Category Archives: PHILOSOPHY

LEECHES

“Yeah, so I know you read the pre-sentencing report and all that and got the deal about my childhood, but I wanted to add that if you were looking at my recond and wondering like why, why would I just keep making the same stupid mistakes, why would I keep doing the same stupid things, you know, it’s like, I have to answer that I doubted any opportunities that presented themselves. You know what I’m saying? I never thought, I never thought I could be more. I was never, you know, told that. That I could be more.

“And the leeches, Your Honor, the leeches, they’re always there. Right there, telling me I’m nothing. Telling me it’s all about the money. Telling me I’m nothing without the money. Gonna lose my woman. Gonna lose my kids. Gotta get the money. Gotta play the game. Do what you know, kinda thing. “

Judge: By leeches are you talking about people? Are you talking about the company you keep?

“Yeah, I mean my so-called friends. But you know, now I’ve been in lock-up and I’m facing all this time, hard time, prison time, you know how many of these friends have come to visiting hours? You know how many call my wife and ask how I’m doing? Nobody. Not one. Nobody even asks how I’m doing, how I’m holding up. They don’t care if I’m dead or alive. I’m all alone in here.”

Judge: If you’re talking about leeches, let me tell you something. The leeches are always there. Each and every one of us in this courtroom, myself included, have leeches. Trying to tell us what to do. Giving us bad advice. Acting in self-interest. Trying to break us down, get us to make poor decisions. But you have to decide the company you want to keep. You have to decide what messages you are willing to hear. And especially after you get out, you can’t let the bad people try to get you back to where you were. So do everything you can to move on, to get away, while you have your time inside. Move far enough away that the leeches can’t get you. This is your chance to get yourself together, to make a better life.

“Yeah, Judge, I appreciate that. It’s still just kinda sad when you know, prison, prison is my big opportunity for change and success. I would have liked to have other opportunities, you know, early on. I would have liked to have just one adult, didn’t have to be my mom or my dad, they weren’t in that frame of mind. But just – anybody, you know? Just one trusted adult to say hey, man, you can be something. You can do something. You don’t have to mess up over and over. You can do better. I see the good in you. I trust you. Judge, I never heard that in my life. I just heard what a loser, what a mess, what a disappointment I was. But it is what it is. My chance has got to be prison, because it’s the only chance I got.”

GOOD INVESTMENT

The doctor I saw at the farmworker’s clinic told me to expect the worst. He said the reason you got tired and passed out at the warehouse is because you have a serious problem with your heart. Your heart is not built right and it backwashes some of the blood. So you made a blood clot that traveled from your heart to your brain and it’s gonna happen again and again. It’s called a stroke. There is really nothing we can do. So sad to say it, but you have to prepare to die. Any surgery would be too expensive and it might not work and you already had one of these strokes anyway. That’s what the doctor told me.

Well, I am at peace with my Maker so I understood my time had come. I was able to live almost 40 years and not all of it has been easy but God has been with me every step, even when I was beaten, hungry and scared. Even when I was so tired that I cried, still I found rest in God. And I was able to have a child later in life, after I had given up hope. The man didn’t stay with me, it turns out he tricked me. He had a wife back home, and then he got deported, but he left me a daughter. And for that I am grateful.

When that doctor told me to prepare to die, I explained to my girl as best I could that Mommy will not be able to stay with her until she is a grownup and God is probably going to take Mommy soon, so she will have to go live with her grandmother, whom she has never met. Because I don’t have any family here at all. Not even a cousin. She was wondering and scared, but she seemed to handle it fine, I thought. Then again she is awfully young – not even school age – so how do they handle change, let alone death? I don’t know. But she seemed to be okay. She hugged me and patted my back with her chubby little hand.

That night, while she was kneeling at the bedside and saying her prayers, I heard her say all the usual blessings like I’ve taught her. But after I tucked her in and lay down in my bed beside her, I heard her start to quietly cry with her pillow over her face and her voice was muffled but still I heard her whisper, “Father in Heaven, please do not take my Mommy. She is all I have in this world and I just can’t do without her! I really need her, God. Can you please, please wait a while? Please, Father in Heaven, please!”

