Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Playing the Love Card (a cure for grumpy bears and grumpier mothers)



One day Bartholomew was grumpy . . . His ears were cold.
"Wrap your scarf around your ears to keep them warm, " said George.

But Bartholomew was still grumpy. His legs felt too stumpy.
"I'll carry you," said George.

At home, Bartholomew's porridge was too lumpy,
his tummy too plumpy, and he was too small.
"I'll feed you," said George.

At bath time, Bartholomew hid. He did not like anything at all.
"What a day," said George. "You've been so grumpy, your legs have
felt stumpy, your porridge was too lumpy, your tummy too plumpy but,
Ba . . . I love you just the way you are."

Bartholomew felt better.
He kissed George and he brushed his teeth all by himself.

"Time for bed, Ba," said George. "We both need a little rest."
"Nah," said Bartholomew.

*   *   *   *   *

My husband and I worked at a personal care home for about two years when we first got married.  When the time came for us to leave one elderly woman told me how much she would miss us.  She said how much she liked and admired my gentle, soft-spoken husband and then she said, "But you, you could be a little grumpy at times."

I let the sting of her well-meaning comment settle a little, then looked her straight in the eye and said, "You're right, I can be a little grumpy sometimes." 

I guess maybe something like that could go on my tombstone, "Here lies a beloved wife and mother who could be a little grumpy sometimes."  It's true after all, there are days when I simply feel far from myself, out of sorts with the world and everything in it.  Days when there's an itch in my soul that I can't scratch, the feeling of something chaffing away at me so that the day itself leaves me fit to be tied no matter how good or bad or in-between it is.  Just ask my kids or my husband, they could tell you about it for sure.

I'm aware enough now at the ripe old age of thirty-five, to know when it's happening, to feel it coming or be able to step back in the middle of everything and see myself with an objective eye.  I know enough to recognize that it usually comes over me because of some rigid unspoken rule I've placed on the day or the moment.  There's nothing wrong with hopes and standards, but when the whole day is conspiring against you (as today happens to be, if you hadn't already guessed) it's best to somehow let yourself and those you love off the hook in some way or another. 

The only way I know to escape this is to surrender to the small grains of love and grace that surround me, to take my eyes off of my goals or dissatisfactions long enough to see something more and to open myself to the love that is True no matter what, whether I'm able to get out of the mood or mess I'm in or not.

You'll forgive me, won't you, if there are days, weeks, months when I play the "love card" with my grumpy old self, when I play it over and over like a favorite worn out record for my kids and my spouse?  Don't we all have days when we and the world we live in are just too "lumpy, plumpy and stumpy" to bear?     

I'll admit that there's something about playing the love card that seems a little weak, like maybe I'm getting too soft on myself, letting my standards slide a bit too far.  Love, really?  Like gratitude, it seems so ineffective, so unproductive, to people who're sold on the likes of power and control and self-improvement. 

Maybe, though, love is the best card we have to play, the only card that can bring us out, set us free from our wretched state of sin and sorrow and, perhaps even grumpiness.  I'm convinced it was one of Jesus' favorite tricks, which of course made plenty of those around him madder than all heck and drew others to him like all grace draws a sin-heavy soul. 

I have to wonder, too, if this isn't what Christmas and the cross that follows are all about, God playing a big 'ol grand love card on our behalf, freeing us to be better than we know ourselves to be.  "I love you, just the way you are," says the manger and the star, the sky full of angels and light.  "I love you," says God, "I love you."

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.
- Christina Rosetti         
     

Saturday, November 24, 2012

I Would Like to Buy $3 Worth of God, Please (vol.3)

This is my response to the following quote, the last in a series of three:

I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please. Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don't want enough of Him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please. - Tim Hansel on most Christians' priorities. 


*   *   *   *   *
 
I understand what Tim Hansel is trying to say here - that too often we want only what's comfortable or convenient of God, which is true.  I have a problem, though, knowing what to do with this observation.  It somehow seems to send me veering off into guilt (well, I guess I'm really not good enough after all) and subsequent striving (because I'm not good enough, I will take on self-improvement projects and thereby transform myself). 
 
