God, the Paraeducator

This month we made a big deal out of Teacher Appreciation Day at our schools, and rightly so. Teachers are amazing and deserve every bit of support and encouragement we can offer. There is also a Secretaries’ Day on our Hallmark calendar, and we show our gratitude then. But there is no day for the paraeducators at our school, and this month as I saw gift cards and flowers go home with teachers, I also saw a half dozen paraeducators go home empty handed, and it made me think.

We are the grateful recipients of the care of paraeducator support in schools: trained, patient staff who work alongside special needs students to offer support, redirection, and supervision so that our kiddo can participate in school meaningfully. Ours is an inclusion school district, which means that kids with special needs are not siphoned off into special classrooms or schools: they’re kept in the mainstream classroom and additional support is provided for that student there. I think it’s a beautiful thing: both for special needs kids who need to belong to the community at large, and for the able-bodied and neuro-typical kids, whose borders are enlarged by interaction with all types of people. Special needs kids have something to give, too, as this months’ feature article at Christianity  Today so wonderfully demonstrates.

Yoko Fines, a paraeducator in MD, at work with one of her students. (http://www.hcpss.org/news-posts/2017/06/yoko-fines-paraeducator-cedar-lane-school/)

But to get back to the paraeducators: one of the signs of a really effective, excellent paraeducator is how invisible their work becomes in the classroom. When things are going really well, you hardly notice that they are there, because the child is able to engage seamlessly with the classroom. The metrics of success are somewhat counter-intuitive: peace, and a remarkable absence of “issues”. In a way, it reminded me of the work of the Holy Spirit, whom I remember someone once describing to me as the “shy member of the trinity”: the Holy Spirit is always directing our attention towards the Father and the Son. When our love and actions are focused on God and others, that’s a sign that the Holy Spirit is really at work. The evidence of His presence is, in similar ways, quiet and beautiful. Love, peace, patience, gentleness, self-control. Jesus described the Spirit’s work like the wind: you see its effects, even if you don’t see the wind itself.

Which of us learned to ride a bike without the skill, support, and encouragement of a seconder?

We have a family friend who has been a career paraeducator and has served students with all sorts of disabilities through her school career. I have long known she is a woman who embodies a quiet strength, and the students she has worked with may never know how much thought and prayer she put into their flourishing.

But this disposition of hers—to become the most skilled supporter she can—runs into many areas of her life beyond her profession. In her personal life, she has taken in many frazzled young moms and offered seasons of support, prayer, welcome, and volunteered childcare. She and her husband loved our young family this way for a while, and it was the most beautiful, invisible gift to entrust our children to capable, kid-loving, safe people in a season where we desperately needed some respite care.

Among her long list of quiet gifts, she had a bus-driving license for some time, so that she could drive a 15 person passenger van for church outings if needed. She is credentialed and has a master’s degree, and so can support in multiple staffing ways in a school (the library, for example), in seasons when there are needs. She loves to exercise, and has completed training to be a coach and seconder for athletes at competition level. Professional athletes need someone to help them know when to rest, when to warm out, and how to train if they will be their best. These are just a few of her skills… In all these things—professionally, spiritually, physically—she is not in the limelight. But because of her skill and proximity, she is able to offer support and guidance in ways that few can.

Which brings me back to thinking about the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and God as a paraeducator. For a truly excellent paraeducator is not just a “supervising adult”, or an extra set of hands when needed. A truly excellent paraeducator is a specialist in the support that that person or situation uniquely needs, with eyes focused on providing just enough support, correction, and encouragement to enable the person to grow, learn, participate, and flourish as only they can. They are nearby. They are focused. They are FOR YOU in a way that no-one else can be. In the race of life, they are the ultimate seconder.

I confess I have long had a fairly mushy idea about the work of the Spirit. Like a gentle presence. Or a light current in the water. But thinking about the strength of the best paraeducators: their attention and presence, their skills, the prayer and resourcefulness and intentionality they bring: this reminds me that when Jesus said he’d send a counselor and a helper – a paraclete, in Greek – he was sending us the most skilled paraeducator of all. Each of us has a full time aide at our side, specifically trained to help us make it through the day.

