Friday, September 27, 2013

Say it out loud

I originally published this post less than a year ago, October 17, 2012. However, it seems right in tune with what we've been discussing, with Genuine Friends and Anger and Fear. May you be blessed today.

The other day, I had some time to talk with my best friend. Sometimes life gets crazy and we miss those moments. It's especially nice when we have open-ended time, instead of, "I've got ten minutes, let me tell you what's going on." I like conversation that can wander; it allows my heart to unfold.

I told her the story of finding our pet rat Cookie dead in her cage on Saturday morning. I told her about an incident that, until I told the story, I didn't realize had hurt my feelings. I talked about my daughters. For me, it is theraputic to put my life into words. I think and even feel the emotion of the situation better if I set things into conversation. Are you that way? I don't think it's true of everyone. My youngest likes to withdraw and put her thoughts together. It is important, I think, to keep up with the narrative of your life, whether you need to think about things or talk them out.

It is also good to acknowledge moments. Always kiss me goodnight, greet me when you come home, say goodbye when you leave...these little habits are worth building into your family. My best friend tells me I am a scientist watching rats in a maze, so for me, being intentional about sentimentality is necessary, and I treasure these things.

Here's another thing to say out loud: I'm sorry. Does anyone come to mind when you read that? I pray the Holy Spirit would show you your heart, if there is someone you need to be reconciled with. That said, I used to be a compulsive "I'm sorry"-er. I drove my friend nuts in grad school, saying sorry all the time, over everything. I think I was taking responsibility for things that I wasn't truly responsible for. "I'm sorry" also doesn't mean very much if you just want the other person to be happy, but you're not really addressing what caused the situation. Let your "I'm sorry" bring clarity and healing. If you're not sure it's doing that, spend some time talking to God before you talk with that person.

We mark moments in our lives with little rituals, including those things we bother to say out loud. May your words connect you deeper with the people around you today.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Genuine friends

My best friend has a saying: "If you want to see me, come on over. If you want to see my house, give me two weeks notice."

Last Saturday, my mom and two friends came by my house. None of them were here long, and my house was definitely not in Presentation Form. All three of them came in talking to me and never even noticed. And I didn't make that classic housewife comment, "Oh, I'm so sorry about the house..."

I know that seems silly, but it was a good morning for me. I was struck by how each of these people held me in their gaze: not what I'd done, not what they wanted from me. They just saw me. Remember when Hagar was running from her abusive boss, and she encounters the Lord? She names Him, "The God who sees me" (Genesis 16:13). Sometimes when you feel down and stuck, just having someone see you is an incredible gift.

I am blessed to have genuine people in my life, and the smallest of interactions with them gives me joy.

I think it is also easy to fall into the trap of pleasing people. It is definitely a trap for me. It is easy for me to get so concerned with my list of things to do that I forget to drop the tasks and just be with people I care about. It has helped, having teenagers and wanting their friends to be welcomed in my home. I never clean for my kids' friends. Around the time that my oldest was leaving for college, I invited her boyfriend to come over for ribs. It was a celebration of the kids, but I wasn't stressing about it...until she asked if his parents were invited. Her boyfriend is welcome in our home, just the way we are. I couldn't stretch myself to be as equally welcoming to his parents. My "clean the house" hostess instinct couldn't relax, and we missed the opportunity to spend time with people.

Most of us would say we have friends. But take a moment to look at your circle: who would you invite over when things are falling apart? If you don't practice now, when things are easier, you won't allow people in when you're under stress. Take the plunge for genuine. It is worthwhile.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Anger and fear

(reposted from 12-13-08)

This morning I was angry. I like to think more than feel, so I began to muse that God told us to "be angry and sin not." He told us we could be angry. However, over and over again, God and his agents said, "Do not fear." Note the contrast: we are never supposed to sin, but we can be angry. However, he did not say, "Be fearful, but act anyway." He flat out said, "do not fear." (In case you're curious, the angry command is in Ephesians, and the do not fear that springs to my mind is in Joshua, although God says that often, like when the angel came to Mary.)

