Thursday, May 29, 2008

Viva la differance! (Positive Intent)

As I was folding all five loads of piled up laundry in my rocking chair this morning, my brain was chewing on something I've been struggling with for a while: assuming the best about myself and others.

One of the driving forces behind my personality is a strong sense of "should", although I'm relieved to admit that the older I get, the more that idealism is able to expand, recognize the complex, and be shaped by growing knowledge and compassion. Even so, I tend to be very optimistic when I'm feeling safe, and something of a fatalist when I'm feeling fearful, quickly assuming that behavior that I can't easily understand comes from the darkest place possible in the other person's heart.

Thus, when feeling overwhelmed, I can become very hard on myself and others, even when my intuition is telling me there's more at work than meets the eye.

However, I'm cheered to discover that I'm growing in the area recognizing human complexity and having the patience to carefully ponder all possible motives/causes behind a behavior. (This I've always understood in theory, but in practice, it's a much more slippery notion! To know something for fact is one thing, but to automatically apply that knowledge when emotion involved is so much more "twicky!", as my 18mo likes to say. )

I'm finding increasingly that there is more often than not a very real rationale behind most human behavior, and the root issue is rarely as nefarious as all that. Much of the time, the person is acting out what honestly seems like the most reasonable reaction to whatever they're facing.

Obviously, weakness and sinful nature come into play somewhat, but the end, I think the greatest underlying sin is simply the unwillingness to trust Christ for perfect provision-something that I can only imagine God meeting with an ocean of compassion and gentleness. As a friend put it to me recently, I believe God treats those who struggle with fear with special patience and compassion!

And, I believe that more often than not personality strengths often set the person up for acting in ways that don't make sense to others who don't share (at least not as strongly) those characteristics.

Case in point: My good friend Lindsay has a head for people details. Seriously, she's amazing. She remembers Suzie Q's birth stats, whether I live in a town where there's a certain store, what kind of hairspray you use, her friend's kid's birth months. She just knows it. It sticks in her head like glue, and it's *amazing*. It makes the people around her feel loved and special. (shout out to Linds...I love ya! <3)

Not so with me. You could tell me how old you are, and I might forget, say, two minutes later. I don't often remember how much gas is, when your birthday is, my own measurements, or even street names on the way to my house. I've learned how to focus on details in my own home and with my own family, and I do it well...but beyond that..pfttt! Forget it!

Is it because I don't care about details of those around me? Nothing could be further from the truth! It's because when you're talking to me, I'm busy hearing the "feeling" phrases, what seems the most emotionally significant to you, and reading your body language. I'm distracted by your feelings, and I'm feeling them, too. Therefore, I sometimes stink at small talk. (Or at least stink under the surface...I can do a good job of pretending to listen on the surface by murmuring "mmmhmm"s and reflecting your facial expression back to you! *blush* It's genuine emotion, because I can resound with you while my brain being completely elsewhere. *more blushing*)

Half the time, if I seem to zone out while someone is talking about what they ate that day, it's not because I don't's because I'm chewing on whatever profound thing you said five minutes ago. **blush** And if you hang in there with me, I might be able to offer some insight.

I can't tell you how many times those around me have assumed that I'm stuck up, unintelligent, airheaded, inattentive, or impractical. (And, in fact, none of those things are true about's just that in an emotional situation, my intuitive side tends to take the driver's seat, followed by deep internal thought!)

I'm also slow to make friends, and tend to only have a few truly close ones at a time. I know I've hurt the feelings of others before when we fail to start a friendship or be as close as I'd like. I can be aloof, vague, evasive and even curt towards those I feel would cloud my emotional receptors. I tend to hang onto the emotions of others as if they were my own. Sometimes, I simply have all the relationships I can handle at the moment, even though I seem energetically friendly.

Only recently have I come to realize that this doesn't make me a defective person. I needn't be so hard on myself, while realizing, of course, I need to keep a careful watch out for going out of balance.

I realize tend to make quick judgments of others in my life, too, my husband in particular. He's similar to me in some ways, but he tends to feel out the world in concrete/in-the-moment way. He's good at creative problem solving, and at what it's going to take to fix something. If I philosophize around him, he has a tough time paying any attention at all until I get around to the practical, "Here's how this plays out in real life" area. And then, he's very, very honest about whether he perceives it as a good application or not. It's his strong suit, and it's extremely helpful as long as I view it as him working within his area of strength.

But if I sense boredom from him during my emoting, or if he fails to instinctively know I'm feeling (in other words, if he fails to be *me*), it's very easy for me to interpret that as apathy or annoyance.

And that scenario plays out with endless possibilities. It would be easy for one personality type to assume that another is selfish, indulgent, negligent, overbearing, heartless, lazy, non-committal or any number of harsh trait assumptions. It's so very easy to believe that others are acting out of sin (which is indeed a small part of the equation), but it's so much more complex than that.

This is part of the reason I take issue with Christians who fail to acknowledge psychology, personality type and human development as part of their faith. *muse*

Whenever I hear someone say, "That's just plain old sin!! Don't feed me any of that psychological mumbo jumbo!" (as I've said before in the past), I can't help but hear, "I don't have the energy, knowledge or resources to expend to find the real cause of this...and I really wish a good old alter service would make it go away!" Which is a totally understandable sentiment-who hasn't wished for an easier, less exhausting way of dealing with a problem?? I totally wish I could find MY magic wand. :OP

I feel greatly encouraged and buoyed by the voice in my heart that prods me towards the harder road, the road that enables me to develop and use all the fruit of the spirit in my life. Magic wands don't require thought, insight, patience, peace, gentleness or love. Learning as much as I can about the unique workings of my friends and family certainly does. And it's wonderfully humbling to discover and acknowledge the beauty of the working of the gifts and minds and spirits of others who are SO unlike me.

