Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Surrendering to the Guiding Hand...


I read this morning of an AA meeting in Kinsale, Ireland, where a man named Tony said, “If I had to choose among all the diseases that afflict human beings, I would choose mine [alcoholism], because I can do something about it.” At that meeting (as at each meeting) he introduced himself as “a grateful recovering alcoholic.” When asked why, he said, “Because without the Twelve Steps of this program I never would have found God.” Likewise, in the book of Job, that ruined man of God said, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10) …

Job again!

I feel like I have bumped into him again and again in recent years. Why does it feel like this book in the bible was written for me?? Do I need any more proof that nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know?

The late Brennan Manning spoke to my heart this morning with this: "To be grateful for the good things that happen in our lives is easy, but to be grateful for all of our lives—the good as well as the bad, the moments of joy as well as the moments of sorrow, the successes as well as the failures, the rewards as well as the rejections—that requires hard spiritual work. Still, we are only grateful people when we can say thank you to all that has brought us to this present moment. As long as we keep dividing our lives between events and people we would like to remember and those we would rather forget, we cannot claim the fullness of our beings as a gift of God to be grateful for. Let’s not be afraid to look at everything that has brought us to where we are now and trust that we will soon see in it the guiding hand of a loving God."

Ok.
Take 415 (415,000!).
Action! 

Let's try this scene again. Relying on the Spirit of God more than my mind or sheer grit to get through the times we may not understand. I am too often assigning value to my circumstances. This is "good." That is "bad." "Bad" we too often push away and refuse to even acknowledge sometimes. We just want it to go away - or end. 

But I am just beginning to grasp that everything - and everyone - is a teacher, revealing areas within ourselves that need some redemption. Even those teachers who make us scream with frustration reveal our own shortcomings on the journey to becoming whole, to becoming more fully aware of His very presence in our lives. IF He is with us, we need not be so consumed with the externals.
 
I want to be more like my brother Job, like the late Brennan Manning - like the "grateful recovering alcoholic in Ireland" - more fully consumed by Love rather than consumed by all that makes me uncomfortable, resisting my circumstances that are merely challenges to my ego rather than gateways to a greater awareness of my soul. 

May my outer world become a sacred threshold to my inner journey.

He has brought me to this present moment...


Saturday, August 30, 2014

Some movement in my paralysis


Maybe it is all about starting all over, starting anew, with a clean slate of sorts.

I have been resisting - and resisting - what feels like a wholesale shattering of many aspects of my life. But in truth, it has been the shattering of illusions, false images propped up by hopes, desires - fears. We keep "living" in too many situations because we don't like change, we fear that what comes next will be worse than the current churning. We smile fake smiles while secretly hoping that one day the circumstances will change - that somehow God will move a mountain and our hearts will no longer feel discouraged or confused.

My spiritual advisor just stared at my emotional dismay recently. In between my demands for answers as to why ALL the shattering at once, he looked puzzled. He reminded me that on my spiritual journey I have been earnestly seeking truth and clarity. Why now was I resisting the truth - and clarity? Was it easier to live with the illusions??

Um, YES!!

He continued to stare at me.

And I have been sitting in this strange, formless place of spiritual suspension - totally uncomfortable with moving forward - because what else is to be shattered? I fear my heart could not take a shaking involving my children, me having to walk them up the hill to be placed on a makeshift altar of sticks and fallen leaves. This too, Lord? Them too?

And so I have sat. Suspended. A spiritual paralysis hoping the dark cloud would soon pass, that the curse would be lifted, that any satanic spirit would eventually tire of taunting me and leave. I have considered whether there be anything evil residing within my home - I should search for it so I can crush it or set fire to it in my backyard. I have run the gamut trying to blame SOMETHING for all this shattering!

And still my spiritual advisor just stares at me.

Because I have longed for Truth. I have sought Clarity. And though ALL THIS is not exactly what I had in mind, it does seem more real than the illusions I have been propping up - for all kinds of reasons. There is something far more solid about this reality.

And if it is true that I have 20-30 more years of life, if I am lucky, perhaps all this shattering simply lays the foundation for all that I want my life to truly be. Perhaps it is a second chance to get things right, to begin again living a life as it was meant to be, to start anew with Truth and Clarity as my guides rather than the empty illusions that only promise an equally empty life.

Who do I want to be? What do I want my life to say? In the death of all these aspects that I believed would bring me life, is Life being truly born? In this moment of death and letting go, can I find Life and have the courage to receive?

