Posts Tagged ‘how to thrive’

Theology and pain — there much to process here. Let’s put aside the questions of causality for the moment and consider our own reactions to pain. Let’s take a look at our side of it.

Paul, the great spiritual thinker, the consummate church founder, the exquisite theologian himself once wrote, and he wrote in the Bible, for God sake:

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.”

2 Corinthians 1:8

Everybody can be broken, including the great ones. Paul broke. The pressure was beyond his ability to bear. Paul was human. He was like the rest of us.

Pressure, physical pain, emotional pain or relational difficulty is always rough to take. It creates fear in us, sometimes it creates the fear that a time will come when we may think and feel: “I am broken and in pain beyond what I can endure. I can’t take it anymore.” We can all say or imagine saying that kind of thing if we arrive at a point where our soul is very eroded, where our spirit feels completely broken. I’ve been there several times in life. Most others too. But one of the promises of scripture is that God will save the crushed in spirit.

Psalm 34:17-20

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;

    he delivers them from all their troubles.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted

    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

The righteous person may have many troubles,

    but the Lord delivers him from them all;

he protects all his bones,

    not one of them will be broken.

What does that mean, “saves,” and “delivers”? It might mean many things? It could mean solutions, it could mean healing, or even mean strength to endure when there is no physical or emotional or relational healing. It might mean heaven. I would think it is case specific, but for all believers an ultimate saving and delivering will be heaven.

But what if we aren’t delivered in the here and now, at least not in the way we want? How are we to think about lasting hardship and pain? Well, we need to acknowledge that lasting pain is not necessarily ennobling. It doesn’t always get better or make everything eventually intrinsically better. Pain isn’t something we should minimize or deny the terribleness of. Paul didn’t; Paul despaired. Jesus didn’t minimize his pain. In great spiritual and psychological pain, Jesus wept.

But lately, I have noticed that my pain — at times — has clarified my mind, helping me to see what’s important, what’s not, helping me to the correct reading of others — adding empathy and understanding of their pain — and helping me to know what’s true. I have recently had opportunities to speak very truthfully and lovingly about some very complicated issues to some empowered people, and I found that they were able to accept what I said, the truth, in part because it came from a place hacked out in me by pain, a place of gentleness, tenderness and understanding of both my own pain and theirs.

In pain, we may — not always — get some clarity, some proximity to truth. Yes, suffering and broken-heartedness can sometimes leads us to the wrong conclusions, and can cause us to be angry, pessimistic or negative or inpatient or unkind, but not always. What I am learning is that sometimes pain and difficulty refines us, makes us more mature, give us a perspective, may clarify what’s of value and what’s not and may give us fresh, helpful language to talk about old experiences and ideas.

Sometimes our pain helps us take the mash of life and ferment it, distill it, and produce some good, clear, strong stuff. Pain, like a still used to make strong whiskey, may drip best things out of the bottom of heat and loss.

And when it does, we must also say that this too may be from God. This is sometimes part of God’s saving and delivering. He saves and delivers us and our neighbors not from pain, but from untruth.

Lately I’ve had to let go of some things, things in the past, and I’ve been thinking about how we do this.

My mom passed away a few years ago so I had to let go of my mom. My oldest daughter recently moved out of the house to a perfect place for her, so I needed to let go of her. My youngest daughter got married a year ago and so there was a new letting go of her and also an including of my new son-in-law.

It’s not that I’m not still connected to the girls anymore, or even my mom, but that I’m okay with these relationships being different. I think what helps me is to realize that everything changes over time, nothing stays the same, relationships morph with the different stages of life and that the best thing to do is to accept that, and to flow with that.

I find the need for this in other areas of my life too. This year I let go of my career; I let go of the bigger house — we sold it — I let go of being a public figure. I’ve even let go of having a normal routine because of some chronic pain.

I think that moving forward in a healthy way involves simply being realistic. We have to make friends with new realities. It isn’t like it was. It’s different. And wishing it were back to what it was tends to forget the things that we didn’t like about the way it was. Reality is reality. Not accepting changes increases pain. Flowing with what is real is the only sane and safe way to proceed.

