Reading History as a Spiritual Practice

I understand that a lot of people “don’t like History.”

I just don’t understand why.

And so I put “don’t like History” in quotes because part of me suspects that people really do like History–they just have been wrongly taught what it is.

They have been taught to think that History is memorizing a bunch of names and dates about people and events that are irrelevant to their lives.  But that’s not what History is.  For one thing, History is not the study of “names and dates”: it’s the study of people.  History is the story of how people have lived on this earth, and how they have handled the circumstances life threw at them, like power or disaster or wealth or pain or opportunity.

And it’s not irrelevant to our lives.  In a very real way, History explains what you see when you look out the window.  It explains why you do the things you do, drive on the roads you drive on, eat the foods you eat, think the thoughts you think.  It explains in large part why you see the world the way you do and why that way is different from your fellow man across the street or the country or the globe.  In other words, History examines the complex forces which have come together to form this present moment.

To me, that is fascinating.  Learning about people is fascinating.  And learning about myself is fascinating.  So with all that fascination, what’s not to like?

Lately, though, I’ve realized that reading about History is not simply an entertaining and informative practice in my life; it is also a kind of spiritual exercise.  This makes me happy because my life hypothesis is that everything I do can be to the glory of God.  And I’ve always assumed that reading History falls into that category because it improves the mind God gave me and also gives me a better understanding of the world He created.  I still believe that, but now I’m seeing so many added benefits of History, benefits that directly affect my relationship with God and my ability to my “good works” in this world.  For instance…

History relieves my stress.

Like a lot of people, I struggle with worry and anxiety.  Over the years, I’ve realized that worry and anxiety consume me when I am too focused on my immediate circumstances.  I think there is such a think as mentally drowning in your surroundings:  YOUR health, YOUR family, YOUR finances, YOUR plans.  When those things begin to take up too much of my focus, my anxiety over them skyrockets.  Conversely, I’ve found that “getting outside myself” and serving others gives me back that freeing perspective that comes with knowing the world is bigger than my problems.  Allowing others’ lives and perspectives into my thoughts helps put my own in perspective.

trumanThe same thing happens when I read History.  I read David McCullough’s excellent biography, Truman, for example, in a time of great financial stress for Greg and me.  We were trying to sell our house in South Carolina and having to still make payments on it while also carrying a mortgage on our house in Tennessee.  It was bad.   It caused me lots of anxiety.  And nothing helped relieve that anxiety than by reading about all Harry Truman went through as President.   I drew actual comfort while reading about this average American who grew up on a farm was thrust into the highest office in the land without so much of a briefing of how World War 2 was going…how he was expected to negotiate the end of the war in Europe…to make a decision about dropping a terrible weapon to end the war in the Pacific…and forced to take the lead in rebuilding the world.  At one point, he and his advisers thought they were literally faced with the beginning of World War 3 and were frantically trying to avoid it, and Truman’s stoicism and courage in that time was such a inspiration to me.

And I can honestly say that “watching” that man navigate and handle such immense stress in his own life really put my own stress in perspective.  It helped me to relax about my financial situation, and realize that it truly wasn’t the end of the world.  At least, not in the same way that World War 3 would be the end of the world!

History calms my fears.

Sometimes when you look at the scope of the whole world and all that is going on, it seems very scary.  History doesn’t necessarily negate that awareness, but when I read History, I’m reminded that the world has always been scary…and that lots of times have been way scarier than these times.  Reading History also reminds me that the scary times pass, and that’s comforting to me.  On September 11, 2001, a day that was full of fear and turmoil, one of the most genuinely comforting thoughts I had was picturing the wording that my high school History textbook, The American Pageant, would use to describe the event in twenty years.  Maybe that seems like a weird source of comfort, but there is something inherently calming in knowing that what seems so huge and tumultuous and fearful will one day be just another source of boredom to a disinterested high school student.

History gives me perspective on my life situation.

This is a huge spiritual benefit of reading History.  I think humans naturally tend to assume that our experience is normal, whereas History reminds us of all the ways our circumstances are unique.  For example, in our area of the country and time and History, we might assume a certain house size is “normal,” a certain amount of clothes are “normal,” or the ways we spend our money are “normal.”  History tells us that it isn’t.  In fact, History tells us that today’ “normal” lifestyle in America is actually quite excessive, and knowing that helps me to better evaluate my use of resources.  That’s just one example of how History has redefined my life expectations.  I could also talk about my expectations of “normal” when it comes to experiencing pain or educating my children or eating food or a number of other issues.  But suffice it to say that History has both made me more grateful and more thoughtful about how I live my life.