I picked her up and I rocked and soothed her and she slept in my arms instead of on her little mattress beside me. The preschool teacher told us that she shouldn’t sleep with me in my bed, so she has her own mattress. But this was a special occasion and I had to keep her close. She fell right asleep and I lay awake for hours and hours. My heart was breaking to realize that even if I could handle and accept this, my little girl could not. So I had to try to stay alive, if God would let me. So I put it back into God’s hands to see if He would consider my daughter’s prayer. And I prayed. And I vowed to take all the steps I could myself, to see if God would open a path.

So I went to my boss the next day and I told him about my thing, and I showed him the paperwork from the farmworker’s clinic, and he read it aloud and he read to me that I have a Patent Foramen Ovale, and that means a hole in the heart. But he said he would help me to come see a heart surgeon here, at this specialty heart clinic in the big city. And I got an appointment, and I got a ride here, and I got an interpreter, and now this surgeon has changed my whole life. My whole life. Praise God, because nothing is done without God’s grace, God heard my daughter’s innocent plea, and found us this surgeon. He put this doctor in my path.

“This is totally fixable. It’s a very simple heart repair,” this surgeon told me. Imagine my surprise! “I have seen all your imaging and it will take me maybe 15 minutes to repair,” he told me. Like it was nothing at all.

“But I have to be honest, I don’t have the money for the surgery,” I told him. “I’m a simple farmworker with a child to support. I can make you payments. But I fear that even if I pay you a hundred dollars a month the rest of my life, I don’t think I could pay your full fee,” I told him.

He smiled at me, and I know it sounds weird but I saw God’s love in his eyes, and he asked me, “So how old are you and how many years have you worked?”

I told him, I said, “Well, I am 39 and I have worked 32 years in the fields, first on our own land, and then here in your state. Before that I went to school for one year, but then they needed me at home.”

“Wow,” he said. “We are about the same age but I have only been working as a fully trained heart surgeon for five years. And all the years that I have been studying, you have been working!”

“Well, that’s okay,” I told the surgeon, “Don’t feel bad about it, because God put you into your position, and God put me into mine. It’s okay,” I told him.

“Well,” he said, “Let’s get back to your case. Here’s my thought. You have worked 32 years already. You are not well enough to work now. But if I repair your heart, you’ll be healthy enough to work another 32 years, and so I consider you a good investment, and that is why I am going to do your surgery for free. And the hospital won’t charge you either, because they have a special fund for charity care for people like you who work hard for low pay, or are too sick to work. So don’t worry about the bill. Just wait here and you can see my scheduler, and we’ll get this set up. A simple surgery. The actual procedure will only take me fifteen minutes.” Then he patted my hand and left the room. And I sat there stunned.

A simple surgery! A good investment! My lips tremble to repeat it because my gratitude overwhelms me. A good investment! All I can say is that God must have thought so, too, because He let me live to see this day. Thank God that the surgery went well, and I am healing up and should be able to work again in a few weeks. Stronger than before. I will never stop praying for this very special surgeon and his family. And my boss. And all the others who have helped me. And I will do everything in my power to earn this new life. Soon I will be able to work again, with joyful steps. And God willing, I will be around to watch my daughter grow up. I am so fortunate, so blessed. What could be more beautiful?

AIR AND LIGHT

This is how I know that God exists: because we are surrounded by air and light. Nothing on earth can live without these precious things. We cannot see air and light directly. We only know them through their consequences, just like with God’s actions in our lives. No one can stop air from being everywhere. No one can own the air or control it. Just a few moments without it, and we humans die. And what human can live in full darkness? It’s not right. We are born from darkness into light. Sunlight warms our planet, makes our plants grow, keeps us alive. Who controls the sunlight? Only our Creator. Light is life. We cannot live without light.

Why then are we so egotistical? Why do we think we can decide whether there is a God? Do we decide whether there is air and light? That is just the devil up to his usual tricks, trying to lead us back into darkness, before time even existed. The devil cannot take us into physical darkness, or course. Because ever since God commanded, Let there be light, there has been light. The devil cannot do a thing about that. But he can try to lead us into spiritual darkness, and he is good at that! He is very good at that. How? Because he finds people who have closed their eyes. They see only darkness. He tries to keep them there. And it works quite often, sadly.

