Learning to Love Well

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I used to think that I loved others well.  I am one of these sentimental types who cries easily during movies, and the rare, touching commercial. And because I was sentimental, and I cared, I thought it meant that I loved well. But over the years, I am recognizing my  limitations of loving and caring for others.

The demonstration of how well I love is most challenged in relationship with others. That is the barometer by which I can measure the status of my heart. How do I handle rejection, hurt and betrayal? Am I vindictive? Do I replay scenes of offense over and over again in my head? Am I constantly thinking about what I may view as the character flaws of others, or can I see their well-intentioned hearts? Can I look beyond our differences of opinion, social standing, appearance, politics, faith, and stances on life, and love and accept others exactly where they are, without any desire to change them or force my stance on them?

Because of my difficult family background, I think frequently about the legacy I want to leave. When I leave a room, have I sucked the air out of the room?  Have I left a blessing of life, light and love, and affirmation (different than people pleasing), OR have I left the room with curse and negativity?

I would love to think that I leave blessing, but I know that I have blind spots, that my heart is in deep need of repair, and that statements come out of my mouth that are not intended to harm others, but that I do hurt others regardless of my intentions.

The legacy I want to leave is that I loved others well – that I cared enough about them to connect with them emotionally, and that I was a person of acceptance, love, connection, and empathy. Most of all I desire to be a safe haven, a safe person for others.

The good Lord is restoring my heart – I wish the process would happen quickly… but heart wounds, repair, and healing take a long time.

What is my part? Ask God to help me examine my heart and my actions, be willing to own my behavior and make amends as needed, and hope that truthful others will gently reveal my blind spots.

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Celebrating our 40th Wedding Anniversary –the Test of Time

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Today is our 40th Wedding Anniversary.  We were married on September 6, 1975.  I have been reflecting on the many anniversaries we have had over the years and how quickly time has passed, and how at the same time, it feels like forever.   I have been thinking of  all of the wedding anniversaries we have celebrated (or not) over the years.

I wish I could say that every year was filled with the bliss and hopefulness of our wedding day, but our marriage has been a marathon of sorts. I was talking with a colleague the other day and telling her that when people tell me they have had completely happy marriages, I just don’t relate to that.

When I look for anniversary cards, or birthday cards, I always look for some form of resonance deep within me. On our anniversary, there have been some years where I have felt so discouraged and frustrated, that it has been all I can do to find a somewhat civil, cordial card for my husband. Often the cards I ended up purchasing during these times pertained to challenges. Other years, the cards were filled with deep gratitude and appreciation.

Without question, the pervasive theme that has run through our marriage is love and enduring commitment to each other through sickness and health. This has stood through times of disappointment, discouragement, and heartache.

I remember times where I questioned whether staying in my relationship was worth the difficulties. But I knew that I would bring one common denominator to the next relationship – ME –

And so I began to view the difficulties in my relationship as opportunities for my own character formation. For whatever reason, God had placed us together– I knew the love I had for my husband, and I remembered my vows.

I began to attempt to see him, not as trying to make my life difficult,  but as someone trying to live out his life in the best way he knew– that he was well intentioned, and did not desire to hurt me. I began to acknowledge the distortions I put onto my husband without even being aware of them, and how my attitudes and responses were unsafe and not conducive toward emotional intimacy and revelation.

And slowly, (not only because of me but because of his self-examination as well), our relationship has grown deeper, more vulnerable, more transparent, more grace filled, and more forgiving. I thank the good Lord for changing my heart, and allowing me to see my husband, in the way I saw him when we were dating – a kind hearted man, with a deep love for his family and for others, a man who loves to serve others, and who desires to bless others in whatever way he is able.

And I thank the Lord for the good years, the difficult years, the full years, the years of emptiness and despair, and I trust Him to bring us to the next level of intimacy.

 

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A Ray of Hope and a Ticket to Freedom

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A few years ago I had a chance to attend the retirement party for a former high school teacher of mine, Dave Craig. He was retiring after 47 years of teaching business related classes at Highline High School. In my senior year I took a block class from him called Office Occupations.  Before attending his retirement party, I read a local news article about him that quoted him as saying

You have to work very hard to get to know the needs of the students… You never know when they walk through the door what they have been through the night before”.

