Archive for the ‘encouragement’ Tag

Embracing the Cactus   Leave a comment

Today I ran across this video from 2011.  It is a vignette of two famous actors who have been in the gutter more than once, but prop each other up with forgiveness and acceptance as they stumble along.  Hollywood films portray beautiful truths, but Hollywood lives rarely do.  Here is a two minute “acceptance speech” by Walter Downey Jr. that is a message of hope for those of us who are recovering sinners



Posted January 15, 2013 by janathangrace in Story

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Spiritual Overdrafts   2 comments

fireworksI am an artist and poet at heart.  I’m not referring to my abilities, but to my perspective and energy.  I have powerful visceral responses to all things creative, whether by God or fellow humans, and my mind bursts into a flurry of thought shooting out in all directions like a fireworks display.  Within minutes, each separate thought has branches and sub-branches like a cauliflower head bursting into bloom in my mind.  It is exciting, invigorating,  delicious.

dusty roadBut when my spirit is tamped down by depression, I stumble along with just enough energy to lift one foot at a time between long halts to rest.  Everything around me is dusted with dullness like the shoulders of a dirt road.  I can see and appreciate beauty, but it does not sink into my heart to awaken life.  As a young man I was so full of energy and purpose and hope, but I spent it all on “virtuous” sacrifices that broke down my spirit rather than building it up.  I did not live out of the spontaneous delight of who I was but out of the driven obligation of who I should be.  I did not live from the joy of God’s love, but from the fear of his frown.  I lived out of the law and not out of the gospel.

Emotional energy is much like a sponge–once dried out, it loses its powers of absorption.  Without some emotional reserve to start, I cannot soak up the encouragements around me.  I see them, but cannot feel them at any deep level.  They do not renew me.  Because it takes time for the good to soften my soul, I need an oasis in which to rest, an environment rich with living waters, but in my experience those spots are rare and brief, and so the desert winds parch away the rain that falls.  I catch and hoard my little cupful, but it does not last long.  Had I lived from the start out of my true self and in the riches of God’s grace, the energy I used for good would have been a renewable resource.  But I feel as though my forest is chopped down, and I must start over, scratching out life from the dust.  I see hopeful saplings of emotional growth, but the full rewards seem still a long way off.


Posted December 7, 2012 by janathangrace in Personal

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Light in the Dark [God’s Love Letters]   5 comments

Matthew 1:4 And Nahshon fathered Salmon.

The name Salmon appears only once in the Old Testament, at the end of Ruth in a four-verse genealogy.  (He appears one other time as Salma in a mirror genealogy of Chronicles). 

In the town of Bethlehem, Salmon’s son Boaz plays supporting actor in the romance play Ruth.  As a historical introduction to Ruth, the book of Judges tells of the steep moral decline in Israel, ending with a 3-day civil war in which tens of thousands of Israelis are killed.  Bethlehem was at the epicenter of this huge national crisis for it all began with one of their own daughters being brutally gang-raped and dismembered.  Without a timeline we do not know whether Salmon was a soldier in this battle, but he certainly struggled against the corruption that engulfed his country.

Salmon lived in the days of the Judges, and that book finishes ominously, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”  But springing up from this maelstrom of evil is Ruth, a book of hope, whose last verse reads: “To Boaz was born Obed, and to Obed, Jesse, and to Jesse was born David.”  That is to say, King David, forefather of the promised Messiah.  Yet Salmon had no glimpse of this hope.  He died in the night that swallowed his nation.

In spite of this, Salmon (according to Matthew’s genealogy) was in the center of the world’s great channel of redemption.  Without knowing it, he was the father from whom the Christ was to be born.  His life and history and progeny were surrounded by God’s richest outpouring of grace, the giving of His very Self to the world.  How might this realization have lit up his darkness with hope, his trials with patience, his life with purpose?   And amazingly, we are each in that very place of Salmon… in a far better place, actually.  

