Thursday, September 18, 2014

The undertow of love...

So my spiritual advisor likened it to Lucy and Charlie Brown, Lucy promising to hold the football for her dear friend Charlie Brown, him believing her - again - and then regathering himself to finally experience kicking a football like he has always dreamed. 

Most of us know the rest of the story. Most of us intimately so. Charlie trusts the word of his friend. He runs with great freedom and excitement and faith that Lucy will hold the football in place while Charlie kicks it from his dreams into reality. (Is it only me who while watching this scene unfold holds my breath hoping the outcome will somehow, miraculously, be different? I mean after all, there aren't that many episodes!) 

At the last minute, for reasons that seem cruel and inhumane, Lucy removes the football from Charlie's path - and the full force of his dream ends up throwing Charlie on his back in a humiliating reality - while Lucy laughs or mocks or dismisses. Honestly, I don't even remember WHAT Lucy does because I am so focused on Charlie. And how Charlie must feel - again.

That is how my advisor described it. My description was more direct: it's like being invited to come close, I do, then I'm slapped. Time and again. 
"Come close!"
I size up the situation ... Think it through. Tentatively move closer.

It's hard not to hate Lucy. Even though Lucy might have her reasons. After all, Charlie shared his dream with her. In today's self-help, self-actualized jargon the dude mustered up the courage to ask his friend to help meet his need, as silly as the need might have sounded to Lucy. And while Lucy may have judged kicking a football as insignificant, her decision to pull the football away at the last minute without considering the impact on Charlie likely did damage to more than his ego-pride. It undoubtedly impacted his heart - if not his soul. 

The application here is vast as I sit in Flint, MI, surrounded by individuals who were encouraged to come close to corporations like General Motors and others. Fill in the blank with names of individuals who promised to hold the ball for us as we ran full tilt toward an agreed upon dream. Yanking the ball back at the last minute crosses racial lines, political lines, religious lines - every line that deals with our humanity. We all feel the pain of Charlie Brown laying on his back morally, psychologically and mentally defeated. I suspect even Lucy feels his pain -- for a minute anyway -- until she reverts back to her own logical reasons for the decision without saying a word to her friend Charlie.

I read a line this morning that described such things as an undertow, "giving with one hand while taking out from under with the other. More than sleight of hand, it’s slight of heart.” 
And I'm left to wonder. 

What in the world does Charlie Brown do with Lucy? How do we as souls on a common journey respond to capricious acts that impact far more than the moment?

The spiritual advisor reminded me that all people respond out of love or fear. And while I cannot imagine why Lucy would be afraid, I do know that her actions were not born of love. The sting of the most recent slap is that reminder. The bruise from falling to the ground instilled within Charlie a mistrust of anyone who offers to help hold that football while he kicks it - possibly forever more. 

"So what in the world should I do," I asked my spiritual advisor while rubbing my still stinging face?

"We are to live our lives as totally loving beings," he responded, noting the staggering number of times even Christ was slapped and betrayed. "We are to live as totally forgiving beings. Only love has the power to change the world, to replace fear, to keep us centered in moments of our pain and despair and shame."

... what??? ...


Maybe I should buy a face mask...

Friday, September 12, 2014

Hoping for something more...

"When we feel suffering, it doesn’t mean that something is wrong. What a relief. Finally somebody told the truth. Suffering is part of life, and we don’t have to feel it’s happening because we personally made the wrong move.

"In reality, however, when we feel suffering, we think that something is wrong. As long as we’re addicted to hope, we feel that we can tone our experience down or liven it up or change it somehow, and we continue to suffer a lot.”

I wrestle a lot with the idea of hope - or maybe it is the experience of hope.

And yet, how in the world can a person wrestle with "hope?"

It seems I was raised with this idea that longing for something more, or better, or some days simply hoping that this day would end and that tomorrow would bring some relief ... My faith journey has included Christian teachings that promote the sustainable hope of heaven, somewhere far better than the suffering we encounter, at times, on this earth. Hope has become an acceptable and seemingly effective way to pound through pain and disappointments. We fantasize of our rewards once we leave this place.

Ahhhh yes heaven ... Where there will be no challenges or pain or suffering...

Am I addicted to hope? Have I turned to hope instead of considering the larger message to be heard? Have I falsely considered, even subconsciously, that my circumstances are meant for someone, anyone else? Do I refuse to even acknowledge that "heaven" may be found in the challenge - a greater truth that will be overlooked and/or unaccepted because I think the associated pain is too much - far too much for my heart and soul to bear?

Does a 21st century faith call for such retreat?

I was asked yesterday of circumstances where I have become disheartened - and I fell in love the word because it so captured my literate mind.
Oh yes, disheartened! 

And I quietly recited my list to myself, almost laughing at the sheer number of life-altering experiences of late.
Umm... SO yes! Disheartened!

So few of the challenges of life can be undone, I mean, right?? We don't have a rewind button that will take us back to the challenges of yesterday - that now seem like luxuries if we were to take time and compare! We reach the summit of this mountain and turn around to marvel at our path - only to see a range of mountains that needed to be scaled in order to get to this one.

