searching for “both-and”

el capitan riccardo-oliva-7_5D2sLtP3Q-unsplash

El Capitan, Yosemite National Park – Photo credit: Riccardo Oliva – Unsplash

The other day my team was considering options that could help our co-workers all around the world continue to grow in authentic and dynamic faith, endure and persevere in times of suffering, and learn and thrive in community. As I listened and evaluated the suggestions, all I could think to say was… “Yes. And yes. And yes. And yes”.

It turns out we could likely use all of those options. Each particular need might vary depending on the situation, the personality, the timing, etc., but realistically, so many of the ideas were helpful and valid and worth offering. We didn’t need to eliminate one for the other. If we implement a variety of options, it will benefit more people.

After spending several weeks heart-broken and discouraged by the vast, complex, emotionally-charged challenges facing our world today, reflecting on that exercise has given me some hope. 

I am reminded today that most things are not “either-or” situations.

We are not playing a zero-sum game.

One doesn’t have to lose for others to win. We achieve more when we find “win-win” options. There is undisputed power in teamwork and shared best practices and collaboration involving a diversity of opinions and experiences and skills. We are amazingly creative, innovative, capable, productive people – when we work together.

I watched two documentaries this weekend about Eliud Kipchoge, who has run a previously-considered-impossible sub-two-hour marathon time, and Alex Honnold, who free-solo-climbed (no ropes or protective gear!) the 3,000-foot El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Both incredibly inspirational triumphs of human accomplishment.

Although they achieved individual feats, neither of the two extraordinary athletes I learned about this week succeeded alone. They both had mentors, friends, and abundant input from others with unique ideas and specialties. 

Their stories have moved me from agonizingly searching for one correct answer or one side to join, to breathing more deeply and feeling more encouraged as I view possibilities from the “both-and” perspective.

I believe we can care for each other, find cures, and survive with resilience – if we learn with and from each other, rather than judging and attacking before listening. We can correct our mistakes, forgive each other, and find better solutions – if we do it together, rather than separating ourselves into rival camps who cannot speak to each other civilly.

Rather than arguing that one solution inevitably rules out another, I am beginning the search for how to answer with “Yes. And yes. And yes”. I am not looking for 100% agreement – we’ll never have that. We will most likely need many of the options presented and some still-unknown-to-us-today combinations or inventions.

I am working hard to listen respectfully to many differing opinions and push through the anger, disrespect, and unilateral demands to identify the valid, helpful elements of truth in each perspective. This is not easy to do. Putting aside my selfishness, self-defense, fears, and hurts to listen intentionally, admit my errors, and change is very difficult work, but I believe it is an essential effort.

I am praying that many other people will offer their willing, compassionate hearts and humble, teachable minds to work together for “both-and” solutions and hope. Maybe you are one of those people.

How do you sort through disparate ideas? What helps you discover “both-and” possibilities?

 

 

 

 

it’s complicated

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Image Credit: Steve Johnson on Unsplash

With Father’s Day coming up, I’ve been thinking about my dad a lot these past few days. I remember that he gave me a love for the outdoors and classical music, a deeply engrained hard-work ethic, and some infamous, not-always-healthy but stuck-in-my-head, life mottos like: “If you want it done right, do it yourself”. I also remember him saying often, especially near the end of his life, “It’s complicated”.

Back in the day, when he said “It’s complicated”, I would roll my eyes and oh-so-smartly think he was just making an excuse for not doing what I hoped he would do.

I’m afraid it has been too easy for me to judge others
before I have walked in their shoes.

I’ve noticed lately that I now say, “It’s complicated” all. the. time.

Life really is complicated.

And complex. And messy. And so much more nuanced and interwoven and painful and tangled than I ever imagined. If I didn’t know it before, the last few months of COVID-19 world implications and the newly ignited and overdue topic of racial inequality have made the complications run unstoppable through my head and my heart.

No matter what opinion or idea or suggestion or demand that surfaces, there is always a passionately presented contrary perspective. For some of those issues, whether it has to do with social isolation or correcting injustices, I have a clear conviction and satisfactory action steps in my mind.

