Day 78 – Monday, Feb. 27th (78/288): A reflection on building – and balancing – one step at a time…

This morning I read a verse about God needing to build the house, otherwise those who are building it are laboring in vain. Then I read another verse, about yeast permeating every part of the dough. Between the verses and my reflections with them more than a year ago, the pieces started coming together.

I liked the words in the first verse (Psalm 127:1), but I wasn’t seeing how they fit with my desire to seek employment. Busily searching for position announcements feels out-of-synch with letting God build the house. Then a verse about God doing it quickly when it’s time flashed to mind, followed by the verse that goes something like “though it seems slow, wait for it.” The push-pull again of wanting to take this journey slowly enough to hear what I need to hear, while feeling the pressure of the outer world of creditors and loan requirements. Breathe… Sigh…

The verse about the yeast and the dough (Matt. 13:33) struck a deep chord with the particular translation that reads, “Even though she put only a little yeast in the three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough” (NLT). The reminder raised tears of gratitude, as I remembered that what I’m learning permeates all the areas of my life, eventually changing the way I respond to the world.

Sometimes the steps I’m taking seem so small, it feels like I’m getting nowhere or that I’m inching along too slowly to get where I need to go. I went back and reread the verse from Psalm 127, about God building the house. I realized that I let God do the building anytime – and every time – I stop to ask for guidance or hold in my awareness my intention to follow the path I believe God has for me. Progress, not perfection…

As for the seeming slowness of my journey, it helps to remember that these seemingly small steps add up and make a big difference over time. After an InterPlay retreat Saturday, I’m noticing again how what began as a spontaneous practice of playing with balance, by standing on one leg and seeing how well I could hold it while moving other limbs, turned out to be a gift of building strength in my legs and my body. I started playing with balancing on one leg at a time as a metaphor for playing with balance in my life. When I discovered that I could easily rise from a squat to a stand using only my legs (i.e., no flapping arms or bending forward), I wondered when I had gained the strength in my legs. It gradually dawned on me that it was the playful balancing on one leg that had built up my leg-strength little by little.

Similarly, I suspect, the seemingly small steps I’m taking in this journey of breaking through my fears may be doing far more than I realize. With each bit of confidence I gain, each experience of practicing social or networking skills, each moment I pause to consider how to respond to a particular circumstance, I am learning and I am strengthening my “core” in ways that make it increasingly easy to make healthier choices for myself.

Noticings:

  • How healing it was to tell some of the story and to dance on behalf of my aunt in the day between her burial and her memorial service.
  • How often I like to stand when I’m at home – often at the kitchen counter, doing a puzzle or simply visiting with my (other) aunt while she works in the kitchen. I suspect the standing is my body’s way of balancing the all-day-sitting work I do.

Action step(s):

  • Updated and balanced my checkbook. (I’d really like to pay closer attention this coming month and not be surprised by the bank.)
  • Gave myself permission to take things slowly when I felt a bit depressed, which actually led to my getting some things done, like my checkbook balancing.
  • Kept focused on getting ready for work this morning, attempting to “be here now” (as compared to many mornings when my mind is busily writing blog posts or making other plans).
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Day 76 – Saturday, Feb. 25th (76/290): Noticing the depression, the peace, the bursts of energy and more

Yesterday became a surprisingly peaceful day. After getting to the office and taking the time to write my last post, I soon found myself going through the tasks on my desk without any sense of urgency or need to hurry. I simply kept attending to one thing after the other, beginning with being able to post data on my colleague’s computer without having to rush, since she wouldn’t be in for a few hours.

The odd thing was that I ended up working much longer than I had planned, not out of any compulsion to stay or sense of obligation, but because I was simply enjoying the freedom to be here and to work as long as I wanted. I got caught up in catching up on a particular type of correspondence, which helped me to work my way through some incomplete tasks that were filling up my folders. It felt good to clear them out one by one.

Working in a part-time job with far too much to do in far too little time often presents the challenge of picking and choosing which tasks garner my attention at any given moment. Perhaps that’s why yesterday was so nice. There were several people in the office, which doesn’t happen all the time. The atmosphere was quietly productive in a serene, sometimes playful sort of way. And the truth is, I was enjoying being around people, even if we weren’t often in conversation.

