The morning after, yup.

The party was awesome, the coolio-gentlio were present, and some really good food, and beverages, and fun conversations encased in the buzz and soft hum of people who really like each other.

The final service — pretty awesome too, the big crowd, friends young and old, the fun speech, the roars of laughter, the wiping of tears, the loving goodbyes.

It’s the morning after I retired now, and “How do you feel?”  they want to know. So do I.

Well, “Stunned” might be the most accurate descriptive. Even for socialites like me, there is a point of systems overload.

Also, “Grateful!”

Who gets a good ending? Not everybody, an ending you get to script, one where you leave at the top of your game, one in which you leave with a legacy — and loved, that the thing, loved!

It was a rescue and a rout, on both sides, with the divine writing the story and filling in the blanks, and ranks and bankity-bank-banks — also the transformio-ations far and wide.

The morning after?

I’m tired, that will pass quickly; stunned, that will go in a day or two; grateful — that will last the rest of my life.

“You have to have a label, to get services,” I said, looking my friend in the eyes and repeating a truism I had heard years ago.

But it is true.

My daughter got services when she got labeled —  seizure disorder, brain damage, disabled, slow.

Ouch!

Deep ouch!

But this is what we tend toward when things deviate from the norm. We tend toward simplistic labels — mental illness, addiction, autism, brain damage  — and we like the labels very much, because we can pin simplistic solutions on these simplistic labels and feel like we have done something.

But simple labels don’t always well represent complex realities, and labels may lead us to apply wrong, overly simplistic solutions.

“She’s autistic.”

“He’s an addict.”

“Cancer patients tend to …”

“The low functioning  … ”

“The sexually abused  …”

“Males  … ”

“Latinos  …”

Really?

It’s that simple?

Really?

Broad labels, one-word simplifications of reality have resulted in some of the worst human behaviors on earth — racism, genderism, overly heroic and invasive medical treatment, neglect, fear, violence   — which ironically are themselves overly simplistic labels.

Take the autistic thing. It’s not simple. We refer to a person being on the autistic spectrum, thus admitting that there is a range, that there are differences within the label, within the diagnosis. But reality is much more complicated than even the ranging, reaching, inclusive idea of a spectrum.

I know a person who has been diagnosed as autistic but was also sexually abused as a child. Plus she is in a family that lacks resources, plus her siblings are disabled, plus her single mom has to work full-time. Is there a label for this?

The best we might say to even get started is, “It’s complicated!”

Yes, it is complicated. It’s complicated and a team of  helpers and specialists are needed and a complex treatment plan is needed. To help this person and their family recover and thrive, we must help them grieve, and help them understand all they are dealing with. We must team up, pray, find and learn compensating behaviors, discover social solutions, discover medical helps — really uncover all the relevant solutions in all the relevant arts and sciences.

Yes categories and labels help us to understand similarities, understand experiences we have in common,  understand kinds of realties, but too often labels short change understanding and keep us from needed, nuanced thinking.

The family with a complicated reality is in need of more than one label and more than one solution. A concerted, integrated multi-solutional effort is needed.

What are we saying?

The sciences need to cooperate with each other better. The helping professionals in various fields need to team up more.

And, as we work with people and families to try to help them — perhaps because of our own areas of specialization — we must not overly simplify their problems, or the solutions.

If we want to help, if we want to be a helping person or helping team for someone’s spiritual problems, social problems, physical problems, resource challenges and mental problems then we must open up our minds to the full and complicated contexts of their situations.

And we could do with fewer labels.

A person or family in difficulty may well need a multi-solutional response — yes to prayer or other spiritual helps, yes to recovery groups, yes to doctors, yes to therapists, yes behavioral specialists, yes to medications, yes to financial support and yes to a supportive family and community.

Complicated — it’s the solution to complicated.

I approached him in the mix of the crowd without caution, despite being aware that others were avoiding him.

I offered him my sincere compliments, then asked the obvious questions, got the somewhat negative perspectives I was expecting, filed his judgments under “that-has-merit and “I get that,” and thus and so and nevertheless — plus therefore —  the conversation went well.

With her, she approached me — as she almost always does — with a fresh complaint. I fielded it, commented on what I could do, suggested that she take some responsibility to solve the problem, noted that she didn’t pick up on that, again repeated what I would do, and thus and therefore and nonetheless, plus a bit of however, we parted. She was smiling.

People — what to do with them?

Well, you love them, but one other thing too. You approach them, talk to them, engage them with no need to get anything from them. I don’t mean the people on our everyday teams, the people we supervise, the family who supports us. Of course we have increased expectation of our close ones; of course we need them; of course there can be conflicts when they don’t come through.

