Sunday, June 29, 2014

Growth Needs Others

It is a long quote from Michael Casey's Living In The Truth, but so crucial for personal growth.  This truth is especially important for anyone who is having relationship issues.  "When God sets about purifying a human being, the process is accomplished in large measure by human agents.  This is because the components of our being which block our receptivity to grace are the very blemishes which other people find ugly.  The negative reactions of others serve as a mirror in which we can see reflected those deformations of character against which we need to struggle.  The pain we experience in being rejected acts as a purge to motivate us to make ourselves more genuinely lovable.  Any advance in this direction has the automatic effect of increasing our openness to the action of God.  Of course, one who refuses to acquiesce in the truth of others' reactions becomes more deeply entrenched in bitterness and recrimination and further away from love and God."  (page 207, n#2.)

We Only See The Scaffolding

Recently my neighbor was working on the siding and eves of his house.  He put scaffolding around the house so he could safely and efficiently work on the siding and eves.  The scaffolding stayed up for several months because he worked on the house after his regular day job.  The scaffolding not only hid the excellent work that was being done but, also, made the house look unkempt with tools and material hanging from the scaffolding.  The neighbors could see through the scaffolding and noticed the scrapping of old paint along with the replacing of old boards.  In his wonderful book, Monk Habits for Everyday People, Dennis Okholm used such an analogy to remind us that God is at work in our lives much like my neighbor used the scaffolding to work on his house. Most of one's life all we can see is the scaffolding.  However, when our life is completed, the scaffolding comes down and we will see the result of the work that God has been doing all along.  That will be heavenly.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Going Past Places You Don't Want To Go To

My brother, Bobby, loves to travel.  He really likes riding in the back seat of an automobile and watching for semi-trailer trucks, road signs which he can read and looking for rain.  Bobby will read the signs noting the nearby cites.  He will often say, "That's not where we're going."  He often says, "When you travel, you have to go past places where we don't want to go."  I think that's true.  Wherever I want to go in my life, there are many things I will have to go past in order to get where I want to go.  Those other things are frequently called distractions.  They have a way of drawing me away from my intentional destination.  They get me off track. Some of those distractions are clearly evil with a capacity for addiction.  However, not all distractions are evil and addictive.  Frequently the most difficult decisions are between what's good and what's better.  Often we have to go past places we don't want to go to, in order to get to the place or places where we want to go.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Not An Empty Promise

My devotional practice is to read a little from one of the Gospels each day along with a time of prayer, meditation, silence, etc.  This morning I was reading in Luke's gospel.  When Mary visited Elizabeth, the scriptures record, "And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord." (Luke 1:45, NRSV)  When someone talks with me, I want them to believe that I'll do what I say I'll do.  I also want to believe that they will do what they have promised to do.  Clean, clear promises that will be fulfilled.  That's the basis of trust.  I can trust someone who will do what they say they'll do.  This is reading someones behavior rather than just their words.  This is also the basis of a relationship with God. I trust that God will do what God has said will be done and I want to live in such a way that God can trust me. Certainly one of the fundamental issues is clearly knowing what God has promised and not just what I want God to promise.  However, it is also living in such a manner that God can trust me.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Moth Wanted To Be Free

This morning when I arrived at my office, I discovered a small moth.  The moth was flying all around the room and would repeatedly go to the window with wings flapping rapidly.  I suppose the moth was trying to get to the freedom of the outside, but the glass window was in the way.  I assumed that the moth couldn't figure out why it couldn't get to the outside which, I also assumed, it could see.  As I caught the moth in my hand and took it outside so it could fly freely, I thought this is like therapy.  Someone is caught by attitudes and behaviors that cause the person to feel trapped, confused, etc., yet wanting freedom which can be seen or imagined.  A Therapist's role is to gently help them find their way out of the ways in which they are caught and help them to be free.  The Therapist's role is not to tell them what their freedom looks like, but to help them find it for themselves.  I don't know what that moth will do with it's new freedom, but I hope it doesn't fly into any more open doors.  That behavior wasn't very helpful for the moth that was trapped in the office this morning.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

