Monday, March 31, 2008

ch-ch-ch-changes

Yes. It is possible.

This past week was a challenging one for me. I was battling some form of exhaustion which left me weak in body and mind and spirit. Nevertheless, I had French classes to attend and lots of other commitments and pages of stuff to accomplish and in the midst of all that, a few situations happened that brought out the worst in me. At times like that I wonder just how much progress I have made in becoming a more mature and compassionate and spiritual person. Yes, Jesus has touched me, but I still occasionally battle with petty thoughts and immature attitudes and tantrums that any 9-year-old would be ashamed to admit to.

Someone prayed for me just over a week ago, asking that I would have more grace for myself, and that was my mantra all week...grace, grace, grace. To just walk one step forward at a time, live one moment at a time, grabbing hold of as much grace as I could reach from my lowly position and falling headlong into grace when I could not stand anymore. I prayed and pleaded and reminded God that I no longer wanted these nagging negative condemning angry thoughts running through my mind, tainting relationships and souring precious moments when I acted out on them.

Knowing I was not in the best state of mind or body, I determined not to be reactionary, but to be deliberately patient with myself and others, looking for the good and true in every situation. I staggered through a few shaky days, trying to practice graciousness where I normally would have been frustrated and pained. It was hard work, but I felt I was learning. I made a few errors, said a few things I should not have, got caught in some tornadoes of tormenting thoughts, but got back on track. Yes, some progress was being made. Thank God!

Then, last night at church, I encountered the type of situation that in the past had always caused me to feel like someone was stabbing me in the heart. I was prepared to do battle with the barrage of negative emotions and thoughts that I knew would come my way. The triggering actions were the same: people neglected to do things that were very important to me, and that should have greatly disappointed me, but I felt nothing. I was calm, smiling at the strangeness of events, not mentally distancing myself from anyone nor piling wound upon hurt upon pitiful self-righteousness. I was at peace. I kept no track of wrongs done. I adjusted my plans to suit the occasion and went on as if nothing was amiss, enjoying the moment. I found myself being uncharacteristically generous and truthful and light of heart.

And it undid me. How did this change happen? How could a destructive pattern that I have been struggling to bring under control for most of my life suddenly and inexplicably disappear from my being? It was like losing 50 pounds with one swift swish of a blade. I felt light and giddy and every so often would stop and look around, half expecting the dead weight to appear again - I had become so accustomed to it leeching off my soul. But even through a brutal game of Dutch Blitz where I was beaten at pretty much every round (a sure trigger for resentment in the past), the grace continued to anchor me to peace and security and truth and genuine delight in the company of those sitting around the table with me, no matter what the outcome was. I asked Dean if he had ever seen me act like that in such a setting, and he truthfully answered, "No."

I am still not perfect, but I know dramatic positive change is possible. I am a recipient of grace and mercy beyond anything I deserved or expected. I do not know precisely how healing comes to touch us, but I want to put myself in a position to experience it over and over again. I will pursue it with a heartfelt and beckoning, "Yes," on my lips, even before I know what it requires of me.

Nothing is impossible with this God, this one who has loved me to himself.

This is a photo of some very vintage wallpaper at St. Stephen's University in St. Stephen, New Brunswick. Someday it will be changed as well.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

what is it?

My French class had a party yesterday. We ate lots of ethnic food, played some games, sang French songs, listened to some students talk about their hobbies, and then they had a draw for prizes. I ended up with this lovely item pictured here. The only problem is, I have no idea what it is. At first I thought it was a candle holder, but I don't have any pointy upside down triangle candles that would fit. Plus, they would drip horribly through the silver wire. It can't be a vase because flowers have long stems. I guess I could balance an orange or apple on top of the two cones, but what would be the point? It is not a toothpick or chopstick holder nor a napkin or raisin reservoir. It could obviously be used as a cat toy but I don't think that is its intended purpose. A decorative trumpet-ish thingy perhaps? I don't know. What do you think?

There are a bunch of situations in my life right now that I just feel clueless about. I am learning to give myself grace to be less than all-knowing and all-capable all the time. It is a hard place to get to, this grace spot, and especially difficult to stay in when everything and everyone is screaming for an answer and looking for action (including me).

