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Red-Letter Profession

Monster copy

Image credit here.

Whole months have rushed by. I have been working harder and keeping busier than I would like. This season of labor feels necessary and therefore regret-free.

I can be a bit of a workhorse. Tackling challenges often invigorates me. But an excess of work without the benefits of regular exercise and restorative solitude is numbing. Add to that picture my recent lapse in the practice of spiritual disciplines, and the result is a high-functioning sleep walker. At least until the lights go out. That’s when the monsters come out to play.

Last night, I dropped into bed sleep-deprived and fighting a virus. As soon as my breathing settled and I drifted off to sleep, the monsters kicked open their cage and ran amok. I saw them from the insides of my eyelids and felt their scratchy nails as they raced circles around my brain. They yanked down my lids and released, snapping them open like window shades. The creatures moved next to my chest and began their vigorous warm up. They were planning a protest march, and they wanted to make sure I was awake to appreciate it.

The monsters had demanded my attention many times in recent weeks but I had tossed them Facebook, Netflix, and coffee and told them to shut the hell up. I should have known better. I can handle one or two small monsters with no more than a few mild abrasions. It’s a wrestle-and-release scenario, much like fishing for sport. I definitely should have known better than to ignore them for so long. The fiends had grown to a frightening size and multiplied unchecked.

Have you ever faced an army of chanting monsters? I hope you will be spared. They are shrill, tone deaf, and lacking in rhythm. The only part they can reliably perform is the chorus. They have that down.

They sound something like this:

You are going crazy and your arms are flabby and you are going crazy and you are a bad supervisor and you are going crazy and you haven’t folded the towels and you are going crazy and you forgot to refrigerate the milk and you are going crazy and your shower is moldy and you are going crazy.

If you try to ignore them, they just get louder:

You are going crazy and you will get cancer and you are going crazy and your mother is going to die and you are going crazy and you will have to work forever and you are going crazy and your children will suffer and you are going crazy and you will get bedbugs and you are going CRAZY!

I crawled out of bed, turned on the light, and retrieved my Bible. Henry was out of town so I didn’t have to worry about waking him. I randomly opened to the book of Mark and began reading. The monsters did not like this.

I read the words in red, Jesus’ words. I rested my palm on top of them. I don’t know why I did this.

Across time and space, I felt his breath and heard the words from his lips. I thought about “the Word made flesh” (John 1:14). In defiance of all logic, we were sitting on my bed palm to palm, Jesus and I. I borrowed his strength to wrestle and release each monster. Jesus and I talked for a while, and I drifted off to sleep.

Think what you must. I am not going crazy.

Weekend at Mom’s – or – She Ain’t Goin’ Gentle

What would we do without our mothers? copy

Everybody needs a mom. Image credit here.

Day I

Mom greets me at the door with life-changing news: She has ordered green-lipped mussel oil!

“Larry King uses it.”

Mom’s intentions are golden. She is going to cure a family member of a chronic illness. She has found the solution the doctors have missed. I am to learn all about the oil from her and then deliver it to the intended recipient along with the proper instructions.

We sit together, and I listen.

“Here, read the booklet.”

I read the booklet. I open the jar and sniff. I think about popping a capsule into my mouth and biting it when a vision intrudes, and I change my mind. A sea of terrified faces implores me with countless sets of tiny green lips. The word “lips” has personalized the creatures whose juices I am about to suck.

“And it comes with this DVD.”

“Well, that is very thoughtful of you, Mom.”

“All the way from New Zealand!”

“I see.”

“Now make sure Susan takes the oil each day for 30 days so I can call and have the next shipment cancelled if it doesn’t help. Well…they might have already sent the second shipment by then, so I would just have to cancel the third one. I gave them my credit card, you know.”

“Have you mentioned this to Susan? I really think you should discuss this with Susan.”

“They say 4-6 capsules daily for the first 30 days but I think that’s too much. Just tell her to take 2-4.”

