The hide of a rhinoceros

Any Christian I know has a list of the things that we are in Christ: Redeemed, blessed, Saints, it goes on and on. But we aren’t all the same and there is no where in the Bible that hopes that for us. There is too much going on this morning to spend a whole heck of a lot of time here, so, I will only be able to write a quick one.

““For an actress to be a success she must have the face of Venus, the brains of Minerva, the grace of Terpsichore, the memory of Macaulay, the figure of Juno, and the hide of a rhinoceros” Ethel Barrymore.

I have only two or so of these things, can you guess what they are? My memory used to be good, and there was a time I could remember everything, well, maybe just most things, but that which is most significant when I am ministering to others in their grief and struggles. I have fallen down the stairs so I am not in the running of Terpsichore, and, after breast-feeding for two, well, years, the figure of Juno is what conjures up in people’s imaginations. A successful actress is what I will probably be, so I’m not ‘exceptional’ in the sense, but I’m also not ‘normal’ and neither are you. If you are, then, well, more power to ya. But I be you wouldn’t ‘be here if you weren’t.

But I think in a lot of ways I’ve got it going on, and that is working on the hide of the rhinoceros. I’ve talked a little bit about my education at a “prestigious university,” but I do not care too much about that. I learned a lot and I got a very good education, but perhaps even more than that I learned that if I was the most liberal person anywhere else, I would be seen as super conservative there. Even though the place was huge, I didn’t feel like I identified too much with any of them. From a walk through the main plaza that had folks with developmental disabilities to the classroom with the pompous, talk too softly even when I was in the front row people I didn’t chose a side. I think there was no reason to. I went to a few fellowship groups earlier in my studies that I didn’t work out. I was mostly by myself with my wack- job roommate. I accept that there are groups and were groups with genuine, intelligent God seekers, but some how they never worked for me. All this to say, the time at University led to a hide like a rhinoceros, one that gets thicker and firmer.

There are probably as many folks who leave the Christian church as those who find Jesus there. If you survive during your 4+ years, I think you have built such a hide.

I think it is funny to be having a casual conversation and have it turn to religion. You know that politics and religion are the two forbidden topics. Some how, though, I end up talking to people on both sides. A lot of the time they have become adamant, stressfully so for the hearer, or they say things like, “I don’t want to dissuade you from your beliefs.”

As if. What do they really think you could say that could change my mind? Psalm 10 gets into this. Warning it’s not a sunny, happy Bible verse. We’re so often encouraged to look to the Bible for comfort, and that is something I do, but the Bible scolds, challenges and sharpens. I can’t just forget these verses. If I were to, my believes would become deadly.

Things that happen in life leave scars. Do you have any physical scars? I know that I do. And I have emotional scars. So do you.

Barbara Rossing writes, “Jesus identifies himself in terms of his body: he breathes on the disciples, proclaiming “peace be with you.” He shows them his hands, his side, his body…his scars. And he invites them to touch: “Touch and feel my body, my scars; reach out your finger, put it into my side, see my hands,” Jesus says to Thomas.

“Jesus’ scars: the visible marks of his torture, the signs of his crucifixion. Were his scars still tender, still red? In his risen body Jesus may pass through locked doors, but his body still bears visible scars, marks of the nails, and it is these scars that identify him.”

Some churches still teach that “Ole Doubting Thomas” is a shame to us. I’m not buying it. If Thomas were screwing up, Jesus would speak to him about it, he wouldn’t have said to him go ahead, touch me. Once Tomas touched Him, he must have flourished inside. His Lord was real, hurt and loving. Thomas must have been a little beside himself, but any shame didn’t come from Jesus. Jesus must have been so excited to see Thomas and his disciples.

So what? What do His scars have to do with us and our seeking?

I think it has to do with growth. We can grow hides like a rhino. Many times these hides are hard-earned scars and calluses. I’ve got them on my hands from weight lifting. Not so painful, but I also have scars elsewhere from incompetent doctors and podiatrists.

My most prevalent scars are in my amygdala, the center of the brain’s emotional center. I read a report from a very unpleasant psychiatrist and she said that bipolar people came with below average intelligent, and that their brain damage on the amygdala was what caused it. I was devastated, and I was already in a very depressed state. It took me over a year to fairly assess her statements. The first thing I accepted is that I do not have below average intelligence and believing this would be ridiculous. The second is that it makes sense that folks with mood disorders do have some sort of brain damage. We already know we have a chemical imbalance, but we don’t know why or how. Why not brain damage? Believing that might be part of growing that hide I talked about. I have to be able to be tough to accept that part of me isn’t perfect.

That is a hard thing for someone who has been told my the school system since she was in the first grade that she was Gifted and Talented. I never thought myself as anything else, until I got to some of the graduate level classes in my West Coast University. Why would I worry about such an article, who says something blatantly untrue about every single bipolar person I have ever known?

Rhino. Another rhinocerizing experience has been just carrying this whole mental disorder around. Everyone’s favorite joke is that she’s on the psych ward. She needs her lithium, ‘I’ve committed people with crazier ideas to the mental health center.’ I’m sure you’ve heard such hilarious things and I ask you to share them with another.

Once I was in the elevator with a large group of people. We stopped on the maternity ward and I said, “Ah! The happy place!” One man said, “That’s the eighth floor” There were a few titters. Then I got off and he turned red. I thought to myself, not for the first time, that it was the sad place. I have rarely been at a place so sad.

Since I was diagnosed I became aware at how flippin’ hilarious and prevalent jokes about mental health are. Don’t want to be at the life-saving hospital because that’s where crazy people go. Don’t want to take a pill because that’ s for weak folks, so what if it might prolong your life 30 years. This one is totally me: Don’t want to wear your med-alert bracelet because you might get outed as significantly disabled, chemically dependent, or dang it, just dependent. Who wants to be dependent on someone? That’s for babies and small children, not for thriving adults.

See why these jokes and one-liners are so funny! Nope? Me neither. But perhaps they could become hurtful. Reminded again there is no reason to even entertain the comments again. We know a man, an MFCC, who obviously must have worked with mental health patients. He also, is one of THEE worse offenders regarding making jokes about mental health. We were in a small group at my house. My husband, a couple that we like and know well who knows about my illness, and the man and his wife where there. The family who knew about the illness said something kinda wacky. The MFCC said to my husband, “Do you have any psychotropic medication?”

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. The only person in the room, other than him, was his wife. Everyone else knew we had a pharmacy of crazy-meds in the pantry. Everyone was waiting to hear what my husband would say.

He took a deep breath and said, “No.”

What was so significant about that “no”? I think it’s because none of it really bothered me. My husband could have said, “Whatdayouwant?” but elected not to. Point is, it didn’t matter and I really didn’t care. In the four years I’ve been dealing with this, I’d finally toughened up.

I am a rhino. I’ve got the looks and I’m earning the skin.


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