Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Relationship Tightrope

As everyone who has ever sought to enter into a loving and committed relationship with another human being has learned, the actual living out of that relationship can be fraught with difficulties. Living in a loving relationship is a gloriously complicated enterprise. And one of the things that makes it so complicated is that we often think we must make the other person in the relationship happy. Trying to make someone else happy can certainly be compared to the act of walking on a tightrope, a skill that takes much, much practice.

Let's assume for a moment, however, that you have had a great deal of practice and are pretty accomplished at the art of tight-rope walking. After all, most of us have been in relationships of some sort for years and should have learned most of the tricks by the time we are functioning adults.

As anyone who has been to a circus knows, the dangerous tightrope walk is done under controlled circumstances. The rope is inside a tent, so there are no weather vagaries to deal with, and there is a good, strong safety net spanning the entire length of the tightrope. Even the most experienced performer falls frequently, especially when learning new skills.

When beginning to learn this skill, the tightrope is close to the ground and there is a lot of support. Eventually, it get higher and higher and the skills of the performer becomes greater and greater. At some point, however, an imbalance in the situation may lead to a tumble.

Now, to keep to the comparison, let's make a list of demands that are often placed on a relationship that is based on making someone else happy. Unfortunately, those demands, while they may seem innocent, may be causing just enough imbalance in the situation to lead to a dangerous fall.

Pretend with me for a while that the items in parenthesis happen in parallel with the requests for attention and support, that is, the requests to “make me happy.”

I want you to be very interested in me and to show that interest by frequent phone calls, with inquiries about my life and work and family.

(Wind is starting to blow outside the enclosed tent where the tightrope walker performs.)

I want you to so desire to spend time with me that you often arrange your schedule to make sure it matches mine so we can be together with much frequency.

(A rope-eating virus invisibly lands on the safety net and begins to multiply.)

I want you to be fully supportive of my own demanding work that when I come home exhausted and uncommunicative, you simply honor that with quietness and grace and then you rub my shoulders and fix me a healthy snack and give me adequate space before engaging in any other way.

(Circus master decides to delight the onlookers by raising your platform from which you step out onto the rope to the highest level available-higher than you've ever walked).

I want you to anticipate what I need without my having to ask.

(Wind picks up even more outside and begins to infiltrate some weak spots in the canvas tent, bringing some slack to what should be a very tight rope.)

I want you to be grateful for the little tasks I do around the house that make your life more comfortable.

(Tightrope walker starts having trouble keeping his/her balance but decides to keep going and not risk a loss of face by turning back or asking for help or renegotiation.)

I want to be adored spiritually, mentally, socially and physically.

(Rope eating virus weakens several spots in the safety net and the increasing wind permits some of the virus particles to land on the tightrope itself.)

I want you to be completely understanding of all my moods, and never try to fix me when I get into a down mood. However, you should try to distract me, but be very understanding if I snap at your proposed distractions.

(It starts to pour rain outside and the canvas roof leaks. Wind speed dramatically increases.)

I want you to have a highly successful career but make sure you have plenty of energy for me.

(Somebody's blackberry goes off in the circus tent and warns of a tornado in the immediate vicinity.)

I want you to get much public recognition for your hard work and for your salary to rise competitively as a result of those recognitions.

(Rope eating virus leaves several large spots of the safely net radically weakened but the weakened areas are invisible.)

I want you to completely open your heart mind and soul to me and let me in whenever I want.

(Tent poles begin to sway and rain lands on on the head of the tightrope walker.)

I want you to be physically and mentally healthy, taking plenty of time for yourself as you need it, but being sure to explain kindly to me when you need that time, plus I want an ETA as to when that self-time will be over and you can resume playing close attention to me.

(Audience begins to panic and leave in droves. Rope eating virus weakens the tightrope and it loses even more tension.)

I want you to spill over with joy when you see me, and yet see me off on my travels or other times away with support and generosity. I also want you to miss me excruciatingly while I'm gone, but to use your time well so you can concentrate on me when I get back.

(Despite heroic efforts and high skill level, the tightrope walker falls, expecting to be caught by the safety net, but lands on one of the weak areas. There is just enough intact net to break the fall before the tightrope walker lands on the ground. still alive, but greatly injured.)

Does any of this sound familiar? It's the common problem with so many relationships—each wants so much of the other, but doesn't always see that by having those needs met, they may be causing the other to crash. Personally, I think one of the most dangerous phrases is the English language is “I want to make you happy.” Or even worse, “I'll do anything to make you happy.”

