The Human Experience

Sometimes I write because I have a serious of intricate thoughts I want to share.  At other times, it is a discipline for me. Finding it therapeutic is another motivation that often drives my writing.  Today, it is the confusing mix of emotions and realizations that simply drive me to attempt expression of the inexpressible.

Eastern Swinging

Eastern Swinging Bridge-by Dorothy Crookshank

I just finished watching “Chris Brown–Welcome to My Life“, on Netflix (a documentary where Chris Brown opens up about his career, fame, legal issues, personal struggles, and his little daughter).  It moved me greatly, I admit.  The social worker/therapist in me read between the lines and saw the pitfalls that led to his battles with anger and violence.  I heard in his open discussion an authenticity that is rare to see in the rich and famous.  His experiences, good, bad, and ugly, are all part of  humanity–the human experience common to us all.

As a female who has been touched by domestic abuse, I still find compassion for the little boy that met fame all to early.  He was in the eye of the world before he’d had a chance to receive the healing and help he needed to overcome what was going on in his home.  I tried to imagine how my own sixteen year old son would handle sudden fame.  The thought was ludicrous and terrifying at the same time.

It is human to judge, to gossip, to trash those who struggle to rise above and repeatedly fall in the process.  I have been both on the giving and the receiving end of judgement–sometimes true and often very unjust.  In the process, I have come to truly appreciate the old saying about not judging others until you’ve walked in their shoes.  Those I used to judge, I eventually traded places with.  Siting in the drivers seat of difficult circumstances makes a huge difference in one’s perspective.

Although my own children must be protected from harm at the hands of their own father, I cannot hate him for what he did to them or to me.  I have no doubt that somewhere in his past his worldview was formulated by pain and suffering of his own.  The difference is in his lack of openness and willingness to seek help, to be authentic, to change.

I have suffered a lot of pain in my adult life.  Cancer has touched my body, surgeries have left their scars, and the steely fire of domestic abuse fired my soul with passion to do my part to make sure that children are safe.  I know what it feels like to carry your dead child’s casket to the grave in a fog of grief.  I’ve been touched by the pain of lies, gossip and shaming for just trying to survive and heal.  There have been struggles through poverty, single parenting, and feeling at times very forsaken and alone.  In short, I have lived.

LAPTOP-MEL - WIN_20150908_201736

Yet here I am.

The resilience of the human experience is amazing.  Finding something bigger than oneself to hold onto is often the key to survival.  It gives humanity the courage and determination to stand back up, wipe the mud out of one’s eyes, and continue the race– even if it is with a limp.

Just like Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare, it isn’t always the fastest person with the smoothest gait who wins at life.  Sometimes it is rank determination.  That human trait will not let us quit, even when quitting seems the least painful option.

The human experience is full of mistakes, pitfalls and outright sins.  However, it is not those events in and of themselves that define us as human beings.  History itself shows us many examples–people we admire and honor–who were full of mistakes and failure, yet rose above it all in determination.  It is the resilience inside–the choice to keep correcting our course and forging onward towards the goal we have in mind that really makes us worth remembering.

Never give up!

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Punishment? Opportunity!

 

I’m writing today with a headache, earache, nausea, and full body soreness, in spite of having downed a 800 mg Ibuprofen this morning.  Yes, this sad hunk of metal is what is left of my beautiful new car.  For almost two weeks I enjoyed driving this sleek 2017 Toyota Corolla.  But, that was before.  Yesterday morning a huge buck suddenly appeared in front of my car on the interstate and there was no avoiding him.   Instead of staying in the woods where he belongs, he decided to leap out into traffic.

BuckWhitetail Buck in Woods

It was a terrible moment, trying to miss him…the sudden recognition that there was no way to do so.  It all happened in an instant.  He hit the front of my car and bounced off onto the shoulder… I pulled over and watched what I thought were his death throes in my rear view mirror, feeling pity for the animal, and not yet realizing the damage to my car.

As it finally sunk in that my car hood was folded up in front of me with smoke coming out from under it, I attempted to put the vehicle in park.  That’s when I realized things were really bad.  My car would not allow me to shift into park, and all the warning lights on the dash were lit up.  Because I couldn’t put it in park, I sat switching my right and left feet on the brake for about 30 minutes while I called the police and my car insurance roadside assistance.

While on hold, I glanced back in amazement as the deer suddenly seemed to come to life before my eyes, shaking it off and attempting to rise.  His legs would not hold him up, so he plopped to the ground but kept his neck and head high, as he gazed around him, bleating.  I could not believe it.  Clearly my car was terribly damaged and this creature was still able to live and look around?

