Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A heart affair

heart flowerLots of things have steered me toward the heart this week. I'm reading Spa for the Soul and found some thought-worthy quotes to share:
And I will give them one heart and put a new spirit within them; I will remove their heart of stone from their bodies and give them a heart of flesh. (Ezek. 11:19)

The strength of vulnerability is a curious mix of discovering your heart and sharing your real self, as best you can, with the people God has put in your life. You can't shut down on the inside without quelling the very passion that makes the journey worthwhile. Those walls around the heart take buckets of energy to maintain, and God has better things for His children to do. When we close off our hearts we dishonor Him. As difficult as it is to live with a vulnerable heart, it is far easier than camping out behind a facade.
(Paula Rinehart, Strong Women, Soft Hearts)

According to heart specialist Dr. Dean Ornish, the real epidemic people face today is emotional and spiritual heart disease--loneliness and isolation. He says we are losing the relationships and intimacy necessary for survival and healing--the social support that provides us with a sense of connection and community and also the emotional support that gives us a sense of purpose, meaning, and belonging. (Dean Ornish, M.D., Love and Survival) When we close our hearts, we cut off all connection to others who may be helpful in our healing process. A closed heart lessens our risks but narrows our options.

I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people and I will be their God because they will return to Me with all their heart. (Jer. 24:7)

When God renews our hearts we no longer have to focus on what has kept us emotionally or spiritually clogged. Listen to one woman's declaration of independence: I am not a woman who is conformed to my pain, whose self definition is the litany of sins that has been commited against me, who would have little left if I were to lose it (my pain). No. I am a woman whose soul is forming to God. I cannot control how others treat me, but I can control my own response. I choose to relate to others based on my own character, not theirs. that is a tremendously freeing concept! My soul, formed in its becoming to the dimensions of God's love, can extend forgiveness, even when the other person is not worthy, never says the word 'sorry' or ever shows a grain of remorse. My offender has no power over me. I hurt, but do not become stuck there. I grow beyond the break and eventually past the power of the pain.

For out of this wellspring of our soul flows all true caring and all meaningful work, all real worship and all sacrifice. Our faith, hope, and love issue from this fount, as well. Because it is in our hearts that we first hear the voice of God and it is in the heart that we come to know Him and learn to live in His love. (Curtis and Eldredge, The Sacred Romance)

I have walled off my heart and I have opened my heart. In my experience open is better. Open journeys with others and healing comes quicker. Open releases the pain, not the memory. Open enables me to feel your pain, offer hope and allow you to heal. There are still a couple of areas where I bump against the wall. Having the freedom to be honest with close friends helps. They know what those areas are and love me and pray for me and pray with me. They laugh with me and bring things back down to size. They want my best, which is to live without stoney walls and to have a heart of flesh. When I am not walled off my whole heart is free to fly to God, to trust Him and live in His love. A heart of stone is really heavy. I want to lose that weight!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Measuring up

Last Tuesday I got to see an old friend. I mean from back in Georgia, back in the day. We met in the summer after 8th grade and were friends for a couple of years till I moved away and we eventually lost contact. We reconnected toward the end of college through a mutual friend. Found out we were both believers and even got to see each other at a student missions convention in IL. Our birthdays are one day apart. Cool. After all these years we still acknowledge our "birthday buddy" with a card. At least she does, and I try to. We know which one is the more organized.

This is no ordinary friend. She has a degree in Theology, has written for 50 magazines, collaborated on 20 books, and has 6 of her own. She is a respected international conference speaker and has other professional experience in missions, pastoral care, and broadcasting. And she is funny--very funny. We laughed a lot over dinner and brought up names of people that hadn't crossed our minds in a lot of years. Neither of us live in the South now, but the South helped to shape who we are. (BTW-southerners always capitalize the South.)

