I read a book about the impact of childhood memories. The author, a well-known psychologist, wrote that if we recall our three most vivid memories, we’d see who we are. Or, he could describe to us what we’re like…something like that.
I’ve given it a lot of thought.
For me, traveling back in time always brings up a day in the back yard with chickens.
My hardworking parents, both raised on a farm, struggled to make a living in town for their eight-member family. Dad went off to work every day as the assistant manager-in-training at a dry cleaners. Mom mainly stayed home, although now and then she worked part-time jobs in retail.
One Saturday afternoon a former neighbor of Mom’s drove up in his truck. With the help of my parents, he unloaded two wooden crates carrying chickens—six in all. The poor birds were jittery, knowing they were out of their usual milieu. Frantic clucks and squawks leaked out of their beaks.
Mom and Dad ordered, “All kids to the back yard.” Dad would kill the chickens and Mom and the kids were to pluck out the feathers.
Dad pulled the first fluttering chicken from the crate. With the help of my oldest brother, he grasped the bird and stretched its neck over a tree stump. Then he axed its head off with one firm blow.
All of four years old, I stared, wide-eyed.
The beheaded chicken did not fall over dead. Instead, its wings flapped wildly as its body hopped around the yard.
Was it coming after us? To get revenge?
Was it coming after me?
I dashed madly for the house. Knowing I was expected to help with the plucking, I ran just inside the back door and hid behind the frame. I peeked out, shivering with fright.
In time the poor chicken gave up the fight and fell over. Finally at rest.
What’s so poignant to me about this memory is not the behavior of the beheaded chicken. It’s the people.
My parents acted like nothing unusual happened. My brothers laughed loudly. Dad went in and out of the back door and glanced at me hovering there, frightened.
But no one said anything to me.
No “This is how it is with chickens. I’ve seen it a hundred times. It’s OK.”
No “Are you frightened? Don’t worry. I’m here and I will always protect you.”
Amazingly, Mom, ever watchful for one of her children trying to avoid work, didn’t yell for me. She plucked the dirty, bloody feathers, standing by the garbage can, and expected us to follow suit. In time, I did.
Mr. psychologist is right. This memory is the kind of thing that shaped me. I grew up thinking:
– I’m on my own. No one looks out for me.
– I need to be very clever at reading people. Anticipate what they might do. Manage their expectations. Because there might be a hidden agenda.
– No one is in charge of the world making sure things turn out all right. I must be very, very good. Obey the rules. Who knew what God thought either?
I grew up insecure, to say the least. But the psychologist didn’t write the full story.
Now I see that the chicken memory, and others like it, played a critical role in developing me into the person I’ve become…the strength I’ve acquired…the talents I express…the causes I care about.
I needed experiences to push against. I needed to learn to overcome. My fears fueled my search for God. In a way, the frightening, beheaded chicken is one reason I write this column.
I know how important it is for people to be seen. Whether hiding behind the back door or trying to laugh the fear away, people must be told:
Do not ever lose the truth that all will be well. You are safe.
Go out and work and play with all you’ve got.
I’ve got your back.
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My elderly father succumbed to a stroke. Then bed bugs arrived in the house I just completed decorating. The creepy, blood-sucking insects infested again and again. Thirdly, a new friend turned postal…frightening me with her behavior.My world teetered dangerously out of control.
In the midst of chaos on multiple fronts, I faced realities I’d successfully avoided:
1) Life is short.
2) I possess a calling. A dream deep in my soul that represents what I’ve been created to do.
3) I cannot maintain control of my life and be led into my calling. Something has to give: Me as the Boss-in-control-maintaining-safety-and-order OR Me as a dreamer-called-out-one led by God into her true purpose. My calling is an invitation—to a path, not plan.
4) I’m a planner. What can I do?
Two years later I sat down and wrote a memoir recounting this time in my life. I depicted the struggle in my soul—my contending with God—as a screen play. Here is a section from Chapter Three, The Battle:
Play: Gloria’s Divine Comedy
Place: Cosmic Stage
The curtain rises on a dimly lit stage. It is nighttime. GLORIA lies on a small bed in the middle of a living room. THE ALMIGHTY speaks from the rafters.
I heard you saying, “Why is life so hard?”
I’m sorry, God. Really. I know my life is a lot better than most people’s lives. I could be begging on the streets of Calcutta or homeless in New York—
[Interrupting.] We’re talking about the real you and your real life.
Yes, I’m trying to be grateful for what I have.
Then let’s start there. What do you have? What do you have that’s permanent, solid, for certain, now and forever…Amen? What?
[Gazes into the darkness, thinking.]
Smiling people gather downstage center. They carry signs with the words, “Career, Retirement Fund, Family, Friends, House, Health.”
That’s easy. Nothing lasts forever.