All this relates to old conflicts, old hurts, old broken relationships too. It’s not like we just get over old relational drama, but we find different places to put it. We put it in perspective. We put it in more gentle places of non-judgment. And by doing so we heal, realize that we’re going to be okay, realize how much we have learned from our mistakes — and from the mistakes of others.

Bob Dylan is now passé; he’s part of history, but his good lines and honest truths aren’t. The “times — they are [still] a changin’.” Wise ones change with them.

There is a sense of “moving on“ for all of us, and a healthy perspective of “gettin’ on down the road.” But I’ve certainly realized that I never move on without bringing everything from the past with me. Really, it all comes along, but the thing is how do I pack it to go with us on the ride? I’m thinking I pack it, we pack it, and we repack it gently. I’m thinking that it works best if we are willing to rearrange our views of the past as needed in light of new information and new realities, and that we always need to keep learning from the past because the past is such an excellent teacher, and the past just keeps on giving; its lessons are ever-giving, like a good orange tree.

Finally, there’s so much present and future still to live, to motivate us, to invest in that this best becomes our healthy focus. Really, moving on means embracing the possibilities with in the present and future in an excited, energized, hopeful way. Letting go means engaging the present, trained by the past, but energized by the next great adventure.

I’m currently finishing my third novel. How? Why? Because I quit doing a bunch of stuff that was taking up all my time, and I’ve started doing something that’s taking up all my heart. It is something that’s always been mine to do. But to do it I had it stop doing a bunch of other things.

Moving on means not being stuck, afraid of change, overly atavistic, traditional, all status quo and old school, predictable and safe. Moving on means being adventurous, free, modern, hip, avant-garde, steezy, cool and with it.

So get over it — by getting with it!

Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac.

Genesis 25:5

For Isaac, everything was given. He was given all his father’s wealth; he was provided with a home, a bride, a relationship with God, a place in history — all he had to do was receive.

This is so God! We are all Isaac.

Every good thing on earth and in the far flung universe is from God.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

James 1:17

Einstein, his intelligence, come from God.

Mark Chagall, his brilliant and magical creativity, from God.

Bill gates, his generosity, from God.

Elon musk, his innovative spirit, from God.

Abraham Lincoln, his masterful leadership and brilliant use of language, from God.

Your good things — all God. We do play a part in acting out these things, and so sometimes we think that they come from us. Even the life and body and strength to act them out is from him.

Many complain about not seeing God’s goodness. It’s everywhere. If God were to remove his goodness from the universe, all matter and all civilization would collapse into a black hole.

Never doubt that God is alive and present in our world. Every single good thing in your life is straight from him.

Praise him!

Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.”

Ecc. 4:6

I sat in the backyard today listening to the waterfall, watching the green summer leaves fall out of my Ficus tree, pondering the white waterlilies in my pond and  reveling in quietness. It took some time, to get quiet. I had to wait, and let the wind come to me, and it eventually did, off the ocean, San Diegoesque, the way I like it.

Thus and so I slothified, lazificated and specifically and intentionally settlified on a handful of quietness. Later I made up some fresh food, sat out back again, and firmly and resolutely decided not to sort the bills or paint the wall in the family room — both on the docket for someday.

Better a handful of quietness on a holiday at home than the hard-driving, high-output, hyper-accomplishification of my everyday life.  Sure, I love that too, my — work — but rest, home, garden, reflection, “Ahh, so very good. ”

I think of my artists, the ones I love, my beauty makers, Pizzaro, Monet, Chagall, Pollock.

Pizzaro estblishished a family home outside of Paris in Pontoise and later in Louveciennes, both inspired many of his paintings including scenes of village life, along with rivers, woods, and people at work.

Monet had Giverny, his lily pond and garden, and you know what came of that amplitude of quietness. Visit the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris.

Marc Chagall had his Vitebsk in Russia, and it remained for life his little Jewish town, steeped in floating donkeys and flying Rabbi’s and levitating angels.