We are not simply in a long line of succession through whom God’s grace will eventually come, but we are today channels of God’s grace to the world.  The Messiah has come.  He is here.   If Christ is in us, then He is shining out from us to the world, despite how troubled and confused and pointless our lives may seem or how foreboding the shadows. I am his candlestick, and it is mine to burn, however feebly.  It is His to shine that light where He sees fit, and He always makes the best use of every flicker.  I am His vital partner in this bedraggled world’s salvation.

Posted November 12, 2012 by janathangrace in Bible Grace

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The Ups After the Downs   Leave a comment

Things were going fairly badly this last weekend.  My several hundred dollar chain saw died before Friday’s storm, which not only was a loss of that amount, but prevented me from making money clearing trees for the thousands who had trees down (about every other house on our street, for instance).  A huge tree from our yard was uprooted and crushed our neighbor’s shed, and I was trying to find out our home-owner’s insurance deductible (but the insurance company was closed for the weekend).  Our power went out, and hundreds of dollars of food was spoiling in our fridge and freezer.  We had no air conditioner or fans or ice on the very week the tempurature decided to climb above 100F.  My mower stopped working in the middle of cutting a lawn on Saturday, and I had no way of getting it up the steep ramp into the back of my truck (it weighs 500 lbs.).  I had to finish the 1 acre lot with my push mower (in said heat).  We had no internet to know what was going on (when the power would be back on, for instance), and my brother, undeterred by our lack of electricity, suddenly showed up in town for a visit (from the West coast)… we offered him warm orange juice and a candle to use the bathroom.  In this sweltering heat, we soon found out the electricity would be out for a week.

The financial hit was troubling me most as I have been unable to drum up enough clients to make my summer mowing economically feasible for us.  On Monday, I reached State Farm and found out that since this was an “act of God,” my neighbor’s insurance would be responsible to cover the costs.  My wife and I had been planning to visit a nearby friend (her “step-aunt” I guess) to celebrate the 4th and spend the night.  When they found out our electricity was down, they very graciously opened their home to us and allowed us to pack our refrigerated food into their fridge and freezer.  So here we sit in a beautiful lakeside house for the week, forced to have a vacation we could never afford.  As we were packing up to drive down here, Kimberly brought out a netbook she had but never uses.  I forgot it was around, and suddenly I realized I have the replacement for my laptop (which I’ve been badly missing for 2 months) only smaller and so much handier.  I figured out how to get the mower onto my truck (backing it up to a bank where I had towed my mower and pushing it in on the level ramp), and on Monday I was able to fix it with a $6 spring.  All in all, the week has been a wonderful refresher.

Posted July 4, 2012 by janathangrace in Life

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India (part 3): Encouragement   10 comments

I have many Indians that are dear friends to me and whom I love, so I was sad to go to Kolkata (Calcutta) for only 5 days and under such tensions.  It would be wonderful to spend a month or two there.  Of course, when I speak of my own sense of failure in India, my friends there should remember that “success” and “failure” are relative terms, and in my youthful idealism I had highly unreasonable expectations, so I was setting myself up for inevitable “failure.”

In the end, my impossible expectations and sense of failure turned to a blessing for me, because it forced me to see that my sense of worth was tied to success, and healing could only come by freeing myself from that crippling deceit.  Folks reassured me that I was indeed successful,  but when they tried so hard to prove my successfulness, it only made me think that success must be a crucial support to my worth.  For my own well-being I could not listen to such words, because I had to establish my worth apart from what I did or did not accomplish.

On this trip my renovated perspective on grace had largely freed me from this emotional success trap, so I was able to take pleasure in the good things God had done through me in India.  Whether or not this passed the bar of “success” really did not matter to me any more.  As I walked the streets again and all the old feelings flooded back in, I realized that, however misguided I had been, I was also very sincere and genuine while living there, and I saw evidence that this had been used by God in the lives of many.

