Toxic Skills: Part Three-The Gift

Toxic skills are actually gifts that God has given us. However, they have been allowed to overstep their useful bounds. It will help us to consider that they are actually a means to an end. We are meant to use them as tools. For example, if you were building a bench, you would not consider the saw to be more important than the finished project, would you? Likely not. The finished bench would be the thing of beauty, not the saw. The saw is merely a tool to accomplish the task of making the bench.

Here is an example of how this worked out in my life:

I am an entrepreneurial artist, as well as an extrovert who has ever met a stranger. Unknown folks are merely friends that I don’t know yet. I have started a few businesses in my adult life. I need the skills of mathematical proficiency, investing  and accounting in order to allow new churches, and other 501c3 organizations to thrive. They are tools for my broader, more strategic vocation of helping people find their voice. Accounting skills are like the saw… they are tools meant to fade into the background and support the end product.

Your toxic skill is someone else’s greatest joy and your joy is someone else’s greatest nightmare. I had a business partner who really hated talking in front of a crowd. Conversely, I come alive in front of a crowd. She loves administration, which makes me break out in hives. She was creative and fast in all things tech! I am unable to make anything on the back end of a website work right. I have another friend who is actualized, as in a spiritual experience, when she balances the books. Financial statements are her Van Gogh’s. There is someone who really loves to do what is toxic to you. Make it your opportunity to find that person. You will be happier and so will he or she.

I hope this short series on Toxic Skills has given you some ‘aha’ moments. There is more about this topic in my book Your Vocational Credo Practical Step to Discover Your Unique Purpose available through Amazon and Intervarsity Press. I would love to hear your comments and experiences with toxic skills.

Toxic Skills Part Two

Last week I introduced Toxic Skills, and gave examples from my book Your Vocational Credo, Practical Steps to Discover Your Unique Purpose.  This you will discover how to recognize them in your life.

While they is easy to diagnose in others, it takes some self reflection to discover our own toxic skills. If one feels lifeless or depressed after a specific activity, it may be a toxic skill. When given too much of our energy, these skills have the  capacity to locked us into a smaller world than desired. Toxic skills keep us from discovering more pleasurable pastimes and greater gifts. I am not suggesting that we have the liberty to always refuse to do those things that are distateful to us. Each of us will be required to do things in life that are not scintillating as part of our contribution. But we don’t want to get stuck there.

We need to become aware of what brings joy and what does not bring joy to our lives so that when we step into the job market we do not commit forty hours a week or more to something that is not emotionally sustainable.

Three clues alert us that a toxic skill is rearing its dreadful head. First, shame indicates that we may be walking into something  toxic. When folks understand that we know how to do something well they expect us to do it as “your service to the Lord,” whether or not it is good for us. For example, I have been called upon to pick up the accounting chores in some organizations I am involve with. I do not do this, but I  often feel shamed for not participating in the expected way. Shame often causes us to say yes when we should  be saying no. I responded with a lot of yeses before I learned how to say no.

Avoidance is the second sure-fire clue that there is a toxic skill at work.  Do you put it off until the end of the day? Does it end up at the bottom of the to-do list day by day and week by week? Hmmm… sounds toxic!

Secrecy is the third telltale sign. If you refuse to tell others about a skill you have  it could be toxic. Example: I went to school for fashion design. I know how to do everything from hemming  pants to designing a dress from scratch. For years I did not tell anyone for fear that I would be drafted into fixing broken zippers and hemming jeans.  Keeping a skill under wraps is a strong indicator that it is toxic.

I hope this has been helpful and that you are ferreting out your own toxic skills. Next time we will see how these skills are actually gifts and what we should do with them.

What are your toxic skills? How do they show up?

Toxic Skills

This is the first post of four or five on the subject of Toxics Skills, a little discussed vocational phenomena. It is derived from my book Your Vocational Credo. I hope you enjoy it!

When I use the words Toxic Skill, people are immediately intrigued. Very few ask me  what it means. Most know intuitively and connect to the idea emotionally with a furrowed brow and a solomn nod. Toxic skills are skills that one does well, in fact, too well. It doesn’t sound too bad does it? The problem is that, in the doing, they bring us no life or energy. They have the potential to actually kill us, which is why they are sometimes referred to as ‘killer skills.” If it is toxic to us, it’s a toxic skill. They suck the life from the soul and sometimes the body. For instance, when I pay my bills I get a satisfaction from the completion of the task only. I am happy when it is done. I am intuitive with money and accounting skills, but I hate doing the job. I do it well, even though it is a hellish experience. I am convinced that it drains the blood from my face, and afterwards I am pale, hollowed-eyed and sweating profusely.  Perhaps that is a little dramatic but you get the idea.

