Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My favorite reading this month

Some old men came to see Abba Poemen and said to him, 'We see some of the brothers falling asleep during divine worship. Should we wake them up?' He said, 'As for me, when I see a brother who is falling asleep during the Office, I lay his head on my knees and let him rest.' (Poemen 92)

My dad would not miss church for anything. Right or wrong, in his own way he was faithful to the Lord and to his church. For a decade or so dad worked nights at the steel mill. When those nights happened on Saturday to Sunday morning he cleaned up and came to church directly from the mill.

Dad also loved to sing in the choir. He perched in his chair with a childlike joy born of simple participation. He sang with all his heart. But when the singing was done and the talking begun, his head started bobbing and jerking until he finally drooped in a rather lumpy, propped up, full body snooze. I was always amused.

There are several ways to judge a man who falls asleep in the third chair from the right in the choir loft behind the pulpit. As for me, I think it is one of the finest things my father did.

We are human. God forgive us for despising our humanity. I want the responses of my older years to be like those of Abba Poemen. When weariness overcomes you in the wrong place I will cover you with my cloak. At my funeral I want this to be the story that is told of me.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

a funny thing was said on the swing

I am still laughing about this. Steve and I were on the swing in our backyard last night, just watching the sun set and swatting mosquitos. It was a moment of deep conversation.

I said, "Did your dad have a big head?" (Steve and our boys are notorious for their big heads.) He replied, "O he had a good sized melon, sure enough."

Hmmm. So more thought, and I said, "My mom had big feet. I have her big feet. Why do you think God put us in families whose genes have big feet and big heads. Everyone else gets all the fun big stuff."

Without a beat Steve replies, "Because he really didn't want us to reproduce."

I laughed then, I am laughing now. It is funny. Think about it.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

...one more thing on unscrambling eggs

My friend wrote this:
My question is, how can family relationships move forward when you are thinking more than you are letting on and you know that others feel the same? Should we just continue on as if there are no elephants? Or is a flat out confrontation in order? I over-lean, probably, toward just keeping silent.

I want to reflect on this. I believe wisdom is in knowing - not in the fixing. There will ALWAYS be undercurrents in human communication because we are all so much deeper than we realize...and life is sometimes too fragile to just blurt out everything inside, if we did know what it all was.

I don't think this is the same thing as 'elephants.' An elephant needs to be pointed at - because it is big and it is already stepping on everyone's toes. I am talking about the more subtle parts of communication. Let me illustrate:

When we were in PEI there were conversations between my son and his mother. (She really IS his mother, not me.) In a very real way, I was not involved in the conversation. But WHAT IF ... what if my presence in the room confuses their relationship. I am, after all, a stranger. And yet SO NOT a stranger. I am more intimate than breath. And what if my son finds himself looking at his mother through what he thinks are my eyes. And what if this makes him feel defensive or scared? And then he acts badly or weirdly with his mother. Then my presence in the room is big. Even though I am sitting in a corner trying not to pay attention. Trying to be small.

Wisdom, it seems to me, has a way to deal with this. I find that if I can acknowledge that things are not always what they seem to be, then I can relax when they seem a bit off kilter. I don't have to judge... I can say ... oh, this is complicated, and give the benefit of the doubt. This is a graced way to experience things.

And I have to keep moving toward differentiation - being who I am even if it is complicated. Just aiming to be a peaceful, modifying, non-anxious presence. Not hiding myself. But not pushing against the pace of grace.

My experience is that in these situations what is important will sort itself out. And kindness goes a long way to sooth the air. And that honesty when it is appropriate can be brief and gentle. And I realize that my hopes (noble as they seem to me) can do violence to others when I make them the most important thing in the room. I can become manipulative, and coercive, and then nothing healthy will happen.

So - what have I learned? To acknowledge the mess. To own that I am part of it, even when I am not actively involved: just being me can be a problem in some situations.

This is why communication is so important. Why we need to learn to listen below the surface to others, to situations, and even to our own selves. When I don't pay attention and know what is in me, all my stuff tends to force itself out and hurt others.

And it is why we need to treat each other with dump truck loads of grace. CSLewis says we have to wake up in the morning and forgive our spouse simply for being who they are. I laugh and believe he is dead on. I need to be forgiven for being who I am sometimes. Not just when I drop eggs, but when I am just being me.

So when I can't understand I can still smile, pour some tea, give some space, join in chopping vegetables, make a joke, kiss a baby, let someone serve me. But not if I am all tied up in what I need to have happen.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

on unscrambling the egg

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.
Families, as I know them, are very like scrambled eggs. Now, some families look like they have no scramble, but in my deepest heart I know EVERY family has its own private pile of egg shells under the table.

Last week I spent with my intimate family. The setting is wonderful - cabins on the beach of Prince Edward Island, Canada, steps from the crystal clear north Atlantic. We spend hours walking knee deep in gentle ocean, feet squishing the crystal clean sand, no chance of cutting a foot or losing one's balance. Life is everywhere: Hermit crabs, moon snails, bald eagles, fox, and a few bats of course.

Life abounds inside as well: our very precious grandchildren - a ten year old granddaughter and two little twin girls who had their second birthday at the beach; my son Mark, who I met only three years ago and his wife, both of whom are successful scientists in their own right and partners in parenting; Steve and I and Mark's parents, Liz and Jim. We all get along with only a few dances around values and beliefs. Intentional kindness and generosity flows between us. Together we rid the world of more than a few unnecessary lobsters.

But there are also undercurrents. I feel them: times when I don't know what is happening; conversations that don't seem to be about me at all, and yet I know that my presence affects the room, just as the presence of every other person does. Sometimes when we talk it feels like we know each other, and sometimes it feels like the platform for our relationships is too small and confining. There are times I feel blind.

My heart can suddenly become flooded with hunger, with longing. Layers of hopes lay in me propped up by words that can't find a sentence to live in. So many eggs to unscramble. And the hope of unscrambling them seems, at times, utterly forlorn.

But this I am again assured of - deeply and fully assured of: there is one great divine unscrambler of eggs. He is slow. He is often unseen in his work. The One who is unscrambling my life is the One who has done it so many times before - the One who joined Ruth and Boaz, both from an ancestry of incest and failure and from their union gave Obed, David and Jesus. Scrambled lives are not lost. They are simply how we people do life. God does it differently. Unscrambling is His particular work, not ours. What a relief. My sureness of this sets me free from so many deformative patterns - manipulation, rushing the pace of grace, 'mother' martyrdom, self pity - all those kinds of thing.

With all I have learned, I own that I keep dropping eggs. I am a messy person. My kids seem to be pretty messy too. We might not be like you at all. Your family might actually have no weirdness or big egg stains on the floor. But I am guessing you are like me. Will you hear me if I say something to you? It is a GREAT RELIEF to own both the ongoing scramble of my messy life, and the fact that it will never be me who makes it all whole. I think this is what grace is. Knowing the truth and being at peace. Knowing I cannot fix our family scrambles. I cannot even fix my own soul. But that is not at all saying it won't be beautifully restored in ways beyond my wildest imagination.

On Prince Edward Island I discovered that my heart can hold a load of unrealized hope and still be free not to manipulate to make any of it come to be. I can maintain a laughing soul even with a very large pile of egg shells crunching under my feet. I experience a beautiful freedom in knowing who I am, and knowing that I am not the answer to anything that needs to happen in anyone's life. I feel free to smile, to love, to share what is reasonably mine to give, and every now and then to drop an egg at the most inappropriate time. Surely this is grace.