This is old, old thinking for me, you see, I'm naturally a bit of an extremist, black and white to a fault, do or die, all or nothing. When I was a teenager at a youth rally in a stadium filled with my peers, I responded to the call to be a “martyr” for Christ, a call that naively predated our current era of terroristic martyrdom. I sat with my friends in our high seats with my heart pounding and hands sweating as the altar call came with the instructions to stand and yell, “I want to give my life away,” then make your way with speed down to the front.

I did it; I stood and shouted and ran like the devil was on my tail, as though one more act of courage might finally get me over that fearful line in the sand that I always felt existed between me and the God I longed for. When the choice comes between hot or cold, I’ve always pushed hard toward hot, fanning the flames of faith and devotion, laying on wood until the fire raged pulsing with a life all its own. But over time a fire like that consumes too much and burns those who wander too close to its light.

At the same time, though, I, like the apostle Paul before me, am the chief of sinners, the foremost hypocrite, a real standout in the crowd of double-speaking, fork-tongued followers most of us know ourselves to be. Giving my life away in that stadium packed with sweaty, hormonal teens may have been the easy choice; easier to give my uncertain life away than to embrace it with all of its ambiguity and freedom and potential for disaster or glory.

That simple act of faith was nothing when compared to the taste of daily surrender, daily trust, daily openness to the abiding call of love that I’ve learned in the many years since. Every day now I sit, metaphorically, in that stadium seat, each moment offering choices both false and true, and my heart pounds and my hands grow sweaty as I face the same choice again and again and again.

Yet what I now know to be true is that I was no closer to the love of God when my voice cried out and my feet made their thundering, pounding run toward the stadium’s ground level, than I was the moment before when I sat hunched amidst my friends who’s hearts surely were pounding too. I now know that there’s no falling or running or sinning my way out of the love of God, no surrender of a life that isn’t mine to begin with. 

We don’t need more martyrs, more striving, try-harder sorts of people and God doesn’t need them either. What we do need are people who’re willing to embrace and be embraced by the presence of God in whatever guise it comes – even in the $3 bag if that’s what’s offered or what our hearts can bare.  I think of people like Paul and Moses who counted themselves lucky to have seen less of God; a blinding light or a heavy cloud passing over a mountain’s crevasse was more than enough for them. God appears most often in the small, the whisper, the enigmatic response and blessed are those humble enough to recognize him there. 

I don't have many opportunities for grand gestures of faith these days, but moment by moment I'm choosing surrender.  I'm seeking out the small scraps of God, the hem of his garment, the crumbs that fall from the breaking bread of communion. These I can gather by the handful, feasting on the tiny morsels, spreading them around and sharing what I find.

I know now that I don’t have to “sell out” to God, because God has already “sold out” for me; I know that the answer to a faith of passive resignation isn't  greater self-control.   Though I spend a lifetime trying, I’ll never gather up all there is to be had of the One who gathers us all.

God, in this season when we await the One who comes to us in the tiny, frail package of human flesh, help us to be willing to receive you as you are. Teach us the art of surrender to the you and may the words of our hearts ever be as faithful and willing as Mary, "Let it be unto me."  

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Coats (May Warm Be Enough)

The More We Own The Less We Have to Name

If we had only one coat, we would call it Warm,
but if we got another, it would not be Warmer,
      just our other coat,
and if we bought, borrowed, stole
      or rescued from the trash
a third, fourth, or fifth coat,
if our closets held so many coats
jackets, parkas, capes, stoles, mantles and mackinaws
that if we changed them daily from October through April,
rotating cashmere, leather, fleece and down,
scarlets and peacocks, blacks and browns,
if we had coats to cover the entire tundra
      and with it all our ancestors
who ever felt the chill of His absence,
none of these would be Warmer,
none of these would be Enough.

- L.N. Allen

We have a whole room in our house lined with pegs and devoted to the storage of coats - a startling array of outerwear designed to help ease six people through four seasons worth of weather and everything in-between.  In that small back room, a former porch now closed in, there are more coats for us all than Baskin Robbins has flavors - a coat, you might say, for every palate. 

