Practicing Introversion

It’s 9:30 p.m., and I’m an hour out from the ending of this week’s emotionally demanding “change group.” One of this week’s conclusions included the recognition that I don’t have (don’t take) enough time to introvert. To sit with my thoughts and be, and process, and feel, and think (conclusions optional).

It’s a funny awareness. It’s like a low-level hum that zeros out as white noise, but adds to the busyness (demand) on my senses.

I’ve said many times that I’m not a quality-time person, I’m a quantity-time person.

That is, I don’t know how to simply focus on a person– at least, I don’t think so, because every time I try I get bored, irritated, or annoying. It’s just easier and more sustainable to simply be around someone and do stuff in each others’ vicinity. Converse, say. Or play a game. Or read, or watch a movie. Or eat, or cook, or ignore each other while you sit on the same couch with your shoulders touching and a screen in your lap.

See, I’ve got all sorts of ideas for this. A real-life set of examples.

But none of these let me be absolutely alone, or off-duty.

I was thinking of this on the ride home, thinking it would be bedtime, I’d send the no-longer-littles off and stay up a bit myself (as I did back in the toddler stage) to think by myself and compose a complete idea. This feels like it shouldn’t be so reactionary any more, but it is.

The dog is sleeping under my legs, and it both creates and soothes an achy part in my chest to have her near.

Two-months-from-13-year-old Melody comes out, and my gut falls. I was alone, “Why do you need me an hour after bedtime?” I ask. And I go on. “This is my time to be alone. I don’t get time during the day, you know?” I feel like she’s deciding whether or not to be hurt, and I keep going. “You know how you go off on your own, no matter how much you adore your mama, you spend time alone during the day.”

She nods, and a grin creeps onto her face.

“Well I don’t get that during the day. So I need you to let me have that now, after bedtime. And to try and solve your problems yourself right now– preferably by going to sleep, because it is after bedtime.”

And she accepts my ultimatum with a smile that I intensely need to see, because for all my assertions, I’m really not okay with her feeling alone with her problems. It’s one of my old wounds and something I wish away for everyone. Maybe even one of the shapers of my life-purpose: not to fix everything, or anything. Or anyone– but to be a witness, a resource, an encourager, rather than know anyone sits alone in their pain.

This is the beauty of written words: from blogs to poetry to novels and love notes. When I hold a book, read an article, I am engaging in something magical. I am inside the mind and emotions of another fully aware and generous human being.

When you read these words, or an email someone crafted especially for you, know you are the recipient of a gift of faith. As a writer we may write for ourselves, but we also write for the reader. I have an image of you, the reader, even now as I type this with my feet propped on the coffee table that never holds coffee.

You are an incredibly patient, and probably curious individual. You’ve made it through 600 words of mindful rambling, and you’re still reading now, maybe wondering what profound (or empty) conclusion I will come to, because I’ve just about exhausted your patience.

I don’t have one.

Not really. I’m writing because this Tuesday night group (and the women in it) have challenged me over and over to look at (for) my true self, and what has been missing from my peace and wholeness. Two of those things are writing and stillness. So that’s what I’m making happen tonight.

This was 30-minutes.  Exactly. And the peace of the exercise is its own testimony. Maybe it will say something to someone else, too.

Peace to you.

 

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.

January 1, 2014

Focus is a matter of deciding what things you’re not going to do.

— John Carmack

Image courtesy of Gerla Brakkee via stock.xchng

Image courtesy of Gerla Brakkee via stock.xchng

I am |this| close to making a resolution to not learn anything new this year.

But that would be silly.

I’ve made “not” resolutions before (like NOT buying books). That didn’t really work/happen/exist very long…

And I didn’t feel bad about it, either. HA!

Last night I updated my Writing page, and for the first time actually made a list of what I’m interested in– what I research, pursue and actively learn about. And it wasn’t a mile long!

Though I admit to some deceptively concise labels.

