Archive for the ‘Patience’ Tag

Driving Myself Crazy   2 comments

I drove to work after my last blog with my soul percolating in anticipatory tension.  Patience on the road is not my strong suit anyway.  I was gunning, braking, and swerving my way down the freeway, muttering about all the stupid and pigheaded folks who drove in the left lane as if they were the lead car in a funeral procession, when I realized my adrenaline rush was going to turn the workplace into a war zone.  I pulled into the right lane to settle down and set my heart in a better direction to cope with the fire-sale crowds at the paint counter.

Fearing the impatience of my customers made me defensively more impatient with my fellow drivers.  When I accept impatience towards me as legitimate, internalize that criticism as justified and blame myself as inadequate, I become a shareholder in a legalistic system, and with that system, I justify my own impatience towards others.  Slowness, incompetence, and bungling are never in themselves cause for incrimination.  We tend to see these as willful negligence, an intentional disregard, because we are frustrated and looking for someone to blame.  But the court of our mind cries out for consistency so that we must also blame ourselves when our missteps impede others’ plans.

In this way results, not intentions, become the basis for judgment, and we buy into a distinctly American morality that sees success as the inevitable reward of diligence and hard work.  Mistakes, especially repeated mistakes, are the sign of moral decay or personal defect.  We offer “grace” for a certain level of deficiency and stuff down our impatience, but cross that line and we pull out our corrective ruler to slap your hand for not living up to our expectations.  Yet grace that fits within a quota is not real grace, which is endless, and its goal is not meeting expectations, but giving us the fullest life possible.

Unfortunately,  like all forms of legalism, impatience used by us or against us is all of one piece, mutually reinforcing.  My impatience towards others forces me to accept their impatience towards me and vice versa.  If I do not live in a world of self-deception in which I am the definer of what expectations are legitimate (namely the ones I meet), then I live in world in which I am always trying to validate my worth.  I am driven to perfectionism in which I am my own worst accuser, and my only defense is to pull others to my level by pointing out their failures.

Our society is constantly reinforcing this legalistic worldview.  Each time I make a mistake in mixing paint, I feel like I need to somehow justify myself or prove to my supervisor that I have constructed a system to avoid that mistake in the future.  But I am human.  I get distracted or confused.  In the hubbub I forget to take necessary precautions.  I will keep making mistakes, and I need to find a way to support myself in my own mind, to be patient with myself.  Remarkably, I find that leaning into grace for myself helps me lean into grace for others as well.  And when I use my impatience of others to confront my own legalistic worldview and push myself back towards a grace perspective, it rebounds to an easier grasp of grace towards myself.

I think I need to spend more time in the slow lane.

Posted May 24, 2017 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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Turning Pain into Poetry   3 comments

I got choked up when a friend posted this John Milton poem to my page, a poem written as he was losing his eyesight.  It so perfectly reflects my own present struggle that it resonated deeply with me in a way it never had before.

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Posted July 4, 2016 by janathangrace in Poems

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Waiting Is so Hard!   7 comments

If your life is working out reasonably well, I am happy for you.  It is not my experience, though I daily put my heart and will into doing my best.  I feel like a dog chained to a post and told to fetch.  Most of my life I thought the whole exercise was about figuring out how to get loose so as to fetch.  That’s what smart, resourceful dogs would do.  I tried various strategies–twist to loosen the chain or pole, pull to break the chain.  I was apparently doing it all wrong, because I was a failure at fetching.  I saw other dogs retrieving all sorts of things for their master.  They had various schemes for getting free of their chain, but none of those worked for me.  I don’t have a life verse, but Kimberly one day laughed at spotting my life meme: “Well, that didn’t &#%! go as planned.”

Finally I decided that I had misunderstood my master’s intentions, and he just wanted me to sit and wait.  But what should I do while waiting?  If I were eventually going to be let loose to fetch, perhaps I should practice the skills needed… except those skills were only relevant for a retriever, and maybe that was not my purpose after all.  I was waiting for something.  What?  Was I supposed to simply learn to be good at waiting?  What does that even mean?  Patience and trust, I suppose.

