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necessary whispers

observe. connect. make new.

Month

August 2015

Bullies Who Use Words As Weapons.

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To my adult readers and the kids you love,

Bullies are fearful people. Fearful people use control as a means of maintaining their own status within a group of people. They learned early in their lives that when they were out of control bad things happened to them. This understanding is in no way meant to justify or empathize with the bully or with her actions. Instead, it can empower the victim.

For example, if Jane is bullying Sarah, Sarah may be empowered to withstand Jane’s torment if she takes the focus off of herself and directs it at Jane. Bullies are fueled when a victim receives and accepts the harmful words or hateful attitudes they communicate. So, if Jane sees a fearful reaction in Sarah, the uncertainty, tears and dwindling sense of confidence in her victim are like gasoline in a car: Jane is in the driver’s seat and she feels a sense of power and the freedom to run over Sarah.

Victims of bullying often believe the lies told to them by bullies. What if there was a way to teach our children—young and old—that it is possible to disarm a bully by focusing on the heart of the bully herself?

Anytime we can choose to focus on “the other” we see the world more clearly. Taking our eyes, ears and mind off ourselves distracts us from our own patterns of thought and awakens our ability to observe. This is a discipline. Focusing on others does not come naturally and it is not easy.

The victim of bullying can be empowered through her own choice to focus on the heart of the bully because it gives her control over the way she will or will not receive the words of the aggressor. Let us imagine that Jane tells several other young people that Sarah is a liar and a slut. Sarah knows Jane’s words are false so Sarah has a choice: Sarah can choose to focus on Jane and realize that Jane has a need to control her world. Sarah can choose the freedom that comes in not trying to justify or defend herself against Jane’s lies. She can focus on Jane by consciously deciding that Jane is working from a destructive motive and that Jane does not have the power to determine Sarah’s identity.

Sometimes, bullies win. Sometimes their words are written into the cement of others’ consciousness making them “truth” to unsuspecting hearers.   In these cases, the results can vary from no-big-deal to broken relationships and tarnished reputations at the direction of the bully’s mouth. Even so, they still do not hold the power to actually design the identity of their targets. A victim’s identity can only be bent by the fiery words of a bully if the victim herself agrees to step into the fire of acceptance.

Just as focusing on the other demands discipline, so does not believing lies told to you about yourself. It is easy to believe critical words and assessments of the way in which we are perceived by the world. Insecurity works like a positive charge and negative words are like, well, a negative charge. Because we all hold some measure of insecurity it is easy for bullies to brandish the power of the magnetic attraction from their tongues to our hearts. However, our insecurities do not have to be allowed to push and pull us. Instead, we have a choice: we can decide what opinions, messages and views we will accept on the magnetic boards of our hearts. It is easy to leave your magnetic board open to any and everything. It takes discipline to stand guard over your own heart and make decisions about what you will and will not allow to enter its gates.

When I was in middle school I was chubby, my clothes were “uncool,” I lived in an apartment when most of the kids in my district lived in houses and my single mom, my little sister and I were poor. There were plenty of targets at which the popular and insecure could take aim. And they did. Unfortunately, I never mentioned the taunts and destructive words to my mom. I was too embarrassed to tell her what they said and I didn’t want to make her feel badly about not being able to buy me all the cool kid accouterment. But I wish I had told my mom.

If I had told my mom, or even another adult I trusted, I would have had an ally. Rather than trying to tough it out and be strong, I could have allowed myself to be vulnerable and asked for help. I could have realized that I had choices, instead of feeling helpless.

If you are a victim of bullying, I would like to encourage you to choose two actions: one, ask a trusted adult to become your teammate. I guarantee you: ANY trustworthy adult will gladly stand with you and help strengthen your waning self-esteem. No one escaped childhood or young adulthood without being bullied in one form or another at some point. And two, take out a piece of paper, fold it in half and then unfold it again. On the left side, write down all the lies your bully has told you about yourself. On the right side, write the truth that extinguishes that lie.

For example, I was often told I was “stupid.” Well, I was bad at math and I didn’t care about science. So, some people may have thought I was stupid. But that was a lie. The truth is that I am intelligent and when I am interested in something, like Theatre or writing, my natural interests and gifts shine through my work. So, I would write, “I am stupid” on the left side of my page and on the right I would write, “I am not good at everything. But I am excellent at some things.”

