Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Beguiling River Of Loneliness




We have a moment in our weekly church service where the whole room is silent for a minute following the sermon.  It’s a chance to be quiet and listen.  One day we were invited to hold our pain out before God.  I closed my eyes and pictured holding a glowing white ember in the palms of my hands, so scorching to the skin, I could hardly bare it. From the silence of my heart, I found my soul confessing, I am so lonely. 

That benediction was over a year ago, but I find myself returning to this topic, curious about its underlying current.  Loneliness seems to weave in and out of my days, flowing around even the most rock-solid relationships in my life.

Here’s what I am starting to understand about this hot ash I hold in my hands, this beguiling river that streams under my feet...

Loneliness can be hard to perceive.  It is possible to appear one way and feel another.  I seem to excel at ambivalence. Someone recently told me, “You exude joy.  That’s what it’s like to be around you.  If you’re upset, you are going to have to tell someone, because they aren’t going to pick it up from your body language.”  I was reminded of this at church recently when someone remarked, “You seem really happy,”  Oh no!  I thought, I’m actually sad  AND I’m happy to see you!    The pain of loneliness can be eased momentarily in the presence of others, but once they leave, there you are again, standing in the river alone.

Loneliness, on some level, is inevitable.  In Oh, The Places You’ll Go!  The great Dr. Seuss writes, “All Alone!  Whether you like it or not, alone will be something you'll be quite a lot.”  Loneliness is a human emotion that everyone experiences, but there are studies out there showing that those with physical disabilities experience a higher level of loneliness than the general population (1).  There are many reasons for this.  Sometimes it is practical barrier such as driving.  This task is impossible for some, and challenging for others.

Prematurity may also be a contributing factor.  One study suggests that preemies born in the 1980s, especially before 34 weeks gestation, are not only more likely to be disabled, they are also more likely to: be timid than their peers, struggle with adult relationships, have fewer romantic partners, and experience lower self-esteem (2 & 3).

Social economics paint a similar picture.  Dr. Al Condeluci, Ph.D., has done extensive research on social capital and disability.   Social capital is the value that is added to our lives because of our relationships.  He estimates that while the typical person has about 150 important relationships in their lives, a person impacted by disability may have as few as 25 (4).

Loneliness is not always dependent on whether or not there are people in the room.  Loneliness happens when you’re eating lunch and you realize everyone at the table will go home to families and children, but you’ve gone home to an empty house for the last decade, and the chasm between you and them is widening.  It happens when you are with your doctor who has spent her career treating people with CP and she looks at you and says, “I don’t really know what it’s like to live with the fatigue you face, I don’t have cerebral palsy.”  How can you be so close, but so far away?

Loneliness is an invitation to remember God is with us.  God is with you. God understands your unique life and its challenges. God sits next to you at the table when you eat alone, offering satisfying friendship.  God stands between you and your friends helping to bridge the gap when life experience doesn’t stretch that far.  God comforts you in your pain and gives you rest in your fatigue.  God will give you grace to live your life, the life you have, even if it isn’t the life you want. 

Loneliness is best eased with love and friendship. Victor Anderson, Ph. D. (2011) writes, “The relational challenges experienced by disabled persons point to a deep need for friendship and companionship.  Relational needs are seldom met with an occasional contact...feelings of aloneness that are controlled in one hour may be ferociously unleashed in the next.  Yet true friendship serves as a balm repeatedly applied and rubbed deep into the soul,” (p. 236-237; 5).

If you know someone who is impacted by disability, move towards them; It is likely they are lonely.  People don’t want to admit it aloud because loneliness is a need that can not be met independently; it cannot be hired out.  Offer a hug, invite them to dinner, look them in the eyes and say, “I see you, and I am so glad you’re here.”  Small interactions, done repeatedly over time, interrupt the flow of loneliness and help people remember they are not alone in life.

No matter who you are, there are a million reasons why building relationships with people is a challenging task. There is never any sure promise of success, but I can think of about one reason why we should try to move towards each other anyway, in spite of any statistics, scientific studies, or life circumstances.  It’s simply this: love changes people.

The last time I was deeply hugged by another human being, I came away realizing I had a greater capacity to love humanity than I realized or was currently employing.  I believe if you love someone, they will not only be filled, but also empowered to go and love others.  As my friend Steve Wiens says in his new book, Whole (2017), “True restoration for one person leads to restoration for another ” (6).



Sources:


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

"What page are you on?!"




It was midnight when I heard a clunk at my apartment door.

I smiled, then rolled over and went back to sleep.  Awaiting me in the morning was a precious cardboard box with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows waiting inside.