And just like I realized on Teacher Appreciation Day, I don’t often notice it. But our Paraeducator is present, hard at work, a Specialist par excellence. And he is WITH us, every step of the way.

What I’ve been up to (and hello)

Hello, friends.

I have a blog post or two I’m planning to put up in the near future, but before then just wanted to drop a note and say hello and a little of what I’ve been up to.

What I’ve been doing….

Mostly: I’ve been packing and unpacking the dishwasher and the washing machine—the everyday evidence of 6 people living in a house and a revolving door for a community of people we love the rest of the time. Our cherry tree is dripping with fruit and so no small amount of hours are spent climbing ladders and receiving these tiny red fruity gifts of goodness.

But inbetween all that home-stuff, my writing words have been going in the direction of something a little more ambitious and long-term: I have been working on proposals for two books (a novel and a non-fiction proposal) which are both currently looking for homes somewhere in the publishing world. I signed with a fabulous literary agent in November and have loved working under her expertise. It’s been fun and hard and the learning curve has been steep, and after months of crafting sentences and ideas, the ball is no longer in my court. I’m hoping somewhere someone with the title of Acquisitions Editor will read the sentences and volley back.

I’ve also been traveling a bit: I got to attend the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, MI in April; went to hear the ever-real-and-delightfully-wise Anne Lamott speak at her local book store; attend a women in ministry event with Propel Women ministries in Southern California and more. I’ve also been using all six passenger seats in my car to drive multiple field trips for our kids’ school and have learned more about minecraft and heard more knock knock jokes than any one person should know. It’s been fun.

What I’ve been reading…. 

I’ve also been switching up evening binge-watching for a bunch of reading, and have a few cherry-picked (<= see what I did there?) one-line book reviews for you:

Rachel Marie Stone’s Birthing Hope is a gorgeous read: memoir woven together with theological reflection on themes of birth, loss, and hope – with stories of her time as a doula in Malawi, Africa; her own childhood, the loves and losses of her life. LOVED it. Highly recommend.

Kate Bowler’s Everything Happens for a Reason (and other lies I’ve loved) was a quick, fabulous read. I heard Kate tell her story of processing all she’d learned about the prosperity gospel (she’s a historian and professor at Duke Divinity School) when she was diagnosed with aggressive cancer. Funny, poignant, and JAM PACKED with wisdom.

Jane Austen’s EmmaWhich, I confess, I had never read in full before, and still haven’t. I got half way through and it was just taking too long. I’m so sorry, dear Austen fans, the BBC miniseries was better for me on this one.

Rebecca Skloot’s The Immoral Life of Henrietta Lacks – biography. I had NO IDEA who Lacks was or what HELA cells are or how they have completely shaped the world we live in. Read this because it was a book club pick and was so glad to be introduced to this story. Brilliantly told and just fascinating.

Chris Cleave’s Little Bee. My sister told me this was a must-read two years ago and this is how long it took for me to get to it. She was right. The most un-put-downable story I’ve read in a while. And devastating.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah – fiction. Confession: I expected this book to be excellent and “good for me” to read, judging by all the awards it had won. What I didn’t expect is how amazing the story would be. It is a magnificently observed cultural commentary on America, England, and blackness in a white world from the vantage point of a Nigerian woman. And it’s a love story and a page-turner. SO GOOD.

Lynn Austin’s Chronicles of the Kings series – 5 book series of historical fiction based on the Kings of Judah. Historical fiction is not usually my jam but I honestly LOVED these and was dead to the world and absent to my family for a full week while I devoured this story. And it gave me SUCH a vivid picture of ancient Israel and the faith of the early psalms. It made me want to read my bible with fresh longing.

Kate Motaung’s A Place to Land – memoir. I couldn’t put this down either, and not just because I know Kate and her story and she was describing places and people and history so close to my heart. Such a beautiful processing of living in a brand new place, finding love and friendship and community half way across the world, wrestling with losing her mom… and so winsomely told. I got to celebrate Kate’s book launch in person in Michigan last month and cried tears of happiness for her. If you’ve wrestled with being far away from someone you love when they’re going through hard things – this is a book you don’t want to miss.