One more example: I was often called fat. Well, I was chubby when I was in middle school. It’s true. However, I would write down, “I am fat” on the left side of the page and on the right side I would write, “The shape of my body does not equal my identity. I am beautiful in God’s sight and to my family. My friends who love me don’t even care about the shape of my body. They love my humor, kindness and the way that I listen to them when they need me.”

There is so much freedom in replacing lies with truth!

Let us all make the choice to see others with as much kindness and gentleness as we can, even when they are being mean to us. Another person’s ugliness toward us does not dictate who we are but it does reveal the weaknesses in him/her.

Focus on the heart of the other. Don’t believe the lies told to you about yourself. Humble yourself and ask a trusted adult for help.

Love,

Jill

Jill Szoo Wilson

The Difference Between Guilt and Shame.

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Guilt tells you when you have done something bad.

Shame tells you that you are something bad.

Guilt is healthy because it can inspire you to action: repentance, new perspectives and change. Shame is unhealthy because it sucks all the helium out of your soul and tells you that you are shriveled like a used balloon. Shame is still, stale and stagnant.

Whereas guilt empowers a person to see the truth of her actions and consequences, shame blinds a person to her true identity and presses against the sides of her heart like an unseen vice.

We all make mistakes. That is part of being alive here on this earth. We live our lives moving forward—without the benefit of omniscience—and we learn our lives looking back. Imagine, please, a busy street corner in your town where everyone is walking backwards down the street. They are looking in the direction from whence they have come and yet they are still moving forward in space and time. Does it make sense not to face into the direction in which you are headed? I have heard people say that if you are looking back into your past you cannot move forward. That is nonsense! You are always moving forward but if you don’t watch where you are going you will end up traveling somewhere you do not want to be.

If you feel guilty about something, you have choices. You can choose to confess the action, words or thoughts about which you feel guilty. You can confess them to God and/or to those your actions affected. Be aware, however, that there is also such a thing as false guilt. “False guilt,” as Psychologist June Hunt has said, “arises when you blame yourself even though you’ve committed no wrong or when you continue to blame yourself after you have confessed and turned from your sin.”

If you feel shame you have choices, too.   Shame is like looking into a mirror and seeing only weaknesses, false accusations, embarrassing choices and the belittling titles given to you by others. Shame is a false identity. In order to relinquish shame you do not need a new mirror; you need a new identity. A new identity does not come through self-affirmations and strengthening the wall of protection you might be tempted to build. Instead, softness and humility will lead you to this new understanding of yourself. Ask God how He sees you. Ask Him to lift your head and show you who He created you to be. When you find your identity in Christ no man can take it from you, no mirror can skew the image and no one can ever again convince you that you are bad.

 

The Willow Weeping.  By, Jill Szoo.

Why should the weeping willow hang her head

As though to hide from clouds and sunburned skies?

Her tuck’d face inside a shrouded bed

Collapsing imperceptibly, disguised.

Like arms with hands with fingers widely sprawled

A waterfall shoots up and trickles down.

From root to heart to mind, deep sighs are drawled

To float on feathered green, adagio drown.

Then moils in well-traveled wind, anew,

Receding close to whisper her a clue.

Afresh from heights it sloughs, it whistles through-

One single current parting weathered hues:

“Lift up your face from hiding, wholly see

Horizons lush with blooming verity.”

Jill Szoo Wilson

Releasing Upward: A Reflection on Deliverance and Healing.

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The ocean fascinates me. Not only the beach, which promises sand-filled relaxation and a boastful tan, but the ocean itself. It has a face that reflects the sky and we can trust this face to hold our boats, our rafts and our surfboards steady. The face of the ocean radiates beauty as it speaks to us of freedom, vastness and opportunity.

Inside the ocean, just below the surface, there is a completely different world. One surface away—a distance less than I can calculate—there is a world of secrets. Above the surface there is air, while below no air exists.   Above there is a sky whose end cannot be known. Below there are shadows and dripping reflections of light revealing a daily life we cannot comprehend.

In this way, the ocean is like the soul of man. We have a face that reflects the sky, as well as our experiences, relationships and self-awareness. Just behind the face—a distance less than I can calculate—there is a depth of mystery. Every person holds within themselves an entire world of riddles, subtleties and treasure: buried treasures that gleam in the light reflecting through the windows of the soul, as well as other riches that have been buried below the currents of darkness and doubt.

