Sunday, December 13, 2009

Being personally responsible for my own responses

Let’s say that you invite me to go on a long run with you and I do so, even though I don’t run regularly, have sky high blood pressure, regularly eat fatty food, am 100 pounds overweight and am a closet smoker. After awhile I’m exhausted but my pride keeps me going and you encourage me and at about mile three I keel over with a heart attack. As I talk to my husband the next day from my hospital bed, I blame it all on you for inviting me to run with you.
Did you cause my heart attack? Ridiculous. It was my years of smoking, lack of exercise, pride, diet and obesity as well as my choice to engage in the running with you that caused the attack. I was a heart attack waiting to happen. You just gave me an opportunity to have it.
In a similar way, the regular, ordinary people with whom I interact each day may affect the way I feel at any given moment, but their contribution to that is minor. The bulk of the way I feel when I am feeling angry or hurt or frustrated or annoyed or inadequate in a relationship is due to my lifetime of events and feelings and/or my current physical/emotional state, not the person with whom I am interacting. As a matter of fact, if I’m bad enough off, the person may do absolutely nothing and I’ll still respond badly. (Really embarrassing.)
Similarly feeling love and peace, and expressing those things, are also hugely dependent not upon the regular, ordinary people with whom I am interacting (be they acting “loveable” or not), but rather upon my choices (some past, all present) and my ability to tap into and channel God’s love.
Jacob’s words come to mind: “Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves—to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life.
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved.”
It is true that it is God’s grace that makes up for our imperfections and sins and lack of ability throughout our lives. And it is also, I am convinced, what makes it possible for us to fully love as he does, which is essential to salvation. Reconciliation with Him, that sense of understanding and connection with Him, enables that grace of loving, I think.
Not that I've got that down, by any means. But it seems to be worth trying to embrace.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Some things are still true.

Maria Edgeworth
Maria Edgeworth 1767-1849

"You surprise me doctor", said lady Delacour; "for I assure you that you have the character of being very liberal in your opinions."

"I hope I am liberal in my opinions," replied the doctor, "and that I hope to give your ladyship proof of it."

"You would not then persecute a man or woman with ridicule for believing more than you do?" said lady Delacour.

"Those who persecute, to overturn religion, can scarcely pretend to more philosophy, or more liberality, than those who persecute to support it," said Dr. X--

From "Belinda", published in 1801

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Submit yourselves therefore unto God. (James 4:7)

The word “submit” as it is translated in the KJV New Testament has an interesting meaning, different from the one we give that word in modern usage. Verses there tell us to “submit” to God and to each other (See also Romans 10:3 and Ephesians 5:21, etc.). The word is most commonly a translation of one form or another of the Greek word “hupotassomai”, which is “to have a voluntary attitude of being responsive to the needs of others”. In other words, it is coming to a state of being where you choose to listen and respond to the thoughts and understanding of another as much as you do your own. It’s an action born of unselfish respect and love for other. Jesus’ loving “submission” to the will of the Father throughout his life was the ultimate example of this.
It may be an easier thing to do when life is going well, but one of the biggest challenges we face when we are hurt and hurting is that of being so overwhelmed by what we are feeling that we are unable to stop our minds from going over and over and over it again and again. That’s normal. And also, that constant self-conversation makes hearing and paying kind heed to anyone else’s thoughts, including God’s, very difficult. And I’m sure he understands that and takes that into consideration.
Personally, in difficult times, it is only after I have been able to get far enough along in a sorrow that I can get my mind to start to shut up a little about the injustices or pain I feel, that I am able to begin to emerge and really hear and engage in hupotassomai to my fellow human beings or to God without filtering everything they say or need through my own personal pain. It takes some time to get there. It is a process of emerging and seeing self and others more clearly and lovingly apart from my pain. (Whereas the modern meaning would imply that I was to acquiesce to the will of others without argument while still fully consumed by my sorrow or pain. Very different.)
Anyway, understanding the difference between the modern and Greek meanings of the word makes a difference for me.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Jared's barges

An interesting way to envision them:

Sunday, September 27, 2009

And the disciples rebuked them...

But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.