Okay, so that is what my attitude should be, but what do I DO while practicing that attitude?  Is there a better way to sit or lie?  Inside the doghouse or out?  Do I keep my eyes closed or look at something… at what?  I was sure there were better and worse ways to wait.  Slowly anxiety overtook my patience–I need to be a better waiter!!  Apparently the one thing I do really poorly is wait.  And I am so legalistic I can even turn doing nothing into a standard to meet.

But look at all those other dogs doing their thing!  Dogs have legs to jump and run and mouths to grab and hold… they weren’t designed to just sit.  Are these joys of life the rewards for getting good marks in waiting?  Or is waiting well its own reward?  It doesn’t feel rewarding.  It feels like being forgotten, or worse still being rejected, like I’m not good enough to fetch.  As you can see, I still have a long way to go in learning trust and patience. Doing nothing is really hard!

 

Posted July 2, 2016 by janathangrace in thoughts

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A Visit from My Boyhood Self   Leave a comment

Caroline came to me at work yesterday with an apology, “I’m sorry I was hard on you yesterday.  I was slammed with a lot of issues I had to sort through and was feeling stressed.”  I said that I understood.  But she was not finished with her apology which rather quickly worked around to her frustration at me, still evident in her look and tone of voice, because I was apparently inadequate at my job.  Tears had started pooling in my eyes when she finally finished her lecture and turned to leave.

Having no customers to attend, I had some space to reflect.  Why did this exchange feel so bad to me?  I was better than most at handling displeased customers and angry colleagues, able to be courteous and sympathetic without taking it personally.  I felt the powerful emotional tug and followed the shame back to my childhood fears. This dynamic was very familiar, the sense that I was fundamentally flawed because I was too slow or stupid or inattentive.  It was not simply that I had failed in this one thing as everyone does, but that I had failed in a way that others did not, at least not responsible ones.  As a boy I figured dad would be patient with average mistakes, the kind he too made, so his frustration proved some deeper flaw in me.  Children who paid more attention, who got it on the first explanation, who didn’t repeat the same mistake earned approval.  I just had to try harder… but I could never quite overcome that achievement deficit.  I was stuck in a permanent sense of inadequacy.

Now whether my dad was too impatient or I was too sensitive is beside the point… or rather it completely leads us down the wrong trail.  The point is not to identify blame, but to identify dynamics–this is what happened and this is how it made me feel.  And seeing that dynamic clearly, and being the melancholic that I am (tending to self-blame), I immediately noticed how I treat others in a similar way, especially those I supervise.  My mind flashed back to the previous night when I had given an exasperated look and tone to a new student I was training because she wasn’t getting it.  I could see her face fall, and realizing what I had done, I quickly changed into a non-judgmental re-explanation.  But it passed through my mind as a common interaction, not something that called for further examination, one of those things I see as a flaw in myself that I need to work on, but with such a minimal focus that I make only incremental changes.

Okay, that is unfair to myself.  I have actually grown a lot in this area.  I just have a lot farther to go. If I’d had a little boy when I was my father’s age, I might have been much harder on him than my father was on me.  It is nearly impossible to break out of family dynamics without a great deal of reflection and understanding… and grace to myself, not just to others.  Given my temperament, I could easily turn this insight into self-blame, castigating myself for being hard on others and trying to scold myself into being more patient.  But shaming myself just makes me feel even more inadequate, leading to further dysfunction in my life.

For me, this is where reflecting on my childhood becomes so powerful.  When I find a reason for a deep-rooted unhealthy tendency in myself, when I can locate the pain I felt that I’m passing on to others, I can see myself with compassionate eyes, as the wounded one.  I can grace myself into healthier interactions instead of criticizing myself into being better, a stick I used my whole life that simply drove me into deep, unremitting depression.  I find that grace must begin with myself before I can pass it on.  We live in a fallen world, we have all been wounded deeply, and tracing that injury back to its roots can give us the insight and self-compassion we need to finally begin healing under the gentle touch of God’s grace.

