Learning to lose

Sometimes I am grateful God has given me such an open and loving heart. Often I am able to look around and feel his presence surround me. Other times it can feel like a terrible affliction. It may sound strange but unrequited love is not the worst emotional pain you can suffer when you can love intensely. It hurts, don’t  get me wrong. I think it’s just become familiar throughout my life. A far worse pain is loving so much that you are willing to relinquish your selfish desires and wish only for another’s happiness so you can maintain a friendship. Despite that you lose them completely and they slip through your fingers like sand, dust, ashes…gone completely except for the memories in your heart. That’s what hurts most of all. There must be a lesson in this for me, I’ve made this sacrifice more than once and it sucks harder every time.

Not all that long ago I figured out loss is my biggest fear. It’s important to know your biggest fear. It can drive you, make you act in ways that are counter to your character, honor or best interests. You need to be aware. My biggest fear used to be failure and for years it drove me to extreme lengths to be perfect, to succeed, to never make a mistake, to plan for every eventuality. To no avail of course, because everyone fails. In time I learned to embrace failure as a way to grow. I conquered that fear.

Now loss, another part of life has taken its place. I can’t get rid of loss. No one can. You just have to accept it. I used to try and avoid it, numb the pain away. I tried all the old familiar tactics. A shot of whiskey. Burying my feelings. Putting up an impenetrable wall around my heart. Of course none of them worked. I still experienced loss. So now when I feel myself trying to run away from situations that are going to result in loss I am always suspicious of myself. I don’t seek loss, but I don’t need fear of it to make me pass up everything I want.

When it comes I know I have to suffer through it. Sounds terrible doesn’t it? It is. It’s awful. It involves grieving. I had no idea I could cry so much. I spent so many years avoiding tears in my attempt to avoid the pain of loss, I guess I had a lot in reserve.

I cry a few times a day. The ugly kind. Sometimes I curl up in a ball and yell. I’m in pain and it helps. Afterwards I always feel better for a while. Until the next time. I bargain with God. I pray for it to stop. I try and pretend it isn’t happening or didn’t happen. I know that after a while the intensity of my grief will pass. It will become less of an open wound and more of a sore ache. This isn’t my first loss and won’t be my last. I’m learning that this is the only way to effectively deal with it. This is what I was trying so hard to avoid all those years. This.

In times like these I always wonder to myself why in the world I ever allow myself to love anyone. But the truth is I can’t help myself. People are so incredibly lovable. I know there are wicked ones. But so many people are good at heart. They are trying. They are searching. They are lost. They are flawed and still… they are breathtakingly beautiful. Yes when God made me, he designed me to love. I know how to do that better than anything else. It’s who I am. I am learning to let go and learning to lose. Despite my fear I am resolved to stay open. Despite my pain I will stay true. So many people lack love in their lives after all, surely someone out there could use some. I’ve got way too much inside to give.

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Choose Giving

Today was a mighty day in the world of social media, and in the country at large.The Affordable Care Act was determined to be Constitutional by the Supreme Court. The media had me convinced that the court would side with the Republicans and strike it down. I am incredibly grateful that they did not. For one thing it IS Constitutional and finding it so was the right thing to do. The court had lost its way and this was the first step to finding its way back. The Richmond Register ran a really thought provoking piece on this idea called “Our Supreme Court has Lost Its Honor” I think today’s decision gives me hope that we might be able as a country to return to the principles we used to have.

I entered into debate with a young lady on Twitter after regrettably losing my normal tact and graciousness with another individual who had opined sarcastically that “if you work hard the government was going to give your money to a piece of trash that didn’t wake up until 1:30 in the afternoon.” I may have scolded him in less than ladylike terms for calling another human being trash. The lady in question then jumped in to clarify that no I was in fact stupid for defending “trash that don’t do anything for a living.” I think I said, “Yeah because people are only valuable if they produce something. Nice.” We ended up debating the value of humanity versus money for quite some time with me arguing for humanity and she defiantly insisting that she would rather keep every cent than let it go to some “hobo.”  I said, “Save a dollar versus save a life? Well, to each his own, but I couldn’t live with myself. You act like money is God.” She kept reciting very angry and fearful remarks about people taking things from her and giving it to someone who didn’t deserve it. It was all so sad. This is the whip the right uses to keep their base in line. Fear and loathing. Fear of the other. “I’m not like that hobo! I’m not like that high school drop out. I’m not like that woman with too many kids. I’m not like that homeless person. That drug addict. That welfare recipient.” Well, you could be. But for the grace of God. Have you no compassion? You know what else? God is within every single person you are talking about. EVERY SINGLE ONE. What you do to the least of these, you do to me. That vitriolic hatred you are spewing? You are talking about God. That contempt and disrespect in your voice when you talk about the President, God hears that. In case you are having trouble understanding me, just pray. God is within you too. It’s his voice that prompts you to open the door when you see someone struggling with a bag. It gives you a twinge when you see a person asking for a handout.

Here’s the thing, Jesus didn’t say give to those in need if they use it for what you think they should use it for. He said to give. Is the giving for the person who receives or is the giving for the person who gives? Who is the real beneficiary? Remember when Jesus told the rich man to give all of his possessions away and give them to the poor if he wanted to get into Heaven? That was so HE COULD GET INTO HEAVEN. It was incidentally for the poor. When you stand before God do you want to explain to him that you didn’t want to give because you were concerned they wouldn’t spend it in a way that you approved of? Is it your job to judge? Didn’t you feel the little twinge that was God moving you to give? Why didn’t you obey?

