There was an error in this gadget

Total Pageviews

Friday, September 18, 2015

The 15 Books I'm Reading

So lately I've let it slip that I read a lot of books all at once.  I decided I needed to reign myself in a little and am limiting myself to only 15 at once.  (Sometimes I do cheat and sneak a few in that aren't on my list).  That means whenever I finish one I can then add one that I've been itching to read as an 'official' reader.  I have such broad interests and will read in one general category for a season until I feel completely maxed out or my curiosity wanes and I need a break.  My categories are almost entirely non-fiction:

human biology - specifically: the brain (neurobiology), endocrinology (related to hormones and diabetes), cancer, and anything else that strikes my fancy at the time

psychology - specifically certain disorders: learning and memory, trauma, family systems theory, borderline p.d, A.D.D., child development, PTSD, autism/asbergers, and anything related to anyone I know or come across;

history - specifically: 2nd World War, European history during early 1900's, U.S. history - lately more the civil war era, but anything American history (since I have huge gaps in my learning), Russian or/and Chinese history.

theology - I read a variety here - sometimes new stuff, but often older.  I tend to go for older books actually.  New books seem a bit suspicious to me.  Unless a friend wrote it.  Then I'll read it.

As far as fiction goes I have a lot of trouble focussing on it, but once in a while I can really get into a Louis L'Amour novel (on the lighter side) or a George MacDonald book (on the heavier side) - some of the newer re-done ones are easier, though I'll also read the old versions at times.

kid literature - sometimes I am able to take in fiction if it's aimed at a younger audience.  So I'll pick up some of the historic fiction (like imitated diaries and such) for 4-6th grade level.  Often this will spark my interest to actually go and learn more from the non-fiction side.  I guess for me fiction only serves as a stepping stool to further learning.

Right now my 15 books list is as follows:

Healing the Child Within  (Whitfield)
The Imitation of Christ  (a Kempis)
The Pressure's Off  (Crabb)
Care of the Soul (Moore)
Practicing the Presence of God (Lawrence)
Healing the 8 Stages of Life (Linns and Fabricant)
I thought it was Just Me  (Brown)
A Long Obedience (Peterson)
Healing the Shame that Binds You (Bradshaw)
The Wounded Healer  (Nouwen)
The Gifts of Imperfection (Brown)
Talking With God (Fenelon)
Intimacy (Nouwen)
Conscious Performing (Bonkrude)
Becoming Attached  (Karen)

Shortly, I'll post the books I've recently finished.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Putting Performance Ahead of the Person (Parenting Pitfall)

Lest you fall into the same errors we have as parents, let me divulge to you my latest 'aha' moment in parenting.  I call it: What You Do Matters More than Who You Are.  (Big lie, by the way).  I like to think I communicate grace, acceptance, mercy, kindness and love to my kids.  These sound like Utopian ideals - and would be easily applied if I were supplied with Utopian kid material (which, though it seems close at times, is far from the case).

It's tricky - this issue of 'what-our-kids-do'.  Because in fact, we are supposed to - commanded to - tell our kids what to do and how to behave.  This is what molding and shaping and nurturing them is kind of about: getting them to do the things that civilized society expects, to a certain degree.  How do we get the results we want without becoming a nag, nuisance, irritation, grit-under-their-skin?  When I find that answer I'll blog it, but until then, let me just stick with this one thing: putting performance above the child - his inherent worth and value.

I get that we want the best for our kids, so we want them to behave well.  We love them, so we teach them to do what is right.  The matter isn't so much that we have expectations and instructions for them - that's all well and good.  The matter (problem, parenting pitfall) is when through such instruction we communicate to our children that they as people, (with hearts, souls, feelings, ideas, value, worth, uniqueness) are only valued when they DO as we like, expect or ask of them.  When my child senses that he as a person is second to his performance, it is a BIG RED FLAG.  For me, it is a wake-up call to change course - to re-evaluate, to consider my language, interactions and expressions to my child.