I also have a whole room in my memory devoted to the coats of my past, a musty closet so full that the door will hardly stay shut anymore.  If you were to dig your way cautiously in to that dark closet in the hallway of my brain you might find, way in the back, the mustardy-golden wool coat with large toggle buttons that I thought was oh-so-trendy in high school.  Hanging near it, or cast forgotten onto the floor, lies the bright orange and navy blue windbreaker that matched so well with my eyes, but made me feel like a construction worker every time I wore it. 

The dark wool pea-coat I bought at the salvation army in college would still be there hanging stiffly on its hanger.  It was ungodly heavy, decked out with two rows of silver buttons and appeared to me to be a real cast-off from the Navy.  Nearby would be the thin yellow rain coat I bought for a camping trip with my then boyfriend who later became my husband, as though the purchase of a coat between us somehow sealed the deal. 

Hanging toward the front, still usable, would be the burgundy knee-length coat that makes me feel a little like a rock star every time I wear it.  This is the coat that caused my husband to suggest in a gentle tone when I returned home from buying it, that maybe we should consult each other before making big purchases. 

I have too many coats (maybe I always have) and my husband and children do too.  Lately I'm hunting for a back-up winter coat for my daughter.  I've made multiple trips to a variety of stores, ordered two online and returned, all because I don't like the way her bright pink parka from last year is starting to show some wear. Walking into Old Navy on yet another scouting trip I noticed a box for donating old coats as you buy a new one and I thought, "Why not keep your old coat and buy a new one to donate?" I didn't do either, though, not that day nor since. 

The coats we wear, like much of our clothing, are often a symbol for identity, announcing to the world our interest in outdoor sports or our need to hide behind something long and warm that covers us.  Our coats hold us, warm us and I have to restrain myself every year to keep from buying an over-abundance of fleeces and hoodies at yard and consignment sales, so great is my desire and my pleasure at covering, clothing, my children.

I have too many coats as our back room will tell you and many days I'm convinced that this is more of a burden than a blessing.  I wonder what these coats might tell me if I were to listen to them one by one.  Certainly they would speak of my vanity, my desire to fit in or stick out in equally competing measures.  They might mention also, perhaps shyly, my fear of the cold and how holding myself too tightly rigid only makes the shivering that much worse.  They would probably want to know why I don't go out more often, to enjoy the cold or the rain or the wind, especially now that I have them to keep me.   

Gracious God, we in our frail humanity fear the cold, the wind, the rain.  To put it more plainly, ever since that incident in the garden, we fear exposure.  Forgive us, please, if we go a little overboard in covering ourselves and the ones we love.  Help us to bear, oh Lord, your stripping.  Teach us to welcome the first breath of frost and its burning sting.  Help us to learn to let Warm be enough. 


Monday, November 19, 2012

I Would Like to Buy $3 Worth of God, Please (vol. 2)

This is the second in a three-part series of posts based on the following quote:

I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please. Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don't want enough of Him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please. - Tim Hansel on most Christians' priorities.

This second post was written by my friend, Tom Kaden. Tom came on staff at Engage Community Church when I was associate pastor and filled in for me when I took leave to have the twins.  About six months later Tom and his wife Sarah found out they too were having twins, so our families now mirror each other, since they also already had two older children.  They welcomed two beautiful baby girls into the world about six weeks ago.  Tom continues to lead at Engage and has also started a non-profit counseling ministry called Someon To Tell It To.  Tom and his business partner Michael blog at Someone to Tell it To. 

*   *   *   *   *


There is a three letter word that maneuvers its way into our vocabulary and it is quite possibly more damaging and destructive to our well-being and the well-being of those around us than most of the four letter words our society deems as immoral.  This three letter word rears its ugly head nearly every time we ask our children to clean their play rooms; it rears its ugly head nearly every time we are asked to do something uncomfortable or painful by our boss or co-worker (even if it isn’t voiced out loud); it even rears its ugly head in the lives of those of us who call ourselves faithful followers of our “Lord” Jesus Christ when we read passages in the Bible which make hairs stand up on the backs of our neck.  If you haven’t guessed it just yet, then you just lost at our game of hangman.  The three letter word I am thinking of is the word: BUT…!!!

