Archive for the ‘Honesty’ Tag

Killing Me Softly   1 comment

This afternoon Kimberly and I were listening to an NPR Fresh Air interview of musician Sam Baker.  He was the victim of a bombing in Peru by the communist group Shining Path, which prompted one of his striking lyrics: ‘Everyone is at the mercy of another one’s dream.’  Yes, we daydream of weddings and families, homes and careers, but our plans collide:  mother and daughter over weddings, husband and wife over child-rearing, homeowner and banker over late mortgage payments.  If we can’t agree over a music station driving to Walmart or where to hang wet towels, how can we compromise our deepest, longest held dreams.  Must I abandon my dreams to fulfill yours or do we each halve our hopes?  Does relationship shrivel potential?

Group goals differ from personal goals, and each has advantages and disadvantages over the other.  Choosing relationship changes dreams, but if we are innately social beings, then purely individual plans are misguided and incomplete.  We can only be our true, whole selves and fulfill our potential within the context of relationship.  It is in togetherness that our richest dreams are shaped.  With God’s help even difficult relationships can enhance our journey; we can turn the barricades thrown up by our enemies into stairsteps to the stars, just as Sam’s devastating injuries gave him a new and better purpose, to write songs on albums titled Mercy and Say Grace.  I want to live in such a way that those who cross my path, even briefly, find help on their way rather than hindrance, encouragement rather than pain.

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After the interview I told Kimberly I like NPR anchors.  They are nice people.  Even when they disagree with their guests, they are polite and respectful.  On his website, Sam reflected about his interaction with (NPR’s) Terry Gross, “I talked to her last week in Philadelphia at WHYY.  I am a long time listener and a fan and was nervous (and a bit intimidated) to talk with her.  She is gracious and charming and I am deeply grateful.”  Kimberly replied to me, “Those gentle people are the only ones I want as friends.”  I said, “That’s funny because you didn’t marry one!”   Mind you, I try to be gentle.  I’m just not very good at it, like a lumberjack with a bone china teacup, and I often feel deeply flawed as a human being for not being nicer.  So why would Kimberly choose me?

We’ve had this discussion many times.  In spite of warming up to nice, she keeps choosing real instead, because (as it turns out) you can’t really have both–no one can always be sweet and still genuine.  When we let our insides out, the shadows appear.  Kimberly was raised on nice, and didn’t discover her anger until she met me.  She fearfully buried that part deep inside from everyone, even herself, and it was killing her.  The folks who keep the ugly locked inside not only hurt themselves, but short-circuit their relationships.  If I trust you only with what’s admirable, then you don’t know me and can’t love me for who I am.  To truly connect at the heart level, we have to share more than happiness.  As it turns out, I’m very good at real, both in being vulnerable and accepting others in their vulnerabilities, and that is what Kimberly needs most deeply.  When she committed to our relationship, she gave up on her safe, carefully crafted dream and woke up to a reality far better.

Some dreams are in fatal conflict, and pursuing them tears everyone down.  Surprisingly, fairytale endings often fit this mold because they are unrealistic, delusive, and usually selfish, and they depend on everyone involved having precisely the same unchanging vision.  Trust me, after the credits roll, the sheen of Prince Charming dulls quickly as he wipes his mouth on the kitchen towel and forgets to replace the TP roll, and if Cinderella enforces her Hollywood dream, everyone else is going to be living a nightmare pasted over with smiles.  May we all learn to dream together, to find the richest, fullest expression of ourselves in the symphony of relationship.

Go in peace, go in kindness,
go in love, go in faith.
Leave the day, the day behind us. Day is done.
Go in grace. Let us go into the dark, not afraid, not alone.
Let us hope by some good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.

–Sam Baker–


Valentine’s Day for Depressives   5 comments

On Valentine’s Day while Kimberly was at the doctor’s, I stomped my heart out on our front lawn to surprise her.

snow valentine's

It was spontaneous, with little forethought, because I love my wife and want to express it, but when I am bowed down with depression, my energy is used up on today’s survival, not tomorrow’s plans.   This is how depression often plays out in a committed relationship–with what little energy we have, we give, and we appreciate the gift, however small.  It may look meager and haphazard, and to be honest, sometimes it feels that way, but in a cold world with thin blankets what we need most is a close friend.

