Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Turn The Light On - Slowly!!!

People feel strongly about different topics and issues. Some topics have to do with religion, others may be about politics, some bring up ideas of animals and how they should be treated, while still others will discuss all kinds of human rights.  Of course, this list could go on and on and on and, well, you get the idea.

There was a time in my life when I didn't speak out on issues. I figured that people had a right to feel what they felt for whatever reasons that they felt that way and it wasn't my place to shake that up.  Also, I feel incredibly uncomfortable with conflict and, therefore, I will generally stay as far away from any kind of conversation that may center on differing opinions.

Growing up, my family wasn't too keen on debating issues. Someone was right. Someone was wrong. Often, whoever spoke the loudest or most sarcastically won the argument. Looking back, I'm not sure what exactly was "won" and so very much was lost. Even today, many topics cannot be discussed in my family because differing opinions can't seem to be discussed, appreciation and tolerance can't be given to the other "side".  What a shame that is for us all.

My thoughts on some issues have changed throughout the years.  And, I would guess, that some issues I feel a certain way about now may also change as the years continue to pass.  What has made the difference?  Knowledge.  Openness.  Delivery.

Knowledge.  You only know what you know.  If you fail to seek out new information then you are left primarily in one spot with no real room to grow, stretch, and expand.  Many of my opinions changed or became stronger based on information that I would get from other people, from reading, from living. 

Openness.  If you aren't open to opposing viewpoints or ideas then how will you ever learn the merit of what is being shared?  If you aren't challenged in what you think then how do you know how it balances up against what other people think?  Your beliefs may be bolstered by what you hear or a seed may be planted that will grow and allow you to change the way you think.  If you aren't open, think of all you may miss out on in the world.

Delivery.  This is critical.  How is the message delivered?  It is so vitally important that we meet people where they are with kindness and love and tolerance.  Our message will be lost if we don't do that.  Who is our audience?  The message will not be received if you aren't delivering it to who it needs to reach.  This makes me think of someone who is in a dark room.  Maybe you have an idea or thought you want to share with them.  If they are in a dark room it can be startling to just throw the door open and shine a bright light on them.  Sometimes we need to crack open the door and put the lights up slowly.

There have been many instances I have dug my heals in on something I thought because I wasn't open, didn't appreciate the delivery, and, therefore, was not open to new knowledge.  For example, I remember a very well meaning faith filled friend who was sharing the benefits of a certain devotion of our faith.  At the time, she was so in my face and telling me with great insistence that I must do this devotion.  I was so turned off I went home and put the information that was given out of my mind.  As the years went by and I learned more about this fabulous devotion through other avenues, I opened my heart and it is now a devotion which I dearly love.  The initial delivery, unfortunately, caused me to take much longer to come around to the beauty of this prayer.

Another dear friend just recently shared her experience with a pro-life advocate. As she was exiting the expressway with her family she came to a red light where someone was standing with a large image of an aborted baby.  When she told the gentlemen that she had children in the car, he moved forward and thrust the image closer to the family.  He had no idea if this family was pro-life or pro-choice, yet he pushed this image into the children's minds. What a sad breakdown in what could have been a positive message for protecting life.

The scenario with my friend's family saddens me for many reasons.  The delivery was all wrong.  Who is this man's audience?  Are these images for children to see?  I would say no. Who was this man's target?  Does he think that someone will be open to his message if they feel violated?  Maybe it would indeed be helpful for an adult to see some of these images in order to demonstrate the vileness of abortion on these little babies.  However, I do not agree that standing on the side of the road with an image like this is the way to do it.

We are called to stand for the truth and share that with people even if it will not be readily accepted. I believe this with all my heart.  Because of this, I continue to push myself out of my comfort zone to share my thoughts and beliefs with people.  This is rarely easy.  I try to be kind and loving and tolerant of other people and I truly try to meet people where they are. In doing this, I attempt to remember all the different places people have had to meet me, all the different places people will still have to meet me on this journey to enlighten me, bolster me, change me, and help me through. 

Do I always do this well?  I doubt it.  However, I keep trying.  And I pray that as I go along I get bolder in my courage to share what I'm thinking and that God will help me to deliver the message thoughtfully. Otherwise, how can I hope to meet people where they are at the moment? And I also pray that God will push me to continue to seek knowledge and be open to what other's have to say.  Otherwise, how will I learn and grow from all the wonderful wisdom you dear friends have for me?

