“Similarly, the spirit also helps us out in our weakness. For example, we don’t know beans about praying, but the Spirit himself speaks up for our unexpressed concerns. And he who x-rays our hearts understands the Spirit’s approach, since the Spirit represents Christians before God.” Romans 8:26-27 The Cotton Patch Version
Clarence Jordan (translator of The Cotton Patch Version) is right. I don't know beans about praying. Prayer absolutely blows my mind: God, the creator of the universe, wants to be in communication with me? I really can't grasp that.
But I pray anyway. I pray to music. I pray Scripture. And I pray for loved ones. (Names changed.)
Yeah, I gotta tell ya. I don't know beans about praying.
But thanks be to God, knowing is not necessary. Romans 8:26-27 (NRSV) says “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (emphasis mine)
And when I read that I sigh: a sigh of relief. I sigh because suddenly I remember, I’m not alone. I sigh, I breathe, remembering that Alma is not alone, and Beatrice isn't and neither is Carol. The Spirit is sighing with me, magnifying those sighs, translating them into words that I can't seem to find, building them into bridges from the hearts of the hurting to the very heart of God. I sigh knowing there's a bridge for Denise and Elmer and all grieving parents and that Karl and Jenna can cross it too. And I sigh so deep within my spirit, beyond the flood of tears that chokes my heart for those living in the grip of poverty. I sigh with relief because as I do, I find that the Spirit is already there; the bridge is already built. Everyone has brand new boots with nice long straps. I don't have to find the words to the perfect prayer; because “. . .God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes” for me.
Even though I don’t know beans about praying.
Recently, my sister reminded me of a family story that I hadn’t thought about in years. It happened back when we were in college, working in restaurants over holidays and summer breaks. At the time, she was waiting tables in our hometown in South Carolina.
Now, for those of you unfamiliar with the South, you need to know this tidbit. In South Carolina, when you order tea, it is assumed that you want your drink served over ice and—unless otherwise stated—sweet enough to pass as a dessert. It’s the rare Southerner who would choose hot tea to go with a meal. Even then, it would be requested with a touch of embarrassment or a word of explanation. “I’m coming down with a cold, you see, or I’d have the regular.” At which point, the waiter would say something like, “Oh! Bless your heart! I’ll getcha some iced tea for after you finish that stuff. No charge. You can take it to go.” In the South, iced tea is serious business, and it’s just not something you want to go messing around with . . . .
As my sister recalls, it all started because one night during the supper rush, a fella complained to the management because he had to request a spoon for his glass of sweet tea. According to him, the tea wasn’t quite sweet enough and he wanted to add more sugar. Not having a spoon readily available (and apparently unable to make do with either his knife, fork, or straw), he made quite a stinker of himself, frustrated that he was made to wait even momentarily for the preferred utensil. His nastiness threw the staff off kilter and made for a rotten night for everyone.
By the time the servers arrived the next day, the restaurant owner had devised a solution to this customer service conundrum. Incidentally, this was the first time in memory someone had requested more sugar for the sweet tea. Never mind that though; on to the solution.
“From now on,” the owner told the wait staff, “We will put teaspoons in each glass of tea. That will solve the problem.”
The staff just looked at her, apparently waiting for her to see the obvious flaw in the plan. She didn’t; someone spoke up.
“Well . . . umm . . . we put the spoons in the glasses of unsweetened tea so we can identify them. How will we tell them apart if we put spoons in all the glasses?”
The owner thought for a minute, came up with the answer, and said, “Okay, in the sweet tea, put one spoon. In the unsweetened tea, put two.”
“Yes! Two spoons.”
Well, you can imagine how this played out. The first really busy night, they ran out of teaspoons early on and the plan was scrapped. Which was fine really, because the problem wasn’t the system in the first place; the problem was a grumpy man who had probably just had one inconvenience too many that day.
Overcorrection: just one more way to create major problems out of minor ones.
Unlike water or wine or even Coca-Cola,
sweet tea means something.
It is a tell, a tradition.
Sweet tea isn't a drink, really.
It's culture in a glass.
(Allison Glock, writer)
(Original posting, November 17, 2014)
Recently I saw a youtube video of an artist illustrating depression. The depressed person would describe how depression felt to them, and the artist would conceptualize their stories in a drawing. Their stories, thus the pictures, varied greatly. I don't have an artist, but I thought I'd try to describe what it is like for me anyway. Here you go.
For me, it’s not so much a color as a sensation. I guess the sensation is a dark one, sort of a muddy black, but mainly it’s heavy. And oozy. It usually creeps up slowly. I feel it pulling on my feet, slowing me down, and I don’t recognize it at first. I kick at it, trying to loosen the hold, thinking it’s something outside myself, rather than the all too familiar internal struggle. (After all these years, you’d think I would recognize all its disguises.) So, I think I can flick it off with a little justification. It’s patient, depression, so it backs off into the shadows, waiting.