Fear and anger can deafen us and make it impossible to hear God’s voice. Fear is one of evil’s most powerful weapons. I’ve spent much of my life waging a war on fear, in fact courage is the war on fear. You can be afraid, but you cannot let it rule you. You cannot let it define you. Any decision made  under its influence will inevitably be the worst decisions of your life. The worst evils and atrocities visited on the human race were caused by fear.

You can teach yourself to fight it. For me it’s a habit. The minute I feel it I no longer run away or avoid whatever it is, I have the exact opposite reaction. The more afraid I am, the more obsessed I become. I have to face it, deal with it in order to conquer it, to overcome it. I will not let it rule me.If it’s something I’ve never done before, I research it to death, commit to it wholeheartedly and fake it til I make it. No guts, no glory right?

I also use this technique: What’s the absolute worst thing that can happen? I imagine every awful scenario I can think of. I have yet to think of one I can’t handle. It’s a wonderful fear killer. The only thing I couldn’t handle would be letting God down. You know what I think letting him down would entail? Not fighting for the people who can’t fight for themselves. So think about that lady who is so terrified of the Hobo who has nothing, afraid that the lady on welfare is going to use her tax dollars to take her sick kid to the doctor. No one is taking anything from her, but she has a golden opportunity to give.

Courage=A War on Fear

Sometimes the best way to know you can breathe is to hold your breath.  The sudden cessation is all the reminder that you need to refresh your innate memory of how it works: air in, air out…

Lately the word “nature” has come up a lot in my life. The dictionary defines it as the particular combination of qualities belonging to a person, animal, thing, or class by birth, origin, or constitution; native or inherent character. In my Feminist Philosophy class, we discussed the idea of an intrinsic woman’s nature. If there really are any characteristics other than reproductive that define us as gendered?

I have also been wondering for the last few months if it is more important to study religion, or the worship of God or to study the nature of God.  I am much more _interested_ in the study of what he might be like than in how and why people have come to worship. (Though that is also an interesting topic.)

Today I have been thinking about the nature of courage. This week in Sunday School I will be teaching the children about Joshua and his courage in following God’s will. I imagine that the children will think that courage is something that flows into you, that it is an attribute that comes naturally, without hesitation, as fundamental as eye color to the people who posses it. Of course it isn’t that you have no fear, it’s that you act despite it. That even filled with fear, even consumed by it, you do what must be done. You hold the line, though all the forces of the world might come against you. Your extinction may be certain, your defeat a given, but still you stand. To do otherwise is not to quit or fail, but to no longer exist as who you believe yourself to be. You are the last defender against the darkness, the candle in the wind that refuses to flame out. Your burn, you fight, you hold on. You transform your fear into the energy to overcome it.

You can cry while you do it, you can scream and yell and hate every second of it, but you do it, nonetheless. It doesn’t matter if it’s the courage to get chemotherapy, pull someone you love back from self-destruction or make it through loss. It can be the courage to follow a call and leave a career behind or it can even be the courage to trust or love. It feels the same.  So is there a nature of courage? Are all people courageous? I believe that all people have the potential to be.

A close adviser recently told me she thought I was courageous, which is what prompted a little of this introspection. I don’t consider myself to be extraordinarily brave. I just refuse to let fear have one little bit of control over my life. I do consider myself at war with fear. If you look back through history, many of the worst human generated disasters have been caused by fear. Fear of the “other”. Fear of change, fear of loss, fear of persecution, fear of control. Almost every time someone acts out against you in violence or anger, its because they feel threatened in some way. When I feel that familiar flicker of fear, I go on alert, and whatever its urging me to do, I pause, I reflect, I say “wait a minute, hold up”. I’m not talking about not jumping out of the way of a speeding car or anything, I’m talking about stuff that normally goes on below the surface. Here’s the perfect example:

In the past I might have started to like someone a lot, even love them, and it scared me. Suddenly I would notice that I was focusing on the one thing about that person that made me the tiniest bit uncomfortable. As a matter of fact, in the thousand times a day I would think about him, I would find myself whipping out that one uncomfortable thought on cue to see if I could counteract the all the good ones with it. Like an antidote or aversion therapy to fend off my uncontrollable longing to see him. This might have worked once. Before the war.
But I knew my enemy of old. I catch on pretty quickly nowadays. I paused and questioned myself. Why am I doing this?  Am I really that bothered by the little thing that I am focusing on? Not THAT much. Am I TRYING to make myself more bothered by it in an attempt to control my feelings for him because I am afraid? Ummm, Bingo!

So I nip it in the bud. I decide to stride forward into the unknown, without any control over those rampageous emotions and it is good. Scary? Damn straight. Does that make me courageous? Or just the enemy of fear? Not sure, but it does make me free.

The Bible story said God gave Joshua strength and courage to accomplish what he needed to. Since God is the fuel that feeds the fire of my spirit, that made all of what I am, perhaps that is the best approach to take when thinking of how to explain courage. That through us, God can act in the world, as a light in the darkness, a force against fear, a powerful agent of hope and love that triumphs in large ways and small. That in this way is the world shown courage, and in this way does it live in us all.