Tag Archives: community

Join TribeWriters

Hello readers —

I don’t normally post things like this, but I wan to share a great opportunity with all of you. If you are interested at all in honing your skills as a writer, you should seriously consider taking the TribeWriters course created by Jeff Goins.

TribeWriters Course

 

In this eight week course, you will learn to find your voice. You will learn to hone your writing to be more powerful. A community of writers will encourage, stretch, surprise and befriend you. A guide to the mystery of using social media will be given to you.

So is so much that can be learned through this course. No course is perfect – and I won’t pretend this course is any different. Here is what I can tell you though: I have learned to take risks, write from my heart, and jump into turning pro as a writer.

If this sounds like something you would be interested in, sign up here. This is an affiliate link, so if the course sounds good, I would love for you to click through from this blog.

If you are not sure if this is for you, shoot me a note or leave a comment. I would be more than happy to chat with you about this course.

Epilepsy and Guilt

Photo by Joe Hastings (Creative Commons)

Photo by Joe Hastings (Creative Commons)

Everyone in my family feels guilty because of my epilepsy. Often the first thing I hear from someone once I begin to recover from a seizure is, “I’m sorry.” They apologize for not catching me in time when I fall. For not noticing more quickly I was seizing. For the embarrassment I must feel over the seizure. For any number of other things they didn’t do right.

Sometimes I am the one to apologize. I feel bad as I stumble groggily to the bed for messing up plans for the evening. I apologize because my wife bruised herself trying to catch me. I see the fear in my eight-year-old’s eye, and I feel responsible. I apologize to him for producing the fear.

NO MORE. We have banished apologies related to epilepsy from our house. It’s nobody’s fault I have epilepsy. My kids didn’t give it to me. It’s not their job to always watch over me. My wife is not the one responsible for keeping me safe. I am not intentionally having a seizure the hour before our Bible study because I would rather sleep.

Epilepsy is just part of our lives right now. Nobody needs to feel guilty about anything.

We all do this. We apologize for the pain of others. We say, “Sorry” that our challenges has produced scheduling inconveniences. I was thinking this morning about why we do this and realized something startling. We feel responsible for the well-being of those we love, even in the areas we have no authority, ability, or access to change.

We confuse love with ultimate responsibility, and we unintentionally play the part designed for God. God is the one who keeps us ultimately safe. He is the only one who can stop my seizures, though He chooses not to right now (for reasons I don’t comprehend). He is the one who doesn’t eviscerate that irritating supervisor at work (or is that just me?).

Guilt is always the result of trying to wear God’s shoes, because our feet just don’t fit. Let’s instead draw close to each other when the storms come. Love one another. Commiserate in pain. Hug when it hurts. Cry with each other. This is where true bonds of community are born.

It is always those who have weathered the tornadoes in our lives that appreciate the sunny days the most. Let’s make a decision to be among those who can celebrate in the deepest way as victories come. No apologies needed.

 

Not Safe But Good

Photo Credit: Nels_P_Olson (Creative Commons)

Photo Credit: Nels_P_Olson (Creative Commons)

If you read my post yesterday, you saw that I was struggling with some things that occurred in a writing group I am involved with. I am a better writer because of the teaching and community in this group, but I felt constricted over certain events.

So I did what any writer does – I wrote about it. Sometimes I don’t know how I feel until I write about it. In part, this was my way of trying to process through the difficult emotions I was feeling.

If I’m honest though, I was also looking for some encouragement and direction from friends and fellow writers. The responses overwhelmed me and drew me to this recognition:

Of course community isn’t safe. But it’s good.

If that sounds familiar, it is because I hijacked this quote from C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Lewis was talking about the great lion Aslan, but it is equally true of any good community.

Not Safe

I wanted my writing community to be completely safe. I thought I deserved a safe environment to practice my art. Until one of my fellow writers Lauren Huss asked me this:

 If there was a completely safe environment to share our hearts, would we receive the same satisfaction?

Her question brought me up short. Like an open-handed slap to the face. I realized I was not entitled to a completely safe environment.

Indeed, a cocoon of safety would limit my growth. Part of writing is risk. If risk is removed, then the process of hitting publish on your work is somehow lessened. I lost sight of this reality because I let fear have too large a place in my heart.

