Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Four Questions: Question Number Four

Last week I told you about the questions Ellie Kay had posed to a listserve of professional writers. I asked her if I could put these questions on my blog and answer them (we're limited to 250 words word limit here...) It was within the context of writing, but you don’t have to be a writer to answer questions like these. Life is all about relationships and the relationships you’ve had to shape you. It is about your response/reactions to the people who have been in your life, whether negative or positive. Mostly, these questions focus on the positive reactions/relationships.

So, I'm starting with #4 (yes, I'm backwards)--the question dealing with those who get to you because of their negative response or infliction to you. The question is:

4. Who packs your lunch? Meaning, what kind of personality (no names, please) bullies you and how do you overcome their taunts?

The worst lunch packer is the kind of person who criticizes me falsely or without authority and self-righteously attacks me. It is an attack on the person, not the writing or act with the intention of bringing me down, not to be helpful or bring me to a better place. And I'm sure you have had these people in your life, too.

Being attacked personally is always bloody and ugly, and usually means they don’t know how else to bring you down, plus, they really do not care for you, just wanting to be "right." It usually starts with a self-righteous or self-absorbed reaction to you and is followed by a hateful response to you. Self-righteousness starts out with criticism and is all about the criticizer, not in helping you. The most famous example for me is Joseph and his brothers. It is based in jealousies.

I try to be helpful and have put information out on writers' lists. On one occasion someone, not in authority to me or on the list, wrote to me privately after a post to chastise me for saying something I didn't say and didn't even remotely mean. She slapped my hand and said, "Bad Crystal. You should be ashamed of yourself." When I wrote back to say that what she assessed as my "sin" wasn't even close(and I did check with those in authority first,without using her name, to make sure I didn't commit what she inferred, before replying back.) She still insisted that this was my "sin" and that's the way it was and for me to discontinue posting on the list.

First of all, it wasn't her place to correct me, even if I had transgressed. Second of all, she took a position, not of humble-please-rethink-what-you're-saying, but with extreme disrespect and an attitude of hate, to elevate herself, and bring someone else down. Then, when I explained to her what she had mistaken, she was defensive and self-righteous and still "right." She never apologized for having said horrible things to me. Mostly, I try and avoid this kind of person, but it's not always possible. I forgave her and avoided her from then on. I knew I would never change her heart and mind with my own words. Sometimes you have to just let God fight that battle.

I think my aversion and sensitivity of this kind of a bully goes back to before I was even born. Here is my story of why this kind of person stands out to me most, and how I've learned to overcome this kind of personality.

You would've had to have known my mother, but take my word for it--she was a great lady: kind and humble, humorous, but quiet, forgiving and gracious, strong will of iron-backbone, but godly and always a hostess, trying to make the other person comfortable. She loved deeply and loyally. She was a person shaped by fires of persecution--physical, mental and spiritual trials.

When she was five-years-old, my mother's mother died of tuberculosis. On her sixth birthday not long after her mother's death, she came to the breakfast table, fully expecting that her older, teenaged half-sisters would continue the tradition of celebrating birthdays as special. Her mother always gave the birthday person a special day and a breakfast of choice, giving a crown and making the child king or queen of the day. Each one looked forward to the treatment. Her older sisters, however, not sensitive to a small child's hurts and confusion, and a bit jealous, self-absorbed and self-righteous, too, and maybe just a bit resentful to have to take care of the little ones newly-found-motherless status, barked at her, "Get up and get your own breakfast! You aren't going to be babied from now on. Today you've grown up." And so it was. She worked as hard as an adult from that moment on and never got to be a child.

When she turned 18 and graduated from high school, she went to live with some of these same sisters who had moved to Indiana. They told her she could get a job there and live with them.(I suspect they were hoping to help them with their own children...) Since she lived near the Lake of the Woods in Minnesota on a remote farm, this sounded like the perfect opportunity to get away from the lonely existence and be with young people her own age. Plus, she'd have a job, since she was unable to afford college. She got a job in a hospital nursery as a nurse's aide, a job she often reflected on with fondness in the telling years later to us.(Loved babies and longed to be married and to have her own.) But hospital jobs required working on Saturday, her "sabbath day," which according to her religion was an "acceptable" job to have.

Back in those days, even the aides wore full nursing uniforms (nurse's aide uniforms) and she had to wear runner-less white stockings, the kind with garters. On her way to work one Saturday morning, she noticed a runner, and popped into the five-and-dime store to buy a runner-less pair before her shift. Of course, it was "forbidden" by her religion to make purchases from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, but also, it was a matter of conscience, and there were exceptions. But "someone" saw her going into the store and immediately reported her to the pastor and the board of her church. She was sent a letter of excommunication immediately, and not even given a "trial." No one spoke to her, asked her "why" she was in the store. She was judged, thrown into a pit of ostracism and forgotten about. She was labeled rebellious and shameful.