(sigh)

Day II

The following day, I get up early and make breakfast. After that, I squire my Mom to Sunday school and church. My stepfather Seamus takes us all out for a hearty lunch. Following a gorgeous walk with my husband Henry, the family eats a dinner prepared by my sister, Gwen. We make sure–Gwen, Henry, and I–to be kind, attentive, and helpful throughout. Mom is a big talker, and we listen actively and respectfully. She has stored up many words and opinions, and the pressure has to be released. What is Wrong with the World Today receives special attention. We take care of all of the cooking and washing up.

At long last, it is time for me to curl up and introvert. Luscious!

“Jane, are you ready to watch the DVD about the mussels?”

Uh oh.

“Actually, Mom, I think I’ll pass.”

(exhales loudly) “Well, I’m surprised at you, Jane! Why not? This could be the key to Susan’s recovery.”

“It would feel like work Mom. And I’ll be taking the DVD to Susan anyway. I think I’d rather relax.”

(huffs) “Well, I bet Henry would like to watch it with me.”

He takes one for the team. I owe him big time.

Day III

Mom produces a page-and-a-half of yellow legal paper. She has handwritten a recipe she has been wanting to try.

“Here is the tuna casserole recipe. Thank you so much for doing this. I really need to lie down for a bit.”

“Sure, Mom! Happy to!”

Mom is worn out. She wanders over to the sofa for a nap. Mom is thrilled that we have finally come to visit but entertaining is exhausting. Who knows what we might get up to if she isn’t there to assist? Did I mention that Henry is 53, I am 52, and Gwen is 50? Mom is…it would not be polite to tell you, now would it?

Mom starts to drift off to sleep. But for the sounds of cooking and the subdued drone of the news channel, the house falls silent.

Following her directions religiously, I place the flaked tuna in the bottom of the pan and dribble the lemon juice–fresh squeezed!–over it. The shredded cheese, peas, and cooked noodles are mixed together and stand off to the side, waiting. I am halfway through cooking the sauce.

The silence does not last long. I feel a disturbance in the air and–

“Did you sprinkle the lemon juice over the tuna?”

“Yes. I used fresh lemons like you said to.”

“How much did you use?”

“The recipe didn’t give an amount. I just guessed.”

Mom’s gaze releases the Pyrex pan and fixates on the stove top.

“I think you are going to have to double that sauce recipe. It doesn’t look like you have enough to cover everything going into the pan.”

“Ok, Mom. No problem.”

I double the sauce recipe, and Mom disappears around the corner. For a moment.

Gwen enters the kitchen with a basket of dirty laundry. She turns the washer knob, activating a siren call. Mom materializes.

“Be sure not to overfill the washer.”

“Ok, Mom.”

“Here, let me. I want to make sure the load is balanced.”

“Ok, Mom.”

“Now remember. Once the washer fills, you have to use this plunger to push the clothes below the water level.”

(sigh) “I’m not going to do that, Mom.”

Gwen and I engage our psychic connection.

“No, really. You want to be sure the clothes are good and wet so they get clean.”

(silent lip biting)

“Just stand here and wait for it to fill so you can plunge it.”

(silent lip biting + rapid eye blinking + quivering nostrils.)

My mother is providing instructions in the use of her top-quality, high-capacity machine in excellent condition.

My mother is providing instructions in the use of a washing machine to her top-quality, high-capacity daughter in adult condition.

Mom pads out of the kitchen and back to the sofa. Gwen is watching the washer fill. I am crushing potato chips for the top of the casserole. We feel the pressure of each other’s eyeballs, look up, and silently message one another.

The washer has filled and begins to agitate. Gwen is not-plunging, and the sound of not-plunging pierces the air.

The end of the world still has not come. Gwen leaves the laundry room and steps around the corner. I relax and begin to arrange my potato-chip blanket.

The washer lid flies open. Plunging happens.

Mom, risen from the dead, has sneaked behind me to save the load of laundry and the future of the Western world.

Satisfied, she starts for the sofa a third time. But first, she checks my work.

