September 11, 2012

The Best Atheist Christian I Know.

Posted in Life Lessons, My Five tagged , , , , , , , , , at 9:17 pm by openendedcomment

My best friend is an Atheist.  She also happens to be the most Christian woman I have ever known.  She may not believe in Christ, but she lives her life to the ideals of a Christian better than any Sunday services attending, Wednesday FEP teaching and “I’ll pray for you” type walking this earth.  That may be an exaggeration, better to say she does this better than any of the afore-mentioned type I’ve ever met.

She and I have had countless discussions regarding religion.  I am Catholic and I believe in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  I pray to the Virgin Mary.  I pray to St. Jude and to St. Christopher.  I light candles at the Basillica of Saint Mary when my life feels unmanageable or when I’m simply sad…or grateful…or both.  I was there for hours exactly eleven years ago today.  I carry a rosary with me and I make confession.  I also happen to be fiercely pro-choice and pro-marriage equality.  Being Catholic does not deter from that.  It actually encourages it…but that’s another post entirely.  I do not attend mass regularly because I feel that God and I have a relationship that transcends a building.  I have raised my children to believe in God but to make their own decisions regarding what they feel is right and wrong and to not identify with one religion merely because their father and I have chosen to do so.  I encourage them to explore other religions and they know…clearly…that just because a Hindu or Muslim or Jew or even an Atheist or Agnostic heck even Wiccan do not believe what they believe or even worship the same God(s) that they do, they are not worse or lesser or even wrong…merely different.  I have encouraged them to accept that as long as someone is a good person and leads a good life that they too are worthy and deserving of respect.  I believe that all afore-mentioned will be rewarded for a life well led when this life has passed.  I have encouraged my children to attend services for many other religions,  I think it’s good for them.  My Mom and Dad did the same for me.  My Mother, who sent me to Catholic school and then pulled me out when they began telling me she and my Dad were wrong for being divorced and that everyone who had an abortion was going to hell, is agnostic.  She encouraged me to do exactly what I am now doing for my children.  I am telling you all of this to explain why and how Glitter and I are best friends regardless of, despite and perhaps even because of my beliefs and hers and why beliefs that seem so very different are actually almost the same.

She doesn’t “do” religion.  She is adamant in her stance that all of the world’s wars and evils, including the one we remember today, are rooted in religion.  She has a serious point on this one.  She and I are in agreement that religious groups wield far too much power in politics.  She has said that when someone she loves dies that God is not with her, God does not decide or guide, people do.  She knows, in her heart, that when she is crushed emotionally and her soul is aching that God does not hold her, her husband does.  She and I do not agree on that.  Not that he doesn’t hold her, I know him and he’s pretty great.  I am sure he does hold her…but I think God is there, too.  And that’s OK.  We respect our respective beliefs and non-beliefs.  We are able to have long, long discussions without ever offending each other.  And that is a gift.  A gift of friendship and love and trust.  It is not the only gift she has given.

She does not judge.  Ever.  Don’t get me wrong, she does express her opinion.  Loudly and occasionally laced with obscenities, but she does not judge.  She listens, she gives sound advice and she is a person literally hundreds of people would and do turn to in order to unload their souls.  They know she is a safe person to do this with as she will never and has never thought less of them for it.

She forgives.  My God that woman forgives.  She forgives everything; things that most people could never fathom ever moving on from, she has forgiven in others.  That is not to say she is a pushover.  She will keep it in the back of her mind, learn from it and approach the person and situation differently the next time as a result but she has no, not once in her life when an apology has been given with sincerity (and at times when none was even uttered) failed to offer forgiveness and welcome friendship back with open arms.  She feels that to allow anger or resentment to remain in her life is to poison herself and she values herself too much to allow for that kind of crap.

She does better.  She is a flawed and faulted human being who admits to her faults, scrutinizes her behavior and endeavors to be a better person as a result.  She occasionally flies off the handle and has a tendency to react with emotion.  In this way we are exactly alike.  But she feels terrible immediately after.  She makes amends fast and with humility.  Real humility, not the fake-this-makes-me-look-good kind.  She means it.  She isn’t trying to impress anyone, she just wants to know in her heart that she’s doing the right thing.

She is selfless.  She gives and gives and gives…and then she agrees to throw another party or do another fundraiser and proceeds to give some more.  She doesn’t tell people about half of it, it’s more than something she does, it is something that she is.

She believes in marriage, motherhood and sisterhood.  Family is not the center of her life, it is her life.  There is no way to expound on this one, it just is. Her commitment to them knows no bounds and  in it there are no voids.