Other things I should tell you about…

I got to interview Christine Caine for the feature article of April’s issue of Bible Study Magazine: what a gift! Here’s a link – take a peek and be inspired!

It’s been fun to record a couple podcast interviews this season. One of these was with Melanie Dale who hosts the Lighten Up podcast, and we talked about terrible puns, how immigration is not like going to Disneyland, and how I accidentally bought a minivan on eBay. yes, I’m afraid you read that right. You can listen here.

This letter from Beth Moore to her brothers in the church, and this response from Thabiti Anyabwile UNDID me. If you didn’t see them and care about the conversation about women and the church, please read these.

That’s all for now! I’ll have a few blog posts up in the next month and hope this summer to figure out how to do a mailing list of sorts so that I can do Pick of the Clicks and updates in a newsletter format rather than a blog post, but that’s more than I can handle today. Because right now, the dishwasher needs unpacking again 🙂

Thanks for reading!

 

 

The Stone Hearts

We all walked a little hunched against the broody gray sky, reflexive defenses against the raindrops that had not yet fallen. All thirty of us tumbled out of cars, lunches and rain boots akimbo. We made our way to the river where the second graders would wave goodbye to their tiny fish: Room 12’s watery nursery had done its work and the toddler-trout years were about to begin. The 8 years olds had supervised their sprouting from tiny, apricot, tapioca-like eggs to wiggly, wriggly alevin; and it was time for the little fishies to make their way to the big sea. My son upended his dixie cup of fishy hope into the raging river. I tried not to think about his high school graduation.

After several days of rain and the doppler threatening more, we took our chances and set off on the riparian trail. From the foot bridge, we could see the river was swollen and in a hurry. But in that beautiful way of children who slow down to wonder at the ordinary, one little girl pointed to the water: “Look! There are hearts! In the river!” I followed the line of her finger to just left of a sand bank in the middle of the stream, where someone had laid out stones in the shape of a large heart – perfectly positioned for viewing from the walkway above. The river was higher than it had been the day before and the stones were submerged; but yet not so deep as to be hidden from view or washed away. Yet. Weather.com seemed pretty sure more rain was coming, and I felt quite sure that by the next day, the stones would be gone.

 

But on that Thursday morning, they were there in all their glory; and I wondered a while about the stone artist. No doubt they had got their feet wet laying those out one at a time. No doubt it had been recent. And, no doubt, they knew as I did that their efforts would soon wash away. I imagined this person laying out the rocks: perhaps for a group

of friends, or a romantic gesture by a shy beau. And I imagined them enjoying the doing of it and enjoying the smiles of those who saw them. But there was no way for this person to know that hours or days later, a troop of giddy eight year olds would all stand above with delighted eyes fixed on the miraculous river sculpture below. God alone is witness to the joy the artist brings in the ripples of time.

And I thought about this blog, and how little I write on it these days, and how

Instagram seems to be the Place Where Its At and social media is exhausting and so much of life is spent shielding ourselves from it. So why write blog posts? What’s the point? And should I continue?

I’ve long used the metaphor that I see this corner of the web as a sort of online living room where I can extend virtual hospitality and talk about the kinds of things I talk about in real life: relationships and faith and the humour and the mess and how injustice breaks my heart and parenting brings me to my knees. My blog is full of bad puns and armchair advice and theological rabbit trails and notes about what I’ve been reading because, well, that’s what my life is like. And you are welcome here.

But more and more the dialog doesn’t happen on the blog, and increasingly it doesn’t seem to happen on Facebook either. The world of commenting online has become tinder-dry: ready to spark to flame at any time. And so: if it feels less like conversation, then why add my voice to the throng? Why keep this blog up?

