Great Expectations

I started this blog series talking about love gone wrong and ended up on a side trip remembering about how love had gone wrong over and over again for the Israelites.  False strategies (looking for love and purpose in the wrong venues), delusion (not seeing ourselves, others and even God accurately), and confusion (we just simply don’t know how to love in all situations) are three common problems that mess up our love connections.

 

 

But that’s not all.

 

Expectations can really get us in trouble too. No expectations you ask?  Should we have NO expectations in a relationship? Well of course not. It’s not that extreme.  But my position is this: we have misplaced expectations onto others that rightfully belong within ourselves.

 

I once knew a gal who was always telling a small group I was in about the ways her husband disappointed her.  He didn’t send flowers enough (only twice a week) or to the appropriate location (she preferred them delivered to her office, not at home) or the “right” shade of pink.  Sheesh. The guy was a constant disappointment in her eyes but to the rest of us? He sounded like a guy who didn’t have a chance of living up to his wife’s harlequin romance perspective of marriage.

 

I knew a guy who went through a series of wives and families because, and I quote him here, “I expect my wife and children to obey me and for there to be no conflict in the home.”  His idea of conflict resolution? Get rid of the old family and find a new one.

 

Both examples are of folks who had expectations of how another person was SUPPOSED to make them feel.  The wife expected her husband to make her feel desirable; the husband (of many) expected his family to make him king of the castle.

 

At the end of the day, we are expecting too much of others if we make someone else responsible for our sense of self-worth.  This is our work. Want to feel respected? Live a respectable life. Along the way we invite others to join us in this life.  People can get to know us and we can get to know them and THEN we make an honest assessment: do our lives fit well together? Do we have affinity?  Good questions. But it is not a sustainable relationship model to ask someone else to make us “feel” a certain, consistent way about ourselves. Self-assessment, self-awareness, self-respect - those are all inside jobs.

 

How have you perhaps pressured others to do for you that which you are responsible to work out for yourself?

Reflections

Before I opened my computer this morning I chugged a cup of hot decaf (I know, big sigh, oh for the days of caffeine rushes with no consequences), and layered up for a long walk before the sun woke and began to warm the day.  I walked for two hours with my head full of the cares and troubles of my people. I knew that today I would go to an ICU and pray over a young man whose brain they say is dead. I figured that I might have time to check on a friend who is depressed.  I hoped I might get a chance to hug one of my grandchildren but the schedule did not look promising. I was kind of down in the dumps to tell you the truth.

 

 

The sun began to peek out at me about 20 minutes in to my walk.  I began peeling off layers of clothing. First the gloves, then the hat, and soon the first of three sweatshirts.  My body began to warm and my sleepy brain began to wake to the sacred privilege of being capable and free to walk for two hours in the morning just because I wanted to.  Were there issues that would need addressing? Yes. But they would come after this sacred, quiet time of silence and solitude and even stillness, for today there was no wind to nip my nose, only the promise of Spring in the air.

 

As I hit my stride on the last hill before heading home I glanced up and saw a herd of deer munching on tender green leaves, signs of spring that I had previously been too distracted to notice.  I stopped. I grabbed my camera. I walked slowly toward them. One small step and then a pause. I forgot that there was laundry waiting to be transferred into the dryer before my mad dash to the hospital.  I failed to notice any of the chattering dialogue that had occupied my brain at the beginning of my walk. I knew I had all the time in the world to look at these curious, big-eared babies with their “deer” Mama.  I managed to get some good close-ups and I will treasure the photos for sure. But nothing will compare to that peaceful, wide-awake awareness that God is near and he has us all in his hand. Discontentment may be symptomatic of a need to reassess and reawaken to the possibility of living life large AND on life’s terms.  Or, it might be a sign that we are pursuing false strategies, delusions and are confused. Maybe a fourth way of seeing discontentment exists or even a fifth. This I know: we can be thoroughly discontent one minute and wide awake to the presence of Holy God the next. This is how crazy in love God is with us - pursuing us in love even as we forget to rest in him.  When I can remember God’s love in and around me, I show up in a better space for an ICU visit or a walk with my grandbabies. I can show up for love.

 

I am not a particularly wise person, but I do understand that taking a long walk every day means more than just the numbers rolling by on a pedometer.  What do you do to get still, find silence, and embrace solitude? Do. What. It. Takes. Today.