Maybe you are sitting at your job and a co-worker just asked you if you could help him with a minor issue he is faced with on his computer.  You are in the middle of an important project and you have a looming deadline hanging over your head.  Guess what word just popped into your head?  It’s that destructive word: BUT…!!!  “I’ll help you BUT…I really need to get this project done first.  Or, maybe your spouse asked you to help change a diaper (or two), but your favorite team or show is on television and you don’t want to miss a minute of it.  There it is again, that damaging word: BUT…!!!  “I’ll help you, BUT…can it wait until the next commercial?” 
 
Do you resonate with those examples?  If not, how about this one?  This morning before you started your quiet time of meditation on the Gospel of Mark, you prayed out loud, “Lord, today I recommit myself as your disciple.  You are the Lord of my life.  Direct my path today.”  After you are finished, you pick up your Bible and continue your study on the Gospel of Mark.  Today’s passage is the story of the Rich Young Ruler.   You read the story and your eyes read verse 21 as quickly as possible where Jesus says: 21"You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."  
 
“BUT," you think, "…surely, not I Lord. Surely that passage isn’t meant for me. I’m barely making enough money to support our family of five. I know this passage reads, sell everything you own and give to the poor, BUT…I have a family to feed. I can’t give out of nothing!”  There it is again, that three letter word which has so much become part of your vocabulary that it leaves you further and further from experiencing the truth of the Gospel in your own life. 
 
The truth is the three-letter word BUT could be used for good in our lives.  It doesn't always carry with it such negative connotations if used as another reminder of how the Gospel has changed us and the model that has been laid before us.  For example, in Philippians chapter 2, Paul says (of Christ):
 
Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
BUT, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Notice in this passage how Paul uses the three letter word “BUT”, yet he puts a much more positive twist on it.  He reminds us, as he was reminding the church hundreds of years ago, that Christ Jesus, even though He was equal with God, set aside His rights--to serve us.  He willingly chose to not use that fateful word as a roadblock to loving others, but instead as the foundation for His goodness, grace, and compassion. 
 
So maybe for us the takeaway is this: Yes, you have a family of five to feed on very little income, BUT…God has given you something or some way to love, bless, and serve His kingdom.  Yes, your spouse just asked you for a second time to change your daughter(s) diapers, BUT…this time in your daughter(s) lives is fleeting and these moments will end soon and there will always be another game or another show to watch.  Yes, your co-worker just asked you to help him with his computer glitch for the third time today, BUT…God has given you an amazing opportunity to use your gifts to be a blessing to your co-worker in a way that maybe no one else in the office can.
Today I am reminded of Christ’s example of humility and grace and openness to God’s transformative power.  I am reminded of the great length He has gone and continues to go to extend His unconditional love and mercy to us.  This changes everything because our motivation isn’t a means of trying to earn God’s love and approval and it’s also not just about us as individuals which the negative use of the word BUT often implies.  Christ used the word BUT not as a way to close doors or miss opportunities to extend love, compassion, and grace; instead, used the word as a means of opening His very life and ours to the amazing grace, abundant compassion, and absolute love.         
[Stay tuned for my take on this quote and, as always, I'd love to hear your thoughts too.  I'm sure Tom would enjoy hearing your comments. If you like this piece, take a few minutes to explore the blog posts on his website - you won't be disappointed.] 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

I'd Like to Buy $3 Worth of God, Please (vol. 1)

Over the next several days I'm hosting a series of three posts on the following quote:

 I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please. Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don't want enough of Him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.  I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please. - Tim Hansel on most Christians' priorities. 

This first post was written by my friend, Matt Tuckey.  I got to know Matt through shared time on our church's board.  I always appreciate the depth of thought and feeling he brings to everything he does.  Matt is the Associate Executive Director of our local YMCA and blogs at Living Openhanded  and Y Thoughts. He has two boys, ages fiveand seven, and a wonderfully talented wife.  My own faith journey has been made easier and less lonely by the presence of Matt and his wife. 
 