Grace, you are my friend, a gift from the benevolent one. Let me take hold of you and your weightless but oh so substantial and all-encompassing cloak and tarry with your gentle and gracious presence a good long while. At least until the screaming subsides.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

meltdown

I am tired today. It has been just a few too many days in a row filled with non-stop activities and large groups of people and lots of stimulation and a few things going wrong. I love all of it (except the things going wrong), but it takes a toll on someone like me who is not naturally an extrovert, but can act extrovertedly sometimes. In fact, I overextended myself to the point of having a bit of a meltdown. Pretty ugly one, too. On Sunday night, I felt a haze of anger and frustration come over me and I did not have the strength to fight it off. Or perhaps I did and simply made the choice not to. People were gracious enough to forgive my outburst of inappropriate words and actions and prayed for me (we were at church, after all ). I knew I was overtired and had not eaten properly, so I went home and got some sleep and ate a meal or two and thought that was the end of it.

But - whammo - last night I felt the unwelcome frustration come at me again at the end of a long day of running around. I managed to avoid an emotional train wreck, but was pretty disturbed at my state of mind. Why why why? I asked myself. If grace and love and forgiveness and mercy and faith only work when I am well-rested and my blood sugar is good, that is pretty sad. I knew my energy levels were low. I knew I had not eaten a decent meal. I knew I was physically tired. I knew I was annoyed at losing over and over again at some silly game, but those were just peripheral facts, or rather, excuses. Nevertheless, as far as I could figure out, it was probably a food issue - I really crash hard sometimes when my energy levels drop.

This afternoon after French class (during which I could not seem to form one correct sentence...arghhhh), I sat down with my Bible, read a few pages to get some perspective on life, and asked God about this latest inadequacy on my part. What was lacking in me? He confirmed that, yes indeed, it was a food issue, but not really a physical one. The problem that I encounter when I am surrounded by many people and involved in lots of activities is that I don't take the time to feed my spirit. I just keep going, fed by the excitement or demand of it all. And when I hit empty, I come to a screeching halt and can only serve up what is scraping around the bottom of my soul, the dregs of an imperfect personality: frustration, annoyance, anger, impatience, perfectionism...you get the point.

A lady in my French class gets up at 5 am every morning to prepare food for her family - fresh, homemade, wholesome food made from scratch, never leftover from the day before. It is amazing the amount of energy and effort some of us expend to feed our bodies. But how much time do we spend at the table nourishing our spirits? I don't know about you, but I sure could use a good meal right about now.

You led me to your banquet room and showered me with love.
from Song of Solomon 2 (Contemporary English Version)

You serve me a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies. You revive my drooping head; my cup brims with blessing. Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I'm back home in the house of God for the rest of my life.
from Psalm 23 (The Message)

This is a stairway in Port Dalhousie, Ontario, taken during a walk on Easter weekend.

Friday, March 21, 2008

easter weekend

We are currently in Ontario spending the Easter weekend with friends. I was introduced to Guitar Hero (woohoo I ROCK!) and renewed my skills at Dance Dance Revolution (now able to get by on the hard setting to some degree). We attended a Good Friday service this morning and then I had a nap because the late night driving was catching up with me. I had an interesting dream just before I woke up.

I was walking down the sidewalk of a long street. Then I encountered high snow which made the sidewalk impassable. I figured I would step into the street. An ambulance was parked in the street as some sort of commotion was going on. There were several high plastic recycle-type bins blocking my access to the street. I clambered over the yellow bins and jumped onto the street. The ambulance attendants called over to me that I should not have done that. Those yellow bins were filled with toxic waste. Oops. I didn't know.

It was one of those dreams that you are sure is trying to tell you something but you really don't know what.

What toxic waste am I supposed to avoid? What are the obstacles in my way? What crisis is touching my life right now? And how do they all relate?

I don't know. There are 10 people in the house and I feel like I need some quiet space to think and talk to God. Must go find it.

This is a brave stray cat we saw outside of Chez Cora one morning.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

so I was having a beer with the Foo Fighters...

