Category: Relationships

Our Need for Community

write-2930023_1920As writers, we often find ourselves working in a solitary place. For some of us, that is the only way we can unleash the thoughts in our head in a coherent fashion. It is time that many of us have to work hard to obtain – perhaps by shutting ourselves away from our busy and boisterous families by sneaking into the back bedroom for thirty minutes. For others it might look like a trip to the local library or Starbucks with our laptop in tow, hoping we don’t bump into someone we know, so we can use the precious minutes we have carved out of our busy schedules to actually write. Our understandable predisposition to gain solitary time in order to respond to our calling may become an obsession if we aren’t careful. It can become quite easy to duck out of social activities when our work-in-progress is tugging at our hearts. But many famous writers were notable as recluses, so what’s the harm?

lonestarActually, it can be harmful. I think it is important to recognize that God created us to be in community. Not only is it good as a writer to enter the social sphere, it is good for our souls. Writers are observers of life, and our writings reflect the truths we have found through our observations and experiences. You can’t observe or experience if you keep yourself segregated from the rest of humanity. Being in community also satisfies the yearning we all have to be part of something greater than ourselves, whether we recognize it or not. That is why I am so excited about the upcoming writing conference I am attending: Lonestar.Ink in Dallas this February. I have been a writer for many years, yet I have never made the time to attend one. I am not sure what to expect, but I am very excited about the possibilities. Sure, I expect to leat-grandmaearn some good stuff from some successful authors and editors who are willing to communicate their knowledge with others. I am also anticipating that this will be an opportunity to network. But I also see it as something else – as an opportunity to break out of my solitude and connect with other people that have similar dreams and goals. People who will get my grammar puns and appreciate them without rolling their eyes (well, maybe…) and of course enjoy the conversations and debates that arise as writers compare notes on both technique and content.

Another strong reason to get out into the community (and attend a writers conference) is explained by developmental psychologist Susan Pinker. She reveals how in-person social interactions are not only necessary for human happiness, but could also be key to health and long life in an intriguing TED Talk where she explains that social interaction is the number one predictor for longevity. She explains that this isTED not limited to close acquaintances, but includes everyone that we interact with as we move through our day. Further, “Face to face contact releases a whole cascade of neurotransmitters and, like vaccines, they protect you now in the present and well into the future.” As a matter of fact, her entire speech made me really glad I signed up for the conference. Her research shows that brain activity becomes much more engaged with a live partner. Recruiters from Fortune 500 companies thought the candidates were smarter if they heard their voices, compared to when they read their pitches from a text, email or letter. So theoretically, pitching an agent or publisher at a writing conference makes me smarter then sending a query letter…quaking knees and all.

Pinker says, “It’s a biological imperative to know we belong.” She points out the benefits of social contact, “Building inter-person interhyperboleaction into our cities, into our workplaces, into our agendas, bolsters the immune system, sends feel good hormones surging through the blood stream and brain, and helps us live longer. I call this building your village, and building it and sustaining it is a matter of life and death.” So now I can extrapolate from this information that attending the Lonestar.ink writing conference is a matter of life and death. Okay, I might be slightly exaggerating, but hey, it’s still a great idea and what’s a little hyperbole among friends?

 

Love Thy Neighbor

2017birthdayThis is one of my favorite pictures of all time. It was taken in 2017, and the occasion was my birthday. I am a little older now and hopefully a little wiser. The people in this picture portray a tremendous blessing in my life – I am honored to call them friends. So many countries are represented: Hong Kong, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Iran, Peru, Mexico, Rwanda, Germany, and of course, the United States. It is so much fun to have the opportunity to learn about other cultures, and I have found that we are more alike than we are different. I have also found that if given the chance, people will come together, regardless of race or country of origin, when given the opportunity. Many of the people in this photo recently donated money to buy a Car for Cyprien. He is pictured in the center, the man on crutches. The only time they have met Cyprien was at this party, yet when asked, they contributed so that he could have transportation.

