Saturday, January 26, 2008

Beyond Running With Scissors

Augusten Burroughs’ memoir, Running With Scissors is gripping, a heart-wrenching page-turner. In Scissors, Burroughs’ keenly-observant writing style reveals his life with a demented mother who pawns him off on her psychiatrist’s family, the Finches. Teetering between Mommie Dearest and the Finch madhouse, young Augusten learns what it is like to be tossed from the frying pan directly into the fire. Although the bulk of the book presents a ghastly life well beyond the majority of most human comprehension, there are moments of brilliant universality. Immediately upon finishing the book, however, I promptly threw it in the trash.

Running With Scissors left me disgusted, disturbed and angry. Did my disgust stem from the accounts of a family friend turned predator or from the slovenly way the Finches ran their household? Was I disturbed that a psychiatrist, a doctor, drew so many victims into his own emotional madness without ever being questioned? Or, was I angry that all of Dr. Finch’s twisted actions were explained away as, “Biblical?” No. The horrors committed in the book did not anger me as much as they greatly saddened me. We cannot forget that Augusten Burroughs’ story, reminiscent of A Child Called It, is absolutely true, and as a mother, the very thought of young Augusten’s life makes me shudder.

Instead, my distaste stems from the sheer popularity of the book. Make no mistake, I believe that the recording of reality is essential in preventing repetition of abusive cycles. Awareness is key in shaking complacent bystanders out of their sleepy stupor and into much-needed action. But if these were the true purposes of this book, they have been quickly forgotten. Instead, the book (now a motion picture) is quite frankly, a freak show. I wanted to shake people who might be reading or watching Running With Scissors and say, “Hey! Don’t you get it? This is not an author’s twisted concoction! This really happened, and it continues to happen…probably right there in your own neighborhood.” Instead of getting a voyeuristic thrill, much like a rubber-necker slows to catch a glimpse of twisted wreckage on the highway, the reader should alternately be sickened and spurned to action.

Reading Burroughs’ book has obviously motivated me. While I can marvel at his geniously-perceptive writing style, I only learned one thing from his memoir: reality-based writing without the inclusion of hope is absolutely fruitless, even irresponsible. This isn’t an attack on Burroughs himself. My heart utterly breaks for him. The events that he witnessed and the horrors exacted upon him will probably never leave him. Just reading about his experiences will most likely never leave me! What will more importantly never escape me, however, is the hope that life itself, the good as well as the bad, provides.

My friends, we all find ourselves running with scissors at times, but what happens when we actually fall?

There isn’t a single one of us who hasn’t once experienced hurt or pain. The effects of those traumas, however major or minor, don’t just disappear. Neither should they be swept under the rug, thrust into a dark corner or reduced to whispers. The ultimate question isn't whether these things happen, or even why they happen, although initially these inquiries are absolutely legitimate. The final question is, "What will you or I actually do with them?"

The Apostle Paul reminds us in his letter to the Corinthians that while life is full of such injustices and seasons of despair, we are not built to be consumed by them. “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair, persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed!” -2 Corinthians 4:8-10

The human spirit is truly indomitable. Why? I believe it is because we are created in God’s image. Courage, strength, and hope aren’t taught from the outside in; rather, they are coaxed from the inside out.

So, if you are in need of some encouragement, some reminder that there’s more, that life is not solely about suffering, allow me…or rather, allow Him:

For those who find themselves fearful today, let 2 Timothy 1:7 nudge you, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”

For friends who are worn out by life’s demands, take God’s advice in Matthew 11:28-30, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

For ones who are discouraged by an unexpected path, take refuge in God’s promise in Jeremiah 29:11, “'For I know the plans I have for you,'" declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'”

For those who ask God, “Where are You?” Or, “What's the point of pain?” hear the answer in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”

Finally, for those who are stuck, for those who are frantically treading water just to stay afloat, for those who just can't reach beyond the anguish, let me assure you of something. God is not a distant, hands-off entity, and He never, ever wastes a hurt. It is up to each one of us individually, however, to ask Him those tough questions... “How?”, “Why?” and then, “What Now?” Believe me, He will answer! Consider Paul's response to the Romans, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? ...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us."
-Romans 35, 37.

As you enter into another week of reality, of peace for some, of anxiousness and drudgery for others, I pray that you will be more than a conqueror, that you not only endure but that your true path will be made clear, that you not just find contentment but that you are consumed by it. Dear brothers and sisters, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
-Romans 15:13

Sunday, January 20, 2008

For Cora

“Do you know what a Webkin is?” she asked in Rite Aid, aisle three.

