How to Fight Brokenness, Do Good

The world hurts. All around I see things that are broken, divorces, yelling matches, ongoing jaded arguments, affairs, violence, controlling behavior, bigotry etc. I see things that are not necessarily broken but just ugly, a mean word, negative assumptions, miscommunication, obsession, unhealthy habits, pushing work on to others and more. It all comes down to relationships. Broken and ugly relationships between family members, among friends, students and teachers, politicians and their constituents.

I know friends struggling with a divorce, another an eating disorder, another that feels lonely and neglected, another wasting their life on a career they don’t love. People matter a great deal to me and all of these hurts and pain can be overwhelming. I immaturely can default to just keeping busy in my own world to distract from everything I see. Not only those people I know personally but the eyes and weary faces of those at the grocery store can weigh on my heart.

Even more so I am burdened when it is through my hand that the ugliness comes. From obvious things like saying unkind things to those that are close, being mean to my mother, failing to respect boundaries, or most recently the subtlety of planning to be able to deal with a bad marriage rather than working towards being ready for a great one.

That last one, that subtle move from focusing on negative to positive is very helpful. In a world with the media spewing all of the things gone wrong with the world from violence, to political systems, to laws, child kidnappings, sex trade, etc. Where can we even begin? What really helps? There are those that have a voice and an audience with several million views. Me? I had seven views of my blog yesterday. Mostly from Canada. Where I am pretty sure even thieves say they are sorry.

Do good. Do right. Have compassion. When someone is posting inflammatory language on Facebook, siding with one person or another, listen to their heart. They are probably hurting. Coming back with the other extreme probably won’t help. Even if kind words won’t change their view, they will contribute to beauty in the world and not an ugly argument.

Do good for the world in front of you. You may be able to go out and serve at a homeless shelter or spend hours a week mentoring children at risk. But if you don’t, then simply do good to all of those around you and what touches your heart. Do at risk youth touch your heart? Then play with kids you know. Share words of advice. Encourage them and tell them nice things. Share stories of your life that teach a lesson.

Do divorces pain your heart? Then listen to those struggling in their marriage. Have compassion on the divorced, and do good in your own relationships. Listen, understand, communicate, encourage, write letters, leave notes for others, especially a significant other. Kindly speak up when you see ugly behavior in others that are single or taken.

For me, most of all, I just feel for those that are sad, stressed, burdened or confused. So, I smile. I smile in public, I smile at the gym. I may not change their life, but for a moment I share something meaningful. I am trying to add being as encouraging and uplifting as possible. I believe in the potential of all my friends whether they see it or not. I want to remind them of who they are, because we all forget who we are at times.

The best way to combat wrong is to do right. Actively. That may be actively targeting a specific wrong, or it may just be doing the right thing in your own life. Spread beauty.

Spirals, Doors, and Feelings

Have you ever noticed that every time you hold a door for someone who is more than four feet away? They always smile, look at you, look down and rush the open door avoiding any awkward human contact. Or when you stop in the car and wave someone across the street: smile, look down, and then run.

I do the same thing when someone holds the door open for me or when I cross the street. I do not want to make them wait. Which, is silly and insulting. I feel insulted when I am holding the door and others rush. Excuse me, but do you really think that my kindness and charm is so petty that I would not be willing to wait? I did offer. At the same time I feel bad that I caused them to rush.

Am I the only one thinks this way? That there is a slow downward spiraling trend towards bad feelings? The door opening recievee, (the walker? Wait… no.) feels bad that someone has taken the time to hold the door and must wait. The person holding the door feels bad for the one who ran. Both feel they did a good deed. The one holding the door knows they held the door. The runner feels they saved the door opener from having to wait longer. But for why?

Why cannot we, or I, graciously except the offer of an open door just as we are? Walking whatever speed we are at. Do we not believe they are gracious enough? They may have offered yet still are burdened? As though their lives are so poor that waiting a few minutes longer would mean a mental breakdown later that evening.

But it is the same thing most anything we are offered. When parched and given water we suffice with one glass when we could have four. When fed we eat a meager portion when we could eat the whole pig.

If you ask me a question for which I have a ten-minute energetic answer, I shorten and deprecate my own answer. I do not have faith in the other person’s patience. I do not want to be a burden. I am afraid that if I talk to much I will not be liked. Living through fear and belittling my own voice I am depriving them from an experience of life, listening. I am depriving both of us the relationship developed from experiencing me more fully. I sink myself into a deeper isolation.

I am not a hero when I do this, and even if I was I am not the Hulk. I am not endless in my patience and long suffering. I am human and need a friend to speak with, share with, to be free to talk for five hours strait with (I have done this when I was little). I will take the risk. If you ask I will answer, and if I wear your patience thin I learned more about you and we are both better off.