Lord, help my faith on this spiritual journey be far more than a hobby. Help me to live according to my faith and values - and to live fearlessly regardless of the fiery trials and the shattering of every illusion. Help me to not be dismayed by death but encouraged by the new Life being born in every moment of transformation and change. Here and now. In this moment.

I think I see some sunlight...


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Miley sends in wrecking ball on behalf of national crisis!


When I have a minute, my mind ends up drifting back to Miley Cyrus.

I know, right?? Crazy!

But her move at the VMAs this week moved me.

The backslidden Disney star eshewed center stage that night for a 22-year-old homeless guy she met at a homeless center. Though was described as model-handsome, I was strangely attracted to the message both he and Miley conveyed while accepting an award for her wildly popular "Wrecking Ball" video.

In classic wrecking ball fashion, Miley sent Jesse Helt up to collect the award for the video. Jesse told attention-grabbing crowd of musicians and artists that he was not accepting on behalf of the singer/performer that night, but “on behalf of the 1.6 million runaways and homeless youth in the United States who are starving, lost and scared for their lives right now.” Salon.com described him as arresting as he spoke about stark realities - during an awards show that honors the furthest thing from reality.

I am blessed to work every day on social impact solutions in Flint, MI, often involving homeless people - and structurally unemployed individuals who are otherwise forgotten - or worse ignored - due to a wide variety of circumstances.

But I also chair the Committee overseeing Young Life of Genesee County, an outreach to youth in 6th-12 grades. In that capacity, I regularly hear of the population that Miley and Jesse referenced at the VMAs.

It's the "1.6 million runaways and homeless youth in the United States who are starving, lost and scared for their lives right now" that can keep me up at night. My kids are 17 and 16. They already both know at least one of their friends who are already homeless.

I heard a presentation last week that underscores this crisis in Flint and America. Diplomat Nate McGregor reported that while LGBTQ youth represent only five percent of the overall youth population, they comprise 15 percent of those in juvenile justice system and 40 percent of homeless youth. He weaved into his presentation the suicide of a bullied youth from Fenton.

I can never ever consider this problem without thinking I need to do something more to change the hearts and minds of our youth who are deeply troubled and "starving, lost and scared for their lives."

And while I have criticized Miley at times for her jarring antics, today I applaud the 21 year old who ended up sharing her moment to address a problem that otherwise would be dismissed if she had not. That night, she leveraged her celebrity to draw much needed attention to a crisis we all choose to ignore far too much of the time.

Will those 15 minutes of VMA solve the problem? No but it will raise the much needed awareness far better than any other costly means. 

Jesse closed his acceptance speech with, “a dream we dream together is reality.”

May we together step one step closer to reality...



Thursday, August 21, 2014

Defining "community" in the wake of pushing for it...

For the last four weeks – or so – I have sat in church services focusing on community; the need for community, the role of community, what community is supposed to look like, what the leadership wants it to look like.

 

Every service, every week.

 

We all leave the services nodding our heads affirmatively, hoping in our hearts that this would be true – but knowing deeper down in our hearts that it is not.

 

For the last five years, I have been a regular “member” of what I consider to be a bit like the “community” the leadership keeps espousing, coming together with a group of somewhat likeminded people and talking about various aspects of life.

 

It’s all good when we can agree. It’s great when we can write prayer requests on the board and someone prays for the request in class. We all leave feeling somewhat lifted, maybe even heard.

 

But what happens when someone shares real life stories that include pain and despair? How do members of the “community” respond once the doors of the church are closed until the following week when even more desperate needs for support creep in?

 

My experience hasn’t been all that stellar, I gotta say – and I think I am going to scream if one more person talks about the importance of community – while ignoring the deep personal needs of the one sitting next to them

every service,

every week,

for five years.

 

Not that I am whining. I am just being honest. I keep thinking of this repeated empty push for “true community” that of course sounds good, but in practice … well, I am not sure we YET truly understand what it means

– or maybe I don’t.

 

Our discomfort with mess is never more telling than when someone shares a truth we would rather not hear, for all kinds of reasons. We are drawn to easy, comfortable, convenient shoes, clothes, food – and relationships. We love finding things in common with other people, laughing together, shared values, mutual admiration.

 

But our lives don’t go the way of comfort for too long. Eventually, we begin to notice differences – and more differences, interspersed with the things we initially had in common. Suddenly it seems like work just being together. We’d rather believe the romanticized version of loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.