No, this was not a dream. Dean called me yesterday to let me know that he had just been given tickets to the Foo Fighters concert that night at the Bell Centre (where the Canadiens play hockey). Arghghghhhhh, it was one of those days and I was tired and grouchy and weepy and discouraged and overwhelmed and not all in the mood for listening to really loud music, sitting with screaming fans, and then making fake chat-chat with famous people.

You see, we had backstage passes since Dean knows one of the musicians who plays Hagstrom guitars, a product of Dean's company. Well, it seemed that Dean wanted my less than fun company anyway, so away we went. Our tickets led us to pretty much the best seats one could have - seats being the operative word here since we could have been closer, but it would have been in the fenced-in, free for all, herd-like standing arrangement on the floor in front of the stage. Thankfully, we were sitting on actual seats, stage left, second row up from the floor. Sweet.

We saw it all: side stage techs doing their stuff, security guys nabbing and escorting crowd surfers out, press photographers squeezed up against the stage, and I guess most importantly, the lead singer strutting and strumming and screaming and spitting and singing.

The concert was pretty good I must say, especially their acoustic set, even though I do not own one Foo Fighters cd and only recognised a few of their songs. After the music stopped and the stage hands were dismantling the whole set-up in short order, we were escorted backstage to the dressing rooms along with a dozen or so other people. I was content to let Dean make his contacts, do his schmoozing thing, chat up the stars and just let me sit in a corner.

We walked in and Dean found his way to his guitar guy, Pat, and started a conversation. Since I was close-by and Dean is so polite, he introduced me as well and Pat asked if we wanted drinks. Dean said a soft drink would be fine and Pat rolled his eyes and looked at me, asking if I would like a boozy drink. I hesitated, not sure what I wanted, so he took that as an affirmative, grabbed my hand, and dragged me into the next room where a table was set out with various drinks. I refused a whisky (ew, it just tastes awful and I thought choking sounds might be slightly less than polite in that setting) and had a Coors Light thrust into my hand. It was ice cold and I was really thirsty, so I opened it and wandered around, sipping and observing.

I got introduced to the keyboard player at one point, then Pat and Dean found each other and went off to chat again. I ducked in to check out what they were doing, and Pat motioned me over to grab a seat and there we were, sitting in the lounge, listening to some chill music surrounded by the band members and a few other folks. The lead singer was only a few feet away from us, gesturing and talking it up with some people, so I leaned over and asked Dean, "What's his name? Is that rude, me being here backstage and not even knowing the lead singer's name?" I hoped not.

His name is Dave. He used to play for Nirvana. He has won several Grammys. And he just played in front of nearly 9,000 people.

Sitting there, sipping my boozy drink, I took a moment to invite God to come and make himself known to these people in whatever way they would recognise. And then I remembered that Pat had told us how his favourite Hagstrom custom guitar disappeared at the Montreal airport when they arrived. So I asked God to bring that guitar back and to show himself as the God who restores. I prayed the same prayer again today. Well, it does not hurt to ask. Thanks for the beer, Pat, and I will continue to pray that the lost may be found.

This is a picture of the Foo Fighters in concert in Montreal, March 17, 2008.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

sacrifice

Dean is back on this continent again. Yes! I picked him up from the airport this afternoon and he was in good spirits despite having had very little sleep in the past 5 days due to overnight flights and time zone changes and mondo meetings at his trade show. It was no surprise that after we had a chance to talk and smooch, he grabbed a quick bite to eat and then spent most of the evening on the couch sleeping. A friend of mine just called and asked if we were attending a party a mutual friend of ours was having tonight. I responded in the negative, citing Dean's recent return and his exhaustion. Sigh. I would like to be at the party. Sometimes sacrifice sucks.

Really, sacrifice sucks all the time. That's why they call it sacrifice. No one goes, "Woohoo, let's get our sacrifice on!" I have never heard, "I don't have enough sacrifice in my life." Who would ever say, "I would like to pursue a career in sacrifice?" And yet, sacrifice is part of our lives. We cannot do or have everything, so we have to choose which sacrifices we will make. Any relationship requires a lot of sacrifice if it is going to flourish and grow. Most days those sacrifices are easy, especially the big ones, because they are so obviously noble and right and we are doing it for someone we love. It is the little sacrifices that sometimes wear on me, like going to a restaurant or a movie that my mate prefers. Like adjusting my plans to someone elses. Like staying home instead of going out tonight.