I was one of Mr. Craig’s students who was desperate to have needs met. Mr. Craig never knew how much I needed his encouragement (until I gave him a written note of thanks at his retirement party). I was raised in a volatile, destructive household—it was a living hell. I felt lonely, despairing,  and hopeless during much of my childhood and high school years.

In a home where criticism and blame shifting, as well as other destructive behaviors were regular occurrences, I felt insecure in myself and my abilities.  Mr. Craig’s class specifically, and school, in general, offered a place of sanctuary.  I received encouragement regularly from Mr. Craig, and he helped me to experience and feel a sense of accomplishment and empowerment.   He was the most encouraging teacher I ever had. Every day he greeted me warmly and enthusiastically. He called out my gifts regularly. He told me that “I was the fastest typist he had ever had”, and delivered other positive affirmations on an ongoing basis. I thrived under his encouragement.

Mr. Craig was a light for me in an otherwise very dark world. He gave me hope to keep pressing forward in my life. He provided me with office skills, and gave me a reference for an after school office job. I knew that if I worked hard in his class that I would be able to move out of my home upon graduation and become self supporting. The skills I learned in his class were my ticket to freedom.   I was able to move out shortly after graduation and live independently.

About 25 years after graduation I ran into Mr. Craig at the hospital cafeteria where I work. I was touched that he still remembered me and he told me once again that “You are still the fastest typist I ever had”. He remembered me again at his retirement party a few years ago. Mr. Craig’s retirement party was filled with 47 years of students spanning the generations – people dressed professionally, in grunge, multiple ethnicities and backgrounds– each to honor a teacher who valued each of them individually and called out their gifting.

His example makes me want to be a person of encouragement – to call out the potential of others – to help them see the good that they may not see in themselves—to be a support and a positive influence – to leave light and hope.

Thanks Mr. Craig for the example you left for me to follow.

 

 

 

 

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Questions to Ponder

question-markNot too long ago, I read a book called The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard, a well-known philosopher (recently deceased), from the University of Southern California.   Like most philosophers, his writings are rich with the compelling questions of life.

In this book,  Willard posed at least 5 questions which have captivated me for months. These questions are:

 

What is reality?

Who is well off?

What is the good life?

Who is a really good person?

How do you become a really good person?

 

I suspect that there are as many answers to these questions as there are individuals in this world. If you are like me, my answers now would be very different from 10 years ago, and will differ again in another 10 years.

I believe, though, that how I answer these questions—what I value and hold dear to my heart either consciously or unconsciously will guide my steps and my life.

 

I am choosing to not even attempt to answer these questions in this blog – I ponder over them regularly, and have some thoughts on them, but instead I leave them as a gift for you. May these questions capture your soul (mind, heart, and emotions).

 

 

 

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LIVING IN THE MOMENT

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I was recently watching one of those feel good Christmas movies on Netflix (at least I suspected the ending would be a feel good ending, based on other Christmas movies I had watched previously)     But…..I just couldn’t wait to see the ending and so I fast forwarded through the movie to see the ending. It did end positively, but it also fell a little flat on me.  So I proceeded to go back and watch the part of the movie I had skipped through earlier.

My family and others that know me will tell you that I have a habit of doing this…..looking to the ending of books before I have completed them, OR  wanting to hear the plot and ending of movies before I actually see the movies.  I am impatient – I have difficulty waiting for things to unfold, and sitting in tension, and in the twists and turns of the movies or books.

If I know the ending ahead of time, somehow it makes the discomfort of the present more tolerable.

But the downside of this is that it takes away from the moment at hand. I don’t completely live in the moment

Kind of like life – Would I really want to know how my life was going to unfold if I were given the opportunity? I would love to know the joys, but the heartaches – that is another matter. There would be many life experiences that I would actually dread if I knew about them in advance. I would probably find myself even more distracted from the present, knowing the challenges around the corner.

Back to the movie – When I visited the parts of the movie I had earlier skipped,  I saw the twists and turns of the plot, and the building of relationships and of the characters and their experiences, and the ending became much more connecting and fulfilling.

A lesson to me – when I live in the future, I miss the present – the intertwining of relationships, the conversations and connections I make in the moment, the underlying themes that are unfolding in my life. I miss each sacred moment.