 

Lots of times, as we all know, relationships end over the differences rather than grow on the strengths of the in-common. We dump those people whose challenges are too great, too time consuming, too painful to be shouldered through the dark valleys. My truth, after all, is scary. Your truth is scary. When we start to meet another human being in truth, it can be freakin scary as it triggers something deeper in each one of us. I read recently, “Truth has bad breath at times. Truth is boring. Truth burns the food. Truth is all this stuff. Truth has anger. Truth has all of it."


The quote went on to say, "And you stay in it. You keep working with it, you keep opening to it, and keep deepening it."


But we aren't taught that. Instead, we trade up spouses, friends, churches, neighborhoods, political parties - even countries! We dump people who become more challenging - sometimes in their darkest hours. 


And we keep asking, When am I going to find the place, the person, the experience where this doesnt occur? When will I find a person, a community, that will not dump me when it goes from fun to scary, from challenge-free to challeng-ing? From a loose group of individuals who all desire the same thing at our core and truly fulfills the true essence of community?


What kind of environments are we creating, am I creating? Am I accepting of the challenges that are guaranteed to rise in friends, family, the person who sits in front of me every single week at church, school or at my job? Do I feel accepted with mine? Do I even care what they are going through? Do they even care about me? Is that acceptance and caring what it is meant by community? Instead of leaving people when the going gets tough, do we simply need to learn how to better support them, especially in their darkness, during their suffering that makes us feel uncomfortable?


After four weeks of hearing about community, the question remains: What IS our obligation to being a member of a particular community -  to our fellow humans whose physical presence already indicates a shared journey? Are we obliged to help take care of one another? What happens when we end up feeling burned or burned out by the impurities of the community in which we reside?


I am less interested than ever in communities that look more like country clubs, friendships that embrace only my strengths. With that comes a deeper understanding that I, too, will be called upon at inconvenient times to enter into people's personal pain as readily as I enter into those times when they make me feel good about life. If I am uncertain how to respond, or afraid to respond, or don't have the time or the skills to respond, I want to respond regardless. I must reach out to others if I want them to reach out to me ... especially when I see they may be suffering. Anything less in a community of so much need is unconsciously - or maybe even consciously dismissively ignoring the existence of a fellow human being.


... You stay in it. You keep working with it, you keep opening to it, and keep deepening it.


But I have my doubts it will ever change...

Ugh!








Tuesday, August 12, 2014

When the giver stops giving and asks for help

For the life of me

I cannot understand

why somebody who so skillfully made others laugh

for so many years,

so consistently,

could die

of a broken heart,

alone

in his room

by his own hand.

I use to laugh – belly laugh – with Patrick, too. He was the funniest real-life person I have ever known. He was kind, generous, thoughtful – and ridiculously funny. I truly enjoyed simply being in his presence. His stream of consciousness was light and airy and blissful delight. I was so drawn to how he made me feel. Whatever mood I was in, dissolved into his many, ongoing amusements.

I never one time considered him sad – or saw any signs of depression.

I thought of Patrick as I read about Robin Williams sending “care packages of laughter” to his friends who were struggling, of him dressing up as a wacky doctor and sneaking into the hospital rooms of friends recovering from surgery.

I cried when I read about Robin Williams. 
I felt like I was reading about my friend…

And it makes me think about how well we really know one another.
And it makes me think about how much we like being around those who make us laugh, 
who make us forget about our troubles, 
who make the room light and airy and blissful delight

– even if for a moment…

And it makes me think about how all that shifts when that someone becomes troubled and changes the dynamic of the relationship, from giving to needing 
– I mean, really needing. 
And how bothered we can be with needy people. 

And how the room can be filled with laughter one moment, loving the one who takes them away from their pain, 
but the room suddenly changes 
almost instantaneously 
when  the giver

stops giving

and asks for help

if they even have the courage to ask
because most don’t.
They suffer in silence

On Sunday, Aug. 10, the world wondered what happened to Robin Williams?
Where did he go?
How come we haven’t seen him around
As much?

We miss him.
Today, we miss him.

We will miss him.

And I wish I had known that Patrick was suffering
That Robin Williams was suffering
Because I would have done more
I should have done more

We need to do more
To do better
In helping one another
In good times
And in bad.

And I am haunted today
This moment
By these words of both friends perhaps:

“I use to think that the worst thing in life was to end up alone.
It’s not.
The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel alone.”


Please help me change the world…


Monday, August 11, 2014

I choose love...

I often write about human dilemmas - choices and outcomes that leave me puzzled. Human nature often leads us to a quandary, awkward moments and sudden uncomfortableness that cause our hearts and minds to race.

