Archive for the ‘grace’ Tag

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.

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Posted June 25, 2016 by janathangrace in thoughts

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God, Dogs, and Unconditional Love   2 comments

From a blog I follow by David Anderson:

On the Monday following the terrorist rampage in Orlando, a dozen Golden Retrievers showed up in the Disney city. They were part of the K-9 Comfort Dogs team, a ministry run by Lutheran Church Charities. The dogs had come to give the kind of love and comfort that come only from a furry friend.

There was a time when bringing in dogs to care for the emotional needs of the traumatized would have seemed odd. But now it’s common. K-9 Comfort Dogs came to the emotional rescue after the Boston Marathon bombing, after the Sandy Hook shootings. “We’ve had a lot of people here that start petting the dog, and they break out crying,” said Tim Hetzner, president of the charity. “Dogs show unconditional love.”

…. Our love comes with a lot of conditions, a lot of strings. It doesn’t mean we’re bad people, it just means we’re human. We know that mom or dad love us, but they love us more when we visit more often, stay longer and discipline the kids a little more. Same with husbands and wives. There’s a baseline love, but more can be earned in all the ways we know.

Yet the one thing every soul seeks is simply that unconditional love, where there is nothing to be earned. So when I read stories about Golden Retrievers being flown in to offer stringless love to grieving humans, I can’t tell whether that’s a beautiful thing (how we’ve finally understood the emotional and spiritual capacity of our pets) or whether we have outsourced our love needs to animals because we can’t find a way to do it ourselves.

[Read the full text here]

Posted June 20, 2016 by janathangrace in Reading

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The Raw Edges of Life   18 comments

I read this piece in tears the day after my dad’s funeral where we were all dressed in black dignity, smelled of shaving cream and lilacs, and spoke in polite, quiet voices.  This story by Anne Lamott, one of my favorite authors, is raw and real and connects with the deep places in my heart that long for grace in the messiness of living.  The truest bonds come from sharing our brokenness with one another.

