Saturday, May 16, 2015

Transactional Thinking

A couple years ago now I read a book called Prodigal God by Tim Keller and it changed my thinking profoundly.  The premise of the book is that it is God who is the prodigal (recklessly spendthrift) in the story we called The Prodigal Son.  He wants relationship with each of his sons and they both follow their own agendas instead.

He spends much less time on the one we typically focus on - the one who wandered away.  He spends most of his time talking about the elder brother and how he tries to do what the father wants - but only as far as following the rules not having a relationship.  As I read, I realized this is exactly the trap I lived in all my life.

In this journey, though, I’ve come to understand a few things about this phenomenon in my life.  While talking to my friend, the social worker attached to the Oncology unit in Salem, I found myself talking in terms of “if I do X, Y must surely follow.”  So, for instance, “If I do what my nurses and doctors tell me to do, I will surely recover more quickly.”  Or “If I swish my mouth out with saline every 2 hours, I won’t get mouth sores.”  It was present through all my conversation and I finally heard it clearly.

I had entered into a transactional thinking mentality.

You may have heard it in yourself:
“If I obey the speed limit within 5 mph most of the time, I shouldn’t get pulled over when I’m really in a hurry.”
“If I’m kind to this stranger, others will in turn be kind to me.”
“I’ll do this for you, but I expect something in return.”
“If I read my Bible and pray regularly, God will bless me.”

It is the belief that if I am “good” I am also “owed.”  If I follow the rules better than everyone else, then I will be rewarded above everyone else. And I must pursue that at all costs because I want to be blessed.

Even when I am wrong, I have to be wrong in the right way.  If I repent appropriately, apologize sincerely, and change my ways, I am owed good things because I did it right.

But this does not get me to relationship, it gets me to servanthood.  I am trapped by my own ability to be good to get what I want.  I am not fee to be blessed just because I am.  Rules and relationship can both start in the same place, but they end up in very different places because of their focus.  Rules focus on my actions.  Relationship focuses on, well, relationship which takes at least two.

If I focus on the rules and following them, I miss the beauty and possibility of God’s blessing just because I’m His kid and He likes to show up and show off. And the truth of that swept me off my feet.  When I depend on me, I’m limited by me.  When I depend on God, I’m “limited” by Him and He has no limits.

So today, I’ll let go of the rules for a bit and see what God can do.  Want to join me and see what happens?

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Pain. Defining it and comparing it.

One of the authors I follow on Facebook recently posted a link to one of her friend’s blog posts.  It caught my attention since she introduced it by saying, “Ever feel like your pain isn't worth mentioning because someone else has it far worse?”  I have experienced that recently far more than I can say so I headed over to read the post (linked here).

The post is about two things - keeping secrets and the damage that does to us (that’s a whole other thing to write about) and feeling unworthy because my pain is less than another’s.

Here’s the heart of my instinctive reaction to the idea of comparing pain that I posted in the comments:

“I’ve had this really miserable cold for 5 weeks,” they say in a mournful tone. Then hastily backing up, “But it’s nothing compared to what you’re going through!”

My response is always that there is no comparison in pain or trauma. My bad is bad to me. Your bad is bad to you. And who’s to say whose bad is worse? Certainly not me! Pain can only be defined by the recipient/experiencer, not by someone on the outside.

If using my cancer helps someone gain perspective on their life, then to God be the glory. But if using my cancer becomes a way for someone to say they aren’t worthy of compassion, then they have bought in to the agenda of the father of lies.

When Vince was growing up, we talked a lot about who got to define pain and why that mattered.  When kids picked on him in school, I reassured him that he got to say how bad that hurt, not them.  If they got to define it, it would have been minimized or dismissed altogether; sane people don’t really like to inflict pain on another person.  However, since he got to define it he could feel the feelings without being hard on himself in the process.  I’m not sure I really got through to him, but I hope so.

Think about that for a minute.  When you are hurt, you get to say how bad it hurts.

If you believe that, how would it change your life?  Would you be easier on yourself?  Would you give yourself the grace to feel as bad as you really feel? Would you allow safe people in on your brokenness so they could help heal you?

Pain is a tricky thing.  It’s slippery and difficult to define.  Even when I’m in physical pain, I rely on the faces on the pain chart to help me figure out how bad something hurts.  I’ve had nurses ask me a couple questions like “Could you get out of bed and walk across the room right now?” and then move my pain up on the scale because I’m clearly underestimating.  

I think I need more practice being realistic about the pain I feel.  And I’m not just talking physical pain.

So, then, we get to comparing pain.  If I, living as I do on the outside of your life, can’t define the pain you feel, how can I ever expect to compare the pain I feel to the pain you feel?

