Reading is like listening

“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” – Scout Finch

Reading is like sitting down to listen intently with no intention of immediately responding or contradicting or giving our opinion.

We hear no audible voices but we take part in stories, we listen to opinions, and we learn about experiences. And we grow because we listen, taste, digest, and process what we’ve heard.

In reading we listen to someone, to something that we have not heard before. We’ve largely lost that skill with the people we have in our lives.

What if we treated people more like books? What if we asked them to open their pages as we sit down to listen, without planning to reply, without planning to convince?

I would like to treat people more like books.

learn a language, they say

“Learn a foreign language,” they say. “It’ll be great,” they say.

What they don’t tell you is that it’s all well and cool until your foreign language becomes a bully and starts doing a number on your native tongue. What they don’t tell you is that you’ll question your sanity and your intelligence when you start forgetting words in your native language. Or that in acquiring a new language you’ll feel like you’re un-acquiring the only language you actually know (knew?) how to speak with 100% fluency.

Can’t put together a coherent sentence thanks to the lio of languages in your head? You’re not alone. There are at least two of us. And then there are the other super-humans who have mastered another language (or multiple!!) and somehow still manage to speak well.

But not to worry, learning a language really is worth the pena and if all else fails, there are always gestures.

be a cheerleader

How can I become an individual whose very presence whispers worth to others?

Has someone ever made you realize that they believe in you much more than you believe in yourself? It exposes a lot of insecurity and self-doubt when you realize how much someone else believes you to be capable of.. Suddenly you realize they think you can, they think you’re worthy, they think you’re capable, they think you’ve got it. And you just don’t think so.

Truly believing in someone allows for failure. It says, “I am behind you, and I think you can do this. But because I care for you most of all, I will still be for you and be your cheerleader even if you feel as though you’ve failed.” I’m not sure what that looks like practically, but I want to figure out how to embody being cheerleaders and fans of other people.

“I believe in you.” Say it, show it, let them dream things up and then help them find the path. Show her what she’s capable of. Tell him he should try this thing, that he has a right to be here, to occupy this space. See in people what they cannot see in themselves, then draw it out, identify it, show it to them until they believe it themselves.

Be someone’s biggest fan in life.

Names have power

“Names have power, like magic spells. And all of a sudden it seemed to her that her stepmother and stepsisters had indeed transformed her into merely a creature of ash and toil.” – Cinderella

His tiny hand was raised in the air, waiting, itching to answer the question. I called him by name.

Considering I cross paths with over 600 students in any given month, learning names is basically an impossibility. Why then, I asked myself, did I know his name? His hand went down when he heard his name and another student whispered, “That’s so cool that Rebecca knows his name!”

I realized that I only knew his name because he’s one of the rowdy ones. One of the talkative, can’t-sit-still, doesn’t-do-his-work sort of children. And his name is frequently called because of that.

He answered my question perfectly, beaming from ear to ear, while I thought about NAMES.

I wondered what other names he had been given other than the one on his birth certificate. Annoying? Trouble? Lazy? And I thought how sad it would be if he thought those names were the truth about him.

We love to call things by a name. We give children names that they’ll keep for a lifetime, we give dogs names when we decide we want them to be ours. We give ourselves additional names that we think fit, like athlete or lazy or driven-student. And other people give us names that they think we need, like mom or worthless or friendly or weird or smart.

We undoubtedly end up living into those names, whether or not they are connected to our real identity.

We live into the expectations that come to us in the form of names.

Names mean something. It means something when someone calls out our name. It means something when someone gives us a name or when we take a name upon ourselves. We take on the nature of our names, because they have power.

It’s confusing when people are calling you all sorts of things, assuming you are something, expecting you to be something, making you into something you are not. Before you know it, if you’re not careful, all those expectations and names have worked their way into your identity.

We could assimilate those names people give us, and continue to give bad names away to other humans as if people are unbreakable. Or we could speak truth into our own souls and into the souls of others.

I can call out and remind myself and others of the true names – the true identity that I have in Christ.

But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!” (Isaiah 43:1)

Lazy to do good.

Lazy to do good. That’s how I found my heart today. And that’s not me trying to put on some sort of false humility.

More than once on this Thursday I thought of it: a practical way to love someone, help someone, or even just brighten their day. And what I found in my heart was a laziness to do it. A resistance to do good to others for one simple reason: selfishness. I can’t even try to get around it. I was more concerned about what i wanted and what was more comfortable for me than what would bring joy and goodness to the people around me.

With the gospel, with a God who came to earth so we could be in relationship with him and have a new heart, these glimpses into my heart lead me not to self-hatred nor to a frantic frenzy to feel good about myself again.

One with Christ, I am secure in my identity and sure of God’s love, so there is no need to despair, no need to beat up on myself. But at the same time, there is no time to waste because as a daughter of God i have the highest of callings to do right — to be holy (1 Peter 1:16), to spill love all over, to be a servant, to give of myself for the good of others. There is no time to waste and i must go running to Jesus to give me a purity and goodness i can never manage on my own.

No self-shaming, no monumental effort, no to-do list or set of goals can change my heart in the way it needs to be changed. Instead, I can bring it every single day to Jesus who is so tender with my heart yet ever so powerful to change it.

