Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Gift of Choice

The Gift of Choice -  

During the intermission for a Bela Fleck and the Flecktones concert at Chautauqua Park Barn in Boulder, Colorado, I approached a concert security personnel who had an intricate tattoo with an inscription. I was too intrigued not to ask about it. Gabriel was his name and he told me he lost his uncle, a cousin, and a best friend all within a few weeks. The tattoo was a memorial for these men.

For the last several months, I have been sculpting small disks of clay and stamping them with various, biblical messages or symbols on them. After firing them in a kiln, I will hand these so-called “stones” out to family and friends. My latest batch at the time was a thought exercise on the revolutionary things in our lives. There are three types of stones: on one side, I stamped “Love”, “Hope”, or “Jesus”, and the other side on all three is “Changes Everything”. I brought these stones to the concert and, for the first time, thought to give this stranger a choice. “If you want, pick one, two, or all three to keep” I offered. Gabriel chose “Hope”.

Making my way around the Barn I felt thirsty. Before the show began, I had run to my truck to pick up bottled water for Maury, my friend, and myself. It was a hot summer night and we quickly ran out of water.  I saw a line for iced, bottled water toward the right of the stage and got in line. Almost immediately I struck a conversation with Lisa, the person ahead of me, about the concert and how amazing this band performed. Then I noticed there was a sign on the table – CASH ONLY.  “Shoot!” I said out loud because I only had a credit card. Surprisingly, Lisa offered to pay, and so I asked if she would accept a gift as a thank you. I dug in my pocket and brought out the remaining “Love” and “Jesus” stones. “Pick one or both of these to keep.” Lisa chose “Love”.  After returning to my seat, water in hand, I told this story to Maury. I dropped the Jesus stone in his hand and said that’s the one they did not choose.

Choice Reveals Where I am

Since that concert, I’ve begun carrying and offering these stones, these choices, to individuals I meet during my activities and it’s consistent. No one chooses Jesus and their choice is not exclusive, they can choose one, two, or all three.  I’ve stopped making Jesus stones because Hope and Love are overwhelmingly in demand. Please do not misunderstand me, I do not judge anyone for not picking up the Jesus stone when I offer it. On the contrary, I know with every choice there is meaning, a background, and a story to tell. Every person I encounter is precious and known by God. I hand-make each one of these stones and with every stone I sculpt, I pray over the person who will eventually receive it. I pray that if they do not know Jesus that they will choose Him one day when the choice is offered again. I pray for those who have already accepted Jesus into their hearts, that they continue to choose Him. Whether we are being offered justification before belief or sanctification after believing, we always have the choice of Jesus.

Connect With God and Others

The Holy Spirit prompts me when and where I offer the stones.  Only one person asked if this is a test. I asked her what she thought - she chose Hope. It’s an extraordinary encounter, a gift, and an opportunity to share a choice safely. All the choices are good choices but one is best. God is the best and wants to share His best with these men and women.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

How Can I Speak Less, to Say More?

When fixing is hurting, not helping 

Fixer Upper

I’m a fixer. I like to fix things and I like to fix people. My immediate inclination is to listen for a preliminary trigger statement, then jump on the opportunity to show my wisdom. At home, this tactic steers conversations and interactions into hostility, and many times demonstrates my inability to listen.

Fixing is what many refer to as rescuing. In Transactional Analysis, it’s known as a destructive form of helping.

Proverbs 18:13
“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.”

Matthew 11:15
“He who has ears to hear, let him listen.” 

I have learned that the quickest way to push people away is to give advice where none is asked. Listening to understand and not to impulsively speak to fix is a challenge that has only become easier with practice and time.

The Art of Brokenness 

While we are all fundamentally broken, I’ve found the best way to treat people is not to see them as broken and needing to be fixed by my own will. The approach to viewing people as broken feeds into devaluing their abilities and, more importantly, God's abilities.
For a period of time in my life, I was in care ministry visiting the hurt and dying in hospital/hospices. The biggest lesson I took away is that being intentionally present with someone hurting is the best gift; to let my presence speak for itself. I'd come away wondering if I said the right things or if it was enough. It was only after I left this ministry that I realized it wasn't about me—it was all about Jesus. This is how Jesus uses me, beyond my abilities and fears. Then what did I do?   I simply showed up.

What Can I Say?

What are helpful tactics when someone is hurting? 

Here is a link to one of my favorite articles on this topic: Ten supportive things I'm glad somebody said to me.

Take the Cup of Connections Challenge and reach out to someone who may need a lifeline.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

I'm Better Off Alone

Do ants make mistakes? If they do, do they communicate their poor choices immediately so other's don't fall into the same trap?  My porch in the summer would be a carpet of ants if they wandered off alone or froze in their tracks.

I'm talking here about unhealthy isolation, rather than meditative quite time. My growth times are when I'm quiet before God, reading, taking a hike in contemplation, listening to my body. These are essential to me.  It's the shining or hiding alone spells I'm referring here.

The Shining -
I grew up thinking men, real men are pioneers, trailblazers, leaders, self-made men. The Lone Ranger had Tonto to help him out (Tonto relied on his horse for sage messages). I wondered how can he be "lone" if he had a companion, who had a companion? Well it didn't take me long to figure out I can be alone in a group or a large city like LA. Eleanor Rigby comes to mind.  My rewards matched up to my "real men" ideal. Studies, work, play were all individually rewarded - I can do this myself and get credit, a pat on the back, acceptance, love and be in control. I applied my Self-made-ness to dating, family, friends, marriage, raising children. Crap; this didn't work out like I hoped. Proverbs 18:1 (Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.)

Turtle Time -
When I make a choice that harms family, friends or work, A force tugs at my heart to be left alone. For a time, I am separated from those I broke trust. My instinct is to protect my boarders or retract in my shell. Outside contact is a threat to me, a disturbance of my peace and a pressure I can't withstand; shame. As a backup plan I'll use a stall tactic - maybe if I don't say anything right away it will lessen the severity or disappear. This is wishful thinking at best and denial definitely. Listening to other men, I've learned that I'm not alone in wanting to be left alone .  "I'm better off alone" can be the battle cry of a marriage falling apart - or afterward in divorce, a single person who can't find the "right" person, a person in an addiction, etc..

What attracts me to unhealthy isolation?  Fear... Fear, shame, unworthiness. This is a position of weakness, not power. I don't want to own my participation, choice, or lack of wisdom. A finger points in my direction. "Dummy", "What did you expect?".  Next compelling reason to keep to myself is hurt avoidance - mine or someone else. I've played out the consequences and I'm not eager to step into it.

The Hardest Part -
When I mess things up - confess, admit, own my act or ill chosen words. What if I own my part? That's power!  I can change what I measure and owning my choice is a mark of measurement. 

Not Alone -
Separation is a predator's game.  The largest animals on earth are easier prey when separated from the pack. Again, why do I consider myself the exception?  I'm navel gazing and self-diluted, that's why.  Each time I allow trusted family and/or friends to share their judgments, my decisions carry more weight whether I choose to incorporate them or not.

When I own my actions or ill chosen words and share appropriately, I begin to build a bridge to a healthy connection and decrease the likelihood of repeating my offense or falling into my same repetitive trap. Ants were a poor example. Mine do fall into the same trap...eventually.

Owning and sharing takes courage. What are your experiences and thoughts of being - better off alone?