Jackson Pollock had his wood-frame house in East Hampton on the south shore of Long Island. For Jackson, that wasn’t enough. He tried, I’ll give him that but quietness wasn’t to be his.  Home may heal some insanity; it doesn’t heal it all.

A handful of quietness is a choice, to heal and to recover and to chew a bit too.  It’s better than chasing wind —  thus sayeth the seer — better than chasing accounts and awards and titles and fame, and if we chose it, if we stop doing and spend more time being, dawdling in patio chairs, lollygagging on lawns, lazing in poolside lounges then we just might, out of reverie, live more wisely — and also, eventually get up and go out and paint something wonderful.

My Infinity G37 stopped accelerating properly last week. I really like it to knock me back in the seat and roar from 0-60 in the low 5’s. It didn’t, and so it was a must-fix for me because very fast is stress therapy.

I took it to the Infinity dealer today. Fortunately it was still under warranty, so it was fixed for free, which involved reprograming the transmission. I waited for three hours — so it did cost me something — but on the plus side, they also fixed the motor mounts that were under a recall and tightened up a lose mirror, except that they couldn’t because it had been previous broken, and slapped back together in a make-shift fashion. Sounds like life. Sounds like me

Life lessens, leaks, lacks, loosens and putts and sputs and mirrors on imperfectly — except when it doesn’t — but it sometimes does with our cars and bodies.

Today my feet hurt. I should not have jumped off that scaffolding last week. Also my neck hurts. I should not have been hit from behind in a car accident a few years ago. Somebody wan’t paying attention. Yesterday my tooth may have stopped hurting— at least it is better — from the recent dental treatment.

And by the way, today, I got a cold.

But here is the amazing thing about this potentially gorgonizing mélange of imperfection. I have a car. I am mobile. I have a body. I have agency. I have eyes. I am sentient.

I have teeth. I can eat. I have feet; I can move. I have lungs and a nose — albeit a sore one. I can breathe.

It is such an incredible thing (a gorgeous, broken and somewhat fixed thing); it is such a good gift (a sick, sniffling, sensuous, torturous, italized sweetness) to have being, to have space and time, to have a brief, bright, barreling, biting 0-60 dash through the thin air of this amazing, spinning, sun-smacked, slap-dashed, broken and mashed, poxed and rashed blue planet, to live and move and stand and have our being within the joyful one, to lean over and into and beyond our imperfect lives and to be stunningly out of our minds, and wonderfully-terribly in, over our grace-filled, love-healed, God-milled heads.

We should all keep looking down, and up and out, and observing fastidiously the world we live in. We should see what is there, not what we want to be there or think is there.

Dealing in reality is so much better than dealing in comfortable fictions, fables, want-to-be resurrances, imagined interpretations, what we hope is true.

Reality, life as it is is fun, and you can learn a lot from it.

I just finished a biography of William Smith 1769-1839), the father of modern geology. What a hoot! The guy was high on what was low, the rocks, fossils and strata that were below his feet in Industrialized England.

Coal and canals to carry it gave him a life work, and it granted him access to the geological underworld and he went down into the digs and mines with gusto and figured it out.

Here is what he came up with, in his own words.

Fossil Shells had long been known amongst the curious, collected with care, and preserved in their cabinets, along with other rarities of nature, without any apparent use. That to which I have applied them is new, and my attention was first drawn to them, by a previous discovery of regularity in the direction and dip of the various Strata in the hills around Bath; for it was the nice distinction which those similar rocks required, which led me to the discovery of organic remains peculiar to each Stratum.”

This was the finding that became known as Smith’s Principle of Faunal Succession. Today it appears in geology textbooks the world over. The fossils and the layers they appear in give us a chronology for the millions of years it took for earth to come to it’s present geological state.

At the time, Christians were stuck with Archbishop  Ussher’s theory that the earth began in 4004 BC and was only about 6,000 years old. That was wrong. The Bible never said that. The Bible never gave us a chronology  for creation’s timeline. It told us that God did it; it didn’t tell how. And yet, believe it or not, there are still a few Christians who hold on to the idea that the earth is 6,000 years. There are tons of evidence, layers and layers of evidence to the contrary. All the evidence is to the contrary. God took a long time to make the universe and the earth. And afterwards, he didn’t create the appearance of age, (why would he traffic in smoke and mirrors) and it was aged.

