Archive for June, 2008

(to me, at least)

I am reading a book called The Body Remembers, which is helping me understand a bit more about how my memory works–both why I apparently (so they tell me) remember things so well, and why I have such a propensity to post-traumatic stress. Fascinating stuff, and I am enjoying the book and the things that are clicking and making sense to me as I read, though I am only on page 37, where I discovered this fun poem by a Danish poet, Piet Hein:

Rhyme and Reason

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe,
She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do.
But try as she would she could never detect
which was the cause and which the effect.

Piet Hein. What a fascinating guy. Not, perhaps, your ordinary poet. Fascinating enough that he wrote his poetry in several different languages. I also discovered that he:

…was a genius with many different sides. In addition to discovering the Soma cube, he created a new geometrical form, the “super-ellipse”, which is something in between the rectangle and the ellipse. The form also came in a 3D version and was then called “the super egg” or “the super-ellipsoide”. As an artist and constructor, Piet Hein in the 50’s and 60’s gave form to beautiful pieces of furniture, and he contributed to make “Scandinavian design” become an international conception. Internationally he always tried building a bridge between the “hard” technical and natural sciences and the “soft” humanistic subjects.

Here a few more of his poems, known, for some reason I haven’t looked up yet, as “Grooks”:

Problems worthy
of attack
prove their worth
by hitting back.

(I’ve got a few problems like that, which obsessively and obnoxiously seem to keep trying to prove their worth!)

This is a brilliant idea, I think:

Whenever you’re called on to make up your mind,
and you’re hampered by not having any,
the best way to solve the dilemma, you’ll find,
is simply by spinning a penny.
No – not so that chance shall decide the affair
while you’re passively standing there moping;
but the moment the penny is up in the air,
you suddenly know what you’re hoping.

And finally, this one, which gave me a smile for how relevant an encouragement it was to me tonight:

Put up in a place
where it’s easy to see
the cryptic admonishment
When you feel how depressingly
slowly you climb,
it’s well to remember that
Things Take Time.

Read Full Post »

Symbols and brands–why do they work? What makes one work and another not? I am enjoying studying this chart from the cascades, and thinking about these kinds of things.

I also enjoyed looking at these symbols and wondering which country I would want to visit, if the only thing I had to go on were the graphic. Of course, it’s hard to be totally objective and block out my own interests and what I already know or feel about a particular country.

country logos

Three that my eyes are drawn to each time I scan the chart are Bulgaria, Qatar and Japan.

I also like the graphics for South Africa and Peru, because their symbols clearly connect me with things I do already know about that country.


Finally, I like Morocco’s (which I found on another site with a few others not included above). I’m not sure if the design by itself would have won me over, but for some reason, I find myself really liking the combination of the artwork with the slogan.

What about you? Which do you find most graphically appealing? Are any particularly unattractive to you?

Forgetting the graphics above, is there any country you’ve always wanted to visit?

As for me, I think I’ll do my traveling these days through books and magazines. I spent a significant part of my first 35 years traveling to different countries and now I’m too tired to think about long trips, even in my own country. But I still love reading about other countries and the people that live in those places.

I’ve started a little summer project with my younger two children. We’re going to see how many books set in different countries we can read this summer. I’ve printed them each out their own set of (free) outline maps from Houghton Mifflin. The literate one of the two got the maps with country names. His little sister has the blank maps. As we read each book, they will color in the country. And the literate one gets to practice his writing skills by keeping a running list of the countries as well as the book titles and authors. image

For my own travel reading, one of my new favorite books, A Camera, Two Kids and a Camel, satisfies my love of photographs and my interest in people and lifestyles in other countries. Annie Griffiths Belt is a National Geographic photographer. I love her pictures and the stories behind some of them as well as the tales of adventures she and her family had along the way.

Read Full Post »

(for lack of the creative thinking skills needed to come up with a better title)

I suppose my blogging habits of late fit me in with this predictably hyperbolic description, courtesy of David Ker:

the rest of the blogosphere has rolled over on its back and feigned death

I’m supposed to be keeping my word to write a post based on a children’s book or series. But every time I start, I stall. Maybe I’m stuck in the Doldrums (my kids and I are reading The Phantom Tollbooth. What a fun book, and what a delightful description of the Doldrums.)

