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Archive for February, 2008

Peace, grief, overflowing, delight, confusion. Trust.

He Is Sufficient threw out the idea of a six word story. Since I’m swamped and only sort of making it through life these days, six words seemed more manageable than my usual think-things-out-with-as-many-words-as-it-takes kind of post. My story may not have as much creative oomph as Ernest Hemingway’s, but it is a pretty accurate picture of the whirlpool (or is it a swamp) that is my life right now.

And here’s my five word story (borrowed, as you may notice):

Yet Will I Trust Him

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A Nighttime Prayer

One of the things I have liked about attending different churches through the years is exploring each new hymnbook for songs I’ve never heard before. I’m currently attending a United Methodist church and the hymn repertoire is large and rich.

Here are some of the words from a new song I’ve discovered. Several nights a week I play it on the piano and sing it to my kids as a lullaby before they go to bed. The music is a beautiful, lilting Swedish folk tune.

Thy holy wings, O Savior, spread gently over me,
and let me rest securely through good and ill in thee.
O be my strength and portion,my rock and hiding place,
and let my every moment be lived with thy grace…

…And take into thy keeping thy children great and small,
and while we sweetly slumber, enfold us one and all.

I’m off to bed now, not having completed (nor even started to be honest) the work I needed to make a dent in tonight. I’m walking through a mixture of grief and burnout and joy and healing and sorrow. That rather intense combination seems to be messing with my nervous system, so in addition to being worn out, my legs are twitching occasionally. It’s not painful, but distracting and annoying. I’m praying for sweet slumber, enfolded in God’s love.

Tomorrow’s a new day to live every moment with his grace. Every moment. Not one exempt. Not one good moment occurs outside of his grace. Not any of my bad moments, not even the worst of the worst. That is part of what I believe and trust is true, in ways I can’t always clearly see or comprehend.

O be my strength and portion, my rock and hiding place…

(“Thy Holy Wings, O Savior,” by Caroline V. Sandell-Berg 1865; trans. by Gracia Grindal, 1983; p. 502, The United Methodist Hymnal)

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I ended up at this post by Spiritual Tramp in a very round about way. The author made me smile when he talked about another site and said that it “makes me wish I were geekier than I am.” It also reminded me that I have had my scores from the Nerd Test sitting in draft for a while now.

The analysis of my nerdiness came back as:

“Not nerdy, but definitely not hip.”

60% scored higher (more nerdy),
1% scored the same, and
39% scored lower (less nerdy).

I guess  nerdiness dilutes the hip factor more than I would have imagined. I mean, 60 percent of the people taking the test scored higher than me, and that doesn’t make me a little bit hip? Why didn’t they say, “You are MORE hip than you are nerdy?” instead of emphasizing that I am definitely NOT hip?

I can see how these results fit with my personality. I don’t like to stand out. I don’t really have any desire to be popular or “in”. In all honesty, I really don’t want to be like “everybody else”.  But at the same time, I don’t like being so different as to actually be noticed or stand out. 

I was also thinking that while I don’t want to be an obvious nerd or a geek for the sole reason that I don’t want to stand out, I’m always delighted when I have a few  people who others label as geeks or nerds among my close friends. These are the friends who don’t tell me I think too much. These friends give me lots of cool things to think about from a variety of interesting perspectives.  I like variety and I’m glad my friends are scattered all across the spectrum (any spectrum/whatever spectrum).

As a sort of highly educated redneck, country bumpkin, I think I do feel most self conscious around people who might be labeled hip. Even so, I’m grateful for the more “with it” friends I’ve had as well, who haven’t  looked down at me, just because I’m NOT (with it).

Distinctions like this can be fun when they help us describe what is, and maybe even help us laugh about those realities and different takes on life.  I can’t stand a focus on distincions, though, when it is prescriptive or isolating, for example, when there is either an air of intellectual superiority or anti-intellectual superiority about a person and that is used to place a wide gulf between any two people.

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…the absence of intense, difficult and negative emotions.

Here’s a quote by Bob McDonald in a comment on Lingamish’s post, Psalm 68: Should We Be Singing the Yucky Parts?, which I have been thinking back on as I’ve pondered this concept of forgiveness:

definitely sing, meditate, pray the yucky parts [of Scripture] – but leave the resolution to the one who loves you and knows how to deal with enemies

I have been thinking that a large part of what I am giving up when I choose to receive the full impact of an offense committed against me and the pain that comes with it,  is revenge.