It should never be our responsibility to make another person happy. Happiness is a personal choice. When it becomes dependent upon the actions of another, the ability to make that choice is lost. Now, it is the actions of other (or perceived actions of others, or even worse, the perceived motives behind the perceived actions of others) that brings happiness or unhappiness. When we start examining the motives of others, we leave behind one of the greatest definitions of love, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

If love really believes all things, then love does not go around suspiciously checking out the motives of others, or trying to manipulate someone else to “meet our needs,” but instead graciously puts up with anything, operates out of trust, looks for the best, and keeps going to the end. This is how we want God to love us. We would serve that desire best by learning to do this for others.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Year of Truth-Telling

The news has reverberated from coast to coast—the apparently widespread use of performance enhancing drugs among major-league baseball players. If this does turn out to be true, such activity is hardly a surprise by those on the inner circles of these places. It may not have been talked about openly, but lots and lots of people had to know. Many superstars may have their records sullied because of these revelations. Just for a moment, I wonder how many others took such substances and hoped for superstar status but never made it.

In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with looking for a competitive edge, as long as, of course, such edge is legal. I’ve read some who made a comparison with this illegal substance use and pro-golfer Tiger Wood’s choice to have laser surgery on his eyes, resulting in better-than-normal vision. Writers and pundits who pushed the comparison and suggested the two actions are essentially the same overlooked two factors. First, laser surgery is legal. Second, and far more important, Mr. Woods did not hide the surgery, did not claim he never had it, or in any other way that I’m aware of lived a lie because of it. It’s the living the lie that causes the problems, not wanting to get better and better at our given specialties.

Part of just being human is that live out of a tendency to lie about ourselves. Frankly, we lie a lot about ourselves. We diminish our faults, exaggerate our virtues, and work very, very hard to make sure certain parts of our lives never come to light. Many people have so much guilt because of hidden deeds and unacceptable thoughts that they find themselves bound up by the lies they have told to keep these things hidden away. People who claim to “tell it like it is” generally have eagle eyes where other people’s faults lie or secrets are hidden. They are willing to shout those things to the hilltops but are strangely silent about their own.

I read once that it takes seven additional lies to cover up for the first one. A moment of choosing not to tell the truth then can take on a life of its own, with more and more untruths necessary in order to keep the first lie from being found it. Think of the amount of energy that goes into such actions! We have to remember who we told what to and who we didn’t tell and constantly be on our guard in case we are found out. That’s pretty draining.

I think it would be interesting to make 2008 the year of truth-telling. This becomes the year when we seek to live in such a way that we can quit lying and hiding and covering up. Instead of expending all that energy in keeping a lie afloat, that energy can be used for much more productive things. We could develop a new hobby, relax more fully, have much more fun, discover that we are people worth liking, get a whole new understanding of how much God really does love us, and wake up in the morning with a light heart and a hopeful attitude. Doesn’t that sound nice?

The key to this truth-telling is that we must tell our own truth—not what we think someone else’s truth is. It sounds like a fine point, but everything hinges on this. Real truth telling calls for a deeply integrated life. It’s a life that carefully examines how we ourselves really do want to be treated and then deliberately and intentionally sets out to treat others that way.

For example, if you really think that your ideas and thoughts should be heard with respect and interest by others, then truth telling consists of working very hard to hear and be interested in the ideas and thoughts of others. That’s real truth—not jumping down someone else’s throat when they didn’t do it the way you wanted them to. If you want your time or space or special interest to be honored, then telling the truth about it makes sure that other’s time and space and hobbies are honored. If your truth says that you really do want to the world to dance only to your tune, then practice dancing only to someone else’s tune. You might discover that your truth needs some fine-tuning.

What do you say? Shall we give this a try? Sure beats being found out the hard way about the lies we’ve been telling.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Disruptive Birth

It's nearly here now. Next Sunday, December 23, marks the last Sunday in Advent, that time of waiting and preparation so we are ready to receive the gift of the baby in the manger. Of course, not many of us have taken the time we need to get our hearts fully prepared. I, of course, am one who, though full of good intentions, just didn't take all the time I had planned so I, too, could be in a state of complete readiness when I come to adore the baby.

On the other hand, it is not all that hard to adore babies. They are amazing little things—innocent and sweet and just a whole lot of trouble with a tendency to disrupt all our normal routines.

I wonder if that is one of the reasons that God chose this truly strange method to break into human experience. God comes as a baby, innocent, and sweet and just extremely disruptive.