If information is like a river, swollen and in a rush; here today and gone tomorrow… then maybe this blog is something of a heart of stones, laid in the current with precision and joy even though the clock is ticking. I enjoy the writing, and I hope that for a brief moment before it is buried by algorithms and calendars, it brings some good into the world. And perhaps, long after I’ve logged off, someone else will come across a page; and I won’t be there to see their smile but the smile still counts. I get emails from readers who find posts from a couple years ago: the first person to have noticed the hearts in a long, long time… but for them it made a difference. Perhaps tomorrow the current will wash everything away. But while it’s here, I trust in makes a difference to those who wandered past. And most likely, God alone will bear witness to any smiles brought in the ripples of time. And that’s okay.

Image: from Pexels.com and free images.com

A Hell of a Tone of Voice (Some thoughts on how we talk about what happens after we die)

A while back, I was asked to participate in a panel answering questions about heaven and hell. The group had spent a couple weeks in a series looking at what Scripture says about what happens after we die. They were asking questions about heaven and the various ways people have understood “hell”: is hell eternal conscious torment? Is it annihilation—a case where we are, and then simply are not any more? Is there a case to be made for Christian Universalism – where after a time of suffering, all souls are restored to God? What about Martin Luther’s idea that death was sleep? Was CS Lewis onto something when the faithful Taarkan (a Muslim-figure) is allowed into Aslan’s eternal Kingdom in The Last Battle (whereas Susan Pevensie, who wore lipstick, was not?And why would a good God allow for a place like hell, anyway?

I had several other teaching commitments that week and so declined the invitation, but even if I hadn’t been busy I possibly would have said no, anyway. My sieve-like memory knows that I studied this stuff  before, but the content is mostly gone. It’s been a long time since I read up on the various theories of eternal punishment, and I would have had to brush the dust off some of my theology books and do some serious reading.

But the invitation itself got me thinking: what have I believed about this? And, are there reasons to revisit this topic now? I certainly grew up believing that hell was a place of eternal conscious torment, but some of the Bible scholars and teachers I have learned from don’t agree. And certainly, given how upsetting and offensive the idea of eternal conscious torment is (It’s the ultimate version of “my way or the highway”, isn’t it? Even for people who never got a chance to hear about God’s way…), I resonate with the desire to understand this in a way which reflect God’s goodness and mercy and compassion , which annihilation and christian universalism both seem to allow for.

I was a little surprised to find myself thinking: it doesn’t matter what conclusion I come to on this.  Not really. God-fearing people have come to different conclusions on what the passages referring to Hades and Gehenna and punishment mean, and I don’t know that I can sort it out with a new, independent rigorous study of my own. But what matters more to me is this: the tone of voice we discuss this in. Because even if I’m not sure what Jesus meant by the all the hell talk, I’m sure of this one thing: whatever he meant by it, he considered it VERY important to avoid, and a VERY good reason for people to trust in him instead. It’s better to suffer egregious bodily harm in this life (lose an eye! or a hand!) than to have two eyes and two hands and go to hell. Whatever hell means (and Jesus would know), he warns people to go to ANY LENGTH to avoid it. He went to hell himself to keep us from there. Whatever hell means, he assures us it’s not somewhere we want to be. Weeping and gnashing of teeth sound awful, even if they’re hyperbolic.

So even if it is true that we are annihilated, or we suffer a while and then are reconciled to God (and maybe this is the case, I don’t know), Jesus doesn’t seem to think that those options should be something which, when explained, we should feel we are comfortable with. If anything, one of the ways we might know we’ve come to the right conclusions about hell is that we respond the way Jesus says we should respond: with urgency. with grief. with seriousness.

I remember Dave, one of my campus pastors, teaching a few of us students twenty years ago about how to prepare and teach a small group bible study. We were discussing the passage in 1 Thessalonians about the Lord’s coming, and someone in our group got a little “firestone and brimstone-ish” in his conclusions. Dave commented that even if everything my friend was saying was true, he’d missed an important thing in the passage: 1 Thessalonians was written to comfort believers, not to threaten them. And so, whatever we made of the content of the passage, the tone of our conclusions on the paragraph should be wrapped in the comfort of the letter’s context.