Consider the flight of a bubble, which begins on the ocean floor. It is attached to the darkness until it is fully formed and heads upward toward the sun.

The journey a bubble takes reminds me of the way in which the soul releases pain, worry, doubt, fear and anger: rising from the darkness to find the light.   We must not avoid the difficulties that exist in our lives–past or present–or the subsequent remnants that live within our minds, wills and emotions. Instead, we can acknowledge their existence, seek healing and release them upward.

Releasing Upward, by Jill Szoo Wilson

A flipped below which to the surface pops

Reflects the sky, though leagues beneath it pull–

Revealing gems with diamond-studded tops,

A sea of light whose source is hanging full.

The impetus of each new bubble’s flight,

From roots immersed in darkened basement sand,

Is rounded air, which lifts them toward the light,

Encircled safe as is a glove’d hand.

What secrets doth the swelling ocean belch?

Expelle’d burdens freeing anchors deep

From sucking roots whose tentacles do squelch

A million treasures sown now free to reap.

Where curious moonbeams highlight only skin

‘Tis shadow’s chore to loose the soul within.

Jill Szoo Wilson

Creative Writing: Depression.

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A few years ago I dipped into a season of anxiety and depression.  I felt like I was walking around in darkness with only small specks of light and short drafts of breeze to guide my footsteps.  I have wanted to write about this struggle because I know many others would be able to relate.

Soon, I am going to attempt to explain my story in further detail with the prayer that it might offer hope to others.

Still, Small Light.  By, Jill Szoo Wilson

A windy black across the sky rolls on

Above each fire stabilized in star

And quiet dipping under, keeping dawn

Inside a closet locked with chain and bar.

Too high to stall the tides from rising up

Too deep to catch a falling soul below

Each several current bitten and corrupt

By frosted night designed to light forego.

Through silent eyes she watches not to see,

But holding to an instinct whispering near

Whose guidance reaches in like fitted key—

She senses how to dodge parading fear.

Hold not to drifts whose flow bumps into night

But jump into the gusts hard speeding into light.

–Jill Szoo Wilson

Living In The Moment.

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We often hear this phrase touted in our culture: live in the moment! To some, living in the moment connotes adventure, risk-taking and passionate endeavors. To others, living in the moment means peace, quiet and serenity. Both of these connotations have one thing in common: discipline. It takes discipline to live in the moment.

Living in the moment means being awake to the present. Not pining over the past or setting your mind in future events. It means being open to considering the options that life presents you at any given point. In order to truly be awake to each moment, you have to be present and available. Often we are neither present nor available to that which is in right in front of us.

For example, I can tell when I am not practicing the discipline of living in the moment because my mind becomes frenetic. If I allow myself a season of constant busyness of the mind, fretting, looking backward and forward at the same time, my frenzied thought life begins to manifest itself in my words and actions. During these times I have a difficult time prioritizing my day. I will begin one project and then quickly move on to another before the first is complete: even a project as simple as showering and getting dressed. The rhythm of my thought life becomes the rhythm of my physical life. I rush around trying to maintain my routine of getting ready for the day but interrupting my own momentum with side projects—folding clothes, starting breakfast, writing an email—until I realize that my hair is still wet and I need to get back to the business of getting ready. My movement becomes like the electricity you see in those clear round globes at the science museum. It begins at one point but flies out in all directions in excited and sporadic motion.

This kind of movement begins in the mind. A peaceful mind produces peaceful actions, even in the midst of activity and busy daily tasks. A mind that moves quickly between last week and next month and then back to last year can produce clipped, impatient, absent action.   In order to live in the moment, we must be able to discipline our minds to stay in the current moment, at the current time.

Another way in which living in the moment is dependent upon discipline is that we must have the clarity of direction that comes with making strong decisions about who we are and what our boundaries are in life. The word boundary sounds a little stifling. It can create a mental image of walls built in the middle of life’s possibilities that are meant to hem in, close off and isolate. However, quite the opposite is true. Our boundaries are guideposts that we set up in order to peacefully live within the construct of our own morality and free will. If we set up boundaries for ourselves today, we can live spontaneously tomorrow.

