I am a problem.

I’d like to begin this post with a disclaimer: I’m not 100% sure about the whole “Obamacare” bill, and what it will mean to America. I’m pretty sure that the Supreme Court is in position not just to agree with what I believe (or don’t believe) and that since many of them have been there many more years than the 3 our current President has been in office, I don’t think they are there simply to do the will of our current president. That being said, I’d like to tell you what I do know.

I know that our family has not been able to afford health care for the last few years. Fortunately, my kids have benefited from a plan provided for Michigan children, and they have had good coverage throughout the years. We are blessed that we are a relatively healthy family. We practice good health habits, and when we are sick, I’m a big believer that extra rest, extra fluids, and extra love from your mommy takes care of a lot of “regular” sicknesses.

For years, we felt like we could not afford health care. The one that was “provided” by my husbands employer was very expensive, and at that time, he didn’t make enough money to have health care and for us to make the family choices we thought important. We did the budget numbers, and we could not make it work. So we chose.

Now, he is working a job where it’s possible. He works full-time (more than full time, if truth be told), and I work part-time. We have two children in college who are also working to help themselves get through. We budget, we menu-plan, we shop thrift. Garage sales are a treat for us, and while we do spend money on travel, we overall are savers.

I know that, for the last two years, my husband and I have tried diligently to get health care. We have researched many sources. We have saved money to help pay for it. We have applied at least 3 times and have been told:

1. I had a “pre-existing” heart condition, and wasn’t eligible. Well, one time, two years ago, I went to the emergency room at my local hospital with chest pains. I had multiple echo-cardiograms, an ultrasound, multiple blood tests, and a stress test. I was told my heart was fine — it was most likely stress (due to a recent move and other activities). My doctor and the hospital gave me an all-clear. What the insurance read was one doctor who glanced at my chart while doing rounds on the hospital didn’t write something specific on my chart they were looking for. So, I had a “heart” issue. After going to the hospital multiple times, sending at least 3 separate copies of my records to the insurance, after getting my family doctor to sign off … then the insurance would consider our charts. Amazingly, I no longer had a heart issue with them. However …

2. My weight/blood pressure ratio wasn’t acceptable. When I asked what that meant, and what the numbers should be (as a goal), I was told they weren’t at liberty to tell me those numbers — they were just not acceptable. Understand that my blood pressure is totally under control, and has been for 5 years with a simply diuretic. So, I lost some weight. I started running regularly. My bp now runs on the low side of normal. So, I applied again.

3. The last time, they told me I was anemic. I said, “That’s interesting. I’ve never, ever been told that before in my life.” They said the test that was taken two years ago when I went into the hospital with chest pains showed two of the however many indicators they have were low, and since the doctor in the emergency room didn’t say on the chart it might be because I was stressed, they have to assume I’m anemic “until I get another blood test.” Oh, and by the way, since we just heard from them (after my husband repeatedly calling them for two months), our 3 month “period” of application was almost out, so we’d have to start the ENTIRE process all over again … complete with new blood tests.

We are healthy. Both my husband and I have high blood pressure, which is controlled by medicine, and has been for years. Aside from them, we have NO medical problems.

We are fortunate! We have a doctor who will let us pay on a sliding scale. We use generic meds. We take vitamins, eat “fairly” healthy … and yes, we will continue to bang away attempting to get insurance, regardless of what the Supreme Court or anyone else says. And we will pay for it ourselves.

I’m a problem because I don’t view myself as “sucking off society.” I am a problem because the health system is broken for us, and while we continually try to “do the right thing,” we are still uninsured. 

I’m a problem because I don’t want anyone to “take care of me,” and I don’t want to “depend on the government” or anyone else, for that matter. But the way things are now, it’s not working for our family, and for many other families I know.

Sorry to be a problem to those of you who have everything figured out. Again, I’m NOT saying what’s happening right now is the answer to it all. But before we start grouping everyone under a heading or label just because the system works for us, think about compassion and love first, OK? Throwing stones — especially when they are heaved with what feels like a bit of self-righteous indignation — you might hit people you don’t intend to injure.

One more time: Not sure what’s happening right now is going to be any better — or worse.  Not saying I have the answers. But I am asking for love and grace first.  