At the Jason Gray/Big Daddy Weave/Citizen Way/Lauren Daigle concert we went to, they asked a question in the prayer time/altar call at the end: Who has experienced loss?  Rick looked down at me and asked if I wanted to stand.  I quipped back, “No. All I’ve lost is my hair.”  What they were clearly asking is for people to stand who were in pain because of a loss.  And I’m not.  I have been given so much, experienced so much love, and been carried by my Father.  I have, of course, experienced physical pain through this process, but that’s transitory and right now I feel pretty good physically. But I am not “in pain” because of cancer right now.

Ananda, on the other hand, has a pretty bad cold and strep throat and was home for three days this week.  If I had spent those three days ignoring her, telling her to take care of herself, and to stop whining about pain all because I have cancer and she’s just got a cold, what kind of mom would I be?  I for sure would have not taken her to the doctor because of her sore throat so not found out she had strep which could then balloon into something more painful and serious. You would rightly say that I was a lousy mom in that case.

But as adults, how often do we do that to ourselves? “Oh it’s nothing,” we say to someone who checks up on us. In the blog post I linked above, she talks about breaking her toe while her husband was dealing with a major illness and not wanting to talk about it. We tell ourselves, “I’ll just suffer in silence because it’s really not that bad and people won’t care anyway,” In each of the instances we are essentially saying “My pain is not worth as much as yours.”

That, my friends, is a lie straight from the father of lies.

It is a lie that I am not worthy of affection and compassion.  It is a lie that my pain is not painful.  It is a lie from the pit of hell that everyone is better or more worthy than me.

Everyone.  Every person on this earth.  We each need compassion, love, and care. When I deliberately cut myself off from that, I become isolated, resentful, and victimized. And when I expect people to read my mind and see that I really do want care even though I’ve told them I don’t, I’ve slipped over into codependency. Expecting people to read my mind and becoming angry when they don’t is just plain crazy.

If, on the other hand, I see someone’s cancer, or the riots in Baltimore, or the earthquake in Nepal, or my good friend’s divorce, or significant pain of any kind and allow that to settle my heart, I am giving glory to God.

When I rightly define myself, put myself in my correct position as a child of God, and don’t set myself as higher or lower than the people around me, I am acknowledging God’s order in the universe. I am giving Him glory for His perfect design.

What are your thoughts on pain, the definition of it, and comparing it?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

My "before you can get married" rule

I have a rule that I fully intend to enforce with my kids before they get married.  Ask Vince.  He's heard it often enough!  The rule is this:  "Before you can get married, you have to tell me three things you don't like about the person you want to marry and the things that you love so much about them that you're willing to put up with the bad stuff."  And really, instead of "don't like" you might substitute "can't stand" or "hate" more effectively.

When I walked into marriage, I had some pretty twisted views of me, of my hubby, and of marriage in general. I really and truly believed that things would magically be wonderful when we got married.  You know, like suddenly I would be the person Rick really wanted me to be.  I would be a cleanie.  Love would cover a multitude of shortcomings and issues and communication problems.  Unsurprisingly, the reality has been very different.

Marriage has been difficult and fraught with problems, fights, lectures (which I detest), silence, and whole years at a time when we weren't as close as we might have been.  We both agree that, if we had it to do all over again, we wouldn't.  But there has been joy, and happiness, and growth, and connection, and harmony, and peace as well.   I can't imagine my life without my kids and they wouldn't be who they are without this relationship.  I wouldn't be who I am without it either.  And I like me, so there you have it.

So that brings me back to my rule.  I don't want my kids to walk into a relationship blind to the pain that will inevitably come.  I do want them to be so firmly committed to seeing the whole of life through with their spouse that the pain pushes them together instead of apart.

Since we're not to that point in life, I can't tell you what the results are yet.  But trust me: I'll post it so we can see if I've got a good idea or a bad one.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

It's not 42: The ultimate answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything

I joked on Facebook on my birthday that, since I’m 42 this year, people might want to ask about what the ultimate answer is. I’d been scheming about saying that for a long time. What I didn’t realize is that I’d also been mulling over the answer itself this whole time as well.

I don’t remember exactly when my answer coalesced for me. I do know that I’ve looked at the world through this lens ever since and haven’t found a time when it wasn’t true. Sometimes there’s more to life these three things, but they’ve always proven true.

In mind these three things form a triangle, or the legs of a stool. Without one of them, the other two are true, but not as strong. And if two of them come quickly to me in a situation, I look for the third to be present as well. I’m not disappointed.

