Category: Devotionals

In the Faith that Looks through Death

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In the faith that looks through death.

This is one of final lines in William Wordsworth’s poems:  “Ode to Intimations of Immorality.”   It’s a line that I have meditated on and repeated in my head over and over again as I have walked into a crisis, held a hand, received disturbing news, heard of another tragedy, prayed in a time of uncertainty:

“In the faith that looks through death,  In the faith that looks through death,  In the faith that looks through death.”

Wordsworth writes, “Though nothing can bring back the hour of the splendor in the grass/of glory in the flower/ we will grieve not, rather find /Strength in what remains behind/In the  primal sympathy which having been must ever be;/ In the soothing which spring out of human suffering/  In the faith that looks through death.

Today marks the 16th year of my ordination as a minister in the Presbyterian Church.  Of all the words I have read, all of the books I have my shelves, all of quotes that I have clipped and saved,  these 7 stanzas were the first on my tongue 16 years ago, and they remain my favorite today.

This middle of career place where 16 years ago,  29 seems like a lifetime ago, – I was 29 once, right?  and imagining ministry 16 years from now, at the age of 61, seems hard to imagine. –Just how many more Christmas Eve sermons can I write?  How many more deaths can I face?  How many more tragic stories?  How many more night meetings, visioning projects, stewardship campaigns – What will the future be?   I see how quickly the past 16 years have come and gone, and know how quickly the next 16 years will pass by.  I am also ashamed to to find that I have the same fears and uncertainty today as I had then.  – Maybe it’s time to learn something and stop being uncertain of what will come. Maybe it’s time to let go of what I do not know and hold on to what I do know.  Maybe its time to shed a fear and replace it with conviction.  What time will I have wasted worrying when I look back 16 years from now?

And yet if I have learned anything these past 16 years, it is that one cannot expect another sixteen years. Today is all there is.  It’s cliche, I know, to talk about the gift of every day, of recognizing the frailty of life. We can’t live every day like it’s our last all of the time.  We can’t constantly be in that Thin Place.  We have to live as if there will be college campuses to visit and retirements to plan and vacations to take.  But every now and then, we need to go to the Thin Place where we sense that we are just on this side of heaven, and heaven is not so far away.

Wendell Berry expresses that feeling in this poem – another of my favorites, when he says, “sometimes here, we are there… and there is no death.”

“Some Sunday afternoon, it may be, you are sitting under your porch roof, looking down through the trees to the river, watching the rain. The circles made by the raindrops’ striking expand, intersect, dissolve, and suddenly (for you are getting on now, and much of your life is memory) the hands of the dead, who have been here with you, rest upon you tenderly as the rain rests shining upon the leaves. And you think then (for thought will come) of the strangeness of the thought of Heaven, for now you have imagined yourself there, remembering with longing this happiness, this rain. Sometimes here we are there, and there is no death.”
“1996, V”  [“Some Sunday afternoon, it may be”] by Wendell Berry, from This Day: New & Collected Sabbath Poems 1979-2012. © Counterpoint, 2013.

What I am trying to say is this is what I know:  sometimes here we are there, and there is no death and when we can see through death, we know that healing happens. Healing, in the truest sense of the word, is holy.  Healing, in the truest sense of the word, is human. It is the threading relationship of God and Human together in the wrestling  of Jacob, in the dark night of the soul of Jonah, in the blood sweat night prayer of Jesus, in the heart breaking cry of Mary, in the courage of Ruth, in the humanity of David, even in the shame of Judas. One cannot be healed if one does not have something that needs healing.  It’s only through the dark valley that we can recognize the light.   This is what it means to have the faith that looks through death.

This I know.  It’s really the only thing I know for absolute certainty.

Healing always happens.

Healing comes and people live and sometimes healing comes and people die, but healing always happens.

Healing happens through time and endurance and blood and bone. It happens deep in the soul and in the breaking of the heart.  It happens when the unseen are seen and the unheard are heard.  It happens in rest. It happens in laughter. It happens in time. It happens in pain.

It is healing that allows us to have the faith that looks through death.  That healing occurs only  through suffering. Only through loss and rainy days and times of loneliness. It is in moments like these that soothing thoughts come through suffering and help us to see a way through.

