Monthly Archives: January 2009

Graceful

This past Wednesday I started volunteering with the Physical Therapists at one of the hospitals near(ish) to us. For most of the patients, you couldn’t tell by first glance what, if anything was wrong with them. Occaisionally you’d see someone who was limping or obviously stiff, but some of them appeared quite fit and healthy, bouncing down the hallway.

So it was hard not to do a double take when I saw a girl–a teenager, though quite emaciated–wheeling herself down the hall. She was followed, with obvious love and protection, by a silver-haired man I presumed to be her father. I was immediately caught in the catch-22 of neither staring at her nor avoiding eye-contact with her.

She was rail thin, though if she had been able to stand she probably would have been taller than me (I’m only 5; 1″). She seemed to hold her head up only with difficulty, and her fingers were arched in such a way as seemed to indicate she couldn’t get much use from them. But when I asked her if she was “Jess,” the next appointment I was expecting, and she answered yes with clear, calm voice. I went back and asked her PT where I should put her, since none of the stations struck me as particularly “wheelchair accessible”, and then brought back Jess.

She moved with complete confidence and accuracy, which made clear she had been in that wheelchair for quite some time. This made me all the more surprised when, after barely more than a hello to her PT, she began transferring herself to the bed. And I do mean “began”. I was surprised enough that she could use her wasted-away arms to support her weight, but some how I was even more surprised when she hooked her hand behind her knee and literally began hauling away at her own limb. It was something akin to watching someone hoist themselves by their own bootstraps—it should have been impossible, but there she was. It was a slow, tedious process, to be sure, but she was moving herself.

I wanted to watch the whole thing, but I had to keep doing other things, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I shouldn’t be staring, even though her PT and the Student PT were both doing exactly that, though I supose medically speaking it would be referred to as “observing”. So when I had pause in my work, I “observed” too.

Lucky for me the Student PT was there, because that meant I got the benefit of hearing the PT explaining some things to him. Because Jess had no flexor control over her fingers, she had to grab ahold of things by “hooking” them in her wrist. This much I had observed. What I hadn’t realized was that, as the PT said “she has no abs—no functioning abs, so she always has to have a point of contact.” By this time, Jess had gotten one leg on to the bed, and was now working on the second leg. She had to brace herself on the bed with her right arm while hooking her left wrist under her second leg, jerking it inch by inch to join her first leg. She was bent nearly in half, with her head hanging down, and her short-but-stylish brown hair jerked along with the rest of her.

She finally made it to laying down in the center of the bed. I could see her face more clearly now; it was narrow, but very pretty, and not in a “make-up lady behind the counter” sort of way. She laid there very serenely while the PT explained to the student that they were going to be testing her nerve sensetivity. With a safety pin.

No, really. With a safety pin. Jess wasn’t to watch, and they would poke her in various places with with either the sharp side or the rounded side of the saftey pin. Jess had to be able to say if it was sharp or dull, and would be graded by how many she got right. In the case of her hands, she would have to say how much she could even feel it. The student wanted to know what would be the base measure of “how much”. The PT apologetically said to Jess that this was going to be very blunt, but “if she didn’t have feeling in her face, she wouldn’t be here with us now. So how it feels against her face is the base measurement of how it ought to feel.”

“Sharp. Sharp. Dull. Sharp. Dull. Sharp. Dull. Dull.”

I could hear her as I wiped down a bed. She sounded very patient—peaceful, even.

I didn’t get to see much of what they did with her, partly because I still don’t know if I should “intrude” on the patients by watching. But when it was over and she was transferring herself back to her chair, I came back.

She was once again bracing herself on one elbow, hooking a wrist behind a knee, and jerking herself along. Her head was hanging down, but she was chatting with the PT and the Student, and you could hear a smile in her voice. At one point the (male) student suddenly noticed that she had matched all her accesories to the color of her special gloves, and she stopped hauling on her leg long enough to look up at him in laughter that he was only just now, after the entire session, noticing. The PT said he was a guy, and she gave him credit for ever noticing at all.

Through this all, Jess continued to make achingly slow progress. You just about felt like crying when the rubber treads on her sneakers caught enough traction to keep her jerk from moving her leg, but she would just try again. And again. And again. She got herself to the edge of the bed, and had them posistion her chair for her. And then she attempted to get in the chair.

You see, the chair was slightly higher than the bed. This is okay when you are going from chair to bed, but it makes things much more difficult to go from bed to chair. The PT held down the corner of the wheelchair, but it seemed no matter how long and how hard she tried, Jess just couldn’t jerk herself into it. The PT offered to help; no, she was fine. Jerk. Jerk. Jerk.

After getting perhaps 1/3 of the way there and then making no progress at all—in between talking about a class trip and how she missed voting by a few weeks but managed to sway her dad into voting the way she wanted (a very smug smile there)—she slid her self back on the bed.

