Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Silence is Golden

I've been thinking about a recent chat with a friend; a conversation I would dearly love to do-over. My friend needed to share some tough news and  her feelings; but I could not still my brain, which was hard at work, searching for something that might help and I'm afraid my words followed not long after it. My lack of inner peacefulness filled the air with unease; a faint heaviness like cheap perfume. 

There are many bad habits in listening and I'm thankful that I was only aware of one biggie at work in that conversation--feeling compelled to help by searching for a solution. Awareness is the starting point for correction. 

Fortunately there are lots of tips available on being a better listener. Huff Post Healthy Living, for instance has a good article on the topic: 9 Things Good Listeners Do Differently 

Image result for good listenerOf the 9 things discussed in the article, the one I want to work on is posing significant questions to draw out more information.  I want to replace thinking about solutions with asking questions to help me understand the situation better. I'm not good at this now, but I have hope.

One of the greatest gifts we can give to another is to simply listen; be a sounding board; or, as someone else put it recently: Help someone discover their own heart, or find God's purpose. I'd love to be "that" person. 
Image result for good listener

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Lessons Learned

There's an ancient psalm in which an Israelite king named David gives praise to God for being "fearfully and wonderfully made." How true! Humans are complex and amazing on all kinds of levels.

One thing I thank God for is that we can continually learn, develop, and improve as human beings! Proverbs 16:31 says: " Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness.

We don't come into the world fully equipped with wisdom and all the "Fruits of the Spirit" installed at the start. Fruit by its very nature takes time to grow and sometimes longer than it needs to, due to our own lack of cooperation. This isn't edible fruit I'm writing of, but the qualities that result from spending time with God, soaking in scripture so that it speaks to us and letting his presence transform us so that we reflect his character. The fruit of the Spirit is: Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.

Insights from other sources also helped me overcome personal blind spots and self defeating habits. It wasn't exactly the same as developing the fruit of the spirit, but it helped to learn ways of being with others that are more functional. I have learned:

1) To speak with confidence and clarity when stating an opinion or making a request.
Bad habit demolished: Diminishing the power and impact of my words by subconsciously seeding my sentences with mitigation, modifiers, and minimizing my needs, resulting in a lack of straightforwardness and unclear messaging. For example, in my "asks" of others, I often used to embed a "no" option even while making the request! :) 

This is an unhelpful trait, which I suspect women are more prone to; in part a defense mechanism--a way of avoiding the anticipated discomfort of rejection by doing the rejection myself in advance. It was efficient but counter productive.

I realize now that I won't melt or crumble if someone says "no," or doesn't agree with me. I am content to focus on stating my viewpoint with clarity, confidence and kindness. I give credit to author Katie Funk Wiebe for this epiphany, as I wrote in more detail in a blog post called Weasel Words

2) Learning about something called the Fundamental Attribution Error, and understanding how it was at play in my thinking. In the article I linked to above, a commenter said it could also be called the fundamental "assumption" error. Either way, once I was aware, I could stop it. 

Bad habit (almost) demolished: Trying to figure out the intent of someone else's actions.

Result: A lighter load! I try not to go there anymore and I understand that I cannot know the "why" of someone's actions unless I ask, and listen with open ears and heart. I have enough trouble understanding my own intentions let alone nailing anyone else's accurately. I learned that we tend to judge our own actions by our circumstances, thereby giving ourselves grace, whereas we judge the actions of others by what we perceive to be their intent or character, rather than the circumstances they may be in.

3) Learning about "Projection" and how, through my own conflicted emotions or anxiety, I can unwittingly project onto others those very feelings and emotions. Kind of like a paint can tipping over and spilling onto poor innocent people in my vicinity.

Bad habit demolished (well, "greatly lessened" is more honest:) Judgement and criticism. 

Result: I can work through my own anxiety through self awareness and breathing. I feel more at peace with myself and others.

So grateful for these life lessons. Recording them here was good for me, and I  hope may help someone else coming across them.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Gift

It's four years, although it seems so much longer, since a trip to England that Paul and I took, in January 2012. Although we didn't know it at the time, those two weeks were my goodbye on earth to my own Mum, and in retrospect, I can see how God gave us precious moments that I can look back on as a very special gift. 9 years earlier Mum had a stroke from which she recovered physically enough to live at home with supports, but not her ability to read, write, or find the words she needed to express herself. She bore this with good humour and pragmatism, and we loved her so much for who she was in this period of her life; I share this so that you'll know how much each word that she spoke meant. I wanted to share a few memories from that time, which I am so grateful to have recorded here. This is from January 24, 2012.

