About Being People

When Nothing Changes and Nothing Stays the Same

There are some people in my family who have been wearing certain clothing items for a long, L-O-N-G, time.  These clothes are allegedly, ahem, “broken in” and so comfy that they just a can’t seem to get rid of them or not wear them.

Are you like this?

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I’m not.

I can’t fill the Goodwill bag fast enough.  My motto is if you haven’t worn it in a year, you’re not ever going to wear it again.  Get rid of it.  But that’s me. I like to make room for change.  I like to see what else I can find.

But this isn’t the case for everyone in my world.  Some loved ones don’t like to let go; they don’t see any reason for new when old still seems to work. So what if it’s dated or discolored.

New can be a threat for some and same a choke-hold for others.

It’s tricky.  Bumping around life together.  One likes things the way they are and the other runs from ritual.  We inevitable annoy the heck out of each other.

If you are a same-r you may find yourselves clutching for control, easily upset if something gets changed without notice.  Maybe you avoid trendsetting types altogether because people who move around a lot make you uncomfortable?

Or if you’re a new-r , you may find that you have no patience for traditionalists or home-bodies.  Maybe you become critical and judgmental towards others who do not like to keep evolving and forging?

We become separate and not our best self in our own families and homes. A tense undercurrent tugs over things like rearranging furniture, meal planning for Thanksgiving or how to spend free time together.

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Today is laundry day.

Piles of clothes old and new, twirling in the washer then bouncing around in a hot dryer.  Old mixing with new. Water and soap scrubbing away the dirt, heat making the fabric warm and crisp. Both surviving the wash together and coming out the other side.

Maybe there’s something here for us to learn?

I thought about the same-r’s in my life.  I thought about how they hold on to the familiar, repeat treasured recipes and reminisce over fond memories of holidays and vacations. They linger over warm experiences. They pause and reflect the good that has crossed lifes’ threshold. Gratitude expands. We need same-r’s to help us remember the things worthy of remembrance. We exhale appreciation.

And what about the new-r’s? They like the practice of searching and enjoy solving mysteries. Trying new things and finding new roads is like Christmas morning.  They tend to paint walls, try different recipes or watch unknown movies just because it’s different.  They get you to color outside the lines, try things you’ve never tried and consider others different from you. Confidence flourishes. We need new-r’s to help us realize we are capable of learning, capable of experiencing life no matter what stage we are in. We inhale courage.

We need each other.

Tumbling around. Mixing it up. Old and new.

Nothing changes and nothing stays the same.

Wash warm together on gentle cycle, tumble dry low.

 

 

Are You The Glue?

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Have you heard the expression before? You’re the glue in this family.

You’re the glue in this organization?

You’re the glue that held us together with this project?

Glue is that sticky substance that through some scientific means bonds things together. Keeps them close. Holds things in place.

Are you the glue?

Being the glue isn’t something that one gets assigned, rather it’s something that just happens. Certain personalities tend to be the glue.  This is not something they try to be, they are created with this ability to bond.  For unknown reasons they seem to be the one that others look to for direction or information; to feel connected with and welcomed.  Glue people somehow have a way of understanding what’s going on, even when they don’t know all the details.  Their welcome mat is out and they live with availability. They are the glue that hold people together.

I’ll ask again. Are you the glue?

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Maybe a better question would be, are you sticky? 

Sticky substances have a way of holding onto all kinds of things, good and bad. Now we can all relate to that, right? Each of us has a tendency to hold onto good and bad. But if you’re a glue person, like me, it’s important to recognize a few things:

  1. Not everyone acts like a glue person. Don’t be angry when others don’t care the way you do.
  2. The gift of bonding and holding others close is a matter of the heart.  Caring always costs you and enriches you at the same time.
  3. When you find that you aren’t able to “glue” like usual, it may be because too many prohibiting things have stuck to you. Examine your life. What is stuck to you that doesn’t belong? That empty’s your body and soul? That makes you sad?

I’ve been reading the gospel of Mark.  I’m only 3 chapters in but have identified somethings that have made me think about my ability to care for others. Even if we are not a glue person by nature, each of us takes on the role of a glue person in various seasons of life. We all can relate to the responsibility of caring for others whether it’s a child, disabled loved one, an elderly neighbor, foster child, sick or injured co-worker who doesn’t have family support, a family you know of who has great financial, emotional, relational or physical need, etc. There are a thousand different scenarios where we are asked to care for others.