Usually when we talk about that scripture we talk about how we must become childlike in order to enter the kingdom of God. But I think there’s another piece here. The disciples were feeling annoyed at the interruption of unpredictable and intrinsically distracting and wiggly children. Little children are not the most sober, quiet, cooperative or reasonable people to have around. (I understand that. We have about 40 of them, under the age of 4, in our sacrament meeting each Sunday and it’s hard to focus or hear sometimes, no, often.) But Jesus is saying that they, like every other distracting or difficult person who seeks God, are part of the kingdom of God. To be worthy of membership in the kingdom of God we must learn to live peaceably and charitably, and at peace with the people in the group that we are more likely to find annoying. He is telling his disciples that he is requiring that they (and we) see and love and be patient with people in our congregations who are difficult for us to spend time with due to their youth, their senility, their illness, their disabilities, their troubles or their oddities. That’s not always easy. Fortunately, as you know, Moroni pointed out that charity is a gift we can pray to receive. We can actually ask to be given the gift to respond wisely with charity towards and actually love those we find are difficult to be patient with. The gift may come slowly as we go through a learning process and may take time but it does come. It’s quite remarkable.

I certainly took our children out to listen elsewhere when they were small and squawky and remember years of not hearing much due to their wiggles and whispered interactions in the chapel. But it was worth the time spent, and it behooves me to to peacefully allow other young families the blessings we received because of those years of attendance.

So that’s what’s been on my mind today.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Thankful for the blessing of a very good father.

What a wonder he has been in my life. Thank you, Dad.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

So many books. So little time to read.

Today I perched myself on a chair in the livingroom to eat my sandwich and suddenly realized that I was doing so simply because the kitchen and diningroom tables were too covered with books and papers to make a comfortable space for lunch.

I'd like to believe that it is just a manifestation of my literary and academic bent. But I think it is more likely a commentary on my housekeeping skills.

Time for some spring tidying up.

Friday, April 10, 2009

While preparing a Primary Easter Sunday lesson

The request of the mother of Zebedee's sons, Jerome Nadal, S.J., 1507-1580
And Jesus going up to Jerusalem took the twelve disciples apart in the way, and said unto them, "Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him; and the third day he shall rise again."
Then came to him the mother of Zebedee's children
with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him. And he said unto her, "What wilt thou?" She sayeth unto him, "Grant that these two sons may sit, the one on they right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom."

It struck me as I read this; here Jesus has outlined the horrendous things he will go through for us and the incomprehensibly wonderful gift of resurrection that he will provide for us and the first thing after that is a request by an anxious mother about his future approbation and recognition of her sons. Is it because I saw myself in her that this verse stopped me in my tracks?

How often do I blithely skim over the overwhelming gifts of resurrection, justification, sanctification, and forgiveness that Jesus offers me, or how hugely different eternity for me is because of that, and instead just focus on whether I or my loved ones are being good or being recognized as good by him. How short-sighted I can be.

It's not about me. It's about HIM. When I stop to think about what he did and how that changes all that's possible or what my future would be without what he did, I am appalled at my self-focus and the insufficiency of my gratitude and awe.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Trainers, back in February

I like looking at the expressions on their faces as they contemplate what's next.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Agency, Truth and Love at Christmas

I remember when I was 4  years old asking my father if Santa was real.  “Santa is people who love you,” he said with a smile.  
 “Noooooo!  He’s the guy who brings you presents on Christmas!” my little brother and I exclaimed, and ran to mom for reinforcements.
 Mom asked what dad had said and, when we explained, she said she thought he was right.  Appalled, we raced back to our dad and tried for the next 10 minutes to bully him into admitting we were right.  He simply smiled and pleasantly stuck to his story as he would for the next 35 years as he raised children.  We gave up on him.  And a few days later, under the tree, sure enough, there were presents from Santa.
 Every Christmas to this day we have received presents from Santa.  What I realized later is that my dad had given us the gift of choosing when we would transition from delightful engagement in the Santa story to the even sweeter story of being given gifts by those who love us.  My siblings and I could indulge in Santa imaginings for as long as we liked (which we continued to do for years)  and could choose to transition out of that at our own pace in our own time.
 My father was always big on allowing his children to choose and also big on letting them know they were loved.  I didn’t realize until years later how deftly he had incorporated both of these things into his Santa story.  And it took me awhile to see how he had helped our eventual transition not be one of belief to unbelief, but rather to one of belief in something good to belief in something familiar and even better.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Be not afraid, only believe.

