreams to explain her confusion about her living situation. It is not unusual for her to recognize her furniture but still think her room is not hers. A vivid dream may be serving as an explanation for surroundings that confuse her.

Our brains are built to hunt out confusion and find an answer for it. Dorris's brain does not have enough accumulated memories to recognize her room as her home. Her brain is used to having memories associated with surroundings, so not having them creates confusion. The only answer, to that confusion, is that she is living somewhere that is less familiar. I suspect a dream about a zoo, library, or bowling alley gets dragged into the current perception. To a brain, that cannot reconcile its own changes, a room at the zoo seems logical.

What surprises me is the persistence of this reality. It takes some doing to convince her that she is home, safe, and not responsible for anyone else. The mixture of dream, logic, and the lack of persistent memories is difficult to fight. I listen to Paul talking to her on the phone and I can hear him gently reassuring her, over and over, until I can imagine her voice, on the other end of the line, calming down. Because her ability to make memories is impaired, that dream that felt so real, becomes adamant. In her mind, it is real. 

Sometimes a quick visit is what it takes to calm her down and reassure her she is home. We are grateful that we are close enough that we can do this for her. I admit that I wonder, and worry, about what we will do when the time comes when this is not enough. It is difficult when her brain can't make sense out of reality; what will she have left when our presence, our words, and our hugs can no longer make sense out of reality for her?

She's lost so much: her husband, her house, the town she loves, her garden, her car, and so many memories. It is hard to see her lose her sense of well-being, too. Her world forces me to trust that while her memory and cognition fades, her faith remains.

I wonder what God thinks when He watches His people create a different reality. What does He think when we turn from His blessings only to create a life of pain and misery?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,  and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. Proverbs 3:5-7 ESV

This verse is one of my favorites about trust. I uphold that the first eight words are easy, but the second eight are impossible. I cannot, I will not, let go of my own understanding. Leaning on myself prevents me from acknowledging Him. This twisted reality that I create, persists. This stubborn persistence destroys proper trust. My reality, my world, my perception, remains distorted. 

Let's look at some examples.

What about when my hard work creates a false reality regarding my success? It is not only a false reality, but also a false humility for me to think that I have earned anything that I have: money, job, accomplishments, talents, etc. I am so quick to take credit for success and equally quick to deny responsibility for failure. This false humility is akin to the prayer of the Pharisee: “God, I thank you that I am not like this __________ (poor person on welfare, single mother on food stamps, high school dropout, stressed parent, or struggling believer). 

In my distorted reality, I am better than that. In truth, I am nothing without God.

Or, we could flip the coin and talk about a different sort of false reality: the hollow humility that comes from putting myself down. “No, I can’t do what you ask; I am not good enough.” This lack of trust leans on my own ability (or lack of ability) rather than trusting that God will provide the needed skills. It is not a false humility that brags; it is a false humility that insults God.

True humility is not about me; true humility trusts God.

My most common, my most persistent, alternative reality is the false belief that I am in control. This false reality is responsible for all of my fears and anxieties. My brain sees a problem and wants to find a solution from within its memory cells. I can’t solve the problem, or prevent the bad outcome, so fear of failure results. This fear is a persistent fear. “I won’t be able to do this.” “I am not good enough.” “Things will fall apart because I will fail.” “The worst will happen.”

I might as well move to a room at the zoo, or the library, or the bowling alley. It really does not matter, does it? If my reality does not put complete trust in God, if I persist in leaning on my own understanding, I might as well create a bizarre, unexplainable, alternative reality and call it home. 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,  and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. Proverbs 3:5-7 ESV

Dear God, take me away from this zoo! Tuck me into Your heart. Replace my distorted understanding with Your wisdom. Make my path straight and let it lead to You.

Amen, amen, amen.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sweet words

Few things surpass the cute factor found in a mass of young children making their best sour face. I think there is a super bowl commercial in there somewhere.

I am blessed to be able to give the children’s message for church several times a month. I don’t normally see a reason to wear a GoPro camera on my head for such a task, but this week it would have been worth it. We started out talking about faces we make when we eat things that are sour, sweet, or bitter. Of course, we had to practice those faces.

After we practiced, we used our faces to decide how orange pop or tonic water would taste. I assured the children they did not have to taste tonic water to know it is bitter. We have a face app for that.

“. . . but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?  James 3: 8-11 ESV

The point of the face making, and the pop, and the tonic water, was to understand that sweet words bring joy and bitter words create resentment. Just as we have come to expect sweetness every time we pour a glass of pop, the people with whom we interact should not experience bitterness because of our words. Once a drink is bitter it will not return to sweetness. Our bitter words can sour a relationship. Our bitter words speak poorly of our faith. Our bitter words speak volumes about our love and respect for God. These words are hard to erase, once spoken (or posted).

To finish my message I asked the children if there was anything they could say that could cause their mother or father to stop loving them? Their faces were solemn at the thought, but confident in the expression of “no.” It is wonderful, and powerful, to know that God loves us, no matter what. There is nothing we can say that would make Him stop loving us; there is nothing we can say that could make Him love us more.

God’s love is sweet, sweet all the time.

When I am angry, afraid, or disgusted and my thoughts begin to form words of bitterness, it becomes a challenge to remember that the unconditional love of my Father extends also to the person who has stirred the bitterness in my heart.

If at the point at which I post those snarky, contemptuous comments, or at the point at which I am about to lash out in verbal anger; if at that point I could remember that God loves this person, too, then how could I spew bitterness?

The person who has made me angry, the one who has treated me poorly, the Facebook friend who has insulted me, or the employer who has disrespected my abilities, each of these people is loved by my Heavenly Father. Neither my anger nor my contempt can change that love. While it is often right to let people know when I have been hurt; it is never right for me to express bitterness, insults, sarcasm or contempt. Moreover, if I need to correct my brother or sister, I am instructed to do so in love.

My words are to be sweet, sweet all the time.

This is an easy teaching for a children’s message; a teaching that inspires head nodding during a sermon. It is a prayer that begs to be repeated in the heart and mind, but impossible to produce in the cold, hard light of experience. Suddenly the mouth that praised God on Sunday, the heart that prayed at bedtime, the face that hours ago was lifted up to God in gratitude for His unfailing love, becomes the weapon of choice for expressing anger – righteous or not. My face, my heart, my words are so quick to turn bitter.

My words are to be sweet, sweet all the time.

Good thing I don’t have to do this on my own.

Lord God, fill my heart and mind with gratitude for your exceeding, constant, and patient love. May Your love melt my bitterness and inspire my words.