In contrast, when I get my hands into the soil to plant flowers, or when I am harvesting my herbs, I am in heaven. I feel connected to the earth and to the Creator. I love every bit of the process, from shopping for seedlings to cooking with what I have harvested. The scents, the feel of the soil in my hand, the joy I feel, all cause me to look forward to spring when I can fill my pots with plants and seedlings. Gardening brings me pleasant satisfaction.  I do admit to a little black thumb every now and then but it doesn’t matter. For me, growing things is the opposite of a toxic skill.

Sometimes it takes a while to discover what your toxic skills are. I will discuss that process in post #2.  See you then!

 

 

The Grandmothers of Christmas

 

            This is a side of the Christmas story that you’ve probably never heard. Professor Bakke[1], my friend and mentor, calls it The Grandmothers of Christmas. These women have a voice that reaches forward from the Old Testament and prophesies the essence of the gospel message, a voice that makes way for their grandchild, Jesus and for me. This is a story that strikes to the heart of the incarnation: God becoming like us in the form of Jesus so that we could become like God. Come with me on this  inbetween the lines story that  resides only within the genealogy of Jesus in the first chapter of Matthew.

 

Here is what it says:

 

            Tamar v. 3 Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar

 

            Rahab v. 5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab

 

            Ruth v. 5 Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth

 

            Bathsheba v. 6 David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife

 

No detail is disposable in the great stories of the Bible. So why are these women mentioned? And what can we learn from them?

 

 

Tamar: Genesis 38 The predicament: Widowed with no children

 

            Tamar’s husband died and, according to the law, she became his brother’s wife. The brother refused to muddy the inheritance of his children by impregnating. So he spilled his seed on the ground, the Bible says. The brother soon died and Tamar became a widow once again. There was another brother, however, who was too young to marry. Judah, Tamar’s father-in-law, urged her to wait until he was grown and then she could conceive by him. As Tamar waited it became obvious that Judah was not going to keep his promise. So she dressed herself as a temple prostitute and seduced Judah and she became pregnant. Manipulative? Hmmm… but  in their culture less criminal than Judah.  When confronted with the his behavior Judah said, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son.”

 

            Tamar resorted to desperate means to bear a child and thus she found her way into the Messianic line. Tamar was not vindictive. She was just determined, driven to bear a child and find to herself in history. Did she know that she would be a great grandmother to the Messiah? Probably not.  As powerless as women were in that day she knew she had a modicum of power and she was clever enough to use it which placed her in the messianic line.

 

 

Rahab: Joshua 2-6 The predicament: The prostitute that wanted more

 

            Rahab was not a Hebrew. She was probably a career prostitute.[2] Joshua sent men to Jericho to check out the city’s fortresses. When the king’s men came searching for the spies she hid them on her roof. “Our lives for yours!” was the deal they struck. Rahab protected the spies and in return they would bring her to safety when Israel invaded the city. Rahab helped the spies escape through the window. A red cord hanging from that same window alerted the Hebrew army to save Rahab and her household. When the walls of Jericho fell, Rahab’s family was indeed saved. This changed her life was forever.  Rahab married Salmon, a Jew, and eventually became the mother of Boaz the husband of our next Grandmother of Christmas.

 

            Rahab knew one thing for sure: Salvation lay with God’s people. And she wanted to be one of them. She was not afraid to go against her culture, leave her home and start her life over in a new land. Hers is a story of redemption, God’s mercy, forgiveness and new beginnings.

 

 

Ruth: Book of Ruth The predicament: Widowed with no prospects in a time of famine

 

            Ruth was a Moabitess, who married into a Hebrew family. When Ruth’s husband died she refused to return to her own family. She journeyed to Bethlehem with Naomi her mother-in-law, whom she loved. At the urging of Naomi she pursued a marriage to Boaz, a close relative of her deceased husband. She accepted the culture of the Hebrews and the God of the Hebrews as her own. Ruth pledged to her mother in law, “Where you go I will go. Your people shall be my people and your God shall be my God.”  So she married Boaz, and gave birth to Obed who was the father of Jesse who was the father of King David.  Ruth saw something in her mother in law that she could not walk away from. She had an eye for spiritual depth. She became hopelessly entangled with God’s people and thus found her way into the messianic line.