Tangible Answers

It is no secret that I wrestle with faith. I have a friend who, upon me saying I can’t stand drama, reminded me that all of my drama is internal — and it is incessant.

What I’m about to share is very personal. It’s not a statement about how I think God works in the world, nor is it an attempt to say suddenly I’m back on God’s good side or anything. This is one story — part of my story. It isn’t meant to push, pull, evangelize or anything else. It’s simply what happened, and how I view this event in perspective in my own faith walk. It’s not meant for any more than that. So, if you’re a person who likes to take things out of context, or a person always looking to build up either side of a faith debate, please don’t prostitute the story I’m about to tell. “It is what it is,” and I wanted to share it. End of disclaimer.

About three weeks ago, I confronted God with a big issue. Not life and death, mind you. I don’t believe God responds to ultimatum. Most days, I don’t believe God listens to me at all. Or, if he does, he enjoys toying with me, seeing how far I can be pushed before I release blasphemous sentiments his way. I admit, my theology is tainted, and what I’m sharing is the worse day scenarios. Anyway …

My son is in college. If you live in Michigan, you know that our state government has recently reneged on the “Michigan Promise Scholarship” (seemingly becoming a reoccurring theme in my beloved state). My son earned this scholarship, and it was part of the package that got him to attend his college of choice.

I was angry. I am not ignorant, nor a simple-minded person who thinks the world revolves around me and my family. I had what I call a “knock down, drag out” conversation with God, alone, in my car. I may have said things like, “OK, you want Wesley at college? You figure out how to keep him there! I’m not going to compromise the rest of the family to have this happen. We’re already living close to the bone, God, and we can’t do this.” I ranted a lot more; details I’d rather not share here, so public. Suffice it to say I was hurt, I felt abandoned, and I worried for my son, whose belief is deep and pure and real.

“I’m done,” I said out loud. This is not my problem. I’m not going to talk about it with my husband, or my son, or anyone. I’m done.” And I was. In fact, my husband didn’t even know the Scholarship had been cancelled.  That’s how “done” I was.

Here’s the text I got from out of nowhere yesterday: “I love my college! I just received a letter from President Webb saying that because of my financial need they would reimburse my whole Michigan Promise Scholarship! I’m covered!”

I was driving, and I had to pull over. Understand, I had totally let this situation go out from my mind. I was coming home from a wonderful lunch with my husband, and we were making plans for home renovations, and we laughed and simply shared a beautiful few minutes together. So when I read this (yes, I read it while I was driving — bad, I know) I teared up and had to pull over.

It has been a long time since I feel like I’ve seen tangible answers to a prayer I’ve prayed. And, like I said in the disclaimer, this isn’t a statement of theology or “how God works” or anything. This is what I experienced yesterday. I was speechless, only to say, “Thank you.” What else could I say? God had, in the providence and kindness of Spring Arbor University, made possible for my son to continue his education — the one he’s planned and worked hard for a long time.

So … what do I do with it? I move a little closer to maybe, just maybe, believing that God does care what goes on in my life. Hard even to say, because of my skew on it all. But I feel like, for me, right here and right now, I have something I can wrap my mind around … God hearing my cry and showing me he can take care of things.

That’s all I’ve got to say about that. Right now.

A Necessary Autumn Inside Each

Do you know Rumi? “Rumi was born near the city of Balkh, in what is now Afghanistan, then the easter edge of the Persian empire, on September 30, 1207. He was the descendant fo a long line of Islamic jurist, theologians, and mystics…When Rumi was still ayoung man, his family fled from Balkh, just ahead of the invading armies of Genghis Kahn … Rumi and his family travled to Damascus on on to Nishapur, where they met the poet and Teacher Fariduddin Attar, who recognized the teenaged boy Rumi as a great spirit….”

Bottom line: Rumi is one of the greatest poets of the ancient Muslim world — and actually, our modern world as well. His influence can be found throughout literature, music (David Crowder’s line, “And what was said to the rose to make it uncurl …” Rumi), and both the western and easter world.

Yeah, I’m a fan. Today, I found this poem and thought I’d share it:

You and I have spoken all these words, but as for the way we have to go, words are no preparation.

There is no getting ready, other than grace.

My faults have stayed hidden. One might call that a preparation! I have one small drop of knowing in my soul. Let it dissolve in your ocean. There are so many threats to it.