Prayer: it is our nightly ritual; between the carers who come from Helping Hands to help Mum to bed, and Rob, who comes downstairs to put in eye drops and administer her inhaler; all of us ministering care in different ways.

It was she who first taught me how to pray. And yet now, here I am beside her bed, and she ready for sleep first, each evening, at an hour that seems so early, but in sync with the rest of the elderly safely tucked in around the village every night.

We travel far and wide in our prayers; I saying the words, but she with me in every syllable, every name named. We pray showers of blessings on Rob for the blessing he is to Mum. He should be laden down by riches of love and warmth and health and strength if God answers even a fraction of our prayers.

We cover family here, one by one; and those in Canada, and special needs of which we are aware. And at the end each night, Mum, holding my hands, gives a squeeze and smiles with eyes and lips her sweet, "Amen."

One thing I missed each night--her prayers, for me. Selfish though it felt to even think of such a thing, in my deepest heart lived a wistful little girl who missed her mother's prayers.

But tonight at our "Amen," she squeezes my hand and says, "I must pray--for you."

I smile my overflowing gratitude; we close our eyes again, hands clasped; I wait; she tries; clear words won't come, but we both know, in the quiet God hears the heart.  Again we squeeze and say, "Amen," with smiles.

And she says with eyes of blazing love that speak more eloquently than the loveliest of words: "Every night, after we pray, I pray for you...."

Thursday, January 07, 2016

The Voice

This photograph with our children, Peter and Brenda, was taken on their grandmother's 85th birthday, almost 5 years ago. On that day in June 1985, the church basement was filled with a crowd of her descendants: five children and their spouses, and many grandchildren with their spouses, and great grandchildren. 

In a few months she'll be 90 and she is amazed that she has arrived at this great number of years. In her heart and mind it is so easy to slip back to a time that seems like only yesterday; her girlhood. Easier often, than it is to remember yesterday.

Brenda Sheppard was a pretty, spirited 15 year old girl, with auburn hair and laughing blue eyes in 1941.  She couldn't wait to leave school and get on with life. She would have loved to go into market gardening, putting into practice all that she had learned from her father, an engineer with British Rail. He grew prize vegetables in his glass houses and allotments when he wasn't working. But such opportunities didn't exist for a young girl in the 1940's. 

They lived in Eastleigh, Hampshire, between Winchester and Southampton. In 1941, the country was at war with Germany. The signs at railway stations were taken down to disorient any potential invaders and had that effect on many of the British public too, if they weren't quite sure where they were going. Being so close to the south coast of England, air raid shelters called Anderson Shelters made out of corrugated metal, were issued, to be erected in back gardens.

While Brenda didn't go into market gardening, she was happy to get a job in Swaythling a suburb of Southampton, about 3 miles from Eastleigh, working in a private home during the day, cleaning and preparing meals, while the family ran their business. She had freedom and responsibility and enjoyed her work.

At the end of the day she would get on her bicycle and ride home, pedaling hard until she reached the curb outside her house, where she would lift up the front tire and then knock the latch of the gate open without stopping, and ride down the garden path. 

It was on one of these days that an air raid siren sounded as she was riding home. Her heart pounded in her ears as she pedaled as hard as she could to get home, the wind catching her hair as she rode down already deserted streets.

She was almost home, about to lift up her tire in the movement that was so automatic, when she heard a voice say "Stop!" so urgently that she pulled up and braked right away. But when she looked to see who it was, there was not a soul around. There was a sudden loud, shuddering clang, as a large piece of shrapnel whizzed through the air and through the spokes of her bicycle wheel, bending them apart, and she realized that if she hadn't stopped when she did, the shrapnel would have hit her.

For years the piece of shrapnel was kept on a mantle piece, a reminder of a miracle. Along the way, in one of many moves the shrapnel was lost...but to Brenda, the memory of the day she heard and heeded God's voice is as clear as if it were yesterday.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Visits with Mum

2015 was a plunge into an ocean of change. At the beginning of August I retired from a career I had loved and worked at for almost 32 years. The months that followed went by fast as I transitioned into a new life with both the treasured gift and responsibility, of time.

The very first Sunday of my retirement, as I drove out of the church parking lot, I decided to drop in on my mother-in-law, who at 89 finds that due to some unpredictable health concerns, watching church on TV works best for her these days. That Sunday afternoon I found her in her backyard sitting on a garden swing.

