Everyone talks about how the weeks fly by, and I can tell you it does not slow down…at least it hasn’t for me. The wise live like there’s no tomorrow. That’s not to say we don’t plan for the tomorrows of life but we should never presume upon them.
My Mom (pic above) had cancer for three years. A very treatable cancer. She should have been cured of it…but she wasn’t, at least on this side of Heaven she wasn’t. I miss her every single day and she’s been gone almost 20 years.
I wish we would have had more time. More time with her and our kiddos with her as well. They gained so much from her…and would have gained so much more. From her and also from my Dad who’s now in Heaven as well.
In the extended family on my mom’s side, I am now the oldest. So weird. Especially living states away from siblings and their families. In reality we find our relationships shrink down to a couple of visits a year…and in those visits just a few hours of face-to-face time.
I long for more and attempt to open that window a bit. Phone calls and an occasional card. Social media contact. They have busy lives (we all do, for sure)…and we live far apart. And so it goes.
These young ones receive well my small communications and treat me as a cherished member of their family. It means the world…because my world without my folks, my older brother, and others in that generation past…is emptier. Yours?
We have a heritage. Our parents instilled values – deep, enduring, life-transforming values. We shook up and sifted those values in our own young adult lives, and held on (and passed on) those most treasured. As children grow up, marry, and have adult friendships, values are influenced and reshaped. It is the way of generations folding one into another. Some values we may ourselves have mislaid and have been reinvigorated thanks to our children, spouses, and young friends.
All that to say…
Our parents’ impact in our lives continues. Their own love and struggles translated into their parenting and into the hard wiring of our own brains. Love and struggle. We pass it on. Fortunately, as we see in our children’s lives, some of the best of their grandparents remains in them (and us hopefully).
A much-loved 91y/o father and grandfather in our extended family died this weekend. Unexpectedly. As we grieve, we are comforted in the knowledge that he knew the Lord and was prepared for the inevitable last day of his life. We are also comforted that he knew well how much he was loved and honored, not just by his children, but by his grandchildren as well.
This is huge.
We have a moment with these old ones. These grandparents of ours. Spend it well. Draw strength and wisdom from them in these final years of their lives and ours with them. Communicate love for them. Allow yourselves the treasure of drawn-out visits with them. There is time. There won’t always be time, but there is time today.
In our little family, our kids only have one grandparent remaining. MomMom. She prays for them every single day and through the day. She is not a polite, check-the-box pray-er for them. She fearlessly storms the throne-room of the King of the universe. She wrestles against the evil in this world on their behalf and she dreams big for these grandchildren of hers. What a blessing she is! So thankful she is still in the crowded rooms of our lives.
Saving space for you, MomMom. Thank you for reflecting the beauty of generations…the beauty of God Himself. Thank you for being so real and so human. We see Jesus in you. So grateful for you and these moments with you…
Confessional communities – probably sounds like some sort of monastery life. Or a group with all kinds of touchy-feely exercises framed by unintelligible psycho-babble, right? Oh no! So much more and so much better!
I’ve been awakened to the presence and possibilities of confessional communities since recently reading of the Thompson trilogy below.
What rung intuitively right for me throughout my adult life has actually been tested and found true in something called Interpersonal Neurobiology (IPNB). No time to go deeply into this now, but, in short, our brains are wired for connection, and that is connection inside the brain/mind itself as well as with others (and God).
Confessional communities are used by Dr. Curt Thompson and others as ways to help clients get in touch with shame, trauma, fear, anxiety, etc. in the company of others struggling with some of the same. Shame, for instance, drives us to isolate from God and others. It compounds interest over time, if left to itself in our own minds, and muffles our desires and longings, as it condemns and flattens us.
“We need to create confessional communities where people are confessing the truth about their life – some of which includes confessing sin or doing things that show my brokenness. Some of it is just things that have happened to me, or things that I feel; things that I sense; things that I dream; things that I long for; things that I’m conflicted about. But I’m trying to tell the whole truth about my life – but not so that anybody can just hear it and then move on.…In confession, what I’m really looking for – in your eyes, in your body language, in your voice – is for you to be able to say, “You’re right, Curt; you were wrong to do that. You’re forgiven. I’m not leaving.” I need to know you can bear the weight of what I know to be really wrong [with me], and that you will still stay. If it’s minimized, it will continue to linger with me…Shame always requires outside help for healing. My shame needs you. If it’s a small thing, I might need only one conversation with you. But, if it’s much bigger than a very, very small thing, I’m going to need multiple conversations with multiple people, because shame will come through multiple different doors into my head when I’m left by myself…” – Curt Thompson
“…in order for me to be liberated from the shame I carry, …I need to hear that my behavior was really as bad as I think, if not worse, while simultaneously sensing that the person I am confessing to is not leaving. Shame has the effect of coaxing us into pretending that sin is not as bad as it seems; for if it really is that bad, and I have to face it, it would be too much and I fear I would be overwhelmed. When someone seeks forgiveness for the wrong they have committed, we who have been wounded must be able to acknowledge the reality of the pain inflicted if forgiveness is to be real, and if the offender’s shame is to be effectively healed.” – Curt Thompson, The Soul of Shame
Confessional communities are spelled out in Thompson’s writing, teaching (found on YouTube), and podcasts (his own and as guest on many others). The common factors include:
small group meetings over weeks or months.
willingness to tell our stories as truly as we can.
intentional leaning in to the stories of other group members such that “being known” is part of the outcome for all.
commitment to stay with each other; to “not leave the room”.
imagine beauty together – learning to explore and create beauty, to see what is good, true, and beautiful in each other’s personhoods.Photo Credit: Curt Thompson, Twitter
I have a friend who for several months was part of what I would now call a confessional community. She called it “Vegas”. Remember the adage “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”? It was a Bible study/house church. A group of people who committed to care for each other with masks off (not the COVID kind, but the masks we don in shame or fear). A group of people who would stay in the hard and love no matter what.