Why can't I enjoy this amazing view? I can see things from here I have never seen before, above the tree line, where the air seems extrordinarily thin... 

Instead, foolishly, I spend far too much time hoping this leg of the journey will end - that I will soon be on flat ground where I need not be concerned about my footing, or becoming lost, or falling into a deep and bottomless pit where no one will ever find me - or even know that I am gone!

Every single choice I have ever made has brought me to this moment, writing this sentence, suddenly being enheartened that I have made it this far on the journey... From this peak where I have found my heart again ... How could I hope for anything more?

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

A life of expression for a larger harmony...

I have been thinking a lot about what it means to “express” what is on our minds or on our hearts. Express. What does the word we use rather freely even really mean? I googled and discovered this: convey (a thought or feeling) in words or by gestures and conduct. Expression is defined as the process of making known one's thoughts or feelings.

What of those who choose to express very little? What of those that express way too much? What if we do not feel comfortable expressing anything at all?

I don’t have to be told that I express too much – though I have been told as much by others who are uncomfortable or bored with my expressions. I have been told that my more emotional expressions are off-putting, that I can be critical or angry or too syrupy or too loud or too much or too little or too forward or …

Geesh! Give me a break! Why is it such a challenge to find someone who allows me to express whatever (within reason, mind you) - whatever is on my mind or heart without attempting to challenge it, fix it or completely shut it down? Can we really be in a relationship with anyone who chooses not to express at all? Is it really a relationship when one expresses and the other remains silent?

But then I read this: “In a similar way, what we feel, think, and experience is often inaudible until it’s expressed. The life of expression that moves through us allows us to hear a larger harmony. When we ground what we feel by touching another, the interwoven nature of things is amplified and we’re brought closer to what matters.

"When we don’t give voice to what moves through us, we become entangled with life, but not connected to life. When silent with our love and pain, we can’t distribute what we feel and so our heartaches and pains are intensified as they only bounce around within us. The way a lightning rod standing in the open attracts and grounds the lightning, the life of expression grounds the intensity of what we feel on any given day.

"To practice the life of expression enhances all the other practices, the way blood is needed for each organ to do its work."

And I am emboldened.

And while my relationships may change and I no longer feel the freedom to simply say or be or speak what is in my thoughts or on my heart, the desire is still there – and maybe still there for all of us human beings who have not shut off their own expressions due to fear or boredom - or the inability to find someone who will simply listen.

The author suggests we keep trying, we keep looking, we search for a larger harmony discovered when we can touch one another and be brought closer to what really matters.  


Thursday, September 04, 2014

As his zen koan sunk in...

"If you are given a mango. just eat it and enjoy the taste. Don't bother about the size of the tree or how many years it took to grow - otherwise you will miss the taste, the essence of mango-ness!"

While holding a glass of cool water - and then sipping it - my friend told me how much he LOVED that glass of water. He went on to describe it, noting that there are so many times in his life when a nice glass of cold water is the most refreshing drink he could have. Better than iced tea, he said, better than coffee - better than a beer! 

And I just continued to stare at him wondering what point he was attempting to make with his zen koan.  

When one is longing for a nice, tall glass of iced tea, however, that cold glass of water falls a little short. 

I spend too much time wondering why my glass of water isn't a Red Bull or Diet Coke. I can down a mango while wishing the whole entire time that I was eating a plum or a Granny Smith apple. 

Someone told me recently that she attended a conference where the speaker described relationships as a big bowl of spaghetti - with meatballs. The speaker went into detail about the nice, added extras that meatballs provide - and how meatballs are a must for the Italian dish. The meatballs complete the recipe, she told me exasperated. "It wasn't until then that I realized that I didn't have a single meatball in my spaghetti," she said dismayed.

In almost every area - or at least too many areas - I am thirsty or hungry for something more, wanting the extraordinary - the very best, the brightest, the most meaningful, the greatest love, the preeminent experience in every way. I forget that plain and simple water has its place - and in fact, water is good - IN FACT, a glass of water truly might be the best, given the situation! A good plate of spaghetti without the meatballs can be delicious - especially if one is a vegetarian! I should try to eat a Northern Spy instead of a Granny Smith!

"Stop expecting that this glass of water is going to be Guarana Antarctica (my favorite soft drink!)," my friend admonished me while taking another sip of the contents of his glass. "That person is a glass of water - nothing more. Let them be water. Enjoy the water! They CAN'T BE Guarana Antarctica!"

I sat and stared while his zen koan sunk in. 

Can I accept the provision of water when my heart desires something with a little more carbonation? Why do I consistently reach over the nectarines to gather the best purple plums? How would my life change if I simply accepted what unfolds before me - if I simply explored new tastes and textures and smells with appreciation for the provision and diversity. In this moment, when I think I NEED a Diet Coke, perhaps I can walk a shorter distance and fill my cup with icy water. 

And perhaps I can intentionally enjoy the water - appreciate the water for all that it brings instead of longing for something more.



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."

Take 415 (415,000!).

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.” 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...