Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Don't Spill The Beans

I’m a pretty considerate driver. I try to stay out of people’s way and tend to just go along with the flow of traffic. The other day, however, everything was different. It began with a slow Texas turn out of a parking lot and a careful acceleration to just under the speed limit. Each lane change was a planned meticulous event that I avoided as long as possible. In that moment, I may as well have morphed into my grandmother barely seeing over her steering wheel as she drove her burgundy Cutlass Supreme down the streets of Skiatook, Oklahoma. The main difference between my Grandma’s careful drive and mine was that I could feel the frustration of the drivers around me. But the fact is, you must drive slowly and with great caution when totting 2 huge trays of beans in your backseat.

I’m pretty sure everyone would have understood it if only they knew the load I was carrying. Perhaps next time, I will hang a sign in my back window “beans on board”.

Doesn’t this happen in life all the time. We expect people to extend grace to us when our load is heavy or potentially messy yet we so easily get frustrated when people cause us to slow down, make changes or God-forbid have to stop what we are doing. We tend to find brilliance in people who respond (or drive) the way we do yet we quickly get our feathers rustled when someone is different. The fact is, we don’t know people’s stories. We rarely slow down to listen before jumping to conclusions.

Just like “beans on board” perhaps we should each carry personal signs - “death in the family”, “I feel alone”, “I long for attention because my parents ignore me”, “I think my spouse is cheating on me“, “I just want to feel like someone cares if I exist“. Wouldn’t this help us see people as people rather that just an obstacle to our day?

I wonder how differently we would conduct our lives if we reached out to people with grace instead of responding to how their behavior affects us! Unfortunately, we will never carry signs. Information about our pain and insecurities is kept hidden and masked. Our life’s circumstances, relationships, secrets, fears, successes and pain have brought us to where we are. Equally, the guy at work who can’t quit talking about himself and the girl who can’t seem to quit talking about everyone else has their own set of circumstances, relationships, secrets, fears, successes and pain that has brought them to where they are. Maybe it would all do us some good to slow down and listen. Maybe if we understood the load that people carry, we wouldn’t be so frustrated by how they differ from us.

Just remember, sometimes you are the one carrying the beans and sometimes you are the person behind the bean carrier. In other words, you are often the one in need of grace and perhaps even more often the one who needs to extend it.

Until next time,

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Just Be

A little over 2 months ago, we got a puppy named Izzy. She has brought much change to our lives. I never imagined spending so much time in my front yard but there I sit, each day on my front step, waiting for Izzy to take care of her business. I assure you, she is never in a hurry. Most mornings begin with a brisk walk around the block to work out some of her pent up energy. This, I really enjoy! And Larry, our 8 year old rescue dog, who used to practically live under the bed has now become very very social.

I have found it interesting to watch Larry change. At the sound of the alarm, he used to just reposition himself in bed. It wouldn’t be unusual for him to sleep 2-3 more hours before slowly getting out of his bed with a long low stretch. His favorite place to spend the day was under the bed where he seemed very content and pleased to have his alone time. Although we have an upstairs, he had only been up there maybe a dozen times in the year we have lived in our home. He was just a content lazy dog who lived a life of luxury on the ground floor…..and we love him the way he is, because he is Larry!

Then came Izzy.

Now, Larry is up at 6:30am ready for whatever the day brings him. He still retreats under the bed but at the first movement toward the kitchen, he bolts out like lightening to make certain no scrap or crumb hits the floor. If anyone bends down to pet the puppy, here comes Larry. He has even managed to squeeze his body into Izzy’s bed at night leaving her no choice but to sleep on the floor or wedge herself into what little space is left (as demonstrated in the picture).

At times I find Larry’s jealousy humorous. At times I find it annoying. And at times I become keenly aware of how pathetic and silly I must look when I do the very same thing!!!

So much pain comes from jealousy. I wonder what life would be like if we just lived the life our heart longs for us to live…from a position of gratitude, never worrying or comparing ourselves with others. I can only imagine how peaceful that would feel.

Recently when I was in Colorado and we were hiking up to Alberta Falls, we came to a drop off that lead down to a roaring waterfall. The waterfall demanded my attention, but then I started looking around at everything around this landscape. It wasn’t just the waterfall that was beautiful. The rocks displayed such power as the water crashed against them. The trees created a beautiful backdrop of green. Some trees even grew almost sideways out of the mountain so they could get sunlight. They were a picture of determination and survival. And the leaves of the aspens danced to the melody of the wind. The whole landscape was absolutely beautiful…every intricate detail played a part in this masterpiece.