I texted my boyfriend, telling him about my fears and thoughts that were pouring into my head–was this the punishment of God for not going to church enough?  Was I not fulfilling enough duties to God?  He reminded me that it could be blamed on evil forces just as easily.  He mentioned how remarkable it was that I was sitting there safe and sound, not dead with a hoof print on my forehead….Well, he didn’t put it exactly like that, of course.  I’m embellishing poetically (it is what us authors do).

As the process of filing a police report and being towed to a collision repair shop wore on throughout the morning, it did begin to sink in that I was protected.  I had not a scratch on me, no glass, no cuts, and did not even feel sore at that point.  On the other hand, the deer sat and suffered for at least an hour and a half before the game and fish commission was called to put him out of his misery.

Later in the evening, as I conversed with friends with openness about my initial thoughts, they made me laugh with their comebacks that were all too eyeopening and close to home.  One asked if maybe God was punishing the deer for misbehavior.  After all, he did have devil like horns and was not where he was supposed to be.

It hit me–my car was ruined, but I was unscathed–while he most likely lost his life.

A change in perspective.  That is what my friends most often offer me that is so extremely valuable!

In retrospect, I am reminded of the people who came to Jesus about the blind man, asking whether he or his parents had sinned, because he was born blind (John 9).  Jesus replied that neither had sinned.  This wasn’t a punishment for sin–it was an opportunity for a miracle.

Story of the Blind Man

I just got off the phone with the car dealership.  The car salesman that sold me that beautiful new car just a couple of weeks ago was there to remind me that I had purchased an extended warranty with gap insurance.  Whether or not the insurance company decides that my car is totaled, I will be covered to replace my car without worrying about trying to come up with money I don’t have.  What a relief to realize I’m okay!  I’ll have a car, and God was watching out for me all along.

How about you?  Do you feel you are being punished for not being good enough or measuring up?  Remember, sometimes the events of life are not punishment.  Instead they are opportunities for growth and miraculous intervention.  

A Temple to Truth

temple imageSwaminarayan Akshardham, Delhi, India

Every week I pass by a huge edifice with pretentious pillars.  It shouts at passersby to gaze upon its incredibly ostentatious facade.  Many years ago, I visited this pentecostal church (not pictured), where the interior is marble, and its churchgoers are clothed in elegance, while the pastor drives a Lamborghini–a yearly donation from one of the members.

I remember sitting in that one service, listening to the pastor describe the “blessings of God” on his congregation.  I observed the pride, while wondering how the humble Jesus could possibly be involved in this endeavor.

At the time, I was involved in missions work in a third world country–where people came to church barefoot, knelt on dirt floors, and slapped mosquitoes during the service–due to absence of windows or doors.  Somehow, the smoke from the oil wicks in those settings seemed oddly discordant with the crystal chandeliers and braggadocios manner of the pillared assembly.  It left me feeling ill–especially when they “couldn’t” donate to our mission because they were already helping “so many.”

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word “temple” refers to “a building for religious practice”.  There are other definitions, but this is the one that most closely describes my understanding and social context.JEWISH_TEMPLE00000005.gifHistoric Jewish Temple

A dear friend of mine is currently on a trek across the eastern areas of Nepal, Tibet, Kathmandu, and other exotic locations.  I have watched her posts on social media with much delight, as the journey progresses and the adventure unfolds.  She has visited many religious sites and belief systems, and she has posted pictures of temples–worship venues foreign to the rest of the world.

Due to a series of painful events in my own life, I have struggled with “religion” in the last few years.  I have never lost my faith, but I have been extremely disillusioned with formal religious groups and church “families”.

I do not apologize for this.  Every person has his/her own experiences, and mine have ranged from controlling to downright abusive treatment.  However, due to my lack of regular church attendance, I have received some interesting comments and reactions from family members who view church membership as a sign of spiritual health.

001-jesus-teaching

It is very interesting to note that Jesus did not usually spend his time and energy in formal religious settings.  A careful study of the Bible will reveal that he preferred meeting outdoors, or in the humble homes of individuals.  In fact, even the scriptural reference that is quoted to guilt a person into regular church attendance did not at all refer to attending a formal religious setting…(“not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching”).  It was about community and friendly support, not buildings!

https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Hebrews%2010%3A25

It is said by some that social workers are “bleeding hearts” because we tend to be compassionate and generally work with the downtrodden or less fortunate.  Maybe that is why I am a social worker.  Someone told me not long ago “you are in the perfect profession for your personality.  You didn’t learn to be this way…it IS who you are.”  Maybe that is true, given my sensitive nature (Too Sensitive?).  I was made this way…what can I say?