She treats everyone with respect.  Everyone.  She does not attempt to convert others to her way of thinking, she simply accepts them as they are and loves them no matter what.

She is not proud and she does not brag.  She does not understand people who do or what it does for them.  There have been times she’s had much and times she has done without and no one but her very closest friends and family have ever known the difference.  Her life isn’t about things, it’s about people and experiences and finding the joy.  She can’t be bought.  It’s been tried and has failed each time.

If you were to list out every attribute of the ideal Christian Mother, Wife and Friend, she would be it.  Aside from the believing in God part.  And when it is all said and done, why should that matter?  How could an argument ever be made that someone who attends church every Sunday only to pass judgement on those who do not is more Christian than she?  The woman who tithes her church and announces to her prayer group how much money her new diamond cross cost yet ignores the children without a coat only a few miles away or dismisses the neighbor who lost their job or denounces the nineteen year old single mother who just found out her birth control failed…is she more deserving of salvation?  The one who tells you she will pray for your soul and then stabs you in the back the moment you turn away…is she on higher moral ground?  I don’t think so.  Even though it may be hard to wrap your brain around, I don’t think you think so, either.  Not really.  Not where it counts.

She and I don’t see eye to eye on the matters of God and Religion and Prayer.  And that, to me, is a good thing.  She doesn’t know this yet, but she has taught me more about God and the role of the Holy Spirit filling and guiding my life than any Priest or Deacon.  You see, I believe in what I teach.  When I teach my children that all of us are God’s children and even when we don’t recognize it and perhaps especially when we deny or dismiss it yet still live our lives according to His teachings, that we are at those times most blessed.  The Holy Spirit is within us all.  Some call it conscience, some an inner voice and others simply recognize it as what we know to be our morality.  Whatever you choose to label it, my label is the Spirit and hers is the strongest I know.  Charity and love without bounds; acceptance in the face of judgement.  Conviction which never waivers and courage which has yet to fold.

I will never tell her she is wrong.  She isn’t.  Someone so right simply could not be.  She has reasons, good ones, for everything she feels and thinks and for everything she is for and against.  I respect the Hell out of it all.  But as her friend, someday many decades from now, if I can manage to follow her lead…she and I will have a different conversation.  One outside of life on earth.  I can’t wait to tell her “I told you so”…

She isn’t going to like this post.  It’s too “nice” and too…too.  So Glitter, before you call me, know this: I mean it.  I want people to understand that saying you’re Christian doesn’t make you Christian and that if more people recognized that moral guidance can come from someone who doesn’t carry a bible or wear a cross the world might just be a better place.  Judge not lest ye be judged and all that other rot….love you.

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August 15, 2012

Raw.

Posted in Life Lessons, Parenthood tagged , , , , , , , , , at 5:22 pm by openendedcomment

Humbled.  I am completely humbled by the actions of a son and a brother.  This man who instilled the humility in me and in my husband was amazing.  He exposed a depth of courage, strength and love that literally brought tears to my eyes and filled me with gratitude, as well as shame.

Devastated.  I am heartbroken for so many at this moment for so very many, many reasons.  For loss and for pain and for the healing that should have taken place so many years, months, weeks and even hours ago that never happened.  For opportunities lost.  For moments of reconciliation between family members that were not recognized even at the times they should have been compelled to be.  Utterly, completely devastating to witness.

Disappointed.  In myself most of all.  For the myriad of decisions and words and misunderstandings I was not strong enough or good enough to rise above and be better for and in these past years.  The regrets could fill an ocean and my hindsight must someday become my foresight if I am to ever be who they deserve me to be as a Mother, a Wife, Daughter and Friend.

Thankful.  I am so thankful for the people that surround our lives.  Our friends who are more than friends, who are family and strength and love and wise counsel.  Who showed themselves through word and deed again and again these past days as people we do not deserve yet are so grateful for.

Most of all, I am hopeful.  That the few moments I witnessed within these past seventy-two hours and one I did not deserve to be a part of but was embraced into regardless could be a start, a small but heartfelt beginning, towards a chance of at  least some things being closer to right again.  I can’t change what is already done, no matter how desperately I may wish it were possible.  I can only go forward with hope for a better tomorrow.

The past days and really years have left us so many things, so many emotions and with such raw and exposed ends. And maybe that’s the way it needs to be.  Maybe that’s how healing begins.