There is no such thing as completely safe. This is true of any community, writers or otherwise. There is always risk in bearing our hearts and sharing our stories. We must all make a choice. Keep our story to ourselves and stay safe. Or share our story and risk rejection.

But Good

If the community is comprised of like-minded individuals, the risk is worth it. We will be challenged to not stay the same. Forced to grow up. There is always the chance that our risk will result in pain, but we can grow from that as well.

So many people responded to this post, here and in other forums, reminding me of how good our group of writer is, for me and for them. They encouraged me to stay the course, and keep risking.

Jeff Goins is the fearless leader of our community. He told me this:

You can’t really be a friend with someone until you have a fight.Conflict creates friction, which causes us to grow.

This friction is good, though it will likely hurt. Think back to when you were a kid, playing carefree on a playground. All was bliss and happiness, until you went down the twisty slide in your shorts.

Halfway down the slide, this horrible screeching noise started. As you began to wonder what the sound was, you realized it was coming from YOU. At the same time, you felt pain on your legs. Your legs didn’t agree to going down the slide apparently.

Conflict between your legs and the slide created friction. Then came the pain, immediately followed by questions.

Why did that hurt? What happened? I wasn’t expected that at all!

Then came the learning. Whether you asked your parents why it hurt or not, you learned not to do it again. So it is with community. Friction can cause momentary pain, but we can grow from it. Or, we can avoid the twisty slides for the rest of our lives.

So I choose to reject fear. I choose community. I like twisty slides. Even in shorts. Even when it hurts.

There is No Plan Q, Not Even a Plan B

I have been dealing with epilepsy for 4 months, averaging 2 seizures a day. I expend energy every day trying to find the imaginary pattern to my seizures.

 Do I have a seizure when I sleep less?

Does it happen when I sleep in too late?

What if I drink too much milk?

What about coffee in the afternoon?

Does stress produce seizures?

How about flashing lights?

 The list goes on indefinitely.  Each day I come to the same conclusion – there is no discernible pattern right now. My epilepsy is a part of who I am and is not going away. I can stay up late. I can sleep in. I can drink coffee. I can be stressed. I can watch flashing lights. Or I can avoid all of these things, and it won’t matter.

Until we find the right medication mix there will be seizures. This goes against my natural inclination to be the fixer. I want to solve the problems that are placed before me. My personality is to identify multiple solutions to a scenario and plot the best way forward.

http://flic.kr/p/hELVX

Photo Credit: Pfly(http://flic.kr/p/hELVX)

Most people have a Plan B. I have a Plan Q for everything. But not with my epilepsy. There is not even a Plan A. I just survive, relying upon my God to get me through each day. Relying upon my family to keep me safe. Relying upon my friends to give me encouragement when I need it.

There is no Plan Q. I am learning each day to be more okay with that. I am growing to understand what it means to trust my God more. I am learning how to lean upon my family and friends more deeply. I am learning this is a good place to be.

Now Comes the Hard Part

We’ve been talking about thinking small to respond to the enormous tragedy that happened in Sandy Hook a few weeks ago. I took a break to focus on a few other topics, but wanted to finish that series tonight. If you thought sincere love and hospitality was a challenge, wait until we read what the Apostle Paul tells us next in Romans 12:14-21 –

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Lots of words here, but there are two themes here to tease out: how to respond to evil & how to respond to what others are experiencing.

How to Respond to Evil

Of the two themes, this is by far much more difficult and unnatural for most of us. Quite simply, Paul says that our response when others sin against us should be to love them.

To bless them.

To feed them.

To clothe them.

To give them a drink.

To shower them with the favor of God, that same favor we don’t deserve either.

Some days, I wish Paul wrote a different passage. Or I think he didn’t understand what I was going through. Then I remember his experiences:

He was stoned.

He was whipped thirty-nine times, five times.

He was shipwrecked, three times.

And yet he is the one who told us to bless not curse those who persecute us. He who understands far better than nearly all of us what is means to experience evil, and what it means to be persecutes. Perhaps it’s time for a gut check?

How to Respond to What Others Are Experiencing

Paul tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice, to weep with those who weep. I believe he was just giving us some examples, and that list could go on:

Laugh with those who laugh.

Mourn with those who mourn.

Be confused with those are confused.

Be hurt with those who are hurt.

