Communication

There has been “I’m sorry,” “Can I ask you a question?” and “I don’t know what you mean.”

I’ve heard “Please forgive me,” “You need to know…” and “Can we talk about this?”

In the past year, it feels like I’ve been drinking from a fire hose when it comes to learning how to communicate — and there have been plenty of opportunities to put it into practice as well.

Sometimes I marvel at the fact that we humans ever communicate anything with any success.

Even within the same language, words are understood in different ways by different people; we use actions and intonation and imply things; we assume others understand.

Let’s not even talk about what happens when you add in a second language or move communication to typed words on a screen, removing voice, facial expressions, and body language.

In the best of situations, we try to explain something well and might be misunderstood. In the worst of situations we purposefully use words for harm. Things are said and left unsaid and both ways we hurt each other. Assumptions are made based on incomplete information and resentment is born.

We share space (literally and metaphorically) with other humans constantly.

Sometimes we rub one another raw, leaving a trail of hurt. And sometimes we breathe into one another a breath of life, the voice of God, the peace of His presence, the connection and wholeness of relationship that was always meant to be.

How do we create sustainable, life-giving, compassionate, and honest relationships?

I am convinced that intentional, clear, and kind communication is the foundation. In the push and pull of relationships, the give and take, the ups and downs, the needs and gifts, understanding the other’s perspective and communicating my own is essential.

This means asking questions, listening, assuming the best of someone, and seeking to understand how the other person processes and communicates.

And it means asking forgiveness, bringing up awkward conversations, asking what needs to change, and putting the other person before myself.

This is work but something tells me it’s worth it.

Death

A few weeks ago, Cáceres put up a memorial for those who passed away from corona. I personally know more than one person who will stand before it and mourn for their family members.

Death is never welcome. We want life and we want it to the full and it’s right to long for that.

During lockdown, for 48 days I leaned out of our window to clap for the medical personnel who were, as they say in Spanish, “at the foot of the canon” — fighting for life, watching suffering, and holding hands with death. I thought of the nurses I know and love and they are plenty, both in the States as well as Spain.

Forty eight times I clapped for them and more than that I prayed for them and checked in on them.

Then one day I saw the video of someone I know being wheeled victoriously out of the ICU while all the medical staff did their own clapping, celebrating that one victory over corona.

We celebrate life because we were made for it. We were made for fullness of joy and vibrant life and wholeness.

I’ve thought more about death — in general, of friends or family dying, of my own death — in the past five months than I have in a long time. I hope I’m not the only one.

This virus threatens to take our health and even our very breath; send us to the grave early, if you’ll pardon the frankness.

I was meant to inhabit this physical, 5’5″ body for a number of years. But, my days are counted. I have a birth date as well as a death date. I will grow old and get wrinkly skin.

If I don’t die of corona, I will die of something else. It takes a while for this to sink in and I don’t love to ponder it, but we must.

GB Caird says, “All men must die, and the question mark which death sets over their existence is just as great whether they die late or soon, alone or in company, violently or in their beds. Their ultimate destiny is not determined either by the moment or by the manner of their death… But by the opening of the heavenly books and by the true and just judgments which proceeds from the great white throne. The idea that life on earth is so infinitely precious that the death which robs us of it must be the ultimate tragedy is [idolatry].”

Jesus is the one I want to walk me through the gates of death and represent me before that throne. We must have more to stand on in life than a probability that we will survive this crisis or the cheap encouragement that “everything will be okay.”

Everything in our lifetime on earth might not be “okay” and you or I or someone we love might not live another day.

Although that uncertainty is actually how life always is, this odd, unknown virus puts us face-to-face with our humanity, our fragility.

We feel deep in our bones that we were made for fullness of life, not death. We were made for a perfect, flourishing, rich garden. I take comfort in the fact that the God who created us for that full life swooped down in human flesh to taste human suffering, to die and turn death into merely a seed that brings life.

I find myself afraid of the process of dying, but not death itself.

We westerners have a limited perspective on the supernatural. In general, we have eyes to see our physical life and little else.

It’s worthwhile to admit that we know so little. What if death isn’t the end — what if it’s the beginning? What if this life is not the most precious thing but merely a shadow of real life?

I’m currently studying the book of Revelation. That, combined with reading CS Lewis’ Space Trilogy, has helped me begin to imagine what is happening in the kingdom we are often unaware of and with the King we dare to ignore. Let’s peek behind the curtain and catch a glimpse of what we can’t see with our earthly eyeballs.

There is a King on a throne who is wiser than I can imagine. When I’ve chosen the privilege of connecting with him, trusting Him, and joining His kingdom, fullness of life starts now and continues even after I change this body for a brand new one.

In Christ, the one who conquered death, death can not steal from me.

““The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” – Jesus (John 10:10)

How do you think about death?

Using corona to kick selfishness to the curb

If I wanted some extra opportunities to grow in selflessness (and I did… kind of), I got them.