Why is anger more okay than fear? Anger has all sorts of warnings that go with it, warnings against bitterness and vengence. But we can be angry. Anger always makes me think of Jesus, picking up a whip and driving the money changers from the temple. God himself is sometimes angry--with his enemies, with his children for their idolatry. I don't want to lay out a welcome mat for anger, but it is an active, energetic type of emotion.

Fear is not. Fear shrinks from any kind of action. Waiting and restraining can be actions that God values, but shrinking back is not something he admires. Remember the parable where three servants received money from their master? Two invested and had a return for their boss, but the third said, "I know you are a harsh master, so I put it in a hole, and here it is." The master was very angry with the third servant, and he received no reward. In fact, he was fired. His fear was not pleasing to God.

I believe we are called to imitate God. There are times he is angered by things around him, but he is never fearful. Instead he is fully confident in the outcome. From our side, that confidence is probably called "trust" or "faith." Fear is the opposite of faith, and it totally cuts us off from God.

It is interesting, though, how much more righteous it looks to be afraid than to be angry. It is easier to justify shrinking back from a task or a situation, and think we are making the right choice. But God says, do not fear. Perhaps we should boldly screw up and try and fail and try and sometimes succeed and risk and become angry and let him help us. . .just don't be afraid.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Connecting with what you have

Last Sunday, our pastor talked about how important it is to read your bible. He noted how everyone nods their head at this: we know it is important to read our bible. But are we doing it? We can read the book, or we can feel satisfied that we own one.

Last night, I met friends for dinner, and we talked about how wonderful it is to have friends in our lives. But even so, with this great resource, do we call when we're in need? Do we ask for help? Do we take the time to connect or simply feel happy with the idea of connection?

I am having a hard time connecting lately--with God, with friends--and I think there are two reasons for that. One, there are some intense things going on at home. I am working very hard to connect in a better and deeper way with my own immediate family. It's new. It takes effort. I used to gloss over this somewhat in favor of broader connections, but now is the time for connecting at home. It won't always be this way, but this is the season where I find myself.

Secondly, I am determined not to be a one-man band. There was a great post about living in community on Donald Miller's blog recently (link here). He talked about the novelty of the one-man band: it's kinda freaky, kinda amazing, and certainly gets our attention. However, that's not the cd that we buy to listen to. We want to hear the orchestra, the community of people who each do their part and something beautiful arises from the group.

I often want to be the super-hero who helps everyone else. I like helping. So community for me, friendships, can be a bit addicting: let me jump into YOUR life and be helpful. Lately, I am thinking more about how to play my own instrument. It's not as selfish as it sounds. Playing my violin beautifully means that I benefit the group when we are together, without upstaging or being discordant. I am a part.

I have this suggestion to make to a friend. I have this advice to offer the group. I can make this phone call.

And that's all.

I can't teach the second violins how important their part is and call them every day to encourage their practice, while also finding a clinician for the horn section, tuning all the woodwinds just a little better, meeting on a Saturday for some extra work with percussion, and starting a fund raiser for a new viola for second chair because his just got stolen while he was at the hospital with his wife who has cancer. And let's make them dinner too.

The one-man band. All things to all people.

How did Jesus live? He came with one purpose: to atone for our sins. He spent thirty years living with His family, a few years teaching close friends and the crowds, and then He died. He was certainly busy, but He was also focused. He served the Father in the one capacity where He was called to serve. People wanted Him to do all sorts of things, like lead militarily or politically, maybe overthrow the religious leadership. But He came to die.

In John 14:12, Jesus said, "Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father." Jesus was one man; we're a community. He didn't try to be everything himself; He called us.