Then I called my Jesuit friend, Tom, who is a hopeless alcoholic of the worst sort, sober now for 35 years, someone who sometimes gets fat and wants to hang himself, so I trust him. I said, “Tell me a story about Advent. Tell me about people getting well.”
He thought for a while. Then he said, “OK.”
In 1976, when he first got sober, he was living in the People’s Republic of Berkeley, going to the very hip AA meetings there, where there were no fluorescent lights and not too much clapping — or that yahoo-cowboy-hat-in-the-air enthusiasm that you get in L.A., according to sober friends. And everything was more or less all right in early sobriety, except that he felt utterly insane all the time, filled with hostility and fear and self-contempt. But I mean, other than that everything was OK. Then he got transferred to Los Angeles in the winter, and he did not know a soul. “It was a nightmare,”he says. “I was afraid to go into entire areas of L.A., because the only places I knew were the bars. So I called the cardinal and asked him for the name of anyone he knew in town who was in AA. And he told me to call this guy Terry.”
Terry, as it turned out, had been sober for five years at that point, so Tom thought he was God. They made arrangements to go to a place Terry knew of where alcoholic men gathered that night in the back of the Episcopal Cathedral, right in the heart of downtown L.A. It was Terry’s favorite gathering, full of low-bottom drunks and junkies — people from nearby halfway houses, bikers, jazz musicians. “Plus it’s a men’s stag meeting,” says Tom. “So already I’ve got issues.
“There I am on my first date with this new friend Terry, who turns out to not be real chatty. He’s clumsy and ill at ease, an introvert with no social skills, but the cardinal has heard that he’s also good with newly sober people. He asks me how I am, and after a long moment, I say, ‘I’m just scared,’ and he nods and says gently, ‘That’s right.’
“I don’t know a thing about him, I don’t know what sort of things he thinks about or who he votes for, but he takes me to this place near skid row, where all these awful looking alkies are hanging out in the yard, waiting for something to start. I’m tense, I’m just staring. It’s a whole bunch of strangers, all of them clearly very damaged — working their way back slowly, but not yet real attractive. The sober people I’ve met back in Berkeley all seem like David Niven in comparison, and I’m thinking, Who are these people? Why am I here?
“All my scanners are out. It’s all I can do not to bolt.
“Ten minutes before we began, Terry directed me to a long flight of stairs heading up to a windowless, airless room. I started walking up the stairs, with my jaws clenched, muttering to myself tensely just like the guy in front of me, this guy my own age who was stumbling and numb and maybe not yet quite on his first day of sobriety.
“The only things getting me up the stairs are Terry, behind me, pushing me forward every so often, and this conviction I have that this is as bad as it’s ever going to be — that if I can get through this, I can get through anything. Well. All of a sudden, the man in front of me soils himself. I guess his sphincter just relaxes. Shit runs down onto his shoes, but he keeps walking. He doesn’t seem to notice.
“However, I do. I clapped a hand over my mouth and nose, and my eyes bugged out but I couldn’t get out of line because of the crush behind me. And so, holding my breath, I walk into the windowless, airless room.
“Now, this meeting has a person who stands at the door saying hello. And this one is a biker with a shaved head, a huge gut and a Volga boatman mustache. He gets one whiff of the man with shit on his shoes and throws up all over everything.
“You’ve seen the Edvard Munch painting of the guy on the bridge screaming, right? That’s me. That’s what I look like. But Terry enters the room right behind me. And there’s total pandemonium, no one knows what to do.The man who had soiled himself stumbles forward and plops down in a chair. A fan blows the terrible smells of shit and vomit around the windowless room, and people start smoking just to fill in the spaces in the air. Finally Terry reaches out to the greeter, who had thrown up. He puts his hand on the man’s shoulder.
“Wow,” he says. “Looks like you got caught by surprise.” And they both laugh. Right? Terry asks a couple of guys to go with him down the hall to the men’s room, and help this guy get cleaned up. There are towels there, and kitty litter, to absorb various effluvia, because this is a meeting where people show up routinely in pretty bad shape. So while they’re helping the greeter get cleaned up, other people start cleaning up the meeting room. Then Terry approaches the other man.
“My friend,” he says gently, “it looks like you have trouble here.”
The man just nods.
“We’re going to give you a hand,” says Terry.
“So three men from the recovery house next door help him to his feet,walk him to the halfway house and put him in the shower. They wash his clothes and shoes and give him their things to wear while he waits. They give him coffee and dinner, and they give him respect. I talked to these other men later, and even though they had very little sobriety, they did not cast this other guy off for not being well enough to be there. Somehow this broken guy was treated like one of them, because they could see that he was one of them. No one was pretending he wasn’t covered with shit, but there was a real sense of kinship. And that is what we mean when we talk about grace.
“Back at the meeting at the Episcopal Cathedral, I was just totally amazed by what I had seen. And I had a little shred of hope. I couldn’t have put it into words, but until that meeting, I had thought that I would recover with men and women like myself; which is to say, overeducated, fun to be with and housebroken. And that this would happen quickly and efficiently. But I was wrong. So I’ll tell you what the promise of Advent is: It is that God has set up a tent among us and will help us work together on our stuff. And this will only happen over time.

Posted June 13, 2016 by janathangrace in Reading

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Rescued   1 comment

Sometimes I feel truly overwhelmed.  Hope drains away and the future becomes dark… and then meaningless… and then too weary to even consider.  Days are reduced to a zombie-like stumble, a daily routine on endless repeat like a scratched album.

This fall I faced Mount Everest when I finally agreed with Kimberly to move to Asheville, NC.  Relocating is a huge effort, and just getting our house ready to sell formed an insurmountable list: patch and seal the driveway, repair the stone wall, replace the doorbell, finish remodeling the bedroom, paint the deck and porch and windows and basementandbathroomandkitchen… the tasks filled a page, single-spaced and two columns long.  I felt myself sinking under it.

But in my desperation God sent a guardian angel, my sister Mardi, who suddenly decided that she would take several days vacation-leave to come help.  Driving across three states, she dropped her bags on the floor and said, “Hit me with your list.  I’m going to work from 5 in the morning till 10 at night to get this stuff done.”  Kimberly and I had to tag team just to keep up with her pace.  Her energy flowed into my spirit and lifted me over the shoals so that I could keep going even after she left.  There is still a lot to do, but it no longer overwhelms me.  The wind she puffed into my sails keeps blowing me forward so that her sacrificial gift did much more for me than finish some tasks.

She made the difference for me by giving from her heart, without expectation, which is a pure expression of grace.  When I help others, I often expect that they will help me in return when I need it or that they will join with me as I help them or that they will at least be encouraged and feel better.  If nothing else, I expect them to be sufficiently grateful.  A gift that comes wrapped in expectations is really just a transaction, a trade, and can feel more like a burden than a blessing to those who receive it.  But Mardi gave without expectation, freely, and such grace is an artesian spring, filling our hearts and overflowing into others, the gift that keeps on giving.

