Monday, September 30, 2013

It's what you choose to see...

       I have written before about re-framing, and once again find myself called to write about it again. I shared some hard realities in my sermon yesterday about our experiences visiting down at the prison.  The point of my sharing was to say that we often fail to see those who do not have the same privileges or rights that we are given.  We don't see their need, we don't see how we contribute to their suffering, we don't see how we use (or abuse) our privileges, we walk with a sense of entitlement and are unaware of it, unaware of how we place ourselves above others in unjust ways.  We are unaware...until we are put into a situation in which we are forced to open our eyes, forced to see things in a new way, forced to face those who simply do not have the privileges we take for granted, or when we are put in situations in which our own privileges are revoked for a time and our sense of entitlement does not get us the things we think we deserve (such as basic human respect).  That was the point I was trying to make yesterday.
       But I fear that I may, instead, just have given my hearers more reasons to worry about the difficulties we are facing each day.   So I'd like to put these things in perspective as well, and try to describe, once more, how I see events in my life, how I am choosing to look at or frame my life events, and how I therefore move through each day, with the hope that those who read this might also find ways to see their own struggles in a different light.
       Simply put, I see the struggles and challenges in my life as blessings - as opportunities to grow and learn and become closer to God and to God's people.  I've said this before.  It isn't something new.  And as amazing as that may be, it continues to be the truth.  The challenges are blessings, blessings for which I am, most of the time, grateful.
       As I've also said before, that doesn't mean there aren't limits.  Last week I hit one of those days when I thought I was at my limit.  My son continues to struggle, which means that all of us struggle; the situation with the prison is difficult, to say the least; being alone, single, and on my own to raise three children, one with special needs, while working more than full time and taking care of the house and new kittens (who are sick) and a car that keeps breaking down, etc, etc, etc can be, at moments, overwhelming.  There was a moment on Friday when I really thought I had reached that limit, after another incident with my son, there was a moment when I thought God had simply entrusted me with too much and that the struggles of life had finally reached the point to which I could not continue to endure them.
       BUT, I did go on.  With the help of God and God's people, I went on.  And so, while for that moment I felt overwhelmed and at my limit, that moment passed.  It passed with prayer, friendship and support.  And the gifts that have come from it, are coming from it, continue to come from it are numerous.
      To name a few:
      First, and the biggest blessing - Jonah made a breakthrough after all of this and was finally able to tell his father, on the phone, how hurt and angry he is with him.  That is HUGE!!!!  It has been almost a year and a half since his daddy went away.  And Jonah has been afraid to express his anger to the one person to whom it really should be directed.  He expresses it to everyone else, instead, which, as we know is dangerous (and ended up with him first being in the hospital and then being suspended!!).  Sometimes we really do need to "hit bottom" to change.  Jonah hit that bottom, and was able to do something different, to take a new step, to move forward.  The rest of the weekend was so much better with him...my compassionate, sweet, caring boy was back.  The angry boy only appeared for a few minutes here and there, and when he did, the anger passed quickly.  I am grateful, grateful beyond words that he was able to say, to name, that he was angry, and why and with whom.
       Second, I have heard from dear friends and family these last few days whom I have not talked to in years who reached out to offer support and care through this crisis.  Friends and family who to me represent and show God's love to me.  Of course, my daily and weekly companions also reached out.  To all of them, I am so deeply grateful.  I hear God's voice in their voices, I see God's face in their faces, I know God's presence through their presence.  And for that I am incredibly grateful.
       Third, I am learning.  I continue to learn.  And this, too, I don't take as a small blessing in any way.  One of my life lessons continues to be to not judge.  Whenever I do judge, I end up in the place of the person I judged.  This isn't a fun lesson.  But it is a real lesson that I have to learn again and again.  I admit, before I had kids I had some judgments on the parents of difficult kids.  I did not take the time to see that kids go through intolerable stressors and that kids with special needs are sometimes born with those special needs, or have events that happen to them (sometimes even in-utero) that effect them so greatly..  I did not offer the compassion to understand that there really are "invisible disabilities" (such as ADHD, sensory integration disorder, Asperger's, depression, etc.) that we cannot see but that limit and affect children as much as a visible difference does. It isn't easy to have a special needs child.  But I choose to be grateful for the lessons it has taught me, and to use them to become a better pastor, parent and person.
      I have also learned a great deal about the prison system that again, I won't share here (at this point), but that I feel has deepened my vision, understanding and compassion.  I know what it is to be privileged now in a way I did not and could not understand before.  I also know what it is to be in a place where one has no power at all, and has to make choices between evils rather than choices between good things.  And this, too, deepens my ministry and care for others.  
     I have learned about myself through my life events.  Some things I learned were hard to learn.  For example, I didn't like learning that I have blind spots - even about things that go on in my own home.  I didn't like learning that what I thought I knew about individual people and the world could be wrong.  But there are also good things.  I have learned that I am so much stronger than I ever thought I was.  That I can and do walk through these things and come out on the other side.  I let go of anger and pain so much more quickly now, I forgive so much more quickly now.  And I don't hold things in any more because there isn't room inside to do that.  I am learning to speak my truth directly and with love, to ask questions when I think I might have been slighted, rather than make assumptions.  Mostly, I am learning to see the good in the most difficult of situations.  I am learning to see God in the most difficult times and places and people.  And those are lessons one just can't learn without walking through the fires.
       I spent my weekend with people, connecting with people, praying, meditating, listening, journalling.  I spent my weekend connecting to God, self and others.  I am renewed to face, again, whatever challenges may come.  I can't say I look forward to them always, but I can say that I am grateful for the lessons I learn after they come.
       It's all how you frame it.  Am I living in a very painful, difficult time?  Or am I living in an exciting time of learning, growing, strengthening, and becoming more a person of love, compassion and hope?  I think it is mostly the latter.  I choose to see it as the latter.  I choose to look for God, to look for good, to look for love, and to celebrate that.