So I commend you, when someone opens the door for you do not rush. Walk at the same pace through, smile, and look up. Look them in the eye with all the time it takes you to get to the door. Make it a real connection, and say thank you.

From belief to doubt to love part 1

From belief, to doubt to love part 2

I care deeply about people and want them to feel loved. One of my principle ways of doing this is thoughtful intentional listening and probing questions to help them open up. My goal was always to console past hurts and pains.

I had many experiences pouring time and energy into others in this way. I was always happy and joyous about the opportunity and saw the blessings and the fruit. It was a signature part of who I was and how I loved people. Then I met Eric.

Eric had previously been known to be a very happy go lucky energetic individual. Everyone on campus knew who he was. We had very opposite upbringings. He was raised mostly by a single mother from divorced parents just above poverty. I was raised by two married parents in a middle class home. However, we always respected each others point of view and enjoyed our conversations that stretched our previous beliefs. I was looking forward to my year with him as a roommate.

Unfortunately, the happy bubbly individual I had known went through an identity crisis and began wallowing in all of his childhood daddy and family issues. I was happy to help despite my own identity crisis where I was terrified of who I would become and that our conversations were rarely conducive to my sleep cycle.

He believed that he was a sham on the outside pretending to always happy. Now he was going to live in each moment honestly. He wanted so bad to have some sort of female affection. And many things like that. On several occasions I gave up what turned out to be a whole letter grade in order to spend time listening and sympathizing with him. Worth it.

I was falling into my own pit of depression, but still I made it a point to share in his life. A girl he had been good friends with had written him a letter saying he was sexy. Most of the conversation I do not remember, but this, “You know what she said, she thought I was sexy. Sexy? Me?” He was rather overweight. “She has a boyfriend and yet she has been my friend and encouraged me. She wrote me a note. The only bit of encouragement I have had all semester. No one else has tried to be a part of my life or encourage me or understands what I am going through.”

Of course not. Especially not the guy sitting across from you two hours past his bedtime who was in the middle of spiraling towards thoughts of suicide. Nope no one.

It was at that moment that I realized… People suck. People will suck you dry of all of your energy. Then, in return. They just sit there and do nothing. No growth. No life change. No progress. Just a black hole sucking up all of the attention.

My identity was wrapped up in my ability to help effect a positive change in others. I had always been able to be some sort of a blessings in others lives, regardless of how small. And now someone who I thought was going to be a close friend threw out all of my loving efforts. My care was rejected and the seed of doubt was planted. If they can just throw away all of the care and attention, why bother?

Developing from belief, to doubt, to love

The next several postings describe my journey from love to doubt and back again. I started off principally and without effort believing in people and my ability to love them towards that which is good. Various experiences broke down my faith people and my belief that my life makes a difference.

This has some bearing on an argument that I had been having with my sister and my mother for some weeks now. According to them there is a specific point in time when someone comes to a self-realization. A moment when they become self-aware of who they are. This point marks when they are an adult and able to make wise decisions and frankly, in a place to choose a spouse and significant life choices. My position has been that one is always continuously changing and growing. The moment when you believe you have arrived you have no longer arrived.

However, looking back I do see a distinct change in my beliefs that is a better mark of maturity. I observed and believed that my actions, feelings, beliefs, and entirety of life effects those around me. From something as simple as frowning or smiling in public, to larger items such as telling the truth verses lying. The mark of our life is how we respond to God’s love.

I am still developing towards that. The temptation is to view the mark of my life as how much good change I can effect in others. This is a falsehood for whether or not there is a good effect in someone else the good action I choose is before God.

Listening

I was reading in a book recently about a peasant mercilessly beating his donkey that was laden with wood. The animal was tired and slowed, so the peasant whipped it. Eventually up a hill the animal gave up and just laid down. The peasant began to past whipping and just beat the poor animal. He was treating it as though it was a machine, not a donkey.

In the context of the story, he talked about how whenever we are dealing with a thing such as an animal or an idea, that we must know what we are dealing with. We need to know its limits, how it communicates, what it is supposed to do. We need to know what it can do, and what it can’t.

I immediately thought of relationships. I realized that recently in one of my friendships, that I wasn’t treating my friend as my friend. I shall call him Sue. I was treating Sue like Sandy, not like Sue. I was treating Sue how I wanted him to be able to behave, not how he was.

Of course, I expect those around me to want to grow and improve, especially if I am going to be close to them. But if I begin to treat say, a house bunny the same as a speedy wild jack rabbit, then I am going to cause nothing but problems.

In short I need to treat people as they are, as an individual who is unique with family background, genetics, a certain body, differing capabilities. To do that, I need to listen very carefully. With my ears, and my eyes. I am committing, and want to, be able to let myself go so I can really step into others. I will talk about listening in my next post.