“Do you mean Webkinz?” I replied, noting the hottest stuffed animal craze since Beanie Babies.

“Oh! Yes, that’s what my niece wants for her birthday. She’s about the same age as your daughter there. Do they sell them here?”

It was the beginning of a conversation that could have happened to anyone, anywhere. Then Cora looked up. She looked out. She looked beyond. She let something go. And so did I. The exact moment wasn’t obvious to either of us. Perhaps it was the way she spoke to my children, or when she revealed she was a teacher. Maybe she saw my dangling cross, but fifteen minutes later, we were still chatting, people maneuvering around, curious eyes glancing at us in Rite Aid, aisle three. Finally, my son’s tugging and my daughter’s, “I’m hungry,” signaled a time for closure.

I couldn’t shake Cora from my mind, however, while standing in the endless prescription line.

“I have over twenty years in as a teacher,” she had confessed.
"…just here to pick up a few ornaments for a Christmas tree for my eighth-graders. That’s what they said they wanted, so a few of us decided to chip in.”

I cringed at the thought of a rickety room full of eighth-graders. I taught high school for twelve years myself, but eighth-graders? They’re tactless aliens. And she was going to get the ingrates a tree?

“I love my kids,” she explained. “There’s just something about them. I don’t have any of my own. You know, we just got this new student. She’s a, a whaddayacallit, a Gothic?”

“A Goth? In eighth grade, huh?” I smirked. Yeah, I bet that one will have a field day with a Christmas tree, I thought. This woman should be awarded sainthood.

“She’s wreaking havoc in our school, saying awful things, being moody and mean. Somehow she talks to me, though.” I could believe it. Talking to Cora was as easy and comfortable as chatting with my big sister. I hoped the Goth knew what she had in Miss Cora.

“Hey, have you ever heard of something called As-bergers? They say she has that,” said a concerned Cora.

The words stole my breath.

“Did you say, Aspergers?” I managed.

Perceptive Cora read my stunned expression, “Um…yeah. It’s a mild form of autism, right?” she probed. “Smart kids, but very quirky.”

Still speechless, all I could do was covertly point to my son, who was yanking on my shoulder for the fortieth time, ignoring all social rules about interrupting one’s mother.

“Can I go to the toys? Can I go to the toys? Can I go to the toys?” he kept repeating. More yanking. The toy aisle in plain sight, I finally granted his escape.

“He has Aspergers?” she whispered.

“We think so. Diagnosis is a long process, but right now it sure explains a lot,” I answered. “Did you say the Goth girl just moved here? Because if she did, and she has AS, you’re a Godsend. AS kids don’t handle change well…messes up their whole world. They’re hypersensitive and need a lot of structure just to stay at even-keel,” I continued. “My son almost loses his mind at the beginning of every school year. At the end, too. It takes us weeks to get him settled. Drives his teachers crazy. Your Goth girl is gonna need somebody.”

It was Cora’s turn to be wordless. Finally, she sputtered, “So, that’s why the Lord had me come in here meet you!” An odd thing to say, but I felt it too.

“Do you want cash back, Lady?” the cashier at the prescription counter barked, interrupting my thoughts.

“Uh, yes. Yes I do,” I smiled. Ten dollars led me back to aisle three. Thank you, Jesus, I prayed. She’s still there. “Cora, this is my contribution to your Christmas tree. Those eighth graders are lucky to have you.” Cora was the kind of person you’d give a million dollars, if you had it. Yet, she acted like my ten dollars was a million, so what’s the difference? I looked directly into her brown eyes one more time, praying that in the future, my son might be as lucky as the Goth girl to have a teacher like Miss Cora. A teacher more inclined to mercy than judgment. “God bless you, Cora."

My Rite Aid rendezvous hasn’t quickly left me, and neither have thoughts of Cora and her eighth-graders. I could easily have dismissed her by grunting a, “No,” or by quickening my step.

I’m glad I didn’t.

We are swift in cursing our hectic lives, aren't we? Sometimes, in the rush of completing one errand, one task after another, we even declare God’s absence. "Where are you, Lord?" we ask.

Look up every once in awhile, will you? He’s right there…right there in front of you.

You’ll be glad you did.

"Pay attention, Job, and listen to me; be silent, and I will speak." Job 33:31

Monday, January 14, 2008

How's Your View?