On the other hand, there are so many topics, plans, and “We need to do this!” answers to our problems that feel not as simplistic as they appear in the heat of the moment. And I struggle with the complexity. One approach that will help some people would end up hurting others. One budget adjustment would benefit part of the community but compound problems in another area. People are created in the image of God, defined by much more than their mistakes, and somehow also accountable for harms that they inflict, even without the intent. It’s complicated.

I have recently experienced (again) that I still carry emotional baggage from my childhood that shows up uninvited into my present tense interactions with the people I love – and causes them pain. I have no desire to do that. I hope that I have grown past that, but it still happens. 

I work hard to communicate clearly, lovingly, and with empathy and grace to others, but I continue to hurt people’s feelings and cause misunderstandings. Although I want to exemplify asking powerful questions and demonstrating sincere curiosity for others, I too often end up pushing for my agenda, speaking my opinion as if it were firm and factual, and talking over others before they can say what they think. I wish I didn’t do that, but I do.

And so I continue to admit my mistakes, my selfishness, my immaturities, and my gaps and ask for forgiveness and grace from others. I keep leaning into difficult conversations and asking questions – some good ones, some that show my ignorance – with a willing attempt to sort through the “It’s complicated” to find some real solutions to deep problems. And as I hope to receive grace from others for my obvious imperfections, I press on to offer that same grace and love to others, no matter their point of view or contrary idea or even their expressed anger and displeasure with me. My Dad was right.

It’s complicated. 

Relationships, systems, history… they are complicated. And it’s worth it for us to care well for others and ourselves. To speak and act with kindness. To work together to fix things that are messed up. To bring hope to our shared future. To be Jesus’ light of love to others. Hatred, bullying, hurt-for-hurt is not the way. It’s not easy, but courageously pursuing truth and healing – with love – is our only option. 


What are some things you do to handle this complicated life of ours? 

a heart in turmoil

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Photo credit: Saneej Kallingal on Unsplash

Many months ago, I felt the weight of the many divisions and verbal attacks I was seeing and hearing on my communications platforms. I wanted to create a resource to help us learn how to truly listen to each other, communicate well, seek understanding, respectfully accept differences, and embrace the diversity of ideas, opinions, cultures, and personalities that make up our beautiful world.

I never found the time or the emotional energy to pull it off – and then COVID hit, and we were all focused on surviving a pandemic. The timing did not seem right.

Recently, my heart has been shattered anew by vocal spokespersons unknown to me and dear beloved friends who have passionately been sharing their differing opinions in judgmental, polarized, and hurtful ways.

I am earnestly searching for truth and breakthrough, enduring answers to the heartbreaking loss of life, the systemic problems and injustices, and the lack of unity in our country and our world. I am searching my heart for sinful attitudes and complicity in those wrongs and sincerely listening to a multitude of voices who have experiences that differ from my own. I believe them, and my heart breaks at their pain. I am learning new ways to engage, advocate, and support those who need my help.

I am very concerned about responses that flippantly deny another’s reality, over-harsh reactions that are full of hate and violence, disrespectful and derogatory judgment of whole categories of people, commercial and political agendas that prefer to instigate people to damaging harm rather than encourage the deep, thoughtful, excruciatingly-hard-work conversations and reforms that would genuinely serve people, right wrongs, and improve and benefit our country and world.

There is no easy fix for our mess. There are no easy solutions.
Our past, present, and our future are full of broken people who do horrible things AND full of brave, compassionate people who help make things better. 

My heart longs for a community that comprehends our need to listen, communicate, and work together to benefit all. That humbly admits that we do not know everything, we are not always right, and willingly offers to learn, grow, and change. I am urgently seeking those people who acknowledge our need to ask for and offer forgiveness, who accept the messy and the uncomfortable and the awkward. And who will create and implement laws, policies, and processes that bring a safer, healthier, more just way of life for each person – all the while recognizing and sacrificially entering the immense complexity and the heart-wrenching agony of the process ahead.

More than anything, I think I am looking for love.

Love for and from all sides.

Love as the foundation of all we desire and desperately need to do.

Is it possible?

I do not always bring that myself. I want to.

Only my faith in supernatural, Jesus-empowered grace gives me strength and hope.

How is your heart in the middle of this mess?  How do you bring people together?

learning to lament

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Image credit: aaron-blanco-tejedor-VBe9zj-JHBs-unsplash

I’ve never been good at lament. I’ve never been known as tender-hearted, empathetic, or good at sitting with someone in their pain. But I want to be better. I want to learn.