Jesus is just beginning His journey in ministry.  People are getting to know Him.  He is speaking publicly and healing all kinds of people. People are drawn to Him. Jesus welcomes them.  He entertains their problems and questions.  He walks for miles and miles with them (as that is how people got around). Jesus was a glue person.

There were moments along the way where Jesus went away from the crowds.  He needed to sleep, to pray, to rest.  His closest friends were frantic when He wasn’t being the “glue” all the time. When you develop a reputation for being the glue, others will come to depend on you to hold things together. But Jesus did not let the lure of being needed dictate His schedule or His own need.

Jesus gives clear perspective:

  1. You will burn out if you don’t find a rhythm that allows you to step away from the needs of others. It’s simple, you cannot be a glue person if your stickiness wears off.
  2. You have to let go from time to time.  Stop dwelling on how you can help or assist.  This sounds very un-Jesus-y. But glue people tend to get a little obsessed with how they can carry others.  Jesus teaches us there is a time to rest from this never ending work.  There is a time to lay it down and fill our minds and hearts with other things.
  3. Remind yourself that your identity doesn’t come from being a glue person. Holding people together is what you do not who you are. When we confuse this we tend to become people pleasers and that is a burden glue people cannot afford to carry. We have to maintain the ability to say no at the right time so we are able to say yes at the precise time.

Are you a glue person? Are you in a season of life where you have to be a glue person?

If you are, your work is too important to ignore.  Through you others feel welcomed and invited.  Through you others find a listening ear or a new perspective. Through you others belong. Through you others become grounded and learn they matter.

We would do well my fellow glue persons to learn from Jesus, the Ultimate Glue Person.  You never know when you’ll be asked to be a glue person.

 

 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.  – Ephesians 2:10

 

Listening to My Brothers

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I found this painting I made years ago in a stack of old work today.  It’s a whimsical characterization of my brothers.  They both played football for many seasons of their life.

I grew up in a sports loving home.  Meaning, my dad loves sports and so that’s what was on TV when he was around.  His love for sports was infectious and it all impacted us differently.  We all have an enthusiasm and respect for “organized” games but my brothers had the good fortune of being able to play a sport for a very long time.

I pulled this painting out because I wanted to evaluate the canvas size and possibly paint over it.  I hung it in the intended spot and began assessing.

And then, well, it spoke.

At first I laughed when it pointed out the oddly shaped feet paired with the tiny helmet heads. My art is whimsy and conceptual…mostly because that is all I can create.

Then I stepped back and heard something else. Each figure frozen in a pose.  One entering the field with his teammates bursting with pride, celebrating their shared beliefs and  hopes for their collective endeavor.  The other  focused on one job, using his might to protect his quarterback from the opponent that sought to stop him. It whispered brotherhood.

My brother once told me that the brotherhood he experienced during football was unlike anything else he’s known.  It’s where teammates fought with each other because they were fighting for each other.  Each person responsible for his own unique contribution because the success of someone else depended on it. They won and lost as a team no matter how well an individual may have played. Every moving part demanding full attention and intention for collective redemption.  And collective gains were always the goal, not individual accomplishment because collective gains were for all, not just one.

Individual effort and investment is powerful when it’s intended for community benefit.

I thought to myself, what if?

What if each of us applied this principle in our lives?

What if we viewed our strengths, talents and interests in light of a team that needed us to play in order for all to win? That complacency was not an option? Investing in our unique selves so as to contribute to a collective whole?

What if each of us would be willing to enter the tension with another, because we were fighting for the other?

What would marriage and parenting be like?

What could happen at work?

Would we figure out how to neighbor in a way that perhaps we aren’t right now?

Would community and global problems be impacted differently?

I know, I’m asking a lot of questions.  But I’m writing as quickly as this painting is speaking.

What about you?

What do you think?

What if you applied the principle of brotherhood (sisterhood…fill in the blank-hood) in one area of your life?

Would you be willing to try?

P.S. I probably won’t be painting over this canvas anytime soon.

P.S.S. If you think it’s weird that paintings are talking to me…well let’s face it…it is weird.

Struggling with Struggling? Yeah, me too.

Struggle.

A universally relevant word. A word no one wants to experience. At times even a dirty word. But we all know it.  We all feel it.  We all pretend we aren’t doing it.

I don’t know about you but I’m quick to say things like, “I struggled with that but it’s better now.”  Notice the past tense.  It’s ok to say I’ve been there but somehow it’s not always ok to say I’m still there. We hesitate to admit current struggles.