First of these three things is “It’s ALL about God.” And by that I don’t mean what I’ve usually heard – that God is the author of all things and we owe Him our praise. That is true. But for me it goes beyond that. In Ephesians 2:7 we read this: “that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” You may know Ephesians 2:8-9. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves…” Verse 7 tells us why He saved us – to bring glory to Himself. So really and truly there’s nothing in me or you at all that motivates God to redeem us or redeem the situation in which we find ourselves. It’s all to show off.

The short way I say this is “God shows up to show off.” So, while I am deeply grateful when I see God’s hand in my life, I know that it’s only to bring Him glory.

The second of the three things is from the AA Big Book. “Selfishness - Self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.” (p. 62) Take a moment to think about it. When have you ever seen sin – someone doing something wrong – that can’t be traced back to selfishness or self-centeredness? When someone robs a house, murders someone, rapes someone – these are all essentially selfish acts. But they’re also pretty far removed from the average person.

When I sit on my butt and don’t get up and clean the house, it’s because I’m being selfish. Laziness puts my desires ahead of those I love.

When I lie about something – omit part of the truth or just not say something condemning when asked – selfishness is motivating me to protect myself at any cost. It robs me of the freedom honesty and forgiveness bring.

When I assume that my ideas are probably the best and certainly better than yours, my arrogance will hurt you or piss you off. That’s my self-centered behavior showing you that I think I’m the center of the universe.

And the third of the three things is Perspective. Rick is fond of saying that there are three sides to every story: my side, your side, and the truth. I see the world with my own set of biases and that colors how I remember an event or report it to you. You do the same. So does every person.

If I really understand what you’ve been through – your pain, your joy, the events that have defined who you are – then I will treat you differently. The quote I had on my email for a very long time is “Be kinder than necessary for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.” I find this idea most necessary to keep in mind when someone is bugging the heck out of me.

And another piece of perspective that I’ve really come to believe is this: without a commitment to follow Christ, there’s absolutely no reason for a person to live an unselfish life. So why in the world do I expect them to live like they are? This is the one, clear, indisputable way to show that I’m a Christ follower – to seek to live for and because of Him not me.

So how much of finding these things in my life is because I’m looking? How much is because they’ve been there all along and I’ve not seen them? Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “People only see what they are prepared to see.” So maybe that’s why I see them everywhere. But seeing them has changed my life – my perspective, in fact.

I challenge you to try on this answer for a few days and see what happens to you. What changes in your heart and mind? I’d love to talk about it. Let’s refine this thought together.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The second recurring picture

If my room is the place where I meet Christ in times when I want to be close to Him, then my view of Heaven is where I go to worship.

To me, Heaven is something I need to be able to picture. I know that I'm not even close on the details and flat wrong on many, many things. But to me that's less important than what I do when I'm there. And to do that, my limited mind needs a framework.

There is, of course, the throne of God. Seated on His right is Jesus. (That's my left - I can't tell you how many years I couldn't figure that one out. Yes, I'm right-left challenged.) On His left is the Holy Spirit. What does God look like? That one changes from moment to moment, sometimes right before my eyes. The one thing that never changes about God: He always has a lap.

Jesus is the same as He is in my room. And the Holy Spirit - He's an ever-changing, colorful cloud-ish gaseous being. Maybe that's because I've not put a lot of thought in that aspect of God. But it works for now.

Behind God are the 4 living creatures and the elders. In my mind's eye, the 4 living creatures are how Madeleine L'Engle described Progo - all wings and eyes. Somewhere I have a drawing I created that looked exactly like that in an abstract way. If I find it, I'll upload it. The elders are people.

And filling - over-filling - the entire place are my brothers and sisters - people from every place on earth, every time, in every color. But honestly, I hardly notice them.

My picture of heaven got an upgrade in church today. In the past, it's always been flat - almost as far as the eye can see. But today it became an amphitheater with God as the center of attention.

At the top of the amphitheater - around the back edge - are columns. They have bases that are wide and square and stand up about 3 feet tall. And that's where you'll find me most of the time - hanging out by the columns. In heaven I'm always a child so being able to stand on the bases of the columns is a good thing.

Imagine it. Imagine being able to worship with people from around the world. Have you ever stopped to listen to the people around you at your church worshiping God? I've been overwhelmed by the sound myself. No imagine that multiplied a hundred, a thousand, a million times. I can't wait.

So I mentioned that I'm a child. Specifically it's a cross between a picture I have of myself at about 4 looking for easter eggs with my mom and the fairy sitting on the lap of the old man that I got at the Portland Saturday Market several years ago. It's me uninhibited, without the expectations and restraints I've grown into over the years. And as a child, I'm free to worship with all of me.

