Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Making of the Meaning

I saw something yesterday that made me think something I haven't (clearly) thought about in months: I should write a blog post about that.


Here's the set-up:

The boyfriend and I were walking along the sidewalk (speaking of the boyfriend, I will definitely get around to writing some of the amazing and challenging and special and "I won't trade them for the world and you can't make me" lessons I'm learning through dating—don't you worry—but today isn't that day, haha). Anyways, the boyfriend and I were walking, right? Yeah, I mentioned that... Ok, so the boyfriend and I were walking (it kind of rolls off the tongue now, doesn't it?). So we were walking and after some time made it to an intersection. It's important to know it was dark at this point.

Let me stop for a second on darkness. It's amazing how much things change in the dark, isn't it? I mean, I can be totally comfortable walking or driving some place in the day, but put me in the same situation after dark and I'm completely baffled. Am I even in the same place? Everything looks so different! This is important, for the story and for the point. For now, I just want to point out how much empathy, patience, and understanding you should have for yourself and others who are "in the dark" literally, spiritually, psychologically, etc. Darkness can do some jedi mindtricks on you, and you're left none-the-wiser to its antics. You just take in the information you're given, and you make the best decision you can with the knowledge you have. It's only after new and more complete information is given that your perspective can change. So, empathy, give it. Nuff said.

Back to the story, at the intersection, in the dark...

I look up, and see approaching a REALLY slow moving car. I mean, it's moving painfully slowly. I'm thinking we have enough time to cross the street before it passes us... but I'm unsure, so I wait. I also notice one other peculiar thing about this car... it's completely silent. I listen intently for the sound of an engine, but there isn't one. Hmmmm... weird.

Do you think I questioned anything at this point? No... I didn't. Should you be questioning everything at this point? Hint, yes.

The car proceeds to pass us (again, painfully slowly, as I mentioned earlier). I'm still thinking how peculiar it is that it's not making any noise. Then, I see the headlights separating: one is pulling out in front of the other! In some Matrix-like spirit, I think I'm going crazy, but then I feel stupid. Like, "duh," it's not a car at all... it's two bikes!

Couple of nuggets in there for me that I wanna mention.

One: It's interesting to me that when I'm corrected, I instantly feel stupid, like I somehow should have had the magic knowledge to know those were two bikes, not a slow, silent car. This is important to slow down and note because this isn't innocuous, this isn't something to be trifled with. That feeling of stupidity upon truth, that's the voice of perfectionism in my head, telling me that even one fault on my part should have me running into a corner ashamed to be myself. It didn't hurt anyone that I was thinking "car" until I knew otherwise.... and I did the best with the knowledge I had at the time.. but still my inner critic would love to have me feeling painfully ashamed at my "mistake" and would love for me to have been silent and anxious the rest of the night.

Look, we all have our own things that get to us. My perfectionism likes to speak up in the realm of wisdom and knowledge: things I think I'm supposed to know. I'm sure you have your own enemies, but I encourage you to identify them and to "invite them to the table" as Brene Brown puts it. In other words, know who they are and exactly what you're going to say to them when they show up. They're menacing, but they're really quite predictable, so if you have a script ready for when you know they'll show up... well, you win.

Two: Things change. Sometimes you can't see them coming and that's ok. Sometimes it takes a progression and a shift, and that's uncomfortable or unexpected, but once you make that shift your whole vision changes and you see the world (or your problem) in a whole new way.

The only thing that changed one care into two bikes was time and perspective. I don't think time HEALS all wounds, but I know time CHANGES all wounds. The hurt that you're having right now will not feel the same as looking back on that memory 5 years from now. The pain and the wound might not go away, but it will be different than it is now.

Further, it's so easy to make assumptions off of what we think is true, only to find out later that we were wrong about what we saw/thought/felt. This isn't a bad thing, it's just a human thing. It doesn't call for judgment, but it does call for patience. Be patient with yourself. When you feel like you want to say something in a rush, wait for a minute. Ask yourself if this is something that needs to be said "right now" or ask yourself "where is my sense of urgency coming from?" Do you have all the facts? What facts might have alternate explanations? This isn't an exercise in self-deprecation, but in wisdom. In fact, it was a common practice in my graduate school program to include "alternate explanations" when we were writing up treatment plans and diagnoses. This is because to be human is to make assumptions, and to frequently and humorously err sometimes. Anyways, it's better to point it out yourself than to barrel along in ignorance until someone else points it out to you (and even then, be patient with yourself).

Also, be patient with others. I cannot tell you the number of people with "trigger fingers" that I see and hear on the daily. Something about having listeners at our fingertips gives everyone this incessant urge to speak with both rapid succession and insipid conviction about anything they feel they "know" something (anything) about. It's easy to be reactionary, to be angry with these people for telling you about the silent car that you've seen is really two bikes... but getting angry at them doesn't do any good because they're still looking at the car. They have NO WAY of seeing the bikes, so pointing it out to them simply alienates them and makes them more verbal, angry, and disgruntled. You can't tell them it's two bikes, but maybe you can encourage them to be patient with themselves and to examine their knowledge from every perspective.

