Archive for the ‘encouragement’ Tag

Them’s Fightin’ Words   Leave a comment

For those of you who find encouragement from challenges to fight on, here’s a great video:

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Posted July 7, 2016 by janathangrace in Story

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Singing in the Dark   1 comment

We need good stories, stories of courage and generosity and unexpected kindness.  In this dark world, we need to share stories of endurance and empathy and reconciliation–not to falsify reality, to romanticize the present or expect fairytale endings here, but to remind us that there is some good still, some glimmer of light to warm our hearts.

Bubblewrapping ourselves with comfortable lifestyles to avoid this broken world may bring picket-fence peace, but is not living by faith.  Faith is never a denial of the bad.  The very reason we are called to live in hope is that our present is rife with heartbreak.  The tintinnabulations of good that we catch are echos of a future yet to be.  So we tell those little stories of good to recall our coming deliverance, to remind ourselves that the infinite and eternal glory of God that surrounds this dark closet of our earthly days is the far greater reality, though it only reaches us through the cracks of our prison.  Those glints of good we share with one another makes our suffering more endurable though it may not lighten our present pain.

So come let us sing to one another in the dark and encourage our hearts with hope of redemption.  God is good, and one day we will see it and feel it and breathe it, but until then let us cheer ourselves with the little sparkles of good that we daily encounter.

Of the many heart-warming stories out there, here is a good one.

Posted May 29, 2015 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Death Makes Us All Better!   6 comments

Obituaries bring out the best in people, both the writers and the subjects.  Hearing a genuine and discerning appreciation of someone, even someone I don’t know, draws my soul down into grace.  It breaks through the clouds of an otherwise mean and turbulent world to shine down kindness and love and acceptance, reminding me that deep goodness still threads its way between hearts that open to it.  When I hear it, I want to be part of that spirit of generosity, to appreciate the good in others without restraint or caveat.  So those eulogies not only bring out the best in writer and subject, but in listeners as well, a spreading contagion of grace.

But I am reluctant to make any commitments (like “memorial Mondays”) because I am a master at turning opportunity into burden, love into law.  Grace which is forced is just legalism in a tux trying to push its way into the party–it looks good till it takes over and puts all the guests in straight-jackets.  So it is just a hope that I can share some stories of folks, dead or alive, who have blessed me.  I’d love for readers to share stories of their own here as well, a column of living obituaries.  There is a lot of good out there for us to notice and appreciate.

Posted March 5, 2015 by janathangrace in Personal

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Somebody May Need This Today   2 comments

For 18 years now I have been struggling with depression.  It gets worse or better suddenly and without reason for unpredictable periods of time.  My latest downturn came in winter.  I’ve tried so many different strategies to lift my spirits, pushing myself into things I’d rather avoid, but the fixes never hold.  The last few days have been crushing.  For two nights running, I bunkered down in my office instead of sitting at the reference desk, coming out only when someone needed my help.

Yesterday Berly emailed me a link to a TED Talk video about community, and I watched it this afternoon.  It was very touching, especially the story of a crippled elephant cared for by her herd.  Like that elephant I am broken, but in ways no one can see.  My depression is far more debilitating to my life than a wheelchair would be.  But that 15 minutes shared by a South African storyteller sang some relief into my tortured day.  It made me think that maybe I can make a small difference for one person by sharing life on this blog, perhaps a spark of connection, a sense that you are not alone in your struggle.  I don’t need to be clever or poetic or memorable.  Just being myself, sharing my little scraps of hope and discovery, struggle and pain, may lift someone’s flagging soul, even for an hour.

May we somehow, across the distances, touch one another with compassion and understanding and find a little relief in our shared stories.