The reality is that every time I try to put my feelings about one of my favorite books into words, it feels either too pedantic or ends up spoiling the simplicity of the story by making too much of it with my words.

The other thing is that every time I start to write that post, I keep veering off course, and it’s always in the same direction. Today, while reading a book called The Gift of Fear, I found some words that got at the feelings my brain kept veering off to:

The great enemy of perception, and thus of accurate predictions, is judgment. People often learn just enough about something to judge it as belonging in this or that category. They observe bizarre conduct and say, “This guy is just crazy.” Judgments are the automatic pigeonholing of a person or situation simply because some characteristic is familiar to the observer (so whatever that characteristic meant before it must mean again now). Familiarity is comfortable, but such judgments drop the curtain, effectively preventing the observer from seeing the rest of the play.

What I’ve been thinking of is how hard it is for me when people I love experience other people I love (or even God, whom I love) in ways that sort of make sense to me (meaning I understand where they are coming from), but at the same time seem to miss so very much.

Sometimes I think I’d like to be a mediator and make a job of being able to say, “Yes, I see it that way. But what do you think about looking at it this other way, too?”

I read a book about autism and I think I’d like to take what makes sense about autism and people with autism and sit down with other people who just write an autistic person off as strange and say things like, “But, look, see how this makes sense? See why so and so can’t look you in the eye? It’s because he can’t filter things out too easily, and so your eye movements distract him.”

I hear someone disregard a person who is obsessive compulsive and I find myself (compulsively) wanting to explain that from a different perspective than the observer might ever have considered it from.

I hear someone knocking someone for being down and out and I want to let them know the therapeutic value of being depressed sometimes.

I hear someone understanding an outgoing, vivacious person as “shallow” and I want to say, “No, no. It’s not necessarily so. Look at it this way.”

I hear someone making sense of a quiet person as unsocial and friendly, and I want to say, “No. Quiet is not unfriendly. Lack of smile might just mean that they are concentrating hard on what you are saying.”

It’s not that I always have a certain answer for “how people are”. It’s just painful to me to watch people come to rock solid certain conclusions about things which they are only seeing (perhaps are only able to see) from one angle.

I see people highly offended by the “way so and so is” and I want to step in and say, “But look. If you really understood this, that would make sense. At least a little bit. Or maybe it’s just that your assumption would make less absolute sense.” And sometimes getting people to see that their assumptions don’t make absolute sense feels like it would be good progress in the right direction. But…sigh…I don’t think many people agree with me that it would be progress for them to move into the direction of LESS certainty.

I also find myself caught sometimes between people who I love and admire deeply but who stand out as so different, and others who write off those people as weird, or crazy, or ridiculous, or… And I, who loves not standing out, wishes there were a way to be unique or different and not stand out. Wishes, at the very least, that more things about the gloriously varied ways that people are and do made easy sense to other people and didn’t seem strange, odd, or even wrong, just because it (or they) are different.

You know what? The problem isn’t so much, I think, that people don’t understand other people. It’s more that people are quick to understand people only in the categories they already know or understand. They take what, in reality they don’t understand, and make sense of it in ways so that they think they do.

Sometimes I get weary of seeing people pigeonhole other people or situations–making sense of them because that’s easier to do than living with tension or not being able to make sense of. Sometimes I don’t mind trying to cross that gap and help people see what they might be missing by dropping the curtain early.

But, sometimes it’s just easier to live in my own world–seeing what I see, enjoying what I enjoy, loving who I love and holding on to the tensions of people and things I don’t understand. I’m not willing to default to making sense of the tensions just for the sake of my relieving the tension. But I don’t always find it easy to communicate that to other people. And so, sometimes it’s easier just to sit with the different angles I see things from, than trying to talk about how differently I see or understand people or situations that other people have pigeonholed. It’s easier than trying to explain. It’s easier than trying to put into words “another way of looking at it.”

Sigh. Does that make me an introvert?

Sometimes I don’t want to talk about God, either, for the same reason that I don’t always want my friends from different circles to get together (at least not if I’m going to have to hear about it afterwards). It’s not hard for me to see how differently (and why) people see God (or my “strange friends”) differently from how I do.

What’s hard is to try to put into words something bigger or different than the pigeonhole that people put God or some of my friends into, when I see how automatic and easy and firm the pigeonhole is. Sometimes the pigeonhole makes so much sense, in and of itself, and the way I see it–bigger than and outside of the pigeonhole–while it makes sense to me, is admittedly not nearly as satisfactory to other people as the pigeonhole is.