Who keeps their eyes closed? Mostly two kinds of people, who are sometimes one and the same. Scared people, and guilty people. They close their eyes because they don’t want to see what is around them. They don’t want to see reality. They don’t dare to feel their own feelings. They don’t want to see and know their own actions. These are the people you see on the outskirts. They are using something to not feel, not live, not see. Some even seem to be doing okay, with good jobs and good families, but no spark. You can see it in their dull faces. No light inside them. Extinguished, while still breathing. So sad. They distract themselves and numb themselves. Eyes tightly shut to this wonderful world. Pot, porn, heroin, alcohol, whatever it is, it becomes their master, and they are led around in chains.

It is the saddest thing in the whole wide world to see someone get something as lovely as a whole human life of their very own, and then watch them just shut their eyes on it. Just choose to shut their eyes and be an addict, instead of enjoying, breathing, observing the miracle. Sharing in it. Helping others, and living this miraculous gift to the fullest humanly possible. Addicts are crippled. They cannot help others. And they cannot receive the help and love they need, because their eyes are shut. They keep them shut, and the devil smiles. One more in darkness. One more in chains of their own making. One more who cannot see their way to freedom and peace. It breaks my heart. It really does. So many lost.

That is why it says in the bible: he who has eyes, let him see! God is exhorting us to open our eyes and look upon creation. God is telling us to see our place in it. Find our tiny part in the infinite plan. Helping others. Enjoying our lives. Being good people, avoiding sin, avoiding harm. Mostly God just asks us to live, in harmony with His creation. Mostly He wants us to spend our time here seeing and breathing and loving. Open-eyed. Wide-eyed even. Seeing this miracle. Embracing it. It isn’t much for Him to ask.

Even now with this cancer, sometimes if I am lying half-asleep, because of the drugs, with my eyes shut tightly, I will start moaning to myself in pain, and my wife will gently shake me awake. “Open your eyes,” she will tell me. “It hurts less if your eyes are open!” And it’s true – it hurts less when I see God’s air and light. I can relax then and remember that I am held in the overwhelming immensity of God’s loving hand. I wish everyone could feel this way. I really do. Life is too short to suffer needlessly. It is over before we know it. Why waste the time walking about in darkness, when we are surrounded in light? Infused with light. Anyone with open eyes can see this! Soon I may close my eyes on this world for the final time, but I am glad and grateful that I have lived with my eyes wide open. I didn’t waste this gift. I embraced it fully.

HOLE IN THE HEART

I remember the first time I passed out. It was right after I had my first baby, and my mom was there. No one knew why I passed out. We didn’t ever go to doctors, you know? It’s like a nine hour bus ride, and then they want cash. Nobody from our village went to the doctor. So I never knew why I sometimes got faint, or why I started to pass out. My husband said it was just hysterics.

My husband was mean, may he rest in peace. I don’t know why. It’s like he had a hole in his heart, and all his love leaked out. No matter how nice I was, no matter how patient and loving, he just got worse. Even his own Dad asked him, why do you treat her so badly? I never treated your Mom like that! There must be a devil in your heart. My husband, he used to tell me that I was not lovable.

Luckily, I have God. So even when I sat and cried, feeling faint and sick, with my baby on my knee, rocking her in our hammock with my feet on the dirt floor, God was with me. Even when my husband was yelling nasty words at me and then leaving for days at a time, I was not alone. Even when he told me over and over that no one could love me, that I was worthless, I was able to be calm. That is the power and the comfort of God.

You see, I heard my husband’s words, and they hurt, but they didn’t get inside of me. Okay, I thought, he cannot love me. I bow to my fate. I accept it. But God loves me. So how can I be unlovable? God stays close to me, and strengthens me. God shows me that I am lovable. Yes, of course it is sad that my husband could not love me. But it is not everything. There are much worse things. Imagine if God did not love me. That would be disaster. That would be damnation!

