Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Wall I Hit

We all have different ideas about beauty. And we are all vulnerable when those ideas don’t meet reality. Plenty of us fight that extra weight that if we could just lose would help ego just a bit. Some of us struggle with skin or other body issues, but I don’t know one girl or woman who believes that they are beautiful just the way God made them. 

I am no different. That elusive five pounds I wanted to lose, the thicker hair I wanted, the thinner eyebrows, etc. Even when I looked my best, to me it wasn’t enough. I wanted more.

Then life changed. Twists and turns I couldn’t even begin to plot if I was writing fiction came about. The biggest surprise was my body telling me I’d done too much for too long. To make a long story short, my body rebelled. The first six weeks, I was desperate, frantic. I’ve visited doctors of all kinds, always asking the same thing, “Why is my hair falling out and how do I stop it?”
The answers varied, “Sometimes this just happens,” or “it was just a perfect storm,” or “some women after menopause lose their hair,” or “it’s an auto-immune, but we may never know what kind.”

The sense of vulnerability I felt was beyond anything I’ve experienced before. I was powerless to do anything and no doctor seemed to be able to help either. Powerless. And I had no explanation for friends and family, or the students I teach. 

Soon people were asking me what type of cancer I had. Others were wanting to know all the details. But I couldn’t claim the warrior battle I’ve seen so many others go through. I have a new respect for those women who’ve gone through cancer and come out the other end with no hair. They have no idea if their hair will grow back and all the reassurance in the world doesn’t quell the torrent of emotions inside. My guess is every woman who has battled cancer has had to confront the illusion of the word “beauty.” 

For weeks, my prayer was desperate. “Please Lord, stop my hair from falling out.” But that was not His Will. Instead, not only was the hair on top of my head falling out, but also my eyebrows and eyelashes as well. It was clear I was going to need to define a new idea about myself. I remembered a prayer of surrender I was given and I started praying it. 

I had loved ones telling me I was beautiful on the inside. However, I had heard that line more times than I care to remember when I was growing up. I was a homely kid, braces and glasses didn’t help. So I came to think whenever someone said I was beautiful on the inside it meant that I wasn’t on the outside. 

Those weren’t the words I was hoping to hear. One day, while cleaning the hair out of my drain, I began my prayer of surrender. Perhaps the Lord was trying to tell me to focus on my inside beauty.
Then God whispered to me something completely different than I ever expected. It was that His beauty was different than the world’s idea. Humans believe beauty to mean something physical and sometimes emotional. Lambasted by the media, we are never quite happy with ourselves.

But it took a second grader to remind me of something else. She told me she was praying for me. But then she told me, “God doesn’t make junk.” While I’ve never thought of myself as junk, I have always had that nagging thought that I’m not enough. People have verbalized that I’m not good enough throughout my life. And all this time I’ve believed it. 

To add to my journey, I ran into a sign. Literally. I was looking back, not looking forward and I hit a wall with a sign on it. My dad always told me, “Never look back, you can’t go back there anyway.” (God’s sense of humor gets me every time.) And what was on the sign? 

"God’s idea of beauty is not ours."

It took a wall to remind me of something I’d forgotten. God makes us for Him…not to be a runway model or to be desirable for each other. We wander through life believing the lies of what outer beauty can do for us, all the while forgetting that no matter what our looks are, we are all headed on the same journey, being with God after this life.

Looking in the mirror is still painful, I can no longer hide behind the long brown locks I once sported. The prayer of surrender is all that I have. But I am confident. While I’m still coming to grips with the whole surrender concept, it’s the first time since this hair saga began that I have peace. The prayer of surrender is working. What does it all mean? No clue…but I’m guessing I’m about to find out.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Life is a Series of Steps

There is something very organic about solving a math problem.

Yes, geek alert. BUT STAY WITH ME FOR A MINUTE. I promise there will be a sweet surprise if you hang in there.

Numbers have their roots in nature, in creation, in evolution, in every part of life. We are made up of over 3 billion base pairs of information. The earth has been around for over 4.54 billion years. 

2 + 2 has always been and will always be 4. 

Looking at the following math problem, 

one who doesn’t like numbers will have one of two reactions: 

       Who cares?    OR        I'm about to

Yet I would argue that our lives are a series of unsolved math problems. 

When the problem in front of us looks overwhelming, unsolvable, or inconceivable, we often find ourselves ignoring it so we don’t hyperventilate. 

And for some reason, everything is magnified during the holidays…including our problems.

We all have those family members or friends who we struggle with. Perhaps the loss of a loved one haunts us. Things seem bigger than us and we hyperventilate at the thought of getting past what seems to be insurmountable odds. When the rest of the year we muster up the courage to say, “who cares,” this special season we seem unable to find anything but our old wounds. The internal hurts appear to be beyond our ability to solve.