History provides me with useful examples of how to live this life.

This may sound crazy, but when you read hundreds of pages on a person’s life, get to nose through all their private correspondence and peer into their relationships…well, you kind of feel like you’re friends at the end of it.  At least, you sort of feel like you know them.  You know how something will happen, and you’ll think, I wonder what so-and-so would think of this, so-and-so being your spouse or family member or good friend.  And you know that person well enough to hazard an educated guess on their reaction or what they might say.  Well, I now think that thought, not only about my own family and friends, but about a variety of past Presidents and statesmen!  When I first read Walter Isaacson’s biography on Ben Franklin, I spent way too much time looking at the circumstances of this current world and wondering, “What would Ben Franklin think of this?”  Like, what would he think about…cars…or the radio…or the state of civil rights…or even women’s dress these days (RE that last one, I think that after he got over being appalled, he would LOVE it!)

Now, in addition to, “What would Ben Franklin think of this,” I can reasonable ask myself, “What would Harry Truman do in this situation?” or “How would Teddy Roosevelt handle this?”

This is more than a nerdy/fun mental exercise.  Because of my Christian beliefs, I am inspired to use my little life to the absolute best of my abilities, and the more advisers and examples I can have, the better.  And I’m not talking about some one-dimensional perspective like, “I should always do what Harry Truman did.”  No, that’s not it at all.  It’s more like, by observing these influential people and the way they spent their little lives, I can glean lessons and inspiration for my own–both through their triumphs and their faults.

I guess you could say that History deepens my understanding and experience of humanity by giving me a rich source of varied experiences from which to draw.

Those are just some of the ways that reading History shapes me on a spiritual level.  To demonstrate this, I’d like to occasionally review History books I’ve read and specifically point out their spiritual lessons.  And I have a great book to start with…stay tuned!

Do you like History?  Why or why not?

 

How to Throw an Easy/Epic Hobbit Birthday Party

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My son, Luke, turned 8 this past Thursday.  For months, he had been asking for a Hobbit-themed birthday party.  Now, you have to know this about me:  I’m not a natural fit for throwing parties.  I’m an introvert who can barely cook, who can’t craft, and who has the fine-motor skills of a nine-year-old.  Not to mention a limited budget.  However, I am also an English major, and as such, am a sucker for literary-themed parties.  Last fall, for instance, Pinterest and I threw a heck of a Harry Potter party after my son finished reading the series.  Buoyed by that success, I decided to tackle The Hobbit.

One thing I found when turning to my trusty Pinterest for inspiration was that there were a few Lord of the Rings-inspired birthday parties, but not many Hobbit parties.  Or at least, not many Hobbit parties with activities taken from the plot of The Hobbit.  I was still able to glean my share of inspiration (shared in the links below), but my 8-year-old Tolkien nerd and I had to come up with our own games.

And since Pinterest has helped me ever-so-much with party planning, I decided to give back with a detailed blog about how to throw an Easy/Epic Hobbit Party.  It’s easy because all my crafts, foods, and games were ridiculously simple to make.  It’s epic because the kids had a ball (and full disclosure:  it’s also epic because, simple or not, preparing this much stuff for a party still takes a lot of time and a lot of trips to the dollar store)!

The Set-up

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Each of our party-goers received the following:  a cloak, a sword, a shield to decorate, an Elven leaf clasp, some lembas bread, a map, and a treasure pouch for their journey (which they would fill with gold chocolate coins).  I got my inspiration for most of this from this blog, which details a really cool Lord of the Rings party.  As a final party favor, they got a bag of “Gollum’s goodies).  My mom made the cloaks, so I really can’t help you with that one other than to say, Find an awesome person to make cloaks for you.

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I can, however, help with the swords.  I had read from one blogger that they got theirs at the dollar store, and I’m sure that was true for them…but I went to about twenty dollar stores (not even kidding), and found ZERO swords.  Bow and arrows?  Yes.  Guns?  Yes.  Swords?  NO.  So let me save you some trouble.  These swords from Oriental Trading Company are $4.75 each and totally awesome.  They are super sturdy (not one of ours broke, despite the many swordfights throughout the night).  Furthermore, one of the user reviews said they could be used to break open a pinata, and I can now testify that that is true.

I used sturdy cardboard for the shields, which we decorated with markers and black, silver, and gold duct tape.

For the elven leaf clasp, I googled an image of the leaf clasp, printed it out on cardstock, then bought a hot glue gun (ugh), glued the cardstock to cardboard and hot-glued a large safety pin to the whole thing.