Last summer, I fell to the ground, but instead of just waking up like usual, I was paralyzed on my left side. I didn’t know if I would ever be able to walk or talk again, but God is great. I was mostly healed by the time I got an appointment at the clinic, a few months later. The whole family pitched in to pay for it, and my mother traveled with me. But it was very bad news. The doctors told us, expect the worst. You have had a brain infarction, and we don’t know why. But we think it is going to happen again, and there is nothing we can do about it.

My mom was devastated – like her soul was torn into pieces. But the first thing I thought when the doctors said they cannot do anything to help me, was, wait a minute. This sounds familiar! Remember? When my husband said he couldn’t love me, God still could. And now these doctors say they can’t help me, but God still can. You see, everything is possible with God. And God healed me. And then I came here to work so I could keep my daughter in school back home. Except I passed out at work, and they sent me here. This is the second time I have seen a doctor in my life.

This doctor, sorry to cry, but I am so grateful. This doctor is unbelievably kind. He said, you just have a tiny hole in your heart. That is why you got a blood clot. That blood clot went to your brain. That is why you had a stroke. But we can fix your heart, so it won’t happen again. It is an easy fix. It is not even a major surgery, he told me. Just a little procedure that will take me maybe fifteen minutes. You won’t even need a stitch, he told me. You have a river of blood that we can use to travel up from your groin to your heart with a tiny camera and tiny tools and fix it, he told me.

So weird. I told him, we all knew my husband had a hole in his heart, because he was not loving – his heart was empty and cold, but why do I have a hole in my heart? Does it mean I am bad? No, he told me. Everyone is born with a hole in their heart, but almost everyone grows a seal over it. You did not seal your heart, but we can seal it for you, very easily. Then you will be strong, and able to work again. Good, I told him, because I have worked since I was five years old and I really wouldn’t know what else to do. The doctor was surprised. It turns out he didn’t work as a child.

I didn’t start working until I was almost your age, almost thirty, he told me. I spent all those years studying and training, and a lot of people helped me. I am really impressed with all the work you have already done. Let’s get your heart strong and healthy. It really is an easy fix. I wish every heart were as easy to repair as yours will be, the doctor told me, smiling. Don’t worry. We can expect a good outcome. And he was right! Here I am.

Such kindness. Such love pouring out upon me. My healed heart. Such a miracle. The doctor thinks I have had a hard life, I can see the pity in his eyes, but I feel truly blessed. Think about it. Just because I passed out at work, all these people helped me. What generous people. And God willing, I will be able to work and support my daughter so she can study, so she can fly from the nest with stronger wings than I had. She is just at that age where they get their feathers, so the timing is perfect. All is done in God’s good time. Even a heart like mine can be healed.

WHERE ARE YOU FROM?

Where are you from? Why do you ask? The author’s intention is not to answer a question with a question, but to ask you to ask yourself why you ask this question in the first place, if you do, and to consider what it might mean to the person questioned. And if the above wording is a little bit hard to process, it is because I am suggesting that we are all capable of understanding more than we think we can, even if the language is a little non-standard, with just a little bit more effort and good will.

May I introduce you to a friend? He started off washing cars when he first immigrated to this country, because he did not have the language skills for other work at that time. As he washed cars for long hours out in all kinds of weather, his boss would sometimes come by and signal good job with thumbs up. He would point out parts of the car and instruct my friend: This is the hood. Repeat after me. This is the door. Repeat after me. Hood. Door. The boss started telling him, some day, your English will be good enough and you can start selling cars for me! My friend would shake his head in doubt. He was a midlife immigrant, already in his 40’s when he arrived, and he feared that he might never be able to learn enough English.

But his boss was encouraging. My friend kept trying and learning. As time went on, his boss gained a heartfelt respect for him. And why wouldn’t he? My friend is hard-working. He has a heart of gold. He has a great sense of humor. He has an excellent memory and he learns quickly. He is very optimistic and has a lot of gratitude. He is creative and gifted. He is honest and has good character. To me, it is especially delightful that he is so playful, and still has a joking, innocent and charming way about him. He can talk about pretty much anything and bring a smile to the listener. But at that time, most people he interacted with in his new country could not understand him. His boss must have been quite intuitive because he was able to see beyond the language barrier and see my friend as a whole person even before the English developed. He knew him beyond words.