 

Posted February 1, 2016 by janathangrace in Personal, Uncategorized

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My Life as a Legalist   Leave a comment

This article is worth your read.  It doesn’t offer a path forward (how to learn to love yourself), but it is a very good description of well-meaning legalists like I was most of my life and the consequences in myself and my relationships that I am still working to overcome.  The grace of God is key in this process of recovery, but it takes faith, time and perseverance.

5 Toxic Things That Will Happen If You Don’t Learn To Love Yourself

 

Posted January 29, 2016 by janathangrace in Reading

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Finding Peace within Pain   4 comments

“Be gentle and kind to yourself” I blogged two weeks ago.  “Take full measure of your pain and with compassion find a way to give the help your weary, struggling heart needs.”  Great advice, and as it turns out, useless.  I was suffering acutely, but didn’t know why.  How could I relieve a pain that I could not locate?  Loneliness may be remedied with a friend, loss may be resolved with healthy grieving, but the phantom pain of depression is often untraceable to any source.  I was completely stuck.

For a long time now I have been struggling to find relief from my pain… or at the very least find the best way to cope with it.  Should I follow a plan or be spontaneous, should I read or write, should I sleep in or get up early–what would be best for my soul?  I kept taking my emotional temperature, trying to figure out what helped or didn’t help, but the solution was a will-o’-the-wisp, dancing just outside my insight and control.

“And then somehow it came to me,” I journaled the next morning.  “What my heart needed was not support to find and apply a solution (friends, good job, insight, etc.), but just support as an end in itself. What my heart needed was simply that gentleness and kindness, for me to have an attitude of constant gentleness and kindness in how I saw myself, thought of myself, felt about myself. I needed self-compassion for my own pain and struggle and fear and confusion and sense of worthlessness—not to find a solution, but to just be on my own side through it all.”

I am a fixer from way back.  When I see others in pain, I want to help, give them suggestions, offer them a way to find relief.  This often backfires, unintentionally causing more hurt.  Kimberly wants me to listen with compassion, understanding, and empathy rather than solutions, but I’m a very slow learner.  I keep defaulting back to problem-solving even though I’ve discovered through her how greatly I also need to just be heard and not fixed.

If the best a friend can offer is not to stop my pain, but to hold my hand through it, then why have I never thought to practice this with my own heart, to be my own best friend?  What if I walked through each day with a tenderness towards myself, an empathy for my struggle, an awareness and responsiveness to the fluctuations of daily events and how they impact my heart?

I feel as though a new way of being has started to open up in my mind. I’m just learning the initial steps, but it seems to hold real promise for the next leg of my spiritual journey.  It does not mean my misery will lighten, but that I will be sensitive and caring about my ongoing pain.

Posted January 19, 2016 by janathangrace in Personal

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The Death of a Good Man   Leave a comment

This is the kind of eulogy I would wish for myself–not to be remembered for my intelligence or talents or accomplishments, but for a sweet spirit.  I think it will take another couple decades of fermenting to become what I wish to be.  Here is Daniel Radcliffe’s (Harry Potter) remembrance of Alan Rickman, the late actor:

 Alan Rickman is undoubtedly one of the greatest actors I will ever work with. He is also, one of the loyalest and most supportive people I’ve ever met in the film industry. He was so encouraging of me both on set and in the years post-Potter. I’m pretty sure he came and saw everything I ever did on stage both in London and New York. He didn’t have to do that. I know other people who’ve been friends with him for much much longer than I have and they all say “if you call Alan, it doesn’t matter where in the world he is or how busy he is with what he’s doing, he’ll get back to you within a day”.

People create perceptions of actors based on the parts they played so it might surprise some people to learn that contrary to some of the sterner(or downright scary) characters he played, Alan was extremely kind, generous, self-deprecating and funny. And certain things obviously became even funnier when delivered in his unmistakable double-bass.

As an actor he was one of the first of the adults on Potter to treat me like a peer rather than a child. Working with him at such a formative age was incredibly important and I will carry the lessons he taught me for the rest of my life and career. Film sets and theatre stages are all far poorer for the loss of this great actor and man.

Posted January 14, 2016 by janathangrace in Reading

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