Again, I got the idea for lembas bread here, although I had my friend, Leah, make her yummy recipe for communion bread instead.  If you don’t have a friend named Leah who makes yummy communion bread, you can use this recipe instead.

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For the maps, I googled black and white copies of Thorin’s map, and then printed them out on this paper, which I also used for all my signs and food labels.  There’s also a black and white map of middle Earth if you want to use that.

I ordered the pouches from Amazon, and they ended up being the perfect size for gold chocolate coins.

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We set the whole thing up in the “Blacksmith’s Shop.”  That was Luke’s idea.  He couldn’t think of a good location from The Hobbit, but he said there’s a blacksmith’s shop in his Lord of the Rings video game.

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Gollum’s Goodies:  Swedish fish, gummy worms, plastic treat bags, twine.  You can so do this.  I got the idea from the same source as the rest, but in a different post.  She really threw an amazing party.

The Activities:

The activities are where we had to be original.  I’m not actually a huge Tolkien fan myself, so again, I had to rely on my son for plot-driven party games.  But first, the party-goers decorated their shields in the blacksmith’s shop:

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Then, they reveled for a little while in their newfound equipment…

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…followed by a simple “What Dwarf Are You?” party game.  I can’t believe I don’t have pictures of this, but I printed out several sheets of these images, and then cut bigger versions out to tape on each person’s back.  Using the full sheet of dwarves for a guide (because really, who would know the difference between Ori and Dori without a visual aid), they went around and asked each other yes or no questions to figure out which dwarf they were.  I also gave them pens to mark out the dwarves as they ruled them out.

After we got our identities sorted out, it was time for our quest!

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We skipped the troll part of the book and the main enc0unter with the goblins and went to Gollum’s cave, where we had to find the ring (a plastic gold ring) before Gollum did.  Gollum, in this case, was Luke’s little sister, Anna.

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Gollum found the ring first!  (And I’d like to draw attention to my ridiculous face in the background as I transition the kids to round two of the game).  Once someone found the ring, they had to answer riddles to keep it.  I used some of the actual riddles from The Hobbit, but frankly a lot of them made no sense, so I also used some more basic riddles.  If you couldn’t answer the riddle, you had to pass the ring to whomever could.

To make Gollum’s cave, I just hung black plastic sheeting (found a 10 X 25 sheet at Lowe’s in the building supply section) around the bottom of our tree house.  You could really make any kind of tent/cave like structure with whatever you have available.  But if you use black plastic sheeting, just know that you will have to tie it up somehow.  Duct tape alone will not do the job.

Armed with the ring, we ventured into the Forbidden Forest…wait, no…Mirkwood Forest.  Oh, I don’t know.  Some forest from Tolkien…

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In the forest, we had to defeat a daunting mixture of Wargs and Goblins using only flaming pinecones:

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This game was so simple to set up:  print out internet pictures of Wargs and goblins on cardstock, and tape them to trees.  Then paint (or spray paint) some pinecones, and give everyone two chances to hit one with the pinecones.  As they hit them, I tore the pictures down.

(Sidenote:  shout out to my dad for finding and spray painting pinecones for me, as they are NOT as plentiful in Nashville as they are in Georgia).

As the second round of pinecone launching wrapped up, I realized that we probably would not be able to take down the last Warg.  Also, we were running out of pinecones.  Because of that, I told the kids that if the last pinecone missed, we had to immediately charge the Warg as a group and defeat him with our swords.  The kids took this task unbelievably seriously:

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You should have heard the war cry!

Once the Wargs and Goblins were defeated, the dwarves had to face the spiders!

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The spiders in this case were Anna and her friend, Allie.  (It’s great to have siblings who are up for being bad guys!)  To make this game, Luke and I…tied yarn between trees.  That’s it.

The dwarves then had to make their way through the “web” without touching it.  If they touched the web, they were stuck to it  unless a fellow dwarf tagged them and freed them.  I gave the dwarves a head start, and then sent in the spiders.

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Two of the dwarves got caught, which meant Anna and Allie got to wrap them in toilet paper.  (I had spider outfits for the girls, consisting of black clothes with spider legs—made from black dress socks from the dollar store, stuffed with black tissue paper—taped to the back of the shirts.  Anna, however, balked at wearing the spider legs, so I didn’t push it.  And Allie still has on her cloak, but trust me, she’s a spider!)  The girls had a little bit of trouble wrapping them up, so before things got too slow, I sent in the rest of the dwarves, who had circled back, to rescue them.  They had permission to cut through the web with their swords.

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Again, I was very gratified at how much all my dwarves enjoyed this simple adventure.

