Bless Her Heart

Scott and I just returned from a visit to Vancouver, BC, for his 50th high school graduation reunion. It was here that he lived, off and on, throughout his childhood with his spinster aunt and grandmother (may they rest in peace). Scott’s Aunt Eileen stories are legendary in our family. I recorded this one at the end of a visit in September, 2007.

DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve done pretty well, I think, here with Eileen, but there’s no pleasing her unless you do it her way, step by step. She controls your every move—imperiously. I wonder what her past holds that keeps her so tightly wound up all the time?

There’s a union strike in the city here that has shut down garbage removal, parks, golf courses, and the library. So every scrap of paper, every piece of garbage has to be carefully and deliberately disposed of. She has a system for everything: five different places to store five different kinds of plastic bags—each for a different size and purpose. And woe betide the person who reaches for the wrong bag and uses it for a different purpose than her intention! And one is expected to keep the information all straight after the first instruction—which can change at times, by the way!

Bless her heart (to use a Southern catch-all phrase), she recognizes that she’s crotchety but doesn’t know how to change. [At a later visit, she admitted her regret that she was being so difficult.] Since we’ve been here, we’ve been told what to do and then instructed how in the following areas:

  • Make my bed (how to align the stripes, when to wash the sheets)
  • When to open the blinds in my bedroom (right after making the bed)
  • How to wash the dishes (fill the sink, use the drainer)
  • Prune the flowers, rake the garden (for this one I actually did need instructions)
  • Where to drive, where to park (poor Scott)
  • When to sightsee and where
  • How to feed the cats and when
  • How to polish the silver (which cloth, what direction, how wet, how much)
  • Do a crossword puzzle (which one, when)
  • Eat (what time, how much [i.e. minuscule] – again, poor Scott)
  • How to dress (scarf worn a certain way, belt cinched just so)
  • What books to read from her shelf (sorry, not my taste)
  • Water the lawn (let out the hose inch by inch until it suits her)
  • Prepare the corn on the cob (shuck top down, all at once, boil exactly 6 minutes)
  • Eat corn on the cob (from left to right in rows. Seriously!)

sewing-needle-thread-mend-eye-of-needle-39548Yesterday she asked me to sew a button on a coat that she’d altered (she was most proud of her sewing prowess). We almost came to blows over how to perform this simple task. I started to sew it on with double thread so as to save a knot on the underside, but she insisted it must be a single thread and never mind if it had a knot. (Scott says this is the closest he’s seen me to losing it!)

I’m reminded of Joyce Landorf’s books entitled Irregular People (1982) and Balcony People (1989). Balcony People are in the “balcony” of your life, cheering you on, energizing you with their affirmation. Irregular People are in your “basement” doing exactly the opposite—crushing your spirit with their emotional abuse.

[I must interject here that, in spite of Aunt Eileen’s “basement” responses, she was also legendary for her generosity, her extremely high IQ (she did the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzles in record time), and her ability to encourage her proteges on to excellence. She was an author and internationally-renowned social worker with blind children. The methods she developed many years ago are still in practice today.]

After that little altercation with the sewing, I determined to back off . . . to not be so bold in standing up to her. It’s just not worth it. Not for my sake, mind you. I would have no trouble standing up to her if I didn’t care about her. But why cause her undue stress or distress at this elderly stage in her life? She’s never going to change.

Bless my heart!

Who is your Irregular Person and how do you handle the situation?

Grumbling and Complaining

 

 

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Wadi Qilt in the Judean Wilderness

And the people grumbled and deplored their hardships, which was evil in the ears of the Lord (Numbers 10:37).

May, 2018. When I first heard this verse as a little girl, I piously thought that if I’d been an Israelite, I would never have complained about my lot. Indeed, I determined then and there to stop grumbling when I didn’t get my way. (I may have kept that vow for a whole day.)

Scott and I recently came back from a trip to the Israeli and Jordanian wilderness. After experiencing miles and miles of unrelenting drought and rocky mountains and heat, I have a new appreciation for why the Israelites complained. Of course my observation comes from the cushioned seat of an air-conditioned bus, but still . . . .

The Israelites were fed up. They were sick and tired of manna sandwiches, manna soup, and manna salads, and they lusted after their flavorful Egyptian dishes. They declared, “Now our soul (our strength) is dried up.” And no wonder! With only six inches of rain a year, where is there enough water in a desert for a million or more people? And so they wept and they complained to Moses. I can picture the little kids whining, “Are we there yet? I’m so tired, hot, and thirsty. My feet hurt.” And the moms, carrying their extra loads, not knowing how far they’d have to walk each day, worried about dehydration (they didn’t have ice-cold, bottled water provided by the bus driver).

The result? God’s fire burned the edges of the camp.

The people’s reaction? They cried out to Moses.

Moses’ response? He cried out to God. “Why? Why? Why? Where? I can’t. I’m not able. Kill me. The burden is too heavy.”

