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Traveling Light

My husband and I just got back from a three-week vacation to Europe.  We travelled through Italy and down the Adriatic coast.  Part of the time we were in hotels or houses we rented and the other time we were on a cruise ship.  We took planes, boats and trains. Before leaving, it was hard to make a decision about what to take with us–you never know when you might need that extra shirt or dress, right.  The weather looked like it was going to be cold and rainy for the first part of the trip and warm and sunny later.   And we hadn’t been on a cruise ship for 20 years.  It was so different from the way we usually travel; we just felt the urge to throw one more thing in that we might need.  Enough excuses, but I am sure if you have ever travelled for an extended time, some of you might identify with this dilemma.  Despite the good advice we received from more seasoned travelers here in this congregation about how to travel light, we ended up taking one very large check on bag each, plus a duffel bag to carry on the plane. 

All went well on the plane but when we got to our first train ride, we couldn’t find anywhere to stash the big bags.  They were heavy and didn’t fit in the luggage rack above the seats.  Then when we landed in Florence (in the rain no less) we had to maneuver the bags over cobble stone streets, taking twist and turns for about a half hour before we found our apartment.  And of course, there was no elevator and it was on the second floor.  Then we moved from Florence to Venice on a train. 

This went smoother as it had a luggage rack between the cars but as we landed in Venice (again in the rain) we had to not only deal with cobblestone but with bridges that had steps rather than ramps.  We must have been a sorry sight indeed, getting wet and dragging luggage that weighed about 50 pounds, not counting the duffels that kept falling off the top of the big bag.  We had to haul these bags up and over four bridges before we found our hotel.  I must have really looked pathetic because a nice Italian gentleman offered to help me negotiation one of the bridges by taking my bag and lifting it over the bridge.  Either that or he wanted to impress his girlfriend who was walking with him by helping out an old lady.  Guess the boy scout in him got activated.

To make matters worse, there were no straight streets in either of these cities.  We would begin a direction that we thought would take us to our destination only to end up with a building facing us and the need to choose between two forks in the road.  Street names changed and were hard to find. At times the GPS we relied on seemed to be as completely lost as we were.  It was really a challenge to navigate at times. 

In today’s gospel, Jesus gives seventy-two of his disciples marching orders to go on a mission.  Let’s take a look at his instructions for going on this journey.  First, He tells them to travel light and not to worry about what they are going to need for the trip.  They were not to take money, extra clothes or sandals.  Good advice for travelers.  We were told to travel light as well and wish we had taken that advise.  However, Jesus’ advice for travel is what I call extremely light!

Second, Jesus encourages them to stay with the first people who invites them into their house.  He told them not to change houses once they were invited in, encouraging them to make do with whatever accommodations they found themselves in.  No complaining about the food or the bed or trying to find a better house.  This trip was not about being in the best house but focused on spreading the Gospel.

Third, they were told to not be picky about food that is given to them.  They would be staying among Jews and Samaritans, maybe even Gentiles, some of whom practiced the Jewish laws of cleanliness and food preparation but some who might not follow these laws at all. They were told to “eat and drink whatever was set before them for workers deserve their pay.” 

Fourth, they were told not to worry about the end results of their preaching.  They were to grant peace to the house that received them and to give them the news that the Kingdom of God has come.  They were to bless those people who listened to their message and heal the sick in that area.  When their message was rejected, they were to make this public statement “As a complaint against you, we brush off the dust of your city that has collected on our feet. But know this: God’s kingdom has come to you.”  After this, they were to move on to the next city and not ruminate on their failure to have their message received.

They were sent in pairs so at least they had someone to support them during their travels.  Whether they were paired with someone they knew well or not, at least the other person was a believer in Jesus.  Going in pairs helps to strengthen a person’s resolve. A person alone quickly becomes discouraged; partners are more likely to persevere. But I imagine that it was challenging for the disciples to leave the area they knew and go to the neighboring villages, places where they may not know anyone.  Jesus told them he was sending them out as lambs among wolves.  Wow, that is enough to scare anyone. 