 

 Bathsheba: II Samuel 11 The predicament: Married to one guy, pregnant with another guys baby

 

            She was Uriah’s wife. Uriah was soldier in David’s army. David saw her bathing on her rooftop (that’s what they did in those days) and wanted her because she was beautiful. David had her and she became pregnant. He panicked. To cover up his misdeeds he sent Uriah to the front lines of the battle where he was killed. David married Bathsheba. Although their first child died, Bathsheba eventually bore Solomon who followed David in the Messianic line. Was Bathsheba supposed to marry David? Probably. The messianic line did come through her womb. Did they jump the gun? Most definitely.

 

 

Conclusions:

 

            So what can we say about Tamar the survivor, Rahab the prostitute, Ruth the gentile, and Bathsheba the adulteress, these Grandmothers of Christmas?? We can say that Jesus came from a speckled heritage, certainly not pure or highbrow. The rules stated that priests/holy men had to be of pure blood. Wouldn’t one assume that this would be true of the Messiah? But God purposely sent the Messiah through foggy bloodlines. Why? Possibly because God wants me to know that no matter where I find myself my past will never determine my future unless I allow it to. God never holds it against me. Everyone is clean and acceptable, welcome in God’s eyes. From this day forward there is no shame.

 

            Matthew wanted his readers to understand that all can becomechosen. I can become chosen! The membership in God’s family is open … nothing can disqualify me, not bloodlines, not profession, not misdeeds, nor the will of another person. Just like my own Grandmother[3] these women claimed their voices.  The Grandmothers of Christmas prove to me that nothing can take me out of the hand of God if I will myself to be there.

 

 

Merry Christmas!

 

 


[1] He was my prof in my doctorate studies at Bakke Graduate University. I want to be just like him when I grow up. This is his story. I am merely repeating it.

[2] Some say she was an innkeeper but I think they like to believe that because they cannot bear the thought of a hooker being in the genealogy of Jesus. Others believe that the Rahab of Matthew 1 is not Rahab the harlot. Why? I do not know. Biblical interpretation principles dictate that the easiest interpretation is probably the accurate one. Again I suspect that it is unthinkable for some for a harlot to be found in the messianic line.

[3] Read Putt Putt You’re Dead  for her story.

 

Grandmother and the Putt Putt You’re Dead Incident

The Grandmothers of Christmas, Chapter One

Grandmother and the Putt Putt you’re Dead Incident

My sister, my son and I took a road trip after my first stint in college which  I needed badly.  Lisa, who took care of my son whilst I was in school,  Matthew, who was barely five years old  and I would live on the road for a few weeks. We were all excited for the adventure.

We borrowed a friends’ 1965 Sunshine yellow VW camper van. It had a sink, frig and pop up top for sleeping in comfort. Many exciting things happened on this trip. I will leave all but one of those stories for another time. Since it is almost Christmas and grandmothers play an important role in our Christmas theology (I’ll bet you didn’t know that) I want to tell you about the Grandmother and the Putt Putt You’re Dead Incident, as I have come to call it. And as you might guess, my Grandmother is the star of the story.

My Grandmother had her standards and cleanliness was right below her dedication to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Upon our arrival in Phoenix she greeted us warmly as grandmas do… hugs, kisses the like. And then the silent battle was on to sneak our  bug infested, camping clothes from our suitcases to the laundry to be sterilized. According to Grandmother there was nothing that a healthy dose of Lysol could not solve.  She would have us stringently clean, ship shape and ready for our date with Grandfather in no time. The Putt Putt course near the downtown core of Phoenix was our rendezvous point where we would meet Grandfather for his ritual Putt Putt game with Matthew.  We were excited to do something in the city after camping for a week

Although she was able to get Matthew and his Whinny the Pooh in the bath rather quickly, my sister Lisa and I knew that the second we stepped into the shower she would descend like a spider on it’s prey and scoop up our clothes from our suitcases for a good soak in the Lysol. Who wants to smell like eau de Lysol? It felt so violating and not very sexy. So we stood our posts.