The big idea is to stop insulating ourselves and living separate lives. We were never meant to live apart from community. All the way back in the garden, we see God saying “It is good…It is good…It is good.” Then He sees Adam alone, and “It is NOT good.” We were not meant to be alone. This speaks not only to marriage, but community.

Three questions to respond to:

1)      How well do you respond to evil?

2)      How well do you live in community?

3)      How can I help you respond better with either one?

Adele fatigue, seizure fatigue

I hate to admit it, but we have watched several singing competition shows in our house – American Idol (first season only), The Voice, The Sing-Off, and we even tried Duets. Maybe I should not admit this in the blogosphere, but I have enjoyed most of the episodes, even with the knowledge that this causes my man card to be called into question. Something I do struggle with on these shows though is Adele fatigue: How many times can I really hear Rolling in the Deep sung in a fresh way, by a singer who “made it their own” while “staying true to the original artist’s vision” for the song (I swear I am going somewhere other than pop culture with this, so just hang on three more sentences)? At some point, I get tired of hearing the same songs karaoked over and over. I wonder at times if people feel the same way about my family when it comes to seizures. Do they feel seizure fatigue? Let me explain. Every time someone asks me how I am doing, or how my family is, I have to go through a mental checklist:

1)      Does this person know that Cynthia has epilepsy?

2)      Are they aware of my recent seizures?

3)      Was there a knowing inflection in their voice when they asked how I was doing?

4)      Was their eyebrow raised in a concerned way and/or a slight tilt of the head to express compassion?

5)      Do I believe that this person has the time or interest in a somewhat honest answer?

The truth is that the epilepsy in our family is an ongoing struggle that impacts every area of the lives of every person here in our house, as well as our extended family. Socially, my wife and I worry whether it’s appropriate to hang out with someone with my seizures fairly uncontrolled, as some people freak out over epilepsy. Since I am not driving, it puts a strain on Barbara, my oldest son and other local family members to ensure that the family gets everywhere they need to get on time. Every once in a while, I still run into a person who sincerely suggests or insinuates I am demon-possessed and should just love Jesus a bit more to get rid of my seizures – that is always awesome. Medically, the regular shift in drugs for Cynthia and I are being monitored by multiple people inside and outside our home to make sure we don’t have a dramatic increase in seizures, or break out in rashes, or have psychotic episodes, or get depressed or hyperactive.

As a result, a simple question can feel like a landmine, because I just assume most people don’t really want an answer on that level. Really, they are probably looking for the classic one-sentence answer, “Doing great – how about you?” It’s tough to say that, because we aren’t doing great. Some days are good, some days are bad, but none are really great yet because the specter of epilepsy is hanging over our heads in a way we are still unaccustomed to. In time, I am sure we will have days that are great, but we just are not there yet. Still, I worry about people feeling seizure fatigue if I give them an honest answer every time they ask, because then maybe they will stop asking. We all know that person who is down all the time:

ImageI don’t want to be Dr. Doom. But I don’t want to lie either. The Bible is pretty clear about the value of honesty in community, and I am a HUGE proponent of being real in relationships with one another. Yet I really feel stuck. Readers, whether you have epilepsy or not, I am sure that all of you have gone through seasons where you just sort of feel down in the dumps most days. How have you balanced being honest with preventing people from feeling fatigue from being around you?

Do YOU Believe in Back-Handed Grace?

Have you ever found yourself grateful to God that things aren’t worse? I used to think of that as back handed grace, and almost offensive to the goodness of God. It just never seemed like I was operating from a place of strength when I said something like, “Well, it could always be worse. Thanks God, for not letting it be THAT bad?” I have lots of opportunities to practice this type of praise, as we have some pretty tough weeks with my daughter’s epilepsy and autism, not to mention our three boys. My wife has been telling me for years that I am missing an opportunity to exercise my gratitude muscles by not recognizing the goodness of our present circumstances in this way, but I have never believed her…until this week.

I was a chaperone for my son’s overnight Outdoor Education field trip, in which all 6th grade students in the school experienced nature first-hand.

(For the record, all parents who voluntarily spend 24 hours with 100+ 6th graders without pay deserve to share Parent of the Year honors. Perhaps on another post I can share with you the cacophony that exists in such events, the patience that is needed to survive such events, the power of earbuds in such events, and the…but I digress.)