My Mom modeled this for our family. She died way too soon. My prayer is that our (birth) family will model it for each other, and my children will learn from their Dad and me how to love like this…To have the joy of being fully known and deeply loved. No matter what.
After one-and-a-half years in COVID, we all have grappled with a need for social distancing and isolation. What happens then when the diligent pursuit of physical safety causes a loss of community?
None of us want to get COVID or its latest variant. However, we also desperately need community. It is on each of us to make creative and persistent decisions toward going after community. Especially the most vulnerable of us, or we will suffer more than the health impact of COVID [see links below].
The dilemma with isolation is somehow it has brought a social lethargy with it. We are becoming more solitary and our community has shrunk to the lowest and tightest we can manage.
Not necessarily out of fear of COVID, but out of a growing incapacity for community. Real community. “Iron sharpening iron” relationships.
I know I am not alone in the need for such community. We have probably all thought of how altered our relationships have become over the last several months. Not the closest maybe, but especially those that spurred us toward a higher accountability, responsibility or integrity. Those relationships where we are helped to make better decisions or extend kindnesses (especially toward those outside our inner circles).
[Whether introvert or extrovert, we can easily sink down into a solitary life of less. And less is not always more. This less can breed a sort of self-serving life where we gauge our relationships by our own gains and extend ourselves by our own comfort levels. Been there, done that. Ugh! ]
COVID or not, we still need other people, and they need us. Whether on a work project better served with team problem-solving or a family crisis that could use “all hands on deck”. Death and divorce are still happening, but life celebrations are also still with us – all calling for the touch of our community.
In the novel, Victor Frankenstein is a brilliant scientist. He is overwhelmed by a series of losses and the grief, as well as his increasingly unhinged genius, drive him into isolation. He decides to make a human-like creature who would be like a son to him.
It did not turn out well. The creature, because of the rejection and isolation he himself felt, was determined to be a monster.
Both Victor and the creature Frankenstein, throughout the story, are plagued with isolation and a terrible lack of caring community.Photo Credit: Pixabay
“The theme of isolation in Frankenstein raises many questions about the role of community and its importance. Many characters in the novel find themselves in isolated positions, and a few suffer grave consequences because of it. Characters suffer from both physical and emotional isolation, although, as in the case of the monster, the isolation is not always self-inflicted. Victor Frankenstein, on the other hand, chooses to isolate himself from his family, his peers, and even the monster he created.
In Frankenstein, horrible things happen when a character is isolated from the others. When Victor’s knowledge and ambition are unchecked by his peers, a monster is created…the destructive power lies not in the monster or his creator, but in solitude. Shelley uses this theme and its manifestation in her characters to pose questions about community, knowledge, and its role in society. Is unbridled knowledge always dangerous, or is there a middle ground? Should one abandon his or her pursuits if they are driving him or her away from a community?
Shelley makes it clear that there are two different types of isolation: self-inflicted and societal. We see self-inflicted isolation manifested in Victor; he detaches from his world and the people he loves and as a result, everyone suffers tremendously. Rejection from society is demonstrated in the monster’s life. Again and again, he is turned away from love and companionship, which what he has longed for since he was first brought to life.” – Wiki-Fandom Analysis of Frankenstein – Mary Shelley, an Academic Wiki
Of course, this is a novel, but incredibly insightful as a tale of human nature. We need community…we are made for community.
Somehow we must rally during this protracted social experience of COVID. What is your mindset on this and what are your intentional actions toward community and away from isolation? The kind of isolation that eventually diminishes us and our relationships. Please comment below.
In closing, I do want to affirm an Isolation in Community. We may have to deal with social distancing for sometime still. Especially those most vulnerable to severe illness from COVID. For some isolation can’t be avoided, but there is an isolation in community. Where we take steps toward and lean in to deeper community. Even if it isn’t always in person. This takes a different sort of effort, but we know it is possible. Fortunately. For me, it’s actually using the phone for conversations (including Facetime). It’s not stepping out of responsibilities (work or community service) because of a need for social distancing, but figuring out alternate ways to serve, or get a job done. I have also experienced the fruit of it, thanks to your efforts. Our mail is less junk mail and more actual real connections through cards/letters. Thanks for that. Again, please comment below what your experience has been here.
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” – John 1:43-51
Philip found Jesus. The One. The Messiah. He followed Him…and he sought out his friend Nathanael to tell him the good news. Even as Nathanael mocked the news, Philip persevered.
Then Jesus answered, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” What?! Of course, we remember this is God, this Jesus. Still, something in His seeing Nathanael under the fig tree meant everything to Nathanael…it meant that He was the One. The Messiah. Nathanael believed.
“Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
Now, there are a lot of fig trees in Israel. Most probably, Nathanael sat under them from time to time. Something happened specifically under one of those fig trees that made it hugely significant that Jesus recalled it to him…and told him, “I saw you”.