Inside each of us, there’s continual autumn. Our leaves fall and are blown out over the water. A crow sits in the blackened limbs and talks about what’s gone.

Then, your generosity returns: spring, moisture, intelligence, the scent of hyacinth and rose and cypress.

Joseph is back! And if you don’t feel in yourself the freshness of Joseph, be Jacob! Weep and then smile. Don’t pretend to know something you haven’t experienced.

There’s a necessary dying, and then Jesus is breathing again. Very little grows on jagged rock. Be ground. Be crumbled, so wildflowers will come up where you are. You’ve been story for too many years.

Try something different. Surrender.”

Such beauty, echoing over so many hundreds of years. Rumi has helped me see that there probably aren’t so many differences between our world and that of our brothers in the Persian realms — at least, not like the media and some religious fanatics would have us subscribe to. And while we’re separated by thousands of miles, and hundreds of years, the beauty of the language still resonates in my soul.

And I’m not even a big fan of most poetry …

(quotes taken from Coleman Barks’ “The Soul of Rumi.”)

A simple paraphrase for my church …

“If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return.

“Love everyone. Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to even those who are thankful and wicked.

“You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.” Luke 6:32-36 (paraphrased words in bold)

No other comments. Just words attributed to Jesus.

Here’s the conversation …

Me: “I’m just not sure where I stand with God.”

Friend: Smiling, “I don’t think that’s true.”

Me: “Not sure what you’re saying?”

Friend: “I think it’s the other way around. God is never sure where ‘he’ stands with you.”

That’s ironic, isn’t it? Half of me says the conversation is a moot point. Half of me wrestles with what that exactly means. The other half (I’m a pretty big girl) truly and deeply believes God could care less about whether I exist or not.

I’m working on story right now — professionally and personally. I think I’m pretty good at telling an engaging story. I’m the one at the water cooler who can pull people in, and my philosophy is “when in doubt, go for the laugh.”

Fortunately for me, I have a few people who see through the crap. Fortunately for me, I’m very adept at keeping these relationships where I want them. For a good character in a great story, the character has to be real, believable, empathetic and have the ability to pull empathy out of those around them. I’m working on becoming a better story teller — and a “better” character.

That’s why people struggle with issues of faith so much (in my opinion). Whether you believe in God or not, he is a great character in the story of human history. Like him, hate him, or totally disregard any instances of his existence, he “fits the bill” of a protagonist. Or, at least, a classic Greek hero. The entry of Jesus Christ into history, and having him named “God incarnate” made God approachable. The church, in turn, used these two powerful characters and re-wrote history into a vehicle for personal power, manipulating the “character” of God for personal gain.

Enter post-modern philosophies (which are difficult to define, even by those who claim to be among its congregants). Emerging in a culture without common background, strung between the apostates, the heretics, and the traditionalist, what chance does simple faith have? Those of us who still strive to balance the faith and doubt within us find ourselves pulled, manipulated, condemned and not taken seriously, simply because we ask questions. Such is the stuff of the story of faith nowadays — at least where I live.

So, back to my original conversation. I appreciate what my friend said, and in all honesty, on my faith-filled days, I think she’s 100% right. But, most days, I can’t take too much time figuring out what other people think. I have no desire to pontificate and try to swing people to “my side,” because honestly, many days I’m unsure exactly what “side” I stand on. Inside, I have myself figured out (OK, again, most of the time). Outside … I travel from place to place, not trying to offend, but refusing to back down or be beaten up by simple rhetoric by people who really, truly don’t believe what they think they do. And those goes for people on either side of the church walls.

I promised myself I wouldn’t let this blog become something that is used against me, or those I love and care about. So, if you’re reading this and become offended … sorry. If you read this and think I’m “lost” on either side of the argument … you’re wrong. And if you’re really, truly my friend, we’ll talk a lot about a lot of things, and not stall on one simple piece of the story puzzle.

Just keep reading …

Reconsidering my profession ….

Started reading Story by Robert McKee tonight. It’s interesting, to think of the lost of story — good story — is the bane of modern writers. In just a few brief pages, I’m starting to think maybe I just can’t do this thing.

What makes a good story? We all know it when we see it, but before it’s birthed, what is it? McKee brings up so much “meat” in just a few pages … how, in the past, we all came from a similar set of values and expectations, and how writing about something as simple as “love” brings up hundreds of variations and leaves a writer scratching his or her head as to how to present a love story. Simply mind-blowing.

