Archive for the ‘weaknesses’ Tag

Ashamed of My Failings   2 comments

I hit a deer yesterday morning as I drove home from work at 2:30 a.m.  I often see deer the last half mile, sometimes just twin dots as their eyes reflect my highbeams while their bodies blend into the terrain.  They are skittish, at times plunging into the road from the safety of the field, so I watch for them.  But this one leaped out of the dark when I was going 50 mph, landing a few feet from my bumper.  I’d have been heartsick to injure it, but it was killed instantly, so instead the slime of shame started gumming up my soul over the cost of fixing the car.  Kimberly has often warned me to be careful, but I’d seen no deer in two weeks so my mind had drifted to other things.  Would I have seen it, could I have avoided it, if I’d been alert?

In driving safety, Berly’s got me beat.  She is more careful and aware in life, while I am more fearless and ruminative or if you prefer more reckless and scatter-brained.  All personality traits have their benefits and detriments, and Berly’s make her better behind the wheel.  They also make her more stressed and tired behind the wheel, so ironically I, the dangerous one, do most of the driving.  There usually is a trade-off somewhere in the plus and minus categories of our personal characteristics.  We often suppose there is some golden mean to seek–a perfect balance of caution and risk, of intensity and tranquility, of talking and listening–shave off the bumps to fill in the holes and end up with the perfect personality.  Except those convexes and concaves are what make us each unique individuals with unique contributions.  Our patterns of light and shadow shape our beauty, and our mix of strengths and weaknesses bond us in relationship.

Of course, I want to shore up my weaknesses as best I can; I want to become safer in traffic.  But I must measure that against my own abilities and gifts, not my wife’s.  She will always be better on the road, and that is okay… that has to be okay.  Her safe driving must not be the basis for critiquing and shaming my erratic driving.  In the first few years of our marriage, I was a strong defensive driver… meaning I was strongly defensive about my driving, a toxic mix of pride and shame towards any complaint.  But I have slowly owned my faults and am now grateful for her backseat driving.  She used to silently stomp invisible brakes on her passenger floor, but now she cries out, “That’s a stop sign!” or “That car is turning!”  Team driving like team living brings out the best from both of us, but it requires mutual trust and respect built from honest interaction about our vulnerabilities and caches of shame.



Posted April 30, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

Tagged with , ,

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

Tagged with , , ,

Sitting Still Is Hard Work   2 comments

I’ve been missing here for a month, not from depression or busyness or low energy as in the past, but from fence sitting.

doggie on fence

Not by choice.  I’m too weak to jump out of the yard and do anything useful–I’ve glanced at projects countless times, even started some, only to realize they would drain my soul.  in the other direction, the emotional gravity dragging me back down hasn’t found a grip as long as I’ve kept my shaky equilibrium.  I’m in a holding pattern on a narrow platform, and I sense that it is my task to wait and gather strength.

donkey airedThis is not easy for me.  My internal voices are always shouting for me to get busy, and ignoring them has always led me into a place of shame.  They drove me into more and more Christian service until it broke me. When I discovered the potholes this pounded into my soul, I thought I had turned onto the road to recovery, but the voices just switched goals, whipping me towards personal development, “figure out NOW what is holding you back and FIX it!”  I feel ashamed for not healing faster.  Patience with myself is rarely an item in stock.

I have lived all my life on the principle that rest must be earned.  After all, God worked six days and rested on the seventh.  I thought the Sabbath was simply a concession to our weaknesses: “Okay, you’ve worked hard enough, so now you get to rest.”   In fact, there was no command to work six days… that was simply a necessity for survival and advancement.  The duty, the order, the commandment  (one of the Big Ten), was not to stay busy, but to stop busy.  The Sabbath is not a reward for working all week.  The reward for working all week is the material benefits we reap.  The Sabbath was certainly a blessing, but it was a command, not a reward.  It had its own justification and importance quite independent of the other six.

