Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Love God, Love Others...Simple Right?

"Perfection in outward conduct consists not in extraordinary things; but in doing common things extraordinarily well.  Neglect nothing; the most trivial action may be performed to ourselves, or performed to God.  If love be in your heart, your whole life may be one continual exercise of it.  Oh, if we did but love others!  How easily the least thing, the shutting of a door gently, the walking softly, speaking low, not making a noise, the choice of a seat, so as to leave the most convenient to others, might become occasions of its exercise."  ~Mere Angelique Arnauld
When we are out among people, it is often easy to hide our true selves.  When we live together, sharing everything, it is much harder to hide.  Every day is filled with thousands of "trivial actions", and those closest to us know if we generally perform them to ourselves or to God.  Those who share our spaces, and tables, and hours know if we move quietly, speak low, choose to wait patiently for our portion, or push forward to get our share.  Those who clean up our messes know if we are attentive and grateful for their service and sacrifice.

Of course children almost never engender these qualities.  Patient instruction and growing maturity will eventually produce this fruit.  Every day gives a thousand opportunities to practice.

All of us may improve by practice, from the cradle to the grave.  All of us may influence the spirit within the home by asking ourselves "Is love in my heart?  And if love be in my heart can there be a complaint on my lips?  If love be in my heart, can I leave this mess for another tired person to clean up?  If love be in my heart, can I insistently demand what I want?"

And what if we are living elbow to elbow with a person who has not love in their heart?  What if our closest companion always pushes forward to get the best portion, and then complains loudly that it is not enough.  For this I do not have all the answers.  I know what I ought to do, but still it stings bitterly.  In theory, all that we do is performed to ourselves or to God.  In practice, that which is performed to God is frequently played out in the arena of loving others.  And "others" can be so uncooperative, so ungrateful, so unkind.  I am often crushed by hard angry heels pounding across floors, doors slammed, angry complaining voices.  I am often angered by the jostling and jockeying for position to get the largest portion, the pouting when another manages to get it instead.  I nearly always simmer when I see laziness devouring the fruit of hard work and sacrifice.  I am infuriated when laziness picks its teeth and belches, and then critiques the menu.

I have no easy answers, but I suspect it has more to do with me than my companions.  This is not the answer that I want, and so I often reject it.  I am intolerably unhappy, and still I reject it.
"It is one thing to go on the lonely way with dignified heroism, but quite another thing if the line mapped out for you by God means being a door-mat for other people's feet.  Suppose God wants to teach you to say, 'I know how to be abased'--are you ready to be offered up like that?  Are you ready to be not so much a drop in a bucket--to be so hopelessly insignificant that you are never thought of again in connection with the life you served?  Are you willing to spend and be spent; not seeking to be ministered unto, but to minister?  Some saints cannot do menial work and remain saints because it is beneath their dignity."  ~Oswald Chambers

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Looking In from the Inside

Today I would like to shout it from the housetop, that I am so very grateful for the gift of friendship.  I am grateful for intimacy with a small handful of women that share life with me.  If all I had were F*ceB**k friends, I'd be in big trouble.  This is not a rant against the big FB.  Some of my dearest friends and I communicate almost exclusively through FB.  

FB is not a new concept.  Being that I am old, I do actually remember life before social networking.  I actually remember life before we all had computers in our homes.  Back in those days we talked about how everyone watched too much TV, and spent too much time talking on the phone.  Whatever happened to sitting down and playing a game...or talking to people face to face?

But back to the FB thing.  The part that isn't new, is the superficiality of so many relationships.  We might spend lots of time with a person, because we work with them or go to school with them.  We might feel like we really know them and are woven into each others' lives.  Then we change jobs or schools, and we never hear from them anymore, and we wonder about this.  

Sometimes we have friends that share some common ground with us.  Maybe we enjoy the same activities, or our kids are the same age and play together.  Then things shift, the commonality disappears, and so do our friends.