These past eight days have been a strange mix of depression and loneliness, peace and connection, small bursts of energy and sudden “who turned off the lights?!” moments of fatigue. I appreciated reading that Lent is a time of slowing down. I can use some slowing down right now, even as I sometimes feel the need to shift gears into more action. It gives me permission to attend to the inner journey even more closely.

When that happens, I find I’m able to notice things I might otherwise rush past. For instance I noticed I was able to respond differently to a call from the staffing agency. When they called to see if might be interested in another temp position that is farther away than I would like and would require a commute through a particularly congested stretch of freeway, rather than hesitate and send out the signal that I wasn’t interested, I said, “Tell me more.” That simple act gave me a few moments to adjust to the idea that even though this is far from what I would consider an ideal location, I want to be open to what might be there and, certainly, to the much-needed income. I never know when I might encounter unexpected blessings, like those that came through my last temp job.

Perhaps it doesn’t seem like a big deal to you, being able to say, “Tell me more.” Yet for me, it was a new and helpful way for me to respond when my kneejerk reaction was to inwardly groan at the prospect of that particular location. It’s moments like these, when I’m able to respond in a different, healthier way that I appreciate this journey of introspection and moving slowly.

Noticings:

  • How nice it was to choose to relax and stay at work yesterday until I felt ready to leave.
  • That it was a good decision to stay home this weekend, as much as I would have liked to have said good-bye to my aunt with my cousins and siblings.
  • How good it feels to be able to dance and move and “babble” today.
  • How much I’ve enjoyed having pictures in my post and wondering where to find more.

A word about “noticings”: Noticing is something we do a lot of in InterPlay. It’s not about making judgments or trying to make meaning or sense of whatever we’re noticing. It’s simply observing what it is and letting that inform our experience in whatever ways it does.

Action step(s):

  • Attending a Day of Deepening at InterPlay, giving my body and my spirit a space to play, to move and to be in community.
  • Saying ‘yes’ to the possible temp job despite the location and schedule because I want to be open to possibilities, rather than closing them off.

Day 75 – Friday, Feb. 24th (75/291): Transformation happens even amidst the struggle…or because of it.

I was feeling better again yesterday, as though the depression had subsided, if not quite lifted. Then it sneak-attacked me again this morning. Like right now, when I don’t feel much like writing a blog post. Still, I know that maintaining regular posts (at least four per week) helps me to do the inner work I need to do.

On the way to work, my thoughts snowballed into tears that were connected to my aunt’s passing, family and the losses that come with growing old enough that my siblings and cousins and I are not far from being the elder generation. The precise reason for the tears was a little hazy, but it had to do with longing for connection and in knowing that my two siblings and my cousins will all be together at my aunt’s memorial service. I’ll be at home.

The odd part of it is that I’m okay with this. Several days ago I had been at peace with the realization that I didn’t have the money or the confidence in my vehicle to travel down to the memorial service. Then yesterday evening, after my sister called earlier that day to say that she and my brother would be going to the service, I put myself through a whirlwind of trying to find a way to get there.

I could afford to take the train down to my sister’s, but not the trip back. I could get a ride part way back with one of my cousins, but that wouldn’t have connected me to the train or any other public transportation to return me to wherever I would leave my car. Finally I realized that even if I could get help with train fare, my cousins would have to leave soon after the service (one has a plane to catch), so I wouldn’t really get to spend any time with them after all. And being with them, even more so than my siblings, was what I wanted. It was the way to be with my aunt.

Sometimes we find family simply by being with those who love and play with us. (Another InterPlay graduation moment.)

So I let it go. I returned to my earlier plan to stay home and began to experience serenity.

At bedtime, since I had finished a fiction book I was reading, I considered what to read before going to sleep. I chose to begin (again) Catherine Ponder’s book Open Your Mind to Receive. (She’s one of my favorite authors.) As I read those first pages again, slowly, already getting sleepy, I was struck by the possibility that my life could truly become quite different. In the introduction, Ponder asks why a “loving Creator” who wants to heal our physical bodies wouldn’t also want to heal our “sick pocketbooks.”

Suddenly, I had the clear thought, the spark of belief, that my financial situation could be radically different in only one year from what it is right now. The belief stemmed not from “magic thinking” as a friend of mine calls it, where our problems are suddenly swept away by a major windfall or the like, but rather from the simple fact that I am changing and being changed. Little by little my relationship with myself is being transformed and I am learning how to respond differently to my circumstances. I’m learning how to make wiser choices around financial matters and so many other things.

