Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Getting off my 'but'

My butt ended my radio career.

No, really.  I once got fired from my gig as a morning dj with an obscure (read: run your antenna through your toaster and out the window to hear it) FM Christian station, in the late '80's,

for saying the word  'butt', as in:

"It's 7:05, get your butt outta bed !"

and by lunchtime, I was no longer a morning on-air personality at KNLE-FM -- "The Light of the Hill Country" in Round Rock, Texas.

But I digress...

I've been thinking about "but", in terms of the either/or way of talking.  Consider these two statements and how they feel:

"It's a really difficult time you're going through, but God is with you."

"It's a really difficult time you're going through, and God is with you."  

Is it just me, or does the second one feel different, less trite, less "always look on the bright side of life.. dee doot dee do, de doot dee doot dee doot dee doot do..." ?  (Feel free to whistle along, if you've seen Monty Python's "Life of Brian")

Or how about these two:

"I love you, but you're driving me crazy!!!"

"I love you and you're driving me crazy!!!" 

There's a kind of negating one thing in favor of another that sneaks into those "but" statements, as if the two conditions can't exist together, as if it can't be a really difficult time AND have God present,  or as if it's not possible to love someone who is, at the same time, driving you crazy.

In a previous entry Math Homework and Brown Bag Lunch , I talked about taking a hard look at "the numbers", the cold, hard financial and chronological facts (that's money and age, to the rest of us), and deciding that it was time to live beyond the numbers, to trust that life was more complex and more hopeful than the numbers could ever show me.  And, interestingly, several people who responded to that post saw it as primarily a post about how bad my financial picture was.

I'm wondering if this response comes from a habit of choosing one side or the other of a two-part picture:  either the finances are really bad OR I'm ok.  But what I meant to emphasize in that piece was more like an "AND" statement:  The finances are challenging, particularly in the immediate short term, AND, we will be ok.  (For those folks who want to know the plan: I will be investing some of the life insurance money in myself; going back to school for 2 years to get an MA in Counseling Psychology, and that "investment" will pay off in a soul-satisfying career that will use my gifts and earn a decent living.  The rest will be invested in ways that help provide for my retirement.  No, I will never be rich, AND we won't starve, either. )

Our culture certainly has emphasized binary thinking: Liberal or Conservative, With Us or Against Us, Edward or (what's that Werewolf-character's name?) , Chunky or Smooth, Coke or Pepsi... We've gotten so polarized that we often conflate "the other side" of an argument with "the wrong side" of an argument and those who old opposing viewpoints are assumed to be evil.  After all, if your side is "good" then anything different is "bad", right?

As I look back over the past 18 years, trying to understand my late husband through the lens of his death,  I am realizing the degree to which that the win/lose, either / or way of looking at the world can be a trap, and when you're trapped by that kind of thinking, there are very few options.  For Andre, life was a battle; you either win or die.  For him, sadly, Jesus' message of "whoever loses his life will gain it" made no sense at all.  The mystery of Christ's incarnation: fully God AND fully man, Savior of the world AND helpless babe sleeping in a cow's dinner dish,  was simply impossible to even contemplate.  I wonder, if he had been able to unlock that part of his mind that was stuck in either/or thinking, would he have been able to quiet his inner demons?  Would he have been able to see the world as a less threatening place, to see his kids not as either angels nor devils, but as kids? Would he have been able to see that admitting he needed help was not defeat?

As the kids and I work on healing from Andre's death, it occurs to me that we won't heal by sitting on our 'but's. We're going to have to become conscious of and consciously change the way we think and talk about reality.

"I don't understand why God let this happen, but I trust that there is a plan."  will not be as helpful as a statement that puts an "and" in place of the "but".

I don't understand why God let this happen AND I trust that there is a plan.

(AND, sometimes I'm so mad at God,  I could spit.)

Perhaps this part of the journey will be about walking with my arms full: holding in tension the scary and the hopeful, the horrific and the cathartic, the sweet and the sad.

I hope I don't stumble and land on my butt.


  1. I am in awe of my daughter...for her courage in posting, talent in perceptive writing, and her ability to reach out and touch the reader. And,of course, for her delightful, singy humor.

  2. I love this Val, and you, bonne chance!! :))

  3. Great post, Val.

    And, of course you're going to land on your butt :). We all do...that's what makes us human. Just be assured that you're landing in the muck with all of us who are slipping and sliding through this life. And we'll all be here to help you (as you have helped us, and we all help each other) get back up and try again.

    Thank goodness that God has a great sense of humor. AND that God is breathing life back into our souls each time we get the wind knocked out of us.

    Thank you for writing, Val.....you are a gift.