In the TV series, The Chosen, we watch a story about Jesus, His followers, and His public ministry. We are reminded by the director and others that The Chosen is faithful to the truth of Scripture, but it also tells a story. We don’t know from the Word what was going on in Nathanael’s life “under the fig tree”, but that Jesus saw him was crucial.
The writers of the series have Nathanael wrestling with God over a failed hope. Nathanael had wanted to design buildings that would honor God, and he failed. Under the fig tree, he cried out to God in the words of Psalm 102:1-2:
“Hear my prayer, O LORD; let my cry for help come before You. Do not hide Your face from me in my day of distress. Incline Your ear to me; answer me…”
In reality, we do not know from Scripture what happened under the fig tree, but when Jesus told him that He saw him there…Nathanael believed. In the Son of God. The King of Israel.
[The scene below is 11 minutes in length. If you haven’t seen it, it is well worth your time. Beautiful. Remember some is story, BUT the passage in John above is faithfully represented…and the emotion is there. The grand emotion of discovering that we are seen…we are known.]
We have all had those moments under the fig tree. Times we thought we were all alone. Times of anguish or fear. Times of feeling completely undone. To be reminded that Jesus sees us changes everything. It is similar, in a God way, to the pronouncement the Samaritan woman made after encountering Jesus at the well. “He told me everything I ever did!” So different from Nathanael but similar in that she met the Messiah who knew her…and still loved her completely.
All the bitter weary ways
endless striving day by day
you barely have the strength to pray
in the valley low
how hard your fight has been
how deep the pain within
wounds that no one else has seen
hurts too much to show
all the doubt you’re standing in between
And all the weight that brings you to your knees
HE KNOWS, HE KNOWS
EVERY HURT AND EVERY STING
HE HAS WALKED THE SUFFERING
HE KNOWS, HE KNOWS
LET YOUR BURDENS COME UNDONE
LIFT YOUR EYES UP TO THE ONE
we may faint and we may sink
feel the pain and near the brink
but the dark begins to shrink
when you find the one who knows
the chains of doubt that held you in between
one by one are starting to break free
every time that you feel forsaken
every time that you feel alone
He is near to the broken hearted
As you get back to your day, you might want to bookmark the links below. Nathanael is a lesser known apostle, BUT we can learn so much in his conversion story…about Jesus…about the friend Philip who brought Nathanael to Christ…and about Nathanael, this righteous Jew, overcoming his prejudice and coming to Christ.
Happy weekend! Here are my five faves of this week – rapid-fire.
1) Beyond the Guitar’s “Take On Me” – Nathan Mills does it again. He takes Norwegian band A-Ha‘s 1985 hit “Take On Me” to a whole new level on classical guitar. So beautiful that lyrics aren’t needed; the nostalgia is already there. This song is featured in the video game The Last of Us Part II. Whether you loved it or hated it in the soundtrack of that game (or not a gamer)…its melody is “all the feels” under the deft fingers of Beyond the Guitar. Enjoy!
2) To The Woman Slowly Fading – I didn’t know the work of Scottish poet Donna Ashworth until my great-niece posted the poem below on her social media. She (my great-niece) is mum to three little ones; in fact, three under the age of three at the time.
She is tired and pulled. Yet in the tired, she is full of joy.
I’m grateful she shared this poem because it told me something about her and it also illuminated something I had been feeling from a very different place. My niece is nearer the beginning of her life’s journey, and I am closer to the ending. Nothing sad here; just what is.
At our latest family dinner, I had that strange thought of fading. A moment of poignancy taking in the lovely scene of adult children and wee ones around the table. Ashworth describes this sense of fading so well. Read for yourself the lines below.
To the woman who has lost her spark.
To the woman whose get up and go, has well and truly gone.
This is for you.
This is to remind you whose daughter you are.
This is to remind you, that you don’t have to be everything to everyone, every day.
You didn’t sign up for that.
Remember when you used to laugh? Sing? Throw caution to the wind?
Remember when you used to forgive yourself more quickly for not always being perfect.
You can get that back again.
You really can.
And that doesn’t have to mean letting people down or walking away.
It just means being kinder to you, feeling brave enough to say no sometimes.
Being brave enough to stop sometimes.
It starts the moment you realise that you’re not quite who you used to be. Some of that is good, some of that is not.
There are parts of you that need to be brought back.
And if anyone in your life is not okay with that… they are not your people. Your people will be glad to see that spark starting to light up again.
So, if you have been slowly fading away my friend, this is the time to start saying yes to things that bring you joy and no to things that don’t.
I do take exception to the one line: “Saying yes to things that bring you joy and no to things that don’t.” Fortunately for my young niece’s children, she is not going to ignore their cries in the middle of the night, or their tears after a fall, or their fears of the unknown. These things do not bring her joy, but they are part of the journey.
Difficult family members, friends in crisis, health issues, mounting drama in the world’s press…we can’t always say no, but we can measure ourselves out in wise and thoughtful ways. There is sacrifice in life, and, with it, joy.
So if we are fading…may it be for good reasons. Squeezing all we can out of life and relationships…even the hard ones. Not leaving anything left on the field when the clock runs out (was that phrase from Vince Lombardi?). No slow fade. Intentional. Deliberate. Owning it.