Posted September 3, 2015 by janathangrace in Personal

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Running from My Feelings   2 comments

“Our inward winters take many forms- failure, betrayal, depression, death. But every one of them, in my experience yields to the same advice. ‘The winters will drive you crazy until you learn to get out into them.’ Until we enter boldly into the fears we most want to avoid, those fears will dominate our lives. But when we walk directly into them- protected from frostbite by the warm garb of friendship or inner discipline or spiritual guidance- we can learn what they have to teach us. Then we discover once again that the cycle of the seasons is trustworthy and life-giving, even in the most dismaying season of all.” Parker J. Palmer

Truth. Running from our fears, or even our depression, is not a long term workable solution.  It keeps us trapped.  Palmer even adds the one important caveat.  We can only face fully into our fears or depression to the extent we have sufficient internal and external resources, and since our cupboards are never fully stocked, there are always limitations on what we can fully face and for how long without some reprieve.  It is far more like tacking into the wind than sailing a straight course forward, and at times we simply must let the storm blow us where it will.  Those with meager resources have the least ability to leverage their way forward.  As with our calf muscles, we can overtax and strain our psyches and end up worse off for our excess efforts–more vulnerable and weak than before.  In that sense, it is the overall direction we set that is life-giving, but we must keep close watch on our resources so as to live within our emotional means or we will run a deficit.

I so appreciate the truth Palmer expresses.  I spent most of my life fleeing depression–not in diversions as some do, but in desperately seeking for solutions, cures, answers.  Desperation rarely opens the best way forward, and so I stilted my progress, narrowed my options, scrambled down false turns.  Kimberly taught me to slowly become accepting of my depression, to embrace the feelings and be sympathetic to myself in my suffering, to wait patiently for answers to come in the slow process of deeper self-understanding.

This is not at all the same as “giving-in” to feelings–allowing them to control me and take me where they will, which is a dangerous road to travel.  We seem trapped by a false dichotomy: to either capitulate to our feelings or subdue them.  We see it as a blatant power struggle, and there is no good way for us to respond from that perspective.  Feelings are like a road map–they inform us, they do not control us–and if we fear their power, the solution still lies in understanding them more fully in a self-compassionate way, not in pushing them away in fear or shame. Feelings that are denied have far greater control over us than those which are acknowledged.  They may control us by forcing us into the opposite choice–risk rather than safety, fight rather than flight–but they still control our decisions, only now more obliquely, beyond our awareness, making us far less able to recognize and resist their impact.

We accept our feelings into our lives as friends, not as dictators… or as captives.  How would you compassionately embrace your fearful friend?  You would acknowledge her feeling, show understanding for that feeling, legitimate her feeling as a feeling.  Wise and mature counselors will not try to “fix” the feeling (judge it, correct it, change it).  Feelings are always true and right as feelings.  They tell us something important about ourselves (not necessarily about our situation).  Because emotions are complex, they are often clues rather than direct assertions about our inner world (our anger may mask fear, our pride may cover insecurity).  We must patiently listen and learn over many years to slowly gain fluency in their language, but if we do, a whole world of self-understanding and healthy responses are opened to us.

Posted June 2, 2015 by janathangrace in thoughts

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When Life Drags Its Feet   2 comments

Patience was a virtue before the industrial revolution, but we’ve developed beyond that to aim rather for efficiency.  Waiting is passe.  In the old days we had to gather wood and build a fire to boil water, but then we invented electric stoves, followed by microwaves, and now (since we can’t wait 90 seconds) we have steaming water on tap.  We’ve discovered that frustration breeds progress–impatience is the new virtue.  All the important people are doing it.  I know I felt important–and righteous–when I was hurrying to do God’s work, but I think I missed a turn somewhere, because I seem to be stuck in the slow lane in God’s Kingdom… although, since I’m not even inching forward, maybe I’m in the back parking lot.

As I shared in my last post, I have never been good at waiting.  When God scheduled practice sessions, I played hooky, so I finally got sent to Waiting Boot Camp where I’ve been for a long time now because, apparently, I’m a slow learner. How ironic.  Waiting well is an art, and no one advances in it without first understanding its value.  What good does waiting offer?  Let me start by pointing out problems that come from not waiting.