In my experience, this has not meant that my heart does not ever cry out for justice to be carried out against those who have committed evil against me, whether individually or corporately. (Sometimes I want justice to be carried out against those who have committed evil against other people, but I think that desire does not so easily slide into a desire for revenge.Revenge seems to me to be an attitude of wanting to see punished the one who has committed an offense against me. Fighting for justice on behalf of another doesn’t  stir up the same spirit of vindictiveness I can feel in myself when wanting to see someone pay for evil done against me. I’m not too sure about this difference, but I think there is a difference.)

So, I’ve been pondering the idea that forgiving and not being bitter doesn’t mean that I never cry out for judgment to be carried out against those who have harmed me. I don’t often cry out for that. But at times I have. And when I have, I have found that cry for avengement of the wrong also to be a deep expression of my trust in God. It is a crying out from my place of pain, not so much in anger AT the other person, but a deep anguished expression TO God of my longing for vindication, for the wrong to be made right. The expression of that heart cry is part of my choice to trust him. And out of trust expressed in that anguished way, I am able to come back to resting and waiting and facing head on the pain that is mine.

If I’m trusting God to do his thing in his time and his way, I don’t need to hold on to the fuel that will keep me pumped and ready to seek for and carry out revenge. I can long for God to act with justice in response to the evil committed against me, without it being a weight for me to carry regarding how that should look and when it should be carried out.

I love the picture of being free to cry out for vindication or justice or avengement or retribution (I’m struggling with the semantics and haven’t decided on which word means what I’m trying to say), but not having to bear within myself the burden (or demand) of making that happen. It is not my burden or my responsibility. My burden is the pain of the offense I have received. And I can trust God as I walk through and with that pain. But, I can also trust God that the offense has not gone unnoticed or ignored, and that, ultimately, God is the one who will carry out retribution or mercy. For me, that is a place of rest–not having to hide my cry to God to avenge the evil that has been committed. But also being able to leave the ultimate resolution of that to the one who loves me and knows how to deal with my enemies.

I was deeply moved by Lingamish’s post and question as well as by Bob’s response. The day I first read that post last September, I was thinking about the song Lingamish refers to from Psalm 68:1, “Let God arise and his enemies be scattered.” Here is what I commented back then:  “[I] realized there are times that I could sing verse 1 really as an affirmation and shout of praise that I can trust God to take care of my enemies and the injustices I face or see around me. In that place, I experience freedom and gladness that I KNOW I can trust God to take care of “it” or “them”, so I can go on with my life. Othertimes, when I’m battling bitterness, to sing the same song would be feeding a beast inside of me rather than crying out in trust. Bob’s first sentence makes a lot of sense to me. The place to start is knowing I can trust the one who knows how to take care of enemies. From that place, I can yell, scream, cry, plead for relief or justice–with the full range of emotions anchored in trust.”

I don’t have to sit and ponder and dream about how God will resolve the evil carried out against me. Nor do I need to delight in imagining how miserable my enemy will be when “God takes care of him”. That, I think, would be going back to trying to lessen the amount of the pain I feel from the evil done to me by deflecting some of it back (even vicariously or just in my mind) on to the offender. The offense HAS happened against me. And it hurts me excruciatingly. I long for God to relieve the pain and to bring about my vindication. But, no matter what, no matter how he does that or to what degree, I trust Him. He loves me. I trust Him. He knows how to deal with enemies. I trust Him.

I am still at a place where I can’t easily define forgiveness. And I certainly don’t have a checklist of how forgiveness has to look.  For me, it’s less of something to do or not to do, and more of a reality of trust that is stretched further than I ever wanted it to be stretched. Will I trust God, even now, even in this situation? When the answer is yes, I think the forgiveness process happens as a gift from God without it having to be something I force to happen or scrape all my strength together and strive desperately after.  Forgiveness looks very different in different people and different situations. The emotions out of which forgiveness is lived are many. And they are often very intense. Forgiveness doesn’t get rid of those emotions, but it does change how they look, I think, in a way that is not easily quantified.

