Differentiated Unity??

Differentiated unity may sound like an oxymoron, but it is a beautiful truth I am learning to embrace. I first learned about self-differentiation eight years ago when a friend introduced me to the concept. He used a pencil and a rubber band to help me understand the difference between unhealthy fusion and healthy differentiation. I don’t pretend to be an expert on family systems, but I have learned to discern how being who I am allows me to connect as God desires.

Fusion creates a tight bond, but it is a bond that doesn’t allow movement or growth. It is the type of connection I preferred because there is a sick sort of safety with fusion. It’s concrete walls are a powerful form of protection. Self-differentiation requires letting go and allowing myself and those to whom I connect the room they need to expand, move, explore, and grow.

God is the ultimate example of self-differentiation. He describes Himself as The Great I AM. He is Who He is, and He always will be. He refuses to fuse, but so many Christians refuse to follow His example. It’s easier to fuse to a group or set of beliefs than it is to have a personal relationship with the Creator and those He created. I have struggled with the notion most of my life. My lack of faith caused me to focus upon what I could do for God and others and avoid differentiation.

Doing is, and always will be, much easier than being. Being requires stillness and trust that God knew what He was doing when He created me. I have to admit I have often believed He must have been having an off day when He created me. My early childhood cemented that belief into my head and my heart. I was not like everyone else. I knew this because my father pounded the notion into my body, and my mother whispered it into my spirit. Difference defined and confined my heart, so I and learned to make others happy by doing for them or making them laugh. It worked by all accounts, except for the one God was keeping in my heart.

I learned about self-differentiation in an honest, loving environment where I could be me and still be loved. I loved the freedom of being myself with someone who understood and encouraged, but I didn’t learn how to apply the learning to all aspects of my life until recently. Letting go is the test of self-differentiation, and anyone who has an adult child understands the pain involved in letting someone you love go so they can become their truest self.

As I watched my son love his family and help clean up after our wonderful meal, I was filled with pride. The mark of a great relationship is not how tightly I hold on to those I love, it is in how willing I am to let them go and grow into who they are meant to be. It is like the quote often attributed to Richard Bach, “If you love something, let it go; if it comes back, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.”

I never felt closer to my son than I did in a quiet moment when we hugged yesterday. I told him it was the best Thanksgiving ever, and he said that they just kept getting better and better. I will not completely understand self-differentiation until I am with God in heaven, but I experienced a sweet taste of it in that beautiful Thanksgiving hug.

The unity God desires does not come from holding on; it comes from letting go. Differentiated unity makes perfect sense to my heart. It took eight years for me to understand it, but that moment when it settled in my heart yesterday was well worth the wait 🙂

 

 

More Than Just a Dream

I always sleep well, but I was surprised to awaken this morning and see that I had slept for ten hours! I blame it on the rain. We have been dry for a very long time, and the smoke from forest fires has filled the air for weeks. Those drops of rain were precious and long awaited, so hearing them last night sent me into a slumber filled with dreams.

I’ve always had vivid dreams, but the dreams this week have been especially powerful ones. Earlier in the week, God gave sweet resolution to a recurring nightmare I’ve had for decades. I’ve experienced three such dreams in my life. One began after I almost drowned at age five and lasted until I was fifty. Another, about not being able to get out of a building, started in college, and ended a month ago. The third began in my thirties and ended this week.

The dream about getting out was a particularly troubling one because the same theme recurred, but the locations varied from decade to decade. I would be in college, in church, or some other large building. In all the dreams, I was unable to find my way out. Stairways would collapse. Doors would not open, or they would lead nowhere. The dream always went from frustrating to frightening and ended with my giving up on getting out and waking up. God brought resolution to that dream six years ago with a vivid set of concrete steps I recognized but ignored. I went my own way, so the dreams continued until last month.

The last dream is one that haunted my rest for over four decades. I desperately need to go to the restroom, but I cannot find one that works or one that is private. I always dismissed the dream as simply a way for my body to wake me up so I could go to the bathroom. I know now there was much more to the dream. This week, God helped me see the dream was about my fear of intimacy. I keep a distance when it comes to relationships and tend to have relationships where time, distance, or circumstances keep intimacy at bay. The dream this week ended in a way that made me realize that those illusive restrooms were simply symbolic of my need to hide when it comes to loving as God desires.