So what’s the difference between the words of the Israelites and the words of Moses? The difference is to whom they complained. Moses directed his words to God. The words were melodramatic, to be sure, but honest. His was not an attitude of lust and rejection of God’s provision. His were words of despair because he was carrying too heavy a burden and his knees were starting to buckle.

God’s response: He came to Moses’ aid. He had him choose 70 men to help carry the load.

And the fire in the camp subsided, and they named the place Kibroth-hattaava (the graves of sensuous desire) because they buried there the people who lusted and whose physical appetite caused them to sin.

Buried in the desert? I used to picture the Sinai Peninsula as gently rolling hills of silty, Sahara-like sand. But as we had to carefully watch our footing over rocky ground, I wondered aloud how the wanderers accomplished this feat. I still don’t have an answer.

Anyway, I came away with two thoughts: I have no right to judge another person’s struggles until I have walked 40 years in their dusty sandals. And second, what can I do when I find myself in the desert? Talk to God instead of whining to other people.

Curious Thoughts on Exodus 32

Desert

When I read a chapter like Exodus 32, I end up with more questions than answers. I hope this doesn’t sound sacrilegious, but this inquiring mind wants to know.

Here’s the scene: After 40 days on Mount Sinai, Moses and Joshua (yes, he was there also) come down the mountain, 10 commandments in hand, after negotiating with God regarding not annihilating the whole Israelite nation. They have been in the very presence of holiness and purity.

While standing at the gate (What gate? What was it made of? Why was it there?), Moses calls out for the people to join the Lord’s side. How did Moses get their attention? How did he speak to a million people at the same time without a PA system? Did he yell at everyone near him to go to his or her own tent and they each passed the word to their neighbor? Or were they all together in a mob and the front guys passed the word back to those behind them? (Like playing the game “gossip” or “telephone,” I can imagine how that message would have gotten garbled!) Or did Moses just speak to the elders of each tribe who spoke to the clan leaders who fanned out to relay the message to those under them?

By this time, Moses had already ground down the golden calf and made them all drink it. (How do you force someone to drink something nasty anyway?! It’s not like he held a gun to their heads.)

So now Moses has all the Levites standing with him (Levi, the original brother, was no saint, but somewhere down the line, someone made some godly choices), and God honors that, and He gives them instructions to kill/murder/slay their fellow Israelites who aren’t on God’s side. And the Bible says they slew 3000 men! Does that include women and children? If not the women, can you imagine all those women being left widows? Knowing God’s dealings at other times with rebellious people, I suspect that whole families were annihilated. It says, “They went from gate to gate (there are those gates again).”

Apparently they had divisions between them—maybe to separate the tribes? Maybe to contain their animals? BTW, how did they find enough grazing food—not to mention water—for all those animals in the desert? The statistics are mind-boggling.

How difficult was it for the Levites to obey God? What residual emotional and psychological effects would they have had after this massive slaughter? Who had to bury all the corpses? And how do you bury that many people in the desert? I suppose they cremated them, but what a stench that would have been!

And didn’t the victims try to fight back? I’m sure they didn’t just stay put when they saw sword-wielding Levites coming toward them! They must have tried to run and hide . . . but where? . . .  or attempted to defend themselves. Chaos! Maybe the Levites came after the victims while they all slept! (I doubt it.)

And who inherited all their stuff—their tents and clothes and cooking utensils and sheep? (Can you imagine all the trading and bartering that went on in a camp that size? The entrepreneurs getting rich off their neighbors . . . ) Or maybe they burned their stuff up with the bodies.

My mind can’t wrap around the logistics of such an endeavor. What would it feel like to voluntarily kill your fellow man? Perhaps being clannish, it didn’t feel so bad, but verse 29 says, “Slay every man his brother, companion, and neighbor.” Is this literal or metaphorical? That would mean everyone who had not stepped over the line to join Moses and God. So if your brother or son did not join you, you were instructed to kill him. I can’t let my mind go there.

Following this, God sends a plague. You wonder if in the process of burying or burning this many people with rotting flesh in the desert (it had to be done very quickly) and grief being so strong, they would get ill from it. This is not to negate the miracle of a plague, but to understand the enormous stress they were under. Perhaps the plague weakened them so they wouldn’t seek revenge on the Levites.

God—who can understand His ways? He wipes out humanity with a flood, but keeps a remnant. He wipes out 3000 in one day and keeps the Levites. He allows a holocaust but brings a remnant of Jews back to the land. Abraham asks God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah, but God only brings out Lot and his women. (I don’t think it was God’s initial intention. Wouldn’t it have been better to have destroyed Lot’s lineage?) But God listens to a man. God wants to wipe out the entire nation of Israel, but Moses intervenes and asks God to spare them. God agrees—but only partially. He knew what was best.

Whose side am I on? Will I be willing to do the hard thing when You ask it of me?

Holiness, holiness is what I long for.

Holiness, holiness is what I need.

Holiness, holiness is what you want from me.