The substructure of our relationship is good, very good, but the frills are often missing.  Far from being a problem, this is a sign of our marriage’s strength.  Many couples count on the frills to smooth over their stresses.  To mollify an angry outburst, he brings home a bouquet or she whips up a banquet instead of sorting through their feelings with empathy and honesty.  They’ve tried that and it doesn’t work.  They begin with “Let me be honest,” and it goes downhill from there.  So they opt for the smooth-over.  But when frills become the primary language of love, flubbing it can threaten the relationship.

Depression strips Kimberly and me of many of these emotional bonuses, so we cannot use them as a substitute for the honest, hard work of sorting out our differing views, feelings, and thoughts.  Of necessity we learn to make room for one another’s weaknesses and limitations, trust one another’s hearts, accept one another’s efforts.  Without frills to fall back on, our relationship becomes deeply grounded, and our small offerings of love become far more meaningful.

The first thing Kimberly saw each morning as she left for work last week was the heart I stamped out in the snow.  And for her it was not just a romantic gesture, but a symbol for what beats behind the image, a heart she knows intimately and feels safe in because she courageously shares her true self and is embraced for who she is.  Hallmark and Whitman’s can never compete with that.

Posted February 25, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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Healing Takes Time   Leave a comment

Forgiveness 5: Sorting Out My Feelings

When I am insulted or slighted, abused or betrayed and the offender won’t discuss it, at least not honestly, I try to decipher her on my own so I can better shape my response.  In every conflict I want to be as gracious as I’m able, starting with grace to myself so that I will have the resources to be gracious to the offender, genuinely gracious—out of freedom, not obligation.  Self-acceptance, not shame or duty, is the soil from which true forgiveness springs.   When I am wounded, it may take time to recover my own sense of grace (that is, to settle into God’s grace).  It takes as long as it takes.  It is crucial that I not sacrifice my own well-being by rushing to work through emotional issues.  I do not nurse my hurt, but I should not belittle my hurt either.  Neither of these is an honest and healthy approach.  Doing a quick patch-up job is disrespectful of and harmful to myself as well as our relationship.

Again, my focus is on my own pain, not on blaming the other person, but since I have been hurt, I no longer feel safe with her.  Until I have found some personal resolution, our relationship will also lack resolution.  I may need a break from our usual level of interaction… whatever I need to stay emotionally safe long enough to work through my own stuff.  I should tell her clearly that I am not punishing her, that this is about me and what I need and not an effort to manipulate her into feeling bad or changing her behavior.  (And I need to be sure this is true.)

Ultimately I want to somehow get to the point that I feel no ill will towards her.  Whether I reach this through exonerating her or through forgiving her is not crucial as long as I am respectful towards myself (my perspective and feelings) in the process.  I may decide that this is primarily my own issue and not hers.  I may determine that she is at fault, and that I will need to forgive her.  I am not her final judge, so I may fault her wrongly, but forgiveness still works: it frees me from suffocating on my own anger and bile.

Posted March 28, 2013 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Disapproval   Leave a comment

Kimberly and I were visiting her relatives in Arkansas for a week, and some days after that, my laptop died.  It is much easier for me to pick up my laptop as I sit on the sofa and begin to compose, but now I must come into our office and sit at a desk to compose, and it takes away the spontaneity and ease (and requires coordination with my wife).  So I’ve been missing.  Kimberly read to me this morning from a book written by the father of a boy with disabilities.  He quoted a poem by Wendell Berry that I appreciated and so will share here:

You will be walking some night
in the comfortable dark of your yard
and suddenly a great light will shine
round about you, and behind you
will be a wall you never saw before.
It will be clear to you suddenly
that you were about to escape,
and that you are guilty; you misread
the complex instructions, you are not
a member, you lost your card
or never had one. And you will know
that they have been there all along,
their eyes on your letters and books,
their hands in your pockets,
their ears wired to your bed.
Though you have done nothing shameful,
they will want you to be ashamed.
They will want you to kneel and weep
and say you should have been like them.
And once you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness.
They will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach. Be ready.
When their light has picked you out
and their questions are asked, say to them,
“I am not ashamed.” A sure horizon
will come around you. The heron will begin his evening flight from the hilltop.

Posted June 5, 2012 by janathangrace in Poems, Reading

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Today’s Marriage Homily   2 comments

I married off my sister-in-law today and gave this message.

The Third Strand Makes All the Difference

     They say love is one long sweet dream and marriage is the alarm clock.  I can testify to the truth of that.  But waking up is not a bad thing unless you want to spend your life in a coma.  Erin & David have been through a lot together already and gotten to know each other pretty well.  I’ve been impressed to see them work through major decisions like buying a house, employment changes and relocation.  Still marriage always brings in new dynamics.

