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Entries in Life Lessons (4)

Friday
Jun012012

Summer reading plans, unfinished projects, and therapy

In all of my summer reading plans, I forgot about one thing:  being creative with our hands is therapeutic. 

I have decided to (shock! choke! gasp!) trim my summer reading plans in favour of finishing this:

I started this so long ago now that I'm embarrassed to say exactly when.  Suffice it to say, the owner who was to get it has now moved out of the house!

Wednesday
May302012

When introverts become idolaters

I decided to read the book Idols of the Heart, by Elyse Fitzpatrick.  I decided to give it a read since so many women like Elyse (me included) and I've heard good things about this book.

One of the things that Fitzpatrick points out early in the book is that an idol is anything that replaces God in our hearts.  When we will sin to get what we want, that thing has become an idol to us.  When we cannot be happy without that thing, and we base our happiness on that thing instead of God, it is competing with God for supermacy in our hearts.

This, of course, can be applied to many things.

I was thinking about this recently in light of the many posts about introverts.  I tend toward being an introvert, am married to one, and two of my three children lean that way.  I know about introverts.  Being an introvert can become an idol.  How?

Think of this:  you want time alone.  You haven't had any time alone all day (the mantra of all of us when our children are babies and toddlers).  You want time alone.  Your husband has asked you to do something for him, but you want time alone.  You need time alone becauase you're an introvert and you are exhausted by all the relating to people.  Instead of doing that thing for your husband, you take the time alone.  Instead of submitting to a request of your husband in obedience to God, you have let something else become more important to you.  You are running the risk of idolatry.   It isn't the isolated incident; it's when it becomes a pattern that we have a problem.

I can relate to this.  I feel shame as I think back to the homeschooling days when I just wanted some time alone, but my kids wanted mom time.  Homeschoolers beware:  you are teacher and parent, and sometimes, being the parent is not met in being the teacher. You need to make time for play as well as learning.  I used the excuse, "Oh, well, they like learning, so I've spent my time with them."  Wrong.  Now that child #3 is leaving home in September, I'm realizing I should have spent more fun time with them.

This scenario can be true for anyone, not just wives.  Husbands can be introverts, too.  At the end of a long day dealing with co-workers, many introverted men just want to sit in solitude.  If they make a habit of neglecting their children and wives at the end of the day because they need time alone, they could be running the risk of setting up an idol.  Again, it's the pattern that creates a problem.

I can be like that in my local church.  I don't always enjoy the ladies' events.  I am an introvert, so often, I excuse myself from them.  Am I doing that because I have set up "my time" as an idol?  I have to ask myself that question daily.

We were meant to be in relationships with people; our children, our local church, our spouses.  If we allow our disposition of being an introvert to colour how we deal with those relationships, we could be in trouble.  We can't use it as an excuse to ignore those relationships.  Even parents with older children need to be aware of that.  Maybe I am tired of dealing with unruly teenagers all day, and maybe I do want some time to re-charge my batteries, but what identity takes precedence here, the introvert or the parent?

These are questions I will be thinking about.

Tuesday
May292012

Riding the angry horse

My husband calls it "riding the horse."   I think another way to verbalize it may be "getting on the soap box," or perhaps, "ranting," although neither of those describes exactly what he means.

Picture this scene, which happened about eight years ago:  I am reading the latest best selling book, the one everyone says I have to read.  I am not enjoying it; it's actually quite bad.  I am getting irked.  I am reading in the living room.  Over the course of the three chapters I finish, I wear a path on the carpet from my spot on the couch downstairs to where my husband is working.

"You should hear this!" I explode, verbalizing my dismay.

"Then stop reading it."

I go back upstairs to my spot on the couch.  Ten minutes later, I am back on the path.

"You will not believe this," I rant.

"Then stop reading it."

This happens for about an hour until I decide, after more exhortations than should have been necessary, to put the book down.  I never finish it.  I don't need to finish it.  I know that it does not speak the same language as I do despite it being written in English.

My husband calls it "riding the horse" because it's like being on a rocking horse:  you expend energy, but you never go anywhere.   It's also like picking a scab.  Despite the discomfort and the fact that we know it's not good for us, we do it, anyway.  