So far my kids haven't been great at communicating openly how they feel about these things.  Some kids are more verbal and in-tune with their own emotions.  Since I don't have much experience with that, I think it must be ideal (grass-is-greener-syndrome) and helpful to be able to hear directly what they think and feel.  For those who are more reserved I daresay it's okay to sit them down at times and point-blank ask: "Have these recent conversations (insert a few examples here) made you feel like your worth is conditioned upon how you measure up to what we ask of you?"  I dare you: ask your child this question and see where it leads.

I struggled with this issue a lot - and still do at times in my understanding of God as my Father.  When I started to peek into theology and wonder at what God is like, I was surprised at what I discovered.  So many verses talk about God being a Rock, and about our footing being sure, and about the one who trusts in Him will not be shaken.  What, to me, is this idea of a Rock, of being secure - not shaken?  As I began to understand how God loves me, I recognized that this aspect of His being is for me a sure foundation.  His love, expressed in Christ, is an anchor for my soul.

You see, I often fail those around me when I ask them to meet expectations before I will love them.  I believe in unconditionally loving my kids, but too often they come away from me sensing something other than that.  And that is pretty much modus operandi for most of the world.  It was in Jesus' day.  Religious leaders went around putting others under the microscope of their judgement.  They had no room for things like grace, love, mercy (and I daresay, joy!)  Theirs was entirely a behavioural construct: You do the things we say the way we like and we will approve of you.  You can earn your acceptance.  And Jesus stepped onto the scene and discarded that thinking, which drew their ire and led Him all the way to the cross.

He blazed a trail contrary to the earned-acceptance model of the day.  And the world has never been the same since.  He called it the Kingdom of God.  And He told us it was within us, if we follow Him.  Instead of:

             1. What You Do    (coming before)
             2.  Who You Are

He flipped it and made it:

       1.  Who You Are (His deeply loved child, His creation, His joy) - supercedes
       2.  What You Do

He didn't waive the importance of living righteously - but He recognized that how we live flows from who we are and if we're posturing, insecure, afraid, and unaccepted our behaviour will be fraught with exhaustion and lifelessness.  Following that model may produce some outward gain, but inside there will be lifeless despair.  Can anyone relate to that?

If I somehow communicate to my child that what he does (when and how and such) matters more to me than who he is as a child of God, I have confused the truth of the Gospel and complicated his view of God.  (By confusing the Gospel, I mean that by showing them their acceptance is conditioned on their behaviour I risk them thinking that this is how God views them - and the Gospel is precisely the opposite: because you can't perform to perfection, and because God made you and loves you and redeemed you, you are completely loved, welcomed and affirmed as His worthy creation - based entirely on HIS work, and not yours).

In Christ the highest performance requirements are met.  And if I am in Christ, I am fully accepted and loved, even when how and when and what I do isn't as great as anyone thinks it should be.  Sadly, I think I have sometimes made too much of even things that aren't even remotely sin issues.  Sure, as soon as I ask my child (or tell him) what to do, if they disobey it then becomes sin (I suppose at some level).  But why do I complicate life by asking them to do so many nit-picky things the way I want?  Do I respect them as individuals with thoughts and feelings and ideas when I ask these things of them?  Do they know why I'm asking?  Why it's important to me?

Lately, because I have such stellar human material in my children (ha ha), I have taken to actually asking them politely if they can do such-and-such, but often giving them an out - an, "It's okay to say no this time."  (I haven't tried this at all on the younger ones, mind you :) - just 9 yrs and above).  And often they are willing to comply because I am aiming to respect them as persons.  Of course this won't work if your kid is belligerent, defiant and rebellious.  So, don't take this as some kind of sloppy parenting advice (use your noggin' in other words).

But I know I am just meandering my way through this and discovering new insights all the time.  Maybe you have some good ideas of how to affirm our kids - respecting them as uniquely wonderful individuals - while at the same time instructing them as to how we (and God) want them to live.

I'll look forward to your comments!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Anxiety, Mindfulness and Jesus

Lately I've begun to explore this topic called Mindfulness.  At first I scoffed - it sounded silly - because it was all about 'living in the moment' 'being fully present' 'accepting and observing your own thoughts and experiences.'  I get that.  I thought, 'Why is this so revolutionary?  Why is this making such waves in the psychology/meditation fields of interest?  It seems so obvious.'