Before marriage there is always a question, you have to have a backup plan, you can’t really trust the future.  Marriage is a commitment for life.  It gives the safety you need to work out personal and relational issues, strength and courage to engage in difficult endeavors, and instead of a place to call home, you will have a person to call home, a resting place for your heart.

No longer I and you, but us: as the song says, “Me and You Against the World”.  Everything that happens to you happens to the other as well.  Every relationship you have becomes part of the marriage (as you can see here today).  No decision you make will be for you alone, but will involve your partner in some way.  You start thinking about “us” instead of “me.”  What does “our” future hold is a very different question from what does “my” future hold.

the bride and parents

In Ecclesiastes, a cord of three strands, is about three persons: husband and wife, and the third I am inclined to believe is God himself.  But I would like also to consider the three strands of love, three crucial expressions of love, the dynamics that hold the strands together.  I call them “graces” to emphasize that to work well, they must flow not simply from you, but from God’s heart through yours to your mates—loves 3 strands.

Grace of Acceptance

Love is full of delight, so accepting one another should be easy, right?  But you are human, you will fail and hurt and misunderstand each other.  All marriages have these struggles, but healthy marriages acknowledge and face them honestly.  This does not mean detente where you just sidestep issues, but a real effort to understand, respect, and make room for your differences.  Learn to recognize and respond to one another’s true needs, the needs of the heart.

I can’t tell you how much personal healing and growth I have gained from Kimberly accepting my weaknesses as well as my strengths.  It is scary.  It may feel uncomfortable to cry in front of your wife, for instance, but if I do not let her in, I stay locked inside myself.  When you are given permission to be yourself, to bring all of who you are into relationship, and be embraced as a whole person, it gives you the safety and strength to accept yourself and grow into the beautiful person God designed you to be.

The problem comes when your spouse is just “wrong.”  How can you accept that?  Trying to settle who is “right” and “wrong” will probably make matters worse.  Accepting them is not agreeing with them–it is rather trying to understand where they are coming from, what their needs are, and how those needs can be met.  Where do you get the strength to love unconditionally?  Only from God.

Grace flows from Him into us before it flows out from us to our spouse.  We need to discover ourselves as loved unconditionally before we have the strength and security to love another truly.  Author and minister Brennan Manning says, “God loves you as you are and not as you should be!  Do you believe this?  That God loves you beyond worthiness and unworthiness, beyond fidelity and infidelity, that He loves you in the morning sun and the evening rain, that He loves you without caution, regret, boundary, limit, or breaking point?”

 Grace of Trust

Giving someone your trust is a great act of love.  You can only be vulnerable with the deepest parts of yourself, those things you want to hide from everyone, to the extent you can trust the other person.  But you can’t order trust for overnight delivery.  It is a life long intentional process.  You can’t make someone trust you and you can’t simply choose to trust another.  A deep level of trust is never simply granted to someone, even the one closest to you, but is earned step by step as you share your inadequacies and receive empathy in return. Everyone doubt’s their own loveliness. You can each be the reflection of God’s loving eyes to the other.

There will be stumbles and falls along this journey of building trust.  Expect it.  The pressures of the world blast against you and blow you off course, but this is the bedrock to which you always return, this commitment you make today and every day after: to live in integrity–being honest, understanding, and accepting, out of a heart growing in love.  I have seen that you two have such a commitment to being honest with one another, that you are willing to show each other your emotions, even the difficult ones.

Nothing is more powerful a support than someone knowing your failings and loving you regardless, I don’t mean the failings that are obvious, but the ones you have hidden all your life.  Out of fear of rejection you covered them up, you felt unlovable because of these shadows. But how can we ever feel secure until we find someone who will love us after knowing us completely?  God does this for us, but we need someone to show us this, someone with skin on, with a voice and smile and hug we can really hear and see and feel.  Having experienced this with Kimberly, I can say this has been the truest revelation of love to me.

Grace of Sharing (Listening, Understanding, Respecting)

Set aside regular times when you turn off the TV, turn off your cell phones, forget your To-Do lists, and concentrate on listening to one another.  It will take hard work and a lot of time.  I can tell you ahead of time that you will need to learn a new language and culture, become an anthropological researcher.