For believers of Jesus, there is a call reflective of this: On the return of the Messiah one day, we are reminded of the joy of that great day when “He must increase, and I must decrease”. (John 3:30) As on a wedding day, we take in that glorious arrival of the bridegroom for his bride.
Fading may be how we feel, but the reality is we all have various seasons in our life’s journey. Each with its own glory, joy, and exhaustion.
3) Mama’s Table – Our youngest child, Dan, has been affectionately referred to as a food snob. He loves all kinds of food but can be hyper-critical of what he considers bland food or just the wrong mix of flavors or textures. Fortunately he is a good cook and he has been since middle school. On bake sale days back then, he would take his cupcakes into school and brought empty platters back home. His yeast rolls, from a favorite teacher’s recipe, were amazing. He and a small cadre of high school friends who loved to cook (well, to eat, for sure) even started a cooking club.
They had a great time together, and we enjoyed their feasts with them. Nothing like a kitchen full of friends and all good things – loud laughter, strong opinions, and the yummiest blend of fragrances.
Food has its own culture and anthropology. In fact, Dan has moved on from just cookbooks focused on recipes to thick volumes covering not just the food of Persia, Malaysia, or Russia but the culture that goes along with the food.
McArdle tells the story of how decisions were made in homes across America from the 1890s right through present-day. The quote below resonates deeply with the food experience I knew growing up.
“The great blessing of my life is that my mother did not let me become a food snob. She was from a small town in middle America, and she did not view this as any great handicap. Nor did she look down on the culinary tradition she inherited from her mother, a “good plain cook” of the miracle-whip-and-white-bread Midwestern persuasion whose pie crust was infallible. We did not mess around with limp chicken breasts and cans of Campbell’s Soup, but I have eaten plenty of Jell-O salad, and liked it. (On summer days, I still occasionally crave shredded carrots and crushed pineapple embedded in orange jello made with ginger ale. Don’t sneer; it is delightful and refreshing.) Apples, bananas and raisins, dripping with Miracle Whip, were served as a salad in my house, and one of my favorite dishes from my grandmother was ground meat and pasta shells in Ragu. I still bake out of the Betty Crocker 1950 cookbook, and have never found a better guide to the classic American layer cake.”
We got a Betty Crocker cookbook as a wedding present and I still use it. I remember growing up with Campbell soup and Jello salads. Money was always tight so Mom would use pork brains (??) from a can to add to eggs to make them stretch far enough for us four kids. My first pizza was from a Chef Boyardee box. We never ate out at a restaurant, but I remember when a McDonald’s opened up near us (the first one in our area), and Mom took us for burgers and fries as a reward for behaving ourselves at the grocery store. That was a big deal. Church suppers were a big deal as we sampled what our friends enjoyed at their homes. Food was (and is) much more than just nourishment.
How about you? What is your food culture? Or rather the culture you knew as a child. For many of us these days, our food cultures are diverse and delicious…but we still remember the culture of Mama’s table.
4) Relationship Hacks – Just a few finds on how we treat each other, and sometimes ourselves.
[Here we are two days post Juneteenth and one day post Father’s Day. What’s on my mind? Recovering from a bad fall with back pain slowly dissipating, and its resultant writer’s block. Hard to sit at a computer and write with brain drain from this pain.
However, the pain is improving…and inspiration is returning. In fact, the weekend’s events have spurred so many thoughts and emotions.]
This morning, I slowly rolled out of bed with so many thoughts pinging around my mind…thoughts and accompanying emotions. Then, as happens sometimes, a song, and the question in its title, settled in my brain.
Even when our hearts are not presently under attack, we share space with those we love whose hearts are breaking. A dear friend whose husband wants another future. A friend who spent his Father’s Day without his children (because his ex-wife chose a different future). .Friends who lost their fathers before this Father’s Day…or parents who lost their children (whether to death or to an estranged life). Friends heartbroken over the what-ifs or what-may-never-be’s. Fill in the blank with your own. #BrokenHearts.
[Too heavy for a Monday morning? It does get better.]
Maybe you aren’t so aware of broken hearts. Maybe you haven’t had the experience of sitting on the phone of a friend scream-weeping at the hard reality of her life right now. Maybe you haven’t worked beside a friend whose stone face and deep quiet haven’t touched your awareness of what is going on under the surface of his silence…his pain.
Broken hearts can take us on spirals that lead to self-protective withdrawal, confused anger, terrifying isolation, or hard bitterness.Photo Credit: AZ Quotes
I also found some helps in a somewhat odd place: Kristin Weber‘s Adulting for Jesus. Whatever you currently think about Jesus, this book on adulting is refreshing, funny sometimes, and so real. Midway of the book she talks about developing something she calls godly grit.
“Adulting requires learning how to fall and get back up again, and again, and again.” – Adulting for Jesus, p. 89
Weber presents 10 ways to shift perspective on the struggle (our heartbreak) and develop that grit:
Expect hardship. – “Western comforts have lulled us into the false assumption that life is meant to be easy and the hard moments few. In reality, much of life is hard, and the easy moments are the exceptions.” We can learn to live in such a way that difficult situations/relationships don’t catch us off guard.
Depend on God. – “…when a relationship [ends] abruptly, failure hurts – often deeply. We can be honest about our hurt and struggles while still trusting God.” We don’t ignore the pain of our broken heart, but we recognize that God hasn’t gone anywhere. He sees; He hears; He will work on our behalf.