McKee asserts that anyone can learn the craft of story-telling … which is why I’ll be using my Border’s coupon on Monday to purchase this book.

But he’s absolutely right. Think about it. What was the last monumental story you read/watched/heard of? I’m not talking flashy CGI, or incredible music, but solid, fresh story? I understand the use of archetypes, but I mean something that made you feel … human?

I’m not really throwing in the towel, so all my well-wishers don’t have to send me encouraging comments. But I am fascinated with the process.

When I was in college, I was a decent writer. Things came easily for me (yeah, the student you loved to hate). Everything, except Dr. Covey’s classes. Oh, I did pretty well in etymology (always have been a word freak). But the writing classes … broadcast writing, advanced news writing … he use to give me grades lower than I felt I deserved.

I always “did the work” he wanted. Followed the form, completed to a “tee” what he said he wanted …but the “a’s” never came. So, being the consciousness student I was, I went to him and asked him what the deal was.

“You are capable of more, Gina,” he would tell me. “More? What do you want, and I’ll do it.”

“You are lazy. And until you learn the craft and stop being lazy, you will never be a great writer.”

I was angry. That was so, so … abstract? I thought I “knew” what he meant, but the truest essence of his judgment continues to rain down on me. So, through the years, I’ve done things … taken classes, made relationship with other writers to help with the accountability thing, taken jobs that “make” me learn more about writing …

Robert McKee is simply my next hurdle on the way to what I dream about.

My New Addiction …

So I have this friend, and she said to me, “I’ve made, like $400.00 selling old curriculum on Ebay.”

Says I, “Hmmm … I have way too many books around my house. Maybe, just maybe, I could do that, too.” I put it off a long time, but then, I sucked it up, asked a lot of questions (it’s really not that hard, but I’m a little slow), and posted about three different items. They sold, and sold big!

So I did it, again and again and again. I just checked my account, and multiple people are “watching” my stuff right now. I sense the blood in the water … the bidding frenzy is about to begin (seeing I only have a little over a day left on this batch).

It’s not the money for me. Yeah, it’s nice, and the way I’ve been selling stuff, I’ve actually made as much $$$ as I would have working at Starbucks over the same period of time (less clutter and income? Sheee, yeah. I’m not THAT stupid). The excitement comes down to the last few days, when people in cyberspace are eagerly pressing keys and out-bidding each other for my stuff. I see it akin to a legal dog fight, you know? My books are in the ring, and people are duking it out to see who gets the prize.

So every morning, it has become a part of my “routine” to check and see who’s watching what I’ve posted. Today — the last “full” day of bidding — is my favorite, because the numbers change constantly. Knowing there’s money at the end of the day is OK, too. But somehow, it’s the thrill of the hunt that sparks me the most.

The process has also been good discipline for me. I have to be conscientious about getting the books shipped, making sure everyone is good with my customer service, etc. So in a way, it’s kept me “professional” without ever having to get out of my jammies — well, except to go down to the post office.

Oh Ebay, my newest and sweetest (and legal) addiction! Thank you for gracing my life with a little shot of capitalistic adrenaline every few days. While you stand for many things I am against (the whole materialistic thing being the outstanding candidate), I still love you and plan to be wallowing within your addictive grasps for many moons to come.

Truths I’m Learning …

Pain makes a good story.

Healing — especially emotional — is never really, truly complete.

Tattoos should be markers of our journey.

I’m basically a selfish person, regardless of how much I want to believe to the opposite.

I think that, deep inside, we are really a lot more alike than we like to think. We’re just all in different stages of self-disclosure to the world — and ourselves.

Sometimes, the words just won’t come, no matter how hard I try. So, sometimes when I stop trying, the best words come. Paradox, huh?

I’m working hard to get to 100 words on this blog entry. There’s just so much to say, but not a lot worth saying right now.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

Going to see Don Miller speak about story on Monday night (http://donmilleris.com/) in Flint. My college boy is home this weekend, and has the guy’s newest book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I don’t read a lot of “religious” stuff anymore (no rants right now), but have always loved Miller’s ability to tell a story. He’s conversation; he’s funny. He’s a guy you want to sit down with over a beer, because you know he’s as self-conscious and obsessively self-aware as you are. And if you both know you’re in the same frame of mind, you can laugh and have a good time.