The words of a woman I spoke to last night, the best friend of my husband’s late Mother, have been ringing in my ears for the past fifteen hours.  I want to do them justice but I don’t know how.  I suppose all I can do and really all I should do at this time is to open myself up to them and to pray that my husband does so as well.  And though I do have my own apologies to be made and my own forgiveness not to expect but to earn, at the end of the day it is not my place to right these wrongs.  My words are not the ones that need to be heard.

My place is simple, I will do what I can today and each day to ensure that in our lives we live with less regret and more love.  That we forgive faster and are slower to anger.  That we move forward from this with conviction and purpose to give to our children the peace of mind and security in their hearts that we will be the parents they deserve and need, including providing them with an example instead of only a direction of the kind of parents and children and sons and daughters and brothers and sister we want them to be.  I think she would like that.

July 29, 2012

No, you don’t know.

Posted in Parenthood tagged , , , at 4:10 am by openendedcomment

I am a parent of a special needs adolescent.  Notice I did not use the word “child.”  He isn’t a child.  He is almost sixteen years old.  I am his step-mother and he lives with my husband and I full-time.  As in he sees his biological Mother a few times a year at the most and it has been this way for many years.  This means that we never, ever get a break.  Ever.  Not a break from parenting, we don’t want that, I don’t want that: but a break from the 24/7 worry and responsability…to know that we can relax.

And chances are, you don’t know what that is like.  Puberty is difficult for any parent.  The teen years are never the best.  But this is a whole different level of heartache, struggle and angst.

I am writing this in the hopes that other parents and caregivers who are experiencing some of the same feelings we (I) are/am will know that they are not alone.  I am hoping that I am not alone.

Last night a woman I barely know took it upon herself to explain to me that in her opinion (she’s met him a handful of times and exchanged maybe a hundred words total) that he was fine and we shouldn’t have him in any programs or on any medications.  We were talking about a program at our local high-school and the subject came up.  OK, I’ve heard this before from perfectly well-meaning people who simply don’t get it and this time…this time I stayed perfectly quiet and nodded as she explained how perfectly normal he is.  I was seething inside…seething at her judgement of me and of my husband for doing everything we can and having been doing so for years and years and years while struggling with the guilt of sometimes just wanting it to be easy….just wishing for one day he could be “normal” whatever that is…”normal” the longer I live the more I question that there is such a thing, and we wish could go to bed at night without wondering what he was going to do when we are asleep…hating the medications and trying to find a way without them only to learn over and over again that it was/is a danger (yes, danger, and I don’t use that word lightly)  to not rely on them…or the guilt over wanting just have a break…just for a few days…please, just once.  Not a worrying-about-whats-happening-because-we’re-not-right-there few hours, but a break that would allow the guard to at least be lowered if not put down even for a night or two.  None of this means that we would change him, because we wouldn’t.  I could not imagine him any different from who he is nor would I want him to ever feel he should be or needs to be anyone but who he is, he doesn’t.  He is our son and we love him exactly as he is.  But how do you, how do I, ever explain this?

He looks “normal.” Better than normal.  He is so very handsome and he has the biggest, most innocent looking blue eyes you’ve ever seen.  But not everyone who struggles has physical signs.  He can be wonderful, he has an ability to see the good in things the rest of us are too jaded to notice.  He is driven and motivated to a level that is often astonishing.  His work ethic puts everyone else I know to shame, he perseveres far past anything I am nor or ever have been capable of.  More often that not he is wonderful, polite, sweet, kind and good.  There are other times, though.  Those are the times that break our hearts.  I didn’t tell her what we deal with.  I did not want to invite the conversation to continue.  I know if I’d gotten into it she would have shut up immediately…she would have been horrified, stunned and perhaps even embarrassed for assuming so much when she knew so little…a few of the less extreme examples would have sufficed, but why should I?  Why should I have to?  Why does anyone else think that they have the right to give their opinion, much less advice on something so deeply personal and painful?

He isn’t easy to live with.  At all.  Don’t get me wrong, I love him.  Dearly.  One does not cancel the other.  Him not being easy to live with is not very different, I imagine, than many parents feel about their adolescent children.  I’ve heard many women and men I know state that they can’t wait for their child to leave for college.  And they can say that.  They can say that because it’s expected to be totally and utterly fed-up with a teenager every now and then.  We can’t state such things because then we sound like we don’t accept our son.  The inequity is mind-boggling.  But parenting this child has been a challenge.  Aside from the constant guilt over feeling challenged, one of the greatest challenges is in people having no idea what they’re talking about and assuming they understand his needs by simply spending a few hours with him here and there.  In them telling me not to let a Doctor “label” him…because they don’t belive in labels.  In telling me that he seems perfectly fine and that we should get a second opinion.  In saying he will “grow out of it” or he’s just “going through a phase.”

