Saturday, January 29, 2011

Military Wisdom

          I was driving down Santa Monica Blvd. the other day and I saw a billboard (I hate billboards, but that’s another story) put up for the U.S. Marines. It stated: 

          “A commitment to something greater than themselves.”

          I was thinking what a good description that is of a vitalized couple, family, business or church.

          It is also often hard to achieve. Why? Without dressing it up, it is simply this: selfishness. I want what I want when I want it. Me first, last and always.

          Don’t get me wrong here. I really don’t like self-sacrifice. It just goes against my nature. I don’t always think: “what is best for Nan and me as a couple?” Or “how do I best serve the church.” More often I ask myself “where do I want to serve that best fits my needs, my schedule, my desires.” Ouch.

          When both of us lose sight of our “coupleness” we often find ourselves locked in power struggles, vying to be the lead dog. The problem here is that the result is always collateral damage. One of us may win the battle but ultimately lose the war. Or at least we lose peace at home, which for me is a huge deal. If you have ever seen a couple locked in a bitter power struggle (or been there yourself) you know exactly what I am talking about. It is painful and damaging.

          But when I keep the big picture in mind, (strengthening love bonds, financial stability, reaching people for Christ, easing people’s suffering, etc.) I am able to push past my selfish tendencies and feel good about it. That is why volunteerism is so important. It is a win-win proposition. It nurtures the human soul while accomplishing a higher purpose.

          Kids need to see this in their parents. This “other focus” helps kids to grow and mature and adjust to the realities of life. It will make them a better spouse, parent, employee/employer, citizen.  

          For the church, the challenge is to not be distracted by focusing on self-preservation, but to be clearly following a vision that was set down more than 2000 years ago.   

          I want to direct you back to the first paragraph and emphasize one word: commitment. It is something we often take too lightly.

          Where have you succeeded in making and following through with commitments to something greater than yourself?  Where have you failed?    

          Perhaps now would be a good time to either commit or re-commit.

          Thanks for listening.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Change Happens!

This year a good friend is moving to another state, and that is just so wrong! Well, wrong for me, anyway.  

Living in Los Angeles, it seems that people around me make major changes all the time. Not just the normal ones like getting married and having kids or changing jobs, but really significant changes that move them out of my daily life.

So, how well do I adjust to change? How do I cope with it?

I am working on three things: grieving, celebrating and re-engaging.

The grieving part I can often overlook. It’s the part where I realize that although the change is a great gain for the other person, it feels like a deep loss for me. I have intentionally told the person how much I will miss her, and been able to feel some sadness. I’ve had times of feeling angry about change, mostly because Dave and I aren’t the ones making it! (It’s kind of like “What about me? Don’t I get to change? We've lived in the same house for 36 years.”) Of course, that’s just the anger stage of grief talking.

Dave says that women do grief better than guys. Oddly, I actually somewhat enjoy the process. I think it is because when I remember my friend, I think of all the great memories of activities and conversations we have had over the years. There is a part of her that will always remain with me, in how I see things, because she has been in my life, and that brings great joy.

Celebrating this person will be easy. She has many friends who also love her as I do. I don’t know what we will do to celebrate her yet, but I know we will. We can share stories of our experience, tell her what we will miss about her and let her know about the lasting impact she has had on our lives. Celebrating her helps us adjust to the change.

The re-engaging part is last. Building new relationships, after the loss of a close one takes more time and effort than I want to give. But, it is an important, and good part of life. Building those new relationships helps create new memories and new opportunities. I also need to reconnect with my friend who is moving, and relate to her in a new way. I am prone to emotional cut-off rather than ongoing connection. So, it will take conscious effort to stay connected through the change. Thanks to all the new technologies, it will be easier than ever. Thank you Skype video!

When all is said and done, I guess change doesn't have to be so bad after all.   

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Bird & The Cat

  We had a bird (a cockatiel) for almost 20 years – until this last Christmas when it saw a chance for freedom and took it. A too-slowly closed door became the portal for a new life. Once out he flew with all his might, over the neighbor's house and away. Our search was fruitless for a while, but then I heard him chirping (screaming) in the distance. He had flown back toward home and was lodged at the top of a very tall tree. There was no way to get him down. I could tell that he was scared and helpless and regretful (if birds feel regret).