The Fourth Commandment was also not a prohibition (“thou shalt not work”) but a prescription: “Remember the Sabbath to keep it Holy.”  It offered positive power and creative purpose for our lives, the one day to focus care on our spirits instead of our bodies (for food, shelter, etc.).  If anything, it was not the work week that justified the Sabbath, but the Sabbath that justified and gave meaning to the work week.  I was raised on the “Protestant Work Ethic,” but what I really need is a strong dose of the “Protestant Rest Ethic.”  The first has often pulled me from faith in God to dependence on myself, but the second forces me back to faith… and though it is shaky and insecure, it is a faith I am committed to.weak faith

Posted October 27, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal

Tagged with , , , ,

Grace for My Frailties   6 comments



I am more productive just staying in bed than trying to multitask.  When I try juggling tasks, I drop all of them, and one of them inevitably knocks over a vase.  Unfortunately, I can’t even multi-think.  I can’t keep two disparate ideas together in my head, however simple they are.  The new thought drives out the old.  I try to compensate with lists (which I forget to bring), notes scribbled on the back of used envelopes (which I inadvertently throw out), and pleas for Kimberly to remind me (a job she rarely accepts).  I had a thumb drive with a to-do list that I cleverly kept on my key ring–can’t leave without it.  But several times I almost left work with the drive (and my keys) still in the office computer, locking me out of both my building and my car at 2 a.m., so I took the USB drive off the key ring, and within a week I lost it.

Plan-A-B-C3Today I was working around the house and actually thought to keep a pair of reading glasses with me for small-print labels and dimly lit spaces.  Hanging loosely around my neck they could easily get damaged, so I slid them to the top of my head (see, I’m planning!).  As I was mowing, a tree branch knocked them off.  I almost got down to retrieve them, but decided to grab them on my next pass.  As I swung back by, I saw they lay in the cut grass, so I could just keep mowing and get them later.  After three more passes I forgot and ran right over them.  I found only a part of the mangled frame.  I now know not to mow with glasses on my head… but next time I will forget I have them on my head or I’ll take them off for safe keeping and plop a book on them.  This is why I buy $2 Walmart glasses.   I have back-up plans for back-up plans… three or four levels of compensatory strategies.


It is a real disability–I’ve completely missed a couple days of irregularly scheduled work, wrecked our cars, and almost burned the house down.  No amount of scolding or shaming on the part of others or planning and compensating on my part is going to fix it.  When I clamp down on one thing, something else shakes loose.   I’m grateful for a patient, understanding wife and a God who keeps an eye out for me.  I still have my job and cars and house… and a supportive wife and caring God too!

My real back-up plan is God.  I have to depend so much more on Him than many others do.  His grace has such a bigger field of play in my life than in those whose lives are well-ordered.  The penalty for not being able to take care of myself is that God takes care of me.  Who could imagine a better arrangement?  Happy frailties! (2 Cor. 12:9)


Posted April 23, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal

Tagged with , ,

Grace Described   Leave a comment

“Grace… [is] the force that infuses our lives and keeps letting us off the hook.  It is unearned love—the love that goes before, that greets us on the way.  It’s the help you receive when you have no bright ideas left, when you are empty and desperate and have discovered that your best thinking and most charming charm have failed you.  Grace is the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually grateful as you are to be there.

“It is amazing.  I do not at all understand the mystery of grace—only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”  –Anne Lamott Traveling Mercies

Posted February 18, 2013 by janathangrace in Reading

Tagged with , , ,

You Can’t Handle the Truth   1 comment

Last night Kimberly and I watched Beyond the Gates, a movie about the Rwandan genocide when 800,000 men, women, and children were hacked to death as the world looked on and did nothing.  It was terrible.  It was real.  It was a small window onto the depths of human depravity which ravage our world daily.  If you keep your peace of mind by sweeping darker parts of reality into a seldom-used corner of your mind, perhaps you buy happiness at too great a cost.  If the evil filling this earth does not burn in your heart and shape your daily decisions, you may be living in a fantasy world of your own making.

Frederick Buechner tells of his professor, James Mullenberg:

“‘Every morning when you wake up,’ he used to say, ‘before you reaffirm your faith in the majesty of a loving God, before you say I believe for another day, read the Daily News with its record of the latest crimes and tragedies of mankind and then see if you can honestly say it again.’

He was a fool in the sense that he didn’t or wouldn’t or couldn’t resolve, intellectualize, evade, the tensions of his faith but lived those tensions out, torn almost in two by them at times. His faith was not a seamless garment but a ragged garment with the seams showing, the tears showing, a garment that he clutched about him like a man in a storm.

