Sunday, May 29, 2011

Warning: Not for the healthy. Only for the sick.

Recently, a dear friend of mine who was not raised in the same Christian culture as I and most of my friends said to me, "You people really love Jesus, don't you?" Yes ... we are pretty much obsessed with Him.

Frankly, there is no reason to be a Christian without Him. With Him, there are many reasons to actually want to be a Christian.

I have been thinking about this a lot. Like many people in this world, I get frustrated with insincere religiosity, callous people who call themselves spiritual and yet consider themselves better than their fellows in humanity, and contentious people who draw all kinds of divisive lines over things that truly do not matter at all in the very epic scheme of things.

Sometimes mainstream symbols of my own religion make me sick to my stomach at the idea of Christianity. Even better, I see these sickening signs of insincerity in my own practice and watch my faithfulness dragging on the ground behind me like a pair of pants that are way too big with no belt to be found. Some days those trousers just fall completely to the ground and leave me embarrassed and ashamed of myself. Some days I look like a slob and a fool and I just don't have the energy to try to fit in or feel apologetic.

But it is because of the person Jesus Christ that I stick around. There are so many reasons for this, but one in particular keeps harping on my mind. It has to do with being healthy or sick.

There are so many initiatives in our society trying to encourage us to be healthy. Healthiness is good because it means not only that your life might last longer but also that the quality of said life will be improved. We are attracted to healthy people. Those emotionally, physically and relationally healthy people are just so desirable and alluring. [I find it interesting that most people excel in one area of healthiness, not usually all. It's hard to find a balance in healthiness!]

The unhealthy are considered less attractive in our society -- except for when they allow us to feel better about our own shortcomings. Many of those mentally, physically or emotionally unsound folks become the outcasts of society or at least social groups. We can't usually deal with another person's profound lack of health because we in ourselves are not usually strong enough to cope with the way another person's dysfunction spotlights our own. Not to mention the fact that we are left incredibly weary trying to overcome our own illnesses. I'm not talking about bodily illness.

This is why people like Mother Teresa bring us to our knees in awe -- she touched and loved and mingled with the most sick and unsound for her life's work. I drive by a seriously sick homeless man on my way to work every day. Every day tears spring to my eyes and I want to jump out of my car and embrace him and love that illness right out of his life -- but I do not. I'm way too scared. (Heck -- I am way too scared to be in the same room with a puking person for fear I'll end up puking, too!) Mother Teresa would've done it. (!!!) She would've done it because she had encountered the impressive person of Jesus, who was filled with perfection yet brushed more than just shoulders with the most perverse of His contemporary society. She would've done it because she was acquainted with her own illness and knew how much she needed the touch of Jesus for healing.

While we draw lines and quarantine the sickest and try to keep ourselves pure, we can't run away from the haunting knowledge that inside of us is a sickness we can't do anything about. Sick egos. Sick thoughts. Distorted feelings and untimely reactions. Anger we can't control. Despair we can't admit. Outbursts we'll always regret. Inconsistency and hypocrisy. Repetitive self-destructive behavior. Total and complete inability to forever change the things we hate the most about ourselves. Insecurity that threatens to sell out the most unique and genuine aspects of our individual character. To God, our Creator, it was too important to let us carry on this way. He had to come down to earth. He had to bring His perfection to bear in the most non-judgmental, non-condemning way imaginable. The only One holy enough to have a right to condemn came not to condemn but to end the condemnation.

Now, today, the only way I can feel this presence is through the people who embody this kind of love and acceptance to me. The only way to get better is to receive that unconditional love and acceptance. When you do, it just has to spill right back out of you.

 15-16Later Jesus and his disciples were at home having supper with a collection of disreputable guests. Unlikely as it seems, more than a few of them had become followers. The religion scholars and Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company and lit into his disciples: "What kind of example is this, acting cozy with the riffraff?"
 17Jesus, overhearing, shot back, "Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I'm here inviting the sin-sick, not the spiritually-fit."(Mark 2 - The Message)

And then there are people who seem to channel this same Spirit, just from the heart somehow. (You can help!)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

"Talk too much and you will eat what you say!"