I’ve carried those words with me since: we need to pay attention to the tone of voice of the speaker. I still don’t know what exactly happens after we die: how our spirits and bodies might be separated or joined again at resurrection, how conscious we’ll be, what the first and 2nd resurrections might look like, or what hell is like. But I’m sure about Jesus’ tone of voice on which I want for me, and which one I definitely don’t want for me or anyone else. And that is sobering as hell.

 

Photo credit: free stock photos from Pexels.com

When Church Feels Like Ballet Class (some thoughts on Posture, Strength, Flexibility, and Attitudes)

 

Someone asked me recently when last I was “wowed” by church. I didn’t know what to say, but it made me wonder about the question: should I expect to be “wowed” by church? If not, what should church feel like?

I’ve been wrestling with this for days, and the closest answer I can think of is to say I want church to feel like a ballet class. It’s been a long time since I was in ballet class but this is what I remember from the years I spent in pink tights: there was something profoundly good about group dance classes. I could work on stretching and routines at home, and I could have a hundred dance parties with friends… but ballet class was non-negotiable. We all stood in a row at the barre, and worked through the warm-ups, positions, and attitudes of the discipline together. We would stand tall, and the teacher would remind us to breathe, to look up, and we would move our bodies through first, second, third, fourth, and fifth positions; seeking beauty and strength in every exercise.

The studio had mirrors so we could check our alignment, and work on moving in concert with our class members. The teacher would walk up and down the length of the barre, sometimes moving closer as my feet were extended in point to make a micro correction to the position of my hip, or my ankle. I was always trying as best I could to be in the right position, but the teacher could see little adjustments that needed to be made and it was always surprising to me how a little nudge, a little turn of the foot or angle of the neck could suddenly lengthen an arabesque, or make me feel a stretch in a way that I hadn’t before and which I just knew was right.

I cried as I tried to describe this to my husband as my hope for church. I don’t expect church to be a Master Class with Misty Copeland every week. And I’m not a beginner: I can just imagine how overwhelming, foreign, and downright awkward an adult ballet class must be to someone who hasn’t done it before. But church at its best feels to me like a ballet class: where we gather in community to do things we could have done alone at home, but there’s something so good about stretching and strengthening our souls in a group setting. Singing and sitting under teaching feels to me like a series of barre exercises under an insightful instructor: my spiritual walk mirrored by the practice of those around me; and the words of the songs and preacher are seldom BRAND NEW BIBILICAL REVELATIONS!!!! with brand new coreography…. but they are like the micro-corrections of attitude and posture in life by the Holy Spirit. See how I thought I was extending myself in the right direction? No, the instructor nudges, adjust a little that way. Adjust a little this way. Breathe and make this adjustment. And see? Feel that stretch? I know it is right.

On a good Sunday, I leave church spiritually limber: my body and soul attuned to the rhythms and attitudes of grace. My deepest core has been strengthened, I am more flexible than when I came in, and I am grateful.

The Surprising Thing about Strength in Weakness

I’ve been thinking a lot about weakness lately. Weakness, failure, and the terrible gap between how we hope things will turn out and how they actually do.  Motherhood and ministry—while both brimming with blessing—have also been relentless teachers that keep pointing out my weakness…

… how I can do all the research and try all the methods, and still not know how to get my kids to sleep/eat/potty train/make good choices.

… how having a kid of my own has made me realize how uncompassionate and judgmental I’ve often been towards others.

… how getting less of anything (sleep/opportunity/the nice things) reveals my jealous, score-keeping nature.

… how close I’ve come to shaking my baby at times. Didn’t know I could be that angry, or that dangerous.

… how, no matter how well I teach and explain the Bible (or try to), I can’t effect real change in people’s lives, which is really just a small subset of the bigger issue:

… how, no matter how hard I try, or how nicely I phrase things, I can’t control people’s choices or situational outcomes. Not my family’s, not my friend’s, not my church’s.

I have no power over these things. At the very most, I can hope to influence them. But the relationship between my input and life’s output is not causal. It’s correlated… at best.