Restless, Irritable, and Discontent

Discontented people sometimes pull me aside at various places and ask me questions.  They hope that as a pastor I might have some words of wisdom. I rarely do. But what I notice is how often we fixate on a problem in our lives (often quite legitimate and serious in nature) to the exclusion of paying attention to the small next right steps we could be taking with sacred awareness.

 

 

These problems are inevitably other people.  They bemoan and grieve over the folks they loved, wished loved them, lost, and all the other ways love goes awry.  At issue is often the perceived cause of the restlessness, irritability and discontentment. We often look outside ourselves (at others) to explain our internal discontent.  This causes many a relationship snafu. Others cannot and should not have the responsibility or the power to constantly disrupt us. But they do. This appears to be a universal problem.  

 

There is power in approaching our restless, irritable, discontented selves with an eye on the sacred.

 

Restlessness, irritability and discontentment are all warning signs that are trying to get us to wake up! They are encouraging us to wake up, slow down and pay attention to what is already true, already peaceful, already worth celebrating in our lives.  AND...stop focusing on other people quite so much. Our distractions with the actions other people take are just that - distractions. Our work is to live the life we want to live; we can do that without requiring other people to participate in our dreams.

 

Today, what can you celebrate?  Not in a Pollyanna, “It’s all good,” positive thinking and abundant living of the prosperity gospel kind of way, but what can you find to awaken you in the moment EVEN as you are aware of what is breaking your heart and spirit?

Gone But Not Forgotten II

Although Jeremiah 29, like much of the scripture, is written in a specific time to address particular needs of a specific group of people, we can still find mandates for ourselves.  I don’t think we can interpret this as, say, a promise that our plans include an absolute guarantee of getting the future we hope for - after all, maybe we are hoping for a future that is constructed out of fantasy living, false strategies, delusion and confusion.

 

 

Here is what I think we can notice and take heed of:  God gives strange instructions. He is asking people to thrive in captivity; he is asking people to pray for their captors; he is telling them to do small next right things - plant a garden, get married, make babies.

 

We get SOOOO caught up in right and wrong, good and bad, naughty or nice.  That’s ok so long as the person we are evaluating is our self. We can let the judgment of others go - they really are not our business to attend to.  In Jeremiah, God is asking his people to live at peace with their oppressors. He’s asking them to fill their temporary homes with love and laughter under trying times.  No matter that these folks brought the trouble on themselves! God is providing encouragement for us all - in even difficult situations, love well.

 

Today, try to look for the sacred in the profane.  Just try. See how it alters your mood, your thoughts, your choices and your awareness of God.

Gone But Not Forgotten

Fast forward with me to Jeremiah 29.  Jeremiah has not forestalled the inevitable timeout for the Israelites at the hands of the Babylonians. Jeremiah now speaks to an exiled crowd living in a foreign land.

This is the Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies, Israel’s God, to all the exiles I’ve taken from Jerusalem to Babylon:  “Build houses and make yourselves at home. Put in gardens and eat what grows in that country. Marry and have children. Encourage your children to marry and have children so that you’ll thrive in that country and not waste away. Make yourselves at home there and work for the country’s welfare. Pray for Babylon’s well-being. If things go well for Babylon, things will go well for you.” Yes. Believe it or not, this is the Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies, Israel’s God: “Don’t let all those so-called preachers and know-it-alls who are all over the place there take you in with their lies. Don’t pay any attention to the fantasies they keep coming up with to please you. They’re a bunch of liars preaching lies—and claiming I sent them! I never sent them, believe me.” God’s Decree! This is God’s Word on the subject: “As soon as Babylon’s seventy years are up and not a day before, I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.  When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen. When you come looking for me, you’ll find me. Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.” God’s Decree. “I’ll turn things around for you. I’ll bring you back from all the countries into which I drove you”—God’s Decree—“bring you home to the place from which I sent you off into exile. You can count on it.

~ Jeremiah 29:4-13 The Message

In light of what we have been talking about in previous days, what do you notice about this passage?  

Tomorrow we will chat more….

 

Love Idealized

Finally, this:

“You think it’s just a small thing, don’t you,  to try out another sin-project when the first one fails? But Egypt will leave you in the lurch  the same way that Assyria did. You’re going to walk away from there  wringing your hands. I, God, have blacklisted those you trusted. You’ll get not a lick of help from them.”
~ Jeremiah 2:36-37 The Message

Confusion.  The Israelites are desperately in search of a life of safety and significance;  they keep chasing after different dreams hoping to find the magic combination of love connection and purposeful living that brings them what they long for - wow, can you relate?  I can.

