Friday, October 03, 2014

the pursuit of happiness

People tell me stuff.  Sometimes I don’t even have to ask.  Complete strangers will tell me of their relational problems, abusive history or current depression.  Friends say the invitation to disclose is in my eyes.  Perhaps it is true.  Just the other night, a man in his 50s opened up to me about his divorce.  As we were finishing our conversation, I asked him, “what’s the one thing you walk away with after your divorce, whether a lesson learned or a new perspective adopted?”  he looked at me and said, “I learned that you have to do whatever it takes to be happy.  That’s all that matters.”

It’s not the first time I’ve heard this.  I have sat with countless clients who express this same goal.  They want to be happy.  In fact, they would do anything to be happy. Most people who come to counseling in some way want to eradicate their current pain and grasp onto whatever or whoever will make them feel happy.  And let me tell you, the decisions made in the name of happiness would astound you.  Children have been abandoned.  Illegal substances abused.  Illicit sex pursued.

We worship at the feet of personal happiness regardless of the destruction it brings.

It’s easy to believe though isn’t it?  I mean our deistic, founding fathers put this very vision of life into our country’s most important political document.  We have the right to the pursuit of happiness.  It’s our RIGHT to be happy.  So it follows that if our current spouse isn’t making us happy, then find someone else.  If our sex life has gotten humdrum, then spice things up with pornography or extra marital affairs.  If life feels boring, then get wasted or disappear in front of a screen for hours at a time. Anything to feel happy…

In case my examples sound too general and give the impression that I’ve got it all together and never pursue my own happiness, let me give you a glimpse into my struggles.  I have been known to use manipulation to get my way in my marriage and friendships.  After all, I have a RIGHT for my spouse and my friends to make me happy, to meet my needs.  I have ignored my kids’ requests to build Legos or play Sorry because what I wanted to do felt more interesting.  I have reached for a glass of wine on a Friday night to combat the monotony of life.  I have put my goals, my passions, and my dreams above those of my family because when I’m doing what I want to do then I’m happier.  Or so it seems, at least for a little while.

Me me me me me me me me me me me

Victor Frankl, a psychologist and survivor of Auschwitz, created a method of therapy based upon what he had learned from his time in this infamous Nazi concentration camp.  He discovered that those who found meaning in their suffering thrived in miraculous ways.  After the war, he spent the rest of his life helping people heal by encouraging them to pursue meaning and purpose.  Interestingly enough in his most famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he addressed Americans specifically and warned them against substituting happiness for purpose.

To the European, it is a characteristic of the American culture that, again and again, one is commanded and ordered to “be happy.”  But happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”

Happiness is the by-product of living with a purpose that is greater than and outside oneself.  Focusing on my personal happiness may feel good in the moment but it will never bring me the long term fulfillment I so long for.

Of course, for me, this otherness and purpose is found in relationship to God.  I believe that we were formed and fashioned to live for God’s glory, to be a part of his great, redemptive story.  it’s a big purpose, a calling to greatness.  The problem for us as American evangelicals is that we don’t always FEEL happy when in pursuit of this higher calling.  Now don’t get me wrong, following God can bring occasional, mind-blowing happiness but it also it comes with more than its share of pain and suffering.  And that’s where many of us throw up our hands and say, “now wait a minute God.”  When following our God-created purpose seems to contradict our personal happiness, we often choose the latter.  We turn back towards the idol of personal happiness and like Solomon begin chasing the wind. 

Alluring though it may be, happiness can’t be my life’s goal.  it’s too small, too insignificant, too fleeting.  Frankl also says, that “man must decide, for better or for worse, what will be the monument of his existence.”  I want my monument to have only one name on it, the name of Jesus.  And that is something I’m happy about…

Saturday, January 25, 2014

cell ache

we are trying hard to find a way back to paris this summer.  oh not to stay just to visit.  (breathe deeply family).  to say that i'm aching to visit my second home is an understatement.  i feel it in my gut, this longing, this missing.  i dream about it.  i spend time searching on the internet looking for miraculous ways to earn thousands of advantage miles.  i want nothing more than to celebrate my new master's and career with a visit to a country where my last career ended.