Again and again, I come up HARD against the limits of my ability, knowledge, and character. And that’s just the weakness part… then there’s also the failure layer: where I try hard, and I get it wrong. Or I didn’t try hard enough. Both my wholehearted fully engaged efforts and my half-baked, lazy efforts often disappoint and frustrate.

I was talking with some friends about failure recently: situations in which we’d been overwhelmed and overloaded, and had honestly done our very best in the situation, and still… it wasn’t enough, and we received criticism (or “feedback”, if you’re in a professional setting). And I don’t know about you, but getting negative reactions or zero results when I’ve done my best just makes me want to crawl up under a rock and quit. I want to get into bed, pick at the scabs on my wounded heart, and sing “nobody loves me, I’m just going to go eat worms.” Just me? Worms, anyone? Weakness and failure feel so crushingly yucky.

But what then, we asked, about the verses in Scripture that promise that in our weakness, God is strong? Why did the apostle Paul “boast in his weakness”? And what do I make of those who say (as I have at times!) that we felt at the end of ourselves, and we prayed, and we felt a surge of energy or a help that came from beyond ourselves: such that we could only attribute it to God? If we’re feeling weak, and we ask God to be strong in that situation… will it FEEL any different?

I think sometimes, the answer is yes. Sometimes, I have asked God for wisdom or help or peace that passes understanding or the ability to not-shake-the-baby or bite-my-husbands-head-off, and I know he has provided strength-in-the-moment that I have felt at a soulful and cellular level.

But, friends, sometimes, I haven’t. Sometimes I’ve felt weak and asked God for help and I HAVE STILL FELT SO CRIPPLINGLY WEAK. Sometimes my weakness still feels like weakness to me and quite obviously looks like weakness to most everybody else. So I’ve been reflecting on that. Where did I get the idea that God’s promise of “strength in weakness” would mean that he would mask our weakness? or overcome it? Why did I have the idea that I would know God was being “strong” in my “weakness” only because I didn’t feel weak anymore?

I’ve been going back to Scripture with that question, and am realizing that God’s promise of his gracious strength and presence in our weakness doesn’t mean our lives won’t often look and feel like pitiful failure. Despite God’s help and empowering Holy Spirit, Paul still experienced being hard-pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down. He was disbelieved, disrespected, kicked out, spat on, and near killed. AND YET he trusted that despite all the external evidence to the contrary, inwardly God was up to good, hopeful work.

Paul took his cue from Jesus, who is the primary model and mentor of faith such as this. When Jesus went to his death on the cross: everything looked and felt like complete weakness and failure. He was at the mercy of the criminal justice system: condemned and mocked, beaten up and nailed to a piece of wood to demonstrate his shame to the world. His entire ministry of investing in 12 people for three years appeared to have been for nothing: they scattered like buckshot, denying him at the first opportunity. He had no reputation, a crowd cheering for his death, no assets, no title, and – in a very real way – he even got the silent treatment from God. The final words from his lips tell us what he felt was weakness: he felt forsaken.

And YET. In that moment of ultimate weakness, God was doing something wonderful. The sins of all mankind were being dealt with, and God’s new creation being birthed. The paradox and mystery of the cross is that the strongest work God EVER did for mankind was in and through the weakest moment for him in the flesh.

Reflecting on this is giving me hope, in a season where I feel so acutely aware of my limitations. One seminary professor described the human condition this way: we are fallen, fallible, finite and foolish. In other words, we are hot messes, and we know it. But being painfully aware of the limitations and liabilities of me being me in my oh-so-human condition does not mean that God is unable or unwilling to work.

Strength in weakness doesn’t always feel strong. Sometimes weakness still looks and feels pitifully, painfully weak.

But the same God who raised Jesus from his weakest place is powerfully at work in us, says Ephesians 1:20. It’s true that he’s at work when we’re feeling energized by Him, with that joyful energy of feeling gifted and called and excited to partner with him in the world. But this is just to say: he’s no less at work when we’re in a heap on the floor, wishing we could eat worms. My weakness is not an obstacle to him, it’s an opportunity.

