Friday, April 27, 2012

A Burden Lifted

Ever have the need to “get something off your chest”?

NPR ran a story yesterday about Larry Israelson, a writer who carried a secret burden for 39 years and who then wrote about the apology he was finally able to make to his seventh-grade teacher. 

His "misdeed" may seem trite compared with darker things students have done to teachers: as a twelve year old, he dropped out of a beloved teacher's class because students were making fun of him, rhyming his name with the teacher's, trying to imply something the naive boy didn't understand, but knew was an ugly connotation.

Israelson convinced the principal to let him switch teachers, and never told the teacher why. And it bothered him.  For years. This teacher had been an encourager to him, consistently helping him and complimenting him on his writing skills, encouraging him in the very career where one day this boy would make his mark as a man.

As an adult, he felt shame about his cowardice, and having let down this very special mentor. For Israelson, the burden was heavy. Being able to find him and apologize, Israelson said, "was like a huge weight was lifted." 

This is a great story, because it illustrates the power of confession, forgiveness and reconciliation. Relieving ourselves of a long-kept secret or sin against another can be freeing, especially when it makes forgiveness and reconciliation possible. 

The darker side to “getting something off your chest” is when it is about making yourself feel better, without considering how the person on the receiving end will feel or react.  That could implode a solid relationship very quickly, or unintentionally cause harm. A counseling session can be a first “best practice” for sharing in a safe environment.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Back to the Tea and Now to Tu

I know my last two posts were kind of heavy material--my blog is not about theology per se, nor do I want to pound someone over the head with my opinions (hmm...will that work with my husband?). But when I get pumped up about an idea or need to share something I believe in, it bubbles to the surface and must be released! That is probably not the best image. But I won’t hit the delete button, because it is kind of funny and since I just had the flu for a week, humor is a must.

So, brew a cup of tea and let's talk about my hair stylist. Yes, she is my "stylist." That word makes me feel cool and worthy of her shears. Her name is Tu, and she is originally from Vietnam. She is twenty years younger than I am and I love her 'tude--that's "attitude" in Earl Grey Girl parlance. She loves what she does, and like many creative people, she can't explain why she can do what she does.  She "just can."

She was cutting her own hair at age 9, and had a curling iron in her fist when she was 10. She cut hair for fun in high school, but did not consider it job material until she grew bored with computers in interior design school. An artist needs to use her hands.

When she was in hair school (is that what they call it?), she would watch her instructors carefully, and could quickly understand how to cut the right angles (math-challenged, I would have flunked immediately), and she could also intuit what style would work with a particular client. She told me that when she looks at someone's head, she can "see" how the hair cut should turn out. She has an artist's eye, and that's how she approaches hair styling.

Is there something you just know how to do, but can't really explain how you know to do it? Don't dismiss your capability--it is God-given and probably world-necessary. No woman reading this is going to doubt the necessity and awesomeness of a gifted hair stylist. A good haircut can lift a pound of stress from a harried woman. There are ministries that give away free haircuts and spa days to show the care and love of God, like Good Cause in Maryland. 

When you discover what you are good at--as long as it is moral and legal (Bernie Madoff was really good at raising money--for himself)--shout it! And then, share it. Share your gift. 

"Moses told the Israelites, "See, God has selected Bezalel son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. He's filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability, and know-how for making all sorts of things, to design and work in gold, silver, and bronze; to carve stones and set them; to carve wood, working in every kind of skilled craft. And he's also made him a teacher, he and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. He's gifted them with the know-how needed for carving, designing, weaving, and embroidering in blue, purple, and scarlet fabrics, and in fine linen. They can make anything and design anything." Exodus 35:30-35.

What Does it Mean to be Converted?

Chuck Colson's death over the weekend has brought the "C" word back into public discussion: not "convict" or "criminal," but "conversion." And that is a good thing.

Yesterday, I wrote about the very public transformation of Chuck Colson from a Watergate criminal to a convert who exemplified Christian service and sacrifice for the marginalized in society: prisoners and their families. Washington Post op-ed columnist Michael Gerson wrote on Monday that Colson was "the most thoroughly converted person I have ever known."

