God and the Faerie King

I’ve read very few folk tales or traditional stories for a while, but my understanding of that world and mentality is still pretty solid. When I read a fantasy that has fairy tale or mythic roots I can catch the multiple layers pretty effectively.

A year ago I started looking for good self-published books to read, and this was one of the first I bought. It was a cute take on the arraigned-marriage trope, with the (new to me) twist that the bride-to-be was willing to accept her “fate” and wasn’t a jerk to the guy and having to be won over.

What grabbed me wasn’t so much the story itself as the treatment/behavior of the fae, and the Faerie King in particular. The fae were portrayed in an utterly traditional way, with all their predictable selfishness and capricious unpredictability.

The ultimate story-climax-question became Will the Faerie King be just? Will he do what’s good for these good people, who’ve served him all their lives?

And because the faerie king has all the power to do anything with impunity, there’s a real sense of peril. There is the genuine question, since (as a Young Adult novel) this romance isn’t guaranteed the genre’s usual happy ending.

The heroine’s family of origin is blessedly intact and tight (unique and cheer-worthy in YA), but they’ve grown up working for the fae. They (the family) know the faerie folk’s power and inscrutableness, and as much as the humans hope for the good, I got the feeling their long experience also blunted their expectation, tempered their painful hope to the possibility that what they desired — the thing they knew would be right and decent and essential to happiness — might be denied.

And in real-life, sprawled out reading, I was hit with an almost physical ache. Because I recognized that holding-back.

It was painfully familiar. I’d instilled it in myself over years: through ways of praying, fed by fears that cultivated a drive to self-preservation. I’d scraped together a bark shield in an effort to blunt the pain of deep disappointment and loss.

I had done it all within context and language of religious community. I listened to the pedantic reminders that “God’s ways are higher than ours” (Is. 55:9), and “How inscrutable His ways” (Rom. 11:33).

Through distancing rationalization, I hid behind that flimsy shield in a dull attempt to save myself from further pain. If I didn’t expect too much – or if expected a lot, and was prepared to live without, “be it God’s will” – maybe I could avoid deep disappointment.

When I saw how this family’s response to petitioning the Faerie King paralleled my attitude in asking God for Deep Important Things, my eyes were opened to the sickness of it all.

I feared (not too-strong a word) a god I saw as capricious, and once I realized I was afraid, it disgusted me. Because the God I worshiped did not ask (or inspire) me to fear him in that way. It was a muddled attempt to survive pain, and that muddledness distorted my view of the power that touches my life.

I know the difference between the Faerie King and the God I love, and having that stark a contrast, having that vocabulary, helped me peel back some of the distortion that had been weighing on me.

I looked back at the Isaiah 55 passage and saw it wasn’t designed as an excuse for God being confusing, it was a celebration of his incomprehensible generosity. The same with Romans 11– we don’t have the wiring to conceive of the kind of love and generosity that roots such openness and availability.

That’s why it has to be told to us, and told to us again.

According to a study published in 1998, it takes the average child between four and fourteen exposures to learn a new fact. Some children need over twenty exposures for something to stick.

I am 36 years old. I grew up with sermons and Sunday school, and given the topic I can predict a lot of what’s going to come out of a given pastor’s mouth. I am not short on knowledge, or a critical number of times to hear “Jesus loves me.”

But it took throwing the love of God into stark contrast with the bone-deep fear of power without love before this piece of him broke through (again?): God is dependable.

My lack of understanding (even of big things), and my grief and pain (which are real and often enduring) do not negate the dependability of God.

Since I’m constantly depending on this truth, I had to have known it already, but somehow I felt this other side. A fear of pain. I had my walls up, bracing myself for the time he doesn’t do what I need. And what I’m still wrapping my head around, is that God promises to give us the desires of our heart.

I don’t know how that reads in the original language, but in English that phrasing doesn’t just mean God gives us what we want, he gives us what to want.  I put that all in the Mystery category.

There is so much I don’t understand, but I know God wants to give us good things. “So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” (Matt. 7:11)

There’s no way for us to completely understand God.

Metaphor, analogy, simile and Story are all essential to drawing near to him in understanding, but the difference between our God and every other entity in eternity is that a) he wants to be known, and b) he is able to make up what is lacking in our understanding.

His constancy, his desire to be in relationship with us, is bigger than our ignorance, confusion, or misunderstanding. I’m thankful for the way God uses even seemingly unconnected elements to reveal and highlight his character, because even if I don’t have enough ink to tell you all God IS, I can know bone-deep what he isn’t, and even find security in that.

