Monday, November 9, 2015

Good Grief

"This isn't happening," was all my mind was capable of with my phone pressed to my ear, trying to make sense of the words. Ryan held my hand as we drove home as fast as we could, both of us crying intermittently. 

We moved in slow motion across the dark road into the circle of lights from the police cars and the cars of the kind strangers who had stopped and stayed until we arrived. They shone on him as he lay beside the road, my beautiful Alex. 

"Dear God, don't let his head be smashed," had been the only thought in my stuck brain as we drove. Mercifully, his body was perfect. Even his slender, iron-muscled legs were only bent in the familiar position of him asleep. He was still warm and his fur so luxurious and soft. 

I tried to pick him up, but he was too heavy. Ryan gathered him, so oddly limp, into his arms and laid him in the back seat of the car. We took our boy home. 

We lay him on a sheet on the living room floor and sat on either side, crying until our noses ran. We stroked and stroked him, trying to memorize him with our hands, occasionally laughing with tears dripping when we remembered his conquests and idiosyncrasies. We were shameless in our grief over "just a dog", because there was no way around it. He was a big part of our little family. 

He was the dependable one, the one who let us know if there was something outside that needed our attention. While we lived on the prairie, I felt perfectly safe in our yard after dark because he'd calmly, fearlessly moved the cougar off while we watched, a bit disbelieving because we would have never known it was sitting in the dark at the edge of the yard had it not been for Alex's sharp nose and protective instincts. He got me running again, while recovering from a CFS low. He just knew what was needed, pulling steadily and gently on the leash so I could coast when I wasn't sure I could keep on. And he held his head so nobly and utterly glowed with pride when I thanked and praised him. He was the dog I'd dreamed of having, a dignified, loyal, intelligent partner who was almost an extension of myself. He'd been a rock for all of us, and we all depended on him. Ryan, Aliyah, and me.

And now he is gone. 

We buried him the next day under the trees at the edge of the yard. His rope toy we'd spent hours fetching, trying to outwit each other in tug-of-war, and leaping on command to pull from our hands while carefully missing our fingers with his impressive canines was tucked between his front paws. The bone he had been working on gnawing lay beside him. Those had been His Things; Aliyah had very little interest in either. And he'd been so proud of them, quietly storing them in a safe spot if other dogs came to play. 

He'd been the dog we imagined having until he was too old to move, the dog we imagined being the loyal companion and protector of our child. He was so much, and in a second he was gone. "Death is just messed UP," Ryan said. 

Friends who loved him cried with us and patted him for the last time before we closed the box. Ryan and I lowered it into the hole Ryan had dug, and Ryan told me I should be the first to shovel dirt onto the board he'd cut to fit over the box. Elaine carefully spread a handful over evergreens over the first layer of dirt. "Life is everlasting," she said. Zac and Miriam took turns helping us fill the dirt to a mound. Aliyah whimpered and cried, too. 

And you know what? It never occurred to me that we were being too sentimental. I never felt ashamed for being too emotional. We only acted out of the loss we felt, and treated his body with the dignity his noble self demanded. 

When Ryan hugged me and whispered that I was the best owner Alex could have had, and that I'd invested and helped him develop into all he could have been, it's when I started to feel that honest grief is good. 

It's cleansing. It forms in me a new resolve to love unabashedly. I have no regrets about how I raised Alex. The only thing that haunts us is that we thought the newly-rebuilt fence around our yard was impervious to Alex's intelligence and underestimated his adventurous bent. We simply underestimated him, as often happened in other areas. 

We're so glad we'd taken the time to visit the dog park to let the dogs run in a big space off-leash the day before, trying to help ease the adjustment from freely-adventuring country dogs to play-in-the-yard and walk-on-leash town dogs. It hadn't been the most convenient evening to take them, but we made it work because Alex was restless. The evening the four of us spent tearing around happily is good to remember. Alex's eyes were bright with the freedom of exploring every corner of a new place, and he and Aliyah ran and ran, reading each other's maneuvers perfectly. We're so glad we gave them that evening, not knowing it was the last evening we'd spend together. 

This is why grief is good for me: I tend to hold myself back from engaging with all my heart. A bit of emotional distance makes me feel loftier and more superior than the me that goes all in without apology. You know what? Grief teaches me that I don't care about being above caring too much. It reminds me that what I have today is all I have, and I cheat myself if I don't engage it completely. 