I see this long, changing process of geology as giving God even more glory than a short and quick, wam and slam and bam creation. I could go on about this, but I won’t, because I just want to point out that there is a simple lesson here and it is very scriptural. “Consider the ant.”  

In other words, open  your eyes. See what is. Don’t get stuck in old mind-sets that don’t make sense, that lack common sense, that don’t jive with reality. Use you eyes, observe nature,  be the wisdom sage scholar the Bible recommends you be, commited  to truth, to empiricism, to observation and to reality — the best you can — and attempt to unbiasedly understand what you see.

Amen!

I like it best when they shut off the motor.

It is quiet and you can hear them breathing — a deep, low, misty exhale, coming from voluminous spaces within.

I especially like how their dorsal fin, that tall black triangle, comes out of the water first, then the slick, wet backs, the rolling to the side, a fin flopping, the salty water mounding on the surface in front, the smooth wave surging behind them, flukes showing as they submerge again.

The water in the Salish Sea was smooth and glassy that afternoon. We motored occasionally to keep up with the whales, a Canadian vessel opposite us, running in tandem with us, two other small boats, all of us keeping a respectful distance, all of us with the Orcas at center focus.

One of the juveniles rolled on its back near our boat, fins up and flapping — playful perhaps — then it slurped below the surface again.

For a few moments that sunny warm fall afternoon we were with them in the Haro Striaght of the Salish Sea — not with them as in we-were-in the pod — but with them as in living on the same planet, as in traveling together, as in not harming each other, as in being delighted with seeing them, as in appreciating them, as in respecting them.

I wish for more of this, this kind of podding-up with the creation, this sort of fluking-down, flipping-up, surging-on-together and especially the calm, quiet sitting with each other. And I like what it wasn’t, speciesism, killing, eating; and yes, perhaps it was a bit of exploitation, but not overly.

I like a large scoop of awe, a fair amount of reverence, a special blend of camaraderie — the kind that allows everybody to keep floating along calmly, the kind that keeps us all back just the right distance from each other’s teeth.

I love it when they cut, stab, drill and peer into me with their cruel machines. I literally exult. I consider myself among the most privileged persons on the planet. Later I remember their tortures with the greatest fondnesses.

She pulls my mouth open with her fingers, slides the needle into my jaw gently and says, “Relax.” Then she starts humming in the way that I like.

He takes the top of my head with both his hands, firmly rotates it, and then with his right hand he cuts me. “Excellent,” he says. I agree, as I always do regarding his work. It’s why I keep coming back.

“Put you hands here,” she says, “side-by-side on the machine. Then place your eye against the rubber until you see the bright green circle.”

I love them. I love their machines. Each instrument does for me what I can’t do for myself. Each one achieves a goal, and yet it is not consumed in the process. Each one — masterfully manipulated — and I am better. Dig, scrape, lift, hammer, screw, compute — good, better, best me and you

Instrument, utensil, implement, machine, device, and apparatus — tools and the people who skillfully manipulate them — these greatly improve our lives.

We who are resourced, we who have multiple, modern armamentariums at our disposal, we who can hire dentists, surgeons, hair stylists, mechanics and  optometrists, we live so well, better than any ancient royalty.

Healthy care, beauty care, eye care, car care, soul care  — if you have it, suffer it gladly, you proviledged elite, you resourced rich, you spoiled pampered. Complain not that you have to go to the doctor or dentist; that’s unenlightened. It’s ungrateful.

For every time they stick a needle or drill or scrapple into you, for every time you get your hair cut, for every pedicure and pill and partial panacea that blesses you — be thankful.

“In the front room her chair is now by the door,”  said Marilyn. “That big wood piece is at an angle in the corner. It is so much better!”

I looked down at the pictures of Elizabeth’s apartment that Marilyn was flipping through on her phone.

“In her bedroom, her dresser tops are all clear. You’ll love it. Here I can show you the picture.”