Ask “What’s Next?” – “Rather than ask ‘Why me?’…ask a different question about life: ‘What’s next?’ Obstacles, especially a long string of them, can make us short-sighted. By asking ‘What’s next?’ we recognize this failure or hardship isn’t the end of our story…Hardships will undoubtably change you, but keeping a long-term perspective will prevent them from destroying you.”
Look at Adversity through Eternal Lenses. – “As a child of God your trials, both big and small, have an expiration date.” When our hearts are broken, we are consumed and exhausted by our loss. We can’t see down the road but so far. “Do the next thing”. Eternity comes but until then we grieve the loss, but we also train ourselves to stay in the moment and hope for a better future…a different future. We have that confidence in God’s care.
Appreciate the Bottom. – “A lot can be learned on the bottom step of the ladder”. Our broken hearts can bring us low…but that is not where we stay. That is not where we belong.
Develop Thick Skin and a Tender Heart. – “Try to be slow in getting offended and quick in extending grace. If someone causes you to have a knee-jerk reaction, that person controls you. That person has all the power…Choosing a calm response and keeping a level head, you remain free to live your life.”
Be Teachable. – “Though we don’t need to let the opinions and critiques of everyone we encounter control our lives, we do need people who can lovingly speak truth into our lives…Our natural instinct is to make excuses or get defensive when someone corrects us, but adopting an attitude of teachability puts us on the track to growth and maturity. We need to take ownership of our actions and be humble enough to receive input about where we can improve.”
Do Something. – “Big changes happen through tiny actions, and tiny actions require doing something.” Every day…step by step. #MakeYourBed.
Laugh. – “Once I learned to laugh at myself and find humor in situations that didn’t tip in my favor, I became less stressed and anxious about every little thing. I didn’t dread life or failure as much…Our hope isn’t ultimately in everything going our way, and humor keeps the weight of our circumstances from crushing us.”
Count Your Blessings. – “Instead of focusing constantly on everything that’s going wrong, take time each day to remember what’s going right. We might find our ‘gratitude attitude’ changes our entire outlook on life.”
Thanks, Kristin. I can tell you’ve known heartbreak and have learned to come out whole on the other side.
Closing out this Monday Morning Moment, for those of us who are sharing space with one or many dealing with broken hearts, we need to remember its pain, and have patience and compassion…be present, listen, and, when we can, speak the truth in love.
P.S. The Scripture verses are strong anchors and the links below are super helpful. None of us are in these broken spaces alone.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. – Psalm 34:18
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. – Psalm 73:26
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. – Psalm 147:3
“I have chosen you and haven’t rejected you. Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. – Isaiah 41:9b-10
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Jesus – Matthew 11:28-30
The past. We are never rid of it, nor would we wish to be. Our roots are there. The foundation of our lives. Our first and formative relationships are there. Both life and death, pain and promise.
Memories are born in the past. Experiences and emotions attached to them that feel exquisitely personal…yet are shared. Others close to us may have our exact same experiences, but have very different feelings and memories attached to them.
Family is complicated and always has been (remember Cain and Abel?). Throughout the history of humankind, family was meant to be a nurturing and stabilizing influence in our lives. It doesn’t always work out that way, but wisdom is to lean in whenever possible and learn both from the brokenness and the beauty available to us.
So how do we deal with the past? Do we ruminate on the wrongs of our past? Do they loom larger than the good? Do we see ourselves in the right in each point of conflict? Or the victim? Is our memory of family colored in ways that make us pull away?
There is a way forward, and I believe it is revisiting the past with the aim of healing…not just for ourselves but for the family as a whole.
[I love alliteration – words with the same beginning letters used in phrases or headings. So it was a personal thrill for me that this came together with alliteration.]
5 R’s of Handling and Healing Our Past
1) Remember – We trust our memories, don’t we? Well, until age shakes that up a bit. Still, our memories can be altered by the power of our emotions and by further experiences that call the past to mind. Then our emotions, deepened by memory, can “resolve” to see things more our way, whatever is happening in the moment. Memories can be reinforced, and not always in helpful ways. We need to take into account that we, family members or friends, can remember something very differently, based on what was going on emotionally for each person at the time. That’s why we must handle memories gently with each other. Love the person her/himself more than what they might remember. Determine not to be put off by memories where we don’t come off in a positive light. Remembering is done best in community. It’s richer and more reliable that way. Of course, this requires tons of trust, transparency, and humility. It may not feel safe in some situations to remember in community. It’s also never helpful to insist our memories are the only ones that are true. Right? Again, it is experience plus emotion. Love covers. Love helps heal when we remember, with care for the other.
2) Reminisce – As we remember, we reminisce. This calls to mind the sweet memories of the past. Even as painful memories rush in, what happy times come to mind? How might these memories weave together? Was it all bad? All good? Reminiscing taps into the positives, and even opens the mind to what the memories of the other might be in the same experience. Are we projecting motive or intent into our experience? As we reminisce, might we look at how an experience was different for the other. Reminiscing done in community is, again, eye-opening. It can be threatening if our side of the memory is on the line, but when we enlarge on what was going on in our past, we gain deeper understanding. A softening of our attitudes can come.
3) Reflect – When we reflect on a particular situation or relationship in the past, we treat it with as much grace as we can muster. We take the past and turn it over and examine it from different angles, considering what we can learn from it. How is it affecting our present – both life experience and relationships? What can we do to glean something positive from a painful past? What is to be gained by holding onto the past? If we choose healing, what is then possible for us and the others involved? What kind of faith would be required? What kind of work? Are we willing?
