Tag Archives: emotional health

Risking Growth After Tragedy

The world looks different after tragedy.

Maple_Lined_Silver_Creek_Trail_Silver_Falls_OregonWith recent tragedies in the news, it’s common to feel afraid, but also to feel afraid to express things that don’t fit the acceptable response.

When it’s personal experience, it’s tough. For the thinkers, artists and sensitive people, hearing about even distant death and suffering can make us need to retreat from the world. Yet when distant tragedy strikes, we can also have such strong reactions that we need to connect meaningfully with others.

In either case, following a tragedy I find I need to take care to limit extra input so I can process and be diligent about sorting through the questions and emotions. I feel that’s my job as a word-person and as a connector.

Recently, I needed to write and process some thoughts after a friend’s memorial service. It was actually the son of a friend who’d died in Colorado Springs where I spent 10 years—though I never met him—and I attended the service with a mutual friend in support of the man’s parents who I’d known and worked with.

What I realized after reflecting on it was that we must risk talking about our thoughts and feelings after tragedy so we can defeat the power they have over us in silence and isolation. And this is a major way we can overcome the debilitating pain and fear in our disconnected world.

DSC_0027Listening to his family share words about him, I felt determined to use the opportunity to connect and learn how others deal and respond, as well as to help others learn to process their questions and emotions better.

But most of all, I felt powerfully that we need to learn to listen to God alone so we aren’t unduly influenced and end up betraying our own experience, undermining, dismissing or changing what we think and feel to fit others’ expectations.

I had no desire to make challenges to God about it–but neither did I want to hear how God would make everything better or bring good out of this. When one family member tried to encourage the mourners to find hope by trusting that God was still good here and now, I was surprised to feel angry at that. I knew others weren’t feeling that and hearing those words of good-intentioned “biblical” truth, made me desperate to connect and express a different thought:

When we too quickly jump to words of assurance, it can steamroll others and even derail their healthy grieving process.

12122609_1171015702913537_3774299135056736632_nI wanted to offer hope too, but more than that, I wanted to affirm others’ experience and maintain that connection. Familiar platitudes can kill connection with the very people who may be hurting the most.

It’s not easy to put others first. And any gathering like this is one of the most difficult situations to relate in. But what if we truly cared for people without presuming what they needed? I want that kind of self-awareness and respect. I want to recognize that emotions are challenging and simply allow that, learn to feel and deal with them, and help ourselves and others heal and better understand that even the darkest silence is an opportunity for connection and light.

I know from experience that listening to our hearts is a skill we have to learn as adults. But it’s also an in-born ability all children have. And in my adult disability, I’ve experienced many situations that have kept me from expressing my heart throughout my life. Getting back to that clarity of purpose as a child is what I long for. And I’m so grateful to have had this chance to remember the child who still feels difficult things and may one day learn to overcome the blocked adult I’ve become.

I hope to find where the blocks came from and learn how to think and feel what I do freely, as well as approach God on my own without others impinging on that.

When tragedy happens, I need to learn to express what I feel with those I trust. And I’m learning I need to disconnect with those who overwhelm me and would steamroll me so I can defeat the struggle I experience in silence and isolation.

I’m so grateful for this experience, to learn how I need to connect through tragedy with others to deal and respond, and to process the questions and emotions better.

And most of all, to strive to listen to God first and not be influenced by someone else and end up betraying my own experience, hiding my true thoughts and feelings to fit someone else’s expectations.

At this stage, that’s what risking to grow through tragedy means for me.

What does growing through tragedy look like for you?

Why We Must Be Imperfect to Love Well

“No good work whatever can be perfect, and the demand for perfection is always a sign of a misunderstanding of the ends of art.” – John Ruskin

Oh, there are so many things I want to tell you about this past holiday weekend!

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We had such a great time and great food with family and friends, running in sprinklers and s’mores and watching fireworks in a big field and sparklers on the driveway.

But I have to tell you the real story: afterward I mentally berated myself for not being the gracious host I wanted to be.

Have you ever been there, realizing there are simply far too many things you’re not good at, and this is just more proof, more ironic proof, of just how far from perfect you really are even in this tendency toward raving perfectionism?

Isn’t it, in the end, just another layer of my old stubborn pride?

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And yet somehow, despite knowing my quiet temperament and embracing so many of my limitations, I still believe God holds me to a standard of perfection, even when the very nature of grace is to accept imperfections.

What on God’s great earth is that about?

It’s as though I believe Jesus came judging people and assuring everyone that he didn’t come to bring life, but to bolster our self-righteous efforts to appear wonderful and completely capable without him. Why do I continually try to remake him in my own broken image?

In fact, the Son of God didn’t come to condemn anyone but to save us:

“If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.” John 12:47

“You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one.” John 8:15

He came that I would have life and have it abundantly. And yet I so easily flick it away and become someone who believes condemning myself is the better, the good and important work.

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And isn’t this why I so often do it to others?

I’m so quick to find fault—it’s a great skill to have as an editor, no doubt. But I can become one of those who dedicates himself to opposing everything and everyone who is less-than (especially myself), and believing we need to “fight for the right” and ignore the dissent.

And it’s that mindset that cripples me in my daily life and my creative work, where my definition of imperfection becomes so outwardly focused and stretches like a holiday waistline to include anything and anyone who is simply different than me.

Family members with different personalities.

Friends with different needs and beliefs.

Neighbors with different ideas of decency and proper attire. (photo withheld)

Sure, I’m aware it’s not just me. This is an age-old difficulty and  I’m not going to solve it. Issue-debaters don’t even talk about the same things. The usual frustrations surface and the logical question for both sides becomes, “When will you listen to me?”

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In fact, writing realistic dialogue requires first understanding that people don’t have conversations that follow a logical flow. They talk over, under and around each other. Directness is rare and non sequiturs are common. If you’d like to write authentically, don’t have characters simply talk to each other, have them communicate with their unrealistic idea of the other person. And don’t assume they’re even thinking about someone besides themselves. Most speech is a failure to speak.

But can’t we hope for more? Doesn’t anyone want to really understand anyone anymore?

Or is there too much hurt in the way of our words?

Successful counselor-author couple and forever friends of mine, Milan and Kay Yerkovich, teach that if you weren’t taught to receive love well you’ll probably have to work at it as an adult. Everyone needs to feel loved by having our ideas and feelings validated. But that means we have to express them in a healthy, clear and nonthreatening way (their book How We Love shows spouses how to help each other communicate and bond well).

DSC_0009Getting what we want and need is the way to emotional health. But if we want meaningful dialogue, we must learn to communicate more than what we want: we need to listen for what others need.

Yet first, we need to help ourselves get what we need by expressing ourselves, even if imperfectly.

Why not love ourselves by learning to receive love? Why don’t we seek unity in our common imperfections and heal our divisions of pride?

I’d like to confess to you my feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. For I believe accepting these imperfections will help me come to accept others who often feel the same, and in time, learn to love them better.

“Imperfection is in some sort essential to all that we know of life. It is the sign of life… Nothing that lives is, or can be, rigidly perfect…there are certain irregularities and deficiencies which are not only signs of life, but sources of beauty. No human face is exactly the same in its lines on each side, no leaf perfect in its lobes, no branch in its symmetry…to banish imperfection is to destroy expression…to paralyze vitality. All things are literally better, lovelier, and more beloved for the imperfections which have been divinely appointed, that the law of human life may be Effort, and the law of human judgment, Mercy.” – John Ruskin