Jesus in disguise.

Mother Theresa suggests that we try to see Jesus in every person. She said that it was her privilege to wash Jesus’ festering wounds and to feed him as a tiny abandoned child with AIDS. Essentially, we should serve each person as if they are Jesus in disguise.

I’ve tried this for the past few years at work and it is pretty amazing, and yet very difficult. Every now and then I want to say, hey, Jesus, can you stop being so weird?

It isn’t all weird. Mostly, there is a lot of good in this practice. Because I have changed how I approach people, they have changed towards me. I used to have a lot of people yell at me. They would come in already loaded up with problems, and they were ready to share. Anything and nothing would set them off. It always seemed random when a person would yell, and I began to get very hesitant around everyone. I expected to get randomly yelled at, and they would read my fear and oblige me.

So I tried Mother Theresa’s approach, with a little bit of “The Dog Whisperer” thrown in. Work with me here. People are animals. We are civilized animals, mostly, but we are still animals. We forget this. We respond to the same cues that animals respond to. So showing calm, positive energy is going to result in better results than showing fear.

Being interested in and calm around every single person I help is honestly overwhelming to do for hours at a time. I am a huge introvert. I like people and am constantly fascinated by them, and I like serving them. But I need a lot of quiet and calm to recharge after a day at work.

The difference in patron’s reactions to me is amazing, though, so it is worth it. It is as if I’m playing a “hide and seek” game. I’m looking really hard for the good, the light. I’m trying to see their soul, the spark of God that is within them. They respond to my curiosity by opening up. Their light may be buried under years of abuse or self-hatred or illness, but it is always there. Where there is life, there is light. Just searching for it can bring it out and make it brighter.

Jesus in disguise can be really overwhelming, however. Gender and age are illusions. She can be lonely and I’m the only person she’s got to talk to. He can be a new widower and on the brink of tears while he is signing up for his library card. He can be really smelly because he walked to the library on a Tennessee summer day because his car broke down and he doesn’t have air conditioning at home. She can be a young mother with more children than she has patience for.

Jesus can be a real pain when he is like this. I want to say, hey, Jesus, can’t you show me your nice side sometimes? Why do you have to be cranky and smelly and mean? Can’t you just be normal for a change?

And then I pray again. I ask him to show himself to me again. I ask him to work through me. I ask that my words be what this cranky, smelly, mean person needs to hear. I ask that I’m able to offer them a bit of healing in the time we are together. I try to be mindful and fully present.

It is hard. But it is everything. It is what each of us is made for, this reality, this presence, this moment when we stop being machines and we start being human. It is beautiful and real and aching and sad and overwhelming and everything we need to make this place we call Earth a home. Because ultimately it is all about a connection between people. It is about incarnate love, this love made real and tender and fragile and beautiful.

But it sure would be nice if Jesus would take a bath and use a breath mint every now and then.

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Sanctified 2 (uncovering grief)

I see a lot of people at my job. There are people from all walks of life who come in every day. In general I enjoy interacting with people who are so different and interesting. The people I see are old, young, poor, eccentric. They are pleasant, creepy, and wonderful. But every now and then I have a really bad reaction to certain people and I’ve worked on what my problem is. I like one of the “Rules for being human” that states that every person is mirror of you – whatever you love or hate in someone else is whatever you love or hate in yourself. So I’ve been thinking about that.

I’ve noticed that I have a terrible reaction to those who reek of cigarettes and those who are morbidly obese, as well as people who are alcoholics. I’ve wondered why I seem to have a visceral reaction to them. I get angry when I see them. I’ve prayed about this. I’ve journaled about this. I’ve finally followed my spiritual director’s advice and asked Jesus into this feeling to help me understand it.

I certainly noticed those who smell of alcohol and get only movies. It has become a cliché. They drink so much and so often that even if they aren’t currently drunk they still smell of alcohol. It is escaping from their pores in the way that any poison does.

With all these situations, I have seen a connection. With the people who smoke, who overeat, who are alcoholics, each is a person who has no self control.

Part of my reaction is that I’ve been there. I used to be obese. I used to smoke clove cigarettes. I used to smoke pot. I know what it is like to be an addict. I know what it is like to feel trapped in my own body. I remember deciding I didn’t want to smoke pot every day so I wrapped my stash in several plastic bags and put rubber bands around it. I then put it up on a high shelf. It was going to take a lot of effort to get to it.

And then I’d find myself standing on that chair. I’d find myself unwinding the rubber bands. I’d pull out my bong and my supply of buds and I’d smoke. It is as if I was possessed. It was like I saw myself doing these things. I was a puppet, a slave. I didn’t want to smoke pot, and there I was doing it again. It was a terrible feeling. I felt helpless.