First of all, there is the bad alternative solution, the shortcut that ends in a mess (ask Abraham about Hagar).  If the best solution requires more time, then every quicker solution is going to be defective.  It turns out that God’s not in a rush because he has all the time in the world (literally), and he’s savvy to the best rhythm. being both the composer and conductor of the symphony we call history.  In fact he IS the rhythm of history, so it’s kind of important that we get in sync with him. The point is to experience the music, not get to the end as quickly as possible. To play his music well, we must be as faithful to the musical rest as to the beat.  Timing is fundamental, good waiting is as crucial as good working.

Second, there is our own arrested development, the shortchanging of our own experience and growth, missing what God wishes to do in us and for us by having us wait.  When God has us wait, it is always for our benefit, never for our deprivation.  God does not have to bilk us in order to bless others, because his resources are limitless.  His one unwavering motivation for delay is expressed in his Son: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.”  We cheat ourselves when we rush ahead because our growth and fulness depend as much on our stillness as on our striving.  The first is just as active in shaping and satisfying us as the second.

Finally, there is the impaired relationship, because when two are out of step, their dance suffers.  Our motives for pushing ahead of God hurt our bond with him, whether that comes from doubt in his wisdom and love or from being too willful and inattentive or from fear or pride.  All of those pull us away from a trusting relationship.  The motives erode our connection and then the actions we take widen that fissure.  That is to say, capitulating to our fear is relationally harmful, and so are the actions we take in living out that fear.  When Abraham bedded Hagar to get a son, he not only side-tracked God’s plan and undercut his own faith, but he also distanced himself from God.  He was less able to hear him, to trust him, to receive from him, to delight in his presence.

So failure to wait hurts the objective, the person, and the relationship.

But if you are like me, God doesn’t speak clearly and audibly to give specific directions, so how can we know if we are missing his timing?  It is a dance.  Dance partners don’t have a running monologue, “Step to your left… step back… on the count of three, dip.”  Through a lot of practice and experience they learn to feel one another’s rhythms, patterns, and tells, and it is always more about moving together than getting the steps precise, more about trust and response than about rules and conformity.  But if we do not embrace the pause, the waiting, as well as the stride, we will likely miss our partner’s gentle guidance and stumble in the dance.  Waiting seems like doing nothing, but it is pregnant with power.  Doing and waiting are the inhaling and exhaling of life’s rhythmic progress.

Posted February 23, 2015 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Waiting Is for Weenies   Leave a comment

I hate waiting.

I hate it on the telephone, I hate it at the traffic cone;
I hate it at the DMV–I’m what? two hundred eighty three?!
I hate it now, I’ll hate it then. You say I have to wait till WHEN?!
I hate it here, I hate it there; it chafes me like wool underwear.

Waiting is worse than death.  When you’re dead you don’t know you’re stuck in the universe’s time-out corner, suffocating on your current meaninglessness, accomplishing squat.  Time squandered at least brings pleasure, but time waiting, minute by minute, is a complete loss, like setting fire to money… slowly… one bill at a time.   If you tolerate delays, you clearly don’t value time.  Unless you have the silly notion that waiting is itself a benefit, which is as crazy as valuing an empty wallet!  I’m sure you’ll get a lot of people buying into that motto.  What would your bumper sticker say, something cockamamie like “Blessed are the Poor”?  Next you’ll tell me that being comfortable with waiting is not a vice of the lazy but a virtue of the wise, and that pre-moderns called it “patience.”  Well, patience will get you nowhere, and it will get you there late.  If you want results, try yelling.

Is there any benefit to me for being patient, or is it just to benefit God because he’s tired of hearing me whine?  Is God losing his cool with me, telling me to shut up, impatiently demanding I be patient?  Does calm waiting do more than give me brownie points with God?  If virtue is its own reward, what reward does patience give?