 It looked as if we would not get the chance to shower because the woman never left the house. So we went in shifts.  Lisa showered and I stood lookout and then visa versa. By evening Grandmother had conceded loss at least for that day and gone on the defensive. She emerged from her room dressed in fresh clothes… reeking of Lysol, a double dose no doubt. If she couldn’t get those germs off of us she would at least arm herself. Off we went for a night of fun and leisure.

 As we approached the putt-putt golf course it was evident that this place had changed drastically since the last time we were there. Tantalizing bright lights overwhelmed the dark night. The full city block that the entertainment complex now occupied was replete with all kinds of video arcades and snack bars which were packed to capacity with what we would later discover to be rival gangs. The crowd pulsed tensely yet methodically with the beats of the music.

My sister and I were some what intimidated and wondered if Grandmother knew what was going on. As we were not quite the only white faces in the crowd our presence had created quite a tension among the girls. We knew we had walked into an unstable situation that we could not understand much less navigate safely. A group of girls began to enclose us while we stood on the street corner. One young lady, at least six feet tall, leaned in, “You need to get the f*** out of here now unless you want to get hurt.” It felt aggressive and yet she could have just been warning us, we couldn’t tell.

We suspected the worst. Lisa and I edged Matthew’s little  body between us. He could feel the tension too.  A circle of defiant and angry bodies began to close in around our small but short grouping.It became obvious that they were not our friends. When did teenagers start growing so tall? The lights of the arcade were now all but blocked out, we were in a dark place on many levels.

In the midst of that tension my 70 year-old Grandmother asserted her little self armed with her boldness and her lysol. Dressed in her sensible shoes, her peach polyester skirt and her ruffled ecru blouse, and reeking of Lysol. She stepped between us and our nemesis. “ Now that’s not very nice. Someone had better apologize or leave… right now,” she demanded.

As we trembled behind our bold Grandmother we wanted to shout, “Yeah… yeah, you, you big bully!” But we didn’t, we decided to allow her the limelight. And if they punched her, well, we’d be there to catch her before she hit the ground.

But to our utter surprise, tall girl got that deer in the headlights look. She seemed struck speechless by Grandmother, all 5 foot 1 inch of her. Maybe it was Grandmother’s tone, she was known for that. Or maybe it was the lysol, it was known to have repellant properties.  Or perhaps the girl had her own grandmother and she knew that you never cross a Grandmother. She began to back away. Before long the crowd had dissipated and we were on our way to meet Grandfather, no worse for the wear.

Putt Putt golf was exotic under the bright lights in the warm balmy Phoenix night with Grandfather, a tall man with warm friendly eyes. We felt safe with him. And Matthew, again, slaughtered Grandfather at Putt Putt Golf. Grandfather escorted us out through the crowds with a twinkle in his eye, a twinkle that I am just now beginning to understand as I grandparent Alabama and Haley, my granddaughters. Was he as oblivious to the danger that was around us as Grandmother was? We will never know, as the event has not been spoken of since that day except in my journal and Grandfather is long gone.

Did Grandmother ever get what really happened that night? Did she know that she saved us from beatings or worse?  Did she know that these girls most likely were carrying an arsenal of weapons between them? Did she know that these girls eat cream puffs like my sister and I for breakfast? I don’t know…

 But she did understand one thing. She understood that a Grandmother has authority in her voice. She understood that children no matter what their age or socio/economic status hear the voice of a Grandmother. She assumed that she could speak to the higher ground in human beings and get a positive response. She understood that she could hold her ground and people would respect her. And she was fearless, utterly fearless! She knew that lysol had magic powers. And if those things were all she knew, well it was good enough for me.

 Moral of the Story:

Grandmothers are important, very important! Often a grandmother’s voice is more easily heard than a peer’s, a mother’s or a father’s. Grandmothers bring something important to the table. They prophesy to us who we are and who we can be on many levels and they create a pathway for us to become. My sister and I are both named after our grandmother and we are both like her in many ways. By their mere presence Grandmothers assure us that all is well and will be well if we just keep moving forward. We need grandmothers! So it is no wonder to me that the Bible recognizes the importance of  Grandmothers. Four are mentioned in the book of  Matthew. My friend and mentor Ray Bakke calls them the Grandmothers of Christmas. We will talk about them next time.

So stay tuned for Chapter Two: The Grandmothers of Christmas or Well-behaved women rarely make history, especially in the Bible.

Not the Mama! Solomon and the Baby Cutting Incident.

