Monday, August 21, 2006

My ugly collection

I have an ugly collection, and I'm guessing I'm not the only one.

I collect hurtful comments that others have given me.

Unlike other ugly collections, such as troll dolls and farmer's caps, my collection isn't hidden away on a rec room shelf.

I carry it with me everywhere.

There's the "All you ever do is take, take, take" comment that still makes it difficult to ask friends for help when I need it, the "I'd like to give your kids a good spanking" comments that make me nervous about parenting in public, and the "You dress like a man/clown/slut/lesbian/pregnant lady" (not all at the same time, of course) comments that sent me into the junior high washroom weeping and give me butterflies about wearing new clothes to this very day.

Why would I want to carry around such ugly souvenirs? I'm not sure, but for whatever reason, it takes guts to let them go.

The Bible says "Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about what happens to you" (1 Peter 5:7).

Since I began experiencing God he has removed a few pieces from my collection. I remember being criticized after singing in the front of the church. Years later I asked Jesus to show me where he was in that moment. (I knew he was there somewhere, because he promised in Hebrews 13:5 that he would never leave me.) God gave me a picture of Jesus at the back of the church grinning as he gave me a standing ovation. Now instead of the sting of criticism, that memory has a glow.

Now that's something worth collecting.


Blogging feels a little like that dream where you're standing in front of the class in your underwear. Except you can't tell who's looking at you.

As a journalist I try to picture my "typical reader" and write as if I'm talking directly to him or her. When I write for Christian Week that reader is the average hardworking, family-oriented churchgoer, curious about what's happening in other local churches and charities.

Who should I picture when writing a blog?

Anyone from my boss to my mother to the prankster who stuck maxi pads to my grade 8 locker door can read this. (btw If you are reading this, confession can be very freeing.)

And I'm not writing about a soup kitchen or worship movement, I'm spilling my own guts. This takes a lot of soul searching. Am I being honest about my shortcomings? (If I'm not my friends will be honest for me in the comments they post!) On the other hand, am I extending myself the same grace that I would if I was writing about someone else? And am I sharing things that will encourage those who read it or am I just making myself vulnerable for the fun of it?

I'm not so narcissistic as to think anyone other than my close friends WILL read my blog, but it's possible that just about anybody could.

My mask is off. What will they see?

Friday, August 18, 2006

The good news is I'm in a book. The bad news is I'm reliving it.

As a teenager I had three genetic tests to make sure I would not give my children fragile X syndrome, the mental disability my brothers have. To have the "normal" family of my dreams.

The tests showed I didn't carry fragile X. So God gave me a son with Aspergers instead. Isn't it ironic? (And yes, Alanis Morissette, it did rain on my wedding day!)

Today my kids and I biked to the drugstore postal outlet to pick up my book. Well, actually the whole book isn't mine, just pages 268-271. My essay, "Growing Up Unique: an only sibling of 2 fragile X affected boys discovers she's normal" was published in X Stories: The Personal Side of fragile X syndrome.

My essay describes the loneliness, confusion and pressure I experienced growing up with disabled brothers, and how their meltdowns embarrassed me.

As we were waiting in line behind an elderly couple with the wrong postal codes, K. had a meltdown.

I had to hold him in my arms with his legs around my waist to stop him from rolling on the floor kicking the woman behind me. And he was making a lot of noise. (I would have taken him to the car, but we came on bike.)

Meanwhile 4 year old G. was peeling stickers and sticking them onto a greeting card but my third and fourth arms (!) were too tired to stop her. I offered to pay for the card but was informed I'd have to wait in another line-up.

No one in the building wanted me to do that.

I felt the customers' judgmental stares. People can't see K. has a disability so I'm sure they thought I was incompetent. Or worse.

I was mortified. And it felt like deja vu.

Some days I think my experience as a sister made me a more compassionate parent for K. Other days my life feels like a cruel joke. Today I have no answers.

No wise words about God. No great doings for God. Today I just want to climb onto God's lap, like the drawing in one of my children's bedtime stories.

I'm proud of my brothers and I love my kids, but right now I want to go hide under a quilt.

Maybe I'll bring my book.

Monday, August 14, 2006

digging deeper

I have a Masters degree in B.S.

I suspect whoever named the program "Biblical Studies" had a wicked sense of humour.

Why not "Biblical Literature and Theology" (BLT)? (Athough people might assume we're crusty.) Or "Biblical Origins of Factual Faith Orthodoxy" (BOFFO)?

At least they didn't call it "Biblical Ministry."

While I admit I did my share of "shovelling" to bring term papers up to word length, B.S. is a completely inaccurate title for what I discovered.

