Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Do Not Be Afraid: Part Two

Christmas season is coming.  It's kind of what my calendar revolves around.  I spend Septemberish-Marchish celebrating Christmas.  That's sixish months of the year.  And I'm okay with that.

And every year, I theme my Christmas and my year around a word or statement from the Biblical Christmas story.  This year, the theme has been "Do Not Be Afraid."  And God has taught me a lot through that theme this year.

And I don't think He's finished.

So many good things have happened this year, and so many hard things have happened this year.  I am battling depression right now big time.  I usually do in the autumn, when it gets cold.  But this year, it started in the summer and never let up, and then hit me all over again in the autumn.  Right now, everything is hard.

Even writing is hard, so sorry I haven't updated this very much.  ...not that anyone has really wanted to read it anyway.

But when I started thinking about what theme I would have for next year, when I started looking at different words or phrases from the Christmas story, I realized that I'm not quite ready to let go of this year's theme.  I still think there's a lot I have to learn.  And I think the lessons are going to get harder from here on out.

I'm a really independent person.  I am introverted and need a lot of time to myself.  And while I love people, I really don't need to have a lot of people in my life to be happy.  I can be alone and be just fine.  But I've had a lot of health and financial issues this year.  I've had some hard stuff happen--not devastating--just hard.  And I really think God's leading me to start letting other people help.

I don't like being taken care of, but I think God's leading me to start trusting people a little more, and stop depending on myself for everything.  It's hard, because trust is hard.  I know I won't let myself down, and if I do, I only have myself to blame.  That's comfortable.  Trusting others isn't comfortable.  Relying on others means I have to let go of that little bit of control that I'm still holding on to.  I have to trust God to help me trust others.  I have to open myself up a little bit more.  It's scary.  It's more complicated.  It's hard.

But I don't remember God ever promising us that following Him would be easy.

And it's weird how He's leading me to be courageous and strong even in something like relationships with others.  But here I am, still hearing Him tell me: "Do not be afraid."

So, I'm looking forward to 2015, not knowing at all what to expect.  I know it will probably continue to be hard.  I know that there will be new challenges, new obstacles, new choices, new risks.  But He tells me not to be afraid.  He tells me to be courageous and strong.

And I have learned and am still learning that love is worth the fight.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Find a Way

Temptation:

My temptation is the temptation of Moses, who, when God called him to speak and gave him words to speak, claimed that speech was too difficult for him.  He asked, begged, God to use someone else.

Sometimes it seems that there's no place in this loud world for quiet people.

It seems the only choices for quiet people are to remain quiet and unheard, or to become as loud as everyone else.  Some are able to do this, but not me.  Not me.  So I ask for an "Aaron," one who can speak on my behalf.

Except I've learned that it doesn't work.  People who want to speak for me are not people who listen well.  The loud, too often, misrepresent the quiet.  They assume instead of questioning, or when they do question, they question without listening.  It's not their fault so much as it's just my ever-present struggle--I'm misunderstood.

The quiet are often misunderstood.

So I'm tempted to fade into the background, to let someone else go in my place.  I'm not strong enough.  I'm not talented enough.  I'm not brave enough.  I'm not capable enough.  I'm not LOUD enough.  And no one would listen to a quiet person like me anyway.

And since I'm often misunderstood, some might see me naming my flaws and think that I'm just being humble.  But the truth is that the line between humility and pride is so thin that it's hard to tell the difference between them.  Sometimes, I don't even know if I'm being humble or proud.  But when I focus more on what I CAN'T do than on what God CAN do, I really don't think I'm being humble.  Not at all.

So my temptation is the temptation of Moses, the pride to remain silent when God has given me something to say, to ask for Him to use someone else.   I'm not worthy or capable of speaking His words.  And who would listen to me anyway?

Conviction:

The world is loud, and I am quiet.  That's a fact.  But that fact does not excuse me.

A prophet doesn't get to choose to be a prophet.  And why would anyone choose such a task?  To speak truth to a world that doesn't want to hear it?  That's asking for a heap of trouble, and more importantly, that's asking for incredible pain.  Because a prophet doesn't weep because people hate him or her.  A prophet weeps because people would rather believe lies than truth.

And lies are extremely, extremely loud.

And I am quiet.

But I have something to say.

And so the conviction is very simple.  The conviction is very complex.

Find a way.

Find a way to speak.

The prophet's job is to speak the truth, both in love and power.

The prophet's job is not to make people listen.

In a loud world where so few have ears to hear, a prophet must find a way to speak.

Even the quiet ones.

Because Love demands action, and faith demands obedience.

And He commands me to be strong and courageous, to not be afraid.

All my insecurities must fade in the light of who He is.

It's not easy, and no one ever said it would be.  And my path isn't the same as other's paths.  I can't speak for anyone besides myself.

But as for me, it's time I found a way.

I am quiet.  I will always be quiet.

I will find a way to speak.



Sunday, September 21, 2014

On Not Being Afraid

It occurred to me just this morning that it's over halfway through September.  The year is ever so gradually coming to a close.  If you've been keeping up with my blogs for a while, you might know that I have a theme for each year that I choose from the Biblical Christmas story.  This year's theme: "Do Not Be Afraid."