Some children from the new branch school

Friday was a very special day for me because I went to visit the school which David Nallathambi, Hemlota Das and I had started together in Taldi.  I believe they have some 350 indigent students who would otherwise be uneducated and trapped in the generational cycle of poverty.  This year they started a branch school in a nearby village to facilitate the education of 5 and 6 year old children who were walking 2 miles through the mud to come to school.  Young men in Taldi held a special program for me of singing and sharing, each one rising to relate how dramatically our presence in Taldi had transformed their lives.  It was a huge blessing for me.

Young Taldi boys

Thanks to all of you who have supported this work through the years.

Posted August 29, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal

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Encouragement for Failures (Part 3)   1 comment

Yes, Mardi often writes very long letters and emails! 

And as for my assertion that my life is essentially unsuccessful, you really do have to accept standard methods of measuring success.  It has to be one or more of the following :

1) the quantity of people affected by your work or personality – the greater the number the greater the success

2) the quality of people impressed by your work or personality – the higher the level of expertise of the persons doing the evaluation the higher the success

3) the amount of money, recognition, or power achieved by your work or personality – the greater the financial, acknowledgement or power achievements, the greater the success.

4) the number of things which you attempt to do, which you actually do.

So you really can’t honestly place the achievements of my life anywhere near the top end of any of those measures of success.  But if that isn’t a problem for me it shouldn’t be for anyone else.  In fact you should be really grateful to the Lord that He has given you the privilege of having a member of your immediate family be given a non-successful life trajectory.  There are things which can only be learned from that perspective, truly valuable and meaningful things which cannot be perceived from the perspective of the successful life trajectory.  By being included in my life, there are things that you can learn that you could never learn from your success-intensive life style!

Each person is given certain things in their life in order to learn some unique and individual aspect of the True Reality, not the perceived reality of our cultural environment.  Learning that particular thing your life has been designed to teach is the purpose of every person’s individual life.  And as each of us spends a life-time learning that one thing we have been given the advantages to learn, all of us – as a culture and as humanity – move forward toward our corporate goal.

Now you say, but what has all of that got to do with God’s plan for us.  Well there is one overall general plan he has for everyone – to turn from ourselves and surrender to Him and to begin the journey with Him and for Him and to Him.  However within the context of that universal plan there is a unique individual set of gifts given to each person.  And those gifts include the disappointments, the pain and the difficulties of life as well as the blessings.  Our weaknesses are as much a gift from the Lord as our strengths; our failures are as much a gift as our successes. And the purpose of all of it is to teach us something special and unique; and through us to bless the wider communities of which we are a part.

Success has no intrinsic value in itself as such.  The experience of failure and success can both have value if you begin to learn from them. And by that I do not mean that we learn from our failures how to avoid failure in the future or from our successes how to increase them in the future. That whole business of putting a value on success as something to attain and a negative value on failure as something to avoid is totally illusory. Are you believing me yet?  Failure has taught me the absolute illusion of the idea that success has value.  It has freed me from the dominating tyranny of the need to succeed.  So failure has a lot more value to me than success.

Why don’t you see what Buck Hatch [Christian psychology professor at my alma mater] thinks of this theory!  I’ll bet he likes it!  But you’ve got to present it as I have and not your personal bias on what I’ve said!

And as for my argument that art is a skill that anyone can learn.  If you came to stay with me for one month and took lessons from me for 6 hours a day (2 three-hour sessions a day) and practiced in the hours remaining, I could have you drawing as well as me.  I’m really not that good compared to the average working artist in America today.  I’m at the low end of mediocre.  That’s not a problem though.  I was a bit discouraged when I first began to honestly appraise my work on a number of levels and had to admit this about it.  But now that I’m inculcating my own philosophical perspective of the uselessness of success, I’m a lot more comfortable with honest appraisals of my work and my life that don’t turn out so attractively.

