Saturday, May 23, 2009

On Stewardship – a myopic view.

“If you ask God for healing,” my Aunt said, eyes aflame with conviction, “He will do it. He will give you a new kidney, grow you a new one, right next to your old one.” A magic bean, like Jack and the Beanstalk, and just that simple. I was tempted to Google medical miracles and divine donations. Steeped in science, I believe organ donations arrive on ice in coolers, with tissue classifications of cadaveric, bovine, porcine, or live human, not immaculate implantation by divine intervention. Call me skeptical. I have sometimes felt my God lowly and insufficient because my tongue is not Tongues, my Jesus of colors and his ‘Father’ androgynous, because my faith flows in Technicolor, unconstrained by traditional lines of black and white pressed on fragile pages between covers by St. James, because I am unwilling to condemn gays or Buddhists, because… “Because my faith is much broader than that,” I defended. “Jesus was very inclusive; religion tends to be very exclusive. And I’m so tired of: we’re going to heaven and you’re not.” I felt my God would be unwelcome in church. Though quite frankly, if I met Her on the street, I might not be welcoming either. But lowly and insufficient was anything but, during this conversation for miraculous healing. I felt Aunt Millie’s genuine love and unflappable belief that God would deliver a kidney for supplication like a can of beans tendered at the grocer. And… I am far too cynical to ask for a new bean grown right next to the old one. “If you really believe and ask for a miracle,” the elders said, “You’ll be healed.” We were high school seniors when leukemia was spotted like a vulture circling carrion. We loved Jesus with the untainted zeal of youth. Even then, I thought it too great a burden to heap on her diminutive and diminishing frame. For life to pivot on her faith or lack there of, that she alone was responsible and thereby… destined to become her own executioner. Wendy died before graduation. I never bargained with God again. Life is, after all, a terminal disease. Why bargain? “I wonder how both my kidneys quit at the same time?” Mom asked. “They didn’t, you’ve been killing them for a decade.” I was frustrated and angry. “Well, I have to die from something, it may as well be from renal failure,” she said, so nonchalant. “Besides, I don’t want to eat like you; your diet is boring!” The medical community considers a hemodialysis patient within the nuclear family, medically significant family history. A prognosticator of sorts. I bargained, as if coercing and cajoling her to mindful, conscious eating would camouflage the trail of genetic breadcrumbs and prevent The Fates from connecting the dots, the indisputable carbon polymer linking me to she. So lucky to live in this body, I thought, to really live in this body, to feel its call and live responsively and responsibly. I began eating a ‘boring’ renal diet and avoiding nephrotoxins decades before medical science affixed its diagnosis and prognosis to me and my medical record. My diet is perfect, including everything I desire, excluded nothing I can’t live without. My body is perfect, or as perfect as I can coerce and cajole it to be. I am stable, healthy and planning to summit the highest mountain in the lower-48 in two months. That’s healthy and fit… and not without stuff to manage. “Guess I won’t make it to ninety,” Mom said, “I’ll be the first.” Blessed with good health and longevity, death was always relegated to the far distant future. “It’s unlikely unless you change something. I can coach you on this diet,” I offered. “I don’t want to.” She doesn’t want to, I emailed my sister. I felt sorry for the burden of care Gina would bear, dialysis appointments, doctor visits, and watching Mom’s life-force siphoned away, filtered from her blood in just a few years. “How will you get to dialysis?” I changed tack. “I’ll catch the bus,” her tone sharpened with annoyance. “Mom, you have no idea how bad people feel on dialysis. You won’t like life on dialysis and you sure as hell won’t feel good enough to get on a bus before or after your appointment. They are the walking dead,” I said, refusing to join their ranks, “The listless, the lifeless. I’m a No.” It was several days and conversations to sort myself from my anger and resentment. It’s all about me, my fears, my greatest fear, and my difficulty with the abuse and disregard for one’s body. “There is much automaticity to life,” Bert’s deep, Nordic baritone boomed from the stage. I attended a three-hour workshop entitled, All the World’s a Stage. The discourse concerned roles, our roles in life. “Catch,” he snatched at the air to his left with both hands. “Carry,” he rotated center, holding his imaginary catch chest-high. “Release,” he rotated right, opening his hands to free his prey. “Catch, carry, release,” he repeated the rotation, “Catch, carry, release. We are caught by a role, as if by the throat. We carry and use it for a time, until we stop and are released. Some roles, we never release. You think you are trapped and used by your roles. Consider that you use roles and believe you are victim to them.” Often my life is lived in