For 40 years after that she still prayed for those in her family faithfully, endured her own near death with tuberculosis, faithfully taught her two miracle children about her religion and Jesus. The God we were taught about was One of forgiveness and grace. She instilled in both of us a respect of authority and the church. And she forgave freely. We saw it demonstrated in our lives constantly. She sent us to the church's day school,(I got five years; my brother only had two) and though we were treated by both her family and the church as "black sheep" and outsiders, she never defended herself or tried to contest the excommunication. Of course, she was not allowed to participate in her church's ceremonies, in communion or other rituals,but she could "be there," and press her nose to the glass. She endured much.

I am not sure when I realized how wrong it all was. I absorbed the Bible stories and prayed and longed to "belong." I prayed to God to please allow me to be a missionary and to be "wise" in scriptures and be a part of it all. I learned all the stories of how Jesus corrected the Pharisees, never realizing I was dealing with these same type of people in my own life. I learned very young that there was something "wrong" about me and my family, and that I just didn't belong. And as far as I knew, I was being as "good" as I possibly could, and I loved Jesus and accepted Him with my whole heart. Because of my mother's love, I knew Jesus accepted me just the way I was, even if her family didn't want to have anything to do with me. Plus, I looked more like my father than my mother's family, (except for my light coloring,) so that made me more of an outsider to them. I heard their criticism and even my cousins would tell me I was not "good enough." (They didn't accept my dad until after they'd been married 45 years, so as far as I was concerned, I was as "lost" as he and his family were, being not in the "right" religion.)

My mother had already outlived all predictions of her death time after time. She had only one lobe of one lung since her early 30s because of the horrible lung surgeries she endured. She survived birthing my brother, even though they wanted to abort him (back in those days a doctor could order an abortion in the event the mother could not survive the pregnancy--she refused.) She had survived many things in her marriage and also the ostracism of her own spiritual community and family. The doctors were amazed at her willfulness and strength, and the things she was able to do by sheer determination. But she was finally winding down. Because of a lack of oxygen, she was sleeping most of the time. Death was hanging on her shoulder and her breathing was painful and shallow.

The week that she died, she showed me a letter she had received from the person in charge of the Great Lakes division of "her" church. Ironically, she had agreed to attend church with me and my family the very next Sunday. She was quite pleased with the letter, though she didn't say so outright. She tucked that letter away,smiling, and I never saw it again, even though I went through all of her things to try to find it. I always thought she had done as always--forgiven and had thrown the letter away in a gesture of that forgiveness.

In the letter was a full apology for how she had been treated. He stated that the excommunication was wrong and ill-informed, and handled entirely in the wrong way according to Christian principles and their church authority. He sorrowed about all the lost years, but said if she would have them that not only was she granted full fellowship in the church, but he hoped that she would forgive them. They would be honored to have her. Little did he know that she had long ago forgiven the very people who started the whole process--people probably whom she trusted and was close to.

I don't think that she ever replied to him, but relayed her pleasure to her younger brother(the only one of 10 kids who was younger than she was and she was close to him, though he had lived most of his life as a missionary away in foreign countries.) She knew it was him who had told her story to the person in charge of her district--it was her own little brother who was then also in authority in the very same church. After she got the letter, she died a few days later because all had been made right. God had defended her against the self-righteous and Pharisee-like attitudes at last.

She died peacefully on April 12, 1997 in her chair after a long Sabbath-afternoon conversation on the phone with that brother. For many years my favorite story in the Bible was of Joseph. It wasn't until after my mother's death that I realized my mother was a modern-day Joseph. When you have an example like that, it is easy to visualize Joseph's forgiveness in the words from Genesis 50:20:

"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." (NIV)

My mother's attitude in this life-long persecution and bullying, showed me how bullies and their taunts to bring me down cannot stand in heaven. While they may get away with it for the moment, God is working. Many people gave their lives to God, I know, because of my mother's attitudes of graciousness and forgiveness. She never ran away or shut herself off from the very people who shunned her or treated her badly. And she prayed earnestly for those people every day.

So bullies like that win for a day, but God and His justice and forgiveness wins in the end.


Delia said...

Your mother sounds very much like a woman to be admired and honored. Which you've done well with this post. It's easy to see how you love her and how proud you are of the woman that she was.

Sheryl said...

What a powerful post. Your mom is a wonderful example for us all.

Somehow, it seems to be much easier to dwell on those who have hurt us and blame them for what has happened (or not happened) in our lives.

The truth is, while we have no control over how people treat us, we do have a choice how to respond.

Your mom chose the path of Christ :-)


Camy Tang said...

WOW what a terrific story! Your mother was wonderful! I don't think I could have forgiven as she had.

You have a lot more grace than I would have given that person who emailed you.