I have been pondering recently a generational quirk in my heritage. The women, especially on my paternal side, all tend to have two babies within a year and a half of each other. One time when I was learning something about my family history, I saw that this tendency went back at least four generations. Now my oldest son and his wife have followed the pattern. Their second son, Samuel, was born about five weeks ago, just 17 months after the first, Joshua, made his appearance.

Now, I could have told them that Joshua would not take kindly to Samuel's birth. Joshua, very much used to having the world ordered to his satisfaction, is a typical demanding, manipulative, charming self-centered toddler. Simply adorable, of course, as all our grandchildren are. But still . . . he has a strong need to be the center of his parents attention. Samuel's birth has been very disruptive to his little self-centered world. Just as my second son's appearance was to his older brother's world, and my sister's appearance to my own world. Yes, these babies were quite disruptive to our natural tendencies to be self-centered.

As I said, I could have told them this, but why bother? We all have to learn these things for ourselves, and by the time I could have told them that, this new life was well along in his mother's womb. Personally, my oldest son was such an easy charming baby that I assumed it was all because I was such a wonderful mother, so why not have another? After all, it was clear I was a great gift to the art of mothering! Boy, did my second son upset my over flattering picture of my mothering capabilities! Yes, that disruption again.

So, I'm thinking about the baby we keep singing about in the well-loved Christmas carols like “O come, let us adore him,” and “Away in a Manger” and “O Holy Night.” This music is full of terms of love and gentleness and hope and sweetness and the goodness of God. But we don't often sing of the disruption caused by this very strange way of God's entering human life. Think about it. Mary's and Joseph's plans have gone completely awry. Surely their families must have felt much disappointment with the too-soon birth of their grandchild. Some middle eastern men who lived by studying the stars suddenly leave everything behind for several years in their search to make sense of something in the heavens/ Their searches lead them to a poor family in odd circumstances. The king of Judea, Herod (not a nice man at all), decides he so doesn't want his life disrupted that he orders the slaughter of a lot of little children to ensure his own claim to the throne. All this is very disruptive to the ways we think God should enter the world of humanity

Then this baby grows up and turns out to be nothing like the kind of Savior that the people want. He favors the poor and the sinner and the outcast and those with no place in polite or ordered society. He castigates the religious and upright people. He dies the death of a criminal, and his body disappears after his death and his followers cause all sorts of chaos with their wild claims of resurrection. Very disruptive indeed. Not at all what is expected.

It does seem that the entrance of holiness into that which is non-holy causes all sorts of disruption. Instead of hearing words like, “I love you so much that you don't have to change anything,” we hear, “I love you so much that you must undergo deep transformation in order to be able to fully understand it. If you really want to receive this love, your life will never be the same again.” I think most of us would rather hear the first statement than the last. But the last one is a lot closer to the real message of Christmas—and it's wonderfully disruptive.

So, have a merry Christmas—and let the entrance of the baby throw things off just a bit. You'll never be sorry you did.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

We Did It!

Something very profound has happened at Krum United Methodist Church. Before I tell you what happened, bear with me a minute while I explain how we are governed. The United Methodist Church is a connectional church. By that I mean that no one church functions independently from others in the larger United Methodist connection. Churches in geographical areas are grouped into what are called “Annual Conferences” and each conference is divided into districts which are overseen by District Superintendents. Krum United Methodist Church is part of the North Texas Annual Conference, and we are in the Dallas-Denton District (or, as we on the north end prefer to call it, the “Denton-Dallas District.”

Every year, each United Methodist church must hold what is called a “Charge Conference.” These meetings, presided over by our various District Superintendents, are generally somewhat sleep-inducing meetings where an interminable numbers of reports are produced, the business of the church is presented, the pastor's salary voted on (there are NO secrets where clergy salaries are concerned!), and the names of those who will lead the various committees for the next year are announced. Yawn.

But there was not a single yawn in evidence when we gathered this past Sunday at 4:30 p.m. Despite the rapidly lowering outside temperature, the basement Fellowship Hall in our historic building at the corner of 2nd and W. McCart was filled. Thirty one others, who for various reasons could not attend, had indicated they wanted to vote in absentia. What was going on? Where did that huge amount of interest come from?

As many who live in the Krum area may know, there has long been a sign on a ten acre plot of land on the north side of 1173 between the NorthStar Bank and Dodd Intermediate School. That sign has read, “Future Home of Krum UMC.” Well, my friends, the future is now. After years of prayer, planning, hard work, faithful and sacrificial giving, and a determination to follow where God leads, this loving and courageous group of Christians have said, “It's time to build.”

