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:

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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:

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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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