As absurd as this sounds, what if the rocks sat all day pouting that they were not a river or what if the trees got tired of their leaves dancing and instead wished they were sturdy rocks. A bit silly, I know. But isn’t this what we do all the time. We obsessively spend our time comparing what we have, what we look like, if we are the best at this or that. We not only just mentally compare, but often we try to be someone we are not, just to feel of value. We so easily get swept away in the game of jealously that we miss out contributing our part in the masterpiece.

So if you are a rock, be a rock. Be sturdy. Be bold. Be a secure place to stand. Just Be!
If you are a tree, dance and sway with joy. Be flexible. Be beautiful. Be a place to find shade. Just Be.
If you are a river, flow. Be glorious as you meander the landscape. Be a place to be refreshed. Just Be.
We are ALL part of this story. Every single one of us plays a part in this masterpiece.

May we each have eyes to see God…not only in the rocks and the trees and the rivers, but also in our brothers and sisters!!!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Window Seat

If given the choice, I pick the window seat. But even if I am in the aisle, I crank my neck so I can keep my eyes glued out the tiny window. As the wind moves under and over the wings to cause lift from the ground, my mind goes to the same place each time. As I watch school buses become blobs of yellow, trees become patches of green and buildings become dots of gray, I cannot help but think about how little and insignificant I really am.

It’s funny how much time we devote to feeling important. We carefully pick the clothes we wear, schools we send our kids to, cars we drive, and even the phones we carry because we think people are looking. Whatever it takes to get the most positive attention. It seems that we want our gadgets, our hobbies and the people we associate with to tell a story about who we are. And at all cost we want to avoid things that don’t validate that story. We can let a spot of ketchup on our khakis ruin our day. (My gosh, what will people think?) This whole game we play is subconscious.

For some reason though, when I am cruising 550 miles per hour and looking down to see nothing but squares of different shades of brown and green and occasional blue bodies of water, I become very conscious that none of this matters! I am really really really small!

I love watching HGTV. I don’t know why but it brings me pleasure to see the inside of homes and what people do with their space. The other day, I was watching a show about a family looking for a home on a beach overseas. They had a budget of 1.2 million. Seriously, who has that kind of money? Oh well. Happy for them. They saw a few houses and then the realtor snuck in a 1.4 million dollar house to compare to. It had all the bells and whistles. The granite counter tops. The heated tile floor. 9 bedroom. The pool overlooking the ocean. A beautiful grill and outdoor seating. I know this will be shocking, but this couple somehow pulled together an additional $200,000 and bought the house with all the extras. About 15 minutes after I watched the show, I walked into our kitchen to get a drink. Our white tile counters made me roll my eyes; we need some granite. I looked out in the backyard and the broken tiles around our pool shouted back at me, “fix me!!!" Our little $35 charcoal grill looked very sad and out of place on our back porch like a 1982 station wagon in Donald Trumps driveway. The list of things that HAD to be done to our home all of a sudden became very long. Why? Because I was comparing myself to the guy who had an extra $1.4 million to spend. My perspective shifted. My position of gratitude and awe that we get to wake up each day in a home that we love was replaced with a focus on what wasn’t perfect.

Don’t we do that in so many areas of life. You walk out the door feeling pretty good about the 5 lbs you lost and then you end up sitting by your workmate who is a size 2 and now you feel like an elephant. You feel so proud of your kids and then your friend starts bragging about how her son was voted 'most likely to be the next Payton Manning'. Suddenly, the fact that your kids won the Spelling Bee or The Math Olympics doesn‘t seem worth mentioning. Or you finally make that last car payment and it is 100% yours and then your sister-in-law drives up in her new Ford Mustang convertible or even worse a Jeep Wrangler loaded with an off-road package.

Perspective shift…

Yesterday, I got a letter from Frantz. He is from Haiti and we have been sponsoring him through Compassion International for over 5 years. In his letters he asks me questions and I do the same in my letters back to him. In yesterday's letter, he asked if we are taking any vacations this year. As a matter of fact, we are. We are going to Colorado in September and Disney World in November. It is my habit to send him pictures so I sent one of a Florida beach and one of the Colorado mountains but I kept the details to a minimum. With Frantz, I feel embarrassed at the abundance we have. The price of our airline tickets alone is more than I send him each year. Knowing that he lives on a dirt floor with his mother who is in poor health makes me feel ashamed that having granite countertops even matters to me. And how in the world would I explain Disney World to him? It all seems so insignificant…and completely unfair.

