Archive for the ‘thoughts’ Category

Playing with Mud   Leave a comment

So God made us out of dust and breathed life into us, which I suppose makes us dirt balloons (and he clearly puffed more into some of us than others).  Poetic souls try to inflate our worth by calling us “star dust,”  but that Disney image is just lip gloss smeared on mud bubbles.  If we are made from star pieces, we didn’t get any of their sparkle and shine–they kept that for themselves–so at most we are the burned up stuff, star effluvia.  Yes, we are star poop if that makes you feel any better.  We’re just mud pies, which makes us a few grades lower than gingerbread men.

Clearly God wanted to keep us humble, to show us where we came from so we wouldn’t be putting on airs and instead realize the air that animates us is from God’s breath, not our atoms.  I mean, the angels must elbow each other watching us mud clods strutting our stuff until we all get swept out the back door together.  “For you are dust and to dust you will return.”

It is our inflated sense of self that God wants to prick by reminding us of our origins.  He values us immensely, but it has nothing to do with our inherent value, which is about $4.50 in chemical elements according to Mayo clinic.  As demeaning as all that sounds, it is actually amazingly freeing and safe.  We are not loved because we are wonderful, but because God is wonderful.  We don’t have to do anything to be valued by God.  He is not waiting for us dirt balls to become disco balls before he values us, but he loves us fully as we are, Pigpen as much as Linus, and that should make even Charlie Brown dance.

Posted March 29, 2017 by janathangrace in Humor, thoughts

The Rare Gift of Loving Well   Leave a comment

At my dad’s funeral, my sister Amy shared how dad planned great trips for his children and grandchildren, taking them on real adventures that created memories for a lifetime.  Pop took me on a trip to Washington D.C. when I was twelve, and it was truly memorable. For Amy, this “extravagant love” was the epitome of her recollections of a loving father.

Yet true love may not show itself in extravagant gestures or great sacrifices.  Sometimes the power and glory of love infuses the mundane.  In fact, the grand display can easily be a cover to hide our unwillingness to love as we should.  There are foolish and useless sacrifices… even selfish sacrifices.  A mom can pay dearly to send her boy to college in an effort to run from the shame of her own inadequacy.  A father can give everything up to make his son a great athlete.. but is this love for himself or his son?   The ultimate sacrifice of true love is not in giving to the other, but in receiving them into our hearts, inviting them in to reveal their real selves, delighting in their oddness and mystery, allowing them to shape the very direction of our soul’s growth.

We tend to be so self-oriented that we equate our view with what is normal and right, even reading Scripture with that lense.  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” does not mean that we treat others as copies of ourselves, assuming that what pleases or saddens us, what excites or frustrates us is the same for them.  Each of us is unique in our experiences and perceptions.  True love is not simply making room for the differences of others, but valuing those differences, trying to see and understand the world as they see it, gaining a new perspective and value system and appreciation for life that we did not have before.  I cannot truly love without being personally transformed by it.

This is especially difficult for parents because they have responsibility for teaching and training a child, helping them mature into kind, insightful, responsible adults.  But if the child is not given the freedom and encouragement to find out who they really are apart from, in distinction from, in contrast to their parents, then their lives will be hollowed out, learning good behavior but divorced from their own hearts.  Is a parent able to learn profound truths from their little ones, a new outlook on the world, a new way of being?  A real relationship in contrast to a coercive one empowers each other’s uniquenesses, especially when those differences are a source of conflict since those are the secret keys to unlock our own spiritual insight and growth.

The beauty and glory of true love is that it enriches the giver far more than the recipient.  It is the pathway to our own daily salvation.

Posted August 3, 2016 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Waiting Is so Hard!   7 comments

If your life is working out reasonably well, I am happy for you.  It is not my experience, though I daily put my heart and will into doing my best.  I feel like a dog chained to a post and told to fetch.  Most of my life I thought the whole exercise was about figuring out how to get loose so as to fetch.  That’s what smart, resourceful dogs would do.  I tried various strategies–twist to loosen the chain or pole, pull to break the chain.  I was apparently doing it all wrong, because I was a failure at fetching.  I saw other dogs retrieving all sorts of things for their master.  They had various schemes for getting free of their chain, but none of those worked for me.  I don’t have a life verse, but Kimberly one day laughed at spotting my life meme: “Well, that didn’t &#%! go as planned.”