As I learn to love and appreciate myself, those fearful reactions to my financial circumstances at any given moment are shifting toward healthier choices, wiser choices. I may still bumble along in any given situation, but I am learning. Every now and then I am shown this by the deep responses that go past my thoughts and into my whole being to tell me that I “got” something that seemed elusive before. It may be only a seed, or it may be the first sprouts from that seed. Whichever it is, it is a sign of growth within and for that I am truly grateful.

Noticings:

  • How I can feel it in my whole body, my entire being, when I “get” something on a deeper, more profound level.
  • How serenity so often follows when I let go of something that is not working.
  • How God provides when I really need it – a paycheck that came just in time to pay a bill and to get me through the rest of the month.

Action step(s):

  • Looking for other options for attending my aunt’s service – then letting it go when it wasn’t working.
  • Attending to the deep needs of my spirit, even as I said yes to another possible temp job.

Day 73 – Wednesday, Feb. 22nd (73/293): Depression is inconvenient, bothersome and, well, depressing!

There’s something about the immediacy of posting directly online that I have been missing. With no internet access on my own computer and limited windows of access on my uncle’s computer, it’s become easier to write my posts in a document, then use my flash drive to post them from another computer. I started this post Monday, but just couldn’t seem to get it done…

Depression…rats! It’s back and it’s persisting, although at any given moment it lifts and I find myself out from under the mire. My depression is, fortunately, the situational kind, rather than the clinical kind. For that I’m grateful. But it is nonetheless hard to get things done – make that hard to get inspired and energized to get things done – when it’s present.

For the past few days since I learned of my aunt’s passing, I’ve occupied myself primarily with jigsaw puzzles and DVDs. Yesterday, with my (other) aunt and uncle out of town, I ended up watching several hours of one of the crime dramas I enjoy (when I’m willing to endure the violence) while I did finished my third jigsaw puzzle in almost as many days. I had hoped to pounce on my uncle’s computer while they were gone for a couple of days, but I couldn’t seem to find the inclination and energy.

What helps me most on those occasions when a confluence of circumstances bring me to a place of depression (right now, it’s my aunt’s passing, my discovering I almost zeroed out my bank account when I thought I was paying attention to it, and my housing/financial situation in general) is being able to recognize that my low energy level is depression. Naming it helps me to know how to respond to it.

Naming it also frees me to not have to pretend I feel better than I do. I don’t want to stay in the depression, but my experience has been that the more I try to fight it, the worse it gets for me. Whereas, accepting that it’s there helps me to let go and just do what I can.

The other day, I employed the Serenity Prayer, asking God to grant me the serenity to accept the depression and to do what I can. It helped. I noticed that my increased energy (which manifests both in mental and physical energy – well, not quite as much physical energy as I’d like to have… ;-)) didn’t necessarily last, but even that is okay. I’m okay with windows of inclination and willingness to do xyz.

Sometimes the world looks like this when I'm depressed... (Another pic from my InterPlay graduation.)

What I’m learning about handling the depression (probably because of this blog journey/process) is that coming out of it can happen incrementally, with ups and downs, like pretty much everything else in life. Yesterday, I just about had my post written, but it felt too long. I printed it out and that’s as far as I got. I realized I wanted to separate out two very different themes that had come up in it – depression and a response to an earlier post (Day 63), but I simply didn’t have the energy.

Now, with the nudge of my aunt and uncle returning later this afternoon, I’m a little more energized to get things done. I also remembered, while writing this, another tool that helps me through and out of depression – Gorse flower remedy. I happened upon it years ago when a friend recognized I was depressed. I didn’t even know it. In our conversation that day, I made some joke about getting business cards that said “Living Corpse” on them. Later that day, I discovered that exact phrase in the description for Gorse in Bach Flower Therapy: Theory and Practice by Mechthild Scheffer. (This is a fantastic book if you really want to learn about flower remedies.)

I had been taking a few other flower remedies, but started on the Gorse after seeing those words in the description. Within days, the depression lifted! Writing this post reminded me that I hadn’t even tried that in the past few days. I guess you know what I’m going to go get as soon as I’m done.

