Thursday, December 27, 2007

Expressing Anger Fully

Non-violent communication.
I read the chapter on expressing anger fully. I need to read it again. This is what I understand so far.
  • Anger is a signal that it is important to look at your own needs and feelings.
  • Anger is also a signal that you have made judgments about someone else. It may be about their attitudes, their character, their motivation, or some other aspect of their personality. There is usually not anger unless there is also another person involved, unless you are judging yourself and are angry at yourself. For example, if someone asks for a favor you may be glad they feel comfortable enough to ask, you may feel frustrated that they have enough nerve to ask, you may wonder why they are so lazy they can't do it themselves, you may feel upset that they seem to think they can tell you what to do, etc.
  • There is a four step process to anger.
  1. Breathe
  2. Identify judgmental thoughts
  3. Identify my needs
  4. Express feelings and unmet needs
  • It's way more complicated than four steps because in expressing my feelings and needs I may bring out feelings and needs in the other person. In order to be heard, I will have to be able to empathize with and fully hear that other person first. Doing that when I am angry may take quite a few breaks for breathing.
This evening I discovered that a job someone said they would do for me was left undone and out of sight. I've identified my judgments, feelings and unmet needs. My reality is that I have no confidence that the other person cares what my feelings and needs are. Do I do the job myself and forget about it or take a chance with talking? Talking, if it includes much empathizing and listening will take much longer than doing the job myself. It's a one minute job. So why do I care enough to get angry?

* * * * * * * * * *

I have to decide in the next couple of days whether to take on some new responsibilities. The timing seems bad, but it also seems bad for all the other people who could take on these responsibilities instead of me. Chuck says to pray about it. I did. No magic yet.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Stuff to do today, failing at communication

I got my Christmas letter out today by email. This is the picture I put in it. We almost never are both in the same picture, let alone a picture that turns out half decent. This picture may be in the next five Christmas letters.

I only sent to people who don’t see us much. My aunt recently updated all the family addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses so cousins who have never had a letter from me before have one now. As soon as it was sent I did the usual second guessing. Why did I say that? How could I have forgotten this? But I’m glad it’s out. I don’t have email addresses for any of Chuck’s aunts and uncles, and for only three of his cousins. I also don’t have it for all of my dad’s side of the family, so it is woefully under-distributed. Maybe I’ll have to print it and mail it yet. We’ll see.

It’s a good day. I got up to date with getting all the data from the farm checking account into our bookkeeping program on the computer. I’m nearly up to date with all our credit card expense info. The big hurdle is my home checking account where I am seven months behind. But I’m on a roll. I can do that yet this week.

I’m writing on my laptop that Chuck gave me for Christmas last year because he is playing computer games on our main computer. Minesweeper. Who would have guessed? He showed me his time. I showed him the records (which all have my name on them). His competitive spirit kicked in and he beat my record in his next game.

Anyway, I love this laptop, but I have to get adjusted to it every time I use it. The keyboard is spaced slightly smaller than normal, it takes a much firmer touch and the spacebar especially needs to be punched hard. Half the time when I’m reaching for the shift key I hit the return key so I’m using the backspace key a lot too.

The boys are in the living room watching Lethal Weapon 4 and Joe Pesci is making some kind of impassioned speech while they laugh.

* * * * * * * * * *

I’ve been reading Nonviolent Communication some more. I’ve been trying to use it with not much success. A lot of the examples deal with responding to someone who is angry and possibly aggressive. The examples show how questions asked appropriately help the person who is upset to feel understood. Once they feel that, they are able to relax and work things out. So I get that.

My problem is the listening and asking questions to understand the person who is angry with me. As soon as the person says something false and sarcastic that disparages me or my motives, I lose my desire to understand and get totally focused on setting that person straight. From there we go downhill faster than a sled on Pike’s Peak. My weekend was filled with repeated interactions like that with one of my sons. We are taking a couple of days of break. Hopefully I will be more grounded when we try again. It is definitely harder than it looks on paper.

I believe in the principles presented. You don’t corner people verbally. If you want to make a request, first you test yourself to see if you are equally OK with a ‘no’ or a ‘yes’ answer. If ‘no’ is not OK with you, you are not making a request. You are making a demand, which is probably not non-violent language.

