idylls of the cat, or, a brief study of self-centeredness

Sometimes, I think that’s the thing. It’s a base instinct: If I don’t fight for my space, if I don’t yell loud enough and long enough, someone else is going to get what’s mine.

I am compelled to write about my cats. Because it’s been that sort of day . . . well, month.

This apparent allergy to spring has dragged on for weeks and weeks — through some of the most amazing April weather we’ve had in all the 12 years I’ve lived here. [Insert sad face w/tear.]

One of my co-workers pointed out to me that I am a lot better on rainy days. And it is, unfortunately, true.

I even prayed for rain on my birthday.

What California-girl-living-in-Washington-who’s-never-quite-gotten-used-to-the-gray/coldness-of-spring-here actually prays for rain on her birthday?!?

However, good has come from this season of sneezing:

1. The discovery of Oil of Oregano. Which is, in a word, magic.

2. I am less likely to impulsively consider and buy a field. [A personal goal since college. See Proverbs 31:16]

That last point is important because the decrepit mini-farm short-sale down the road has been calling my name for months, much to Dave’s dismay. Which could be why, in addition to allergies, we’re getting the FULL dose of country living these days, complete with septic and well issues. God could very well be on Dave’s side on this one.

I can’t complain, because at least we have water. AND we aren’t likely to get typhoid since we don’t actually grow food in our yard [read: drain field]. Which is a good thing.

So anyway, as we look for a new dwelling place, I am now hyper-aware of the side of country life about which Eva Gabor so disparagingly sang-spake. Sadly. Because I idyllize country life. Yes. I am aware that is not a word. But idyllic is. And that is what the country is to me: Wordsworth, daisies, sunshine, chickens, apple trees, cows someone-other-than-me takes care of, and drafty houses. And cats.

idyll

Ah yes, back to the cats.

So, I have been at home quite a lot more than usual (because of sick), and I have noticed that cats are particularly self-centered. 

All they do, all day long, when they are not taking 7 hour naps, is cry to be fed. Or cry to be let out. Or in. Actually, only one of them cries. The other just stares at me until I do what she wants. She’s powerful, that one.

Also, both of them like my side of the bed. Which is fine, because really, it’s another sort of idyllism (again, made up word, but oddly appropriate) . . .

I sit in bed and drink a cup of coffee and read early in the morning and a cat cozies up to my toes. Or to the book in my hands. Depending on his/her mood.

But the cats can’t be on the bed together. Or anywhere really.

They actually hate each other. Well, she hates him. Her own offspring. 

Yesterday, we had a moment I was sure would end in me losing copious amounts of blood. She jumped onto the bed precisely where he had settled quite a lot closer to my face than my feet . . .

Ah, well. We survived. But it was yet another example of their innate self-centeredness. They have not a thought for each other and not a thought for me.

I’m convinced they bite and devour each other when we are out.

Well, at least she does. He’s a big fluffy oaf of a cat. I don’t think he hates her at all. Or maybe he’s smarter than he looks? That mama cat can be an angry little thing. So protective of her territory.

Is she afraid the oaf-cat is going to take her place?

And him? Does he think if he stops crying for a second I might forget he wants out?

[Insert Dave comment: Why do we even have these cats?]

Sometimes, I think that’s the thing. It’s a base instinct: If I don’t fight for my space, if I don’t yell loud enough and long enough, someone else is going to get what’s mine.

But then, cats are allowed to be self-centered. It’s their job.

Mine is to do their bidding . . .

. . . and be mom and wife and daughter and sister and friend and . . .

To love and be loved.

To give space.

To not demand my own way.

To let God do the making sure I get what’s mine. (To be honest, I’m not even sure I really know what “mine” is.)

Because self-centered can’t coexist with genuine love.

* * * * *

Sometimes, there are reasons for self-centeredness.

Painful reasons.

The picture of love can be as idyllic as a country house or reading a book in bed with a cat.

But that is for another post.

Also, cats return your love by cuteness. And that is why we tolerate their selfishness.



IMG_20140508_073433_999PicsArt_1399555472231

 

 

pride, part two . . . or, a sampler of thoughts on arrogance

Sometimes, my “better than” comes from wounds. Maybe yours does, too.

I’ve written this post no less than six ways. By now it is a chapter for a book, the beginnings of a dissertation.

And since no one wants to read all of that, I’ve settled on a bit of a sampler instead.