Grief, even over a dog, is good. Because of it, I'm making today matter. Doing the inconvenient to love those I have. Making memorable things happen. Taking pictures of happy moments. And engaging without reservation or embarrassment over big emotions. Now is precious. Now is all we have. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

On Community and Parenting

"We are better together," as Gungor sings. It's beyond true.

In the past week, I've been tucked even more securely into my wildly beautiful community. The flu knocked me down, and friends brought food to our house. It didn't even bother me that they saw me languishing on the couch in significantly oversized PJ's (who wants to wear clothes that fit when Baby is bouncing about on a roiling stomach?) with a days-old bed head. I'm rather obsessive about at least appearing moderately put-together, and the fact that it didn't even bother me made me realize. These Kansas people have become My People. 

I had prayed that I could find more friends who are new moms. The joys and pains of pregnancy have had me keenly missing my Old Friends, the ones who have known me in other eras. I feel very well-connected here, but there's something about your very body changing that makes you ache for familiar people. Plus, most of those old friends are already parents. They've been making me laugh and sharing their pregnant (in every application of the word) advice via other modes of communication and cheering me on from a distance, but I knew I needed mom friends here. And, as if in answer, women who aren't necessarily in my usual social paths have just made themselves at home in my life. They're so uncannily similar to me in life experiences, personality, and parenting philosophy that conversation requires zero explaining. You know, the sort of friendships that usually develop over years and years. They love being moms, know their giftings, and pursue health for themselves in order to parent well. I really need to be present with these sort of women in order to visualize what my ideals look like in practice for myself. And here they are, going out of their way to share life with me. It's astounding and wonderful.

The most terrifying prospect of parenting is my own brokenness. My own inherent flaws are many and formidable, and topped off with the ways I've been hurt and abused. Knowing I will be one of the two most formative people in this already-energetic little one's life makes me question whether I am truly healed of the things I can tend to forget even happened, and how they will affect our precious baby. So, it's really beautiful to me, such a tangible reminder that redemption always overflows into a wealth we could have never imagined, that a new friend whom I already greatly admire connected with me precisely because we've experienced similar adversities. As she said, "The devil meant to ruin us for community." But you know what? Redeemed people, people who have found their way through darkness toward light and health... They make the most incredible village. This is the story of my best friends, old and new. They're honest, unpretentious, and live out of a self-acceptance that liberates those around them. So, like everything else intended for evil, it backfires into even better than good. 

I'm grateful for my community, near and far. Baby is already surrounded with people who love and give and pray for good things. It keeps becoming more true: I know the best people. And knowing I will parent with the support of many great people gives me confidence that I won't be a horrible mum. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

About Plexus, and Why I Don't

The times I've received messages on Facebook that begin "I've noticed you post sometimes about struggling with CFS" and go on to tell me the sender is an advocate for Plexus are plentiful. So much so, that Ryan had a brilliant idea when I was agonizing over yet another reply: I made a form response and saved it to my computer so I have only to copy and paste when another one arrives, not agonize yet again over how to be honest without hurting people's feelings... How to lay aside what can feel like anger at having to defend and explain my life choices and not come across as defensive or ungrateful that people care.

I am absolutely sure, my dear Plexus friends, that you care about me and my health. But please remember, your enthusiastic recommendations can feel an awful lot like product-pushing with a side of guilt at declining because you ARE my friends. Please keep in mind that people like me who live with chronic illness are constantly accosted by people and ads who claim they can fix us, all the while figuring out how to manage our symptoms and what works for us is an intensely personal battle we're already fighting. I know you're not meaning to be insensitive, truly. But market models that turn one's friends into ad men are exhausting. They can turn even the safety of one's friendships into places of even more intensity than an internet full of ads. I know you're not trying to guilt-trip me into trying Plexus every time you ask about my health, but it feels that way sometimes. 

I just need space to keep figuring out my own journey to health in the ways that are best for my body.

I confess, because of a year of navigating the supplement world and realizing it doesn't have much to offer me, when I heard about Plexus, I didn't give it serious consideration. Because rebuilding my body after an initial CFS crash as severe as I had is a long, slow progress. Anything that claims to be a cure-all doesn't land in my Serious Thought file because it's simply not how health works for me. Yes, sometimes this way is daunting because it's slow progress. But I absolutely am making progress. My body is stronger and I enjoy life more. As the last-weekend-in-January anniversary of my initial crash passes every year, I'm amazed at how much more fun life is than the previous year. 