We figured the last time we saw each other was when I was living in WI before either of us were married. I've been married 25 years. That's long enough ago to cause me to feel a little insecure as I enter the hotel lobby to meet her after my unusually hectic day. I mean, she's all that, and I'm just me, right? She's lost weight and I've gained some. I am well aware that it's way past time to re-do my hair color. There are numerous other things I could tell myself about how I don't measure up based on the past and present. But none of that seemed to matter as we talked non-stop over a shared entree in downtown Denver last week. More than being birthday buddies, we are life buddies. That's what is really cool. We share a bond in the Lord, in ministry, in passion, in what we've devoted our lives to. We both wish we could be with our aging parents in GA more often. We have both been through some hard stuff. We both want to do life better next year than we did last year, not that we're never satisfied, but that we have some things on our hearts to give ourselves to. We both want the best for our kids. We're both freer now than we were ten years ago. Yes, even with my surface insecurities, I am freer! (anyway, I did push through those as soon as I stepped out of the elevator into the hotel lobby and saw her. It helped that she had a big smile on her face!)

cin jen

My friend, Cindy, has written a beautiful grace-filled book about rejuvenating your inner life. It's called Spa for the Soul. See the link on my side panel. I hope you will read it and let me know if so.

Maybe next time I will tell a couple of the crazy things that happened while we were dining.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Hyper-threading to healing

I have a hyper-threading computer. I got it to be able to run graphics better when I was ready to replace my old desktop.
Intel says,

"A single processor supporting Hyper-Threading Technology presents itself to modern operating systems and applications as two virtual processors. The processor can work on two sets of tasks simultaneously, use resources that otherwise would sit idle, and get more work done in the same amount of time. Hyper-threading enables multi-threaded software applications to execute two software threads in parallel, thereby improving system responsiveness. System performance is maintained while other tasks run transparently in the background. Tasks such as virus checking, e-mail encryption, and file compression run more efficiently, making the overall infrastructure more robust, manageable, and secure. End users enjoy increased system responsiveness because foreground applications execute in less time during multitasking scenarios."

In analogy, I am a hyper-threading computer! You are, too. Only we are much more complex and amazing than what Intel offers. While going about our day-to-day lives we multi-task outwardly and inwardly. New places are forming in our hearts, growing us deeper and wider (in a good way--not physically!) to increase our capacity for life and love. Along with embracing life and new places in our hearts, there is another uglier process running parallel. Old places of pain, lies, negative patterns and other unhealed parts of our heart are alive and active, causing us in reality, to be deadened and dulled. God cares for our full restoration, spiritually and emotionally. So much so, that along with his provision of cancelling our sin debt, he provides a counselor and comforter through the Holy Spirit, and gives us real truth to base our lives upon through Scripture. But he doesn't stop there. He knows the way for us to experience fully all of what life has to offer. He provides other people on our journey. God heals within and through community to bring life and healing to some of those dark places. Here is one person's story: The University of Adversity

We don't even have to get so low to be able to realize the wondeful gift of journeying together. The sooner we embrace love from others, the more we can participate in trusting, healing, hopeful, and joyful life experiences. Henri Nouwen says:
"Without the love of our parents, sisters, brothers, spouses,lovers, and friends, we cannot live. Without love we die. Still, for many people this love comes in a very broken and limited way. It can be tainted by power plays, jealousy, resentment, vindictiveness, and even abuse. No human love is the perfect love our hearts desire, and sometimes human love is so imperfect that we can hardly recognise it as love.
In order not to be destroyed by the wounds inflicted by that imperfect human love, we must trust that the source of all love is God’s unlimited, unconditional, perfect love, and that this love is not far away from us but is the gift of God’s Spirit dwelling within us."
No matter how tainted our past glimpses of love have been, God has a better way (see 1 Cor. 13.) The gift of God's Spirit through others is a gift indeed. I cannot imagine where I would be today without the love of others who have walked with me, prayed for me, held me to the light, spoken life and healing to my heart-- and yes, gotten in my face because they care. In part, because of them, I am coming to embrace the Source of all true, perfect love more and more. Because of the reciprocal nature of the process, they are, too.