I think my friend’s boss is very special. In my experience, many people cannot get beyond a language barrier to try and see a person as they are, allow for their personality, or even fully recognize their humanity. Many people, when they face someone who cannot speak much English, just shut down and turn away rather than reaching out. There is an unbearably deep well of loneliness that many immigrants face, and the language barrier is just one more wall among many. One more separation.

Years have gone by since my friend’s car-washing days. More than a decade. My friend is now wonderfully fluent in English. He has been able to buy a home and put both of his children through college. And yes, he now sells cars for that very same boss. He is great at his job. People like him and trust him. He speaks with a slight accent. He is friendly and bright, and knows how to talk to people. He knows about the product he sells, and he is a good listener. But as he chats with customers, he tells me, they inevitably try to place him. He estimates that it takes his customers around 20 minutes of chatting before they are comfortable enough to finally ask their burning question, “Where are you from?”

He lets them know he lives here in town, so he is from right down the street. So they ask him where he lived before that, and he mentions a nearby town. But they don’t stop. They cannot stop themselves. They need to place him somewhere that is not here. They continue to question him as he gives a history of where he has lived since arriving in the United States, and then they finally break down and ask outright what they really want to know, so they can place him: “But where are you from from? Where are you from originally?”

He will act surprised and ask them, “Wait, why? Do I have an accent or something?” Then his eyes sparkle and his face breaks into a friendly smile and his customers laugh with just a gentle touch of embarrassment. Then because he is so open and friendly and patient, he usually goes on to talk about his ethnic background, his place of birth, and his language. Maybe he adds just a little bit about his journey. And this question session can happen several times a day, adding up to ten or twenty times a week, fifty or hundred times a month. It accumulates to five hundred or a thousand times a year. He has been here 15 years now, so we can estimate that he has fielded this question around ten thousand times since he arrived. If he hasn’t quite reached that number, he will, because he is still getting questioned.

My friend takes these question sessions very nicely, and is able to find the humor in it. That is one of his gifts. But for a lot of people, whether based on looks or language, it gets tiring to relentlessly be reminded that one is “not from around here” or doesn’t seem to be “one of us”, wherever those lines are drawn in a given community. I appreciate my friend’s gentle humor in turning it back to the curious, and drawing them out until they finally admit that they want to know “where are you from from?”

Yes, it is natural to see and notice people who don’t look like us, or don’t sound like us, whoever “us” is these days. I get it. But we need to be exceedingly careful as we explore other people’s histories and placements. We need to be careful not to pigeonhole others by getting the name of their country or religion or ethnic group, and then presuming we now “know” who that person is and can place them into a little box in our mental framework of what we know about other cultures, places, and people. When we do this, even with the best of intentions, we are bound to miss out on a person’s deeply unique humanity, and a wonderful opportunity.

When I met this friend, 35 years ago, I was working in his speech community. I was the second-language learner. I was the one with the accent. He reminded me the other day that we were once in a group of five or six sailors, sitting in a little cabin aboard a huge fish processing ship at sea, joking around, and then he noticed everyone was laughing but me. I could not understand the joke that was told. I was the outsider, even in this friendly set of shipmate buddies. And a lot of the other sailors on the ship kept telling me, as if I didn’t know, that I was a woman on a ship. I didn’t belong there. Some of them, including the captain, were very verbal about how they didn’t want me there, and how I was bad luck for fishing, too. But this friend just very naturally treated me like a real person. He saw me. He acknowledged me. And I will never forget that lovely, healing, expansive feeling. It wasn’t about his becoming an expert in my specific culture or gender, or about my language skills. It was about recognizing our common humanity, and honoring it. His doing so is why I remember him 35 years later, and still call him friend.