We must never give up on the human heart for it is where the Holy resides.  We must never give up on the belief that healing of mind, body, spirit, relationship, community, world, does, can and will happen.

Though nothing can bring back the splendor in the grass/the glory in the flower, we will grieve not, but rather find strength in what remains behind

…..

Thanks to the human heart by which we live,/ Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears/ To me the meanest flower that blows can give/ Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.  (William Wordsworth, 1770-1850).

 

 

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The Way of Wisdom

13 Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding,

Proverbs 3:13

wayofwisdom

ˈwizdəm/

noun

  • the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the quality of being wise.
  • the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.
  • the body of knowledge and principles that develops within a specified society or period.

 

We are living in a time of high volatility.  Every click on the computer and swipe on the phone, causes a reaction, a feeling of threat, or defense, anger, or fear, frustration, or confusion.  People are on high alert and they take their reactivity with them into every day life,  at checkout counters, the doctor’s office, parent-teacher conferences, and on the highway. Events that would have been looked over, now cause a reaction.  People feel free to say unfair, unkind, and untrue statements that create a toxic fume that permeates the atmosphere.  All someone needs to do is a light a match.

This season of unpredictability makes us jumpy and we often find ourselves in a state of reactivity.  It would behoove the world, to move away from being right and into a place of being wise.

Think for a second:  When was the last time you sought wisdom?

Wisdom is different from knowledge. One can be intelligent and not wise.  Wisdom is not seeking answers, it is seeking understanding.  Wisdom comes from experience. It comes from suffering.  It comes from observing. It comes from a place of humility. Wisdom begins by being more connected to God and less connected to the world. – Not that we forget about the world, but rather, we spend less time being driven by it.

We seek wisdom, by finding solitude.  Henri Nouwen wrote:

 “Solitude is the furnace of transformation. Without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false self. Jesus himself entered into this furnace. There he was tempted with the three compulsions of the world: to be relevant (‘turn stones into loaves’), to be spectacular (‘throw yourself down’), and to be powerful (‘I will give you all these kingdoms’). There he affirmed God as the only source of his identity (‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve him alone’). Solitude is the place of the great struggle and the great encounter – the struggle against the compulsions of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers himself as the substance of the new self.”

― Henri J.M. NouwenThe Way of the Heart: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers

The season of Lent is here. The wild month of February has ended, and the liturgical calendar beckons us to come into the wilderness, into a season of solitude.

Solitude is not found at the spa or on the beach,  it’s found within yourself.  It’s found when you quiet your mind, go deeper into yourself, so that you may come out wiser, more self-aware, less reactive, more compassionate. Solitude is found when we fast from that which keeps us from God, and when we feast on that which draws us to Him.

Fast from judgment, Feast on compassion
Fast from greed, Feast on sharing
Fast from scarcity, Feast on abundance
Fast from fear, Feast on peace
Fast from lies, Feast on truth
Fast from gossip, Feast on praise
Fast from anxiety, Feast on patience
Fast from evil, Feast on kindness
Fast from apathy, Feast on engagement
Fast from discontent, Feast on gratitude
Fast from noise, Feast on silence
Fast from discouragement, Feast on hope
Fast from hatred, Feast on love

What does solitude look like?

“In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.” 

― Albert CamusThe Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays

If you want to understand the world, step away from it.

  • Turn off Facebook for 40 Days.
  • Limit your access towhatever your news choice is and allow yourself only the headlines. If you watch one news station that is more to your ilk, read another news choice that is not of your liking. Read enough to understand, but not so much as to be consumed.
  • Take a screen Sabbath.
  • Spend more time creating, get a bird feeder,  bake,  give, read, and be kind to strangers.
  • Take all of the time that you spend worrying, annoyed, frustrated, angry, or sad and turn your energy to your soul and connecting with God and thinking about God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s forgiveness.
  • Be in a more intimate relationship with God than you are with your phone.
  • Every time your mind is triggered with worry or frustration, stop, say a word, and reconnect with the God of all human history.
  • Spend more time thinking about what you for, than what you are against. Spend more energy on love than on hate.  Think on these things.