Maybe it’s my age and a more experienced perspective. Maybe it is how our world is changing. I hope it has something to do with God working on my heart, but either way, I see a lot more pain these days.

I cry a lot more these days.

I feel sick to my stomach more often these days.

I’m not especially angry, but that is growing too.

I’m changing the way I do things in my life.


Lament is a passionate expression of grief or sorrow, regret, disappointment, or complaint about something considered unsatisfactory, unreasonable, unfair, or unjust.


My heart is burdened by many issues.

  • The hurtful and hate-filled ways we judge and demonize each other
  • The wasteful destruction of our God-created environment
  • The marketing lies to profit from toxic foods and products
  • The soul-destroying effects of pornography, trafficking, exploitation
  • The devaluation and oppression of women
  • The abusive labor practices used to produce so much of what we buy
  • The deaths of unborn children through abortion
  • The horrendous ways people of color are treated unequally in our country
  • The disparity of living standards across our globe

I’m sure I am missing more.

And this is just what is happening today. There is also the weight of so many past injustices in our history. How to heal? How to make it right?

I’m not sure what to do about all of this. I feel overwhelmed and sad and helpless. I can’t give 100% to one need without neglecting another. I am only one person.

But I won’t do nothing either.

And so I learn. I lament. I beg God to make us different. I look for more I can do.

It’s not enough. It will never be enough.

But it will be something and it will grow to be more as long as I stay open to see, listen, care, speak up, and act. I have so far to go still.

What burdens your soul? What have you learned about lament?

** Today I grieve George Floyd’s death and the injustice weighs heavily on my heart. I am compiling a list of resources for learning more. Please let me know if you have more I can add.

the fatigue is real

Photo credit: matthew-henry-6x-hVXXiBxs-unsplash

So… we’ve been at this virus thing a while now, and we’re getting worn down. The initial adrenaline has worn off – as it should. We were not created to live with an enduring adrenaline rush.

We embraced the novelty of our new realities, using creativity and technology to survive, but that has gotten old too. Now, the isolation, the confinement, the messes, the unknowns, and the losses are accumulating… and they add up to a whole lot of tired. I began to make a list of some of the exhaustion culprits.

Zoom Fatigue

When we use the same platform for everything (work meetings and one-on-ones, socializing and virtual parties, family events, church services, online classes, doctors’ appointments, and maybe counseling too), we have no context changes and we. sit. way. too. much. In addition, the audio lags, “frozen” visuals, and mute-mistakes create mental agitation. The self-view ensures ongoing self-criticism, and the home-background-view can cause social comparison. The lack of eye-contact (do I look at the screen faces or at the camera?) and the group direct-staring is abnormal and relationally draining.   

Information Fatigue

I don’t know about you, but I’ve gone from reading voraciously and talking constantly about every single coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) detail to not wanting to see another C19 chart, graph, statistic, comment, or hand-washing video. My head is full of contradicting, ever-changing, anxiety-raising, conflict-causing (mis) information, and I don’t have the energy to input more data into my brain.

Decision Fatigue

It seems that all previously simple choices have become overly complex and complicated. Going to the store for groceries now requires consideration of all the safety features and evaluation against the risk of catching the virus or – even more concerning – the possibility of passing it on to someone else. Is it safe to get my hair cut or go to the dentist? Do I wear a mask? How can I support local businesses and those in need?

Uncertainty Fatigue

I say “I don’t know” or “Nobody knows” a lot. So many plans are on hold with no clear direction in sight. We write events into the calendar in pencil, hold anxiously to job hopes, and worry about the economy. When will we get back to the way things were before? What will be the new “normal”? How will our world be forever changed?  

I could go on and on…

  • Isolation Fatigue
  • No-Alone-Time Fatigue
  • Messiness Fatigue
  • Boredom Fatigue
  • Worry Fatigue
  • Fear Fatigue
  • Room (house) Fatigue

They say the first step to healing is naming the pain. It is helpful to realize just how much pressure is landing heavily on our shoulders each day. Our world is crazy-different than it was only a few months ago.