With non-violent communication the assumption is that people make sense. Their feelings make sense. My feelings make sense. The things people say and do come from their feelings. Their feelings come from the way they interpret the things that happen, and from the needs they have. So if Chuck does something that hurts me, usually the hurt comes from the way I’ve interpreted his action in light of my own needs, rather than from an intentional desire on his part to hurt me. A lot of the time it can even come from my not understanding my own needs enough to be able to communicate them to Chuck, but still expecting him to take them into account. It’s a good thing he puts such a high priority on communication.

The next chapter I will be reading is about expressing anger fully. I’m already full of questions about how you get to express anger when you are working so hard to rise above your feelings in an attempt to understand the feelings of someone else.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Saved from sin

Today the sermon was about Christmas, of course, but specifically that Jesus comes to save us. Jesus does not save us from adversity, or violence, or poverty, or illness, or loneliness, or grief, or many other things. All these things happen to those of us who follow Him as they do to those who do not follow Him.

From what does Jesus save us? From sin.

I've thought a lot about this today. I know there is a lot in the Bible about how our forgiveness comes from the sacrifice Jesus offered. We are saved from the eternal consequences of our sin. I do not entirely understand all this. I struggle with the idea of needing shedding of blood for forgiveness to happen. I trust I will comprehend this more fully in the future. It is present in enough of the Bible that I can't really ignore it.

There is other saving that I covet, though. Two other ways of being saved that I think are not really offered to me.

I wish that the results of my sins would not hurt other people. I'm OK with taking my consequences. I wish that no one else would suffer because of me. I wish the world could be saved from my sin.

There is both an immediate and a global aspect to this. My family stands to suffer the most because they are in closest proximity. Any disrespect, pride, judgementalism, anger, laziness, etc. hits my loved ones first.

I've been working on the non-violent communication book some more today. There have been times this afternoon when it could have been helpful if I was skilled at using it. Instead I ended up saying things that didn't help, that probably made things worse.

It can be overwhelming when I think globally. As a white person in America my existence hurts other people. Every time I get into the car I think about it. When I buy stuff in plastic, when I have containers I can't recycle, when I hear about the injustices we commit around the globe and realize that I haven't written my senator, or protested, or done anything to stop it. So I wish the world could be saved from my sin.

I also wish I could be saved from sinning. When I know the right thing to do, and then mess up anyway, I wish to be saved from that. When I find out after the fact that I have been doing things wrong for a long time without knowing it, I wish to be saved from that. I would like to be saved from choosing willfully or unknowingly to do anything more that hurts me or someone else, or that dishonors God.

That's not the kind of saving I'm going to get. I'm slowly learning that God is in the business of redemption. God can take those things we give him humbly, and make them into things that are better. Brokenness is the way to God. We have free choice. We make some nasty choices. Then we have more free choice. We can choose whether to be straight with each other and God about the decisions we have made. We can choose to justify or to confess.

I have to admit that brokenness is much more fun in hindsight than it is looking forward to it. I know how much I have learned from being broken and admitting that brokenness. I'm sorry that I did the things that led to the brokenness. I'm not sorry to have received the healing God has offered, both to me, and to those around me, when I was able to admit the brokenness. But I'm still the same person who would rather just not sin, not have to admit that what I do hurts others and hurts myself, not have to see myself as less than good.

I guess maybe being saved from sinning could be a dangerous thing. I could pretty easily begin to think that the lack of sin was due to my own maturity, wisdom, and innate goodness. I could forget that it was a result of being saved. And then my hubris would lead me to be judgmental about those who still sin, which would technically be sin for me. So that would be the end of my being saved from sinning.

Taking responsibility is important here. Asking to be saved from sinning implies that I am helpless in the face of sin and that is not true. The truth is I choose to say and do things even though I know better. I could choose differently. I'm not helpless.

When I look at the people who influence me, those I respect the most are those in touch with their own fallibility. Humility lends credibility to the advice I receive.

