Sunday, January 24, 2016

Love Letter(s) to the World


There are times I wish that I didn't love so much.  There are times I wish it were easier to separate myself from the joy, hurt, heartbreak, fear, hope.  Yes, there are many times I am grumpy, unapproachable, and rude.  There are times when I do not want to interact with other humans, regardless of how joyous they are.  But mostly, I just love ya.  All o' ya.  

When I look at you, I see daughters, sons, cousins, parents, friends, aunts, godparents, godchildren, dog-moms and cat-dads, widows, and siblings.  
I see creators, thinkers, adventurers, teachers, artists, writers, singers, builders, and discoverers.  
I see no two alike.  
I see beauty in the blue eyes, the brown eyes, the green eyes, the grey eyes, and intelligence there, too.  
I see eyes that have seen nothing, for they are new.  I see faces that have seen much, for they are old--some in years, and some in life experiences.  There is beauty in both the hope in newness, and the careful skepticism in experience.  
There is beauty here, and there is much pain.  

I see the lines in faces of fights between friends or lovers, between parents and children.  I see lines in faces from a long weary road of hardships: suffering, trials, failures, and perseverance.  
I see clouded eyes from long days in the sun, or long hours of working for sustenance.  I see clear eyes, bright with the hopes of academia and a future full of promise.  
I see hands calloused from years of manual labor, speckled by the sun.  I see knobby, arthritic hands, that still strive to complete blankets, scarves, and hats for those in need.  I see baby soft hands, searching, learning, exploring the world which is still new and beautiful.

Every line in every face is beautiful.  Every line, every eye, every hand tells a story.  A story of who you are, where you've been, what you've done, how you've seen, what you know, and for what you still search.

Yes, a line is a symbol of a struggle, a trial, a pain.  But it is also a remembrance that you've come through it.  Some tattoo these remembrances on their bodies: a symbol of a past period of their life through which they've come.  But some trials are undeniably written on your body with an ink no laser will remove.  And it is beautiful, even if it is also painful.

It has taken me time to understand that paradox: beauty from pain.  I do not think one necessitates the other.  There is beauty in something brand new, that has not yet experienced failure.  There is also beauty in the face of someone who has lived through a great trial: a world war, persecution, starvation, illness, or broken relationships.  

I look at you, and I see myself.  I see things we struggle with together.  I see the things I will never understand, or that you will never understand in me.  

But most of all, I see hope.  Or more precisely, I see you through hope.  This is different than "rose-colored glasses."  I am frightfully aware of how much imperfection is in this world.  I choose to hope in spite of it.  It is because of this lens that I know there is beauty here: in pain, in trial, in success, and in ordinary life.  It is because of this lens that I have perseverance for tomorrow, despite how dark it looks out my window.  It is because of hope that I know, in my deepest heart, that it will be okay.  You.  We.  We will be okay.  And we are beautiful.


. . . 


I would be remiss if I were to leave the letter above standing alone.

My hope in you, in us, does not stem from some whimsy, some ephemeral desire of things being better in the future.  No.  My hope is rooted, rather unshakably, in a bigger picture.  One in which there is Right, there is Perfection, and there is Hope that we can find it all.  

Why do I understand this to be true?  If I can quickly lay out my understandings, I will try:
  1. I believe in a perfect God, who is the epitome of good, love, justice.  Who is eternal, and all powerful.
  2.  I believe that #1 has allowed His character to be accurately portrayed in the Bible.
  3.  I believe the new testament's statement that the only way to perfection is through belief that Jesus has the power to wipe the record clean of my shortcomings.  

From this standpoint, I see a hope for the future.  I see hope for erasure of the pain in this world.  I see hope for an eventual understanding of why we all have lines on our faces and callouses on our hands.  From this standpoint, I see the pain as a sharpening, a refining process for myself--and I hope it is such for you.  

Am I not a wiser person for having experienced the cocktail of trials and successes in my life?  Are you not a more beautiful person for having triumphed through that decade of fear and self loathing?  Without a gauge, for me I cannot compare who I was prior, to who I am now.  

For me--and I recognize it is not so for all--I require this measuring stick.  For what am I hoping?  Something I have accomplished?  Something I have seen you accomplish?  No.  I hope for it all.  My eyes are open, I see the hurt and the mistakes--yes.  I have made them, Lord, I have made them--I see the world for what it is.  

But because of this lens, because of a hope for things not yet seen, I see beauty in it all.  For in everything, there is hope of achieving that for which you strive. (1

Because of this hope, I will never give up on loving you.  On telling you you're beautiful.  Ever.