Erin, you women are complicated creatures.  You understand each other by some magic telepathy.  Please remember that our brains don’t tune to that channel.  If the man asks, “How are you?” and you say, “Fine!” he will take your word for it, give you a peck on the cheek and sit down with the remote.  You have 49 distinct meanings for ‘fine’ depending on your intonation, your eyebrows, your lips, your hands, your posture.  You are so eloquent… but we completely miss your subtlety.  We can only understand what you say plainly with words.

David, never assume anything.  You don’t know women, not even Erin.  The good news is you can learn, the bad news is it will take a lot of effort and patience.  You have to ask questions repeatedly.  You probably won’t even know the right questions to ask, which is okay because Erin already knows what she wants to say.  You just have to open the door.  Even if you don’t understand at first, but really listen, she will feel better.  By listen, I don’t mean nodding and saying “uh huh” as you watch the Colts fumble.  The DVR was invented to save marriages.

Kimberly and I come from different families, backgrounds, experiences, and personalities, and when she shared bits and pieces of her perspective with me, they didn’t fit into my worldview.  It sounded like Chinese.

We all have unique perspectives, which seem normal to us.  If my point of view is normal to me, then your point of view has to be abnormal.  We all stand at the point we think is the correct balance.  To the right of us are conservative tightwads and to the left are profligate spendthrifts.  To the right of us are workaholics and to the left are lazy bums.  On this side are the messy and on the other are the clean freaks.  Where you stand is always “reasonable” (otherwise you wouldn’t stand there).  This means the other person’s position is “unreasonable.”  So you will always grudge yielding.

Kimberly wanted me to vacuum behind the sofa where no one could see the dust, not even us.  It was “unreasonable.”  Many of you say “Your wife is right, that is very reasonable.  What is unreasonable is cleaning behind the hot water heater.”  But those who clean behind the hot water heater see that as normal, it is the people who scrub their driveways that are bonkers.  Whatever your position, it is what it is.  Erin, your view is entirely legitimate.  David doesn’t have to agree that you are right and he is wrong, but he needs to respect your perspective and make room for it as much as he is able.  And the same for you Erin.  That big scrap of metal he wants to keep looks like trash to you, but to him it is a little piece of a dream.  Let him have a shed to stack his dreams in.

The source of these expressions of love, these graces of trust and vulnerability, listening and understanding, respect and acceptance, the source is God, the strand that keeps the cord from unraveling.  It is crucial to your marriage that each of you individually and as a couple develop a deep, honest, trusting relationship with God, find in him the grace you need for yourself and one another.  His love is limitless as the sky, constant as the sun, deeper than the ocean, eternal and unconditional as only God Himself is.  In Him you will find life, and through him your marriage will be a little taste of heaven (with a few quarrels mixed in).

Posted November 6, 2011 by janathangrace in thoughts

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The Dark Road   1 comment

This is a powerful picture by a poet/author of the struggle of depression.

It’s the other pole of life, the negation that lives beneath the yes; the fierce chilly gust of silence that lies at the core of music, the hard precision of the skull beneath the lover’s face.  the cold little metallic bit of winter in the mouth.  One is not complete, it seems, without a taste of that darkness; the self lacks gravity without the downward pull of the void, the barren ground, the empty field from which being springs.

But then, the problem of the depressive isn’t the absence of that gravity, it’s the inability to see–and, eventually, to feel–anything else.  Each loss seems to add a kind of weight to the body, as if we wore a sort of body harness into which the exigencies of circumstance slip first one weight and then another: my mother, my lover, this house, that garden, a town as I knew it, my own fresh and hopeful aspect in the mirror, a beloved teacher, a chestnut tree in the courtyard of the Universalist Meeting House.  They are not, of course, of equal weight; there are losses at home and losses that occur at some distance; their weight is not rationally apportioned.

My grandfather, whom I loathed, weighs less to me in death than does, I am embarrassed to admit, my first real garden, which was hard-won, scratched out of Vermont soil thick with chunks of granite, and a kind of initial proof of the possibility of what love could make,  just what sort of blossoming the work of home-keeping might engender.  Sometimes I seem to clank with my appended losses, as if I wear an ill-fitting, grievous suit of armor.

There was a time when such weight was strengthening, it kept me from being too light on my feet; carting it about and managing to function at once requred the development of muscle, of new strength.  But there is a point as which the suit becomes an encumbrance, somthing that keeps one from scaling stairs or leaping to greet a friend; one becomes increasinglly conscious of the plain fact of heaviness.

