“How Are You, Mike?”

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People ask “How are you?” all the time. When you answer, do you average everything going on? Respond with how you are that exact second? Just lie?

I went almost three months between blog posts, so I’m going to try to answer that question now.

Two weekends ago, Corin and I played in an ultimate tournament, his first and my first in ages. OHMYGOSH, we had a blast! Took me a while but I wrote about it.

Publicity shot, PC JP Portrait Studio

The weekend before I participated in a panel at a Los Angeles Writers’ Conference. Our topic was “Writing for Healing: Coping with Pain, Grief, and Loss.” The conference was on Zoom, not in person. Still scary as heck for me. Also in the Top 5 Most I’ve Felt Like a Writer. I have three books out. Both local bookstores, Ye Olde BookShoppe in Wenatchee and A Book for All Seasons now carry all three of them–and if you’re thinking about buying one I would madly love to have you support them! The latter store confirmed by telling me the books are “great” and “wonderful.” (Let me know if you want me to forward you the email.) I still haven’t gained “traditional” publishing. I’m working with a professional editor who is also a friend from college. I’m actively seeking an agent and/or publisher for my book on grief I’ve recently completed. The gatekeepers are s-l-o-w-l-y opening the gates, inch by bloody inch. I even got a professional photo! –>

Our panel was on Sunday; on Saturday afternoon, I took Annalise to the ER for a shoulder dislocation. Again. This has happened five (5) times since October 6. Yes, a shoulder surgery is scheduled for December 6. Annalise had another dislocation last week. I wish I could tell you those are the only health concerns, but they aren’t. I’d love to have you pray for Annalise. [Real time interruption: before I could get this posted on Wednesday, it happened again. Sixth ER trip in little more than a month. Now it’s Friday.] Seeing our children suffer horrible pain is right up there with the worst things in the world. “How are you, Mike?” This always comes to mind first.

Then there’s my faith. “How are you doing with God?” I’ve asked others this question thousands of times in my life. I don’t know the answer for myself right now. Surprisingly, I feel peace with that answer. I’m rethinking so much right now, it’s hard even to keep track.

Jesus? Check. Still solid, still following, still trying to live my life by the grace and love of God manifested in Jesus Christ.

The rest of it? Well, for many years I believed I was an evangelical, but the more I learn about the history of the evangelical movement and my beliefs compared with theirs (see how the pronouns tell everything?) the clearer it becomes that I’ve been at most a fringe member–I mean they would see me as on their fringes–and have now positioned myself solidly outside their fold.

There’s more to say on this and I will, eventually, but right now I’m answering “How are you?” and one aspect of how I am is this: a central piece of my identity has changed. Or maybe not changed, but I see it more accurately now and that, too, is bewildering. No, I haven’t stopped following Jesus and yes, I’m preaching at New Song Community Church in two weeks. I consider my writing a calling from God and hope it expands whom I’m able to love and help. I’ve had friends going through the same identity transition say, “Ah, I don’t really buy into labels much,. anyway.” But I’d called myself an evangelical for the better part of thirty years. This feels weird. It also explains a lot.*

Coming through that, I have slowly found/developed a spiritual community that is both eclectic and marvelous. I love my funky community so much. May I recommend spiritual community with people who don’t all believe exactly the same thing? I cannot adequately express how lifegiving this has been for me. Just one example: hearing back from some of them how my “Jesus talk” sounds to people who don’t follow Jesus has changed my communication drastically. As it should. If I’m saying I’m trying to love you and you’re experiencing me as unloving, my doubling down that this is love does not, in fact, make you feel more loved! Who knew? If that response sounds absurd, trust me, it’s actually all too common.

Again, none of this means I’ve stopped following Jesus nor left my local church. (Preaching November 21! At New Song! Come visit!), and I’m learning a metric ton about loving others who are different than I am. Lest that sound proud, it in fact means there was a metric ton I didn’t grasp about loving these people and I’m finally getting it. There are many great things you might say about me, but I’m not always a quick learner.