I learned that the Bible is a collection of poems, letters and stories written in three languages by hundreds of people (all of them messed up humans like me) over thousands of years in several different nations. Yet they're all about the same God, a God unlike any found in other ancient religious writings.

One of the most interesting things I studied was Ugaritic, the language of Baal stories found at an archaeological dig in Ras Shamra, Syria. In Baal religion, the gods were selfish, horny, and pretty whimpy. Baal worshippers had to perform annual parades, multiple sacrifices and sexual rituals in hopes that Baal would be able to keep all of creation from falling apart.

Not that Baal cared either way. People were just his pawns. He would never sacrifice anything for his creatures.

The God of the Bible created people for the sole purpose of loving them and sacrificed his own Son to save them. Makes me think the Bible was created by someone and about someone with a little more imagination than the rest of us.

I know I will never "master" the Bible, but that kind of God makes me want to keep digging.

The view from the bathroom floor

Last night K. got sick all over the bathroom floor and the OUTSIDE of the toilet.

And I didn't really mind.

As a parent of a child who is neurologically wired differently, I have so many unusual challenges that it's nice to have a normal one for a change.

Every mother can relate to wading ankle deep through bodily fluids at all hours of the night. I don't get as many "I know what you mean" chuckles when I talk about how K. tried to tip his bunk-bed because he was frustrated that the edge of his worksheet was curling off the table.

Another parent of a challenging child I interviewed for my Christian Week (Manitoba edition) Health and Heart column told me, "God gave us the children we have for a reason and we are stronger for it."

I confess, most days I feel anything BUT strong. My prayers consist of "Help me!" and "If it's like this now, God, how will we manage when he's a teenager?"

But then I remember how the Old Ange would make sure all her candle-holders were equidistant before company came. She would never have been able to laugh at a pond of puke.

And I realize, "Maybe I'm stronger than I thought."

Sunday, August 13, 2006

My Little Professor

My son was born 7 years ago today. Following 24 hours of painful back labour, when K. Schellenberg entered the world he was facing an unusual direction.

He still is.

In Kindergarten, when other children were bringing toy trucks for Show and Tell, K. brought diagrams of the digestive system. (He was dying to share his joy about discovering the function of the villi in the small intestine.) When his classmates walked single file to music class, K. swung his arms like windmills while singing at the top of his lungs. On a good day. On bad days he'd run out the front door and as far down the street as he could get.

We suspected Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), but that didn't quite cover it. This spring, at the end of grade one, a psychiatrist diagnosed him with Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), a mild social skills delay on the Autism Spectrum. But he suspects in a couple years it will become clear that K. had Aspergers (another step on the Autism Spectrum).

Kids with Aspergers are sometimes called "Little Professors." They tend to fixate on an area of interest till they become articulate and engaging walking encyclopedias on the topic. When he was 5, K. would stop our neighbours on the sidewalk to explain how the chloroplasts in their flowers' leaves made glucose. No joke. That was his "photosynthesis phase." He's since moved on to physics. This week, when I asked him to tell me his favorite things, he answered, "friction."

Which means, while raising a son with social challenges wasn't the direction I expected, life is never dull.

And I know I don't face it alone.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

What's so new about Ange?

What's so new about Ange?

The old Ange would panic when the tank approached E because she was too shy to tell the attendant "fill er up."

The old Ange would cry on her way home from every party because she was sure she said something stupid.

It sucked to be the old Ange.

The New Ange earned her name when she started really saying stupid things and being the first to laugh at them. Instead of being afraid of bad things happening, they were really happening (like her husband being laid off) but she faced them with a confidence and peace she'd never had before.

The New Ange wasn't too shy to preach a sermon to a church of 300 people she didn't know or to tell her life story on TV.

The reasons for the sorry state of Old Ange are many and I'm sure some of them will show in future posts.

The rebirth of the New Ange is all about God.

A friend recommended I go to a prayer meeting. I grew up in the church and earned a Seminary degree so I knew all about prayer meetings. But this wasn't your usual "Bless my hamster and fix Granny's ingrown toenail" kind of prayer meeting. The woman praying for me actually asked Jesus to do the talking and Jesus actually did. It blew my little religion of "believe-this" and "do-that" checklists right out of the water. (Good thing, because it was starting to get soggy.)

What I'd heard all my life finally made sense: Christianity isn't just a religion, it's a relationship with a living, loving, personal God. The God who speaks. Experiencing his voice, his presence with me is what gives me the power to speak up and risk rejection or conflict. Jesus offers my spirit joy and confidence.

And to that I say: "fill 'er up!"