Wednesday, October 08, 2014

October Goal Post

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In September my goals were:

1. Complete AAHRH--YES
2. Complete Bride's Tree set--YES
3. Blog at least 4 times--finish Parts 4 of "How to Lose Your Voice"--nope
4. Start DT Summer Garden--Yes
5. 100 stitches in Fairy Moon --closer to 300

OCTOBER GOALS:
1. Move and unpack
2. Finish 25% of DT Summer Garden
3. Another 100 stitches in Fairy Moon
4. Blog something ;-)

Friday, October 03, 2014

Regaining Your Voice

Where the slide to losing one's voice often seems gradual, the act of regaining it is very intentional. Each and every time I have allowed circumstances, or other people to silence me, it has not ended until I reached a point of saying "enough is enough." I must decide to step beyond what is happening and re-gain my voice.

There is a natural need in us to express ourselves. Some use words to do that. Others use actions or talents. But we all express ourselves in some fashion. I was recently reminded that we need to speak because we are created in the image of God, and he was not silent. He spoke worlds into being. He spoke to his prophets. He called people out and expected responses. We, too, are called to express our innermost beings. It is built into us to communicate. So we shouldn't allow others to take that away.

When I've given up something I love because others have inadvertently hurt me, I need to forgive and let it go. Especially since it was inadvertent. Only by forgiving them (in my heart and head) do I have the freedom to move on. In the past year I have re-started an activity that I had stopped because the joy had gone out of it based on some comments. It was not a huge deal in my life, but I was finding that I missed it. Despite missing the activity, it took a concentrated decision on my part that the comments were not going to play in my head and take away my enjoyment while I engaged in the activity. It was freeing to say that the comments did not define me (which they never did) and that I could have fun at something without it mattering to those speakers. It was a little thing, but it was a step in the right direction.

What about those times when it has been more intentional to silence you....forgive then as well. Remember that those people are not who validate you. Jesus is. And he has found you worthy, so don't hold onto their words or their judgments or your need for their approval. Give it to the one who says, "You are worthy and you are heard." I know that it is easier said than done. But I also know that forgiveness is more for our benefit than theirs, and there is a freedom in allowing God to heal those wounds.

In the matters where circumstances have chiseled away at time and voice, it is more difficult. The circumstances may not change despite the decision to re-gain one's voice. It may be necessary to redefine one's voice to the circumstances. Remember when I said I was weary of moving? And remember back at the first of the year when I felt that God was having me wait for something? Well, God has a way of moving circumstances. This is the first year in five years that German is not changing job roles in October necessitating a major if not international move! We were looking forward to a quiet autumn with no change. And then...our landlord notified us that he *might* need the house back for a family member. And we waited and prayed since we have grown roots and ministries. And then the *might* became *definitely* and we continued to wait and pray. And just when I was ready to despair, we found a house. A few miles move will allow us to continue with routines and ministries. But it is a still a move. And I am still weary. (And I had just started writing this, so I asked God what on earth he was trying to teach). And you know what, I don't have the answers. But I know that this time around, I don't intend to let the circumstances take away the thing I love that I was just regaining. It is a choice. And I am trusting that God has something waiting for us there that we could not have here. Something that will further my roots and my ministries.

As I make the intentional decision to regain my voice, I have found that goals help, but can also be demoralising. Set realistic goals. Then be gentle if you need to adjust them. I intended to start writing at least once a week, thinking that was reasonable. But it wasn't. My family's needs in this new place were greater than my need to write. And so I haven't met my goal. And I could be frustrated, or I can be gentle. I'm choosing gentle. I will continue to plan and set goals, but realise that family is first. (And as they get more accustomed to me disappearing to write, maybe I can write more). May I encourage you that you won't write an epic novel the first time out, you won't speak to an arena of people, you won't sing an aria until you've sang those first notes, but that is okay. We are intending to communicate for a long time. And you (and I) will build our skills as we engage in our skills. Don't give up--even when it is tough and circumstances get in the way. I won't give up either.

So that's where I'm at. Finding ways to forgive and regain some voice. Finding ways around the circumstances. Choosing that I will find my voice and my talents. And trusting that God is leading because he is a God who communicates and doesn't leave us on our own.

Once God has spoken;
twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.
For you will render to a man
according to his work.
Psalm 62:11-12

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 (Kr√§utersalat) 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