Monday, June 18, 2012

Angry Birds

My grandkids play this game called “Angry Birds.” I really couldn’t figure out the point. Then I realized that it’s kind of a healthy tool. These birds get mad, and then they do something about it. Sometimes their actions are effective, and at other times they make a bigger mess. There really are some life lessons hidden in the subtext. Are there subliminal programmers at work? I may be overthinking it. But one of the areas in my life that I wish I had figured out better when I was a young woman is in the area of emotions. I wish I had understood better how to express my own sadness or anger, so that I could have taught my children better strategies for doing the same. I love my parents, and am grateful for them every single day; every single moment. Do you feel a ‘but’ coming on? When I was a little girl, and well into my teens, okay, fifties, if I felt angry or sad, I was always told to go to my room. I wasn’t allowed out until I was back in a happy mood. I don’t think that was always a bad idea. Sometimes I was just a brat, and I needed correction. But other times, I felt bad, sad, afraid, or angry, and I needed to find my voice. Most of the time, I was taught that anger, fear, and sadness were “negative” emotions, and I’m not sure that’s true. I wish I knew how to express righteous anger. I wish I could express anger without tears. But I can’t. My parents had different ways of sharing their strategies for dealing with anger. My dad carried an imaginary rooster around in his shirt pocket. If we were pouting or sad, he would take his rooster out of his pocket, squeeze it between his thumb and index finger, and tell us, “This rooster’s going to poop on your lip.” You can bet that you sucked in that pouty lip pretty damn quick. When he was G-3 at Fort Hood, he didn’t want to get confused about what buildings and services were under his command, so he painted them all Infantry blue and put a big yellow smiley face on the side that said, “Have a Nice Day.” He was that kind of guy. He might have been a warrior, but he did not like conflict. My mother had no tolerance for the anger or sadness. She was fearless that way. You just flat got sent to your room. We always knew it was “mom’s way or the highway.” It would have been handy if someone had asked you later, “What were you so mad about?” But that never happened. My parents raised us just like most folks did in their generation. We were spoiled, and it was their way of creating a balance. In their childhoods, their families were coming off the Great Depression; there were world wars. Pondering your navel was inexcusable. If someone did you wrong, you better build a bridge and get over it in about twenty minutes. And yet. We do have the right to be sad. And angry. And we do need to find a way to say what needs to be said; to do what needs to be done, without worrying that our relationships are going to end or we’re going to have a disgusting mess on our bottom lip. When my children were sad or angry, I didn’t send them to their rooms, but I’m not sure I did all I could do to help them express their true feelings. I think they tried to spare me a good bit of honest reflection because I was a single mother for so long, but they seem to have gotten over that in their adult years. I think they each deal with anger, fear, and sadness very differently, and I realize that’s completely normal, too. But wouldn’t it be a healthy thing to be able to say what you mean, mean what you say, and get heard and understood in the process? Wouldn’t that kind of communication be refreshing, knowing that your love for each other was secure, unconditional, and not tied to how you were feeling or not feeling at the moment? I’m the woman who apologizes to the store clerk when she’s rude to me. I’m the one who pays the mechanic for shoddy work. I’m the one who gripes in private but smiles in public. I want more honesty. I want to learn how to be an Angry Bird when I need to be. But an Angry Bird doesn’t need an audience, or a victim. Releasing our anger to God is first and foremost. He can transform us when we come face to face with what we are truly feeling. If we “get angry” that implies that our anger has a target and in the midst of our anger, we probably don’t have the clarity we need. Through prayer and supplication, through reflection and introspection, we can figure out if our anger is righteous or self-righteous. Self-righteous anger is sin. Righteous anger requires something of us…we must bring it to God and listen for His direction. It may be to stay silent, or it may be to confront, to change the outcome for the better. I’m working on it. I don’t ever want to get to the point where I’m throwing chairs or sobbing at the counter. But I do want to figure out how to say, “I’m pissed when you do this or that…” or “I’m sad because I wanted this or that…” I want to be a good listener, sounding board, and confidante. I’m not there yet. I’d like to learn how to deal with my anger, fear, or sadness without creating a foul/fowl mess. I’d like to learn how to deal with my anger without putting on a happy face, without making chicken salad out of chicken shit. I want to bring it to Him, and leave it with Him, and be transformed by the renewing of my mind and attitude. As it turns out, Angry Birds don’t have wings. They have to function without any mode of transportation. I’m not sure how they ever win the battle against those green pigs once and for all. But you and I, we have wings, and we have the ability to handle our anger without dropping bombs or morphing into multiple personalities. I want to make myself stronger, and I want to make my family stronger. I want to purge myself of unhealthy habits. I want to invent a new game, “Empowered Birds”…”Confident Birds”…but it’s never going to catch on with that kind of title!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Beautiful Poison

God’s been doing His work in me, and I have learned something from Him in the process, painful as it is. He has shared this with me: I am never holy. Only He is holy. Sin is always within my grasp, within my reach, in my heart, in my thoughts, in my DNA. Just when I think that I am knowing Him, growing closer to Him, gaining ground in terms of spirituality or holiness, He shows me that there it is, sin, like a weed, growing in this beautiful garden that He calls me. Did you know the Easter lily is a poisonous plant? We associate it with new birth, with redemption, with holiness. And yet. And yet. Our God tells us, “Be holy, for I am holy,” in 1 Peter 1:13-16. He goes on, “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written, Be holy, because I am holy.” I’m just wondering. Is that possible for me? It seems I try and try, but I don’t meet the Maker’s mark. I know that I want to live a life of holiness, in order to understand and fit into the plan God has for my life. But the older I get, the more I discover how strenuous that is. Life, it seems, is an obstacle course. It requires spiritual, mental, and physical effort. I must work to prepare, to arm myself, for the duties and trials and conflicts of this life. He requires me to be sober, reflective, watchful, and active. I must ask for His protection against my pride, my self-will, my arrogance, my self-loathing…in other words, whatever weakens me in faithfulness. It’s a small path, and a narrow gate, that leads me to Him. He gives me hope, hope for holiness. I know that I am saved by grace through faith. But as I go, as I go through each day, I need the anchor of His word to stay the course. I'm writing a book. I don't think it's self-indulgent. I think the book has an important message. And, it's a dream come true for me. It's going well. I don't quite understand what comes next, but I am hopeful. But writing this book with Shilo has forced me to consider my selfless devotion, as well as my selfish desires. I want, more than anything else, to make sure that the reading of this text leads someone, anyone, to decide to be transformed by the renewing of his/her mind, as that is surely what Shilo’s story is all about. No matter what the world says, his story cannot be told separate or apart from the grace of God. So I’m just praying that sin doesn’t enter in too boldly or too sneaky either; that we each ask every day to be transformed so that what we say, what we write, is holy and pleasing to God. That it doesn’t turn out to be beautiful but poisonous. That it leads to new life, rebirth, holiness before God. Let this work be a living sacrifice, through us, holy and pleasing to God. Let it be an act of spiritual worship. Because long after the pages disappear, and long after we leave this earth, if we have pointed no one, no person, no family, no seeker or sinner to our God, then really, why did we bother?