* * * * *

Love is not proud.

The word pride in 1 Corinthians 13:4 is also translated puffed up or arrogant. I can readily see how a bloated sense of self leaves no room in a relationship for love. It is entirely consumed by self-image and self-importance and superiority of mind and position.

But arrogance in real-life relationships rarely looks like Gaston stomping around in boots singing his own praises. It’s more subtle, I think . . . and without a chorus. Well, at least not one others can hear.

Consider . . .

I.

There were times when I saw myself as so very superior to my husband: I was not an addict. I was responsible with money. I could get out of bed in the morning. I didn’t tell him lies.

Oh, I knew I had flaws, but they were nothing compared to his.

In earthly terms, I was right. He was wrong.

He didn’t deserve forgiveness, and I was not in need of it.

But that’s the very thing Jesus kept hammering home to the teachers who knew all the things and kept all the rules. None of us is perfect. Not one. And though it was hard, so hard, for me to imagine how it could possibly be, I came to understand that my sin of superiority and pride was every bit as bad as Dave’s addiction. Every bit. And, dare I say this? Even more so. He knew he was wrong. Confessed it regularly to God. I didn’t.

I’ve seen the grace that overflows from someone who has been forgiven much. And the tight-fistedness of one who has been forgiven little. Verses like Luke 15:7 are hard to grasp: “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” God loves a repentant sinner, whether we like it or not.

Tight-fisted grace is arrogance, thinly disguised.

II.

Arrogance comes from knowing things. From the top of our column of study, we look down on those who have not yet arrived at our level, or our view.

We fling about superiority of mind, painting opposing viewpoints with broad brush strokes, ceremoniously shaking the dust of a community off our sandals. Claiming to speak the truth in love. Clamoring for seats at a table. Arguing among ourselves over who is the betrayer of grace . . . while Jesus kneels and gently washes our feet asking, Who is greater? The one at the table or the one who serves?*

Knowledge puffs up (1 Corinthians 8:1), eclipses love and devolves into decisive division. Like bickering brothers in a family. If you like this, then I will hate it. If you call this good, then I will call it bad. If you criticize it, I will praise it.

We are wise in our own eyes. So reactionary.

Our truth-in-love-speak resembles nothing of the gentle, humble kindness of our Lord.

 

III.

Sometimes, arrogance is a cover.

Sometimes, my better than comes from wounds. Maybe yours does, too.

Wounds made by comment, culture, criticism . . . making us self-conscious of appearance, ability, size, personality . . . leaving us with feelings of less than.

Wounds made by trusted friends that were not accompanied by love but rejection. You have done this and therefore we are done.

Wounds made by grown-ups, even now, putting on a face of friendship but gossiping and stirring up trouble behind your back.

Some wounds are so deep they take longer to heal than anyone would dream. Heal to the point of walking again, let alone loving . . .

. . . sometimes, I still cling to the thing that makes me feel better than. I reach for it when I’m hurt or afraid of being hurt. I use it as a weapon.

How is it that we so easily slip into treating others the way we’ve been treated?

IV.

I believe this: there is grace for even the worst offender.

And after years of having the truth ground into my soul, arrogant thoughts of better than quickly dissipate from my mind the moment I recall my own weakness.

But sometimes, knowing my weakness too well is part of the problem . . .

I don’t know when I became such a perfectionist.

Paralyzing perfectionism: the urge to rip it all up and start over and never let it see the light of day: my living room, my writing, my body, my personality, my words, my gifts.

Somewhere, deep in the recesses, my perfectionism becomes a barrier to love.

Can there be an arrogance toward self? Is an arrogance toward self a fear of being seen as less than who we think we are or should be? Is it really, in the end, an insidious sort of pride masquerading as not good enough?

I don’t know.

But I believe God is painting his love over the wounds of my life. The better thans, the less thans, the know-it-alls, and the places where I just can’t yet. Even my procrastinating perfectionism.*

And I believe He does that for you, too.

It’s sort of the point of grace, isn’t it? Arrogance is just another reason we need Jesus.

