Seasoned with Grace

 

IMG_7691 galilee spice mart ch crop

I find languages fascinating. Why is it that some languages have big fat dictionaries and some have thin? Why do some people need more words than others?

A woman I knew who worked for an international charity learned after one year in language school that she was being assigned work in a different country. Most people would have groaned and been upset with time wasted. She was relieved.

“That language has no polite words!” she said, exasperated. “There is no please, no thank you, no sorry, no kind way to express sympathy. I will be glad to move on.”

In the next language she studied greetings took ten minutes. “And how is your father-in-law? Are your she goats pregnant? Is your second nephew well? And your third nephew, is he well?” Since she is a people person she was much happier and didn’t find these rituals cumbersome at all.

I stayed with my daughter while she was living on a tiny Caribbean island. I never got used to the accepted phone etiquette there.
Ring.
“What you want?”
“Oh, um, hello. I hate to bother you, but is Tina there please?”
“Tina not here.”
Click.

The first time I used the phone I thought Tina’s father was an angry man. Then I discovered nearly all the people born on the island spoke the same way, even in the marketplace. They had no problem with it. They wondered what was wrong with me.

My husband spent some time in the deep south of the United States as a guest lecturer. “Not only do they talk slowly, they act like they’ve got all day. They’ll tell you story after story and offer more drinks until you can’t hold it anymore, then they will finally say what they intended to when they offered you a seat,” he told me when he got home. “Great folks, but how do they ever get anything done?”

“What did they want to tell you?” I asked.
“That I am too blunt with the students and I need to be more sensitive.”

I laughed. My parents both spoke English but they came from cultures with different communication styles. In my father’s hometown no one broached the subject they came to talk about until the second pot of coffee was on the stove or until a hand was on the door knob on the way out. My mother’s ethnic background required a person to make their point quickly and clearly so a person could get on with their work – and there was always work. Dad thought Mom’s family was shockingly blunt. Mom thought Dad’s family was frustratingly long-winded. (I take after my Dad, but I can switch and be ruthlessly direct when under pressure.)

Mom, bless her heart, set herself to the task of learning “tact.” It was not a skill that came naturally, especially since she didn’t understand why some people took offense so easily. “She asked me if I liked her new hat and I said it looked silly on the side of her head like that. It made her head look crooked. I straightened it for her. Well, she asked me. Did she want me to lie? She didn’t have to go off in a huff!”

Mom meant well.

There are two sides to communication: what was intended and what was perceived. If only they were the same.

I’ve run into people who really have to work at understanding that other people perceive differently. Whenever I hear them start with “I don’t have time to say this nicely so I’m just going to say it,” I know it’s time to raise the shields. Incoming! Sometimes “I don’t have time to say this nicely” means “I don’t know how to say this nicely,” and sometimes it means “I can’t be bothered with going to the effort of caring about your feelings.”

They may have meant well. Or they may not. The message could have been a valuable one, but it was lost in translation either way.

Then there are people who enjoy getting a rise out of folks. Their words are intended to be like pokes, or even like the rash thrust of a sword. They are meant to provoke an angry reaction, because to them, an angry reaction is better than no reaction at all.

Then there are those who go on and on and never notice polite smiles starting to droop or eyes furtively checking watches. The message is as lost as a misfiled book in a four story library. (Sorry about that.)

Words seasoned with grace have the hearer in mind. Speaking with grace means honouring the hearer, taking the time to consider how they perceive the message and bringing healing to a heart. It’s about love. Grace usually is.

Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. (Colossians 4:6 NASB)

There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword,
But the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18)

A gentle answer turns away wrath,
But a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable,
But the mouth of fools spouts folly. (Proverbs 15:1,2)

When Messages Conflict

Call Jan

I couldn’t attend the meeting. Icy roads, time pressure – the reason doesn’t matter – but the outcome of the meeting did matter. Decisions made there affect decisions made here. I asked three people what happened. They gave me three different versions and three different interpretations of the implications they each took away from the discussion. Had I not known these three people I would have thrown my hands up in frustration, but knowing their strengths and biases I actually had a fuller picture, even though they sometimes contradicted each other.

I thought about the way believers in Jesus Christ interpret their experiences and how they deliver messages. Of course, they are going to relate things differently. Take this phone conversation for example:

“Hello. This is Jan. Is Michael there, please?”
“No. I’m sorry, he just stepped out. Can I take a message?”
“Oh dear. I need some information from him. Well, just tell him to give me a dingle.”
“Okay.”