Thursday, January 7, 2016

Disagreement *Should* Not Presume Disdain

I consider myself to be a pretty calm individual.  It takes a lot to get me angry to the point of getting into a fight with another individual.  In fact, I can probably count on my hands the number of knock-down-drag-out fights I've had in my life.  However, that doesn't mean I have no opinions, or that my opinions shift to match whoever's opinions are being spoken.  No.  I have opinions, stances, and a belief system of what [I understand] is right and wrong.  I try not to shout it from the rooftops, expecting everyone to arrest their own thoughts so that they might hear mine, but I do have them.  I disagree with folks, more often than my fight-record would indicate.

But my disagreement doesn't presume disdain toward the other party.  Just because we don't understand a topic in the same way, or have drawn different conclusions, doesn't necessitate that the other is stupid.  It shouldn't necessitate to the other person that I am stupid.  (This, of course, assumes that both opinions are backed by something other than "because I said so.")  It merely is an indication that our thought patterns, belief systems, or interpretations of a thing are different.  It does not require that we immediately hate one another, or hold each other at arm's-length after this realization.  In fact, in my mind, your relationship with that person becomes more valuable: differing opinions or understandings to your own can create an opportunity for all sorts of conversation!  Aristotle purportedly said, "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."  After a little digging, maybe he didn't say exactly that...but for my purposes, this serves.  The premise is still fine: discussion is possible without hatred or judgement, without a conclusion of one mind being altered forever.  Disagreement is possible without disdain.

How?  Why is it so polarizing to make your opinions known?  Make a comment on Facebook, only to be quickly defriended by someone who disagrees with you?  I've done it, I've also probably been defriended because if this, too.  There are a bunch of trite quotes I could include about what opinions are like, but you know them, and they are, consider them said.  However, some of my favorite conversations with people have arisen from fundamental disagreement on how a thing works.  What makes these conversations different than the inflammatory "conversations" that riddle social media today?

For starters, respect is present on both sides.  Long ago, I made a decision to (try to) respect everyone with whom I came in contact.  They are people like I am a person, their lives aren't any less important than mine.  I believe this includes everyone: those who are my superiors, those who are my peers, those who I disagree with, and those I don't understand.  By the same token, I would hope I conduct myself in a manner worthy of respect from others.

At any rate, respect is essential to having a discussion without a blow-up.  So is patience.  If you are too busy waiting to shoot someone down that you don't actually take the time to listen to the words coming out of their do you expect them to give any more weight to your words than you do to theirs?  Makes sense to me.  Be patient, let them finish their sentence (or paragraph) before you jump in with a rebuttal.  Take a second to think about what they say after they say it, before thoughtfully responding.  To me, this comes easily.  I thank my parents for that: they raised me to always listen to what they were saying, or what my little brother was saying, before responding.  It's annoying when you're six, as everything you have to say is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING EVER, but that lesson stuck...a lesson for which I am exceedingly grateful, now.

And, the greatest of all: love.  If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or clanging cymbal.  

If I walk into a conversation hating the person...what will I gain?  Proud indignation when they do not to agree with me?  Alienation of a person with differing thought?  Loss of that person's respect?  None of these things are things I desire, or aim for...ever.  Nothing positive is accomplished with these outcomes: not in my mind, anyway.  I'm not saying that you should automatically assume the other person is right, and I'm not saying you always assume that you're right: I'm simply offering the possibility that two individuals with differing opinions can walk away from a discussion on controversial topics still liking one another.

So what, Annaliese, why the self-help blog?

It did turn out that way, didn't it?  I could say that I didn't mean it to, but I'm not surprised.  These are things I've found to be useful when talking with people, I figured it couldn't hurt to share.

But what got me thinking about it?

The current sociopolitical climate is tricky to weather (pun intended...haw haw).  Tides are shifting from recent historical times: inclusion and acceptance are proclaimed much more fully here than they have been in the past.  Inclusion is awesome!  Acknowledgement of different types of people is cool!  There's a great line in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves about that: "Allah loves wondrous variety."  People are different, period, end of story.  They look different, sound different, act different, and think different.

---I don't want to get into particular topics here, as I recognize that I have conservative, white, Christian privileges, and I'm not sure how much I want to bet on successfully maneuvering around them: failing success, I run the risk of losing some audience for this point.  (Sidenote: hopefully you'd respect/recognize my intent, regardless of success or failure in that...but that's an entire tome of topics, not for now.)---

My concern has, and always been, that in an attempt to include something previously excluded, that something previously included gets ostracized.  Please let me be clear here: this doesn't always happen, nor will it always continue to (sometimes) happen.  I have seen cases come out both ways, regarding a number of topics.  That's right, I read inflammatory comment sections and wall post threads: I want to know what makes people tick...or get ticked off.  What is it that a person finds so intolerable that he cannot abide to be facebook friends with someone who's opinions differ?  What is it that she finds so angering that she cannot follow someone's posts, or that he chooses to lecture an unknown individual on the internet?  Personally, it's hard for me to find something that elicits that reaction.  Probably because I hate to hate people.  It's hard, takes a lot of work, and it's draining.  Life is hard enough when you are trying to love everyone...I can't imagine life trying to hate some people and love other people.  It's confusing, and it's scary: do they hate me?  What about this person?  Is he going to hate me if I share my opinion?  Is she going to stop coming to my office if I speak my mind?