"But in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence; and keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.  For it is better to suffer for doing right, if that should be God's will, than for doing wrong."  1 Peter 3:15-17

Friday, May 17, 2013

Stroke Lessons

Patience. Tolerance. Understanding. Empathy. Compassion. I have never quite felt the need for these qualities more than I have needed them throughout these last four weeks.

Before the sun was up one morning my telephone rang and my dad was on the other end of the line. "Can you come over?" he asked. There was something in his voice that I'm not used to hearing. Fear. A bit of fear had crept into my father's voice. "I'm on my way."

My mother suffered a minor stroke. Stroke. Stroke. Stroke. My mom suffered a minor stroke. I remember when the doctor said "stroke" my father and I just looked at each other. "She had a stroke?" Yes. That word is still sinking in four weeks later.

Emotions. Exhaustion. Confusion. Worry. I have never quite felt the draining power of these qualities more than I have throughout these last four weeks.

We have a large, complicated, beautiful family. My mom carried six children and then, when her sister passed away and her brother-in-law followed a year and a half later, my folks took in two of their eight children.  So, what we have is my dad dealing with this change in his wife of 58 years and eight children with thoughts and ideas and feelings coursing through their minds.  How do we deal with this? How do we deal with each other?

My mom loves. She loves her husband. She loves her children. She loves her friends. She loves the staff who helped her at the hospital. She would learn a person's name even if they were doing just one test on her. She hugged her therapists. She exchanged addresses with her roommate. The therapists told her that they wanted her to come back and walk down the hall to see them all when she gets stronger. She loves.

All you need to do in a circumstance like this is to remember that when a woman loves the way my mom loves it is only natural that people will love her back. And when a woman you love suffers a stroke it shakes you -- maybe a little, maybe a lot -- but, it shakes you.  When you are shaken it is so important to have patience, tolerance, understanding, empathy, and compassion.

That was what I needed to do while my mom was in the hospital.  When something would happen I would try to remember this.  When someone would suggest something or ask something or do something, I reminded myself that it came from love.  That helped me to respond in a kind and loving way, I hope.

I tend to be a little quieter and slower in my reactions. I wasn't always like this, but over the years I've come to realize that if I have the ability to let something soak into me a bit before I respond that the outcome is generally more positive. Everyone's emotions were raw. Everyone was exhuasted. Everyone was confused. Everyone was worried. And that is precisely why I needed patience, tolerance, understanding, empathy, and compassion.

I don't know how many times I heard someone say, "Don't they know better?" or "They should have known..."  Why? Why do we expect people to know certain things? Why do we assume that people know the "right" thing to do or the "right" thing to say?  Not everyone does know better.  Because of this, it is so important to try to talk to people with kindness and love. Give them the benefit of the doubt and trust that they are coming from a good place of wanting to help and wanting to make things better. 

People have different ideas about how to handle situations. Sometimes a different idea is just that. Different. Sometimes there is a right way and a wrong way.  Sometimes there is a better way and a not-so-great way.  Sometimes there is just a different way.  Stop.  Listen to each other.  Does something have to be done "your" way?  Let's talk about it.  Let's hear each other.  Let's remember that we are all coming from a place of love and concern.  Be open. 

We all want the best for my mom and we are all going through so many emotions.  Because people react differently to stress it is so very important to remember that everyone is hurting and coming from a place of great love for this woman.

When you give someone the benefit of the doubt it is very freeing.  Why do I do and say the things I say during this difficult time?  Because I love my mom.  Why do I think others do and say the things they do and say?  Out of love for my mom.  So, if that is the case, we should approach each other knowing that we all want the best for her, want to do the best, want to say the best things.  We may not agree with everything, but when you know someone is coming from a place of love doesn't that change the way you interact with them?

These four weeks have been challenging for so many reasons.  Yet these four weeks have brought many blessings as well.  One of these blessings has been bringing into focus the importance of how we interact with people, whether it is just for a moment, a day, or a lifetime.  This part of my journey, the journey of my mom's recovery, is just beginning. We still have a long way to go. I hope it is a time of drawing our family together and strengthening our bonds.

I have never felt the power of these qualities more than I have these last four weeks and so I tell myself: Be patient.  Be tolerant.  Be understanding.  Be empathetic.  Be compassionate. 

"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And over all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony."  Colossians 3:12-13