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Struggling, at least in my life experience, has always been something hazy.  Pioneers and trail blazers, medical or academic pursuits, these are struggles of noble fashion. Stories with heroic and progressive outcomes, albeit tragic sometimes, are well loved tales.  But to speak in terms of real time struggling, deep or dark struggling; this is somehow not as acceptable.

Why?

The answer to that is layered and undoubtedly complicated.  Might I suggest my own thoughts?

We don’t like struggle because we think we were never meant to struggle.

Struggling is wrong! At least that is the internal conversation we have with ourselves. We must be a loser if we keep struggling. We must have made some great mistake in the cosmos of life and now we are subject to struggle.  Our struggle is a sign of sin. Sound familiar?

A few years back I was struggling to believe that God wouldn’t fail me.  I didn’t know if I could trust Him completely. The odds I was up against were so big. I didn’t see how I would make it through. I struggled to trust God. My emotions were all over the place.  A very well meaning loved one said to me one day, “You say you trust God, then why are you so afraid? Why do you doubt? You’re not acting like someone who trusts God.”  Ouch.  They had a hard time dealing with my struggle.

I was really angry and hurt at first.  But then I realized that my struggle was too big for them too and they didn’t know what to do with it, or me.

Where struggle can often be a result of our own mistakes it isn’t the only reason we struggle.

To struggle means you are a human being. To struggle means you don’t know everything and it’s uncomfortable. To struggle means you’ve smacked against this broken world.

For some reason we believe that struggle is something we shouldn’t feel after a certain age. Once we jump through various life hoops like; graduating high school or college, buying a home, losing weight, getting engaged, getting a promotion, starting a family etc., we should never struggle again. And when we do, we feel like a failure. But struggle isn’t quarantined to a certain season of life. So we do what we do best.

Run.

Ignore.

Hide.

Cover it up.

Succumb.

Guilt settles in when we struggle. We don’t want anyone to know about it. It’s so hard to talk because we don’t know how to talk about it. Shame shadows us and impairs our ability to see truth or friendship.

We don’t want to be seen.  We don’t want to see others. Struggle will do that.

Messages the world sends are; you are living right if you are struggle-free. Don’t get me wrong, avoiding mistakes, treating people well and lovingly to avoid unnecessary struggle, is wise. I’m not talking about being careless or stupid. But to lump all struggle in the mistake or “sin” category is naive.   We will never learn to move through struggle if we do not realize struggle is normal.  Not something to hastily judge or ridicule. That just makes us want to hide more. Regardless of why we struggle it can make us feel like a prisoner.

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Nobody wants to feel this way.

Struggle is a symptom that everything is not as right as it could be.  It’s a signal that something needs attention or loving care. It’s a catalyst to exercise faith in a very uncertain and confusing world.

Just because I wanted to believe God would help me didn’t mean I was able to believe.  That’s what struggle is.  Not being able to do something you want to do.

It’s easy to get lost living in the struggle. We begin telling ourselves, “Struggling is a sign of weakness. We shouldn’t struggle.  Why do I feel this way?  I shouldn’t have to deal with this. Nobody else deals with this. Nobody wants one likes to be around me.” Have you caught yourselves thinking this way?

I’ll admit.  I cave when I struggle.  I give in too quickly. Then, the struggle usually gets bigger.  But I’m learning to practice. Practicing what it means to be a human being.  Flawed, unsure but growing and learning.  Mistake ridden, wanting to believe but looking to God for answers.  When you and I accept that we will struggle we actually have a shot at getting through our struggles.  When we ignore them, they grow.

Struggle can be an invitation to more.  More learning, more practicing truth even when it doesn’t feel good, more grace, more conversation, more prayer, more patience, more encouragement.

Struggling doesn’t have to define us but it can design us.

Paul was a man in the Bible who understood the nature of struggle.  He writes of his struggles with himself and with a condition that wouldn’t go away. (Click on the links to read for yourself.)  He chose to let his struggle design the kind of man he wanted to be.  His struggles were real and he spoke openly about them.  With the admission of his struggle he incorporated a perspective that helped him get through:

  1. He shared his struggle openly. He doesn’t hide it. To struggle is NORMAL and no one is immune.
  2. He points to God. He recognizes that God sees and knows exactly what he is going through and hasn’t left him to struggle pointlessly. God will not leave us alone in our struggle either.
  3. He surrenders his struggle to God. He puts his faith into practice. He activates belief that God loves him and doesn’t allow the struggle to define him. We can follow God, even when it’s really hard.  Our character can define us instead of our struggle.