If I worked with my friend at his car dealership, and one of the customers asked me where my friend was from, I would answer this: He comes from a deep well of bubbling happiness, like a spring in a meadow. You would probably want to go there, but it is only accessible through a lifetime of experiences, some of them very hard, and challenges that most of us have never faced. He comes from an outlook of humorous acceptance, where laughter is soul medicine. He comes from a place of gratitude for the opportunities he has been given. He comes from a place of struggle, and risk-taking, and overcoming. How did he get here? He arrived here through a hugely optimistic leap of faith. And his faith and his hope and his charity made it here intact and are still with him. He has my utmost respect, and he deserves yours. So thanks for asking. And please spend some time thinking about the way you choose to question others about their place in the world.

LAUGHTER

They say laughter is the best medicine. And like the rest of you, interpreters sometimes have to laugh so we don’t cry. One interpreter told me she does stand-up comedy as a relief and release from the heaviness of working on violent criminal cases. She was surprised to find out how many defense attorneys are out on that stage, using humor as a release. It is almost an occupational hazard. She also mentioned that most of the amateur comedians she meets are outliers, which is a nice way of saying weirdos. And let’s face it, we need weirdos. We need people who see things differently and show us their points of view.

Most jokes are about something that we are trying to figure out. Something that has wounded us. Something we still need closure on. Whether societal or very personal, as we try to figure out the cultural overlays of our individual experiences, humor is a way to cut into and then cleanse our psychic wounds. Humor gives us a much needed, very healthy dose of medicine. So we tell silly jokes about things we are uncomfortable about, and laugh as we cringe.

A patient has just been roomed after surgery. His new nurse comes in to assess his pain level and get him settled in. As trained, she ends with the now standardized, open-ended invitation:

“What questions do you have?”

The guy is woozy and still wearing an oxygen mask. He mumbles:

“Are my testicles black?”

The nurse is confused. The patient just had a small tumor removed from the colon. She glances at his chart. Nothing about excessive bleeding into that area. Hmm.

“I don’t think so. I’m not sure,” she answers him hesitatingly.

The guy gets impatient.

“Well, could you please check?!”

The nurse approaches the bedside, pulls down the blanket, unties his hospital pants, gently moves his member to the side and cups his testicles in her gloved hand. They don’t seem swollen. She puts a brighter light on and looks closely. The patient is fair-skinned, and his testicles appear to be an appropriate color. The nurse adjusts his hospital pants and ties them, then covers him back up with the blanket.

“Sir, your testicles are not black!”

The guy rolls his eyes, pulls his oxygen mask to the side, and says:

“Good to know, nurse, but – are my test results back?

Interpreters love this because “are my testicles black” and “are my test results back” really do sound the same. Interpreters are constantly and perilously taking leaps of faith and doing educated guesswork, flying optimistically on context and intuition, and sometimes crashing. Interpreting has a lot to do with predicting and supposing and that is what makes it scary and funny and terrifying. So we throw in a pair of testicles, and we laugh so we don’t cry.

Of course working toward best practices, asking speakers for repetitions or clarifications as needed, being in a good position to hear clearly, having some context, and using our common sense can reduce the likelihood of the kind of errors that change the outcome of a case. What lawyers call material errors and doctors call malpractice. Of course we understand the very high stakes of the work that we do. Of course we do our best.

At the same time, we need to make friends with our humanity. We need to recognize and acknowledge our frailties and fallibility. Like everyone else, in every field, to err is human. And there is usually too little open discussion about how inevitable it is that we make mistakes. Accepting that our best efforts are all we can offer can help us to keep a shred of our sanity as we interpret. So this kind of laughter, as silly as it seems, really is good medicine. It goes very deep, and it is cathartic.

LET IT GO

I’m so mad about the counselor the school sent her to. I know they meant to help, but I don’t need someone confusing my girl by telling her she has to forgive the man who hurt her, or she will not be forgiven for her sins.  Come on, what are HER sins?  She’s a child, for heaven’s sake!  It’s ridiculous and it really makes me mad.  He’s just adding to her trauma, making it her fault.  So we’re looking for another counselor.

I told my girl, I said, look, honey.  Listen to your mother.  You have zero obligation – exactly none at all – to forgive him.  You don’t have to love him.  You don’t have to wish him well.  You don’t have to worry about him, or think about him at all.  He could be dead in a ditch, for all we care, and that is not your problem.  It’s not your job to make him okay.   You don’t have to forgive him or ask God to forgive him.