When my mentors talked on and on about the most important thing I needed to know they spoke about what I needed to do:  love well. I found this a hard pill to swallow. Today, I understand that in large part it seemed like a message without hope.  I didn’t know how to love well and found few models for it when I looked around at the people I knew - and I knew some pretty awesome people.  My confusion came in the form of black and white thinking. I thought that loving well meant loving perfectly - no selfishness, no conflict, no problems in relationships.

This is not what loving well means.  Loving well is more related to loving wholeheartedly - it begins and ends with our love for God and is revealed in our capacity to give and receive love for ourselves and to others.  

It isn’t about harmony - this kind of love is a battle cry!  It’s isn’t about not making mistakes or ever having a relational snafu - it is about caring enough to figure out how to navigate and stay the course. Love God. Respect self. Let others love us.  Learn how to love others.

How do you think you have confused love’s meaning in your own relationships?

 

Delusion

Jeremiah continues to systematically lay out God’s charges against his people, including:  

“What a generation you turned out to be! Didn’t I tell you? Didn’t I warn you? Have I let you down, Israel? Am I nothing but a dead-end street? Why do my people say, ‘Good riddance! From now on we’re on our own’? Young women don’t forget their jewelry, do they? Brides don’t show up without their veils, do they? But my people forget me. Day after day after day they never give me a thought. What an impressive start you made to get the most out of life. You founded schools of sin, taught graduate courses in evil! And now you’re sending out graduates, resplendent in cap and gown—except the gowns are stained with the blood of your victims! All that blood convicts you. You cut and hurt a lot of people to get where you are. And yet you have the gall to say, ‘I’ve done nothing wrong. God doesn’t mind. He hasn’t punished me, has he?’ Don’t look now, but judgment’s on the way, aimed at you who say, ‘I’ve done nothing wrong.’  

~ Jeremiah 2: 31-35 The Message

I have done nothing wrong.

Although a few people struggle with feeling as if everything is their fault, many of us have the opposite issue.  We cannot seem to figure out what we’ve done wrong in a given situation. It’s awfully hard to give and receive love all willy nilly if we cannot see the ways that we either make it difficult for folks to love us or we find it difficult to love others.

The truth is, there are many things that we do and say and think and feel - all in the name of love - that is not love.

In what ways do you find it difficult to admit that what you have done wrong?

 

Bringing Charges

Through Jeremiah God explains to his people how their relationship got into such a mess that even his patience has run its course:

       —God’s Decree—  “charging you and your children and your grandchildren. Look around. Have you ever seen anything quite like this? Sail to the western islands and look. Travel to the Kedar wilderness and look. Look closely. Has this ever happened before, that a nation has traded in its gods for gods that aren’t even close to gods? But my people have traded my Glory for empty god-dreams and silly god-schemes.  
`“Stand in shock, heavens, at what you see! Throw up your hands in disbelief—this can’t be!” God’s Decree. “My people have committed a compound sin:  they’ve walked out on me, the fountain of fresh flowing waters, and then dug cisterns—cisterns that leak, cisterns that are no better than sieves.”
~Jeremiah 2: 11-13 The Message

My son who studies such things explained to me recently that, historically, people who worshipped many gods didn’t throw one away and replace them with a better god, they added to their deity collection.  In this passage God is saying to his people, in essence, you have respected me less than the tribes around you who worship idols. You traded me in. To make matters worse God says that his people have adopted false strategies by putting their hope in other countries, leaders and material possessions to keep them safe.  I believe that our conscious contact with God through the practice of spiritual disciplines provides us with wisdom, insight and healing that cannot be found anywhere else. But we, like the Israelites of old, keep looking in all the wrong places to find our sense of well-being and our wholeness.

What about you?  What have you pursued in the hope that it would make you whole and well?  There are many tools and treatments and such that help us recover our lives, but to reject hope in a power greater than ourselves and try to handle life on our own, independent of spiritual pursuits, may fall under the category of false strategy.

 

Love in Context

The bible provides us stories of God calling his people to do extraordinary things.  Who doesn’t want to be extraordinary? I do! I want to be courageous and a full on follower of God.  Because these stories (which we emphasize and challenge ourselves to live up to) feed our own egos and desires for significance, I think it has caused us to miss the obvious.