He sent them out to preach the Good News and there was no way of knowing whether they would be received well or not.  They needed to learn to trust in the journey and in their belief in Jesus’s message of the Kingdom of God both in the present and to come. 

The early pilgrims of Christianity were similar to these 72 sent out by Jesus.  The word pilgrim is from the same root as the word peregrine which means “coming from another country or foreign.”  Many early Christians took on the mission of Jesus and wandered to foreign countries to spread the Gospel.  According to Christine Valters Painter’s book, The Soul of a Pilgrim, the Celtic monks used the metaphor of peregrinatio to shape their ministries.  Peregrinatio is “the call to wander for the love of God.”  Often these wandering missionaries journeyed for “the love of Christ,” setting out without a destination in mind.  They even at times got into a small boat with no oars or rudders and trusted themselves to “the currents of divine love.”  In order to do this, they trusted in love and that God would provide for their needs and would guide them to where their message was most needed.  They relied on the Holy Spirit to provide both the destination and the way.  The impulse for the journey was always love.

This way of travel or journey is foreign to most of us.  When we go on a trip, we want to know where we are going, maybe map out the best way to get there, plan for exactly where we will stay and where we will find food. It is no different for most of us when we set out on a mission trip.  We have in mind where we will go and stay.  We may research the situations and culture we are going into. We don’t want to have many curve balls thrown at us.  We have a hard time trusting in God to provide or to be flexible if things don’t turn out the way we thought they would.  And yet, when Jesus sent the 72 out, he told them to let go of their expectations and just go.  This is the Gospel pattern for mission.  To not fear talking with people you don’t know, to not worry about your needs being met, to make sure you eat and take care of yourself and to not worry if you are successful or fail—just shake it off and move on.

The same need for control is true for most of us on our spiritual journeys, both externally and internally.  In our external spiritual journey, we want to know ahead of time where we are being called and what God wants us to be and do.  We want to know what will be expected of us.  We may have a plan in mind but also want to be able to discern if it is God’s will for our lives.  Am I call to ordained ministry or to work with the English as Second language program or to serve in mission by building houses? We might find ourselves asking, “Have I made the “right choice”?  Did I hear God correctly?” What if I commit to a path in life and then feel like I have no passion for it?  What if I find one obstacle after another in my way?  Should I continue along this path or take this as a sign that it is not God’s will for my life? Many of us want to be sure of the answers  before we begin that journey at all. Let’s face it, most of us want a burning bush or at least a neon sign pointing that way. I know I did as I answered the call to ministry.

To believe that God only has one path for our lives is limiting God.  God grants us choice and free will.  In each choice, there are lessons to be learned that can help us to deepen our relationship with God.  There are multiple ways of living into the fullness to which God calls each of us.  We need to listen closely to discover what is truly life-giving and learn to trust ourselves as well as God.  Our thoughts and habits have a way of keeping us on well-worn paths of action and thinking.  We need to increase our ability to sort out which stories that we tell ourselves are life-giving and which ones keep us stuck in fear and the desire to stay in a comfortable routine.  We need to challenge those that do nothing to bring us to wholeness.

Likewise, on our inward spiritual journeys, we want to have a seasoned guide or guide books that will help us know what will be required of us as we seek to deepen our relationship with God.  But the inner journey is more about learning to let go of this desire to be in control and have the faith that Jesus encouraged his disciples to have as they went out on their mission. We need to learn to be open to inner guidance that is given on the way.  We may need to examine the places where wounds and shame reside.  We may not want to go to these places as we don’t trust that God will be there to provide the help and support needed to find the way to wholeness.  The spiritual journey calls us into foreign and wild places where God cannot be put in to a box and tamed.  God is full of surprises but underneath every surprise is love and the promise to supply our needs.  Isaiah’s metaphor for this is that God is like a mother who comforts her child.  Isaiah says,”

As a mother comforts her child,
     so I will comfort you;
     in Jerusalem you will be comforted.  

When you see this, your heart will rejoice;
     your entire being will flourish like grass.