Meanwhile, I’m going to keep reminding myself of what it says on a little card I made up many months ago: Do what you can – and let go the rest. I started to check out blog-formatting things, like trying to find a footer where I could put something (couldn’t find anything I could edit) and decided to change the title of one of my categories (found several vulgar spam “comments” and wondered if the category title was inviting creepy types), but quickly started to feel overwhelmed.

A friend recently pointed out that when we feel confusion – to which I would add ‘feeling overwhelmed’ – it’s because we’re not ready to act. Many times I feel confused or overwhelmed by a sudden “need” to do xyz. Now I know – and will try to remember – that feeling confused or overwhelmed may simply be my mind and body’s way of telling me that now is not the time. That feeling of urgency, I’ve often heard said, is my will, not God’s. Today I’ll remember to be still and trust that the readiness will come when the time is right.

Have a blessed and wonderful day!

Day 70 – Sunday, Feb. 19th (70/296): Unexpected grace

I’m noticing how quickly I start to feel depressed at any given moment these past couple of days. It’s a subtle depression; not the clinical kind. Still… Sometimes it manifests simply as a desire to be quiet. Sometimes it manifests as a lack of interest in doing anything in particular. Yet even when it’s the latter, it seems to have a purpose. Perhaps I’m meant to use this time to listen to my body and see what it has to tell me about this journey…

InterPlay Graduation

Timidly approaching the "hooplah" at an InterPlay graduation - green feathers everywhere!

  

After publishing my blog post Friday, about my aunt’s passing, and adding the picture of the two of us, I felt uplifted. It shifted the experience from sorrow to an appreciation of the time and relationship we had over the decades. I have had two photos of her as part of my changing desktop backgrounds. I have enjoyed seeing her face on a daily basis for the past few years. In a way, since I’ve known she was gradually making her way toward her Maker, I’ve been saying good-bye to her for some time. Soon I will celebrate my aunt and our relationship with my InterPlay friends. Wonderful things, fun things, any-things can happen at InterPlay!

Today I hurried to church to be on time for the next installment of the Islam class. I had finally sent an email to both the presenter and the pastor, expressing my concern about the tone being set. (My post last Sunday – Day 63 – expresses how disturbed I was over some of what was said. The reply, which I opened today, disturbs me even more…) As it happened, the presenter was ill and we had no adult ed class this Sunday. So, I found myself with an unexpected hour before the service.

Serendipitously, I had not brought anything to read or do. (I suffer from a touch of boredomphobia, so usually have something to read/do with me at all times.) I had fleetingly considered bringing my Courage to Change with me, in case I had some time between the adult class and the service. Instead I had “fearlessly” decided to go to church with only a notebook for taking notes during the class. (Technically, I did have a sudoku book in my bag, but it doesn’t count because it lives there all the time.)

Faced with “too much time and too little to do,” I actually connected with a few people who were enjoying the extended fellowship time. I’m typically shy about engaging in conversation with people I don’t know and hesitant to join a group already engaged in conversation. It felt good to have taken even these small “social steps” this morning. It was an unexpected blessing.

Sadly, I learned that a much-loved, elderly member had taken a fall Thursday, slipped into a coma and died the next day. Between that sad news on top of my aunt’s passing and wonderful music that often moves me anyway, I was grateful to have my handkerchief and a few tissues with me. Hanky for the eyes; tissues for the nose. By the end of the service, the hanky was damp and the tissues soggy. It felt good to let out more tears. I knew I had been holding them back, even if I couldn’t feel them being held back. My aunt was too special to me not to have had more tears than I had shed on Friday.

This morning’s tears were likely also the result of a clash of several emotional situations. Sadness at the death of my aunt. Sadness at the loss of my fellow parishioner. And the stress of my financial situation. In a kind of “double-whammy” Friday, shortly after I posted on my blog, I decided to print out my recent checking account activity, just to be sure how much I had to work with for the week. I was stunned to discover that most of my meager savings account balance had transferred into my checking account to cover my gas and grocery purchases this past week! I truly thought I had been paying better attention to my spending. Quite obviously not! Sigh… Sometimes the learning curve feels awfully steep…

Then, in a moment of grace – or rather, an hour of grace – I ended up in a fascinating conversation with a gentleman who was visiting our congregation. We talked at length about things related to interfaith dialogue and how to create greater harmony among people of different traditions and experiences, among other things. He belongs to the same faith tradition as one of my cousins and asked what her name was, in case they’ve met. I asked if he knew a good friend, who’s active in the United Religions Initiative (http://www.uri.org/about_uri/), which promotes interfaith dialogue. I’ll be curious to see if my friend and my cousin ever become a mutual connection for us.