i can't explain it.  i try to and no one gets it.  i don't want to go to the top of the eiffel tower.  i don't want to stare at the mona lisa.  i don't want to walk around with a fanny pack and a tourist guide.  i want to ride a bus to the hospital where my two boys were born.  i want to walk down the pedestrian street that led to our old apartment.  i want to sit on the bench in the graveyard where i told scott that we were having our first baby.  i want to stroll in the park where Gidget used to run free like a hairy little banshee.  i want to walk the campuses where we spent so much time with students.  i want to eat at the mcdonalds that we frequented because my husband was sure we couldn't afford anything else.  i want to revisit my life.  i want to offer thanks for the joys, the struggles, the heartaches and the victories.  my heart wants to celebrate, to remember, to just soak in the sights and smells of a life i lived for over a decade.

maybe that seems weird to you.  but i think if you will give me a second maybe you will see things my way.  when i visit Amarillo, the town where i grew up, i get to relive a very significant season of my life.  i can't drive down a street without it triggering some flashback from my growing up years.  I see my house.  i see my high school.  i see the building that used to house the taco villa where i ate a ridiculous amount of burritos.   though i may not be consciously remembering every second i'm there, my body and my senses are absorbing and processing everything (if you don't believe me just read some of the neurological research being done on how memories are also stored in the cells throughout our body!)  being there keeps my personal history alive.  in a sense Amarillo is my living museum.

so when i say to you that i ache for paris, that i feel its absence in my gut, i mean it in a very visceral sense.  not only does my mind remember, my body remembers and every cell within me longs to go back.  i realize it may not happen this summer.  unfortunately travel to my second home isn't nearly as cheap as travel to my first.  but it will happen.  scott and i will return (and eventually one day with our sons) and celebrate the country where we have spent the majority of our married life.  we will speak a language that feels more and more foreign everyday.  we will eat food that the mere thought of causes us to salivate.  and most important, we will visit friends who remain the main characters in the story of our french years.  one day....

Sunday, November 10, 2013

still frenchified

sometimes it washes over me in the most unexpected ways.  this longing for my other home, for a life that seems like a dream to me now.  i never know what is going to trigger those memories but when they break through to my conscious reality, i feel the grief of them all the way to my toes.

i'm talking about france.  i'm talking about how sometimes my past swarms into my present and leaves me feeling disoriented and sad.  one moment i'm in the car talking to my family about the movie we just saw and the next....WHAM...i ache.  i miss.

the ironic thing is, and all my frenchies will hate this, that in this moment, the aching came because we were going to McDonalds.  surprised?  well, for me there is a strong connection between the city of lights and the golden arches.  you see, i am married to a man who carries a unique combination of miserliness and a love to eat out.  translated that means that we eat a lot of fast food. this was especially true when we lived in france.  before we moved, a couple told us that food was so expensive in france that they had spent their two years there subsisting on nothing but potatoes.  well, this information traumatized my husband and created a belief that the only place we could afford to eat in all of paris was McDonalds.  we probably ate there 1-2 times a week.  we would walk down our pedestrian only street through the throng of people picking out fruit, fish and fromage at the outdoor marche and finally end up in line waiting to order our royale with cheese (yep, pulp fiction got it right).  so france and McDonalds are closely linked for me and last night on our way to the golden arches (yes my hubbie still prefers cheap food) i felt a rush of longing for my second home.

i don't miss france like i used to and that is a good thing.  i spent a hard couple of years always looking over my shoulder.  life looking backwards is really not life.  you can't invest where you are.  you can't root and grow and thrive because you are constantly wishing for what was instead of what is and what can be.  grief does that, makes you keep your head turned toward the past.  and the sucky thing about grief is that you can't rush it out the door.  grief is the visitor who pulls off his shoes and stays awhile.  he is the little loved relative that outstays his welcome.  but as i tell my clients almost daily, the only way out of grief is through it.  i had to walk through the mess of longing and sadness and anger and denial.  i had to cry for people i would never see again, for a way of life that felt natural to me, for warm baguettes that tasted like pure heaven.  and then one morning, i woke up and he was gone.  grief had packed his bags and left the building.  at some point without even knowing it, i had turned my head forward and begun to live in the now.

