What Will We Do in Our Tomorrows?

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Sunday I celebrated the Christian religious holiday of Easter. This is our most important religious day – the foundation of our faith. What I ponder today, one of the tomorrows after Easter,  is how does my belief in the death of Jesus for my sins and His resurrection to sit on the right side of God impact how I choose to live in my tomorrows?

What I ponder today should be relevant for all faiths. Passover will be celebrated in April by those who practice the Jewish faith and I would be interested in knowing what the celebration of God freeing the Jews from bondage in Egypt means for their life choices during  their tomorrows. I’m not familiar with the faith defining events of Islam – maybe some of my Muslim readers will tell my what they are. And whatever they are, do they make a difference in who you are and how you choose to live your life? Not everyone believes in a big-G but they still have little-g gods. No matter who this god is (maybe money, status, fame, power) or where this god exists (nature, humans), what does it mean for how you chart your future and what will be said of you when you leave this existence. Will you be remembered as a good person? Will you leave your community a better place?

I am pondering these questions. Sometimes my environment brings out the worst in me. As JB and I are dealing with several stressful circumstances, like condo politics and U.S. politics and church politics, we can sometimes feel ourselves wanting to get revenge. Sometimes we want to see bad things happen to people we perceive as bad. Sometimes we have a hard time figuring out who is the bad guy and who isn’t and sometimes we come across people who seem just plain evil. Sometimes they seem misguided because they don’t think like me and I know I’m right – right?

JB and I were driving from an Easter service that nurtured our spiritual growth to our usual breakfast at Blueberries and JB said he had made a decision. He said that he has decided that he is not going to let the bad behavior of the people around us impact on who he is as a person. He is going to strive to be the best person he can possibly be (and he is a really good person). I am with him all the way.

We had been struggling with how to be good people. When one or the other had slipped into fantasies of how to get even, of the bad things we would like to do to bad people, the other would act as a balance, a voice of kindness. Maybe speaking our fantasies was a way of purging the anger from our bodies, although I still kicked a fallen pine cone onto their side of the yard. That will show them!

We will continue to be kind and friendly to those who do wrong, but will not allow them to enter our lives enough to influence us to do wrong. We will live to be an example of what is good and right and just. We will surround ourselves with what is nurturing to our kinder, gentler side, like good people, wholesome entertainment and healthy food. We will seek out the beauty of the world and rejoice in it. Our faith has taught us that we should allow the love and grace of our God to shine through us. We believe that the death of Jesus gives us a new beginning so we can shine into all of our tomorrows. And we are confident that God will walk beside us to help us.

And what comes to mind is the commandment that we share with our Jewish friends – from Micah in the Old Testament of the Bible:

“He has shown you, oh [people], what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  (New International Version)

No matter what God we believe in or where we look to for the values that shape our choices, I think that these words would serve us well as we come around the table to solve our world’s problems and live in peace with our neighbors.

(This post is linked to the WordPress’s  The Daily Post with the prompt of Perspective. Check out Ben’s interesting post.)

Time of Reflection: Gentleness

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I need to reflect on “gentleness” today, the next to the last gift of the spirit. I forgot that I hadn’t finished them because I have had too many bad-body-days since I returned to Michigan. I’ve been on edge, and my edges are pretty sharp. If you want the real scoop, just ask JB. I get no awards for gentleness this week.

I think of myself as a gentle person; I abhor war and I don’t think I’ve ever been in a physical fight. A friend told me, just this week, that I give the best hugs. JB likes the way I gently rub his back when we are settling in for a night’s rest. But I can also be so impatient, and my words can cut and sting.

This morning I woke up stiff and achy and tired and very discouraged. I had things I wanted to do, nothing urgent, fun things but my energy level has been very low. I’m also struggling through some grief because my sister and mother won’t be at our 50th anniversary party this summer. JB has been trying to help; he is so sweet about that. But sometimes he can’t help or, like this morning, helping me would take more work on my part. I got snarky, I got mean, he was hurt, his hurt turned to anger, I felt like shit – said I was sorry, he was still angry, I got hurt, I got angry, doors slammed, the silence was deafening, I cried.

I know you understand, you have danced this dance. The song may have been a little different and the steps varied, but the outcome is the same. There were opportunities for gentleness but neither one of us was big enough to stop the dance. I started it, but either of us could have stepped away from our self-righteous strut.

