Halloween lights

I was at a Halloween party for adults last week. You know how much you enjoyed Halloween as a child? The costumes, the candy, the staying up late? All the usual rules seemed to be violated. You went up to strangers’ houses, by yourself or with friends, begging for candy. These are the same strangers you weren’t supposed to talk to during the rest of the year.

There was something magical in the air – it was crisp and clean, if a little damp in spots. The leaves were beautiful on the trees and crunched underfoot. Halloween is a treat for the senses.

That joy doesn’t leave us as adults. We aren’t allowed to participate in the same way though. So we have our own parties where we get to revisit a little of that magic.

I sat on the back porch at this party and started taking pictures of the Halloween lights that were strung up. Rotating and shaking my camera, I got these pictures. Some turned out almost as magical as Halloweens long passed.
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The Burning Bush

Let’s look at the story of Moses and the burning bush.

Exodus 3:1-10

Now Moses was keeping the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the back of the wilderness, and came to the mountain of God, unto Horeb. 2 And the angel of Jehovah appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, I will turn aside now, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. 4 And when Jehovah saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. 5 And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. 6 Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God. 7 And Jehovah said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people that are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; 8 and I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Amorite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite. 9 And now, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me: moreover I have seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.
(American Standard Version)

Notice that Moses was simply walking along. This amazing sight just happened, unexpectedly. Notice that God only started speaking to Moses when he turned aside to look at it. From that encounter, Moses is called to lead Israel out of Egypt, from slavery to freedom.

How many burning bushes are in your life? How many places where God is are you ignoring? We have to stop and slow down and take time to notice where God is breaking through into this world. We have to make space and time for God, otherwise we’ll miss our call. Is God in the sound of the siren of the firetruck racing by? Is God in the cry of the small child wanting to be held? Is God the still small voice in the storm? God is in all of that and much more. There are many amazing things small and large that happen all around us all the time. It is only when we turn aside and give attention to them that God will then speak to us.

God doesn’t always appear to us as an angel. Sometimes God comes in dreams. Sometimes God appears as three strangers such as happened with Abraham in Genesis 18.

We have to slow down and treat everyone as if they might be an angel in disguise. In Greece, they always make sure to have sweets available because they don’t know if the person who shows up at their door is God. I’m not saying that everyone is holy. But I am saying that everyone has the possibility of having God within them. And I’m saying that our world would be a nicer place if we treated every single person with that level of love and attention.

God is always willing to reach to us and talk to us. We just have to stop and take the time to notice. Imagine what would’ve happened if Moses had not taken the time to stop and slow down. The Israelites would still be stuck in slavery. God called Moses from the burning bush to set people free. It was only when he turned aside that God spoke. He could have kept on walking. How many times do we keep on walking?

How many other releases from slavery are we missing out on because we don’t believe that we are being called by God? Notice that God didn’t free the Israelites on his own. He required Moses. He required Moses’ full participation. God uses all of us like that.

Is God calling you? Do you think you’re not special enough? Moses wasn’t special. He was an average person at an average time and in an average place before God called him. He became special because he said Yes to God. It was only after he said Yes and he started working with God that he became special.

You’re being called right now from the burning bush. Stop. Turn aside. Pay attention. God is calling you to free people from the slavery of guilt and shame and from playing small. God is calling you from within the slavery of fear and doubt and addictions. God is calling you.

Say Yes.

Just like Moses, you can do it, with God’s help.

Together, you can lead people out of pain and into life.

Hole in the roof

Let’s read the story of Jesus and the people who cut a hole in the roof to get their sick friend to him for healing.

(This is in the American Standard Version, which is from 1901 and thus free to use. Please feel free to use any translation you like for a more understandable version. The website BibleGateway is very helpful for switching between translations.)

Mark 2:1-5
And when he entered again into Capernaum after some days, it was noised that he was in the house. 2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, no, not even about the door: and he spake the word unto them. 3 And they come, bringing unto him a man sick of the palsy, borne of four. 4 And when they could not come nigh unto him for the crowd, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed whereon the sick of the palsy lay. 5 And Jesus seeing their faith saith unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins are forgiven.