But people at large, acquaintances, new folks, the people in our outer circles, those we serve, those we help, those who look to us for something — they are perhaps best engaged in a preplanned way, with us deciding ahead of time that we are full, that we are okay, and that because our tanks are full, we can and we are going to listen to and affirm them. If we have no need of their compliments nor any defensiveness about their criticisms, we can be smooth with them.

It’s this: get full. Get okay with yourself. Do this by assiduously loving yourself. Figure out how to fill your own tank, and fuel up.

This matters, because when we don’t need someone to fill our tanks, to affirm our existences, to justify our beings, then we are free to let them be and say and feel what ever it is that is in them. With no personal agendas of our own, we can field other people’s agendas somewhat objectively, remain fairly untriggered by their comments and perhaps do them the most amount of good.

Want to be smooth with people, and better with your precious ones too?

Be smooth — that is okay — with yourself.

Personally smoothed?

It’s relationally smooth.

Recently, I was asked by someone I don’t know well if I would do them a favor. It was a time-consuming and stress-inducing favor. I said, “Yes,” and my stomach tightened.

This month, my daughter has been in need of rides — at night, late —  to get home from events she has gone to. I’ve said, “Yes,” every time. “I’ll go get her,”  and when I have gotten back home after an hour and a-half of driving in traffic, I’ve often wished that I hadn’t had to do that.

Done. Cooked.

Favor fatigued.

Last week, I set up a process where I am going to help someone fund raise. Meetings are required. My own money will get involved. I’m taking a bit of a risk with this. I’m wondering how it will go.  But I want this person funded. They do a lot of good.

So it seems, on reflection that I have said, “Yes,” a lot lately to doing favors, for others, not basing this on what they have or haven’t done for me, but simply on being kind, helpful, gracious, giving.

And as the favors have complicated —  and favors do complicate, often morphing beyond the original expectation or request — I have felt the duress, the tiredness, the time-consuming, mid-stomach tightening of them.

It’s interesting.

To be gracious, to do favors, to give grace —  to do what you don’t get anything back from but instead give something up for just because someone else needs it, or asks  — it isn’t always easy.

Someone criticized me last week. I put it aside. I won’t hold it against them. I will favor them. I will give them grace. The truth can be raspy; grace quite ghastly.

Grace or giving grace or giving favor — when we think of it in Biblical, Pauline, God-given sense — is often defined as “unmerited favor,” as if it is a kind of letting someone off the hook, like saying, “Oh, it’s okay what you did that was wrong you still get a star” a sort of stepping back with a hand out, a kind of not bringing punishment, a not bringing consequences, a sort of mind-trick that badges those who didn’t earn a badge.

That is far too passive a definition.

Grace isn’t a step back, a step away, a kind of giving up on bringing consequences,  something merely in the mind, an attitude adjustment, a quick and easy hand out, a dime.  Grace is a step forward, right into the middle of mess. To give grace is to thrust oneself smack into the middle of the action — and stay there.

Grace takes guts; grace takes agency; grace take work; grace takes a type of forbearance that bears forward, that bears gift.  Graces costs — plenty.  The one receiving grace may relaxed, may feel relief, may feel suddenly special; the giver won’t necessarily. The giver of favor and favors, of grace and graciousness, that giver gives, and in doing so runs out, and doing so holds back, on doing something easier — not giving, not helping, not forgiving — in order to do something harder.

When God gave grace to us in Christ, God worked his tail off. He suffered the giving. He didn’t do what would come easiest and quickest, something like saying “Solve your own problems! You created them.” He gave up his life to give his grace.

Grace — this stuff is expensive, and yet that is precisely why it is worth giving, and receiving. Grace is akin to diamonds, gold, big bucks. Grace costs a lot, because grace does a lot.

I’m rethinking the favors I’ve committed to. I’m turning away from any feelings of being used, of wanting out. I’m committing again to just do them, to just follow through, to suck it up and put out, even when I don’t feel like it, because grace is not a feeling; it’s a behavior, an action and an agency that changes the world for good.

Of course, my being gracious to others will be hard work. Of course doing favors will involve stress. Of course forgiving will exhaust me. And of course — it will be worth it.  Grace will retain and add value — it always does; it always will — a ton of it.

Grace has often been called a work, “a work of grace,” because it is work, that changes lives.

It has and is changing mine.

One constant in life has been well noted — change. You can count on change; you can build on change; you can take change to the bank.

