My Two Cents

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I disagree. 

I admire Rick Warren’s work and appreciate his ministry more than the typical person on the street. But this particular quote seems surprisingly off the mark to me.  Perhaps I’m taking the concept further than it was intended, or perhaps the saying is more of a sound bite than a reliable dogma. Here’s how it looks played out to the extreme:

God teaches you to forgive by causing your spouse to have an affair. Really?

God teaches you patience by causing your date to be an hour late. Really?

God teaches you tolerance by causing your best friend to emotionally abuse you. Really?

The application of that principle in specific situations where I decide specifically what God is trying to teach is painting a really ugly picture of God. Does God orchestrate tragedy in my life because I’m a bad person and need to learn something? Or does the rain fall on the good and the bad?

Let’s see how it looks when the logic is reversed.

If I was already more forgiving, nothing would happen in my life that would require me to forgive.  Really?

If I was already more patient, I would never have to wait. Really?

If I was already more loving, there would be no unlovely people around me. Really?

Do the things that happen to me and around me occur because of me? Looking at it this way give me a whole bunch of control. It is self-centered. It encourages perfectionism in my thinking because, if I believe the logic, then I must also believe that if I was just a better person I would be able to control the circumstances and people around me. When unlovely things continue to happen to and around me, the natural conclusion is that I am a bad person – I didn’t get my act together well enough. This then produces self-loathing, anger, frustration, guilt and shame. It is a codependent way of thinking that enmeshes me with the people in my life.

Here’s what I think:

God teaches us to love by loving us. 

There are unlovely people in my life because I live in a war zone where there is a battle going on between good and evil. I am not in control of the other people in my life. I am simply traveling beside them and have experiences as a result of that shared journey. Sometimes I am the unlovely person. Sometimes other people who I love are the unlovely people. And always God is so amazingly good that He is able to create beauty where the enemy planned destruction.

Invalidating Words of Kindness

“You are beautiful inside and out.”
“You are the best provider.”
“You are the most loving woman.”
“You are the model of a parent.”
“You are _____.” (Fill in the blank with whatever positive message you’d like to hear.)
 

This variety of “kind” statements have always left me a little on-edge and uneasy but I’ve been totally uncertain as to why.  Sometimes I’ve felt the need to say similar comments to others thinking I would validate them, but after the comments were spoken they never really seemed as satisfying as I’d imagined they would be.

For a long time now I’ve understood the dangers of “You are (insert negative message)” comments. When said to children, the children tend to believe the statement which eats at their self-esteem. When said to other adults, it turns the “discussion” into a squabble or bitter fight. No productive conversation can be expected to follow a “You are mean” comment.  The recommended communication method would go something more like: “When you eat my piece of pie, I feel cheated, angry, and unloved. I would prefer that you at least ask me if I want the pie before you just take it.”  It’s called XYZ. That approach is obviously less condemning and more focused on problem solving. But what is so wrong with saying “You are wonderful”? How can those “kind” words be invalidating?

This past week I had an “ah-ha” moment with my pastoral counselor I’d like to share with you. See if you agree. These “kind” comments are unsettling because the listener knows they are not true.  In our heart of hearts we know we are not always beautiful, the most loving, thoughtful or otherwise superb individual. If we are honest people, we realize we all mess up, have bad days, do stupid things and at times have zits in the middle of our foreheads. So comments like that set us up for a tenuous, superficial relationship.  Subconsciously we get the message: “I better be careful not to show them who I really am or they will learn it isn’t true and might not accept me.”  Those comments are not filled with acceptance and belonging. Additionally, they make life a competition. It immediately puts the receiver into “compare” mode, comparing their lives, looks, qualities, talents with other people. Are they really as great as the other person says they are? Or is there someone better and more deserving?

Consider this: What happens if the girl who has repeatedly been told she is “beautiful” gets in a car accident and her face is deformed? What happens if the “good provider” becomes ill and can’t work?  What happens if the “best parent ever” has a child who becomes a delinquent? Those comments that were said to build the person up, now become their destruction. Their security in the relationship is gone. Their self-esteem and self-worth was built on things they did not have total control over. Is that in reality very kind? Is it validating? Or invalidating?

How much better to say: “You really worked hard on learning that new song. I’m proud of you.”  “I love the way you did your hair today.” “That dress is flattering on you.” “I see that you make it a priority to spend time with your kids. I think that’s great.” “I saw you open the door for that person. That was a nice thing for you to do.”  Instead of praising the person, praise the positive character traits you see.  When combined with honest and loving use of the XYZ method, the relationship can be real, vulnerable and deep. And how about if we talk to our inner selves with the same respect and compassion?  I’m still striving toward the goal myself.

What say you?

Nuggets

If a person can’t be part of the solution, they shouldn’t be part of the discussion.

This one has sure buttoned down my hatch.  It is the essence of a conversation I had a few months ago with a friend. Sometimes part of the “solution” is venting. But if you find that “venting” extends to more than a very small number of close confidences, you’re probably participating in a disdained but popular activity called “gossiping”.
 

You are wasting your time trying to explain your reasons to someone who has already decided they don’t like your actions.