Sometimes I bow. Sometimes I stretch on my tippie toes and sing my lungs out. Sometimes I fly a dance. Sometimes I dive on to Papa's lap and cuddle up. Me and Him. Him and me. It's all about Him and not about me. That's worship. That's heaven in my mind's eye.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Meeting Jesus

In my first post I took a lot of time to describe the room where I meet Jesus in detail. But the point of that exercise is not just to have the room; it is to have a mental place where I am comfortable meeting my Savior any time.

If I were to close my eyes right now, I could be in my room in a split second. This morning when I do that Jesus is waiting for me, standing with his arms outstretched right inside the door. I'm happy to be there with no particular need or something weighing me down. In fact, I could see us whirling around like a couple little kids on the playground. Remember those times when you crossed hands, held on tight, leaned back, and started turning? There are times when I enter the room full of life.

On other days when I've felt great, there have been a couple palominos waiting and we've gone for a long ride, our hair flowing in the wind (and it never gets tangled, either!). There are times when I enter the room full of joy.

I can't begin to tell you the number of times when I've desperately needed the love only Jesus could give. Outwardly, I'm holding myself together fairly well. Inside, I'm a mess. When I see Jesus, I don't need to explain what's going on or worry that if I reveal myself fully to him that I will be rejected in some way. He knows me completely despite my best efforts to hide. On those occasions, more often than not I sit surround by His arms on the hearth. If it's particularly bad, I turn sideways, lean into His shoulder, and sob. There are times when I enter the room broken.

In the fast pace life that most Americans live, rest is often something that goes by the wayside. If I don't have time to take a nap but do have time to close my eyes for a moment or two, I spend that time in the room curled up on the couch with my head in Jesus' lap. He strokes my hair and that moment of peace usually restores me more than I would have though possible. There are times when I enter the room exhausted.

There's more, of course. Times when I'm confronting sin, when I need to think, when I'm restless. But my hope in sharing this is this: Maybe you, too, can understand that the God you love and serve loves you and loves to meet your needs right where you are. If not, you've got the wrong god. I have come to depend on Jesus for my emotional needs. In this I'm hardly perfect and often forget that I can meet Him whenever and wherever. When I do remember, though, I tend to remember more often. I love the way it feels.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The first recurring picture

Once a long time ago my mom read a book to our family called Discovering How to Pray by Hope McDonald. In the chapter called "Find a Quiet Place" she describes a process where you create a place in your mind to which you can retreat to meet with God. It's a concept that caught my attention and has been with me for over 25 years now.

The room I created in my mind has evolved over time, but I'm constantly surprised that the things I imagined as a kid have held true over time.

My room is a stand-alone building in the middle of forever green rolling meadows. Regardless of the wind and rain that are a common theme in Oregon, I can close my eyes and find myself bathed in sunlight. Small pastel flowers are scattered in the grass and on the back side of the room stands a massive oak tree - except for the times when I'm feeling a bit down and the oak becomes a willow tree.

Walk with me inside.

The entire front of the room is leadded glass with grand french doors set in the center. The ceiling must be about 20 feet high - in any case it's high enough that I never feel it's presence at all. And, with a recent adaptation of the dining hall at Hogwarts, it reflects the bright and gentle light of God at all times.

To your right join me on the deep harth at waist height of the river rock fireplace that covers the entire wall. The rocks are guaranteed never to be uncomfortable. And if you feel the need to be completely comfy, grab one of the massive royal blue or kelly green pillows resting at each end of the hearth.

In the center of the room are two overstuffed chairs and a couch made from pine logs and fluffy off-white cushons. (In the 80's it was peach and gray - that's one of the things that's changed). Sit down and burry your feet in the exceedingly soft carpet at your feet. The color changes every time I'm there, but it's always soft and inviting. Honestly, I spend more time on the hearth than I do on the furniture.

The left wall is covered in cherry book cases. On them you'll find every book I've ever read which has sometimes kept me from reading things that aren't worth sharing with my God. In the middle of the book cases is a writing desk and a chair from my dining set - with the needlepoint seats that my grandmother made. It holds a brushed nickle desk lamp with a flared shade that matches the couch and a stack of parchment paper and my favorite pen. Somehow, despite the presence of technology in every aspect of my life, it's never present in this room.

Another addition to my room several years ago is a series of old-style library-style card catalog drawers. I read a piece somewhere a long time ago about God seeing every sin of a person's life written on a card and how Jesus comes by and forgives them and removes them from the drawer. It's something that resonated with me at the time and it's never left, though I don't get into them much any more.

The back wall of my room is a massive picture window that looks out on the oak/willow tree.

I hope this look inside my head helps you create a place for you where you can meet Jesus any time you need Him. More on that in the next post.