Posted April 17, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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A Flickering Candle In A Darkening World   11 comments

I was washing dishes in the kitchen yesterday and thinking.  My mind follows me everywhere and won’t shut up.  Suddenly I felt the bottom drop out of my stomach as I reflected on a political article I had been reading.  The current state of civic engagement in America is deeply disturbing to me, but what drives the stake into my heart is the entrenched position of my own people, the church… at least that part of the church I have always called home spiritually.  It feels to me like our world is careening around hairpin turns in the dark and the headlights just died.  This is not going to end well.  And leaning against the sink with dripping hands I realized another huge source of my depression.

I have known for many years that my personal sense of failure drove me into a deep depression.  I gave it everything I had and just couldn’t make it work: the overwhelming poverty of India mocked my attempts to help.  It is a great blow to realize your life is meaningless in the greater scheme of things, that your world, even your small corner of the world, will go on as it always has with or without you.  Still, though I wasn’t making a difference, someone was making a difference.  I had lost all hope for my own personal relevance, but I knew that the good side would win.

Then I slowly realized my pointless life was not in contrast to the overall progress of the world, but was a microcosm of it.  All the good in the world–the huge, sacrificial efforts of selfless people–did not and could not ever reverse the direction of this tragic human story.  Suffering is alleviated and evil stopped in small back eddies of history, but the world as a whole flows on in its destructive ways.

At some point in my own journey I finally understood that the positive, upbeat message on which I was raised was a false narrative that we told each other to keep us fighting a losing battle.  Against all the evolutionary optimism of my culture, the world would never be a better place, and there was nothing any of us could do to change that.  One war would succeed another, today’s tyrant would rise on the ashes of yesterday’s, a new disease would always spring up to laugh in the face of all our medical advances.  We were doomed to play violins on the deck of our sinking Titanic.  I was not just a failure in my own small sphere, but my story was one line in a great tragedy. My impotence was a small, dark reminder of the miserable whole.  I was not simply hopeless about myself, I was hopeless about the entire world.

I’m not suggesting we should stop playing our violins.  If we are all going down, perhaps we can bring some small comfort to face the disaster.  But if we hope that our stringed ensemble will keep the ship from sinking, we set ourselves up for repeated disappointment, and despair at last.  We will either strum more and more violently trying to drive back the rising waves or we will pretend the ship is fine and turn a deaf ear to the cries around us.  In a crazy way I found hope in hopelessness yesterday.  Sweeping away false hope clears a space for realistic hope.

It is not useless to adopt one mangy mutt from a city full of strays, give one store clerk a smile in her long, harsh day, clarify a point for one person on a website crowded with dissenters.  It is no small thing to bring laughter to a child’s cancer ward, to give a sandwich to a man three days hungry, to hold the hand of a mother whose son was killed in Iraq.  Perhaps I cannot cure Alzheimer’s, but I can listen lovingly to the same story repeated for the fourth time.

We have violins, let us play them.

Posted April 9, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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Pushing Gratitude   4 comments

One of my friends posted this to Facebook yesterday:

gratitude

Right then I was in an emotional place to find that picture encouraging, but often I’m not.  The friend who posted this is gracious and gentle, so I would not take offense even if I were in the throes of despondency, especially since she did not send it personally to me.  I only want to underscore the importance of context–my emotional framework shapes my understanding of the message (and this message of positive spin is one of the fundamental tenets of our American culture).  Notice how crucial the background picture is to the sentiment–its impact is subtle but powerful.  Let me demonstrate:

earthquake2

That is a profoundly different message, hugely dissonant.  What was a nice nudge towards contentment is suddenly disturbingly trite.  When someone’s inner world feels this broken, thankfulness will not fix it.  Gratitude has a role even in tragedy, but it is not the remedy for tragedy.  The hungry need food, the homeless need shelter, the lonely need companionship, the vulnerable need safety, the wounded need healing.  Sometimes what I have is not enough, even if I’m grateful.  Scripture wisely tells us to weep with those who weep rather than give them reasons to cheer up.