Once we have spent time in solitude, finding ourselves closer to God, then we are to the world – then and only then, can  we respond to the world.

Take that time in solitude to pray.  Pray for your enemies.  Pray for the liberal. Pray for the conservative. Pray for the immigrant.  Pray for the teacher. Pray for the leader. Pray for your neighbor. Pray for the employer. Pray for the picker. Pray for the reporter. Pray for the parent. Pray for the child. Pray for the water. Pray for the air. Pray for the trees. Pray for the wealthy. Pray for the poor.  Pray for the greedy.  Pray for the generous.  Pray for the church. Pray for the mosque. Pray for the temple.  Pray for the Native American. Pray for the Latino. Pray for the African-American. Pray for the Asian. Pray for the White. Pray for the Gay. Pray for the Straight.  Pray for the married. Pray for the single.  Pray for the lonely. Pray for the homeless. Pray for the hungry. Pray for your enemies.  Pray for those you love.  Pray for people you do not understand. Pray to be understood.

“We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.”
― C.S. LewisThe Weight of Glory

If we can find a way to solitude, we will gain wisdom. If we can gain wisdom, we will know God. If we know God, we will speak the truth not be afraid.  There is a time to be brave. Bravery will come when wisdom is discerned.

You are wiser than you give yourself credit.  After all, God abides in you and you in him.  Seek God and you will know peace.

Next week I will write about finding wisdom in the hardest moments.

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The Wolves We Feed: A Reflection for Inaugeration Day

 

wolf-2Do you remember this Cherokee parable?

A grandfather is talking with his grandson and he says there are two wolves inside of us which are always at war with each other. 

One of them is a good wolf which represents things like kindness, bravery and love. The other is a bad wolf, which represents things like greed, hatred and fear.

The grandson stops and thinks about it for a second then he looks up at his grandfather and says, “Grandfather, which one wins?”

The grandfather quietly replies, the one you feed.

January 20 has become a date that many of us are excited about and many of us dread.

It’s a day that all Americans take pride in, as we celebrate the mark of a peaceful transition from one leader to another. It’s democracy in all of its splendor.

It’s a day of parades and music and poetry.  It’s a day that marks a transition into a new era.

It’s supposed to be a day to feel good about being an American, and for many. many people it will be just that. They will feel very proud and excited and hopeful. It will be a great day.

For others, the day will be a day of fear and uncertainty. It will not be such a great day.

For others, it will be neither a good day or a bad day, but a”wait and see day,” a “give him a chance day.”

It would be great if we all had the same day on January 20, if we all felt equally excited and hopeful. But we know that is not going to happen. We are a divided nation and we really don’t want to try to understand each other.  We really don’t want to take Atticus Finch’s advice and walk around in another person’s shoes.  We are too angry to even try.  We are too angry for the past eight years for failed promises and hallow speeches.  We are too angry at the rhetoric that offends and divides.  Which ever side we are on, the last thing we want to do, is try to understand the other person’s point of view.  But, I wonder, if we could be brave enough to try?  I wonder if we could love our country enough to try to heal it?  I wonder if we could all try to feed the same wolf?

Every single one of us, regardless of our political persuasion has these two wolves living in us.  No one person gets through life without both wolves sleeping in our psyches.  When the wolves wake up, we have a choice of which one we feed.  We alone have the option to be feed fear or bravery.  We have the choice between feeding hatred or kindness.

It’s in us to decide the kind of people we want to be and how we are going to live and treat each other in this world.  We can choose to feed kindness, bravery,  and love, but let it be known that you have to choose to feed it. It’s a choice we make every day. If you do not feed it, it will starve.

I believe that most people, are genuinely good at heart. I believe most people  love their kids and  love this country, and want it to be a country that stands for liberty and justice for all…..We all just may not like each other…but we can still choose to be kind to each other.We may not share the same values, but we can find a way to respect each other in our differences.

We  have to have enough self-resolve to feed the wolves we choose to feed.  No one makes us feed hatred, we choose that. No one makes us feel afraid, we choose that.  No one makes us feel greed, we choose that.  We can choose another path.