 

 

It is true that some people are called to do extraordinary things as an expression of their faith.  But those are actually the exceptions. Mostly, I believe, we are provided a vision for living an ordinary day-to-day life with extraordinary vision for its sacredness. The longest book in the bible is the book of Jeremiah.  In it we find an unflinching portrayal of a people who have forgotten who they are because they have lost touch with what they once knew of God and his relationship to them. This is our eternal dilemma it appears. Maintaining conscious contact with God and his inspired way of seeing is for whatever reason, I do not know it, a constant challenge.  

 

Jeremiah is tasked with trying to wake up his sleepy tribe and help them remember in a vain attempt to avoid the 70 year banishment.  He’s a gloomy guy and not very popular (the truth rarely is well-received). But he combines his doom and gloom prophesy with the promise of restoration - if his people would just wake up and return to God.  There are three things that plagued the Israelites and I suspect continue to plague us - all of which distort our capacity to give and receive love:

 

  1. False strategies for abundant living

  2. Self-deception

  3. Straight up confusion

 

I hope to break these down and explain them further in the next blog post but just to be clear - these three problems impact our capacity to give and receive love.  And love, in the kingdom of God is a big freaking deal.

 

Today, take some time to assess your own love potential and practices.  Do you ever get confused about how to express love in a challenging relationship?

Love Misunderstood

11-15 “I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.

~ John 15:11-15 The Message

 

 

If I have a very fuzzy idea about how God loves, it makes sense that I would have trouble figuring out how to love the way he loves me.  I had no frame of reference for a gentle, unconditional, joyful loving relationship. My relationships mostly seemed conditional, hinging on my capacity to please the person whose love I desperately desired.  I often felt like there was some love system that I was trying to game in order to trick someone into caring about me.

 

When I read the Old Testament I was confused by this God who scorched cities wiping dens of inequity.  Don’t misunderstand, these folks seemed to deserve what they got - but where did that leave me on the spectrum of God smiting?  God gave David power to slay Goliath but couldn’t seem to keep David from committing adultery and shockingly killing his faithful servant Uriah (his paramour’s husband) to hide his affair.  God kicked Adam and Eve out of the garden (I failed to notice that he went with them). Joseph, a godly guy if a bit naive when he tells his brothers that he learned in a dream that he would one day rule them seems to suffer all sorts of unfair treatment.  Is this how God loves? Does God really protect his beloved? Or are we all unworthy of being loved unless someone does something radical - like maybe dying on a cross - to save our sorry asses? Are we really so intrinsically broken? Are we all bad to the bone?  I only had to read the book of Job to fuel my doubts about whether even God could love me without me ending up battered and bruised. After all, look what happened to Job, a righteous man. Even he got kicked in the gut. And I was no Job.

 

There was this sentence in John, I learned it in the King James translation, “Greater love hath no man than that he lay down his life for his friends.”  Ok, so I am supposed to love large, I thought. I am supposed to be willing to die for my friends.

 

This put me in codependent territory - a land where we pay more attention to the needs of others than we do to our own needs.  This intuitively felt “off” to me. I struggled with the concept. It turns out this struggle was valuable.

 

Do you ever feel confused by God’s love commands?  What trips you up?

 

To be continued…

Love Confusion

When I was a baby believer in a power greater than myself I asked my mentor, “I just do not understand why you keep talking about love.  I think it is more important that I learn more about God.”

 

 

Feel free to roll your eyes.

 

As a baby believer, I had a LOT to learn.  I was confused about the things I needed to know.  I was growing up in an age where emphasis was placed on the study of the scriptures - nothing wrong with that!!  I was given the impression that I would do well to learn Greek, Hebrew, and how to pull apart God’s “inerrant” word phrase by phrase. There is value in this type of study.  But as a newbie, I thought the highest priority was what I KNEW (and I didn’t know much) not how I LIVED. (After all, Jesus died for my sins so far better for me to spend my time learning about God than spending time in rigorous self-examination.) My mentors had no idea that this is how I was misinterpreting their teaching!!!

 

But they had been believers for a long time.  I am not sure they understood the heart of a young woman who easily felt guilty and ashamed kneeling before a BIG GOD.  This was complicated by a complete lack of understanding on my part about my responsibility for dealing with the wreckage of my past.  I was too new at this spirituality stuff to NOT make confusing leaps of logic. The Jesus story through my eyes sounded like (and to be fair we sang a hymn every now and again that said this) Jesus “paid it all”.  This left me convinced that there was nothing left for me to “do”.