And what an interesting year it has been.

I had no idea how many lessons God would teach me, nor did I have an idea of how He would teach them.  At the beginning of the year, I figured God would teach me how to be less fearful or something.  I really didn't know what to expect.  It's been a journey.

This year, I learned to let go of things I didn't know I could let go of, and I learned to embrace things I didn't know I could embrace.  I've learned to say yes, and I've learned to say no.  I've learned how to follow, and I've learned how to lead.

I've learned that sometimes you have to gather in faith.  I've learned that sometimes God calls you to scatter in faith what He once had you gather.  And it's good.

I've learned that when I am weak, He is strong.  And you'd think I'd know that one by now.  It's funny how we think we have things figured out all right, and then God shows us our pride in a completely different light.  He is so faithful to show us our need, as well as His provision, and it's good.

I could list all of the various lessons, the various trials.  I could list my victories and my failures and my insecurities.  But, honestly, it's been done.  If you've ever read my blog before, you should know I'm weak.  You should know I'm insecure.  You should know I'm fearful.

And maybe the most important thing I've learned this year, this year with the theme of "Do Not Be Afraid," is that it's okay.  It's okay to be afraid.

Because all my life people have told me that it's not okay to be afraid.  Because people say "don't be afraid," like it's something we actively have some minute amount of control over.  They say, "If you fear, then the Bible says you haven't been perfected in love."  They say, "Well, in the Bible God and His angels tell us over and over to not be afraid or He commands us to be strong and courageous, so we should never, ever be afraid."

But I have to wake up every morning and stare at the ceiling, facing the unknown.  I have to walk outside the door of my house into the world, just praying I don't get too dizzy (due to my neck pain) that I pass out in the driveway.  I have to start my car and hope that it actually starts and doesn't break down on the way to work.  I have to go to work and deal with people who ever, ever threaten my insecurities.  I have to go to social things, whatever they may be, that overstimulate me and threaten to cause anxiety attacks.  I have to go to bed at night, staring at the ceiling again, facing the unknown.

I'm freakin' terrified.

And I think that I probably should be.

And I don't think anything is to be gained by pretending I don't have any fear.

Because I figure that overcoming fear and being perfected in love isn't a matter of just praying a prayer and being cured of fear forever and always.  I figure being perfected always involves a process.  I figure that being perfected in love means you choose love over fear in the millions of little every day issues and problems that arise.  When someone hurts my feelings, instead of brooding in my insecurity, I can choose to love and forgive and remember that others have insecurities too.  When I'm afraid to talk to someone because I don't know how much commitment that friendship might take, I can choose to risk it and love anyway.

And I figure I haven't been perfected in love.  But I figure that I am currently being perfected in love.  And I figure that One Day I'll be fearless, but I'm not there yet.

And I figure that if God and His angels repeated His commands "be strong and courageous" and "don't be afraid" over and over and over again, it's probably because we need the reminders.  We need them constantly, and not because we're fearless.  It's because we're naturally fearful.  We can't just pretend that away.  If we could pray a prayer or sprinkle magic holy dust on ourselves and be fearless forever and always, we wouldn't need the numerous reminders.  God gives them to us because He knows we need them.  We're fearful.  We're ever so fearful.

And that's okay.

Because "not being afraid" isn't about willing myself to get over my hangups or willing myself to go do something that would normally scare me silly.  I'm not saying there's anything wrong with taking risks, but risks should only be taken wisely.

And I'm not exactly talking about worldly wisdom.

Because the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.  And I'm still learning how to be afraid, but I figure the best way to be afraid is to fear God above anything else.  Not in a way that we tremble before Him in constant trepidation--though we should.  We absolutely should.

Because of who God is, we should tremble on our faces in utter terror.

But because of who God is, we don't have to.

Because fear has to do with punishment, but we're being perfected in love.

But when we fear God, we're accepting all He is.  We're accepting all He's done for us.  We're accepting that He is stronger than anything else that we could possibly fear.  So what, then, is left to fear?  Nothing, really.

But our minds don't fully grasp that, and, well, how could they?

So we still fear.

But He has left us His Word, and He has left us His Spirit.  He didn't just tell us "be strong and courageous" and"do not be afraid," He tells us now.  He tells us now because He is with us now.

So when I stare up at the ceiling, facing the unknown, I'm not facing it alone.

And I figure the only way to "be strong and courageous" is if we let Him be strong and courageous through us.

In the big things, in the little things, my fear is going to be real.  My anxiety is going to be real.  And maybe I'd like it if I could be that fearless person that everyone thinks I should be, but I'm not.  I can't be.  At the end of the day, all I can be is His.  That's enough.

One of my favorite musicians, Mitch McVicker, put out a song on his last CD, Underneath, entitled "Danger."  I'm posting it below, because it's all kinds of amazing.

If you're afraid, don't kid yourself.  Nothing is really gained by that.  But in your fear, don't forget that He's here, and He's patiently reminding you not to be afraid.

"Show me Your Love is more than what's dangerous.
Just let me know You're here,
And I'll be brave.
I swear."