With the exact same amount of patience and sweetness that she had had when she first arrived, she asked for the chair to be slightly reposistioned. They did so; she tried again. When she got about as far as she had the first time; she paused, head still hanging down.

“Are you resting?” The PT checked to make sure she was all right.

“Mm-hmm.” Perfectly calm.

“She’s really getting a work-out—her tricepts are trembling,” the PT remarked to the Student.

In a few moments, Jess starts working again, this time using her head as well (jerking her head one direction encourages her hips to go in the other).

She gets about half-way through, and she just can’t do it any more, and she asks for help. Between her and the PT, she gets fully into the chair, and a still smiling, still serene Jess wheels herself out.

What are you supposed to think when you watch something like that? The PT looked sad. The Student looked like maybe he really pitied her. I felt extremely humbled.

I am sure that Jess is still perfectly human; I am sure she has her good days and her bad days, her days when life is looking up and her days where everything seems hopeless. But I seem to spend most of my days being impatient over what I can’t do or haven’t done yet. I, who spent most of the day trying to stream-line changing the beds into the most efficient process possible, shaving off seconds from every step and combining steps where I could—I don’t even consider the time it takes to get me from bed to chair or back again. I just do it, all the while think about all the things I’m not doing, I ought to be doing, I’ve yet to do, I want to do but can’t.

Jess was graceful. Not her body, which did not want to cooperate with her. But inside, the part of you that says you are perfectly justified to be upset and angry and impatient in the face of great difficulty. That part of you that says you are entitled to the life you think you want, the life you see others having.

Maybe some outside observer would have said I was the more graceful, as I changed pillowcases and disinfected beds in the space of mere moments, and that Jess was the one with problems, as she struggled to even move. But it seems to me that in my insides I boil with impatience and dissatisfaction, that I am the one with problems. And that inside of Jess, she was filled with grace.

Random, Off-the-Cuff thoughts on Agrarianism

The thing about the internet is you can do a lot of peeking over shoulders. In my stumbling through the internet, I’ve discovered that “Christian Agrarianism” is becoming the latest, greatest thing. It’s “in”. So here are some of my random thoughts/observations, very generally, on Christian Agrarianism and wanna-be (we aren’t yet, but we really want to be!) Christian Agrarianism. “Very generally” means every Christian Agrarianist out there will say maybe this applies to other CA, but not to them. So be it. But this is what I observe, so you might as well see how you appear to me, even if you solemnly qouth you aren’t as you appear to be. (And maybe you aren’t included; there is of course a great variety in every generalization.)

1. You think it will fix your life. To hear a lot of them talk, if you could just attain CA, your family would love each other more, you would be content, you would be peaceful, you would be more holy, the birds would sing sweeter and the sun would shine more clearly, and life would be nothing short of wonderful. Since you want to be content, peaceful, and have a wonderful life, you dream of attainging CA. The promised land. Hallelujah.

Problem: Content, peaceful, etc. is an inward thing, not an outward thing. If you think you have to have an outward thing before you can have that inward thing, you will never have that inward thing. That’s called, “making it too easy”. Content, peaceful, etc are all things you have to hash out with God apart from where you are or what you have. It’s not one of those things where, if you get the right things and do the right things, everything just falls into place. Au contraire. It is completely apart from your state:

“. . .For I have learned to in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-13

CA won’t change your inside.

2. You romanticize. You romanticize to the point one has to be pretty star-eyed for any change at all in order to listen to you without taking half-a-shaker of salt along with it. You are so detirmined to sell your point of view that you make it hard to believe anything you say. If, for example, there is a dim, flickering light which is hard to work by, you tell us all that it is romantic, intimate candle-light, perfect for family bonding and appreciating the simple things in life. Reality: it’s just a really bad flourescent light that gives you a headache. Whoop-de-do.

If you won’t talk the straight, hard-edged truth, don’t be surprised when nobody acts like you’re telling the truth.

3. Despite the hype, it doesn’t seem to bring about love. In fact, quite the opposite. CA seem to grow in their spite for the rest of the world, either because they (e.g., everyone else) are fallen, rebellious, heathen, unwilling to make the sacrafice for what CA believe is best, unpious, or just plain to thick to hear “God’s calling”. Often times CA seem to reek of self-righteousness, because they’re doing it right, and everyone else–isn’t.

Loving is a tough, tough, thing. When you say “love”, people think of all light and fluffy and sweet and it just seems like it ought to be, well, elementary. Everyone learned that in in pre-school: be nice.