It Just Burst Open

I was trying carefully to open a bag of candy and, I guess I was pulling too hard, because it just burst open. The pieces of candy spilled out all over the table.  Fortunately, I was able to gather most of it and place it in the candy bowl.  Life is sometimes like that bag of candy, it just bursts open and spills out.  I was seeing a couple at the Counseling Center and the wife was always quiet.  I assumed that she was very shy or timid. However, during one of our sessions, she just burst open and spilled out all kinds of frustration and anger toward her husband.  Most of her frustrations caught him completely by surprise.  At least, he said that he never knew she felt that way.  Somewhere an author has written about what he labeled as "gunny-sacking our anger."  The image is that we toss our frustration and aggravations over our shoulder and into our gunny-sack where all those memories are collected.  We that stuff behind us in our gunny-sack, everything seems fine.  One day we toss something into our gunny-sack and it bursts open and spills out all.  We seem to have over-reacted to that one incident and the folks around us ask, "Where did all of that come from?"  I think the healthy habit is not to have a gunny-sack collecting our frustrations and aggravations, but to speak them as they happen or shortly afterwards.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Father's Day

Tomorrow is Father's Day and I wish my Dad were alive so I could call and say, "I love you and thanks for all you've taught me."  Dad and mom were small business owners.  They owned Russell's Furniture and Antique store in Norman, Oklahoma.  Dad had a dry sense of humor and a strong work ethic.  It was difficult to tell whether he was being serious or joking.  At the store, Dad would occasionally hire a college ministry student or a Preacher who needed an extra job.  He called them "The Preacher boys."  Dad's background was Methodist/Nazarene so he often wondered why there weren't any "Preacher girls" in our Baptist denomination.  Dad would say that it was good that God called those men to be Preacher Boys because they were so lazy they would have a hard time making a living otherwise.  I never knew if those men thought that Dad was joking with them or if they thought he was serious.  Knowing my Dad, he probably meant a little of both.  When I felt the call to become a "Preacher boy," Dad's advise was not to forget how to sell and deliver furniture just in case 'preaching' didn't turn out too well.  I know that Dad was proud of my ministry vocation.  Nevertheless, I still know how to sell and deliver furniture.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Saying "No" Is Difficult

I'm a people pleaser.  My parents often reminded me that i needed to be careful about what other might think of my actions.  When I went with my Fist Baptist Church of Norman, Oklahoma, youth group to our summer camp at Falls Creek we stayed in the church's dorm.  On the steps of the dorm, someone had used marbles in concrete to write the word "Others."  So, I got this people pleasing identity from both my parents and my church.  This makes it difficult for me to say "No" to people, invitations, situations, etc.  When I do say "No", I want them to understand the reasons for my answer so I over-explain.  My over-explaining is an attempt to defend my "No" and it rarely works for either me or them.  I had a friend who said that one needs to be like a surgeon when saying "No."  By clean, quick and specific.  No one wants to be under a surgeon's knife who seems unsure, unsteady with the knife and makes cuts that are too much.  I'm still working on this skill of saying "No."  I tell others that every time they say "Yes" to one thing they have said "No" to many other possibilities.  I need to listen to myself more often, but that means I need to say "No" to listening to all those other voices in my head.  Saying "No" is difficult.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Data and Wisdom

In her book, I will not die an unlived life, Dwana Markova quotes from Dee Hock, Birth of the Chaordic Age, "We are now at a point in time when the ability to receive, utilize, store, transform and transmit data--the lowest cognitive form--has expanded literally beyond comprehension.  Understanding and wisdom are largely forgotten as we struggle under an avalanche of data and information" (pg. 25.)   My computer and smart-phone have the capability to bring great amounts of information to my attention.  What I do with that information, however, is related to wisdom.  I often think a fundamental question is "How does this information relate to my sense of meaning and purpose?"  Wisdom is somehow involved with the search for life's meaning and purpose.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Loosing Our "Stuff"

