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The Art of Conversation

The Art of Conversation

It’s been said that talk is cheap. However, I’m not really thinking about talk so much as conversation. Today it dawned on me that conversation is an entirely different thing from talking. We can talk to others and have discussions, and we generally do this everyday, but it isn’t the same thing as conversation. I didn’t realize this until suffering years of malnutrition, starved of true conversation and it’s blessed essence and nourishment to my human soul.

Conversation is an art, and it is lost and dying. As I sift through the past 10 or so years of change, I wonder what exactly has contributed to placing conversation, that pure and true discourse between souls, in danger of extinction. Was conversation something that only took place in certain contexts, such as college or seminary, where learning, growth, and the exchange of ideas were as vital as a heartbeat to daily life? Is it that I am now on the downside of my thirties, thrust as a single, childless adult into the context of busier individuals’ lives who are occupied now with maintaining marriages and children while juggling careers? Are we as a individuals and a society too busy in this stage of life to quiet our souls long enough to realize that there is a difference between talking to others and having actual conversation?

My soul is sore. I shudder to think how long it has been since I have had the pleasure of conversation – the deep, freeing, flowing, intimacy-creating, relational-building kind of conversation; the kind that defies time, space, boundary and constriction. The artful pursuit of what lies within another person, and the reciprocal relinquishment of what lies within the self. Conversation is a delightful dance where partners grasp each others minds. It is a passionate interlocking of hearts, a joyful, intriguing dive into who another person truly is, and a richer discovery of who the self is. Just as conversation is lost, so also are people without it. I am lost, and I feel the loss.

The question is, am I alone in my loss and state of being lost? Do others feel the vacancy of the masterpiece of conversation? Are the majority of people content with the manufactured prints hanging in their relational halls, happy to call their daily exchange of speech and interactions sufficient? And those who truly engage in conversation, who do not feel bereft in this regard, why do they keep the circle so small?  Are we afraid of expanding our intimacy to the inclusion of pining souls adrift, thirsty for fresh water in an ocean of salty despair? Surely these people did not exist strictly in educational environments. Surely they did not love and hold to their breast the beauty of conversation for a mere few years of life, only to be discarded when jobs and spouses and children and activities began to fill the palettes of their lives.

Or maybe they did.

In the garden of Eden, Adam had a vast display of beauty and life at his fingertips in the form of a startling diversity of landscape, vegetation, and animal life. He had perfect communion and relationship with God, and yet his soul was lacking.  He needed another creation like himself with whom he could not just communicate,  but have conversation. And so God took from within the man a part of himself and created a unique but similar being to fulfill this desire. And conversation as it was meant to be was born into the world.

If only people could awaken and find themselves like Adam, sitting in the midst of the world around them, in touch with that lonely, missing masterpiece.  If only the business and busyness of life could fade for a few clarifying moments to allow that undertow of loss and desire to swell to the top and rise like a wave cresting, rushing to crash ashore. If only even one, such as myself, could again find conversation, or perhaps that God would fashion and merge our paths, then life would indeed be sweeter.

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Caring For The Human Family

Caring For The Human Family

Last night I swallowed a reality pill, and the side effects were a giant dose of humility.  It’s a concept I’ve heard of before, but last night I think I fully digested it.  A friend’s Twitter re-posting of my pastor’s blog caught my eye, so I opened my bible to the place it referenced.  Matthew 25: 31 -46. It’s the passage that talks about two groups of people: one who asks “when did we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, invite strangers in, tend to the sick, or visit prisoners?”  To the group that did these things, ie: served their fellow-man, he said “whatever you have done to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you have done to me.”  To the group who did not do these things, ie: failed to serve their fellow man, he said “whatever you have not done to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you have not done to me.”

“My brothers and sisters” … that’s the reality pill for me.  I’ve heard and read this story before, but it appeared to me on an entirely different, very real level.  Jesus is identifying himself with human beings. He is calling us his brothers and sisters, his family. He is identifying with us so closely that he says whatever you do to them, it’s like you’re doing it to me.  What you fail to do for them, you fail to do for me.

That crazy odd concept that Jesus was “fully God” and “fully man” at the same time made more sense to me last night.  By stuffing himself (God) into the humbling flesh and nature of a human being, Jesus became “related” to us on a whole new level.  God wasn’t just our Creator through Jesus, he became our flesh and blood relative. He shared in our human struggles in a way we never thought a distant “somewhere out there” God ever could. That makes the phrase “down to earth” resound on a higher wavelength for me.