In regards to the present discussion, I do not waver, apologize, or feel in the least embarrassed about who I am or what I do.  It is the work of humanity, a work that Jesus himself was involved in, a work of Truth.  Every truly great person that I admire for accomplishing something in this world was a compassionate, empathetic giver–a person who had a gentle heart to help others.

I think of greatness not in the way of fame or fortune.  (It is abundantly clear that political power and fortune does not make one a person of character).  When heroes such as Mother Theresa, Ghandi, Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, the 14th Dalai Lama, Wilberforce, Einstein, Helen Keller, Muhammad Ali, Nightingale, Orwell, and many others are looked at with careful scrutiny, one may note that they each made a difference by stepping out to serve.  Their notable work was to make key changes in an evil world.

Although the great temples of the world are visually appealing in their diversity, I cannot believe that God, who is synonymous with Love, is one to dwell primarily in such works of art.  I believe that God is interested in the minute details of the wounded person’s existence–that he spends His time and devotes His presence to the grimy parts of the world. After all, in the Bible it says that our bodies are the temple… and describes a God that digs in the dirt to create this masterpiece (Holy Bible).

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+2:7

https://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?quicksearch=temple+of+the+holy+spirit&qs_version=NIV

So, forgive me if I’m not impressed by marble pillars and golden domes as a “temple”.  These are mere works of men, remarkable for their aesthetic appeal, but no indication of God/Love.

I’ve seen Him in the eyes of an infant child, felt Him close in the sun on my cheek, smelled His perfume wafting over me through the smoke of a primitive fire.  I have found the Temple of Truth.

Pochara, by Dorothy Crookshank

“God is Love, meeting humanity in authenticity and vulnerability.”    -Melanie McLeain                                            (photo courtesy of Dorothy Crookshank)

 

The Temple of Truth is where the bare feet of God/Love walk on warm packed dirt, silently touching the wounded being of a suffering child. Its walls are ethereal, unable to be measured by human hands.  Inside those walls one finds the broken lives of individuals who are authentic and vulnerable–who reach out to Him with arthritic fingers and desperate grasps.  Its dome is the clearest of blue skies, where pain filled eyes gaze to find peace and hope.  It is furnished with empathy and compassion in its purest form, providing comfort to mutilated bones and dry, cracked skin.

There are no officials that serve in the Temple of Truth.  Each person who finds healing in this extraordinary sanctuary spreads the love they have found.  They simply and creatively let it overflow onto those nearby, until the whole of the place is filled with a misty vapor–the essence of God’s presence…His Love.

By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

John 13:35

 

 

That Indescribable Emotion

From songs that question its place in relationships, to youthful dreamers longing to define it, love has ever been an emotion that eludes definition.  There are various Greek words that attempt to show different types of love, how they differ, and how they are connected (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hide-and-seek/201606/these-are-the-7-types-love).  There is an entire chapter in the Bible that speaks of one of these types of love–charity (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+13).  It defines what love will and won’t do, how it behaves, so the believer will know what to emulate.  We all know that God is love–John told us that in the Bible, and we have heard it in our societal living so much that many of us may have not even known where the phrase originated (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+John+4%3A8&version=NIV).

heartI would be more than a fool to try to persuade you that I have capture the essence of the elusive emotion that we all long for and crave.  I do not broach the subject with the pretense of expertise, for I too have sought it during my lifetime.  Any attempt at discussing the topic of love is done clearly knowing that I have not and cannot possibly ever know the fullness of such an emotion.

Is it any surprise to us as human beings that we cannot capture the emotion that is God?  God himself has forever been beyond description–so much so that many religions and groups have formed claiming to know something of him, but in each case, there is only the merest glimpse of a part of who He is–no one being has ever captured the fullness of His character and being, nor can the human mind possibly comprehend such vast greatness.

Since we are told that God is love, and since we know that we are incapable of ever fully understanding the immense and immeasurable being of God/Love, it is safe to admit that there is no comprehension of love, either in its fullness nor in its purest form.  Any glimpse that we have as human beings is only the merest peek at what cannot be encapsulated by humanity.

With the telescope of human perspective, one can only examine one fragment of the composition of love.  This tiny glance that I have been allowed to see tells me that true love is unconditional.  It is rare to find even this one characteristic of love reflected in the human relationship.  It is foreign to humanity–a humanity that thrives on judging one another, withdrawing from those who are different, and attacking other human beings.