4) Repent and Reconcile when possible(instead of forever Regret ) – Here’s the big leap! Owning our part and doing something about it. This is huge!
Let’s say, our past includes painful memories from our early childhood. What can a child own from situations out of their control? We can own our attitudes today as adults. For instance, it took me a long time to tender my memories of a neglectful biological father. I only have a few memories of him, none great. One memory stands out. Mom had left him, and we were living in a tiny house, supported by her income alone. One night we were awakened by shouting. I don’t remember a lot, but my estranged father, Mom, and an uncle of ours were in some sort of argument. We four children were huddled together on a bottom bunk. I remember blood and our father’s hand wrapped in a handkerchief. Was there a knife? I don’t remember. We were terrified. After that…he was pretty much absent from our lives. I don’t remember asking Mom what all happened. It just took me a long time to feel anything for that dad. Yet, I know he had to have known pain, isolation, and maybe even some regret at the dregs of his relationship with Mom and us. As an adult, I have chosen some compassion for him. Not much but some.
Why did I share that story? It is how as children, when we have trauma (or what we perceive as trauma when maybe it had little to do with us), we process it differently than we might as adults. Revisiting, with humble hearts, can make a difference in how we think about the past as adults.
When our past pushes into our present, and conflicts are revisited, we are tempted to try the offending party in the court of our emotions (re-try them, actually). We resurrect the past and all its emotions, and bring all that trauma to bear on whatever the present misunderstanding is. We are then not able to just deal with the present. All that past comes down on us, that past that may have been once forgiven, and unloads. Making it virtually impossible to deal with whatever is happening at the moment.
This is where we repent. We refuse to nurse old wounds. We deal with the current conflict as it is, without all the past. The current conflict is enough. We deal with it as adults. We repent of our part. I can tell you, if we don’t, there is collateral damage to those who love us. “Friendly fire” is not friendly, and these struggles, heightened by our past, become the past of those around us. Our children. Our grandchildren.
Repentance may take more the form of forgiveness. We refuse to remember (one place where we refuse to remember) the offense of another. We choose to forgive in the most expansive way we can.
I know we sometimes say we forgive that one who offends us, who offended in the past, and continues to do so. We forgive but commit and feel justified to have nothing to do with them ever again. I get that. I get the pain behind such a decision. It’s heart-breaking. Just to reflect: Who does that punish? As wide a circle as our relationship together makes. We are all punished…that is most probably not meant to be the intent.
Repent and reconcile whenever possible. There will be cheering by everyone who loves us both. I know; I’ve experienced it from both sides. The repenting side and the relieved and thankful other side.
[This is often excruciating and not always satisfying. Even if the outcomes are not what we hope. We benefit from trying…as do the generations that follow. Who knows? The situation – and relationship – can still change in that possible future.]
5) Rejoice – Put your hand on your chest. Can you feel your heart beating? Can you feel the rise and fall of your breath? Be grateful. Rejoice in the present. We didn’t die from our past. We still have a chance to put things right. Maybe imperfectly…but it’s possible.
A wonderful scene of this possibility is found in the 1970 film “Scrooge”. “I’ll Begin Again”.
The past doesn’t have to be forever. You have a present. There may be a future…one not framed by the hurting past but built on a healed past. We have that possibility…in our present. We can do our part… it’s the only thing we have in our control. Is it complicated? Of course, but it will always be worth the effort.
*Special thanks to my writer friend, Angela at Living Well Journal, who talked and prayed through this with me…on a neighborhood walk, in the cool of a Spring morning.
A note I found just this week flipping through an old Bible. Mom would leave love notes around whenever she came to visit, and we did the same after her pattern…and taught our children to do the same.
In a few days, it will be 5 years since this non-smoker received a lung cancer diagnosis (Stage One, fortunately). When the blog below came around on my Facebook memories this week, it reminded me of the profound condition of good health and how easily it is to take it as an entitlement. My lung cancer diagnosis was an incidental finding. It will be forever grateful to God for the blessing of that early find. The event reported below happened months after the unremarkable surgery and recovery from the lung cancer. I adapted this piece and repost it today as a reminder of the great grace we have for each day we live.
Over these last several months, breath and breathing have become something very precious to me. You can tell when you search my blog archives for either topic. We take breathing so for granted, even when we acknowledge that every breath’s a gift. That rhythmic rise and fall in our chest that strengthens and refreshes us. Breathing just happens.
Until it doesn’t.
There have only been two times as an adult that I couldn’t get my breath. The first was eight months ago (now 4 years & 8 months ago – you can read about it here.) The second time was less than 48 hours ago [now 4 years ago as I repost].
For the second time in my life, I was surprised, just before bedtime, by a rapid and terrifying development of shortness of breath and quickly got to the place that Dave had to call 911. He was still talking to the dispatcher when we heard the sirens.
So thankful for our local fire department and rescue squad.
We live in a quiet neighborhood, and most of the residents are older. The rescue squad shows up often here, and, of course, no one really wants to be the one on the receiving end of their excellent care. Every time it happens, a neighbor or two stand sentinel in the road watching and hoping for a good report. While the rescue squad was getting me stabilized and Dave was waiting in his car to follow to the hospital, he would tell me later of neighbors standing in the shadows. Not wanting to intrude but standing watch. It’s a comforting thing.