21Words can bring death or life!
   Talk too much, and you will eat
   everything you say.
Prov 18:21

Delicious words. I love them. I love new words, old words, fancy and simple ones. I love putting them together on a paper with a pen, or typing them out on my laptop screen. I enjoy writing for business and writing for pleasure.

In my current line of work, there is a huge emphasis placed on the written word. Any time you talk contracts in the U.S., you talk the written agreement. I cannot tell you how much heartache I've witnessed based on the misunderstanding that a conversation accomplishes a contract. The "But you said..." phrase breaks my heart when I hear a confused resident think back on a previous moment of connection with a person in the office. It's not that it didn't happen if it didn't get put in writing, it's just that it doesn't stand up legally if it's not writing. Until something is written down and usually signed by both parties, there is no certainty if it's "just talk," still at the level of imagination, or if it's really going to happen. 

I think it's interesting that the only way to truly navigate the discomfort of these exchanges is to expertly and gently wield the spoken word with compassion and certainty. You can't make someone feel better by putting it in writing. You have to talk, listen and let a person know they're heard. 

The written word is now turning into tiny bites like text messages, status updates, "tweets," and chats. Our attention span is thinning. All the while, I wonder if we take less time for conversation, exchanging ideas, sharing our innermost thoughts, giving feedback and comfort. Will we ever give up communicating altogether?

I have friends who speak multiple languages. I mean, more than two. This is amazing to me -- think of all the communication possibilities they have! I am severely limited by my usable knowledge of one delicious word menu.

So, in the defense of words, written and spoken, I have been thinking about how I can really use their power. I've been considering how many ways words enrich my life. And I've decided to share a few with you, in case you're feeling a word drought. 

  • Try writing a letter. I get letters and notes from friends occasionally. Even though snail mail is dying, it's still one of the brightest spots in my life to receive a care package or a card. Can we mail one package/note per week to someone new for 2 months? That's roughly 8 people. 8 brighter days. 
  • Sponsor a Compassion child -- the letter-writing aspect of this program is huge. I just got an email today that they are in desperate need of people able to sponsor older children. 
  • Learn a new language? I'm going to try to (again). There is nothing like learning a new language to awaken the brain to all sorts of new ways of thinking about the world. It's not just different sound combinations, it's actual thought constructs and methods of expression that are different. [I remember this from my years of Spanish and semesters of Japanese. Both of which I loved!] You can find podcasts and of course there's always Rosetta Stone. This will open doors to travel and even new job possibilities. 
  • Find some new blogs out there. Sharell is one of my favorite bloggers nowadays, but my brother-in-law Daniel also wrote something fantastic the other day about the insight and invite of Jesus. I thought how glad I was that I keep up with the blogs of close family and friends as well as complete strangers in other countries. Wow! Small world! You can use Blogger, Wordpress and other internet venues to find topical blogs on pretty much anything. 
  • Listen. Watch for body language. Two ears. Two eyes. One mouth. Value words by listening first and listening beyond what you hear before speaking. Think twice, speak once, right? I say many foolish things per day, but I save many more foolish things from coming out when I realize that what I'm about to say is purely motivated by ego, manipulation, sleep deprivation, or an overreaction. 
  • Journal. Say what you need to say. Don't be afraid -- conflict isn't always bad. Words must be carefully chosen and fearless.
That's all I've got for tonight. I love words. Write some to me anytime! 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Your dog's name is what??"

One aspect of My Real Life is my puppy. Her name is Winky, and no, it's not a boy's name. She is a Miniature Dachshund of approximately 6 months and 8 lbs (she'll get a little bigger). Tonight she looks like..

It's just after surgery. She is looking pretty low to me! Now she's sleeping comfortably all curled up in her own bed and does not seem to be messing with the stitches too much.