I’m fooled into thinking I’ve resolved it, until it starts from another angle—messing with my sleep, my appetite, my mind. By now it has lured me into emotional quicksand. I get pulled under by depression’s Sirens: “What is wrong with you?” “Why can’t you get over it?” “What real problems do you have?” I try to answer and they pull me closer and their voices get louder. The more I search for the answers to their squealing demands, the more pressure I feel, the deeper I fall, the weight of the world pressing me down, down, down.
It feels like I’m wearing pain. Seeking responses to the non-answerables, I envision all those who face life’s most hopeless battles. Cancer, war, divorce, oppression, loss, racism, poverty, inequities. Tragedies loop through my mind mocking me with the reminder that I have no reason to be sad. I agree. And the pain grows heavier.
When depression opts for a more direct attack, I go from feeling like me, to feeling as if I’m caught in a vortex of despair. I sink fast. There’s no slowing it down, no getting away.
And I’m not sure what lifts the weight and allows me to move again. It helps to remember that Sirens aim to destroy me, not to expand my self-awareness. It helps to plug my ears to their false refrains and to answer with dismissal rather than with access to my soul.
And it helps to do what my mama says (as it does no matter what the problem is): “Do one thing.”
I might send a single email, do one chore, write one sentence. I tell myself that after I do that one thing, I can resume lethargy. Then I do just one more thing. And then another. And in time, I’m back on solid ground, back to me.
That’s what it’s like for me.
Have you noticed? Every garment promises it—from blouses and dresses to jeans and jackets: “Slim Fit.” “Super Slimming.” “Secretly Slimming.” “Sleek and Slim.” “Slim Style.”
I’ll admit, I’m one of the reasons this marketing strategy works. It’s true; I’ve bought lots of things (and not just clothing) that promised to perfect me upon purchase. So before I start my rant, hear me: I’m guilty.
Now. Let’s move on.
Issue #1: Why do we think that a garment will solve all of our body image issues? (And by “we,” I mean not just you, but me too—see above.) We’re fatter than ever here in the US of A, and the diet industry is growing just as fast as we are. Let’s try a new slimming technology: Let’s eat right and exercise. But let’s eat right because it is the right thing to do and because it is wrong to eat junk and to overeat. Let’s exercise because the benefits are greater than the inconvenience. And then, healthier and stronger, let’s buy what we want and wear what we like, knowing it really isn’t clothes that make a person. It’s character.
Issue #2: Why in the Sam Hill do size two jeans need so-called “slimming technology?” Seriously. It’s one thing to slip slimming secrets into my size 12 jeans; it’s another for size 2’s to promise such nonsense. I’ve seen it, and if you look, you’ll see it too: jeans smaller than size 4, blouses in XS that promise to make their wearers appear even smaller. Crazy. Come on now. Have you ever seen a size 2 person who was just a little on the plump side? If you have, you are the one with the problem—and I mean this—get yourself some help.
Issue #3: What’s so great about being slim? You know what I think? Here’s what I think: I think it’s a white thing. You read me right. I said it’s a white thang. A Caucasian quirk. How do I know? I know because I have lived my life surrounded by people of other ethnicities. Not only did I attend inner-city schools, I’ve worked and lived in environments where my pale skin put me in the minority. And it’s been my experience that other ethnic groups have more liberal attitudes about beauty. Lots of things define beauty. Skinny can be beautiful. And so can curvaceous. Green eyes, dark eyes; light skin, dark skin, freckled skin; curly hair, straight hair, streaked hair, natural hair, permed hair; long legs, short legs, fat legs, skinny legs, legs that climb on rocks. It’s all good. So get with it white folk; then get over it.
Well, in the words of Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.” (Which is of course an outright lie: I could talk for days about this topic—or any other). So I’ll just close with what I used to close my Weight Watchers’™ meetings with, “You are beautiful today. When you lose weight, you will be thin and beautiful. But today, you are just plain beautiful.”
I’ve just about had it with this campaign season, in large part because social media is ratcheting up the nastiness to ridiculous levels. Memes are everywhere, as if somehow it becomes okay to say something flippant or mean if it’s accompanied by a cute animal, a famous face, or a cleverly drawn cartoon. How in the world will we make it through to November if our collective behavior continues to plummet below what used to be considered common decency (or—ya know—good manners)?
It’s out of absolute self-preservation that I offer a few tips about social media and politics. (Don’t have time to read the whole post? Then here’s the short version: Be Nice.)