We are all hyper-threading all the time. New places are forming. Old places are still active. Still, a third thread is bringing healing to the old; checking and quarantining viruses and invalid files, putting things in their place, and efficiently speeding us along toward restoration. Maybe the key word is efficient, rather than speed. I don't have to know how it works--just that it does.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

More life, please

Pain isn't the only thing that opens up places in our hearts. What about the "wow" factor of certain experiences, encountering beauty, or really connecting with another person?

Some places in my heart came to be by having and raising children. I was surprised by joy and amazement in observing and bonding with each of my 3 tiny sons. How could they be so different from one another, and how could I learn so much about the unconditional love of my Father God by parenting them? In laughing at the funny things they said and did my heart opened even more. When I was expecting my middle son, I didn't see how I could have more love to share. I felt I was using 100% of my love 100% of the time with Jeff in our lives. But I found that I had plenty more love when Nick arrived, and again for Ben. Even now as they move into adulthood and become much more independent, I'm finding new places in my heart while our relationships shift. Whenever God brings new friends into my life, the potential is there for deep connection and the same kind of inner expansion process.

There is an almost indefinable something that happens when we encounter beauty. In an instant we can be overwlemed by a glimpse of God seen afresh through nature, art, music or something from our everyday lives. Our hearts swell with gratitude. We are changed. We think of being more alive at certain times and with certain people. And it's true. Life has increased because we have a greater capacity for being there for it, receiving it and experiencing it more fully.

"My purpose is to give life in all its fullness...so they can have real and eternal life-- more and better life than they ever dreamed of.

For the Scriptures declare that rivers of living water shall brim, spill out and flow from the depths of the inmost being of anyone who believes in me." --Jesus (Jn. 10:10; 7:38)

Friday, July 07, 2006

New places and bussing

The previous post reflected on pain producing new places in our hearts. Places where love can take root and grow up to bear fruit such as compassion and wisdom. Places that enable us to be more of who we really are, as God fills us fuller than we were before. Our capacities to contain more and more, and our longing for still more, and our increasing awareness of our need for ever more of something greater than ourselves speaks to this idea of new places being formed in us. These are both emotional and spiritual places that are part of the process of forming who we are.

We are familiar with the feelings associated with longing. Our longing for contentment, excitement, and relationship, and our search for significance, acceptance, happiness, and peace, can drive us to some pretty dissatisfying and unpleasant destinations on our own. If we crave substances or substitutes to fill the empty places we may stop feeling the longing for a minute, but we are still on the same bus heading out of town, but somehow ending up where we started. Maybe even farther back. No medication can really fill the chasms of pain for very long and we are forced to seek (our chosen) "treatment" again when lousy feelings come back to gnaw at us. That is a closed system which continues to cycle until it eventually implodes. I am thinking about the opposite of that. I am thinking about an open system where our life experiences and the pain that is inevitable and an inseparable part of life and love, form us into people who don't want to be on the bus at all. We come to believe that the bus is taking us out of and away from real life. This open system instead exists in the middle of real life. The longings we feel and the new places formed in us cry out for filling with something substantial--yet intangible; something redemptive; something meaningful; something Greater. An open system, allowing hope, invites possibilities into our world.

Rarely can anyone cause us to get off the bus by reciting facts or theology to us. We already know much of what is true, but our lives are trying to tell us that we don't believe it. When we come to believe, transformation happens on the inside, which enables us to live in harmony with reality, God, and others. We do not drift into this harmony, we make a decision to apprentice ourselves to Jesus. All of our longings lead to him. We ask to really know who he is, and for the ability to know and dwell in what his word really means. Jesus says that brings freedom.
"If you dwell in my word, you really are my apprentices. And you will know the truth, and the truth will liberate you" (Jn. 8:31-32)
Hop on the bus? No thanks, let us choose to just walk together-- toward freedom, learning to live in an open system.