For instance, as a hypothetical, suppose there is a lady in front of me in the fast lane at Food Lion and she waits until all her groceries are sacked and each sack placed in her cart before she thinks about her payment.  She opens her pocketbook and rummages around, shoving things this way and that until she pulls out one crumpled bill, straightens it out, and hands it to the store clerk.  She dives back in looking for another bill.  After she passes that over, she re-checks the total on the display, and goes looking for her change purse.  There must be a dime in there somewhere, she’s sure of it.  A quarter will not do.  She pulls each coin out of her purse to get a closer look before putting it back to scrummage for another.  Then the receipt must be carefully folded and the right spot found for it in the pocketbook and a place for the pocketbook in the cart.  Pretend that my smile slowly turns into a clenched jaw, my friendliness grows sullen, and my thoughts uncharitable.  Can waiting really be beneficial?  How is postponing good ever a positive? Patience is simply an unwanted chore if I cannot find a reason to value delays.  I have some thoughts to share, but you’ll have to wait 😉

Posted February 21, 2015 by janathangrace in thoughts

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“Just” Is a 4-letter Word   Leave a comment

Assumptions, like fire, are dangerous necessities.  I assume the sun will rise, my wife will speak English, my car will start, my office will still be standing, my digestion will work, my dogs will not tear up our furniture, and I will be paid at the end of the month.  It’s not possible to live on a contingency basis, always second-guessing, third-guessing, infinity-guessing.  I need assumptions, but they can destroy me.

Some false assumptions are self-correcting, whacking me with reality till I admit I’m wrong: if it stinks don’t eat it; get it wet and it will break.  But some wrong assumptions are self-perpetuating because they’re in a groove of constant and unchallenged repetition, winning legitimacy by default, like squatter’s rights.  These free-loading assumptions can blindside a marriage undetected, and I’ve caught one of the traitors on my own lips: the condemning adverb “just“: “Can’t it just wait till tomorrow?” “I wish you’d just finish it.”  “It’s just one phone call!” That 4-letter word assumes that my expectations of Kimberly are simple and easy and so her refusal would be uncaring, irresponsible, or even contemptible.  I’m asking so little that denying me is shameful.

But what an arrogant assumption!  By what scale can I possibly measure the emotional cost to another person.  It seems simple enough–I imagine myself in her position and tally how much it would cost me: a trifling.  The obvious failure in this method is that, after walking a mile in her shoes (or rather imagining it), I still end up measuring myself, not her.  Every person reacts very differently to a given situation based on their history, perception, experience, energy level, knowledge, calculations, vulnerabilities and strengths (to name only a handful of factors).  Guessing how I would respond to a scolding from my boss or my father’s sickness has little to do with how she would respond.  In fact, my own responses change from day to day.  What is easy or hard for me is no prediction of what is easy or hard for her.  I think, “the average person would feel…” but where is this average person, this stereotypical amalgamation of median scores from across the spectrum of society?  In fact the “average” person is strikingly unique.  My imagination will always fail me.  I can only understand her as I hear and accept her self revelations.

Pushing her to ignore her inner voice in order to bend to my will is insensitive, selfish, and destructive, and those hens will come home to roost.  That “just” trigger can target me as well.  I’m equally vulnerable to the heavy sighs or raised eyebrows or the hundred other ways this attitude can leak out.  Kimberly could easily shoot down my failings to meet her expectations… only she doesn’t because she is more understanding and accepting of others’ limitations than I am. She suffers under my judgments without striking back, kind of like Jesus.

“Just do it” is the motto of those who wish to simply override objections rather than understand our hesitations and accommodate our limitations, usually assuming that finishing the job is more important than hearing the heart.  But in Jesus’ mind, the person always comes first, the task can wait.  Sometimes we must choose to act in spite of conflicted, unresolved, or resistant feelings, but we do so while we acknowledge, validate, and support those feelings, not by belittling and ignoring them.  “This is hard, this is really hard, but I am going to do it anyway” is a sentiment that refuses the insinuations of “just.”  Such acts are brave and selfless and should be acknowledged as such, they should be admired and appreciated, not dismissed and forgotten.  If I could just remember that!