All the while we watch.  We see how people live.  We observe their relationships.  We know what kinds of stuff they have, what they do for fun, what they do for work.  We mentally construct cardboard people, living in cardboard houses, living cardboard lives, and we prop them up all over our brains.  These are our friends.

Now we do it electronically.  We watch people live their lives on the internet.  We see their funny conversations with their friends.  We look at the pictures.  We read the status updates.  Then we prop up these virtual people all over our brains.

I don't know about you, but I am not naturally a contented person.  I would often look at these images that I had constructed inside my own head, and I would be convinced that other people had it easier than I did.  I would somehow suspect that other people had more of everything, and that it came to them without the struggle that I experienced.  I believed that other people had more of everything, and that their holidays were more shiny, and their food tasted better than mine.

And as long as my relationships were superficial, I could believe this, and nurse my resentment.  Of course it all blew apart the minute I began to be intimate with anyone.  The minute I began to shred my cardboard cutout, and replace it with a flesh and blood person, was the minute I knew that they struggled just as hard as I did.

Then our family changed, and I did it all over again.  I felt isolated and alone.  I looked at the way "normal people" lived, and I longed for the days when I was "normal" too.  I resented other people because they didn't struggle with the things I did, and they didn't even know it.  They didn't know how good they had it.  I railed against God, and wondered why I had to work so hard, when other people had it so easy.

As long as I saw myself as isolated, alone, misunderstood...I felt justified in my bitterness.  Then I got me a new batch of friends.  We got down to the business of being intimate with one another, and guess what?  My life isn't so abnormal after all.  There they were.  Beautiful, smart, articulate women.  They all have lovely family photos, and more visible success than you could shake a stick at.  Looking in from the outside, I'm sure I would resent them all.  But looking in from the inside, I knew they were all fighting the same fight, nursing the same wounds, crying the same tears.  Also they're funny.  Really, really funny.

So when I am really struggling, when I feel like I can't take anymore, when I want to lay down and give up, I can remind myself of the truth.  That I am in very, very good company.  It changes everything.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The View Inside My Head

I have some advice.  When you download a free sample of a book onto your Kindle, and the sample messes with your head, you should definitely buy the full book.  So you can have your head messed with quite thoroughly.  And while you're at it, make sure you purchase the list of books the author mentions messed with their head before they wrote the book.

So I've been doing a lot of reading lately, and mostly it's making me feel edgier and more irritable.  I've felt this way for awhile, but I've had a hard time putting my finger on the cause of it.  Reading these books seems to be giving me some clarity.  Not making me feel better.

I've come to the conclusion that I have structured my life in a way that says, "Sure God.  I'm all in."  But I haven't managed to structure my heart to match.  Consequently I have a lot of tension, internally.  It tends to come out externally, and it's often not pretty.

I've further come to the conclusion that I do not need to change a ton of externals in my life.  I need to have an internal overhaul.  I'm not really sure what that looks like.  I'm not totally sure how that's done.  Organizing and changing externals has always been my strong suit.  Give me a closet that needs cleaning, or a budget that needs overhauling, and I'm off and running.  Give me a heart to change, and I'm a very slow mover.

Emotions are a biggie.  There's a lot of stuff in my life right now, that feels horrible.  Not that the life itself is horrible, or even that the emotions aren't reasonable, authentic, appropriate.  But my solution for a very long time, is to ignore the "big feelings" (as we like to say) and just get on with the work at hand.

And sometimes this works very well.  The work at hand kind of drags the emotions along like an unwilling child, and gets them to where they need to be.  Sometimes this is exactly what we need to do.

But I am utterly exhausted from dragging my unwilling self around.  My unwilling self is like a miserable toddler dangling limply from the end of my arm, and I, the Mom, suddenly realize this child needs sleep, or food, or eye contact.  I realize that the child is not just being fractious, getting in the way of my work.  The child is actually only trying to communicate their need the only way they know how.

So how does one deal with emotions that just won't be pacified?  How does one figure out what they are trying to say when they have no words?  Why are they here all of a sudden, and what am I to do with them?  Are they useful, truthful....traitorous?  I eye them suspiciously, sure they're up to no good.  Quite honestly, I don't trust them.  They've lied to me before.  They've led me down the garden path  a time or two.