“Are you sure you have crushed enough potato chips? I think you need more.”

Exit Mom. Enter Gwen.

(stage whispers above the kitchen noises) “Mom was plunging.”

“No!”

“She was. She was plunging.”

We are wound too tightly. We have swallowed exasperation, suppressed disrespect, spared feelings, and avoided mutiny. We have painted ourselves into a corner, and there is only one way out.

Gwen and I lock eyes in agreement.

I begin first. I bob my head like a chicken to the rhythm of the washer. Gwen joins in, swaying. We dance tentatively at first. Naughty snickers escape our lips. Shh, Mom is trying to sleep! Shhhhhh!

Soon we are stepping, gyrating, and waving our arms, our tribal dance growing in fervor. Pig snorts and raspberries escape in spite of tightly clenched lips.

We can’t stop, and we don’t want to.

By the time Mom rounds the bend a fourth time, our recovery is nigh.

Mommy! She laughs at us and with us. Mom is as she always was, though we may have to work a bit harder to find her. In the end, it is a small price we pay, a light yoke we bear, to uphold this sacred trust. It is our honor to protect her from inconsequence.

Postscript.: In my last post, I promised I’d publish a shout-out to the first person to guess the rationale behind my naming of a particular silly photo. The winner was Elaine Hill of Burtonsville, MD. She correctly guessed that the woman had not yet been “deflowered.”

Is green-lipped mussel oil is any good? I don’t know. Do Olympic athletes use it? I have no idea! But apparently a good number of Olympians trust Shaklee nutritional products. I know this because I became curious after talking with Elaine, and I did a bit of googling. Elaine is a Shaklee distributor, by the way, and she seems to know her stuff. Feel free to stop by her website and pick her brain.

Just so you know–I am not affiliated with Shaklee, and I have not been compensated for this mention.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a Sister Thing

 

Lip Balm

July 3, 2016

Ahhh. I am drinking an ice-cold Sweet Baby Jesus! Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter following a strenuous walk with my husband Henry. My sister is downstairs making dinner. We are visiting Mom and Seamus in the country for the holiday weekend.

First of all: If you are a woman who does not have a sister, please drop everything, run to the store, and buy one.

Second of all: I am not sure I should be drinking while blogging….

“Jane Marek? Follow me, please,” the nurse called from the doorway.

Jane Marek? Follow me, please,” rang the disembodied voice behind her in clear, honeyed tones.

The nurse froze, her face still bent over the clipboard. Only her eyes moved–from side to side, and finally up and over to me. Her brow furrowed in confusion.

I stepped over the threshold and there was Gwen. She was at the checkout desk and not visible from the waiting room.

Gwen is my younger sister by 18 months.

Last week, Gwen and I scheduled skin checks. With the same dermatologist. On the same day. Back to back. Without trying.

Gwen had a mole removed for biopsy. I had a mole removed for biopsy. She waited for me in the waiting room.

When it was my turn to check out, I observed the young African American woman at the counter. The sleeves of her hot pink shirt stuck out from underneath her scrubs and perfectly matched the thick pink swirl in her otherwise dark hair. I am not normally one to effuse but the color perfectly offset the blackness of her hair and skin, creating a stunning impression.

“I love your hair. It looks so good!” I told her.

“I said the same thing!” cried a voice from the waiting area.

Gwen followed me back to my house. We decided to take a walk. She borrowed shorts and a t-shirt because, voila!, we are the same size. And, unlike days past, I will get these clothes back. Washed and folded. Within my lifetime.

If you are running out to procure your sister, don’t worry about lost time. Now is the best time. History is great and all that, but coming late to the party means you can enjoy all the benefits of sisterhood without having to recover from those early years of room sharing, name calling, hair pulling, and makeup stealing. I won’t say who did what to whom other than to say that Gwen was a snuggler and a spooner. Spooning was gross and made me sweaty. Whenever we traveled, we had to share a bed. Nobody cared if I tossed and turned next to my furnace of a sister. But I guess hers was a small offense when you consider that I once made Gwen eat an entire mouthful of gravel.