If we want to feel better on January 21, we as nation have to decide which wolf we are going to feed.

No matter how you feel on January 20: overjoyed or overwhelmed, that is your truth, and it has value and it matters.

But also know this truth, and be equally proud of this;  it’s a truth we all share:

We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.

 May it be forever so.

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The Pastor’s Christmas Eve

christmas eve

It was Christmas Eve.  It was about midnight and we had just finished the third and final service of the evening. My colleague had just preached, Joy to the World  had been sung and the benediction given. I was greeting people at the door. A woman walked out, shook my hand and said, “that was the worst Christmas Eve sermon I have ever heard, and you can tell him I said that.  People don’t want to hear about war and bad things on Christmas Eve, they want to feel good, not worse.”  I stood there, a freshly minted ordained pastor, and said, “Well, I hope things get better from here.  Merry Christmas!”

It was Christmas Eve. My friend and colleague had just finished a long night of Christmas Eve services.  He came home, had a glass of Merlot, and crawled into bed.  An hour later, his 7-year-old was by his bed saying she didn’t feel well, and proceeded to throw up all over their bedspreads. He spent the rest of the night cleaning sheets and hosing off blankets in their front yard.  The next day we showed up for work at the same time.  “How was your Christmas?”  There was no response.

It was Christmas Eve. I wanted to make sure my kids weren’t short-changed because they had a mom who worked on Christmas Eve. I decided to bake a home-made braided roll. I stood in the kitchen in my black suit and high heels and proceeded to roll dough into three strands. Within minutes I was covered in flour. Covered. Later that night, as the choir sang, “Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella,” I picked dough from underneath my fingernails. The braided roll never made it to the oven.

It was Christmas Eve. My colleague was on the fourth and final service of the evening.  He stood behind the Table with the Bread and the Cup.  He lifted the Cup and said, “This is the Cup of the New Salvation.” Suddenly, one of his contacts fell out of his eye and landed in the Cup of juice and started to float to the surface.  He took his finger and scooped it out, laying it on the Table.  “Do this in remembrance of me.”

It was the end of Christmas Eve.  Families were mingling about and taking pictures by the tree. We were just turning off the lights, when someone handed me a note, written on the back of a giving envelope.  “The church has failed me.  You did not visit my mother enough when she was in rehab. You didn’t pray enough for her.  Merry Christmas.”  Of course, because I take responsibility for everything, I assumed that by “the church,” the writer meant me.  The line,  “you have failed,” “you have failed,” “you have failed” sang in my head so much louder now than the words, “let heaven and nature sing.”  “You have failed.”  Merry Christmas.

The truth is we all fail at Christmas. That’s why we come to the manger every year: to remember grace.  We go in our complete imperfection.  We go as vulnerable as Mary, as stressed as Joseph, as unlikely as the shepherds. We go in our tired, weary, imperfect selves and receive the one thing we need more than anything else, grace, grace, grace.

Every Christmas Eve, pastors try to tell a familiar story in a new way. They try to be traditional and provocative in the same 15 minute sermon. They try to give people what they want, and be true to the Gospel at the same time. They wish, pray, lament and grieve that people will come back the Sunday after Christmas.  They wonder if their words make any difference, or if they should just get out of the way of the candles and the singing of O Holy Night.  They worry a lot about what people said about the service, as if its one more Christmas show they attended, and you hope it’s as good as the “Holiday Extravaganza” they attended last week.

And suddenly we are no longer singing with the angels, “Glory to God in highest heaven!” We are singing, “Glory to ourselves for putting on such an awesome show!”

Lord, have mercy on us.

We have turned Jesus into a movie star, when he was born right in the manure of it all.

I think we diminish his birth, by denying that truth. We diminish his birth by denying that grace.

He was born in the imperfect, tired, violent, bodily fluid, muck of this world and cried, “peace, peace, peace”.

Thank God. Thank God indeed.

 

From Surviving to Living

running jack

And just like that, my life is not my own. Not that it ever really was, but at least I could pretend I was in control for a while. Now that it’s over, I’m back to being at the mercy of some strong force I cannot see,

What’s over?  Why summer, of course.