Maybe being saved from my sin includes the mercy that God sees me as valuable, rather than as a list of offenses. God seeks me out. God enjoys my company. I think God is better at this than I am. God is able to see me for my possibilities more than for my failures. That is certainly being saved from sin.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


When we have snow storms like the one we had today, I think about Laura Ingalls Wilder and wonder how we compare. Of course we are not like "The Long Winter". I'm thinking more of the stories about the snow blowing so hard that Pa had to tie a rope around himself before he went to the barn so that he would not get lost in the blinding snow. We could see the barn all day today. I could see the tall grass at the edge of the other side of the road. I couldn't see into the field beyond that grass at all.

Mattie, my dog, loves snow. Even this cold, 30-40 mph gusting wind filled with biting snow made her tremble with excitement. It is almost enough to convince me to stay out with her longer than the couple of minutes required to allow her to relieve herself. She is big and black and glorious, and the snow against her fur frosted her with sparkle. Maybe tomorrow afternoon I can take her for a run in the field across the road.

We had the kids over for supper, a birthday celebration for my son-in-law. There were games and food and movies. After everyone left my 14 year old walked the dogs and disappeared. We couldn't find him in the house at all so we started looking out the windows. He was shoveling snow. After a while the 18 year old joined him. I'm enjoying this.

Later---They just came in and are telling me how beautiful it is out there with the full moon reflecting off the snow. The wind has laid down. I think I'll walk the dog now.

Friday, December 21, 2007


In Non-violent communication, the first skill to learn is observation. It's harder than it sounds. Observations are basic facts that anyone unrelated to the situation could agree on. I am currently sitting at the computer using the keyboard at 9:30 in the morning. That is an observation. If someone came and saw me and described me as wasting time, working hard, being creative, avoiding the jobs I don't want to do, neglecting my pet chores...all of these would be evaluations.

When another person's behavior bothers me in some way, the first discipline I have to rely on is to be able to describe that behavior without evaluation. My dog could say, I see you have been at the computer for a half hour and I have not been fed yet. All of this is true and could be seen by anyone who might be watching me. If my dog would say something about how little I care about her, how selfish I am, how lazy I seem, etc.... she might feel a little better for having vented, but I would not feel more like feeding her. I might feel falsely accused.

At any rate, based on these observations, I have decided to quit writing at my computer and feed that blessed dog who is lying on the floor sleeping. ("blessed" is an evaluation!)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Put down your weapons

I bought a book on non-violent communication yesterday and read about half of it this afternoon after I got angry. It was a good thing. I was angry but alone so I couldn't communicate at all, and I could read about it without messing up, maybe. Maybe not.

The author tells about giving a training. After a half hour he asked for comments. The first person to speak told him that he was so arrogant. He began to ask questions to find out what this person was thinking before he came to the evaluation that arrogance was the problem. The person complaining believed the trainer was making this incredibly hard shift in behavior sound easy. The trainer assured the person that it has not been easy, that he struggles as well, but he finds it worth the struggle. By the end of the day, the person who made the judgment of arrogance had invited the trainer home for dinner.

So, I'll get plenty of practice, I guess. A lot of communicating goes on around here.

* * * * * * *

This evening we watched the movie "Joyeux Noel" about Christmas 1914, World War I, when soldiers stopped their battles and shared their lives with each other, sang together, played soccer and shared treats from home. I knew the story before, but it is told well here. Seeing the enemy as human breaks down barriers in miraculous ways. The story often brings tears for me, partly for the beauty of people seeing each other differently and being changed by that, but mostly for the sadness that this happens too seldom.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Good news and things to think about

There's good news today. My son's MRSA infection (the scarier staph infection that is resistant to some medications) no longer exists and he is only fighting the milder staph version---so Chuck can go back to sleeping at night instead of reviewing all the sad MRSA stories he has heard from friends and acquaintances. I don't want to make light of MRSA. I do want to celebrate that we are no longer fighting it. Yeah!

AND....drum roll daughter's sonogram yesterday revealed that the placenta has moved away from the cervix and a normal birth is again a possibility. son passed his driving test and now has an official license that does not require me to be present next to him every time he needs to go somewhere. He has also finished all his community service hours and is ready to begin a great full time job on Monday.