Lastly, of course, we had to defeat Smaug:

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Good luck finding a red dragon pinata.  The best we could do was a black and red one from Party City.  But it worked fine:

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The kids had fun having one whack each at it with their swords, and it was sturdy enough that all the kids got a shot before Smaug was vanquished.

And what was in his belly?  Gold (chocolate) coins, of course!

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(Note:  in the Tennessee heat, we were sure to hang Smaug right before we attacked him.  Couldn’t have all that chocolate melting, could we?)

My dwarves were very proud of their accomplishment:

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After Smaug, I went to get dinner set up, while the dwarves thoroughly “desolated” him.  We were picking up pieces of poor Smaug from all over the yard!

The Food:

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My party foods are always incredible simple.  Having a themed party actually helps in this area because you can take simple foods and give them a themed name and Voila! It’s cute and “creative.”  I got the idea for the Council of Elrond and the tater tots from this blog post; they are Lord of the Rings-themed, not Hobbit, but they were too cute (and EASY)  to pass up.

I almost always serve Swedish meatballs and pigs ‘n a blanket at my parties.  I haven’t met a kid who doesn’t love these meatballs, and I haven’t met a meat-eating human being who doesn’t love pigs ‘n a blanket.  It’s bizarre. You may think you don’t like pigs ‘n a blanket.  But if you are at a party…you will eat them.  Then I let my 8 year old think of names for them.  For the Harry Potter party, the meatballs were “Hogsmeade Cornish balls,” and the pigs ‘n a blanket were “Hippogriffs in a blanket.”  For a Hobbit party, the meatballs were Goblin Heads, and the pigs ‘n a blanket were “Dwarves in a Sack.”  I thought of pretzel “River Barrels” and “Raw and Wriggly” goldfish all by myself, which made me proud, and I added “Shire Strawberries” just because we needed some fruit.

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I also made these “Hobbit Door Cookies,” shown on this blog.

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The drinks were inspired by the first food blog post I linked to, and I made a minimalist version of these Hobbit door plates for our ice cream cake.  You may notice on both of those linked blog posts that they have these absolutely amazing cakes.  Ummm…we had an ice cream cake from Dairy Queen:

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It was originally a fishing-themed cake, but I had them leave the boat-and-fish picture off and just write “Happy Birthday, Luke.”  Because this is an easy party…

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After dinner, we opened presents, and then later we ate our ice cream cake.  For Luke’s “big” gift, we got him the Hobbit video game, which both entertained the kids and continued the theme of the party.

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And once it was bed time, we watched part two of The Hobbit:

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And that was our Hobbit party.  It did take a good bit of work, but nothing about it was too difficult, and no one thing took a ton of time to prepare.  Plus, all the preparation was worth it to see how much it was enjoyed by all the party-goers, both Tolkien-lovers and the uninitiated. From set-up to finish, the party ended up being a wonderful adventure to everyone involved!

The Evolution of a T-Shirt Quilt

When I was in college, t-shirt bedding was popular.  There were t-shirt sheets and t-shirt pillowcases.  And one day, I saw that someone had a t-shirt quilt.  Now, the quilt was different from the bedding and pillowcases, which were simply made out of stretchy t-shirt material.  The quilts were actually made out of squares one’s old t-shirts.  And friends, I had a lot of t-shirts.  I had t-shirts from youth rallies and camps, from tennis tournaments and high school events, from Lipscomb organizations and trips.  And I loved them all, not because I loved t-shirts, but because of the memories each represented.  To me, these t-shirts were symbolic representations of very important, shaping events in my life.  I had way too many of them to wear, but I just couldn’t throw them away because of their emotional value.

I needed one of those t-shirt quilts.

And I knew just the person who could make me one:  my mom.

It never occurred to me that my mom couldn’t make a t-shirt quilt, even though I’d never known her to make a patchwork quilt and even though I was fuzzy on the details of what t-shirt quilts actually were.  My mom could make anything with her hands.  This is knew.  It was immutable fact, as sure as her love for me.  I also knew that she would make me one if I asked.  Again, this was not guesswork for me.  So I called her and asked.  I described what it was as best I could.  And of course, she never hesitated in accepting the challenge.  Even though she had never heard of a t-shirt quilt or knew what one even was supposed to look like, she agreed to make one.

I carefully picked out the shirts I wanted, handed them over to her, let her work out all the other details, and…fifteen years later, I still have the quilt:

The quilt that began it all...

The quilt that began it all…

loved this quilt.  When I first received it in college, each square was a physical embodiment of all that had shaped me in the last ten years…

…or so I thought.