I’m not a debater and I’m not a defender. I know who and what I love. And I feel deeply why I do, and why I can and do still love and admire the people (including God) I do for all of their complicatedness. But sometimes it’s too hard to try to help other people see something else outside of their familiar judgments, which make so much sense to them. Does it matter? Is it even my business to try to clarify or explain or bring to light another perspective than the obvious pigeonhole? Sometimes it feels like it does and is. But I’m not always sure.

What do you think about that above definition of judgments (and is it just me, but does anyone else think “judgment” needs an “e” after the “g” to make the “g” say it’s softer sound? Or am I trying to pigeonhole English writing to make it more comfortable for me? And if so, what am I missing out on seeing here 🙂 ):

Judgments are the automatic pigeonholing of a person or situation simply because some characteristic is familiar to the observer (so whatever that characteristic meant before it must mean again now).

So what do you think when you read that? Agree? Disagree? Does it make you think of a story in your own life or experience? I love stories. Stories help me sort out my own thoughts better (and right now, you can probably tell, these thoughts aren’t too well sorted out, being pretty much on the emotional soapbox level). And stories give me hooks. And, finally, stories are the best ways I find to think about things from other perspectives (because even in this, I’m sure there is more than just the way I’m looking at it, to look at it.)

In any case, whether you have a story to share along these lines, or any other form of comment, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Read Full Post »

rock and a hard place

This was the best visual I could find for expressing where I’m at emotionally today. Quitting is too costly. Keeping on going seems, well, pretty near impossible.

I thank God for the perspective of a friend who listened to me wail about being stuck today. Having a friend around when you’re stuck doesn’t necessarily mean you can or will get unstuck. It doesn’t automatically make the impossible seem possible. But a friend can bring perspective to the situation, even if it is just by stating the obvious so obviously that (1) I realize I really do have good reason to despair (i.e. I’m not crazy to be feeling overwhelmed) and (2) I can actually even laugh a little about it (I find it nearly impossible to laugh, alone, when I’m stuck. I have many good and funny friends, though, and I appreciate every little laugh they can eke out of me when I’m down).

It’s amazing how being able to lament with someone else about how hard things are can infuse a desperate situation with a ray of hope. A friend’s very presence reminds me that I’m not alone. One friend can be a tangible reminder of the many other people still in my life. And although I cannot defend or explain exactly how it works, a friend’s listening to my cries (and sometimes crying them with me) gives me courage to keep crying out to God and trusting Him, even in between a rock and a hard place.

Don’t ever underestimate the strength and courage you can give to someone who is stuck, by sitting with them, sharing in their grief and lamenting with them. You may or may not be able to help them see another solution to getting through or even out of their problems. But you honor their suffering by listening. You pass on courage and strength by grieving with them.

Okay, that’s enough philosophizing about pain and suffering and feeling stuck and wanting to quit and the importance of friends being there with you even if they can’t do any better than you can at getting yourself unstuck.

All that’s well and good, and I’m really grateful it’s true.



Read Full Post »

Or What’s the Use of Crying Over Spilt Milk?


(Has anybody else read this book? It’s a fun one which I enjoyed reading with my kids. It has nothing to do with this post, except that whenever I think about spilt milk, this is the picture that comes to mind.) I will warn you ahead of time that my thoughts in this post may be as disconnected as this book is from the title. My thoughts are not well developed or formed as much as they are forming and percolating. The writing them out is part of the process for me as I try to figure out what contentment is all about.

A Declaration:

I will not let my longing for what isn’t, what should have been, what could have been or even what could be destroy the gifts, goodness and delight of what is.

I will not accomplish that by pretending that what isn’t, what should have been, what could have been or even what could be (1) is wrong to long for or (2) doesn’t really matter to me.

I will not make contentment easier (or, in reality, make it something fake) by denying my longings or just caring less.

Those are some decisions that I think are implied in choosing contentment. But, saying them in that way–as declared choices–misses the important point that contentment is not something I can achieve by willpower. It is not something I grit my teeth and determine I am going to make happen–whether I like it or not.