Yesterday, Gwen and my husband Henry and I climbed into our Subaru; situated Trident, the greyhound, in the back; and headed to the boondocks for the weekend.

While zooming down the interstate, Gwen and I decided we needed to compare biopsy sites. Hers was on her shin. That was easy. Mine was above my left breast, and Gwen was sitting behind me. Thus, partial nudity, gymnastics, and the removal of one Ikea brand kitty bandage ensued. Thank goodness, Henry is an excellent driver!

This was not my first biopsy by any means. So I had to show off my other biopsy sites. My situation is probably typical for a super-white European descendant and former athlete. I was thrilled that the site on my face had healed with no scarring whatsoever. This was, of course, due to the magic of Vaseline. I had followed Dr. Mole’s instructions religiously: Vaseline 24/7. Neosporin was strictly verboten.

“But I ran out of Vaseline this time,” I said, “so I kind of cheated. ”

(Cue the sheepish laughter.)

“Do you think this will work OK?” I pulled the supersized Hello Kitty lip balm out of my purse. “I just smear this on it and then cover it with a bandaid.”

Gwen didn’t shame me at all. Her response? “Yep. Because I am using the chapstick I got free at work on mine.”

We were not friends as girls. We could scarcely stand to breathe the same air. We were told we were opposites and occasionally pitted against one another.

Now women, we are friends. Sister-friends. This afternoon, we sighed the identical three-syllable “O-o-oh” when a darling fawn crossed our path. Hers began a microsecond prior to mine but we were pitch perfect.

After we arrived yesterday, Gwen and I took a walk around Mom’s property. The light and the wildflowers were too enticing to resist. Armed with a smartphone and a tablet, we set out on a serious mission to capture the flowers before the shadows grew too long. We succeeded–kind of.

Adult supervision may be required for future missions.

Oh well.

Please enjoy some examples of our brilliant photography.

The Virgin.jpg

The Virgin by Jane Marek. Be the first to tell my why I chose this name, and I will mention you in a future blog.

Buttflower

Buttflower by Gwen Lee.

If you want to read more about the spirited Gwen, you might like this post from the Family Rules thread.

An Afternoon in My Other Counseling Office

male-purple-finch-perched-on-branch

Photo credit here.

The air is dead with offgassing carpets, cleaning products, and layering, lingering camouflage. Makeup, perfume, deodorant, shampoo, aftershave, and gum conceal souls ashamed to show their bruising. Souls afraid to own their splendor.

The light is dead as well. Unnatural light emitted by glowing tubes which draw from a source inadequate to supply true illumination. It reveals the glistening scalp under the expensive coif. It corners the man who must hide his face or else betray his sorrow.

It tells all: Charlie has combed his hair but he has not bathed for a week.

It tells nothing: This cool, reptilian light does not warm. It does not heal.

So many voices. I am at once numbed and enamored, lacerated and reassured. I escape the contrived comforts of my outpatient surgery to shake off the smothering accumulation.

I walk the property in slow circles. Goodness and mercy follow me as I gulp the sunshine in slow, steady breaths. A purple finch perches atop the rusted fence. A cow lows in in the distance. The light enters at my invitation and pools in my recesses.

I return to the well-appointed office donated by the well-appointed church made up of well-appointed congregants who trust that I am versed in the art of swallowing light.

Here is a post I wrote some time ago about an afternoon in my urban counseling office.

 

 

 

 

The View from the Gristmill

watermelon

Watermelon image courtesy of purpleslog

 

“I spent all yesterday putting together holiday gift bags and had one left over.”

“I bought you this restaurant gift card to express my thanks for the consultation.”

“I just finished making cookies, and so I brought a few for you.”

Every now and then a client presents me with a gift. I debate instituting an official No Gifts policy to avoid the therapeutic work these offerings demand. On the other hand, these moments can open a window for me to model healthy boundaries or discuss the meanings behind the gifts in ways which provide grist for good therapy.