“My brothers and sisters” … if God relates to us as brothers and sisters, then we should too.  And by relating to people, on some level we relate to God. This absolutely blows my mind! It’s not just a bumper sticker or bracelet philosophy like “What would Jesus do?” It’s a life altering concept to think that the way I treat another person is the way I treat the God of the universe who is literally called Love. Do I care for my fellow man and tend to his or her needs? Do I ignore them with an indifferent posture? By doing so I am either nurturing love (Love) or deflecting love (Love).

My immediate response was “God what can I do?!” “Who needs me? Who can I help and how?” But it occurred to me a split second later that my over-eager response would die out with the coming of tomorrow, because I was looking to make a grand impact in my fervent response.  Jesus let me know in that moment that he doesn’t necessarily want me to go seeking out opportunities, while that is certainly a good thing. Rather, he wants to shift my heart attitude in such a way that when a need arises, I’ll naturally meet it. It is in our daily encounters with people where needs are made known.  They are subtle, which is why I think Jesus referenced simple things like hunger, thirst, companionship, healing, and sticking by someone in tough times.

“My brothers and sisters” … next door, in the checkout line, on the subway, on the bus, a few cubicles down, alone at the park, in the gay pride parade, two church isles behind me, in the suit running for office, in my home in a chair, on the internet in a chat room, bumming a cigarette, holding a sign for food, handing me food at the drive-thru, looking at me for some trace of kindness or connection.

My brothers and my sisters …

 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ “

Deep Wounds Require Deep Healing

Deep Wounds Require Deep Healing

April is National Poetry Month and I’ve been sharing on my Facebook some of the selections I’ve written over the years.  Poetry is usually something personal, although I often write what I call “perspective” poems – poems I write from the “voice” of someone else whose experience I imagine or sympathize.  I’ve posted some personal ones, and choose to keep others tucked away.  It’s difficult to share the stuff that comes from the deep places of the heart, especially with people whose response will likely remain unknown.  It’s “too hard” to let the world see our wounds, isn’t it?

Woundedness is something we all experience and something we all try to hide from ourselves and others.  But it’s always there, like a basement door we shove a large piece of attractive furniture in front of – a curio cabinet filled with dainty things, delicate and beautiful knickknacks, sentimental pictures from “happier” times.  That’s what we’d prefer to look at in our souls, what we’d have others see instead of the door we’ve chosen to bolt and disguise.

That basement – and we all have one – harbors the ills done to us and the pains we’ve experienced.  Things we’ve done to others dwell there also. Woundedness, brokenness, deep emotional pain, even deeper soul pain.  How foolish to think it would go away, but we believe it.  No one fools the self better than the self.  We put our little band-aids on gashing wounds and half-severed limbs and store them in a sea of forgetfulness.  But the sea always churns what is in it, and throughout our lives things happen which bring those hidden pains to surface.

It is what we choose to do with them at that point which matters. In fact, it’s a matter of life and death.  But what if I’m a Christian? I’m not going to die spiritually if I ignore the things that are too hard and too big to ever fully go away? I get along just fine.  There is no use in digging up the past. God will heal me when I get to heaven anyway.

Yes, we might have a functioning and successful life. Work and family might be as ‘together’ as it can possibly be.  But I doubt that anyone reading this would deny that at least one thing in the ‘basement’ occasionally makes a sound, asking and sometimes demanding to get out.  We know how powerful it is.  We know how damaging it would be if we moved the curio and dared to touch fragile fingers to aging, rusted locks. We don’t even think that God could take care of the past, and even if he could, we don’t want to experience healing because that means pain.

Good news – God is the most experienced heart surgeon around with a long-standing reputation.  And he is gentle. Isaiah 42:3 says “A bruised reed he will not break, a smoldering candle he will not snuff out …” God’s knowledge of us coupled with the power of his love and character (tender, merciful, kind, compassionate, patient) is exactly what we need.  He knows when to push forward and when to pull back in such a way that pain will be minimized.  He won’t let us suffer in the healing process beyond what is endurable, and the healing ointment of the Holy Spirit and Comforter will ease whatever pain happens in the process.

It’s worth it.  Without deep healing for those deep wounds, we do die on some level.  And if we’re choosing to live as crippled Christians, yes, we may feel fine and we’ll still go to heaven, but our pain serves to limit us, and those limitations and hindrances could mean the spiritual death of not just one person, but many.  In our wounded state, there are people who cannot be reached.  I wasted years of my life living with wounds, and only now am I seeing how detrimental that was.  I was so inhibited from reaching out to people who need to know who Jesus really is.  I look at where they are in life now and wonder how they might be different if I was in a stronger and more healed position to have met them when and where they needed it. Would they know Jesus by now?