I have seen people who are angry, confused and broken, with a bitter unforgiving spirit. But I have also seen forgiveness in the eyes of angry, confused and broken people. I can’t tell you exactly what the difference is, but I think it has something to do with a trust in God that is deeply intertwined and woven through their anger, confusion and brokenness. When I see that, I am reminded of David, Job, Habakkuk and Jeremiah.  This is not trite, emotionless forgiveness. But deep, costly, painful forgiveness that somehow ends up radiant, vibrant and full of life and intensity. Forgiveness that flourishes in the intensity and honesty of the emotions surrounding the offense will also be honest and intense.

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About forgiveness. It’s not very concrete or tangible to me. In other words, it’s not so much something I do (i.e. a formula). It’s certainly a process. But it’s less of a focus on the act of forgiveness, I suppose, and more a side effect of choosing again and again to trust God, against all odds.

That was part of my response to someone who asked me about my thoughts and experiences of forgiveness.

As I thought about that, after I wrote it, I realized something else. I don’t choose to trust God in that way in a vacuum. It’s not  blindly saying, “Well, I trust God to be sovereign, so I can automatically let go of this thing and forgive the other person.” That’s sort of true, but not completely.

The thing is, I think about forgiveness as a releasing the other person from a demand from me for them to have to pay for/carry the price of their offense (this says nothing about punishment or justice being carried out. Those things may need to happen. I’m only talking about the personal attitude inside of me that is involved in forgiveness; not the broader level implications of someone’s wrong). Because I’m forgiving them, I am choosing not to defer the pain they’ve inflicted on me back on them (that’s an illusion anyway to think we can do that. When we try, we end up being the ones to stay miserable, but that’s a separate point, and one which I may seem like I contradict with my next statements).

In order for me to release the other person from carrying the weight of their offense against me, in some ways I’m choosing to receive totally and fully the impact of that offense. By not deflecting it back onto them, I’m receiving onto me what they intended for me (or sometimes what they did not intend, but which they, nonetheless, inflicted on me). None of  the offense is being held on to and accumulated as an angry grenade to be lobbed back at them (of course I don’t do this ideally or perfectly and I do at times hold onto pain with the intent of lobbing it back).

I’m not saying that as soon as the pain comes I just easily “let it go”. While forgiveness is about not holding on to the pain to lob it back onto the offender, neither is it a minimizing of the severity of the pain and nonchalantly letting it roll off my back.

Forgiveness only can happen in a context where I receive the pain–let the offense knock me over, knock me down, if that is the intensity of the pain in response to the degree of the offense. I’m receiving it in full impact, but in a different way than the holding onto it as a weapon to direct back to the other person.

What I’m struggling to say is that the context where I can trust God with my pain and hurt IS the actual pain and hurt.

It’s facing that pain, feeling that pain, crying out in anguish with that pain. I don’t focus so much on the offense or on whether or not I can forgive. I just feel the pain. I feel the offense. I feel the breath knocked out of me. And I walk in and through that pain. And that is where forgiveness happens, because in all of that pain–not in desperately trying to get out of it, to pay for it, to recover from it; only in feeling it and crying out in that anguish–that is where I’m trusting God. That is where I’m screaming out in anguish from my heart and sometimes anger, often in sadness and darkness, “God help me.” That is where I read the Psalms and Proverbs, Lamentations and Job, and the words and cries in those books become my own.

Also, just like the trusting God can’t happen in a vacuum without feeling the full impact of the pain, so experiencing the pain does not happen for me in a vacuum apart from deeply trusting God. Bitterness can come when I feel the full impact of the pain, if the pain is removed from the context of my trust in God. Bitterness also can come when I step outside of the pain and  my experience of it and look at how awful it is as an observer and in that position reject that pain, instead of truly feeling and absorbing the impact of the offense. Bitterness comes when I look at the person who did the offense to me, instead of walking in and through the offense and bearing the full impact on myself of what came to me. Bitterness comes when I try to keep myself from feeling that pain and want to make sure, at any cost, that (a) it never happens again or (b) the person who did the offense is going to pay for at least part of the price of the suffering they have inflicted on me. When I direct that anger back toward the offender instead of feeling the anger and pain as effects of what was done to me, that is when bitterness happens.

All of this might sound more spiritual than my experience of it really is. On the one hand, I think the ability to forgive when awful things happen is certainly tied into trusting God and believing that there is always a bigger picture than I can see at any given moment (once again, Viktor Frankl’s writings have impacted my thinking on this topic). On the other hand, I must confess that sometimes forgiveness, for me, is pragmatic.