I was responsible for six boys: my son, four of his closest friends, and a high functioning autistic boy I will call Bob. His name isn’t Bob, but I don’t feel comfortable giving names of folks outside my family; you will soon learn that Bob is my default name for males, while Susie is my default female name. Bob reminded me so much of my daughter Cynthia, from the emotional immaturity to the extreme discomfort with loud noises to the misunderstanding of social cues resulting in embarrassment and confusion. I was really drawn to him, to try and give him some sense of hope, of joy, and of acceptance.

This was harder than I thought, for a few reasons. To start with, Bob wandered off on his own a lot, despite clear instructions from teachers and others to stay as a group. His natural curiosity got the best of him, so I had to go find him regularly. This resulted in some frustration for me and him. Bob just wanted to explore, and I just wanted to manage my kids from a single location.

Beyond that, his lack of social skills resulted in some very interesting moments. At one point, he was running up and down the dorms in only his underwear, undulating his belly and growling at anyone who would come near. I had to redirect him as kindly as I could while stifling laughter. Then it got real for me.

As Bob was in the bathroom, a few kids were talking about him. One said that he just didn’t understand Bob, and thought he must be gay since he’s so weird. I let the boys talk a few more moments along this line, hoping one would recognize their ignorance and callousness, but no such luck. Actually, the language got ruder and ruder. I stepped in, explaining that Bob was autistic not homosexual. I tried to explain high functioning autism as best I could to a 6th grade boy, describing that Bob’s brain is just wired a little differently, and that he struggles to understand how to interact socially. The kids responded to me with such hatred and anger in his eyes as he said, “Kids like Bob should be put somewhere, so that normal people like me don’t have to deal with them. He sucks!”

In that moment, my heart broke – for this boy, for his parents who have obviously not taught him to love, for his peers who all accepted this statement as right and good, for the teachers who try to step in and coach kids to care when the parents don’t do it, for our society where fear of those who are different is still the norm…but mostly my heart broke for Bob.

I recalled watching him through most of the day, and the consistent loneliness and rejection he received. An entire table of kids moved when he sat down for lunch. When we were in wet lab, he had 7 kids tell him no before he could find a lab partner. On the bus ride there, he ended up in the front of the bus with the teacher because things were just too loud and crazy for him. He asked to sleep above me because he was afraid someone would hurt him while he slept, unless he was on my bunk. I found myself in that moment wishing I had tried harder to be his friend, that I had allowed kindness to ooze out of my heart toward him every moment I was his chaperone, that I could teach his peers that he is a wonderful kid. Bob talked to me at lunch for 15 minutes about an idea he had to make hydrogen energy plants affordable, and how this plan would solve the energy crisis our country faces by minimizing our dependence upon foreign oil. He is brilliant…but none of his peers know that, because all they see is different, and difficult. They miss the uniqueness that God placed in this young man. I fear that this special gift, this treasure that only Bob has, will be lost underneath the weight of sorrow and despair.

As I considered this things and sorrow filled my heart, slowly a new-found back-handed hope also sprung in my spirit when I thought of my own daughter. Like I said, Bob and Cynthia are very alike, and she is only one year younger than him. Yet her school experience is very different. There are two or three girls who genuinely enjoy Cynthia. Her class does not judge her for her autism, or her epilepsy. Last year, it was her classmates who took the lead when Cynthia had a seizure in the cafeteria, because the lunch staff was unprepared. They care for her, they watch out for her – dare I say, some even love her.

Now, I wish I had answers for why Bob doesn’t get the same kindness my daughter does. I will be regularly praying for Bob, looking for opportunities to talk with him, and likely talking with a teacher about the cold-heartedness I saw in his peers. What I appreciative of is that God’s goodness for my own daughter was highlighted for me in the midst of my sadness for Bob. I am often confused by God’s ways, but I know I am not alone in this. It was the prophet Isaiah who said, “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts higher than your thoughts.”

It only took a decade, but I finally understand what my wife has been trying to tell me. In the past, I could only hear her say it is good to thank God that things aren’t worse, but that wasn’t her heart at all. Instead, she was saying that I should look for the evidence of God’s presence in my life, even when it doesn’t look the way I want it to look. It is in the discovery of these divine kindnesses that I will learn to have the heart of God, and be more like Jesus to the next Bob that comes into my life.

How skilled are you at parsing out the good gifts God places in your life? Any tricks of the trade you want to share with a recovering cynic?