I have two more heroes. Two gutsy women put it all on the line this weekend. They told their story. No, their REAL story. Four times. In front of hundreds of people. It was enough to summon internal cheers and a few external tears. Courage at its best. Selflessness above all. Two friends removed themselves from the picture, risked image, perception and reputation in exchange for outstretching their hands to others. Beauty at its finest. I couldn’t resist allowing them to reach out to you as well…

“…by taking a moral inventory of my life, I was able to see patterns of behavior. Through doing this, I discovered for the first time some of my family mottoes…These mottoes were not spoken…but more like, This is the way we do life in our house. Some of these mottoes were:
  • You must please other people at all costs.
  • Do not waste anything at all, even if it’s to your detriment.
  • Pretend like it’s okay when it’s not.
  • We are an island. We don’t need anyone outside of the family.

I believe that seeing these mottoes in black in white… that this was the first step for me toward change, toward making real change through a life process of depending on God."

“My life before was unmanageable. I was the Queen. Life was all about me, getting my way on my terms, in my timing because I knew best…I had the appearance of having it all together. If everything looked good on the outside, I felt good on the inside…I lived in self-centered fear…The walls I built for self-protection were insurmountable. I lived a double-life in repeated denial that anything was wrong…I isolated more, and I even prayed more…but hopelessness overcame me. I realized I could not change on my own strength. I surrendered my life and control. The Lord’s will (became) my daily goal and focus…I learned the tools to live life on life’s terms. This new life is amazing. I am becoming a new person. It is a slow journey, however, that takes patience. Now, I am no longer the Queen, but a beloved daughter of the King. I never have to be alone again because I belong to His Kingdom.”

Why do we do it? Why do we look beyond our own circles for heroes? Is it an insecure need for our champions to be perfect, to be all-conquering, and therefore…inhuman? Take another look at the people around you, not an obligatory glance, but a REAL examination. I had the chance to do just that this weekend as my two new heroines stood before the masses.

The view was spectacular.

"I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will guide him and restore comfort to him..." Isaiah 57:18

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Propeller

Perfectionism kicked in. Immediately. This, upon realizing that my brother-in-law was successful at creating exactly what I asked for, a blog…for me. Who do I think I am? Why would anyone want to read what I have to say? Those questions, conveniently absent in the excitement of planning, smacked me square in the forehead at first log in. I stared at the green screen…a long time. You’d better not write anything unless it’s really good. The self-talk had begun again. You don’t have time for this. It’s a selfish waste. And don’t forget about those weirdos out there. Give absolutely no personal identifying information. Funny what we do to ourselves…how fear and paranoia can creep in and sound amazingly sensible.

A month has passed since that first log-in…and prompt log OUT. Three things have brought me back. Ferocity, Faith, and Fellowship. Ferocity…what a funny-looking word for such a powerfully-projected image. The fierce urge to write has propelled me from youth. Yes, propelled. My life has a tendency to sit and wait…and wait…and wait. Yet, at times writing has been the catalyst, the spark, the necessary thrust toward forward rotation…and I am thankful.

Faith has been a crucial accelerant as well. Did I say the “F” word? In print? Mass clicking on the right corner red X is audible. (Curses! Did I just reveal that I’m a PC user and not a Mac girl, too? More exit clicking.) Faith’s biblical definition declares, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” Hebrews 11:1. At this point, I can genuinely say that I am absolutely sure of what I hope for and undeniably certain of what I do not see. Nothing but peace and freedom have followed those revelations. From my humble perspective, there are three entrances to the world of faith: God by family/cultural influence, God by theological study, and God by gratitude. While a combination of the three is ideal, it is not often reality. I have most definitely gained entry as the latter. God’s presence and workings in my life are irrefutable…and I am grateful.

Finally, while fellowship is the unexpected promise and necessary fuel for any blog…it is also the hope for this one. From my friends who hold me accountable with, “What have you written lately, Jen?” to my brother-in-law’s, “It’s great therapy,” a wishful purpose for Jen Thinks In Ink is to connect, to work it out, to share…with others like you. Kudos to Sissy and Matt for emotionally and technologically advancing me to this place (I still want my supergirl blog header!). Smooches to my family who overlook the constant clicking of the keyboard to see my accompanying smile. Blessings to my courageous faith friends who know the deal…God is Real!

Hebrews 10:25 says, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another…”

Won’t you meet me here again?