Anyway … I’m trying to buzz through this book before Monday night (I hate not knowing what’s being talked about when I do something like this). So, I’m downing it on this blustery Friday afternoon, and I run smack-dab into this statement:

“I keep imagining these people, just living their daily lives, and then having them suddenly ended in unjust tragedy. When we watch the news, we grieve all of this, but when we go to the movies, we want more of it. Somehow we realize that great stories are told in conflict, but we are unwilling to embrace the potential greatness of the story we are actually in. We think God is unjust, rather than a master storyteller.”

If you are not, a person of faith, this statement poses little problem, because you have determined that every choice you make directs you on to the next step. Your “story” is written without any existential editorial help from a “greater power.” Whatever happens — happens. The only determinant is what you chose to do, to act on, to accomplish. So, the triumph, the blame, the conflict and the “happy endings” all fall on you and those you choose to surround yourself with.

If, however, you are a person of faith — of any type of “belief” — this statement becomes a truism. None of us like pain. No one I know enjoys disillusionment, betrayal, brokenness. Some of us have made a “story arc” of these tragedies, connecting fracture after fracture, slipping more than occasionally into cynicism, and yet still struggling like an abuse victim to “save the relationship” with have with the Divine. Not willing to walk out.

I’ve walked both paths in search of … myself? Truth? Meaning? I have good friends on both sides of the fence, all calling out and claiming they have the answers. But in all my wanderings I continue to stay somewhere in the center lane … not willing to chuck faith totally, but not willing tie myself eternally to the system of dispensation known as religion.

So when the question of pain and loss are thrown into the dialog, I become a bit quiet. I know the “good” that comes through honing, through struggle and the wrestling with “God” that brings me to a stronger, better place. But I also know the seismic fissures that it brings to many people, separating them from all things physical, spiritual, mental. Some times,  pain is the catalysis for a person’s leaving of any type of faith. And while the hurt doesn’t keep them there … eventually, most people “get over it” … it does open doors for doubt and intellectual reasoning that can no longer align itself with faith of any kind.

So, what is my story? Is it one of spiritual mud wrestling that will result in a pillar of faith, touting the Divine as the answer to all life’s questions? Or will it be a tragedy of love and live and loss that finds the protagonist wandering the streets of Ethiopia, looking for meaning?

Ah, isn’t that the best part of a good story? Struggling, day by day, read by read, walking along with a person as they discover their own story unfolding? Not reading ahead to the ending? Like Harold Crick, I know I’m a character. And somehow, I still think I can interact with the author, and I have some say into how this story goes.

Time after time …

Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s menopause, but the last few days tears have come easily to my eyes whenever I think of what’s gone before and what it to come — especially when it involves my kids.

It’s an unusual situation for me, because I’m not over demonstrative when it comes to emotions. I laugh easily, but the tears … the tears show weakness, and somehow clear the way for people to look deeper into places I prefer to keep guarded. It’s OK for everyone else — just not me.

The big boy is home tonight from college for the first time since learning. It’s all different … but in a wonderful and fulfilling way. He’s doing so well. Learning so much. Experiencing so many things, clothed in confidence and wonder and thankfulness and fearlessness. I can’t even begin to voice my pride in him. My love, my joy … and again, the tears come.

They’re all growing up way too fast. Kara, beginning to think about which college will win her amazing intelligence, gentle beauty, and deep, deep soul. Ethan, with the little girls just beginning to notice him and the pull of boyhood still deeply entrenched in his beautiful smile.

And Aubree. Aubree is ten, going on twenty-one. Thinking, thinking, always thinking … beginning to lose the little girl gullible nature and, sometimes sadly, seeing the world for what it is rather than always what it could be. Still, her beauty and wonderment is an inalienable part of her, and her joy and enthusiasm is like water to my soul.

My friend Joanna tagged me today with a reference to this poem:

On Turning Ten
by Billy Collins

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

Beautiful (and there are those pesky tears again). And listening to my kids, laughing and enjoying catching up with each other, playing games together and just living, I don’t regret a single year, day, or moment.  And I look forward to “whatever” is next.

I just wish I could do it a little more dry-eyed ….

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