The bottom line is, I hate pain. I bet it doesn’t sound like it after I’ve gone on and on about receiving and feeling pain. But, I’ve found that the purest, least complicated pain is the pain that happens in a cause and effect way: something happens, I feel the pain that is a real and very normal response to that type of situation.

The pain that comes from trying to figure out how to pay the other person back or make them suffer for what they’ve done to me,  or obsessing about making sure that not one iota of what I suffered goes unforgotten, well, that pain ends up being so complex and so much more painful, I think at some point, choosing to absorb the pain that happened and then trust God in that pain, becomes not only a release, but a relief. 

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Okay, so I know I think about heavy things a lot. I know much of my writing seems depressing and sad. I know I’m a very serious person. And I really do appreciate the people that worry about me because I am so often so sad. And I appreciate that some of those people keep caring about me and keep loving me, even though they really do think I should lighten up.

I’ve been sad a lot this weekend. No surprise there, really, as weekends are when I try to schedule in as much “therapeutic depression” as my work load allows. This weekend, though, more than some others, I’ve been crying or about to cry for much of the time. Other times, my weekend depressions don’t take the sad form as much as they take the hole-up-at-home form. So what I was noticing was that being sad and crying a lot doesn’t mean that I don’t feel happy or smile at all. Sometimes when I’m most sad, I feel the things that make me smile most acutely.

And I was thinking, since I don’t have energy to write a serious post on all the things going through my mind (more about the loneliness of smart, church, relationships, etc.), I’d share a few of the things that have been making me smile even while I’m crying:

Lingamish–whether he’s writing serious stuff or doing his Satire-Day posts, he makes me laugh.

Cartalk radio program. Those guys are amazing and so very funny.  Last night I was so tired, but when I got to bed, I just couldn’t unwind enough to fall asleep. So I laid in bed and listened to Click and Clack, and was just relaxed enough to fall asleep when they were done. (I know, I know listening to a radio show that makes you laugh, while lying in bed, is not the way doctors suggest for dealing with insomnia. But I normally don’t have trouble sleeping, so it’s not like it’s a bad habit, and, well, it worked for me.)

Fun music. This week, we checked out a CD by Tom Hall from the library, called Country Songs for Children. I’ve listened to it several times, even while my children are not here. We all love it, and many of the songs make me smile big inside and outside each time I hear them. I’ve decided that country music is a great genre for me, because happy and sad are all mixed up together in it. The music can be nostalgic and make me feel like crying, but at the same time make me smile. You can listen to samples of this fun CD at the link over at Amazon.com. I think song #15, “Let’s Play Remember” could be my theme song as an ISFJ. Listening to that song and tuning into my thoughts and feelings as I listened to it helped me start to articulate some things I struggle with. But, I’ll save that navel gazing for another time. (ha! ha! did you notice I finally got that spelled right? not nasal gazing and not naval gazing?!!!!)

Something else that makes me smile–Computers that do what you want them to do! Yes, it does happen. Last week, I had a mini-trauma, thinking that I lost some pretty significant information in Word Perfect that helps speed up my work. In the end, I found the information, but I was still in a tizzy and panic because I’ve never been able to figure out how to back up the dictionary and Word Perfect shortcuts. This scare just reminded me of how terrible it is that I didn’t have any good way of saving that information in a usable form. A friend I met via blogging did some research and a lot of work and came up with a solution–a macro that converts all my WP quick correct expansions to text. It was so wonderful to sit and watch that macro do its thing. I smiled and smiled watching it. And I’m still smiling in spite of all  my tears this weekend, whenever I look at the wonderful eight pages of text that I have as a result. Sometimes a paper copy feels so much more safe than the same thing saved on a computer somewhere!

What else makes me smile? My house. Yes, I’m still living in the same place I thought several months ago I’d be moving out of soon. Granted, it’s up for sale, but nothing’s moving on the housing market right now. I know my time is uncertain here, but being here still makes me smile. My town. I love the town where I live (which probably seems confusing to some people here, since I still get very sad about other places I’ve lived and miss, especially places I left without good closure). But, I drive around my town and feel so at home here, it makes me smile. It’s such a comforting, homey, friendly place to be sad 🙂

So, that’s a small glimpse into my all mixed up, happily sad or sadly happy life. Which is it? Probably more the former than the latter. And this is my meager attempt to prove to all my friends who want me to lighten up that I’m really not as morbidly depressed and excessively serious as I might look to more naturally humourous people.