Finally I decided that I had misunderstood my master’s intentions, and he just wanted me to sit and wait.  But what should I do while waiting?  If I were eventually going to be let loose to fetch, perhaps I should practice the skills needed… except those skills were only relevant for a retriever, and maybe that was not my purpose after all.  I was waiting for something.  What?  Was I supposed to simply learn to be good at waiting?  What does that even mean?  Patience and trust, I suppose.

Okay, so that is what my attitude should be, but what do I DO while practicing that attitude?  Is there a better way to sit or lie?  Inside the doghouse or out?  Do I keep my eyes closed or look at something… at what?  I was sure there were better and worse ways to wait.  Slowly anxiety overtook my patience–I need to be a better waiter!!  Apparently the one thing I do really poorly is wait.  And I am so legalistic I can even turn doing nothing into a standard to meet.

But look at all those other dogs doing their thing!  Dogs have legs to jump and run and mouths to grab and hold… they weren’t designed to just sit.  Are these joys of life the rewards for getting good marks in waiting?  Or is waiting well its own reward?  It doesn’t feel rewarding.  It feels like being forgotten, or worse still being rejected, like I’m not good enough to fetch.  As you can see, I still have a long way to go in learning trust and patience. Doing nothing is really hard!

 

Posted July 2, 2016 by janathangrace in thoughts

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True Love Is Never Blind   2 comments

We humans are deeply flawed.  The Bible calls it sin, the evil and brokenness that infests our whole world, right down to the roots of our own heart.  It not only distorts our hearts, but our minds, our volition, our self-understanding… it taints every part of who we are.  One of the primary ways this plays out is to make each of us the center of our own universe, both perceptually and morally.  We have a default to justify ourselves while blaming others.

Self justification may at first glance seem like self compassion, being on my own side, but it is really a Trojan horse, the gift that keeps on taking, because it is rejection of the truth, and that never leads to health and strength.  Fleeing our shame makes us no freer than the prison escapee who is running for his life.  Our only hope is to embrace our shame, our failings, our faults, with the arms of grace, to openly confess our flaws from within the safety of God’s unconditional love.

I’m sorry to say that I often find it easier to see the failing of others than my own, and to then fault them for it as a moral flaw.  But fixing that tendency to blame others by trying instead to justify them leads to equal disorder in our minds and hearts and relationships.  Grace ceases to be grace when it avoids the truth.  Being generous-minded (assuming the best rather than the worst) certainly has its place, especially if our default is to blame (as mine sadly is), but our aim is to seek out what is true, not what is nice.  Flattery is deadly, especially when it is sincere.

Our response to our parents often falls into this unfortunate dichotomy–we either blame them or exonerate them, justify ourselves or justify them, and both responses are equally damaging.  In the complexity of processing through our emotional entanglements, we will likely go through stages of both blaming and justifying, I certainly did, but these should never be an end in themselves.  We seek to know ourselves through the dynamics of our early upbringing so as to find truth and freedom in which to grow forwards.  Things need to be unlearned or re-organized or re-evaluated or put into perspective.  Getting stuck in blame or justification cuts off true transformation.

One key tool in growing into a gracious outlook towards others is to separate the impact of someone’s behavior from its sinfulness.  To say that my father or mother impacted me in a certain way is quite distinct from saying that they are to blame.  They may have been doing the best they could.  We do not ultimately know what internal resources they did or did not have, the motivations for their choices, and so on.  “To his own Master he stands or falls.”  However, we have the emotional and spiritual obligation to carefully evaluate behavior as itself beneficial or harmful, otherwise we will mindlessly carry on those relational patterns into our own families by adopting them or by reactively adopting their opposite.