what that leaves me with is those moments, those waves of nostalgia, of longing that remind me that i once had a different life, in a different place, speaking a different language.  my life in france really wasn't a dream though it feels like it sometimes now.  it was a very shaping season of my life, one that forged me into the person i am today.  so when those moments of aching wash over me, i just allow myself to sit in them.  i feel all of it.  i remember the constant sound of traffic, the smell of the metro and fatty taste of sausisson.  instead of crying, i am thankful.  thankful for the wonderfully hard and precious experience that living in france was to me.  thankful for the pieces of me that will remain frenchified.  thankful that i can look backward for a moment but not get stuck there.

france, tu me manque.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

moving towards "get to"

we all have film, that sticky sinful residue that seems to evade even the strongest of soap.  it is the thought or the action or the relationship or the doubt or the resistance or the addiction that haunts us.  perhaps for a season we find relief.  we actually smile more, lift our faces to the sun and hum because we believe that this time we have actually kicked the habit.  then one day we wake up and its presence is so overwhelming that we are sure it is in bed with us.  in an instant, we find ourselves overwhelmed with shame, disappointment, anger and frustration.  not THIS again we scream....

been there?  done that?

sometimes being born with a sin nature doesn't seem fair.  my youngest, wyatt, expressed it best in one of existential laments when he cried out, "but if adam and eve had never sinned then i wouldn't want to hit my brother all the time!"  each of us come into this world bent.  we are not who we should be.  we are not who we were created to be.  for some of us that means that we always think of ourself first and do everything within our might to keep others a distant second.  for others it may be an inability to say no to everyone and everything even when the consequences are devastating.  whatever the manifestation, all of us are broken and in need of repair.

i don't know about you but like wyatt, i have ranted at God that it isn't fair.  i have shaken my fist at Him and exclaimed, "i shouldn't have to deal with this...." i have felt the frustration of deferred hope, the realization that my bentness will be an issue until i see Him face to face.

i think the saints of old, those who really walked with God knew something that gets lost in our modern, no-delayed-gratification world.  knowing that sin was a earthly, lifelong reality, they decided to view their struggles as opportunities.  instead of "i shouldn't have to deal with this" they adopted a "i get to deal with this" mentality.

now i know i just lost some of you.  i am not talking about exalting suffering or sin.  no one is suggesting that you wear undershirts made of nails and whip yourself senseless in front of a cross.  what i saying is this.  what if our struggles, our bentness are potential offerings that we can raise up to our Father as sacrifices of praise?  what if we saw them as opportunities to trust Him even when we don't understand why?  wouldn't that please Him?  wouldn't that be a sweet aroma in His presence?

our rantings against God for the unfair burden of a sinful nature is really a lack of trust in God's goodness.  essentially we are saying that if He were good, if He really had our best interest in mind, then He wouldn't have allowed us to struggle with ________.  it's His fault.  when we adopt this line of thinking, we join Eve's club.  we start believing that God is withholding something good from us.  we embrace the big lie and in doing so, we choose death over life.

our struggles, our pesky habitual sins, our bentness are opportunities to trust God, to believe that his prohibitions exist to protect his provisions.  when we offer up our struggles in worship and faith, then He opens the door to his presence, his provision and his transformational power.  so we can complain and gripe or worse yet deem our struggle not a sin (the world's favorite remedy) OR we can submit and trust and sacrifice, knowing that in doing so we "get to" bring great pleasure to our heavenly father.

i'm placing a stone on the altar of my life and it is labeled "get to"......