Our job is to learn to let go of the baggage that keeps us stuck, just like that 50-pound suitcase that bogged down my journey in Europe.  Leaving behind all the shame, the need to be perfect, the need to be able to predict the outcome, will free us up to take the journey into wholeness with and anticipation for the joy that will be found. The invitation here is to let go of our own agendas and discover where God is leading us.

It may not involve getting into a boat with no oars and drifting on the sea, but at times it will feel like we have no idea where we are going or how to get there.  If we set out with love as our guide and motivation, we can rest in the assurance that the Spirit will guide us and that we will have companions on the way if we are open to those who cross our paths.   They might not be who we thought they would be, but we just might be pleasantly surprised by what they have to contribute to our growth and journey.  Our God is a God of love, who provides like a mother does for her children.  I invite you to take the journey, to yield yourself to God’s prompting and discover the joy that comes from “your entire being flourishing like the grass.”     (Meditation on Luke 10:1-11 and Isaiah 66: 10-14)

 

Step by Step

Last month we visited my son and daughter-in-law in Norway.  They have two beautiful children, which of course any grandparent might say. The youngest is a boy, Lucas, who is filled with joy and loves to be outside.  Lucas loves all sorts of machinery but also leaves and dirt.  His joy is infectious and he can bring a smile to anyone’s face.  During this visit, we went to their cabin in the mountains for a weekend. When we arrived it was a bit rainy, cold and overcast.  However, we decided to take the kids out for a walk after a long car ride to get there.  Our granddaughter took a spill close to the cabin and decided that she was too upset to go any further. She left to go back to the cabin with her mother.

Lucas was having too much fun and wanted to continue with us all the way up the hill.  The path led to a meadow that was rocky and covered with all sorts of lichen that were showing off their rich autumn colors.  Lucas was a real trooper and walked most of the way, holding his father’s hand when the way got steep or too rocky.  He even struggled up the hill without asking to be carried.  His father would have done that for him but he wanted to “do it myself.”

Later, as we descended the hill, I watched as they walked together and noticed that they were fully in sync without even having to give a thought about it.  It reminded me of a song by Rich Mullins we sometimes sing in church.

Oh God, You are my God 
And I will ever praise You 
Oh God, You are my God 
And I will ever praise You 
I will seek You in the morning 
And I will learn to walk in Your ways 
And step by step You’ll lead me 
And I will follow You all of my days

Sometimes I think of Abraham 
How one star he saw had been lit for me 
He was a stranger in this land 
And I am that, no less than he 
And on this road to righteousness 
Sometimes the climb can be so steep 
I may falter in my steps 
But never beyond Your reach

Lucas was never beyond the reach of his father, even when he wanted to walk by himself and not hold hands.  Yet, anytime the road got rocky or he needed help, he didn’t hesitated to reach out to his father, who was always keeping an eye on him. 

How like God this is.  God is always present as we journey through life.  Many times, we let go of God’s hand. We want to “do it ourselves”—just like a toddler who is discovering his independence and ability.  Yet God is always walking beside us; ready to catch us if we fall, ready to sooth our hurts and cries when the road gets too rocky.  We just need to reach out and take God’s hand. We may feel we are all alone but God never takes God’s eye off us.  And if we continue to stay connected, we will begin to walk—step by step—in the path God leads us.  It will still be rocky at times but we will know we are not alone.  With God we can conquer even the biggest hill in our path.

Bless The Lord

img_5804Do you ever get a song stuck in your head and find yourself singing it to yourself at odd times?  This happens to me frequently. For the past week or so it has been Matsunrise-on-mountainst Redman’s “Ten Thousand Reasons.”  If you have never heard it, I encourage you to find it on YouTube as it is a beautiful song.  Beware though—it might get stuck in your head too.   I find myself singing it when I awake in the night time and early morning.  Specifically, this verse is resonating with my soul at this time.

“The sun comes up
It’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass
And whatever lies before me
Let me be singing
When the evening comes”

It was especially poignant one morning when I awoke to the full moon setting over the mountains and the sun lighting up the sky in oranges and pinks.  It was glorious and felt like such a sacred moment.  The presence of God was palpable in the air and I was just struck with the beauty of creation.  The scene kept changing, with each moment becoming more beautiful as the sun came up.  It felt like a “new day dawning.”