See, a funny thing has happened with my t-shirt quilt.  Now, when I look at it, I can’t remember any specific details about any of those events.  How did I do in the Randy King Memorial tournament?  I couldn’t tell you, other than to say I’m pretty sure I got my clock cleaned.  What happened at the ’93 Lads to Leaders/Leaderettes convention?  How am I supposed to know??  I was thirteen years old!  That was ages ago!  And those Winterfests?  Those Camp Canaans?  Those Impacts and Youth in Actions?  I really have almost no memory of them, except that I think I had a good time at most of them.

Fifteen years later, I could not tell you a thing about these “formative,” “shaping” events.

But you know what?  Even though I can’t remember anything specific about the t-shirts, I love this quilt even more now than I did when I first got it.

Do you know why?

Because my mom made it.

This was her first patchwork quilt.

She’s gone on to make dozens of t-shirt quilts for high school graduates.  And beautiful baby quilts for new moms.  And countless other quilts that she has given away to people she loves or people who are in need of some love.  She’s entered quilts in the fair and won many awards.  I have her first blue ribbon quilt on my bed, and in the winter, it lays on top of her first “People’s Choice Award” quilt.  My kids have quilts made by her.  We all have Christmas quilts.

And I love them all not just because they are all exquisitely beautiful, although they are (you can call me biased, but you could hardly call the judges at the fair biased, not to mention the quilt-voting-populace of middle Georgia).  I love them because they were made by the woman I love most in this world.

Especially that first quilt.  Because fifteen years later, I can look at it and realize that what formed me most were not the church events I went to or the camps I went to or even the college I went to.  Instead, it was the woman who both literally and figuratively knitted all those things together in my life.  She was the formative, shaping influence (she and my dad, of course). In fifteen years, all those detailed memories have fallen away–or rather, they have been distilled into what was actually important.  Now, when I look back at my high school years, I don’t remember all those little events I attended.  Instead, I remember my parents’ presence.  And their love.  And their influence on me.

I just finished a book called Hold On To Your Kids.  It is all about how for about the past fifty years, the generations of youth have become increasingly more “peer-oriented,” instead of “adult-oriented.”  That means they view their peers as their “compass points,” their chief, guiding force in life.  You can read the book for all the details, but basically, the authors make a really compelling case that this is a bad thing.  Kids simply aren’t equipped to be each other’s compass points.  That job belongs to adults.  And when kids do it, it leads to a world of trouble, both individually and on a societal level.  Reading the book, I realized that my parents were really, really good at establishing themselves as our compass points.  And they did it in just the way the book suggested:  by nurturing very close and loving relationships with my brother and me.

And that’s what molded me into the person I am.  I still look at my t-shirt quilt as a representation of what formed and shaped me…but it’s no longer because of the events in the squares.

It’s because I had someone in my life who loved me enough to make it for me.

On Sherlock Obsessions and Quiet Time

As I admitted to my class on Wednesday, I have recently developed a consuming obsession with the BBC show, Sherlock.  A friend introduced my to it a little over a week ago, and since then, I have passionately ingested every show in the first two “series.”  Thankfully, there are only six of them.  However, they are also each ninety minutes long, so watching them all has certainly taken some commitment on my part.  My newfound love was well-timed, since the third series started this past Sunday, and as an added bonus, I got THIS in the mail on Saturday:

I may or may not have screamed, immediately taken a picture, and then texted it to multiple people.  Feel free to judge...

I may or may not have screamed, immediately taken a picture, and then texted it to multiple people. Feel free to judge…

Now, I might be a little more embarrassed to admit this obsession to you, were it not for the fact that so many of my friends on Facebook have shared this meme, so I feel like they know what I’m talking about:

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Exactly!  So yeah…you get it.

Here’s the thing about my quirky Sherlock obsession, though.  You see, I have this other thing called My Real Life.  And shockingly, Sherlock has served to distract me from my real life.  When I’m taking care of the important business of getting all caught up on Sherlock, it seems somehow much less important to…oh, I don’t know…do the dishes, or plan for Wednesday night class, or educate my children.  You know, little things like that.  At times this past week, Sherlock has obscured those priorities.  I mean, it’s just so much more fun to solve thrilling mysteries like how Moriarty accessed the British crown jewels in the Tower of London than to solve the mystery of how my family can have thirteen unmatched white socks in the laundry (<—not making that up).  

Of course, it’s easy enough to come out of my Sherlock obsession because I simply have to remind myself of this one little detail:  the show is not real.  My life, on the other hand, is real.  And that makes it more important than Sherlock.

