Entries in Deep Thoughts (40)
- Rows of lit street lamps
- Overgrown gardens
- Empty lots
- Abandoned toys
- The gloaming
- Light streaming out of windows, seen from the dark outside
- Old people sitting at bus stops
- The ocean
- Antique books
- Basements and attics
- Ancient oak trees
- Offhand comments
- Really good poetry
- Music in minor keys
- England -- France -- Italy -- Switzerland
What inspires you?
I know a few people who seem addicted to chaos. They appear to be drama magnets, emotional "black holes," if you will. It seems like something is always going wrong for them, and then those of us around them get to hear all about the crisis-of-the-moment at length. Again and again.
There's a fine line between expressing frustration and chronic complaining. I'm not judging these acquaintances. I try to offer help and support, or just a listening ear, depending on what's needed and/or requested.
Here's the thing. I'm sure that what I see in these perceived drama addicts is much more about me than it is about them. Indeed, my observations direct me inward and remind me of what I need to change and repair in my own life and psyche.
I'm grateful for opportunities to practice compassion and empathy. I treasure the luxury of feeling understood and loved despite my many faults, and so I attempt to communicate my understanding and love of others and their difficulties whenever possible.
But I am often struck by how exhausting and contagious negativity can be. For someone like me, who already struggles with depression and anxiety, that negativity is as dangerous as a riptide. I find it's better just to stay out of the water and hold out a helping hand from the safety of the shore.
One of my long-term goals is to be drama-free. Of course, bad things happen to us all. But when trials come my way, I hope to be able to take them in stride. I'm fine with grieving, or even ranting and moping--privately, to those I trust--when appropriate. But if I am to live in a world that is less chaotic, the calm amidst the storm needs to start with me.
The Good Samaritan, Netherlands, circa 1530
Near the end of his life, Jesus gave several parables to His disciples in answer to their questions about His eventual return. The last of these tells of the sheep and the goats. It begins,
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: (Matthew 25:31-32)
He then goes on to define the sheep and the goats. To the sheep, set on his right hand and invited to partake of all the blessings of the Father, He says:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. (Matthew 25:35-36)
The sheep are apparently confused by this, not remembering having served the Lord in any such way. Christ clarifies: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." (Matthew 25:40; emphasis added)
The goats, who are dismissed and cursed, do the exact opposite. They ignore the hungry, the stranger, and the sick; they live their lives heedless of the needy or those in prison. And Jesus takes that personally, too.
Taking care of those in need is the only criterion Jesus gives for judging the nations. He does not mention whether we're on time for church or how many scriptures we've memorized. Also not mentioned are the size of our savings accounts or what our personal accomplishments are. Christ's recipe for eternal success is simple: take care of your neighbor.
But who is my neighbor? Jesus answered that question with the parable of The Good Samaritan, recorded in the tenth chapter of Luke. Since Samaritans were hated and reviled by Jesus' initial audience, I think that this is a safe modern interpretation: my neighbor is anyone I encounter, particularly someone whom I may not like. The sullen teenager. The tattooed guy across the street. The bad driver in front of me at the intersection. The homeless man begging on the corner. The abused and/or neglected child. The mentally ill.
"Love your enemies," Jesus commanded in the Sermon on the Mount (recorded in Matthew chapters 5-7). Love the unlovable--that's not easy. It's easy (sometimes) to love our families and friends. It's not easy to love the disruptive kid with the runny nose; the smelly drunk man; the obese, hoarding shut-in who never thanks us when we stop by to say hello. The person who has brought his troubles on him or herself through poor choices. Yet we must love the unlovable, unless we wish to be judged a goat at the end of this life.
As a mother, I often feel like my hands are full with daily, hourly clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, and tending the sick. But when I consider things honestly, there is much more that I could do--and I vow to do so, today and going forward.
I am struck, though, by Jesus' wording in that first quote above: "And before him shall be gathered all nations." Nations obviously are comprised of individuals--but the definition of "nations" also includes the governments and social contracts those individuals enact. As a Christian doing my best to live up to the weighty responsibility implied in the name, I look to my society to augment my efforts in taking care of the poor, the needy, and the sick. I look not just to my church (which does a lot of humanitarian aid); not just to my community group. I look to my government. And when I do, I find a great lack.