Let me take, as an example, a cultural boundary on which we can all agree: traffic laws. As a citizen of the United States I know that I can drive on the right side of the road, I cannot drive on the sidewalk, I can choose to follow the posted speed limits and I cannot swerve into oncoming traffic. As long as I understand those boundaries, I am free to roam about the country. The boundaries that have been established in the past give me freedom in the present: the freedom to travel and the freedom to road trip! It is my responsibility to follow the constructs our society has established and when I decide to follow these rules I can stop focusing on them and, instead, focus on the beauty of the scenery flying by my window, and/or the music streaming through my speakers.

For the purpose of further making the connection between boundaries and living in the moment I will share a personal example. One of my personal boundaries is that I will not speak in anger. Lest you think that sounds awfully pious and perfect of me, please note that the boundary has been put into place for a reason: I am apt to speak in anger and when I have done so in the past it has always resulted in destruction. I have learned that my tongue can be used as an instrument of crushing carnage so my boundary is to shut up when I can feel I am about to unleash the beast, if you will. This is an emotional boundary, meaning I have learned that I have to take responsibility for my negative emotion of anger. If I feel anger rising up in me, I make the choice (usually) to hold my tongue. If my anger rises in a face-to-face conversation I will often say, “This is making me angry. I respect you and our relationship so I am going to stop talking for now, calm down and then we can continue this conversation. I need to stop now.” If my anger flares up as a result of something I read online I simply have to turn off my device and do something productive like take a walk, pray or choose to consider the good qualities of the person who just made me angry.

So, what does this boundary have to do with living in the moment? If I know I will not speak in anger I am free to have a conversation with anyone about anything, even if we disagree on the topic, and from this freedom I am open to listening, learning and entering into the sometimes tense territory of diverging opinions. It is important for me to remain open-minded and to be a good listener. So, for me, setting the boundary of not speaking in anger allows me to engage in difficult conversations without the fear of losing relationship with the other person.

Living in the moment means being available, present and, as we say in the acting profession, “taking the first thing.”

Taking the first thing refers to a concept taught by famed acting teacher, Sanford Meisner. This concept introduces the basics of the Repeat Exercise, which is the foundation of the Meisner Technique.

The Repeat Exercise works like this: Two actors A and B sit opposite each other. Actor A turns away from B and when instructed turns to face B saying “the first thing” they notice about that actor. Actor B listens and instantly repeats what she hears, actor A listens and instantly repeats back, B then listens and repeats and so on . . .

Throughout the process this develops into improvisations encouraging open, honest and instinctive interaction between two characters.

It is important at this stage that the actor does not come up with an opinion about that other person, like commenting on what her partner may be thinking or feeling, but sticks to physical observations. For example: “green shirt,” “brown hair,” “hands on lap,” or “you have a big nose.”

The reason for this is to encourage the actors to develop their ability to listen to the other person using their eyes as well as their ears. They also are encouraged to stay out of their head (not to over-analyze their observations) and not to censor their responses.

Working instinctively like this allows the actors to experience various emotions. For example, the actors may experience boredom from doing four minutes of the repeat, they may find something their partner said amusing so feel the urge to laugh, frustration or anger because of what has been said and sometimes fear of the exercise itself.

During my tenure in graduate school this exercise taught me to live in the moment. To bring all of my senses into one place at one time without judging how my senses are reacting to any given stimulus.

In my own life this training has been invaluable: not only in the rehearsal hall or on stage but also in every day life. When I know I am all in one place at one time, listening, observing and paying attention, my work and relationships are strengthened. Even today, I was on my way to drop off some important paperwork at the university campus in the town where I live. My objective was to get to the office quickly and then to return home. Along the way, however, I met a former student of mine. When we saw one another I could tell instantly that she wanted to stop and talk with me. Seeing that—the look on her face, the posture of her stance and hearing the excited tone in her voice—I knew that my presence was important to her in that moment so I stopped my own objective and stood with her. This might seem like a simple example but if you consider this moment to be a microcosm of our everyday lives you might find some more subtle details in the story: if I was not living in the moment, remaining open and available to the stimulus and people around me, I could have easily seen the student, not taken note of any of the physical or vocal cues through which she was communicating the desire to talk, and I could have walked right past her. I could have been living in the future where I wanted to drop off that paperwork and missed the opportunity to hear the stories she wanted to share from her summer vacation. What a lovely moment of connection I would have missed!