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Theories on "Listen" (Doctor Who)

I know I've written two Doctor Who themed posts in, oh, the past two days, but this shouldn't become the norm.  I think.  It's just that last night's episode of Doctor Who, "Listen" was extraordinary.  It left the viewer with a lot of questions.  Since this is actually the first time I'm experiencing new episodes of Doctor Who with the rest of the world (and not just playing catch up on the Netflix), it's pretty exciting to get to form theories and such.  This shouldn't become the norm, and if it does, I'll create a separate blog for my nerd posts. :-D  But for now, here it is.

The following absolutely contains spoilers, so don't read this unless you have seen the episode.

There are a couple of really obvious questions from last night's episode.

Question 1:

 What in the name of Tom Baker's scarf was under that blanket?

As the Doctor pointed out, there were two possibilities for what was under the blanket.  It was either just a kid playing a prank, or...it was something else.

Let me go ahead and say that it was not a child under that blanket, at least not a human child.  I work with kids and know that even a really weird kid would probably not carry the prank out that far.  After he/she had scared the others pretty well, he/she would have probably just thrown off the blanket and shouted "BOO!"  A child, even a weird one, would probably NOT sit/stand there under the blanket acting all creepy for as long as that thing did.

Plus, we got a very fuzzy, distorted image of whatever was under the blanket, and it wasn't human--unless it was a human wearing a mask of some sort.  If it was a kid wearing a mask, then running away kind of defeated the purpose.  If it were a kid wearing a mask, then the kid would be wearing it to play a prank and scare people.  Running away and slamming the door was a bit pointless.

So it wasn't a kid.

I have a couple of theories of what it might have been.

A Different Alien Theory:

First, I don't think it was the same creature the Doctor was looking for.  The Doctor was looking for a creature that was a perfect hider, a creature that wanted, more than anything, to remain hidden.  Now, he conjectured that these creatures might come out of hiding for children, the elderly, the mad, people whom no one would believe.  That might explain why the creature was so bad at hiding if just Rupert were in the room, but that doesn't explain the creature's odd behavior if Clara and the Doctor were also present with Rupert.

Because if a creature were trying to remain hidden, why in the world would it noisily climb onto a bed and under the covers?  It was unnecessarily revealing its presence, if not its appearance, and in a very obvious way.  Why would the creature do that if it was a perfect hider?  That doesn't make sense.

Now, it could be that this creature got overly curious--perhaps it was a child (just not a human one).  It could be that this creature realized it had been discovered, and it got momentarily curious.  Then it shied away at the last second and fled the room. That's entirely possible.

But I think it more possible that it was a different alien, one that was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Stranger things have happened on Doctor Who.  This alien had been what originally scared young Rupert, whether intentionally or unintentionally.  When Rupert got up, however, it scurried off to a corner or closet or something to hide.  When Clara came in and climbed under the bed with Rupert (a little sketch, you think?), the alien tried to make a run for it.  But if you remember, the Doctor also came into the room.  The alien must have seen him coming (possibly already knowing the Doctor's reputation for being dangerous to unwelcome aliens on earth), and so it hid in the closest place he could find--under the covers.  When it thought it safe to flee, it did.

It Was Clara:  It was Clara.  It was Clara the whole time.  Isn't that what we learned?  Perhaps Clara realized she had been the one scaring everyone all along.  So she used the Tardis to go back to the children's home a few moments before she had originally arrived.  She put on a mask, just in case she actually was seen.  Then she sneaked into Rupert's room.  She hid under his bed and made creepy noises.  When Rupert stood up, she grabbed his ankle.  While he was freaking out, she rushed off into hiding and waited until her former self came into the room and got under the bed.  Then she climbed on the bed and under the covers.

So, Clara is the creature under your bed everyone.  No need to fear anymore.  She's like 5'2 and skinny.  I think we could all manage to take her down.

All I know is, I'm going to be searching her apartment every time they show it from now on.  I want to see if she's stashed Rupert's blanket somewhere.

Find the blanket, find the alien.

Question 2:

"What was knocking on the spaceship door?"

Sorry, everyone, but I don't buy the whole "the ship is just settling" or "the atmosphere around the ship is disturbed" or whatever nonsense the Doctor, Clara, and Orson were making up to make themselves feel better.  There was something out there.

Well, the knocking on the spaceship door really reminded me of the Midnight episode.  This was the seriously creepy episode where the 10th Doctor was riding on a bus with a bunch of strangers (and Merlin...?) to see the Sapphire Waterfalls.  They were on the planet Midnight, which had a sun that emitted Xtonic radiation that would almost immediately kill every living thing.  So they were apparently alone out in the middle of nowhere, since nothing could survive outside the bus.  Well, the bus broke down, and something started knocking on the bus door.  Then there was an explosion that killed the drivers, one of the passengers got possessed by an UNSEEN alien presence that mimicked voices.  Then...it almost stole the 10th Doctor's voice.

"Listen!  It's me!"




All turned out well, obviously, but the creature was never seen.  There was never a good explanation for what that creature was, or of what it wanted.

Theory: The creature from "Midnight" was the same sort of creature the 12th Doctor was looking for in "Listen."

Imagine a race of creatures, I'll call them the Listeners.  These creatures feed off the voices of others; they get their nourishment merely from listening to the words of other creatures. They aren't malevolent.  They just want to survive and coexist with us.  They are perfect hiders, and NOT the same creatures that grab ankles from under beds--those really are just nightmares/primal fears/Clara Oswalds.  They're just Listeners.