I joined her on the swing, and, for the next hour or so, I reveled in the freedom of no pressure to rush through the moment and the pleasure of her company. After all, I had tomorrow to do everything that needed doing; I had no pressing  "to do" list running interference in the back of my mind! 

In September I began meeting two friends for a Wednesday morning walk in the conservation area near her house, and fell quite naturally into a pattern of picking up a steeped tea at Tim's and dropping in for a visit with Mum afterwards.

Over tea we commiserate on, and laugh at, the various indignities of aging; and I listen as she shares memories from the past, so aware of the treasure that these moments are. Often I scramble for paper and pen so that I can record a story correctly; stories of her childhood and growing up during the second World War.

It is almost 30 years since she was widowed, losing Paul's father to cancer when he was only 62. In this photo of them together, her dark auburn hair seems to fit with her spunky and determined personality. She may have been a pastor's wife, but she was not beyond throwing a boot at a bullying person who worked in the office of the shoe factory she worked in when they first came to Canada, a tale she tells with a sense of "justice served," and laughter at the memory of the approval of her fellow workers and her foreman's shocked, "Ohhh, Brenda."

I told one of her stories to my friend Susan, who told it to her Sunday School class. The children could hardly believe that it had happened to "the lady with the walker," that they see sometimes on Sunday mornings. That's the story I will write next! :)

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Morning Popcorn

Ballpark Popcorn CrunchHey, when God is making something clear, it is exciting how his Word pops, like kernels of popcorn blasting from hard nuggets to delicious edible morsels. 

I read one of my favourite Bible chapters this morning: the book of Colossians, chapter 3, and some of the verses, when I read them in the light of what I shared in my last blog post, The Heavy Weight of Words, had deeper significance than ever.

Think about the agency of the Enemy of God to divide, and his propensity for the use of words to do so, perverting the gift that sets us apart from all the other wonderfully created beings on this planet. See how some of the verses from the passage in Colossians emphasize that fact in describing his influence, to which humans are all too receptive. Look at the contrast with the character of God, with which Paul the apostle, admonishes us to "clothe" ourselves.
Colossians 3:8-12New International Version (NIV)But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility,gentleness and patience.New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
We are to "take off" the clothing--and nature of the Enemy--which is so natural to our "old selves" (verses 8 & 9,) and "put on" a new, regenerated self, the image of Christ (verse 10.)

And I love verse 11, which counters division and seeing people different to ourselves as "the other."

To sum it all up, verse 14, the final perfect piece of clothing:

Colossians 3:14New International Version (NIV)14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

A small serving of popcorn from me this morning. :)

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Heavy Weight of Words

 I was reading Life of the Beloved by Henri J.M. Nouwen recently, and in a chapter titled "Living as the Beloved," he wrote these lines, which I thought about for days afterwards, and am still pondering:
"The forces of darkness are the forces that split, divide and set in opposition. The forces of light unite. Literally, the word 'diabolic' means dividing. The demon divides; the Spirit unites."

I was telling a friend about this over lunch one day this week, someone who is also a lover of words. We sat in the front window of a cafe, overlooking the main street of a town decorated for Christmas, and I pulled out my e-reader to look up the gospel of John, chapter 17, verses 20-23 , the prayer of Jesus, which suddenly hit me as the antithesis of "diabolic" in the way it focuses on "being one."

Yesterday, curious to learn more, I looked up the word "diabolic" for myself and found this, under the heading "etymology of devil." 

Origin of devil
The word devil comes from the Latin diabolus (devil)...from the verb diaballo (to insinuate things (against sb), put in a bad light, slander, calumniate...

 Isn't this fascinating, when thinking of the devil's first mention, in the book of Genesis, chapter 3? The definition of his name is personified by the record of this creature's words, which cast doubt and insinuated bad intent from the start.

Another of his titles is Father of Lies. His agenda seems often to make use of words to divide, accuse and cause disunity. Yet Jesus is The Word, and his name is Faithful and True.

This is why one of the seven things that are detestable to God, listed in Proverbs 6:16-19, is "a person who stirs up conflict in the community."

Being reminded of the great gift that words are, and how seriously God takes the way in which they are used, sensitizes me in a good way to guard my heart first and foremost; because it is where our words flow from; and then my words.

Years ago I memorized some really good verses from Ephesians. They came to mind again as I thought about all of this. I know I benefit from remembering them, may it be so for others:
Ephesians 4:29-31
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others upaccording to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.