* * * *

But God is so rich in mercy loved us so much
that even though we were spiritually dead and doomed by our sins,
He gave us back our lives again when he raised Christ from the dead . . .
And now God can always point to us as examples of how very, very rich his kindness is,
as shown in all he has done for us through Jesus Christ.
Because of his kindness, you have been saved through trusting Christ.
And even trusting is not of yourselves; it too is a gift from God.
Salvation is not a reward for the good we have done, so none of us can take any credit for it.
It is God himself who has made us what we are and given us new lives from Christ Jesus . . .
St. Paul, Ephesians 2:4-10

* * * * *

* Luke 22:20-27 and John 13:14

* Procrastinating perfectionist — a term borrowed from Jon Acuff, Quitter

 

 

 

of pride and pompousness, part one

maybe love does not boast means I don’t need to prove how much I deserve love

“Nothing is more deceitful,” said Darcy, “than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast.”
– Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

* * * * *

The cat and I found a bit of sunshine this morning. I, to trim an overgrown bush, which is bent on blocking my porch swing view of the trampoline, she to watch me wear out my arms.

We have learned, the two of us, to bask in sun while it is sun. Already, the spotlight has made its way across our patch of woods and shade covers all but a sliver of the sparkling grass.

Perhaps I am avoiding the house. It is all at sixes and sevens — a phrase for which, out of curiosity, I have now had to consult the OED . . . or rather, the Wikipedia, as it appears there is an annual subscription rate of $295 for the Oxford English Dictionary.

And so, Wikipedia must suffice this morning for the meaning of the phrase, which is derived, roughly, from: a French dice game (6 & 7 being unlucky). Chaucer. Shakespeare. Gilbert & Sullivan. Which is pretty much the evolutionary path of all English words.

I suppose I am in an especially English mood this morning. Sipping tea because I’ve had far too much coffee. Imagining petticoats pant legs six inches deep in mud if I follow my flight of fancy down to the beach (which smells particularly of sulfur this morning). Wishing I had housemaids to right my messy house. Counting hours til I see my daughter in Whitworth University’s Pride and Prejudice. . . . and pondering one’s opinion of oneself

* * * * *

I wish I knew classical Greek. Really knew it. Lexicon skills only take you so far. Because I think there is a depth of poetry to the Love Chapter, and I am only skimming the surface.

Saul of the New Testament was a Jewish scholar. A Pharisee. Memorizer of the entire Torah. Expert in the Law of Moses. But God chose him, Luke says in the Acts of the Apostles. Chose Saul specifically to take the story of Jesus — whose followers he had persecuted to death — to the Greeks.

I read somewhere that the church at Corinth, to whom St. Paul wrote love is had become competitive. They bragged about their gifts and knowledge and enlightenedness. Exalting self — just like their city’s vain goddess, Aphrodite, the goddess of love. The worship of Aphrodite makes you realize why the Christ followers in Corinth needed a full, detailed explanation of love . . .

Which brings me back to Greek. St. Paul used a word here that most of us read in our Bibles as brag or boast. But this particular Greek word is used no where else in the New Testament, not even in any of St. Paul’s other epistles. It’s a word used by Greek philosophers and historians of gods and goddesses — translated into the English language (making the usual trek through Chaucer and Shakespeare) originally as vaunteth:

  1. a self display, employing rhetorical embellishments in extolling one’s self excessively

Vaunteth puts on a parade of self. 

In vaunt, I see the actions and words of the king of the humble brag — Mr. Collins (Pride & Prejudice), the pompous and stupid Mr. Eliot (Persuasion), the name-dropping Mrs. Elton (Emma), the preposterously selfish Fanny Dashwood (Sense & Sensibility), the vain and aristocratic Aunt Norris (Mansfield Park). Ridiculous, boastful caricatures.

I would like to leave boasting in an arrogant Aphrodite’s court and in the pages of Austen. I know vaunteth doesn’t belong in real life love.

Oh, but it’s there.

“Boasting is often a sign of my deep insecurity and need for others to validate me with their approval.”**

Maybe, sometimes, we pat ourselves on the back because no one else ever does. Maybe we were starved of praise by parents, teachers, coaches who didn’t want it to go to your head. Maybe we flaunt our accomplishments or beauty or talent or possessions because it’s the only way we’ve ever received attention. And maybe, sometimes, we’re entirely unaware that by inflating ourselves, we’ve eclipsed someone we love.

* * * * *

I’ve paraded myself with my own lips. More times than I care to confess . . .
Maybe love does not boast means you don’t need to prove how much you deserve love . . . because you are secure in the love of a God who loved even the formerly murderous St. Paul. You are loved because you are the beloved.