*   *   *   *   *

Some contend that a crusade is in effect on the Christian faith or, at least, on the morals and values our society. Perhaps, but more so I see a culture that is very amiable to religion given that it's practiced within the parameters currently deemed appropriate. I work in the health and wellness industry and I consistently see the inclusion of spirituality as a widely accepted key ingredient to holistic wellness. Certainly what's generally accepted by society is spirituality in it's most general sense. Whatever one sees as truth is ok, as long as you're connecting to something beyond yourself.

Current best practice says that our lives should reflect the makeup of a salad with a healthy mix of nutrient rich greens, diverse fruits, low-fat protein, and a few sunflower seeds sprinkled atop. In the same way, it's projected that our lives should include a desirable dose of emotionally rich experiences, diverse community for social health, physical exercise, and some type of spirituality sprinkled atop. Perhaps, but this isn't the makeup of life that truly redeems, restores, and recreates us. Instead, it's fast food life that tastes good and fills us, but doesn't sustain us. It's $3.00 of God.

In many ways my life has been built around the constructs of control. I've navigated my ship and crafted my destiny. Or so I thought. This illusion of control was rooted in a lie that I told myself long ago. "Don't let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat..." This line was made famous in the 1995 film, Heat. The film followed a thief and the detective that pursued him, both lonely broken men isolated by this mantra that defined them. Unfortunately, this idea rooted itself into my magical world of controlled environments, relationships, and situations. It was safe. I was able to toss together my life with a mix of what I wanted on my terms, complete with a bit of God sprinkled atop. My $10 life included an evenly proportioned $3.00 of God. The destiny I pursued was ecstasy, not transformation.

God isn't positioned to be consumed in a drive thru. God isn't a value meal to be efficiently devoured on the way to the next appointment. God isn't an evenly proportioned part of our holistic wellness. And, God isn't a healthy topping sprinkled upon our lives. God wants to be the dressing. God wants to saturate all that's in our lives. God doesn't want to be an ingredient, but rather the taste that defines every other part of our lives. God wants to explode our souls, transform our hearts, and to completely make us new. 
 
It's in our faith that we find wellness. As Matthew recounts the story of Jesus' life, he tells of three occasions where faith is the verge of the miraculous. (See Matthew 8:10, 9:21, 9:29). In each account, an individual comes before Jesus dragging with them a faith-saturated life that's a broken remnant of what they'd dreamt. And in each story, Jesus changes their reality on the spot. This transformation happens not because they've strategically positioned themselves to appropriately request favor or because they've created a life that has an open slice for Jesus to enter in, but only because they're dripping with faith.

I've learned that my illusory world of control wasn't sustainable. I'm learning that God desires mercy not sacrifice. I'm learning that God wants my trust and faith so that I might find rest. I'm learning that, as Tim Keller says, Jesus isn't at the top of the stairs staring down to me directing me to ascend to Him, but instead Jesus is the stairs.

It's safe, culturally acceptable, and comfortable to purchase $3.00 of Jesus. Countless people do it every Sunday. I've done it for too long. For a control freak like myself, it's scary to pray for a life saturated by God. This means change. It means surrender. It's daunting to imagine a life rooted in trust and faith without my vain attempts at control. It's easy to dismiss this type of life for those who can't handle their own. Yet, it's what God dreams for us, his children. A life reliant on Him is one He knows brings us to our fullest sense of who we were created to be - magnificent beings that shine like stars in the universe, all-stars of the highest order.

I am thankful that God hasn't granted me my subtle desire to have a life void of relationships that I could walk away from in 30 seconds flat. I don't know why God's tilled my heart over the past few years to uproot the lies and replant seeds of purpose, sprouts of faith. It hasn't been easy. But, I believe that God's up to bigger things. I believe He's using my humble story in some small way as he continually drafts His story. I believe that He's reorienting my life because I'm loved and accepted and forgiven. I believe that God is saddened when I pursue only $3.00 of Him, a limited portion of all that's good. And I believe that He reclines and laughs heartily as I write this, because He's brimming with excitement about what He's doing, about the stories He's interweaving with redeeming grace. I believe His smile is large as He looks upon us with anticipation, knowing what's to come before we do, understanding that when we're immersed in Him, we're sinking wonderfully in grace.