It is easier to love from a distance than it is to share life in an intimate way. God made that clear in a very humorous way that I will not share because it’s far too graphic. It’s hard enough for me to share as much as I am sharing; so I’ll keep the details to myself. I know those images will make me smile when I find myself needing to remember the powerful lesson God has been trying to get across for so many years. The teacher in me would call it an AH HA!! Moment. God chose to make it a HA HA!! Moment so I would remember it when my heart starts to look for a place to hide. I know, and used to tell my students, that humor increases knowledge retention by thirty percent. It’s why we did a lot of laughing in my classroom. God knows I love to laugh, so it’s the best way to get me to remember.

I thank God for the dreams and visions He has always given and used to help me find His way and learn His lessons. His patience is beyond anything I can imagine, but His results are worth waiting for. The teacher in me admires His strategies, and the student in me is always amazed and most always amused by them. The child in me is so very thankful for a Heavenly Father who knows and loves me better than I know myself.

I have always been a dreamer, and no one knows that better than the One who created this little dreamer. It follows that He would use dreams to get my attention. After all, sleep is the only time my heart is still enough to listen.

 

 

Write On!

I’ve wrestled with writing for the past few months and thought about not renewing my WordPress account. I haven’t written faithfully in 2016, so I figured it was time to stop blogging.

As I’ve prayed about it last week, several folks told me how much they enjoyed reading my posts. I was humbled by the comments and amazed that some came from folks I hardly know. God continues to bid me to write, and I continue to make excuses not to. I had to laugh when the girls began watching an old Disney show called “Do With a Blog” last week. They love the silly sitcom and so do I. Lillyann asked what a blog was when we started watching the show, so I explained it and told her I had one. She wanted to see it and asked me what I wrote about. I told her I wrote about my feelings. She asked if it was hard to do, and I told her it was very hard. She may only be seven, but she seemed to understand exactly what I meant. I love that about her.

I started writing for Lillyann in 2009 because I wanted her to hear my heart and know me deeply when she was older. Mylah came along in 2011, so I continued to write with both girls in mind. In November, little Kylie will join us on this wonderful journey. I don’t know if any of the girls will read what I’ve written for them, but I do hope they will. I printed over 300 pages of the posts that relate to them so they can read them when they are older. When I showed the notebooks to Lillyann several years ago, she said she was going to read them when she was my age. I smiled and thought of how much I would love to hear my grandmother’s right now.

Writing is a pain filled process, but like the deep tissue massages I’ve been getting over the past few months, it’s pain necessary for healing. The peace I feel after I write makes the pain of sharing bearable. I don’t know how God will use writing to transform me into who He wants me to be, but I do know that sharing the journey through my writing has been a big part of my healing.

When I taught, I urged my students to open their hearts and share their writing with others. I never followed my advice because I was too afraid. The Pollyanna in me preferred a happy face to a healed heart. I didn’t want to burden others with my sadness. God placed a young women in my path yesterday who had the same fear. I met a friend at a small cafe to catch up and reconnect, and this young lady was working there. She knew my friend, and I heard the young women tell her that she was deeply sad but didn’t want to make others sad with her dark feelings. I jumped in and told her she didn’t have to make others happy. I knew not to say anything, but I just couldn’t help myself. She told me sadly that it was her reality, and I understood completely. My plea was meant for me.

Writing is not for the faint of heart, but nothing else gives me the catharsis I find in the transparent honesty that comes when I share my heart with others. So, I’m renewing my WordPress account and trusting God to do what He does best-open my heart in ways that always surprise and heal. Living and loving as God desires isn’t easy because it requires a level of faith I cannot reach on my own. I’m finding that the more I let go of my need to make others happy or be who they expect me to be, the closer I come to being the beloved daughter God created me to be. I have come a very long way since I began writing in 2009 and even further since I decided, in August 2012, to share my journey by blogging. I still have a long way to go, but inviting others to come along as I learn makes the journey a joy.

Thank you all for sharing the journey. You encourage me to keep going. The journey truly is better with company.  That was God’s powerful lesson this week.