When I recognize the effort I am putting into getting through each day, I can give myself grace when I can’t see through my brain fog, when I am grumpy, or when I cry for no reason. I can also more easily encourage myself to rest, take a break, or ignore the “should-do-list.”

I can also give that same grace and encouragement to others.

What is causing you fatigue? How can you give pressure-lifting grace and encouragement to yourself or to others?

powerful purposeful habits

The Common Rule by Justin Whitmel Early

I haven’t read a complete book in one day in… I don’t know how long. But I had a quiet, no-urgent-task Saturday, a beautiful fresh-breeze sunny day, and an empty back-porch couch all to myself. And I had a great book, full of authentic hopeful words that drew me in and gave nourishment to my soul.

It was a powerful combination –
one that doesn’t happen often.

I almost gave up on The Common Rule at first. It seemed a bit over-simplified, and after a number of heart-wrenching, mind-numbing, complex, and difficult years, I am not a big fan of “just do this…” kind of answers. However, the more I read, the more Justin Whitmel Earley captured me with his authenticity and his grasp of reality as he offered flexible options that could work for our many-varied steps on the journey.

Early writes about habits.

Habits of purpose,
habits that counter our decision fatigue,
habits that “form our hearts” and lead us to love. 

He recommends eight habits in the book. The habits focus on loving God and others and on refreshing our hearts while we resist those easy-to-fall-into tendencies that wear us down.

The habits are not about legalistic ritual. They are suggested to battle self-condemnation, anxiety, isolation, hurriedness, and injustice. The habits lead us toward peace, gratefulness, compassion, deeper relationships, and rest. Which one of us of doesn’t long for those things?

Earley’s habits are as simple as having one meal with others each day or turning off the phone for one hour a day. But they are not easy.

The eight habits of purpose

The most ordinary habits of limitation create
the most extraordinary lives of meaning.

So far, I have implemented into my days only parts of some of his suggested habits, but I am encouraged that even those have made a difference. In these days of so much uncertainty, chaos, and loss of routine, regular life-giving habits can provide help for building the resilience we need for the long-term changes we have in front of us. They certainly gave me hope and I think adding some habits of purpose into your life might give you hope too.

If you have read the book or read it now, please share with me what you thought about it. I’d love to hear from you.

What helpful habits do you have in your life? 

building resilience

Photo credit: matti-keponen-APmBcTBLRic-unsplash

I mentioned in my last post that I needed resilience. I didn’t know yet the depth of that truth.

A few weeks later and the “drag” of our situation is wearing on me more than ever. I feel the weight of my own emotions and inconveniences. I am burdened by the pain and struggles of those who are suffering much more than me. I see others reacting with great frustration to the limitations and longevity of the virus impact.

Our stress behaviors show off loudly these days.

It helps to remember that anytime we adjust to something new (new job, new home, new family member), it tires us out. So much about our situation is new right now. New ways of working or going to school – or losing those things. New ways of getting basic supplies or doing without. New ways of interacting or missing interactions no longer available to us.

Uncertainty is wearing. We typically do not like to stand at the crossroads without clear direction, but everything about our future feels unknown. Many decisions that were previously straightforward require more thought now. In addition, we often have to consider the complexity of how our choices affect others.

The loss of anticipated activities and celebrations also depletes our motivation. Feeling out-of-control, vulnerable, or trapped is unnerving. Isolation, loneliness, fear, and grief are physically exhausting. So is living in tight quarters with others who are also expressing their reactions to this out-of-control life. Everyone is at least slightly on edge – some of us much more than others. So what can we do?

SHUT DOWN THE “SHOULDS”

Erasing unrealistic expectations and perfection-pressure helps us conserve needed kindness and compassion for ourselves and others. When I replace “I should be… do… act like…” with a humble recognition of my weakness, I often find others willing to step in with forgiveness and help. I am learning to set goals (significantly) lower than normal at times, leaving margin for those days when motivation, energy, and creativity wanes.

GRACE.  GRACE.  GRACE.

I have repeated this word more times than I can count. Encouraging myself and others to offer grace and acceptance rather than criticism, judgement, or anger is crucial. It’s not easy to do, and I fail often, but we all desperately need it. I’m taking initiative to reach out to others and lean into relationships – even when it is hard for me. I hope that practice will stick with me over time.