Winky is named after a House Elf from Harry Potter. If you need a crash-course in Harry Potter magical creatures, please try this link. I thought (with some help from Michael Ruiz) that Dachshunds look quite a bit like the standard portrayal of the House Elf, and the qualities of loyalty, obedience, bravery and mischief all seemed to line up. I was originally thinking that I'd get a male pup and name it Dobby, after the House Elf who saves the day, but instead I got a girl, and named her after Dobby's friend: Winky.

[By the way, Winky the House Elf has her own fan page on Facebook!]

Winky is usually peppy, playful, vocal, energetic, sweet, cuddly, attentive and friendly. She loves other pets and considers every human being a part of her family. I have never seen her turn an admirer away, though she does look at me in shock when people pass her on the street with indifference. She is such a charmer that even people who do not like small dogs -- or Dachshunds or whatever the stated prejudice -- will fall for her and start thinking about a little pet of their own.

Winky came to me from the litter of some good old friends, Gypsy and Otto. I used to house-sit for the Prince family and they became some very special people in my life (ah, the good old days of hiding rubber chickens where one least expects it!). I grew attached to the dogs as well (to my surprise, having always been a big-dog kind of person), and promised myself that one day I'd get a puppy of my own. In the Spring I learned that they planned to breed one last time, with puppies expected in November 2010. I began mentally preparing. I knew that I'd have to find my puppy from among this litter!

My mom picked out the puppy for me here in Maryland while I was still living in Texas. Somehow, Winky ended up being the perfect match for my on-the-go lifestyle. She is the most gregarious little thing, yet so snuggly. She will sleep in the bed with me every night, but she's not too shy to welcome every new person into the home. I knew I wanted to get a dog who was resilient enough to travel with me anywhere, and Winky fits the bill! She is never skittish after a plane flight and settles in quickly to cheering the nearest person in any new environment (she does follow me a little more closely in unfamiliar places, though).

We all have those days when nothing seems to go our way and we feel like the worst parts of our character are totally exposed to the point that our flaws are all that's visible. When I have a day like that and then come home to Winky, I remember that she can only see the best in me and remain my best friend regardless. Sheer companionship is truly amazing.

Winky has a few nicknames... Stinky Winky, Winks, Little Winks, Little Girl and more.

Her favorite activities include running through the neighborhood (me trailing), playing with her sister, chewing on toys and snuggling (especially with my mom, me, or her Aunties [Jessica, Christina, etc.]). She also loves little children and plays well with my 2-and-a-half-year-old nephew, Stephen. The other night she heard his little infant brother crying and couldn't stop herself from trying everything possible to get to him and make it all better! Such a sweetie. :) She also enjoys trying to steal the cat's food.

Winky's least favorite events include baths, nail-grooming and sleeping on her own.

All in all, she's a keeper. Here's a short video of her first night with me after leaving her litter.

If you'd like, leave a message for Winky in the comments and I'll make sure she reads them all.
Yes. I AM *that* dog-lover, and I'm not ashamed!

Just ... keep breathing.

Bare skin against her listening device. I had trouble relaxing, as it was. She told me to stop breathing. I was obedient. "Take a very deep breath." That I did, too. "Oh!" she said, "Good lungs!" My lungs sat up a little straighter. "Take another very deep breath!" I was thankful for her emphasis and I breathed. "Oh, very good lungs! This makes me happy."

Wow. My lungs were practically blushing by now. They had never received so many compliments in a matter of seconds! Now they were making people happy and everything. All I had ever done was curse them for their weakness in times of 13.1-mile runs.

Flashes blotched into my brain in millisecond intervals and then they were gone. Here he was before me again: in the bed, covered with a thin sheet, pipes and tubes and beeping and ... his light was so far from us. Could he ever breathe on his own again? Flash of eyes opened -- beeps -- flash of eyes closed -- whooshing -- flash -- pumping air through the lungs that use to take the breaths that churned out the stories and pushed the cheeks into rosy smiles and yielded all the children rolling in laughter. We laughed until we couldn't breathe. When he lost his breath, we gained ours. No more laughing, at least not for awhile.