Imagine the scene. Jesus is home, and everybody has found out. He wants some rest, but the crowds won’t let him. They are desperate for his message and his healing.

Now imagine yourself in the scene. You are there, with all those people.

Read the passage out loud, and see what sticks out for you. Does anything resonate with what you are experiencing now? Does anything seem confusing? Ask God to help you understand it.

Do you identify with any of the characters?

Are you Jesus just trying have a moment of peace? He was constantly trying to have some time for himself, and the crowds were forever finding him. We all need time to recharge. Do you feel like you are constantly helping others yet never taking time for yourself? Where do you go to fill your cup?

Are you one of the four friends desperate to take care of your friend who is sick? How do you feel? How long have you been carrying him? We carry our friends in prayer to Jesus. Who is on your prayer list? How long have they been there?

Are you the friend who is on the litter, suffering from palsy? How does the bed feel? Are you anxious because your friends have lifted you up really high? How do you feel about going to see Jesus this way? Excited? Anxious? Embarrassed? Sometimes we need healing so badly that it takes desperate measures to make it happen.

Are you a member of the crowd? Are you right up close, packed in tight, or further towards the edge, where you can’t hear very well? What do you see? What do you hear? Do you want to get further back, or closer?

Are you Jesus’ parents, wondering how his ministry got so big? Did you expect the crowd would be so large? How are you going to pay for the roof to be repaired?

It’s okay to identify with several of the characters.

Think about the roof. Have you ever had to go in an unusual way to seek healing?

Think about the friends. The person who needed healing wasn’t even able to get there. His friends carried him there. Do you have friends like that? Are you that kind of friend?

Notice it was because of the faith of the friends that Jesus healed the sick man. The sick man didn’t have to do anything. How does that make you feel?

Jesus often says “Your faith has healed you.” Think about that. What does that mean to you?

People aren’t pieces – on management

Don’t ask an employee an opinion if they can’t say no. It is a waste of time and fools them into thinking that management cares. When they realize that their answer meant nothing and wasn’t considered, they will feel betrayed. Then they won’t trust anything else that comes from management, and the team isn’t a team anymore.

Sometimes the employee realizes that the only answer that is acceptable is “Yes, that is a great idea!” even if they know it is a terrible one. Sometimes it is simpler to go along and pretend that it is going to work out even if you know from years of experience that it is not. If you argue, you are the squeaky wheel, and you won’t get grease, you’ll get the axe.

Now, nobody wants a curmudgeon. Management doesn’t like an employee who fights against change just because it is change. But we all hate “Yes-men” as well. We hate people who agree to anything just to suck up. So there has to be a middle ground.

Working together on a project as a group is important. We all have to be rowing in the same direction if we want the boat to go straight. We’ll be dead in the water if the people doing the rowing (the workers, not the management) don’t know where they are going. If they feel betrayed and lost enough, they might be actively working against the change. It is up to the leader to earn the trust of the team, rather than just crack the whip.

New managers would do well to take time to get to know the rhythms and patterns of the departments they are assigned to lead. If they have never done the job that their team does, they need to do it. They need to see for themselves what works and what doesn’t. They also need to show the team that they know what they are talking about. No team member trusts a manager who gives directions who doesn’t know how to do their job.

If the manager has done the job that their underlings are doing, but at another building, she needs to come at it with fresh eyes. Different franchises do things different ways, even if they are supposed to do them the same. Sometimes the different ways are better. Sometimes they make more sense for that location. Saying “But we did it this way at my old place” will only get more pushback, because you aren’t there anymore.

One of the fastest ways to ruin trust is to start making big changes right away without consulting the people who have been there a long time. They know from experience what will work and what won’t. They are also the people who are going to have to implement those changes, so they need to be in agreement with them or they won’t get done. If they can’t understand them, they will be unable to do them. If the new changes are impossible to do then they won’t happen either. Management can’t know what won’t work if they don’t allow employees to be honest, or do the same job as the employee. You can’t change a boat’s direction midstream without people falling into the water and drowning.