TAKE CARE

I am thinking about how I can prepare myself for the long-term effects of our “new world”. Awareness of all the above helps. As does taking care of my physical needs as much as possible (healthy routines, sleep, fresh air, good food, water). Working on a significant, joy-giving, or worthwhile project each day/week gives me energy too.

The flower above is my inspiration – beautiful, strong, and resilient – growing courageously and miraculously in the crevice of that challenging rock. Ironically, that impressive perseverance would not be needed or visible without the challenge.

What has been most difficult for you this past week? How are you building your resilience?

Your Story Matters

Graphic credit: Your Story Matters launch team

We are going through crazy times – a world pandemic never before experienced in our lifetimes. We would never have believed it if someone had told us a few weeks ago that:

  • All schools and colleges would be closed except for online studies
  • All professional sports and music concerts would cancel their upcoming events
  • International and domestic flights would be grounded and country borders would be closed
  • The Olympics would be postponed
  • Beaches and National Parks would off-limits
  • We’d be maintaining six-foot “personal cones of protection” and wearing masks out in public
  • Millions of people would suddenly be out of work
  • In some places, tax collections and school loan repayments would be postponed and some landlords would not be charging rent
  • Divided governments would be collaborating like never before on economic stimulus packages

This mind-boggling new world is affecting us each in different ways. Some are very isolated and lonely as they are in lockdown alone in their homes. Others are overwhelmed as they have suddenly taken on homeschooling and/or they are trying to work with young children underfoot, on their laps, and yelling in their ears. Many are living in vulnerable and unsafe situations in their own homes or homeless on the streets. Others are not able to stay home and are working in risky job situations to take care of the rest of us. Some have lost jobs. Others are fearful of the future. Many are stepping into creative and generous ways of helping with needs. Each story is different.

Each story matters.

I have been processing my experience during these crazy times by journaling and by writing in this blog. There have been some really hard, sad, and tumultuous effects due to this virus. We have also made beneficial adjustments in our new way of life. One thing I want to do is record the changes I have made in my life during this time so that I do not go back so easily to status quo behaviors when this is over.

I want to remember.

That is one of the reasons I am grateful that a book launch is happening right now and I get to recommend Leslie Leyland Fields excellent work titled, Your Story Matters.

Leslie Leyland Fields hosts an incredible writers workshop on a private island in Alaska. She also does a few workshops in other places, but for most of us, attending one of those workshops won’t work because of travel or cost limitations, especially now.

Thankfully, Leslie’s new book is like having her workshop brought right to your home. As you read and write your way through Your Story Matters, Leslie explains the “why” it is important to write your story and the specifics of “how” to do it. Her coaching is honest, grace-filled, encouraging and easy to follow.

The chapters are full of wonderful examples and helpful writing prompts. If you have ever believed you can’t or shouldn’t write, Leslie is about to change that. If you have ever thought about writing for publication, to process what has or is happening in your life, or to preserve family memories, now is a great time to do that.

I highly recommend using some of your time during this once-in-a-lifetime situation to write or record your experience and emotions – your story – in some way. You could compose a song, record a video, or write. Leslie’s book will help you remember and tell your story. I highly recommend it.

How are you processing and recording your unique story?


Get Leslie’s book on Amazon now!

when anger and grief decide to visit

 

Photo licensed: shutterstock_419668975

Anger and grief showed up this week. I didn’t invite them. I hope they won’t stay long.

We’ve been through a lot these past few weeks-going-on-months. Through the crazy, uncertainties, changes, and inconveniences, I have maintained a fairly good attitude and my faith has withstood the storm.

This week, however, my heart was sucker-punched with some bad news and, as is often the case, my pain quickly turned to anger. I was angry at God. I was angry at myself and I was angry at my inability to fix things that are out of my control and that I don’t like.

As I sat with (or, more honestly, embraced) my anger for the better part of the day, the hard self-protective shell around my heart finally started to give way to the legitimate pain underneath. I recognized that I am very tired. Tired from some long-standing sadness that I’ve been carrying around for a while and tired from the emotional weight of our new reality. Tired of simple decisions now requiring an analysis of so many possible ramifications. I am grieving the suffering and the deaths, the struggles of those who are losing their jobs and those who are still working their jobs at great risk. I am grieving the loss of connection, independence, and freedom for us all.