And then, at some point, there is the thing, the dreadful thing, which might, in fact, be the smallest of losses: of a particular sort of hope, of the belief that one might, in some fundamental way, change.  Of the belief that a new place or a new job will freshen one’s spirit; of the belief that the new work you’re doing is the best work, the most alive and true.  And that loss, whatever it is, its power determined not by its particular awfulness but merely by its placement in the sequence of losses that any life is, becomes the one that makes the weighted suit untenable.  It’s the final piece of the suit of armor, the plate clamped over the face, the helmet through which one can hardly see the daylight, nor catch a full breath of air….

After years and years of resisting, of reaching toward affirmation, of figuring that there must always be a findable path, a possible means of negotiating against despair, my heart failed.  Or, to change the metaphor, we could say what quit was my nerve, or my pluck, or my tenacity, or my capacity for self-deception.

Posted November 3, 2011 by janathangrace in Reading

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Vulnerability, by Definition, Is Painful and Scary   5 comments

I finally have enough emotional space in my life to continue my conversation about the conflicting needs in my marriage.  I will first restate my perspective on emotions so you can understand my explanations (whether or not you agree).


No one likes unpleasant feelings, and so we all try to escape them.  I think that is actually their purpose–like bodily pain that alerts us to physical harm, emotional pain alerts us to psychological  harm, though it is the source of the pain rather than the pain itself that needs to be addressed.  In other words, our unpleasant emotions are valuable and beneficial in protecting us.  But since they hurt, we want to avoid the feelings themselves, and when Christians teach that such feelings are wrong, we believe we ought to avoid them: fear is a lack of faith, sadness is a lack of joy, despair is a lack of hope, anger is a lack of love, and so on. Not only do you feel bad, but you are wrong for feeling bad.  As a result many of us have tried to directly control our emotions as a moral obligation, “get over” our weak and “sinful” feelings, talk ourselves into feeling better by controlling our conscious thoughts with “truth.”  My own perspective is that when truth is wrongly applied it is simply another form of untruth.
Talking down our feelings may work with superficial and circumstantial emotions (ones which do not connect to deeper underlying issues).   But if they are revealing more profound issues, I believe this approach waylays our attempts at growing more mature and healthy, like using aspirin to fight migraines that come from a brain tumor.  I think we undermine our growth whenever we disrespect our own feelings (through denial, dismissal, shaming, etc.). As long as our coping mechanisms successfully distance us from our true, unhappy feelings, we are unlikely to recognize and work through our big issues.Coping mechanisms can be more addictive and blinding than pain killers when they are habitually used as the answer to our pain.

Neither Kimberly nor I would have faced our painful feelings if we could have successfully avoided them.  I have numerous coping mechanisms: redoubled effort, procrastination, comparing myself to others, busyness, self-castigation & repentance, fixing, passing blame, detailed planning, control… and I could go on.  Unfortunately, all these combined could not protect me from those unwanted feelings.  I needed help.  I needed to find a spouse that would shore up my inadequate defensive arsenal, someone who would be so sweet and supportive and gracious that I could find peace and security at last.  I was sure I had found this in Kimberly.Kimberly had spent her life hiding her true feelings from others because she quickly learned the world did not like her unhappy feelings.  She badly needed someone to accept her fully as she was, and she found that in me, or so she thought.  I had very little discomfort with her depression and felt honored that she would share with me these vulnerable parts of herself.  She discovered that she could trust me to accept all of who she is.

But as we grew closer and more fully knew each other, as we grew in trust and shared more vulnerably, our conflicting coping strategies poked out.  To protect myself against this assault, my coping mechanisms kicked in, and when she smacked against my defenses, she put up a wall.  I would feel blamed and shame her in defense.  She would withdraw into self-protective silence or try to explain her words in ways that simply hurt me further.  The tension escalated, and all we knew to do was to keep talking it out… for hours… for days… for months and years.

We were committed to the relationship and to honestly working through our issues, we respected and loved one another adamantly, so our only way forward was to try to understand the painful dynamics.  I explained myself over and over to Kimberly and she asked questions and tried to understand.  She told me about herself, repeating the same confusing messages week after week while I struggled to make sense of it.  Our way was slow, painful, scary, confusing, but we found ourselves on a journey of deep self discovery and healing wounds.  We were constantly dumbstruck by this unexpected dynamic–that understanding and sharing our pain with someone who loved and accepted us was so amazingly transformational and life-giving.

Posted October 26, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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