I can't hate.  I won't.  It's not worth it.  Besides, I very strongly agree with this:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love dos not know God, because God is love.  In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us...  
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.  For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.  We love because he first loved us.  If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother."  

Lays it out pretty simply (well, minus the repetitive words):  love each other.

It doesn't say: "love people who look like you," or "love people who sound like you," or "love people who vote for the same presidential candidate as you," or "love people who only like their grits the same way you do," or "love people who speak the same dialect as you," or "love people who 100% always agree with your opinions."

It says "love one another."

Please, let me love you.  I'm not asking you to love me back.  I'm just asking that you let me love you for who you are, because that is who I am.  And I'm not changing that because you think I'm crazy.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Transparency or Translucency?

Recently, I've been mulling over some things.

Okay, a lot of things.  But this one in particular:  when is sharing good, and when is it too much?

I'm not talking about sharing your crayons, or your food, or your car, or your clothes.  I'm talking about sharing your thoughts, opinions, experiences, emotions, and fears.  Everyone has people in which they confide: significant others, friends, parents, dogs...but how much is too much?  Is there a line?

For instance: there's lots of people who have opinions on when to say "I love you" to that person you've been dating.  Some say, wait until you're ready to marry them, wait until X number of months, or whenever you really feel it you should let it out.  But, saying "I love you" carries power, no matter at what point in the relationship you say it.

I think secrets can hold that same power.  Or, semi-private parts of relationships that you share with others.  Secrets shared between friends give a lot of power to those friends.  I believe it's very important to have those friends in which you can confide: those friends also keep you accountable when you get weird.  I've been blessed with a great group of girlfriends I feel incredibly comfortable around: we share our fears and triumphs together, and it is so wonderful.  Having been in a place in my life where I didn't feel like I could share things--well, really where I refused to share things--it is awesome to have that freedom once more.  And while I do not fear my secrets being used inappropriately, I wonder: do we share too much?  Is there a line?

We often joke that nothing is sacred...should it be?  Do we hurt or hamper other relationships by sharing too much of them with others?  Or does transparency keep us honest?  What happens when the person you just fought with finds out a group of your friends now knows about it?  What happens when that thing you've been struggling with isn't 100% secret?  Do you get offended?  Do you have a right to get offended?  It's your secret.  But it's been shared among loving people, who love you too.  Does that kind of transparency make it okay?  It seems that it would still rankle, even if only a tiny bit.

But...people are built for relationships.  People are wired to share things.  We need people to lean on in times of trouble, to rejoice with us in times of joy, people to talk us through tough times, and people to love us when we make mistakes.  If we aren't at the least translucent, we don't have that opportunity.  By the same token, we need to express our feelings toward others.  We need to share emotions so that we may further understand them, and not keep them bottled up inside ourselves.  Even so, we are cautioned in Song of Songs, a story of a pair of lovers,"I adjure you...that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases" (2:7, 3:5).  We are cautioned to "Keep your heart will all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life," (Proverbs 4:23).  We are cautioned not to declare our disagreements in the streets, but to amend quietly with one another so as not to dishonor our friends.  Where in all this do you calculate friendships, bosom buddies?  When does it stop becoming sharing and start becoming gossip?  When the hearts of those sharing shift focus from love and respect to judgement and disdain?  Even if the heart of the people still means well, does that make it right?

Internally, we all have a line.  There are things I choose to keep to myself: perhaps for only a time, perhaps for eternity.  I assume that is the same with others.  If it's not, do those who are transparent pages of emotions need to learn to keep some to themselves?  Or do us translucent individuals need to share it all, damning the consequences?

My parents, for many years, have prayed that I would have discernment and forbearance.  I now have a vague understanding of both these terms, but I too pray for continued maturation of both.  Discernment to know right from wrong, wise from unwise, and forbearance to know when to pick your battles.  I think that transparency and translucency in our emotional lives could do from--at the least--a vague understanding of both of these.  Is it wise to share the nitty gritty of the fight you just had with your husband?  Is it right to share with your new girlfriend your moments of very strong feelings for her?  Is it honorable to share with the girls what you struggle with in your relationship?  Is it respectful to share it all?  Forbearance tempered with discernment, when heeded, provides much of this guidance, I believe.  There is a time for everything to be revealed, it's just up to us to fumble for our pocket watches, decipher the dials, and pray that it's telling the right time.