Conversion is a mystery--Christian theology has never made the claim that conversion is man-made. One cannot just whip up a quick conversion, though many evangelists have probably tried. Christian conversion involves the Spirit of God convicting us of our great need to turn toward God and away from all that holds us captive: sin, pride, evil. The dictionary defines conversion in the Christian theological sense as "repentance and change to a Godly life."

Do you want to know if someone is a true convert? Look at his or her life! Let's look at our own lives! True repentance leads to a changed life. It won't happen overnight--though some internal and external change can happen instantaneously. My father, for instance, was miraculously healed of alcoholism. That was apparent to anyone who knew his circumstances: he never suffered the effects of withdrawal. But other changes within him happened over the long term. God's work in us is a life-long project, but His grace and love encourage us to keep turning to Him!

Colson was known pre-conversion for having few virtues--few people liked him, and many were afraid of him. It would be awful to leave a legacy like that--but God did not let that happen. Colson took no credit for the changes that occurred within him and his relationships--it was a work of God that allowed him to be so thoroughly converted and so thoroughly transformed. He, like every other person who turns to God and away from the prison of sin, became "a new person."

Colson reminds me of a certain person named Saul, who was greatly feared by the first Christians 2,000 years ago. He believed his destiny was to wipe out what he and the other Pharisees believed to be a blasphemous group. He was going to make it his life's work to throw every Christian into prison or to have them executed.

But God had very different plans for Saul, who was thoroughly converted on the Road to Damascus. He, too, was eventually thrown into prison for his crimes--the very crimes of the faithful he had railed against as a Pharisee. Colson was released from prison for his crimes after only seven months, but lived the rest of his life as a former prisoner truly set free. We don't jail people in the United States for preaching and living out the Gospel (there are countries who do!)--if we did, he would have served a life sentence, like Paul.

"This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!" 2 Corinthians 5:17, New Living Translation.

Photo credit: Kairos Prison Ministry

Monday, April 23, 2012

Chuck Colson: A Very Good Work

Nicholas Kristof, New York Times columnist and author of Half the Sky, posted on Facebook Saturday a short tribute to Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, who died at 80 April 21. What struck me is that Kristoff began the tribute with a disclaimer: "I know this will horrify some of you, but I had respect for Chuck Colson..." and then Kristoff describes the very good work Colson did in addressing the many problems in the prison system, including prison rape.

From the comments the columnist received, one would think Colson had been the devil incarnate, instead of a once-power-hungry human being who "sinned boldly," was convicted and imprisoned, and who, for the rest of his life, reflected the conversion and redemption that he claimed had saved him in prison.

Let me repeat that: Colson, for 40 years until his death, led a life of integrity, service, creativity, and commitment. He was not a hypocrite, a snake-charmer, an adulterer, unlike other "church-going" leaders we have seen take a fall in recent years; he was a sinner saved by grace who then served boldly.

He was "working out his salvation" for all the world to see--except that much of the Western world chooses to call evil, good and good, evil, especially when in disagreement with someone. The sophisticated world has trouble seeing good in Chuck Colson. The comments on Kristof's post were primarily shots at "evil" conservative politics, and the assertion that Colson's Watergate crimes and later political alliances were equally bad.

But evangelical Christians also had a problem with him in the mid '90s, because he dared to forge an alliance with Catholics. When the document, "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" was published, 100 angry evangelical leaders denounced it, and Colson's ministry lost one million dollars in funding. Apparently, helping prisoners wasn't as important at that moment as sticking it to a perceived pal to Catholics. 

But, it was only for a while. The furor died down, and many came to see that Christians working together, regardless of denomination, is much more effective than ripping one another apart.

I did not know Chuck Colson personally, but I ran into him a few times while I was working for Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He was a long-time Board member. I remember being in awe--geek that I am--because he was the rock star of transformed lives. I had read several of his books, and had been given his book, Born Again, many years before by my father when I first became a Christian. I remember calling my dad excitedly that I had just been standing next to one of his heroes.