But here's why I still miss social functions sometimes, can be energetic one day and absent the next, or cancel plans unexpectedly: CFS is a lifelong thing. I'll never again be able to do as much as I want to do. And it's not just the energy levels (or maybe "exhaustion levels" would be more accurate) I have to manage. CFS is a similar condition to Fibromyalgia, and sometimes whole weeks consist of operating under the blur of constant pain. You know how it feels when you stub your toe? That tingling pain? Sometimes, for days on end, it feels like I stubbed my entire body. And pain wears my body out, so the cycle starts again. During those long, dark weeks, it's hard to enjoy anything at all because everything takes massive effort. Even fun stuff. Which makes me mad because I liiiiiike to do fun stuff. (And Ryan says, "I know, but you need to know when to stop." He's the perfect guy for me. Amen.)

And nothing helps except rest and good nutrition. Which, after my nutritionist confirmed my hunch, is why I'm not signing up for Plexus or much of anything else. 

Things like Plexus can mask symptoms and keep my body from telling me what it needs. Pain? I need to rest more, even if that's not what I feel like doing or what our achieving culture expects from me. Weakness? I need more fat, protein, and probiotics in my diet. If my symptoms are suppressed by things containing the sorts of stimulants Plexus offers, I could be wearing out my body at an incredible rate and not know it. And spend a solid month in bed, helpless, as a result. I've been there once. It was unspeakable. I rely on my body to tell me what it needs, and (try to) listen to it vigilantly so I don't have a repeat crash. And so far, so good. I haven't had a true crash since my initial one, two years ago. Not nearly everyone is that lucky. 

The other thing that made me suspicious Plexus wouldn't be a good fit for me is the it comes in a drink powder form. Anything processed spells bad news for me. I can feel it as soon as I eat it, and today I'm in pjs on the couch because I caved and ate cookies containing white flour yesterday. I justify things sometimes, but I pay for them. 

As my nutritionist said, nutrients in simple (processed, powdered, or pill) forms don't build a strong body. Nutrients from food have to go through a complex set of pathways to be usable to your body. If nutrients are presented in simple forms, your body uses them instead because it's easier, bypassing the nutrient pathways. If they're unused, the pathways deteriorate, and your body is even less able to effectively use food beneficially. I got CFS because I wore my body almost completely out. I'm trying to rebuild it, so that means training it to use food well, and trying to eat whole foods that nourish me. Basically, food as medicine. My body feels restful and whole when I've eaten well, and I'd rather put money into good nutrition and organic food than into something that only makes it possible for me to wear my body out again. 

I do take a few supplements. My nutritionist said there are three nutrients that are hard for anyone to get a sufficient amount of via diet: Vitamin B-12, Vitamin D, and magnesium. For someone like me, those deficiencies show up a lot faster because my body has fewer reserves. Taking B-12 in the morning makes a massive difference in how much I'm capable of, after a night of not eating or drinking my trusty ionized Kangen water. With good food, good water, and those few supplements, I'm learning how to live so that I can enjoy the things I care most about. 

A side caution on Plexus or any other supplement: companies can label their products as "natural" if the substance is one that occurs naturally. This does not mean that the nutrients in the product are naturally sourced. Unless the sources are listed or the product is labeled "naturally-sourced" (which a shocking amount of "natural" products are not), the things you're eating or drinking can be as synthetic as they please. 

If Plexus is working well for you, please don't hear this as judgment of any sort. But here's why my nutritionist recommended I not try it: 

"I would definitely not recommend Plexus. It seems to primarily be promoted as a weight loss product with many people taking it for energy. It does not supply the basic nutrients that most people are deficient in. This product should not be used in place of a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement. I am concerned about the high levels of chromium, which may be fine till someone's levels are restored but then after that could create a toxic burden. I am also concerned about the Garcinia and the Hoodia which are metabolic stimulants. stimulants are okay for some people but when your are depleted and you whip your body with stimulants there is potential for harm. Weight loss / metabolic stimulant products are responsible for almost all significant harm caused by nutritional supplements. Unfortunately, even Red Bull is classed as a nutritional supplement."

And as far as anything the promises a cure goes, I'm made peace with not shooting for a cure. CFS and other chronic illnesses aren't cure-able. I have by no means given up on life or health, but making peace with the fact that it's here to stay gives me my own permission to make life changes I need to in order to live with it. I can't watch or do things that makes me tense for too long. I cut another day of work because having to be places at particular times and perform whether or not I feel well is grueling. In other words, I'm learning self care for the first time in my life. 