Well, enough of that.  Here’s a poem in honor of National Poetry month and one that touches on this very topic.  I hope I’ll keep reaching out to the Gentle Surgeon, who also happens to be a Loving Father, and I hope you will too.

Blessings,

Cafe Girl

 

A Bruised Reed He Will Not Break

How do You hold a fragile bird that’s fallen from a tree?
How do You touch a tender nerve when You perform a surgery?
How do You mend a broken bone without breaking the remains?
How do You heal a wounded soul with hidden unknown pains?

How do You soothe the crying child afraid of all around?
How do You sift through pounding rain to guide one drop aground?
How do You work the needle quick to sew and patch the hole?
How do You mold the shattered glass into something new and whole?

I am the bird, the nerve, the bone, the soul, the child that screams
I am the drop that’s falling fast, the cloth that’s ripping at the seams
I am the glass that’s on the edge, that fears the break and fears the heat
I am the one who needs You now, the bruised reed at Your feet

Freedom In Expression

Freedom In Expression

Freedom of expression is an amazing gift, one that is given to all people.  It is the loosening of the inner self into the outer world, which creates relationship with the outer world and gives meaning and connection to self and others.  It synthesizes the self, bringing broken pieces together to form a more perfect, more beautiful whole.  People express themselves through speaking, writing, dancing, music, and art.  By choosing to express themselves, they are being creators, fashioning something new and unique from internal elements into something tangible which others can receive.

There is vulnerability in this kind of creation, this freedom of expression.  The self then becomes ‘on display’ so that others not only have the chance to receive it, but the choice to critique it.  The risk of freedom is worth it though.  Without expression, the self withers because it’s composition is fundamentally relational. Therefore, ‘give me liberty or give me death’, for I cannot truly live unless I have expression and the freedom it brings.

Obviously as a blogger, my favorite way to express myself is through writing.  One of my favorite kinds of writing is poetry, although it seems several years since I last produced a poem. Given what I’ve stated about the risk of expression – the critique of the creation and the critique of the self – I am choosing to loose upon the world my vulnerability, because through it someone else may connect with what I’ve written.  It may give voice to a similar experience and help another synthesize that experience, to look within their own self to process, deal with, and heal.

In honor of April being National Poetry Month, here is a poem from 7 years ago but 30 years in the making with many more years left before healing.  However, synthesis is under way for me and I continue to grow more whole and more beautiful from the inside, where it cannot fade with time.

 

Beautiful

I want to be beautiful – I always have
But I don’t know what happened, not exactly
I remember vaguely some words from the past
Spoken to mom, did they make me uncomfortable?
‘She’s a looker, Barb – you better watch out’
 
But even then I couldn’t receive it
Compliments don’t take easy here
Timidity and shyness were part of my smallness
Which remained for lack of a better love
Because only love can build a person
 
I am small on the inside, just to clarify
You see, for some reason I grew more than
I care to admit – I got big, like emotionally pregnant
Putting things in my mouth, I was a stuff stuffing stuffer
Food filled my heart so that “I” wouldn’t fall out
 
I spent summers in New York where I’d go from the split
To spend time with dad, or at least at his place
I’ve got memories of friends that I liked to visit
Childhood was great playing dodge ball in the street,
Riding bikes or going to the gorge
 
The gorge … gorge, and not gorgeous – that became me
My eyes are still hazel – they still look to be seen
My skin is still tan, and still awkward to me
My hair is less blond and shorter these days
How time has changed me, but it still feels the same
 
For all I ever wanted was to just be beautiful
To hear a few words uttered from a man
A ghost of a man who was emotionally gone
Whose three little words seemed only to signal
The end of another indifferent phone call
 
Oh to be beautiful and  treasured as such
Little girl hearts don’t ask for much
Just to be seen and valued and pursued
But the damage is done and the deficit remains
What began at the root falls like fruit from the tree
 
And people still sometimes compliment me
Not quite so emphatically as in my youth
I could blame it on age, or maybe my weight
But either way doesn’t matter, for even if I were a
Smoking hot “10”,  all I’d really want is to just be beautiful

Daily Prompt: Express Yourself

Freedom in a pen / MC’s Whispers

Daily Prompt / myjourneyeveryday

Daily Prompt / benjaminsolak

The Creator God and His Gift To Us / meanderedwanderings

I teach! / Perpleus’ Blog

 

 

A Picture of Restored Humanity

A Picture of Restored Humanity

A friend of mine posted a link on Facebook from a site called ViralNova: Trending Stories on the Web.  I’ve attached the link at the end of this post and you’ve really got to check it out, especially to get a visual for what I talk about here.  It contains a short story of a homeless dog found wandering the streets.  It was so filthy with such caked and crusted, matted fur that a passer-by initially thought the small dog was a pile of trash.  It is an unbelievable, unforgettable image.