In many ways, contentment is a byproduct of things like acceptance and trust. It is a sort of side effect. (Since becoming a medical transcriptionist, I find myself thinking in quasi-medical terms about everything. So, drugs have side effects, well so do acceptance and trust.)

In another way, though, contentment is an attitude which needs certain things to be able to grow and flourish. Plants need good soil, sunlight and water to flourish.

I deeply believe that, among other things, contentment needs grief in order to be able to thrive.

And so, I say that as part of choosing contentment, I will let myself cry over spilt milk. Indeed, I believe I need to be able to cry over spilt milk–to really grieve–in order to truly be fully content in my present circumstances.

Yesterday, Psalm 42 was brought to my attention, here and here.

And this morning as I continued to reflect on that Psalm, connected to circumstances in my own life, and also things I am grieving for others I care about, it dawned on me that David, in a sense, was crying over spilt milk.

David was crying over spilt milk.

  • Over what was not: “I thirst for God, the living God. When can I come and stand before him?” (Regardless of how you may argue that this is not a “was not”, i.e. that David still WAS in the presence of God, the bottom line is that David, in asking, “When?” was expressing grief over what he was not at that moment tangibly experiencing.)
  • Over what should not have been, “Day and night I have only tears for food, while my enemies continually taunt me, saying, “Where is this God of yours?”
  • Over what was no more, “My heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be; I walked among the crowds of worshipers, leading a great procession to the house of God, singing for joy and giving thanks…”
  • Over what was maddeningly confusing and unclear, ” ‘O God my rock,’ I cry, ‘Why have you forsaken me? Why must I wander in darkness, oppressed by my enemies?’ ” (I have chosen you as my rock. I trust you, but I wonder why you have responded by forsaking me. Even my choice to trust God sometimes feels like so much “spilt milk”. It’s one thing to grieve enemies taunting me asking where God is. It’s another thing all together–and I daresay even more painful–to be crying out TO God, still in in trust, and asking “Why have you forsaken me?”)

I’m not trying to stretch this Psalm to make it fit with a sermon on contentment. What I am saying is that as I walked through yesterday, facing many situations which seem to defy the possibility of contentment, I found great comfort in David’s expression of deep and anguished grief, intertwined with his hope in God, his continual trust in God, and the hope that he would yet again praise his Savior and his God.

Which comes first–the commitment to trust in God as rock? the questions and grief? the acceptance? the contentment? The affirmation of intent to hope and praise? I. Don’t. Know. I really, really don’t. It’s not that neat or formulized to me.

What I do know, though, is that the grief, the crying like David cried, is for me an essential part of making space for contentment to be a real possibility in my life.

When we equate acceptance of “what is” with bucking up, moving on and getting over it, we strip acceptance and make it more or less meaningless (what’s the big deal with accepting something that is no big deal, after all?). And if the acceptance is pretty much a “doesn’t matter anyway” kind of thing, then what we call contentment is pretty much apathy. (Thanks, Terri, for adding that word to the equation and to my thinking).

When I cry over spilt milk, I’m counting the cost of contentment, and I’m choosing that cost.

In addition, crying over spilt milk, to me, feels like affirming the value of the longings and also the value of the things that should have been or could have been or even could be, but are not yet.

If I’m mourning the loss of a friend, in very real ways I am also affirming and celebrating (albeit with a heavy heart) the wonderful delights that that friendship brought me.

If I’m truly committed to choosing contentment while living in a dry and dusty place, while my heart continues to grieve the life I knew, let’s say, in the lush rain-filled forests of Oregon, my grief over what isn’t here affirms in real ways, the beauty of what was there. I believe that it is only by facing that kind of grief head on, crying over the spilt milk of what cannot be in this place, that I am freed to begin to content with what is here, and not just in a “Sigh, I’ll just have to make the best of it” way. Crying over the spilt milk of what cannot be in this place lets me be content in ways so that I can be surprised by beauty and life and even the ability to thrive in a less than ideal place or situation.

If I’m in a difficult church situation (or even a less than perfect one, and what one isn’t?), and grieving what I deeply believe should and could be, my grief in some ways affirms the great value of what should and could be. Sure, contentment makes space for me to work within the realities that are, but the grief not only makes the contentment richer, I believe it also makes space for the longings to be and reflect the important hopes that are also real and very good.