Three: community, community, community. We all have blind spots. They are impossible to see. As much as I want to know all my spots and find them before anyone else does... well, that just doesn't happen. It can be embarrassing (the voice of perfection speaking, again) but it's inevitable that someone will catch you with your fly down (so to speak). Let them. I once heard a psychologist say that getting feedback is always to your benefit because it either 1) tells you something that you decide is worth changing, thus making you a better person, or 2) tells you something that you decide is not true or not worth changing, and can thus be dismissed and done away with. Basically, why not listen, because you can decide if you want to do something with it or not.

I'd say this is one of my more casual and more "rambly" posts... but hey, it is late at night, I haven't written in awhile, and it was a true story.

Let things change, it doesn't mean you were wrong, or stupid, it just means that things changed. Re-compute and walk on, all the wiser. Also, hold interpretations loosely, because it only takes a little time and perspective to shift them completely.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Grace Upon Grief Upon Grace

I have yet to understand grace.

In part, I have yet to accept it. There always seems to be a fight associated with grace. I work my way as far from grace as humanly possible, usually through routes of judgment and doubt. Once distanced, I gaze at grace, fondly, wondering if it is yet too late for me to return? Learning, yet again, that it is never too late, that grace was following me the whole time. Or, maybe, it's not my attempts to run from grace, but my prideful hesitancy to admit wrong, that proves the enemy of receiving. Maybe it's not my clamoring attempts to run and escape guilt, but my blind and nonchalant wanderings through sin—with a dull spirit toward my own depravity—that lends itself to a life I might call, "ungraced."

Regardless, both attitudes and postures are at odds with the grace prepared by Christ for me. In the former attitude, my self-deprecation and condemnation tell me I am unsuited as a recipient of grace, that I must run and hide from the feelings and consequences awaiting me. The latter imprisons grace from me, simply out of ignorance: I do not know I have stepped out of bounds. Or, even if I know, I am numb to the conviction of my error.

Grace is best (if not only) received head on: when I am neither running from, nor unaware of my shortcomings.

Grace is poured out as I look my loving Father in the eyes: my own unashamed and open. It is not a demand for pardon by any means, but a privilege of justification.

I was thinking about grace today as I was reading the Valley of Vision. I couldn't help but think, "What makes it so difficult for me to receive grace?" The way that the Bible talks about grace makes me feel like grace and freedom are related. Grace gives you peace before God, the conviction of His love for you, the confidence of His plan for your life, the comfort of His ever-present forgiveness. Why would anyone choose NOT to accept that?

If you're like me, you may find that accepting grace is something you really want to do, but seems at odds with taking responsibility for your actions, or seems to dishonor the horrors of things done to you.

Grace, for me, is the destination I get to once I've grieved a loss. And, friends, some losses are truly and painfully raw. In those times, even the freedom grace offers is not enough motivation for me to enter into that storm of grief.

Call it heretical, but sometimes the sorrows of this world outweigh the peace I feel in Christ.

It is in those times I forget about grace, and I remember grief. Here's the thing, though: grace breeds grace, and grief breeds grief. When I begin investing in my grief, any step away from it seems like an offense to the very real tragedies of life. Yet, when I remember grace, I am swept up in captive spiral of God's love and goodness ever increasing. I'm not really sure what I'm saying here, but suffice to say grace and grief are both addictive in their own rights.

So, what next? I feel I've developed a comfort for grieving. It's more familiar to me than grace. Yet, I'm slowly turning about-face, hands unfolding to receive God's gentle gaze and His good gifts. Yes, I can be grieved with my sin, but I don't need to be more grieved than God. When He says the cross is enough, who am I to question Him? Yes, friends, the cross is enough, even for you. Even for me.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Status Update Style

I realized I often see God as an inanimate object: a nutcracker that's lost its magic and fallen asleep into its immovable and lifeless form.  

How easily I forget.

God is by His very nature animate.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Harvest and the Holidays

Yesterday I went to a small group held by an old church of mine, Crossbridge. Many lessons have been learned in this group, many personal pitfalls uncovered, and many friends made. I find both my patience and my pride surface when I'm forced in good company to confront how the Gospel impacts my daily life and heart. It's a good thing I have people around me confronting the same pitfalls and prides, cause I wouldn't sustain such intense self-reflection on my own (grad school, anyone?).