There is no triple crown winner this year.  California Gold ran a fourth place finish at the Belmont Racetrack.  His owners complained that horses who hadn't run in the other two races,i.e., the Derby and the Preakness, were fresher and therefore ran a stronger race.  The UK women's softball team made it to the NCAA finals. However, they lost the final game. Their star pitcher had thrown for the previous games and she was tired.  She just didn't have the "stuff" on her pitches as she usually had.  I think the lesson is that no one, not even the strongest among us, can keep going continuously.  Eventually we get weary and loose our "stuff."  Our "stuff" may be patience, wisdom, ideas, support, energy, etc.  One of my colleagues at the Counseling Center has named this "your check engine light is on."  A fundamental question is "Where do you go and what do you do, or cease doing, to regain your "stuff," ex. strength, perspective, wisdom, patience, energy, etc.?"  I'm a doer.  I do know that I get too much of my sense of value and purpose from my doing.  I wonder if most of us, and our organizations, put too much emphasis on what we do.  Kingdom work is about the quality of relationships, not quantity.  At least that's how I interpret Jesus' ministry.  

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Keep Your Eye On The Doughnut And Not The Hole

I didn't know yesterday was National Doughnut Day.  I wasn't aware of this significant reality until Nikki, our summer Intern at the Counseling Center, came in to inform me.  Had I known, I would have surely had some doughnuts earlier in the day.  We had doughnuts in the evening.  Doughnuts are among my favorite foods. They may not be very nutritional but, in life some exceptions have to be made.  I also like doughnuts for their lesson about life.  No matter how good a doughnut may be, there is a hole in the middle.  I'm not a fan of those jelly filled doughnuts so I don't count them as genuine doughnuts.  I have often wondered who first cut the hole out of the doughnut and why that person did so.  Doughnuts life lesson is "Keep your eye on the doughnut and not on the hole."  No matter how wonderful a relationship, job, house, friendship, car, etc. may be, most of us can think of something that could be improved.  That's the critical mind which all of us possess.  Unfortunately, some have loud and active critical mind voices.  They only see the hole, not the doughnut.  So I like doughnuts, both as a food group and a lesson for life.  "Keep you eye on the doughnut and not the hole."

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Will You Explain Patience?

I was recently asked to explain what I meant by patience.  I relayed the story of Arsenius.  He was one of the desert fathers who lived in the upper region of the Nile during the 4th and 5th century.   According to the story (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers), Arsenius presented himself to the group of hermits for inclusion. One of the older men placed a piece of dry wood in the ground and told Arsenius to water that piece of wood each day.  In order to get the water, Arsenius took his small bottle and walked a great distance during the evening, in order to avoid the desert sun and heat, to the water source and returned by the early morning to empty his water bottle on the piece of wood.  He did this every day for three years and, at last, the wood produced leaves then fruit.  When the fruit was ripe, the men took the fruit into the Chapel where they worshiped and ate.  Arsenius was included.  Jesus said, "You will know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:16, NASV.)  That's one of the best explanations of patience that I know about today.  

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Read The Behavior

I like the Biblical book of James.  I like it because it says that we are to pay attention to our behavior and the behavior of others.  "Be ye doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves" (1:22, NRSV.)   "So, faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead (2:17, NRSV.)  I get that picture.  James is pretty clear.  I believe he would say to folks, "read the behavior."  I say that to a lot of people, "read the behavior."  In my counseling practice, I hear a lot of promises and desires to do differently.  I pray that those promises and desires are genuine.  In the weeks that follow those promises, it is pretty easy to discern whether or not their motivations have created the necessary changes in behavior.  Some make the necessary and appropriate changes while others keep on promising to do better.  I understand that old habits, behaviors and patterns are difficult to change. Nevertheless, genuine desires can create the necessary motivations which result in new habits, behaviors and patterns.  These new behaviors can in turn create new attitudes.  When there are new behaviors based on appropriate attitudes, there is genuine and healing change.  Without these components, things tend to stay the same or become increasingly worse.  The old saying is true, "If nothing changes, then nothing changes."  I think I'll keep telling folks to "read the behavior."