In the midst of that unwelcome intrusion, I needed to remember (maybe you do too?) that anger and grief emotions are valid and real, and they do not need to be brushed aside immediately with positive thoughts or spiritual truths, hidden away under guilt and shame, or diminished by comparisons with something worse that someone else is experiencing. 

I have felt like an empathy failure at times because brushing aside, hiding, or comparing have been my responses all too often. That has made it more difficult for me – and for others – to process emotions and begin to heal.

I want to be more hospitable to anger and grief.

I am learning that it helps to share my emotions with a safe person, someone who can handle the authentic honesty of my heart. Many times God is my safe person through journaling or praying. I am intentionally working to be that kind of safe person for others, biting my tongue when it would be easier for me to offer ideas and try to “fix-it”, and instead simply be there for others in their pain until they are ready for something else from me. 

I recognize that anger and sorrow and healing will often share the same table with my joys and gratefulness and productivity. They are not one-time guests. Their presence makes for a messier living space than I prefer, but I am learning to be ok with that.

How do you handle anger and grief?

_______________

**As I was writing this, I listened to Brene Brown’s recent podcast and she shared helpful tips for living with our emotions. It’s really good and covers more than I can in a few words.

it’s a little tricky

Credit: helena-lopes-PGnqT0rXWLs-unsplash

In 2014, we downsized to a townhome as new “empty nesters”. All of our children lived in other states and we wanted an easy-care, safe-to-leave-for-travel, smaller place for our new stage of life. We had an office, a guest room, and an open-concept kitchen/livingroom combo – plenty for the two of us.

Fast forward to 2020… the coronavirus has four of us living in and working from our little townhouse, often with one additional and her sweet beagle sleeping on the couch. Office desks are in the hall. The guest bedroom has converted to a recording studio. The open-concept downstairs plays tug-of-war between sleeping quarters and morning coffee-making and evening all-family TV watching interruptions. Online schooling and conference calling are desperately searching for quiet spaces and fighting battles for bandwidth.

Life has changed dramatically.

We are a family that loves each other deeply and we are known to be fairly low-maintenance when temporarily residing in locations away from home.

But this is different.

This is not a vacation or a voluntary friendly visit. Although some of us had chosen to live together before the virus crisis, now this arrangement carries the descriptor of “have to”. We have to stay inside away from others, we have to go to school and work from home, we have to do this for… no one knows how long. 

And we are all together in this place with the additional pressures of fears of the unknowns, health concerns, food and supplies challenges, separations from friends, and restrictions from the routines that give us life.

We are all adjusting in our own ways. Our personalities and preferences bump up next to each other occasionally. Ok, often. Some feel lonely. Others, claustrophobic. Some fear they will be the cause of family illness.

Plenty of feelings exist
that cannot even be identified yet.

One thing is common between us all – we are committed to get through this together -and get through it having learned and grown and hopefully come out the other end as better people for each other and our world.

Some of the things that have been helpful so far:

  • Communication – Have a “house discussion” – How are we all doing emotionally, logistically? We talked about our feelings and also how much outside interaction and inside invitations make us uncomfortable. We plan to meet like this regularly to check up on each other.
  • Conflict resolution – Name the issues. We are each very different and we respond differently to stress. We want to give grace to each other and not expect that we will all react in the same ways. We are attempting to resolve irritations and miscommunications quickly.
  • Consistency – I’ve read that regular awake and devotion/reflection times, exercise and eating routines, as much as possible, are helpful when homebound.
  • Creativity – Digital ways of working and schooling, new on-line shopping methods, new furniture arrangements, experimenting with new recipes to use what is on hand have surfaced as we considered new options.
  • Connections – Using face-visual technology to connect with friends and family doesn’t fill our social-distancing vacuum, but it helps to actually see the smiles… and the tears. We are praying for those who are serving us in health care, working essential jobs, and getting sick or desperately trying to avoid that risk.
  • Creation and Sunshine – We are getting outside as much as possible. For some of you, a short-duration open window may be all you can handle. A few deep breaths while I am there slow my heart rate and calm my soul.

I’m certain your life has changed quite a bit in the last few weeks. What is helping you manage your new reality?