From me and others who deal with chronic illness and navigate the "cure" craze, thank you for respecting our decisions and respecting that we do know what's best for our bodies.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

About That Race Thing

We went to a museum on our honeymoon. If that earns us serious geek status, so be it. Another guest at our bed & breakfast told us we absolutely must visit the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and marvel at the massive dinosaur skeletons. And marvel we did. Few things remind a person that our species is a tiny part of Creation like peering up at an ancient creature whose femur is nearly your height. 

Nearly every exhibit had that effect on us.  

Not the least of such, an exhibit on race. We consider ourselves fairly aware of racial realities and decently adept at navigating discussions on their complexities, but seeing stacks of actual money marking the drastic disparity between white and black earnings and hearing videos of young people talk about how they're perceived and treated as minorities was deeply humbling. Particularly powerful was a wall of portraits, a section from the '60's and a current section, with quotes from that person, describing how they felt they were treated as a person of color. 

Perhaps the most formative, humbling aspect was this: 

For once, we were the ones who didn't know. The ones who needed to listen and to be taught. 

For a Caucasian, even one like me with a culturally diverse family, a diverse friend group, and experience living in a neighborhood with a vast majority of African-American and Latino ethnicities and being a minority myself, that not-knowing smallness is terrifying. Like it or not, aware of or blind to it, we're home in a culture that has given us countless preferences since its very birth. That shapes us. Makes us blind to ourselves and to those whose experience in our shared culture is unlike our own. 

Humility, for us, is being aware that we're shaped into blindness and lack of empathy. It's being aware that even our motivations for correcting the existing and historic injustices can be rooted in supremacy. We still need to be the right ones. The ones who know. The saviors. Unless we make peace with the realization that we see ourselves as supremacists, exemptions, favorites, and inherently privileged in ways we are completely blind to, we're going to keep acting out of that paradigm. We're going to keep treating other humans with a lack of respect. We're going to keep extolling Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, now that they're safely in their graves and not challenging our assumption that our perceptions are The Way Things Are and that people that challenge our normalcies are overreacting to trivial things and should just "keep peace" by not insisting that we listen to what it's like to be them. I see our reactions to the protests and the mounting evidence that the protesters are indeed telling the truth about what it's like to be them and wonder why we are so afraid. I wonder if admitting that they may be right about something like their very own stories is so frightening to us because it means we Don't Know. And we're so used to being at the top of everything that we don't even realize it.

We need to be intentional about reshaping our assumptions, developing our awareness, and dismantling our paradigms. No person can reshape themselves, and unless we humble ourselves into the posture of learning from those whose stories are different from ours, we will continue being defensive... And staying in the patterns that put us on the oppressor side of oppression. 

Be aware, there is no neutral position to be had. Our reactions to the ongoing protests in our nation will go down in history as the reactions to the Freedom Riders and the march on Washington. There were plenty of good Christian whites who, some violently and some passively, opposed in the name of "keeping the peace". But peace that is merely a preservation of a deeply broken cultural equilibrium is not a peace at all. Is our chapter of the Church's legacy going to read like too many of the ones before it, a frustrating and frankly embarrassing lack of empathy and basic belief that God loves us all equally and cares about how we treat each other? 

How are we to become, individually, and as communities, the sorts of people who can enact change and embody justice by how we treat each other on a very daily basis? We put ourselves in the position of learning. Read the books of African-American authors. There are many, but they're not the ones most easily accessible. Because, remember? We live in a culture that tells us without words that we're the most intelligent. Start with Frederick Douglass and keep discovering. Take a class from an African-American professor. Support and learn from organizations like Blood:Water that, instead of, through pictures and rhetoric, portray the people of Africa as simpletons in need of your white money and white savior complex, say, "The people of Africa are creative, intelligent, and tenacious. They aren't lacking in intelligence; they're lacking in tools. You can help us provide them with the tools to help them rebuild their communities' health and resources." (-Dan Haseltine) Wander outside the boundaries of the social circles handed to you, become friends with people who do not share your ethnicity and version of reality. And in everything you hear, above all, do them the dignity of believing them. You'll start to change, to see yourself as equal, as friends, as co-workers in bringing the Kingdom of Jesus, with its kindness and justice, to our neighborhoods and cities.

Oh, and listen to this interview Relevant did with Christian hiphop artist, Propaganda. Prop is incredibly deep, wise, and honest in an unreactive manner I have much to learn from. He talks from experience about what it feels like to be told that your version of the reality of something as personal as your own life isn't valid. Isn't true. 