I’m I’m mourning the loss of a dream, or even the end of a dream, which has now been shown to be not possible for one of my children, I honor the child by choosing contentment and acceptance about what is, but I also honor the reality of my longings and desires by grieving the things I had hoped for, which were right and good, even if they will never come to fruition now, in the realities of living in a broken and fallen world. Out of that grief, which flows in both directions, I believe contentment can flourish–a contentment which makes room for surprises and delights and joys which otherwise could not have been.

I do not think we can or should short circuit that process by trying to willpower the contentment to happen without walking through the grief–the crying over spilt milk. Not if we want the contentment to be real contentment (as opposed to pasted on). Not if want that contentment to be deep and beautiful and thriving.

It is not so much that the crying over spilled milk lets me get over the pain and move on with contentment as it is that I think the contentment about what is flourishes the most when it is lived in the context of honestly grieving what isn’t.

Crying over spilt milk is, I believe, one of the conditions to real, good, organic and beautiful contentment growing and freeing us up for receiving the good that is there for us in the reality that is.

Crying over spilt milk is a key part of how I find my way through to contentment with what is and the freedom to delight in the goodness and gifts that are, while continuing to hold to the longings which keep hope alive in my heart.

[Hmmmm…I’m rethinking that last sentence. I don’t think it’s exactly that the longings serve to keep hope alive. But I do think, somehow, that part of being settled into contentment includes making space for the ongoingness of longings, and that somehow those longings interplay with hope in important ways. So I’ll leave the sentence, admit it kind of falls short, and keep thinking about what it is I’m trying to get at there.]

Read Full Post »

Have you ever heard that statement? I don’t really disagree, even though I don’t exactly agree either (e.g. it operates on a false assumption pointed out on a great post at Beyond Words that worship = music.) It’s a good post and I’m still thinking through all of it, but, for the moment, let me focus less on the metaphor itself or the semantics of “worship”, but more on the underlying assumption that being a “spectator” in worship (as in “corporately worshipping with music”) is bad. Which leads me to ask this question:

Who defines “spectator”?

I have at times felt very awkward because, when that statement was announced from the pulpit, it seemed like the admonishing one (usually a worship leader) was looking straight at me.

I have recently been realizing that, as an introvert in church, I look most like a spectator when I’m actually most fully engaged in worship.

This is not only true of me with regards to musically connected worship. The more engaged I am in any activity, the more serious I look. The more totally enraptured I am with someone or something in a given moment, the more still and silent I become.

I really like attending churches that leave space for emotions, for emotional expressions and for my emotions to be spoken to and delighted by the Holy Spirit. It is in those same churches, however, that I have sometimes felt the most awkward and the most stared at because of how silent and still I can be in worship. In those places, I may very well be the only one not clapping.

I may not, heaven forbid, even be smiling. Because another thing about me is that, sometimes when I’m very happy, I look very serious. (I just found this quote from one of the first blog posts I ever wrote: “But in some of my happiest, most contented moments, I have also been awed into facial blankness.” The post, incidentally, was called, “Being Happy and Not Smiling”. )

I was recently thinking that perhaps I’m a Quiet Charismatic. I have been called a Quiet Renegade before, but that’s a little bit different 🙂 .

In any case, as a quiet charismatic, it’s not so much that I need a quiet church as it is that I long for a place where a quiet expression of emotions is not looked down on or judged as “falling short”.

I have been in quiet churches, where it felt like there was no breathing space for emotions, or for me as an emotional person. I have also been in more lively churches where “emotional expression” was so loaded with expectations of how that is supposed to look, that I also felt like it was hard to breathe.

This is not about trying to create a fantasy ideal church–the ME church that works, first and foremost for me. (Click “preview” to see a miniature version of the complete video)

It has been helpful, though, to think about how to begin to be comfortable with being myself and with making myself at home wherever I worship and with whomever I’m worshipping.

Just admitting that some of these things are hard for me helps me feel less on edge when I’m in a situation that is not totally comfortable or where I feel conspicuous because my silence or stillness seems to be rather loudly drawing attention to me. And perhaps even causing me to look unspiritual or unmoved by the Spirit, at the times when I am most moved or touched by the Holy Spirit. I’m learning to be okay with that being between me and the Holy Spirit, and not concern myself so much with what other people may see or think they see. (I’ve got a long way to go, still, though 🙂 )

Read Full Post »