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Monday, February 17, 2020

From a different point of view, suffering may not be as bad we thought.

The story is told of Norman Cousins, who developed a rare condition called ankylosing spondylitis, which is a degeneration of connective tissue in the spine. Essentially the patient becomes gradually more and more paralyzed. Creeping paralysis.

Among the things he discovered was the patient's loss of control over his own life and body was more damaging than the disease itself.

Philip Yancey tells us that when we do things like offering to take out the trash because that person is sick and shouldn't have to do it, or telling them to sit down while we do things for them, we actually take away some of their purpose and dignity and make it harder for them to recover, or at least enjoy end of life.

He talked about writing greeting cards that will celebrate the fact that they're still alive and that parts of their body are still working, instead of cards pointing out how much they're missing out on and urging them to get well.

Norman Cousins moved himself to a hotel room so that he could have control over his own schedule. Doctors had predicted at least partial paralysis and yet between the hotel room and watching lots of funny movies which encouraged his body to heal through laughter he made a full recovery.

So this has me wondering...

How many of us are perfectly healthy physically but incapacitated mentally and emotionally because of our own attitudes and outlooks?

Often our perception of reality is more important than the reality.

If something in your life, be it a relationship, an idea, a job, a deeply held belief... Or even a meme on Facebook... Is adding stress to your emotional state, if it is not bringing peace joy and love... Maybe it's time to evaluate whether that thing is worth having around.

You have a finite amount of energy to give this world. Some of that energy can be recharged with positivity. So that energy can be stolen with negativity.

What are you going to do with the 24 hours you have today?

How would changing your outlook and perspective and focus, change your experience?

Selah


Sunday, February 16, 2020

Grief requires presence, not answers.

When I was approximately 13, my mom taught me possibly the greatest lesson she ever taught me, and I didn't fully see it until just now...


My childhood friend back in Texas died, suddenly and unexpectedly. Mom said she would wait for a period of time then fly out to be with his mom, a good friend. We waited, weeks or months, not sure, then flew out together. 

In the first days after tragedy, people support you as best as they can. But quickly they disappear. Until, by a few weeks or a month or two out, they've all gone. You are left with crushing loneliness and grief, nobody there to sit with you in it.

Mom, a pastor's wife and a nurse, had seen it before. She wisely waited for everyone else to stop showing up, then we hopped on a plane from California and visited.

I was too young to see what we really did there. But now, as a Widower, when Mom again flew out to be with us periodically, helping me with various transitions with the boys, I see it.

The grieving person doesn't need your magic words, nothing you say or do will fix this tragedy. They need, simply, your presence. Play a game, watch a movie, give a ridiculously uncomfortably long hug.

Philip Yancey says "... no one offers the name of a philosopher when I ask the question 'Who helped you most?'... Someone who was available... Who came on the sufferers terms and not their own."

Even when suffering is self induced (a relationship they should have avoided, a decision that they know they shouldn't have made), there's a time for gently prodding the person who may need to make new decisions, but there's a time to just sit with them in it. They need to get your love before your solutions.

Selah


Saturday, February 15, 2020

When someone you know suffers...

The book, Where Is God When It Hurts?, was first published decades ago so the statistics are old, but knowing the human heart I don't suspect they've changed... 70% of marriages where one partner is diagnosed with a terminal illness result in divorce. The healthy partner just leaves.

As a Widower, I can attest first hand how people struggle to be around suffering. They smile awkwardly, use popular phrases that are often wrong, and look really uncomfortable, shifting posture with expressions that can't hide the awareness they want to run.

My friends I've made after becoming a Widower say I have an amazing talent for sitting with people in hard stuff and being there for them while I let it be hard. Those skills were hard earned. Not very long ago, I would run away from my (late) wife when she cried. I literally couldn't handle someone else having pain. I'd tell her we could take when she was done crying. I was awful and broken. Luckily, we found a better place in the last year and a half before she died. Then when she died, I was thrust into the need to develop the skill of processing emotions. I couldn't fall completely apart, I had two boys who needed me to pull through. So I leaned into the pain, a skill my late wife had just taught me in the year leading up to her unexpected death, and I pressed into friends, groups, and counseling.

I found healing for my heart.

I found that pain doesn't need to be cured but embraced.