Anyway, during this small group, we were talking about Jesus being our peace, our unity, our tranquility, our confidence. Ephesians 2:14 says "For He, Himself, is our peace." Specifically in Ephesians, God has displayed his peace in His personhood by breaking down "the dividing wall of hostility" between the Jews and the Gentiles. He enacted his peace by taking the spiritual and physical enmity of two groups and reconciling them to be not just separate and tolerant, but reconciled and whole: one new entity from two hostile enemies. 

I think of this peace through a similar lens as the Kingdom of God: both here, but not yet. God's kingdom reign is imminent and unstoppable and good and whole, but simultaneously patient and growing and on its way. Similarly, God's peace is both here and not yet. We are at peace with God through unlimited and unrestrained access to the Father through the Son by the Spirit. And yet.... this peace that gives me unconditional love and relationship with my Heavenly Father, is still finding and trying to take root in my marred love and fickle human relationships. His peace is here and not yet.

It's a difficult thing to experience the peace of Christ in the brokenness and injustice of the world. I often find myself either "blind" to the world's pain, or bitter toward God's peace. As if world peace and the peace of Christ are mutually exclusive. As if I can't experience God's peace while the world is in chaos. Black and white thinking is most often a scheme of the Devil to cause quarrels and maim peace. C.S. Lewis notes this point in his Mere Christianity when he says the following:

"He [the devil] always sends errors into the world in pairs—pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them."

This is how it is with the two errors of peace. The one says "peace with God means that there must already be peace with the world, so the pain that people are telling me about and the pain that I'm experiencing must not really be pain because God's peace is greater than it." This first error is an error of minimizing pain and oversimplifying peace. The second error is the opposite: "peace with God must not be possible on earth because there is so much pain and injustice that I can't experience the peace of God while living on the earth." This error mocks peace and magnifies pain. As C.S. Lewis states, I have spend much time analyzing the two errors, the two pairs. The true nature of peace is to stroll between the two pairs, a nod to each perhaps but a quick stride to the fullness and richness of peace with pain and in pain.

Peace does not take away pain. Pain does not take away peace. They are not mutually exclusive, nor strictly at odds with each other.

I think this is important for me because my pursuit of peace often lapses into a pursuit of comfort.

I think this is important for me because my sensitivity to brokenness often lapses into an aversion toward peace. 

It seems that peace is not a war that is won, but a seed that is sown. It is planted by Christ and harvested by His people. James hints at this idea when he says "a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace" (3:18). Justice, then, is peace fully-grown and matured.

I don't have a closing thought or send-off, but I'm glad to get some of what I'm thinking down onto this format. I'm still eager to develop and sow peace in a world where justice is an endangered species. Justice and peace are not mutually exclusive, and in fact one requires the other in order to be fully realized. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Fill in the Blank

I thought I would take the 20 minutes I have between clients (thank you, no show) to write about something that is on my mind. My clients truly do more for my personal growth than any class, friend, or church service I've been to. They keep me motivated and they keep me ever-open to new possibilities. My client this morning got me thinking about the double-sided coin of the blank page: the analogy of opportunity as well as uncertainty. I've always considered a physical blank page to be an exciting element. It strikes me as new territory: completely available to be explored, molded, and changed to reflect whatever I want at the time. However, this excitement quickly turns to fear when you ask me to draw on the paper. Some days, more than others, I cling to the excitement and can attach to the idea of creating something from nothing. Yet, the idea of creating something that would be considered "ugly" or "bad" is worse than leaving the paper blank. After all, if I'm going to put my heart into it, I want it to stand the best chance of being loved.

As I thought about this more and more (still thinking, for the record) I began seeing some of what my client is going through as a blank page of sorts. For them, putting pen to paper (making a choice to pursue their happiness) seems worse than leaving things how they are. For similar reasons as I listed above, they don't trust their ability to put down something good, so they're afraid to put down anything at all. It's scary to think about being seen and rejected. This client is stuck holding the pen, wanting to use their talents and opinions, but paralyzed by the fear of failing, being seen as a failure, or simply "not succeeding" (which makes neutral performance akin to failure).

I get this. I live this.

Anyway, the best thing to get over the fear of messing up is to practice on something that no one else will see, or that doesn't matter that much. When I first started writing, I used journals and notebooks that I knew no one else would see. I used prompts instead of coming up with my own narratives. Now, I write for whomever and don't care what they think about it, because I like what I do. I think I have something important to say, and I also see my writing as my personal way of engaging in the Gospel's creative process of redeeming, making things new, and drawing people to the love and wisdom that is God, my Maker, my Father.

Anyway, I thought about this for my client, for myself. When I feel performance anxiety, what blank page is being put in front of me? What do I think I'm adding to it? Can I loosen fear's grip on the process? Can I practice on something before it goes viral? Can I lean on my creativity and passion to push me through the fear and paralysis?

Lots of questions, but also lots of ideas.

What is your blank page? What do you want to say with it? What is fear getting in the way of? How do you practice and hone your creativity and your purpose?