At times like this when I am tempted to focus on the inconvenience and annoyance of it all, I remember the sacrifices that have been made for me. The trip to Cuba that we took in February was our third escape to the Caribbean. Dean has a hyper sensitivity to the sun and easily gets overheated. He actually breaks out in hives when he is in a hot climate for too long and therefore spends every afternoon in the air-conditioned rooms at these resorts while I lounge on the beach or at the pool. I recently asked him why we went to a sunny, hot location for our vacation when he might be more comfortable in a cooler locale. He said it was because he knew how much I loved the beach and the warmth. Wow! He did break out in hives on our last day in Cuba, but he never complained, just asked me to get him another pina colada with lots of ice.

So really, spending a quiet evening at home listening to my husband's deep breathing in the next room while I blog is not a bad way to spend a Saturday night after all.

This is the beach at Cayo Santa Maria at sunrise.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

pasta lesson

I am challenged in certain areas of inter-personal and social skills. Embarrassing sometimes, really. I don't know why talking to certain types of people is so easy for some and so difficult for me. I was asking God about this last night and he reminded me of the pasta man in Cayo Santa Maria.

There was a guy who made pasta to your specifications at the buffet in the Cuban resort we were at in February. I decided to have the pasta for lunch one day and noticed that the man was training a young guy for the job. The experienced pasta man stood to the side while I instructed the young fellow on which ingredients to put in my sauce (just pointed at stuff because my Spanish is no good and I didn't know how well he spoke English). While the sauce was simmering, he scooped the spaghetti into a bowl to dump it in boiling water. He took one scoop. Then he took a second scoop. Oh boy, I really didn't need a second scoop. I am not a huge eater and hate wasting food, but I bit my tongue and decided just to let him do his thing because he was new. The older pasta man jumped in at this point and wagged a long finger at me while yelling animatedly at his young colleague.

"Look at her face. Just look at her face! It is too much!" The pasta man scooped out half of the noodles and let the young man finish my dish, adding more instructions in Spanish about keeping your eyes on the customer, at least that's what it sounded and looked like to me.

I was immediately struck by the force of what he had said and felt an exclamation mark hovering over the scenario, like God was saying...pay attention to what just happened here.

In the past few weeks I have failed quite a few times in how I interact with people. Many times I am oblivious to how my actions are affecting those around me. Other times when I do see how people respond, I fail to do anything about it, frozen by the fear that it might become a messy situation if I address it and assume it is just better to leave things alone, brush them off as if they did not happen or are no big deal. And this is how one overlooks the weak, the needy and all their subtle cries for help. This is how one never has the courage to address misunderstandings and deepen friendships by walking through conflict in love. This is how denial becomes part of ones modus operandi. This is how my inner turmoil gets worse instead of finding a healthy way of being working out.

Look at their faces! All those people God has put around me. I must see them, look at them, and notice what is written on their faces. Then I must have the courage to do something about it, change my patterns of behaviour, and become a servant.

Easier said than done. God help me in this one.

This is a picture from Remedios, Cuba.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

the pile

Things pile up. Snow. Troubles. Meetings. Appointments. Garbage. Dirt. That's just life.This week I have activities 6 nights in a row and am stealing a few moments just before I leave for home group to write something here and eat a delayed lunch. I have not cleaned my house in 12 days (don't jump to conclusions, the cat litter is still scooped out daily). My car developed a strange noise last week which resulted in two lengthy trips to the mechanic and many an insightful but unplanned hour spent reading in the garage waiting room. More inspectors and my builder tracked through my house snapping pictures of all things crooked and cracked. I did two airport runs and will do another one in 3 days. I had my supposed-to-be-annual trip to the doctor where I gave him samples of bodily fluids and let him poke and prod me (everything in excellent shape, he told me). It was a snowy day so the nurse doing the blood tests was stuck in her driveway and the doctor had to do the needlework himself which was an interesting experience for both of us (let me just say...tiny veins!) and this double duty delayed everything in his office by an hour or so. Oh, and shovelling snow, of course, so that we could actually use the front steps again, was squeezed in there somewhere.