I realize some folks want to be pointed to the positives, but for many, the chipper “Be grateful!” can be code for “Stop whining!” and that shaming message discredits their needs and belittles their distress.   Perhaps what they need is permission to feel the injustice, encouragement to sit with their sadness,  help to empathize with their own sense of loss.  Maybe the very words they need to hear are, “Yes, it is bad, very bad.  You must feel awful,” rather than, “It’s not as bad as it seems. Look on the bright side.”  Perhaps we could all benefit from learning to sit longer with our sorrow.

Posted March 19, 2014 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Surprised by Grace   Leave a comment

Matthew 1:6 and Jesse fathered David the King–

roy_rogers_and_trigger01As a schoolboy, I refused to sleep late Saturday mornings because the Roy Rogers Show came on at 7:30.  Dressed in white from his stetson to his boots, my hero galloped in on his white horse Trigger.  He stood for all that was good.  But every villain rode in on a charcoal horse with an outfit as black as his heart.  I was raised on stereotypes, and perhaps little kids need that kind of over-simplification, though I’m not so sure.  All kinds of bad come from boxing people into categories, even favorable categories.  The girl whose identity is built on her reputed good-looks is just as bound and broken as the one whose essence is shaped around her reputed bad-looks.  The jock is as vulnerable as the geek to being squeezed into expectations and assumptions that suffocate his true self.

Weighing down others with our expectations or stooping under theirs deflects the flow of grace in our lives because we can never fully predict where God is taking us and who he is shaping us to be.  Wise counsel is always a support for self-discovery, not a substitute for it.

david_in_the_bible__image_4_sjpg1913But Jesse has clear notions of his sons’ abilities and roles, so he sends his youngest, David, into the fields to shepherd and marches his big brothers off to soldier.  After all, an older, larger, stronger man is clearly more fit to fight.  Just ask Goliath.  When the prophet Samuel came to look among his sons for the next leader of Israel, Jesse did not even deign to bring his youngest in from tending the sheep.  He clearly did not qualify.  Samuel himself, the very mouthpiece of God, looked at the oldest, tallest son and thought he’d found God’s choice.  They expected the storyline: “Jesse fathered Eliab the King,” and that would have been as messed up for Eliab as for David… not to mention Israel.  His own father, who knew him from a babe, and God’s anointed spokesman both missed who David really was.

Expectations and norms can blind us to the best gifts of grace.  God’s valuations are so often different from ours.  When our assumptions determine our direction, we are quite likely to miss the way.  Even wise, godly folks have blind-spots and spiritual myopia, but if we stay open to the surprising and unexpected appearances of grace, God has freedom to bring out our internal wonder and unique capacity.  Grace is always on the loose, hawk-eyed for every chance to draw out our inimitable beauty.

Posted February 17, 2014 by janathangrace in Bible Grace

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I Wonder   4 comments

I wonder what it’s like to be normal, to feel the weight of life’s stresses and hardships balanced out by its joys and pleasures.  I wonder what it’s like not to fight against deep misery every day. not feel crushed by the brokenness of the world.  I expect that when the bumps in the road seem small, the catch phrase verses and bumper sticker encouragements have enough lift to clear your axle.  For the average guy, commonsense advice for tackling problems probably works.

My Facebook friends cheer one another on with links to meditations and quotes that inspire them, and I hear one more rousing verse of Kumbaya as their bus pulls away from the stop where I am left standing.  Unfortunately, I can’t even force myself to see my world from this positive perspective.  I cannot “choose” to be happy.  I’ve tried.  I would have to live in denial of my actual emotional experiences, and I seem constitutionally incapable of that.  I can choose to follow God, to trust Him as best I can, and I do, each day in the face of emotional riptides, but it has led to only tidbits and crumbs of peace and joy.