I suspect we could have talked much longer, but my body was talking to me, suggesting such things as lunch and a chair. (We were standing out in the parking lot.) We exchanged email addresses and will likely stay in touch. While it didn’t occur to me to mention my interest in administrative office work, this felt like a networking connection that might bless me in my ministry pursuits as they begin to develop. It was a delightful and wholly unexpected gift, one that left me smiling and feeling quite blessed by the entirety of my church experience today.

Action step(s):

  • Sent an email to the presenter of the class that disturbed me so much last Sunday.
  • Checked my bank balance (which turned out to be a darn good thing!).
  • Gave myself a quiet, self-care day on Saturday.
  • Let go the temptation to pull from the small balance left in my “retirement” account. I’d still rather learn how to do more with what I do have than wipe out everything I have.
  • Did some judicious grocery shopping with the $21 I had in my purse, grateful to have had some cash to tide me over till my temp-work paycheck lands in my account sometime this week.
  • Had more worthy social interactions at church – stretching me just a bit more out of my safety/comfort zone. 🙂

Day 68 – Friday, Feb. 17th (68/298): Time passes and so do loved ones

My spirits are low this afternoon. A much-loved aunt passed away last night. I learned about it went I went to check my email this morning. She represents – or perhaps I now need to say “represented” – a lot of joyous times from my childhood. She was my mother’s sister. (My mother’s been gone several years.)

Me and my wonderful aunt, Thanksgiving 2006 (I think)

My cousins are people of strong faith and their emails went in the direction of “She’s now with Jesus! Hallelujah!” I find I can’t really get excited about this, even though I know she’s with her Creator. I miss her. And I’m sad that I will never be able to see her again in this earthly life. But she was ready to go; she had lived a good and full life (she turned 99 just last month); she still had her wits about her; yet her body was done with its work.

May we all be blessed with such a long and well-lived life and such a peaceful passing!

This post is short, as I don’t have the energy to throw myself into the world of introspection and noticing to see what I have or haven’t done this day towards my goals.

To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die…a time to weep and a time to laugh;

A time to mourn and a time to dance… (Eccl. 3:1, 2, 4 NKJV)

The dancing will come later, when I will celebrate her life with movement and joy…

Action step(s):

  • Honoring my need for quiet in this time of sorrow, I left work a bit earlier than I might have and skipped the errands I didn’t feel like running this afternoon anyway.

Day 67 – Thursday, Feb. 16th (67/299): Leaving the rest to God

This week has been a time of changes, blessings, disappointments, gifts… I’ve noticed some things as I continue to reflect on this journey.

A year ago, shortly before Christmas, I found myself wanting to focus on the twelve Days of Christmas. It wasn’t so much what I planned to do as the fact that I had a place to direct my focus. What I noticed, as I turned my attention toward attending to those twelve days – which is something I’d never done before (I don’t think singing the song counts ;-)) – was that my Christmas suddenly didn’t feel quite so empty or lonely even though I was just as alone as I had been before. In fact, in some ways, I was more alone than in previous years.

I recognized in this something I’ve been experiencing recently. As my attention has become consumed with financial issues, I have seemingly lost interest in other concerns, such as the desire for love and romance that used to be on my mind virtually all the time. I’m increasingly interested in attending to my own self-care and, with that, being able to let go the things I’ve never been able to control but have nonetheless clung to as though I could control them.

Yet even this awareness doesn’t stop the tears when they well up, triggered by something I’ve read, something I’ve watched on TV or a DVD, something that reminds me that the road is still rough, hard, a long way from where I want to be. This afternoon I learned that the longer-term temp job didn’t come through. Disappointment seeps in amidst the gratitude for the extra twenty hours of income this week and I didn’t realized how much so until something on TV raised tears when it wasn’t especially sad.

Yet there have been blessings this week as well. The possibility of additional paychecks coming at regular weekly intervals got me to thinking about how to more wisely use the income. In recent years, I’ve often quickly spent any monies that came to me, as if to spend it quickly was the only way to enjoy it. This week, I came to realize that each paycheck would and could only be a small piece of the resources I would need to be able to get back on my feet and move forward.