Yet we are told that we know that God loves us because Jesus died on the cross for our sins–while we were still sinners (unconditional).  We reach for a love that accepts us for who we are–not for who others want us to be (unconditional).  We long for someone to celebrate the uniqueness of our individuality (unconditional), and to embrace the fact that we are completely different in a way that is totally, perfectly delightful (unconditional).

As a mental health professional and an interpreter for therapists, I often have a front row seat to this longing for unconditional love.  I have been the one cheering on the family of a client and attempting to help them see the beauty of loving that “odd” child as a gloriously beautiful and unique creation.  I have also been the interpreter observing and working with the therapist who tries to meet that same goal.  Because of the human frailty, it is extremely difficult for families to come to a place of unconditional love.

On the other side of the spectrum, as a human being who desires unconditional love in my own life, I am able to understand that it is slow to come in human form.  I am able to forgive family members who’s criticisms and judgments sting, knowing they do not fully understand me or my life.  It helps me to smile through the pain of rejection and disdain when I know that unconditional love is a “God” thing.

After years of struggling with my own sadness and depression, years where I hurt so very deeply because of a lack of unconditional love in my life, I have finally come to a place of knowing that kind of love is synonymous with God alone.  No church has shown it to me, no spiritual leader ever exhibited it in my life, and no family member has ever mastered the art of loving me unconditionally.

However, God has shown me through his word and through dear friends and counselors that He is capable of a love beyond human comprehension. I still struggle to understand His unconditional love for me–because I am human, but knowing the facts about His love has helped me begin the process of learning to love myself with just a fraction of His unconditional love.  This has helped me to let go of the criticisms, opinions, rejections, and judgments of those in my life from whom I sought unconditional love, and has helped me to love them regardless of their human imperfections.

What about you?  What have you learned in your own life experiences about unconditional love?

 

 

 

 

The Golden Balance

20170922_170258A few years ago, I became thoroughly fascinated when I learned about the “golden ratio”, seen in the artistic rendering known as the Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci, as well as in many other aspects of his work and the subsequent work of other artists.  Found throughout nature, the “golden spiral” is related to it in regards to geometry.  Also, Fibonacci was also involved in its discovery in regards to the “Fibonacci sequence”.

If this sounds complicated, I have to admit that it is still beyond my full power to completely understand, as I am no mathematician, nor does my intellectual ability reach the level of such lofty minds as those mentioned.  However, the thing that resonated with me was the understanding that the entire world rests on an intricate balance.

In simple terms, we can find the same spiral occurring in pine cones, pineapples, flowers, leaves, and even the human form.  Our perception of beauty, be it in nature, humanity, or art, often falls back to works that most closely show the balance of this ratio.  Understanding that simple concept was so refreshing.  It proved that the whole desire for balance was inspired in nature, and therefore must be innate in humanity.

Admittedly, part of my fascination was in regards to religion.  The idea of an intelligent designer was seemingly proven by my discovery of the re-occurrence of these patterns in nature.  As far as other aspects of religion, down through the years, I have become increasingly aware of the reason behind so many different denominations.  It seems to me that most of these groups have found truth…a single gem that was worth building their group around.  My religious beliefs revolve around the idea that if all of these could just bring the good they found to the table and mix it with the good found by other groups, they’d all come closer to having a true view of God–a balanced view.

As a social worker, I have learned many different theories about treating emotional, behavioral, and mental health issues. There are varied premises behind each theory, and my opinion is that they all have important tenets to offer.  If one could gather them all together and create a substantial whole, one might actually find the answer to all of life’s problems, and be able to help every category of mental health in a balanced way.

Being raised radically conservative on the political front, the more education I have obtained, the more my mind has been opened to realize the negative aspects of any extreme belief.  In the last election, I offended friends and family by sharing that my views could back neither candidate, due to a desire for a more balanced view.  I wished in vain for a new moderate party to come up with a better option, because somewhere in the mix of life I had discovered the desirability of balance.

Everything in balance is the key, whether in religion, psychology, politics, or any other aspect of life.  I have learned that erring in either direction is a recipe for disaster and ends up falling apart.  What is your experience with the delicate balance of life?

Too Sensitive?

Okay, so it’s a little weird to post a picture of your knee at the beginning of a blog.  I know.  Still, it illustrates my point better than anything I know.  You see, I’m sensitive.

I’ve always been sensitive.  When I was a baby, a simple mosquito bite had me swollen drastically and looking like some type of horribly deformed being. My parents learned to use mosquito netting.

