Tuesday, September 16, 2014

How to Lose Your Voice--Part 4

This is the final installment of losing my voice--the next installment should be about regaining a voice. But today I want to talk about when our voice is inadvertently silenced. I think that this is probably more common than the previous condition. I don't think that most people set out to quieten us or to ignore us. I think sometimes it just happens as a result of their own journey (and sometimes self-absorption). That is a sobering thought, because in it I must admit that I am also guilty of silencing others in my own self-absorbed life.

My mother was one of those classic, stereotyped parents who lived through her children. I knew at a young age that she had been kept out of National Honor Society and I was expected to right that wrong. The day I was installed as NHS President, she was much more excited than I was. She often took over dreams that I dared to breathe. And that often resulted in my withdrawal.

I was reminded of this recently when I was scanning old photographs into digital form. I was an avid photographer, never seen without a camera. I received my first SLR in Jr. High and I was in heaven. Around the time I was in college, I started actively trying to sell some photos. My mother was also a good photographer. I got my love of cameras from her. But for her, it was always a hobby. Until I got a chance to publish a photograph. Then she decided she would try to sell some of hers. And she succeeded. The talk around her sale eventually soured photography for me for a time. I definitely stopped trying to sell anything, and really rarely took my camera anywhere. I know it was never her intention for me to stop, but it happened. Her seeming obsession took the joy out of what I did. It happened with other things that I enjoyed. She saw my joy, decided to do something similar, became obsessive/competitive/derisive and I would withdraw.

The problem was, I was the only one that was missing out. I let her take my joy and stopped what I enjoy. Hear me clearly, I am the one who must take the responsibility of quitting because it was not her direct intent for me to stop what I was doing. It was inadvertent on her part.

This is not just true in the "voice" of the hobbies we pursue. It is also true of our writing. I've written here and here about the danger of trying to use someone else's voice in our writing--to try and be someone we are not. If we become so worried about using someone else's voice, ours is inadvertently silenced. When I become so worried about how something will be received that I never hit "publish," I have allowed others to inadvertently silence me. When someone's pursuit of something runs us over and we don't speak out, we have been inadvertently silenced. Not intentional. But it hurts just the same. And, for me, it hurts more as I realize that I have to take some of the responsibility of being silent. There is no one I can say is censoring or stopping me from speaking. I am allowing other people to govern how much I say.

If the success or apathy of someone else has caused you to stop sharing your gifts, I encourage you to resume using your gifts. Don't let someone else's actions take away your voice. Instead, look past their short-sightedness and take joy in what you are able to say and do. And, would you please join me in being committed to not inadvertently silencing others. Join with me to celebrate the successes and gifts of others. We must set aside our own jealousies and insecurities to encourage one another. After all, this body of Christ should be more about building up rather than tearing down.

I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. Romans 1:11-12

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

September Goals

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In August I wrote, then forgot to publish, the following goals:

August Goals:
1. Complete AAHRH--very close, but no
2. Complete Bride's Tree set--again, close but not yet
3. Blog at least 4 times--finish Parts 3 and 4 of "How to Lose Your Voice"--only once, but part 4 is ready to post this week
4. Start DT Summer Garden--no
5. 100 stitches in Fairy Moon --no

So, my goals for September
1. Complete AAHRH
2. Complete Bride's Tree set
3. Blog at least 4 times--finish Parts 4 of "How to Lose Your Voice"
4. Start DT Summer Garden
5. 100 stitches in Fairy Moon

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

How to lose your voice--part 3

First, my apologies for taking so long to continue the series.  This one has been difficult for me to publish--remembering a truly low point in life.  I pray that this will be of help to someone out there to remember that God does hear us.

In parts 1&2 I discussed how circumstances often silence us. This one is a little tougher, it is how people can intentionally silence us. Part 4 will address when people inadvertently silence us.

It was latish on a Thursday night. The pastor and associate pastor came to the house to speak to my husband. That wouldn't have normally been an issue since husband was a deacon. But events of the day made this wrong. Earlier that day, a staff member had responded to a situation involving me in a very intimidating way. He had put his much larger frame into my space, had leaned into my face and blatantly lied to me, with an undercurrent of a threat. His anger was out of control, as witnessed and attested to by others later. My husband had asked for the deacons to meet and address this issue since it was not the first such event. They had met, but had excluded my husband from the meeting. The pastors were there to tell him that the decision was that this incident had nothing to do with his being on staff, that it was a church fellowship matter and that I needed to meet with said staff member and work it out because it was my problem and it was leading to division amongst members. I was effectively tried and condemned by the church leadership. The problem was, not one of them had asked ME what happened. They asked staff member. They asked his wife and other witnesses. They did not ask me. And the decision was not even consistent with what they heard!