I began planning – loosely, lightly, carefully. Tithe first. Pay a little on my credit cards. Put aside a little toward rent or a rent deposit. See if I might buy a piece of clothing here or there to expand my “professional” wardrobe. (Most of what I have is in the jeans and T-tops arena.) Remembering my plan from a little over a year ago when I got my new cell phone, to purchase one ringtone a month (which I’ve actually not done), helped me to realize that all these things can happen in small steps.

As unremarkable as it may seem to actually think about and plan financially, it is nonetheless a remarkable experience for me. It is virtually uncharted territory for this long-time instant-gratification addict. I suspect it took a kind of “hitting bottom” for me, where I ran out of available resources to discover and discovered that I can do without this or that, at least for a time.

I was also unexpectedly blessed in the temp job I had when part of the job involved looking at photos of condos and apartments and homes. My work involved uploading photos for “profiles” of places for rent. There was something about seeing so many beautiful homes that opened the door for me to begin dreaming. In fact, it opened the door to dreams bigger than I’ve ever truly had. For the first time that I can remember, I could actually see myself being able to someday afford one of those homes. They weren’t places for the very rich; they were simply nice places that people with good, solid incomes can afford. For too long, I have let my limited resources determine the size of my dreams and the past two-days have expanded those dreams in an unexpected and wonderful way.

Okay, it’s late now (for me), so I’ll close by saying that I’m appreciating all that’s happened this week. The ups, the downs, the changing tides of what I would and wouldn’t be doing for the next few weeks. As I was reminded to do in a reading from Courage to Change, I’ll attend to my responsibilities and leave the rest to God.

Actions step(s):

  • Listened to my body’s needs and got a long, full night’s sleep Tuesday night (9 hours!).
  • Did my best at my temp job (and was affirmed by my boss, who may call me again to work there if I’m available).
  • Called the temp agency to check in, rather than waiting to see if the other job was available. So much better than dangling in the unknown.

Day 65 – Tuesday, Feb. 14th (65/301): Where’d she go? That energetic younger me…

I’m beginning to suspect that God is trying to bring me in gently to the full-time working world. The temp position I interviewed for Friday may yet come through. In the meantime, I have been blessed with another temp job this week. I worked a very full day yesterday at my regular job (ten hours), knowing I might have difficulty getting there while doing this short-term temp job.

Today I worked 7 hours at the new position, which is conveniently close to my aunt and uncle’s. The “commute” time is all of about five to six minutes, plus a couple of minutes of walking. Whoo hoo! I’m wondering, though, about how ridiculously tired and sleepy I am this evening. It’s only 7:30 and I’m so ready to go to bed! I actually will head in that direction once I get this posted.

It’s so goofy. I am so tired, yet so grateful for this challenge of doing temp work while striving to keep up with my usual job. It will be much easier at the temp position next week, since it’s within easy walking distance of my regular job. Still, I wonder if this is God’s way of easing me into a busier, fuller schedule.

I’m most curious to see what my energy level is like once I’m actually receiving more income. Will it improve because the financial stress eases a bit, even if temporarily (i.e., until a permanent position finds its way into my life)? Or will the longer hours leave me tired in a different way?

What I have noticed is the boost of confidence I received yesterday when I was offered this week’s temp job and told that the other place liked me enough that they were willing to wait a few days for me to start there. I can’t tell you how encouraging that was after having job applications that often yield not so much as an acknowledgement.

I’m holding all this lightly, curious to see where it leads. Both of these new positions are temporary, so the need for employment still exists. I’m a little too tired to do any searching this evening and may do most of that on the weekends for a time. We’ll see. Mostly I want to keep taking all this one step at a time.

There’s a wonderful principle we practice at InterPlay called “incrementality.” Basically, it’s the acknowledgement and appreciation of the fact that we got to where we are incrementally, one step at a time, and we’ll get out of where we are to where we want to be the same way – incrementally, one step at a time.

This week I’m grateful for income coming and the prospect of making it through the month with a checking balance that will likely be in the double digits if not the triple digits. Thanks be to God! Whoo hoo!

Now, I’m going to head toward bed, one sleepy, fuzzy-headed step at a time and trust God to sort out the details and the timing of the remainder of my week.

