Saturday, January 21, 2012

not to live with a reptilian heart

We all know the differences between mammals and reptiles. One of the main ones is that we are warm-blooded while snakes and lizards are cold-blooded. While their blood temperature fluctuates with the weather, ours stays at a pretty stable 36 or 37 degrees celsius. The benefit for us is that we don't have to tuck ourselves away during icy snaps because we're too sluggish to move and don't want to freeze. Hooray for that.

Now, I wish my moods would function in a similar way to my blood. It occurred to me what the problem is. I tend to have what you might call a 'cold-blooded heart.' It makes my spirits soar or plummet according to what's going on around me.

In November when I flew up to Brisbane for the Writer's Fair and then arrived home to celebrate my daughter's thirteenth birthday, the mercury in my thermometer would have been shooting over the top. But today, somebody wrote a pretty disparaging 2-star review of one of my book-babies, Best Forgotten on Amazon. I could almost feel my spirit draining out of me as I read it.

Yeah, I know the things we're supposed to tell ourselves. If you want to be a writer, you have to be prepared to deal with a bit of bad press. Other people have different taste to you. Remember everyone who enjoyed it. I still felt like curling up in a corner somewhere for a good cry. I didn't really learn much from this reviewer because I thought her criticism was the picky sort rather than constructive. I even disagreed with a lot of what she said. Of course I'll get over this and keep on going with my new book, but I can't help stinging at the moment. Yes, I know it's a normal reaction. That mercury will soon begin to swell again.

Once again, I remember that Jesus wasn't moved from his state of peace by people's affirmation or rejection. When he was treated with hostility by the people who knew him from his boyhood in Capernaum, he simply moved on. I want to react with the same refreshing equilibrium and simply take things as they came.

Of course, Jesus deeply understood the principles of nature, which we were designed to live in. There are always ebbs and flows, summer and winter, seed time and harvest. On New Year's Eve, we took Emma and Blake, our two youngest children, to Port Elliot's Horseshoe Bay for a swim in the sea. We were buffetted around by its famous surf, enjoying body surfing in the waves and getting sand burn from being dumped into the shallows. I'm certain daily life has the same peaks and troughs of the ocean waves.

One reviewer wrote that, in her opinion, Best Forgotten was the most refreshing, unpredictable and engaging story she's read for a long time. I was high on a wave that day. This recent person thinks it's like a skid mark on the underpants of life (She didn't really use those words. I just borrowed them from Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird.) So right now I'm being scraped through the weed at the bottom of the sea, but I'll be swept up again. It's a law of nature.

I'm reminding myself that I really do have a human heart and spirit to match. I can choose to be calm and peaceful.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

That our culture promotes the problem and blames the individual

It's a new year and like every other January, we're bombarded by people on TV trying to sell us diet plans and gym equipment or convince us to consider becoming personal trainers. We hear and see a lot about the obesity/overweight epidemic in western cultures. There are always shame-filled current affair stories which zoom in on the chubby bellies of poor folk who are trying to do a bit of shopping. Even though you can't see their faces, I'm sure those who know them would be quick to shout, "That's Uncle George! I recognise his T-shirt." But have you noticed that we're urged to make sure we're trim, taut and terrific by the same society which is careful to keep chocolates, cakes, biscuits and other tasty delicacies right in front of our faces at supermarkets?

Just to get into Coles or Woolworths, we have to pass beautifully aesthetic looking mountains of Tim Tams or blocks of Cadbury chocolate. Pretty looking sweets or baked goods are always kept at eye level, whether we're looking for them or not. Fast food outlets are always dropping loyalty vouchers into our letter boxes, so we don't even need to leave home to be targeted. Honestly, I'd think that if our society was really serious about people being slender and healthy, they wouldn't make it so easy to indulge. Just recently, I found out that the Japanese government is actually taking action with compulsory check-ins and tape-measures for all their citizens. Even though it's debatable whether that's a wise action, at least they're doing something.