The more I understand that, and the more I understand what makes those around me tick, the more I realize I NEED others desperately. <3

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Wide World Comforts Her

It was nearly a year ago that a good friend and I sat on a quilt in my backyard and marveled at how *calm* our both our intense children were as soon as we took them outside.
They drove each other to tears indoors, teasing, grabbing, bouncing quite literally off each other and my crayon marked walls, but as soon as they stepped outside, it was as if we had given the both behavioral meds!

Instantly calm, and happy to collect sticks together. We laughed the relieved laughter that only the parent of a "more" child can was glorious!! It was like magic.

I shouldn't have been surprised.

Our girls have been lovers of the outdoors since they were infants. They never had any other choice, really! Barefoot Man took both of them for walks around the yard in the golden autumn air the first week they were born, Mirth in Oct and Lark in Sept. Lark had her first glimpse of our giant tulip tree and honeysuckles from daddy's cloth sling just a few hours after she'd suckled for the first time.

One of Mirth's favorite books is "When Sophie Gets Angry". It's about a little girl who has angry feelings exploding inside her like a volcano, and who finally feels peace when she runs into the forest and climbs a giant tree. Our favorite line is, "The wide world comforts her". That line is our favorite because it's so very true: it's hard to stay angry when the world around you is embracing you, dwarfing you, soothing you.

I'm currently reading a most excellent (if a bit rambling)book called "Last Child in the Woods", it's premise being that many children in our current society suffer from what he calls "nature deficit disorder". There are a great many thought provoking interviews in the book, as well as some really plausible theories about the connection between the apparent epidemic of ADHD and lack of unstructured outdoor play. It's a read that's well worth your time, and raises some really important questions about the effects of a sterilized childhood.

In addition to fleshing out the skeleton of some of my cherished beliefs, Last Child also brought back a flood of memories from my own girlhood. I realize that I was largely inspired, informed, nurtured and challenged by my own hand to hand experiences with nature. I'm made up of cotton plants and black eyed susans and bee stingers in my feet and grimy river dirt under my fingernails.

My favorite and most distinct memories are climbing the persimmon tree in our backyard, and squishing the rotten ones beneath my dusty keds. Of feeding baby birds with pairs of tweezers, watching my brother try and teach them to fly, and crying both happy and disappointed tears when ey finally did. Of squishing cool, plowed dirt between my little toes. Of tasting tiny green crab apples, of collecting nuts at my great grandma's house with mosquitoes buzzing my head, of crawling across the dirt to capture a blue tailed lizard (only to have it's tail come off when I grabbed it)

I remember rubbing brown dirt on my skinny arms and legs, and pretending to be friendly Pocahontas or brave Sacajawea. I remember flying out the door after piano lessons into the woods with my friends, brandishing stick-shaped pirate swords as we commandeered the musty old rotting tree house in the woods. I remember skimming my fingers over the fish smelling water outside my grandparent's boat, and the sting of my hair as it whipped my face in the wind. I remember making tepees out of big branches and moss and clumps of grass with my brother in the woods at my grandfather's cattle farm. I can still feel the rush of glee as I recall swinging on old vines over a small gully in my grandmother's back yard, and the flush of excitement that comes from escaping danger unscathed.

little Barefoot in a tree

I remember finding baby sharks in tidal pools and feeling an a deep connection to the restless, boundless sea as a teenager. Laying on my back and looking at the stars with my brother in our driveway, and dancing in the rain...something that brought me connection with my younger years and helped me not take myself too seriously. Of sneaking into the woods late in the night at summer camp with my good friend Lyn, and listening to the cicadas drone as we softly giggled under the watch of an enormous moonlit sky. Of feeling like we could conquer the world and dream our dreams out loud with no one around to make us feel self conscious.

Nature gave me a chance to process, to release, to try on new persona, to test myself, to teach myself "I can", to show me the world is bigger and more constant than my own emotions and thoughts. To quote my favorite girlhood heroine, it "soothed my crumpled spirits". It invited me to dream, and learn, and transport myself elsewhere.

Nate's childhood was perhaps even more closely connected to creation than even mine, and we share the ability to be almost instantly calmed and centered when we walk outdoors.

As an adult, I tend to thrive on order. I get a thrill from seeing all the laundry neatly stashed away, not feeling crumbs under my feet on the floor, and seeing my counters gleaming a cheery "hello" in the morning. (I am, admittedly, a little obsessive in my efforts sometimes. ) My family's life needs order and structure to run smoothly, and that's fine by me. I enjoy having everything in a reasonable state of organization. :oP

I also feel strongly urged let my daughters run wild a bit. Outdoors, unstructured, unfettered, uninhibited by rules about clothes or germs or climbing too high or messing anything up. While they might thrive on structure inside our home, their spirits and minds seem awakened when they get a chance to spend lots of time out in the wild, rambling, sensuous earth. They squish, they rip, they climb, they taste, they prod, they whoop with delight...and I'm trying my best to let them.

They need to feed their wild side more than they need educational shows or my calming techniques or nice, clean shoes. I need to remind myself daily to slap floppy hats on them, put on their old shoes and turn them loose. The world is their laboratory, their muse, their problem to solve, their challenge to conquer, their embrace.

The wide world comforts them. It comforts me, too. <3