Everything changes.

Last year my mom died, I moved. My daughter got married. She moved. I initiated a succession plan at work — for my own position. The staff team I have spent years gathering and nurturing  —  they are moving on to new things. A lot has changed.

Change, for me, has worn several faces.

The first face of change — it’s scary. That long, looming, lonely look that Father Change throws my way is lined with fear and with anxiety and with grief.  I grieve. I’m losing something; there it goes. I’ve lost it.  What will life be like now? What will life be like without my mom? Without the house. Without work? Without my team? The water I just jumped into feels a bit cold. Did I jump, or was I thrown — a bit of both.

Life throws us as we jump.

Great.

The second face change wears is the face of curiosity, the less fearful face of “this-is-interesting, maybe-this-will-be-okay, well, fine then!”

During my move into the new zip code, the new change zone, I find that I adjust, I get used to new feelings, new realities, I ask questions, I gather information, I get excited, I make new choices, I form new relationships. I let go, I adapt. I step in.

Lately, I have been mentoring my replacement at work, the new leader, the new nonprofit CEO. I like it. I like empowering new leaders.  I always have always liked that thing where you give someone an opportunity, you bring out the best in them, and you watch them thrive.

I leave a whole string of empowered people in my wake. I like that.

And lately, and lastly, as I approach my own retirement — it’s coming with the spring this year — I find myself more reflective, more calm, quiet, kind to others, kind to myself.. I am content with what has happened, with the then and the now.  I sit in the past; I soak in the present, I grow porous toward the future. I find myself grateful — extremely grateful — for my life.

The third face of change — it has a calm, quiet contented face. Life here doesn’t feel transitional. I’ve arrived somewhere new; it’s good. I have moved from discomfort to acceptance. I am incorporating new realities into my daily life; the surrounding water is warm, the new — it is becoming the  familiar.

Did someone change the ambient temperature of my life?

No, I adjusted.

What to think of all this?

Well, again, change —  it’s certain.

It will happen again, and again and again. Change stutters.

A couple of thoughts.

When I lose — and I will lose more things ahead —  I will sit with my losses, I will feel them, I will know them and I will befriend them.

And as new things enter my life, I will communicate, communicate and then communicate — with my inner circle, with my loves, with my precious ones. I will apply the talking cure — to myself. I will talk out my feelings of discomfort. I will talk out my fears; I will talk about my excitement, and I will talk my way through my lovely changes.

And lastly, I will commit to remaining flexible, plastic, stretchable, open, exploratory, positive, curious —  fascinated!

I will change, within the changes that reside deep within the changing changes, of my constantly changing life.

The devil is in the details; so is the divine.

In other words, microcosmic stuff matters — atoms, quarks, corners, specks, chips, flakes.

It must; it’s everywhere, the particulate.

Recently, we installed dark hardwood floors in our home. Suddenly we notice tiny bits of white stuff — flakes, chips, particles — on the floor, everyday! Was the wood magnetized? Was it sucking white stuff out of the air?

Nope, it was always there, the small pieces  — tracked in from the outside, falling off our shoes, the litter from things dropped in the kitchen, the tiny residuals from snacks eaten in the family room  —  we just didn’t see it in the former, light carpet.

Yuck!

What to do? Vacuum more, sweep more, dust more; otherwise, we are living in a trash dump.

I’m currently building a wall at the front of the house. Millimeters matter. If the first course of block isn’t level, the next course won’t be and the error will worsens as I go up.

But, fortunately, this think concerning detail all works in the opposite direction too. Sweep everyday, adjust the level constantly, pay attention to detail and we then live with the good, clean, safe, healthy and beautiful — constantly.

I recently had to have a potentially hurtful conversation with someone. I suffered — for several weeks — as I literally extruded the right words from my brain, finessed the right tones out of the air and perfected a perfectly efficacious linguistic and proxemic  demeanor.

It worked, the conversation; it went well; it had the desired result, because I had paid attention to detail.

Today, I’ll bring to exact level some decomposed granite in the backyard to prep for some beautiful wedge shaped stone pavers that will make up a new circular patio. Tomorrow I’ll order eleven new double paned windows for the house, measured to an eighth inch, for a precise, weather tight fit. And then in two months, I’ll do a bigger thing — I’ll retire from a profession I’ve practiced for thirty years.

And when I retire, I’ll do that carefully too. I’ll handle my people carefully, my precious people carefully, with finely measured responses and with finely tuned and bubble-leveled affirmations —  as I have learned to do with everything.

The molecular matters.