Some people might go so far as to say that our Australian society (along with American and lots of European) secretly likes to keep things as they are because a chubby culture is good for economic turnover. We wouldn't have 24-hour gyms and Jenny Craig outlets and Lite n' Easy cuisine without customers who are prepared to pay big money for them. Nobody would bother to watch programs such as "The Biggest Loser" and "Excess Baggage." If there's any truth at all in this, it's even more disappointing that individuals are shamed and made to feel like shapeless, slimy slugs just for carrying a few extra kilos.

I feel strongly about this because I've been one of the many victims of this situation over the years, being found all over the weight spectrum. During my late teens and into my twenties, I was anorexic. In 1987, when I did Year 12, I shivered with cold all the time, stopped menstruating and my hair started falling out, yet I was still too scared of being called fat to ease off on my rigid diet and risk not being chronically hungry.

In more recent years, I've been found a few kilos on the heavy side. Last year my Wii Fit was telling me I was on the very upper limit of normal weight, but now I'm a little heavier. The little lady who represents me shakes her head and slumps her shoulders with a sad expression to the sound of a rueful little tune. I'm not taking it too seriously because I'm not one of those who were designed to have a slender, delicate build anyway. We have to accept our genetics and anatomy.

How should we treat the subject? I definitely think we shouldn't even bother worrying about how many pounds or kilos we weigh. We can treat ourselves well by indulging our hearty appetites for the food nature provided and making sure we move our bodies the way nature intended. A good rule to observe may be the 'plant' rule. "If it comes from a plant, indulge in it. If it's made in a plant, go easy on it" without getting too extreme. I've heard a lot recently about the typical western diet not being ideal for the human body. I do believe that, but it can be the subject for another post.

I really love seeing the sturdy, happy, glowing sort of people who prove that larger folk can be the happiest and healthiest of all. If we're happy and sensible, I believe we can trust our bodies to set their own ideal weights, whether or not the match what we're told they're 'supposed' to be.

I think this quote from Stuart Wilde, who calls himself an 'urban mystic' is great.

"If you constantly deny yourself the lush and sensual things of life, eventually your spirit gets too thin. It's better that you're a little overweight and your heart is full and rich with life's experiences than winding up with a thin body and an anorexic spirit."

My spirit cries a big, resounding "YES" to that.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Not to underestimate the value of a smile

One thing I don't care to discuss often is that I was a former victim of school bullies. My school career began in 1975 and finished in 1987 (not counting university) and I had a ghastly time just about all through it. Name-calling, infliction of physical pain and the sort of treatment which would now be branded sexual harassment was part of my everyday life. Even though we talk about the innocence of children, I knew a cruel and terrifying side to the way kids can treat their peers.

Here are a few things I can tell you from the perspective of a former bully victim, as we're not always understood.

1) You don't admit it because at some deep level, you believe it's all your fault. It seems like faultless logic. I reasoned that if there wasn't something intrinsically wrong with me, others wouldn't pick on me. In my experience, the bullying carried over from two Primary Schools into High School, making it even 'clearer' that it must be me. The word "geek" wasn't really known in the '80s and even "nerd" was uncommon. They used to call me a "square" along with other scathing names I won't mention.

Older members of my family often gave me pep talks on how I should behave to deter bullies. "Don't cringe... don't hang back on the outskirts of a group... go up boldly to a group and be friendly... look bullies in the eye and tell them where to go..." Although they were well-meaning, it made me feel even worse when trying to follow the instructions fell flat. Therefore, I never wanted to admit how badly I was being treated because then people would know what a sorry excuse of a human I was. If anybody reading this blog even now suffers at the hands of bullies, believe this. YOU DON'T DESERVE THE TREATMENT YOU'RE RECEIVING!

2) It takes many years to recover from. Some people think it's arguable that you ever recover completely.Well into my adult years and marriage I carried this with me. Once, I heard somebody at my husband's workplace mimic me behind my back. I had just enough time to get outside to a quiet place before crumpling. I was reduced to tears which I was anxious to hide. I couldn't believe that it took a split second of some idiot's brand of humour to rush me straight back to those terrible school days.