In the last General Conference, Neal Anderson said, "Fear and faith cannot exist in our hearts at the same time," and quoted Jesus' words to Jairus in Mark 5:36, "Be not afraid, only believe."

Since fear is a part of my human experience this statement is a bit disconcerting.  I consider myself a person of faith, but fear is something I experience.  What does that say about my faith?

Looking at the story of Jairus what was he afraid of?  At what point does Jesus say 'be not afraid, only believe?"
Jairus had gone to find Jesus to plead with him to come and heal his dying daughter.  They are delayed by Jesus' stop to minister to the woman with the issue of blood who had reached out to touch his robe and now, as they approach Jairus house, people come from the house to inform them that the daughter has died.  That is the point at which Jesus makes this statement to Jairus.

What does Jairus fear at that moment?  That he is too late? That he has failed his family?  The experience of losing this daughter who he loves so much? The challenge of going through such a horrificly sorrowful experience?    Fear of one's own failure to be able to do the good that one knows is so needed and fear of calamity befalling one's loved ones are very understandable and common fears.  Is there something about these two types of fear that makes them particularly conquerable by the application of faith?  

When I fear due to my own inadequacies can I not reduce that fear by placing my trust in the Lord to be able to make up for them if not immediately, then in the long run?  I can trust his grace which reduces my fear of the outcome of my failing to do all that needs doing.

When I fear calamity befalling those I love I can trust his ability to sustain them and me as we struggle through the aftermath.  It does not make the sorrow less intense, but it does make it more bearable and less nightmarish.

I will still fear.  Timidity, caution, and a sober sense of my own ineptitudes  are part of my personality that are not going to be changed any time soon.  But I think that what Jesus is saying is that, at least at times when we experience these two kinds of fear, faith in him and his ability to heal do much to sustain us and enable us to go forward with hope.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

a.m.a.a.w.w.i.t.r.a.a.y.b.n. part 5

So, if
receiving loving, accepting, peaceful, inviting trustworthy interaction, motivated by real love is what reassures us and enables us to respond to others with real love
we wish to become people who can give that gift to others
other “sort of like love” expressions, though helpful, do not endure,
Jesus is the master of that kind of real love such that when we encounter it from him it not only empowers us to love but also moves us and leaves us profoundly affected for a long time,
can you see what he might be talking about when he told his disciples
“I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit...As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.”?
So the best question to ask myself, as I seek to create loving, empowering, enduring, joyful relationships is, how do you become a person who abides in him: who continues in his love? For that is what will ultimately empower me to love the way I desire to love.

a.m.a.a.w.w.i.t.r.a.a.y.b.n. part 4

Baer, in his book, declares that when we do not feel fully loved, we seek other things from our beloved that are sort of like love.  For example, we might feel a real need for praise (compliments, recognition, appreciation) from our beloved or we might try to create a sense of control in the relationship (power) or we might hunger for touch or physical pleasure to reassure us of our being loved.   Or we might seek a sense of safety and protection or reassurance in our relationship.  All of these are not love itself.  We seek them as an indication that we are loved.  We see them as the outward manifestations of something much deeper.

But outward manifestations are not the real thing.  And experiencing the trappings of love is not the same as  experiencing love itself.  

Not only that, but often we misread our longing for love as a longing for one of those "sort of like love" things and we talk about needing certain types of love languages, or gifts or behaviors from our beloved in order to be reassured that we actually are loved.   Our relationship can easily become one where we are simply focusing on trying to learn how to fulfill our partner's "sort of like love" needs, and getting frustrated or discouraged when ours are threatened or insufficiently supplied.  Certainly, trying to supply another's "sort of like love" needs is a considerate, unselfish thing to do.  It can be very helpful and kind and I don't advocate discontinuing the practice.  But in seeking to love and feel loved, we need to distinguish between real love and "sort of like love" practices.  The latter will wax and wane due to our imperfections and the very human nature of our beloved, fluctuating with our abilities, capacities, stress levels, congniscence, presence or absence over the months and years.   And if we depend or focus only on them  we set ourselves up for disappointment or resignation during those waning times.  And sometimes our anxiety about waning even prevents us from appreciating the waxing times.