To love a hurting world is to suffer with it.  Do you see this world as God sees it?  There is a reason the prophets of old, the seers, were mostly melancholy men and why the Messiah was called the Man of Sorrows.  Some of us by nature are more touched by the shadows.  It is not only the deep fissures in the ghettos and war-crushed countries, but the cracks in my own heart that torment me.  My own little hatreds and conspiracies, defensive moves and fear-driven words awake in me an understanding of and identification with history’s villains.

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

But I realized something today.  I am not big enough to absorb all that pain.  I can’t handle that much truth… I have to shut some of it out so that it does not capsize my little boat.  I want the brokenness of the world to inform my outlook, but not to cripple it.  I instinctively have known this all along and have protected myself from those things that have pulled me too far down, especially when my emotional reserves are low, but I felt cowardly.  When I dropped Facebook friends because their posts or comments were too disturbing or I avoided confrontation with family, my love seemed limited and weak.  Well, since I am not God, my love certainly is limited and weak, and I cannot demand of it more than I am able to give.   I must live within my means not only financially, but emotionally, because if I have too many overdrafts, I will crash.  My heart will always be touched more profoundly by the tragedies around me–it is how I was designed–so I need to soak my bruised soul more deeply, more often in the pools of grace away from the harsher sides of reality.

Posted February 11, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

Tagged with , , , , ,

The Blessing of Disabilities   Leave a comment

Gilles Le Cardinal  shares a vital life concept he learned from those with disabilities, an idea he called revolutionary

Because it is about how our weaknesses can be fecund and fruitful.  Especially for handicapped people, but also for others.  And that was something I discovered from handicapped people, when they said you do not have to hide what is imperfect in you.  And this changed me.  Because in a competitive world, you must hide what is weak or wrong.  Someone will try to beat you when they discover a weakness, try to take advantage of the weakness.  When two players on different teams play, they try to defeat each other.  And that is exactly where the handicapped disagree.  They respect our mutual weakness.

And then Ian Brown, the author who quoted this conversation, a father of a severly disabled boy named Walker, goes on to write a naturalistic explanation with more respect for “the least of these” than many a Christian perceives.

One is revealed by one’s need.  There is no need for posturing….  So you can perhaps forgive me for thinking, some days, that Walker has a purpose in our evolutionary project, that he is something more than an unsuccessful attempt at mutation and variation.  For thinking, probably vainly, that if his example is noted and copied and “selected,” he might be one (very small) step towards the evolution of a more varied and resilient ethical sense in a few members of the human species.  The purpose of intellectually disabled people like Walker might be to free us from the stark emptiness of the survival of the fittest.

Which, I might add, is a tendency we all have to cope and get ahead in this world, even we who are not evolutionists.

Posted July 3, 2012 by janathangrace in Reading

Tagged with , , ,

Leftover People   1 comment

Mike Yaconelli in Messy Spirituality:

It was time for the Scripture reading and a girl shuffled toward the front of the church. What a moment for Connie. She had finally mustered enough courage to ask the pastor if she could read the Scripture. Without hesitation, he said yes. For years Connie had stifled her desire to serve in the church because of her “incompetencies.” Reading was extremely dif­ficult for her, and Connie had a terrible time enunciating clearly. But she had been in this church many years, and she was beginning to understand the grace of God. Jesus didn’t die just for our sins; he died so people who couldn’t read or speak could read and speak. Now she could serve the Jesus she loved so much. Now she could express her desire for God in a tangible way.

Connie’s steps were labored as she made her way to the front; one leg was shorter than the other, causing her body to teeter from side to side. Finally, she was standing up front, looking at the congregation with pride and joy.  The congregation was silent. Too silent.

The screaming silence was covering up the congregation’s discomfort. Clearly, most of them were trying to understand what Connie was doing, and they were trying not to notice her many incompetencies. Her eyes were too close together, and her head twisted back and forth at odd angles while her face wrenched from one grimace to another.  Connie began to read, and stammering, stuttering, she stumbled proudly through the passage in a long sequence of untranslatable sounds, garbled sentences, long tortuous pauses, and jumbled phrases. Finally, the reading was over, and the congregation was exhausted.

Connie didn’t notice the exhaustion. She was ecstatic. Her face seemed no longer distorted, only full of joy. Her cheeks were flush with pride; her eyes were sparkling with the joy of accomplishment; her heart was warm with knowing she had served the congregation, participated in her faith. Yes, she would remember this day for a long time. How wonderful it was, she thought, to no longer be a spectator in church; she was the church this morning!