We have all had moments like this I am sure.  It is easy to sing God’s praise when we are surrounded by beauty and wonder. But the next lines say “Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me…”  Really?  Does this mean I need to let go and let God be in control?  That I need to sing this song in the time of pain and suffering just as loud as I sing it when all is right with the world?  This is so much harder.  To thank God when the “evening comes.”  Not just the literal evening but the darkness that can feel overwhelming—when God feels so far away and we are scared and lonely.  When we are placed in a situation we don’t like—a negative medical diagnosis, a divorce, a job lost.  We usually feel the air knock out of us at times like this, like we don’t even know how to take the next breath much less sing anyone’s praises.

Yet, even in times that seem the darkest, we are invited to sing God’s praises. Maybe in doing so we will be able to remember the good times as well.  The psalmists follow this pattern, lamenting for a while but always ending with blessing the Lord. God knows our pain, travels with us through it and knows us deeper than anyone can.  God calls each of us beloved.  When the dark times come—and they will—we can join our voices to others in our community or, if unable to sing, can let them sing for us.  Singing praises helps to lift our spirits and to remind us that this too shall pass.  I invite you to try it the next time evening descends upon your life.  It might help you to feel less alone.

Consciously Stupid

I have begun a new exercise program that includes a set of DVDs to use for home workouts. six pack abs On the DVD, a very ripped instructor and several good looking people are doing exercises that, frankly,re challenging even for a person who has worked out most of her life–me.  Now, I have ridden a bike over 60 miles at a time and have a routine of doing the elliptical machine at the club for over 55 minutes.  And not just on the easy settings but on the hill climb setting.  I also work out with the Fitlinx machines to lift weight using upper and lower body machines.  So I figured I could follow the instructor pretty well and didn’t have to use the alternative methods modeled by the one woman who, frankly, looks like she hasn’t worked out a day in her life.  Right?  Who wants to follow the out of shape woman.  That would really be a hit to my ego.  I was sure that, even though I was about two decades older than any of the people in the video, I could keep up with the best of them.

Man, was I wrong. I knew I was choosing to do this because I needed to feel in shape even though I had not done a routine like this for a long time.  I had moved to the Elliptical because of knee issues. The DVD workout had lots of squats and others knee and bun pounding moves in it.  Weights were used in other exercises and still included bending and squatting.  I didn’t want to give in and say I was out of shape by having to follow the “fat” woman. That was what I was aware I had labelled her in my mind.  I was consciously being stupid.  I knew my motivation for choosing to follow the athletic looking people was all ego and not based in reality of my limitations, yet I did it anyway.  Competition drove me to push myself regardless of the warnings on the DVD and the fact that no one was seeing me workout.  Who was I trying to impress?

How many times are we aware that the choices we are making are not in our best interest but we do them anyway?  We look for something to stroke our ego rather than making the right choice for our situation and limitations.  We compete against others real or imagined rather than focus on our gifts and talents. We know that overeating is going to lead to weight gain that will make us feel bad about ourselves but we binge out on sweets because we are feeling depressed.   We know we need 8 hours of sleep to be at our best but we stay up late to watch a movie or read a book.  We know that spending time in meditation or prayer is good for our spiritual life but we pick up the computer first thing in the morning, check Facebook and an hour is gone before we know it.

Being conscious and self aware is good and a first step to changing our behavior to move towards a happier, more fulfilled life.  But we need to take the next step and make choices that will lead to self care and growth.  I am dealing with the resulting sore muscles now in ways that help, such as massage and heat/ice, stretching more and most importantly, following the modified version of the exercises.  I hope to be able to work up to doing it the harder way if I can.  For now, I know that I am taking better care of myself and won’t hurt myself along the way.  I encourage all of us to use our awareness to make good choices.  This means pausing before moving from awareness to the choice, acknowledge the emotion that is driving us to choose inappropriately, and making the choice that is in our best long term interest.  Not easy but each day presents us with many opportunities to practice.  We will make mistakes but we can greet those as opportunities to learn and improve our ability to make a better choice next time.  Above all, we need to treat ourselves with kindness and gentleness. This will increase the chances of making the appropriate choice the next time.