flood-965092_1920It’s been almost five months since Hurricane Harvey. When an event like that occurs, it catches us completely off guard. We live in such a blessed country of plenty that the devastation wrought by Harvey is hard to fathom for those of us who are on the outside looking in. But even as far away as Dallas, we saw the effects. Evacuees made their way into our communities. Most everyone I know was shocked at the gas pump – stations were temporarily running out and prices reflected supply and demand. For me personally, I watched my son-in-law Aaron receive a phone call as we were about to eat Sunday lunch. He didn’t stop to eat and was gone within ten minutes, after bringing in school books and our grandchildren’s car seats into the house from his truck, because he needed to go directly to pick up two other members of the Army Reserve so they could deploy to Houston with their unit. Our daughter Melissa had the responsibility of our three grandchildren by herself, at the beginning of a new school year. They were ready to sacrifice for our neighbors.

cloudsheart3Local community organizations and churches stepped up to stand in the gap and serve those who had been devastated by Harvey. Individuals answered the call for volunteers and city and government officials worked side by side with citizen volunteers to rescue Harvey victims. Jesus prayed for unity – and in this time of tragedy it was beautiful to see that prayer being answered over and over. Instead of looking at each other through the petty lens smeared by our broken humanity full of grievances and complaints, we were looking at each other through the same lens Jesus does. All of the divisive issues that have been blasting through the media didn’t seem important anymore. We were faced with our common humanity, and how beautiful it was to see our response, the same response that Jesus calls us to – love thy neighbor.

martin-luther-king-jr-393870_1920We have been given a great capacity for love and love can overcome our differences. Scripture tells us in John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” As we celebrate the holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today, let’s remember his words and weave them into the fabric of our own communities: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Dr. King also said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.” Let us love our neighbor, regardless of how different they may be from us. Let us rejoice in our differences, knowing that in the depths of our hearts, we are the same.

Images from Pixabay – free for commercial use

 

 

 

Forgiving Ourselves and Forgiving Others

I have been thinking about forgiveness a lot lately. I know many people who struggle with it, in that they are either unable to forgive themselves for something they have done or they are unable to forgive someone else for hurting them. When I think about God’s limitless grace and that it is through Christ’s sacrifice at the cross that we have received forgiveness for all of our transgressions – what is even more amazing is that God initiated it! We read in Romans 5:8, “For God demonstrates his great love for us in this; while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” He died for us knowing we were a mess, yet loving us anyway. His forgiveness heals us and if we are unable to forgive ourselves, or others, we are unable to fully experience the peace that comes from the healing power of Christ.

When we forgive others, we make a choice to humbly follow the example Christ set for us, and I believe God will use that step of faith to release healing in not only the person offering forgiveness and the person being forgiven, but also anyone else who has been affected by the broken relationship.

It’s no wonder we sometimes struggle with forgiveness – it is such a universal struggle and that is why songs are written about it…For those of you who are battling with events from the past, it might help to remember what Paul writes in Philippians 3:12-14,

“12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Many people focus on verse 14 but notice what Paul says in verse 13: “Forgetting what is behind” is SO important before proceeding to verse 14 – We need to NOT allow our past to dictate our present or influence our future. It doesn’t mean we won’t have consequences from the past that we will have to deal with, but the past need NOT affect the choices we make today or determine what is yet to come. If you consider Paul’s past before he became a Christian, he crossed many lines in persecuting the church. This becomes very powerful because he put his transgressions behind him and by focusing on what lay ahead, he overcame his past to become a great pillar of the church whose influence through the Holy Spirit has guided Christians for thousands of years. Wow! He initially had to deal with a lot of unpleasantness because of what he had done previously, but he didn’t let that stop him – something you might want to share to encourage someone who may be struggling with their past. The example of Paul in Scripture reassures us that there are no lost causes and we can all have a new beginning. God forgives us when we ask, therefore we should be able to forgive ourselves and receive the peace and hope that comes with the grace He freely offers.

forgiveFor those of us who have trouble forgiving others, I don’t believe you will ever be truly at peace until you do. It doesn’t even matter how the other person responds (if they are even around to respond – offering forgiveness is an intentional action that flows out of your heart – while it is hoped that it blesses the person you are forgiving – their positive response is not a requirement). Scripture is clear on God’s desire for us to forgive one another. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

I believe God gives us a great gift by teaching us to forgive one another and it is also for our own benefit – a heart weighed down by the bitterness of being unforgiving can never experience true joy. I love this video by Matthew West called “Forgiveness” because it speaks eloquently to both sides of forgiveness. If you have something weighing you down, I hope listening to this song will help you to take the steps God may be calling you to take, so that restoration can occur through the power of Jesus Christ and despair and disappointment can be replaced with healing and love.