I am so metaphorical in my thought process that I couldn’t help but think of how this is a picture of humanity.  This big ball turning is a mass of human generated, perpetuated mess, and we are the messiest of all.  Deep in our hearts there is a goodness worth redeeming, but it is also caked, encrusted, and matted with the badness within us.  Jesus is the “kind humanitarian” who walks by us on the street.  He sees our homeless souls and beyond our unruly filth.  He knows we’re not a pile of trash.  He dares to stoop down and touch our leprous form.  He takes us to a place of cleansing.  He doesn’t just wash us.  He cuts away the befouled growth clinging to us, shedding our moral muck and discarding it as the pile of trash.

When He’s done we look entirely different.  We look human again.  We look like we were intended to before we chose evil into the world.  We are a new creation, no longer homeless, but clothed and cared for.  We are blanketed in love and rest on the pillow of forgiveness and renewal.  We are truly at peace in the home of God’s heart, where we will enjoy his everlasting benevolent presence and companionship, never more to remember the taint and affliction of the former things from which we are forever freed.

Blessings to all who read this and soak in the images and truth.

http://www.viralnova.com/shocking-dog-transformation/

The World’s Most Beautiful Woman

A friend of mine has been posting inspirational videos on Facebook from the website http://www.upworthy.com.  I finally clicked on one that caught my attention.  It is a 13 minute video of a motivational speaker at a women’s conference.  Her name is Lizzie Valasquez and she was born with a rare condition, that if I remember correctly, only two people in the world have.  She is one of them.  It is a condition in which she cannot gain weight no matter how hard she tries.  She could eat ice cream and twinkies until the cows ran dry and still look emaciated and severely anorexic.

I really encourage you to watch this video.  In today’s day and age our attention might peak at a 2 minute video, but I assure you that this will be worth your time.  Lizzie was bullied, as you can imagine, in some of the cruelest of ways while growing up.  Perhaps a climax of the brutality heaped upon her was a video that some high school peers took of her, labeled as World’s Ugliest Woman.  The Youtube video received a massive number of views and the comments rolled in with earth shattering force.  Some of the comments she mentions in this conference video, which were made on the high school video, include things to the effect of “burn it alive”, and “do yourself and the world a favor, get a gun and just shoot yourself.”

I can’t imagine living the life this woman has lived.  She is only 25.  If the disease failed to take her life, you’d think the hate and scorn of humanity would have by now.

So what helped Lizzie not only survive the world’s condemnation, but thrive in the midst of it?

Love.

When she was born the doctors said she’d never walk or talk or have any sort of normal life.  Her parents took her home with a vow to love, care for, and raise her to the best of their ability.  She speaks in the conference video of the amazing impact her parents love and strength of character had on her life.  It shaped her.  It gave her courage to endure and press on, to realize that no matter what people thought of her, she was beautiful, valuable, and was going to live the dreams that were alive in her heart.  She has learned what few people do in life: not how to look beautiful, but how to be beautiful.

Beauty is, and always will, come from the inside out.  From the heart of all that is beautiful, God’s heart, came forth the outer beauty of all that was made.  True beauty manifests from the beauty that is within God, and the beauty that is within humanity.  Age will always ravage the physical beauty that people have, or death will steal it young.  But the beauty within will only blossom with time and nurturance.  All of us are born with an inner beauty.  If we cultivate it and surround ourselves with people who help cultivate it, we will find ourselves shining as God intended, like stars in the heavens, highly esteemed, lighting a darkened and broken world.

Any woman who lives like this, like Lizzie has the courage to live, will find herself among the world’s most beautiful women.  Any man who lives like this will likewise find himself among the world’s most beautiful men. May those of you who read this be blessed by a beautiful Father who longs to fashion and manifest your true beauty in this life and the life to come.

