Wednesday, May 22, 2013

I know what you tell me to know.

There is a category of women that is labeled 'received knowers.' Received knowers is an academic term for people who only know what they've been told to know. They receive what they know by listening to others.There are PLENTY of 'experts' - well intentioned leaders and fool-hearty loudmouths, both - who are happy to declare what other people's thoughts should be. Women who are received knowers are present at every level in our society. And a lot of them are found in the church.

To be a received knower is to submit your life to others in such a way that you can't really acknowledge your own thoughts or find your own opinions (or you discount your own opinions as being stupid or invalid.) Bright capable women, surprisingly, are sometimes received knowers. I have a friend who was busting out of a lifetime of pleasing - her dad, her church, her husband, her authorities - and at 40-ish she said to me, "I don't even know what colors I like."

To be a received knower is to carefully scan the room and detect the opinion that is acceptable, and then take on that opinion. A woman who has had her tender ventures at self expression crushed like a fly under a swatter may have learned that opinions are not safe. And she is not safe when she has them.

To be a received knower is to feel unsafe and unsure. It is a posture of living that is careful and small. To protect oneself the voice is silenced and the heart is shut down. And in the process of thinking only what is allowed, the skills of appraisal, evaluation and reflection remain undeveloped. There comes a day when a woman desperately needs to be wise in appraisal skills to detect physical danger, seduction (of many kinds) or the cunning of evil minds. What will her defense be then? What has been used to make her feel safe renders her susceptible to social assault and inclined toward inner defenselessness.

We must think - even if we sometimes think wrong. There is risk in becoming a learner on one's own terms. Becoming a learner involves "trying on" ideas like we try on a new dress, and seeing if the thing fits our unique self. Sometimes a mistake will be made, and people might move their chair away from our table and toward a safer group. Don't worry, the space they create will be filled by someone who sees you risking and identifies with you.

Here is my advice if you find yourself in this description of received knowing. Read something new. Read "The Gift of Being Yourself" or "Surrender to Love", two little books by David Benner.  If you are daring, read Anne Lamont or Kathleen Norris, both solid women who speak from their own journey with honesty. Then talk about what you are reading. (I was friends with a woman in her sixties who wanted to start to express ideas of her own. She would make notes and tuck them in her sweater pocket and then pull them out and peek at them and make her comment. Eventually she didn't need the notes.)

Buy a pretty book with empty spaces and make a journal by writing. Even if you have to hide it in the bushes behind your house. Somewhere, somehow, let your ideas get out of your head and onto paper. ( If you are a little stuck in received learning you already are thinking, "I have nothing to write. I have nothing to say that is worth saying." Lies, all of it.)

If you are asked a question, and you start the process of thinking your idea, then worrying if it is smart enough or right, go back to your idea and actually say it. Say it in a whisper if you need to. If opinions are being tossed around don't blank out your mind and go into an inner hum of disengagement, but listen and then if you don't agree, simply say, "uh, I don't actually agree... " If you have never said that before, everyone in the room might look at you dumbfounded. Even if you can't say why you don't agree... just acknowledge that you have thoughts.

Risk it. You are going to love the vitality that comes from being fully awake and alive.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Fear and Control

Let me try and describe a downward cycle that I have been caught in, and yet not recognized for what it is until now. The cycle starts when something happens that makes me feel insecure about myself. What would do this to me might be different than what would do it to you, but for me it is usually when a person shows disapproval of me or when I feel like I have failed to please. (I seem to be more vulnerable to these feelings at some times than others.)

So, in light of bad feelings that rise in me, I decide I will draw in the reins on my life, try harder, CONTROL myself and thereby be more acceptable. My intention is to smarten up be a better person - and not draw 'fire'. I always thought this was my effort to be more holy or Godly.

Sadly this work is shame based at bottom, and doesn't help. We cannot escape ourselves. And I think God really doesn't support the whole endeavor.

I have only just now realized that the movement to 'shut up!!' or 'smarten up!!' is a move away from love. It is, at its core, disguised fear. When we 'draw fire' we hear and believe a whisper that we are not loved - or worse even, not lovable. So the effort to do better, be more careful, not offend - all these are driven by a need to become lovable.

Love brings freedom. Control is rooted in fear. Think of a new relationship. When we meet someone we are polite and well behaved because we don't know what they expect or how they will see us. When we are  known and received in love we can be as silly, undignified or ragged as we want.

Freedom is always ragged. We might, indeed, offend someone. We might laugh too hard or at the wrong thing. We might make a poor response, or a bad choice. But when we know we are loved we can risk and laugh at what goes wrong - flaws don't change our sense of self.