In early 2008, construction will begin. So many prayers have been answered here.

The current building is full of beautiful memories. A loving and generous group of people have met here for worship and service and education and life together for over 80 years now since the basement was first built in 1924. In their words and lives, they have proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ to this community and to the world. Now, we are preparing to do so in a way that will be far more accessible and hospitable. No more stairs, lots of bathrooms, light and bright nursery and children's areas, big and well-equipped youth room—we are grateful that all this will come to pass. But the same loving and generous people will meet for worship and service and education and life together. Come join us. Your soul will rejoice and be glad.

Monday, December 03, 2007

“The Hope of Peace”

I fixed my washing machine last week. Now, to some of you, that would be no big deal. But for some of us mechanically impaired, this was MAJOR ACCOMPLISHMENT. Those who were at church on Nov. 25 heard the truly pitiful tale of my complete inability not only to change a flat tire but to even recognize that I had one. (If you want to hear this sad tale, go to the church website,, click on the “listen to messages” tab and find the Nov. 25th one. As a friend of mine said after hearing it, "Christy, there are angels in heaven set aside just to watch over people like you!").

OK, to get back to this washing machine. My husband bought it from his parent's estate. Here's how my sister-in-law described the purchase of this machine. "When Mother walked into the appliance store, the sales associate thought, 'All right, the sucker has shown up. I will sell her the most expensive, most complicated machine ever built.'" And thus she, and now I, ended up with a couple of intriguing Swedish-made machines. Admittedly, they don't take up much space and the washer uses very little water and does get the clothes excruciatingly clean. That's the good side. The bad side is that I had to read a 30 page manual just to figure out how to turn it on. I was so excited when I lowered my time from 45 minutes to only a few seconds to start a basic cycle. It's still another story when I want to do something more complicated.

Anyway, it quit draining last week. The electronic display said something about a fault in the drain line. Since I'm convinced that MY drain lines are simply faultless, I decided to do with the washer what I do with my computer when it gets recalcitrant—turn it off and turn it on again Three tries later, I got the same message. Three days later, with my clothes still locked in the washer, since it stubbornly refused to release the electronic lock in its undrained state, I began to get just a little concerned. Laundry was piling up, and I suspected generous mildew growth was taking place in the receptive damp environment.

I phoned the national service desk—the one advantage to such an EXPENSIVE appliance is that extremely nice and friendly people are available 24 hours a day to solve problems like this. A kind young man, and I feel sure I reminded him of his mother, expressed full confidence that I could fix the problem and explained exactly what I had to do. Simply open a little trap door and clean out a filter there. He said that probably just a little water would drain out when I did and to be sure and put something under there to catch it. Please note, I had NOT told him I had restarted the machine three times after the original error message showed up. Possibly, I should have mentioned that one little fact to him. I will refrain from describing the slight panic that hit when water simply gushed from the trap. And didn't stop gushing for quite a while. But the floor in my laundry area is now quite clean—and I really, really needed a working machine after that.

Nonetheless, I persevered, found $1.87 in loose change there, and joyfully listened later as the machine ran through its cycle, draining merrily away at the right time. What a sense of accomplishment!

Since I strongly believe that all things are connected in some way or another, I knew there was something for me to learn from this. I’m sure many have heard of the “butterfly effect”—the idea that a butterfly flapping its wings on one side of the world can affect a hurricane on the other side. This idea reminds us that there is no such thing as an isolated or a neutral act. Everything has consequences. Every interaction with others, every decision, every piece of work done or undone, every prayer offered or unoffered, every act of kindness or unkindness—they all add either add to or subtract from the hope of the Kingdom of God.

As we are in this time of Advent, the waiting time as we prepare to receive the Savior so generously sent by the Father, it becomes a good time to ponder the eternal consequences of our thoughts and actions, from such simple things as this little repair to such large things as beginning a war. On the day this article will be published in the Krum Star, December 7, we also remember that day that “lived in infamy”—for December 7 is the day of the horrific Pearl Harbor attack that killed so many and changed the world forever.

I want to be one who stands for peace, and I know there can be no peace with others until there is peace with God. The ability to make this simple repair brought peace to my house. Perhaps as we get ready to receive the hope offered by the birth of the Holy Child, we can also gain more ability to make peace with others. It would be a worthwhile goal.