I found pain can give us an acute appreciation for the pleasure moments.

I found, as we Widows comfort each other, we usually only needed an ear and shoulder and a hug.

The suffering don't need you to save them, you can't. You can't make their suffering stop. They are drowning at the bottom of a pool. What you can do, is sit at the bottom of the pool and drown with them.

Selah.


Friday, February 14, 2020

Valentine's Day, Holocaust, Jesus, and Love

This is my second Valentine's Day without my late wife. 

It's funny because I never really liked the holiday, we never really did much with it. Now I find myself wishing I had someone to give something to; celebrate it with. For a long time I was a server in restaurants and it was an "all hands on deck" day. So we just never had any particular reason or unction to do much with the day.

It's funny, you find yourself missing strange things, things you didn't think twice about before loss.

I spent the morning reading about how people either lost or gained faith during The Holocaust. The intense human suffering that accompanied those days was enough to drive many away from God but it drove others to Him.

I myself find that my experience with loss and grief left me with a deeper and more profound love for my God, and a more wholeistic theology. Gone are the days from my time in one particular brand of Christianity, that said serving God meant everything would make me prosperous, healthy, and whole. Those ideas were NOT wrong, just incomplete. 

Sometimes you pray and she dies anyway. 

God absolutely snuggles you close in those seasons, walks through the darkness with you, and he does eventually use that raw material to heal and mend the brokenness into a new masterpiece. But you may not get the outcome you originally prayed for. He does not make that promise. 

So today, Jesus is my Valentine. He taught me that love isn't about candy grams, or date nights, though it could be expressed in those things. He taught me that love is not about some magical life where everything gets better and better, sunshine and roses every day.

Love is about getting down into the muck and mire with those who are hurting, being the good Samaritan and paying a price to help them heal. 

Love is laying your life down on behalf of another. 

Love is laying aside your own wants, desires, "needs", even hopes... And listening to your kids talk about school, art, arguments, YouTube, games, whatever interests them. It's about being present in those moments, "paying" attention (your attention may cost you something you wanted to be doing), so that you communicate they have value to you.

Love is being there for friends who need you, but, also allowing them the space to have pain that may drive change. Love may mean NOT jumping in to rescue someone from the pain that could ultimately drive them to become a better version of themselves.

Love may mean holding your tongue when someone says something you disagree with, because your goal is to pray for them and win hearts not arguments.

Love may mean saying no to things you want today because you have a higher calling and purpose ahead of you, and it's time to lay aside temporary things for better and lasting ones.

Love is.

Selah.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Stop letting your emotions rule your life and dictate your relationships.

The tendency of the human heart to bend towards HIDING and Self Protecting is the oldest frailty we humans have. 

It started in the Garden of Eden.

As soon as man disconnected from intimacy with God it created disconnection in his intimacy with others. The first fall out of the Fall was to cover and hide. The second fall out of the Fall was to blame others for the experience we're having rather than take ownership of our part in it.

1. Hiding
2. Blaming

These two poisonous traits are the root of our sin nature. 

I see this play out in my son's debates. He did this to me, he's always, he never, well if you wouldn't, that's because you...

Unfortunately, many of us never outgrow this tendency. We continue to run from... HIDING from others, self protecting, blaming others for our own emotions.

How often I told my wife, kids, bosses, or even God himself... "If you wouldn't/would... I...."

Rather than taking ownership of my emotions, I wanted to make other people responsible for them.

If only this person would stop doing x, start doing y, if z circumstances would change... THEN my emotions would be good. 

No matter how hard the external circumstances, your emotions are yours alone. Talk to the POWs, and others who maintained their joy in the worst places on Earth.

Paul and Silas were sent to prison unfairly, beaten without due process, and still... They sang.

So if you're ready for the hardest and most rewarding task you've ever been assigned:

Own Your Emotions!

Say this out loud:

"I acknowledge that I am having feels. These feelings area my own. While they are in response to external stimuli, they were not caused by others and cannot be fixed by others. I chose to lean into this emotion, get curious about it, determine what I can my heart is telling me, what truths or lies are involved, and let the Holy Spirit guide me through healing and restoration. I will not ask others to change, I will only determine what I'm feeling and how I will choose to respond. That may mean cutting off relationship, but, it will more often mean pressing into relationship and exposing what I would rather hide, owning what I would rather blame, and allowing this to be about my emotion and not the circumstances, actions, it words that led to it."