I have been out of sorts these past few days as I have checked off the checklist:

  • check ups
  • hair cuts
  • forms
  • paper
  • pens, pencils, markers, tape
  • gym shoes
  • open house night, meet the teacher night,
  • wine
  • I think I’m forgetting something….

It’s not the “going back to school” part that makes me irritable. Although I do join in the litany and pray for good teachers, good friends, good health, and good teachers.  It’s not really about the passage of time and my babies being one step closer to leaving home.  After all, letting go is part of life.

What makes me irritable, is the feeling  that as summer ends, I find that I am no longer living, I am surviving.

To live means to have room to rest, play, create, travel, eat, visit, explore, read, and watch sunsets. These are the gifts of summer.

To survive is to just make it through the day, not aware that the sun neither rose, nor set, because your biggest achievement is just getting through it.

We have done this to ourselves. We have allowed the pressure cooker of school calendars, sport calendars, music calendars, and church calendars to push us to the point that we aren’t really living through the day, we are just surviving it.

This mentality sets us up for failure. It turns us inward. It sets us up for feelings of inadequacy, because we can’t have it all together, all of the time.

I don’t even know what “it” is.

Here’s what I do know.

We only get one time around in this life.  We assume that we will have a good 80 to 90 years to get “it” all done. This is an arrogant assumption. We take advantage of the day, thinking that we have a lifetime to live, when really, the only day we have to live, is today.

What would it take for you to live your life, not just survive it?

We have become a society of people surviving, and this will kill us.

It’s impossible to be a living community, when we are all trying to survive individually.

When we are surviving, the mentality is, “what’s in it for me?”  We treat each other as goods and services who are working for or against our personal survival. “They dropped the ball.”  “They didn’t call.”  “They messed up.”  “They sent out the wrong information.”  We forget that all of us desire the same thing: to live more fully.

When we are living, the mentality shifts.  We treat other people as people who have good intentions and trying to do their best.   Living requires loving. And loving always requires grace.

All of us need to know that we have value and worth and are more than just surviving. So be kind to the cashier at Target, the secretary at the junior high, the teacher nobody wants, the cook in the kitchen, the teller at the bank, remembering that we all desire to do more than survive.

Slow down. Nothing has changed.  You still have 24 hours to live your day. May it be full of life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where the Soul Rests

stormy lake

Where the Soul Rests

See this old sign?

It looks pretty beaten up doesn’t it?

Its weathered a few storms,

and survived.

It’s watched vacationers come and go.

watched them

awe at the Eagle,

listen for the loon

be still for the mother deer and her fawn.

This is the place where my soul rests.

It’s the place

where I want my ashes spread

where my truest self is known.

A place of rest and restoration.

A place of peace and imagination.

A place of simple hope.

It’s how I imagine the Kingdom of Heaven to be.

Do you know where your soul rests?

Where your soul is the most content?

Like a yellow lab who always brings back the ball….Where does your soul return?

Think on these things. Think about your soul.

Have you paid attention to it lately?

Do you know where your soul rests?

Beware.

If you go to your soul and you allow yourself to be restored, you will see where you are lacking. Like the missing letters in this old sign, you will see where you have been battered, weathered and worn.

You will see the pain.

The weathering of life.

It’s not the same, but you are still there.

Do you know where your soul rests?

Go there.

And be at peace.

 

 

Make it Sound Like America

Make it Sound Like America.

I heard a recording of Aaron Copland working with an orchestra and conducting his famous piece, Appalachian Spring.  He explained how it should sound this way, “Make it sound like America,  don’t play this like Tchaikovsky, make it sound more bouncy, less sentimental and more…cool.”

I love this piece of music, and sorry to say, I feel very sentimental about it. I walked down the aisle on my wedding day to Simple Gifts. The first movement always makes me cry. (Hit “play” now if you haven’t already).

It was this question, posed to Copland that has gotten me thinking…

How does America Sound?

I know how I want it to sound.

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I want it to sound honest, pure, genuine, gritty, and lovely.

 

 

 

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I want it to sound hopeful, peaceful and life-giving.