Around eight years old, I developed a nasty rash behind my knees and in the bends of my elbows.  It soon spread to both forearms, from wrist to elbow.  The doctor declared it was sensitivity to soaps and cleaners, but it soon became apparent I was sensitive to everything!  He prescribed a cream to help heal it, and told us to avoid rough fabrics.

The rash was eventually isolated mostly to my hands and between my fingers–where it stayed for the rest of my life until this day.   Cutting up vegetables, humidity in the air, my contact lens solution, soap, shampoo, dishwater, raw meat (and pretty much anything else composed of atoms) makes my skin break out, if not washed, rinsed and dried immediately.  I’ve learned that gloves are my friend.

Recently, a close friend pointed out how my skin shows the impression of anything laid against it for any amount of time (thus the odd knee picture to prove it).  I never realized this was an oddity until he pointed it out, but I guess it goes back to that darned sensitivity! I just deal with it.

When I lived in South America, I experienced horrific headaches on a regular basis. I know believe those to have been migraine headaches.  It seemed that sensitivity to the direct sun was causing the headaches.  Perhaps living near the equator made it stronger.  I learned to use sunglasses over my prescription lenses.

Just as my skin and my eyes, I’ve always had sensitive feelings.  My dad often stated that parenting me was a little different because “all we had to do was look at her sternly and she’d be in tears.”  They said they adapted their parenting to my style.

Emotional sensitivity continued throughout my life, as I dealt with hurt feelings in school and college, then went on to experience years of emotional pain with an emotionally abusive husband.   Gradually, I learned to protect myself from people who have the potential to hurt my feelings.  Like learning to put on sunblock, gloves and sunglasses, I learned to don protection against offense.

In a deep conversation with a loved one over a year ago, the topic of my sensitive heart came up.  “You are in the perfect profession for your personality, ” I was told.  I am a social worker.  I work with children who have mental health and behavioral diagnoses.  I love my job, and truly it is right for me.

I have a sensitive heart.  Empathy is in my nature.  I truly seek to understand others, and then I work to make them feel understood and to provide comfort to them.  I didn’t always appreciate who I am, but then I discovered the research of a woman named Carol Tuttle ( https://my.liveyourtruth.com/dyt/home/ ).  I came to understand that I was created to be sensitive and that my body’s sensitivity is an outward expression of my emotional sensitivity.

I have sensitive skin, sensitive eyes, sensitive feelings, and a sensitive heart. Am I too sensitive?  I don’t think so.  I am who I am, and I am exactly who I was meant to be.

The Messiness of Life

Life has a way of being unpredictable at times. Mix those surprises into a large family with multiple members who have ADHD and anxiety, and things get even more interesting. Since my last post, which was admittedly a bit too long ago, the family dynamics have changed a bit.

Choices we make in life have a way of coming back to bite us, or sometimes just proving to be a rough patch on the ocean of life. This recently came to my mind as I was struggling to adjust to being a single mother again while working a full time job and taking online classes to acquire my master’s degree in social work. In trying to re-vamp my world for better functioning, I knew that the online university work was a big stressor on our family functioning. That inevitable inner critic wanted to point out how quitting half way through would improve day-to-day life.

At the same time, financial crises that most single parents face at times came calling at my door. One full time income with four male eating machines just wasn’t cutting it. In trying to figure out a solution, it became apparent that there was no way I needed to quit that master’s program half way through! Completing it means that my income will triple, so that seemed like a no-brainer to me.

As I was selling the artwork off the walls in my home to buy food and gas to get to work, it occurred to me that life is just messy sometimes. Having been raised as an idealist, it has taken a lot of bumps and bruises to finally get that through my head. The “picket fence” American dream is just that…a dream. When we are young it looks possible, but as the sanding of life knocks of our rough edges, we come to accept the fact that we will have a unique set of life experiences.

I love going to flea markets and antique shops. I seldom buy anything, but walking through is like taking a peek into history. My oldest son says it is like “Going to a museum where you can touch and handle everything.” My reason for loving this venue is that there is so much LIFE in each piece. The wood may have a stain or two, but in each stain is a story, a human connection where someone left proof of their existence and imperfection. Every time I walk through a place like this, I get the instinctive impression that I am not alone in this thing we call life. Others have lived and walked before me, with their own brand of mistakes, choices, and stories.

Life just gets complicated for each of us. If each item in an antique store could talk, we would all learn about the varied experiences of nameless others who have struggled with the same difficulties we experience. Difficult relationships, single parenting, financial crises, we would hear all about this and so much more. What would people learn from listening to the stories your furniture could share?

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