Hide and Seek

A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit Whidbey Island, which is off the coast of Washington near Seattle.  I have wanted to visit this place for a couple of years, partly because I know the Olympic Mountains create a majestic vista across Puget Sound.  I had visions of spending the long weekend at a friend’s house, looking at the gorgeous mountains each day and letting the view fill my heart with delight.  Instead, even though it was not raining, the mountains were no where to be seen.  I was disappointed and it casted a pall over the beginning of the trip.  I knew they were there but, without being able to see them,  I felt abandoned by them.

I love mountains and the Olympic Mountains in particular are spectacular when they are visible.  And that is the rub…when they are visible.  Like our Cascade Mountains here in southwest Washington, there are many times when it is too foggy, too misty, or socked in by rain to see the mountains.  This summer it was even too smoky at times due to all the forest fires.  When that happens, I know the mountains exist but they feel distant.  When it is sunny and the “mountains are out” I feel my spirits lifting and I feel more grounded in the beauty that surrounds me.

This visit to Whidbey Island caused me to reflect on how these mountains are like God.  There are times when most of us crave to sense God’s presence in a  close and tangible way but feel that there is a cloud that separates us from God and God’s love.  We may feel God has abandoned us or is absent from our lives at that moment. At other times, when we experience God’s touch in a more concrete way through creation, music or a compassionate touch from another person, our spirits are lifted.  It is like God is playing hide and seek with us, much the same way the mountains do.  But, just as the mountains are always there whether they can be seen at that moment or not, God is always present.  God is in every situation, loving us and walking with us through the good times and the bad.  Through we may not see or feel God in a situation, God is there.  There is no place where God is not.  While this knowledge may not be as comforting as a visceral experience of God’s touch, it is important to acknowledge it in the darkest moments of our journey through life.

The sun finally came out one evening during my time on Whidbey and I was able to view a glorious sunset behind the Olympic Mountains.  That sunset sustained me through the next days that were cloudy and gray.  The secret in life is allowing our spirits to do the same.  To take those moments when God’s presence is so palpable that we can’t escape it and ground them in the memories of our hearts.  That way when our days are the darkest we can know that God’ love is with us even if our vision of it is clouded over with  the mists and pains of life.

In The Garden

Recently a friend of mine posted about her experience in the garden and the lessons she has learned as a newbie gardener.  (http://sacredmtnministries.com/spiritual-lessons-from-the-garden/) She got me thinking.   I have been a gardener all my adult life.  My father was my mentor in this aspect.  He was an organic gardener in the early 70s before this was a popular thing to do.  He read books on organic gardening and consulted the Farmer’s Almanac and gradually took over most of the backyard in our house in Ohio.  Many times I would see him in his hat and long sleeve shirt (avoiding the sun) pruning vegetables and weeding the garden.

When I had a home of my own, he helped me put in raised beds and lay out a good plan for the plants.  He knew that certain plants grew well together and others inhibited their growth.  He also knew how many rows of corn to plant as a minimum for cross pollination and nifty little tidbits about when to plant according to the phase of the moon. He would work in the garden until late at night, tenderly loving the plants and the soil.

He also taught me many life lessons some of which I believe come from his years in the garden.

First of all, the companions we chose in life are important.  Some will help us grow through nurturing the soil right next to us, while others will rob us of light and nutrients if we stay with them too long. Discerning between the two comes from years of experience and being alert to the signs that are  along the journey.  If someone demands to take over our life, they probably are not a good companion for us.  If they insist we always do it their way or that there is only one  answer to all of life’s problems,  we should ask ourselves if they are the right ones to companion us. If we are always having to tend to their emotions and needs at the sacrifice of our own, it would be best to learn to put a boundary between the two of us.

Second, similar to the plants that  take root during the dark of the moon, much growth can happen in the dark experiences of life .  During this fallow time when nothing appears to be happening, a transformation can be gestating.  Ideas can take shape that will lead to establishing deep roots.  These roots may be the anchor that keeps us stable through the storms of life or a sudden frost that hits unexpectedly.  Through times of light and happiness, it is good to reach outward to share with others the lessons we have learned.   The seeds that are gained in the dark will become obvious as we bloom into an new being.