The fact that there are even 1.4 million dollar homes in existence when there are people in this world living on dirt floors is a shame. Knowing that I will drop thousands of dollars so we can go hang out with oversized pretend animals when there are people who can't scrape enough together to keep their utilities on is kinda hard to swallow when I think about it.

I am so thankful for my home and the AC that blows non-stop these days. I am thankful for the car that gets me where I need to go and I am thankful for my good health. My perspective should always be from a position of gratitude! My hope is that I never put my desire for granite countertops in front of making a difference to those who don’t have clean drinking water or those who can’t find jobs in this economy. May I never focus on the ketchup stain on my pants instead of the person who needs a friend to listen. And may I never focus so much on what’s in my head that I ignore the stranger who just needed a smile to be reminded that they are not invisible.

And next time I start focusing on what I don’t have, may my perspective shift back to a position of gratitude quickly. Stuff doesn’t matter. After all, from a distance,they are just blobs of color.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Two Ears, One Mouth

We all have opinions - nobody is capable of communicating from a completely neutral position. We all take a posture that is based on both the negative and positive lessons from our past, the pain and circumstances from our present and the fear and hopes of our future. So, when people come together in a relationship, there is no way they will agree on everything. This makes friendships fun, exciting, dangerous and challenging all at the same time. I always thought I was easy to get along with and pretty good at communicating. But there is one thing that plain ticks me off….

If you want to get under my skin, make assumptions about me. If you want to really tick me off and make my Irish red-headed blood boil, ask me a question and then instead of really listening to my answer, start judging how you think that I feel. What hurts me the most is when my intentions are misunderstood and when my feelings are not validated no matter how much the listener disagrees with them. At the very least, I want to know that I have been heard.

Last Wednesday I was sitting across a table from an amazing friend of mine, munching on a burrito and sipping on a Coke. During our conversation, it came to my attention that I do the very thing that I hate. I realized that I carry a chip on my shoulder so to speak. For as long as I can remember, in my desperation for wanting to convince people that my heart is good, I have become defensive. When I am defensive, I stop listening. When I stop listening, I misunderstand intentions and devalue my relationships. I would never want this done to me. This was a sobering discovery and it has been hard for me to swallow.

Perhaps the most heart breaking thing is that I have done this to people that I love the most. Over the past 2 years, I have found my voice but I have used it to shut people down when they are just trying to communicate with me. This makes me sad because what I want more than anything is to live in honest relationships with people. I hate that I have not been a safe place for some people to honestly share their hurt...especially when I am the one who hurt them. Instead of focusing on how the hurt was unintentional, I should have kept my mouth shut and listened. I should have validated their pain and emotion and said that I was sorry. Sometimes I wish that I could re-wind...

I have learned that people’s emotions and thoughts do NOT have to make sense to me in order to be meaningful and valid to them.

As a friend and partner, my job is to love. And in my experience, being heard feels a whole lot more like love than being criticized, judged and critiqued. I am not saying that there is not room for honesty in relationships. I think it is vital! But the moment someone opens up and shares their heart is not necessarily my opportunity to spew my opinions on their life and attempt to solve “their” problems. This should be done sensitively and cautiously and only by invitation.

I am determined to work hard in the future to be more loving in my responses...I know I will fail at times. My “knee jerk” reaction is to defend but I really want to change this in my life. I was created with two ears and one mouth…hopefully I can learn to use my ears twice as much.

Until Next time,

Thank you Marissa for helping me see this and thank you Jenn for tolerating me while I learn.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Answer

DISCLAIMER: These are my thoughts...because this is my blog. My passion is my spiritual life so it tends to be what comes out when I sit down to write. I hope nobody ever thinks that I am pointing a finger and thinking I have it figured out. I don't! I am just speaking from my observations and with deep honesty about how I see things. Again, I apologize if I hurt or offend anyone. My goal is to get things out of this crazy brain of mine and perhaps make you think. Read on, you've been warned. ;)

I remember a time when I thought the answer to every question was “Jesus”. Stomach ache? Jesus. Close parking space because my legs are sore from the gym? Jesus. No rain so the tennis match doesn’t get cancelled? Jesus. Rain so the tennis match DOES get cancelled because I have an early morning? Jesus.