I used to think this complete listing was not possible, since I’ve watched myself latch on to any new idea that enters my line of sight. I’ll chew and taste and explore– and that willingness has sometimes made me feel like and intellectual toddler who needs to be protected from my own curiosity.

That unnamed image actually made me vulnerable to the type of person who was more interested in telling me how to think than strengthening my own ability.

It was my untrained, but still existing, ability to resist this attitude that taught me I wasn’t an intellectual toddler.

Image courtesy of Mihai Tamasila via stock.xchng

Image courtesy of Mihai Tamasila via stock.xchng

I was an explorer– an occupation which requires intense levels of maturity, initiative, adaptability and courage, words that, until last year, never entered my mind as ways to describe myself.

Much of my adult life has alternated between delighted and frantic exploring. I see something I don’t know, and rather than just enjoy it’s existence, I need to understand it– to explain it– to participate in it. Sometimes I feel behind and deficient until I am up to speed with usable information about whatever just hit my radar.

[I should qualify this to say not everything-everything is this way. I always love it when an experience completely “misses” that absorption instinct– fly-tying, bell-choir, crochet, singing alto. It allows me to absorb– and release!– that topic in a completely different way.]

Sometimes, if I cannot deliver an extemporaneous lecture on any topic (no qualifications– any topic) that leaves me feeling deficient.

Today I’m declaring that unrealistic.

I have my brief (deep) list, it encompasses more to study than I can ever use up , and it provides quite enough meat and sugar for my life and brain.

I don’t need to keep looking for new things to know.

~ ~ ~

Image courtesy of Richard McCroskey via stock.xchng

Image courtesy of Richard McCroskey via stock.xchng

For many years I have been in the pursuit of the “right” system– that magical *something* that will make life “work” where it hasn’t before.

I’m convinced such a system exists– there are so many books about organization and time-management with great (This WORKS!) reviews– but I think now that this system is something as effective as medication for brain-based disorders. That is, about 40% effective at best.

40% is a pretty high number, and nothing to dismiss– That is a LOT of people with improved lives. Unfortunately, if any of those lots-of-people found their peace (or method) without difficulty or pain, their level of understanding and compassion or grace is diminished toward the remaining 60%.

The rest of us must learn to live in ways that schedules and methods may inform, but not master.

In 2013, my future-focused, planning-addicted self began to ask:

What if this life didn’t change? What if this is who I am, what I’ve got, and it’s everyday? Then what? Would I choose this?

I’ve found this way of thinking to be incredibly helpful for me. It actually keeps things from getting too big. As someone who goes meta really quick, it’s about the only thing that’s ever been effective:

One day at a time.

Take food as an example. We all KNOW that we’re not supposed to “diet,” as in change the way we eat, just for a little while, with the plan to return to our old ways.

If we want to be healthier we must find a way (meals, timing) to eat that we are willing to continue forever.

One day at a time.

So this is where I’m beginning the new year:

I write. Every day. Already. I don’t need a resolution to do that.

Sort of like I eat. I don’t have to plan for it to happen.

I do have to have some sort of  plan if I want to reach certain goals, but this plan doesn’t have to look like anybody else’s.

The beauty of a plan, of any plan that’s worked for me, I mean, is how many decisions are already made.

And this loops back in to What you already know.

Decisions that don’t need to be made.

I do have goals, because I know where I want to end up.

But the difference this year is that I’m focusing exclusively on what I already know to do.

I know a whole. heap. of a lot. I have had experiences that worked, and have learned from things that didn’t work.

Image courtesy of Farquois via stock.xchng

Image courtesy of Farquois via stock.xchng

For the month of January, I am doing many things (like pressing on with the writing plan I began in October), but counting the days, I am returning to a few food principles that I know work for me.

  1. I’m writing down what I eat– holding myself accountable for the good decisions I know I should make.
  2. Decide that every every meal (or snack!) I eat has to include protein.
  3. I will still eat deserts (while following #2), but only on the weekends.