Third, preparation is a must before anyone can be expected to grow.  Throwing seeds into untilled soil rarely results in any fruit.  The same is true in life.  We must constant work with the soil in which we have been planted, watering, weeding, thinning, and fertilizing if we expect to continue to produce fruit.  This preparation can come from reading helpful books, seeking the advise of a good counselor or spiritual director, and attending retreats and conferences that help us to learn new ideas.

Fourth, along with this last requirement, comes that of patience.  Much of what is happening is unseen until later in life. As one matures in life and in gardening, the wisdom in being patient becomes more obvious.  Most things done too quickly don’t have the lasting power of those things in which one lets go of the need for quick results and instead learns to patiently tend the soil.

And lastly, there is much good that can come out of keeping our life as organic as possible.  Adding natural things to our lives in simplified ways can help us grow in healthy, strong manner.  Just as plants need to be thinned to produce the best harvest, keeping enough room in our lives for wonder and moments of rest helps us to grow to our fullest potential.  While we might be tempted to add more and more to our busy life, these activities may end up stifling our growth rather than adding to it.  When we compost the unnecessary ingredients in our life,  they can added to the nutrients for our soil.

What lessons have you learned from the garden?  I invite you to join in a conversation that will shares your insights.

Self Forgiveness: Letting Go of the Inner Critic

(This comes from a past newsletter article but I thought it was still timely and worth re-posting)

I have had the privilege of hearing many stories of hurt and pain over the thirty years of being a psychologist.  I call this a privilege because of the trust that people have bestowed on me in allowing me to hear their inner most sufferings and secrets.  I’ve walked beside people as they struggled to let go of the past that has hurt them so much and more towards forgiveness of family and others that have been the root of this pain.  Many times I have witnessed a stumbling block that arises in this process when what was really needed was for the person to let go of the inner voices that continued to tell them that they were unlovable, not worthy or imperfect in some way.  For many of them, it was harder to forgive their own selves then it was to forgive the person who hurt them on the outside.

I believe there are several reasons for this.  One is that we are lead to believe that if we forgive ourselves, especially too easily, that we are just avoiding accountability or responsibility for our actions.  We are making excuses for our behavior and will not be open to changing our behavior in the future.  Self-forgiveness, or the ability to love oneself unconditionally, can be seen as narcissism which is equated with selfishness.  We all live in the fear of being labeled with this “personality defect.”

Another factor that blocks our ability to forgive is the secret fear that we are in fact unlovable or worthless in our core.  “If someone truly knew me, they would know how worthless I am.” This fear may come from confusion between the feelings of guilt and shame.  Guilt, an emotion that helps us to know when we have done something wrong or not done something we should have done, is a normal warning signal to examine our behavior and make corrections.  Shame is “an inner sense of being completely diminished or insufficient as a person…A pervasive sense of shame is the ongoing premise that one is fundamentally bad, inadequate, defective, unworthy, or not fully valid as a human being.”

   It is the latter emotion, shame, which leaves us feeling trapped, as it is impossible to atone for our very being.

We all need to feel lovable and worthy as human beings.  While we are willing to bestow this basic characteristic on others, our own inner critic often rises up to remind us where we have fallen short, are not perfect or have failed to please others.   This negative voice may be one that we have internalized from parents or others who have been critical of us in the past.  These voices may come from those who have been abusive to us in the past. The really sad thing is that this criticalness may also have come from the parent’s good intentions to help us be the best we can be.   Additionally, religion can be a voice that has led to a harsh internal judgmental when we fail to meet the moral standards that we profess to believe.

Spirituality and spiritual practices can be a great aid in the steps towards healing our brokenness.  When we are able to let God (or whatever we call our Higher Power) bathe us in love and grace, we begin to get a sense of being created whole and lovable.  Believing in the forgiveness that God gives and the unconditional love shown to us each day through creation helps us to know that God truly loves us.   We all make mistakes; being human means that we have faults and can learn from our failures.   We need to trust in our basic goodness and our potential to move towards wholeness, which is really what is meant by perfection.