I think it was a Listener who took the Doctor's chalk and wrote "Listen" on the chalkboard.  It realized the Doctor was onto it, and decided to have a little bit of fun.  Maybe Listening to the Doctor for so long had made it a bit quirky.  I wonder if a Listener can get indigestion if it listens to the wrong kind of voice for too long...hmm.  I digress.

Now, the creature the 10th Doctor encountered in Midnight was a little different.  I think this creature was a criminal, by the standards of its own people.  Perhaps it had gone insane.  Instead of merely listening, this creature decided it wanted a voice of its own.  It decided it wanted to master the voices of other beings instead of just passively listening and existing.  It had probably tried to steal the voices of other beings before its kind stepped in and banished it into the wilderness of a planet where there was no possibility of life--where there were no voices for it to listen to.  I think they left it there to die.

And I think these creatures take a very, very long time to starve to death.

Well, when the 12th Doctor was on that space ship, it was the end of time.  There were supposedly no creatures left alive in the whole universe.  The Listeners are obviously not typical life forms, however.  They were still alive.  And since there were no other beings in the entire universe for them to listen to, they were starving.

These creatures were not malevolent.  They didn't mean any harm.  But they were desperate for voices to listen to.  That's why they knocked on the door.  That's why they made themselves known.  They desperately wanted inside that ship where there were voices--the last voices in the universe.

When the Doctor unlocked the door to the ship, and the creatures opened it, he didn't speak.  He was too busy trying to hang on for dear life and not get sucked outside the ship to his death.  The creatures still had nothing to listen to.  When Orson pulled him back to safety inside the Tardis, the creatures were furious!  They made all sorts of noise and tried to get inside, just starving to listen.

I'm not sure if these creatures are why we talk to ourselves or not, but I am no longer going to feel so crazy when I do talk to myself.  I'm just feeding the Listeners.  Hopefully,what I'm feeding them is something pleasant to the taste.

Meh.  Voices probably taste like chicken.



So what are your theories about the creature(s) from "Listen"?  Do you think we'll learn more about them in future episodes, or do you think Moffat will just keep us hanging?  I think it's better sometimes not to know.  Knowledge has a way of taking the fear out of something, and well, as Clara told the very young Doctor, "It's OK to be afraid.  ...Fear makes companions of us all."

Let me know what you think.  Maybe my next post will be less nerdy, but until then, Allons-y!


Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Unlikely Person Who Changed My Mind About Matt Smith

If you didn't already know, I'm a Doctor Who fan.

Suffice it to say, this post probably won't interest you unless you, too, are a Doctor Who fan.

Also, let it be known that if you aren't up to date with Doctor Who, there might be some slight Spoilers, Sweetie.

And since I'm already being direct, I might as well go ahead and state that David Tennant, the 10th Doctor, is, and very likely will always be, my favorite Doctor.  Perhaps that is why, when David Tennant didn't want to go and Matt Smith GERONIMO!ed his way into the TARDIS, I decided I didn't like this young guy with the angular face and derpy hair.

This was more than the usual, "You've redecorated the Doctor.  I don't like it," phase that most Whovians go through upon a new regeneration.  The more I watched the 11th Doctor, the more I felt that something vital to the Doctor had been lost.  He could be serious, even properly scary-angry at times, but I felt like he never had enough depth to be the Doctor.

In the 50th Anniversary episode, the 10th Doctor was dubbed 'the man who regrets,' and the 11th Doctor was dubbed 'the man who forgets.'  And I certainly agreed with that assessment.  It seemed as though the 11th Doctor had forgotten everything that had happened before his regeneration and just awkward-giraffe-danced into this completely different and new AmyPondRiverSongCrackinWallFezEnthusiastStevenMoffatSilenceWillFall thrill ride.  He just went Wibbly-Wobbling throughout the universe, handing out paradoxes like jelly babies.  He wasn't the 10th Doctor.  He wasn't the 9th Doctor.  He wasn't any of the older Doctors that I started watching, either.   He was something different--too carefree, too flippant, too flirty, too clueless, and just, well...the wrong kind of silly.

Honestly, if it hadn't been for Rory, I would have stopped watching.  Love a Rory.  Rorys are cool.

So, when it was announced that Matt Smith was leaving the show, I was thrilled.  Just thrilled.  It didn't matter who it was who replaced him (though I prayed that Moffat would wibbly-wobbly something together and get Tennant back for good).  I just wanted him gone.

When Peter Capaldi was announced, I was pleasantly surprised that they were going for an older Doctor.  When they surprised us by revealing his famous (infamous?) eyebrows in the 50th Anniversary episode, I knew we were in for something amazing.  When the 11th Doctor regenerated into the 12, and he started disliking the colour of his kidneys in a rich Scottish brogue, I felt like all was right in the universe.  Ding dong, the Smith was dead.  Which-a-Smith?  The Silly Smith!  Ding dong, the Silly Smith was dead!

...Speaking of the wrong kind of silly.  Sorry.  Sorry everyone.  So, so sorry.