"Sort of like love" sorts of things (praise, a sense of power or control, pleasure or reassurance, etc.) though pleasant, are not the essence of warm, welcoming, unconditional love .  They are temporary.  Whether we are giving them or seeking them, they are not the real thing and should not be confused with it.  For me this sheds a little more light on the verse found in 2nd Corinthians:

Charity never faileth but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

a.m.a.a.w.w.i.t.r.a.a.y.b.n. part 3, The effect of REAL real love

John Murdock attended the School of the Prophets in Kirtland Ohio in the winter of 1833.  He wrote about his experiences there which you can find in "An Abridged Record of the Life of John Murdock", located in the Church Archives.

One passage from that record struck me a few years ago.  He wrote of a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ he experienced there.  I won't post the whole thing here, though I can send it to you if you wish.  What struck me most was the sentence at the end of the paragraph in which he describes the experience.

"[It] left in my mind the impression of love, for months that I never felt before to that degree."

Jesus is the master of giving that kind of love; the kind that frees the receiver from tendencies to feel hurt and alone or to respond with anger, deceit or withdrawal and instead encourages warm, loving response.  He is the model.

Monday, January 19, 2009

a.m.a.a.w.w.i.t.r.a.a.y.b.n. part 2

Baer goes on to write:

"When we react [to others] with anger or withdrawal, or by acting hurt...we feel more alone and miserable. So why do we keep doing those unproductive things?

"The answer is simple. When you do feel unconditionally loved you lose your tendency to feel hurt and alone, and to react with anger, deceit, or withdrawal. You have those negative feelings and respond in those negative ways, therefore, because you don't feel loved. Human behavior is usually that simple."

For Baer, it seems, the best source of help for someone's abiltity to respond warmly rather than coldly, or fearfully or angrily is a sense of being fully and unconditionally loved.

Now certainly any good cognitive therapist will tell you that there are some people to whom you can give unconditional love but who will refuse to allow themselves to believe that you do fully love them and enjoy your interaction with them. Negative, false thinking habits are not uncommon among most of us. So you may find yourself trying to show forth real love to someone who prevents herself from being empowered and blessed by it.

And of course there will always be some people who have embraced wickedness to such an extent that to even approach them would be foolhardy unless you weigh 250 pounds, can bench press 500 and are a crack shot.

But there are many who will find it a real blessing and help in their efforts to respond well to life and its challenges and to others if you can become a person who can really, consistantly give them warm, welcoming, unconditional love in your daily interaction with them.

I think it must be, at least at first, a conscious decision in most relationships; a decision to actively take pleasure in another's company, put one's ego or one's sense of how things "should be done" out of the picture, to let go of a need to manage things, to be at peace in spite of your differences of opinion, and simply enjoy a beloved one. At least for me it would be. My "natural man" is way too front and center to be moved unconsciously.

Friday, January 16, 2009

A man and a woman walk into the room and address you by name.

I've been reading a book by Greg Baer. I wish to remember some of the things I learn as I go. Writing them will help.

"Imagine that you are having a difficult day. Several people have confronted you about mistakes you've made or assignments you've not completed and you are feeling inadequate and irritated. The computer isn't working--again--and your car is in the shop for the third time in the past two months....

"In the midst of your frustration, a man and a woman walk into the room and address you by name. Even though you've never seen them before, you feel as though they've known you all your life. Somehow you sense from their peaceful and inviting expression that you can trust them completely. They ask you to go with them, and without hesitation you get up and follow them.

"Side by side, you walk beetween this couple for some time, finally turning into the driveway of a beautiful home. Walking through the front entryway, you enter a spacious, well-lighted room, where many people are talking to one another. After seeing you, several of them come over to greet you. Although you've never met them before, you feel no anxiety, because you see in their faces and gestures nothing but sincere and unreserved welcome.

"In a way that you can't describe, you sense that everyone in this room feels loved and happy, and you know that no matter what mistakes you've ever made or what flaws you have, these people accept you completely. As you sit and talk with them, you realize you don't need to do anything to impress them, nor do you have a need to hide anything from them.