Loving is really the most difficult thing in the world to do; in spite of that (or perhaps because of that), it is the most commanded thing in the whole NT. Any movement that hinders (despite any of it’s claims) true love is therefore suspect.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a fallen world. There are a lot of ugly, evil things in it. But when Jesus walked the Earth and saw all the fallen, ugly, evil things in Jerusalem, He wept over it.

4. You’re selling idealology as theology. You people keep telling me this is God’s plan for people that we’re all just too rebellious and/or blind and/or decieved to get, but I don’t believe you. That doesn’t mean it it’s wrong; I have nothing wrong with you saying you feel God has called you to go live in the dirt. If He has, go! And woe to you if you don’t! But I have a big problem with you telling me God has called me to do something of which I find no evidence of in the Bible.

If you feel God has called you to grow zinnias until the day you die, so be it. God certainly created zinnias. I’m sure He likes zinnias. I like zinnias, too. But that doesn’t mean I need to grow zinnias, or that God has called me to grow zinnias. Maybe He has called me to grow poppies. God made poppies, too, you know. Maybe He’s calling me to go live on a houseboat and not grow anything. God made the water, too, you know.

I sometimes see you try to smoosh the Bible into supporting your ideaology, but I never see it there native to the text. Peter was a fisherman. Paul was a tentmaker. Jesus was a carpenter. I’m pretty sure they bought most of their food. I know the Bible says “Train your children up in the way that they should go,” but I never did see it say “Ya’ll gotta grow you’re own food, y’hear? Ain’t none of you allowed to live in a city and buy food some other person did grow.” Not even in the OT. Not anywhere in there.

~*~

See, I am calling your bluff. Because I’m close enough to see what it’s like, but I’m not so caught up in playing the game I can’t see straight. I’m pretty sure I win the award for “Most Accidental Agrarian Female of the Year.”

So I’m the oldest daughter in a very large family, and we were all homeschooled (some still in the process). And when I finished highschool, I didn’t go to college. Not because I thought it was evil or wicked, or even always useless. The short answer is, I didn’t feel called to go there. So I didn’t. I stayed home, and got distracted.

The youngest was maybe a year old, and so I helped with the younger siblings. I grew vegetables every year, just because I wanted to. And poppies, because poppies make me happy. I canned jam and pickles—not because I thought I ought, but because I wanted to. I baked all of our bread. Homemade bread tastes good. I taught myself pattern drafting, because I liked sewing. I quilted with a neighbor on a regular basis. I did odd jobs for just about any neighbor who asked, from housecleaning to stacking haybales. I made pasta and wove baskets. I learned some about dying, and I learned to knit. I like calligraphy. I helped with butchering the chickens every year. I made more cookies and pies than you could ever count in your life. We picked berries of just about every kind. Lots of them. Hundreds of pounds of blueberries every year.

‘Cause I liked it. And if I get my druthers out of life, I’d like to have goats again. When we had them I helped make cheese and yogurt. And a pond, so we can have ducks. I like duckies, but they really need a pond. Also, I’m interested in soap making. And spinning. And herbology interests me sometimes, like does comefry really work?

And I hate computers. I use them, but I hate them. Also, cars. I use them but I hate them. Also, high heels–I hate them and I don’t wear them. I’ve been going barefoot a lot. And I hate cities.

So it pretty much sounds like I’m well on my way to be an Agrarianist, right? Except not.

Because I like the dirt, but I’m pretty sure it’s not a mandate from God that we’re all supposed to be in the dirt.

It doesn’t change as much as you think it will, people. I’m still grouchy and irrational. I’m still discontent. The birds don’t sing as sweetly as you’d think, and there’s nothing romantic about tractors breaking down and killing animals. There just isn’t. I get exactly 100% no thrills whatsoever about making animals dead. I am totally uninterested in killing chickens. In the grand irony of life, the only time I killed an animal (aside from poisioning rodents, of which I am terminally guilty, and maybe once or twice in a trap) is when I shot a possum which was raiding the hen house. And if any of you all think it sounds like fun, you can come on down and be our predator-killer. You can sleep in the chicken yard so when the skunk comes to eat all the chicks, I don’t have to be the one responsible for waking up and hearing it, and flinging myself out of bed and outside and disrupting the proceedings.

I don’t go outside and work in the garden and think “Glory be for the dirt!!” I think, “Blinkin’ blankin’ rocks!! They multply like misquitos! I’m getting more rocks out of this row than potatoes!” The slugs eat your lettuce, and the voles eat your corn before it sprouts and your carrots before you harvest them, and I’ve been working on that darn quilt for five years now.

Don’t get me wrong. I like it anyway. And I do know that if you break down in the city, 50 million cars pass you in half an hour and no one stops to help, and if you break down in the country, only two people come by in half an hour, but they both stop and help you like you were their own flesh and blood.