During those school years, whenever anybody spoke kindly to me, I couldn't believe it. It didn't take a huge gesture, either. A smile from an acquaintance was often enough to brighten my outlook. Whenever anybody pleasantly passed the time of day with me or asked my opinion about some issue, that would give my spirits a boost for a long time. I read something interesting about Charles M Schulz, the creator of the Peanuts comic strips. He had a similar school experience to mine, professing to be surprised when anybody even bothered to say, "Hello." I love the way he was able to channel all that negatively into something fun and positive that brightened the days of many people worldwide, for he put his own self into the character of Charlie Brown. I hope to do something similar with my books, even though they won't ever reach as many people or become a household name as the Peanuts comic strips did.

So knowing the power of a simple kind gesture, that's what this post is all about. Sometimes I've heard people make the discouraged statement that they believe they can't do much to brighten the lives of others. They seem to think a quick smile or few words of greeting are worthless and quickly forgotten. That's why I ventured to admit all this, to say strongly that this is not the case at all. Some of the people I remember from my school days who made the most positive impact on me, are those who did nothing more than occasionally smile and engage me in a few moments of pleasantries. To me this was HUGE!

This is why I like to return the favour whenever I can, knowing that as we have no idea what any person is going through at any particular time, no kindness is ever wasted. Keep smiling. Keep initiating small-talk, however inane it seems. We might be God's messengers on a particular day which we feel is a write-off. We just don't know!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

to stop worshiping at the wrong altars

A thorn of mine which has kept me gloomy is the whole business of self-promotion and that scary M word, marketing. Each day for over ten years, I've faced the fear that my fiction books will slide into limbo-land if I don't do all I can to drag them to the public's attention, but the problem is I've always felt dismally inept and inadequate. Finally, I asked myself, "Well, how did Jesus tackle self-promotion while he was living on the earth? He had the biggest agenda of anyone - reconciling all mankind with God. How did he do it?" When I delved into the pages of Scripture to investigate, the answer was refreshingly staggering.

Nothing was lower on his agenda than self-promotion. He resisted several opportunities to become famous. Instead of broadcasting his miracles, he told many people he healed to keep it hushed up for the time being. The man set free from demons wanted to go with him, but instead of jumping at the opportunity to have such a sensational fan always around to speak up for him, Jesus sent him home to his family.

When he was rejected by the people who'd known him in his youth at his hometown, Nazareth, he seemed to shrug it off. He was given a warmer reception at his next stop, Capernaum, but moved on from there too, rather than being tempted to stay and soak in all the affirmation. Jesus wasn't moved by either rejection or approval. When an adulating crowd tracked him down, he preached an 'extreme' message about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, driving the majority away. He was okay with their desertion too.

Jesus spent a lot of his ministry time with just twelve men who were mostly on his wavelength. At the end, only about 120 were following his guidance daily. He set his face toward Jerusalem not in a popularity campaign but knowing he had to die. But isn't that consistent with the baby who was born in a common stable, noticed only by a handful of riff-raff shepherds while the VIPs of the day were being hailed in palaces?

Knowing that Jesus wasn't interested in marketing himself to the masses puts a whole new slant on my decade-long angst. When I pray for unprecedented success to overtake me, is it really reasonable to expect God to indulge me in this when it was a low priority for His Son? Have I been uncomfortably seeking the affluent western god of notoriety, all the while convincing myself that I don't practice idolatry? I'm attracted by the idea of achieving 'best-seller' status and having my books fly off the shelves as soon as they're published. When I get together with groups of other authors, we brainstorm ways of 'building our platforms'. It sounds really admirable when I declare that I'm doing it for Jesus and not for me.

In the light of the modest way Jesus lived his life, am I just fooling myself that he wants my help to spread his fame? What if my desire to write a best seller 'to honour Jesus' is just a veiled way to chase personal glory? Hearing and reading good words about myself really strokes my ego. Should I feel as hopeless and gloomy as I do when these warm fuzzies are not forthcoming? When links to my blog posts and favourable reviews are ignored on Face Book, and friends and acquaintances continue holding off on reading my books, should I feel despondent? Is the inclusion of my books in catalogues really a sign that I've 'arrived'? I'm tired of playing the self-delusional game. I don't want to tread the fine line that Lucifer was banished from heaven for. Jesus said we can't worship both God and mammon. In my case, I've decided I can't follow both God and success, God and recognition.