Well, I waited for months, like the rest of the world, for the first full Capaldi/12th Doctor episode.  And it. was. brilliant.  HE was brilliant.  All Scottish and angry eyebrows and mysterious.  I felt like the Silly Smith was gone, and this Doctor, this older Scottish Doctor was going to get back to the Doctor's roots.  He was going to be something new, but something old at the same time.

But, as I watched, I noticed something I wasn't expecting with the 12th Doctor.

Vulnerability.

Behind those ferocious eyebrows and wizened face was a man who was frightened, just terrified.  What frightened him so?

Himself.

Maybe it's because he's Scottish, or maybe it's because he's more mature, or maybe, just maybe, it's because he's more childlike--but the 12th Doctor is honest, blatantly honest.  It's not that he doesn't have the capacity to lie.  The Doctor lies, of course.  But he knows that "people don't need to be lied to."  He's very direct, very straightforward, sometimes obnoxiously so.  He doesn't conceal his thoughts or feelings well, nor does he really even seem to think he should.  And I think he just might turn out to be the most complex Doctor yet.

The 12th Doctor is beginning to face himself, again

I never understood Matt Smith, the 11th Doctor.  I thought he was just ridiculous most of the time.  But, like many things in the universe, I could never really learn to appreciate him until he was gone.

But I realized through the 12th Doctor, new as he is, what it was that I really didn't like about the 11th Doctor.  We were reminded many times through out the 11th Doctor's reign that "the Doctor lies."  The 11th Doctor told many lies, many of them bold-faced, and often to those he cared the most about.  But I recently learned that there was one person the 11th Doctor lied to the most.

Again, himself.

The 10th Doctor was brilliant, just brilliant, and I dearly miss David Tennant as the Doctor, but one would have to be a fool NOT to see that he got a little scary and dark near the end of his reign as the Doctor.  Along with all the other demons that the Doctor has had to carry throughout the centuries, I think 10's seriousness all just got to be too much for him.  He had lived too long, indeed.  When the 11th Doctor came along, he NEEDED to be "the man who forgets" instead of "the man who regrets."  The regret had become too much.  And so he donned a bow tie, proclaimed it cool, and went on an awkward romp through the universe.  Rules didn't matter as much.  Everything was cool.  As long as he could keep that pesky crack in the wall from destroying the universe, more than once or twice, everything was cool.  He could flirt with his future wife/best friend's daughter while said best friend was still pregnant with her.  Everything was cool.  He could quickly forget his wife and start wildly flirting with an Impossible Girl who was, in another time and place, a Dalek.  Everything was cool.

But the 11th Doctor wasn't silly for silliness' sake, as I long believed.  He was silly because he couldn't fully face all the darkness that was within him.  He couldn't bear to think of all that he had lost.  He couldn't bear to think of why or how he had lost it.  He needed to forget.  He needed to lie.  So he put on a young face, a bow tie, occasionally a fez, and just pretended he was far more carefree than he actually was.

But age caught up to him.  Time caught up to him.  He expected to die, and I think a part of him was relieved.  He had managed to run away from himself until the end.  I think it was as a childish man in an aged 11th Doctor's body that he accepted a new regeneration cycle.  And maybe it was that gift of life that got his attention.  Maybe it was the knowledge that his fellow Time Lords really were still alive out there somewhere.  Maybe it was just that he was tired, so, so tired, of running away.

But whoever it was that "frowned him this face," I think it is clear that the 12th Doctor isn't running away anymore.  No more lies.

We're only a few episodes into his regeneration, but I'm already seeing that the 12th Doctor is afraid, but he's starting to face his fears.  He's starting to face himself.  He doesn't like what he sees.  It saddens him deeply.  It terrifies him.  But instead of running away and pretending to be strong, he's allowing himself to be vulnerable.

He doesn't mince words.  He doesn't do social graces.  He admits when he needs help.  In fact, he almost demands it, as if he can't think beyond himself--like a child.  In some ways, even in a more mature form, the 12th Doctor is more childlike than the apparently young 11th Doctor.  And it's this vulnerability, this acceptance of who he is and how things are, that make him intriguing.  I think he's going to wind up being one of my favorite Doctors.  It's too soon to tell, perhaps, but I very well may end up liking him as much as the 10th Doctor.

As for Matt Smith, the 11th Doctor, he will never be one of my favorites, but I have a much greater appreciation for him now.  I understand him.  I actually want to go back and watch all of his episodes again with my renewed perspective, so that I can give him another chance.

And it took Peter Capaldi's 12th Doctor for me to understand the 11th.  That, more than anything else, shows me how truly remarkable this new Doctor is.  I think we're in for something amazing.  I think we're going to see both more darkness and more light in the Doctor than we have seen in quite some time.  I think it is going to be fantastic.

Just fantastic.

Allons-y!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

More Thoughts on Loving Leadership

Earlier this summer, I wrote a post entitled Loving Leadership, in which I shared some some things about leadership that I've learned in my experiences as both a leader and a follower.

But I've been thinking more about leadership lately, and I thought I'd follow up with another blog on loving leadership.

There's a popular children's game (or it used to be popular) called Follow the Leader.  The game was simple.  The leader would walk in front of a line of other children, and the followers would follow the leader around.  Sometimes the followers would just walk in line behind the leader, and sometimes they would mimic the leaders actions.