So, living in the moment does not only connote big adventures, huge risks and thoughtless endeavors. Living for the next thrill can lead to a fairly vapid and careless life.

Consider, instead, that living in the moment is a discipline of the mind that connects you to the rest of the world in a way that is meaningful, honest and whole.

–Jill Szoo Wilson

Set A Guard Over My Mouth.

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“There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise promotes health.” Proverbs 12:18

What is the tongue? Is it the physical words we say? Have we distanced the tongue from the keyboard? Have we believed that what we say through our fingers on social media is separate from that which we speak to others in daily life?

From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. So, the tongue is connected to the heart and through our words we present ourselves to the world. That is to say, from our hearts we present ourselves to the world.

I was reading Psalm 34 this morning and when I came to verses 13-15 I stopped. “Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” David is basically addressing the fact that both words and deeds can be harmful to us and to others. Our hearts inform our thinking, our thinking informs our words and actions. For a verse that seems rather straightforward I am suddenly struck by the number of choices highlighted therein. These are active words: “keep” and “speaking,” as well as, “depart” and “seek.” Action denotes responsibility. So, what is my responsibility where my words and deeds are concerned? And, how does this relate to the way in which we “speak” to one another in writing as opposed to in person?

In James 1:26 it is written, “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.” That is a strong word, “useless.” The idea behind this verse is that true reverence to God is revealed through practical living, as exemplified in pure speech, pure love, and pure character. James goes on say, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” Another strong word, “unspotted.” Yikes! Well, that kicks me right out of the game! I feel very spotted. What does it mean to be unspotted?!

The Greek root for the word unspotted is “aspilos,” which means unblemished. This sounds really intimidating. “Just remain unblemished.” #nobigdeal, #impossible. Before you allow panic to set in, consider this: the Bible tells us that we can live in the world and not be of the world. We can make the choice to resist the dominant influences that lead us toward sin that are in the world. Only through faith in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit can we do that with any degree of success. Even then, we ourselves will never be able to boast of being unspotted. Only Jesus could do that. So, when we accept His saving and atoning work on the cross, God sees us through the blood of His son who absolutely was and is spotless. We have the choice as to whether or not we will accept His gift. Ahhh. More choices.

A godly person with a foul, deceitful, gossipy mouth is a contradiction in terms. Such people are deceiving themselves—but no one else. James doesn’t immediately say what the remedy of the tongue is but he says, in effect, “All right: you want to follow God’s way? Here’s how. There are people out there who need your help; and there is a messy world out there that will try to mess up your life as well. Make sure you focus on the first and avoid the second.”

The Bible also says of the tongue:

“Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.” Proverbs 25:15

“Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. Brothers and sisters, these things ought not to be so.” James 3:5-9

When I read this last passage my eyes widened and the first thing that came to my mind was, “Dang! James is NOT joking around about the danger of our words!” There are also other scriptures that speak of the tongue breaking bones and perverse tongues being silenced.

Have you ever been in a room where people are speaking poorly about another person who is not present? Gossip, negative words and harsh judgments are all being bandied about on the breath of stories, half-truths and sometimes lies. The environment in the room because heavy. Sure, there is something to be gained from being a part of the group who gossips. If not, no one would ever do it. Being a valued member of the group and having something to add, especially if it is witty or funny or extra shocking brings a feeling of importance for a fleeting moment. It also shows your allegiance to the group in which you sit: loyalty of calamity against another person that acts as a shield against these same tongues kicking your name around a room in your absence. Right? Of course not. Whatever momentary pleasure or comfort comes in slicing another person’s name with your own tongue is rooted in ugliness. The ugliness of your own feelings of self-worthlessness, fear and pride.

Conversely, have you ever been in a room where people are lifting up one another? Or, better yet, speaking highly of those not in the room? The atmosphere is such a room is light, joyful, encouraging. These conversations bring hope and good news into the air, like bubbles filled with fresh air that pop above the heads of those who speak and listen. It is energizing. People who practice speaking highly of others with the motivation of truly lifting others up are often more confident as a result of their positive outlook. Sometimes you come across a person who speaks highly of others for other motives, perhaps not pure or truly giving, and those people always reveal themselves. Even so, gentle, joyful, peaceful people speak gentle, joyful, peaceful words and it is delightful to be around!