Self-forgiveness is a slow process of pealing back our layers of façade that we have assumed to cover those areas of which we are ashamed.  We need to look at the areas where we try hard to please, produce and perform and expose our vulnerability and desire to be loved.  The shame that we have taken on grows in the dark.  It is only by exposing our secrets to the light of truth that we can let go of shame and gently move to reclaiming our authentic self: the beautiful person we were created to be.  To release our shame we need to name it; first to ourselves and then to another trusted person.  A soul companion or a spiritual director can help us along this path of honesty and courage.  They help us create a safe space in which to remove the masks we wear.

Again, this process, like the one to forgive others, takes time and courage.  The important thing is to choose to begin, to gather the resources to help you with the journey and wisely chose someone to companion you on the way.  It is harder to do this work on your own as you can be your own worst critic. A trusted companion can help you put the inner voices to rest. They can help you discern where you need to change your behavior due to guilt and where you need to let go of residual shame.  Remember that you are the Beloved child of God whose desire it is that you become all you were created to be.  Shame does not aid in this but is a large road block to it.  Step into the light, expose the shame and be healed.

 

Remembering: Reward and Punishment

“It is said that when the heavenly powers gathered at their huge conference table and considered the evolution of humans on the planet Earth, they had great concerns over the erratic behavior of these particular beings. On the one hand, the courage and occasional unselfish love that humans demonstrated clearly called for a reward from heaven.  On the other hand, their tendency to behave with fearful selfishness indicated that they merited heaven’s punishment.

The powers debated for long hours trying to decide which course of action was most appropriate. Finally one junior member cut through the debate and said, ‘Let’s begin with reward.  I suggest that we bless them with a mind that is capable of remembering and imagining.  That way they can learn from the past and anticipate the future.  Therefore they will be able to plan and create great wonders.’ They all agreed that this reward was fitting so they caused it to be.

Then they turned their attention to the appropriate punishment. ‘How shall we punish them?’ they asked.  The junior member spoke quietly with a trace of sadness. ‘ We already have,’ he said, ‘the blessing will also be the punishment.’ *

 Yes, this is the same story that started our newsletter last month but if you remember I said I could only deal with the imagination last month and would address “remembering” this month.  So my apologies to those who don’t like to read things twice but I promise this is the last issue to use it.

  Our memory for past events is a wonderful capability. As stated in the story above, it can help us learn from our past. Memory helps us to maintaina solid sense of identity. We use our stories to remind us of who we have been and who we are due to our past experiences.  If we could not remember the narrative of our life, as is the case with amnesia or Alzheimer’s, we would be like the poor lass in the comedy, 50 First Dates.  She could only maintain her memory for 24 hours and then she had to start over.  This leads to many comedic situations for Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler but in real life it would be very frustrating.  Those who suffer memory lossfind it hard to stand on solid ground as they struggle with their identity. For better or worse, our stories define us.

Memory allows us to carry with us positive reminiscence of all the people who have touched our life for the better.  We can remember the good times together and the lessons taught by those who have changed our life and helped us to grow.  But we can be punished by remembering as well.  When we rehearse memories of those who have hurt or betrayed us, we are constantly re-experiencing sadness, pain and anger.  Similarly, when we remember the pain and hurt we have caused another, we find ourselves feeling shame and guilt.  Both of these types of memory can make it hard to move towards forgiveness of self or others.   Forgiveness is the ability to let go and move on.  It doesn’t involved the necessity of forgetting–the memory will remain there.  But it does require letting go of the memory as soon as it arises and instead replacing it with the image of our self or the other in a more positive light–that of being human and having made a mistake.

*Story taken from The Tao of Forgiveness, by William Martin. 