I had been silenced.

Over the next week, husband was also caught in a cross-fire of issues, and eventually had to resign from leadership due to the back-biting, dishonest things that were being said in order to change some church decisions.

It was ugly and hurtful and unnecessary. It led to our withdrawal from church activities and eventually our moving away. It ended a myriad of friendships. It took SIX weeks before anyone asked me how I felt. Six weeks of attempting to meet with staff person who refused our invites, deacon invites, and pastor invites. Six weeks of not coming to church on communion services before someone asked if there was a correlation. And in the sixth week, it took sitting through a church meeting where said staff-member was given a bonus for his 'good work.'

Six weeks of silence.

Then, the pastor and the deacon who approached me were surprised by the depth of my hurt.

And although both acknowledged that it had been easier to talk to husband than me, neither would give a reason. Truth is, they had not spoken with him again either, even when he resigned from leadership.

It redefined my expectation of church leadership and it almost destroyed my trust in the organised church.

Sometimes we lose our voice because others deliberately set out to not allow us to speak.

One thing  I learned during that time:
 People may seek to silence truth,
but God never silences it. 
I was assured time and time again that God heard me. I never once believed in that time that he had stopped listening. He heard. He promised deliverance. He delivered.  Although it is true that I miss many of those friendships to this day, I do not doubt that God used that moment to mold me into the leader I am and to place us in our next place of ministry and healing. I learned much about how to notice hurting people. I now hear different cues when a situation does not seem to add up and one of the participants is not saying much. I know the hurt of being intentionally ignored, and I hope to never allow someone to be in that place.  I also know the balm of the two people who continually reached out even when they did not understand the depth of what was happening, and I pray that I can be that balm in someone else's life.

My friends, if you have been silenced by those around you, if your opinions, desires, needs have not been heard, or if those you love have deliberately chosen to not hear you, please do not lose heart.  God hears you.  He draws near to you.  And, when the time is right, he will vindicate you.  Draw near to him and allow him to hear the depths of your pain.  He can soothe what no one else can.  Trust one who has walked the path and survived.  You are heard and your voice matters.

As for me, I call to God,
    and the Lord saves me. 

 Evening, morning and noon
    I cry out in distress,
    and he hears my voice.

He rescues me unharmed
    from the battle waged against me,
    even though many oppose me.
................Psalm 55:16-18

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

How to Lose Your Voice, Part 2

In part one of this discussion on losing my voice, I talked of being too exhausted to continue to communicate.  The second part of losing my voice whilst I was in Germany had to do with perception and permission.  There were two (greatly generalised) types of ex-pats in my community in German.  There were the ex-pats who complained constantly about the German-way of doing things.  These folks had followed husbands to jobs, but were not necessarily happy about it.  And they complained. About everything. At every opportunity. To anyone who would listen.  Then there was the other type.  The ones who were embarrassed by type one and so who tried to only point out the positives.  In general, unless in the privacy of your own home with your own family, this group did not complain.  They were the eternal "Pollyana's" of the ex-pat world.

Since one of my least favourite groups of people are who we dub "The Ugly American" in our home, you can be assured that I landed in group two.  [The Ugly American is that person, American or not but most likely American, who spends all there time saying "in my home country we did it this way" and refusing to embrace anything about the culture they are visiting.]  I did truly enjoy much of our life in Germany, so it was not a stretch to focus on the positives.  Also, I tend to think if we focus on positives, the negatives are much less looming.

But to never feel able to express the negativity was draining.  Recently another blogger wrote about an entirely different subject, "I did not have the freedom to tell the truth and I no longer had the energy to pretend."  That sums up much of my time in Germany.  I did not have the freedom to express how hard it was.  DH was not having a great time at work and already felt guilty of having moved us yet again in the 3 years and I did not want to add pressure to him.  I knew in my head the first year in a new place is the most difficult and wanted to give it it's best chance.  And, we were convinced then, and I am still convinced, that God had a purpose for us in that place.  Therefore I didn't want to speak against where God had place me.  But it was hard.  Very hard.  And to not have an outlet made it even harder.

Another group-two friend, after she moved away from Germany, commented that she had not realised that she had basically held her breath and held her neck tense for two years until she was back home and could communicate without being afraid of saying it wrong.  Two years of holding your breath and biting back your true feelings is a long time.

But we do this all the time.  We spend years in church fellowships where we are afraid to show that we are hurting or doubting or in need.  We hold our breath and draw in the pain, paint that religious smile on our face and off we go to speak platitudes that are empty.  Why?  Because we don't have the freedom to be ourselves.  Because we are afraid that if we express doubts we will look like "The Ugly Christian" who needs it to be our way or no way.  Or we will not look like a Christian at all.  We convince ourselves that God can't handle it if we are real (and we know our friends can't handle our "realness" because they all have it all together).