“Although you have ten thousand teachers you have not many fathers or mothers.”[1] A guy named Paul wrote this. He was urging the readers to realize who it was that really cared about them.  Parents… that’s who care and that is how we prove we are really parents.  Mother’s and Father’s endure for the long run. Teachers are for a season. As an educator myself, I would like to think of teaching as a short parental assignment. Short is the operative word here. Paul emphasized that we need fathers (and mothers) to become spiritually mature. So true! So what does it mean to be a parent?

There was another guy who dealt with parents, mothers to be more specific. Two women were fighting over a baby. They both gave birth around the same time and one baby died. The women came before the king with their dispute. Each claimed that the vital baby belonged to her. The king ordered the baby to be cut in two, one half for each woman. Of course the genuine Mama acquiesced allowing the Not the Mama to have her son. Self sacrifice and love spoke.  Thus the king knew who the real Mama was. Two trajectories exist in this story. One is that King Solomon proved his wisdom to lead his country. The other is stronger, I think, and often overlooked. The real mother proved her maternity by her willingness to let the baby go, relinquish her control and her rightness. Ultimately she preserved her son’s life.

I geek out on theology. Really, I love this stuff. But sometimes I wonder what we are doing when we debate theological concepts ad nauseum. At times we act as if theology is in itself inspired, even more so the stuff that is inherited from the patristic fathers. By it’s very definition, though, theology cannot be inspired. Theology is literally man’s effort to learn about God. Once man is in the formula, it is a flawed effort and subject to change. So why such intense ownership?

The problem is that we get so entrenched in our theological fortresses of certainty that we grind people up without another thought that flesh and blood are at the other end of these arguments, people whose lives we know nothing about…. dear ones who need mothers and fathers to protect them. We go round and round with arguments: hell, no hell… homosexual, heterosexual… women, no women…  and the list goes on. We alienate people, sending them away… we cut the baby in two with our theologizing and the baby dies.

Where are the Mama’s who will acquiesce? Where are the mothers and fathers who will ensure the survival of even the weakest and the least tenable? Where are those who will spread the carpet of warmth and welcoming that is needed for growth and development? Where are the theologically and spiritually hospitable? Where are those who will give up their rights of possession and their right to be right so that the baby can thrive?

The real Mama (and Daddy) does whatever it takes to keep the baby alive.

So I ask you to think about this. Are you the Not the Mama or the Mama? How are you showing hospitality?[2]

Thanks for reading! Next time

Please leave a comment.

Deborah

 


[1] I added the gender equality to this quote. Originally is said only fathers.

[2] I recommend reading  Hospitality and The Other by Amos Yong. New York: Orbis Books, 2008.

Liberal…Really??

I am a typical Portland girl. I do not like to be labeled. My son tells me that I must create a brand for myself. I have struggled with this sage bit of self promoting advice. Branding requires consistency on some level. I have a very hard time with consistency. I like what I like and I don’t like what I don’t like. For instance, I drive a bright red BMW and I have dreadlocks… yeah inconsistent. I have been caught vacuuming in high heels, a party dress and pearls just for fun (the June Cleaver experience), although I mostly wear jeans, something funky on top and boots.

My random impulses have kept me from any cohesive presentation of self. It’s a branding nightmare. This tendency bleeds through to all areas of my life.  I was passed over when the consistency gene was meted out and at this stage of the game change seems, well, inconsistent… :-).

Last week I spent 16 hours on campus teaching students from one of my online classes. Students talk amongst themselves. “Should I take that class? Is so and so a good teacher?” etc. I was privy to some feedback about my class and this is what  I heard, “She’s liberal, but she teaches a great class.” Hmmm… this stirred many thoughts and emotions.

First reaction: Pisted off… I hate labels
Second reaction: That’s not fair… you don’t know me
Third reaction: Liberal, hmmm… Maybe I need to think about this

Great class: this refers to teaching ability. I like that.
Liberal: this refers to theology and it is problematic. To most evangelicals and reformed theologians it is pejorative and divisive. If you are Liberal your salvation is in question because, as we all know, we must be cognitively aligned to a certain theology to be true Christians. One’s theological  fortress of certainty must be well established and cohesive.  This is where I go off the rails… or do I?

I am accused of being inconsistent theologically. I believe in the basic tenets of the faith like the Trinity, the characteristics of God such as omniscient, omnipresent, etc, Lordship of Jesus, and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. My statement of faith would please the Baptists. When it comes to other less prominent issues that are given fewer words in the scriptures, it is a different story. I either admit to not knowing, that is I do not see the scripture as expressing a conclusive view, or I lean towards grace. This is what has garnered me the Liberal label.