From the first hours in the emergency room through the next two days in the top floor ICU, I received excellent and thoughtful care at St. Mary’s Hospital. The crisis was averted, and the testing began again to determine the cause. The same testing that was done previously. The findings were not so much different as they were the first time it happened. Maybe they were taken more seriously with it happening twice. Anyway, I am now in the care of a cardiologist with some meds on board that will hopefully help me NOT to go through this experience again.
[Praising God, four years this month, that it hasn’t happened again.]
To go from thinking you’re going to die to feeling pretty much as well as ever, within hours, is a strange and wondrous experience. We will all die one day, so it doesn’t always end as it did for me these two times of not being able to get my breath. For this, today, I am so grateful to God for breath…and I am reminded it is His to give.
This morning, I give God His breath back in praise. So thankful for a husband who acted quickly for me when I couldn’t, for trained professionals and volunteers, for watchful neighbors, for kids who show up (physically and in prayer), for praying friends and family, for all the many employees at St. Mary’s (including my own youngest son) who were kind in their care …for all of this I’m grateful.
Most of all I am so very thankful for the God who gives us breath.
I love the LORD because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath! Death wrapped its ropes around me; the terrors of the grave overtook me. I saw only trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the LORD: “Please, LORD, save me!” How kind the LORD is! How good he is! So merciful, this God of ours! The LORD protects those of childlike faith; I was facing death, and he saved me. Let my soul be at rest again, for the LORD has been good to me.– Psalm 116:1-7, NLT
Would you worship with me praising God for His healing and for His helpers?
You give life, You are love
You bring light to the darkness
You give hope, You restore
Every heart that is broken
Great are You, Lord
It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise
We pour out our praise
It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise to You only
You give life, You are love
You bring light to the darkness
You give hope, You restore
Every heart that is broken
Great are You, Lord
All the earth will shout Your praise
Our hearts will cry, these bones will sing
Great are You, Lord*
1) Beyond the Guitar – Beauty to the Ears & Mind – We think of beauty more in what we experience visually, but there is a powerful connection between music and the mind. Beautiful music soothes the soul and lifts our hearts. Moves us. Often it is because of nostalgia attached to the music, but even without that emotional connection, music can bring our minds to a better place.
Nathan Mills, of Beyond the Guitar, has that way about his craft. Moving our hearts with the beauty of his arrangements and performance. I don’t know any of the pieces in his medley of 4 Underrated (but Beautiful) Video Game Themes, but something happens when I listen. Shoulders drop; breathing slows; wonder sets in. Beauty has its way with our ears and our minds.
2) Mental Health Awareness – May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The theme message for 2021 is “You Are Not Alone”. Our need for connection is bigger than ever, having gone through so much COVID isolation. Whether mental health issues are our own personal struggle or we are family, friends, caregivers of those who struggle, helps abound. We just must be aware and utilize them.
Suicide and death by drug overdose have increased during COVID. They are shocking for us and real losses, either for us or for friends. We can’t keep isolating ourselves from each other. Finding ways to help is imperative.
3) Antidote for Self-Deceit – Self-deceit (or self-deception) is “a process of denying or rationalizing away the relevance, significance, or importance of opposing evidence and logical argument. Self-deception involves convincing oneself of a truth (or lack of truth) so that one does not reveal any self-knowledge of the deception”.
I’ve allowed myself to be deceived (either with the help of outside influences or from sheer will and desire, wanting something to be so, or not be so). It’s not pretty. One of my strongest memories was sitting in a circle of friends who essentially did an loving intervention with me. I was in a self-destructive (but non-abusive) relationship, and they had the courage to point me to the changes in my life and thinking. I will never forget it. The life I have now is much impacted by their willingness to go to that place with me. Forever grateful.
Regarding deceit, it is way too easy to get into our own heads and assess life with a self-tuned receiver. I wrote about this before (the practice of noticing). A somewhat dated video (with a still fresh message) speaks to this so well.
During the particular season of self-deception (described above), I got to the place that lying in my bed at night, when I would usually pray, it got impossible to pray. That was terrifying. It’s like all the desires and my rationalizations for them had crowded out any space for God. Especially for a holy God. Like I said, terrifying. No matter how loving God is, I couldn’t justify praying when my own desires trumped His for me.
As the video illuminates, as we get out of our own heads, and start seeing other people around us, we find the antidote. Caring more for others than ourselves, we can actually clear our heads some. Self-deception causes us to “circle the wagons” and keep others at a distance. As we determine to get close to people again, especially to genuinely listen and serve, our own deceit can be more readily understood/recognized. Of course, our neglected relationship with God will take its own time and action on our part. He is ready, when we are.
4) Showing Up…or Not – Showing up is a good thing. For all of us. Keeping commitments. Being present. Choosing to lean in. Listening.
So much is said about listening and its positive impact. To listen requires proximity.
On the East Coast, this week, we had a gas shortage (or a perceived gas shortage…not sure which is more accurate). Everyone was making decisions about filling their tanks and sorting out needful car trips vs. those that can be jettisoned for another time.
I was a part of a couple of meetings where some folks didn’t show up. Without a phone call, text, or email message. Was it the gas shortage? Or did it display something else? Honestly, I also wondered how often I’ve done this same thing myself.
We are in a culture right now when a RSVP yes can turn to no without a word. I’m showing my age…but does this matter?