reaction to fear and threat and I believe I am used by it. Catch. Were I not fearful of hemodialysis, I’d conjure a new demon. Were I not worried for one friend, I’d find another to fret for. Any demon, any fret will do as I carry my role, unwilling to release until a suitable substitute is located. How would life look without victimization to my roles? How would life feel for Mom and I, if I let her live without constant comment and red ink edits? “The thing that makes me so sad,” I confessed the following week, “Is that you still have so much life-force. Dialysis will remove that even as it removes the toxins from your blood. I expressed my sadness and fear as anger. I’m sorry.” “Well… I won’t need dialysis,” she said, “I have faith. God will heal me.” Catch, as if by the throat. I can, with amazing speed, ease and righteousness, point an accusatory finger at the faithful with tarnished relationships and gluttonous flesh. Carry. “If you have faith that God will heal you, you must also recognize that God has given you tools,” I seethed. “God gave you a medical plan, and a pharmacy plan, and a nutrition class, and a kidney class, and you haven’t used the tools that God gave you nor have you honored your body.” I was reminded of a joke circulating the internet in the wake of hurricane Katrina. A man sat on his roof to escape floodwaters. A rescuer came by on horseback and the man refused saying, “I have faith God will save me.” Later rescuers approached by boat and the man turned them away saying, “I have faith God will save me.” Finally, a helicopter hovered and he shunned it shouting, “I have faith God will save me.” Upon arrival at the pearly gates and entrance into Heaven, he asked, “Why didn’t you save me Lord?” And the Lord God said, “I sent a horse, a boat and a helicopter. What were you waiting for?” Does God knock? Are we listening? Do we hear? And if so, do we open the door? In the broad-brush application of stewardship against the grain of life, what is its color and boundary? In recent years, I noticed my friends were all very fit. I have come to know that I have little tolerance for otherwise. Using fitness as the sieve, as inclusionary criteria is a narrow therapeutic window for life with L.B., a very skinny gate to squeeze into my circle of friends. Caught, as if by the throat, in my very own version of us and them, I am no less exclusionary than the religions at which I point. Catch, carry, release. “Maybe I’ll go take that diet class again,” Mom said. “I’ll help you if you want.” Catch. It’s tricky business, asking favors of God. Did not the predeceased beseech and bargain for more? And to what avail? Death is always our next place and may well be our next best place. Carry. I appreciate and desire a peculiar level of impeccability in nearly every aspect life. That broad brush includes both physical and spiritual realms with a degree of congruency between them. Through that lens, I see it is not mine to cajole or coerce. Release. It is mine to sort myself out and return to love, and sort myself out and return to love, and sort myself out and return… always to return. That being said, my garage and many facets of my life are in disarray. Perhaps God-speak can appear quite ordinary, like a medical plan and renal dietician. Largely due to the parable, I often think of stewardship in reference to talents. Stewardship may paint the breadth of extremities, well beyond talents (ancient money) and talents (aptitude and skills), to the stuff and stuffing of life methinks. Stewardship may include honoring one’s body as the temple, not in narcissistic adoration but in gratitude for the gift it is. Stewardship may include tithing to that which brings centered, peaceful and loving coexistence with others. In practical application, this may be as simple as completing home repairs to create workability and thereby peace. Spiritual and relational home repairs bring another level of peace, a rare and recognizable exemplar of faith. Stewardship may include those intangibles like the listening of oneself and others with generosity and grace. Stewardship may include listening for the call of the Eternal in the ordinary. Does God knock? Are we listening? Do we hear? And if so, do we open the door? Perhaps asking for a new kidney is as simple as asking. Catch. I don’t ask because I am fearful of any and all possible answers. Carry. I am leery of all disruptions to my equilibrium and status quo, suspicious of any disturbance to living in the familiar and known. The degree to which I love impeccability reflects my efforts to control the uncertainty of life. Release. Stewardship asks that I honor that within me and be not used by it to separate and segregate. What does any of this have to do with asking for a new bean as my Aunt suggested? Catch. Does stewardship demand that I ask? Carry. Harrumph! Recognizing that my definition of stewardship is yet again another sieve… ah-haaa. Release! Note: before you flood me with notes of concern, re-read the paragraph that begins: So lucky to live in this body… All is well and I am well. And Mom? Well… she is as well as she is, isn’t she? xoxoxo! #

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