At first I thought to celebrate these instances, of every time I’d see something that angered me. I’d see someone who was obese or smell the smoke or alcohol on someone and it would remind me to pray. So that was good. I was praying more often. I would pray for the person and pray for my bad reaction. I hated the feeling I had, but at least it caused me to seek God. This worked for a little while.

Then Grace happened.

I came to understand this was grief.

My Mom died from smoking cigarettes. My Dad died from smoking and from not exercising. He was obese. I was angry at these people who shared their bad habits because I’m still angry at my parents for dying so young. For abandoning me. For leaving me alone to fend against my predatory brother.

There is a lady who comes every day who is retired. She sits and plays games on Facebook for hours. She is so large that she has a hard time walking.

I’m jealous of the time that she has. I’m angry that my Mom died, and doesn’t have any time left at all. I’m angry that this woman is throwing away her time. It is personal. Not only do I want her to use her time better, I want her to understand that there are people who would love to have that much free time. Why does she get to live and my Mom didn’t? Why do I have to shoehorn in my creative activity and she has all this time and blows it?

It is grief. I’m angry at them because I’m sad for myself. I’m angry at my parents for not having any self control, and then dying young. I’m angry at myself when I waste time and I don’t exercise like I should or eat what I know is good for me. My gut reaction lead me to prayer which lead me to understanding the source of my pain.

Pain became a blessing, because from it, I’m beginning to heal.

I offer you these words to tell you that you can do this too. I offer you these words as a voice in the wilderness, calling out, telling you to walk through the thicket, the stickerbushes, the marsh. Walk on. There is hope if you continue to mindfully walk this path. Don’t sit down, keep walking, keep working. There is healing here, in this work.

Sanctified (pain can be a blessing)

Pain can be a blessing. It can let us know something is wrong, so we seek treatment. This is true with physical pain as well as spiritual pain.

Anger, fear, anxiety are all names for spiritual pain. When we notice them, we have an opportunity to seek out a whole different kind of healing than our society usually offers us. Instead of taking a pill for these spiritual pains, we can choose to pray. We can ask God to come into that moment and be with us in our pain and our brokenness.

In this way we sanctify our pain. This is transformative to realize. When we do this, our pain becomes a reminder to seek God. It is like a bell, sounding the time to pray. Our pain becomes a pathway to God.

Of course this is easy to say when we are well. When we are sick, when we have pain or weakness or an unknown diagnosis it is hard to get enlightened. Every thought is about the pain and lack of well being. Everything is focused on the not-well-ness of how we feel. Our entire frame of consciousness is based on how we don’t feel like we think we should.

We have a hard time being objective about our subjective experience.

It is like being in the middle of an argument. It is easy to say that you should back off and not fight, don’t let the person bring you to their level. But when you are in the middle of an argument and the other person is yelling at you, right in your face it is hard to remain calm. All you want to do is yell right back and say what you really feel, free of all the social rules of being nice. This is true whether the fight is with a person or with a disease.

But it is worth trying. Yelling at the other person only makes the fight continue. Freaking out over pain only makes it hurt more.

Certainly, don’t let the other person walk all over you. Certainly, don’t ignore the pain because it might be a sign of something that needs treatment.

But part of being a follower of God is knowing that God is in charge. Even the “bad” stuff is part of the big plan.

We are told that every moment is the guru. Learn from everything, even your pain and suffering and doubt. Learn from the argumentative coworker. Learn from the annoying neighbor. Learn from the busybody aunt. They are all teachers. They are all pathways to God.

Resistance is indeed futile.

The essence of “self-esteem” is “self”

I remember talking with a friend many years ago and saying that the most important part about self esteem is the word “self”. If you have to rely on other people for your self esteem, then you aren’t doing it right.

I saw a Facebook meme that had a picture of a happy child with a tagline that said something about how important it is for parents to fill their child’s bucket of self esteem so high that it spilled over. This may sound strange to say in light of my recent post about verbal abuse, but I think there might be something wrong with that.

Sure, I think it is important to encourage your child and to support her. Sure, I think it is essential that a parent be a good model for the child. But I think a dose of reality is important too.

To cheer someone on as if they are doing A-level work when really it is D-level work is to set them up for failure. Encourage and show them how to succeed. Yes, cheer on every good thing they do – they can’t do it perfectly at the beginning. But don’t tell them they have reached the top of the mountain when they are still standing at the base. They will never keep growing to their full potential. They will think they are already there.