It was summer 2007 and I had a deadline to keep.  I was finishing up graduate school so most of my days were spent at my desk, tapping away at computer keys, steeped in thought, as I finished my paper. 

But just outside my door was something so much more inviting.  Each day I rationed out the number of pages I had time to read.  As I visited the campus library, I saw heads bowed in front of the same thick pale mint book with a mustard dust jacket. 

“What page are you on?!” was quickly becoming as common a greeting as “Hello.”  I savored every page that summer, drinking in their goodness down to the very last drop.  I had never read such an amazing series since C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia and doubt I ever will again.  Harry Potter was the fiction series of my generation.  This was our Narnia.  As I started to tell this story to a room full of graduate students this summer, I began to cry. 

My emotion surprised me, but the thing is: I believe that interaction with good quality literature actually changes a person.

There are many reasons why I love being a school librarian, but nothing is more sacred to me than putting quality literature in the hands of children. Ultimately, I am realizing, part of my job is to help students step into their own wardrobes, step onto their own Nimbus 2000s, and step aboard their own private boats.

When students come up to my desk and ask, “Where’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe?  I’ll admit that I’ve had to choke back a few tears over the course of my career while walking them over to the Ls. I have such vivid memories of watching the series on the BBC as a kid at grandma’s house and then finding the book on the library shelves in third grade.  When my parents inherited a wardrobe, I stepped inside it because I wanted to find Mr. Tumnus over by the lamp post.  Narnia filled my heart with wonder, expanded my imagination, and helped me dream.  C.S. Lewis understood the emboldening power of his words as he explained, “Since it's so likely the children will meet cruel enemies let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage…”

Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are is another of my all-time favorites. I have a bobble-head Max on my desk at work and a picture of Max in his boat at home.  Where the Wild Things Are teaches us it’s okay to want an adventure, to journey far from home.  Sometimes you just need to dance around and have your own Wild Rumpus.  But, when the fun has run out, when you find yourself lonely and homesick, you can always return. It’s just a boat ride away. The world will feel less like a jungle and more like a familiar place to belong.  A meal is always waiting for you and I bet if you taste it, you will find that your soup is still hot.

When kids bring up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the first time, I feel like I am witnessing a holy moment.  They are about to embark on a journey where they will likely meet their three best friends: Harry, Ron, and Hermione.  They will feel the thrill of becoming a champion as they catch the snitch in a quidditch tournament.  They will have tasted the sweetness of a chocolate frog from the treat cart on the Hogwarts Express and the disappointing surprises found in Bertie Botts Every Flavor Jelly Beans.  Watch out for black pepper and grass!  They will have glimpsed into the truth that all of us need to remember: even though these are dark times, in the end, goodness will ultimately prevail.   J.K. Rowling ended her series with the statement “All is well;” Julian of Norwich said a similar thing “All shall be well, all shall be well...For there is a force of love moving through the universe that holds us fast and will never let us go.”


Food for thought:

I’m sure you have your own story of a book that changed your life, inspired your dreams, or helped you remember that your imagination is more expansive than you once thought.  

What book do you need to revisit?  

What book do you need to introduce to your kids?


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Dianoigo (This one is for teachers)

Take a peek at this passage today before reading my thoughts.  It’s one of my favorites, Luke 24: 13-32  taken from the NIV: On the Road to Emmaus.

"Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.  As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast.  One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
“What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 

In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive.  Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther.  But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him,and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

____

Can you imagine what it must have been like to have the Word made Flesh explain the Word to you in the flesh?  The disciples traveling on the road couldn’t take it in fast enough.  They begged Jesus to stay with them and eat so they might continue to chew on his every word, drinking in its goodness to the very last drop. 

I have this passage framed in my home because I just can’t get over their reaction, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?"

The word “opened” in the Greek is the word dianoigo and its imagery is vivid. It means to open what was once closed with a dividing action.  Think of the temple veil being torn in two, a current event that likely sprinkled their conversation.  Dianoigo is used to describe the arrival of a first born son coming through the folds of the womb. It can also mean to open one's soul, i.e. to rouse in one the faculty of understanding or the desire of learning.

Can you see it?  The Firstborn of all Creation’s emergence into the world and onto the dusty road towards Emmaus that day opened the hearts of the disciples.  Their encounter aroused in them a desire to understand the Word of God and their hearts were set ablaze.

I suspect, if you are a teacher, someone walked with you down the road and opened your mind, dianoigo, to the very passion that burns within you for the subject you teach.  You may not have recognized the impact this person had on your journey until they were gone, but the encounter was real because your heart is still burning. 

Today, reflect on your teaching journey.  Who walked with you along the road, opening you up to learning?