Where does that leave me in 2012? Towards the start of 2011, I stopped writing from discouragement but it didn't work. The books had to be written. I'm happiest when I give my stories a outlet, so I keep doing it. Although personal self-promotion meant nothing to Jesus, he still went around ministering to people. I'll still keep trying to look for people who might want to hear me share my writing journey and buy my books. Outwardly, I may not change the way I operate at all. But inwardly, I have to do something. Therefore, my new year's resolution is to stop worshiping at the altars of notoriety and attention. That's got to be a far better way to live than gritting my teeth and trying to chase them. I've tried that for far too long and it's been churning me up inside. Now, at last, I'm beginning to understand why. I've got caught up in the hype of the crowd, got my path mixed up and approached the wrong temple.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Our Imaginations are God-given communication devices

I was reading my Bible from Genesis 6:13 onwards, when God instructed Noah how to build the Ark. Once again, I found myself thinking as I often used to, It would be wonderful if God would communicate as clearly and precisely now as He did to people like Noah. I imagined Noah standing in a field and gazing up at the sky while a deep voice boomed from the clouds, Make it 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high... put a window 18 inches from the top... coat it with pitch inside and out.

The majority of modern people you ask would surely say that's not the way God's chosen to communicate with them. Several times, I've heard, "God's instructions aren't given to our ears and eyes but to our spirits." Although I used to think that sounded a bit airy-fairy, I could go along with it. It seems reasonable that our Creator, who isn't a human being, doesn't choose to use the same limited communication methods humans are restricted to with each other. He made the 5 senses but He is free to transcend them and communicate His thoughts and instructions to us at a far deeper and more visceral level. Perhaps that's why He's given us a wonderfully receptive tool which can't be pinned down and probed.

If we were able to whiz back in time to witness folk like Noah receiving their inspiration, I wonder whether we would really hear the booming voice we might expect. Is it reasonable to imagine that He might have communicated His deepest plans to their receptive spirits and imaginations which they gladly made available for Him to fill.

Think of Moses being given the 10 Commandments to etch on stone tablets, and the detailed plans he received to build the original tabernacle in the wilderness. Later, King David received God's awesome blueprint for the magnificent temple which he drew up to pass on to his son, Solomon. The prophet Jeremiah was given God's Word which he dictated to his secretary, Baruch. If we could be present at these occasions with our twenty-first century expectations based on sensory information, is it possible we may be disappointed to find nothing but guys with long beards madly scribbling things down?

Hang on, that's all people would see if they step into my house while I'm working on my books (except, of course, I don't have a beard, thankfully). My kids would be quick to say those moments are very unexciting to witness. When I write my novels, the characters and their plights fill my daydreams. Sometimes I rush for my notebook to jot down their dialogues before I forget them. Am I just another person in a long line of folk who have received detailed guidance from God Himself when I devote my imagination to Him? The way in which sudden ideas tend to ignite my mind without my volition makes this seem credible. Often, something deep inside tells me, Yeah, that's just the thing, when a particular idea for the story or a character's reflection gels with me. Could this be God's guidance?

Have you had these moments too? Have you ever felt your spirit soar when you hear a wonderful song that you just know was God-inspired on the part of the composer? Have you seen a work of any medium of art which has brought tears to your eyes?

The flip side of this is that if we're not careful to make sure our imaginations are available as tools for God alone, they can fill up with all sorts of weird and terrifying things that can drive us to the brink of despair. At different times in my life, I've experience this too. But when we make it a practice to consciously dedicate our imaginations to God and squelch the other stuff, He has promised to honour our wholehearted commitment.

Albert Einstein said, "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift." In 2012, let's remember that our imaginations are definite gifts God has given us with the intention of communicating with us through them. And then let's watch our creativity soar!
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