“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.” – Ezekiel 36:26

emotional control

Shoulders shrugged, eyebrows raised in unknowing resignation: “I can’t control my feelings.” As if it’s an excuse for where she’s ended up. As if it’s an excuse for his actions. As if it explains the situation they’re in.

Or in another instance: She falls in love with a soldier. Months later she expresses to her father her deep anxiety over her fiance’s safety and her frustration with how much he is gone, and her father responds “You should’ve thought of that before you fell in love with a soldier.” And the woman replies, “You don’t choose who to fall in love with. It just happens.”

That situation played out in a Netflix show I watched but it could be anyone in any situation. Many people say it, or at least think it. It could be “I couldn’t control who I fell in love with, it just happened,” or “I can’t control my feelings and this is where they’ve led me.” Also the infamous “follow your heart.” Are all of those true?

Emotion are beautiful and they make us do wonderful things and their whispers are the perfect compliment to our thinking minds. We were meant to have both parts of the thinking-feeling dance. But what about when emotions run the show?

When a person says “I can’t control my feelings…” they mean one of two things about the result. Sometimes people mean: “I can’t control my feelings, so I can’t be responsible for what they make me do.”

We would never excuse a destructive outburst because a person “can’t control their feelings, and it just happened.” Being angry (a strong emotion) is an explanation for hitting someone but it is not an acceptable excuse. We know we must learn that emotional control. Yet with other behavior we play the “emotions” card as an excuse for the unfortunate situation we are in. And indeed, our emotions explain much of our behavior and there is grace and learning and second chances.

But the second thing people mean when they say “I can’t control my feelings” is this: “I can’t control my feelings so I will not always act on them.” Easier said than done, right?

Emotions are hard to control. We already know this. I can’t just declare I don’t like one and make it go away. Our hearts are deceitful, so they must be lead, but they can’t exactly be controlled. We grasp at our emotions but they run through our hands like water. We can’t tell them where to go, when to come, or when to leave.

But we do control the influence emotions have in our lives and how we act and respond to them — in the end we aren’t slaves to our emotions. It’s just a nice excuse to make, because our emotions usually dictate what makes us happy at the moment and following them is the path of least internal resistance.

So the beginning statement is true — I can’t control my emotions. They come and go and they surprise me. But just because I can’t control them doesn’t mean I’m obligated to follow them. The opposite is true: if I know that I can’t control them, I’m able to choose to not act on them if they aren’t for the good of my soul, the good of others, and the worship of God. Emotions require an outside measuring stick to see if they’re worth listening to. I’ll sit down for a chat, lend an ear to my emotions, and then decide what’s going to happen.

people come and go

“Be broken and given in a thousand common and uncommon ways. Live given a thousand times a day.” -Ann Voskamp

How does a human with a breakable heart deal with the coming-and-going of life? People come and go. Sure, emotionally people come and go — they find a place in our hearts and then run out, leaving behind broken trust and tracks of memories. But I’m talking about the physical coming and going of normal life. The physical coming and going that also gets down into our hearts.

People come and go – they move into our city or we move into theirs, we change jobs, move out, they move away, move on. It’s normal and it’s healthy but it can also just be plain sad. Sometimes it can feel like we live in a room with a revolving door and we are constantly saying hello and goodbye.

We give people a corner of our hearts knowing that later they may leave, because that’s what this life entails. We live life knowing our hearts will break open; sometimes a crack, sometimes a split, sometimes a cavern. So what can we with the breakable hearts do, knowing that the people we have come to love might have to leave?

If we’re not careful, we build little self-protection shells without realizing it — even just from the coming and going of life. Making new friends and saying goodbyes can make a heart weary. Sometimes it’s just less exhausting to avoid the hello in the first place.

Ann Voskamp comments on how Jesus handled loss: “He breaks the temptation to self-protect — and gives the vulnerability of Himself. In the sharp edge of grief, Jesus doesn’t look for something to fill the broken and alone places; He takes and gives thanks — and then does the most counter-cultural thing; He doesn’t keep or hoard or hold on — but breaks and gives away.”

From the normal-life goodbyes to the deepest relational hurts, that self-protection mechanism is automatic. But what if self-protection could look more like selflessness? Could self-protection be a strength that keeps its eyes focused on other people, not on itself? What is it to remain strong and resilient (so that we aren’t laid bare by sadness) but also incredibly soft (so that we are still giving of ourselves, still loving, still risking)?

Several years ago, one of my friends and I found our favorite emoji combination: the arm boasting a flexed bicep and the dainty pink bow. The best women we knew (and the type of women we wanted to become) were emotionally, spiritually, and mentally strong (thus the flexing bicep) as well as tender (the sweet, feminine bow). We would text this emoji secret-code to each other as encouragement to marry strength with tenderness, to embody both fortitude and softness.

Our hearts get cracks and we have two options: we can self-protect and try (in vain) to avoid additional cracks by giving less of ourselves to the people we meet. Or we can choose to avoid the temptation to emotionally hole-up. We can acknowledge any sadness we have but continue to give of ourselves and the love we have to offer, even in the midst of the ache. This is not an unwise or reckless self-sacrifice that trusts any person, puts us in bad situations, and leaves us spent. It’s a weighted, wise, intentional giving of ourselves that heals us up as we open up and fills us up as we give away. It’s the love of Jesus that gives and fills.