I think it’s lovely that don’t boast comes right after don’t envy. Love doesn’t try to make people jealous.

Sometimes, in this day of posting words everywhere, our boasts and milder “humble brags” are in our friends’ faces all the time. Things we used to keep to ourselves so quickly typed and out there . . . Sometimes, just asking ourselves why we are saying it stops the me parade.

Sometimes, though, we’re too sensitive, taking outbursts of joy as vaunting. I know I have. And I have to ask myself if I am envious because I’m competing, comparing gifts, discontent . . .

And I have to stop myself from getting up and taking a turn — my turn — about the room so that my figure may be seen to the best advantage.

* * * * *

** Dr. Ralph Wilson, Jesus Walk

22 ordinary kindnesses to keep a marriage going

Maybe it’s not the once a week, once a month, once a year date that glues a fractured marriage together.
Maybe it’s the every day . . .

22 years ago, we were 22 . . . and we got married on a day that only “exists” (as one of my boys says) every four years.

And we’ve done a lot of the shoulds of marriage wrong.

Like date night . . . we rarely did/do date night. We were put-the-kids to bed-at 7-so-we-can-enjoy-the-evening people — before they all became teenagers. And now, it seems everyone has something going on always, and the nights we aren’t going five different directions, we’re so tired that going to bed at 9:30 is far more appealing than dinner out. (We do have date days now, now that we both have Fridays off — which is awesome.)

But somehow, as of the non-existent February 29th, we’ve now been married half our lives . . .

So, maybe there are more important things than a regular date night to make it in marriage?

Maybe it’s not the once a week, once a month, once a year date that glues a fractured marriage together. Maybe it’s the every day. And there is nothing more every day – more ordinary – than kindness.

But kindness is a thing you have to practice, I think. Because it’s all about tone, about truth and sincerity . . . and timing. Especially when you’ve had bitterness, selfishness, anger, and resentment between you.

And sometimes, the practice looks a little rough. You make mistakes. You misunderstand.

Like with helping . . . there’s a “let me do that” that’s genuinely kind and there’s a “let me do that” that’s frustrated and snarky. And sometimes, a tone isn’t there at all but just a figment of our own anger. So we hear a gentle “Why don’t you let me do this” as “You’ve failed so miserably as a mother, it’s best if I take over.”

We’re still learning, too, that sometimes you need to let it pass and let it be. That not everything has to be corrected, confronted, discussed. That it’s wise to overlook an offense. To make allowance for each other’s faults. That sometimes, it’s just better to not say a word til a mood has passed.

And that sometimes, kindness is simply doing the unexpected from your heart, sincerely, expecting nothing in return. 

Lately, I’ve been noticing the little kindnesses that are mending us. I’ll give you just 22:

1. Cleaning up the cat’s hairball mess in the middle of the night so he doesn’t step in it when he gets up early to make the coffee before he takes the oldest boy to zero hour.

2. Getting up early to make the coffee fresh even though the pot has a timer.

3. Driving the oldest boy to zero hour this year so I can sleep longer, drink coffee longer, or write longer before the day begins.

4. Putting down the book to listen while he divides errands for the day, promising to at least get the baggies we’re out of if I can do nothing else.

5. Going to the store late at night on his way home because I forgot the sandwich bags for the third day in a row, and the boys are tired of wrapping their food in parchment paper and packing tape.

6. Leaving him alone while he works on his car, letting him mutter without asking for clarification or doubting his skills.

7. Noticing my tire — because he’s like that about cars — and changing his early morning alone-time plan to take my car to town and fix the tire before I am even out of bed.

8. Sharing his hashbrowns even though I should have ordered my own –because I actually kind of did want them more than a pancake — but I always order poorly, and we both know it.

9. Greeting him with a happy hello and a kiss when he gets home (in the middle of dinner making) no matter what I have in my hands, unless it’s a knife, and then — he has informed me — I should probably put it down.

10. Taking the boys to get pizza because I’m working on something creative and meals have completely skipped my mind.

11. Doing the dishes because the one who makes dinner shouldn’t also have to clean up.

12. Dropping everything to wash the dishes 15 minutes before he gets home because I let the boys skip chores and it makes us all feel less stressed when there is actual counter space on which to eat when the dining room table is covered in projects.