It is important to reach out, to really connect. But our greatest value, our greatest contribution to the community, arises from doing our part well. I am learning to trust God with the needs I see around me, to love within my human limits. Somehow, when I am obedient to my small part, He has the freedom to conduct a beautiful symphony. Can you hear it?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Warping our kids

reposted from August 9, 2009

I often joke with my friends about all of our kids needing therapy, as if there is nothing we can do, they will somehow be messed up by our behavior. This joke started out intending to communicate mercy: we all mess up, everything is okay. But one day it hit me that I was completely wrong. In fact, I wrote it on a Schlotzsky's napkin: we are not warping our kids. (I also wrote on the same napkin, "Coreopsis is a cool word." I'm random like that.)

My parents did not warp me. I was born warped, into a warped world. Something inside me is just a little twisted, just a little off, and things don't go like they should. It's true of every single one of us, and when we get in a group (ie, Planet Earth), that warpness can get amplified. Had my parents been completely perfect in all of their words and actions and thoughts toward me, I still would have issues. The fact that my parents are not perfect is like saying, "The sky is blue."

And so it goes for my kids. One of my very dear friends has a daughter who is like me. Her home life is different than the one I grew up in, and yet some of the characteristics I would attribute to my childhood look the same in her, without her having my experiences. So I would have turned out that way, regardless? Who knew.

I don't give my kids permission to blame me in their therapy sessions. I think it's great if they want to talk with someone about how something I have done has hurt them or confused them or made them angry. It's fine if they think I have sometimes been unfair. I'm really sorry, and I hope they can forgive me. Instead of convincing my kids that I am doing the right thing, I think while they are living with me, I will try to communicate that I love them. I really, really love them.

I know people who came from the same home and see their upbringing in completely different ways. I know people who show their parents grace, and people who almost make up things about how bad their parents were. Part of how my kids see me will be their choice. It would seem that neither they nor I can truly judge my parenting correctly. It would seem that I should leave it to God to judge me (after all, He has plans to judge me, right?).

I hope that my kids will realize that I love them. I hope they choose to see the best in my heart. May God surround them with all kinds of people who will show His love to them, and may they learn mercy and kindness and how to deal with the warped-ness inside us all.

The photo above is from a great blog entry about Thinking Visually, something random that I totally agree with.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The preacher

I'm going to share something that might be a "just me" issue. When I attend a church, I listen to the man delivering sermons every week as if he were delivering a message from God to me. I have attended church my entire adult life, and I haven't always respected the person in the pulpit. However, each Sunday, I assume that the Bible is being opened, and God can speak to me (and the believers gathered together) through this man.

That's a lot of weight to put on one guy.

And get this...because I listen so carefully to this man, somehow I start to think I need to explain myself to him. If I'm not on board with whatever his action point is, I have this discussion with him in my head, so he knows why I am where I am. Sometimes I'm really enthusiastic about the sermon, and I tell him that in my head as well.

Rarely do I have a friendship with the preacher. And yet he speaks these God-words every week, which I feel compelled to respond to. Some kind of weird intimacy builds up between me and a virtual stranger.

I suppose this is the celebrity phenomenon. Young girls scream how they "love" so and so, the big name singer. Or we "love" our favorite actor. In the first century AD, there might have a been a small, swooning group who just "loved" Peter. He's so dreamy. And righteous. Squeee!!

I often wonder if my "church" experience is anything like the hallowed "early church." Paul, Apollos, Barnabus, those guys traveled around, teaching and correcting. But when they weren't at your little house meeting, the group just shared, right? Maybe read one of the letters written by the Big Guys, and then talked about what they were going through.

If I feel accountable to the preacher, because he's talking to me about my life, but I don't have a relationship with him, something artificial builds up. The anecdote? Talk to real people. The best churches that I have been a part of have had community that talks about spiritual things.

"Hey, the pastor said something hard this morning."

"I really like when he said..."

"I didn't understand what he meant..."

Real people, face to face, talking about the Word and life. Something in me wants to venerate the preacher, and so all the time, I have to pull back and seek real people, who will walk and talk with me about truth.