With children's games like this, it's no wonder I grew up with an image in my head of a leader being someone who goes in front of others.  And certainly, that is part of what a leader must do.  A leader should go before the followers.  A leader should either already know what's ahead or be the one to experience it first.

But I've been reading in Genesis lately, and I've realized there's another aspect of leadership.  I noted this aspect through two bad examples of leadership.

In Genesis, in the beginning, God created everything.  He made the earth and the skies, the sea and the land, the plants and all the animals.  And He made Adam and Eve and put them in the Garden of Eden.  They were allowed to eat from every tree except one.

It was never really clear how much time passed before Satan tempted Eve, and she ate of the fruit.  They might have lived quite happily in that garden for centuries.  They might not have lasted the week.  Knowing sin and temptation like I do, I'm going to guess it was the latter.

So Eve ate the forbidden fruit and really messed things up for everyone.  Thanks a lot, Eve.  Humanity was cursed forever because you just had to eat the fruit.

But I have one question.  Where was Adam?

Let's see if we can figure out where Adam was:

Gen. 3: 6 Then the woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 

That's interesting.  That's very interesting.  According to Scripture, Adam was right there with Eve when she ate the fruit.  I'm assuming that he was also there during the temptation.

And I'm not going to speculate too much on this, but I'm assuming also that Adam was already the established leader in the relationship.  I do know that part of Eve's curse was that her husband rule over her, but I think a Godly sort of husband leadership was already in place before the Fall.  If this was the case, then why didn't Adam speak up?  Why didn't Adam protect his wife?  Why didn't Adam stop her from doing what they both knew to be wrong?

He didn't do any of these things.  Instead, he ate of the fruit when she gave it to him.  He just ate it.  And later, when they got caught, Adam started the finger pointing.  He blamed Eve, and what's worse, he blamed God for giving Eve to him.  But my question still stands.  Where was Adam?

Because although Adam was right there with Eve, he wasn't present in the way that he needed to be.  I do not discount Eve's grave sin; she was at fault.  However, I would be so bold as to state that the greater sin was Adam's.  He was the leader, and as the leader, he should have stood by what God had commanded.  He should have protected his wife.  Instead, he went along with whatever she said, and thus, humanity was cursed with sin and all its wages.

This isn't Scripture, but I really like something John Milton wrote in Paradise Lost.  When God questioned Adam for his sin, and Adam blamed Eve, God had an interesting response:

"Was she thy god?"

Was she?  Perhaps so.  For instead of following God's leadership, instead of being the godly leader that he should have been, he just went along with Eve's sin.

I have another example from Genesis, also involving a husband and a wife.

In Genesis 19, we have the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  We also have an unusual case of a lady, identified only as Lot's wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt after turning back to look at the doomed cities.  The angels had warned them not to look back.  But Lot's wife did, and she was also destroyed.

But my question here is similar to the one I asked in the Genesis 19 account.  Where was Lot?

Genesis 19:23-26
23 The sun had risen over the land when Lot reached Zoar. 24 Then out of the sky the Lord rained burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah from the Lord. 25 He demolished these cities, the entire plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and whatever grew on the ground.26 But his wife looked back and became a pillar of salt.

Now, it's not clear exactly where Lot was when his wife looked back, but one thing is abundantly clear from the entire account of Lot's escape from Sodom.  He was terrified.  He didn't want to leave; the angels had to drag him and his family along.  He didn't want to flee to the mountains, but instead pleaded to be allowed to run to the small town of Zoar.  And after his wife became the first Morton's girl (yes, I went there), he took his daughters off to the mountains, after all, because it turned out that  he was also afraid to live in Zoar.  And that's when things got disgusting all over again, but I digress.

See, I think it can be assumed that Lot was running ahead of his wife.  It sounds as though he just might have reached the city before she did.  I think it can be assumed that he wasn't running with her, nor was he running ahead of her as to lead her, but he was running ahead to save his own skin.  And, again, I'm assuming much here, but I think it's reasonable to say that Lot's wife might not have looked back if Lot had been with her.  Had he been leading her out of love, running with her, she might have survived the flight from Sodom.  As a result, she might have been there to guide her daughters to make better choices.  The Moabites and Ammonites (born of the incestuous relationships between Lot and his daughters) might never have existed to cause strife with Israel.  A lot of sin might have been prevented if one man might have been less fearful for his own sake, and more concerned for the welfare of his family members.

Sometimes, a leader has to walk on ahead, go on before, to lead the way.  It's much like in those silly childhood games of follow the leader.  But I'm learning that a good leader sometimes leads in a much different way.  Instead of walking on before, sometimes the best leader will come along beside.  Because we're not children playing silly games anymore, and I've learned that people are more likely to follow well when the leader is able and willing to come down and meet them where they are. 

I have one other example of a leader, but this is a good example.

When Jesus called his disciples, they came.  They left their fishing boats and nets and family members and they came.  Immediately.  When Jesus called Matthew, a tax collector and sinner, he came.  Why?  Why would these men follow Jesus just because he told them to follow?  

