I Beg to Differ….

It’s been difficult to write, read, speak, or think lately as polarizing opinions continue to wreak havoc on my country and my heart. God taught me the importance of differing differently this week.

As Christians, we are not supposed to be fused to a particular ideology, theology, doctrine, or opinion. We are simply to be who God created us to be. It is the sincerest form of praise to Him and the most beautiful witness of His creation and His love for us. As friends, we are supposed to love one another as we are without having to agree on everything. As family, we love unconditionally and without the need to control. Love is not about control; it is as natural as breathing when it is real. When it is controlled, it is like being on a ventilator. You may be breathing, but it isn’t natural or comfortable!

Each of us was created to be different by a Creator Who knows us better than we know ourselves. He could have made us all exactly the same, but He knew better. He could, and can, make us all love Him and one another as He desires; but He knows that would showcase His power rather than His love. God doesn’t want control because He already has it. He wants holiness. That word doesn’t mean perfect; it means maturity, ripeness, readiness to be who He created us to be. Self differentiation allows us to love as God loves.

Fusion is the easiest way to connect, so it is the way most connect. Individuals get lost, and polarization abounds. Our world is fusing and fighting in ways that break God’s heart. It’s bad enough to fuse, but to use His name as the agent of such fusing is inherently wrong. It’s getting more and more difficult to differ, and that hinders differentiation and creates division. God helped me see how differing differently can actually help with the process of differentiation.

I used to feel the need to be who those around me wanted me to be. That need caused me to adapt a Pollyanna approach to living and loving in community. Make everyone happy, and they will love you. All will be right in the world. The world around me will be much more pleasant, and life will be much simpler. That didn’t pan out, so I decided to try being myself and forgetting about whether or not others like me or not. That doesn’t mean being mean; it just means saying what I believe in a respectful way.

God gave me three loving sisters who have, do, and always will love me just as I am. They have surrounded and tried to protect me from the harsh realities of this world all of my life. Their love was a safe harbor for my heart, but God knew I needed more than a harbor. He sent a dear friend who heard my heart and helped me move away from the harbor and into the open sea. It was very scary at first, but my heart found its sea legs and eventually began to enjoy the freedom a non anxious loving presence brings.

I had a discussion with two folks this week about a subject I didn’t realize we disagreed upon. One showed grace, but the other showed rage. I was a bit unnerved by the anger, but I maintained my opinion while giving room for another opinion. When the conversation ended, two of us were still smiling, but one carried her anger with her. I felt our friendship may have been compromised by our difference of opinion, but I didn’t try to fix or convince. I’ve felt that way often during the past year.

I beg to differ because it is in our differing that we learn and grow and change. I long for the day when we can agree to disagree and move on with our lives. When we cannot disagree, we lose so much more than an argument. We lose the ability to self differentiate. Psychologists, medical doctors, guidance counselors, parents, teachers, and ministers will tell you the ability to be who we are created to be is at the heart of living a happy, healthy life.

God made His feelings about self differentiations very clear to Moses and to us. He is Who He is. He is not going to be who we want Him to be, and that is a beautiful lesson for all of us to follow.

God said to Moses, “IAM-WHO-IAM. Tell the People of Israel, ‘IAM sent me to you.’”(Exodus 3:14)

 

Thankful

Embracing that which is in my path is giving me a grateful heart. I’ve wasted too much time fretting over what might have happened or what isn’t happening, and it’s kept me from enjoying what is. This Thanksgiving was the best ever because I savored every single moment.

One of the sweetest moments was when I held my new grand daughter while sitting between her big sisters. My heart was as complete as it’s ever been, and that caused me to pause and offer thanks to God in the stillness of that moment. Most of the moments were not still ones, but the stillness I was feeling didn’t require me or those around me to be still.

Thankfulness requires mindfulness, and mindfulness requires stillness. I’ve struggled with being still for most of my life because I saw it as something I had to do rather than something I could be. Relaxing into obedience is not sitting still and being quiet. I learned at an early age to do that or suffer the consequences. It took every fiber of my being to accomplish the feat, but fear is a powerful motivator.

The stillness God has in mind is not about sitting still or being quiet. It is about letting go and trusting God to know what He’s doing. True stillness allows me to see and hear things I never noticed, and that is allowing my heart to listen in a powerful way.

Hearing God, hearing my own heart, and hearing the hearts of others is what stillness is all about. I am very thankful to finally understand that beautiful truth.

 

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.

 

 

No Way Out!!

Several months ago, my landlord suggested putting up a privacy fence to create a place for the girls to play and for me to relax. I agreed to buy the fence, and he agreed to put in a concrete patio inside the fence. Through a series of mishaps that began back in April, the fence finally went up last week. I loved it! There was only one small problem; they didn’t have a latch but promised they would order one as soon as possible.

I told them not to worry because I didn’t mind having the door open; in fact, it allowed me to have privacy and a beautiful view. The girls and I enjoyed imagining how the space would look when finished and couldn’t wait to see it finished. They were here yesterday when the men came to install the latch and wanted to go out and watch them. It was miserably hot and humid, so I convinced them to play inside so we wouldn’t get in the workers’s way.