Slivers and morsels and smithereens and iotas matter — especially when it come to each other.

“Everybody lies,” he said and laughed.

Cynical, I thought. Too much time working in the Social Security Fraud department.

Now I don’t, disagree.

They do — lie.

We do. I do. We lie first to ourselves. We don’t and even can’t tell ourselves the whole truth about ourselves.

The truth about myself?

Recently, my wife reminded me that I tend to be dominant. It’s true. So does she, thus we make a great match —  two really strong people not easily told what to do. It works for us. We don’t — and can’t — run over each other very much. And so we allow for a fair degree of autonomy and independence in the relationship and we talk a lot, process a lot, keep everything current — criticism and praise. That is how we can tell we love — we’re honest.

But when other people tell me the truth about myself, sometime I deny it. Why? I’m not sure they love me, know me, care for me, and I fear motivated feedback, manipulative feedback, especially the negative stuff, but even sometime the positive. What are they trying to get from me with their frothy compliments?  Such guardedness, such suspicion,  closes me up to others,  but sometimes others —  even strangers and casual friends —  know me better than I know myself.

Simine Vazire, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University, has discovered that we are better at assessing our “own internal, or neurotic traits, such as anxiety, while friends are better barometers of intellect-related traits, such as intelligence and creativity.”

Cornell University social psychologist David Dunning, PhD has found that, “People overestimate themselves.” The least competent performers inflate their abilities the most,” seemingly based on ignorance of their own abilities.

This seems to be in part a cultural phenomena. Americans tend to overrate themselves; East Asians tend to underrate themselves. Sounds about right. In American, everybody gets a star in school.

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons for American overconfidence lies in our tendency to avoid giving each other feedback. Many of us are really quite closed when it comes to giving and receiving feedback. We tend to hide our assessments of other and ourselves — particularly negative assessments  — to gain a surface and veneered aura of public peace and acceptance.

We seem too much afraid of each other, and not skilled at delicate, nuance conversations that can promote deep bonds. We hold back, then gush, then attack, then hide; we are passive and aggressive, and we spoil things.

I can tell this is happening because people are always telling my something about someone else that they won’t tell that person. Triangulation seems rampant in our society. It is because we are chicken! And because we simply won’t face and do what works. Honesty works. Dishonesty — it doesn’t.

My bother told me a while back he thought I was a bit of an elitist about food and technology and material stuff. It stung, I considered it; then I told him. “You’re right, I am.  Sorry I offended you with that. I’ll work on it.” I am, working on it. We are closer now.

Can we do this with each other?

We can.

I’ve finding more and more that it is best to “go there,” and let other go there too, to bring up the issues that lie between us, to invite conflict, to gently talk about difference, early, before they inflate. It is best to be honest. It is best to be open. It is best to realize that I need others to properly assess myself. If I include them, then I can can get better at important stuff — at truth, at love.

Lies don’t work. Ignorance doesn’t work.

What works is gentle, safe, loving, ongoing dialogues about what is true — that works.

It’s hard to tell if you have done a thing.

Well, not always.

Yesterday, I trashed one of my Christmas angels. I knew I’d done it because I could see it. Unscrewing the motor that ran her wings,  pulling the bulbs off her trumpet,  stuffing her head first into a dumpster — it was fairly definitive.

I told her, “You’ve served well honey, but you’re done. Rest in peace — in the dump.”

Then I put the body parts I had harvested from her in a drawer in the garage — ready if needed — to patch up my other angel, the one lighting up my driveway these Christmas nights.

It’s done, the body’s gone.

Not every body is like that.

Forgiveness is not like that. You do it, you dismember the offender in your mind, you dump the body in the river Lithe, and then it floats to the surface again, bloated and horrible in the backwaters of your mind

“What? I just can’t get rid of this guy!”

That is because forgiveness can’t erase the past. It was what it was and forgiving someone doesn’t dispense with the memory or emotion of their offense — the attendant regret, the sadness, the anger.

Forgiveness is no eraser.

Then what is forgiveness?

Forgiveness is keyboard, a keyboard that can write the present and also write the future.

Forgiveness is the agency that allows us to positively address the issues of the present without being controlled by a residue of anger and resentment from the past.

Forgiveness is the ability to love again.

Sometimes we think we haven’t forgiven because we haven’t been able to dismember the bodies and tossed them in the River Lethe. But getting rid of the bodies is not forgiveness.  They won’t go. We will lug our heaviest offenders to our graves with us.