These were not good lungs. They did not make me happy. They made us cry. And they made me say goodbye. 

When I made my way to the car I thought about the lungs I knew and then the lungs I carried inside me. I hugged my lungs. Thank you, thank you for being so good. 

Then I completely forgot about my lungs again.
Until tonight.

Sabrina teaches us yoga on Wednesday nights. We learn the vinyasa practice for an hour, followed by savasana for 20-30 minutes and some time spent in seated meditation. The entire time is gentle and flowing. She teaches us to welcome our burdens onto the mat with us and allow them to "inform our practice" before we let them go, just temporarily.

If you are like me, sometimes your burdens cause you to hold your breath. I respond to stress of all kinds with tension in my upper body -- wrapping it around my lungs and carrying it on my shoulders like a boa constrictor. For this reason and many others, I love Sabrina's class. She teaches us to breathe deeply the entire first hour, and it is LOUD. You let the breath exhale out your mouth at the back of your throat, keeping it very open, and the sound of 16-20 people breathing this way all at once reverberates and can be so loud as to echo.

Sometimes she reminds us to concentrate on our breath if we are trying a new or difficult posture. It can be awkward to be the only one breathing this way once everyone gets distracted with their own things.

Today she told us to remember our neighbors while we were breathing: sometimes it would be easy to get distracted and so each person in the room had a responsibility to their neighbor to breathe so their neighbor would be reminded to concentrate on their own breath. Funny, the idea that I should be taking responsibility for encouraging my neighbor's breath by focusing on my own. 

I especially need to breathe these days. Without a concentrated effort, it might be easy to focus constantly on all the things I don't yet know and all the areas of my life beyond my true control. Breathing still comes subconsciously, but it gets more difficult.

So I practiced, my burdens "informing" me of my need to breathe all the while. While many people became distracted and their breath quieted, mine remained loud. I didn't care this time -- no self-consciousness. My lungs were ready to show off again (they liked the attention they'd gotten, maybe?).

As I focused just on the breath itself being the most important thing I could sustain in the moment, I began to realize that I was the richest girl I knew. I could fill my midsection with all the air it could hold. Then I could make space for more. The breath was free and freeing. It was filling yet always creating new space within me. I was greedy for the breath, and every time I filled the collection basket of my midsection with air to the point that it was spilling over, I loudly emptied it out for my "neighbors" to benefit. There was so much of exactly what I needed at that moment that I could never feel as though I lacked anything. There was so much plenty that I could share with others, encouraging them, reminding them of the only thing they needed to focus on at that moment. They could be rich, too, if only they would sink their efforts into acquiring that which was most plentiful all around them.

Sabrina spoke to us, saying, "I am going to see one of my favorite teachers this weekend. He always tells us -- and you may have heard me say this before -- that any time you see one fully, deeply concentrated on their breathing practice, you are seeing a person who is experiencing an enormous transitional phase in life." Tears threatened to part my eyelids. Instead I felt myself smiling. If only she knew ... I supposed that she did.

Now that I have seen my sister in the throes of laboring to give birth to a baby, I know that breath is the most important thing to carry you through. If you can keep your breath, concentrate on the breath, you can skim the top of the greatest pains of giving life. You will still feel the pain, but you will remain in control of the gut-wrenching process. If you breathe properly, you will withstand the hardest trials that threaten to snatch away your efforts at success. Take in the air slowly, fill yourself with mighty, invisible riches, then let it out. Begin again. My sister needed her husband to help her breathe. Who is helping you keep breathing?

You can't see it. You can't touch it. You can't live without it. It begins with you and yet it must come to an end outside of you. Then it begins again. Does it hurt? It will hurt worst if you stop. It will hurt others the most if you stop. Keep breathing.