When Michael comes back I will probably say something like, “Jan called. She sounded a little stressed. You had better call her.”

I may add to the message because I heard something in her tone of voice that makes me feel she needs to know someone cares. I tend to interpret events through the lens of a mercy gift. But that’s just me.

Another person, who has a gift for administration or even prophecy might be more blunt, “Call Jan. She needs those numbers now! Let’s get this show on the road!”

An encourager might say, “Wow. You’ve been busy. I hope you had a refreshing break. I love the way you keep things running so smoothly. By the way, Jan called. I think she could use your expertise about now. Give her a call when you can. Your information is vital and we all appreciate it.”

A helpful, somewhat literal message-taker would be more precise. “Jan called. She needs some information – and she wants you to give her a dingle. What’s a dingle? Is it a candy? Because I can run down to the shops on my break and try to pick her up one, or however many come in a package, unless it’s a computer part, but if you give me the information I can order that online for you…”

The message can also be filtered through another person’s experiences or emotions:
“Jan called. Again. I was in the middle of something and now I have to start all over. Maybe you should consider putting someone who can work more independently in that position.”

“Jan called. Hey, is she seeing anyone?”

“Jan called. She sounded so sad. I know what it’s like to lose your cat. My little Pookie was so sweet…pass the tissue.”

“Jan called. She’s probably tired of waiting for you to get your act together too. Are we going to make the deadlines? What if we don’t? Will we lose everything?”

“So what’d you think of the game last night? Oh, there’s a message on your desk. That second half was crazy, eh?”

“Hello, Jan? He just came back from lunch.”
“Here. Talk to her.”

“I didn’t know you had eco-freak friends. What does bleeding-heart Jan want now?”

 

I wonder if some of our difficulties in communication derive from the assumption that our views should be the same without considering that our points of view may be quite different.

On my social media yesterday a post comparing a certain politician to Winston Churchill was immediately followed by another comparing the same person to Adolf Hitler. They are both my friends (the posters, I mean, not Winston and Adolf. I’m not that old.) Frankly, I thought both writers made good points.

Another friend, a tell-it-like-I-see-it communicator, charged into a discussion rather like a bull in a china shop who resented the porcelain figurines  for being so *#&*#ing fragile.

Yet another was in tears over a video of a grandfather who announced his own death so the family would gather together. I didn’t say anything to her but I can tell you from experience there are limits on the number of times a person can get away with playing that trump card and then using the captured time to criticize, complain and spread gloom and misery everywhere. I’m not hard-hearted but, you know, my history is different from hers. I’m going to see that video commercial through a dusty lens.

Some people who  hear God’s communication with them (through scripture verses that stand out to them in virtual neon lights, or dreams, or an internal or even external voice, or through other circumstances) have a message to either pray about or deliver to others for the purposes of building people up and expressing God’s love and concern. But they also have lenses.

Would to God we all started out mature enough to see through Jesus’ eyes without any of our own stuff getting in the way. Some are more capable of this than others, but nearly everyone needs to learn to quiet their own heart so they can hear and repeat the message more clearly.

Besides interpreting what we believe the Lord is telling us from the viewpoint of motivational giftings he has placed inside us (e.g. mercy, encouragement, prophecy, teaching, serving, giving, administering) most of us will interpret through lenses that still contain residue from past disappointment, or perhaps fear, or fatigue, or guilty self-defence. We are also affected by geography, ethnicity, denominational leanings, and political or educational history. Sometimes there is a lot to un-learn. That’s why we need each other.

We need more than one perspective and we need to help each other heal so our perception is more accurate and our hurts and assumptions do not taint the message so much. We also need humility to realize that we may only have part of the picture and that someone who sees things quite differently may not be entirely wrong but could have another crucial part that adds dimension. Paradox and all that. (Or one of us could be missing it by a mile. It happens. Humility and all that.)

Yesterday I had lunch with an insightful friend.

“How do we find a point of connection with all this confusion and disagreement going on lately? “ I asked her.

“Stories,” she said. “There’s a reason why most of the Bible is a narrative. We learn from stories. We need to listen to each others stories. We connect through stories – and everybody has a story.”