 

 

 

 

rainbow in the dessert

 

I want it sound like a rainbow in the desert.

 

morning

 

Like a morning, unblemished.

 

dad's sunset

Like gratitude.

 

This is how I want it sound, and maybe it does some places.

But it also sounds

tired

hungry

pillaged

polluted

plastic

fractured

violent

abused

divided

I do not believe we can hear America without hearing all of it.

Today, on this Fourth of July, as you watch a parade, eat watermelon, wave flags, set up lawn chairs, and hear the sizzle of a fire cracker, listen.  Listen,

How do you think America sounds?

 

 

Seeing Jesus

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My friend gave me her JESUS sign for me to use as an illustration in a  Vacation Bible School class. The story was on the Bartimaeus, a blind man, whom Jesus heals.  Once he is healed, the first person he sees, is Jesus.

None of the kids had ever seen this optical illusion.  Every age group loved the moment that their eyes allowed them to see the word “JESUS.”  “Oh! I see it!” they would say.  “I see it! I see it!  I see Jesus!”  “Do you see it?  Here let me show you…so you he can see him too!”

Vacation Bible School was a month ago, and JESUS is still  in my car.  He’s a quiet passenger, listening in on conversations.

He has driven with me all around town, He has been with me as I have talked on my phone, talked to myself, talked to the radio, and talked to my kids.

He is with me as I leave an early morning Bible study, and hear on NPR that my brothers and sisters in Christ in South Carolina have been murdered, while studying the Word and being in prayer, and tears run down my face, and my only words are “Dear Jesus…”

He is listening in on conversations as I pick my children up from their week of church camp, and I ask them what Bible verse they learned and they tell me that the theme was on Wearing Love and the Fruits of the Spirit, and I think about their spiritual formation and how their formational theology is the message that Christianity is above all about love and acceptance. As I drive them home, sun-kissed and weary from a week of prayer, play and fellowship, I hear them list the Fruits of the Spirit and talk about wearing love, compassion, and kindness, I wonder if they will ever need to defend their beliefs to other card-carrying Christians.  I wonder if some day they will be told that their theology of grace and love is insufficient for their salvation.

I look over at JESUS, and I wonder what he sees.

He is with me as I hear the Supreme Court ruling that legalizes gay marriage and I hear the radio use the word Christian, and I pray, “Dear Jesus, once again we are divided.” I lament that I cannot see how Christians will ever be one in the Spirit and one in the Lord.

I look over at JESUS, and I wonder what he sees.

Could it be that when we look at each other, we have not quite trained our eyes, because if we could look beyond black and white,  we would see JESUS?

I realize there is only way for us to see Jesus. It’s Grace. Not flimsy, cheap, pithy grace, but deep, abiding, amazing grace, that sees our wretched, sinful, violent selves and saves us all despite of ourselves.

Dear Jesus,

Help me to see grace. Help me to see grace in myself and in others. Help me to lean into grace. Help me to be an example of grace to others.  Help me to see you in the daily.  So often I cannot see you, because I am too judgmental, or angry, or afraid. Sometimes in the wake of violence, I doubt if you are really there.  But then I see grace, and I believe.   Give me the eyes to see you. Give me the joy of a child when you reveal yourself to me. Give me such enthusiasm, that I cannot wait to exclaim, “Oh! Now I see Him!”

Amen.

Mean People

“People are just mean.”  Have you heard that before?  “People are just mean?” Like somehow that excuses or permits or allows for mean people to go on being mean.

I don’t buy it. I don’t think people are just mean. I think they learn to be mean. I think they say really mean things to themselves. I think they are hurting.  But I don’t think they are just mean.

But, man, people can really be mean.  Have you seen those mean text videos that Jimmy Kimmel has celebrities read on his show? Yikes. They are awful.

I had to post this picture of my favorite mean girl. The mean girl of all mean girls: Nelly Olson!

r-MEAN-GIRLS-3-large570At the end of the school year, my eleven year old daughter, started acting funny. My daughter’s friends noticed it before I did. She started acting withdrawn and quiet. Her stomach hurt. She wanted to quit ballet. She wanted to quit singing. She was grumpy and irritable. I called her ballet teacher and told him she was ready to quit.