I've spent a lot of years being charged up about something.  I have a bad temper. I react fast. I know how to use my tongue as a weapon.  I can be sarcastic. Over the years, I have hopefully softened, but I'm still a work in progress.

I used to frequent the places on the internet where I could "ride my horse."  Why?  I still don't know.  I think I was under the illusion I was fighting for truth or something, but I was probably just being argumentative and critical.  I've discovered that I'm not a good warrior in that sense, and actually (sorry, ladies) sometimes women make lousy warriors because we tend to get nasty.  It can be a bit of a cycle; reading something (likely when I ought to have been doing something else), getting charged up on it, riding the horse, ranting about it, feeling disconcerted over a lack of consensus, frustrated at the conflict, getting off when it was over, and then getting right back on at the next conflict.  If you want conflict, the internet is your baby; it's full of it.  In its boundary-less freedom-filled pixels on your screen, it's loaded with conflict for your pleasure.  The problem is, it has the power to consume; it can foster bitterness.  And if you think blogs are bad places for conflict, just check out some of the conflict at YouTube.

I try to stay off my horse now, although my husband will remind me when I look like I am getting on again.  I'm learning better ways to deal with things that unnerve me and disconcert me (pray, pray pray).  As I have worked to step back from such things (and as I said, it's a work in progress) I have to come to see something that I should have much sooner:  it consumes a lot of valuable energy to be angry, and in the end, we have nothing to show for it.   It can be destructive to visit that comment box, that blog, that Facebook page, that Twitter feed, all day long, wondering what's been said now.  I surely have better things to do. 

Indulging in controversy in the name of promulgating truth is a dead end.  It comes down to whether or not I'm more concerned with what is right than I am with being right.

I was challenged by this article a Facebook friend posted today about anger on the internet.  It's a thought-provoking read.

Surely, we're aware of the warnings against anger from Proverbs.  Here's a sample of just a few:

A soft answer turns away wrath,  but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Prov. 15:1)

A man of quick temper acts foolishly, and a man of evil devices is hated. (Prov. 14:17)

Good sense makes one slow to anger,  and it is his glory to overlook an offense. (Prov. 19:11)

Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man. (Prov. 22:24)

Please don't misunderstand me.  This does not mean I'm not a lover of truth, or desire to see the Church built (God is doing that, by the way, even amidst bad books and bad theology).  I care about sound doctrine.  I care deeply.  But I have to realize that there are quite simply things I will never change and people who will never agree with me.  Repeating my argument yet again, and in increasingly harsh terms will not change that person's mind.  And perhaps I'm the one who is wrong.  Do I stop and ask myself that?  Perhaps a better use of energy is to evaluate my own heart instead of everyone else's.  There is wonderful freedom in just. letting. go.

The best way to battle error is to know truth.  That means knowing the Word of God.  I don't know it well enough.  The energy spent riding the horse is better spent in the Word.  It's that easy.

Thursday
May102012

While I purge, I re-visit

I haven't often re-posted things on my blog.  I don't know why that would be other than I figure once is enough for anyone.   This week, I imported my old blog contents here.  I wanted to go through and purge myself of anything that doesn't seem overly necessary to keep.  There's quite a lot that has found its way to the chopping block.

This post I wrote in February, 2005 is one that I am keeping.  It is a good reminder.  It is a memory that lives on vividly in my mind.  It was called "A Piece of My Past."   I haven't edited it or changed anything.

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I taught Sunday school this past weekend. I taught on a passage in Luke 7, the account of Jesus raising to life the dead son of a widow. In the lesson I talked about the compassion of Jesus, and I used the following story to talk about compassion with my students.

When I was in eighth grade, I moved to a new city and began attending a school which had students in grades seven, eight and nine. During my first year there, someone stuck a sign on my forehead that said “She’s new here. She is your target for teasing, and general nastiness.” I don’t know why I was given this sign. While the treatment I received that year is something forever etched upon my memory, the treatment I received was nothing compared to what Kathy B., someone else with a “target” sign, had to endure.