And why do we feel obliged to explain ourselves so often anyway? Are we needing the other person’s approval? Are we not confident in our actions? Is the other person’s approval of more value to us than being true to ourselves? Are we defending ourselves needlessly? Are we gossiping again?  Great advice handed to me by a wise friend.
 

Feelings are not “good” or “bad”. But how you react to your feelings may be good or bad.

Maybe you didn’t grow up thinking that any feelings were “bad”. I did. Thinking they were “bad” then produced guilt, because, being human and all… I inevitably felt the feelings. It’s been quite freeing to realize feelings are not good nor bad. They just ARE. And once I recognize them, I am then free to decide what to do with them. Amazingly elementary – but very powerful.  I would have to attribute this nugget to my grief counselor.
 

We make the best decisions we can at the time we have to make them with the tools, information and life-skills we have.

Again, the grief counselor at work here. I came across a very similar idea but worded differently in To Kill a Mockingbird. That statement is slathered in grace. It can be applied to ourselves or to those around us. It is helpful in retrospect or “live”.
 

Rarely do we intend to hurt someone else with our actions – but we all have or eventually will.

That’s my own assumption. It goes hand-in-hand with the prior statement. I think hurtful people are doing the best they can. And at the times I’ve been hurtful, I was doing the best I could. That doesn’t mean hurtful behavior is excused, but it does mean we should be more willing to forgive ourselves and others.
 

Forgiveness and acceptance of mistreatment are not equivalent.

There are some very helpful books on what forgiveness is and how to reach that stage by Dr. Luskin.  It is a process that is most healing for the person doing the forgiving. The person who was forgiven doesn’t even need to ask for it, know about it, or accept the forgiveness.  There are also excellent boundary books written by Drs. Cloud and Townsend.  Forgiveness doesn’t mean you approve of the hurtful action nor that you will allow it again. The tricky part is that there was quite possibly something about you that kept you from using proper boundaries in time to avoid the injury in the first place. Which leads me to the next nugget…
 

There are always two sides to a pancake no matter how thin it gets.

Anyone who thinks they haven’t contributed to a disagreement they were a part of doesn’t know themselves. For myself, I’ve found it’s generally a problem with a log in my eye that makes it hard for me to see myself. I first heard it phrased in regards to a pancake from Pastor Rich.
 

We’re all messing up our kids.

Gleaned from one of my friends. Unfortunately even though we recognize what we wish could have been different in our own upbringing, we are most certainly creating something that is less than ideal for our kids. We can learn new behaviors through facing our own fears and reprogramming. But it is the process of a lifetime. We won’t be “done” with our own learning before we die, so we won’t have it all together in time to raise our kids even as ideally as we possibly could- which would still be short of perfect. In spite of this dismal thought, I believe we can empower our kids to find the answers. We can be a living example of courage, compassion and connection – which, according to Brene Brown, are the keys to wholehearted living.
 

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. … Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.

Brene Brown in The Gifts of Imperfection. Get the book. Or watch a short video clip here.

Casting out Fear

Nary a wise decision was made whilst motivated by fear.

I’m no stranger to fear. I remember that feeling I had when the Trooper felt tipsy while driving the switchbacks on the mountain side of Clark’s Fork Canyon about a thousand feet up from the river below. I got out, taking my baby girl with me. The Trooper subsequently rolled one and a half times and landed on its roof, thankfully still on the trail, with Jeff inside. I had made a good decision. And that was fear. But it’s not the fear I’m talking about.

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What happens when the foundation you built your life upon gets taken away? What happens when the core of who you identify yourself to be disappears into thin air? When the “healthy” is found to be “unhealthy”, the “functional” actually “dysfunctional”, and the “perfect” is very “imperfect”? What happens then? I’ve been there. I’ve been afraid.

“Perfect love casts out all fear.” I’ve read it. I believe it. So I have no answer but to look back on my life and realize there have been times I’ve not been connected to the Source of perfect love because my human fear was very present.  Friends, family, counselors, therapists, books and even medication – they are all supportive, good and helpful (if indeed they are supportive, good and helpful). But there is no complete healing of the soul without the presence of the Healer.  That darkest and most fearful time of all is when we are too afraid, too ashamed, too proud, too self-righteous, too confused, too dark, too burdened down… too brokenly human… to bare the most raw part of our souls to Him.

During my first round with fear, it took me fifteen years to hand it over. I haven’t become perfect at it. It isn’t my built-in, immediate response. But it becomes easier, faster, and more automatic every time I choose to give it to Him.  And when I do, His love is so comforting I always wonder why it took me so long.

If you are afraid in the deepest part of your soul today, I pray for the perfect love of Jesus Christ to wash over you.  Look up to Him. He’s waiting. And I pray that you will find the strength, vulnerability and discernment required to reach out to a safe person who can be His hands to you. You are not alone. The very act of facing your fear will frighten a majority of it away. Go ahead. Cast it out.

Then get on with living.