Then I began to think again about this word Liberal. I asked myself, “how might my beliefs be Liberal?”
Here is my best guess:

I believe that it is within God’s nature to say yes more than to say no (Matthew 7:7-8). I believe that God made the earth and said, “It is good,”  all of it, without reserve, even though God knew what serpent would do (Genesis1-3).
I believe that Jesus exhibited unconditional acceptance throughout his life.  He sat at dinner with those on the edges of society without requiring their mental ascent to his theology. He even loved the Pharisees.  Why would he would spend so much time addressing them if he did not?
I notice that the Holy Spirit blessed and energized the Antioch church for nearly 20 years before they were instructed to stop drinking blood, eating things strangled, and practicing sexual immorality (Acts 15). These things were all forbidden by Jewish law and yet the Holy Spirit of God was present in the midst of these practices and grew the church. The Holy Spirit was focused on the best rather than the worst.

I came to the conclusion that if
believing the best about creation,
saying yes more than I say no,
practicing unconditional acceptance, and
focusing on the best rather than the worst in a person or community,
if this is Liberal, then that is what I am….   I am a Liberal.

If it means that I openly embrace all who are running towards God (the prodigal father), I am a Liberal.
If it means spreading my arms wide (Jesus on the cross) and loving people without reserve,
then call me Liberal… it’s is not such a bad label  after all.

Am I inconsistent theologically? Most likely.

But I strive to be consistent in love because God is.

Kissing the Clover

A few weeks ago I went out for my morning walk. I am walking now since I hurt my knee and have not been able to run. My son gifted me with one of those Jawbone devices that count steps. My goal is 10,000 steps per day, which I rarely accomplish but I often come close. Anyway the afor mentioned day was an exciting time to be out and about in the neighborhood. The rain was pelting at a 90-degree angle. 30 mph winds wrapped their arms around my umbrella in an attempt to seduce it from my grip. I don’t know why I insisted on the umbrella anyway. I was soaked to the bone. But I held on tight and laughed at the drama that Mother Nature was displaying. She can be histrionic!

The birds were getting their baths and the trees were soaking in a much-needed drink after a long dry summer. As I walked along I could see that the flowers were bending under the weight of the sudden and bountiful downpour. A patch of sunflowers planted near the sidewalk bowed down to the ground blocking my passage. These sunflowers stood at least 6 feet tall before the rains came. With their majestic heads turned towards heaven they filled up with raindrops, which dragged them to their proverbial knees. I wondered how they felt about this. Was it painful physically? Were they humiliated, heads once held high towards the sun, now to be kissing the clover on the earth?

Water was good, right? Except when there is too much water… we call that flooding. The sunflowers were almost but not quite flooded. They were bowed low with life giving water, but not destroyed. I began to wonder, who gets to say what is enough and what is too much? If they could speak, what would those sunflowers say?

Often we define our experiences in life according to how much pain or humiliation they bring to us. We say something is evil if it causes us pain or good if it adds to our resources or self esteem. We frame our lives empirically. Another person looking on might observe differently. How often do we discount a near flooding that was meant to enrich and enlarge the soul and bring us closer to God just because it hurts?

This thought challenges my soul.

The last year and a half has been wrought with deep loss for my family. Not a few dear ones have died, resources have left us, divorces, job loss, etc. There have been many tears. When will it stop? It feels like a flood. But what does God say? Could it be a near flood meant to cause me to bow down? My sage friends tell me that aging means more loss, loss of self, loss of family and that the richness is in seeing it all differently. I wish someone would’ve told me this sooner. I guess I am a late bloomer.

Since there is no controlling loss or the rate at which is happens, it behooves me to adjust. I no longer want to define these experiences as bad because they hurt. I want to mine the gold from every bit of life that remains, hopefully my inner life will be enlarged. I commit to seeing with different eyes. My ears will be alert to new rhythms. I will take time to process my experiences so that I might think differently about them.

And my prayer is this,

                “God, help me to become comfortable kissing the clover.”