Lest I accidentally communicate the idea that words themselves hold power, I want to go back to what the Bible says, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45  It is the heart that is the source of life, to the point that we are warned, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Another active word: “Guard” your heart. Another choice we get to make. So, the focus of our hearts sets the direction of our tongues. Guard your heart and your words will be subject to what you have put into your heart. You won’t always get it right . . . I do not always get it right . . . but if we remember that we have a choice as to how we speak to others, we can use our tongues circumspectly and not as a weapon of our own anger, self-righteousness and fear. It isn’t the words themselves that create the heavy environment in the room or the lightness in the air, it is the hearts of those speaking that invoke either goodness or darkness.

Okay, “real talk” time.

The way in which we speak to one another on Facebook and on other social medias is often divisive. I include myself in this “we” so please understand that I am not pointing my finger at anyone else. This is something that I am learning through my own mistakes and under the grace of the Holy Spirit who quietly instructs me. I have had to apologize to more people in the past two months than I have had to apologize in my life for things I said on Facebook. What happens is I see something someone has written. I disagree with it. I become indignant that the other person could possibly disagree with my point of view. I tell them why they are wrong in as nice and Christian way as I can (read sarcasm) and then if they argue at all, I get really annoyed. And usually I say something I wish I hadn’t said. Or . . .

I say something insensitive, or without thinking it through—without thinking first how my words might possibly hurt another person or people—and then receive backlash from my comments.

Certainly, it is okay that we disagree with one another. It is also okay if we are passionate about different issues and ideas and letting that passion lead us to action. It is okay for our passions to prompt us to take on positions of leadership within a certain cause or movement, irrespective of whether other people agree. It’s all okay! And while we are making our choices about what we support, what we believe, why we support and why we believe let us also remember our other choices: “Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”

What good do we do if we gather one group into our corner and shut the rest out with our tongues? If we nurture some and break the bones of others by the way in which we represent them with our mouths? “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” 1 Corinthians 13:1

I encourage you to join me in making wise choices concerning our words. I also encourage you to apologize and ask forgiveness if your words have hurt another person or people. It is better that we humble ourselves and ask forgiveness than to continue the thread, the comments, the fight, the offense, and to divide instead of love. After all, what is the better fight: doing everything you can to make sure you’re right, or doing everything you can to show someone love?

“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.  And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” 1 John 4: 20,21

Creative Writing: Crestfallen Dinnerware.

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Writing Prompt: “Write about a woman who has been stood up on a date.”

Utensils clink ‘gainst ivory china plates

As gravy laden morsels skate amidst

The greener bites, which luster lacking taste

Have wilted under culinary wist.

A spotted glass, whose blots were hidden well

When Cabernet high-filled the dusk-lit cruet,

Presents now stains of red, a drain’ed knell

Announcing ended hopes with sigh-filled, “knew it.”

The edges frayed on napkin choked with grease

And wringed by fingers looking toward the door,

Crestfallen heaves a final sigh of, “please,”

Just as it feels release against the floor.

–Jill Szoo Wilson

Chaos Flies In.

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Blue Stuff, fat stacks, Badger, Heisenberg.   If you’ve seen the show to which I am referring your mind is already filling with images of Los Pollos Hermanos, a scruffy pink stuffed animal missing one eye, and perhaps a large black man lounging on a pile of money. The images conjured will depend on how deeply into the series you’ve allowed yourself to go. The series about which I am speaking, of course, is Breaking Bad.  Don’t worry!  I will not subject you to any spoilers.

I have watched Breaking Bad twice in its entirety: all 5 seasons. I am now casually making my way through the series a third time as I begin season 4. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the show, I will provide a two-sentence synopsis: Walter White is a chemistry teacher who finds out he has cancer in episode 1. He decides to use his chemistry skills to cook crystal meth as a means of providing money for his family after he is gone and, as you might suspect, his decision causes all manner of anarchy.

This idea—this philanthropy of the heart—is complex. At first glance, it holds shades of nobility. There are broad strokes of selflessness and humility, as well as highlights of valor tempered by shadows of lacking wisdom. Like any dynamic work of art, the story painted by the writers looks different depending on the perspective from which you view it. Isn’t this also true in real life?  We human beings are well versed in pursuing positive things, and looking good from several angles, while also allowing our own weaknesses and sin to taint our best intentions. I don’t think it is over-dramatic to assert that any one of us is always 2 or 3 steps away from becoming the worst version of ourselves. Even in the midst of pursuing positive objectives.