Posted February 11, 2015 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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The Patience of Grace   10 comments

“I’m sorry for being impatient with you Sunday night,” I told Forest, one of my student workers, as he sat down at the circulation desk.  “You were doing your best, and that is all I can ask of anyone.”  I am not a patient man, with myself or with others.  I “came by it honestly” as my mother would say since Dad was highly committed to efficiency and raised us on the double: if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing quicker.  “What took you so long?” was cliched into the moral soundscape of our lives, a diagnostic metronome to gauge our pace in life.  I never earned my efficiency badge, so it became an obsession of sorts as I chased after the qualifying time that kept eluding me.  Life was a race and I was losing, but instead of quitting, I just ran harder.

My hopped up need for hustle exalts efficiency over more Scriptural values like patience, and even when I demote it, it still  mucks up the works by prodding me to bark at consequences instead of intentions.  That is, if you get in my way, I’ll get hot whether it’s your fault or not.  Forest is diligent, but learns slowly.  Impatience (if ever legitimate) must burn at his negligence, not at his learning curve, over which he has little control.  Scolding a slow person for being slow is abusive, and the first step down that harmful path is expecting too much of others… which usually springs from demanding too much of myself.

So the cure, ironically enough, begins with grace towards myself, even about my abusive impatience towards others.  I cannot in any healthy way scold myself into virtue.  Being patient with myself is not at all the same as excusing myself or minimizing my fault.  Rather, it is fully admitting my faults, but seeking a cure in God’s greater grace rather than my greater effort.  Divine grace is key not only because it forgives me, but because it creates a whole context of grace, a circle big enough for all our failings, mine and Forest’s both.  Excuses, far from being an expression of grace, are a rejection of it.  They are a claim to need no grace since no wrong has been done–I only need your understanding, not your forgiveness.  Excusing myself closes the door to grace just as surely as loathing myself.  Self-justification and self-condemnation are both blockades to grace–in the first I am too good for grace and in the second I am too bad for it, but both express a legalistic worldview. and trying to validate them by calling them “righteousness” and “contrition” respectively will not change their antagonism to grace.

I scolded Forest shortly before we closed Sunday, and I was already feeling guilty by the time I walked out the door.  I wrestled with it on the way home, refusing to play the devil’s song of shame in my head, but embracing my failings and the grace I needed to relieve my shame.  Instead of spending the two days till his next shift beating myself–a common habit of mine that is so personally and relationally destructive–I settled into the relief of God’s all-encompassing grace, and when I apologized to Forest on Tuesday, it was not from a shame-induced defensiveness or groveling, but as a fellow recipient of grace.  We both fail, we both need grace.  May we all learn to grace ourselves and one another more freely.

Posted November 11, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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Rethinking Burnt Toast   4 comments

burnt bagelI burned my bagel in the toaster this morning, but I ate it anyway.  “Waste not, want not” as my mother used to say.  She was constantly tossing out snippets of received wisdom from the past, shaping her life by principles she never stopped to evaluate.  “If the shoe fits, wear it.”  Like Tigger, she bounced through her days with little self-reflection, driven to stay busy without knowing why, making up her mind and changing it again in a flash: “Don’t let the grass grow between your toes!”  Her hands never stopped or paused.  “Make hay while the sun shines,” she’d declare with gusto, and she pulled us into her vortex: “Many hands make light work.”

introspection

Introspection II by Helen Burgess

Whether or not we use ready proverbs to frame our worldview, it is still a cliche we’ve settled into, the unseen backdrop of our lives, relationships, and decisions… unless dissonance interrupts.  So my introspective personality, as it found no footing in my family, was forced to forge itself a different path, but my mother’s frugality stuck fast to me, unnoticed, and it is very tenacious even now that I’ve spied it.  It makes me scrimp, snap judge those my mother would consider wasteful, and economize to a silly extent.  I don’t realize how it undermines other far more important values, robs my time and thoughts, and hurts my relationships.  It seems we are all in the salvage business with a lifetime of self-discovery and recovery, of unlearning our many false or skewed or damaging assumptions.  As a start, maybe I should toss my burnt toast.

Posted January 13, 2014 by janathangrace in thoughts

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