Along those same lines though, I often get “trapped” in my own mind, just like I get trapped in a Sherlock episode.  In this case, however, my view of reality is not obscured by intriguing mysteries, delightful British accents, and fast-paced humor; instead, my view of reality is obscured by my own feelings and perceptions.  Let me give you an example of a time I got trapped in my own mind last week.  Now, read carefully, because I’m going to ask you a question at the end:

On Wednesday afternoon, I felt like exploding because my house was messy, and I hate mess and clutter.  I need things to be straight for my sanity, and when things aren’t straight, it drives me crazy.  I hate it when my house is so cluttered!

Okay, here is your question:  what pronoun is most prominently featured in that little rant?

Yes, the first person singular:  I, me, my.  Never mind that one half of  the “mess” was caused by a wonderful art project in which my kids were trying to paint their own version of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and the other half was caused by all the supplies and prep I needed to host a party for the little girls at church on Saturday–two worthy endeavors.  No, all that mattered in that moment was my own, personal dislike of clutter.  I was trapped in my own mind.  And when you get trapped in your own mind, your perceptions and feelings become very, very important.  When you’re trapped in your own mind, YOU are all that matters.  And therefore, if something bothers youthen of course you should react.  Of course it makes sense to explode over something like clutter.  Because clutter bothers YOU.

Or me.  Whatever.

This week in class, I shared my #1, best strategy for getting out of the trap of my own mind.  For me, the key to that prison has always been found in some form of quiet time with God.  It can take many different forms:  maybe it’s reading something from the Bible, maybe it’s a silent prayer, or writing a prayer down, or meditating on a verse, or even just sitting in silence for a few minutes and quieting my thoughts.  Regardless of the form, just taking that time to step out of my own concerns and focus on something so much bigger than my own little life circumstances really helps me to realign with reality.  It puts my life into perspective for me, much the same way as, say, going out and looking at all the stars at night reminds me of how small I am.  Taking a few minutes to ponder God and eternity makes me realize that my petty preferences, such as a dislike of clutter, are just that:  petty.  They are certainly not worth exploding over, and they’re certainly not an excuse to be unloving to other people.

resources-bookIt turns out that I am not alone in this.  In class, several other women shared how time with God helped them to focus on what mattered in their day and to keep proper priorities.  For those who did not spend daily time with God, we talked some about what that looked like.  It can truly be done any time and anywhere where you have a few moments of quiet.  And it can take many forms, such as the ones I’ve listed above.  But the bottom line is that taking that few minutes to spend with God can help remind you that your feelings, your concerns, and your preferences are not the most important things in life.

That may be an elementary concept (couldn’t resist; just call me Sherlock), but it’s one that can keep us from exploding throughout the day.

This Wednesday, we are going to continue on to “stuffing,” but before we move on, Do you have any other tricks to keep from exploding?  

Four Battle Strategies for Exploders

This is our fourth class recap for the Wednesday night lesson series I’m teaching on the book, Unglued, by Lysa Terkeurst.

Since we discovered that many people in our class were “exploders,” we spent last Wednesday discussing ways to fight our tendency to “blow up” on others–especially the people we love the most.

The first strategy was one that I mentioned in the last recap:  Remember your goals.  As Christians, our goals should not be to make ourselves feel better or to cause others hurt for the way they hurt us.  Rather, our goals should be to glorify God and to strengthen our relationships with others.  Thus, any interactions we have with others, whether we’re angry or not, should aim to meet those goals.

resources-bookSecondly, we talked about how we can plan our response ahead of time.  Terkeurst calls this, “crafting our response template.”  In her book, she talked about a template for written communication, like email or Facebook messages.  However, the ideas of her response template can work face-to-face, as well.  Her suggestions were to start off positively (“honor the other person”), keep your words “short and full of grace,” and to “end by extending compassion.”  One of our classmates suggested the technique of the “compliment sandwich,” which she uses at school to correct children.  She always starts with something positive (and relevant) about their behavior, adds in the instructive part, and then closes with something else that is affirming to the child.  I definitely think that technique is good for both adults and children.  When we focus on the positive, we not only soothe the other person’s feelings, but we remember why we love that person–and that helps us to remember our goals!

Another suggestion Terkeurst gives is to practice self-control.  That kind of seems easy to say and hard to do, but I love the reasoning that she gives for controlling ourselves in stressful situations:  “My choice is whether or not to give the other person the power to control my emotions.  The one who holds their tongue is the one who holds the power.  When I react by yelling, flying off the handle, or making a snappy comment, I basically transfer my power to the other person.  In the case of my children, that means I am giving my power to one of my five teenagers.  Yikes” (72).  These words remind me that to lose control is to give up power over my emotions to another person.  That surrender is never in anyone’s best interest, least of all mine!