These are all things I’ve done and sustained before. This is not an “experiment” I hope will work. These are proven strategies I’ve been too [fill-in-the-blank] to stick with.

So here it is: not a new-year-resolution, but a plan to remind myself

I have enough. already.

My Voice

I had a sudden memory this morning.

Four months ago, when I still hoped I might be able to find a place I belonged in my old church, I visited Saturday night mass at the Catholic church down the road.

(That might sound contradictory, but work with me here.)

Image © Patrizio Martorana

Image © Patrizio Martorana

During the years I was depressed and my mind burdened by more than it could carry, I found tremendous relief in attending midweek mass.  The church was 10 minutes down the road (a big deal now that I lived outside of town), and the priest has a heavy, heavy accent.

He grew up in India, investigated “all the faiths” and chose Catholicism. He met Mother Theresa. Doesn’t eat food that isn’t fresh and says that’s why he’s never been sick in the seven years since he came to Alaska.

Very interesting man. Wonderful smile.

We did St. Raphael’s VBS a few years back, and I got to learn the meaning of a parish. The idea of people worshiping together that also live near one another.

After the last day one of our new friends invited us to join them at a local park, and they got to talking about the “new” priest, and how hard is was to understand him sometimes.  I don’t know if I realized at first I was defending him, but I shared that one of my favorite aspects of visiting the church was feeling of foreignness.

That is, I imagined what it must have been like for new believers to try and understand a non-native speaker communicate a comforting but unfamiliar ritual. It all held great significance to me.

I can’t explain the warmth I felt when the other mother said, “Wow. That actually makes me like him more.”

~ ~ ~

Feeling a great deal of turmoil this spring, feeling isolated, I remembered the community and comfort St. Raphael’s had offered in the past, so I slipped into Saturday Evening Mass and soaked.

The second week I attended (the memory that struck me and made me want to tell this story), one of the women Cantors (song leaders) was an older soprano. And she had my voice.

That is, I recognized the way she sang.

There are different qualities and sounds of Soprano. I have my likes and dislikes, and my voice can be in either of those categories depending on the work I want it to do. But she was a mirror.  For the first time, maybe ever, I got to hear what I sounded like, not from a speaker, a recording or in my own head, but eight feet from the instrument itself.

Twice I nearly cried.

Now I know what people mean when they say I can sing.

I am not perfect, but I’m good, especially in the range and type of music suited to the voice. I have a good instrument, and if I’m not thoughtful in the way I use it, I can tear myself down.

And this makes me think so much about the rest of me. My gifts, my inclinations, my duties and delights.

~ ~ ~

I once was in a really foul mood, and verbally attacking myself (speaking the truth, I called it then). God somehow got my attention and gently asked if I would speak to my dear friend Jana that way.

Instantly my mind replayed all the abuse, and my imagination showed me pouring it over this gentle-spirited, loving individual. I sobbed, horrified that I might be capable of such a thing, how I’d never want to hurt someone like that.

It was as if God was asking, How are you different from her? Why treat one of my daughters this way?

I heard my voice in a new way.

And I made a change.

When Words Become Abusive

Image courtesy of Linden Laserna via stock.xchng

Image courtesy of Linden Laserna via stock.xchng

I put the words “verbal abuse” in the keyword search engine for my local library, and one of the titles it brought back was a grammar [correction] guide.

That made for a great joke on Facebook, but no one asked why I was researching that topic (in fairness, I research a lot of random stuff as a novelist).

One of my skills is what I call “instant extrapolation,” the power to see A and reach G very quickly. I am very sensitive to attitudes and approaches to life and theology that grow into gross misrepresentations of God and his character.

But you see that word, sensitive?

“Admitting” sensitivity in some environments is tantamount to saying your awareness is not representative and may, therefore, be written off.  “Most people are fine,” the math seems to say. “This is just a random data point. Doesn’t matter.” She doesn’t matter.