The Gifted Lifetime

Stone tower

Pamela Price at Red, White & Grew asked a hugely welcome question about Giftedness beyond the child-stage:

How do we begin to talk about the gifted lifetime in fruitful ways that benefit a maximum number of people?

She invited comments, but I expected mine would be too long (in full) so I started here.

I have a few bullet points that shape the rest of my thoughts.

  • Have a common definition (so we can unblushingly agree that humanity contains both gifted and non-gifted individuals).
  • Create a safe place where understanding is the primary goal. Competition or one-upmanship needs to find an outlet somewhere else.
  • If the non-gifted want to observe, they must assume good-will (the gifted people in these discussions are working out their own issues, not denigrating people different from themselves).
    • We will get so much farther, faster, if we don’t have to saturate our observations and discoveries with disclaimers.
  • Trust each other: our experiences will be different, and if we expect to police each others’ diagnoses, that leads to insecurity and back to competition.

Stone towerSome adults (without using the word gifted, or acknowledging their own giftedness) say that feeling alone is just part of adolescence, or part of the human condition. Religious/Christian people will have very specific ideas about what’s missing in one’s life.

These two bits (smart– in my experience, gifted— people who acknowledge the ‘off’ while invalidating the accompanying confusion, and religious people who expect their tested formulas to fix things) are the two halves of my own experience.

Between excellent honors-track teachers in high school and talented professors at college, I was surrounded by a very comfortable level of challenge and growth. I was kept busy enough through that era of my life that the discontent buzzing in the back of my mind was kept decently managed.

I’m one of those who can’t not-believe in God (and I think that’s a good thing). All my life I’ve been involved in Church, and done what I can to make it (find it?) challenging. So when I started learning about giftedness (well into adulthood) I was giddy to realize that the small church I currently attended was easily 70% gifted. More if you included the mass of kids.

That explained to me why we were so many on the same “wavelength” in intensity, intellectual demands, high conviction, with a level of educational rigor (sense of personal responsibility) for our children, many of us homeschooling, many of us eschewing the Standard American Diet.

[To this day I’m convinced that the cohesiveness of the group is tied at least in part to the shared giftedness, and the feeling of having found one’s “tribe.” This was especially notable because we varied, sometimes significantly, in our theology– usually a reason to “break fellowship.”]

According to the one book on adult giftedness I’ve read, the level of giftedness in the general population is 10%, so I imagine finding a group where nearly everyone was your kind, well, I will personally attest it is hard to walk away from (and I’m still trying to find my land legs).

The odd thing to me is that when I tried to have this [Yay! Look at us, we’ve found each other!] conversation with various gifted members of the congregation (much more calmly and maturely, I assure you), I was immediately shut down.

I can see, now, some sociological/psychological reasons for their dismissal and denial, but at the time I was deeply confused.

It is in this background that my summary of “conversation-starters” is rooted (with a tiny bit of repetition).

  • Provide a vocabulary. Tie it to everyday living.
    • I think the best way to start this conversation is to include people and give them a context for this “otherness” they’ve felt much of their lives.
  • Let people identify themselves– and believe them.
    • Yes, some will be wannabes, but as long as we manage the competition/one-upping side of things they will either benefit by association, or drop out on their own.
  • Validate– agree that there are good things and commiserate with the disappointing stuff.
    • My first two years investigating this topic I had this imaginary conversation in my head: “So you just figured out you’re gifted, huh?” “Yup.” “Just now? Are you sure you don’t need a second opinion?”
  • Provide models (alternatives to the TV-reinforced stereotypes) of successful gifted-lifetimes.
  • Brainstorm how to become those models
    • My primary motivation for trying to convince my fellow church members about giftedness was that nearly all our children were gifted. I felt we had a unique opportunity as a close-knit, gifted population to raise our children in a way that might inoculate them against the shame or embarrassment we received for our eagerness or “over-achieving.”
      • All of which that continued into adulthood, by the way…
  • Create a culture of mutual creation rather than comparison.
    • I keep harping on this angle, but I think it’s crazy-important: we are all so different from one another (along with having things in common) that if we are going to make progress in any meaningful way it will not be through propping ourselves up via the battered bodies of lesser mortals.

So there you are: Where I think the conversation should start. Where it goes from here I’ll be fascinated to watch.