God, may I never undervalue you again. May I see all things through your eyes. May I pay full attention to what you're doing all around. May I never be comfortably complacent, but always hopefully challenged. May I continue to stand arms outstretched and openhanded in the showers of grace. Immerse us, saturate us, and soak us in all that you've imagined for us. May we never settle for less than You. May we always desire more of You.

[Stay tuned for two more takes on this quote to be posted over the next couple of days.  I'd love to hear your take on it too . . . and I'm sure Matt would enjoy hearing your comments.  If you like this piece, take a few minutes to explore his blog posts - you won't be disappointed.]
 

Monday, November 12, 2012

I Don't Want to Miss the Feast (Today @ Sheloves/Magazine)

I'm grateful to have a post published today over at SheLoves/Magazine.  (For all of my male readers, don't worry, only the first part is about breastfeeding!)  I'd love to hear your comments either here or there and, as always, feel free to share.

*   *   *   *   *

I sat on the couch, a baby under each arm, and prepared to nurse my five-month-old twins. I steeled myself, braced against the pain–the feeling like shards of glass and fire shooting through my breasts – as their hungry little mouths latched on. The fierce latch I’d been so grateful for when they were newborns now filled me with anxious dread.

I’d nursed my older two without problems, but a few months in with the twins I began to experience intense pain. My skin was cracked and bleeding and each feeding was misery. I saw two different doctors and tried multiple prescriptions before finally learning I had an intraductal yeast infection. I spent months downing rounds of oral medications and applying lotions and creams. I searched the internet for solutions. I treated both babies with syringes of liquid medicine, at times giving eight doses a day between the two of them.

Click here to continue reading this story about sitting as an act of surrender . . .  . . .


Do you struggle to find time to "sit down" and enjoy life?  Is there any particular discipline or life-practice that has helped you with this?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Happiness is More than an Endless Supply of Tissues (The Myth of Money)


Given the addition of twins and my choice to stay home, most months find us juggling bills, making tough financial decisions and waiting for miraculous provision in one area or another.  Recently we overspent in the beginning of the month, which made the end unbelievably tight, so I vowed to “get by” on what we have.  This included, among other things, not buying tissues.  Given the number of allergies in our house and the propensity for every cold within a five mile radius to tear its way through all six members of our household, this would prove to be no small feat.

So we’re in the great tissue spending freeze and I’m pulling boxes from all around the house and vehicles as we slowly work our way toward a long awaited payday. We’re down to one box now and I’m hoping it’ll somehow multiply like the loaves and the fishes or the widow of Nain’s jars of flour and oil.  This isn't the first time I've done this sort of thing - one time I decided to stop buying soap until we'd used up every last drop in the house, including the oatmeal bars we made ten years ago, the random gifts of body wash from my second baby shower, and the tiny bars of Dove snatched from the free samples basket at the pediatrician’s office.      
I’m prone to fret and fuss about money.  I hide it, count it obsessively, and shuffle it between envelopes and jars, storing up for times of need.  So when I see people who I know have quite a bit more money than we do still complaining, worrying, and fretting about money and life in general, I find myself thinking, “What can you possibly have to complain about?"  At times like that I have to refrain from blurting out unhelpful things like, “Are you kidding me, we can’t even buy tissues!” 