You can think about my theory and send me your rebuttal when you’ve got it all worked out.  But you have to have a workable theory that pertains to anyone –  like mine did.  You can’t just say you don’t see my life in that light and try to prove how my life doesn’t fit that pattern.  You’ve got to come up with an alternate theory of all of life that applies to anyone and addresses all those issues and resolves them with your theory!

Posted July 18, 2011 by janathangrace in Guests, Uncategorized

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Encouragement for Failures (Part 2)   1 comment

Mardi’s letter to me continued:

I began to think of life as a school in which each person who is born is given a unique curriculum especially designed just for them.  It includes many gifts that will give pleasure and gifts that will give pain.  There will be things to strengthen and things to challenge.  There will be things that seem to help and things that seem to block us.  But the purpose of everything is not to become or to achieve or to acquire any of the things we end up using our lives to become, achieve and acquire.  They are all given to us in order to teach us something more, greater, something of Real value.

People who are successful have been given a curriculum that includes success in the things they attempt.  But the purpose is for them to learn something through the experiences of success.  They cannot take credit for their success.  It was given to them.  What counts is whether they learn that thing of Real value that success was given to them to learn.

And non-success can be given to others for the same reason, to learn something Real that only the experience of non-success can teach.  That thing is the real purpose of the experience – the real purpose of all the experiences of our life.

Everyone seems to think that success is not only a thing of great value, but it is perhaps the thing of greatest value in life.  In fact it appears to be such an absolute necessity that everyone gets very upset when I assert that I am unsuccessful and they try to come up with a definition of successful that will allow me to be included.  They don’t seem to understand when I try to explain that success really isn’t valuable.  We don’t need it. We can live very happily without it!

But how does this relate to your pursuit of your own dreams.  Well, when I came up with this theory I decided it wasn’t so important that I figure out how to overcome my non-success and achieve the great American dream of success.  I thought perhaps it was more important to sit back and thoughtfully evaluate the experiences of my life so far.  I think you need to be at least in your mid-30’s before you have enough life experiences to begin to recognize your individual pattern.  It seemed clear that for whatever reasons, my life was being exemplified by large amounts of non-success.  So instead of fighting a pointless battle to achieve a dubious goal, I decided to accept my gift of non-success and begin to try to explore it’s potential for leading me into an even deeper spiritual awareness.

So perhaps for you, you might want to take a look at your life and see what degree of success you can expect given your track record so far!  I like to call it a success ratio.  It’s a ratio of the percentage of our efforts that have been successful as compared to those that have not been.  If you’re having only a moderate success ratio, or a low success ratio in the various areas of your life, then perhaps you won’t want to pursue the more elaborate and intense version of your dreams.  You might want to scale down your expectations and re-think your dream in terms of what you might be able to achieve.

I don’t know if you like that idea.  I can hear the high-power achievers calling it “defeatist”.  But is it defeatist for a guy who is 5ft.2 to decide that maybe he should try to be a jockey instead of spending his life trying to get into the NBA?  You could mention Muggsy Bouges.  But in addition to being given a short body he was also given extraordinary skills, great speed, a consuming passion for the game of basketball and a high success ratio.   In evaluating our potential in life we need to consider all our gifts, gifts of strength and gifts of weakness. If success is something that is given to us in order to learn something of greater value, isn’t it simply wisdom to accept our personal success ratio, learn how to live with it and learn from it.

Well, since we couldn’t finish our discussion on success ratio, I thought about it on the way home and polished up my argument a bit more.  I realize that everyone is so uncomfortable with my ideas on success because our Reformation Protestant European work ethic perspectives have equated success with our personal value, our meaning in life and our fulfillment as persons.  We think we must have success to have value, meaning and fulfillment.  In fact none of these are actually connected to success and most other periods of history and other cultures understand this much better than the average American who has put them all in the same computer file.