Posted June 25, 2016 by janathangrace in thoughts

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To Know Others, I Must Know Myself   4 comments

I’ve been muddling over a question for several days: why did Dad’s inability to understand himself so significantly affect his own children and his relationship with them.  I finally settled on a typical childhood scenario to sort it out in my mind:  being late for church.  In stark contrast to Dad, Mom was a spontaneous, disorganized soul who was not very good at time management.  Sunday morning she was inevitably running late.  Dad would finally stump out to the Oldsmobile and sit fuming, eventually honking the horn to try to hurry things along.  He hated being late.  It made for an icy car ride which suddenly transmuted into a smiling hand-shake with church folk, because Dad took charge of all our emotional exchanges, and he’d decided it was time to move on.  Yes, he was very organized, even with his emotions, and very take-charge, even with our emotions.

While Dad was in our driveway tapping his fingers against the steering wheel, Mom would be in the bathroom madly trying to finish fixing her hair and putting on her make-up.  Of course, traditional roles exacerbated this situation–Dad only had to get himself ready while Mom had to make breakfast, feed the clan, and make sure all us kids were presentable.  But she still would have accomplished all this punctually if she’d had the same personality and value system as Dad.  And since her promptness depended largely on certain unreliable munchkins, she would have had to heavily impose those time values on her children.  There would have been as much impatience, tension, and condemnation inside the home as in the station wagon outside.  Instead of a kind “where did you last see your shoes?” it would have been, “How many times have I told you…”  And we children, fearing that condemnation, would have worked very hard to conform.

When two people have similar values, perspectives, personalities and emotional responses, conflicts are drastically reduced, but when these vary in important relationships, such as with Dad and Mom, some sort of system must be worked out for negotiating the conflicts.  Those like my dad who have a behaviorist approach to life and relationship see growth as a process of adapting one’s behavior and language to avoid conflict rather than discovering a deeper understanding of oneself and the other. In other words, the underlying perceptions and dynamics remain the same, but one’s actions and words are tweaked to avoid offense–speaking more softly when angry or driving separate cars to church (my dad’s final solution).  Being late is clearly wrong, so either she fixes her behavior so he’s not mad, or he tries to be patient with her as the failing one.

At first glance it would seem that the first approach is somewhat legalistic and the second somewhat gracious… except in both cases the late person is in the wrong.  There is no option available for non-judgmentally trying to discover why this value is so important to one and not to the other–for instance that Mom put more value in accepting her kids than rushing them, that her immense creativity was enabled by not having a highly organized life, and so on.  Instead of differences leading to deeper self and mutual understanding, they lead to the slotting of behaviors (and individuals) into good and bad.

Clearly, if there is a disagreement and Dad was unwilling to reconsider his own position, then he could not in any meaningful way make room for the legitimacy of the other person’s perspective of herself.  If he was right, then she was wrong, and even if he is kind and sympathetic, that judgment sticks.   It is not possible for someone to come to a truly gracious acceptance and understanding of the other person without questioning his own underlying perspective about himself and his views.  In a remarkable way, lack of self-understanding prevents us from understanding others because we cannot shake free from our own blinders and so we distort our own perceptions.

Now, being over-zealous about lateness is a small issue that can be overlooked.  Everyone has their foibles and it is part of grace to overlook them.  The amazing thing I have discovered is that differences, even on small matters, can open the door into a huge cache of personal information that has never been discovered.  Our inner selves are well integrated, so that one concept enforces another in a web that makes up our worldview.  Punctuality is a small corner of the much bigger idea of efficiency, which is in turn a portion of the worldview that puts a premium on accomplishments.  I have struggled my whole life with a sense that my value as a person depends on what I accomplish, that God values me for what I do for him rather for me.  Most of my life I didn’t know this was at the root of my relationship with God–I thought all my zeal was out of my love for him.  Or I could follow punctuality down a different trail, one that leads to the importance of meeting a wide array of standards and how perhaps I am not loveable unless I pass a certain moral bar (while naturally holding others to that bar).  Or I could follow punctuality down a different path that connects it to respect, and what makes me feel respected or disrespected and how I respond to those feelings in my relationships.

Rubbing up against someone who experiences the world differently than I do is a great opportunity for that soul-searching.  But if I default to my unshakeable worldview, I not only fail to understand myself better, but fail to understand the other, having placed us both as characters in a world of my own assumptions.  Being blind to who I am inevitably makes me blind to who others are–their gifts, insights, and beauty.