God dealt with me on this awhile back, this belief that somehow things would be easier, that life itself would be better if only we had more money.  It had become a real issue for me, breeding bitterness, jealousy and envy that threatened my relationships with those I perceived as having more.  God spoke to me one weekend as I sat in a friend’s new home and listened to the unhappiness there, the fear and anxiety that weren’t so different from what I knew.  It was one of the few times when God has spoken so clearly to me and the message was, “Kelly, you wouldn’t be any happier if you had more money. ”

I told this to my husband as we drove home and I felt set free, delivered from envy, delivered from the lie that money brings happiness.
*   *   *   *   *

While I was training to be a chaplain I learned to type up and analyze conversations from my visits with patients and their families.  Part of the analysis involved noticing what myths the patient or chaplain were operating under during the conversation.  It was often easy to tell which myths were driving the conversation, which ones ruled over the patient’s life with a watchful eye, delineating truth, establishing boundaries and taboos with unquestioned authority. 

We all have certain ideas that may or may not be true or helpful, yet somehow persist in shaping our view of ourselves and the way we ought to operate for things to go well in the world around us.  Although many of the patients I spoke with, prayed with and sat with were in crisis situations, it was also clear that much of their personal emotional anguish came from their beliefs about the world. 
It may sound Pollyanna-ish, but attitudes and beliefs are often at the heart of our happiness and misery.  The things we believe about ourselves and the world, especially those that migrate slowly, gaining speed, from our hearts to our mouths and out into the air around us, hold great power over our lives. 

*   *   *   *   *
God delivered me from the myth that money brings happiness, for awhile anyway.  But recently, visiting friends again, I found myself slipping, judging those with more, lacking compassion for their deeply felt fears and anxieties because I felt that the fact that they had more than me should solve the problem.  Internally I argued, reminding myself I’d been set free from the myth, but I could feel myself waffling, could feel my compassion and my own capacity for joy constricting.    

Then we came home.  Home to our cramped quarters, littered with toys and socks, divided by wobbly gates to keep the twins safe, home to our emptying refrigerator, to our last box of tissues and I felt the tug of that old lie more fiercely yet.   I pushed back on it, though, and tried to remain centered in the truth until the moment when my husband turned on our PC. 
The computer wouldn’t start, not in safe mode, not in regular mode, not in any mode.  We ate dinner and got the kids to bed and ran a test that revealed the worst – the hard drive was shot, dying, dead.  Then, oh my, did that old myth ever get loud.  It rolled its way round and round in my thoughts gaining speed, gaining momentum, gaining power as I gave in to exhaustion and frustration. 

Then, in the quiet of looking for candles and flashlights to see us through hurricane Sandy, in the preparations for having, making-do with less, I heard that voice again only this time it said, “Everyone feels this way.” 
Everyone feels frustrated, overwhelmed, powerless when their computer crashes.  Everyone feels like they ought to know more about it, ought to be able to, with money, control that which they cannot.  It helped me to see that the way I was feeling wasn’t due to a lack of money, but rather a lack of control in my particular situation. 

I’m writing this because I don’t want to forget, don’t want to slip back into that old lie about money and happiness and I have a hunch I’m not the only one who’s fallen prey to it.  For me, the disciplines of presence and thanksgiving play a large roll in helping me to remember and remain rooted in the happiness and beauty of the life I do have. 
Do you find yourself giving in to the myth that money brings happiness?  If so, how do you overcome it?
 
Great Tissue Spending Freeze Update: Just the other day I got ten boxes of Kleenex "for cheap" at the local bent and dent store. I guess we'll really be living large now, blowing our noses whilly-nilly, without a second thought, just for the sheer fun of it. Crisis averted. 
 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Chain That Lifts Us (a family activity and FREE GIVEAWAY)



I could blame the fact that Halloween and the days that followed were filled with the planning and execution of an unexpected trip to North Carolina.  Or I could blame the jolting shift to daylight savings time which has the twins waking at five in the morning and my husband and I struggling to stay up later than the older two.  I could blame the virus that ran through the house, having its way with us, or the endless loads of laundry and trips to the grocery store, but no matter how I look at it, we're behind.

Every year for the past three we've commited the month of November to the practice of giving thanks.  Each night after the dishes are cleared, we pass out slips of paper and put our hands, our minds, our hearts to the task of writing or drawing something we're thankful for.  Then we staple each slip into a circle creating link after link on a chain. 

