Archive for the ‘relationship’ Tag

Welcoming Grace   Leave a comment

Whispered words of grace are a spiritual balm seeping into my soul, whether they come from liberals or conservatives, Christians or Hindus, teetotalers or alcoholics.  It pulls at me from the gritty, raw, tattooed welcome of those sand-blasted into goodwill and entices me with the sweet, gentle, well-worn embrace of those battered into softness.  It reaches me from every surprising image of love that pulses through each grace-stippled heart.  I want eyes to see it in the face of all I pass, for grace misses no one, but leaves its mark on each, however hidden from the casual eye.  May I be one who sees it, values it, makes room for its timid step.  Grace often expresses itself most deeply by receiving rather than giving, by being blessed from the life of another, by delighting in the goodness leaking out between the slats of their tightly guarded hearts.  Perhaps grace in my life, and even in my relationships, is increased most by welcoming it in rather than mustering it out.

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Posted September 8, 2015 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Saved by Our Differences   5 comments

In case you haven’t noticed, my wife and I are different.  She prefers being nice and I prefer being blunt.  She likes the familiar, I like the novel.  I like competition, she likes cooperation.  She wants to plan ahead with lots of cushion for mishaps, I want to postpone decisions way past their due date.  We aren’t completely different: we both like eating on the sofa instead of at the kitchen table, me with a pile of spicy, fruity, sweet and salty foods and her with bland food groups neatly separated into equal shares on her plate and eaten proportionally throughout, washed down with water… her with a dainty napkin and me with a protective towel (from her) which ends up scrunching down between the seat and arm while food spills on my shirt and pants. and sometimes on the couch. The dogs follow her back into the kitchen for the fat and gristle they won’t find left on my plate.  While she’s on her second bite, I’ve finished my dinner, burning my mouth on food I can’t wait to cool… unless I’m in the middle of a project and eat dinner 3 hours late, in which case we don’t eat together (given all her promptitude), but we both eat on the sofa (which was my point).
… unless I eat without a plate while leaning over the sink.  Hey, it prevents food stains!

So like most couples we have our similarities and differences, and the differences tend to cause problems, like when we went phone shopping this week.  We finally caved to the pressure of buying smart phones since Kimberly’s work situation seems to require it.  We’ve been talking about it for a few months and Kimberly had marked her mental calendar with a personal deadline, mentioning the expectation now and again so we would be on the same page.  Same page, different books.  Finally the time had come and I wasn’t ready–I was still in volume 1 “Thinking About Being Ready to Start to Plan for New Phones” and she was finished with volume 2 “Making a Decision About Which Phone to Buy” and was now on the last page of volume 3 “Buying a Phone.”

You know the whole thing about my postponing decisions for the greater good?  Well this goes into overdrive when it involves spending money.  The longer you can hobble along without spending cash, the better off you are–the lazy man’s savings account.  I’m all for quality of life improvements as long as they’re free–who needs to fix a leaky roof as long as you have pots to catch the trickles?  Being a default foot-dragger for any decision, I become a butt-dragger over money, a sit-down protester with placards shouting “Just Say No!”  As I explained the conflicting viewpoints to my wife, “Every day delayed is a victory for me but a defeat for you.”  She came home with a smart phone.  I’m sticking with my same dumb phone, even though I’ve hated it for two years.  How can you argue with free?

Procrastination requires no thought.  Thoughtlessness is actually rewarded because you win the game effortlessly, avoiding the stress of decision-making while accumulating points for not spending resources needlessly.  But it has finally dawned on me after eight years of marriage that what works under sole proprietorship does not work in a partnership.  Now when I leave a matter undecided, it does not prolong my freedom to choose, but forfeits that choice to Kimberly.  She is going to cure me of my procrastination without even trying, by just being herself in this relationship.  And that life lesson is free–who can argue with that?

Posted January 14, 2015 by janathangrace in Personal

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The Unpredictable Timing of Grace   Leave a comment

For 45 years B.K. (before Kimberly) I did life on my own.  Going from single to couple in midlife can’t compare to marrying young, and though it has big pluses, I’ve felt the loss of her absence from my history: so many key events that are not shared moments, so much of who I am pieced together without her.  But after my blog post yesterday, I have to recalculate.  Missing those years has given her a clearer sense of who I am now, a view untainted by past distortions.  In a way, she knows me better than I know myself because those years marred my self-understanding, not just my spirit.  Without that baggage, she can see more objectively.

loving eye

footprintsI truly don’t know how younger couples manage to navigate any sort of major life transformation after marriage if they don’t somehow make those transitions in step.  Kimberly and I are both dramatically different people from our young adult selves.  Had we met then, our false selves would have been inimical.  Instead of helping one another towards genuine self-discovery, we would have driven each other into deeper hiding.  It would have been a disaster.  Our paths only crossed when our souls were ready.  Since most of my life was a quick march in the wrong direction, how did I hit the right intersection at the crucial moment?  The magic fingers of grace.

beach photo

Posted September 10, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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Why Worship Scares Me   Leave a comment

It was the last straw.  Pastor Rick had already cancelled the men’s group, just because, and it was the only reason I was attending his church, the one touch of real grace.  Without that solace, I found myself struggling to survive the Sunday service, trying to keep my soul intact under a less than gentle preacher.  Then last month he cried out, “I can’t STAND negative people!  I won’t have anything to do with them!”  That flash of accidental irony pushed me out the door.  I can’t listen to a preacher who hates others, publicly, in a sermon… especially when his contempt may be directed at depressives like me.  That was not a slip of his tongue, like dropping an F-bomb, but a slip of his mindset spilling out in the open, a thought so comfortable that he didn’t flinch to hear himself say it, out loud, in the pulpit.  Perhaps I’m too sensitive… but if so, I need to stand up for that vulnerable part of myself.