Simplify the holidays

“When we listen to people talking about Christmas, often the first thing they mention is holiday commercialism…What really matters to people is the quality of their own celebrations.”
Jo Robinson & Jean Coppock Staeheli

If you are like me, you are already a bit tired of Christmas carols and promotions that the stores seemed to have begun even before Halloween this year.  Increasingly, there is pressure to buy, buy, buy for the holidays.  Now we even have the guilt inducing pressure to help the economy through our spending. Added to our already busy lives is the stress of finding just the right gift for everyone.  If we are lucky, we decided to draw names to cut down a bit on this frenzy but still it is easy to get caught up in the “holiday spirit.” In the end it is just a mega shopping spree.  Too often, come January, when we face our credit card bill, we experience a hangover from too much “spirit.”
I would encourage you instead to begin or continue traditions in your family.  Instead of stressing out and ending up frazzeled, take the time to be together to enjoy small little treats and activities.  If your children are still little, now is the time to form those traditions.  When Robinson and Staeheli surveyed children for their book, Unplug the Christmas Machine, they found that while children will always ask for toys and such for Christmas, what they really want and need comes down to four basis things:

  1. Relaxed and loving time with the family
  2. Realistic expectations about gifts
  3. An evenly paced holiday season
  4. Strong family traditions
Years ago, when my three sons were little, we started several Christmas traditions.  The first Christmas in our new home, we were invited to a friend’s overgrown tree farm to top off a tree.  They had plenty of trees that had grown extremely tall and they were willing to let us have one for free.  We had a great time tromping through the woods and cut off the top of a tree that we thought was about 10 foot long.  That is, until we got it back to our Volvo station wagon and realized it was over 12 feet tall.  Since we had a living room with cathedral ceilings, we took it home and with the help of our neighbor got it indoors.  It was huge and filled up most of the space in that room.  To decorate it we needed lots of ornaments.  The boys got busy making homemade ornaments, painting sChristmas treeome with their grandparents and making some in Sunday school and scouts.  We also gathered handmade ornaments when we went to a new location for a vacation.
That started the tradition of the tree. Now each year, we hunt a tree together on a Saturday in December. It has to be at least 12 feet tall.  After setting it up in the living room, we take the time to remember how each ornament was made or on what vacation we purchased it.  We play Christmas carols and have a nice time together reminiscing.
Another tradition from their childhood is to open the stocking first with them sitting on the step near to where they are hung.   We take a picture each year.  The last couple of years, my eldest son has lived in Norway.  We have used a three foot doll made for him by his grandmother as a stand in for him in the photo.  This year we will be able once again to have a full contingency as he and his wife are joining us for Christmas.  As the boys grew older, we added a new tradition for the stockings.  In them, we place only small food type of gifts and a letter of donation to one of their favorite charities.  We have donated to relief work in Haiti and AIDS education in Africa and many other projects this way.
Take the time to play games, bake cookies, and decorate the tree together.  Don’t redecorate after the little ones have had a hand at it.  Let them take pride in being a part of getting the house ready for the birth of the Christ child even if the end result would not win any awards in Martha Stewart’s magazine.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and joy is the most important gift to spread this season.

If the extended family is joining you for the holidays, help each of them to feel welcomed and necessary in your home.  Ask them to bring one of their most favorite foods or take charge in an area where you know they are gifted.  My mother always makes the homemade noodles (one of our traditions) for the Christmas meal when she is with us.  I could make them but she was the one who taught me.  This honors her as the master teacher and helps out with the division of labor in the kitchen.

Boundary setting and time alone is also important for recharging internal batteries.  Do a quick internal review of what you need to feel ready to take on the next day.  Make sure you get plenty of rest and eat nutritionally.  If exercise is part of your normal routine, now is not the time to skip it.  It can be a great stress reducer!  Know when you are overwhelmed and ask for help.  You don’t have to do everything alone or perfectly.  Focus each day on the things for which you are grateful and end the day with time to unwind rather than frantically working on projects right up to the time you go to bed.

Set a budget for spending for gifts and stick to it, no matter how the good the deals seem to be.

Begin this year by making just one or two simple adjustments that will help you feel more in control of the holidays.  It may be cutting back on the baking or decorating.  It may be spending more time together playing games rather than running to the mall.  Whatever you choose, it is with small changes that we turn the our lives around.  Begin to embrace a simplicity that can make your life more joyful not just for the holiday season but for the rest of the year.