“For God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.” 2 Timothy 1:7

Not “But” but “And”

When I am putting a puzzle together, the first thing I do after dumping the pieces out of the box is to turn them all right side up. The next step is to divide the pieces into edge pieces and center pieces. If it’s a very complicated or large puzzle, I might then sort the pieces by dominant color.  Things are easier and make more sense when they are sorted.  I think that’s pretty normal and a common process people go through when putting together puzzles.

Most of us like to live our lives that way as well. We like to have things sorted: like/ dislike, enjoy/ avoid, good/ bad, black/ white. We want to package things up so they are more manageable and easier to know where they fit in our set of life rules, values and priorities.

Try something with me and consider the feeling of these sentences:

I went to the parade, but it rained.
I trusted my friend, but he didn’t keep my secret.
I took a chemistry class, but I didn’t do well.

These comments seem to have an implied “period” at the end.

 
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Now see how that feeling changes when one little word is changed.

I went to the parade, and it rained.
I trusted my friend, and he told my secret.
I took a chemistry class, and I didn’t do well.

These statements feel like the listener could respond, “Okay. So then what happened?”

And” feels more accepting to me. It feels more grace-full. It feels more hope filled. It feels like there is joy mixed in with disappointment. “There was good, and there was also bad.” In a way the “and” statements feel like the negative is less powerful which make the statements as a whole more empowering for the person speaking. “Yes, something bad happened, and life went on.” It also feels messier, less sorted, less clear and less manageable.

And that, my friend, is real. It is life.

Three Little Words

There are many three word combinations that are meaningful in our lives.  “I love you.” That’s probably the classic phrase people immediately think of. “Jesus loves me.” There’s another power-packed combination that can change your life.

Here are a few more three word combinations that can be life-changing: “I forgive you.” “I am forgiven.” “I am sorry.”  “I was wrong.” Or Christ’s final words on the cross, “It is finished!”  All are three word combinations that can have a huge impact in our lives.

I started reading a book last night written by Scott Peck, whom I believe will likely be my next favorite author.  The first paragraph of chapter one was so thought-provoking that I would like to share it with you in its entirety.   I’ve memorized it.  Here it is:

“Life is difficult.”

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I read that and stopped. Really? This best-selling book started with an entire paragraph that consisted of just three words? I allowed myself to pause with the author and let the profoundness of those three simple words sink in.  I had to agree. Yes, life is difficult.

As I continued reading, I realized this could be an important concept to accept in my life. “Life is difficult.” I know that, so why am I surprised when it is? Do I just know it or have I accepted it?  Do I fight against it?  Or have I embraced it as the way this world is? Do I try to make this life something it wasn’t meant to be?

The possibilities of how I will respond to situations are entirely different when I’ve accepted that one premise. It moves me quickly through any reaction to life and on to action.  “Yes, this or that happened. Life is difficult. Now what do I need to do? What can I learn from it? Where do I go from here?” It makes life more intentional and less emotion driven. It opens up potential for setting aside hurt. It allows more room for self-forgiveness. It quiets the call to “fix it” and encourages me to control only what I can – myself.  It removes the shock and drama.  It decreases any urge to gossip. What big news is there to tell?  If I expect life to be difficult and it turns out that it is, where’s the juicy morsel to spread? It doesn’t exist anymore. Life is difficult – that’s all.

Life is difficult.  I look forward to reading the rest of “The Road Less Traveled” by Scott Peck.  In the mean time, here are some words from my all-time favorite Author: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

Front Room

I’ve been doing some rearranging. I’ve had a fish tank in the recesses of my tornado shelter – the closet under the stairs. The glass box sat as a storage unit for miscellaneous fish tank parts and pieces. It still held the bright blue rocks from the last fish tank venture. No one visiting my home would have known it was hiding away. I recently decided to change that.

After researching desired water qualities for various fish, the kids and I made a project of pulling the tank out and bringing it up to the front room.  We got the filter system going and stabilized the water, then went to our local fish store to pick out the new residents.

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Yep, we got a loach.  Just the name of it as it rolls off your tongue sounds like it should be disgusting. And really it is.  But that silly looking thing has brought us much entertainment as we’ve watched it wiggle its whiskers searching for the latest wafer that was dropped in the water.  It’s been a good addition to our front room.

Dr. Fred Luskin, author of several books on forgiveness, suggests that our brains are like a house. Now, I’m a woman whose brain is more like a swimming pool than it is like the slots in the mail room, but I’ll try to follow him on this one. He suggests that the things you spend the most time thinking about is what is positioned in your front room.  While there are times when things in the closet need thrown into the middle of the room so you can sort and organize, often they can be ignored for a good long time and never be missed.  Or, you might come across a treasure like my fish tank in the closet and decide it’s time to bring it out and enjoy it again. Other times you might look around your house and decide that you’ve had the spot light on something that really isn’t pretty and belongs in the closet.

That’s right. You, and only you, have the power to redecorate your house and decide what goes in the front room and what goes in the closet.  If you want to hang on to the grudge toward that person who hurt you, you have that choice. If you would prefer to have something more uplifting in your front room, you have that choice as well. No matter what bad things might have happened in your life that you had no control over, this is one thing you can control.

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Philippians 4:8 (New Living Translation)