At the beginning of Walt’s journey we see a man who is living below his potential. He is a brilliant mind able to solve complex and significant questions in the field of science through his knowledge of chemistry. We learn quickly that he could have become a millionaire if he had made a decision in his early 20’s to continue building a company he helped create with a fellow scientist. Had he chosen that path, he could have provided a very comfortable life for his family and he would have acquired fame and prestige in his field.

Instead, Walt prematurely sold his shares of the company when he married his wife Skylar and they became pregnant with their first child. He used the money to purchase the home in which they planned to raise their family. Walt gave up his position and potential: instead of becoming a notable chemist he became an undervalued and underpaid high school teacher. The status quo at the top of the series is that Walt is lacking confidence, money, respect and purpose. His perception is that he is deeply entrenched in a banal life of disappointment, broken expectations and, most importantly, insignificance.   So, Walt opens the door to one bad choice and chaos flies in.

This is a dangerous place to be: this place in which wounded pride finds a staircase to significance. Walt decides to use his knowledge of chemistry to cook a little meth to make enough money for his family. As he climbs the staircase, he finds some financial success, he gains a sense of power over his circumstances and he begins to revel in the control he gains over some of the people around him. He feels vital, needed and important. As he says himself, “For the first time in my life I am alive.”

Have you ever made one bad choice that you assumed you were making in isolation, which ultimately affected both you and others adversely?

 

Chaos Flies In. By Jill Szoo Wilson

A window open with no screen allows

One insect, which you choose, and ten behind

To crawl and buzz and closely follow

In line toward sofas, tables, hearts and minds.

The darkest portal of the soul sprawls wide

When filled to rim with all that it can take

Like burlap laden deep with rotting hide,

Old skins grow fat with maggots and mistakes.

To close the gap ‘tween open air and soul—

Thus thwarting ‘way the demons in the draft—

A shutting off of all that one would hold

Lays barrier to sin through God’s true craft.

Obedience, though contrary to thought,

Secures the dreams by which each soul is wrought.

Science Fiction: I Don’t Get It!

star-trek-enterprise-discover

(Please take a moment to enjoy this beautiful rendering of the space ship from the television show Firefly.)

Nerds surround me. I think “nerds” is the proper verbiage. But it might be geeks. I’m not sure.

My sister, my best friend, my new next-door neighbor and many other friends of mine are really into the genre of science fiction. The two most glaring examples of this nerdy fandom are displayed by my best friend Miranda (you can visit her blog here), who knows every line of every Doctor Who episode, as well as which episode into which the line was written and . . . wait for it . . . my sister Jennie who actually got the Star Trek emblem tattooed onto her body. (Incidentally, the Star Trek emblem has a proper name, or so I am told. It is called a Starfleet Delta. And I am sorry I know that.) To be perfectly fair, the tattoo is really beautiful and when she explains why she chose this design, her words are filled with thoughtful detail and wonderful memories from her childhood. Still . . . nerdy. And both these women are highly intelligent, functioning members of society.

What is it about the science fiction genre that draws people? For someone who cannot tell the difference between a Wookie and an Ewok, and who just two days ago learned what a “TARDIS” is (and no, it is not a derogatory word for someone who is mentally challenged—I had to learn this the hard way) I am truly perplexed. During an in-depth conversation with Miranda about why she loves science fiction and what that says about her, I began to ask myself, “Why don’t I like science fiction and what does that say about me?” As an experiment, I began to watch the new Doctor Who series on Netflix. I have watched a total of 2 episodes so far. Through my limited knowledge I will begin to explore this question.

Growing up, my first stepdad watched Star Trek. A lot. As a child I didn’t like the environment depicted in the show. It is stark. The lines are clean and sharp—the image currently being projected into my mind is from Star Trek: The Next Generation, I think:  the bald captain wearing the red uniform and a pale-faced guy who spoke like a robot and wore yellow. Anyway, the world is plain and filled with primary colors and weird voices. It is totally unrealistic . . . I know, I know. That is the point. For some reason, I just could not invest in the fantasy. It wasn’t helpful to me in real life. I did not assume I could learn anything truly valuable from a TV show based in outer space because I couldn’t relate to the environment and I did not look up to any of the characters on the show.  There were no role models for me in space.