Don’t be fooled by this fancy-sounding talk. I am a chicken. Sometimes I want to be an ostrich. As much as I would like to be a peacock, I know these presents are not always an indication of my stellar counseling abilities; and I try to overcome my fear of ruffling feathers for the good of my counselees.

I realize that some offers are uncomplicated gestures of thanks. But many are not. Some represent a discomfiting gesture of familiarity. Other times, the giving is an attempt to seek my reassurance or trap me in a tacit contract. Use your imagination, and you will be spot on.

The art of discernment is one I will never completely master.

She–and it is usually a she–may be asking if I like her. Is she is special to me? Will I will think about her when she is not before me? Do I love her? Do I love, love her?

She may not believe she alone is enough to hold my interest. Or what if she has to soften my burden in trying to help someone so defective? Is money enough to make her tolerable?

Is she is just a paycheck to me?

She may be trying to secure a better outcome…Will I work harder if she provides me with added incentive? Maybe I’ll work on commission. Can she extract more-more-more benefit faster-faster-faster if I feel beholden?

It could be that she doesn’t even see me as a real person with feelings (yet?) but experiences a self-absorbed need to give, perhaps compulsively or lavishly, to maintain her fragile belief in her own goodness. Or maybe she needs to remind me that I am a subordinate, a sort of emotional manicurist whose services she can take or leave.

This week I was offered the following:

1. A single, perfect melon from a client who works 80 hours a week to pay off her children’s gambling debts.

2. A gift-wrapped calendar, printed from home, whose artwork had been created by one half of a couple in long-term therapy to manage anxiety and depression without drug dependency and codependency. The creator of the calendar expressed surprise coupled with approval at his wife’s presentation of this gift.

3. A ticket to a motivational speaking event from a client who came to therapy to work on her painful relationship with her adult daughter and who moves to capture me in a hug at the end of every session. She and her spouse are the featured speakers.

I won’t disclose how I handled each instance of gifting. I will leave it to your imagination.

I will say that I have accepted a hand-knit scarf, a tangerine, and some amazing whiskey-infused brownies. I will also say that I have declined a zebra print makeup bag, a silk scarf; and, session after session, the most fraught offer of a stick of gum in the history of mankind.

I am curious. What would you have done?

This post belongs in the series Therapy Tales.

Resurrection Day, 2016

 

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commoms

 

I wanted a flashy day with loud music, confetti, and line dancing but God said No. Resurrection is a process.

I wanted a forgettable day with daffodils, blinding sunbeams, and enough perspiration bleeding through my t-shirt to prove that Winter had come to an end. God provided a pale day and a chastening spirit which chilled the bones of the beeches and chattered the ghosts which clung to their outstretched arms.

I zipped my jacket and kept hiking. Hints of redbud pink rewarded my perseverance.

Today I sit behind my desk and discover that I have one delicious hour more than I had expected. I have forgotten my utensils and, in the privacy of my office, peel and eat a sweet potato like an ice cream cone while typing these words with sticky fingers. Ideas rattle in my own skull, crowding one another and asking for safe passage onto paper. I choose to bring this one to Life:

God has provided another perfect day.

Good Friday Gone Bad

I have not had time to write lately so I have decided to reblog this timely piece. Happy Easter!

Family Rules

rainy night stadium lights Grant Frederiksen Image courtesy of Grant Frederiksen

I went to Jesus’ funeral last night. He was the best man I had ever known, and now I’d never see Him again.

Good Friday is the one day in the year when I sit quietly next to His lifeless body and weep. I weep because I miss Him. I weep because He suffered. I cry hot tears because He is dead, dead, dead, and now the unfinished business between us can never be put right.

I know how the story ends but I need to feel the loss of my Lord and reflect upon His pain. Pain I should rightfully have borne were justice served. Feeling the loss of Him prepares me to feel the joy of His resurrection. Not only is He not dead, He still likes me and is glad to see me even though I helped to kill Him.

I went…

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