Where does this lead us?  To being worn out and "not having the energy to pretend."  Which leads us to drop out of those religious circles that could be life-bringing because they might see that we are cracked and bruised and needy.  We stop communicating with the very ones who could bring us healing.  And we stop communicating the healing others' need.  We need to be able to lay down these masks of "having it together" and be real enough to give voice to our needs and to our ability to help those in need.

I am convinced, maybe even convicted, that we need to build I to our bible studies and our religious circles of friends the ability to be real. I am not advocating for a group one-everything-is-horrible reality, but a reality that is free to say I am having a tough time. I want a freedom to share the hard stuff that God leads me through as well as the easy things. I want to be someone that can handle hearing a friend say "life is tough" and not judge or try to solve it for them. I want to be a Christian community that enhances communication, not stifles it.  In some ways that is easier to build online than in face-to-face life. But I want it in both places.  So this may be a recurring theme that you see here.  As I try to regain my voice, I will advocate for you to have your voice as well. Let us speak in honesty, in reality and of course in love as we share our lives.

Thanks for listening to this rambling heart.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

How to Lose Your Voice, Part 1

I have been reflecting upon how it was I came to lose my words, the very thing that had always brought me clarity and contentment in the changes of my life.  I think it all came to fruition during our time in Germany (although to a large extent it started earlier than that--but that is part 3).

Being in a culture where I did not speak the language was exhausting.  It was mentally draining,  physically tense, and emotionally depleting.  Try as I could, it did not and would not come easy to me.  I would tell my tutor that I was sure Tree (less than 2 at the time) was going to answer her questions before I did.  I was only half-joking.  The truth was, he was learning two languages at once and took delight when he said a German word and all the German-speakers around us would react with total joy.  They did not react that way when I spoke the language.  I tired of being laughed at or given blank stares--both common reactions.  It has long been my belief that if you live in another lingual setting it is your duty to make and effort to communicate in the common language.  But after a year of struggle, I now have an entirely new empathy for those who do not speak a country's native language.

It is hard. Very hard.

Simple things, like going to the grocery store, became things that I dreaded.  My little neighbourhood store had no English speakers.  To make it more challenging, you had to ask for anything that was fresh--vegetables, meat, cheese.  No just picking your own.  My first attempt at getting leaf lettuce (Kräutersalat) was met with giggles from the girl getting the vegetables.  She repeated how to say it correctly.  I tried. More giggles.  That rolling/hard r sound is impossible for me.  We repeated this scene for weeks before the day she threw her hands up and said "you got it right" (in English because she practiced with me after a while). Those first attempts were demoralising. To be laughed at week in and week out just to get lettuce.

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Or there was the day that I was buying a whole chicken (Huhn).  I knew how to ask and low and behold it worked she immediately pulled a chicken from the case.  My tutor had told me they would ask if I wanted it cut up (that word I don't remember).  She asked a question about cutting it, I said ja and she went away and came back with it cut and wrapped.  Success, I thought.  Imagine my dismay when I got home to discover that she had indeed cut it up--in half--and I only had half a chicken.  For dinner in an hour for my family of five.  Did I say demoralising?

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These are just easy examples of language difficulty outside native country.  I got to the point that I just didn't want to try to communicate anything when I was at home.  I was exhausted.  I just wanted to allow my mind to veg.  So I stopped writing much of anything.

This may sound like it is specific to living outside our home country, but I think it can generalize.  Sometimes, we stop communicating because the day-to-day communication is in a foreign language that exhausts us.  This world, this culture, is counter to our identity as children of God (more on this in a post to come).  We can spend the day trying to navigate a world between our sacred heart language and the world we live in.  We can become exhausted trying to navigate the negative and pessimistic culture around us.  We can get to the point that we just don't want to have to speak if not absolutely necessary.

You may recognise this.  You spend your day navigating the murky waters of a work place where ambition is more highly regarded than integrity.  You say the politically correct thing to stay afloat even when it doesn't come naturally.  Nodding and smiling takes the place of speaking your heart. Then you come home and don't have the mental energy to switch gears and speak the sacred. So you think you will do it tomorrow.  Or, if you are a student, you walk the path of choosing words that are true and what the professor wants to hear, but may not be your deepest truth. Then, when it comes time to speak or write of your inmost thoughts, there is no energy left to summon it.  We can lose our words as we navigate the foreign language of the world.  

I know that I must find ways to protect my energy, so that I still have the perseverence to speak my heart's language when so many around me do not want to hear or do not understand that language.  Becoming bi-lingual is a must or I become too exhausted to speak.  But, how?