Matthew West – Forgiveness

 

[image courtesy of markuso at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

 

 

 

Start With A Smile

Here is an interesting premise to write about. Imagine that you are going to live in a foreign country. Your company has transferred you there, and you are expected to adjust to your new surroundings and begin work immediately. You have learned the language in a classroom, but have had very little, if any, conversational practice. Your physical needs of food, shelter and transportation are provided through your employment. But when you venture out, it is into completely unfamiliar territory. And while your co-workers are very nice, they don’t have a lot of time to provide guidance. If you are going to explore your new home, you must be brave.

I have recently been hired to help three young adults from Japan, here for one year, to learn Business English, while they work for their company and interact with American clients. When I spend time with them, it amazes me at how courageous they are. They have been living and working here for only about two months, and are driving our highways, shopping in our grocery stores, and venturing out on their own to experience American culture, which in so many ways is very different from their own. Something we take for granted like going to an American grocery store is very bewildering since it is much different from grocery shopping in Japan. I can be brave in my writing by exploring new places on paper, but these young adults are doing it for real.

StudentGroup1.jpg

One of the great things about being their teacher is that while they are learning from me, I get to learn from them. That opens up new ideas and ways of thinking, enriching my own experience as I enrich theirs. Just because I have been hired to teach them Business English doesn’t mean it has to stop there. Conversation and cultural immersion will greatly facilitate their success in their goal of becoming proficient at conducting business in the United States and promote understanding between our two countries. We took them to ride my horse this weekend, and what a blessing it was to introduce them to this part of American culture. Their smiles were priceless. Lunch at a local country cafe with real Texas chicken fried steak and mashed taters topped off the day. It was fun to see the waitresses equally fascinated with my students and smiling – they were showing each other the signatures on their master cards which were in Japanese. The great thing about smiles are that they are universal, they transcend any language.

If you are wondering what you can do to get inspiration to write about something new, just look around you. You don’t have to be a teacher to befriend someone who recently immigrated here or is working here for an extended period of time. Sometimes it takes bravery on both sides to reach out to someone different from us, but the blessings you’ll receive by doing so can turn into lifelong friendships and may even turn into a great story for you to write about someday. And it really is not all that hard – all you have to do is start with a smile.

It’s Not About the Candy…

Yesterday I was thinking about Valentine’s Day. I usually don’t think too much about it, because it doesn’t hold that much importance to me anymore. I must admit that before I was married to Phil, Valentine’s Day used to mean a lot more. It was with much anticipation I awaited its arrival during those times that I was in a relationship, as an opportunity for the person who professed love for me to show it in tangible ways such as with flowers and candy. The irony is that because those relationships weren’t that great,  I needed them to prove their love by remembering me on the holiday that is a celebration of love. (No ruffled feathers here please – for those of you in great relationships that still love Valentine’s Day – enjoy!)

But for me, as the years have gone by, its importance has grown less and less. Phil works hard to support our family and spends his free time doing things with us and for us. So on those occasions when he forgets to get a card or pick up a present, it seems ludicrous to me and unfair to him to get upset. Rather, I am grateful because I am incredibly blessed with a loving husband whose actions show me his love for me every day, not just on holidays.

candy

So when Phil came home from Walmart today – not with a big candy heart, flowers and a card, but instead with Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate and Peppermint Altoids (which he knows are my favorite treats), it made me want to cry (and I did a little). Not because he gave me the candy (although I’m glad he did – Yum!) but because of the heart-spoken message behind it. In those packages of chocolates and Altoids was a message that said “I love you so much, that I know what your favorite things are and I want you to have them.” No, it’s not about the candy, but it is all about the love behind it. And if he didn’t have time to do anything or he forgot, it would have been just fine. Because it really is not about the candy…