Action step(s):

  • Sunday morning, I again practiced “networking” when I chatted with a parishioner and she said she’d send me a link to a website that might help me find work in the non-profit arena.
  • Turned to readings in Courage to Change to give me peace Monday morning, since I knew my day might turn upside down quickly. I’m glad because my day sure ended differently than it began, as is the case with this entire week.
  • Went through all my unopened email at work Monday and enjoyed taking the time to get a lot done that day.
  • Sent a request to connect with a friend on LinkedIn, alerting him to my interest in chaplaincy, since this is his field.

Day 63 – Sunday, Feb. 12th (63/303): Pompous Piety Derailed Serenity

I’m struggling with something. My anger and passion have been piqued around something about which I feel strongly, but I’m not sure this is a great time to actually write about the situation. I have experienced a lot of serenity this past week and have reveled in the grace of such a gift. When things have been a little scary or challenging, I have managed to weather them surprisingly well. Until this morning.

So I’ll keep breathing and taking my time with this, in the hopes that I write with more grace and compassion than I witnessed today.

We’re having a four-week adult class on the topic of Islam at my (Christian) congregation this month. The class description sounded interesting, so I had been looking forward to it. I missed last week, but was glad to be there this week…until I noticed a pattern in the lecture that disturbed me – a lot.

Rather than providing us with an education about Islam as a respected, if different from our own, faith tradition, this person kept comparing – in a denigrating way (from my perspective) – various Muslim characteristics, practices or beliefs to “Christian” values – as though all who might identify as Christians are the same, with the same values, moral codes, and interpretations of the Christian Bible. He used words like “sanitized” to refer to what is commonly known about Muhammad and “in stark contrast to Christianity” to emphasize something he apparently sees as particularly contrary to Christian values. I was shocked at the picture he painted.

The thing is, this man has done a lot of research over a long period of time. I don’t doubt that he offered a lot of factual data. But it was the tone and innuendo of his remarks that got my blood to boiling. As it is again now, just writing about it.

Breathe…breathe…breathe…

When he would make an “in contrast to Christianity” remark, I found myself wanting to ask, Which Christians? Grown Where? In What Century? There are so many ways that Christians disagree with each other that it is difficult to ascertain what exactly constitutes being “Christian.” Each denomination has its own understanding, its own interpretation of the texts that unite us.

It was not many decades ago, for example, that many Christians saw Judaism as a wrong path to God (as in, you won’t get there). (Many still do). Now there are many wonderful interfaith dialogues happening among Christians and Jews. Perhaps the growing acknowledgment and appreciation of the fact that Jesus was a Jew helped bring the Jewish and Christian communities into a greater appreciation for each other, but how many centuries was it before this happened? (The answer is, of course, “too many.”)

And how is the arrogant notion for many Christians that “we’re” (I must say “we” because I am Christian) the only ones who have it “right” different from the Muslim’s perception that Islam is the final, true understanding of God’s will?

Breathe…breathe…breathe…

What keeps coming to mind for me is something my World Religions professor said to us on the first day of class. He told us to approach our reading on each faith tradition as if it was the tradition we wanted for ourselves. In other words, he asked us to keep an open mind to the gifts and beauty and truths offered by each of the many traditions we studied. As a result, I saw in each of these faiths the same desire, the same yearning for the divine that I know in my own life and see in the people around me. I saw kindred spirits all over the world who simply approach the God of my understanding differently than I might or than my particular (Anglo, American, Protestant, 20th-now-21st  century, etc.) community/culture might. I felt blessed and uplifted simply learning about each of these traditions, including Islam.

What, you might ask, does this have to do with the overarching topic of this blog? I would answer, Everything and nothing.

The most disturbing aspect of my experience this morning was when one of the people from the class communicated to me afterwards her fear. Instead of providing an edifying introduction to a worthy and significantly global faith tradition, this man was unwittingly (I’d like to think) instilling greater fear of those who are different from us. One of the points he raised around sharia law (aka Islamic law), for example, is that it’s okay for Muslims to lie to non-Muslims in order to protect themselves. There was little context around this statement (or most of the others for that matter) to conclude anything except that Christians can’t believe what a Muslim might tell them.

Breathe…breathe…breathe…

I’ve been thinking on the Holocaust again this past week. I was thinking about how the Nazi slaughter of ten to twenty million Jews, Gypsies, “homosexuals,” people with disabilities, and several other groups of people impacted far more than the millions who died in those horrifying years. I was thinking about the impact it had on the survivors, the families and friends of survivors, the communities where the violence was perpetrated, and the countless other places in the world where such horrific events came to be known.