He sat down with her, asked her what was wrong, and she melted into a puddle of tears. Someone had put a note in her cubby at school and wrote, “You suck at dancing and singing.” Nice.  She didn’t know what to do. It threw her off course. She had internalized it and owned it and was ready to believe it.

What it is about our tender psyche’s that allow us to remember put downs and insults longer than compliments and affirmations?  Why do we give cruelty more power than kindness?  Could it be because when people are cruel, we feel threatened and so we go into that reptilian part of the brain and either want to fight or fly? Could it be that cruelty is more toxic in our brains, and therefore harder to clean up?

We all have our personal stories of mean people who spew out cruel comments, that stay with us. I remember one time a parishioner called me and said she had to tell me something for my own good and then proceeded to tell me what an awful preacher I was.  She just thought I needed to know that I was the worst preacher she ever heard and that I should do something with my hair. It took me far too long to get her comments out of my head, and to figure out what to do with my hair.

Ignoring them is not the answer, because clearly they have not been ignored.  Their voice has found their way into the psyche. Fighting back is not the answer, because it takes way too much energy, and they aren’t worth it.

How do we help our children respond to mean people and cruel comments?

The only way I think we can counter cruelty in our world is by responding with sympathy and empathy. Remembering that cruel comment says more about them and their pain than it does about us. Jesus said to pray for our enemies.  I wonder what would happen if we taught our children and ourselves to respond to mean notes and cyber bullying etc. by suggesting that they pray for that mean kid. I wonder if we could model a prayer that went something like this:

Dear Loving God,

I’m having a hard time today. My feelings are hurt and I’m offended. Someone made fun of me, criticized me and now I feel self-conscious. I don’t like this feeling God and I need your help in getting this yucky feeling out of my mind. Help me to remember that you made me and love me just the way I am.

And God, about that mean person, I know you made them too. I  know you love them and I know you understand what thoughts they have going on in their minds. God, would you enter their thoughts and shine light in their darkness? Help them to not feel they have to tear other people down in order to build themselves up.  Help me to not feel I have to do the same. Help me to  make sure I am a light for those who are in dark places. Help me to move on from this moment and give you more power than anyone or anything else.

Amen

Growing A Person: A Devotional for the Final Days of School

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I planted an herb garden from seed.  I chose a good spot with plenty of sun and found fresh soil and fertilizer. I dug holes and placed seeds deep into the earth and covered them with care.  I water a patch of dirt every day, knowing something is under there and I assume beginning to take root.  I hope I did everything right, so that pretty soon I will have cilantro, rosemary, parsley, and sunflowers.  It’s possible, however, that by the end of the summer, I will still be watering a big patch of dirt.

When I was pregnant with each of my children, I read the book, “What to Expect When You are Expecting,” and kept a pregnancy journal.  Every day, or at least once a week, I would turn the page and learn that the bump in my belly was growing toenails and eye lashes and a brain. I ate lots of protein and vegetables, took prenatal vitamins, tried to eliminate stress, and drank tons of water.  I tried to do everything right.

Little did I know that once that seed was born, that that was just the beginning.

It was time to grow a person.

Growing a person is a lot like growing a garden.  It can’t be neglected, or it will grow wild and be overcome with weeds. It can’t be overly manicured, or it won’t be able to show its full beauty. It needs to be rooted in good earth. It needs room to grow. It needs time and patience, and the belief that there is something there that will bloom, even though you can’t see it.

I think we parent/gardeners  put a lot of pressure on ourselves to do everything right; to provide everything our children need so they won’t struggle and will only succeed.

The only way to grow a person is to step back and let them struggle. You are right there, watching them work through whatever challenge they are facing and there is nothing you can do, because the only way to grow, is to struggle.  That is dark side of parenting nobody warns you about.

You will not do everything right, because dear one, you are still growing too. It would be behoove us to remember that there is a Master Gardner at work on all of us.

Let the seeds take root. Let the sun do its work. Let the rain come. Pay attention. Stand back, be patient, and watch them grow.

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