So to say I am not successful – and probably never will be – does not mean that my life has no value.  My life derives its value from the fact that I am made in the image of God.  Every life has the same value.  No life, however successful, has any more value than another, no matter how desperate a failure.  The value of each life is, incredibly, as valuable to God as His own life!  If I am feeling devalued or being treated as of no value by those who have misunderstood the nature of the value of life, I have only to meditate on the true value of my life.  Value is not something you can be more or less successful at.  It’s not in the same category as things which can be rated as successful or not.

Lack of success also does not mean that my life has no meaning.  My life has been given meaning, a purpose and a goal by Jesus who came to show us God and to make a way for us to return to God who is our only true Love and only true Home.  And he made himself the way, so that we have not just a sure pathway but a loving companion.  That is all the meaning any life could need – to walk with God, through God, in God, to God.  And once again that is not something I can be successful at, it is simply something that has been given to me and I enter into the gift.

And fulfillment in life cannot be attached to success either.  That which produces fulfillment in life is love – giving love and receiving love.  Love is something that comes out of your heart, it’s not an accomplishment which can be achieved in varying degrees of success.  It is like your breathing – you breathe in the love of others and you breathe out love to others.  And the ultimate source of all the love we have to receive and give is God from whom we come and to whom we are returning through Jesus.

Success not only does not produce value, meaning or fulfillment, it also cannot affect these things.  They are totally independent of success.  The imaginary value of success in our culture is purely illusory.  It has no real value at all.  And yet people assume it holds the very key to a valuable, meaningful, fulfilled life.  This illusion is so pervasive that even Christians get uncomfortable when I assert that my life is essentially unsuccessful.  They do not want to listen to my happy acceptance of this assessment.

Posted July 17, 2011 by janathangrace in Guests, Uncategorized

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What Do You Think?   6 comments

In a message to a friend I wrote the following some time back.  I would love to get everyone’s thoughts, to get a dialogue going.  Are you game?

When I said that different folks are helped in different ways (and by different kinds of people), I meant that even the downcast are each sad in his or her own way, with unique history, issues, perspectives, coping strategies, resources and the like.  When I was struggling in Calcutta with deep depression, a well-wisher sent me a copy of “Spiritual Depression” by a noted evangelical writer.  The author’s premise was that depression always arises from a lack of faith.  I have discovered in my own life that depression and sadness may be a demonstration of a much deeper faith.  Many people are too afraid (i.e. lack the faith) to allow themselves any unpleasant feelings.  They constantly keep such feelings at bay by various means of escape (entertainment, overwork, even reading the Bible).  It often takes a great deal of courage (i.e. faith) to acknowledge one’s unpleasant feelings, and if we push those feelings away, we will never discover what they are trying to tell us about ourselves.

So many folks are also afraid that not challenging their friend’s moodiness will encourage him either to mope and cling to his depression (a “pity party”) or to use his depression to manipulate others.  These two unhealthy responses do occur.  On the one hand, no one is completely honest, even with themselves, about their feelings.  So some folks use depression to avoid their true feelings because of fear of acknowledging their anger or sadness or pain (just as other folks use cheerfulness to avoid their genuine emotions).  On the other hand, they may use their depression to try to control others.  The solution for both types of folks is not to push them out of feeling sad, however, but to help them discover their true feelings beneath their depression while maintaining good boundaries relationally and emotionally (i.e. not yielding to manipulation).

Some folks want you to cheer them up from their sadness, either because they are not ready to face their deep unpleasant feelings or because their sadness is superficial and probably only circumstantial.  (After all, no one likes to feel depressed—everyone would rather always be genuinely cheerful if it came with no negative side effects.)  They may in fact need “cheering up,” though in my perspective even these folks are usually more benefited by an expression of sympathy for their sadness, at least initially and tentatively: an offer to be with them in their pain, if they wish, instead of helping them to avoid it.

Posted July 10, 2011 by janathangrace in thoughts

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