I don’t like the part of me that lashes out and becomes sarcastic. I can explain why and justify my actions, when I get like this, but this isn’t the way I want to be. I would never treat strangers like this. When I have been at my worst, I have felt God’s gentle love. I want to be this same kind of gentle when I am threatened or hurt by those I love; I want to use a gentle tone, gentle words, gentle understanding, gentle listening.

I could bore you with long, theoretical descriptions of the ongoing developmental tensions of forming our sense of self while being in a relationship. I have studied this – a lot. Sometime, however, knowing in our rational part doesn’t help us in our emotional part. Sometimes understanding isn’t enough when what we need to do is practice new behaviors.

As I was lying on the sofa crying tonight, JB sat next to me and very gently wiped away my tears. We talked about what we could do differently, because we know there will be a next time. We have had 50 years of next times. Our episodes have been getting gentler because we dedicated ourselves to loving the other, and love is kind and gentle. Besides, we have to make it work because this morning I mailed the invitations for our party.

Tonight, I wish you gentleness in all your interactions. Thank you, JB, for your gentleness.

Time of Reflection: Faithfulness

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One of the rewards of a long relationship fraught with trials and tribulations, is a quiet, comforting trust – a faithfulness that just is. This is what I want to say, but it is a lie, or more accurately a partial truth. Along with the trials and tribulations, I need to include a willingness to walk back into the war zone with an unshakable desire to make the relationship work. It required that one of us, but over time both of us, be willing to stop spewing hurtful comments, to ask what the other needs, and listen. It required that both of us be willing to say I’m sorry more than we wanted to, and to look directly into frightened eyes to share forgiving grace and peace.

We didn’t enter our relationship knowing how to do this, we were just leaving our teens, we had to learn. We had to learn the kind of faithfulness that is more complex and takes more work than just not having sex with someone else. This is the kind of faithfulness that allows me to trust that J really wants to give me the emotional and physical things I need to grow, develop, and be at my best. It requires that I be diligent about what I say and do, so he will also trust that I want the same for him. This faithfulness is warm and comforting, but continues to take a lot of work – it can feel fragile at times.

The Christian ceremonies of Easter are over and life returns to our normal routines. All faiths and belief systems need ceremonies and rituals to remind us of why we remain faithful; but what does faithfulness look like in the routines of our non-ceremonial days. This is a question I ponder a lot. There is a part of me that feels secure in my faithfulness to the God I believe in; but I also question if I do enough. I have read and listened to many who have more theological knowledge, and my acts of faithfulness don’t align with how they suggest I demonstrate faithfulness. I worry that I don’t do enough.

Hidden Lakes Garden, Spring 2013

Hidden Lakes Garden, Spring 2013

Is it enough for me to move through my days with the calm assurance that all is right within our relationship; God and I, J and I? Do we need to have scheduled meetings to make sure we are hearing each other, or can I trust that we are – until an edginess tells me we aren’t? Can I trust that we love each other until an uneasiness requires I ask? Can I trust that my needs will be met if I am wise enough to recognize the gifts? Do I need to give up the quiet comfort of being together, long times of hearing even when words aren’t spoken?

Hidden Lake Gardens, Spring, 2013

Hidden Lake Gardens, Spring, 2013

My faithfulness to God and my faithfulness to J developed side by side. A crucial element seems to be knowing that the faithfulness of the God I believe in is different, is special. I needed to learn and trust that the faithfulness of God is pure and total and the logical conclusion is that ultimately my learning about faithfulness, about love, has come from my God. Because I know this, J & I can continue to practice this faithfulness together in our relationship. This faithfulness can spread into our world. I experience comfort and confidence in this.

Maybe, just maybe, I can trust that it is working. And if it is working, I don’t need to fix it. When it needs fixing, I will attend to it. Feels like faithfulness to me. And my God smiles.

Thank you to Charlie for planting the seed of inspiration that grew into this reflection. You can read the post that did it by visiting his blog Read Between the Minds. He is a very talented poet who shakes up my mind on a regular basis.

 

Time of Reflection: Goodness

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Hear no evil; speak no evil; see no evil.

Last week I reflected on kindness, and as I move to my reflection on goodness, I need to identify how they are different. Both are inner qualities, a part of our character and personality; but both are also woven into our relationships. Is kindness balanced more towards the outward relationships and goodness more toward the inner landscape?