But a glimpse into Colson's character can be found in a 45-minute car ride with my husband who was driving him to the airport. He asked Tim about his work, his plans for ministry. He wanted to hear his opinion about the seminary. Then, he apologized as his phone rang. "I have to take this--my daughter's calling!" Tim could not help but overhear a loving exchange between a dad and a daughter. A few weeks later, my husband received a signed book from Colson's office. Colson had said he would like to send him one and wrote down Tim's address. This very busy man, with much on his mind and plate, remembered to send a book to someone he had just met.

Like Kristof, I have great respect for Colson--yes, for the prison ministry, but more for his ability to actualize God's promises: that as a child of God, you can be set free from sin and shame--and then move on to do great things.

I have counseled people who had great difficulty in believing they were truly forgiven for the past, who had not committed ugly crimes impacting an entire nation. It takes courage and faith to face those we have wronged, admit our wrongdoing, then lay that shame at the cross (see Colson's book I mentioned earlier, Born Again).  Of course, there are consequences to our actions: some wrongs can't be undone. But if Colson had wallowed in self-pity, or worse, so much good would not have been realized.

Kristof was pandering to his more liberal followers in his post, but he, like Chuck Colson, is at least willing to stick his neck out and acknowledge that a life transformed can help transform others--calling what is good to be good.

Chuck Colson photo courtesy of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Click here to read the Gordon-Conwell memorial to Colson.
Kristof photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

What's Your Story?

Whenever I see my gregarious father-in-law, he greets me with, “What’s your story?” or the classic, “What’s your excuse?” He is of course implying that somewhere, somehow, me being me, I am causing trouble (probably starting with marrying his son 25 years ago). I think he would fall over if I replied, “What’s my story? Let me tell you the history of me!” More likely, given that we have a jib-jab teasing relationship, the response would be, “Please, I know enough.”
But, actually he doesn’t. And neither do I about him, or my own mother, or even my husband.

Everyone has a story. None of us can know the whole story of others, because we are not they.  Each one of us has a unique “history of self,” even those raised in the same household. Birth order, age difference, gender, personality--if you have a sibling, or are the parent to more than one child, then you know how these categories and their impact can differ dramatically from sibling to sibling.

It is so easy to make assumptions about another person, based on even a few exchanges of communication. But we really don’t know his story until we are told, and until we bother to truly listen.

The more experience I have in life (read: getting older!), the more I realize how my account of childhood in the Larson home may lack a certain historicity--authentic history--because it is my perception. I don’t have the whole truth, because I was not--nor can be--in everyone else’s heads to get their understanding or perspective.

So what’s the point of this post? To encourage us, myself included, that to understand one another, to know one another’s stories, we have to communicate and not make assumptions. Sometimes the other person won’t be ready to share; respect that. But, start somewhere. Just ask, “So, what’s your story?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Remember to Steep for 3 Minutes

Welcome to a blog two years in the making! Most writers would have tapped out that first entry ‘snapdoodle’ after snapping up a domain name, but not me: too busy finishing up grad school, supporting my daughter through senior year of high school, a major move out of state, and supporting my other daughter as she plunged into a brand new high school. Fun times.

So, let’s not delay any longer: why Earl Grey Girl? Because Earl Grey is full of Bergamot, which = heaven in a teacup, and conversations over tea are usually much more productive than those over hard liquor. But, I am not opposed to conversations over a nice glass of Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc.  I am all about conversations steeped in love and laughter, and in building relationship. Not perfectly, because who can do that, except God? I mess up, especially with people I love, but I would definitely give my little finger for them. Not the index finger, because I need that one to type.

Here are my passions: people; encouraging people, especially women, to pursue lives steeped in excellence and joy in their goals and relationships with others and with God; books; culture; writing; family; and did I mention people? I am a writer, a speaker, a counselor (M.A., Counseling, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, 2010) and a worship leader. My desire is to encourage readers in their daily lives and to help them find the Living Hope that is Jesus Christ.

And, by the way, tea is not just for women. Ask my husband.