Archive for the ‘thoughts’ Category

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.

The Power and Pitfalls of Well-Integrated Personalities   4 comments

Personality is a major organizing force in the development of our worldview, our personal way of making sense of the world and shaping our approach to it.  Our natural outlook is not inherently right or wrong as though there is a perfect personality to attain. Rather, God has made us each with our own abilities, roles, emphases, and perspectives so as to offer unique contributions to each other. Every personality comes with its strengths and weaknesses—we offer our strengths as gifts and receive the strengths of others to help with our weaknesses.  Like the interlocking hollows and loops in jigsaw puzzle pieces, we come together as a whole.  In this way our differences can be a great  bond for relationship and a source of insight and growth when handled with mutual respect and validation.

But alternative views are often at odds with our own perspective and so appear meaningless, confusing, or threatening–not understanding how to inter-connect, we knock against each other.  I discovered this to be a huge part of the conflicts Kimberly and I had early in marriage. It is not simply that Berly and I disagreed about our boxes of morals, relational expectations, and the like… but that she had no boxes.  I was trying to discuss box dimensions and what fit where, and she said, “What boxes?”  Without boxes, even “outside the box” thinking doesn’t exist.  I am analytical and she is intuitive, I need categories and she needs space, I want clarity and she wants connection.  It was the tower of Babel in miniature and without a translator.  I didn’t disagree with her individual points, but with her whole system.

The more cohesive my worldview, the stronger and more stable it is, like the many separate strands a spider weaves into a web, and in a well-integrated system, when one strand is touched, everything is set jangling, so trying to incorporate a perspective at odds with one element threatens the whole.  For instance, Kimberly said she was hurt by my words, but was not blaming me.  That made no sense in my world where pain was proof of fault–either she was too sensitive or misunderstood me or I was too insensitive.  We had to establish responsibility so we could figure out how to fix it.  She wanted to share, I wanted to fix.

I can see the benefit of her view: sharing puts us both on the same side of the issue, blaming sets us up against each other.  But that one idea threatened my whole system.  Is no one responsible for anything?  That would be chaos.  Or do we let everyone determine their own standards?  That would be war.  Trying to integrate her one idea raised a hundred questions about good and evil, spirituality, relationships, God… the whole enchilada.  I was tempted to find a slot to squeeze her idea into, validate her perspective by twisting it to fit my worldview.  In this case, between my boxes of “hurt blamed on speaker” and “hurt blamed on listener” I could add a box of special cases, “no-fault pain.”  The threat is quelled and my system holds together, but at what price? I fail to truly understand my wife or to stretch and grow in any substantial way.  My system is fundamentally challenged, but I shunt the new idea onto a side-railing where I can occasionally access it for special use with my wife.  But getting savvy about word choice to avoid conflict is hardly the same as real understanding, acceptance, and validation.

To truly understand Berly, I had to understand her from within her own worldview, not as addenda to mine.  To validate her, I had to find a way to also appreciate her worldview.  To benefit from her view, I had to find a way to make her ideas meaningful and important, to make room in my system for who she is and how she sees the world… in other words to change my worldview by valuing and incorporating her perspective.  It took years and was not smooth sailing, but love finds a way, and it changed me for the better in a hundred ways.

Posted August 20, 2015 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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Reading the Heart’s Braille   Leave a comment

I woke up today with a sweet dog snuggled up to me and a loving God looking down on me with a good-morning smile. I lay there talking with Him for some time, and then sat up and all the good feelings drained away like cascading water. This is a regular occurrence, and I’m not sure what to make of it.

I’m like an emotional preschooler, unable to understand my own emotions–what I feel and why I feel that way. I have the emotional theory down pretty well, but like passing a written driver’s test, knowing the answers on an exam doesn’t help much behind the wheel. Trying to interpret the principles into practice is still largely a conundrum for me. I’m not sure approaching it like a science is the best route anyway. If I thoroughly studied gravity, balance, muscular response and tried to apply that knowledge to learning to ride a bicycle, I think I would find it more a hindrance than a help.

But that analogy fails to capture the complexity and variability of emotions, and the experiential feedback I get is not like falling off a bike—it is not immediate, clear, and simple. Occasionally I know straight off that I got it right–that my gentle response to a harsh retort came from a healthy place and felt emotionally rewarding. But that immediate and clear reading of my heartbeat is rare and comes after a great deal of struggle, trial, and slowly growing insight into some facet of my heart. Often my response is partially unhealthy (which part, and how?) and my emotions are conflicted–a dash of fear, a sprinkle of false guilt, a slather of confusion, a pinch of hope.