Sunday, May 12, 2013

a mother's day vision

One of my mentors passed away this week. Dallas Willard was one of those writers and thinkers whose words resonate with me in deep places. mourning this loss, i was taking some time to read different eulogies that had been posted on line. in an article by John Ortberg, he writes of Dallas' mom and her final words to his father before she herself died. She told him to "keep eternity before the children." Funny how this is the one phrase of all i read that landed on me like a ton of spiritual bricks. keep eternity before the children. this small collection of words, spoken by a woman i have never met summarized perfectly the passion of my heart as a mom.

during lunch, i forced my husband to enter into my melancholy state as i shared why Dallas' passing impacted me so deeply. thankfully my moods are no mystery to my husband. when i shared the quote from Dallas' mom, with great passion i might add, scott looked at me and asked simply,"what does that mean?" there he goes again, my practical, let's-tether-this-tirade-to-something-we-can-put-our-hands-on husband. he wasn't asking for a definition nor was he theologically puzzled. he was asking what that would look like on a day in, day out basis. that's why i love him. that's why he is the ying to my yang. he is the one steady force in my somewhat chaotic mind who, with feet firmly planted on the ground, always extends his hand in invitation for me to join him there in the "real" world. in other words, his sensibleness forces his wife to make her abstract thoughts concrete, to lasso the theoretical and transform it into the practical.

what would it mean for me to keep eternity before the children? what is my heart longing for when i say that this is my passion, even my calling as a mom? it means that i want my children to know that what is unseen is more real than what is seen, that what is temporal is passing away, that what they were made for cannot be regulated, determined or dictated by anyone covered in flesh. i want them to use Jesus and Life synonymously and to be convinced that they were uniquely created as beloved children of the eternal God to participate in a redemptive story of global and eternal proportions. i'm not asking for much, am i?

but as my husband with his farmer's faith asked, how am i going to plant seeds that will sprout this eternal perspective? how in the chaos of memorizing spelling words, cleaning rooms, swimming in the pool and laughing with friends am i going to harmonize temporal realities with eternal truths? the obvious measures are already in place. we have family devotional. we pray together. we go to church. we talk about God as we go about our day. what else is there?

perhaps Dallas alludes to the answer when he says, "the obvious well kept secret of the ordinary is that it is made to be a receptacle of the divine, a place where the life of God flows." nothing is ordinary when one considers the divine. each event in our day is pregnant with divine possibility (i think i have Millard Erickson to thank for that turn of phrase.) no person is "a mere mortal" (C.S. Lewis) and thus each encounter becomes an opportunity of eternal significance. how do i teach that? how do i communicate to my kids that each moment of their day is sacred, that no one is ordinary? gulp. perhaps the answer is as simple as this...i model it. after all, isn't that what Jesus did? in a world where religious leaders had taught about God and his kingdom for centuries, people still didn't know what God was like. they had to see it. so Jesus came and in the ultimate show and tell ever to let both eyes and ears experience God. so step one, mom, live it yourself. let your boys see what it means to live life as a receptacle of the divine.

how's that for a seed my husband? practical enough? i know, i know....but in my defense, translating the eternal into the experiential isn't as easy as it seems....

Friday, February 08, 2013

night time sisters

for the past couple of years, my sister and i have been trying to find our way back to each other.  maybe you can identify a bit with our story, maybe you can't.  let's see, how do i begin?  where do i start?  let's just say that dre and i are totally different.  she likes to joke that we are NOT from the same gene pool. it more than a matter of looks. we like different things and have very different tastes in everything.  even as kids, we were oil and water.  she was your typical little girl who loved barbies and dolls and i was the tomboy who had a love affair with sports and dirt.  and boy would we fight.  our parents report that we would fight over something as insignificant as what time it was.  all day long, or so it seemed to them, we would hiss over this and that, sometimes getting so mad that fists would go flying.  the only thing that saved me on more than one occasion was my desperation-induced ability to outrun my bigger and stronger sister.

we both still remember, and thankfully laugh about, many of the fights we had as children.  she remembers some of the names i would call her and i can recall with bloody detail some of the times i didn't run fast enough.  but regardless of how often we fought, regardless of how mad we could get at each other, there was one unspoken rule that never got broken.  no one and i mean NO ONE could pick on our sister.  she could beat me and call me names, but the minute, no the second, someone else did, he or she was rubble.  kendra can testify to this.  so can a half a dozen other girls who made the mistake of picking on me.  my sister's rage might have felt fearsome to me but it was cataclysmic to others.  whether i wanted her to be or not at times, my big sister was my protector.