This lack of empathy and humility, I believe, isn't who we want to be. It's certainly not who we were created to be. Let's be brave and humble enough to listen to those who are brave enough to talk about what it's like to be them. Let's start walking in the path of a peace that doesn't rely on the preservation of our sense of superiority. And then see what canyons and rifts God has been preparing you to bridge. 

"Peace is a path that comes into being as we walk in it."

Saturday, November 8, 2014

About prayer

[these Kansas evenings]

The soul needs ritual and practice in order to grow and deepen. I'm learning this. Slowly, as common prayer becomes habit, the reflexes of my being are turning toward God like the muscles of my hands can now tamp espresso without conscious thought.

A few mornings ago was one that I thought might be a bad dream. Nothing horrific, just everything Not Working, one on top of the other. Frustration rising, suddenly part of the usual morning prayer (which I hadn't prayed that morning because oversleeping and hurrying) came to me:

O Lord, let my soul rise up to meet you
as the day rises to meet the sun.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.

And suddenly I was patient and restful. And could be present with customers. I hadn't consciously thought, "I should pray." It was just there. Part of the fabric, woven into other days before this one. And I don't know about you, but my prayers (if I think of praying) when I'm frustrated consist mostly of my talking about how frustrated I am, rather than bringing myself to God in praise. I need the well-worn prayer paths of saints before me sometimes. A lot of the time, actually.

I've always yearned for a more constant abiding in God, and we've discovered the strength of the practices, ancient creeds, daily rhythms, and prayers of the early church. I know, it sounds goofy to those of us, most of the American church, who grew up thinking those are just Catholic things. But did you know the church calendar was formed, prayers written, and creeds recited hundreds of years before Scripture was canonized? I didn't. And now, discovering that my soul is indeed formed by orienting, in actual practice, my day around the reality of the presence of God, I wonder how we've lost this rich heritage.

And hey, "Common Prayer" (compiled in part by Shane Claiborne), even has an app.

And now I'll go to bed with these beautiful words in my mind:

Now as we come to the setting of the sun,
and our eyes behold the evening light,
we sing your praises, O God:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices,
O Son of God, O Giver of life,
your glory fills the whole world.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Newlywed DIY

A succinct post about two projects I finished this week is an awful follow-up to an everlasting silence in which Ryan and I married each other and all sorts of wonderful things and a shocking thing happened. But here we are, on a Saturday, lazing luxuriously about our new home (after this husband of mine woke me to a breakfast worthy of chef status... you think I exaggerate, you stop on by and ask him for proof). We've been home for six days, and I'm not feeling particularly ambitious in the writing department. More so than the past while, but progress grows in increments.

So, in the name of rebuilding writing muscles, here is a synopsis of the shocking end to our honeymoon:

Let's just say a deer went all kamikaze on our car on our trek back to Kansas. Neither car nor deer survived, but we and all our other possessions are entirely unhurt. We could have easily foregone this part of our honeymoon, but at this point we're too grateful to leave room for much else.

And now to the projects. Making our house a home is the most fun I've ever had in decor. Ryan has great aesthetic sensibilities, which adds to the fun. 

This trunk was a $10 thrift store find years ago, and I've always meant to redo the poor thing.

So I spray-painted the top and the hardware gold leaf, let them dry, taped them, and spray-painted the rest of it white. The top had a good deal of sticky residue left from the hideous laminate I peeled off (and if you listened closely, you could hear the trunk sigh with relief), and because I was too lazy to scrub it off, I painted over it with gold, spread it with Mod Podge, cut pieces of lace vinyl tablecloth ($2 at walmart) to fit, and pressed it on. I like the subtle patterned top.

Instead of buying a matched bedroom suite, repurposing is much more our style. So the trunk became a nightstand with lots of storage.

Our puppies and I went exploring in the pasture and lugged back this fallen tree branch. They tried to help by leaping up and testing it with their teeth. In the yard, I took a dry rag and scrubbed off the loose bark while Alex chased the rag and Aliyah sat on my legs and begged to have her stomach scratched. It was far more hilarious than working alone. 

I attached the branch to the ceiling with hooks and twine and hung a gauzy certain a friend gave to me on one end to give it the feel of a canopy. I'd known I wanted to hang some of the glass terrariums and air plants we used as reception decor in our room, and they seemed like they belonged in the scheme of things. And this picture is the result of not waiting for optimal light. I like it better in person. Also, I love feeling like we're falling asleep under a tree. And I feel satisfied that I used found and already owned objects for the entire thing. 