Kathy was a short, chubby girl with a soft voice and long, black hair which never looked entirely combed. God had blessed her with an ample bosom, but unfortunately, her mother had not blessed with a bra. Almost every week, Kathy fell victim to the punishment for not bringing her gym clothes to gym class: run two laps while the rest of the class watch and wait. There were others who often had to endure this, but Kathy seemed to be among the runners more often than not. She not only had to run two times around the gym, something which she did without complaining, she also had to run while it was obvious that every boy in the class was watching her heaving bosom. It was torture, I’m sure. I could tell from the look on her face that it was torture. Kathy didn’t have the clothes like lots of the other girls, and the fashionable girls had a great time with that. They made their general disdain for her personal appearance quite well known.

I got lucky. I got to shed my “target” sign in the ninth grade. The following year, in grade nine, my tormentors moved on and didn’t pay much attention to me. I made a few new friends, and I was okay. Not Kathy. If anything, it only got worse. There was one particularly nasty boy named Mike Verdi who called her “Boss Hog” on a regular basis. He continually made comments about her hair, her clothes and her weight. At one point during the year, Kathy, Mike and I and another kid whose name I don’t remember, worked on a group project in Social Studies. This involved working on visual displays, using Bristol board and LePage’s glue. It was a strange co-incidence that Kathy’s long black hair ended up taking home a good deal of that glue one day. I knew it was Mike, but I didn’t say anything. He had been one of the worst to me the previous year, and provoking him was not on my list of priorities. For the rest of the year, Kathy just silently put up with the teasing. She walked the halls in a similar way as I had the year before, head down, eyes meeting no one, quickly, eager to be out of that place.

Junior High ended, and I began high school in grade 10 at a school with 2500 students. It was rather overwhelming. Anonymity was quite easy to achieve. In the first month or so of school, I had an occasion to go to the cafeteria, and who should be standing behind the counter but Kathy B. Now, it was not glamorous at all to work in the cafeteria. It meant that you were taking Food Services. If you were in the Food Services program, that only meant one thing: you were not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Students in Food Services received a good deal of disdain from the general population of the school. After what had happened in Junior High, it was unfathomable to me that she would put herself in the direct line of teasing yet again. I looked at her, smiled and said “Hi, Kathy. How are you?” She smiled a smile at me that I had never seen before. It was a sweet, sincere, happy smile, and she said rather shyly:

“I didn’t think you’d remember my name,” was her response.

Something at that moment swept over me that I am sure I can’t describe adequately; guilt, shame, sorrow and regret just seemed to converge all at once right in the pit of my stomach. Why had I had never been kind to this girl? I was never mean to her, but I never stood up for her, either. What made it worse was that I knew what it was like to be in her position; I had known what it was like to long for just one kind word from someone. Yes, I was being friendly to her now, but why hadn’t I when it really mattered?

On Sunday, as I related this story to kids who are the same age as I was back then, I felt my throat tighten and tears come to my eyes. As I talked, and told them how compassion could have meant the world to this girl, and how sorry I was that I had not shown it, I could see very clearly that they felt sad right along with me. I wondered if any of them had ever been one of the persecuted, or even worse, the persecutor. I wondered how much things had changed in the dog eat dog world of adolescence. I think they were all pretty subdued by their usually jovial Sunday school teacher being so subdued; I hope, at the same time, that they were led to ponder whether or not they show compassion to those who need it.

Last night as I got ready for bed, I thought about this, and how extraordinary it is that I should find myself fighting back tears when I remember Kathy, someone who was only a brief part of a life I lived twenty-five years ago. I think we can't underestimate the influence of such events in our youth. It makes me wonder what "watershed" type moments my own children will remember when they are my age.

I’d like to be able to say that Kathy and I became friends; that I made an effort to get to know her, to tell her of my regrets. But that is not what happened. She went her way and I went mine. I can tell you, however, that she did get a bra finally, she slimmed out, and she combed her hair more. I saw her around from time to time, and we would smile and say hi. I don’t know what happened to her, but wherever she is, I hope she has joy, happiness and love in her life.

Wherever you are Kathy, God bless you.