Saturday, January 30, 2010

Nuclear Reactors

So my sister and her family were in town for two weeks. Having them here was incredibly amazing. I loved getting to love on those kids, watch my daughter play with her cousins, and hear from Sharla and Brent about the different things they have going on. I always appreciate Sharla's perspective on things and the way that she listens. It's pretty much the same with Brent. They are just really good at sharing with people and letting people share with them. Of the various examples of marriage I am blessed enough to view, theirs is one of my favorites, especially among folks my age. And they are generous. When I think about it, all of my sisters are generous. I like that about our family.

While they were here, I tried to spend as much time with them as possible. I had to work some, and I needed some down time, but other than that, when they were at Mom's or Dad's, I tried to be there. Naturally at times, things got a little crazy. I think at one point we had 10+ kids running around Mom's house, plus all of the adults. Since I only have one child, I'm not as accustomed to multiple children and all of the accompanying motion, sound, etc. Everytime someone screamed and I whipped my head around to see who it was and what was happening, I felt a little silly. Call it jumpy, I guess. But you know, I'm okay with that. My life is how it is for a reason, and I like it. I like that I'm accustomed to a decent level of quiet. It's a blessing for me; just the same, I admire the mothers I know who have adjusted to a more lively atmosphere. I think it says a lot about someone's inner calm.

Which brings me to my next subject: emotional triggers. Or, for lack of a better term: buttons. Last fall I attended an incredibly enlightening course on conflict management. The instructor was amazing, and I have to say, of all of the training courses I've participated in over the last year, this one stands out. So informative, so useful. One of the things that our instructor said, over and over again, was that you have to know what your buttons are, you have to know when they're being pushed, and you have to know how to keep yourself from reacting in order to effectively manage conflict. See, the button-push is the fail-safe for the confrontee in any conflict. Example: if I spread a vicious rumor about you, and you confront me about it, and I just happen to know that one of your buttons is, I don't know, let's say...being thought inconsistent or hypocritical, I can easily 'defend' myself by pushing this button. You confront me about spreading the rumor, and I pitch back to something you may have done last month and take the how-dare-you approach. Might even come right out and call you a hypocrite. Instantly the issue is clouded, and the confrontation escalates beyond either of our control. I don't even have to respond to your initial inquiry or concern. That's how powerful buttons can be.

I've been able to locate my buttons in the workplace with a relative amount of ease. I know what my sensitive areas are, and I know how to recognize when they are being singled out. Somehow that recognition makes non-reaction very feasible. I don't's like you're looking at the way a bomb is wired instead of imagining the blast. It's just a lot easier to stay calm and diffuse the situation that way.

For some reason, though, or maybe for several, applying this attitude in the other areas of my life is a much larger project. I've got a vision statement, but my goals and objectives start to get pretty hazy when I really start looking into all of this. See, I've been in the professional workplace for less than 10 years. I've been in many of my personal relationships for much, much longer than that. The emotional backlog is a bit more extensive. And I would say there's probably a stronger expectation of justice in this arena as well. There are more connection points and fewer disconnects. There's more trust, more vulnerability, more knowledge, more experience. You can call me one name - just one - and the shrapnel starts to fly. And I can probably do the same to you. So we're back to the start: the trick is finding out what those names are, what those accusations are, or even what those observations are, and then figuring out how to get around them in conflict.

My daughter is a huge, huge fan of one of Pixar's new movies, Monsters vs. Aliens. She loves it. And I have to say, I think it's pretty cute myself. But then, Pixar's pretty good about putting out kid movies that the parents can get into as well. In the movie, the president of the United States is portrayed as a little bit of a beefhead (voicework done by Stephen Colbert, which I find pleasantly amusing). I'm pretty sure they intended to model this character after George W., but I'm not here to say much about that. It's not the point. So anyway, as you can probably tell from the title of the movie, aliens are threatening to destroy the planet, and these monsters that the government has been hiding in an Area 51-type facility are enlisted to fight the aliens and save the planet. There's a scene where the president is meeting with his cabinet in this high-tech pentagon-ish conference room, and he says that he needs a latte. There are these two huge red buttons on the wall behind his chair. He starts to press one, and everyone screams and freaks out and tells him to stop. They tell him that this is the button that initiates nuclear war, and that the other button is the one that will dispense his latte. The thing is, the buttons are right next to each other, and they are absolutely identical, with no unique identifier of any kind. Of course there's the usual joke of 'who designed this thing anyway?' and then 'you did, sir'...har har har.