If I want to be an effective lover, I need to know if I am loving a cat person, or a dog person, or a rabbit, or whale, or duck, or hippo or platypus. I especially need to know about the platypus because they have poisonous claws that can kill you.

Stories of a Broken World

                I had particularly good morning (which for me starts at 3 AM) made toasty by my overly affective heater and filled with contemplation on the way to work. I passed a billboard for the California Lotto. The stakes over 100 million dollars.

Later that evening, past my bed time of 7 PM I was on my way home from an event and decided to stop and buy two lotto tickets. I had debated whether or not to stop for about five minutes beforehand in my head. I needed to get to bed. I don’t plan on winning, but the excitement of waiting to see if any numbers line up is worth the occasional pocket change to me, and apparently losing a few minutes of sleep as well.

                I had a nice interchange with the cashier who has worked at that particular corner store for close to 10 years or more. “I am paying my, ‘I am not good at math’ tax to the state.” I quipped and smiled. I returned to and started my car, my obnoxiously bright HID lights slowly warmed up. A young homeless looking couple was huddled between a Redbox and an ice machine and lifted up a cardboard sign to shield their eyes. The sign red, “Please help me shelter my wife”

                I thought to myself, “I need to get to bed, I have to be up early and need to make sure I am awake as not to endanger my possible promotion. Besides, I don’t have cash on me.” The juxtaposition losing a few minutes of sleep and the last of my small change, and then justifying not helping based upon money and time horrified me—the whole way home.

                It is choices like these that show me how far my frozen heart has fallen. I am thankful I even noticed, and noticing is the first step. But oh how many shattered pieces has my heart become? It is my goal to piece it back together broken shard by broken shard, and then to thaw it out.

                But I am fighting the mental fight against something unreal. Television, Hollywood, the news, and a few unfortunate events have taught me, “why bother?” There are no guarantees that one, or many acts of kindness will make a difference. There is only a tiny flicker of a light holding on to, because it is right. I hope it warms up like the lights of my car, so it is something piercing and causes the pains of life to shield themselves. 

Reclaiming My Soul

                When I graduated from Multnomah University, I had a small house party. My closest friends came and we all played a bunch of group games. I wanted to go around and tell everyone how much I appreciated them, but of course they all objected and said they wanted to do the reverse. Two themes stood out to me.

The first was several of my friends mentioning in different words, that they felt like they were the person they were the person they were supposed to be when I was engaged in their lives. I had always tried to build a habit of seeing people as they could become, and not just where they were at. Apparently I succeeded.

The second was a story that I had completely forgotten about, was retold to me by Tamara. At church one Sunday morning we had a homeless man come in. After speaking with him for a while I led him in to have a seat. Partway through the sermon (apparently) I noticed that he could not keep from salivating on himself. So I rose, quietly went to the bathroom and brought him some paper towels to clean himself up with.

I am very grateful to Ray and Tamara for all of their input into my life. I must give much of my educational credit to Ray for all of his teaching. Most of all I am appreciative of him teaching compassion, which is best represented by Tamara’s retelling of this story. Even after all the study and education to acquire my degree, the part of college that really matters is the lives that I have touched. All the people whose futures I have believed in.

Unfortunately in the year or so after graduating that part of me that looked out for even the smallest or most outcast of people has fallen asleep. But Christ is in the process of healing the scars that have hardened my heart.

                It has been a very long time since I have written any stories. As my heart is coming alive again I wish to share the compassion for the world through stories. I hope you enjoy.

Dating, worth it?

One of my friends and I were having a conversation about relationships recently.
“You know what will be great about heaven?” I said as I pointed out the hope, “when we get to heaven we will get to be friends with all of the ones we have lost or never had a chance to have along the way. And we will be perfect so no drama!”
“Yeah. And you know what else will be great about heaven? There won’t be any dating. Want to know how I know there won’t be dating? Because the Bible says there won’t be any weeping or gnashing of teeth.”
A while ago I talked about the question of, “Are people worth it?” which now I usually have decided that they are. However, now I often find myself asking, is dating worth it? I have seen few friends attempt the cultural oddity and come out unscathed. Most have had enough bad experiences that I do not need to focus on all the hurt pain and ‘darkness’ that can come with the territory.
Instead, in light of my last few posts on light and darkness, I want to share just a little hope. Hope that is there even with all the negative issues that may arise, and hope that can be applied to all relationships in which there is a loss—either from a broken relationships, friendship or other, or just after saying goodbye.
Idina Menzel is the wonderful singer that sings the hit song “Let it Go” from Disney’s Frozen. (The irony of that song alongside dating is intended) As the first Disney princess I ever wanted to marry, when I found out she sung a lot of other songs I immediately looked them up. I found one song, “Better to Have Loved.” The song is marginal, but the lyrics are poignant. Better to, “fall into the earth for a trip into the sky.”
This song, though intended romantically, pushes forward the idea that the light is worth the darkness. That good in the world is always worth fighting through everything that is bad, and that we should do that good whenever possible. The good in the song being love, the bad being the loss of the object of affections.
I had a good conversation with another friend recently where he told me a story about the Christian musician, Keith Green. Keith Green, in reference to his wife, (paraphrase) “Even if I had never had the chance to marry her, I would have been thankful just for the opportunity I had to know her.”
The only change I would make (If the paraphrase is in fact correct) is that it is worth it to have the chance to love whomever it may be that we lose. It is not dependent upon who the other person is, but a thankfulness that we have the opportunity to love another. I am thankful for every instance I have had in which I am able to love any and all of my friends, past or present, here or there, whole or broken. Loving them is the good I love in and of itself.