Christians are told that when we allow the Holy Spirit to enter into us, we will be filled with goodness. What does it feel like to be filled with goodness? As with many of life’s riddles and complexities, I find if I turn the question around, search for understanding from another perspective, I gain clarity.

I can definitely tell when I’m not filled with goodness. I feel edgy-mean inside, like there are dark grey storm clouds rolling around. This edginess is hard to contain, spilling out in very subtle ways, with a dull sharpness. I can wound people while laughing. My introversion becomes a cold shoulder or neglect or crossing the street to avoid speaking.

As I move around those parts of my mind where goodness is absent, I discover memories of shame. Does the lack of goodness come from shame? In my distant past I carried some heavy burdens of shame, formed when I was too young to realize that acts committed against me didn’t make me ugly. But shame is very controlling and doesn’t like being exposed. It is so much easier to live our controlled, hidden lives that keeps others at a distance than to risk having them see our ugliness, our brokenness, our shame.

Christian doctrine tells me that Jesus died so I don’t have to carry shame. But knowing this in my head doesn’t always help my emotional understanding. The paradox is that it was people who looked into my eyes, who didn’t care what they saw, who only wanted to love me… they were the ones who taught me how to face my shame and love myself. I didn’t want these people to see the damaged me, but they were the ones who taught me that forgiveness is possible, both of self and others. They helped me shed the cloak of shame. It was only as the shame dissipated and I was able to hold my head high that I began to feel goodness warm my soul. Before that I had to pretend goodness, hold a mask of goodness over the cloak of shame. Real goodness is light and almost effortless.

Hear no Evil:

I enjoy this real goodness that resides within me, but I have to guard and protect it so it doesn’t become tainted. I have to be careful of what I listen to. If I listen to hatred I become sour; I begin to hate the spewers of hate; I become like them. Hearing beauty restores my sense of goodness – the sounds of birds and waves, of laughter and truth, of lilting music and prose. I experience goodness when I hear passionate words spoken from truth and with hope, when I hear tears shed as a shared ceremony of healing.

Speak no Evil:

I must also guard against speaking evil. Goodness cannot thrive when I lead others down false paths with words of deception, when my words bring shame or loss of hope. Sometimes we see truth and the truth isn’t pretty, is even ugly, and we have to speak out. Speaking truth can be softened, however, with love and caring, making it easier for others to hear these truths. I spend my time with people who seek goodness and try to speak truths. J is a good man, and he frequently calls me out when my speaking is evil. I trust him, I listen and appreciate his way of hushing my destructive voice and keeping evil from creeping into our lives.

See no Evil:

How can I see no evil when there is evil around me? When do I stick my head in the sand and when do I look into the eyes of evil? Do I need to protect myself from seeing evil so my goodness can flourish? I was a therapist in another lifetime so I saw a lot of evil that resulted in human suffering. I chose to see this, but refuse to see movies that are brutal. I know how to respond to human suffering without letting it pull me down; I don’t know how to watch movie brutality without feeling brutal. I need to see evil that is close to home, but become overwhelmed when I see too much evil that is too far away. When I see too much evil, I begin to shut down to protect myself from the pain of helpless. I am thankful for my capacity to not see more than I am able to cope with, but sometimes not seeing erodes the goodness within me. I need to see and name evil when I have the capacity to speak against it, to heal it. It seems like my criterion for what I allow myself to see is if, through seeing, I find some redemptive goodness and hope.

My wish for you, on this Good Friday, is that you continue on your journey to goodness. It is a personal journey that takes courage, the courage to face your private demons that block the way. It takes time, energy and thought, and a willingness to expose the secrets hidden under layers of false beliefs. It requires a trust in God and a few good people who can hold your hand along the way. And I hope you will take hold of someone else’s hand, someone who needs you, so they can find their own spirit of goodness by experiencing your goodness.

 

Time of Reflection: Kindness

Big Cypress National Preserve, Loop Road, Florida

Big Cypress National Preserve, Loop Road, Florida

I started this series of self-reflections at the beginning of Lent – the time in the Christian calendar leading up to Easter. I am structuring my reflection on the Fruit of the Spirit: Love Peace Joy Patience Goodness Faithfulness Gentleness Self-Control… and this post on Kindness.