 

 

Of Ostriches and Eagles   5 comments

From my last post some might suppose that my imagery of a majestic, soaring eagle for my father and a silly, flightless ostrich for myself was in some way self-denigrating.  However, the analogy was not based on my own valuation of eagles vs. ostriches (or dad vs. me), but on how I think society views each.  The superiority of the eagle seems self-evident to Americans–it was not the ostrich (or more to home, the pigeon or crow) that was stamped on the Great Seal of the United States.

As a culture we lionize and value certain traits more than others–the one who talks is more admired than the one who listens, the fast more than the slow, the take-charge more than the let-be.  But all have their unique value and purpose as well as weakness and limitation–the eagle is as awkward on the ground as the ostrich is in the air.  Each person is vital in their uniqueness, an irreplaceable expression of God himself.

We tend to slot folks into winners and losers, successful and failures, saints and sinners, or we grade them high to low, but the most heroic in the Bible have their fatal flaws, usually as the shadow presence of their strength.  The Bible presents godly people as models for us all to follow… and then presents those same people as warnings to avoid: Abraham and Issac vs. Abraham and Hagar; David and Goliath vs. David and Bathsheba; Peter as The Rock vs. Peter as Satan.  The best among us are deeply flawed, and that must be a bedrock of our theology and spirituality.  I call it honesty, the truth about ourselves, which is just as fundamental to our heart health as the truth about God, and just as fundamental to true, healthy relationships as well.

We are all equally beautiful as God’s creations and equally precious to our Heavenly Father.  May we all be graced with the eyes to see one another’s beauty.

 

Posted June 10, 2016 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Come and Rest   Leave a comment

I drove home from work this evening with my windshield wipers swishing away the dreariness and plotting how to ease my weary soul: instrumental music, a cinnamon scented candle, a DVD fire on the TV screen, a cup of coffee and a chocolate chip cookie topped with birthday cake ice cream, while nestling into my sofa to love on my two dogs.  So here I sit with Mazie curled up beside me and Mitts stretched out on my lap, lending me their peace.

I have things to do, things easier done in the daylight, but I’ve set them aside as the shadows settle in.  Through the back french doors I can just make out the black tree trunks and branches against the dark grey sky on the hill above our home.  It is okay.  There will always be one more thing to do.  My inbox will always be overflowing.  Rest is so important to God that it made his top ten list.  It is an act of holiness so basic to our well-being that it was the capstone of the world’s creation.  Even more than my body, my soul needs to let go, relax, settle in, harbor from the blasts life blows throughout the day.

Come join me.  Find your place of calm.  Leave the lists and obligations, the insistent tasks and expectations in the hands of the One who can carry it for you and come away to Sabbath for a time until the weariness slowly drains off and washes away.  Every person and task in your life is benefited by your self-care.  Breathe easy.  It is an act of holy obedience.

Posted January 9, 2016 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Be Gentle and Kind to Yourself   9 comments

Be gentle and kind to yourself.  Your soul needs it.  Be patient with yourself, life is hard enough without your self-criticism.  Learn to support yourself, not superficially with cake and new shoes, but at the deepest levels towards your heart’s real needs.  Lovingly forgive yourself for your failures and shortcomings as you would those of a dear friend.  Be your own best friend.  You are in as much need of a true friend as anyone else.

What does your heart need today?  It will only be honest with you if you are gentle and kind to it.  It is not luxury or indulgence to give first-aid to your bleeding heart-wounds.  To ignore them or diminish them would be neglect, so take full measure of your pain and with compassion find a way to give the help your weary, struggling heart needs.  With a little courage, ask for assistance from others and accept what is offered freely and without apology, but with real gratitude.

Be kind to yourself today, and gentle.  It is the root from which compassion springs up for others.  Practice it on yourself first and you will be better at giving it to others.