What Women Want from the Church: to Celebrate Emotions

This piece should be read from the front of every church.

Not because every church is dismissive of emotion, but because every gathering of believers should proactively affirm the rightful place of emotion alongside learning, growth, and our aging human bodies: they are part of how we’ve been created, an important way we interact with the world and circumstances we’ve been given.

Without emotion we are less than God created us to be. To deny its role is to reject part of God’s plan.

By Becky Castle Miller via Elora Nicole.

What women want: for you to know we aren’t drunk.

Becky Castle Miller is the Managing Editor of Wyn Magazine (wynmag.com), providing resources and hope for mental and emotional healing. She and her husband, with their four kids, are American expats in the Netherlands, helping with an international church. She is part young executive and part five-year-old playing with kittens.

What Connects with…Me

Image courtesy of Liana Bitoli via stock.xchng

Image courtesy of Liana Bitoli via stock.xchng

I found a “coach,” at the end of last year, because most of what I do with my counselor seemed to be coaching, anyway. I was looking for an “outside” voice and perspective that was sharing a brain/time focused on me.

Becky and I have talked about how this is the reason to hire someone: friendships are more mutual, and we don’t want to muddy those relationships to work through our issues.

The coach got me thinking about some good stuff, and some new angles on older projects that have been marinating for a while.

~  ~  ~

Then I got my heart stomped on, and I was back in the counselor’s office.

I had a double bomb in an exhausting 48 hours: First, someone I already guessed didn’t like me confirmed they didn’t like me, and second, someone I love very much– who has a degree in an industry not supported by our local economy– told me they were saving up money to move away to do the work they went to school for.

Both totally make sense, were almost predictable, and so it took me 4 or 5 days to realize I was deeply hurt and grieving. I was so scared by my response (it felt like my depression was returning- freaked me out and you don’t play around with that!) I visited my counselor the day before my coaching appointment.

The counselor gently reassured me that that this wasn’t my depression returning. She affirmed that I was grieving, and validated my experience that just because someone is a jerk, or someone has beautiful dreams that don’t need to include you, intellectual assent doesn’t necessarily change how others’ choices affect you. Continue reading »

Adaptation

Jay has been home for a while now, giving me time to continue work on the first draft of my 2013 novel (80,000 words now!).

A few days after he’d been home I was trying to get out to the cabin (a little room a stone’s throw from our front porch) to start my work for the day. He kept starting conversations, and suggesting things, and thinking out-loud, and as much as I wanted to enjoy this part of him, I had a sense of urgency about getting out and getting to work.

God alone knows when I’ll have this many uninterrupted hours again!

All of a sudden Jay got this cute, confused look on his face and said, “I have no idea why I’m talking so much.”

I laughed.

“Welcome to my world,” I said. “You’ve wondered how a self-described introvert [me] can talk so much– now you know. You’ve been away from your slow-and-steady bleed-off of words. Your only-connecting adult is present (trying to leave) and you have to get the words all out while you can.”

It made me think about how we do (and don’t) adapt.

How we change as our environment changes.

Since leaving my old church at the end of May, I have been looking for a new “home base” to build relationship in, and it’s a tricky slog. You see, I’m really not interested in the company of adults-in-general, or strictly “adult conversation.”

When I want “company” (only rarely) children are as satisfying to me as adults, and I’ve already got three of those at home. When I want conversation, I want a particular kind, or I’m not that interested in talking.

This (in certain company) leaves me feeling selfish: Oh look, she needs something *special.* She’s not willing to adapt.

But the reality is I’m adapting all-day every-day (You think getting x-much done in a day comes naturally?!), so when it comes time to relax, yeah I want it to be on my terms– that’s sort of the point.

So I don’t have any answers yet.

I’ve proposed a writing “small group” at my folks’ church with the idea of learning if there are any “kindred spirits” to come out of the woodwork. That would be one way to know if Journey is a good fit for us.

I have good friends who aren’t writers (which is cool in its own way, because that means all the awesome stuff they say is mine ;) to quote), but they are still idea people. They are still the ones I can talk at a mile a minute or listen to with intensity and neither of us glazes over.

There is intense admiration in these relationships. We end our time together feeling refreshed and connected and looking forward to the next visit, even if it’s a month out, and honestly that’s what I’m still looking for.

T vs. F: Logic and Emotion in Decision Making (Wyn Magazine)

One of the main dichotomies I run across is the war between Feeling and Thinking (shorted in many discussions to F & T).