I think it is cute now hearing my boys, 5 and 9 years old, say the same things I did for so many years. My oldest hurt his finger the other day and he told me not to worry because Jesus was going to make it feel better. My youngest asked if anyone was strong enough to pick up a building and when I said “No” he said, “You’re wrong. Jesus can.”

The way we view Jesus and our lives is so messed up. We thank him for the front row parking spot as though he orchestrated a miracle so we could be lazy. Funny thing is, if Jesus were driving, he would likely have bypassed that spot to leave it for someone else. We thank Jesus for the unexpected upgrade to first class thinking we have “God’s favor” but he would likely have turned around and offered the upgrade to another passenger. We even thank him when we win football games as though he played a part in making us score more points than our opponents. We pray it doesn’t rain so our hair looks good for picture day yet there are farmers just down the road that depend on that rain for their livelihood and when it doesn’t rain and our hair looks fabulous, we thank him because he answered OUR prayers. Even more sobering, we pray that Jesus turns the storm from our home and then find out that the tornado wipes out an entire town. Oops.

Sometimes I think that we try to sell Jesus. We promote him like he is a “genie in a bottle” who can be rubbed when we really want or need something. Or maybe we promote him more like the “miracle potion” to drink or apply to our pain and everything bad will go away if we have enough faith, of course. I know that’s what my kids think. I am afraid that is what I thought for many many years. Funny thing is, it didn’t work most of the time. In spite of my prayers, Jesus didn’t whisper the answers to the test in my ear, I still got the stomach virus even though I asked for Jesus to protect me from it, and people still died even when 2 or more were gathered to beg for their healing.

Let me set the record straight before anyone thinks that I am going to bag on Jesus. It’s not going to happen. I’m a Jesus believer and a Jesus follower. I’m just not so certain I am in complete agreement with who some say Jesus is. Often times I wonder if he showed up now in 2011 if many of his followers would even recognize him. He wouldn’t be standing on a street corner holding signs condemning the gays. He wouldn’t be driving a new SUV and talking at prosperity conferences proclaiming that all you need is faith in him and you could be rich. He wouldn’t be on any billboard advertising miracle vitamins and encouraging you to go tell your friends. He wouldn’t be at a political rally promoting capitalism and strategizing how to help the rich stay rich while the gap between the rich and poor continues to widen at a shameful rate…I wonder if he would even be in a church.

When will we stop focusing on what Jesus can do for us and start paying attention to the life he lived and the lessons he taught with his life. Jesus didn’t talk down to people. He defended the rejected. He noticed the short guy in the tree. He was annoyed by the pious religious “know-it-alls” and did a good job of annoying them by not validating them or conforming to their ways. He was protective (even of the prostitute who was about to be dodging stones). He loved his friends. He fought against culture. He chose people over religious practices. He wept. He knew how to party and I bet enjoyed some really good wine on occasion...rumor has it, he even made some out of water! Even when he was tired, he paused and made sure people’s needs were met. He looked people in the eye. He washed feet. He took the time to love children. He was the epitome of compassion love and grace. And even at the point of his death, when he was beaten and completely rejected, he had compassion. He recognized that the very people who were spitting in his face and piercing his sides didn’t know what the hell they were doing and he forgave them. GRACE!!!

Seriously what kind of person would not have been drawn to this man?

I think Jesus is more honored when we emulate who he was instead of just sing about how great we think he is. If we sing for hours about his love and amazing grace, it is just a waste of breath if we then just hop in our leased vehicles and hide away in our expensive homes all in the name of the American dream...after all, we have “In God We Trust” on our money so God has to bless us, right? What good is it if we don’t love our neighbors AND our enemies, meet eyes with strangers who long to be notices, and give generously to people who really need not just (or necessarily) in the offering plate. I think if Christians as a whole really lived like Jesus, Christianity wouldn’t be so repulsive to so many in the world. Maybe if we would love each other and not try to control each other with religion, more people would want to take part in the conversation.

Case in point, when I was 35 years old, I stepped foot for the first time in a bar. My marriage had fallen apart and I wasn’t quite sure if God still loved me. That night I sat across from a girl who was raised in my same church background. She opened up to me about her life and how she had been asked to leave her church. Church members had even come to court during her divorce and petition to take her children away from her because her lifestyle didn’t align with their reading of the Bible. I looked her in the eye and even though I was still unsure about nearly everything, I knew to my core that God still loved her. And if God loved her then God still loved me. She didn’t need The Four Spiritual Laws. She didn’t need for me to tell her about how we are born with a “sin nature“. She didn’t need for me to prove to her that religion had all the answers and all she needed was a new crisp Bible and some discipline. She needed to know that she mattered. She needed to know that she was loved. She needed to know that no matter where she was on her journey that she had a friend who would remind her that people sometime suck, but God loves her just as she is!