Struggling does not have to be the end of us. It can be a beginning of something new and transforming. No, it’s not fun to live with. There are no quick fixes. Yes, we should avoid unnecessary struggle. There still isn’t a good reason to be stupid.  Will others be ok with our struggle? Probably not all the time. But struggle doesn’t have to define us. It can be a beginning to “more”.

Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. ~Psalm 51:6

When someone you love hurts…

What do you do when someone you love is hurting?

What do you say?

When a loved one is hurting emotionally, physically, financially, professionally or relationally how do you respond?

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At first I imagine most of us react the same way.  We are quick to call, text or email.  We show up with visits to the hospital and bring meals to the home.  We listen, empathize and pray.  We offer to babysit, make a phone call, do some networking or meet for lunch. We send encouraging notes that are tucked with verses of victory and strength.  We cheerlead, motivate and preach.  We repair stuff, help interpret diagnosis’s and research helpful articles. We do anything to help take away the pain so hope can thrive.

But what about when things don’t get better after a week, or two or seven? When weeks turn into months and months into years? How do you handle it then?

People I love have experienced significant hurt, long term hurt, no easy answers kind of hurt. Dear souls tangled in painful scenarios that just won’t go away.  It’s impossible to not be affected.  It hurts to journey with someone whose hurt goes on. Once you’ve emptied yourself of every encouraging deed and word you can think of you eventually collide with their pain. Now you both hurt.

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So what do you do when you begin to feel their pain because things just aren’t getting better?

Do you run out of things to say?  Do you stop asking because you don’t want to make it harder?  Do your emails and calls slow or stop all together?  Do you still come over for visits like in the beginning?  Do you avoid them because it’s too hard? Do you think about them?

We had a long season of hurt in our home. For the first time ever we experienced long term unemployment during the recession.  For a while it seemed as if the entire state was unemployed.  People were wonderful to us.  So much care, encouragement and support. But as weeks turned into months, which turned into years, things got quiet. Really quiet. I don’t think for minute that people didn’t care.  I think people just didn’t know how to care anymore.

When relief and answers don’t come for our loved ones what exactly are we supposed to do?

There were a few people who were constant. We treasured their presence. One friend called weekly, without fail. She listened for countless hours to my dialog that never seemed to change. Her prayers, unwavering and undying. Another friend invited my husband to lunch.  Every week.  Without fail. There they talked about everything or nothing. He simply showed up. A beautiful couple never gave up hope that God would help us. At the most unexpected and poignant times they were His messengers of aid to us. It was uncanny.  All of their gentle kindnesses pierced our darkness.  None of them had answers or remedies, only their presence.

They hurt with us. They felt the pain of silence and loss along side us.  They wrestled with their own expectations for God and people as they watched us slide deeper into hurt. They let themselves be hurt by our pain.

Sometimes you cannot do anything for others.

Sometimes you can only be with others.

A friend who enters the hurt of another.

Friends who risk being clumsy.

When we are willing to hurt with those who hurt we offer friendship in the lowest of places.  The place where hurt persists and relief is out of sight.

These low places are the most desperate places of our soul, the place where fear rumbles and frightens. No one can ignore vulnerability here.  Going into these low places, even for the sake of a loved one, means dealing with our own frailties, uncertainties, doubts and vulnerabilities. Everything that doesn’t get answered the way we want becomes front and center. I think this is why people don’t know what to do when the hurting goes on and on. They aren’t prepared to go that low. But love reaches deep.  It gets muddy. It enters doubt.

Something unusual also happens when you go to the low places with a hurting loved one. Light begins to shine. It’s not like a brilliant full moon that illuminates the darkness.  It’s more like a sky full of stars. Tiny dots of lights. Every hurting moment shared a new light pokes through the darkness. The starry night, a thing of beauty. The weathered soul in a weary place accompanied by the presence of loving friendship, a thing of beauty. I wonder if this is one of the greatest gifts we can give the world? To go into the lowest places with our loved ones, acknowledge their pain, let it rub against us? What if we don’t leave them alone? I wonder what good would come if we learned how to care for others when our encouraging ideas end and the hurt goes on? I wonder what would change if we learned how to get better at being “with” others?   What if we were more like stars than the moon?

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The heavens are telling the glory of God; they are a marvelous display of his craftsmanship.  Day and night they keep on telling about God. Without a sound or word, silent in the skies, their message reaches out to all the world. ~Psalm 19:1-4