this strained, hot and cold relationship that existed during our daylight hours disappeared when the sun went down.  something about the bedtime hour would transform our relationship.  when our jammies went on and the lights went out, we became the best of friends.  one of us would sneak into the other's room--well she would come to mine because she had scary ass windows in her room--and we would giggle and play until one of our parents would come striding in and insist upon our complete silence.  in those moments in the dark, under my holly hobby covers, dre and i became sisters, not enemies.  it is one of my fondest childhood memories.

as adults, we have had to test and ease our way into a different type of relationship.  we have had to let go of our childhood wounds and resentments in order to reach out to each other.  with each step we take towards the other, more trust is built and the closer we want to become.  oh we still fumble around some, the echoes of past injustices and inequalities reverberating in our head.  but now we speak them and in doing so, we rob them of their power.  instead of maintaining the defensive stance of our childhood-daytime relationship, we choose the intimate connectedness of our nighttime relationship.  under that protective cover, we are friends, allies and sisters.

we are still as different as can be.  she is all diva with her makeup and well chosen accessories, while i am still simple and unadorned.  but our connection runs deep and we love each other fiercely. oh and just so you know, she still will stand in your face with her fists clenched if you mess with me.  she is my sister, my protector.  something things never change....

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

grieving Newtown

last week, i went to workout and as i got on the treadmill, i glanced up and saw a news alert on one of the many screens in the gym.  there had been a shooting, at an elementary school.  26 dead, most of them 6-7 year old children.

i have a 7 year old.  he was at school.  with tears flooding my eyes, all i could think about was driving to my kids' school, pulling them out of class and drawing them close to me.

i will be honest.  this is the first school shooting that has penetrated so deeply through the calloused walls of my heart.  i have cried everyday at some point for those parents who lost a child too early.  i can't imagine their grief.  i can't imagine the hole it has left in their heart.  it brings tears to my eyes even now.  all week i have held my children closer.  i have stood a moment longer in their room and watched them as they slept.  i have prayed unceasingly for their protection.  i have been reminded with every tic of the clock that my children are gifts to be treasured.

as a minister, i often get asked why bad things happen to good people.  if there is one question the seeking or the skeptic wants answered it is, "why does God allow suffering?"  He could stop it.  He could intervene.  why doesn't he?  i have a couple of directions i usually go with this honest petition.  i may not have the answers but i have always felt pretty confident in the God who allows suffering to happen.

but not this week.  this week even my confidence was rocked.  why?  why God?  those children had only started their lives.  so young.  so innocent.  it was an act so ruthless.  so needless.  so evil.  couldn't you have intervened here?  i know you can do anything, so why didn't you stop that young man from ever entering that school?

i don't know why He didn't.  i don't know why at all.  but in the midst of my desperate cries, something unexpected invaded my heart and mind.

my child didn't die last week.  i grieve because, as a parent, the thought of losing my child is inconceivable.  as a result, i taste a minuscule amount of their grief.  but what of the God who created those children?  who from the foundation of the world shaped their souls, fashioned their personalities and destined when and where they would be born and live?  He spoke them into existence and proclaimed, "it is very good!"  he delighted in them as a father always delights in his children.  do i really believe that God is unaffected by the tragedy that occurred?  does he not feel it at a level and with an intensity that i can't even imagine?  and does he not feel this grief with every life that is extinguished on every corner of the globe every second of every day?

i don't know why he allowed that horrible tragedy.  all i am sure of is that he is not unaffected by it, that He grieves as a father for his children.


i know this.  He will one day make all things right.  evil will be punished and extinguished.  everything and everyone will be made whole.  a day is coming when there will be no more tears, when insane men will not kill innocent children, when lions will lay next to lambs.

today my prayer isn't why, it's come.  come, lord Jesus.  save us from ourselves.....