Your job is to be okay.  That’s all.  Just to heal yourself.

Do your best to not dwell on it. I told her.  Try not to give it more time.  I know it’s hard, but try to live for today.  You’re in a good place now.  You’re safe.  So keep walking away from it.  Every time it comes to mind, throw it far from you.  Every time he comes to mind, throw him back into God’s hands.  Let God deal with him.  Do this just for you – for your own sake, not to help anybody.

You don’t have to wish him well, you don’t have to wish him evil, you don’t have to spend one more minute thinking about him.  You were brave, and you asked for help.  Nobody can hurt you like that again.  So now try and let this go, so you can be free.  Because I know what I am talking about, I lived it myself – if you don’t let go of it, it won’t let go of you.  And I don’t want that for you.  I don’t want you to be tied to this for years.  I want you to be free.  Safe and free.

 

REAL PREACHER

I heard a real, down to earth, preacher speak yesterday.  Gifted, inspired, truth-telling and encouraging, with lots of humor.

He was talking about the things we care about and struggle with in our real lives, like addiction, and pain.  Loneliness, and humility.  Wanting help, and not knowing where to get it.  Needing strength, and feeling weak.  Real things.

He gave an example of a man who was “sick, sober and sorry,” but not enough to  clean up.  Just hung over.  And the man came and asked for a blessing, asked for prayer.  And this was not the first time, but it was an old pattern.  An old habit that kept going around and around, like addiction does.

And this preacher told him, okay, son I’ll pray for you.  I’ll pray that every time you smoke, it makes you feel like you’re about to get lung cancer.  I’ll pray that your booze makes you sick at the first sip, and tastes like poison.  I’ll pray that you get so sick, you almost die.  I’ll pray for God to cut you down to size.   Yes, God, I ask you to bring this man down.  Do whatever it takes, God.  Take him down.  Break him.  Bring him to his knees!

And the man was scared and surprised, and didn’t understand.  But this preacher explained.  He told him, son, you’re hanging over hell on a rotten stick.  I want you to be saved.  I want you to live.  I want you to get your life back.  But if you won’t turn, I pray that God will turn you.

You think you’re sorry now, the preacher told the man, but you’re just hung over.  That’s not sorry.  You need to go deep, son.  You need to get to tears and snot.  You know what I’m talking about?  You need to cry your guts out, cry until your face is covered with tears and snot, until you’re on your knees, crying out to God from a broken heart.  A humble heart.  A heart ready for healing.  And so I pray for God to take you down.  Because I want you to live.  I want you to be healed and whole.  I want you close to God.

Now that, to me, is a real preacher.  A man who knows what he’s talking about, and wants to do good in the community.  That is a man of God, and a man of the people.  A blessing to those who hear him.

 

WHAT YOU PRAY FOR

Be careful what you pray for.  That is the lesson.  Really think about what you need.  Don’t be greedy.  Don’t be thoughtless.

I admit it.  I was praying for a boy.  I was.  We have a girl, and  I feel so worried about her.  You cannot imagine, unless you have a tiny baby girl in your arms, how vulnerable she is.  Anybody could just grab her out of my arms and break her into pieces.  She is so helpless.  I walk around with my heart in my throat and half-choking, when I think about it.  How can I protect her?  So many things happen – so very many.  Especially to girls.  And I love her so much.

So I was thinking, and yeah, I know it’s stupid.  But I was thinking, if we have a boy, he will soon be bigger and taller than her.  Stronger than her.  They are only a year apart.  And I will teach him, as I told God, to protect her.  To watch out for her at school.  To make sure no one disrespects her.  It wasn’t because I am selfish and just wanted someone like me.  I wanted someone to help me – to help me protect my little girl.

Well, here we are in the ultrasound, right, and I have my hands in prayer, and I’m like, please God let me hear it is a boy, and it is a girl.  The tech shows us, see, it looks like a plum.  The – you know – the girl parts.  It looks like a plum.  And my wife is like, haha, you wanted a boy.  I told you it was a sin.  I told you not to pray for anything but a healthy baby.  That is all I ever prayed for.  You need to be humble, she told me.  Be glad we can have a strong and healthy girl again.