For me, the message of the cross is the affirmation of God’s incredible love for us. The message of Christianity is confusing and sometimes seems so far from the message of Jesus. If His life and death were all people knew of Him, perhaps more would experience the changing power of knowing that the Creator loves them (PERIOD). There is no stick to measure up to. There is no set of required rules to earn God’s love. God loves everyone - no matter their race, gender, religious beliefs, sexuality, whether their “good” or “bad”, their likes, dislikes, habits, hobbies, family, history or future. God’s love just is! It's our job to believe it!

Monday, July 18, 2011

"Who Said It"

For years, at my church, off and on, we would watch videos. They were moving. Life altering. They made you think and would often leave people speechless. They were in our church library where church members could check them out and use them as a catalyst for great conversation - especially among the “seeker” audience. But on March 15th 2011, the man behind those videos released a book. A book about Love. He openly asked questions and challenged the traditions of religion. And when that man released that book and caused an uproar felt nationwide, those videos that no doubt had positively affected so many were yanked off the shelves of that church and considered unworthy, ungodly and useless.

So because a man named Rob took his time to write down words from his heart and his head and people didn’t agree with him, the conclusion is that Rob was deceived! Now obviously everything that he has ever said or done is worthless.

I think this hit close to home because I went through a similar experience. Of course mine was on a much much smaller scale but it felt big inside of me. A few years ago, my life took a turn. I began to ask questions and I no longer aligned with the church where I was raised. As a result, I felt the judgment of my faith…as if my life up to this point has all been a lie. The authenticity of my journey with my God was brought into question. Some of my closest friends looked at me as though no good could any longer come from me because I was broken and deceived. I have had people say to my face that I am leading a life that will ultimately result in eternity in hell. My former pastor even said from the pulpit recently that people like me have a “make-believe God” who will not serve them well after they die.

Wow! How do I live up to these low expectations? Perhaps the hardest thing that I juggle is to now know what to say and how to say it. My goal is to be loving and respectful to all people, even the ones who misjudge and condemn me. I know that some people don’t want to hear that I am happy because it messes with their theology. I know some people don’t want to hear my thoughts and what I have learned relationally and spiritually over the past 2 years. I know just like Rob, if I say anything, it has the ability to be twisted by people because they think I have an agenda soaked in bitterness, defensiveness and deceit.

I wish that I could do an experiment but I just can’t figure out how to pull it off. I would like to take a quote by someone like Billy Graham or Charles Stanley- a quote that is biblically accurate and profound. I would like to put it in quotation marks and post it but instead of putting - Billy Graham, insert - Rob Bell. I wonder how many panties would be waded up and how many people who pick apart the quotation…not because what it said but because of the perceived intention by which it was written. I would like to do the opposite and take a great Rob Bell quote about love and instead of putting - Rob Bell, insert - John Piper and see how many “Amens” come back. Of course this little experiment wouldn’t work on my Facebook page because people are already making assumptions about what I post and why I post it based on the perceptions of me. Are you following me?

I see this all the time really. It’s all over the world of politics. Obama could say “I like kittens” and Rush Limbaugh could find a way to rip him apart because he didn’t say he liked puppies too. But Bush could have had a bumper sticker on his car that said “I love kittens” and he would have been praised for it. That was a silly example but hopefully you see my point. We are so quickly put off by people’s perceived agendas when they don’t align with our beliefs. Yet with great ease, we ignore our own biases, judgments and criticisms and would be offended and defensive if someone made assumptions of us.

So my whole point is this…making assumptions about people’s intentions sucks. We get it wrong way too often. I don’t want to do that anymore. I don’t want to come to any conversation with a bias. I want to hear what people are really saying and not get caught up in what I think they mean before I hear their heart. To be honest, this is a struggle for me at times. Each time I hear from someone in my past who wants to grab a coffee and chat, my heart still races. Thankfully, I have been pleasantly surprised by some wonderful people who recognize that I am still me. They may or may not agree with me, but they want to laugh, listen and just be in my presence. They don’t want to rip me off of the shelf and toss me in the “useless“ pile with the Nooma videos.

I’m pretty sure that in spite of some big mistakes, some life adjustments and some differences of opinions, there is still some great conversations, some laughs and some love to share!

Until next time,