I was struck this week, again, as I read the words of Mark 1:35,

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

Jesus was navigating a "foreign" world with a "foreign" language.  He was away from the perfection of his world.  How did he cope?  He got by himself and he prayed.  He found a place to speak his heart language.  He didn't lose touch with who he was whilst he did the things he was called to do.
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I wonder, if that is the key for me to not lose my voice in a foreign world?  It is true, that quiet time and concentrated prayer times are often among the first things to go when I am overwhelmed with life.  That just adds to the spiral of being more and more overwhelmed.  If I am to navigate in a world that speaks a different language than my heart, I must find places and time to speak my heart language.  I must find the time to pray and stay in the word.  I must also find time to speak with those who speak the same language.  Otherwise my speech skills become rusty and I become discouraged, at best, or apathetic at worst.  Even this die-hard introvert needs people!  I need people to come along, encourage, commiserate and hold to account.  And, I need to be that for others.

My friends, if you are losing your voice, if you find you don't have the energy to say another word of anything important, please take some time and reconnect.  Reconnect with God and with others who can speak to the things of God. Reconnect with your heart-language.   Reconnect with me.  I need you.  I need your words, and I am certain others do as well.

God Bless!

photos from www.morguefile.com

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

July Goal Post

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My last goal post was in March.  March!  I am not even sure I remember which of these I managed to succeed at, and which I failed.  But here goes:

In March I said:
1.  Complete 1/2 block on AAHRH--I think yes, because I am on track with this project
2.  Get next unfinished RR to 50% (Fish Bowl)--I actually finished this project in May!
3.  Stitch 2 bride's tree ornaments--Have stayed on track with the ornaments as well!
4.  Finish those 2 books!--I finished one, abandoned one, started/finished one, and started 3 more ;)
5.  Blog at least once a week--LOL!
6.  Plan a trip home--yes, it was awesome
7.  Write 2 letters--no

In July I plan to:
1.  Complete AAHRH (3 blocks to go, so this is a stretch)
2.  Complete one Bride's Tree ornament, this will complete one set
3.  Blog at least 2 times
4.  Enjoy chilling on the beach
5.  Read a book
6.  Plan for next year's science programme for Jewel

Monday, June 30, 2014

Finding Myself

I don't know whether to apologise for not being here, or quietly ignore the fact that it has been months since I have posted anything to note, much less of note, or to just simply start again.

I don't know why I'm surprised it happened.  I sort of lost myself and stopped writing.  Spent more time holding it in my head and less time putting it on paper.  In some ways it has been good--just enjoying and living life without the scrutiny of putting it out there.  But in other ways it has been lonely--since writing is one of my favourite companions.  Truth is, four moves in four years (3 of them international) has taken its toll.  We are all weary of making transitions and making new friends and starting anew.  Even coming "back" to a place we loved before is full of new transitions.  There is a new house, a new village, a new stage of school, a new church building, new friends, lost friends that have moved on.  Well, you get the idea.  And my family is weary.  But this introverted-mother-leader of the family is particularly weary. So I go silent.

There is a song by MercyMe that goes like this...
I'm finding myself at a loss for words
And the funny thing is it's okay
The last thing I need is to be heard
But to hear what You would say

The period of a loss for words has been beneficial.  God has been faithful and we have felt ourselves held in his hands and guided in this last move.  I have enjoyed this time, even whilst understanding the bittersweet of it.  We are settling well.  We have our feet under us.  The house is unpacked and very comfortable.  I have finally framed so many of those cross-stitch pieces done through the years, and the house is decorated uniquely us.  The kids are happy and thriving.  The girls are becoming young women before my very eyes, and it is scary and lovely at the same time.  At least the little one still loves to cuddle in my arms and here "nother tory" and does not mind if I nuzzle that toddler smell in the nape of his neck.  There is a new house group at church that we have the privilege to initiate and lead.  I have so needed a ministry outlet, and at last we again have one as a couple.  I still yearn for a Ladies Bible Study, but am believing that it will come.  We have returned to home educating and 2/3 of us love it (one child misses the classroom but loves that we are on our own schedule again).  We will be breaking our school year in two weeks and going to visit friends and chill on the beach.  A much anticipated time of rejuvenating.  We all need it.  There is something about sea spray.

As beneficial as it has been, it has also been limiting.  I lost that voice, and my soul-well-being has suffered.  I've stuffed feelings and I've hoarded thoughts and I've missed opportunities.  And so, now I come back here.  I come back to find myself, and re-capture the joy of writing and sharing.  I am ready to find my words, to try to communicate a little of what God speaks into my life.  I am not going to promise that I'll be here frequently, at least not at first.  But I've missed you and want to share in your lives again.  Part of sharing is being willing and able to put mine out there as well.  Maybe together we will move a little further on this journey.  Welcome back.