Friday, September 30, 2011

To take my hands off the steering wheel!

Life has been fairly face-paced with lots of unusual activity happening recently. And I've been battling the recurrence of a physical problem they tell me is a chronic, long-term thing which will always recur when I'm under pressure with depleted adrenal glands. I'm going to choose not to believe that. With God's help, I'll completely recover. I'm a lot better now than I have been for a few weeks, but during those weeks of suffering, I stumbled across a source which supposedly has spiritual, underlying meanings for different physical conditions. Mine was said to be partly due to fear of letting go.

My first thought was that this couldn't possibly be right in my case. But when I asked my husband, he said, "You're one of the biggest control freaks I know!"

No way! He has to be wrong. Control freaks are the people we all recognise on sit-coms, who like to organize other people's lives and boss them around; or super perfectionists. Anyone who knows me or has visited my home will surely know that I have more of a gentle, haphazard approach. What's this control freak thing?

I couldn't dismiss it without more thought. One night last week, I found myself rolling into bed with the usual array of thoughts chasing each other through my mind. Will Logan receive the student card I posted him in time to have ID to get him home from Cairns? (That's another story. All worked out well). How will my book fare in the CALEB prize it's been shortlisted for? (I'm happy to say it's now a finalist). It's only Monday, we're out of money and there won't be any more until Friday (not the first time that's happened, and we always manage). How will I go with the workshops I'll be presenting at the coming Writer's Fairs?

Hey, hold on! I caught myself. Indeed there is more than one type of control freak. I'm the sort who has always worried everything like a dog gnawing a bone. I've done it so often that it's become normal, without any consciousness involved. Way back when I was a little girl, my dad always went for a few drinks with friends after work on Friday nights. It was his regular tradition, but I used to lie awake in bed waiting for him to come home, desperately certain that he shouldn't be so late, while images of car wrecks and squealing ambulance sirens filled my imagination. Whenever I heard the sound of our car arriving in the carport, relief would flood my veins and I'd decide I could go to sleep at last.

One another occasion, a sweet little white kitten of mine was run over by a car and killed while I was away on a school camp. From then on, I found it hard to trust my family to care for any other pet and hovered anxiously over them. I think my subconscious must have latched onto the idea that all my anxiety was partly responsible for keeping my dad and my pets safe from harm. It did seem to be a cause and effect relationship. I'd worry, they'd come through fine, therefore worry was working. I think that, without knowing, I carried this warped way of thinking right into adulthood.

In fact, a few years ago, I experienced a nightmare in which I was speeding around the curves of the Adelaide Hills' South Eastern Freeway in the dark while my three children sat in the back. I had no visibility and the brakes had stopped working. All I could do was try to remember where all the sudden curves and sheer cliffs were. To my credit, I woke up with my heart pumping hard, feeling more concerned for the kids than I was for myself in the dream. It doesn't take a genius to figure out my state of mind.

But I was a Christian. For years I sincerely believed I'd committed everything to God in prayer. But had I really? I'd gone through the motions, but perhaps I'd been more like the little girl who prayed for her seedlings to grow, then kept uprooting them to check. To use another analogy, I asked God to drive and then wouldn't move over and release my grip from the steering wheel. Now it began to make more sense that I should succomb to a condition related to not letting go.

How good it was to realise that and make a solid decision not to. I rolled over, really did trust God to work it all out OK, and enjoyed a peaceful night's sleep. And of course everything is turning out exactly as it should. I could honestly feel stress seeping out of my cells, and the more I consciously remind myself to take my hands off the steering wheel, the more I expect the peace and well-being to continue.

All future symptoms of my condition will surely leave when the underlying angst which set them up has been dismantled. They'll have no choice.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

To Stop Watering those Horrible Plants

When I was a little girl, my naughty teenage brother was given a tiny marijuana seedling by someone he knew. He brought it home and planted it in our garden. Later, when it came time for our dad to do his evening watering, he asked, "What's that new plant and how did it get there?" Dad was proud of his garden and never missed anything.

My brother told him, "It's oriental mint. I thought I'd like to try some ethnic cooking."

"Well, I nearly didn't see it. It won't last long if you forget about it and leave it dry. I'd better look after it for you." From then on, to my brother's amusement, Dad watered the little cannabis plant whenever he watered everything else. Its time in our garden was short-lived but I still remember the sight of my dad, standing there watering something he would've immediately uprooted if he'd known what it really was.

I keep accidentally nourishing plants which I think are OK but aren't. Many people do.

A little bit of jealousy and envy. Don't I have a right to feel bitter?
A smidgin of back-biting and complaining.
A flash of bad temper over an incident a saint would be annoyed at!
A bit of resentment. Hey, these people are so annoying, they deserve it!
A pinch of fear. That one has the potential to spread in a flash and take over the whole garden.