Not that I am complaining (well, to be honest, I am, but I am trying to write words that reflect the attitude I would like to have). The dull, heavy, wet and gross-smelling blanket of discouragement seems common this time of year. Thankfully, Jesus has been saying these words to me this past week:

Do not be discouraged.
Do not be impatient.
Be thankful while you wait.
I am your summer.

Yep, mankind has become pretty good at snow removal so that society can function to a workable degree, but we can never change the season. Only God can do that. And we have to trust that he will. This season of discouragement and stagnancy (insert your own situation here) is not permanent. So go ahead, laugh at that snow in your driveway; mock the ice on your stairs, for they will cease to exist in a short time (wow, can you tell I've been reading the old testament prophets?). But God's goodness and faithfulness and care for his children in a loving and kind manner will go on forever.

This is a photo of me with some strange hair shape (due to sunglasses) squinting (or sleeping) in front of the snow pile right beside my house at the end of the street. Many road signs are illegible due to the incredible amount of snow. So hey, it is perfectly normal to feel like you have lost your way a bit. But just stay on track, you'll be okay. Oh, and the pile is actually bigger than it looks because I am standing a few feet in front of it so the perception is that I am slightly larger than I am. A delusion I am happy to propagate, as you know. Okay, okay, stopping with the endless comments and getting ready for home group.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

smoking angels

Despite a snow storm of epic proportions yesterday, Dean and I decided (mostly Dean) to go ahead with our plans for the day. We bought shoes for Dean (pretty much the only customers in the store), stopped by to pick up a friend and then went out to dinner downtown, our window table offering views of snowplows and people on their cross country skis passing by on the city sidewalk. After that we caught the subway and headed off to a swing club to learn some new moves and have some fun. The band that was supposed to play that night never made it, but the club manager cranked up the cd's and the group of 20 or so had a great time. The dance instructor said he was going to dance with every lady there that evening if they were up for it, so I allowed him to twist and turn and vault me around the dance floor while I giggled with delight. I have only had three beginner dance lessons but he made me look good.

We got back to our car and started the long drive home which Dean saw as more of an adventure than an ordeal. Halfway home, we pulled into a gas station to clear the ice off the windshield wipers so that we could see where we were going. We noticed that other drivers opted to do this in the middle of the road...interesting concept. The roads were pretty bad; several inches of snow piled into ruts, no clear delineation of lanes, and on top of that, gusts of wind that made visibility virtually zero at times. Nevertheless we drove on at speeds varying from 30 to 70 km/h, not encountering any big trouble. When we pulled into our development, it was with a bit of relief that we were finally home. Not so fast, Matte.

After we turned the corner past the community mailboxes, we saw that the road had not been cleared. Dean grabbed the steering wheel with both hands, set his face like flint, and barrelled in. A truck had left some tracks so we knew it could be done. However, upon rounding a curve, we saw a red car stuck in front of us. Dean got out and tried to help the fellow who appeared not to have snow tires as he got stuck every ten feet or so. He got out of his car three times to shovel and then rocked his car back and forth several times to gain a few feet. The red car guy finally managed to get into his driveway and out of our way and Dean put down the pedal and we rounded the final corner swerving but not stopping. We were going to make it! Then we got to our driveway and saw the drifts that had accumulated there. Oh boy! Dean gave it a good try, but the car just could not clear 2 feet of snow and it got really stuck, the front axle hung up on the packed snow.

I ran inside the garage and grabbed some shovels. I started to clear a path to the garage while Dean attempted to free the car. We dug around it and underneath it and still it didn't budge, no matter how hard Dean pushed. We were halfway in the street and halfway in our driveway and could not leave it there. Dean and I both got on our bellies and took small garden tools and clawed at the snow to free the undercarriage. Nothing seemed to work. Dean was getting frustrated as it was 2 am by now and we were both tired and wet and cold. I started to pray out loud, asking God to send some angels to get the car out because there was no way I could see the two of us accomplishing this task. There was just too much snow and not enough manpower.