But then again, they are part of our human experience, and not necessarily good or evil.  Nearly everything we experience has some bit of emotion clinging to it, from the moment we rise from our bed in the morning, to the moment we fall back into it at night.  Honestly I have emotions about my bed.  Is it wrong to feel affectionate toward a certain pair of Laura Ashley flannel sheets?

Are you waiting for me to wrap this up with some sort of conclusion that makes sense?  Something that says, "I've wrestled with this and gotten to the other side.  Now I would like to share my new found wisdom."  I'm so sorry that you have hung on so nicely, to simply find out that I am still paddling in the same circle.  Really.  The only good advice I have is in the first paragraph of this post.  But I'll be happy to give you a reading list if you're feeling bored with your life right now. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Failed Adoptions and Clanging Cymbals

Today I was checking my personal messages, and for a moment I drifted off into territory I am trying to avoid.  This was mainly because a friend had posted a link to a story about something that resonates with me.  Something from my own personal experience.  So I granted myself permission to read the article.  It was about a failed adoption by a public figure.  I don't know the figure.  I don't know any of the details.  I just know the story because it is written into my bones.

My friend had noted that she thought the comments were scary.  And they were.  They ranged from ignorant opinion, to mean spirited judgment, to well thought out drivel from people who have nothing but the thoughts inside their own head and no experience with the topic at hand.

The thing is this:  There is nothing surprising about those comments.  They are precisely what I would expect to see.  They are precisely what I would have expected to write, if my life had not taken some of the twists it has taken.  And it is a sobering lesson to me, with my strong opinions and flapping mouth.  How many times have I opined on subjects of which I have no firsthand knowledge?  How many times have I forced my well thought out opinions on someone whose heart is breaking?  And how many times have I congratulated myself for doing my duty, being the voice of reason, providing support....when all I have been is a clanging cymbal in the ear of someone who needed quiet rest?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Lenten Update and the Perils of Red Suburbans

I'm back again, reporting on my Lenten media fast.  Not so much reporting on the mechanics of the thing, but just on how I've been feeling, and the things I think about.  Mostly I've been feeling like crap.  I'm irritable, and resentful, and horribly ungrateful.  I know my life is full of glorious things.  Instead I choose to focus on the things that irritate me.  I irritate myself.  

I'm tired all the time.  Yes, I'm physically tired, and there are perfectly reasonable reasons for that.  But I'm emotionally and spiritually tired as well.  Like a cranky overtired child, I'm writhing around fretfully, doing nothing to fix it.  I doubt I can fix it.

I have created small pockets of silence in my life with this media fast.  God whispers into those silences.  I don't always like what is being said.

I want change, but I don't want to have to do anything that will change me.  I want to lose weight, but I don't want to exercise or change any of my eating habits.  OK.  I don't technically need to lose weight.  It's an illustration.

I need a jumpstart.  I'm like my old tired Suburban standing in the driveway.  It's trying to start.  It's braying like a donkey, but in the end it just gives up.  Outside intervention is needed.  Careful coaxing will not cause the huge diesel engine to roar to life with a puff of noxious smoke.

God whispers that He is willing to jumpstart me, but unless I then drive straight to the service station for some much needed upkeep, as soon as I park, I will be dead again.  I don't want to drive to the service station.  That mechanic hates me.  He will look under the hood and find a whole host of expensive repairs that needed attention months ago.  He'll look at me with those eyes that say, "You really don't understand cars, do you?  You are killing this car."

And I really do love my Suburban.  I don't want to abuse it.  It's cavernous, and red, and loud.  It hauls my whole family, and a month's worth of groceries, and an occasional goat.

I really do love my life.  It's huge, and messy, and fun.  It holds everything I ever dreamed of having and more.  But I am killing it sometimes, by the things I do, and the things I leave undone.  It could use a jumpstart, a tuneup, some serious service.  But I get up every day, turn the key, and hope for the best.