Loss

Went to Highland Hospital with a few friends to bring some cheer for those who need it. Met parents of a 21 year old son who has been in a coma for the past two weeks after a car accident. He was in the backseat of the car with the seat belt on when the car was hit. He was ejected out of the car and suffered severe head trauma. At first it wasn’t clear that he was going to survive. However, he’s now been physically stabilized, and the parents are sure that he will live. The question is how much of his personality will remain and how severe the possible brain damage will be.

I listened to them and said a simple prayer with them. I can’t fathom the pain this family is going through. The loss of what was normal life (because even if their son comes back, nothing will be the same as it was before) is wrenching. I do believe that God can bring good out of desperate situations, even ones like this. But I still can’t imagine how much it hurts. The thought of losing a son…

Yet as I write this, I’m reminded of the pain of God. Christianity dares to say that God knows the pain of losing a son. He understands our mourning, for He bore a great sadness of His own. Yet it is in His loss that we find our true comfort and hope.

“How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory”

Anger is Love in Motion

“Anger is love in motion towards a threat against that which it loves.” – Timothy Keller

Anger is a response to defend what you love from a threat. If you are angry about something, ask yourself “What am I trying to defend?” The answer will show what you love.

For example, if I am at the grocery store and I get stuck in a long line, it’s appropriate to get a bit annoyed. But if I get unreasonably angry, I must be trying to defend something. I am defending my time and my ability to use my time as I want. I am defending my ability to control my time. How dare these other shoppers threaten my precious time? The root here is that I am defending my ego, so in love with myself that I believe my time is worth defending.

Check Your Receipt

Years ago, my mom taught me to always look over the receipt when exiting the grocery store, as sometimes the cashier may not have charged accurately. Today I noticed that the mushrooms that were priced at $2.09/lb got charged at $3.89/lb. I went back to customer service and was given my $1.70 as the difference.

A quaint story, but the bigger lesson is to double check the work of others and don’t be afraid to point out mistakes, whether it to be grocery cashiers or to doctors or to teachers.

Church Work

I was talking with my parents about church life. My parents noted that there are many people they see who are very active at church but have terrible problems with their spouses and children. There is a temptation to believe that religious activity will lead to a better life. Yet the message of the gospel of Jesus is that none of these things can save you. Your Bible studies cannot save you. Your hymns cannot save you. Your prayers cannot save you. These are all good things, but it is because they are good things that they are dangerous. We can be fooled into believing that just by doing them we can fix ourselves. Yet the message of Jesus is that what we most desperately need, the healing of our broken lives, is the one thing that we cannot get by our own efforts. Salvation is a gift, not a reward.

And parents! No matter how much you pray, unless you actually take the time to be present with your children and try to understand them, your prayers will not help your relationship. Talking to God is no substitute to listening to your children.

Small problem

When I was teaching at the special education center, I got to help students maintain perspective on obstacles. Many of our students were very routine-driven and would become quite upset when things went awry. For example, a student may be unable to find a pencil and would start freaking out. I learned to talk with them and ask “Now is this a big problem or a small problem?” This helped the student to calm down and realize that missing a pencil is a small problem, since finding another pencil is pretty simple.

Now I’ve taken to saying this phrase in my own life. For example, when my closet rod broke and all my clothes ended up on the floor, I said “small problem” and started cleaning up. Even when I cut myself while cooking and started bleeding on the table, I said “Small problem!” and washed it off. It is a bit silly, but I find it helpful.

Airline Ticket

The summer before my freshman year of college, I signed up for my school’s orientation (CalSO). As my mother drove me to the airport, I felt excited and nervous. This was my first foray into the adult world (before I figured out that college is very much removed from adulthood). I had booked the plane ticket myself and everything.

I arrived and went up to the counter to check-in. The woman at the desk looked at my ticket, puzzled. “Excuse me, but this is the wrong day. This ticket is for a flight on the 6th. That was yesterday. Today is the 7th.”

I immediately froze, uncertain what to do. I ran over to a corner near the ticketing desk. I started thinking of what a terrible mistake this was and how it would affect my career. “If I couldn’t even get something as simple as a plane ticket right, how will I ever get anything else right? If my first step into adulthood failed so terribly, I will fail as an adult.” I started crying. Overwhelmed, I took a taxi home. I never did end up going to orientation.

I’m reminded of this because just yesterday I made a mistake with another plane reservation, thus costing me about $200. However, instead of becoming overwhelmed with anxiety, I can take a more measured perspective. My mistakes and errors and oversights don’t determine my future. I can move on and learn from them without becoming overwhelmed by them. I guess this perspective is part of what it really means to be an adult.

Crisis

Job Interviewer: “Tell me about a time you had to manage a crisis at work.”

Me: “I was one month into my job at the special education center. I was assigned to work with one of our neediest students. He is 16, nonverbal, completely deaf, with severe cognitive limitations and moderate motor control issues. His wrists were raw from self-injurious biting and he wore a padded helmet to lessen the impact of smashing his head against walls, which he did regularly.

I was helping him in the bathroom, since he lacked the motor skills to manage independently. His diaper was soiled, so I was trying to help him throw it away and get a new one. Suddenly, he started screaming and biting his wrist. As I tried to stop him, he jumped onto the countertop and started banging his head against the wall. I was trying to stop him from biting himself, prevent him from hitting his head, and try not to get poop on him or me. I yelled for the Teacher’s Assistant to come help, at which point the student jumped down and bit me on the chest. I disengaged with mouth as the TA came, went to take a breather and tend to the bruise on my chest, then came right back after 5 minutes to continue working.”

Interviewer: “Wow. No one’s ever said anything like that before.”

Note: I didn’t get that job.

Note 2: I miss that student. He was hard to work with, but incredibly sweet.

Fluid

In giving blood today, I started reflecting on the nature of our physical bodies. I could feel the pulse of my blood leaving my body, filling the collection bag. I remembered how sometimes I would lay my head down to sleep on my pillow, only to hear the steady rhythm of the blood in my ears.

Asking a person to sit still is physical impossible. We are constantly pulsing, squirming, squishy beings. Sentient sacks of water, declared some wit in a book that probably was about a more important point but is lost to my memory save that one irreverent phrase.

Cover your ears with your hands. You can hear the thunderous drone of your internal ocean.

John 8

Gospel of John, Chapter 8: The Jewish religious leaders brought to Jesus a woman who was caught in the act of adultery. The religious leaders said to Jesus “the law of Moses commands us to stone this woman. What do you say?” Jesus stooped down to write in the sand. When they persisted questioning him, he stood up and said “let him who is without sin, cast the first stone.” He then stooped down and continued writing.

One by one, the religious leaders left, until only the woman was standing before Jesus. He stood up and said, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir.” “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Note that Jesus did not say “Go and leave your life of sin and then I will not condemn you. Go and change the way you live, change your behavior, change your lifestyle and then I will not condemn you.” Yet I have seen Christians do this so often; I have been guilty of this myself. We make our acceptance of other people conditional on their changing themselves.

Now it’s true that sometimes it is necessary to establish boundaries and maintain consequences for behavior. For example, someone in an abusive relationship may need the other person to change before accepting them. However, these are special cases, it is acceptance that makes transformation possible, not transformation made to earn acceptance. It is because Jesus did not condemn this woman that she could leave her empty way of life.