FINALLY....I did some Christmas shopping today and was somewhat successful without (hopefully) going overboard.

* * * * * * * * * *

OK, enough of that. On to things I'm thinking about.

God Grew Tired of Us. This is a documentary about the lost boys of Sudan. It is sobering. 27,000 boys left Sudan because they'd lost their families and would certainly be killed themselves if they stayed. After walking 1000 miles across desert there were 17,000 boys left, barely alive. Ten year olds were the heads of their families, caring for several younger siblings on this horrifying trek, first to Ethiopia, and then to Kenya. The film shows footage of young boys so thin that it seems impossible that they could even walk. Yet they are holding the hand of a younger child while carrying a third on their backs. The refugee camp in Kenya is where they have lived on the subsidies provided by relief agencies for more than 10 years. About three years before this movie was finished, the United States helped 1,000 of these boys to immigrate. Three of them are featured in the documentary.

Beyond the obvious (the danger, violence, starvation, etc.) that catches my attention is their reaction to Christmas in the United States. Incredulity. They try to understand how the things we do have anything to do with the birth of Christ.

The other thing that the three of them share is an unshakable commitment to making things better for those they left behind at the refugee camp. They refuse to forget their suffering, or the suffering of others.

Which brings me to an article I read in Mennonite Weekly Review this evening.
Advent Conspiracy catches on. I can't put in a link to the article because it is only in the print version, but the story is that of a pastor who gave a sermon last year encouraging his mega church to give gifts as God does---relational gifts with a heart for the poor. In concrete terms, he challenged his church to spend less on Christmas, give relational gifts, and donate the money saved to the poor. Other churches joined the effort. Three churches collected $430,000. This year there are 491 churches from 10 countries joining the conspiracy. The article is worth reading.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Painful beauty

The ice storm we had earlier this week left everything outdoors coated in at least 1/4 inch of ice. Trees were bent to the breaking point, electrical wires stretched dangerously low, tall thin grasses looked like rods of ice carelessly arranged in ditches and pastures. In the gray cloudiness it looked grotesque, misshapen, frightening, treacherous.

This morning the sun came out. It was achingly beautiful. Every surface shimmered, reflecting that sunlight, intensifying it. The electrical wires were so bright that you couldn't see the wires. They gave the illusion that it was just a continuing line of glowing electricity arcing mile after mile.

I had to drive in it this morning and my mind went in crazy directions. Why is it so beautiful to see the trees in such distress? It reminded me of how women make themselves beautiful---specifically the red carpet beauty of the Academy awards ceremonies. Women have dieted and surgically improved themselves and plucked and waxed and squeezed and taped themselves into clothes that distort their bodies into a better-than-real illusion of beauty. Their clothes are accentuated with as much shine and sparkle as any ice storm can boast and they walk with tiny steps on tinier shoes with stiletto heels causing their leg muscles to define themselves more beautifully than with more comfortable flat shoes. Their faces and nails enhanced with color, we want to look, to gaze in awe. Why is it more beautiful this way than natural?

This evening at sunset I was driving again. The redness of the sun showed the trees, now bare and dull and brown and back to their original shapes, branches akimbo, no shine, no glamour. It was over so quickly. Everything looked wet and soggy and sad.

Does Michelle Pfieffer ever not look beautiful?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Christmas breakfast

My small group had our annual Christmas breakfast today.

  1. Oatmeal waffles
  2. Vanilla yogurt
  3. Hot stewed apples and pears with pecans and syrup and raisins and other wonderful flavors
  4. Cheeses
  5. Almond stritzel
  6. Freshly brewed Columbian coffee.
  7. Cranberry wassail
There was ice on the road when I left this morning and I hoped that we would all be there. We were. One of us was quite bruised from a spill on the ice.

One of us was just back from a trip to Central America, Ecuador, and Columbia. She had interviewed seminary women about the importance of relationships with other women. As part of her sharing she read their responses to us and we smiled. They were describing us---the way we feel about being together---how we bring out good things in each other and find wisdom together that we didn't know we had. It is a universal thing that we enjoy, this finding strength among other women.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Being There

Today I spent the morning running. A couple of phone calls necessitated six errands beyond the three I had already done, the appointment this afternoon, and the one or two left to do this evening. I was in my car wishing to be home, waiting to be home, craving home, solitude and more control over my schedule.