But then we go to meet with the doctor and the doctor is like, your baby has a cyst in the part of the brain that makes the spinal fluid.  And it might be okay and it might not be okay but it might mean that your baby is gonna have Down Syndrome.  That means she will never be independent, and she will need to be protected and cared for throughout her life.  And my wife looks at me like it’s my fault.  Why did I pray for a boy?  Why?

And I tried to tell my wife, I just wanted someone strong.  And she told me, guess what?  You are going to find out what I already know.  Girls and women are strong, you dumbass.  And your little princess is going to grow up into a queen, like me.  And she is going to be fierce  and protective, like me.  And guess what?  She is going to help me to take care of this vulnerable baby, her baby sister.

So you go pray for what you want, she told me.  Go pray for whatever you want and find out that mostly, the answer is gonna be no.  Because you don’t know what you need.  You don’t know what your kids need.  Stop asking God for special favors, and for the love of God, be careful what you pray for, she told me.  And she’s right.

My wife also tells me that if this baby has Down Syndrome, it is going to be a gift from God.  And if it turns out that she doesn’t, it is still going to be a gift from God.  And I already promised my wife I am going to train them in soccer, both of my girls, to whatever level they can play.  Because they’re my kids, and they’re my gifts.  I will take what I am given.  My wife is right.  I am kind of a dumbass.

 

TWO THINGS THE U.S. TAUGHT ME

People who never leave the US only hear the stories of people who came here because they had bad lives.  People who struggled.  Who lived with violence and war.  But if you ask me, I think most people in the world, almost anywhere, are happier and feel safer than people do here in the US.  Anyone outside of a war zone.  That’s just my opinion.

I didn’t come here for a better life.  I came here because I fell in love with someone who convinced me to move here, and I think about moving back all the time.  He keeps saying, remember how little you earned at your job, honey.  But I tell him, it was enough.  And it was relaxing.  And the whole pace was just calm and smooth.  No panic.  No fear of getting laid off, getting in trouble, getting fired.  People were just laid back, the customers would stop and talk, nobody was running.  People didn’t complain all the time.

People find out I am from the so-called “third world” and they act like, oh wow!  Lucky you for coming here!  You must have learned so much by living in this great industrialized heaven!  Like how to use electricity and climb down from the trees – okay I am being sarcastic here, but I want to be completely sincere, without trying to denigrate the great things that this country has meant to so many people.  I really do get that for some people it is a lifesaver, but not for me.  I have learned just two things here.

One, to be scared.  Two, to worry.  If you have only lived here, you don’t notice.  You guys are scared.  You are scared all the time.  Scared and worried, and never really relaxed.  Never at peace.  Never just feeling like, hey, this is enough.  There is an overall sense that you need more.  You have scarcity pictures, and you live in them all the time.  You don’t have enough.  You don’t feel like enough.

You worry about having insurance.  You worry about having a job.  You worry about having enough time.  You worry about keeping your job.  You worry about getting a house.  Then you worry about keeping the house.  Then  you worry about fixing your house.   You worry about having kids, then you have kids and you worry about your kids.  When can you relax?  When can you enjoy your life?  When can you say, enough is enough?

If you ever travel outside the US, you will notice that the people you meet, no matter how poor, are more relaxed than you.  Happier than you.  More at peace.  Enjoying their lives more, and not wasting it in worry.  They have decided that they have enough to be happy, enough to live, already.  They have decided that they are enough, and what they have is enough, and their family is enough.  They have enough!

In my country, I had a tiny apartment and a tiny salary and it was enough.  It was adequate.  And I was happy.  And I was relaxed.  And so was everybody else.  We got along.  We had enough.  So am I lucky to be here?  No.  Did I gain so much?  No.  Not from my perspective.  Because I didn’t need what I got here – stress and worry and fear.  No thank you.  I don’t need it.  I hope I can move home some day, and the first thing I will do is take a meditation class, so I can unlearn what I learned in the US.