Control is based on fear. Our sense of self has been damaged by what we perceive other[s] think of us - what we think they think becomes what we imagine we are. So we become more controlled. Control makes it impossible to receive love because it is self protecting. We become less vulnerable but - listen to this - vulnerability is essential when it comes to being able to receive love.

We begin to control when we fear our vulnerability. If we self protect, guard ourselves, and try to eliminate risk, we might be safe but we will miss the joy of having our very real human self be loved and celebrated. And such a lifestyle choice means we become dependent on others for our sense of self. Who I am and know myself to be becomes heavily weighted on the way I fear others see me.

Bottom line - next time you feel insecure and are tempted to get inside your shell, take a minute to recognize the fear that is driving you. Remind yourself to breathe and go forth in what freedom you can muster. God is love. God is on the side of freedom.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day

The sun was shining when I first realized how much my head hurt this morning. Yesterday had been too much on top of a week that was too much and I finally took half a sleeping pill when at one o'clock in the morning I was still wide awake, but then of course, slept too hard. But the sun was shining and it is Mother's Day.

I dragged a big ol' chair into the sun on the back porch out of the wind and sat with a coffee until almost noon. I knew the caffeine was better for me, over all, than more drugs. The pain began to subside and I started to run a hot shower.

Last night when I got home from the retreat I led over the weekend it became apparent that something was missing. My phone. And then, my computer. And then, my pj's. I had packed all the retreat materials in my car and left all my personal effects in the little room at the retreat center. The only solution was to drive down highway 27 back the way I had come home and pick everything up. Of course, when I got there everyone who'd served the retreat had gone home or shopping or to a movie, and the building was locked up. Mercifully, I remembered the code for the lock and it hadn't yet been changed, so I was able to 'break in', search the office and find my room key, walk the long dark hallway and retrieve my stuff. I made sure the door locked behind me.

The thought of returning to my empty home with all the tension of the week still in me was not hopeful. So I drove past my exit and headed toward the local theatre. 'Gatsby' was the only possibility for me - I don't do Iron Man, etc. - and although I had heard the effects were overdone I took my seat and enjoyed the movie. The effects were overdone. I got home late, overstimulated.

So it was that I came to Mother's Day.

After my shower I felt fairly awful, rolled on the bed and had a nap, and finally killed the headache. And my hair. Small problem only.

Three commitments remained. The first was the Cardiff funeral home in Lexington where the visitation for a young mom from the seminary, killed in a traffic accident, was being held. I had a bit of business to do with the owner as well, and spent a little time with the family. The second commitment was a celebration at the home of a dear friend who was introducing her long lost sister (she had been born in Germany and adopted by an American family) to friends. Her sister looked so like her I had laughed right out loud. The moment was wonderful. I'm sort of partial to adoption reunions. I sat with her sister and ate crustless chicken salad sandwiches and listened to them interrupting each other with their story of being lost and found. Being there to share the miracle of discovery and love was such a privilege! From there I drove to Kerr funeral home for the visitation of a woman from our church who's inner pain had become more than she could bear. The line was long and slow. I didn't mind.

The clock on my car dash read seven o' two when I pulled out from Kerr's, driving in my bare feet because my left shoe was hurting the arthritis in my middle toe. Since I was in the city I stopped at a good Chinese restaurant and ordered a take out of chicken dumplings. Then home.

I tried to watch TV but inside I was still restless so I made a practice cake for my granddaughter, Megan, who makes cupcakes. The cake pans I got for her are shaped like a huge cupcake, and I wanted to be sure it would cook properly before I gave it to her. It did.

Then I covered all the plants with plastic bags and my scarves because the night air might sink down to freezing. Before I go to bed I will build a fire in the pit beside the wisteria to keep it from freezing.

It is Mother's Day. My daughter and sons have nudged me with loving hellos. The day was full of real moments of life. New life and death are almost the same thing, when you experience them side by side. They are small gasps in time where the walls between eternity and dailyness are thin and everything/everyone seems precious.

Happy Mother's Day.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


I am a survivor. When someone uses this phrase a couple possibilities jump to mind immediately. First one - a cancer survivor. To go through that particular valley and come out with life and hope, yes, I doff my hat and raise my applause. You are a survivor. Amazing.Then there are trauma survivors, and survivors of abuse. All these are testimonies to the strength God has given the human spirit.

But I am none of those. I am a survivor of despair. Despair wears many outfits - fear, hopelessness, heart sickness, depression. Despair was sown into me early, but in the mid nineties it became full blown clinical depression along with all the attendant darkness. If you have not met this demon of the black, you cannot picture the pain it inflicts.