I realized the reason I found the three different versions of the meeting helpful is because I knew each one of these people’s stories. They knew mine. We understood each other because we have spent time listening to each other. I knew where they were coming from and why they interpreted events as they did. We have connection.

The same exact facts and interpretation repeated over and over do not necessarily represent unity. Hearts connecting? That’s unity.

It’s a journey.

It’s Like…

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When my uncle from Saskatchewan came to visit I took him to one of my favourite lookouts to see the mountains. I asked him what he thought. He thoughtfully stroked the stubble on his cheeks that reminded me of the stubble covering his flat fields after harvest.

“They’re okay I guess, but they kind of block the view, ” he said.

A talented musician I once worked with told me she had a similar reaction. She grew up in The Netherlands and although she had seen pictures of mountains she never actually climbed even a hill until a visit to Scotland when she was eighteen.

“The mountains in Canada make me feel claustrophobic,” she said. “I miss the sky.”

 

My beautiful picture

 
I must admit that when I take trips back to the prairies I appreciate the sky and the marvelous sunsets, but I feel so exposed. My Dad joked that on his childhood farm he could see the train coming two days away and it was this environment that necessitated the invention of the outhouse.

Communication involves so much more than the facts of terrain and topology. Words and images don’t always contain the same meanings to different beholders.

I loved the annual “Missionary Convention” at my church when I was a kid. The missionaries on furlough brought costumes and articles from far away exotic cultures and told stories of eating local comfort foods that made kids raised on Jello and Wonder bread gag. I remember one guy telling us the problems he had translating the Bible into the language of a society whose only previous outside contacts had been oil and mining company workers and anthropologists. He wondered how to translate, “Behold the lamb of God.” Somehow “Behold the fuzzy creature of God” didn’t seem appropriate. “Behold the little pig-sized animal covered with curly whiskers like the ones on Jake the geologist’s face” seemed too cumbersome to repeat more than once. He finally went with “Behold the piglet of God” because these people raised pigs and often took the little ones into their homes as pets. He knew that word could be shocking in other cultures, but it conveyed the meaning of something innocent, valued and loved. A lamb, in a way, was like their piglet, but then again, not really. There are limits to how far an analogy can go. Sometimes you need more than one.

Jesus told stories to explain a kingdom outside the experience of the people who gathered around him. “The kingdom of God is like a pearl. It’s like a coin. It’s like…”

 

“The disciples came up and asked, “Why do you tell stories?”

He replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. I don’t want Isaiah’s forecast repeated all over again:

Your ears are open but you don’t hear a thing.
Your eyes are awake but you don’t see a thing.
The people are blockheads!
They stick their fingers in their ears
so they won’t have to listen;
They screw their eyes shut
so they won’t have to look,
so they won’t have to deal with me face-to-face
and let me heal them.”

(Matthew 13: 10-15 The Message paraphrase in modern clichés)

 

God still speaks to us today in stories and similes that come from our own cultures. His language is not always English nor any other spoken language. He can speak through nature and pop music and babies and even international politics – and many other ways that connect us with his heart – but most people don’t hear because his imagery means little without a desire to understand the story-teller. His language is relationship. He is the Word.

I’ll be honest and say that I enjoy poetry and I write poetry, but I don’t read a lot of it. It’s work and I want to know the poet has something of value to say before I invest mental energy in interpreting the imagery. You can’t read poetry (except perhaps limericks) without taking time to ponder over what the writer is trying to communicate. Taking time to listen to God develops eyes to see and ears to hear what the kingdom of God is like, but more importantly what the Lover of our Soul is like.

“But you have God-blessed eyes—eyes that see! And God-blessed ears—ears that hear! A lot of people, prophets and humble believers among them, would have given anything to see what you are seeing, to hear what you are hearing, but never had the chance.” (verses 16-17)

 

“Oh Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder consider all… I see… I hear… Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee.” (How Great Thou Art)

Skin People Stories

Take a picture of me jumping!
Take a picture of me jumping!

We wondered what our wee granddaughter was talking about when she asked a question about “skin people.” Her story books were full of talking fur or feather people, she explained, so she wanted her mommy to know she was talking about other kinds of people who look like us.

“They’re called humans, Honey,” her mommy answered.

The next day, within the hearing of other shoppers she asked, “What are those humans doing over there?”
More than one head turned.