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My motivation was somewhat foggy, in the beginning, but I seem to be discovering my underlying need as I proceed on my journey. I will pass over the threshold into my 8th decade in August. The something-0 birthdays, like 70, usually get me thinking about what I want to do with my life as I become a decade older, like the next decade after 69. More than the other shifts to previous decades, I seem to be thinking about what I want to be like instead of what I want to do in the future. I believe I started down this path of reflection as a way to define the kind of person I want to be, that is pleasing to God, as I transition into old age.

I found a definition of kindness: being friendly, generous, and considerate. As a child I wanted to be kind and good, but I was born an introvert and introverts have a hard time with friendly. At school I always felt like I was on the edge of the “friend’s circle” – by choice. As a young adult I was told several times that people thought I was arrogant, when they first met me, but once they got to know me I was really friendly.

Great Egret nesting. Venice Rookery, Florida

Great Egret nesting. Venice Rookery, Florida

A few years ago I decided I needed to be more friendly. I set the goal of learning how to do small talk – by forcing myself to talk with people when waiting in line at Polly’s, our local grocery. It worked; I actually enjoy these shared smiles, comments, laughter. Maybe this can be my gift of kindness to people who are in mind-numbing jobs, or whose work involves being harassed and berated, or who are detached because of the stress of a too-busy day. Maybe kindness is acknowledging all those invisible people I encounter as I move through my world.

The considerate part of kindness seems a lot like “playing nice.” The sentence I wanted to write next involved pointing fingers at all of you who don’t play nice; but probably anyone who reads my blog is nice. But consideration does seem to be a two-way street. I have had a hard time being assertive with people who are not considerate of me, when I feel like I’m doing all the giving. I even had a student, on a course evaluation, tell me to stop being so nice.

This is about the kindness in relationships, about the give and take that is needed. J & I weren’t always considerate of each other – especially when maintaining our relationship and keeping our household afloat required a whole lot more giving than taking. As I look back, it seems like we became snarky when there was more work than the two of us could accomplish, and neither of us felt appreciated. Both of us were giving a lot, but neither of us seemed able to recognize the different currencies we used. I didn’t recognize how stressful it was for J to be the only provider, and he didn’t seem to appreciated how hard I worked to care for our home and children. We weren’t always considerate of each other – and sometimes we didn’t play nice.

Anhinga caring for chicks. Venice Rookery

Anhinga caring for chicks. Venice Rookery

Life is easier now that we are both retired – from paid work and child rearing. However, we still have to consider the needs of the other while taking care of our own needs. We have learned to speak up, with honesty and compassion. Most important, we have learned to let the other know when s/he is being naughty – with humor and gentleness instead of meanness.

Our greatest challenge now is being considerate of the physical changes that are taking place in our aging bodies. We remember when we were young and swift and agile and firm and slim and constantly horny. We remember when we could remember things. Now we need to be considerate of how the bodies we are living in don’t allow us to do all that we used to do. We are gentle with each other, and ourselves, because we understand that the changes taking place are inevitable and scary.

Black Vultures watching us from high in a tree. Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Black Vultures watching us from high in a tree. Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Generosity is the last part of the definition of kindness. J & I engage in playful games around being generous – every time we decide on the tip after a meal out. J says I’m too generous, and I gently prod him to pull out more from his wallet. I say he is too generous in always grabbing the check instead of letting everyone pay for their own meal.

There are many ways of being generous but money is such a big issue in families. We have always pooled our money and have been very considerate of family needs over our personal needs. Now, J & I feel a strong need to support and take care of young people who are working hard to make it – struggling like we struggled. We struggle with how much to help.

Looking into our crystal ball.

Looking into our crystal ball.

Our issue is that we need to make sure we have enough money to support ourselves until we die. It is a big adjustment when employment stops, when we can no longer say we will work a little harder to make a little more. We now have to rely on what we have – the income from our investments and the money we saved. We don’t know how long we will live and what healthcare costs we will incur. I would love to give it all away but that doesn’t seem responsible. J agrees. We are learning new ways of understanding generosity, together and with kindness.

I have spent a good deal of time reflecting on kindness, how to be friendly, courteous, and generous; and this is what I now understand:

When kindness is a part of my spirit, from God, there are no random acts; kindness is evident in everything I do.