Monthly Archives: March 2015

When God Says, “Shut Up & Listen.”

When I was in high school, a teacher introduced me and a friend to the family of a boy with Down’s Syndrome. We were talking about things people don’t necessarily realize impact those with a handicap like Down’s.

As part of an exercise, we were asked to do simple tasks while wearing wool mittens, like buttoning a coat, zipping a zipper, using a fok and knife, etc.  It was extraordinarily difficult to function this way, which realistically taught us what living with Down’s was like.

Living with unrefined motor skills is one thing. But this month I Iearned there are other skills one can lose that can be similarly humbling.

For a little over two weeks now, I have been suffering the worst and most bizzare case of laryngitis I have ever experienced. One day, my voice just went. It’s returning, very slowly. But I’m surprised at what a difference my relative silence has made in my daily life.

Now most people who know me well know I’m something of a trained communicator. I use my “voice” in many ways, and even spent a number of years as a spokesperson for government and various industries. So the thought of me not being able to talk will give some a chuckle.

I am finding out that it’s not all that funny. God has again found a subtle way to humble me, and make me realize the little things I take for granted everyday.

The hardest thing so far has been being “Mom.” My girls you probably know by now are 9 and 10. Prime age for bickering, moaning, fighting and the like. I can not currently raise my voice to speak above them, to let either or both know they’ve got it coming if they don’t shape up. And they know they can take advantage of this. They have been pretending they can’t hear me. It’s lead to me perfecting “the look.” I may not be able to yell my unhappiness, but I can still share it with them, if they are looking at me.

God at work again. It’s hard for me to admit, but when it comes to discipline, I’ve always been a bit of a yeller. I can frighten my children with the tone and level of my voice. It is something of an art form. I don’t think this is what God wants me to do when they act up. Maybe he’s leading me to another tactic? Either way, it’s hard to parent with no voice.

I also cannot manage my two rather noisy dogs. The other day, one ran off. I was late picking the girls up at school because I had to find and retrieve her on foot, as I wasn’t able to call her with any authority. When visitors have come to the door, I cannot sush their barking in order to be heard. 

I’ve had a number of appointments cancelled due to cold and snow days. I haven’t been able to phone any of my medical providers to reschedule, as I can’t be heard by parties on the other end of the phone line. I have to whisper in the waitresses ear to order in a restaurant, or have someone else order from me. I have to be careful about eating, as my throat, raw from trying to talk, is not tolerating spices well.

God is teaching me two lessons from this that I have been refusing to learn throughout my life.

The first is, keep it brief. I have a terrible way of saying too much at the wrong time. My stories are too long, my explainations over-bearing. I’ve realized every comment doesn’t need wordsmithed and nuanced. But it is a hard habit for me to break. At dinner the other night, my sister-in-law remarked that something didn’t seem right. We all got a good laugh when she realized that the meal was unusually quiet because I wasn’t running my mouth!

The second is, don’t be afraid to ask for help. He’s been working on this with me for a long time now. I can’t do it. Ask for help that is. For more reasons than not being able to talk. Yet in His patient way, God’s been showing me that even the strongest people need help sometimes with the easiest things. My 10-year-old has been speaking for me in various places, and learning to refine her phone skills. Funny, God is using my affliction to help her grow. My husband has been speaking in my stead as well, and learning to listen more carefully to what I say to him. And we’ve all been learning to communicate without words. 

I guess it is true that every coin has two sides. In the most simple of ways, God reminds us how fortunate we really are, and provides the humility we need to exist in he world with others whose struggles are greater than our own. Apparently all we have to do is shut up and listen.

How’s Your Lent Going?

This seems to happen to me every year. I think out my Lent, trying to be sure the sacrifices I plan to make are going to be worthwhile and help me grow.

But Lent has an interesting way of evolving well beyond what I think I need to work on into what God knows I truly need to experience to become a better person. I don’t think I’m the only person this happens to.

In many ways, for me, this has something to do with the time of year. I realize the transition from winter to spring is different in various regions, and that in the Southern Hemisphere it’s actually the inverse of what we experience here in the States. But I think God has a way of placing us where our experiences will speak most to our development, if we bother to pay attention.

Living where the Midwest meets the Northeast in Southwestern Pennsylvania, Lenten time is full of weather. There can be heavy snows, bitter cold, unseasonably sunny, warm days, rain that’ll make you consider building an ark, and enough ice to freeze your soul. This year it was cold, snow and ice. And wind. I hate freezing winds. They make me hole up at home, want to cancel everything and wrap up in blankets. 

But I see this as God reminding me that, cold or not, life must go on. I have a way of wanting to hide from the world when I feel overwhelmed.  I do this more than I should. This year, God seemed to match the yuckiest winter weather with things I wanted to do most. I survived the weather to enjoy them.  I can still feel the cold ripping through my coat as I walked through town to a Pittsburgh Penguins game on a -10 evening. God’s note to me that “this too shall pass. Now get your butt out there and live.”

