Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Healing Power of Healthy Relationships

     Why do I write so much about healthy relationships? Several reasons come to mind. First and most important: Jesus Himself said that healthy relationships among His followers would be the number one indicator to the world that we are His followers. "You are to live in healthy relationship with one another as I have with you. Everyone will know that you are my followers by the healthy relationships you have with one another." (paraphrase of John 13:34-35 that de-spiritualizes the word "love.") That the early believers understood this to be true is evident in the emphasis that the writers of the New Testament place upon healthy relationships. John, Paul and Peter to name a few, all spend far more time talking about relationships than about personal righteousness.
     The second reason I write so often about relationships is that I see so little evidence of emotionally healthy relationships among US Christians. Many recent conversations have made this painfully obvious to me once again. So many "Christian leaders" are driven, "people-using" persons! I sometimes wonder if these "Christian leaders" have read the gospels and seen how Jesus lived! He said to "Love one another as I have loved you," not "use one another as I have used you." And He clearly stated more than once that Christian leaders were to "look, act and feel like slaves" to those they lead: "Whoever wants to become the first among you must serve all of you like a slave." (Mark 10:44, NCV). Again, the NT writers caught this concept and lived it out. In 2 Corinthians 4:5 Paul writes, "For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus' sake." (RSV).
     The third reason I write so often about healthy relationships give today's entry its title: there is tremendous healing in healthy relationships (health begets health, wholeness gives birth to wholeness). This has been brought home to me once again as I have (again) been reviewing Bo's Cafe in preparation for a season of ministry in California. Healthy relationships and the "environment" that nurtures them are wonderfully defined via the story in Bo's Cafe, which I have written about before, of course. Everybody needs a Bo's Cafe! Ideally, every expression of the church would be so organic that that would be the norm for God's people, but until it is, I will be a fervent evangelist for believers being intentional about forming their own "Bo's Cafes." I wonder what the world would see if every follower of Jesus was part of a community who had people in it like Andy, the main "mentor" in the story? I close with a few excerpts from Andy's email to young Steven. These are some of the best descriptions I have ever found of the kind of safe and whole person who facilitates Bo's Cafe experiences. (from pages 104-108).

"I don't want your trust for my benefit, but for yours. I will never demand it... I can only ask your permission to earn it. Trust is a right response to another's love."

"Do I see others as sinners trying to be saints, or as saints who still sometimes fail? Is it my goal that something will get conquered or fixed, or that nothing will remain hidden? That one's huge...There are very few places where the value of no hiding is placed above getting the other person 'better.'"

"You see, nobody ever arrives. I certainly haven't. We just learn to depend and trust better. Eventually we can grow more mature and become better friends to others. We can learn how to love while learning to be loved. And we can learn how to offer protection in exchange for permission."

     Ah, Papa! Raise up many "Andys," I pray! Ah, Papa! My heart so longs to see the power of your wholeness expressed through healthy community. Keep me tender, strongly gentle and humble before others that I may lead as a slave!

Tom, one of Abba's little boys

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Friend's Perspective on Grief

I am having a hard time getting a regular time to write these days! And my travels of late mean that I will continue to be hit and miss for a while!

Today I want to share something that I have wanted to share for a while: another person's perspective on grief. Stacy is a young widow who lost her husband, Stan, to cancer about 2 1/2 years ago. I wrote about Stan's passing on January 30, 2009. You can read that entry in a new window by clicking here. It seems ironic to me that not that much later our family would be facing (and losing) a similar battle! But like me, Stacy has had Papa lead her through a process of healing and she has much to share. Recently, on the second anniversary of Stan's graduation to heaven, she wrote some wonderful words to folks about how to help those who are grieving. With her permission I share those words with you. Thanks, Stacy, for being my "guest blogger" today!

If I were not a widow, I would have no idea what a person like myself would need or want or be experiencing. Seems a shame to make it to the other side of loving, caring for, and saying goodbye to your ill spouse and not share the nuggets of knowledge gained from such a thing. So it is with that heart that I include this list. If it helps you or someone you know, please accept it with love, deep compassion, and humility.

I. Actual grieving people do not resemble in ANY way movie grieving people. Ok, so I bear more than a striking resemblance to Catherine Zeta-Jones. I can't help that. I mean that my process, your process, his process does not make sense. It is not timely, efficient, orderly or pretty to look at. It is what it is. And it is that way for a reason. I don't know what the reason is. Maybe at the end I will but right now I just want coffee.

II. Do not give up on those who are grieving. After two years of countless unreturned phone calls, I have friends who will not give up. They are angels and dogged in their efforts of reaching out. Make clear you have no expectation of reciprocation - you are just trying to love on us. God shows his grace to us through others who are obedient. You are serving Him.