Attention well-meaning albeit grossly inappropriate individual: You have no clue what you’re talking about.  You have no idea how hard it is for us to ever, ever admit we are struggling.  You do not get it that for every time we seem the slightest bit frustrated we have already cried ourselves to sleep for nights on end, called the Doctors, read at least one more book and spent hours upon hours conversing with him about why and  just why he would do these things…that we’ve had to spend more hours with our other children trying to help them cope with the chaos his actions create before we ever let it show.  The shit that would make you call every single one of your girlfriends, your therapist and your Mother doesn’t even make us blink.  I have never, ever told anyone, including my parents and my best friend all of the details of the things we see and cope with on a daily basis.  I know my husband hasn’t, either.  It is simply too hard.  Too humiliating.  I’ve come close and I know if I were to ever start really letting it out, I’d never stop.  Part of me thinks that if I dont’ say it…all of it…that I can keep it from being too real.  It’s how I cope.  It’s how am able to go forward and keep working for him and helping him each day with the same amount of dedication and hope as the one before.  I tell people just enough for them to understand that yes, he has needs and yes, it can be challenging.

We have gotten a second opinion.  And a third.  And an eighth.  We have spent tens and tens of thousands of dollars year after year that at times we did not have in order to try to find something, anything to help him.  We have looked for a way to avoid a label but the label gets him the help he needs and without it (the label) he does not qualify for the only school program that has ever helped him and the only place he’s ever felt comfortable socially.  So I’m sorry if it offends you, but yes, there is a label.  It’s there for a reason.  He won’t grow out of it.  Do you have any idea how hard that is for us to accept?  For him?  This isn’t a “phase” it’s not something you can “fix.”  All we can do is help him grow to be the best man he can be.  No different from our other children, from yours.  With luck and faith and a great deal of hard work he may, may be able to live independently one day.  The “experts” say no, but we do have hope…and there is his perseverance.  Which should never be underestimated.

He is almost sixteen.  It breaks my heart that he won’t be getting his licence.  He should be in drivers ed.  I hate it for him that he isn’t, but he would not be safe on the road, not safe for him and not safe for other drivers.  We didn’t decide this on our own, his Doctors and educators were involved and were all in heated agreement.  No way.  He could not pass the drivers test and even if he could, he should not.   At least not now.  So, when you are at my home or run into me or talk to our son and tell him he can drive soon or ask what kind of car he’s getting or chastise us for making him wait…it’s cruel.  It is salt on a wound.  We accept him for who he is and to tell us who he should be or who you think he is, however well-meaning, is mean.  It hurts.

I’m not alone.  Even if I feel as though I am, I know I can’t possibly be.  I can’t be the only Mother, Step-Mother, or relative dealing with this.  For all of them and selfishly for me and my family, please: The special needs families you know, support them.  Don’t give unsolicited advice, do give a shoulder.  An ear.  They likely won’t tell you everything, but what they do say…just listen to it.  Even if you do happen to know another child with the same diagnosis, it does not mean you know their child.  All are different.  All have their own challenges, their own needs, their own level of ability.  Even the “normal” ones.  It is hard enough for we parents of these children to come to grips with the reality of the situation, don’t make it even worse by enforcing their already deep feelings of guilt over not being able to prevent or fix it by telling them they are wrong, or over-reacting.  Chances are they are under-reacting…and whatever they’re doing, they’re doing it from a far more informed position than you.  Respect that.

Remember that many of them are also raising other children, and that those children also need their parents.  That sometimes there are only so many resources, only so many hours.  That though the special needs child will always get the lion’s share, the other children deserve and need their parents and a life, too.  It’s hard on these siblings, hard to take the back seat and hard to be understanding so often.  The resentment is inevitable and that is its own unique set of challenges to be addressed.  Again, it’s never easy but it is reality.

I wish that well-meaning woman last night understood.  I hope that someone reading this approaches a man or woman they know differently as a result.  If not, that’s OK too…I feel better for having said it.  Of course with it being about this subject that I hold so much guilt/frustration/stress and heartache over I’ll likely delete it in a day or so.  But for now its eleven PM on a Saturday.  A night my husband and I were supposed to go out.  A night, one of so many, too many, we’ve cancelled over the years as tonight was a bad night for our son and we couldn’t leave him with a sitter.  *Sigh* Maybe next time.