We all ride bikes the same, but our emotions play out uniquely for each of us. So we learn basic principles about emotions, but using them to understand ourselves (and others) is a complex skill that must be learned the long, hard way by practice, regularly skinning our knees and running into things in the process. It takes fearlessness, tenacity, and commitment.

Had I been taught as a child to notice, validate, understand and respond affirmatively to my feelings, I think I would have learned the process and developed the skills by now. In our inescapably fallen world, I was rather shaped by society directly as well as through its influence in my family and playmates to ignore, judge, and control my feelings. Anger was forbotten, sadness was curtailed, fear was mocked. Meanwhile love, hope, and joy were pushed as the acceptable feelings to manufacture and share. And in turn I too became a spinner of these lies. In short, a great deal has to be unlearned and long-ingrained reflexes untaught, in the process of discovering what is true and good for our hearts. So we misplace our true selves early in life and get further lost with our borrowed and faulty compass and map.

What might come naturally, like learning to walk, now requires much deeper insight to untangle our confused legs, clear up our bleary eyesight, and reorient our backwards direction. Unlearning is far more difficult and involved than learning fresh from scratch. The whole outlook must be re-oriented before individual bad habits can be addressed and a healthy direction taken, and all of this must be done in the face of constant opposition from the world around us.

Society says, “Don’t worry, be happy!” and ostracizes us when we frown. The church agrees with “Worry is a sin against faith!” and judges us if we share our fears, especially tenacious fears. How then can we find a way to validate our own experience and feelings, to be understanding and empathetic with ourselves? It often feels as though we are on our own, swimming against a very strong current.

So I write this to those of you on this long journey with me because it is so easy to get discouraged and lose hope. The road to recovery seems to be so hard and take so long. Weariness and doubt and confusion drag down our resolve and steal our hope. Let those of us who wish to take this way encourage one another. I believe in you!

Posted July 17, 2015 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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The Emotional Complexity of Father’s Day   Leave a comment

Wherever father’s day is celebrated, it is packed with emotions, sometimes simple and straightforward (at either end of the spectrum), and often a complex swirl of thankfulness, regret, delight, anger, pain and comfort.  Relationships are always complex, wonderful in a hundred ways and awful too because our flawed humanity leaks out on everyone around us and distorts even the good that comes to us from others.  There is no “right” way to feel about any relationship, so do not demand of yourself or others some prescribed emotion.  Today is culturally designated as a time to think of the good in our fathers, and if you are able to do so honestly, then by all means join the festivities.  For those whose heart is not in the celebration, that is okay too.  Be gracious to yourself and others as best you can.

Healthy emotions are mixed emotions–it is okay to laugh over some memory of a loved one whose funeral you are planning and it is okay to be somber at a birthday party, even your own.  Feelings ebb and flow, mingle and separate, clash and fuse. Try to foster a context of safety for your feelings to find a voice within your heart, even if not expressed outwardly.  Giving them a space of their own is especially difficult on occasions when certain feelings are assumed, expected, or even demanded because we have a false notion that feelings must compete and the right one must win and and squash its rival.  Those who are happy feel threatened by sadness in others, those at peace feel threatened by the fearful or angry (and vice versa), and so we try to coerce or barter or cajole them into having feelings that agree with our own (or at least pretending to).  We even do it to our own feelings.

Unfortunately, this process feeds an unhealthy loop–assuming emotions are competitive, we feel threatened by the “wrong” feelings and push for conformity, and in so doing we create even more tension between feelings that could otherwise peacefully coexist, not only within a group, but within a single heart.  Life is complex, people are complex, and so we should expect a complex mix of emotions.

I have many, very deep reasons for being grateful for my father and his impact on my life.  I have issues around that relationship as well, but the very fact that I am honest about those with myself and those close to me gives me the full emotional resources to set those aside for a time and simply celebrate my father, who is a good man, flawed (like all of us) but good.  It is the practice of listening to my own feelings compassionately that builds my emotional security and maturity so that my heart is able to embrace other flawed humans with compassion and understanding.

So today I celebrate with you or grieve with you, whatever your heart needs.  We are in this together, this crazy dance called life.  We often get it wrong, even with the best intentions, and that has to be okay.  Let us give grace to ourselves and to our fathers on this day and find ways to celebrate the broken beauty of who we are.

Posted June 21, 2015 by janathangrace in thoughts

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