This morning I sat in a different worship service and felt the singing stir my emotions, but I ducked tightly inside myself like a threatened turtle.  In the stadium or theater, my emotions splash out with abandon, so why does it feel unsafe in church? Because my feelings about basketball are incidental, but my feelings about God are deep and core and private.  In the genteel South of my upbringing, only real friends were invited from the living room into the kitchen, but God alone got into the bedroom.  Shared intimacy requires safety, because the deeper in you go, the more power you wield for good or harm.

I realize that many folks have a public persona to protect their true hearts from danger: polite banter, chumminess, faux cheerfulness and interest.  They invite you so warmly into the yard in order to divert you from the house.  But I was born with a glass facade–you can see everything from the yard.  If I don’t feel safe with you, I will give you a tight smile and a polite nod before averting my eyes because I’m no good at using politeness as a shield.  I can go for about three sentences before tripping into a genuine heart issue.

However, the real vulnerability for me comes not from reporting about my feelings, but actually showing my feelings.  I can emotionally keep folks at arms length while talking all about my feelings, but to express my feelings directly is the real risk, allowing them to react to my heart rather than my words and thoughts, which are my own protective layer against the harshness of others.  For me intellectual validity has always been an escape, but emotional validity a pitfall.  If you invalidate my ideas, I made a mistake, but if you invalidate my emotions, I AM a mistake.  Showing my feelings invites you into my heart, and once you’re inside, I’m no longer safe.  A new church is a new challenge emotionally, especially for those of us who aren’t good at shallow connections.

Posted July 13, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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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–

Somebody May Need This Today   2 comments

For 18 years now I have been struggling with depression.  It gets worse or better suddenly and without reason for unpredictable periods of time.  My latest downturn came in winter.  I’ve tried so many different strategies to lift my spirits, pushing myself into things I’d rather avoid, but the fixes never hold.  The last few days have been crushing.  For two nights running, I bunkered down in my office instead of sitting at the reference desk, coming out only when someone needed my help.

Yesterday Berly emailed me a link to a TED Talk video about community, and I watched it this afternoon.  It was very touching, especially the story of a crippled elephant cared for by her herd.  Like that elephant I am broken, but in ways no one can see.  My depression is far more debilitating to my life than a wheelchair would be.  But that 15 minutes shared by a South African storyteller sang some relief into my tortured day.  It made me think that maybe I can make a small difference for one person by sharing life on this blog, perhaps a spark of connection, a sense that you are not alone in your struggle.  I don’t need to be clever or poetic or memorable.  Just being myself, sharing my little scraps of hope and discovery, struggle and pain, may lift someone’s flagging soul, even for an hour.

May we somehow, across the distances, touch one another with compassion and understanding and find a little relief in our shared stories.

Posted April 17, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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The Scary Road of Grace   2 comments

Some of my flaws are more fundamental than others, more pervasive and enmeshed, more demanding and persistent, more hidden and stubborn, like my deep rooted legalism.  If I voiced my intentions, I would say I’m a recovering legalist, but my progress seems so glacial that that might be unfairly congratulatory, like a daily drinker claiming to be a recovering alcoholic.  As I think about it more, I really have improved a great deal over the years, but all that thrust has not lifted me above its gravitational drag.  Legalism remains my default in so many situations, a judgmental sinkhole out of which I must crawl, talking down my critical reaction to others.  Trying to be gracious is a very long way from actually being gracious.

My soul is resistant to giving grace because it makes me feel so vulnerable.  In a disagreement, if I can dismiss them as being stupid or unbiblical or biased, then I don’t have to give any weight to their idea, which threatens my own perspective, a perspective around which I have built a safe world for myself.  If I label them untrustworthy, I can justify my suspicions of them and guard my heart against their potential betrayal.  If I mark them as selfish, I can depend wholly on myself… for fear they will refuse my request for help and so prove I am not worth helping.  It threatens me at my core.  As C. S. Lewis wrote, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.”  A closed heart is a safe heart.  Thinking generously of others, trusting them, and opening my heart to them is dangerous.  Giving grace opens me up to assault from every quarter.

bird-in-a-gentle-handLiving in a world full of potential aggressors is frightening and lonely, so I am drawn to nice people, safe people, people like my wife.  They have helped me slowly build trust, creep towards vulnerability, discover genuine connection.  Once I develop a close relationship, I find that grace flows naturally… until I feel threatened.  That is when my grace muscle is stretched as I claim grace firmly enough to support myself and then extend it to the one challenging me. Berly has been the perfect companion for this journey into fear and grace.

Posted February 28, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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