I also thought I had it down pat.  I am SO about living in the present that I have a hard time planning anything future (think: kids' birthday parties).  I have also tried to stick with a 'leave the past in the past' mentality.  But lately I've had to reconsider things in the past, which has become troubling.  

I began to read about Mindfulness and even tried to implement these concepts in how I function.  In fact, I kind of loved that someone had come up with this whole category, labelled it, wrote about it, and explored it.  It puts words to what I've kind of thought is a good way to be all along.  I just hadn't recognized that it could be a 'thing'.  You know, a trend, a fad, a therapy. 

But then there's anxiety.  I just issued my apology regarding how I've written about and viewed anxiety in the past - merely from a spiritual perspective, and ignoring that the struggle often can stem from more than just a difficulty trusting God.  Anxiety can be physical - often it is - through no fault of our own.  Anxiety focusses on future or past and often has little to do with the present.  And mindfulness is all about the present.  So, mindfulness practices often help with re-orienting the anxiety-ridden towards the present.  In most instances, this is ideal.

But then I thought about anxiety, sorrow, depression, grief.  And immediately I thought of Jesus, known as The Man of Sorrows, who was acquainted with grief.  "Surely He bore our sorrows.  We considered Him smitten, stricken and afflicted."  We know Jesus was perfect - He demonstrated a life lived not just as God, but as God-approved: "This is my Son with whom I am well pleased."  It is noble to want to live a life pleasing to God.  Yet the life Jesus lived, which pleased God, had many griefs and sorrows.  And anxiety.  If Jesus had anxiety, I think we can rightly say, it is okay to experience it also.

My mind went to Gethsemane: "...he began to be sorrowful and troubled...Then he said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death." (Matthew 26:37-38).  Jesus was conflicted.  He was sorrowful, overwhelmed and troubled.  Sounds a lot like anxiety.  Was He mindful?  Yes, very much so, it seems.  He asks his friends to stay with him - to stay in the moment.  To accept the pain He was enduring.  But He was also grieving His coming pain - knowing the future, knowing He was about to suffer.  His anxiety was justified.  But that made it no less difficult.

When I say that Jesus meets us in our anxiety - whether it stems from past, present or future troubles - I mean that He knows, He gets it - He understands - not in some other-worldly way, but in a very intimate, deeply compassionate way.  He is the great I AM.  He meets us in the present and welcomes the hurting soul to walk through any path - including the paths of grief, pain and suffering.

Friday, September 4, 2015

I Apologize

I want to issue a retraction and apology.  Often I have written about anxiety, worry and fear.  I even coined a phrase: 'W.A.F.fing'.  And now I regret some of what I've said.  I haven't even gone back to look.  I might cringe if I did.

Because I thought that fear and anxiety was really something to do with lacking trust - a spiritual issue, if you will.  There may be some truth in that thought, but it isn't all the truth of it.  Sometimes anxiety can hit and it isn't your fault.  It isn't because you aren't spiritual enough.  It isn't because you haven't developed your soul or done your internal homework.  Doing spiritual exercises, I'm sure, can help.  But there is a level of anxiety and fear I never understood or knew was possible until recently.

I don't need to go into it all here, now.  (Maybe someday I'll write on my own experiences).  But I just want to issue this apology to my readers, lest I have offended, hurt, discouraged or rebuked any of you needlessly - you who might suffer from bouts of fear and anxiety.  I haven't been fair.  I haven't understood.  I vow to change how I write on this subject.

Yes, we need to grow in faith and trust God.  Yes, we need to reflect that He is Sovereign, powerful and keeps us - He KEEPS us.  A powerful truth.  I believe it.  And still...there is anxiety at times.  Perfect love casts out fear - that's in the Bible.  And still, there is fear.  I get it.  I understand.  No more will I tell you how to solve your internal crises.  Instead I'll reflect with you and engage with what you experience.

I'm sorry if I've been radical and failed to fully understand the complexities of anxiety.  You have my sympathy, you who suffer through these things.

God meets us in it, for sure.