What is it like to feel life is good, expectations and hopes are often satisfied, and goals motivate rather than burden?  What is it like to have all that extra energy, to have room for creativity and exploration and a wide range of possibilities?  I wonder how it changes a person’s perspective, spirituality, approach to the day’s happenings, understanding of others.   Do those folks use that big supply of emotional resources to understand and face into their fears?  At the expense of their own comfort, do they embrace those who are different and disagree.  Do they strip back their layers of self-protection and dig deep into who they really are?  I wonder.

Posted September 16, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal

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Hope When Hope Is Gone   Leave a comment

Matthew 1:5 and Obed fathered Jesse

Obed is to me a sign of hope when hope has breathed its last,  CPR hope.  For some of us, like Naomi, life seems like a ragged march of crippled dreams, and we wish for it all to be over.  After Naomi and her family were driven to destitution by a famine, they fled as refugees to a foreign country where her husband and both sons died.  She returned in old age to her homeland with a widowed and childless daughter-in-law Ruth, and they survived as beggars.  Naomi was not only at the end of her own fruitless life, but with no offspring, she was at the end of her whole family’s history.  She began life full of promise–Naomi means pleasant–but all those hopes were dashed along the way, and she was tottering towards a pauper’s grave.  She told everyone to stop calling her Pleasant and instead to call her “Bitter.”  Her hope had burned out. Then hope lit up her darkness.  In the last extreme something happened, something unexpected and outrageous–a wholesale redemption.  Ruth married Boaz and gave birth to Obed.

defibrillator

According to Old Testament law, Obed, the son born to her daughter-in-law, was Naomi’s own grandson.  In one moment her life was transformed from penniless, meaningless, and future-less into the bloodline of the Son of God.  Her friends called Obed her “redeemer, restorer of life and sustainer of your old age” (Ruth 4:14,15).  Grace, even last minute grace, rewrites our whole history.  It does not simply counterbalance the negative, but transforms it into something great and good.  That is the meaning of redemption. Take all the zeros of our life strung together, and add this one element of grace and it changes 000000 into 1,000,000.  However empty and broken our lives seem, the message of Obed is that grace sweeps us into the grand scheme of God’s redemptive purposes.  “Why are you cast down, O my soul?  Hope thou in God.” (Ps. 42:11)

Cohen

Posted September 4, 2013 by janathangrace in Bible Grace

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The Best of All Things   3 comments

Today is our anniversary.  Since I come home from work after Berly is in bed, I was able to do some shenanigans to surprise her in the morning.  She woke up Wednesday to banners draped from the rafters reading “BERLY IS THE BEST”.  On Thursday she found a 3 foot paper flower I had made and a love poem.  This morning she came downstairs to see an 8 foot tall card I made her covered with a list of her attributes.  Here’s a snap of the card and the ten page list of attributes follows (I could have written hundreds more)–hey she deserves a lot more than a giant card!  I spent some time this morning selecting a few of her good points and expounding on them to her.  I was thinking to myself, “Hey, she’s married to me, so that wealth of goodness is all mine too!

Me and Berly

“A few of the hundreds of reasons I am glad you are my wife”