God also wants me to remember I am capable of handling things. Last Lent, a pipe burst in my basement, with the husband out of reach for the day.  It was mental recall on the crisis management skills. I held it together – with some minor freaking out – until the pipe could be fixed. This year, it was a broken toilet. Upstairs. With less personal composure.

Lent is also a time of year when my daughters , 9 and 10 years old, get terribly busy with activities. Birthday parties, sports start ups for spring, fund raisers for school, Girl Scout Cookie sales, managing what they gave up for Lent, and so on. I forget something I’m supposed to do for them daily. God’s way of telling me to get my life under control? I’ll never admit it, but organization isn’t exactly my strong suit.

Then there’s the unavoidable illnesses that come from the winter/spring transition, the messiness and muddyness of having multiple pets and living in the country, transportation issues related not having a paved driveway or living on a paved road… know, those little things were not supposed to sweat. God knows that’s a struggle for me too. This year, kids losing gloves, or shoes or boots or coats or homework was enough to send me to the funny farm. I think God enjoys working with the girls to find new challenges to my sanity – they truly can be funny in retrospect. And I was good heartedly reminded this Lent to be patient. 

It seems to me that the biggest challenges facing me seem to come to a head during Lent. Maybe you have noticed this too, where ever it is you are on your path. My need to practice patience, push myself, pull myself together and stop being so fatalistic define me as winter becomes spring. And as God throws these challenges at me, I learn more about who I am than I do by simply trying to curb my Diet Coke habit. 

This year, for the first time, it occurred to me that God may have designed my life this way. Perhaps He has guided us all to places where we will face the greatest challenges as we become who we are. Maybe He steps it up during Lent. Maybe if we pay better attention to the subtleties of our lives – where we live, what annoys us, what lifts us, who we’re surrounded by – we can find more fulfillment in our Lenten journeys.

As for the Diet Coke, I slipped the first week of Lent.

The Silent Treatment

I, probably like many of you, grew up in a home where my mother regularly said, ” if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything.” And like many others, I have found myself continuing on in this mommy tradition of convincing kids not to ever say anything that could some how hurt someone else’s feelings.

This is indeed a good idea for children, who in case you don’t have any, have the most amazing ability to say the most perfectly wrong thing at the most uncanny time. Like the time my brother, then about three years old, stood up on a church pew during the priest’s homily and happily told Father he was talking way too much. 

But as usual, I digress. I’m beginning to think this practice of being silent on hard topics is not so sound as we grow older. Most of us seem to have this idea that never talking about those elephants in the corner keeps everyone happy. And keeps everyone happy with us for not delving into the uncomfortable. 

I’m not sure we do this for such altruistic reasons. I’m pretty sure most of us don’t ever want to be the bad guy, and were just saving ourselves from conflict. I’m guessing the person or event or issue at hand never really comes into our minds at all. If it did, we’d know that there are difficult things that need to be aired – to provide closure, to save hard feelings, to encourage someone to let go, or even to help someone improve their own lives. It can be our calling to be eyes for those who do not see.

A personal example: I once had a friend who was an integral part of my life. I shared long days, sometimes every thought, with this person. Then one day, it simply ended. My friend stopped talking to me, no explaination given. He treated me as if I were a stranger. Mutual friends stopped talking to me. I was snubbed, pushed aside, thrown away by people I spent everyday with. It was troubling. That was over 20 years ago. I still have no idea what occurred, what offense I was charged with.

A few years ago, the disappointment so got to me that I asked everyone I thought would know flat out what had happened to this relationship. I even tried to reach out to my one-time friend via Facebook, etc, to no avail. But there is someone who does know. Someone else I was quite close with, who was also close with the lost friend I so adored. This person refuses to this day to tell where I went wrong.

For 20 years, I have had no closure. No way to put this relationship behind me. And it has had serious consequences on my state of mind. It has caused me to be overly careful in making new friends. I expect to be hurt this way again. It’s caused me to doubt and lose other friends. My husband has gone so far as to say I hate people. That would likely surprise anyone who has truly known me for the greater number of years I’ve been alive.

In my experience, short term hurt is almost always preferable in the adult world to unknowns and the carousel of regret we ride when we cannot understand our own faults. I know I am also guilty of playing the “it’s not my place” to share game, consciously leaving someone in great doubt, twisting in the wind. We likely all are, as we don’t realize how important some things are in the lives of others.

Why do we fear leveling with people we love? Be the issue that they have bad breath or that their child is involved in questionable behavior or that they’re drinking too much, why do we have such opinions of our “friends” that we feel they are unable to appreciate our concern for their happiness? Or better yet, why would we doubt the loyalty of a friend who chooses to bring the hard truth to our door? 

No one likes hearing bad things or hard truths about themselves. Yet we must, or continue making the same mistakes. There are times when true friends must make a decision to share things that need resolved. To care enough about someone when times are hard and confusing. To put someone they love back on the tracks after derailment, without worrying about how they themselves will be viewed.

Life is difficult. Good people make mistakes, and often don’t even know they have. Unless the rest of us man-up, face the needs of our peers, and open our mouths in the name of kindness, we risk losing many of the people and moments that make our lives worth living and the bonds between people stronger.