Back to the drawing board. I’ve got two more doctors to type for tonight. Not quite enough energy to get it done efficiently and quickly. Not quite enough hours left to afford to do it anything but efficiently and quickly. If you read this on Sunday night, please do pray for me that it will go smooth and I can get good rest before the week starts tomorrow morning with the mad Monday morning rush.

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Or: “Internal Angst and Severe Naval Gazing” 🙂

That last post was incredibly hard to write. It’s not gotten any easier for me now that it is posted. Here are the voices that haunt me when I read back through it, and the arguments I keep repeating back to those voices:

Why are you calling yourself smart for all the world to see? (I’m not calling myself smart. I’m wanting to talk about how hard it is for me to know how to interact with and face and sometimes talk about whatever it is about me that some people call “smart”)

When people read this, they’re going to think about all the really smart people they know and that will make them them about all the reasons you’re NOT so smart, and then you are going to look really presumptuous (that’s one of the real rubs I’m afraid of) by even talking about this whole “smart” dilemma. (Trust me, I’m aware of how not so smart I can be. But, I also know that I feel very lonely and misunderstood at times because of how I’m different from other people, and often that difference seems to keep coming back to what other people call “smart”)

Smart is such a relative thing. For everybody but two people in the world, there is somebody who is smarter and somebody who is less smart. (Yes, I know. I know. I know. I hate the word. I hate the relativity. I hate the assumptions that go with it. But I still need to talk about whatever this thing is that makes me feel isolated from people on either end of a spectrum that I wish wasn’t even a spectrum. I mean, I’m glad there are people who think more AND who think less than me. I’m glad there are people who do some things better than me, and some things that I do better. I don’t like thinking about it from those comparative terms, but I don’t know how else to come to grips with what it all means for relationship than to think about it at least a little bit from this angle.)

It’s so arrogant to talk about yourself and “smart” in the same sentence. (Yes, that’s part of what I’m afraid of and why it is easier for me to talk about other heavy stuff, but I’ve kept running from the five letter “s” word. I don’t like talking about war and peace, but I ventured into that dialogue for a little bit. I don’t particularly like to get caught up in the homeschooling vs. public schooling debate, but I stepped out and stuck my foot in my mouth on that one recently. As hard as those talks are for me to enter into, I’m even more afraid of talking about being smart. Primarily BECAUSE I feel like it sounds arrogant. So, I can’t argue too much with you…I mean me… if you/I say I’m being arrogant. I don’t think I’m being arrogant. At least I hope I’m not. But I am afraid that I sound arrogant just by talking about what it means when other people call me smart. I’m taking the risk, because it’s so hard to have something that seems to somehow be a part of me be “untouchable” and undiscussable.)

You’re going to drive people nuts with all this rambling on and on about being smart. (I know. That’s another thing I’m really afraid of. But, I need to talk about it and try to sort it out. And I want to do it in a venue where maybe a few other people can help me sort it out. I’ll take the risk of driving people nuts. And I’m going to try really hard to trust that even if I do drive some people nuts with how I think, they might continue to like me anyway. Because that’s one of the core questions: If I’m different, if I think weird (too much, too little, too rationally, too illogically), can you, will you still be my friend and like talking with me? Is where I fall on the scales of smart/making sense/confusing a dealbreaker to relationship? I hope not. Will you ignore me and write me off, except when it is beneficial to you, because of how I think and express myself?)

I wrote someone an email recently about these kinds of things. In that email I said, “I often get looks and words from people that communicate, ‘You’re not making sense.’ And I’m having to learn to trust that not making sense to people doesn’t mean they don’t like me or don’t want to bother listening to me or getting to know me anyway. I’ve too often felt like I’ve been pushed away because my thinking is too strange or confusing to other people. Now I’m realizing that those don’t have to be mutually exclusive.”

The person I had written to responded and asked if I would write a post about that as it resonated with him as well. I’m trying to do that here, but because it is all so intensely personal and confusing to me, and I’m still trying to find my own way through it, it may take a while. What I hope is that, even if I’m driving you nuts with how I ramble through the topic, you won’t write me off or mock how I think.

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