Selah



Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Three (3) Core Elements of Healthy Conflict Resolution, and their unhealthy shadows.



Conflict... This word used to send shivers up my spine. 


When I thought of conflict, I couldn't help but see that conflict meant I was wrong or bad or insufficient. Someone was asking me to change, which I already knew I couldn't do. It felt accusatory, bad, wrong, and I ran from it. So much so, that my wife at the time would begin to bring something up that smelled like conflict and I would go into full shut-down mode. I was incapable of feeling or thinking of having any thoughts. This is called being Conflict Avoidant.


Photo by jean wimmerlin on Unsplash

As I healed, I learned that Conflict is actually neither good nor bad, neither healthy nor unhealthy... conflict can be a great tool to help you grow individually or as a couple/friend.

The difference between healthy and unhealthy conflict is the topic of today's' discussion.


There are at least three core elements of a conflict. 


There are many ways to break this down but for our purposes, we will look at three core elements and their results.


  1. Address it: The person who is having an emotion brings it up with the other party.
  2. Receive it: The person who's behavior (purposefully or accidentally) led to the emotion, hears the first person. 
  3. Process and Resolve it: The parties work through the conflict until it comes to some kind of end result (positive, neutral, or negative). 

Conflict Principles


Before we can look at these in more detail, we need to understand some principals of conflict management. If you (both parties, not just one) carry these into the conversation you carry a much higher degree of certainty that the outcome will be healthy and benefit all involved. 

  • Seek first to understand, not to be understood. You cannot go into the conversation (either addressing or receiving) with an attitude of fists up, ready to defend your position). If you do, you've lost before you have begun. Your first goal must be to understand the other person, not push to be heard. From personal semi-recent experience, I can tell you pushing to be understood may remove that person from your life forever. 
  • Assume the Best. If you are going to address an emotion or behavior, assume the best about the other person. If you assume the worst, why bother addressing anything? If they are the worst, then just walk away forever. If you care about them, you should assume they have your best interest at heart until you have independent reason to believe otherwise, in which case, you should probably cut off the relationship and walk away. So if you're not ready to walk away, assume the best. 
  • Addresser: Own your Emotion. It is your emotion. The other party did not cause it. They do not have the power to create feelings inside of you. What matters to one person deeply wouldn't even show up on another person's emotion radar. So if you are having an emotion, that emotion is YOUR responsibility, not the other party's. Even if their behavior/action led to your emotional reaction, it is your emotion. Own the responsibility for it. We must own our emotions without making it about the other person. To say "you made me so angry" is to assign that person magical powers they do not have, ever. It's your emotion, own it.

  • Receiver: Empathize with the emotion. You've felt this way in some fashion before, try to remember what it felt like. Even if you don't see why your action should have caused the other person to feel the way they do, that is irrelevant, they do. You are not responsible for their emotion but you can have empathy and compassion for it. You can also see where you could do better, so try to see it from their view (back to seeking to understand, not be understood). It's possible they feel a certain way because they misjudged you, you can be the addresser next and we can start this whole process over from you addressing your emotion about their emotion. For now, just seek to understand. 
  • Love and Affirmation: Your attitude should be that of LOVE (patient, kind, gentle, no records of wrong... 1 Cor 13 stuff). It should be with the goal of Affirmation (positively affirming the person's value to you and your life and their own intrinsic value as God's Child). The goal cannot be to change behavior first. That comes second. First, the goal must be to understand and empathize with the emotion. Only then, when both parties understand why the emotion happened, can the behavior then be evaluated in the right light, context, and environment of love and affirmation. 

With those principles in mind, let's look at the three elements separately. 



Address it: The person who is having an emotion brings it up with the other party.

  • Healthy: I'm having a feeling, I own it, can you partner with me in this. 
  • Unhealthy: Different from: I'm having a feeling, you're responsible, make it stop.

The best tool I know of to start these conversations in a way where the behavior is addressed but the person feeling the emotion still owns it is called "When you/I felt". 

The action needs to be concrete and specific, NO generalities. So instead of "When you do things like this" it could be "When you put the cup on the counter instead of the dishwasher...".