Lastly, Terkeurst reminds us of the importance of remembering Scripture in stressful situations.  This technique has definitely helped me in life when I’m tempted to explode on someone.  I remember, for example, being on a youth trip and getting frustrated with Greg.  It was years ago, and I honestly can’t remember why I was frustrated, but I do remember what helped me.  I had recently memorized Colossians 3:12-17, and in my frustration, I paused and recited those verses to myself:  “Therefore, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  Bear with each other, and forgive whatever grievances you have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be grateful…”

After saying those verses in my head, I simply couldn’t stay mad about something so small (whatever it was!).  My anger evaporated without me ever having to even talk to Greg!

Colossians 3 is a great place to start if you are looking for verses to think about when you are angry.  Here are some other good ones:

  • “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”  Proverbs. 15:4
  • “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” James 1:19-20
  • “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”  Romans 12:18
  • “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”  Ephesians 4:2
  • “Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith…” 1 Peter 5:8-9
  • “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Against such things, there is no law.”  Galatians 5:22

One thing I did for class was to make us each a little visual reminder of these verses, in case we weren’t familiar with them.  To do so, I simply did a Google image search of each verse, then copied the images onto a blank page on Microsoft Publisher.  I put nine images on a page, and made sure they were all the same size.  Then, I printed copies of the page, laminated them, and cut the verses apart.  I poked a hole in one corner of each verse and put them on a key ring.  Ta-da!  A quick, easy way to keep verses with us at all times.

Those were our four battle strategies we discussed last Wednesday.  Tonight, we’re going to talk about what I call, Battle Strategy #5.  This strategy, perhaps more than any of the others, helps me the most when I’m tempted to explode…or for that matter, to “stuff” my emotions in unhealthy ways.  I can’t wait to share it with you, and I hope it helps you as much as it has helped me!

Are Your Feelings Worth Sharing?

resources-bookIn our last Wednesday night women’s class, we talked about how we each tended to handle strong emotions.  We are working our way through Lysa Terkeurst’s book, Unglued, and Terkeurst describes two unhealthy ways of dealing with emotions:  exploding and stuffing.  When we explode, we spew our emotions onto others.  The “explosion” doesn’t have to be loud or violent; it just has to get the emotion out.  In contrast, stuffers bottle their emotions in unhealthy ways.  They trap them inside where the emotions harden into either barriers or what Terkeurst calls “retaliation rocks.”  The author makes sure to point out that people tend to use different styles in different situations, but in our class, we found that most of us were exploders.  And unfortunately, we realized that the people we “explode on” the most are our own families.  The reasons for the explosions were numerous:  stress from work, a messy house, resentment toward having to do too much in a relationship…the list went on, but the outcome,  in each situation was the same.  When our emotions got to a certain point, we tended to verbally unload on the people we care the most about.

In class we all realized, of course, that this was wrong and generally unhelpful.  At the same time, some honest comments were shared and questions were raised:

But this is how I feel.

Shouldn’t we be honest about how we feel?

I’m not a fake person; when I feel something, I share it.

Several times, this idea came up that it is best to be honest and that bottling up our feelings would be bad.  And really, I’m not surprised that these concerns came up.  We live in a culture that values honesty and authenticity.  No one wants to be thought of as fake or hypocritical, and this seems to be just as true in “Christian circles” as in the larger society.  It makes sense to value honesty, but Terkeurst points out that sometimes our “honest feelings may not be truthful representations of the situation.  I can be honest with how I feel and still exaggerate or misinterpret what is factually true” (52).  She calls this, “emotional spewing,” and asserts that even “in the Christian world we often use this kind of unbalanced honesty with little justifications such as, ‘I’m just keeping it real,’ ‘I’m just being honest,’ ‘Sometimes the truth hurts.’ (53). Such “honesty” can be really ungodly and hurtful toward others.

Okay, but then what do we do with these negative feelings?  Especially when they stem from issues that sincerely need to be addressed?  We can’t just sweep them under the rug, and we aren’t good at hiding them.  So then what?

My suggestion is that when we approach another person, we should always keep our bigger goals in mind.  When we go off on another person, we usually have goals, but they are not what you would call “big picture” goals.  Instead our goals are usually:

1.  To make myself feel better.

2.  To make the other person feel the hurt/frustration that I feel.

“Venting” our unfiltered feelings does usually make us feel better…at first.  But as Terkeurst points out, there is often a deep shame that comes from venting our emotions on someone else.  And even if we don’t feel the shame, we usually rupture that relationship to the point where it becomes very unpleasant.  And it’s hard to feel good when your relationships are unpleasant or dramatic.