But as I was thinking through this whole button thing this week and weekend, I couldn't help but think of this scene. We all have buttons, and sometimes they are huge. And sometimes they look just like something else and there's absolutely no way for us to tell them apart. And if I can't tell them apart, how can I expect you to be able to? It's a recipe for disaster - none of us knows if we're going to get a cup of joe or the end of the world as we know it. Just the same, if I know that I'm going to have a volatile reaction to an action you might take, isn't it on me to do something about that? I can't control what you do, what you say, and definitely not what you think. But I can control how I react, how I process it, and how it affects me in the long run. So I think you gotta deprogram those buttons. You have to be able to look at yourself in the mirror and say - this is the truth about me. This is what God's word says about me. This is who He says I am, and this is what I choose to believe. And then you've gotta throw out the rest. One thing our conflict management instructor did not emphasize, that I think definitely bears pointing out, is that as you deprogram your own buttons, you have to keep from pressing someone else's. Otherwise, what's the point? Where's the health and value in working on how you react and ignoring how you act? I wish all of this was as easily done as it is written. I wish it didn't take quite so much work...or so much humility. But I'm grateful nonetheless that it works, that I've already seen it work and can be confident that it will continue to do so.

I'm so grateful for the reminder I had this week, in the midst of my thought process on this, that Jesus did not claim His full personal rights, and as a follower of Him, I must also forfeit my own. It's a truth that I tried to keep before me for a very long time, but somewhere along the way I started picking up entitlement vouchers and bags full of pride. It's a hard truth. But truth sets us free. And we all wanna be free.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

VOTD 01.10.10

Taken from a site I go to from time to time: This was today's entry.

Today's Verse
In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free. The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?

— Psalm 118:5-6 (NIV)
Thoughts on Today's Verse...
The beginning of the year has been a trying time for people I care about. Maybe it's been that way for you or those you love. My prayer for you, and for them, is that they may know the comfort of God's presence. Whether it's the popular little poem "Footprints" or the familiar "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me," the presence of the Lord is absolutely vital to standing up against our anguish! The Lord does long to be with us, especially at those moments when we feel most alone. He told us that by experiencing anguish, alone, by himself on the cross.

My Prayer...
I am thankful, O God, that you refused to be God from a safe distance. Because you came and felt what it was like to be abandoned, forsaken, and alone, I know I can trust that I will never be forsaken by you. Please give me a clearer sense of your presence with me in my life today, I pray through Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

When the beating of your heart...

The last 48 hours have undoubtedly been the worst of the year. Granted we're only 9 days in, but still. They have been wretched.

Relationships have changed, some very permanently, and the combined pain of those adjustments is honestly a little bit crushing. I think one of the greatest disservices we can do each other is to assume we know another's heart. Whether we assume we know it to be good or evil, settled or wandering, peaceful or conflicted, whole or broken, there's no easier way to wreak havoc than to allow those assumptions to inform our actions toward the people we love. If my heart fails to stay in one place, do not assume it is permanently wandering. If it cries out, do not assume it is broken. If it falters, do not assume it is weak. If it chooses badly, do not assume it is evil. Ask me where my heart is, and listen, really listen when I try to put it into words. I'm trying to get to where I'm going, and if you're not careful, you will encumber an already difficult journey.

It's so much harder to listen than to assume and act. I get that. Especially when listening means such an active participation in experiencing both pain and healing. So I guess you have to pick your poison - do you suffer, or do they? I hope to always have the courage, the patience, the listen.

May you never step into a clearing only to see me angling you up.