The emotion needs to be owned by the feeler of the emotion. So "You make me so..." would be incorrect. Nobody can make you feel anything. You own that emotion. 

The topic needs to be the emotion, not the action. The goal is NOT to change the action/behavior, not yet. The goal is to ensure both parties hear each other's hearts. Only then can we evaluate the action in the right context. 

This could sound like this:

  • When you put the cup on the counter instead of the dishwasher, I felt disrespected. Like you didn't care about how hard I work to keep things clean. Like you didn't value my efforts. I felt disrespected and uncared for. Can we talk about how I'm feeling? (note: not 'what you did'). 
  • When you picked up the phone during dinner, I felt unwanted and less important than whatever was on your Facebook feed. Can we talk about how hurt I feel?


Receive it: The person who's behavior (purposefully or accidentally) led to the emotion, hears the first person, seeks to understand (not defend), and paraphrases back to the Addresser what they heard to check for understanding.

  • Healthy: Seek to understand: Tell me more about that... 
  • Unhealthy: Defensive: That's not what I did... meant... said... You always blow things out of proportion...
"Tell me more about that... What was going on in your heart when you felt that way? What words or phrases did you experience in your inner self-talk about that?" 

"So when I put the cup on the counter, you felt disrespected. I'm so sorry, I had no idea. I apologize for taking an action that caused you to feel uncared for. Will you please forgive me?



Process and Resolve it: The parties work through the conflict until it comes to some kind of end result (positive, neutral, or negative). 

This process of hearing, asking, seeking to understand may be quick for small items or take days/weeks for bigger life issues. But the goal is always a relationship, love, connection. Connecting each other's hearts. 

  • Healthy: Both parties assume the best of the other, seek to understand not be understood, hear each other out, don't get defensive or wall off, and work to resolve the emotion as well as any possible behavior modifications that may be best to love each other well. 
  • Unhealthy: Both parties wall off, defend, assume the worst of each other, shut down, and they miss each other's hearts, over-focusing on behaviors and never hearing each other's hearts.


The End results:


When a conflict is handled well, both parties will end up feeling valued and heard, cared for, and they will feel more connected to each other. 

When a conflict is not handled well, both parties will feel violated, disrespected, unloved, uncared for, defensive, and less connected to each other. 

If you aren't sure if you (both of you) are handling the conflict well, all you need to do is examine the fruit. 

  • Healthy: More Connected
  • Unhealthy: Less Connected

It really is that simple. It's not easy, it's actually the hardest lesson I've ever learned. I had to press in when everything was telling me to wall off and run. 

It's not easy, but it is simple. 


Resource:


One of the most helpful references I have seen on the topic of relationships is: Boundaries Updated and Expanded Edition: When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Life, by Henry Cloud  (Author), John Townsend (Author) (affiliate link) 


Selah!



 

Shalom: Live Long and Prosper!
Darrell Wolfe (DG Wolfe)
Storyteller | Writer | Thinker | Consultant @ DarrellWolfe.com

Clifton StrengthsFinder: Intellection, Learner, Ideation, Achiever, Input
16Personalities (Myers-Briggs Type): INFJ


Monday, February 10, 2020

The end of self...

What if suffering isn't good or evil, it just is. And our response is what matters?

"When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. After he sat down his disciples came to him. Then he began to teach them by saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way."
Matthew 5:1‭-‬12 NET
https://bible.com/bible/107/mat.5.1-12.NET

We are so quick to look for physical beauty, strength, education, success... And point these out as the epicenter of virtue. 

But one thing I've learned this past few years, is that suffering produces perseverance, patience, and character.

If...

If it's responded to correctly. 

Or...

Suffering could also produce bitterness, selfishness, depression. Wow is me.

The difference seems to be whether we allow the event to turn is inward to focusing on self or outward to focusing on God. 

I do not recognize the man I was this time last year. I expect this time next year I'll be doing things I've been avoiding all my life.

I never imagined I could say this... But I'm grateful for the character I have today, despite (never because of) the things I had to go through to get here. 

I will never be grateful for the trials but I can be grateful for the changes they induced. 

God's first choice is our willing reliance on Him. But reliance on him through any means is sweet. 

Selah








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