Because Jesus wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty.  He wasn't afraid to dine with those tax collectors and sinners.  He wasn't afraid of what others might think or even of what others might do.  He came along others and met them at their point of need. 

If anyone had any right to point fingers, it would have been Jesus.  If anyone had any right to save his own skin, it would have been Jesus.  But Jesus didn't flee from pain and death.  Jesus didn't pass blame.  Jesus loved.  And people followed him.  People still do.  I certainly try to.

And I know I'm still learning to be a leader.  Shoot, I'm still learning to be a follower.  But I know I've got to be humble and accept my own weaknesses.  I know that I have to trust beyond all my fears.

It's hard to follow.  It's hard to lead.  It's even harder to do both at the same time.  But I think a person has to learn to do both in order to be really good at either.  We need to trust God to come along side us as well as learn to come along side others.  We need to be humble as well as confident that the One who gave us our leadership abilities and positions is guiding us as we lead.  We need not to point fingers.  We need not to be afraid.  

We need to follow the Leader, and we need to trust Him as He leads us to lead.  

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Tantrums, Struggles, and What We Find in the Midst

It might be because I'm a little weird, but I consider it one of the biggest perks of working with young kids that I've gotten to experience some really amazing tantrums.

Yesterday, I had the blessing of caring for a very strong-willed little boy who had just turned four.  He was in a pretty good humor when he arrived, but then he chose to deliberately disobey me.

His older brother was in the room that was intended for older children, and the four year old asked me if he could go in the "big kid's room" and watch his brother play video games. I told the four-year-old that he was allowed to come in and watch his brother play video games, but that he wasn't allowed to play with any of the toys or games in the older kid's room because they were for the older kids only, and they weren't safe for him.  I turned my back to talk to another child, and I caught him playing at the air hockey table.  I reminded him that he wasn't allowed to play with it, and warned him he'd have to leave the "big kid's room" if he disobeyed again.

Well, after that warning, I turned to help another child with something.  Not a minute later, I looked over and caught the four-year-old playing air hockey again.  I told him he needed to leave the "big kid's room" because he broke the rules.

What happened next was one of the best tantrums I've ever had the honor of experiencing.  And since I was the one at which the tantrum was being thrown, I didn't just observe like an innocent bystander.  I got to be part of it.  And that, friends, is a wonderful thing.

I'm not being sarcastic, for a change.

The tantrum lasted about an hour.

It started with screaming at the top of his lungs.  This adorable four-year-old child stood in one spot and screamed.  And screamed.  And screamed.

I first tried talking to him, calmly and rationally.  And sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn't.  Knowing how strong-willed this child was, I realized that he wasn't going to respond to calmness and reason.  Basically, he was unknowingly trying to manipulate me into doing what he wanted by throwing a tantrum.  But since I'm also a strong-willed child who has had a lot more practice at being strong-willed than he has, I wasn't going to give in to that sort of nonsense.  So I tried ignoring him.  I walked away and started singing a song to myself.

But there's a method to ignoring a tantrum-throwing child.  You walk away.  You don't look at the child.  None of their screaming or attention-seeking behavior will get your attention.  To that child, it looks like you are interested in everything besides them.

But in reality, that tantrum-throwing child was very much on my mind and heart.  While he was standing rigidly in one spot and loudly, repetitively screaming, I was praying for his little heart.  I was singing a hymn to remind myself of grace.  I wasn't just ignoring him out of meanness or because I was fed up with him.  I was ignoring him for his own good, to show him that he couldn't manipulate me.

And, of course, at the age of four he wasn't thinking all that through.  He didn't realize that he was trying to manipulate me.  It was all very innocent and natural for him, especially as a strong-willed child, to act out when he didn't get his way.

And he IS a very strong-willed child, because when he realized that I wasn't going to give him any attention for his tantrum, it didn't discourage him.  It just made him madder--and louder.  He didn't stop.  He didn't slow down.  After a good ten minutes of screaming, he just kept going.

And I realized that the ignoring method wasn't going to work.  So I took his hand and dragged him, literally kicking and screaming, to the back of the room.  I told him, "You are not in time out, but while you are crying and screaming, you have to sit in this chair.  Whenever you're done screaming and crying, you can get up and come talk to me."

Of course, it was hard to say all this to him, because while I was saying it, he was screaming in my face.  So I said it, not once or twice, but probably about ten times.  I said it calmly and firmly, repeating it and praying that it was getting through.

But strong-willed little four year old boy wasn't going to take that.  I was giving him some control over his situation, which was probably what he really wanted, but I wasn't giving it to him in the way that he wanted.  I was letting him be the one who dictated when the tantrum was over, when he could get up and be free to play again.  But he wanted it on his terms.  He wanted to be able to play with the toys he wanted to play with, and not the ones that I said were okay.  He saw the air hockey table, that was too tall for him to properly reach, as the Promised Land.  He fixated on that so much that he couldn't see the huge room full of age-appropriate toys just ready for him to enjoy.  And he was so angry with me for not allowing him what he thought he wanted.  He was angry with me because I enforced the rules I'd set for him, even though he knew he was the one who had disobeyed them.

Because what we all want is control, but we want it on our terms.  And that's not the way it works.

We think we want something, and we don't even want to let God stand in our way.