Thank God her mental capacities were limited. Thank God she was not able to discern the faces of the congregation or she would have crumbled in despair. Thank God she wasn’t able to sense what people were really thinking.  Almost everyone in the congregation was thinking, This is an outrage! I know this is what they were thinking, because the senior pastor, my father, was ordered to attend an emer­gency board meeting after the service.

Stain Glass Masquerade
by Casting Crowns
(click image to hear)

 “How did this happen?” they demanded to know. “What were you thinking?”

“Connie wanted to read the Scripture,” he replied softly.

“Well, let her stand at the door and pass out bulletins, or help in the mailroom, but don’t have her read! The girl can’t read or speak. Her reading took ten minutes! The church,” they said, “is not a place for incompetence.”

My father believes, as I do, that the church is the place where the incompetent, the unfinished, and even the un­healthy are welcome. I believe Jesus agrees.

Posted April 15, 2012 by janathangrace in Story

Tagged with , , , ,

Redefining Normal   Leave a comment

A blog post well worth reading:

My son Cade is a survivor.

To Cade and the Eight Percent

Eleven years ago this week, Rebekah and I celebrated the birth of our first-born. Despite his Down syndrome diagnosis, we were overjoyed to welcome this new life into our family.

But not everyone welcomes children like Cade.

It’s no secret. People with Down syndrome have been targeted for extinction. In November, the New York Post heralded The End of Down Syndrome and profiled a new, safer test for pre-natal detection. Before this test was available, 92% of Down syndrome diagnoses (and many times false diagnoses) resulted in the mothers choosing to terminate their pregnancies. With these new tests, some experts foretell the end of Downs.

Why the rush to rid the world of people like Cade?

Certainly, it isn’t because his disability physically threatens anyone. Rather, Down syndrome children pose adifferent kind of threat to society—the in your face reminder that our aspirations for “perfection” may be flawed. People like Cade disrupt normal. Whether it’s his insistence that everyone he says “hello” to on the busy streets of Manhattan respond in-kind or his unfiltered ability to hug a lonely, wheelchair-bound, homeless man without hesitation: people like Cade bring new dimension to what normal ought to be.

I’ve been encouraged to see several pop-culture venues putting on display just how normal children like Cade—and the surviving 8%—really are.

I was surprised and delighted when I opened a Nordstrom catalog a few months back and saw a young boy with Downs syndrome posing as a model for children’s clothes. No mention or special attribution was made of it. But there he was, hanging with a few other boys, included as one of the gang. The way things ought to be.

Then again, last month, dozens of major news outlets picked up this story line when the same young model was included in the latest Target ad campaign. One father and advocate, Rick Smith, took the story viral when he posted 5 Things Target Said Without Saying Anything on his blog.

Only two weeks ago on the popular show Glee, a sixteen-year old girl with Down syndrome was portrayed beautifully. Her character showed life as a high school teenager, a member of the cheerleading squad dealing with the pressures of modern teen life. During the episode, you could hear her internal thoughts playing out as the writers took a bold step forward in portraying how it might feel to walk in her shoes.

But these public displays of inclusion are only part of how we counter the extinction of those with Down syndrome.

Why do the majority of expectant parents determine not to carry these pregnancies to full term?

Fear.  [for the rest of this insightful article, connect to

Posted March 15, 2012 by janathangrace in Reading

Tagged with , , ,

Silent Struggles   Leave a comment

I have been struggling more with depression in the last few weeks and it deflates my energy for social media.  I kept trying to process the feelings because it always helps me work through to a better place if I can identify the source of my emotions, but I could get nowhere with it, so I used busyness as an alternative escape.  I think I have finally identified the source… Kimberly’s discouragement at work.  Not only do I suffer because she suffers, but both of us continue to be inspired by the L’Arche vision (even though I resigned a year and a half ago) and we have kept hope alive that this L’Arche community would find its way through the turmoil to a place of genuine L’Arche living.  With Kimberly now having doubts after hanging in there so long, it is the slow death of our dreams for a community that embraces weakness as a core value.  This is why we moved to Lynchburg in the first place, and it leaves a sense of emptiness, uncertainty, pain, loss.

Posted October 25, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal

Tagged with , , ,