Friday, November 27, 2009

Transparent Thanksgiving

At this Thanksgiving season, we're surrounded with written expressions of thankfulness from many writers, leaders, communicators, friends and acquaintances. Some feel forced, some are preachy, some are light easy reading while a delightful few feel truly transparent. What was it that caused me to react negatively to many that I'm sure were written in the deepest sincerity?


First – preachy. While my life thrives based on my relationship with God and what he reveals to me daily from his word as well as his creation, I find that "preachy" sorts of advice are better received audibly than in writing, perhaps in a face to face gathering where affirming feelings are apparent with the relationship being forefront (i.e. unless the reader has been on a particular search for a certain topic). So I need to balance my expressions of God-given gratitude with the struggle the pilgrims and their native American friends and enemies experienced prior to that first celebrative day. Because it's in the struggle that I find God's outpouring into my life to be the most meaningful to someone else.


Second – forced. Thankfulness. It's a nice topic. As Jim Hawkinson used to say, this is the kind of thing " like apple pie and motherhood", no one wants to be against it. So we ask the question and we who love to express ourselves are quick to communicate. But the answers feel glib. A teacher in China asked her students and they all responded the same, "I'm thankful for family and friends and country," but when the teacher responded with more specific, perhaps transparent reasons she was thankful, the students gasped with open mouths.


Third – light. It's always refreshing to read humor and stories written in a light spirit, but when an article about Thanksgiving is all humor, it too feels contrived – as if the person is covering deeper hurts and vacuums and doesn't want to admit he's really struggling with something for which to be thankful.


Fourth Рtransparent. Those are the ones we all connect to. Because we've all been there, at the edge of the cliff when we weren't sure if the next breeze would just blow us over, when we couldn't imagine how we would ever get to the other side. And at this holiday season, most people have those areas of struggle, perhaps covered by spiritualizing or clich̩s or comedy but they're there Рand it's in hearing those transparent expressions of gratitude from someone else I am inspired to look more carefully at the good things in my life and be grateful Рthis day and every day.


And so I am grateful – for surviving the difficult moments, for God's grace and love that sustains me when I think it's too hard, for the people in my life who reach out when I can't reach. For the memories of the difficult times because they give perspective to the present. For the hope of the future, for knowing that if I am privileged to awake one more day that there is hope, there is life, and that the most oft quoted and favorite proverb of many in Proverbs 3:5,6 is still true … to trust in the Creator, to recognize His place in my life, and to be confident that he has set the path for the next step on the edge of the cliff.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Power of Attention

Book Review: The Noticer by Andy Andrews


Master story teller Andy Andrews combines the best of personal growth teaching, including Chapman's 5 Love Languages, in an Og Mandino style. Jones, a symbol of Jesus, with the ability to relate to anyone from any background in any culture and language, with an understandably supernatural knowledge of one's past, quietly changes the lives of hundreds of people in a small gulf coast beach town by noticing them – caring – establishing rapport – listening = encouraging – guiding – casting vision.


With poignant stories from the homeless orphan living under a pier to the wealth businessman who does not know how to love his wife, these examles demonostrating how toserve others humbly yet powerfully, kept me captivated in one sitting. Personally challenged myself to be more transparent in my own communication as well as to listen more carefully to the cares of people closest to me, this could easily be my favorite modern day parable for becoming all we were made to be. Challenged by Jones' style and persistence in sticking with someone long enough to get to the core of the problem, I found myself anxious about note taking in order to remember as many dialogues as possible. The book includes guidelines for personal or small group study as well, with intergenerational connections from adolescent to antediluvian.

Purpose Beyond Pain

A Book Review: Finding Purpose Beyond Our Pain, by Paul Meier, MD and David L. Henderson, MD

Expecting a contemporary Paul Tournier, this book being written by physicians, I was initially disappointed that Meier and Henderson didn't discuss physical pain, focusing instead on what they define as the 7 universal struggles (injustice, rejection, loneliness, loss, discipline, failure, and death). Beginning reading somewhat mechanically, I found myself unexpectedly fully engaged by the second section. Seeing myself relatively strong emotionally, I was moved by how often I found myself in this book. Before reading this I would have suggested the bigger publishing need to be modern day references for people of faith dealing with physical pain, but having read it, I will refer others here often.

The lifelong psychiatric experience of the writers has given them a wealth of real life stories with which I believe any reader would find connection, either thru living out that current aspect of pain, having overcome in the past, or being close to people today struggling in that area. The Biblical examples demonstrate that anyone can experience any of these issues, no matter how spiritually strong or successful. Nor did the examples risk the offensive cliché in suggesting every pain has a purpose, but rather there is purpose bigger than the pain. The section conclusions guide the reader to practical steps for overcoming, both immediate "to do's" and spiritual/psychological introspection.