It is important to remember that people spend more time at work than they do at home. Most of the hours spent at home are asleep, so they don’t count. 40 hours a week with people you didn’t choose to be with is hard. Changes made to the workflow, environment, or polices at the workplace are far-reaching. They affect the morale and psyche of the employees, especially if they have been there a long time. It is the same as going into a person’s house and redecorating without their permission. They won’t know where anything is. They won’t feel settled. They won’t know their place. Then, instead of improving workflow, you’ve just halted it.

Big changes can result in trauma. Trauma occurs when something huge and unexpected happens that feels unfair and unjust. Everything that you knew to be true is now up for grabs. Nothing makes sense. There is a sense of betrayal and loss of trust. People who are experiencing trauma feel like ships lost at sea, with no guidance and no security.

A good manager, like a good captain of a ship, gets everybody working together and in the same direction. It takes time to build up that level of trust. People don’t respect the title or the position. They respect the person – and they can’t respect what they don’t know. They need to know that you are fair, you can be trusted, and you know what you are asking them to do. They need to know that the changes you are asking them to implement are necessary and helpful and not arbitrary. They need to know that their opinion, experience, and input matters. Mostly, they need to be treated as unique and important people, and not cogs in a machine. People aren’t pieces.

Relax. Don’t do it.

I don’t know how to relax. When I take a day off, whether intentionally or unintentionally, I feel like I have wasted a day. If I spend the whole day in my pajamas and I don’t brush my teeth and I don’t go out then I really feel the same as when I did when I was smoking pot. The next day I feel completely behind and that I haven’t done anything useful.

It is like being on a bender. My entropy and lethargy only get stronger and stronger. The next day when I start to pick up the pieces I feel like a big mess. I feel like I’ve just had a huge party in my house where 50 people have shown up and left beer bottles and paper plates everywhere. I feel like my entire job is to clean up after them. But the only problem is there was no them. It was just me.

So I feel guilty taking time off. I feel guilty doing nothing. Perhaps I feel that I don’t deserve it. So I push myself really hard all the time and I double up on my days. I try make sure I have something to do no matter where I am.

Even if I’m watching television I have beads nearby that I can work on and make necklaces. It isn’t like I have commissions or guaranteed sales for them. It isn’t like I’m really making money off this. Yet I still keep busy. When I walk at lunch I write some of this blog using my phone. I don’t look up and see the beauty that is around me.

I’m always doing something. Rarely am I just being. I know that if I do too much I’m going to wear myself out. My desire to not be wasteful of my time will end up wasting my life. I’ll wear myself out and have nothing left.

Even now I’m on the way to an appointment and I’m dictating this into my phone. That way I can copy and paste it later into my blog. It’s a little pathological. The appointment is with a spiritual director. Spiritual directors are concerned with your relationship with God. The right now I’m concerned with my own relationship with myself.

Just like the Sabbath, perhaps I need to schedule my unscheduled time. God knew how busy we’d get, and mandated rest for us. So I need to start seeing rest as holy.

I need to start seeing quiet time as not wasted time. I think the only way for me to do that is to plan it, rather than just let it happen. If I prepare for it by doing my morning routine and making sure I’m caught up on my chores, I won’t feel so far behind when I “return” from my “time off”. Retreats don’t have to be held at a separate location. They can occur in the living room or back yard.

And then again, I need to address why I feel that I have to do it all. How much of that comes from when my parents died, and I had to handle the whole estate by myself? I had to take care of the house sale too, and prepare to move. I had help with the heavy lifting from friends, but all the organization and legal stuff I had to do on my own. My brother, older and in real estate, was not only not helpful, he had proven how untrustworthy he was with other similar situations. I could have let him “help” me and I would have lost more than money in the deal. I’ve seen his version of ethics and morals.

I need to remember that isn’t how everyone acts. I need to remember that bad people aren’t necessarily patterns for all people. I’ve overtrusted in the past and been very hurt. People I should have been able to trust, best friends, have betrayed me and excluded me. I have a hard time trusting and feeling safe around most people. Their ways are not my ways.

I’ve recently learned that feeling betrayed and losing trust are all part of trauma. What you expect to be solid and true turns out to be null and void. I also know that not processing difficult feelings is dangerous. Perhaps that is part of why I fall into pits of “nothingness” and unintentional days off. Perhaps the trauma of my childhood and the recent chaos at work are all connected.