But often He meets us hurting and needy, and not needing a lecture.  Instead He meets us where we're at - discouraged, confused, disoriented by life.  And He welcomes us.  This, more than anything, helps anxiety.  More than reading the Bible more, praying more, thinking more, doing more.  HE, more than anything else, at the end of the day is there in our anxiety.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Adolescence of the Soul

I'd like to point out something that just dawned on me.  Okay, maybe it was a little late in coming - or maybe I'm just slow to 'get' things.  But I just realized that though people grow up, their age increases with each year, sometimes the adolescent stage lasts far beyond the years we allocate to this supposed maturing process.  I see it in myself, and sometimes in others, though I'd like to think I don't bother to scrutinize or oversee anyone else's growth (unless, of course, you count my children - whom it is my duty to oversee!)

It is easy to watch kids growing up and think they will arrive at somewhere between 19 and 25 with a fully matured person in place.  And an easy mistake to make - to think it is a magical process that happens with the passing of time.  Because I am noticing more and more that there is so much growing up to be done still - on the inside.  I thought that once I got certain concepts; changed in certain ways, that I would then operate from a position of maturity, wholeness, completeness and be such a source of grace and wisdom to others!  Ha!  I'll let you know when I figure out which certain concepts facilitate such grandiose schemes!  Because I keep finding more and more growing to do.

It is as if my soul has risen and peeked above the fray of life and said, "I'm still an adolescent!  You can't rest on your laurels!"

I wonder if there is such a thing as a mature soul; one who has grown past the adolescent phase.  I suppose there is.  If I can imagine it, it would look like one at peace with himself and the world, whose trust is unyielding in his Creator, God, and whose strength and endurance serve as a source of comfort and hope to those around him.  I think I have mature moments like that in my own life.  The process of growing out of soul-adolescence, must be, I imagine, one where those moments of inner calm increase and start to blend together to create a life of richly overflowing joy.  I use language of imagination, because I don't see it in myself a whole lot and haven't probably taken the time to see it in others, though I'm sure it's there.

Adolescence is by nature a tumultuous time of turbulence and growth.  I see it in my growing children - they act like mini-adults some days and like 2 year olds the next.  And I see this same adolescence in my soul - the back and forth of doubt and trust; the tendency to anxiety and fear one day and the next a supremely hopeful confidence in God.  God must tenderly smile at me and wonder at my impetuous temper-tantrums followed by earnest prayers of how I will trust Him for all I need.

Yes, God wonders.  If we know Him through Christ, we see that at times He wondered at people's lack of faith, or at their incredible faith.  This knowing God responds to soul-adolescence with tender, compassionate love.  Don't believe me?  I read it just the other day: A man comes to Jesus and tells Him about how he has done so much law-keeping and everything he's 'supposed' to do.  This is an example of soul-adolescence.  A self-assured, confident, spiritually proud, yet simply ignorant soul.  What would my response be to such smug-self-righteousness?  I'd probably throw my hands up in annoyance and tell him to get down off his high horse.

But not Jesus.  He treats the adolescent-soul with grace and truth.  It says, "He looked at him and loved him."  Such simple words.  Striking.  Not exactly profound.  But exactly what was needed.  This man did need a dose of truth, "Sell all and give to the poor and come follow me." (In that order).  But Jesus began with love.

That's what my adolescent soul needs.  A heavy dose of compassion from on high that says, "I welcome you even when you're blind.  Even when you think you're mature, but you aren't.  I will love you and meet you right where you are."  That is the starting place for me: a place to begin to grow, to lay down the angst, and to move towards deeper joy, daring hope and divine love.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Parenting Advice - Who to Listen To

Recently I've been thinking through our journey as parents - thus far.  We're still early in the game - our oldest is only 14.  And as I reflect on these 14 years, I realize we have made many mistakes, one of which I want to share with you all so you don't make them too.  The mistake is this:  Modelling our parenting after those whose kids were not yet grown and who we admired for their exterior superiorness in behaviour and respect.

You see, we looked around us and picked out people with model children - those kids who smiled sweetly, were well-mannered, polite and obedient.  Emphasis on obedient.  These others were ahead a few years than we were, so of course their model - to produce such greatly performing kids - must be the way to go.

Please don't do this.