"Utterly relaxed, you begin to tell them the story of your life. You talk about your mistakes, your foolishness, your weaknesses, your fears, and your successes. They understand everything you're saying, and they accept you and care about you. You know there is nothing you could do that would disappoint or irritate them, nor would it be possible to feel embarassed or ashamed around them. For hours you talk and laugh with these new friends.

"Allow yourself to enjoy this feeling. Let it sink in and fill your entire being. Allow yourself to float in the calm, sweet ocean of the peace you feel. You'd like to stay in this place forever, but the day draws to a close and eventually you must go home. As you leave your friends invite you to return anytime you wish, and you know they mean what they say.

"Now come back to the real world and consider this question: While you were with these people, did you feel any inclination at all to be angry at them--or lie to them or withdraw from them? The idea is ridiculous--how could you feel angry or otherwise react negatively toward people who [you realize] unconditionally accept and love you? Moreover, while you were with those people, did you feel any inclination to be angry with anyone else--at any of the people you know in [your everyday] life? Were you irritated about the dysfunctional computer or the car in the shop? While you were with those loving people you didn't have any of those negative feelings because when we feel unconditionally loved, we have the one thing that matters most in all the world, and then we lose our need to be angry , to feel hurt, to lie to people, and to withdraw from relationships."

So the first thing I learn, as I read this book is the importance and goodness of sweet, loving, accepting, peaceful, inviting, trustworthy, welcoming interaction. There is great goodness in this gift one can give to the members of one's family when, no matter another's mistakes or flaws, you accept them, love them and are honestly interested in them.

I've known a few people who radiate this kind of unconditional love and have enjoyed that blessing from them. But I don't always give it. It's too easy to instead fall into the trap of being disappointed or anxious or feeling insecure or worried in my interactions with others. And when I do, I miss out on the opportunity to give them the one gift that most helps them to respond to life well; unconditional love.

More thoughts later.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

On a lighter note

Elizabeth sent me this.
Ours must be a free range one. It's not where it used to be.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Comforting, truth, sorrow, compassion

It is interesting to note that "the Comforter", in all its references, speaks gospel truth. Try doing a scripture search for it. For example, the most well known one:
"And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;
• • •

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you"

What is this connection between truth and comforting?

Some truth brings sorrow. When you state a truth that brings sorrow to you or others is that truth simply incomplete truth; truth that sees only part of the whole, missing a part that is unknowable or imperceptible or neglected now, but may be clear at another time?

What is the relationship between truth, sorrow and comforting? Can I assume that each sorrow that devastates is an incomplete truth, needing full attention, but not complete in itself?

And if that is the case, then there looms the obvious, egregious error of discounting another's sorrow or glibly reciting general platitudinous truths in response to it, something we often do in our attempts to avoid feeling its pain.

Compassion, truth, comforting, sorrow. All together. It requires more than most of us feel inclined to fully bear all at the same time. But perhaps they are inextricably entwined when fully experienced.

"He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief."

Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.

By others? "willing to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort"
By turning to the Lord? "For thus saith the Lord; Sing with gladness for Jacob, and shout among the chief of the nations: publish ye, praise ye, and say, O Lord, save thy people, the remnant of Israel.

Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from thecoasts of the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that travaileth with child together: a great company shall return thither.

They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble: for I am a father to Israel, andEphraim is my firstborn.

Hear the word of the Lord, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock.

For the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and ransomed him from the hand of him that was stronger than he.

Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow together to the goodness of the Lord, for wheat, and for wine, and for oil, and for the young of the flock and of the herd: and their soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at all.

Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together: for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow.

And I will satiate the soul of the priests with fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, saith the Lord.
By the Holy Ghost? "the comforter"

It seems to be more likely if you are living a repentant life (Mormon 2: 12-14).

Lessons for me? Be willing to mourn and comfort others. Learn what is helpful and what is not helpful. Keep repenting; trying to make the precepts God teaches a natural part of you, turning to Him. Be responsive to the influence of the Holy Ghost as a source of comfort. Recognize it. Take it to heart.

Much to be learned.