When I think more globally, it seems that society as a whole keeps watering harmful plants until we have a whole forest causing all sorts of problems. Many have been legalised and indulged in for year after year, so it doesn't occur to people that it's the plants that are causing the trouble. Mediums and spiritual gurus peddling all sorts of weird philosophies are treated like heroes and invited to be special guests on our morning breakfast shows, de-facto relationships take the place of committed marriages, one-night stands are treated as a bit of fun and babies are aborted as if they aren't human-beings just like the rest of us. Pre-nuptial agreements are made as loop holes for the brave and among those who do decide to try walking the 'traditional' path are same sex couples. Then we wonder why therapists' appointment books fill fast with the names of hurting people who are battling confusion, hopelessness, guilt and betrayal over what they've done, or what they feel others have done to them.

It upsets me to see that some of the people who take it upon themselves to urge others not to water these plants do it with sneers on their faces and holier-than-thou attitudes. They spread the name of Jesus around in a harsh, judgmental sort of way, without understanding how completely natural it is for people who have never been taught Biblical scriptures to assume that what they see the rest of the world do must be fine. Censorious, vinegar-faced types of Christians who criticize and spread disapproval wonder why their input is repeatedly rejected. Wake up you guys, you've read the Book, they haven't! It's like bagging me for not being able to speak fluent Russian. I just haven't been taught. In the same way, they don't understand that what the twenty-first century western world calls 'normal' is not what the Bible calls 'normal'.

I want to stop watering these plants, not because of some fear-based compulsion to follow external rules and avoid criticism but because I've seen the problems these growths cause when we cultivate them. I've tried jealousy, fear, competition and criticism. Not only have they not worked but they've soured my life. I want to tear out their roots whenever they appear because I know they are bad for my body, soul and spirit. I fully expect the good fruits I want to plant in their place to take off and attract people by the sweetness of their taste and the fragrance of their flowers.

That's what attracted me, after all.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Not to worry about whether I'm appreciated

I was explaining to my 7-year-old son that his dad and I receive the same amount of money, after a question he asked me about incomes. At the moment, it's true. As a full-time student, my husband's Austudy allowance is pretty much the same as my parenting allowance. Anything I receive from writing is a bonus. My little boy was taking that in when his 16-year-old brother remarked, "Well, at least Dad actually works for his," or something like that.

"Hey? What did you just say?"

I'm afraid it regenerated into an exchange of heated words. I found myself beginning to spiral down to a place I didn't want to find myself - the pity party. You may have been there. How can this person not perceive all that I do, not only for him but all day long? This came straight after I was vacuuming around his computer chair while he was sitting in it, etc, etc. I managed to catch myself in time before I really started to wallow in all the bad party food that makes me feel sick. It's a sign that keeping this blog is a good influence in my life, I hope.

Firstly, I remembered some wise advice from Dale Carnegie, in his book, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. He'd just told the story of a boss who was burning with bitterness because he'd given each of his staff a Christmas bonus and nobody thanked him. Carnegie remarked, This man made the human and distressing mistake of expecting gratitude. He just didn't know human nature. The crux of his chapter was simply that. Human nature has remained pretty static for aeons and probably won't change in your lifetime, so just accept it and get on with your life.

I remembered other bad-mood-making incidents I've experienced. A common thread they've contained is me chafing over some perceived lack of appreciation or gratitude, and people not giving feedback for a job well done. How silly to get our feathers ruffled because of the way human nature is wired. It's as foolish as griping because the sky is blue and your favourite colour is red. Jesus healed 10 lepers one day, yet only one returned to thank him. Why should we expect anything different? Why should I take my poor son to task when I know in my heart that teenage boys simply aren't wired to notice such things. (After a bit of yelling, he actually said, "I didn't mean it like that," which, while not an apology, is the closest thing I could expect.)

Another silly thing I do is gauge my effectiveness by the amount of positive feedback I receive. When I hear praise, I happily feel that I'm on the right path. When none is forthcoming, I begin to question the wisdom of the way I'm spending my life. It's time to stop being a ridiculous human barometer with praise as the mercury. I'd rather be a steady, glowing thermostat who knows deep in my heart that my contribution to life is valuable, no matter what others are saying.

I think the nature of what I do has made this more of an issue for me than it might be for others. Authors hope for positive feedback from readers and reviewers, while people such as parking inspectors, office workers and train drivers may find it easier to go about their daily work without expecting gratitude. Sometimes I've longed for the simplicity of the job of a parking inspector, office worker or train driver, yet instead of making such a hard core change, I can simply stop my thirst and craving for the one thing human nature isn't naturally inclined to give. When I think about it, this is as silly as someone remaining dissatisfied because of their insatiable craving for dodo-bird schnitzels garnished with hen's teeth.

Over the last few days, I was very pleasantly surprised to receive two thank-you messages from people whose manuscripts I wrote reports for in a competition. I found out that reports were returned to 25 writers and I was genuinely stunned when 2 thought to thank me. This seems consistent with the ratio of Jesus and the 10 lepers, even though writing somebody a few pages of feedback is nothing like healing somebody of a fatal, regressive disease. It proves also that appreciation isn't quite as rare as hen's teeth. I'd like to be found among the number of those who do feel and express gratitude and appreciation. Especially now that I've experienced first hand, after hearing from these two people, how it brightens the day of the recipient.

Centuries ago, Dr Samuel Johnson said, "Gratitude is a fruit of great cultivation. You do not find it among gross people." Let's be unlike the mass and be vigilant to sow gratitude seeds always.
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