Really, Gloria? Nothing?
Well, YOU, of course.
You’re dodging the question.
[Frustrated.] I don’t know what you want. This is depressing. Nothing I pursue on a given day lasts forever. I get it. You’ve made your point.
Dear one, that’s not my point at all. I’m asking you to acknowledge what you do have that lasts forever. What has been there ever since you can remember and in your heart you know it will never end?
[Hesitantly.] Well, the only thing that’s been there ever since I can remember is me.
And tell me how you see it—are you going to come to an end? Will Gloria cease to exist one day?
I don’t think so. It’s weird—I have this sense I’m going to live forever. That would be nice, anyway.
Now we’re getting somewhere. It’s you, your soul—with your heart at the center.
That’s what you have, Gloria. [Jubilantly.] Your heart and soul are the most wonderful parts of you. The parts that make me proud and happy.
[Pondering] So the hard stuff in life is meant to remind me nothing lasts except my heart and soul.
Fine. I get this too, God. Nothing lasts. Thanks for the reminder. I guess I fool myself into thinking what I’m doing down here matters somehow…
YES—a zillion times YES—it does matter. You and the dream in your heart are critical. So much is at stake.
Excuse me, God, but what the heck could be lost or gained—with my little dream?
Don’t you see? Your heart is where I am, where we’re conversing right now and where your dream lives.
I connect with people in their heart. I change individuals, heal nations and evolve the planet via human hearts. Your dream is your part to play. It’s your place in the action, your role in the battles I’m waging to restore the earth. Can you see this?
Well…now that you explain things, I see why I’ve been so unhappy lately. I’ve been focusing on making myself safe while you are trying to draw me into battle.
Some type of cosmic fight for human hearts.
Well said, dear one, well said.
Huh. I guess that also answers my question, “Do we want the same thing?” On the one hand, I want you and the dream you’ve given me, and, on the other hand, I don’t. Part of me wants my life to be…predictable…under control…my control.
I guess there’s a war going on in me too.
What are the two sides?
One side of me wants predictability and control. The other… [thinking]…the other wants to rise up, be courageous and jump into the hottest battle with you. I want to be the most love-filled, clear-minded, lion-hearted, awesome Gloria I can be.
I see me slamming truthful words down on the page and getting it out there to every corner of the world. Swish, clang, ta da! Watch out, here I come—God’s warrior!
[Soberly] The problem is…
I’m not often warrior-like. I’ve got much more experience being on the sidelines. Cheering others on. I know things will work out in the end.
I don’t see myself as needed on the front lines.
What are you afraid of?
I’ve already lost my mom and dad as my support system. I’m losing the home I just completed furnishing.
If I bolt in some new direction, I’ll lose my career and business reputation I’ve worked two decades to establish.
My car is getting old.
I’ll for sure lose the approval of my brothers and sisters. They’ll think I’m being irresponsible to pursue my calling. They’ll advise me to wait until my retirement fund is stronger.
No one will understand. Or wish me well.
Bottom line? To start walking toward my dream feels like jumping off a cliff.
I’m truly sorry to disappoint you, God.
I don’t do cliffs.
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You don’t need me to tell you that fear held me back. Kept me from pursuing my calling. It’s pretty clear, isn’t it?
But this scene is not the end of my story. It is only the beginning of me starting to release control and walking toward something better: Love.
I ultimately decided to trust the love of God for me. Just a little. And take a step forward with Him leading me. Just one step.
Now I’m three years down the path. I trust more. Dream more. Do more of my calling.
What about you?
What holds you back?
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Think about it:
You didn’t ask to be born.
You don’t know exactly where you came from or where you’re going—if anywhere—after you die.
Yet, you’re here. Living in this place and time.
For a reason?
You wonder, Who am I? and Why am I here?
It’s disturbing. We didn’t choose to be alive on planet earth. Yet we sense we have a purpose and are somehow accountable for it. We try to find our purpose and fulfill it.
But suffering detours us. Destroys our plans. Crushes our hearts.
“Be born. Procreate. Die.” And, “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die,” mantras sound easy and…logical. Perhaps we are just a random set of molecules coming and going nowhere. Why not give up believing our lives have meaning?
After all, none of this was up to us in the first place.
Stop and think about it:
What if you stay in the game and continue to pursue your purpose? What do you have to lose?
What if you believe
– God created you and placed you in the particular set of trials and joys that is your life
– And you have a part to play in God’s grand scheme of healing the earth?
– Plus the trials you face can be grist for the mill of ensuring you stay on the path of your purpose? What if suffering can be remixed to purify and prepare you for your finest hour?
If we believe, then we have one thing to do: we must choose who and what to commit to. And live from that commitment.