This is part of the Christian hope: believing that the God who began a good work in me will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6). He is faithful, and he will do it (1 Thessalonians 5:24).

Help: How do I stop liking someone?

Dear Bronwyn,

How do you stop liking a man? I’m in college and I met a guy who has fantastic personality and character, and I find incredibly attractive. BUT, he doesn’t have a relationship with Jesus – which is a deal breaker for dating (which I’d like to be with the intent of marriage).

We went on three dates before I discovered he was missing the most important thing, and I can’t continue a romantic relationship with him. I’ve been praying for these feelings to be taken away for weeks – and despite the fact that I am literally surrendering our relationship EVERY morning, I can’t stop thinking about him or liking him.

What do I do? Signed,

Too-Many-Feelings

Dear TMF,

I have very bad news for you: I don’t know of a single way to just get rid of a crush we wish we weren’t feeling. In my early twenties I liked a guy for well over a year and WISHED and prayed I didn’t wouldn’t feel the way I did… but I couldn’t make it go away no matter how hard I tried.

So what would I say to you that might be of comfort or help?

Maybe this thing first: relationships can bring a WHIRL of passions and thoughts that can feel overwhelming. That we can feel that spark and depth is part of what makes life exciting and wonderful: it’s a sign that we’re alive and we care and that we are responding to people and the world. Having big feelings doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong, even if those feelings are unwelcome. You’re alive and the feeling/wanting/desiring/loving part of you WORKS. I think part of the work of adulthood is learning how to attend to our feelings: to notice them, listen to them, learn from them. What do those feelings tell us about who we are and what we want in life?  How do they reveal how God has made us? How do they reveal our gifts and talents, or our vices?

We are children of a culture which really values THINKING but hasn’t paid a huge amount of attention to the messages that our emotions or our bodies give us about the world. And so, I just want to put a little oar into the water against the relentless thought-driven cultural currents we live in and say: there’s an invitation to attend to your feelings here. Note what you like about this guy. What is it about the conversation that made you feel good? What parts of YOU did you like in your relationship? What was exciting? What was scary? There are things to learn and grow in from this experience.

Attending to feelings is not the same as being a CAPTIVE to your feelings (the “go with your heart” message has its dangers, too), and it is not the same as ignoring or mastering your feelings. Growing in maturity brings a confidence that you will be able to handle, and indeed make good use of, your feelings.

Your feelings of attraction aren’t wrong, per se. They’re feelings. Feelings are facts. We can name them, listen to what they’re telling us, and then try to care for ourselves as well as possible in light of them. But feelings are (frustratingly! awfully!) disobedient. Not once ever have I managed to make myself not feel scared by saying “don’t be scared!” or not feel angry by saying “don’t be angry”. Learning to figure out why I’m scared or angry (or crushing) in a situation helps me develop some compassion on myself, and sometimes even – a game plan for coping.

Which brings me to my second thought—and maybe this is something that a trusted friend or mentor or a parent can help you talk through—which is to encourage you to figure out how you can best care for yourself while you are experiencing these feelings. You won’t always feel this way (“this, too, shall pass” could be something you write on a sticky note for yourself!), but while you do feel this way, what would help you to manage? Would it help to have less contact with him? Maybe not be friends on social media? Or maybe it would help to just see if you could cross paths in large group settings? (sometimes it isn’t helpful to quit seeing someone cold turkey because then we gild them in our imaginations) Would it help to journal through all the feelings? Would it help to figure out what times of the day or in what situations the thoughts and feelings are most difficult to cope with, and then think about how you can acknowledge the feelings (maybe a quick written prayer?) and then have a game plan for what you will do next (a craft project? A walk? calling a friend to talk about the netflix show you’re binge watching?)

Time will pass and these feelings will change – but I don’t think that just waiting for time to pass is what does the trick. Learning a little more about yourself from the experience, paying attention to the messages your heart is giving you about who you are and what makes you tick, and learning how to care for your whole self in this season is the work you get to do during this time. And it’s work that will serve you well the rest of your years.

Wish I could give you a cup of tea as you read this.

Grace and peace to you,

Bronwyn

 

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