CAPABLE, ENDURING, FORBEARING, FORGIVING, GENTLE, LONG-SUFFERING, MEEK,

MILD, PERSEVERING, PERSISTENT, SELF-POSSESSED, SERENE, TOLERANT, TRANQUIL,

UNDERSTANDING, CONSIDERATE, CALM, COMPOSED, EQUABLE,

KIND, TEMPERATE, CONSIDERATE, RESPECTFUL,

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

MILD-TEMPERED, ACCOMMODATING, VALOROUS, ATTENTIVE, BENEVOLENT,

GLADDENING, COMPASSIONATE, KINDLY, MINDFUL, OBLIGING, SOLICITOUS,

SYMPATHETIC, TACTFUL, TENDER, LEVELHEADED, TENACIOUS, THOUGHTFUL,

UNSELFISH, WARMHEARTED, UNCRITICAL, UNDEMANDING, UNHURRIED,

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

DISCERNING, STABLE, STEADY, TOLERANT, FORGIVING, UNDAUNTED,

MERCIFUL, MILD, DILIGENT, STEADFAST, AFFECTIONATE, VALIANT,

APPRECIATIVE, BENEVOLENT, CARING, CONCERNED, EARNEST, EXPRESSIVE,

COMPETENT, FAITHFUL, LOYAL, SWEET, THOUGHTFUL, GOOD,

COURTEOUS, FRIENDLY, PERCEPTIVE,

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

GOOD-HEARTED, GRACIOUS, KINDHEARTED, LOVING, STRAIGHTFORWARD,

TENDERHEARTED, CONSIDERATE, RESPONSIVE, CONSCIOUS,

PEACEABLE, ENCOURAGING, HEARTENING, COURAGEOUS, INSPIRING,

ADMIRABLE, DELIGHTFUL, ENGAGING, ENJOYABLE, GRACEFUL,

DAUNTLESS, REFLECTIVE,

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

LIONHEARTED, STRONG, BRAVE, PEACEFUL, TRUE,

VALOROUS, HOPEFUL, SELF-RELIANT, SELF-SUFFICIENT, TRUSTING, WISE,

INTELLIGENT, TOUGH, REASONABLE, ASTUTE, AWARE, CAREFUL,

FRANK, CONTEMPLATIVE, INSIGHTFUL, PRUDENT, SENSIBLE,

TACTFUL, SOFTHEARTED, ATTENTIVE,

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

SUPPORTING, AWAKE, GROUNDED, RECEPTIVE, SENSIBLE, CLEVER,

ABLE, BRIGHT, DEEP, GIFTED, TALENTED, COOPERATIVE,

TRUTHFUL, CANDID, ABOVE-BOARD, AUTHENTIC, CONSCIENTIOUS,

DECENT, DIRECT, EQUITABLE, GENUINE, INTUITIVE, HONORABLE,

INGENUOUS, OBLIGING, OPEN, PLAIN, REAL, RELIABLE,

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

SINCERE, STRAIGHT, STOUTHEARTED, TRUSTWORTHY, TRUSTY,

UNFEIGNED, DIRECT, GENUINE, GUILELESS, UNCONTRIVED, UNPRETENTIOUS,

DEPENDABLE, COGNIZANT, RELIABLE, SOLID, SIMPLE, MINDFUL, THOROUGHGOING,

LOYAL, RELIABLE, CONFIDING, CONSTANT, ENDURING, HONORABLE, STEADY,

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

ACCOMMODATING, SOUND, AUTHENTIC, REAL, SOUND, STERLING, UNADULTERATED,

UNALLOYED, UNVARNISHED, PRAISEWORTHY, GENUINE, PROFOUND,

CONSCIENTIOUS, FORTHRIGHT, GUILELESS, COMMISERATING,

RESPONSIVE, SENSITIVE, SOFT, SUPPORTIVE, SYMPATHIZING,

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

EMPATHIC, RESOLUTE, HARMONIOUS, LISTENING, ACCEPTING,

ATTENTIVE, INTERESTED, OBSERVANT, ACCEPTING, DEPENDABLE,

AFFIRMING, TRUSTING, RESPECTING, AGREEABLE, EMBRACING,

COMPANIONABLE, SUPPORTIVE, ENCOURAGING, REASSURING, COMFORTING, GROWING,

DEDICATED, HARD-WORKING, FAITHFUL,

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

PURPOSEFUL, DETERMINED, ENGAGED, INDUSTRIOUS, UNFEIGNED,

SOFTHEARTED, SHARING, INTIMATE, PRINCIPLED, CONSISTENT,

UNBREAKABLE, BROKEN-HEARTED, EMPATHETIC, UNDEMANDING, WELCOMING,

WOUNDED HEALER, OPEN-HEARTED, WILLING, COMFORTER

AWESOME

Posted May 10, 2013 by janathangrace in Story

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