We all did. Hello, corona!

I don’t want to pass them up! I don’t want to miss the chance to take the 💩 of living in a corona-world and turn it upside-down — use it for good in my heart and for blessing in the lives of people I know.

If I can leverage this as a super duper opportunity to kill selfishness in my heart, forego my comfort for the sake of someone else, prioritize the needs of others, think first of my neighbor and esteem them highly… friends and family and brothers and sisters…

Well, if I can make it work for me in that way, I will be a bit closer to the woman God wants me to be, my tiny world will be a bit better, and the people I (figuratively) rub shoulders with will, hopefully, feel a bit more loved, valued, and cared for. Seems like one great way to make all of this worth it in the long run.

I think this has to be an active and purposeful training-out of the selfishness inside my heart, though. It’s possible to live in this time of corona and still be a selfish person. The year 2020 isn’t going to automatically take away my selfish side.

Maybe it should look like intentionally asking myself each day how I can prioritize someone else; who I need to take into account; where I can give, not take.

How would you put 2020 to work to train the selfishness right out of your heart? I’m taking suggestions!

I’m here to squeeze corona for all it’s worth.

No problem, 2020: I see you and with the Lord’s help, I’m gonna use you to kill a bit more of the self-centeredness in my soul.

Returning to Normal

While we were still in lockdown, I walked alone to the grocery store. I passed a park with a grassy area — uncharacteristically sloppy, unkempt, and overgrown, making the deserted streets look even more like a ghost town. Looking up, I saw Spanish flags with small, black bows in memory of the ones the virus has taken.

Last week as I was buying groceries, the entire store fell into a hushed stillness as we paused for 60 seconds to remember those no longer here.

A few days ago I spent time with a friend who told me she still feels a bit “messed up” from the seven weeks we spent in our apartments without leaving. No doubt many of us are, in various ways.

With more freedom to move around and gather, funerals are finally being held for the ones that were buried in a hurry. Tens of thousands of people are grieving right now, even as Spain’s street cafes and bars begin to pulse back to life.

While we return to shop and spend and do business and see friends, to return to “normal” after all of this would not be right or healthy. To move along as if nothing happened would be a mistake.

To skip the step of processing and mourning would be a mistake. Although of course we rightly delight in moving around and seeing loved ones and enjoying life, hurriedly returning to superficial happiness and comfort is not the priority here.

Landing in peace and joy after wading through grief, hard conversations, and a good bit of self-examination is more important right now.

I want myself and all of us to meaning out of all of this. This strange virus is not a random biological event. There is meaning and much to learn and we have to mine for it, sift it out, and be okay if that process involves sitting in some discomfort and awkwardness.

I hope we take a uncomfortable moment to think about life and death.

I hope we treat each other more kindly and tenderly than we used to.

I hope we cherish relationships and look into each other’s eyes.

I hope we stop to ask friends how they’re really doing right now, then listen to the answer.

I hope we learn how to be more human and less like our own gods.

I hope we remember for a long time to come that we can’t count on our perfectly-laid plans for the future.

I hope we reflect on how we want to change and ways that this has shaped us.

I hope we cry with those who are crying and rejoice with those who are rejoicing.

I hope we feel our spirit yearning for life and listen to the One who created it.

War

I felt it — the wreckage that selfishness and pride can cause. I was no distant observer. I was stumbling from the blow, a recipient of the trickle-down effects of others’ choices, wincing with the ache.

I saw it, cried over the pain, then declared war — war on my own heart, my own selfishness and pride, realizing the havoc we can wreck on each other’s lives.

We live and leave behind a trail of wreckage from the selfishness and pride in ourselves that we don’t see or haven’t addressed. Darkness we haven’t had the guts to bring to light or that operates like a secret agent, undetected even by the one in whom it lives. It’s not even only the ugliest of ugly — it’s also run-of-the-mill, daily thinking (even subconsciously) that it’s all about me and making decisions accordingly.

I could no longer make friends with my own self-centeredness. I don’t want my darkness to tag along like a wrecking ball, hurting those closest to me as well as others whose names I may never know. If kindness is a ripple effect, so is my own self-centeredness. I will fight that part of my heart to keep you safe.

The battle begins in my heart and it’s fought not by determining to be good — that just leads me to believe that I’m better than those around me who haven’t decided to be better people. That feeds my pride.

No, the battle is fought by turning away from myself and toward the God who sees the blackness I’m warring against (and what I cannot yet see), loves me still, and changes me slowly but surely into something better. I am humbled and raised up at the same time. No false assurance that I’m a perfect person and no shaming in an effort to make me shape up.

I can acknowledge my selfishness and pride without being bound to it or despairing because of it, because I know that I’m loved and being changed into beauty, and I will participate in that change process.

My heart is steadfast, resting in love and begging for more light to expel my darkness.

Heavy Hearts

Today I cried. My heart is heavy, thumping inside of me.