III. Apologies to Ms. Kubler-Ross, but sorting through a joined life, lost love, dashed hope, does not occur in a linear fashion. There are no boxes to be checked off so that the next step can be conquered. The grieving person is at the mercy of her own psyche. There is big work going on in my brain that I cannot fathom. Some days I resemble an inconsolable, screaming 3 year old (ahem), while others I am magnanimous and charitable and long-suffering. And then sometimes all of it happens in the span of twenty minutes.

IV. A widow or widower is now responsible for EVERYTHING. Finances, car maintenance, meal-planning, vacation planning, appliance repair, spiritual growth of yourself and kids, etc. Widows need people to occasionally descend on their houses to repair the whatever and carry the thingamajig. Widowers I would imagine need someone to clean bathrooms or the refrigerator, bring a Crockpot over and show them how to use it. The point is that the grieving person now has to outsource the practical duties of the missing spouse. This takes a BIG dose of humility. And coffee.

V. We are not fragile. Far, far from it. Ask us about our grief process. Ask us how it's different than we thought it would be. Ask us about the ways our spouse loved us, irritated us, sharpened us. Ask us if we're eating right, sleeping enough, whether we need more coffee, are we coping inappropriately. Do not avoid topics for fear of making us sad. We are already sad and it's not going away anytime soon. At least we can talk about it with you.

VI. We are just as confused by our actions and tendencies as you are. In fact, you may have a better idea of what we need, because we have been reduced to hoping for our own survival. Just start rattling off jobs you can do to see which one sticks. We are in a fog that will not abate. That is God's design so that our brains handle only what they are capable of in that moment.


Thanks for "listening" to one who shares in a journey that I never expected either of us to experience! Stacy, your wisdom, written in your life and not just in words, is a blessing to many!

Tom, one of Abba's children

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Mother's Heritage

"I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also." (2 Timothy 1:5 NIV)

I don't often write my blog around themes related to holidays, but as Mother's Day approaches I have been reminded of the remarkable heritage for "God-hunger" that Papa placed in my life through my mother and both of my grandmothers. I realized today that I have spent my life surrounded by remarkable and godly mothers! Both of my grandmothers influenced my journey towards Jesus, and as you will see in a moment, my own mother (now with Jesus), in spite of a life filled with a lot of suffering, planted the things of God deeply in my heart. And my being surrounded with amazing mothers didn't stop there: Jettie was one of the most amazing mothers and grammies that I have ever seen. And I have two daughters-in-law who are also amazing. And now I find myself in relationship with another remarkable mother, the daughter of a remarkable mother and mother of a remarkable mother! Happy Mother's Day, amazing women of God!

My own mother's life story is a tribute to God's grace and human resiliency. Growing up poor, in an abusive home with an alcoholic father until she was about 13, she nonetheless had a remarkable walk with God which sustained her to the end of her life (she was an invalid in great pain the last 5 years of her life). And she passed this walk on to me, her oldest son, in ways that I am still unpacking--I am a blessed man!

So today, I want to share with you three of many poems that my mother wrote while here on earth. It will give you a glimpse into the "sincere faith" of Mary Ellen Wymore who passed that heritage of faith on to her children.

The love of a child is a wonderful thing,
To be cherished and nourished as a fragile
It comes sweetly, naturally as God’s love
It is freely given, asking only to be loved in
It is never deceiving or coy, always honest.
The joy it brings to pained or lonely hearts
Is equaled only by the joy of God’s love for
His children.
My daily prayer will always be—God make
Me worthy of any child that may love me.
Mary Ellen Wymore

Thank you, Lord, for friends who care,
Who share my grief and pains,
Who always lend a helping hand
When trouble seems to reign.
Thanks also, Lord, for friends who join
In the joys you’ve given me.
Through the days, months, and years
On life’s uncharted sea.
Thanks most of all for friends right here
Without them life would be devoid
Of lasting joy and sweet elation.
Mary Ellen Wymore

While lying ,my body wracked with pain,
And a terrible grief fills my soul,
He comes to me quietly, sweetly, saying,
“Peace be with you my child.”
When ugly doubts creep in unannounced,
He whispers, “Be still and know that I am God.”
When sorrow bows my head and emptiness
Fills my heart,
His presence is there to bring solace to
My troubled soul and fill me with love.
When friends and family forsake me,
My God is there to pick up the pieces
Of my shattered being and mold them
Into something beautiful.
Jesus, My Jesus, how beautiful
Is your unfailing love and guidance
In my life. I shall praise you forever!
Mary Ellen Wymore

Happy Mother's Day, mighty woman of God, Mary Ellen Wymore!

Tom, one of Abba's little boys