This blogging thing. I might have to start it again. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Poverty, Privilege, and Such

(Editor's note: Please bear with the parts where I'm a bit reactionary in this post. I'm really passionate about this, so I may seem judgmental and soapbox-standing. I don't intend that, so I apologize in advance for the places where I suffer in translation. I don't apologize for the content, though. This topic disturbs me.)

"My dad always told me, 'Don't waste your money on people who are poor. They're poor because they chose to be.'"

I shot a covert glance at the speaker, horrified at her blatant lack of empathy. She sipped her coffee, young and designer, the brands of her clothes and the logo of one of the most expensive schools in the country on her bag all screaming "I didn't earn this myself", and I wanted to ask her if she understands what privilege is. 

Poverty. Those who don't know it do not understand it. And we do ourselves a huge favor if we just admit that aloud. More than needing to not appear offensive, we truly need redemption and softening... to be humble and loving. 

The kind of money that enables a person to live without any concern toward it is extremely rarely built up in one generation. And if a person doesn't have a role model to follow, making and saving money is a complex and constant problem. Or, if a person has health or emotional difficulties, they may appear able-bodied and still not be able to deal with the daily demands of a job. And that's just the beginning of the problems caused by a lack of the social and family structures so many of us take completely for granted. 

Let me quote an excellent Times article

"Successful people tend to see in themselves a simple narrative: You study hard, work long hours, obey the law and create your own good fortune. Well, yes. That often works fine in middle-class families.
But if you’re conceived by a teenage mom who drinks during pregnancy so that you’re born with fetal alcohol effects, the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against you from before birth. You’ll perhaps never get traction.
Likewise, if you’re born in a high-poverty neighborhood to a stressed-out single mom who doesn’t read to you and slaps you more than hugs you, you’ll face a huge handicap. One University of Minnesota study found that the kind of parenting a child receives in the first 3.5 years is a better predictor of high school graduation than I.Q.
All this helps explain why one of the strongest determinants of ending up poor is being born poor. As Warren Buffett puts it, our life outcomes often depend on the “ovarian lottery.” Sure, some people transcend their circumstances, but it’s callous for those born on second or third base to denounce the poor for failing to hit home runs."

It's poor taste, at the very best,  for those of us with a roof over our heads to lack empathy for those sleeping on concrete in the cold tonight, but it makes me cringe especially small when I hear such things from the church. I often think of people with names and faces whose stories are much harder than mine and haven't received all the help I have and wonder if the church would still be saying disparaging things if we knew faces and stories and names instead of statistics and dollar signs. We need to remember that we haven't earned much of what places us where we are on the socioeconomic hierarchy, and that our lack of desperate need does not mean we automatically have the answers for those we deem beneath us.

While I agree with some of the criticism often aimed at social welfare programs, saying they're sometimes mismanaged and in some cases ineffective in breaking the cycle of poverty, I wholeheartedly disagree with the often-selfish sentiment behind much of that criticism. Ending the cycle of poverty is as complex as the issues of its causation. Handing a large sum of money to someone whose drug abuse has rendered them homeless might not help them at all, and offering healing and community to that person is a long and sacrificial journey, but surely we can do better than (either to their faces or safely online) saying they should just get a job.

You may have ideas, good ones, about how to make good life changes. But may I ask you a favor? Unless you know what it's like to be completely alone in the world and trying to stay warm and fed, please respond with kindness instead of distaste and judgment. Surely we can do better than that.

Surely, especially because the Jesus we're celebrating this month was born, in today's lingo, on the street. As an adult, he was homeless. He depended on other people for meals. He knew need. By his life and words, He teaches us that God comes to us in the form of the needy, and how we treat them is how we treat Him.

Another excerpt from the Times piece:

"Low-income Americans, who actually encounter the needy in daily life, understand this complexity and respond with empathy. Researchers say that’s why the poorest 20 percent of Americans donate more to charity, as a fraction of their incomes, than the richest 20 percent. Meet those who need help, especially children, and you become less judgmental and more compassionate.
And compassion isn’t a sign of weakness, but a mark of civilization."

As we receive grace from God for our sins, we know what need is. We understand that we are totally dependent upon what we don't deserve, and we know that compassion should not be merely a mark of civilization. Compassion is a mark of following Jesus.