 

This is a far different perspective than the 12-steps, a process where we learn how to take responsibility for our side of the street; make amends; serve others.  Lest we forget, the first three steps set the stage for this later work. We have stuff we have to acknowledge, we are encouraged to have hope in our higher power, we are told that if we surrender, God does the heavy lifting in the healing department AND then, we begin to do our work.

 

It took decades for me to begin to see the vision of God’s kingdom come together in a more coherent fashion.  Yes it is important to know this God, to understand him. Yes it is important to know how to take responsibility for ourselves.  Yes we have wounds from our past, many of which are not our fault. Yes we have responsibility for participating in the healing work - which is often long, winding and more process-driven than miracle-receiving.  And yes, yes, 1,000 times yes - it ALL has to do with this love that God has and gives to us. It all matters. Clearly, I was confused. And of all the confusing things I was learning, how to love was the most confusing of all.  To be frank, I believe that some of the things I was taught now feel more like codependency run amok than what the bible actually teaches about love of God, self and others. But let’s be honest - some of the verses in the bible can easily be applied in a confusing manner no matter our best intentions.  I want to unpack love for a few days!

 

To be continued…

 

Grounded

Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.  
Braving The Wilderness, p. 45

 

 

One day recently someone asked me to meet them for coffee to talk about how they didn’t think they could keep going to their church (not ours, another large church in the area) because the church was in the middle of a building campaign and they were unable to give at the percentage that the church was asking each of their members to consider.  It turns out this person had lost his job when his company went belly up and he was too embarrassed to share that information.

 

His deacon had come to visit as part of the churchwide building campaign. My friend assumed that the deacon was accusing him of being unfaithful; it didn’t occur to him that deacons were visiting all the members of the church. I do not know this church well and acknowledged that I did not understand what the situation was from the deacon’s perspective.  But I encouraged my friend to ask himself this question: do you think you go to a good church? Yes, unequivocably yes, was his reply. Then why assume that they would judge you? Why not at least go to someone and tell them the truth of your situation. See what happens. You can always leave, I pointed out, but try not to disappear without clarity.

 

He did what I suggested; within four days he had a new job (that he loves) working for one of the members of his church.  His pastor suggested that he suspend all tithes and offerings for the rest of the year until the family could get back on more solid footing and suggested other ways he could contribute to the building campaign that did not involve financial promises he may not be in a position to honor.  That’s a good church.

 

This church gave evidence of being grounded in love and compassion in real time.  I predict that this gentleman, by nature generous, will become in years to come even more generous in his support of his church and maybe especially for those who lose their jobs.  He beams when he speaks of his church and instead of disappearing, he is more involved than ever before. All win.

 

How can we start thinking more about the “all win” love perspective?  If we can do that, we won’t need to obsess about succeeding; we will be too busy successfully living.

A Power Greater than All of Us

Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. 
Braving The Wilderness, p. 45

 

 

In a recent sermon Scott talked about how he heard a lecture by John Goldingay.  Dr. Goldingay was responding to a question asking him about what he would say to the American church as parting wisdom (he is leaving his position in the U.S. and returning to England, so it was within the context of honoring his tenure and marking a life transition for him).

 

One of the things he said went something like this:  We need to get back to understanding that doing God’s work (some say "building the Kingdom" or "Kingdom Work") is really God’s work to do, and we have accidentally gotten in the habit of thinking that he is counting on us to do it all.  His challenge is so refreshing. Instead of whipping his listeners up into a frenzy of renewed effort to evangelize the lost and save the world, he is saying - hey, God has got this. Calm yourselves.  Do your small part and that is good enough.

 

It is a lovely sentiment and Brene gives it a nod when she says “we are...connected to each other by a power greater than all of us”.  

 

A power greater than us is at work.  If we believe that than I suspect we can accept our limitations, our opportunities to sacrifice, our moments of doing one small next right thing with more peace and joy.  We can celebrate, maybe a small yippee, even when we are suffering because we can remember that we are in good hands.

Inextricably Linked

Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.  
Braving The Wilderness, p. 45

 

 

We are all inextricably connected…When we find ourselves believing in the law of scarcity (there is not enough to go around) and striving to compete for love and attention (our primal need is to be known and loved) it is easy to miss the connection we have to each other.  

 

We are missing that A LOT lately.  We call people snowflakes, which in theory sounds lovely since we are drawn to the beauty and uniqueness of each individual flake as they fall from the sky providing us with school cancellations and an excuse to sit by a cozy fire.  But that’s not what it means. Snowflake is a term we use to describe others who seem to take offense at beliefs or statements that don’t match their own.