I realized that many children’s stories meant to teach a moral lesson use personified critters –clever foxes, wise owls, sneaky snakes, innocent baby bears. It’s easier for authors to frame a story when you are in control of the rules in the fictional world simple characters live in. It works. Kids love it, and there are fewer stupid human tricks for us to explain.

Lately, she’s been asking me to tell her stories about me or her mommy or my friends. At nearly six-years old she has become a student of skin people nature, which can be pretty baffling at times.

Since we were discussing birthday plans I told her this true story about my friend and a birthday cake. There were two people who loved to play jokes on each other. One year “Dolly” decided to play a big trick on her friend, “Burt.” She hired a baker to decorate a cake made up of doggie biscuits frosted together (because he had already played a joke with doggie biscuits on her). From the outside, the birthday cake looked fantastic. Then she dropped it off at Burt’s house. He wasn’t home, so his wife took it gratefully and said she would give it to him later.

After a few days she had not heard anything from him and wondered if his feelings were hurt, so she phoned him.

“The cake was amazing,” he said. “Wow. Thank you so much!”

“It tasted good then?”

“Marvelous!” he gushed. He paused and then said, “I’m sorry, Dolly. I have to I have to tell you what happened. I was tired when I got home so we put it in the freezer and thought we would bring it out when we had company. But last night my wife suddenly remembered she promised to supply the cake for a birthday party for a person at the Old Folks Home. It was too late to order one and yours was beautiful so she brought it down to them this morning.

“Oh No! Did they give the dog biscuit cake to the old person, Nana?” granddaughter asked.

“Well, Dolly called the baker and asked him if he had a cake in the shop she could have and he did. So she hurried over there and bought the cake and rushed to the nursing home with it. She ran into the kitchen and asked the cook if Burt’s cake was there because she wanted to trade it for a fresher cake, but the cook said the cake was already in the dining room for the party. Dolly ran to the dining room.

“Don’t cut that cake!” she yelled.

“Why not?” everyone asked.

Just then Dolly’s friend Burt came in the room and everyone laughed and laughed because they were all playing a joke back on her. Burt knew the cake had dog biscuits inside and he told everybody he was playing joke on Dolly. He already had another one there for the party.

“Why was it funny?” my granddaughter asked.

“Why did she make a cake of dog biscuits? That would taste yucky. That could hurt his feelings.”

“How did Burt know there were dog biscuits inside? Why did he tell his friend he was giving it to the old person? Wasn’t that a lie?”

“Why did the lady forget to order the cake? Didn’t she write it on a calendar?”

“What bakery did Dolly go to?”

Well, I thought it was funny. My next story will start with “Once upon a time there were three bears…”

Skin people communication is so complicated. Friends who understand each other can share practical jokes and laugh at the re-telling for years. Let-your-yea-be-yea-and-your-nay-be-nay people will ask, “Why would you give me a dog biscuit cake? Why would you dishonour me this way?”

Nothing is more shaming than being told your attempts at communication with people you care about have been interpreted in the opposite way you intended – especially if they wait for years to tell you that they have only been smiling politely and they have found you offensive all this time.

Sometimes in our attempts to make connection too much is assumed. It’s like we have only a partial picture of this skin person and they are much more complicated than we think because unlike illustrations of fur and feather people in story books they keep bouncing out of the frame.

The moral of the story: Never assume you understand skin people. Never assume skin people understand you.

Do you know what I mean?

Mixed Message

Welcome -not
Welcome -NOT

I just about jumped out of my skin when the dog lunged at the fence, barking with an authoritarian voice that clearly negated anything that sign said about being welcome. I paused by the shaking boards only long enough  to snap a photo -and then I was out of there. If he wanted the entire lane to himself, that was fine with me. The sign said welcome, but something was missing.

Mixed messages may be difficult to read, but usually action barks louder than words.

One day I was expecting a student for a singing lesson, but I wasn’t sure if I would be on time because I planned to attend the funeral of an old acquaintance earlier in the afternoon. My student was a mature person I knew well, so I phoned her and said I would leave the door unlocked, and if I was a few minutes late she could just come in and practise.

Well, the funeral went on longer than I anticipated because so many people wanted to share what the dear departed soul meant to them.  She was dearly loved and the boxes of tissue thoughtfully placed on the pews were passed between all her many friends and family. The last person to speak talked about how her door was always open to students who dropped by regularly for cookies and advice.