People look at us now and might be in our same shoes 14 years ago - our kids can look so wonderful to those who don't live here with us!  (Of course, they are wonderful, don't get me wrong - but they have soul issues just like the rest of humankind).

I was just thinking about this and thought, 'Well, who should I have looked to for modeling and as a shaping influence on me as a parent?'  Answer, 'Not those who are only a few years ahead.  Maybe those who are 20 or even 30 years ahead.'

My ideas about responding to others' influence has changed.  It used to be that the grandparent generation were just unfamiliar with our goals or the changes in society that demand new methods, models or ideas.  It used to be.  That's because I didn't see that they had walked the road much farther ahead and seen the outcomes of all the parenting styles out there.

It's not true that just because someone is much older that they have acquired more wisdom - we'd like to think it is, but I have met plenty a foolish elderly person who failed to acquire the necessary wisdom for life.  However, that said, it really MAY be true, and is likely true that they HAVE acquired plenty of helpful wisdom for us in our parenting journey.

If you're looking for answers to some of your parenting queries - how to get your children to be more obedient; how to get your babies to sleep better; how to teach them God's Word; how to pass on your faith; how to school them; how to socialize them... etc. etc. - maybe step back and look at the older generation around you.  Instinctively, I went to those who had kids 5-10 years older than mine.  I don't think this was the best thing.  Certainly these parents had wisdom and there was a wealth of learning I could gain from them.  But if I had dug deeper with those 20 years ahead, if I had listened to them and given more weight to their input, I think our parenting would have been better.

I look at the effect of some of our early ideals and I don't like what I see.

For example, the desire to have obedient children is a good one.  But if not done kindly, it can result in a depressed child who has never felt his/her thoughts/feelings/ideas about things matter in the family.  This is a terrible way to raise a child.  Yes, we want our child to obey.  But do we want them to be robotic?  Do we want them to be forced into a mould that says they have no voice?  This borders on abusive - abusing their spirit and not respecting them as God's image-bearer.  Remember, our children bear God's image in their souls/spirits also!  We would all recognize that physical abuse is wrong because we are not respecting the child's dignity.

What about emotional abuse?  This is difficult to identify as parents sometimes because we think they are ours to control.  Well, yes, to some degree, my child simply must obey.  I get that.  But on another level, God holds me responsible as their parent to BE THE ADULT.  This means manipulation and ignoring their heart cries, their complaints even (yikes!), shutting them down because 'I said so' is also wrong.  These things are not helpful in parenting, though they may yield great results in the short term.

People can look at children and think they are so obedient, delightful, respectful and superior.  And they can want to imitate that kind of parenting to produce these results.  But just wait 10 or 20 years til that perfectly obedient child must grow up inside, and learn what he/she thinks about things.  Just wait and see if they are comfortable in their own skin.  Wait and see if they are emotionally stable and healthy.  Then you can copy those parents' methods.  I'm sure it can be done - there are super, great, healthy families who parent very well and have methods that produce both obedience and joy in their kids.  Those are the families to imitate.  But you don't know how that went until the kids are into their 20's.

Start listening to what the older generation around you tell you about parenting.

They just might know a thing or two.

Believe me.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Kind of Neighbour I Want To Be

It is probably no surprise that I have a fascination (a combination of curiosity and respect) with the Amish.  They puzzle me and I think to myself, "Why would anyone live that way?"  And in the next thought I think, "Why doesn't everyone choose to live that way?"  Which only goes to show how bizarre my thought process can be.  One minute I lean one way, the next, I reconsider!

  But because I find them peculiar and interesting I do often read about them.  Mind you, not the fiction, though I tried that and just couldn't stomach it.  I need not go into what I think of these pseudo-novels here, but suffice to say, it did little to satiate the desire I had to know of them - who they are, why they are, how they live etc.  When I want to learn something, I tend towards non-fiction material (though fiction can be helpful in many areas of growth and learning, to teach and inform us in ways we didn't realize were possible).  A few weeks ago, I picked up a book at a thrift store called Plain and Simple by Sue Bender.  I have been reading it some off and on, in the midst of the other 14 books I'm reading!  (Yes, I counted them and there are indeed 14 others.  When I got to 15 I capped the list and told myself to finish something before adding anymore...)