Having removed myself from an environment that contained mental and emotional abuse, I am already feeling stronger, but I have continued to wrestle with the language to articulate what I walked away from, and I struggle with the question of grace.

That is, I really don’t expect people to be perfect (I am too aware of my own imperfection), so how do I make the distinction between carelessness, or foolishness, and abuse?

I came across a set of words recently that was a huge help in this process.

A few years back there was a huge on-line exchange between some pretty big names in the Christian world, including The Gospel Coalition, Rachel Held Evens and others.

This post includes the relevant links, but also the illustration of that point that has become so important to me.

Words are my gift, but (as much as I joke about it) reading minds isn’t.

I will do my best to be not-unkind, but I cannot control my own ignorance.  I don’t know what I don’t know, so I assume I will hurt people at times. I wondered if this made me an abuser.

The people who hurt me are still at least acting clueless, so I couldn’t figure out the distinctions.

Then this post. She says many meaningful and relevant things, but summed up my own pain and frustration in these words:

My issue is that a violation has occurred and no one will so much as even own it. My issue is that I am hearing almost the exact same words in the exact same mentality and attitude that were spoken to me when I was personally violated and spiritually abused: “I didn’t mean for it to be offensive, so if you’re offended, you’re wrong.”

It made me think of a (disappointingly common) scenario in my own household.

One child will be waving a stick, or throwing a rock, or swinging a toy around like David’s sling, and it will “impact” a sibling who was equally oblivious to the activity as the perpetrator was of the other child’s presence.

I have witnessed the wounder trying to prevent the hurt child from coming to a parent, and, failing at that, accompany the child to loudly protest innocence, even as tears roll over a rising welt on the wounded child’s cheek.

“I didn’t mean to hurt!” is the unchanging refrain, as if intent will absolve them of the effects of reality.

“The fact is, you did,” I always say. “What you meant doesn’t matter any more. You owe him/her an apology.”

This is the missing piece.

This is how I keep from becoming those I used to fear. I acknowledge hurt. I acknowledge ignorance. I acknowledge there is more than I understand, and that a person is worth my compassion, not my condescension.

Brother, if your sister tells you it hurts, it just hurts. If your sister tells you it wounded her, it just wounded her. And all any of this condescension and evasion of responsibility is doing is showing her that your need to be right is worth attempting to argue her out of her violation.

Jamie Finch from The Fig Tree

Mourning Isn’t Over When the Flowers Wilt

 

Image courtesy of q83 via stock.xchng

This is a recording I made of poems about admiration, love and loss, from a variety of poems and poets: To be of Use by Marge Piercy, A Psalm of Life, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, A Dirge Without Music by Edna St. Vincent Millay, Perfection Wasted by John Updike, and an excerpt from Four Poems in One by Anne Porter.

I have completed my First-10 speeches for Toastmasters, and am now working on my first “advanced manual,” Interpretive Reading.

I performed this collection of poems at a new Toastmasters group yesterday. The feedback was mixed, kind compliments, and appreciation of how I compiled the cycle, with questions from other people about the point or purpose of poetry and such a “dark” theme: Remembrance, death and loss.

Jay came with me to the meeting, and returned to the questions when we got home.

My first response was to think, Maybe I’m just morbid.

But that didn’t fit my intent or my emotional state. I dug deeper while he tried to help.

“Is it to share at a funeral or memorial service like [name] asked? What’s the application?”

“Mourning doesn’t end when the service does,” I finally said, coming to my understanding as I spoke it.

“I repeat the poems because it is a way of remembering. The people who hear only death and gloom hear what they have ears for, and that’s okay, that’s not up to me, it’s where they’re at. But there is ever-so-much more and better going on than gloom.

“There is grief, because I still grieve. That doesn’t go away for me or anybody. And it’s comforting, somehow, to go back to what you might expect at a service. It still honors them, and comforts me.”