The difficulty with these labels is that they can encourage a binary way of looking at the world, and people who are highly aware of their preferred way of deciding can become proud or ashamed of their preference, based on the message they get from the world around them.

With T and F we see two very different ways of doing things, and they are frequently set in a hierarchy rather than seen as two tools in a toolbox, neither of greater value, both necessary in different contexts.

A woman I know came from an entire family (both parents and sibling) who lived in the F-preference. The people they knew and met from the T-preference were perceived as harsh, unyielding, and definitely unloving.

In contrast, all my life I have been surrounded by T-preference people who are very driven, immutable, and organized, in both their behavior and their thoughts. This became my standard or assumption for maturity. Thinking was the way “real grown-ups” made decisions.

Showing emotions (especially “violent” emotions, like anger or loud tears) was evidence of a lack of control, which inevitably held echoes of those childish, impotent outbursts we used to call tantrums.

I understood the value of Thinking and did everything I could to ignore or repress Feeling, seeing it as only a distraction that strong people can get over.

Read more at wynmag.com

It’s Not Me, It’s You: Find a Therapist That Fits (Wyn Magazine)

In the darker corners of my depression, having to look for Counselor Number Three gave me additional evidence that I was a failure.

From my current perspective, stronger and more healthy, I can look back and understand I met two more people, professionals, but limited as all humans are, who were not the best match for my personality and needs.

In the summer of 2010, our house had been on the market for two months with a realtor who disrespected me, but we were in a six-month contract and that was that. Because of newly diagnosed allergies, my children and I were restricted in our choice of foods, and I had to learn how to feed us all while they were a constant dripping-tap of complaining at the change.

There was more to the overwhelm I felt than those details, but those were the challenges I could see.

A friend frequently had an interesting tidbit or observation she’d gleaned from her time with her counselor, and many times she urged me to find a professional listener of my own. She felt I should nail down what was troubling me, because really, existentially, it couldn’t be a self-centered realtor, whiny kids, and giving up my favorite foods.

Apparently I wasn’t shallow enough for that.

Thank God for encouraging Friends!

Read the rest at wynmag.com

Courage– Revisted

Image courtesy of Colin Brough via stock.xchng

It takes one kind of courage to look straight at  your life, compare where you are to where you want to be, and then dive into making your life the one you want to live.

It is another kind of courage (more in line with General Sherman’s definition) that has us look straight at the cost of something, and choose it anyway.

Both have been coming into play in this “year of courage” (as I labeled 2013).

I have had a string of successes and delights this spring.

  1. I adopted a dog that was just what I wanted (still learning how to train him ;])
  2. We had a family vacation in Hawaii that was almost completely stress-free and got me far enough into my novel that the momentum meant something.
  3. I finished my first 10 speeches to achieve my “competent communicator” award in Toastmasters
  4. I finished my novel last week, and am now letting my story-brain rest, working on non-fiction writing instead (blog, WynMag).
  5. I’m wrapping up a last few editing of WynMag projects and the first issue will go live soon. (And I’m ahead on my submissions for the next issue).
  6. I’ve got the children signed up in a homeschooling program for next year (that we will actually start this summer), so that we have more financial flexibility to explore and experiment with curricula to find what will work best for our family.
  7. We’ve sold the rabbits (most of them, anyway), bringing us down to pet-levels.
  8. Our second round of baby goats is due this week (and we know better what to DO this time, so the enjoyment level will be even higher).
  9. The children will complete their first year of “away school” next week, and I won’t have to be the bad-guy, sending them on with empty hopes that people might change, and the slightly less-empty hope that there’s not many days left.

These are all tied, in my mind, to the first type of courage.

Now comes the second kind.

Image courtesy of Sarah Peller via stock.xchng

In the process of getting healthy on a mental/emotional level, I’ve come to recognize a series of needs that I must not just balance or juggle, but meet.

  • Writing
  • Exercise
  • Right eating
  • Sleep

These are the non-negotiable for internal stability.

But having those covered allows me to see there’s a second tier that really enhances the first tier.

  • Clean Space
  • Calm companions
  • Achievable, completable goals
  • Spiritual pursuit (singular)

I suppose having spiritual pursuit in the second category is going to look bad to some people, but it’s true. Until I am stable physically and mentally, asking the hard questions and pushing in any realm that has Deep Meaning is simply asking too much.