I should’ve followed the girls’ lead because an hour later, as the trucks were leaving, I realized I should have paid more attention while they were working. I assumed the guys would come in and tell me they were finished or have me to sign a release as they had done when they installed the fence, but they simply left. When I got outside, I understood why they had left without letting me know.

They had drilled holes up and down the gate and post as they repositioned the gate to accommodate the single latch they brought with them. It swung out onto the sidewalk and made access very awkward. We had to walk around it to get inside the fence, and that wasn’t what I wanted at all. I loved the way it opened before, but I was determined to be positive. I’m trying to be more flexible and go with the flow, so this was a great opportunity to practice patience. The girls and I went inside the fence and closed the gate behind us. I realized I had made a big mistake when I tried to get out.

I didn’t panic because I rarely see the obvious and figured no one would install a fence with no way out. The girls were sitting in the lounge chair facing away from the gate chatting away happily, so I decided to take my time and think through the situation. It took two minutes for irritation to give patience an easy path out of that fence. The girls and I were stuck inside inside a fence with no way to open the gate from the inside! I wasn’t scared because the porch was nearby, and I knew I could get over the connecting wall if I had to. I was angry at the men for putting a single latch on the outside of a gate, and I was madder at myself for not noticing!

When I realized there was no way out, I let my frustration show. The girls noticed something was going on and asked what was wrong. I told them everything was okay, but I was going to have to climb onto the porch and open the gate from the outside so they could get out. The girls watched as I made my way onto the porch, and they had a lot of questions when I opened the gate for them. They were tickled by my awkwardness, but impressed by my agility. We all laughed and decided to go back inside 🙂

The lessons of late have been difficult ones. God knew I was feeling trapped by more than my new fence and saw a teachable moment. He used the gate to help me learn the importance of making sure there is a way out before I go barreling into something. I will remember that lesson each time I open the gate and go into my beautiful outdoor space. I do believe it will be a beautiful space filled with lots of happy times, just not right now.

Sin is like a malfunctioning gate, but God’s forgiveness offers a way to escape. Yesterday, I walked right through that gate without giving getting out a second thought. I have always had the tendency to do just that in life. God knows my heart better than I do, and He knows I frequently get myself into situations with no way out, but He also knows I know to ask Him for help. He will always let me go where I choose, and He knows that I will get locked in a bad situation if not careful. I can pretend I’m not trapped, get mad and blame others for my misfortune,  or admit I’m wrong and let His forgiveness open the way to His will. Climbing that little barrier humbled and humiliated me, but I am so very thankful it was there. Otherwise, I would have had to break down a door or scream until someone heard me. The path to the porch offered a way out. God’s amazing grace offers the same.

Like the girls watching as I went over the little wall, God is impressed when I am willing to be humbled in order to get where He wants me to be. He also finds the humor, and helps me find the humor, in the learning process. I know from teaching that a little humor goes a long way when it comes to retaining knowledge 😉

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.

What’s in a Name?

When Mary Magdalene went to the tomb to anoint Christ’s body, she was filled with grief and frustration. She arrived at the tomb at first light, but it was empty. Jesus was gone. The others went home disappointed, but Mary lingered, longing to know what had happened to the body of her beloved Lord.

But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb;  and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”  When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”  Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). John 20:11-17 NASB

This passage has always tugged at my heart, but it touched me even more deeply this Lenten Season as I witnessed the power of love in a new light. Mary didn’t recognize Jesus, but that isn’t surprising. None of us see what is right before our eyes, especially if it is something we are not expecting to see.

Henry Cavil, the actor who plays Superman in the new movie, stood in Times Square under a giant advertisement for Superman vs Batman wearing a tee shirt with the Superman logo on the front. His face was in lights above him, but no one recognized him. He was responding to criticism about Superman’s trademark disguise. Critics pointed out that glasses would never be enough to hide Superman’s identity from those around him. The experiment proved superman didn’t even need glasses; he could easily hide in plain sight because people do not see what they are not expecting to see.

Mary asked the man she thought to be a gardener what he had done with the body. He simply said, “Mary!,” and suddenly her world was changed forever.  One of the most powerful moments in the Bible, for me, is when she utters, “Rabboni.” She wanted to embrace Jesus, but He bid her not to come near because He had not yet ascended to His Father. Like Mary, I am beautifully changed when someone speaks my name in love. Being known heals and makes my heart whole. No one knows that better than God, and Mary learned its power that morning at the empty tomb.

The first time my son uttered the syllables “ma ma,” my heart melted into a puddle. The first time my granddaughters called me “Gigi,” my heart went to a new level of love. The children in my granddaughter’s kindergarten class call me “Gigi” when I visit or volunteer, and that fills my heart with joy. They squeal with delight each time they see me at school or out in the community. They act as though it’s been years since they’ve seen me. That delight is what love is all about, and it never gets old.

God delights when He hears His children say His name with love, but His heart is broken when His name is used to justify violence or spread hatred. His greatest desire is to be with us, and to know that we know how much He loves us. When we say His name and the names of those around us in love, His kingdom comes, and His will is done.

A name spoken in love brings joy into the world, and that is what Easter is all about What’s in a name? Everything!!

Happy Easter 🙂