 

 

 

 

A Little Middle School Attitude

 

I taught middle school for thirty-three years and find myself wondering how I might deal with the current adult nonsense if I were back in my classroom.

The personal attacks I see on the news remind me of those I saw during my career. Attacks hurt at any age, but they are especially harmful when we are beginning to define our individuality personalities. They are devastating for those students who become the scapegoats of disgruntled gangs.

Adults are forming nasty gangs these days, and you can believe middle schoolers are paying close attention to what’s going on in this election. Families, communities, and the world are not what they imagined them to be. The small family circle and close-knit community is not as safe as they once thought. It saddens me to see adults behaving like middle school bullies because it frightens fragile folks who are stepping out of their comfort zones and exploring their world on a larger scale. It also encourages those who bully others and find name calling to be an effective weapon.

It’s hard for children to go through the transformation they must go through in middle school, but I counted it a beautiful blessing to go through that with my students. I love butterflies and used their metamorphosis to help guide students through a difficult leg of their journeys. I hope I showed them that change is worth the pain. I suppose I would tell my students today that not all adults are ready for transformation.

Yesterday, while talking with two young women who work with children in crisis, I wondered if maybe adults could use a little middle school attitude during this stressful time of change in our country. Young voters love Bernie Sanders for the same reason I love him. He has faith and believes in what he’s doing. He behaves in a way that makes us feel safe, and that’s an important quality in a leader. I know that he won’t be able to do all he wants to do if he makes it to the white house, but he has a dream.

Others have had similar dreams for change, and I loved introducing my students to such dreamers because dreamers make us want to dream. Whether in fiction or in real life, we learn that all change begins with a dream. Change may be painful, but growth doesn’t happen without it. No one understands growing pains better than a middle schooler because their bodies, minds, and emotions are growing in ways that cause them to hurt. That pain causes them to act out or speak out when they probably shouldn’t.

I had a middle school moment myself yesterday when my granddaughters were not being nice to one another. I laid down the law and raised my voice. They were going to be nice to each other in my house!! It was immature, but very effective. I apologized for getting upset with them, and told them I would love them no matter what they did or said. I also told them how much it hurt me for them to hurt each other. There is nothing I love more than watching them love each other, but there is no greater angst than seeing them argue or trade insults.

God understands my hurt because He loves it when His children get along, and it breaks His heart when we hurt each other. He could make us behave if He wanted to, but He knows that kind of obedience is worthless. It might help if we got a little middle school attitude when it comes to fairness and justice and used our adult hearts and heads to help right what is wrong. Maturity has taught me that true change cannot take place in the world until it takes place in me. Gandhi said it well, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  

God is helping me understand this beautiful truth, but it isn’t an easy process. It involves letting go of my desires and trusting God to give me His. I cannot right wrongs or bring needed change until I find peace myself. It’s easy to storm in or demand my way as I did with the girls yesterday, and I know how to get a crowd to go along with me. Some middle schoolers find comfort when they learn they can easily control others, but they soon learn the crowd isn’t what it’s cracked up to be and will turn on you when the next bully comes along. When the tables are turned, they learn a new lesson about how it feels to be a scapegoat.  Hard lessons are necessary for all of us, but that’s what makes them stick with us and, hopefully, change the way we act or think.

Reinhold Neibuhr says it best in his Serenity Prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,  

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.”

Middle schoolers have trouble accepting the things they cannot change, but they try desperately to change the things they can. They may lack the wisdom to know the difference, but so do we. Perhaps, we can recapture a little of that middle school attitude when it comes to changing what we can while remembering the pain of trying to fix what we can’t. Then, perhaps, we will come to that sweet place of peace that comes with the wisdom of knowing the difference. The Holy Spirit comes in very handy in that department.

That Sweet By and By

Happily ever after used to be my battle cry.

I was sure I would see Jesus in that sweet by and by.

I couldn’t seem to find my dreams no matter how I tried,

So I began to drown inside the ocean I had cried.

 

Jesus never seemed to tire as He caught each falling tear.

I know He wished I’d let go of my paralyzing fear.

He made sure that the way to Him was always crystal clear,

But I put up my obstacles and would not let Him steer.