And there it was, a shot of the dresser, the one with the heart-shaped cut-outs in each drawer — the hearts that work as pulls — the dresser we had just recently bought for Elizabeth at a thrift store, the one Tasia had picked it out with a, “This one is Elizabeth! She’ll love the hearts.”

There it was now, as a small bright image on a glossy phone screen — the salient, physical, incontrovertible evidence of a stunningly gorgeous, transformative act of pure love — a perfectly arranged dresser top, a warm glowing lamp, a picture of Elizabeth and her mom and a perfectly placed nick-knack.

“Maria did that! She got it,” enthused Marilyn, gushing about the professional cleaner she had hired. “She understood what we were tying to do with Elizabeth, and she is teaching her how to do this herself.”

We both gawked. We dallied in time, we astonishicated. We dawdled, we puddled, we shamelessly muckified through the splashy shallows of the pervasively miraculous.

Elizabeth’s mom had died just a few years back, when Elizabeth was fifty. Then Elizabeth was alone, truly alone in an apartment that she and her mom had lived in for 30 years. There she was, for the first time in her life, left with all her mom’s stuff, left with piles of pack-ratted junk, left with a broken heart and a profound level of inexperience due to her own significant disabilities, her mom’s life-long, over-protective love and now her own, new grieving, depressive, suicidal outlook.

Elizabeth’s mom had been her everything — friend, confidant, protector and now she was gone. And what was left — the old medicine bottles, the faded bills, the cheap jewelry, the out-of fashion clothes, the dusty piles of junk on the dressers, the soft, sifting scent of memory, the scree at the bottom of the familial slope, the Sisyphean skein and the suffocating sadness of silence.

But now, now, now — totally different. Doctors had been consulted, brothers connected, counselor’s hired and friends found. People had been brought into play by the REFINERY Church — the church that found and was found by Elizabeth — and this found-community literally saved her life.

Medications, therapy sessions, Bible studies, lunches with friends, support groups, pastors, an adopted kitten, and finally, the professional cleaning and reordering of her apartment by her adoring church buddy Marilyn and one of her compadres, Brenda. By this and more, Elizabeth had been transformed.

Marilyn told us recently. “It’s like she is growing up” — in her fifties — “for the first time! She is finally becoming mature, a single woman who for the first time in her life, can actually care for herself.”

“Look at her kitchen,” said Marilyn pointing again at the screen again. The counters shone, they glowed — renewed, restored.

They look a like a lot like Elizabeth.

Gillian hit the ball with her father’s arms wrapped around her. Then she ran with his legs. Then she bounced in his arms, and then she ambulated according to his eyes.

It was all done with help, but when Gilly arrived at first base she smiled and laughed with her own face. For the moment she was the star of the REFINERY Church’s picnic baseball game. She had slugged a rubber ball with a rubber princess Anna and Elsa bat, she was on first base and she was absolutely delighted with it all.

I have noticed lately — by means of a couple of small observations of miniature people — that one of the best things we can do in life is to help a child get to first base.

Last week I walked into the REFINERY Church courtyard to find a bunch of gorgeous little children kicking balls, blowing bubbles, and running after each other. Their teenage moms and dads were their with them. I strolled on into the adjacent gallery, a large oak-floored room with pictures of beautiful orange, red and blue Mediterranean scenes. There I found more children and more parents, all around some tables doing crafts together. They were more stunningly gorgeous than the pictures.

What was it? It was the Incredible Families program from the San Diego County Department of Mental Health offering young parents who had lost their children an opportunity to reunite with them through supervised visitation, shared meals and prescribed parenting classes. If the parents follow the program, they get their kids back!

I was looking at nothing less than the restoration of the American family in a safe, sacred space. And I knew this counted. If you get somone back to first base, after they have lost first base, then they have more of a chance of getting to second base — and back home.

This matters. When we help a child, we save the future. When we help a parent we save a child.

Nothing much beats this — loving children, protecting children, empowering children, empowering their parents.

Love a child, save a child; create opportunity for others to love a child, save the world.