13. Making the phone call about the bill because he knows I hate phone calls — especially about bills.

14. Surprising him by being ready on time for once so we can all ride together to church.

15. Getting to know the mood cycle but not letting me know he knows.

16. Giving him the benefit of the doubt that he did not mean it that way.

17. Hugging me gently and telling me it’s okay and when I’m ready to talk, he’ll listen.

18. Holding my hand while we walk down the street (even though we are still awkward hand-holders after 22 years . . . but it’s our anniversary so we at least have to try).

19. Smiling patiently for the twenty-seventh time because this picture is really important to me.

20. Indulging my whim and making homemade ice-cream when it’s so, so much less work for him to just go buy it from the store.

21. Keeping my I told you so to myself (which has maybe never happened, but I think he’ll appreciate that I at least think about it).

22. Appreciating his efforts to think of me more than of himself, and letting him know I do by being generous with the thank yous.

Ephesians 4:31-32 * Proverbs 19:11 * Colossians 3:13

22nd Anniversary

Kindness is needed in every relationship. 

What ordinary kindnesses are you practicing?

when patience is a kind of suffering

I wonder whether there is anything that requires more patience than waiting for someone to become . . . “patience” seems inadequate for that sort of waiting . . .

Patience is a word we toss at small things.

Waiting for dinner, for traffic to move, for the phone call, for the slow walker, slow talker, slow thinker. . .

A commonplace patience. Spoken in just a minutes. Implying an end to the wait . . .

I wonder whether there is anything that requires more patience than waiting for someone to become . . . Patience seems inadequate for that sort of waiting. Sometimes, the old words are better.

Love suffers long . . .

Long-suffering*
a. to not lose heart, to persevere patiently and bravely in enduring misfortunes
b. to be patient in bearing the offenses and injuries of others

This word? This word is a love story.

Long-suffering is a covenant. The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness . . . 

Long-suffering allows time. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity . . .

Long-suffering is generous mercy on the sinner begging forgiveness of foolish debts: Lord have patience with me and I will pay thee all . . .

Compassion, grace, mercy, forgiveness intertwined, woven through God’s long-suffering sort of love over and over and over through laws, through lifetimes, through generations, through priests, through kings, through prophets, through Jesus, through the pen of St. Paul: love suffers long.

This is God’s love. The love a parent has for a precious child. The love that waits an eternity for us to catch up. The long-suffering love that outlasts our foolishness.

Oh friend, this is a hard kind of love to do. 

I know.

I quantified waiting in days, weeks, months — not years, not lifetimes.

I measured forgiveness in chances.

I made threats, ultimatums, behavior checklists, demands.

I expected too much too soon . . . the perfect dad and husband should emerge from the years chained to addiction.

I didn’t want to wait for God to work His wonderful long-suffering ways. I wanted Dave to be the person he was supposed to be today.

God, you are too slow . . .

I don’t know when a Dave clean and sober for real finally became enough for me. When I realized this honesty was laying a strong foundation for an entirely new way to live.

Love is patient.

Maybe, then, patience is a prayer. A sacrifice. A letting go. Not my timing, but God’s.

Patient while layers of deception are peeled away.

Patient while demons are exposed and destroyed.

Patient while life is relearned.

Patience must be a forgiving grace. A grace that works both ways.

There came a time when Dave had to learn to be patient with me.

Patient while a tightly wound knot of pain is picked apart til undone.

Trust is not rebuilt overnight, even by the most earnest and true. Too many lies, too many promises, too many words, too many times, too many years.

Patient . . .

while I grilled mercilessly

while I ranted angrily

while I hurled wild, wounding accusations

while I hid

while I let go of defenses

while I healed in places addiction leaves ugly scars

while I learn how to deal with myself after so many years of blaming my faults on him.

Maybe that’s it — the key to patient love — realizing there might be a tiny bit of suffering long involved in being married to me.

* * * * *

Sometimes, no matter how imperfect I know I am, I forget my flaws.

But God is patient with the impatient.

His love suffers long, waiting for me, without a list of demands, without unreasonable expectations.

He rewrites in His own hand what I have smashed in anger.

He dispenses endless forgiveness when I’d rather pout on a hillside under a plant.

And His kindness leads me to repentance.

Just as it does with Dave.

* * * * * * * * * *

*Thayer’s Greek Lexicon

1 Corinthians 13:4
Exodus 34:6
Romans 2:4
Jonah 4:2
Matthew 18:26