And it’s true that exploding on others does help to “even the score” in some ways.  Someone upsets you; you upset them right back.  It’s like instant karma.  Only…then they feel like they need to even the score back…and ’round and ’round it goes.  Also, when you really “put someone in their place,” do they ever truly come around and see things your way?  Do they ever say, “You know, you’re right–I see how you feel now?”  I know I don’t react that way when someone yells at me.  It certainly doesn’t make me see things from their perspective.  It just makes me angry at them.

So those two goals aren’t really that great of goals to start with, and we don’t actually meet those goals when we explode on someone.  So instead of those goals, we need to step back and look at some bigger goals whenever we feel like we are going to explode on someone who we feel deserves it:

1.  Bring glory to God.

If we are Christians, this should always be our number 1 goal.  It is never met by exploding on someone else.  God is a God of peace, and he tells us that as far as it depends on us, we are supposed to live at peace with others.  Peace is not accomplished by emotional spewing.

2.  Strengthen the relationship.

In class, we mostly addressed family drama and conflicts between friends.  In these cases, the goal of our words should always be to strengthen the relationship.  That means that we don’t just avoid talking about the things that bother us–avoiding the issue will not strengthen the relationship.  But we talk about it in such a way that it makes us closer, instead of driving a wedge between us.  A closer relationship makes everyone happier…and it brings glory to the God who created us.

This week in class, we are going to look more at how to handle our exploding tendencies.  We are going to discuss ways to be prepared for the times when we want to lose control and look at some practical ways to respond when someone pushes all our buttons at once.  I think Terkeurst gives us some really great ideas, and I can’t wait to share them with you!

The Lamest New Year

It’s no secret that I love the coming of the new year. A natural navel-gazer, I relish this time where the general population actually engages with me in self-reflection, evaluation, and the forming of resolutions. And even though January 1 is just one day like any other, I like the idea of starting the new year off right, by engaging in the practices and habits that I hope to continue throughout the year. For whatever reason, January 1 has become deeply symbolic to me.

That’s part of why I was so disappointed that my whole family was sick this year.

Our New Year’s Eve celebrations are usually fairly lame, but this year was especially so. Greg, though ailing, was at a party for the teens at church while the rest of us sickies ordered pizza, watched Netflix, and went to bed at 8:00. We were all snoring by 9:00. A few hours later I woke up with a fever and chills. It was 12:35.

Happy New Year.

This morning saw a continuation of the “yuck.” Anna seems relatively unscathed, but the rest of us are battling this viral ickiness. After breakfast (take-out from McDonald’s because that’s the precedent I want to set for this year…), I crawled back in bed and stared at the new prayer journal Greg had given me for Christmas. The one I had saved until January 1 to start using:

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Ugh. How do I “carpe” this day, I wondered. After all, Greg and I had already ruefully laughed at his comment that, “It looks like January 1 is going to be the first wasted day of 2014.” But I opened my prayer journal, thanked God for bringing us through to another year, and asked Him to show me what it meant to live fully even in the midst of sickness and less than ideal circumstances.

Throughout the rest of my day, I feel like I got my answer to that question. A few days ago, my mom and I were talking about how to figure out what God wants from us in this life. For me, I feel like the answer to that question comes from looking at the resources He’s given you. And today, my resources were different than normal. I didn’t have a healthy body to serve Him with–none of us did. And our bodies all needed rest. So rather than feel frustrated by this lamest of New Year’s Days, I decided to embrace reality. We all rested, and I did so not resentfully, but gratefully. I was grateful for the chance to rest, to nap, to have ample time to read the new history book Greg got me for Christmas. I was grateful for a husband, who, though sick himself, made heroic forays to the outside world to bring us sustenance and medicine. I was grateful for Netflix and Chromecast, for one child who is a great “sick kid,” and another who is excellent at entertaining herself while the rest of us are down for the count. Sickness aside, there was really so much for which to be grateful.

So really, it wasn’t that bad of a January 1, all things considered. After all, I want the first day to set the tone for the whole year, and today, I was reminded of the importance of rolling with the punches. I don’t want to spend 2014 fighting reality or getting upset when my plans don’t work out the way I want them to. I want to accept the life that God gives me, and to use all my available resources to live a life worthy of Him. And sometimes I just have to understand that my resources will be less than normal.

Hopefully, we will all feel better tomorrow. But even if we don’t, I hope that I can react to whatever life throws at me with grace and pluck and not fall apart when my well-laid plans dissolve.

I hope that for you, too.

Happy New Year.

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