Below you’ll find quotes from three different authors on this and what it can mean. The showing up…or not. After you read their observations, I’d love to hear what you have to say in the Comments.
“Standing someone up is a personal attack. You are saying that you have no respect at all for this person’s time, energy or feelings. This person set aside time from his or her day to hang out with YOU.
And maybe he or she didn’t feel like showing up. But no, this person had enough respect for you to feel as though he or she couldn’t bail on you. Then how did you repay the favor? You didn’t show up. With no warning.
And don’t even get me started on the fact that if this person cared about you enough to make and honor plans with you, odds are that he or she would probably be WORRIED about you when you don’t send a message. Because falling off the face of the Earth is a little alarming….You get the picture here.” – Candice Jalili
“There are commitments you are not going to keep no matter how hard you try, but even if you fail to keep them, you can still honor them. How do you do this?
“The difference between “keeping” and “honoring” is key: keeping a promise is about the letter of the promise, while honoring a promise is about the spirit. It is even possible to keep a promise while not honoring it. People will forgive an honored but un-kept promise, but it takes a real saint to let go of an un-honored promise—kept or not.
So what are the practical aspects of honoring a commitment? They are:
It’s uncomfortable to take responsibility (for a failed commitment), but discomfort is a lot easier to shoulder than disrespect or disappointment. Even if you failed to honor a commitment up until now, it is not too late: disrespect and disappointment can be rolled back or even erased in the face of genuine honor.” – Kenneth Vogt
[The two writers above have very different tones to their pieces. Both worthy of note. I especially appreciated Vogt’s distinction of honoring a commitment (whether you’re able to keep it or not). Honoring the person by communicating your inability to keep the commitment…as well as the honoring that goes on by making the effort to keep the commitment whether easy or not. We don’t really know what goes on for another who does the work of keeping a commitment or the one who just can’t. What we do know is what it is like for us to keep or not keep a commitment; to honor or dishonor a person in the commitment. So much more understanding and care come out of the smallest communications. Something to think about.]
Below Rachel Macy Stafford posted an image and (in the link) a Facebook story about sitting in a line for gas this week, and an elderly man, just ahead of her, deliberately nodding her way (as he chose not to completely fill his tank, doing what he could to “leave” some for her). No RSVP’ed commitment. No relationship. But a deeply kind gesture to her that she was seen. We all need that…that being seen.
It’s…“a deliberate decision to look out for the person behind (you)…It’s not about us. Even though it’s hard not to think only of our own needs, there is someone behind us…and someone behind that person…with their own set of struggles. If you can…will you look out for them? A wave will do, just so they know they are seen…it’s the kind of gesture that takes people farther than a full tank of gas.” – Rachel Macy Stafford
5) Unmasking – Get ready for another new culture shock thanks to the Coronavirus: unmasking!!! I am so excited myself.Photo Credit: Pexels, Gustavo Fring
Based on this week’s CDC recommendations, fully vaccinated people don’t have to wear masks or physically distance anymore (except in rare defined situations). This, of course, is still only a recommendation and each state must give direction at a local level. Our governor just announced that we will align with the CDC recommendations.
Now, no one is going to know who is vaccinated and who isn’t. If we have learned anything from COVID-19, it is to be wise in dealing with the viral world. Those not vaccinated will probably forego masks as well. The freedom feels intoxicating, honestly, but possibly fearful to some, even some who are fully vaccinated.
I hope we can leave fear behind us. COVID is still rampant in some parts of the world and that is tragic. As we in the US and other countries get past our own experiences with this virus, hopefully we can be a help to those still battling the disease.
The culture shock part is real. I will have my mask with me, and see what the signs say on the doors of each business, store, school, or community space.
Once upon a time, we didn’t have smartphones, or tablets, or Netflix.
Once upon a time, life slowed down to include exploring new towns, meeting new people, listening to stories nothing like our own.
“Once upon a time” can still be now. When we put aside our screens, and get ourselves out the door…be it our house, dorm room, or office…we can engage with real people.
If we don’t take social precautions, COVID will turn us into hermits. Even if we are out full-time, in work or school, we may still have tuned-down sensitivities to what’s going on around us.
Our situational and social awareness has about a 6-ft. circumference. Beyond that, we don’t notice. Also, isn’t it odd how masks seem to dull our hearing and sight? We don’t look into people’s faces or start up conversations with those around us, like we did once upon a time.
So…what measures can we take to tune in more intentionally?
Here’s one big one: commit to walking. Not just in our neighborhoods, although that’s a good place to start…but anywhere there are people.
When we leave our screens somewhere out of reach, our vision and our mind clear.
Now that I am back in stores and other buildings (post-vaccination), I’m trying to speak to people, ask questions when appropriate, and really listen to what they’re saying. I want them to know they are seen, heard, and they matter.
The walking part means I had to get up out of my comfy chair and go where people are. We can do so much online now, we don’t need to see faces. So unfortunate.
Walking requires intentionality. Engaging with people, the same.
We can calendar such things to get started. A walk in the neighborhood could include a friend…or a neighbor. If alone, look for neighbors in their yards. It’s ok to stop and talk a bit.
When calendaring your life, what kinds of interchanges that you might do online or on the phone can be changed to in-person, face-to-face? I know it takes more time…but the time would be well-spent.
Besides all the social benefits of walking and engaging with others, we get tremendous health and memory benefit as well (see links below).