Bottom line: let’s play nicely with one another. It makes for a better world.
What about you? What guidelines do you suggest?
I’ve gotten inordinately distracted by this year’s presidential campaign. I’ve always been interested in politics, so it’s not surprising that I’m following the election news. But this year, there’s not as much campaign news as there is petty filth and drivel. The offensive nature of the 2016 US election is very literally making me sick.
I messaged my sister to commiserate. Here’s a snippit of that conversation (condensed for the purpose of this post).
ME: I'm so upset about this dadgum election. I think way too much about it.
MY SISTER: Take a break. I had to.
ME: It makes me so mad. My stomach is upset; I feel like I’m about to cry over it all the time. It is just so upsetting! The fact that the people of this nation are drawn to the theatrics and that other candidates are picking up such tacky behavior . . . I can't stand it.
MY SISTER: Aileen. You know that you have to stop.
ME: How do you get away from it though? It’s on the news, on Twitter, everywhere.
MY SISTER: It wraps you up in pain and renders you impotent.
MY SISTER: You can't be involved in politics the way you want to if you are in this much pain. Do some sort of news blackout. Not a long time. A day? Could you do that?
ME: Yes probably. I have to do something to get it out of my head. This is seriously sickening.
MY SISTER: You are no good in this state.
ME: But I’d rather do something to improve the national mood. To make this better.
MY SISTER: YOU do help. All the time. Don't lose yourself in it. You really, really can help. The WORLD.
Her words got me thinking. See, I was going to post about my frustrations and concerns regarding the negativity swirling around the country. But as we were chatting, I realized that everything I have to say on this has already been said, reworded, and said again. People who will listen, have. Those who won’t, aren’t going to change their thoughts because of my opinion. So what to do?
I heard a quote on NPR’s Politics Podcast this week that seems appropriate here:
Never wrestle with a hog because you’ll both get dirty and the hog will like it.
So I’m staying out of this nasty mess. And instead of adding to a fight that is already spewing filth on anyone who gets near it, I’m going to keep trying to put some good into the world.
What about you? What good thing will you add to your world this week?
“Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior:
Ask yourself what you want people to do for you;
then grab the initiative and do it for them!”
Luke 6:31 The Message
I’m deeply troubled by the great racial divide in our country. This is not a black thing or a white thing. This is a people thing and we really have to do better.
If I were to trace the problem of race in America, I would go back through Jim Crow laws and legalized discrimination. I would go back before Ruby Bridges and Dred Scott. I’d go back to the end of the Civil War when slaves were set free, homeless and penniless, to live in a world that refused to hire them and rushed to oppress them.
But I would not stop there.
I’d go back to 19th century Charleston, SC where shackled men, women, and children shuffle across the auction block as white landowners place a price on humanity. I’d hear the clanging of chains, the crack of bull whips slashing across tattered flesh, the cries of beloved torn from beloved.
But I’d keep going.
I’d go all the way to the coasts of Africa where 18th century opportunists snatched up human beings and stacked them like cheap cargo on ships bound for American shores. I’d want to look away, knowing as I do that so many of them will die on that trip, their bodies discarded with the galley garbage.
Instead though, I’ll look in the face of this imbecilic, barbarian behavior and say, “Here it is! Right here. This sin will fall from father to son, mother to daughter, through generations. This treating people—people created by God Almighty—as objects in your sick game of immediate self-satisfaction is the very essence of evil.”
Think about it. That wrong, that undeniable injustice, has created a culture of oppression and corresponding mistrust that has characterized race relations in America for millennia.
So what do we do about it?
I don’t know. I really don’t. But I believe we absolutely must do something. In my next few blog posts, I’ll be reflecting upon this issue. Will you join me? I’d love to hear your thoughts as we muddle through the mess we’ve made to find solutions for a more just world.
July 16, 2013
It really, no kidding, could have been my son.
My 17 year old boy, broader than many and taller than most, must seem imposing, threatening even. I know this because a few weeks ago, when my son was in a place he had every right to be, doing something he’d been asked to do by a responsible adult, he raised the hackles of a concerned neighbor (I’ll call that person Watchdog). It was dark, and Watchdog caught sight of my boy and panicked. Rather than going home and calling 911 though, Watchdog approached and confronted my son, warning him to leave the property. Luckily, my husband happened to be with our son that night; he addressed Watchdog, reassuring that all was well.
The next day, Watchdog (who is actually a nice person who seems to have only the best intentions at heart) expressed to the homeowner—the one who had hired my boy in the first place—concern about the events of the previous night. After implying ownership of a firearm, Watchdog then said something like, “This could have turned out very differently, perhaps even tragically.”