As of late, I feel as though I am a student of juxtaposition. It seems most of my illusions and perceptions about life have been challenged by slamming deeper truths - from friendships, to family, to jobs - and my marriage. What I have long believed about so many facets of my day-to-day have been challenged if not shattered by a truth I seem powerless to stop or change. 

Life rolls on.

Today while talking with a friend before the start of a church service, another person interrupted our conversation to ask my friend to join a gathering tonight on behalf of their mutual friend. Truth be told, their friend in need is experiencing much of the same challenges as my own. And while my heart breaks for her pain, I also was struck that the Inviter was totally unconcerned about my circumstances despite being of the same nature and degree. And I wondered why. 

And I wondered why God would have me experience that moment, exposing the rawness of my own heart in an awkward moment where I ended up feeling embarrassed and shame -- shame that I felt jealous of a group of people who thought that much about this woman to take time from their busy schedules to buoy her during these challenging days. In my heart and head, I knew no such effort would ever be made on my behalf - for so many reasons. 

It's the grand juxtaposition once again. 

In truth, God has provided all that I need as I enter my eighth week of separation from my husband of 20 years. The days have been dark - and light. I have mourned - and I have rejoiced. I have had days of despair - and days full of a deeper kind of love than I have ever known before. I have learned much. And unlearned perhaps even more. I have cried many tears - and I have experienced a different kind of joy. 

This seems a very personal journey to me as I learn to walk differently. As I think of the gathering tonight on behalf of their friend, I can't help but think of the friends who have come alongside me and have buoyed my heart and soul at different times - suddenly when I needed it most, and surprisingly with some I have not talked with in many months. 

I am looking at the models of friendship differently these days - shoot, I am looking at every model differently. At 53, I am poignantly being shown that most theories I have had about life didn't hold up under the fierce testing that comes with age and experience. Going from books to application has blown most of my ideas away...

Truth is, the overriding emotion I have for the person they are gathering for tonight is compassion. And while I was not invited to join them, I prayed for her - and will continue to do so as she journeys through upcoming weeks that may include her most challenging days ever. She will need sudden friends, surprising friends - and a fortitude that comes from becoming her own friend when there seems to be no one else around.

No two journeys are a like as much as we think them to be. Sometimes we need the juxtaposition to remind us, to poke us, to show us those too human parts of ourselves that instead of feeling awkward or uncomfortable, instead should spur us on to deeper introspection of our hurts and motives, our reactions, to consider more deeply the path we choose to live out our faith in a world overflowing with opportunities to build even more barriers to protect our hearts from offense and pain. 

Instead, this day, I choose love. In the human dilemmas, the many awkward moments in the midst of racing hearts and minds, may I escape the temptation to flee the discomfort and choose love instead. May we always choose love... instead...



Saturday, August 09, 2014

Tongues of angels...

When I entered the Saint-√Čtienne de Metz in France, I was profoundly struck by the more than enchanting soulful notes emanating from what seemed the center of the historic Cathedral. The absolute majesty of the historic church aside, the Gregorian chants drew me in a way I had never experienced in a lifetime of seeking. It wasn't the first I had heard - the first occurred at St. John Cantius Church in Chicago over the holidays several years prior. Even then, I was moved, stirred, drawn by notes that seemed beyond my thinking, logical mind. The Latin words carrying the notes spoke directly to my heart and soul, the tongues of angels, as all sense of time and place melted into One.

In Metz, it was as though my heart lead me to the source of these angelic sounds - and I sat among the other saints and sinners who also found themselves in the presence of the supernatural. Though I knew not the words, tears filled my eyes - with a beyond-me all encompassing joy. And I could have listened there in that eternal moment for the rest of my life. 

Since then, I have read much about chanting, about some human notes that take us into the presence of God. Our minds cannot conceive, yet our hearts and souls are jarred open by the peaks and valleys of such sounds. 

I remember a Pastor once telling of his parent who had just lost a child, sitting at a piano for many hours, slowly tapping out the notes - and barely able to sing the words to the hymn "It Is Well With My Soul."

In the quiet of my car this week, it seems as though I have experienced a similar soulful chanting with the very same words, slowly, deliberately listening to the notes as they draw me closer to the very presence of God... 

"It is well
with my soul. 
It is well, 
it is well 
with my soul."

And my heart and soul has danced as I experience the notes more slowly, more deeply, longer, more soulfully than ever before -- and the veil has parted with the understanding that comes with that one verse alone.

"It is well
with 
my 
soul.
It is well, 
it is well
with 
my 
soul..."