Take the mentally ill, for example--often some of the most unlovable among us. They need care, not just because they are also God's children (which should be reason enough), but because taking care of them helps keep us all healthier and safer. The events of last Friday's shootings in Newtown, Connecticut should be enough impetus for citizens to demand that our government make taking care of our mentally ill neighbors a priority--precisely because doing so is often beyond any one individual's capacity.
They need our help. Read this post by my friend, the talented writer Robison Wells. Read this post by the angry and frustrated mother of a troubled 13-year-old child. I read them both as calls to action--the kind of action Jesus has been requesting for a long, long time. At Christmastime, in the New Year, and always, let's find concrete, helpful, compassionate ways to help.
Annette and me at the First Annual Jane Austen Tea Party, May 2012
Annette and I are blogging about the same topic today. Here's what she had to say.
When people first learn a little about my life--that I am a writer with a husband, six busy children, and a demanding Church calling--they tend to marvel (or ask disbelievingly), "How do you do it all?"
My first response is, "I don't do it all."
My second is, "I don't do any of it very well."
But my third response is the real truth, and it's more than a self-deprecating one-liner.
Writers tend to live isolated lives, and often, so do stay-at-home mothers. Anyone who's both (as I am) has a double whammy to handle. Yes, being both is awesome and fulfilling, but it's incredibly demanding as well.
Isolation occasionally means blissful solitude, but for me, isolation often means being overwhelmed to the point of anxiety-filled paralysis. That, coupled with chronic depression, is my reality.
Enter my secret weapons, a duo that sounds like a Jane Austen novel: Choice and Accountability.
Long ago, Claudia Bushman gave me this sage piece of advice. "When you want to take on a new project, sit down and consciously decide what you will give up in order to make room for it." In other words, make hard choices, and make them up front--at the beginning of the project and at the beginning of each year or month or week or day.
My choices take the form of daily lists. I write down what needs to happen, from scripture study to laundry to a word count for the day. Once I've written down everything necessary, I write down some optional stuff that would be nice to get done, if possible. Please note that my list often includes things like "Power Nap" or "Read several chapters of [Fun Novel]" I want to live mindfully and not run faster than I have strength, and renewal has to be part of my daily routine.
I'm sure lots of people make similar lists. The real power comes from the second half of that duo: Accountability. Reporting one's small successes to someone else is amazingly effective. It somehow makes them more real and gives them the satisfying weight of accomplishment.
I have the tremendous blessing of having an official Accountability Partner--my angel friend, Annette Lyon. Annette is a talented, successful writer with the most incredible work ethic of anyone I've ever known. More than a year ago, she and I formed a partnership. I was flailing about, directionless and despairing, and I called Annette to whine about it. She listened compassionately and then suggested we work together on a return-and-report basis until I was out of my rut. The rest is history.
Thanks to the miracle of modern technology, it doesn't matter that we live in different states. Nearly every work day since our first accountability pow-wow, we have done the following:
1) Either the night before or early in the morning of a work day, we email each other our highly detailed and specific To Do Lists. We will usually include a couple of paragraphs of ranting or venting or rejoicing over whatever is going on with us, but sharing the list is our basic intent.
2) Throughout the day, we'll text each other whenever we've completed something on our list: "Scriptures studied." "Laundry swapped, clean load folded and put away." "Bread rising, beans soaking." "Scene edited." "1000 words written." Stuff like that. Sometimes we'll respond: "Great job!" "You rock." "Yessss!!!!" Other times, we'll simply counter with our latest item completed.
3) We don't always get everything on our lists done. That's okay; we just make a new list for the next day. Sometimes items migrate for days until we can text victory. Doesn't really matter; slow progress is better than none. Overall, I know that I am vastly more productive because I know Annette is waiting to hear from me. Her triumphs inspire me, and I hope mine do the same for her.
What would I do without Annette? I don't plan to find out. I envision us 50 years from now, holovideoing each other from our retirement homes and reporting on our latest plot problems or character dilemmas solved. When you get something this wonderful going in your life, you don't want it ever to end. Thanks, Annette.
Click here to read Annette's side of the story.