As winter seeps in and now the days–the part with light–are very short, I also feel the early warnings of depression. My sister Chris taught me long ago, “If you can’t change something, change the way you think about it.” Mostly, I’ve mocked that approach, true confession, but hey, she’s my sister! I have a responsibility. But the point is, I’m trying to practice this with short, dimly lit days and cold, grey weather. It goes with practicing mindfulness. I want to be present and see the good. I want to see how Jesus is present in this God-forsaken season (sorry, still breaking the habit) God-infused season of dormancy and preparation for new growth. See? Getting there!

Virtually no one means all this when they ask, “How are you?” I wouldn’t stop on the sidewalk and unload all this if you asked that. But I do find myself stymied by the question recently, baffled how to answer honestly. People I’ve loved now treat me like an enemy. People I’d written off have come back into my life. God continuously humbles me and reveals that I’ve let bitterness and unforgiveness settle in my heart. I feel that I’ve grown in keeping healthy boundaries but lost ground in forgiving. I could make you a list of people I’m struggling to forgive and why, but that might defeat the purpose.

It’s all a little more than I can average right now–math has never been my strength–and I’m still scratching the surface with this description. But I remain convinced that being honest and transparent reveals grace, whereas keeping up appearances disguises grace. If I depend on God’s grace to make it through today, yet give the impression that I’m pulling this off in my own strength, I’m hiding what you may need most.

So, just to make sure: God loves you, however crazy that sounds, however messed up and unlovable you might feel. If you’ve been told that “God can’t love you until…” or “God will love you as long as…” I suspect you’ve been lied to. Grace is greater than that. God loves you now, this moment, in this state. Period. Even as I’m uncertain about so many things I used to “know,” I’m more convinced than ever that God is love and God loves us. Period.

So…how are you?

*Obviously, a crucial example is my ongoing attempts to convince fellow believers that supporting Trump was antithetical to following Jesus. That was a crashing failure, to put it mildly, and I could not make sense of it–felt like I was taking crazy pills, in fact–until I read Jesus and John Wayne and realized “Oh, this has been the direction of the movement for how many years?” I wrongly assumed that between reasoning–using objective evidence of who Trump is coupled with Scripture–and some earned crediblity from my own ridiculous life, I would at least be taken seriously. If I’ve now deeply offended you, let me also say thank you if you’ve remained committed to our friendship. At this point I’m relearning how to be a peacemaker in the midst of this acrimonious division. I naively believed the division would improve once he was out of office. I was wrong. BTW, today I heard him defending the crowd chanting “Hang Mike Pence!”

2 thoughts on ““How Are You, Mike?”

  1. Sherry Dearborn

    Thanks for your thoughts, and best wishes for your daughter’surgery! My husband had shoulder replacement surgery about 4 years ago and found it pretty painful. Tell Annalise to do all her Physically Therapy when she gets to that point. It helps immensely.
    As for me, I have been struggling off n on to get over the pandemic slump, not that I ever had Covid. But still feeling let down. Yes it is darker outside and colder and depression is threatening. We are considering a downsizing move, still here in Peoria. The UU church I attend is not fully open yet and I am not sure when or IF it will ever be. Discouraging. I HAVE volunteered to be on the Hospitality committee and to once a month check the church and lock it up so that helps feeling connected to a degree. I wish you good luck at this crummy time of year with your spiritual struggles and with your preaching.
    Best wishes.
    Sherry

    • Sherry, I really appreciate hearing how you are, and the real, honest answer, not the “put a happy face on it” version. I’ll be praying for you. It’s a hard season for many of us. I’m pondering how I can embrace this season more, rather than fight it. I’ll let you know if I figure anything out.
      Keep me posted on this possible move. Many blessings as you come through this slump and find a new and I hope better “normal.” Thanks for being such a faithful reader and connection! May God bless you with grace and joy, Sherry.

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