Yesterday I put my boots on and took them walking to try and process everything: Spain’s lockdown that now seems like a dream (a bit of a bad dream), thousands of Spanish families grieving simultaneously, my friends in the US arguing about coronavirus, a man who was killed and the other man who had a hand in it, protests that highlight the hurt, people who riot, and my own selfish heart that I see more clearly every day.

All of these things (and so much more) wrapped into this moment of our existence. I am heartbroken and bothered by all of it.

Silly me! As if all of that can be predictably processed with a pen and paper in one afternoon. As if I could arrive at some sort of clarity after pounding out several miles.

I’ve felt so heavy and so confused the past few days thinking about George Floyd. I’ve prayed formless prayers with long silences. I’m having a hard time sorting through my own thoughts and certainly haven’t had words to say. I don’t know how to be or what to do.

This morning, I woke up to hear that one of the cities I‘ve come to care for was trashed last night. I caught up on news and have watched the riots with disbelief and the protests with my heart in my throat and tears in my eyes.

Finally, I cried.

When talking and words seem like too much and not enough all at the same time, it seems like the only thing to do is grieve along with everyone who is grieving — most of all the Lord who is, no doubt, more brokenhearted than any of us as He looks at what we have done with this world and His images. “I’m sorry” is appropriate, because I know I have disrespected the humans in my circle who He loves dearly.

I must take a long, awkward look into my own heart and ask God to “search me and see if there is any hurtful way in me” (Psalm 139:23).

I do that knowing that I am not perfect,

knowing that there are “hurtful ways” in me,

knowing that I need to see what needs to be fixed,

knowing that Christ will clean me and change my heart as I also work to change.

And finally, I have the ability to look inside the dark places of my heart without despairing because I know I am loved by Him in the middle of the whole process.

May I follow Jesus and sacrifice myself, my comfort, and my pride for the good of every person around me.

Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep

Today begins phase one of reopening here in Spain. The first step toward the new normal. And of course every country is doing it differently and everyone has something to say about it.

Is Spain doing it right? Are various states in the USA doing it right? As much as we like to think we know, no one does, and we all have a different perspective.

There’s the idea that we don’t really react to the weight of something until it affects our personal life. An issue doesn’t really take up space in our brains or hearts until it comes knocking at our door or in our neighborhood, affects us or our friends or family. To an extent, it’s true.

Our experience inevitably changes how we approach, see, and handle an issue or situation.

Here in Spain, corona (that’s my favorite name for it) is not far from any of us — both physically and emotionally. I’ve had friends who have been hospitalized with corona, others who have held the hands of those dying alone in nursing homes, one who has worked long long hours in the hospital, another whose mother passed away. And of course the physical health aspect is just one part.

It’s knocking on my friends’ door and affecting their lives.

Feeling certain effects of something doesn’t necessarily mean we know what the right, best, or good course of action is. Likewise, being removed from a situation doesn’t automatically mean we see it more clearly and can make the right call.

Both simply mean we understand different things, feel weight in places other people don’t.

Does anyone know the perfect way to handle shutting down or reopening in any country? No. Is everyone’s opinion influenced by the people they know, where they live, and how they’re affected? Yes.

None of us have the wisdom to know what to do or what is best. But, we can know a few important things to do and I think one of those things is this:

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.” -Romans 12:15-16

Right now some are weeping and some are rejoicing. And some are trying to rejoice over events that should be commemorated with a celebration but are not.

While I can (and should) think critically and share opinions and look at the big-scale picture, I’m not sure that’s what really matters right now. Humbly supporting and loving — through the good and the bad — the individuals I know and “not being wise in my own eyes” is what I want to focus on.

our missing sense 

What if we existed in this world exactly as it is, but we were without eyes. No eyesight, and no one is an exception. Humanity is simply without eyes.

We have ears to hear of the chirps but no eyes to see the bird, and noses to smell flowers but no eyes to see the petals. While our other senses would compensate in many ways, there would still be aspects of this world of which we would simply be unaware.

There would be realities at work around us that we wouldn’t know about, though we would experience the effects. Our unknowing about the realities would have no effect on their existence or their work.

What if this is our reality now? What if we are “missing a sense”? Not in a defective way but simply a lack of knowledge and experience. What if there are realities we are unaware of? What if there is a wealth of knowledge we are incapable of understanding?

We have to humbly acknowledge some sort of finiteness, a degree of a lack of information, a sense of unknown. There are things we don’t know about – more than that, there are things we can’t even imagine of to wonder about.

What if there is a whole realm of which we are unaware? Maybe we aren’t necessarily wrong about what we know if what we know is all that exists. But if it isn’t all that exists, if we’re missing a sense, then what we know suddenly becomes very incomplete and lacking. Can we entertain the idea that we don’t know everything there is to know about the inner-workings of this life? That sometimes things don’t make sense because we are without eyes? And can we entertain the idea of an awe-inducing God who does see?