“Wherever you go, there you are.” That is the catch phrase of the idea of mindfulness. The idea is that of choosing to be fully present where you are instead of living in the past, the future, or the present you are wishing for. I was not present except in the physical sense. I was listing in my mind all the things I would rather be doing, which is a good way to increase my stress level.

It would be great if I could say that I immediately took a breath, looked around me, and noticed the fullness of the place and moment I was in. I didn’t.

My life is going to be this way for a while yet. If I continue to chafe at it I’ll be giving up the opportunities I can’t see because I’m always looking for something else.

What are the opportunities? Driving time with one or another of my kids---some of the best talk time you can get. Time alone in the car (after dropping that kid off) when I can sit and think without feeling guilty about sitting and thinking.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Remedial Living

This morning I heard about something called the remedial will of God.

Sometimes when you read or hear something it puts words to truth you could feel but not speak. You think, "I knew that!" because you did. You just hadn't thought it out yet.

What is God's perfect will? That we should live in harmony with each other and the earth.

What is God's remedial will? It is that God does not give up on us when we do not live in harmony with each other and the earth. God offers us ways back into the kingdom.

I really love this whole idea because it offers grace.

This evening we watched the movie "The Mission". It has been a favorite of mine for a long time. Rodrigo, a hardened man who lives as a mercenary and slave trader in Paraguay, finally sees what he has become after he kills his brother. The reality of his depravity is too much for him. He believes there can be no forgiveness for him. But it is in this humility that he sets out on the path that will lead to his forgiveness. There is an amazing scene where finally he is released from his guilt by the same people he formerly hunted down for slavery.

It is incredible, but wholly remedial. Those he killed are still gone. Those he captured are still slaves. But he is allowed to change his life, to step back into God's will through humility, and through service to God and to those he used to enslave.

We had guests over for lunch today and it was good. We got caught up with each other, saw pictures, laughed together, talked about things we think about...

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Gone but NOT forgotten...

Having grown up in the church I attend, I have a lot of memories of people much older than I. One thing I often think about is how quickly people are forgotten when they become too disabled to participate actively.

Chuck's aunt Joanna was such a person. She was my Sunday School teacher when I was in 7th grade. Because I married Chuck, I continued to have a relationship with her long after she quit driving herself to church. She had the ability to make each person she spoke with feel that there was no one she would rather be with than them. It was genuine. She loved people. We did not see each other often, but each time we did she would ask specific questions regarding the things I had told her the last time we were together. She was important enough to me that had I had another daughter, I would have named her Joanna.

She was such a vital person in our church that I was taken by surprise when I realized how few people I know remember her. Once she was no longer teaching a class or speaking up in meetings, or able to even attend, she faded from the collective memory.

That happens to anyone who is forced to quit coming. But there are some, like Joanna, whose lives demand to be remembered. These are people whose faith was more than words and emotions. They acted on their faith, took risks, treated people with compassion and respect regardless of class or appearance, gave up security or wealth for more important and lasting values. If they had died in their prime, perhaps their contributions would have been more remembered, but since they lived out their years we've 'moved on'.

Al Voth was such a person. Al was a humble and gentle man who quietly made a major impact on a lot of people for good. His gifts and his inspiration were in his realization that his faith had to make a difference in how he related to those who had needs. Al taught high school Sunday School classes and visited men at the local jail. These things led him to begin a program for young offenders, teaching them job skills and attitudes that would help them to be successful.

After Al died, I asked Cookie (his daughter) to post his life story on her web site, and she did that yesterday. It is worth a read. You can find it here.

I think one reason that Al's story so affects me is my son, James. There is a man like Al in his life. James has had the courage to make huge changes because this person treated him with respect day in and day out even when James had no respect for himself or anyone else. This man also came to James with humility, as someone who has also struggled and found his way through it. Those two things, respect and humility, won James over. Those things came from this man's faith.

It is amazing and inspiring to me what God does with people who humbly choose to follow him. I want to remember these people, and continue to be challenged by them.