One of my biggest problems, all through my mothering journey (I can’t remember much thinking about it before then), was an image of a robot changing its own batteries. That’s how I saw “self-care”.

Continue reading »

Real-World Magic: Not Speaking

Image courtesy of ACSelcuk via stock.xchng

Someday, I really hope that I write a serious essay on the existence– or at least the definition– of different types of magic.

Today I’ve settled for discussing the first on my mental list: Spells of Silence.

Those exasperating moments when the story is extended by a piece of information coming out a moment (it’s always just a moment) too late.

Let me begin here: Fairy tale silences are beginning to make a lot more sense to me.

How many people, today or at any time in history, have been trained to explain what they can’t explain?

Can you imagine saying, “I’m under a spell, dear, and if you see me in my human form, I’ll have to go off and marry an ugly troll princess.”

I mean, I am one of the most articulate, word-ready people I know (Sorry if that sounds bad, it’s just true), and I have found myself mute in the face of certain circumstances, certain people.

This even comes after years of practice talking about how confused I am, or how I don’t have the words for something. In those situations I would keep talking (or journaling) until I reached some kind of coherence, or at least the next action point.

That was when I didn’t understand fairy tale silences.

Image courtesy of Michael & Christa Richert via stock.xchng

But something changed with the depression. I wonder at times (in the present) if I would have had some kind of help–more help– if I had tried harder to say how broken I was.

For the most part I kept quiet, because I didn’t have any better ideas to give people to give me, and I was pretty sure that criticism without offering alternatives was shameful. That was complaining and it  recalled countless references over the years to “the children of Israel” after they’d been led out of Slavery in Egypt.

“Here they’d had so great a deliverance and now they were complaining about the food?”

I had little to give in terms of nurturing energy, and I imagined that I was caring for others by keeping the weight of my problems off of them.  It made me feel nobler or more generous in my isolation and loneliness.

Image courtesy of Michaela Kobyakov via stock.xchng

I’ve since learned that “Self-blame is a symptom of the disease [of depression]:” That “people feel ashamed of being depressed, they feel they should snap out of it, they feel weak and inadequate. Of course [they do:] these feelings are symptoms of the disease.”

And these symptoms all go a long way to keeping us shut up.

Continue reading »

Response to “A Letter to Teenagers”

I understand why this letter has gone viral and been so popular, but when I saw it on Facebook this morning (before I read the above article) These were my thoughts.

~ ~ ~

This letter is a good start (in the sense that we all need to be reminded to do what we can, and quit expecting others to do it for us) but these words don’t provide what I needed as a teen, and that was personalized direction.

I was a KID. I was even one who didn’t claim to know everything. And I didn’t know on my own which way to go other than to “be good.” And that is WAY to vague for most kids.

I was a good kid by most standards, and this letter being given to me would have made me feel simultaneously furious and helpless.

He’s just told me to get out of his way and quit being vocal about the fact that I have needs I don’t know how to meet.

All my life I had a drive to “make a difference” and “be involved,” but I did not have the skill/know-how/authority to make much of anything happen on my own.

Weekly visits to the nursing home (at 13) were with an adult, who eased me into being unafraid. Joining worship team (at 17 or 18) and before that forming a youth version (when I was 15) required an adult sponsor to give us access to the stage and sound equipment.

Even now, in my 30s, I know the fastest, most efficient way to know how best to apply my talents comes from outside help.

Why do you think “life coaching” even exists as a profession? We want solid, reliable input. Wise people don’t want to be limited to their own experience.

It always feels good to tell off people who are making your life more complicated, and the writer was described as “a judge who regularly deals with youth.”

I guess most of the readers/repeaters are parents, and AMEN! because they feel similarly pressed.

These parents have been dealing with and giving, like the judge says, and yes it’s perfect for the youth to “accept some of the responsibility your parents have carried for years.”

But I for one was never the kid who could look at a mess, see what needs to be done, and “just do it.”

I am BARELY that kind of adult.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from becoming a grown-up, it’s that the growing. never. ends.

And parenting (best as I can tell) is a lot of inconvenience.

We’re allowed to gripe, and call it hard, like it is, but eventually we have to swallow the frog; reenter the inconvenience of life-as-parent ’cause, really, nothing gets done until we do.

We have to change that diaper, find a bandaid, teach a concept and (Lord-Willing) cultivate a sense of self that will allow that child to develop a personal vision and motivation that will equip him or her to finally accept everything in his letter as a reasonable expectation.