 

Here’s the problem - this does not take into account how inextricably linked we are!  Is it true that some folks are too sensitive? Maybe. But is it also true that many of us are insensitive to how our language and beliefs are truly offensive to others?  Absolutely. Have we considered that maybe someone we are calling a Snowflake is really a person who is calling us out and challenging us in a good way to consider how we need to become more self-aware?  If we could see the spiritual connection would we still speak so disparagingly of another?

 

Millenials.  They get called names all the time.  Articles are written that tells them that they will never be as successful as their parents, they won’t live as long, they are not...enough.  We are told that they have had it too soft. If that is true, shouldn’t we be having a discussion about the parents of millenials? Either way, what culture deliberately and aggressively denigrates their offspring?  These young adults are our future. I do not know what the heck people are talking about because every one of these kids that I know personally are engaged in carrying about our world and its people. If we realized our connection, perhaps even the damage we have caused by not being the adults some of our young folks needed when they were children, would we still speak so dismissively of any of them, much less an entire generation?

 

There are countless examples I could give to illustrate how out of touch we are with this precept that we are all inextricably connected.  But for today, try to think about the reality that we are indeed connected to people and the environment and the spiritual realm. Maya Angelou said, “Words are things.  You must be careful, careful about calling people out of their names, using racial pejoratives and sexual pejoratives and all that ignorance. Don’t do that. Someday we’ll be able to measure the power of words.  I think they are things. They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally in to you.” We are inextricably linked; wake up!

Successful Sacrifice

Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.  
Braving The Wilderness, p. 45

 

 

Yesterday I talked about ‘recognizing” as a spiritual practice and used the example of my marriage.  This has not been easy. Reciprocity is a ton harder than contracts and negotiated settlements. It requires conflict and candor and sacrifice.  But it is a function of success on a spiritual scale. And it can result in a ton of #2. CELEBRATING. Over time we improved our communication, conflict resolution, and perspective on “winning as one.”  Mostly competition has slipped away - except when we play board games. This is requiring continued deep spiritual practice and we are not there yet!!

 

But not a day goes by that we do not  find opportunity to celebrate our connection - with each other, with our children, our grandchildren, our extended family and our community.  I think our marriage helped us learn how to apply these principles in other relationships (some are much harder to figure out than others).

 

A few years ago I began to notice how one of my parents began to praise unceasingly one of my brothers and either implicitly or explicitly compare with a critical eye the rest of us to him.  This was not new behavior, but it was a shift in the “who” and it came at a time when we were under duress dealing with my mom’s dementia. Living with the “when you win I win” philosophy, I was able to “see” this situation with a bit more clarity than if I had been still in that old mode of competing for love and attention.

 

It was still annoying.  For most of my life I called my mom multiple times a day.  Every time I got in the car I would call and chat with her.  I know - excessive. Back in the day when we paid for long distance service Pete used to beg me to “cut back” - I never did.  I wanted to talk to my mom and she never lived nearby. Can I tell you how annoying it was when the story in the family became the glowing reports that my brother called every day on his way home from work and the rest of us damn kids never bothered to call or visit?  It was aggravating on the surface of things. But underneath and around and above the chitter chatter and clamor was this one true thing - we were all winning. My mom was getting human contact. We didn’t need to compete for credit. And what a valuable truth that was because I was not going to get an ounce of credit.  Since credit didn’t matter, it did not impact my behavior. I still called; I still visited; I was free to think and plan and do what I believed was the most loving way for me to act on my love for my mom. My marriage taught me this. Brene is explaining why it works. Even though it comes with petty annoyances at times.  How can you find big wins in your sometimes challenging relationships? Where can you celebrate?

Reciprocity as Success

Brene Brown is phenomenal at articulating the problems we are struggling with in our families and communities.  Part of her work addresses the spirituality of relationships. Here is her stab at defining what it means to live spiritually:

 

 

Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.  
Braving The Wilderness, p. 45

 

From my perspective, success is just a series of developmentally predictable distractions and chasing after shiny objects without framing it within the bounds of spirituality.  In particular, I love her definition. I believe her insights provide us with some light unto our paths of walking in love. In trying to determine a working definition of success for a spiritual community, I’m going to pick this sentence apart in the hopes that we find both inspiration and some practical steps to take a individuals, families and tribes.

 

#1. Recognizing…  Spirituality is an inspired way of seeing that requires us to recognize unseen things.  It compels us to look beneath the surface of a thing.