What was spread through that atrocity – and has continued to be spread through other forms of genocide and mass violence before and since – is fear. How can such events not shape our response to whatever is different in our world? It is too close to home. It is profoundly disturbing. And it seems to come out of nowhere simply because the leap from prejudice to violence can happen with such unexpected swiftness.

I was disturbed this morning because I went to church anticipating a similar education to the one I had received around Islam years ago – one that might lead to an appreciation of all that is good in it. Instead, I found a pompous kind of piety that gives excuse to denigrating a group of people who are no more homogenous than any other group.

It is interesting and perhaps ironic that the current (Feb.13) edition of Newsweek has a cover article titled “The Rise of Christophobia.” I picked it up at the store today after church and look forward to reading it. It is written by a Muslim woman who looks at the persecution and murder of Christians in the Muslim world. I pray that my fellow parishioners do not use it as fuel to contribute further to the denigration of Islam in the remaining classes this month.

This was a bit of a rant and longer than I anticipated. This morning’s experience disturbed me because I believe in a loving God who comes to us in many, many forms – perhaps as many forms as there are people willing to receive that love. This week, I will think a lot about the Serenity Prayer and ask God to give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change in this class at church, courage to speak up and say the things that need saying, and wisdom to know the difference.

Right now, I’m going to turn my DVD of Quincy back on and see if I can regain the serenity that was present when I began my day.

Your comments are welcome. Two resources came to mind as I was finishing this.

 

Day 61 – Friday, Feb. 10th (61/305): We were not given a spirit of fear

How fragile courage can be when it’s new, unpracticed, still developing… I went to work today, looking forward to the brief phone interview for the temp job, already planning how I might accommodate my present work responsibilities for the weeks I would be largely unavailable during normal business hours if I get the job. I wanted to give my colleague a heads up, in case my schedule needs to abruptly change. It caught her off-guard, as it had me, and the timing was poor. My eagerness rapidly shrank back to distress and concern. Would it work? Will I have to choose between a job I’d like to keep and a job I may need to be able to make ends meet in the coming weeks?

I was truly wishing I had my copy of Courage to Change with me. I would have turned to some pages on fear, worry, or some similar topic. (The thought to bring it had been there when I was getting ready for work. Once again, I dismissed the nudge I was getting from you know Who.)

So, I cast about in my memory banks for some 12-Step wisdom and remembered that I can choose what kind of attitude I want to hold. I could let my dismay and renewed fear dislodge the confidence I felt earlier this morning or I could remember that I need to take care of myself and trust God to work it out.

The irony, I realized as I was writing this, is that I had been given a classic “fear not” verse just this morning during my reflection time. In fact, I had recorded three such verses in my journal:

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy…” (Luke 2:10 NRSV)

Perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18 NKJV)

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Tim 1:7 NKJV – This is one of my favorites.)

I’m also now remembering the spider that startled me when it dashed across my comforter as I was preparing for bed last night. Oy! Spider reminds me that if I am not decisive enough about changing my lot in life, I may end up being consumed by my fears and limitations. (Sams & Carson’s Medicine Cards, p 209) I wasn’t thrilled to abruptly encounter the speedy little critter, but I appreciated the message. (Services were held for it this morning…)

Ya think Someone’s trying to tell me something about letting go of my fears and moving past them? I can take a hint! (And I’d prefer not to wait till the 2 by 4 is needed!)

I don’t know what’s going to happen with the temp job. I didn’t receive word one way or the other this afternoon, but the gentleman interviewing me said it might be Monday morning before we (candidates) would know. Until then, I’ll plan my work keeping the possibility in mind, but let go the worry about receiving the job. I know that if I am fortunate enough to get this or some other position, God will be able to sort out the details.

Action step(s):

  • Went into work early and caught up on some personal emails.
  • Responded to an email that came because my resumé is posted on a job site. The message undoubtedly goes out to everyone with a resumé on the website (they’re looking for sales people), so I flipped things and asked the inquirer to let me know if he knows anyone who needs a good admin!
  • Asked a friend, who inquired how things were going, to let me know if she hears of any admin positions. She said she’d keep it in mind. “Networking” again! Whoo hoo! 🙂
  • Boldly shopped for some healthy foods, knowing that God will provide if I run short later in the month.

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