We’re just now seeing the results of this kind of thinking in the work force. There has been an entire generation of kids who have gotten trophies just for participating. They have gotten certificates just for showing up. So they get into “the real world” and they wonder why they aren’t getting the same amount of praise for the same lack of effort.

It also seems odd for someone to say that another person damaged their self-esteem. Eleanor Roosevelt tells us that “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” There are plenty of self-help books (that I’ve listed as “Survival Books”) that will tell you the same thing. You can’t change the other person. You can only change yourself. That is the essence of self-help. You have to help yourself. Someone else didn’t affect your self-esteem – you chose to let them bother you. This sounds in part like blaming the victim, but it isn’t. It is actually empowering. It is encouraging the person to stop being a victim – to stop letting things happen to them, and to be an active participant in life.

Sometimes this means leaving the situation. Sometimes the other person just isn’t healthy to be around, and they aren’t going to get nicer. Sometimes it just requires you sticking up for yourself and telling the other person how their actions make you feel. Then they have a choice to act differently or not. Then you have a choice to take it or not. But it is on you to make the choice to act.

Other people can encourage you and support you, but when it gets hard, you have to be able to take care of yourself. Ultimately, other people are not responsible for your mental well-being, you are.

Kid’s books that are fun for adults

Who says kids should have all the fun? These are around 8-12 year old range, but enjoyable for adults too. I gave this list to the children’s librarian at my library, and she has made some changes (corrections). I still think my order is right. So, I’ve added her changes (where there were some) at the end of each section. You are advised to check the order for yourself.

Martin Booth – The Alchemist’s Son series.
1) Doctor Illuminatus
2) Soul Stealer
(Sadly, there is no #3. The author died. Read them anyway)

Pierdominico Baccalario – The Ulysses Moore series. (time and space travel, mystery, adventure)
1) Ulysses Moore: The Door to Time
2) The Long-Lost Map
3) The House of Mirrors
4) The Isle of Masks

Helen Dunmore – the Ingo series (Cornwall, mermaids, adventure)
1) Ingo
2) The Tide Knot
3) The Deep
4) The Crossing of Ingo
5) Stormswept (due to be released 1/5/2012)

Diana Wynne Jones – The Castle series (Neil Gaiman and Hayao Miyazaki are fans)
1) Howl’s Moving Castle
2) Castle in the Air
3) House of Many Ways

Susan Cooper – The Dark is Rising Series (British “good versus evil” supernatural adventure)
1) Over Sea, Under Stone
2) The Dark is Rising
3) Greenwitch
4) The Grey King
5) Silver on the Tree

Madeline L’Engle – the Wrinkle in Time Series (Christian fiction masquerading as sci-fi. Beautiful, uplifting)
1) A Wrinkle in Time
2) A Swiftly Tilting Planet
3) A Wind in the Door
4) Many Waters (can be read separately)
(the librarian says the order is Wrinkle, Wind, Swiftly, and Many)

John Christopher – The Tripod series. (post apocalyptic humans versus machines)
1) When the Tripods Came
2) The White Mountains
3) The City of Gold and Lead
4) The Pool of Fire
(The librarian says the order is White, City, Pool, and When, but When is a prequel that was written last)

Terry Pratchett – The Bromeliad Trilogy (not Discworld – these are tiny creatures. Well written.)
1) Truckers
2) Diggers
3) Wings
Separate, but also good – “The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents”

Asking for help is a sign of strength. (on verbal abuse)

If you saw a dog being beaten, you’d most likely stop the abuse right then or report it to the police. So why are we mute when we see a parent abusing her or his child verbally? Verbal abuse is more damaging than physical abuse. The wounds go deeper and last longer. The child doesn’t even know that she or he was abused, so there is no way to know that this isn’t “normal.”

There are two different forms of verbal abuse – what is said, and how it is said. What is said can be very obviously verbal abuse. Telling a child that she or he is stupid or worthless or no good is damaging in a very deep way. But a child can also be damaged by otherwise innocent words said in an abusive manner.

Sometimes it isn’t what is said, but how it is said that is the problem. If you speak otherwise loving words but do them in an aggressive manner, you aren’t saying anything loving. Tone is essential. Nothing good is conveyed when you speak to a person in a short, clipped, frustrated manner, or loudly or sharply. The child’s entire way of viewing the world is affected by how she or he is raised. If you raise a child to feel worthless, then it is very hard for that child to grow into a healthy adult. The child has no strong foundation because it has been constantly undermined.

When your child comes up to you to ask for help, do you say “What do you want?” with a tone that really means “How can I help you?”, or do you say it in a way that says “Why are you bothering me, again!?” You are the main teacher for your children. If you teach them through your actions that they don’t matter to you, then you have destroyed their spirit. You have taught them that they are an inconvenience, that they are worthless.