 

As marriages go, Pete and I do not have a ton of conflict but I am not so sure we were particularly competent at recognizing the spirituality of marriage until we got some coaching.  Early on in our marriage we unintentionally competed. We competed for attention, time (alone or together), winning at stuff. I have some understanding now of why we did this. But at the time, I didn’t really think much about the way we related one way or another except when I was unhappy about a decision.  When that occurred, I thought a lot about how Pete was to blame. One weekend we went on a marriage retreat. I heard one sentence that changed everything for me, “When your spouse wins, you win.” Ahhhhh...I got it. Just to be clear, I was not in an abusive, narcissistic, unhappy, troubled marriage. There weren’t red flags of neglect or disrespect.  We just didn’t have a lot of experience in loving well. But on that night I saw it: we were married. We would win and lose as one. It behooved me to help him win at life and vice versa. We needed to figure out where the “big win” was in every situation for both of us. This would mean that once in awhile a win for one might require the other to FEEL as if they were giving something up. (Pete could play golf on a Saturday and I could feel a little stuck at home with the kids after a long week of being home with the kids while he worked out of town might be one example.  But that might be a big win for both of us if he came home relaxed and ready to be fully present for the rest of the weekend.) But we chose to work hard to practice reciprocity so that overall, at the end of a long and mostly happy marriage, we would both feel like the two luckiest married people on the planet. And I do feel that way.

 

To be continued...

Living the Life

A while back I (Teresa) wrote a series of blog posts on the three “arenas” of love that we are taught in the scriptures to pursue.  Loving God is the foundation and overarching principle. Think of it as a love sandwich and God is the bread. The sandwich itself is made up of: love and respect for self (self-care and personal responsibility), love expressed within our intimate relationships, and love of the “we” - our community.  My premise in writing was twofold: 1. We need to strive for balance in all three arenas and 2. Each arena serves its own purpose in our lives and when we get those confused we get into trouble relationally.

 

 

I think one of the major reasons we struggle to stay connected as a tribe is because we are out of balance.  Time and again I observe how often we ask our intimate connections or community to “do for us” that which we are supposed to be taking responsibility for ourselves.  When that happens we often end up frustrated with the “other”. We get our feelings hurt. We ask why “they” didn’t love us enough “to do_____”. Are we as willing to turn the question around and ask:  “Why don’t I respect myself enough to do____? What is my part in this intimate relationship? How does my presence support the thriving of my community?”

 

There are a million ways this kind of dysfunction messes with tribe.  Maybe we have the opposite problem. Maybe we become needless and wantless, thinking that our job is to give and give and give ourselves away.  That’s equally problematical. It is unsustainable. And...it creates imbalance among the tribe, where ideally everyone is doing a little which adds up to a quite lovely and balanced way of living amongst one another.  

 

We have proven by our acceptance of the premise without pushback that we value community but I am not sure we have thoroughly digested what it means to participate in making a community “successful.” I am pretty confident that it doesn’t mean actually succeeding at goals and objectives.  I trust that it is more about showing up. Trying. Being kind. Simple and straightforward. So simple and straightforward that we might miss the beauty of it if we are distracted by “success” in all its traditional presentations.

 

What is your definition of success from a tribal perspective?  Is it too focused on what you get out of it? Is it not focused enough on what you need from it?  Do you believe it requires that certain objectives are reached? Do we all have to get along? What about the role of conflict within community?  Can you handle the inevitable complaints and criticisms that come when a group gathers? Where does forgiveness AND accountability fit into the picture?  These are good questions that we must address for ourselves personally, between our intimate connections and within a tribe.

We all agree on the need for community

In our community we speak ALL the time about the value of having a tribe.  We write about it in our blog posts. We encourage families who come in to meet with us privately to find a community for support and a place where they can find purpose.  NO ONE has EVER given us any lip about this. Not one single human being has ever said, “You guys are nuts!”