  At the same time I have just finished reading Reaching Out by Henri Nouwen.  There are actually some amazing parallels between the two, coincidentally.  And combining the thoughts of these two I am formulating ideas of who I want to be, what kind of community I want to interact with, how I want my world to connect.  Specifically, what kind of neighbour am I?  In the most literal sense - a neighbour is someone who lives nearby.  In the broader sense, it means all the people in my world - who I have contact with - who know me, see me - even in the smallest measure.

  And what I get from the Amish, and from the thoughts of Nouwen in Reaching Out is what it means to be hospitable.  Hospitality is a character trait - much more than fancy dishes and napkin rings.  It is a state of the soul that welcomes another - warmly, receptively, with compassion, friendship and joy.  This is the kind of hospitality I want to engender in my life.

In Plain and Simple, Sue Bender writes, "Confused, I made a pilgrimage to the house of my neighbors, Ruth and Tino.  They weren't Amish...but...Each time I stepped into their home, I left behind a world of frenzy and entered a tranquil place.  I know that's supposed to happen when you go to church or temple, but it happens to me in my neighbors' home."

I wanted to jump up and down saying, "YES! That's the kind of neighbour I want to be!"  The kind that lets others enter as they are - without judgement - and gives them a place to just be - to hear wisdom, kindness, mercy - to receive the open hand of friendship.  I want my home - or beyond that - my presence, to be a hallowed place where people leave behind their frenzy and find a tranquil place - because that is the kind of world I want to function in.

Much of my life is certainly frenzied and NOT tranquil.  But it is tranquility that I love.  So maybe in spite of the normal frenzy that life brings I can carry a steady spirit of willing engagement with those around me.  Maybe I can offer hospitality to others even if my world seems to be falling apart.  Maybe in the struggles of life we can find communal hospitality to serve each other in our deepest need.

This is the kind of neighbour I seek to be.

Nouwen writes, "The German word of hospitality is Gastfreundschaft which means, friendship for the guest.  The Dutch use the word gastvrijheid which means, the freedom of the guest...It...shows that hospitality wants to offer friendship without binding the guest and freedom without leaving him alone.  Hospitality, therefore, means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.  Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place..."

There are certainly times when hospitality can be challenging.  But I realize that there is healing in the welcome - there is joy in community.  And community is fake when it isn't bathed in true, genuine, hospitality.

It isn't lost on me that the word 'hospitality' contains the word 'hospital'.  The hospital is where broken or sick people go to get treatment - immediate care, help, and repair!  If I am to be hospitable in my spirit, I must be ready to welcome the sick, hurting, broken and seemingly beyond-repair types.  And in fact, we have this example in the Lord Jesus Who chose common fishermen for his crew, invited prostitutes and tax-collecters to be His friends and who ate and drank with the lower class of society.  He willingly associated with the hurting and disenfranchised, and He welcomed little children and blessed them.  This is a picture of hospitality in its truest sense.  That Jesus created space for others to just be themselves.  Yes, He called them to change - but He cared and instructed and nurtured and was patient.  This is the kind of neighbour I want to be.

And ultimately hospitality is about the Gospel:

Nouwen again writes, "Only when we have come in touch with our own life experience and have learned to listen to our inner cravings for liberation and new life can we realize that Jesus did not just speak, but that he reached out to us in our most personal needs.  The Gospel doesn't just contain ideas worth remembering.  It is a message responding to our individual human condition.  The Church is not an institution forcing us to follow its rules.  It is a community of people inviting us to still our hunger and thirst at its tables.  Doctrines are not alien formulations which we must adhere to but the documentation of the most profound human experiences which, transcending time and place, are handed over from generation to generation as a light in our darkness. But what is the sense of speaking about light to people who do not sense their darkness?"

And the Church, of all places, is a place of hospitality - a place to be welcomed, nurtured, and given freedom to grow and hear from God.

This is the kind of neighbour I want our Church to be.  And it is the kind of hospitality I want to offer my Church community, neighbourhood, acquaintances and everyone else I meet.