At that moment I suddenly remembered that although I left the door open for my student, I forgot to turn off the burglar alarm! It is  partly a motion detector type alarm and wouldn’t go off if the unlocked door was opened, but it surely would if she walked into the living room where the piano was.

I looked at my watch and whispered my dilemma to the fellow sitting beside me. Poor guy. I caught him off guard and he guffawed loudly. Bad timing.

I wonder about the messages we give people. Sometimes the messages people intend to communicate are not, for various reasons beyond their control, perceived in the same spirit. Sometimes it’s an oversight, or bad timing. Sometimes words don’t match actions and people are rightly spooked. If folks preach love and grace, yet passers-by hear snarling disapproval or condemnation from the other side of the gate –well, no wonder they run away. If people implore others to come into their parlour and then scare the hide off them with alarms that scream “intruder alert,” they probably will not need to set another place at the table.

I used to do an exercise with students to demonstrate the importance of making sure your body communicated the same message as a song. I would ask them to touch their chin with their finger.

“Touch your finger to your chin like this,” I said, but then I deliberately touched my cheek. Nearly every one of them touched their cheek as I was demonstrating. A few looked confused or asked me to clarify. Rarely would someone actually do as I said and not as I did.

I usually went on to tell them if their face and shoulders looked morose, even if the song was joyful, the audience would go with morose. Actions carry greater authority as messengers than we realize.

How many prodigals are kept out of the Kingdom of God by the unlovely character of those who profess to be inside!

Henry Drummond

It’s a pretty basic lesson, really. People will know if love is genuine or if they are being coerced or manipulated. Jesus said, “By this will all people know that you are my followers: if you have love for one another.”

Love. Either it’s real, or it’s not.

Press on to Know

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My favourite episode of Star Trek the Next Generation is one in which the crew makes contact with beings who speak entirely in metaphor and allegory. Instead of saying romance they would say “Romeo and Juliet on the balcony,” for example. The “translator” program doesn’t work, so the captain of the aliens meets the captain of the Enterprise on a planet where they will face great adversity together against an invisible monster enemy. This is all in an attempt to communicate.

I am beginning to understand that God goes through times of adversity with us not only to teach us about his character of love, holiness and faithfulness, but to attempt to teach us His language. He says, “hard-hearted at Meribah” meaning  complaining in unbelief and taking things into our own hands. He says, “crossing the Jordan” meaning belief and trusting him by moving on into something new. He says, “Joseph in jail,” meaning waiting on the Him to exalt you at the right time.

Sometimes when he brings up memories of personal traumas we have been through, he is saying, “Remember. Was I not sufficient for you?”

God is so good at using what the enemy of our souls intended for harm, like the invisible monster in the Star Trek episode, that we think He was the one who hit us with it. Obviously we live in a place where everything is not yet in line with what is happening in heaven (I have more prayer requests in my inbox today that are a reminder of that) but he is teaching us to battle, and to persevere and to trust His character.

Today I am seeing the goodness of God and his provision in the midst of difficult circumstances.  Already I know that God wants us to know Him better, so He is meeting us in here in this place to go through the circumstances with us. He is beside us and someday He will say, “Do you remember the time….?”  and I will smile and say, “Thank you, Lord for walking through that with us. You were indeed sufficient. And look at the fruit that came out of it!”

God is good.

Save

More Than Words III

Good morning, dear
Good morning, dear

Today I am so grateful for a man who has faithfully shown his love in more than words since our engagement 41 years ago today.

He has said I love you by

going to work every morning

coming home every night

emptying the dishwasher

taking out the garbage

remembering to get the oil changed

unplugging the toilet

covering my desk with chocolates

laughing at my jokes

letting me use him as an excuse when I don’t want to volunteer for something

getting up at night when the kids were babies

telling his mother his allegiance was to me now

learning Koine Greek

pushing my wheelchair when my leg didn’t work

critiquing my writing and telling me that image might mean something else to other people (Good grief. How many names does it need?)

disagreeing and doing it anyway

disagreeing and not budging

putting his bacon in the freezer and my organic kale in the fridge

eating burnt toast with a smile

letting me choose the paint colours

praying for me and our family every day as he goes for his morning jog

demonstrating fearless generosity when money was tight

always being willing to study and learn more about God

putting Jesus first.

 

I love you, my man.