I remember when I first got married and my husband would tell me a story of some problem that he’d had to deal with at work. He would be very angry and would be speaking in a very forceful way while telling me the story. Fortunately I was aware of how this kind of talk affected me, so I told him that I was not the reason for his anger, and that he needed to adjust his tone. His anger at the situation was bleeding onto me, and making me feel like I was part of the problem, that he was angry with me, personally.

But a child can’t do this. A child doesn’t have this sense of perspective. For a parent to speak in a sharp manner all the time to their child is abusive. It is cruel and thoughtless. It is not the child’s fault that they were born and that your days of partying are over. It is not the child’s fault that you were raised in a similar manner.

It is a huge responsibility to be a parent, and sadly there are no classes for it. Somehow our society thinks that just because you have had a child you automatically know how to be a parent. This is simply not true. But we just don’t have a mechanism in place to teach people how to be good parents. We seem to leave it to chance and hope everything works out.

I see parents being abusive to their children all the time where I work, and some are worse than others. You can see that the light is gone from the children’s eyes. Every time certain families come in we brace ourselves for another round of screaming and tears. What can be done? I’ve asked a friend who is a therapist and one who is a schoolteacher. Both say you can’t do anything. That you can’t get involved.

Both say that perhaps somebody else will catch it and do something. But what if that somebody else is thinking the same thing – that somebody else will do something?

So what do we do, wait until the child is totally broken and ends up killing someone? And then we’ll all say, “That was sure some strange family. I thought something was wrong with them. I wonder why nobody did anything.”

I’m writing this because I hope that it speaks to a parent who may recognize herself or himself in this. I hope that this parent realizes that it is normal to feel frustrated and overwhelmed, but not OK to push that on to a child. I hope that this parent admits that she or he needs help and asks for it from someone they trust – a therapist, a minister, a friend.

Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. NOT asking is a sign of weakness. Trying to do it all on your own hasn’t worked.

The Future is Now. (the bud is the blossom)

We are currently taught that Jesus will come again. We are taught to wait for the future. We aren’t taught to be thankful for the now.

Jesus tells us that there will be no more signs in this generation except the sign of Jonah. Many people take that to mean the fact that Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days, and Jesus lay in the tomb for three days.

Or did he? If he died on Friday afternoon and arose from the grave on Sunday morning as we are told, that is hardly three days. It isn’t even 48 hours. But I digress. Perhaps that is part of what is going on. I feel we are being distracted from what is really important.

What if the sign of Jonah is when people learn to be thankful for what is happening right now? Not when we are freed. Not when we are healed. Not when we reach the Promised Land. Jonah gave thanks while in the belly of the whale. While standing in the middle of a bad situation he praised God. Then he was released.

How often did Jesus tell people that their faith has saved them? Simply by seeking him out, they were healed. His healing of them was to let them know that they were forgiven their sins. We are all forgiven. We are all called to forgive. When we forgive others, we are bringing forth the same healing. Our weakness causes us to seek wholeness, and from that we gain the power to help others.

God is the great “I AM”. Not I was, or will be. Think about the idea of God being the Alpha and the Omega at the same time. Our human brains can’t really comprehend that. We can barely handle paying attention to right now, but that isn’t due to our capacity. That is due to our culture.

We are taught that happiness is to be found in the past or in the future. We are taught to focus on the “good old days” for how wonderful they were. We are taught to look forward to the future for when things will get better. The problem is that the good old days weren’t really all that good when we really think about it, because we weren’t even fully participating in them when we were living through them. We were thinking about the past and the future then too. We miss quite a bit of what is actually happening all the time. When we finally get to the future we won’t be happy then either because we are going to be doing the same thing. We’ll think we were better off “back then,” and that we will be better off “soon.”

There are a lot of modern thinkers, artists, creators, and dreamers who believe that there is a change coming. They are talking about a shift in consciousness that is about to occur. They look forward to this new era of peace and enlightenment.

I am telling you that the bud is the blossom. The seed is the fruit. I am telling you that the fact that we can see the goal means we are there.

We have changed. We are conscious of what our responsibility is. We are awake. Not all of us, no. But enough to have generated enough momentum.

We need to see how things are changing around us. How people are waking up.

We need to focus on what is going on right now that is right and good and joyful and keep doing it.

Do not give any energy to what is broken. That is what it wants. The more we focus on “if only” thoughts, the less we are focusing on building up what is going well.

Oprah says what we focus on expands. There is a lot of power in remembering this. Choose wisely.