Forgiving is not forgetting; it is thriving, while not forgetting. We know we have forgiven when we find ourselves harvesting a special awareness and sensitivity from what we have learned from our past wounds and bringing that into the present to love and care for others again.

Forgiveness is the freedom to enter the present with fresh eyes and an open heart and ready hands.

Sometimes you can tell you are doing a thing when you are doing it without thinking of the things that could keep you from doing it.

With divine assistance, choosing to exist existentially and exponentially within the forgiveness available to you, forgive the dark angels and the even darker humans of the past; do this by taking loving care of the bright ones of your present.

Up and running.

Hubbubed.

Potentialized.

Maximized.

It was the REFINERY Church — last Saturday morning  — and it was humming. The place was literally swarming with activity.

Walking through the site that morning, I realized that a vision had been realized. Ten years ago we set out to take an under-utilized and physically neglected church and turn it into Google. Google is a place where people can go and do what they need to do — find information, accomplish something, better their lives.

REFINERY Church —  the same. Ten years ago, when we began to cleanup, remodeled, up-date the church, we also decided to functionalize it. And as we improved the site, we also turned it into a platform for our community to come to and do good. We  gave the church away by allowing other non-profits with the same vision — a vision to empower people —  to come here and do their thing.

And now it hums.

Sometimes we now tease that everybody has keys to the church. Who are all these people in all these rooms?  We barely know! Over 20 non-profit groups now use the church. Over six hundred people per week pass thorough the site for some kind of benefit to their lives — recovery groups, mental health groups, foster care groups, family groups, study groups. We offer counseling. We give away food twice each week to hundreds of people. REFINERY is a venue for voting, parties, area school events, worship services and weddings.

Last Saturday reflected this state of affairs.In the sanctuary a band from one of our partnering churches was practicing for Sunday worship.

In the courtyard a team of young church families was digging out an area of sod to create a space for a new, larger play structure for children.

In the Gallery — a midsized meeting room —  a team from an partnering church was huddled around a table planning a holiday meal for homeless friends.

Another team from a partnering church readied the same room for an afternoon baby shower.

In one of the classrooms, Grossmont College was holding a class to train foster parents.

In the Counseling Center a Center For Enriching Relationship’s therapist (CER is a partnering nonprofit Christian counseling group) was meeting with a client.

In the basement a team was prepping to give out food from a fresh rescue program to families who are food challenged.

Out front, along E Street a team — led by the REFINERY gardener — a team of volunteers was trimming lantana and wiring up a new drip irrigation system.

That’s site empowerment, that’s healthy, that’s good, that’s the kind of good God wants for his church.

Good is when we open to teaming with other; good is when we give away what has been given to us; good is when we allow others to have the opportunity to do what they need to do to be empowered.

Good is God reaching out to our community though us.

“You don’t have to decide anything yet,” I told her in the car.

She was quiet.

I had noticed that she was a bit shut down at the picnic. “Were you afraid?”

“I felt insecure. I felt a little lost.”

“That’s okay,” I reassured her. “We’ll go out for the Christmas party and see how things go then. That will be fun.”

“I want to get a drink,” she said.

“What?”

“Hot chocolate.”

“Oh, at the Christmas party, okay.”

We had just left a Sunday afternoon picnic at a live-in community for people with disabilities where my daughter was a guest. We’ve applied for her to live there. She isn’t sure. We aren’t either.

“One of the things that scared me is that some people were crying. One girl just started screaming. It was random. Then another one. It kind of freaked me out.”

“Yeah, I said, I get that.”

She lives in two worlds, one disabled, one abled —  or somewhat abled — seeing none of us are without issue, without compromise, not the norm in some way. This creates a dilemma. Where does she fit?

In both; in neither. She is marginalized. She is disabled, but able, high-functioning, crossing back and forth between two communities of people.

It’s tough, but, in a way, we all have some of this, a bit of marginalization, a bit of fitting and not fitting, the need to find our people, not being able to do that, the need to find where we belong, feeling uncomfortable in the search.

Finding community can be tough. I’ve thought about it lately. Mostly in life, I’ve made the people I got my people. I think many of us have done this. We make friends with the people at hand. Who else is there?

We chose to befriend the people at work, next door, at the store, at church, at the temple, in school, because they are the ones there.

It’s actuality, this is the normal way in which community works. We make a neighbor, our neighbor,  a community our community, by choice, at least at first, because they are near.

It’s not alway easy, or comfortable, or secure, community building, but it’s something beautiful and special, choosing what you get, choosing the option most in front of you, not because it’s a perfect fit, but because you make it fit.

Some wise people, thinking about exactly this, have called this love.