           You remember the cat from an earlier post? Well, we are doing good these days (she has us fully trained now). We do not know who owns the cat so we just call her R. Cat (our cat). Every day she seeks to enter the house now that a bond of trust has been established. To begin with she wouldn't set foot in the door and now she can't wait to get invited in. Some days R. Cat is even more interested in affection than food.

           So why the pet story? I was thinking that human relationships can be a lot like the bird and cat. One in a stable environment seeking to escape and another with a desire to find a place of nurture and acceptance.

           Every time I see a marriage about to break apart I think to myself “You (the runner) will most likely be regretful sometime in the future when you realize your loss.” The situation may not have been perfect (our bird would probably have liked a more varied diet), but it certainly had it's benefits.

           I also feel sad when people are too cautious to take risks toward establishing relationships that may satisfy what their hearts have been yearning for.

           I think fear may be at the core of each of these scenarios: fear of being trapped in a tough situation with no hope of healing, or fear of being hurt with no way to survive the pain. In each case there is probably inaccurate thinking. Our belief may be that the struggle is not worth it, or that the effort required is not worth the risk of failure. But we forget that we are not alone – that the battle is not solely ours. We have an Advocate who is with us in our trials, who will comfort us in our pain.

           For some the most difficult thing they can do is to remain steadfast in the middle of an emotional storm, when they are discouraged or bored or scared or feeling hopeless. For others taking action, making decisions and pushing through inertia feels like pulling out their own teeth. But in both cases it may be what God wants from you to accomplish His purposes through you.

           I can't say that the cat directly replaces the bird – but she does bring comfort. And there is something healing about the relationship, even redemptive. As a child my first encounter with a cat was not positive. This purring creature sidled up to me and then promptly bit me on the wrist, drawing blood. My trust for cats has been low ever since – until now. It may seem like a small risk – but it's a good start. 

           Which one do you feel more like; the cat or the bird? 

           What do you think God might be asking of you?  

Update: Since we first posted this we have found out the cat is a "he" and not a "she" and named "Nor". He belongs to a neighbor, but makes his home on our front porch at least half of the time. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

My Word!

A friend of mine suggested that a “word for the year” be adopted as a kind of guiding concept for 2011. I decided that I would reach back and dust off an old one that I have inadvertently lost touch with in a meaningful way. The word is SIMPLICITY.

            Complexity. That is the opposite and pretty much defines life as we know it in the present era. Many years ago it was predicted by some ‘sage’ that with the coming of the modern age of computers and labor saving devices we would have shorter work hours and more leisure time. It was estimated that we would probably work something like four hours a day. But what we seem to have inherited instead is an ever-increasing pace of daily life that demands that we keep up with everything new that comes along. And I think that this invisible monster is sucking the life out of many of us.

Because knowledge is no longer increasing in a linear fashion, but rather as an exponential explosion, I believe our anxiety also escalates as we realize our inability to fully access, manage and incorporate all the new data. But in our attempt to not feel so powerless in the face of all this “progress”, we are investing more of our time, and as a result, sacrificing our relationships with people. And often as a way of coping we escape into entertainment – video games, television, movies, computers, etc.

It is not just my relationship with others that suffers, but also the relationship with myself. I do not spend as much time reflecting, praying, working on my spiritual and character growth when I am consumed by “the things of this world.” I can put God at the end of my priority list, rather than at the top. And I usually find that the last few items on my list don’t get done.

Back to my word for the year. My solution is to ruthlessly simplify. I question all new technology before I embrace it, knowing that there is a learning curve and a price to be paid (in dollars, in addition to time.) I guard my time and schedule and do not surrender easily to demands for it. I resist collecting “stuff” that adds little value to my life, clutters up my environment, costs money, and requires maintenance. This is an ongoing battle, both emotionally and physically, and requires swimming against the current of our culture. But isn’t that what the Bible told us we would need to resist – being conformed to this world?  

Romans 12:2  “Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think."

And I think somehow that delayed gratification is a first cousin to simplicity. It has been proven that those who have the ability to resist their impulses usually have more successful and satisfying lives.

How about you? Can you say ‘no’ to yourself when it comes to foolishly spending your time, your money, and your life energy? Can you embrace a simple life and be content in all things? (Phil 4:11 & 1 Tim 6:8.)

It’s something to think about.