My childhood TV role models were probably much worse. I loved Janet from Three’s Company. Now THAT was a world I could appreciate. Do you remember Jack Tripper, played by the late John Ritter? That guy was hilarious and the antics he and his buddy Larry would get themselves into seemed like legit adult fun! I feel I would be remiss if I did not admit that my mom basically forbade me to watch that show but from the wiles of my rebellious 9-year-old heart, I found a way (sorry mom).

Another of my childhood TV friends was Punky Brewster. She was the sassy and sweet orphan who was taken in by Henry, the older gentleman with the eyebrows. She had it all: a dog, a best friend with a cool name (Cherry) and pigtails to die for! She was real and her situation tugged at my heartstrings and tickled my funny bone. To be honest, she also became an imaginary friend for me during her off-hours at the television studio. We shared adventures together in my backyard, like two realistic children trying to learn about the real world: earth.

The shows to which I gravitated were sensible in nature and I felt that if they were magically turned into real life stories, I could find my place within their scenarios. I connected with the camaraderie, the relationships and the stability of the locations in which these stories unfolded.

The Cosby Show, for example. (For a few minutes let’s un-know all the things we now know about Bill Cosby for the sake of my blog). That family never moved out of that house! Even after the family grew and they brought in the troubled teen girl, the house held them all. My childhood was good for the most part but there was an element that I think drew me out of real life and into television sometimes: inconsistency. We moved a lot. When my mom and I moved from Missouri to California at the ages of 25 and 7—and I could no longer see my grandma and cousins everyday—I found comfort in other people’s grandmas and cousins . . . The Golden Girls (another show I wasn’t supposed to watch but did), Full House, Charles in Charge: these were realistic family members that brought me comfort. The world felt stable to me when I could relate to the stories they were telling.

It is interesting to me. You would think I would have enjoyed an escape to outer space from time to time but I knew I would never get there in real life so why bother with the charade? As a child I was too interested in learning how to live in real life. As an adult, I am more open to the idea of dreaming. Well, that was a depressing statement, somehow. (Sorry mom). As an adult watching Dr. Who I am really trying to just accept the givens of the make-believe world and invest in the story. I really do like it so far!  What I like is the relationship between Rose (the main female character) and the Doctor (who somehow regenerates and lives forever, or so I’m told). It kind of bothers me that they are going to be in different environments every episode. But I will try to stay in the moment with them. Come to think of it . . .

I don’t even like when the characters on my absolute favorite television show, The Office, leave their environment. And they don’t even go to outer space, or anything! There is one episode where they leave the office to go to a work picnic along with the rest of the Dunder Mifflin employees from other branches. I skip that episode on Netflix every time! And on Parks and Recreation, when Leslie Knope and her team travel to London, I skip those episodes, too. I JUST NOW REALIZED THIS! There is something about the stability of the environment that comforts me! It draws me in. No wonder I don’t like science fiction! Those people can’t stay in one place to save their lives. They can’t even stick to a race of living beings: they’re all over the place with aliens and Jabba the Hut and black holes and the dude with a giant worm for a head. Pick a lane people! Those of us who crave stability are being stressed out by your inter-galactic tomfoolery!

So. I learned something about myself just now. I’m not sure whether to take in a nice, deep breath of revelation or call my counselor. Either way, I suddenly have a substantial respect for the nerds who have the mental freedom to lose their imaginations to the anti-gravity of space and who actually care that there is a difference between Star Wars and Star Trek. I think their minds might be broader than mine in certain ways and, perhaps, their imaginations are more expansive. I am tempted to create a simile between their brains and the far reaches of space but that would make me a nerd, too. I feel like it’s too early in my exposure to science fiction to go around creating space-related similes.

I am going to continue my foray into the world of science fiction and while I am there I am going to look for the lessons to be learned. Not necessarily lessons about why the Doctor, who is a Time Lord and can regenerate himself before he dies is actually the only Time Lord who survived his planet being blown up, or why Yoda looks like he descended from reptiles, but lessons about accepting the worlds of the stories as they are. Not getting attached to certain planets or only one space ship, but suspending my disbelief in a way that welcomes the chaos instead of trying to control it.

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