Out of Darkness Into the Light

The answer to the darkness is never to stay in the darkness. The hurts and pains in our lives can never be fixed, or soothed just by talking about them. When I share with my friends my darkness, my hurts, pains, and everything that is wrong with the world, I need a listening ear and I need to hear their stories. But it cannot stay there.
For years I my relationships with people revolved almost solely with exposing and working through hurts and pain. When I found myself in a relationship with someone who had difficulties in life, but who did not need deep probing questions, did not need someone to sit and hold them in the darkness, I didn’t know what to do. She would be sad, I would listen, and then they she be fine. Or would have been if I had not kept digging. She had talked herself out of depression, and was drawn to the light more than the darkness. I did not know how to have a relationship with her, or anyone else that didn’t need, what I call, commiseratory, darkness wallowing rescuer .
Other friends I knew were drawn to the darkness. I would listen and commiserate. They were all too eager to keep going back, and bringing up more and more hurt and pain. Because I wanted to ignore my own pain and hurts was very quick to live vicariously through them. I know it did them good to have a friend, but I could do them better.
Part of this does come from my struggle to enjoy the world just because. I struggle with enjoying people just because they are them. (Which my purple friend is greatly helping me with) I am learning though. I know that it is good to listen and sit in the muck with people for a while. But you can’t stay there. There must be some good, enjoyment, happiness, love, that moves us forward. For some, all they need is the innate goodness of a relationship with someone that cares to listen and understand. For others though, they need something more.
I propose trying an adventure, playtime, laughter, tickling, happy stories and the color purple. Go outside and experience something new. Give your friends a relationship with you, and the rest of the world worth cherishing. Because it is not our relationship with the darkness that defines us, but the relationship with the light.

Reflecting God

Previously I talked about understanding loving God as obedience and enjoying life. I would like to summarize these with the proposition that the life worth living is the one that reflects the character and nature of God. If we know who God is, then we can live the life we want to.
Rather than try and urge people to just obey God in order to love him, if we focus on reflecting his nature, we include both direct obedience following his created order. We need to have a mindset that seeks to follow his design in creation. If we are only seeking to follow law, then what are we to do with the myriads of grey areas we run into on a daily basis?
For example, if I am to reflect the nature of God in my finances, I am going to give money to those in need, I will avoid debt, I will not stress over finances, and I will save for a rainy day. Giving money reflects God’s love and care for those in need. Avoiding debt follows God’s wisdom of not being bound to another human being. Not stressing shows faith in God’s providence and mimics the faith in God’s plan that Christ had. Saving for a rainy day comes from an understanding that God has made us finite and we have no idea of what will come tomorrow.
Reflecting God’s character, at least for me, helps to reduce the stress of individual decision. My goal is not to make the exact right decision every moment of my life. My goal is to as a whole act out God’s character and nature as much as possible. So where it comes to things that are not moral, I think of the organization and order in God’s creation.
Part of enjoying God’s creation is enjoying it on his terms, even when the sinful way is temporarily more pleasurable. Part of our faith needs to be in the goodness of God as expressed through his order.
For example, Scripture makes it clear that all forms of sexuality are to be saved for marriage. There are however no prescribed rules of physicality in dating. We have not rule of whether holding hands, kissing, cuddling, groping etc. are okay or not. God designed it so that sex means marriage. If you have sex, you are married. If we understand God’s nature as a holy devoted God to his people, and his view on marriage, then it is very simple to reflect God’s complete devotion to covenants by keeping ourselves from all forms of sexuality before marriage.
Though the Church continually rallies “no sex” there is a long list of un-Christ-like behavior between holding hands and sex. So, enjoy life through following God’s character, even if it means forgoing pleasure in the moment.