May I remember this experience and live in the moment.

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Convening Around the Table

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The family dinner table – so symbolic, so real. I tend to think of it in terms of the famous Norman Rockwell painting—people smiling, a feeling of community.

But the reality can be so different—the vacant places of those who have left or who have passed. A surly teenager who really doesn’t want to be there. An alcoholic or abusive parent who uses his or her captured audience of children to wield power and control.

These things of life are juxtaposed on each other—–the possibilities of incredible joy, but also incredible sorrow; – the presence of abuse, but also that of emotional support.

I was reminded of this yesterday during Thanksgiving. I stretched myself yesterday by hosting a large gathering (large for me is 12 people). I blended family and friends. It felt risky to me—like a crapshoot—I wasn’t sure how the friends and family would connect. Would someone say something that was completely inappropriate and would there be awkward silences at the table?

It turned out that everyone connected well, and seemed to have a good time.

I reflected back on years ago, on my own childhood, and also in earlier adulthood when my husband and I were raising children. Life wasn’t always pleasant at the dinner table. Where some people talk about current events and share their days, and the parents enter into their children’s lives, the dinner table in my childhood years replicated my family structure—superficial, disconnected, and at times abusive. And I am sorry to say that in my earlier adulthood, I didn’t know how to connect at the dinner table either.

Our default pathway is to replicate what we experience.

I didn’t have good role models at the dinner table, and so didn’t know how to model it to my children. I passively allowed abuse to occur, as I was intimidated by it, and my son ended up leaving the dinner table in his teen years. I hate admitting this – that I allowed an unsafe place for my children. I didn’t chase after him or force him to comply because I knew it would backfire on me, but the fact that he left was telling – I knew that things had to change, and I knew I had a part in his leaving, and thus a part in changing myself.

Yesterday was a milestone for me—a replication of Norman Rockwell’s painting—witnessing connection with the family at the dinner table—the abuse no longer – the prodigal son returned home – the presence of a loving family and wonderful friends.

Yes, it was a day of Thanksgiving.

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The High Cost of Freedom

 

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Today, we honor the Veterans – those who gave their lives – in time served for our country, as well as those who literally gave their human lives to protect our freedom. For those who have done this, I am truly grateful.

I am aware of the complacency that I sometimes have over our democracy and the many freedoms which I have had all my life. I became aware of this recently when I was speaking to a young man from Gambia, who fled to the United States, and left his friends, family and home, in order to escape the dictatorship and the high cost of having to stay mute around the injustices that he witnessed in his home country. He told me that it was not unusual for people to just disappear. One day they would be at work, and the next day they would be gone. He had a difficult time staying quiet about this injustice, knowing that if he spoke what was in his heart, he may be the next to disappear.

For example, I can write this blog, and my primary fear would be around criticism and rejection, not around losing my life. I tend to think of freedom as noted in the Bill of Rights, but there are other freedoms that we seek that have a high cost.

I think of freedom from pain and physical suffering – the cost of this can be medical bills, surgery, the cost of time to attend appointments or the inability to work.   If we have the ability and means to do so, we enter into this process of healing and restoration, and hopefully, return to our normal lives, and to restored lives. We never know when we enter into this process what the outcome will be – that is the faith walk.

How about freedom from being in abusive relationships? There are costs as one seeks to get out of destructive relationships – sometimes in domestic abuse, it can be loss of life. There are financial costs incurred as well, not to mention the false security that one might feel by staying in the relationship.

How about emotional pain and suffering? – the cost of this can also be enormous – the expense of psychotherapy uncovered by medical insurance, and suffering and grieving life losses from those who have harmed us. This process involves feeling the difficult feelings and dealing with the repercussions of how we have injured ourselves, and others, through the pain we have ourselves have experienced.  In order to truly heal, this process must take place in the presence of trusted others (and in my personal experience, with God)

That which is precious to us, is that for which we will lay down our life.  We may or may not see the fruit of our sacrifice, but others that follow behind us will reap the rewards of the cost borne by us.

 

Is there anything precious enough to you for which you are laying down your life?

If you are entering into this process of seeking freedom, what is the cost to you (and possibly others) in doing so?

What are the feelings that you experience as you enter into this process?

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