 

 

For context, please understand the various things people have given us feedback on over the years - which, by the way, we appreciate.  How else will we learn and grow and improve our serve, but here are a few things that people have felt the need to call, write or meet with us to help us improve ourselves and community over the years.  People complain about: the fact that we respect the 12-step process and mutual aid societies (we are not Christian enough), the fact that we are Christians (we are not recovered enough), the fact that neither Scott nor I are in recovery for a Substance Use Disorder, the location of our building, the fact that we have a building, the fact that we didn’t get a building soon enough, the fact that we didn’t choose a different building, the fact that we study the enneagram (we are devil worshipers and we do not understand salvation), the color of the carpet/the walls, people are too friendly, people are not friendly enough, the kind of chairs we use, snow cancellations, FAILURE to cancel, the time we meet, the number of meetings we hold (too few/too many), the particular scripture verse we chose in a message, the LACK of a scripture verse in the message, a particular book we quote, our Family Education Program (families don’t have a problem, why should you ask us to come to a meeting...just tell me what to do over the phone), our music (too loud, too quiet, not a person’s preferential style), our coffee (too strong, to weak), our food (too much, too little, not considerate of dietary restrictions) Teresa/Scott are too direct/indirect/naive/uninformed and more, how many times we send out emails and the content of said emails (too often/not often enough/bad graphics/mistakes in grammar and spelling/forgetting key details)....to name a few.  Notice that many of these are legitimate complaints. There are many others, but this I think gives you a flavor for our feedback.

 

So when I tell you that NOT ONE SINGLE HUMAN BEING HAS EVER IN ALMOST 20 YEARS GIVEN US PUSHBACK ABOUT THE NEED FOR FINDING AND INTEGRATING INTO A TRIBE.  

That is significant.  

 

This raises a HUGE question:  why do so many of us continue to struggle with loneliness?  Why do we have trouble figuring out how to be “part of”? I do not know.  I have a few theories. I want to explore what it would look like to be a “success” within a community of people for a few days and see if we can figure some of this out. Remember - we all seem to agree that a community SHOULD be a good thing for us day to day.  Because I have funerals on my mind, I am wondering about this: at the end of the day, at the end of our life, wouldn’t it be a lovely thing to have a community gather that sincerely is going to miss our presence? Wouldn’t it be awesome to have a final gathering of loving folks who knew and loved us for who we authentically and imperfectly were?  Wouldn’t that be the greatest success of all? Only people with tribes get tributes like that.

Reframing Success

While we are reframing, what about reframing success?  

 

 

Most of the time when I want to have a stellar cup of coffee I pop into one of my two favorite local coffee shops - Roastology or Perk.  Occasionally I find myself in need of coffee but with a grandchild in tow so I go through a Starbucks in our neighborhood that has a drive thru window. (Have you tried out these new car seats? I have a daily limit as to how many times I will strap one of these kiddos in and haul them out.)  Fortunately, I am a lucky duck and often have a kiddo buckled up in the backseat, go through the window often and am familiar with the tricky maneuvers required to navigate the long lines. Last week I circled the building and was about to make the final turn to align myself with the long line of drive thru coffee guzzlers when a lady entered the Starbucks lot.  I motioned her forward. She hopped in line in front of me. Happens all the time. No big deal.

 

But evidently to her it was a big deal.  She thought I was exiting the area; when she realized I was behind her in line she was mortified.  At least that’s what the barista told me when she handed me my free coffee, paid for with apologies from the lady in the car in front of me.

 

I had no complaints or awareness of perceived offense.  I showed no displeasure at her entry into the line because I wasn’t displeased.  But it really got me thinking about success in a world that craves it so much.

 

This gal made an amends for what she perceived as her personal failure to be courteous.  I found it to be an act of great kindness on a day when I was experiencing the world as mean and cold and hard.  The coffee is immaterial; her act of contrition (albeit unnecessary) was a balm on a heavy heart.

 

Need a bit more success and a little less failure in your life?  Be kind. Just be kind.

 

Can you think of some opportunities to be kind in a small, quiet way that might make a huge difference to someone else?  You never know who is having a horrible day; your one small act might just turn the day around.

Reframing Failure

I have not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.  

~ Thomas A. Edison

 

 

Words matter.  How we think about ourselves, our perceived successes and our perceived failures is interesting to me.  I have friends with boundless enthusiasm and an almost limitless capacity for turning any situation into a success.  These folks are masters of reframing.

 

If Edison lacked the capacity to think of 10,000 “ways that won’t work” and instead had angsted over his “failures” - could he have tried that 10,001st time?  I think not. People who cannot handle failure may lack the resilience needed to innovate or even stay with meaningful but mostly doomed endeavors simply because they are meaningful and the right thing to do.

 

Reframing can be mostly good, and I’d rather have the capacity to reframe than not.  It allows us to adjust our expectations along the way. Edison is a great example of a guy who appreciated the value of a decent reframe.  Instead of considering every experiment a failure, he looked at each one as eliminating a option that was never going to bring him success.

 

 

What situations would benefit from some reframing in your life?