There was a time when I longed to die. I saw not one glimmer of hope for the future. The best I could do was to breathe, one breath at a time. In the frozen solid winter of Alberta I would lay on the floor in the ray of sunlight coming in the window, and as it moved I would move with it to keep my face in the sun. Somehow that kept me on earth for one more day.

I shifted to the guest room because when I woke up at night with a start and a knife through my heart, unable to breath, I would disturb Steve. There in the guest room I lit a tea light in a blue glass bowl beside my bed and it would burn til morning. When I woke with agony I would look at the light and say, "God is here."

I didn't actually cry much - if crying has to do with sound and moaning. But my eyes didn't know I wasn't crying. Tears began pouring in the morning and sometimes flooded my face while I did the dishes or cleaned bedrooms. I couldn't stop them. I would drive to pick up my son from quizzing and I would have tears running down my face. He would say to his friend, "Don't worry about mom. She will be okay." And they would carry on like boys.

My friend, Joy, would take me for long drives into the mountains and listen to me try to untwist what my mind was doing to my theology, my self knowledge, my memory. Once she left me high on a rock in the mountains with a CD player and a CD and came back an hour later after I listened to the music, echoing over the canyons and back to my rocky bed. That experience was like my soul - raw and frozen and full of grandeur and beauty.

I cleaned out a small paint closet in the basement of my home and put a pillow and a lamp in it and would stay for an hour, morning and night, praying. My prayers were often wordless, mostly just clinging to God, or letting God cling to me. Sighs. Tears. I heard about what the mystics called the baptism of tears. They said you could collect your tears and when the valley was over have them poured over your head like a baptism. I could have done that if I had kept a mason jar nearby.

Because I felt so fragilely tied to this earth I wanted to hold someone's hand all the time. I would sit on the couch and just hold a hand. Old people must feel this way - they long to sit and hold a hand. We are impatient with them. But I understand that comfort. It was better than the best planned words.

Recently I woke up and realized that I don't live anywhere near this darkness anymore. I forget sometimes to remember what a miracle of LIFE it is to be hopeful, joyful, at peace. There was a day when I was certain the future held nothing for me.

I was wrong. So wrong. A friend took his life in Calgary, and all I could think of was, "if you had waited til tomorrow you would have changed your mind." Sometimes the present moment is unlivable.

So here's to all my friends and companions who are survivors, like me. We survive different things, but the grace of making it through our valley of the shadow of death is no small grace. We lose and find our minds. We lose and find our faith. We lose and find our hope.

Thank you to everyone who held those things for me when I lost my own. Such is love. Very small. Very practical. Love is about staying and letting someone survive.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

I got fired today.

No not at my job. I got fired from my doctor. Can they even do that? A couple months ago I had an issue with the doctor where I felt I didn't have sovereignty over my body. I was so unhappy I actually talked to her about it and it didn't go well. No shouting or anything, or name calling, but I pushed the issue that she had 'done me wrong' and that she had 'all the power' in the relationship. I cried finally and maybe kindof stormed out. Not stormed really, but left sobbing and saying, 'Whatever!' Which I hate about myself. I do conflict so badly.

Anyway, I even sent her a note that didn't grovel, but said I knew it had gone badly and she had been a help to me and I was sorry how it went. If I look back on my life one of the few things I regret are times I didn't stand up for myself or walk out on something that was abusive. This was me trying to own my own life. I couldn't just beg for forgiveness to make it right. It would have made it wrong. There was error on both sides.

So now two months later, I made an appointment, this morning at ll:30. I got an early call from her assistant saying they were cancelling my appointment and I was not going to be a patient of theirs anymore.

I didn't feel shattered. Really, I had been feeling a fair bit of stress about going and had prayed and composed myself to be okay, so my reaction was to be relieved. But then I thought, 'am I really a b---ch?'
Am I the only person she has fired?

So I have had to think about this a little today. About how I handle conflict and when is the time to stand up for something. In some of the women in leadership books I've read lately there is a sense that a woman in leadership in the corporate world needs to be able to fight. I am a terrible fighter. Does that mean I am weak? A failure at some level? Or is fighting bad?

Then my thoughts went to a report I've been working on the last few days. In it I am reflecting on the idea that Christian community must have room for disillusion. We are not a community because we all get along or we all know the best way to confront, or we never confront anyone - not at all. Anywhere there are people there will be strife. But "Jesus is our Peace" Ephesians 2:14.

During the day I came to a nice quiet realization that I am loved, acceptable, fully human just as I am. I don't have to figure out why someone doesn't want to be in relationship with me. My role is to be alive to people around me and not demand that they fit into my idea of 'nice' and well behaved.

Sometimes we just can't be well behaved. Sometimes we shouldn't be, for everyone's sake. And when we get it wrong, it isn't that important. Anyone know of a good doctor?