A professor and social activist weigh in:
“Jesus said, “Whoever seeks to find himself, will lose himself. But whosoever is willing to lose himself for My sake and the sake of the kingdom, will find himself.” … the self is not waiting to be discovered through introspection. The self is waiting to be created through commitment. Commitments define us. Commitments give each of us our identity. And if you have no commitments, you are, says T.S. Elliott, the hollow man, the empty man, the straw man blown to and fro by the wind.”
– Dr. Tony Campolo in his speech, “Committed to Hope.”
“Skepticism is a good and healthy thing…Be skeptical and ask the hard, tough questions about our institutions–especially Washington and Wall Street. But cynicism is a spiritually dangerous thing because it is a buffer against personal commitment. Becoming so cynical that we don’t believe any change is possible allows us to step back, protect ourselves, grab for more security, and avoid taking any risks. If things can’t change, why should I be the one to show courage, take chances, and make strong personal commitments?
But personal commitment is all that has ever changed the world, transformed human lives, and altered history. And if our cynicism prevents us from making courageous and committed personal choices and decisions, the hope for change will fade.”
Inspired by Campolo and Wallis, I grab my journal and title a fresh page: My Commitments
I pray, “God, please show me. What am I to be committed to?”
Anxiety. Overwhelm. I read more from Wallis:
“And this is where faith comes in. Hebrews 11:1 says it best, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” ..Hope means believing in spite of the evidence, then watching the evidence change. Faith enables us to act in hope, despite how things look, and that’s what can help make change finally occur and change how things look.”
– Jim Wallis, “The Post-Cynical Christian,” HuffPost Religion, June 20, 2013
Then I write:
1. I’m committed to you, Jesus, as my Vine (John 15), the source of my life.
2. To people—my family and all people everywhere. I’m committed to loving them as You enable and direct me.
3. I’m committed to the message that every person is called to play a part in God’s story of redeeming the planet and it’s people. I stand with you, Jesus, at the doors of peoples’ hearts to coax them open. Open to You and the mission for which you’ve created them.
4. I’m committed to my health—physical, mental, spiritual. Because I am Your vessel.
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What about you—what are your commitments?
Will you set aside cynicism and stoke the fires of faith? Write down your commitments?
Let’s live them.
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photo credit: stock.xchange
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Dear Reader, Thank you for visiting ON FIRE. If you are willing to share your commitments with me, I welcome reading them. My email is: Gloria@gloriarose.com.
Hardly able to get out of bed. Skipping classes. Doing the bare minimum, if that.
The reason was my boyfriend—EX-boyfriend. Our break-up seemed right at the time, but when reality set in, I was devastated.
I turned my final paper in for English Teaching Methods, my major, two days late. Although Dr. Martin gave me a good grade, she wrote a scathing note at the bottom. She expressed how shocked and disappointed she was at my absences. My lack of participation in class. My late assignments. My work as a senior was beneath what it was as a junior. She added that my behavior needed to change if I was to become a successful teacher.
A true star in the field, Dr. Martin was my favorite professor. Her words stung, sending me deeper into despair.
The university I attended was small and professors often went the second mile to develop students. Thankfully, Dr. Halvorson, a sociology professor, also noticed my behavior change. He spotted me in the hall and struck up a conversation while guiding me into his office. He said he noticed I seemed to be distracted and was just checking in with me.
His manner disarmed me. He wasn’t judging me or assuming the worst. He didn’t criticize or point out my failures. He simply conveyed genuine person-to-person interest.
I felt respected. Valued. Safe.
So, I poured out my story of love lost and how I struggled to accept the grim reality. Dr. Halvorson listened attentively and asked who the young man was. When I revealed his name, Dr. Halvorson said he knew my ex-boyfriend and could understand why I was attracted to him.
He pondered the situation quietly for a few moments. Then Dr. Halvorson surprised me.
Observing both me and my ex-boyfriend, he suggested I might be the more mature one and, although something might work out in the future, that difference in maturity might have figured into the break-up. And rightfully so.
Though hard to hear, his words came from a place of tender concern and daring honesty.
I knew he was probably right.
I left his office. Somehow…stronger.
Later Dr. Halvorson followed up with me: How was I doing?
I was better, much better.
Dr. Halvorson’s honoring of me influenced me. I was able to climb out of the pit and give myself and my life some of that same honor.
Now, years later, he remains in my memory as a person I want to be like.
Unpacking Dr. Halvorson’ approach, I offer these steps:
How to Successfully Coach and Strengthen Another Person
1. Observe behavior. Don’t judge.
2. Ask questions
3. Honor the person and their journey / struggle
4. Discuss options
5. Give your perspective, as just that—your perspective
6. Leave the door open and Follow up
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photo credit: Stock.xchng.com
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Thank you for visiting ON FIRE. Your feedback is treasured.