I can’t help but think that this is the devil’s greatest triumph. At a time of year when we are supposed to be concentrating on the fact that Jesus was born into this world to save us, we choose to focus on our hurts instead. 

Instead of taking life step by step, as solving a math problem demands, we want to skip to the end. It is in those moments that we lose our organic nature, our ability to rise to the challenge. The effect is that we stunt our life’s timeline.

What would happen if we confronted the problem in front of us?

Just like solving a math problem, we can take it step by step. The first step is to write down the problem we are trying to solve. 

Look at it in a different way. 

Move things around both sides of the life equation. 

Get perspective. Then step by step, move. MOVE. To a different place. 

Many times the movement itself changes everything.

There were countless times I had to erase a step in a math problem I was trying to solve and rewrite it. 

What if we did that with life’s hurts? Could we try to “Be not afraid” to make mistakes and erase or start over? In the end, we might be one step closer to the answer.

And you can lie to me, but the reality is, even the math haters LOVED writing down the correct answer. It’s closure…right?

Confront the hurt that haunts you. Rise to the challenging problem in front of you. 

There is more grace to give and receive this time of year than any other time. Let’s take advantage of it and not shrink from what distorts the timeline of our lives. 

Henry Ford said, “Life is a series of experiences, each one of which makes us bigger, even though sometimes it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and grieves which we endure help us in our marching onward.”

Really we are no different than math. We start out at one place and we end up in another. Physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally we are never who we start out to be. That in itself is as organic as math. 

Problems exist in our lives. They always will. How we approach them, though, makes all the difference in the world.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Movement

Recently adult coloring books have appeared in bookstores and online. They seem to be everywhere. Journaling is becoming more popular again as well. 

Is there a reason for this?

Scientific research seems to say yes, there is a reason, though I’m not sure science completely understands the psychological or spiritual movement. 

One such article talks about how the brain learns in two different environments: the physical act of writing versus typing on a keyboard.

“An experiment carried out by Velay's research team in Marseille establishes that different parts of the brain are activated when we read letters we have learned by handwriting, from those activated when we recognise letters we have learned through typing on a keyboard. When writing by hand, the movements involved leave a motor memory in the sensorimotor part of the brain, which helps us recognise letters. This implies a connection between reading and writing, and suggests that the sensorimotor system plays a role in the process of visual recognition during reading, Mangen explains.” (Science Daily, January 24, 2011, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110119095458.htm )

This author posits that motor memory plays a role in learning. He gives this experiment as example: 

“Mangen refers to an experiment involving two groups of adults, in which the participants were assigned the task of having to learn to write in an unknown alphabet, consisting of approximately twenty letters. One group was taught to write by hand, while the other was using a keyboard. Three and six weeks into the experiment, the participants' recollection of these letters, as well as their rapidity in distinguishing right and reversed letters, were tested. Those who had learned the letters by handwriting came out best in all tests. Furthermore, MRI brain scans indicated an activation of the Broca's area within this group. Among those who had learned by typing on keyboards, there was little or no activation of this area.

"The sensorimotor component forms an integral part of training for beginners, and in special education for people with learning difficulties. But there is little awareness and understanding of the importance of handwriting to the learning process, beyond that of writing itself," Mangen says.
“She refers to pedagogical research on writing, which has moved from a cognitive approach to a focus on contextual, social and cultural relations. In her opinion, a one-sided focus on context may lead to neglect of the individual, physiological, sensorimotor and phenomenological connections.” (see above citation.) 

There is no doubt that for writers, the advance from a pen to a typewriter to a word processor has changed the way the writing world works. It is a tool that writers can use to form their ideas and then edit those thoughts to express their final views. 

But as a serious artist will tell you, the physical act of drawing or writing ideas down, allows the brain to fully accept and integrate the ideas into one’s conscious and subconscious brain. Therefore, it appears that the pencil remains an important tool as well.

As a child, I remember being directed to draw a simple cross at the top of each assignment. I remember as a college student there was a quiet solace when I continued that tradition. 

As adults we are bombarded constantly with electronic beeps, reminders, deadlines and every other interruption possible. This inhibits our ability to be at peace on just about any level. 

Perhaps it’s time to stop. Now that we know the impact of physically writing, maybe we need to purchase that journal or that coloring book and build into our daily structure fifteen minutes of peace that our brain and heart long for. 

My guess is that those fifteen minutes will lead to something else: that time you desire to find peace and solace with your Adonai who desperately wants to connect with you.