Posted January 3, 2016 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Welcoming Grace   Leave a comment

Whispered words of grace are a spiritual balm seeping into my soul, whether they come from liberals or conservatives, Christians or Hindus, teetotalers or alcoholics.  It pulls at me from the gritty, raw, tattooed welcome of those sand-blasted into goodwill and entices me with the sweet, gentle, well-worn embrace of those battered into softness.  It reaches me from every surprising image of love that pulses through each grace-stippled heart.  I want eyes to see it in the face of all I pass, for grace misses no one, but leaves its mark on each, however hidden from the casual eye.  May I be one who sees it, values it, makes room for its timid step.  Grace often expresses itself most deeply by receiving rather than giving, by being blessed from the life of another, by delighting in the goodness leaking out between the slats of their tightly guarded hearts.  Perhaps grace in my life, and even in my relationships, is increased most by welcoming it in rather than mustering it out.

Posted September 8, 2015 by janathangrace in thoughts

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How Families Clash over Worldviews   3 comments

The world we each inhabit is a menagerie of differing perspectives without a guide to help us sort through the issues. If one is a feeler and the other a fixer or if one is an optimist and the other a pessimist, conflicts arise. One may push for action while the other pushes for patience; one inclines to critique and the other to acceptance; one wants to plan and the other likes spontaneity.  Instead of welcoming and finding a place for alternative views, we often react out of fear or pride.  We lack the imagination or guidance to show us how to make room for ideas that don’t fit our outlook, yet how we respond to conflicting perspectives makes a huge difference in our personal development and relationships (as you can see in my previous post), and the family is most formative in this process.

Cholerics like my dad are the engines of the world.  Far less would be accomplished here without their initiative, decisiveness, can-do spirits, diligence and strong-willed personalities, and as with other temperaments, the various elements of their personality are mutually strengthening, consolidating their outlook.  Dad addresses a problem or issue by acting decisively to resolve it. This initiative is grounded in his confidence about his own diagnosis, solution, planning, and ability to control the outcome. His self-confidence not only motivates him to act, but also brings results because others, inspired by his confidence, buy into his plan (cholerics are natural leaders). If there is resistance, his confidence prompts him to vigorously argue his case, become more firm in his position, and inspire others to action.  And so his goals are met, which is especially validating of his outlook, not only pragmatically in seeing the results but especially emotionally because a choleric gets the most sense of satisfaction from a job well done.  These are all good, valuable traits, and rightly admired in our society with its can-do attitude.

Melancholics like myself do not receive the same accolades or appreciation by American society.  We often find ourselves overlooked and our contributions devalued.  We are “a voice in the wilderness.”  Interestingly enough, this also meshes with and validates our worldview.  We expect the world to be this way because we tend to be more aware of the dark side of life–the suffering, antagonism, fear, despair, and brokenness–and we need space to slowly find our equilibrium among these crashing cross-currents.  When a choleric is faced with brokenness, his first response is to fix it, while the melancholic’s first response is to sit with it, understand it, and grow by it. To the choleric, this response is wrong-headed or weak-willed, it looks like giving up and acquiescing to the dark.  Of course, there is a danger that we melancholics may slide into despair, but there is also beauty of soul that comes from listening to sadness and an ability to empathize with and comfort the broken-hearted.  Sitting with those who cannot be fixed but can only weep and sigh may demoralize a choleric but profoundly encourages the melancholic.  We feel that we are finally being real and truly connecting at a deep heart level, and that soul-bonding is what we value most in life.

So the choleric is good at fixing, the melancholic at comforting; the choleric is good at action, the melancholic at contemplating; the choleric has good solutions, the melancholic has good questions; the choleric sees neat and clean distinctions, simple blacks and whites, while the melancholic sees a vast spectrum of slightly differing detail, complex grey-scale; the choleric sees opportunities, the melancholic sees concerns.  In a hundred other ways my father and I fundamentally differ from one another and it has a very big impact on what we feel, how we act, what solutions work for us, what we identify as problems, how we approach relationships, and basically each thread that makes up our fabric of life.  We see and interact with the world in very different ways, even in how we relate to God himself, even in how we understand who God is.  So these differences go to the roots of who we are and what we believe and how we relate to each other.  How profoundly important, then, to ponder these things and seek for self and other understanding.