In this way we commit ourselves to growing in gratitude and there have been years, like the one in the picture above, where the chain has stretched clear across the living room. 

When I first heard the idea I grabbed on to it like a life preserver.  I was just beginning to understand the roll that gratitude might have in my life, the way it frees me for hope and joy, the way it stares defiantly in the shadows of fear and anxiety and the way it eases the endless battle between control and resignation that crowds my mind on any given day. 

Too often I've arrived at Thanksgiving distracted, unprepared and tried to conjure thanks through guilt.  "Well," I'd tell myself, "I ought to be thankful."  So I used guilt to badger a weak, limping gratitude from my distracted heart.  It was a celebration that fell flat and I was relieved to move on to the distracting demands of Christmas.

As a parent, though, I didn't want my kids to come to Thanksgiving empty, because a meal, no matter how well prepared, can never fill an empty spirit.  So we started practicing.  There are no rules, no limits, except that everyone has to list something every night.  On Thanksgiving, before or after the meal, we all sit around the table and read the slips, taking turns guessing who wrote what, reminding ourselves of our filled souls even as we feel the weight of our full stomachs. 

Like I said, though, we fell behind this year.  Yesterday started with crying babies at five a.m. and the house was a mess and as we cleared the table last night, as we faced the dishes and baths and waited for the twins to stop fighting sleep, I had to admit that I simply didn't want to practice the discipline of gratitude.  I wanted to hold on to my list of complaints, hold on to the hope of controling tomorrow.  I didn't want to surrender to grace even if my resistence meant starving my soul. 

Thankfully, though, I have children, and their eagerness often draws me along forcing me to let go, forcing me to surrender what I would not naturally.  So we sat, settled down to that moment of acknowledging what we'd received and I wrote, "I'm thankful it's almost bed time." My spirit lifted just a little, so I added, "I'm thankful for the right to vote and for homemade apple-pear sauce and spaghetti sauce." 

I wrote my son's list for him and watched while my daughter ticked off a list of five things, one for each finger on her hand.  Our four year old helped with the stapler and my daughter asked, while still writing, "What's this called again?  A chain of what?"

"A Thanksgiving chain," I said, "a chain of thanks."

As I spoke my son stood thinking and looking at the links we'd already added, the words on paper that held us together, that promised to grow and stretch in the days ahead. 

Pressing on the stapler, looking at that feeble collection of papers and words, he said, "It's a chain that lifts people out of the bad, right Mama?" 

I recognized the truth as soon as he spoke it.  A chain of gratitude, a book of thanks, a journal of a thousand gifts, seems foolish, weak and insignificant, but my son's right, it's a chain that lifts us, a chain that lifts me, out of the worst of myself. 

"Yes, Solomon, that's right, it's a chain that lifts people out of the bad."

I don't know about you, but I know I need to be lifted.  Lifted out of fear, out of anxiety, out of the tantalizing pulls of control and resignation, lifted onto the sure ground of the gospel which declares that all we have is gift, which confirms that for freedom we have been set free, that compells us to serve the greater good of love, even when it appears to be foolishness. 

In giving thanks we're lifted, repositioned, into joy and hope, which may not sound like much in the face of the world's ills, until we realize faith, hope and love are always the starting point for every good thing.  When we start and end our days with thanks, with faith, hope and love, there's no telling where tomorrow will take us. 

I'd love to hear, how does your family celebrate thanksgiving?  What are you thankful for right now? 

The first five people who comment will receive a free Chain of Thanks packet to help get your family started.  If you'd like this free gift, please make sure to leave your email address so I can contact you to arrange delivery.  It's never to late to start giving thanks!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Inherent Unmarketability (why the gospel gets so few votes these days)




Inherent Unmarketability

How do you make attractive that which is not?
How do you sell emptiness, vulnerability and non-success?

How do you talk about descent when everything is about ascent?
How can you possibly market letting-go in a capitalist culture?
How do you present Jesus to a Promethean mind?
How do you talk about dying to a church trying to appear perfect?
This is not going to work
(which might be my first step).

Richard Rohr in "Everything Belongs"