But I think CA is wrong. Happiness isn’t found in the dirt, in the “simple” life (try it sometime; you’ll find it isn’t so simple and that it rains as soon as you cut your hay just about every single time). Happiness is found in God, no matter what you have or where you are.

I like the dirt.

And I like chocolate ice cream.

And God made them both.

But neither of them make me happy. Or content. Or peaceful. They don’t teach me how to love, and they don’t make me holy, and they certainly don’t make me right. Odds are, it’s cloudier over here than it is where you are, and we mostly have starlings, which do not sound pretty.

But sometimes I find God, and you can’t really miss it when you do, because suddenly you don’t care about anything else. About where you are or what you have. And for little while you understand what it means when they said “I have learned to be content in any situation”. And then it passes by. Not because God leaves, but because we get distracted so easily by the stupidest things, and we forget to even really look for God. We start praying “God, let my will be done” instead of “God, let Your will be done.” And we get grouchy about all the ugly stuff in this fallen world.

Living in the dirt doesn’t fix that. Wearing long dresses doesn’t fix that (I like long dresses). People act like if you just make yourself go live in the dirt, you’ll have a more blessed life. You won’t. You have to follow where God is leading you; and sometimes, for some people, it’s the dirt. Other times, it’s not.

It seems to me that CA think they pretty much have God’s main plans figured out. If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that nobody pretty much has God figured out. And people who think they do usually wind up learning the hard way that they don’t. Me included.

God doesn’t make half as much sense as a lot of people want to make it out; His ways are higher than our ways, and all that. We’re called to be faithful in the day that He has given us grace for, namely: today. People always want to figure out more than that—namely, tomorrow and the day after that and et cetera. It’s only after realizing, the hard way, exactly how incapable we are with coping with today that we can ever gain enough humility to stop trying to figuring out what comes next, stop saying “Oho! Now I see how it will all go!!”

I don’t see. I have a hard enough time trying to understand what God wants me to do with my today; I cannot possibly tell you what God wants you to do with your whole life. Go ask Him yourself.

Intense

The other day I suddenly and randomly remembered a scene from the (not all that distant) past. An aunt and uncle had stopped by to visit. The boys set about being hospitable, and entertaining my uncle. Them being boys, this meant introducing them to a war-game on the computer (Call of Duty, for those of you who may possibly, but probably not, remember this fleeting incident). It was, shall we say, a rather involving game.

In an hour or so, the time for being entertained passed—whether it was time for them to leave, or time for dinner or what I don’t recall. What I do remember is my uncle standing in the kitchen, attempting to release the tension acquired from playing said game. “Man,” he said, “that’s a really intense game! You guys always play intense games—you’re always so intense!!”

Lest you fault it all upon the computer game, let me add another story which he might also have been calling to mind. Years and years previous, he had been shanghaied into playing dodge-ball with us. In our way of playing dodge ball, you have two teams. If you’re hit with a ball from the opposing side, you have to immediately switch loyalty, cross to the other side, and fight against the team you were previously fighting for. The game is over when everyone is on one team. (Who wins is really rather besides the point.)

This version means that there is a lot of competition to snag the best ball throwers. If you get someone with a deadly aim on your side, it is very likely he can clean out the other side for you. If, however, said deadly aim is on the wrong side, you are quite likely to get cleaned out yourself. Number of balls and people in play is unlimited.

So here we are playing dodge-ball. Said uncle proves himself a valuable shot, and the bidding wars start.

So to speak.

Team A smacks him with a ball and calls him to their side. He turns to leave and is smacked in the back by one of his former teammates on Team B, who doesn’t want to lose one of his good players. The ball has barely finished hitting him when he is hit once again from Team A—he manages to make it most of the way to the crossing line before once again being hit in the back by a different member of Team B, proclaiming that he is still theirs.

I’ve quite lost track of how long this went on, but the end result of this exchange is thus: my dad, determined to have my uncle on his team, is body-blocking any other hits from landing on my uncle, who, at this point, is laughing so hard he cannot even stand, and is crawling across the border.

Also, we instituted a new rule: you can’t re-tag someone until after they’ve crossed the line.

So yes, we play very intensely. In fact, we are just plain intense, in everything and everything we do.

You have probably never seen anyone goof-off intensely, but I assure you, we goof-off with the same kind of intensity that we work. And we’re apt to change on in the space of a moment. A Saturday may start of intensely lazy (I shan’t even tell you how late people are apt to get up), and mid-way turn into working like maniacs right through meals. We talk intensely, and argue intensely, and complain intensely, and eat dessert intensely (your eyes would fall out at how much homemade ice we eat), and also, we play intensely.

Which, yes, I do believe is a politer way of saying “psycho-deranged-unbalanced-bipolar-nutcases”; but one has to admit there is a lot of efficiency in reducing it all down to the one word of “intense”, and besides, it looks better on one’s resume.