That's one of the biggest reasons why a lot of people just won't believe in a God that sets boundaries for His creation.  That's one of the biggest reasons why people have stopped believing in things like absolute truth.  That's one of the biggest reasons why people seem to want to create God in their image, instead of letting themselves be transformed into His image.

Boundaries aren't always fun, but children need them.

Boundaries aren't always fun, but we all need them.

But, as adults, we need to move past this childish mindset that boundaries mean we can't do anything fun or enjoyable.  We're so quick to yearn for something we can't have, while right in front of us is more than we could ever imagine, more than we could ever deserve.  We all want to be kings and queens, so we fight the King of Kings, when all along He's longing to adopt us and make us His children and heirs.

It's like what C. S. Lewis said in The Weight of Glory:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”


That same day the child threw a tantrum, another little boy who had been so good while under my care suddenly turned into a beast when his mother arrived.  He wanted to keep playing with the toys and games at the drop-in center.  His mother told him that she was going to take him to "Frankie's Fun Park," but he was so focused on what he wanted that he couldn't imagine being happier elsewhere.  And we're the same way.  We are far too easily pleased.

But boundaries aren't meant to keep us from enjoyment; they're put in place for our own good.  The trouble is that we like to believe that we know what's best for us, more so than God.  

In my favorite novel, A Wrinkle in Time (by Madeleine L'Engle), I've found one of the greatest illustrations of free will.  One of the most interesting characters in all of literature (in my humble opinion), Mrs Whatsit, describes the human life as a sonnet.  There is a strict form that must be followed, otherwise it is not a sonnet.  But within that form, the poet has complete freedom to write whatever he or she desires. 

God has given us a form.  And I don't like having a form to follow, especially a strict one, because I'm a strong-willed kid.  But when I stop being angry that I can't do everything my way, I realize that I actually do have a lot of freedom.  I realize, when I stop being angry, that I have a lot of opportunity for joy.

We want things a certain way, and even if we're not throwing a deliberate tantrum, we're struggling to understand this life He's calling us to live.  We're struggling to understand grace--sometimes throwing tantrums just so we can see how God will react, because our sinful hearts just don't understand things like unconditional love.  Like Jacob, who was basically a weak mama's boy and a liar to boot, who didn't deserve any kind of grace, we need to wrestle with God.  We don't deserve a blessing, but we need to be foolish and bold enough to hold out for it.  And that takes a life-long wrestling match.

Because let me tell you something I've learned.  If you think Christianity isn't meant to be a struggle, then you're doing it wrong.  But I know that there's so much mercy in the struggle.  And I know something more: There's joy in the struggle.

And after that precious little boy threw a tantrum for almost a solid hour, he was just exhausted.  He was still trying to scream, but I could tell his throat was getting sore.  He had fought me so hard, refusing to back down, and he was weakening.  His strong-little will wasn't broken.  I never meant to break it; I never meant to break him.  But he needed to know that I wasn't going to break, either.  As tired as I was, he was so much more tired; I'd had more practice, after all.  His strong little will was just DONE.  He was too tired to fight anymore.  And it's sad that we have to get to that point sometimes, but that's why there's mercy in the struggle.

I finally pulled up a chair mere inches away from that screaming little boy.  He tried to pull away from me, but he was too tired to fight that hard.  I sat there, inches away from him.  I put my hands out.  I said his name.  I said, "Come here. Come on, buddy. Come here."  I kept repeating the call, kept saying his name.  I probably said his name fifty times.  He only had an inch to move.

And finally, after an hour of fighting, he stopped screaming.  He said, "I want my mommy and daddy."  And I said, "I know, buddy, and they're coming back soon, but I'm here now, and I love you so much."  And he bridged that inch gap and leaned on me, too weak to even pull himself into my lap.  But I picked him up and pulled him close to me.  I held him and rocked him and told him that I loved him.  I told him I loved him when he was good and that I loved him when he was bad.  And he sobbed into my shoulder and hugged me so tight, because the fight was over, and he knew that he was safe with his Miss Ruth who loved him.

So tired from the fight, so secure now in my arms, he fell asleep.  And, to me, that sweet, sweet moment was worth the entire tantrum.  I was really blessed to be part of that, because I saw so much of how God relates to little strong-willed me in how I related to that little strong-willed boy.

Because I know there's times when I fight against God, either because I'm stubborn or stupid or just want my way, and I put up a really good tantrum.  He might seem distant, ignoring me, but I'm on His mind and heart.  He might be speaking to me calmly, reasoning with me, and I might be too angry to listen.  He might be sitting right next to me, calling me to Him, waiting for me to come. 

And when I do, there's not the anger and distance I expect from Him.  I don't have to be afraid.  He comforts me with His presence, reminding me of His unconditional love.  I'm His kid.  I never had to do anything to get His attention; I've always had it.

And in the times when I'm not exactly throwing that tantrum, I'm still forever struggling to understand God and who I am to Him.  If I'm not struggling, it's because I'm not really living.  I'm not seeking for the life He has for me.  

But I know there's blessing beyond what I can understand, if I just keep holding on, if I just keep struggling and keep wrestling.  The dawn is coming, though the battle has lasted all night.  

And, hallelujah, there's mercy in the struggle.