Poem – Women are not things.

Women are people first.
We are not things.
We are not toys or tools.
We aren’t something to use.
We do not exist for your pleasure or fantasies.

Our bodies are just the vehicles our souls ride in.

We do not care if our bodies are
too tall,
too short,
too fat,
too bony
for you.

We do not care if our hair is
too dark,
too straight,
too kinky
for you.

We aren’t for you, you see.
We are for ourselves,
first and foremost.

We are our own guardians,
our own nurturers,
our own teachers.

We do not define
ourselves
in relationship
to you.

We do not need your permission
to vote,
to drive,
to work,
to feel.

We do not need your permission
to be,
period.

We are not
objects to be objectified,
possessions to be possessed,
or fantasies to be fulfilled.

We are people, pure and simple,
and if you don’t
start treating
us
like that
then you are missing out
on half
the human race.

Stop trying to
get our numbers
and
get into our pants.

Start trying to
know us
as fellow travelers
on this Earth,
at this time,
with you.

Compassion fatigue and the yetzer hara

Compassion fatigue is a real thing. It is devastating and results in many good people giving up. We forget to take time for ourselves to heal. We give and give and give until we have nothing left for ourselves. We feel that our work is never done.

This is the work of the yetzer hara, the Jewish idea of the “evil inclination”. It says that we have to do it all and save everybody. It says that if we lose one, we’ve failed completely. It says why even try if we can’t fix everybody?

But we don’t fix anybody. We are there to help, and they have to want it. They have to do the real work.

The longstanding idea is that a person has to hit rock bottom to get help, and that they have to ask for it. They have to bring themselves to treatment – it can’t be forced on them.

In a way, this is frustrating. We don’t wait to do CPR on a person who has a heart attack. We don’t ask a drowning person if they want to be rescued. We just do it. We don’t stop first and get them to sign a consent form.

But mental health, often intermingled with substance abuse, is different. To be truly mentally healthy requires not just a change in mindset, but a change in lifestyle. Everything has to shift to keep the process going correctly.

Thus it isn’t up to the caregiver or the facilitator or the mental health provider to “make” the person well. It is up to her or him to keep the ball rolling. The caregiver shows the path – the client has to walk on it.

They have to take their medicine. They have to go to their doctor’s appointments. They have to reduce stress. They have to eat well. They have to exercise daily. They have to get enough sleep. They have to do all the little things that add up to the big thing, the only thing – being stable and sober and well. Balance is hard to achieve. It takes a lot of work.

Getting mentally healthy isn’t like buying a new car. You want to get to “health” and you are tired of walking there. So you want to make a quick change and get there the fast way. You buy a new car and fill it up with gas. But when you get there that way, you still don’t know how to really get there on your own.

It is more like buying a piece of the car, a day at a time. Every day you work closer to the goal. Eventually you have enough pieces that you are able to learn how to put it together. Then you have to get lessons on how to drive it. Then you practice. Finally, you can do it.

It takes years, but all that hard work means that you know how to do this on your own. It means that when the car breaks down, you know how to put it back together. It means you know where the pieces come from. You learn that you have to maintain that car every day or it will break down.

You can’t be driven to mental health. You have to get there on your own.

It should be the goal of the mental health provider to show the client what pieces will work, how to maintain them, and how to use them. They aren’t there to drive the client but to teach them how to drive themselves.

Thus – don’t feel guilty if a person seems stuck on the road. They have to do the work. They have to want to get better. It seems frustrating to watch them struggle, but that struggle is what forces them to make a decision. Work on getting healthy, or go the easy route and stay sick? Pain is a strong motivator to make better decisions.

It is like a baby bird. If you help it get out of its shell, it won’t have built up the muscles to survive. It can’t get help flying either – it has to be strong enough to fly on its own. If you cheat it of the work, it will fail.

Meanwhile, as a caregiver, you have to take extra care of yourself. Don’t get pulled under by the drowning people. Take extra time for yourself. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t. Focus on your successes. And remember, sometimes you can’t see results right away. Sometimes the result, the reward, of your hard work will “bloom” later, in a way you’ll never see. Trust the process.