 

He bid me trust and promised that He’d never told a lie,

His precious love so much more than simply pie in the sky.

I loved Him more than anything and said that I would try,

But wondered if I had been wrong when I began to die.

 

I gave up the steering wheel and prepared myself to veer.

I let go of everything but decided to stay near.

His sweet loving word of comfort was all my heart could hear.

He showed me miles of faces, and I saw those I held dear.

 

Some were here and some in heaven, but all were filled with cheer,

When they saw I realized their love would always be near.

That sweet by and by is not in the sky; it’s always here.

The love I sought, already bought, by Someone very dear.

Still Waters

God woke me this morning with the image of a mountain spring and Psalm 23. Those who know me well, know how much I love David’s beautiful poem. No scripture touches my heart the way it does, and it beautifully describes the transforming power of His lessons this week.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. (KJV)

The line that touched my heart and soul this morning was “he leaded me beside the still waters.” The waters in my life have been anything but still, so I’ve yearned for the peaceful waters described in verse two. With a lot of trust and a little fear, I let go of my will and gave God the reigns to my heart. I’ve surrendered bits and pieces before, but this was a complete letting go that left me completely at His mercy.

I grew up thinking God was a powerful reckoning force full of fury, and that’s why there was a little fear in my letting go. Love has always held an element of fear for me, and God knew that was holding my heart back and keeping me from loving as He desires. I finally found the courage, with the help of a dear friend, to trust God completely. I wasn’t prepared for what happened because I was expecting the usual hurt to be unusually painful. I wasn’t expecting peace in place of the pain, but that’s exactly what I felt as God led me beside the still waters and bid me to drink deeply and relax completely.

A wise friend once told me that relaxing into obedience was the best way to obey. That didn’t sink in completely then, but it did this morning as I found myself waking up beside a cool, sweet spring of living water. I can’t remember ever feeling so relaxed in my life.

My early life was spent drowning in muddy waters. Confusion and despair kept my heart from finding my way out. I went from the lake into a stormy sea and spent three decades fighting waves in troubling waters. When God finally brought me to the shore, I made my way up an inviting creek that proved to be frigid when I mustered up the courage to venture in. I decided to stay away from the water after that, but God had other plans. He led me beside the deep waters of a still mountain spring. Confused and curious by this new connection to water, I created a muddy mess by playing in it instead of sitting still and drinking deeply.

I love the way God teaches, and this morning was classic God as He reminded me of a time over fifty years ago when I stirred up my aunt’s spring and learned a difficult lesson from daddy. My mother’s oldest sister was named Edith, and she and her husband Dave lived far back in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Upon arriving, daddy sent my sisters and I to fetch some fresh water from her spring.The first thing daddy wanted after finishing the treacherous trek up the mountain was a cup of that precious water to go with his bourbon.

Edith and Dave didn’t have running water or electricity, but they did have a well right behind the house. That water was wonderful, but it didn’t compare to the water from the spring further up the mountain. My sisters and I were ready to move after the long trip, so we headed off in search of the spring. I got their first and took the ladle Aunt Edith had given me and started playing in the water. If you know me, that makes perfect sense.

When we returned to the cabin with a pail of muddy water, my father’s wrath was intense. He knew I was stupid, but could I possibly be that stupid!! It would take hours for the dirt to settle, so he would have to settle for well water. I slipped outside and asked myself the same question he had asked of me. I came up with the same answer I always came up with. I must be that stupid because the evidence kept pointing in that direction. I was feeling the same sense of stupidity a few weeks ago as I struggled with the stirring I was doing in my heart.

God always hears my heart, and He always answers my prayers in ways I never understand. Like that stirred spring, it took a while for my heart to settle into a state of sweet peace; but the resulting cleansing was even more amazing than that mountain spring when I returned later to fetch its water in the proper way. The murky mess I made was replaced with a crystal clear oasis waiting to quench my powerful thirst. My heart was like Aunt Edith’s spring this morning as I relaxed into an obedience that wasn’t motivated by guilt or fear; it came straight from Christ’s precious love, and that’s exactly where obedience is supposed to come from. Maybe, I’m not so stupid after all 🙂