Here is the link to Lizzie’s inspirational video … she’s a joy to watch as she tells a small part of her story with courage, humor, and the desire to help others realize their worth and dreams:

http://www.upworthy.com/hear-the-powerful-way-the-worlds-ugliest-woman-beat-her-bullies

Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.  – Confucius

Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Am I My Negative Brother’s Keeper?

After killing his brother Abel, Cain hid from God.  When confronted by God as to Abel’s whereabouts, Cain brazenly asked God “Am I my brother’s keeper?” A more modern translation would be “What, you expect me to follow him around like a baby and keep tabs on his every move?” Basically he was using sarcasm to convey to God that he felt he didn’t have to take any responsibility for his brother whatsoever.  Who cares where he was or what he was doing. It wasn’t of any concern to Cain.

But actually, Cain was responsible for Abel.  Cain was the firstborn, and sometime later Abel came along.  Abel was a responsibility to Cain because Abel was younger, more vulnerable, in need of learning new things.  He needed someone to look out for him, someone to look up to, someone from whose experience he might gain.  Cain was older and had that life experience.

I use this story to take a look at something that’s really been bothering me lately.  Every now and then I’ll hear or read a comment advocating that we should surround ourselves with positive people in order to stay positive.  Negative people bring you down, right? So protect yourself and keep those negative folks at bay and you’re guaranteed to feel better, have a more positive outlook, and just be happy and successful in general.  I know people who delete negative Facebook people from their friends list, or more harmfully just delete them from their physical lives.

Honestly, it should go the other way.  People who are positive and want to protect their positive bubble or outlook on life shouldn’t shun negative people.  They should be the very ones seeking to lift up and encourage those who are downtrodden, cynical, or pessimistic.  Positive people are the Cains of emotional well-being, and to cut ties with their negative human brothers and sisters is to abandon the Abels whom God has put in their lives.  They are their negative brother’s keeper so to speak.

We are all accountable for each other.  If someone enters our life, there is a measure of responsibility to them.  We may sarcastically shirk the idea much as Cain did to God, but to our own detriment.  For if our rejection and abandonment of them in their time of trouble leads to their harm, God will surely question us regarding it and then bring about a just response.

I’m not saying we need to be doormats to the naysayers and sink to the bottom with them in their negativity or despair.  God says to bear each others burdens, but also to lay our burdens on him.  If we aren’t going to God to unload our own burdens or relying on Him for strength to bear others burdens, then yes, we will become saturated with heaviness and at risk of being bound to negativity.  Or, we will become weary of the weight of our Abels and cut them loose from our lives out of self-preservation.

So how do we deal with chronically negative people, or even the sometimes negative?

  • As stated above, take it to God, and take from God.“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you … for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28 & 30)
  • Regularly practice openness to God’s love; be a receiver of that love.  If our love tank is empty we have nothing to pour out into others.  “May your roots grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” Ephesians 3:17-19)
  • Be patient.  It didn’t take a negative person one or two times to become filled and burdened with negativity, so don’t expect your one or two pep talks to snap them out of the pattern.  If you are living in God’s love for you and letting it fill you with love for others, patience comes with much greater ease.  “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.  It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.  Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (I Corinthians 13:4 – 7)
  • Seek wisdom, understanding, and insight. Ask God for them.  These will allow you to discern in every aspect of listening to, loving, encouraging, and teaching those  who are chained to negative patterns. “Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding.  Cry out for insight, and ask for understanding. Then you will understand what is right, just, and fair, and you will find the right way to go.” (Proverbs 2: 2 – 3 & 2:9)
  • Have a support system/community with other positive people and invite them to tag team your investment in a negative person to help them past their negative thoughts, emotions, and patterns. “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.  If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.” (Ecclesiastes 4: 9 – 10)

As one who has dealt with a fair amount of negativity and negative people, I know it can be frustrating and difficult to endure the Debbie Downers in life, especially if I’ve reiterated my best advice till the breath has left me.  Likewise, as one who has been stuck in a rut of negative thoughts and perspective, I know what it is like to be so easily dismissed and given up on.  I can tell you this, cutting loose that negative person and denying them whatever measure of support you can is to shove them harder into the negative cycle and further into despair.  The last verse offered above, in the last phrase says “Someone who falls alone is in real trouble.”  How desperate are they, how compounded their troubles, when they are left alone by those in pursuit of their own happiness, who dare not risk the responsibility of a ‘brother’ or ‘sister’.

Peace to all, and please know that I welcome your own tips or experiences on this topic.

 

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