It didn’t though. My son wasn’t shot. Watchdog didn’t have a weapon on him at the time, so there’s that. Plus my son is Caucasian, the same ethnicity as Watchdog. And we’ll never know what could have happened that night if circumstances had been different. I can’t help but wonder though.
Consider the findings reported in this video. It’s a clip from the television program What Would You Do with John Quinones. This show creates public scenarios involving moral or ethical issues; hidden video cameras record the reactions of observers. In this clip, two different actors hired by the show attempt to steal a bicycle in a public park. Both men—one Caucasian, one African American—are similarly attired, appearing much like my son would have looked the night Watchdog challenged him.
Here’s what you’ll see when you watch the video. The white male is occasionally questioned, but most people walk by and say nothing. The black male, though? He’s on the verge of being attacked. Witnesses become downright aggressive. People are snapping pictures, taking video, snatching his tools. Are you kidding me? It’s unbelievable. Or it would be, if it were not so frighteningly common.
Racism. It’s pervasive and it's deadly. See, no matter what you think about the recent verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, two things will not be changed: 17 year old student Trayvon Martin will still be dead, and Zimmerman will still be free. What can be changed though, is the mindset that led to this tragedy in the first place. Let’s put ourselves on trial. Let’s ask ourselves convicting questions.
And if we find ourselves guilty on any counts of racism, let’s sentence ourselves to life with a new attitude—an attitude of mercy, love, and grace. Now that’s justice.
. . . and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8 NRSV
We all know that, right? For example, the paranoid brain fabricates menacing scenarios that petrify and isolate. The depressed brain suppresses joy and deflates hope. The dementia-clouded brain suggests life should be lived in the distant past, not the present moment.
So yeah, diseased brains are deceitful; but they aren't the only ones. At times, healthy brains mislead too. They can’t help it. It’s all a part of the natural growth process.
All of the above normal thought patterns come with their share of inherent dangers, but it is the last one that is the most lethal. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, even though “. . . young people at this age are close to a lifelong peak of physical health, strength, and mental capacity, . . . death[s] by injury between ages 15 to 19 are about six times that of the rate between ages 10 and 14.”
Harvard neurologist and parent Frances Jensen began studying the adolescent brain when her two sons were teenagers. She explains, “Nature made the brains of children and adolescents excitable. Their brain chemistry is tuned to be responsive to everything in their environment. After all, that's what makes kids learn so easily.”  So it’s normal. Scary, but normal.
See the brain is not fully developed until we are in our mid to late 20’s. And the part of the brain that recognizes risk, the frontal lobe, is the last to grow up. That’s why we do such stupid things in high school and college. Because our brains are literally too immature to know any better.
If we're lucky, by the time we are in our 30’s, we look back on our ideas and impulses of previous decades and cringe. We're embarrassed, maybe even humiliated. We wish we could go back in time and tell our teenaged selves that risk is real and warnings are for a reason.
But, you know what? Our adolescent selves wouldn’t pay any attention to our overly-cautious, bossy, controlling adult selves. That’s because teenaged brains are too busy misconstruing reality.
Lies. All of them.
So parents, let’s stop the blaming and name-calling and understand that when our teenagers are acting irresponsibly, it’s because their brains are just doing what comes naturally.
And teenagers: you can't always trust your brains. You really can’t. So do this. In potentially dangerous situations, defer to someone whose frontal lobe is fully developed. Occasionally you might miss something fun. But at least you’ll live to complain about it.
"The Teen Brain: Still Under Construction." NIMH RSS. The National Institute of Mental Health, n.d. Web. 12 June 2013. <http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-teen-brain-still-under-construction/index.shtml>.
 Knox, Richard. "The Teen Brain: It's Just Not Grown Up Yet." NPR. NPR, n.d. Web. 12 June 2013. <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124119468>.
 Spinks, Sarah. "Adolescent Brains Are Works in Process." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 12 June 2013. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/teenbrain/work/adolescent.html>.
When I was in college, people often said things like, "You think this is hard, wait 'til you're out in the real world." Or, "Honey you ain't seen nothin'. When you're out in the real world--that's when the hard work begins."
Real world? Have you not been to college? It is scary real. Plus: in the real, real world, there are no finals.
Oh don't give me that. I know there are proposals and pitches, deadlines and due dates, but it's not the same. Really. It isn't. I know. I've been to college not once, not twice, but three times. And I've had about that many different careers. And seriously? Nothing compares to the intensity of finals. Often the only thing that got me through was telling myself, “In two weeks, it will be over; good or bad, it will end.”
There are some things that make it easier though. Here are a few tips I’ve learned from the 17 semesters I have spent preparing for finals.