A few minutes later I saw the city plow come down the street. We were right in its path so I waved to make sure he saw us. He stopped and stood looking at us for a bit, then backed up and went on to a side street. A few minutes later he was back and I knew we had to move in order for him to clear the street but we really couldn't. From somewhere, a snow removal tractor appeared on the scene. He pulled right up to our car and told us to stand back. He used his snow blower to clear a path around the car, then he and the city snow plow man got out and with me behind the wheel, the three men pushed the car into the street with a few good shoves. The snow removal guy then cleared our driveway and I drove the car into the garage like it was a summer day (relatively speaking). The city plow finished clearing the street and within a minute, the snow moving men and their machines were both gone.

That was the only sign of trucks and tractors that we saw in our area that night. What were the chances of TWO snow removal professionals showing up at our driveway at 2 am in the morning right when we needed them?

Previous to last night, I did not know that angels spoke French and smoked cigarettes. But I did and do know that God takes very good care of us.

This is a picture of my car in the driveway yesterday...not the car we got stuck, but you get the idea. Just add 30 more centimeters of snow.

Friday, March 07, 2008

the treat

video
Tea is 6 years old today. I bought her a special tuna treat made especially for cats by IAMS (good quality stuff, people). When I placed the delicacy on a dish and set it in front of her, she just sniffed and stared at it, occasionally pawing at it like she would a toy mouse. You must understand that Tea was abandoned as a kitten (before she was found by a kind family who gave her to us) and as a result, feels she will never have enough food and eats everything in sight, including fuzz on the floor, paper ribbons, and all the tasty bits she can steal from the plates of Jazz or Dean or myself. Today, she just eyed the tuna in sauce like it was an odd new addition to the kitchen floor. For some reason, she did not recognise it as food.

We were watching a video of John Wimber on Wednesday night and he was speaking about his journey to experience God as a healer, which included praying for peoples' healing for almost a year without results. One of the insights God gave him was that His mercy is available for all. He has set everything in place, made all the provision, done everything that needs to be done, and come in the person of Jesus who embraced life and death in order for us to experience restoration and healing in our lives. And yet so few of us live there in a significant way. Why? Has God failed to include a vital piece of information or neglected to complete the task? No. Is He not willing and able? Yes, He is both. The problem is on our end. Tainted by sin and selfishness and deception, we are disappointingly unskilled in appropriating redemption. We do not see it, cannot smell its soul-watering aroma, walk right past it and wonder why there is nothing there, brush off its nudges in irritation because it feels like a bothersome stranger bumping against us, no doubt trying to relieve us of our precious pocket change or at the very least waste our time.

I am tired of being a stranger to healing and restoration. I am tired of my senses being overstimulated by this brash consumer culture that craves instant gratification, making me insensitive to meekness and humility which attract God and His blessings. I am tired of saying I want healing and mercy and in the next moment flicking it off when it lands on me because it is heavy and sticky and uncomfortable and not in the colour I asked for. I am tired of thinking that these incredible gifts that the most benevolent God bestows on us all come without responsibilities or consequences. I am tired of trying to skip the steep learning curve that redemptions hurls me into. And when I get tired enough, I hope I will finally give up, lie down, and accept it.

Jazz, notoriously picky in her eating habits, cantered up to the dish of tasty tuna cat food as soon as she smelled it and finished off Tea's birthday treat in short order while Tea stood by and watched, puzzled. Open your mouth and be satisfied.

Here I am in 2 of my more interesting roles: not letting sleeping cats lie and feline interpreter.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

relating

Saturday night I was talking to a friend of mine; not just an ordinary friend, but one of those rare humans that you can say anything to. No matter what I reveal about myself, she still gazes at me with large, wondrous eyes which somehow always manage to be filled with delight and sheer pleasure at being in my company. She is also astonishingly honest and insightful.