 

 

When Sorrows Like Sea Billows Roll

This last year has been a season of deep grief for our family. Our good friend Tony Tuck abruptly left this earth for heaven a year ago February 4th. My youngest brother, Jason Koehn,  died unexpectedly the day after Thanksgiving at the age of 49. And though he is with God, I will never stop missing him. And our dear friend Richard Twiss went to be with the creator quite unexpectedly last Saturday.  My heart is so heavy…

So much grief and I have such little practice. My family does not die, well at least not without a fight and most of them are still holding on, including my nearly 102 year old grandmother. (Yay Grandma!!) So I am not very experienced with loss. I have had a lot to learn.

Added to minimal preparation by my family, our culture does not prepare us well for mourning either even though death is inevitable for each and every one of us. The entire process is sanitized, from the way that the body is whisked away by “professionals” as soon as possible, to the way that we talk about death. A loved one “passes on,” or “goes to a better place.” We avoid the finality of the word dead. This is certainly understandable. Death is shocking and visceral. The denial in each of us runs for a softer place to land. But in all reality there is no soft place to land when someone you love is dead.

Tears…

In this season of my life I have learned to cry. It’s a big change for me. This is what I have learned.
Tears make us uncomfortable, especially tears of mourning. Crying is seen as a loss of self control or a histrionic expression that a person should keep to themselves. Crying is ugly,  makeup streaks the cheeks, the nose runs, and sometimes it is loud and wailing. Best that it be done in private or at least discreetly. But God gave us tears. No other creature in creation has them. That seems significant to me.

We are vulnerable when we cry. It feels out of control. It sometimes seems as though the fountain of teardrops will never dry up. And maybe they shouldn’t, at least not until they have played their role. When we weep we acknowledge that the person who has died has had profound meaning in our lives, that he or she holds a place in our hearts that will be for ever empty because no one will ever be able to fill it. Our tears honor our dead and remind us that they are yet and forever present with us in our memories.

Tears signal our grief to our community in a healthy way. They bind us together in shared vulnerability of loss, grief and pain. We show our soft underbelly, our humanity when we cry. We give others the opportunity to respond in comfort as they sit with us and resonate with our pain. Our tears give permission to others to grieve also.

Tears are cleansing to the body and the heart. They wash our souls, preventing us from getting stuck in our grief. They allow us to be in the moment and feel the loss. They root us to our reality.

When will the tears stop? Who knows. Grief claims real estate in your heart with boundaries that seem to shift like the sands on the beach, real estate that was not voluntarily surrendered. I’ve never been much of a cryer but I now wear tear proof makeup and never leave home without a kleenex because I never know when the tears will flow.  I no longer choke them back because I know that each tear is a prayer precious to God who holds all of our sorrows and all of our tears.

Tears.. don’t be afraid of them… yours or others. Think of them as a holy offering because that is what they are.  If someone cries in your presence they are honoring you. Tears are a precious gift to human beings for self and for others… from the Creator God, the one who made us and knows us better than we know ourselves.

The Parable of the Herb

THE PARABLE OF THE HERB

In my neighborhood there is a small plant that grows in obscure places when left on it’s own. So hearty is this humble plant that it can sprout out from between cement slabs on the sidewalk in the heat of summer. It gets trampled underfoot but that does not discourage this little plant from making it’s bid for the sunshine. It does not require much water and many would take it for a weed.

So powerful is this substance that it has been used with success in treating migraine headaches, insomnia, intestinal parasites, eczema, and anxiety. It is an anti-inflammatory, a blood thinner, an anti spasmodic, a mouthwash, and a sedative.

It also competes with the weeds of the field under non-hospitable circumstances. Yet mother’s through out the ages have given this tea to their colicy babies. Often the only comestible that addicts are given during detox is this tea. It calms their nerves, relieves their muscle spasms, and induces sleep. Cancer patients are relieved of  the painful mouth sores that come as a result of their chemo treatments.

“So what is this little miracle herb?” you may ask.

It is chamomile, common chamomile.

Every time I see a scraggly little bit of the herb breaking through the cracks in the sidewalk my heart sings.

Why? Because it prophesies to me that hardship has meaning, and that in my hardship I have the potential to be much like this rugged little plant. I can bring peace, truth and healing. I can calm those who are distraught and I can serve others who are suffering.

There is something about harsh environments that have the potential to produce sweetness and power. My prayer is that I can live into that sweetness and power.

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.”

Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see.

Deborah says, “Be the Chamomile! Allow your struggle and your pain to make you even sweeter still.”

Thanks for reading. See you next time!