I was telling her that I was having trouble relating to someone and I didn't know why. Every time I get around this other person I figuratively and sometimes literally, stand there with my mouth open and shake my head, wondering why they do the things they do. Their behaviour, language and mannerisms just seem so odd to me, and I know the lack of understanding on my part is not helping the relationship any. Sometimes I feel guilty about my thoughts, like they are bordering on judgments. Other times I think I am discerning some issues that might be under the surface. Some of my reactions resemble pettiness and bitterness (it pains me to admit - ouch) while on some occasions I pray for this person with great compassion and clarity. It is all so muddled, this deep desire to embrace others and this small-minded insistence that they conform to some arbitrary level of sensibility that I have established, that I cannot see or think straight about it.

My friend stopped me short in my confession/justification speech and said, "Is it about relating to people or is it about loving people?" See, I had no answer for that. She just sliced to the heart of the matter. I cannot relate to everyone. I never will. So what? Jesus asks me to enlarge my heart to love. As soon as my friend uttered the "L" word, I could sense Jesus tugging at my heart, asking me to let the "others" in, the ones not like me, the ones I don't "get." Insisting that I understand and relate to people before I love them is just a feeble excuse to keep them out of my life. Love has no conditions like this. Love just loves.

This is Dean and myself walking along the beach in Cuba, relating and loving in the same moment. Stupendous!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

dis-appoint

We had a girls' night yesterday and amidst six-minute pizzas and creating silly videos while wearing strange hats and munching on decadent banana chocolate pecan bread, we talked about fantasy. I admitted to having a mind that loves to create scenarios of how things could go, usually perfectly or terribly, best case or worst case scenarios. I imagine details of events, relationships, social or church gatherings, and the occasional stint as a world-famous artist. Some of it is pretty harmless and excellent fuel for fiction writing, but some of it could drag me into a vicious cycle of not dealing well with disappointment.

THE CYCLE

1. Disappointment. We all encounter this in life, but what do we do with it?
2. Denial. One way of coping with disappointment is to deny the impact the event had on us. After all, it seems weak and embarrassing and immature to admit that some person's actions or not getting that job made me cry for an hour. So I tell myself it is no big deal. I fail to address the issue and create an alternate scenario, one that casts me a person of strong character, able to brush off these hurtful episodes as minor annoyances. It makes me look and feel better, at least that's what I hope.
3. Embellishment. Unfortunately, this alternate scenario where I am invincible and not affected by circumstances leads to embellishment, an unrealistic view of who I am and how I interact with my world.
4. Substitution. Instead of addressing the issue, I then turn to something else, wrongly believing that in some way I am moving on. I substitute someone or something else for the very thing that has disappointed me. If our mate is less than all we had hoped, we can substitute other people to try to fill that void. This is how affairs and divorces happen. Masturbation and prostitution are prime examples of substituting immediate gratification for real intimacy and lasting relationship. A job may be unfulfilling so we look somewhere else to feel challenged and successful (e.g. gambling).
5. Disappointment. Substitution always leads to disappointment because it is not the real thing and it has not taken care of that underlying pain. It is a temporary reprieve that can have some pretty devastating consequences in the long run. And so the cycle continues.

So, how are we to deal with disappointment when it comes our way?

THE WAY OUT

1. In humility, know who we are. We must get real. Ask God to show us what is going on in our hearts. Ask good and truthful friends to be straight with us about what they see in our lives, about how we handle tough situations.
2. Know the difference between what is a solid foundation and what are shifting situations in life. Do not confuse the two. As an example, a job is a shifting situation. If I place all my hopes on securing a certain dream job and believe this will make me happy, I am setting myself up for disappointment. Employment is not an immovable foundation. God is the only solid foundation. Certain people can be strong pillars in our lives as well and I should know whom I can trust with my vulnerability and whom I cannot. Rest assured, some people and circumstances will fail me. Do not place unrealistic expectations on temporary, shifting situations.
3. Trust God with all those areas of disappointment. Clean them out and don't let them become seeds for an unhealthy fantasy life, fuelling the never ending cycle of unreality that keeps us stuck where we are. Deal with the issues and the disappointments, don't ignore them.

We ended the evening with green tea and getting real by praying for and helping each other deal with those personal nagging areas of disappointment. God was most gracious to flood the evening with His spirit and a wonderful mix of peacefulness and excitement rested on the girls there that night. Really.

This is a picture of a street in Remedios, Cuba.