Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The House of My Heart

One day when I really understood what Jesus Christ had done for me, I invited Him to come into the house of my heart. As soon as I invited Him, He came....without hesitation. And when He was there, He filled the house with joy.
When everything was settled, I said, "I hope you will stay and feel perfectly at home here". He said," I'm sure I will. And now since we are friends, why don't you show me around? I would like very much to see the library in the house of your heart".
Now, in my house, the library is very small and has very thick walls and is filled with everything I have read: books, magazines, news articles; everything I have seen such as TV shows, movies, plays, all of the Sunday school lessons I have listened to. Also, all of the lectures, sermons I have attended. They are all there in the library. And His eyes gazed over all of the things that were on the shelf. I was a little embarrassed that there was so much trivia there. I wished that more scriptures and church books were on the shelf for Him to see. I suggested to Him that maybe I could stand a bit of renovation in this room. He agreed and that maybe He and I together couldadd more worthwhile things to the library. The library you see is very important. It is the room which is the study, so to speak, of the mind-a sort of controlroom, for the whole house. It affects the 'lighting', the shading of everything else in the inner home of our mind.
Then, He said He would like to see the dining room, so I took Him in. This is the room of appetites and desires. It is stacked with all kinds of boxes and things and I told Him I was always hungry, but that I never seemed satisfied. He told me that it was because I was eating the wrong things. "If you diet as I do, you will never feel hunger for I live on the word of the Lord, Our Father in Heaven. Then He offered me a taste of it and it was delicious. I agreed with Him that this alone satisfied me and that I now knew I would spend less time in the dining room now that He was a huest in the house of my heart.
Next, He asked if He could see my workshop. I had a workshop in the basement. We went down and looked at the workbench and saw all of the talents and skills that were there. But I hadn't really used it to produce much. I had gadgets and trinkets and half-finished projects but nothing really of great value. I said,"Well, if I wasn't quite so busy, maybe I could do better. I know all the tools are here, but I am awkward and clumsy and I really don't know how to use them." He said," Would you like t be able to use the tools in your workshop?" I exclaimed, "Oh, yes! Would you help me?" He was delighted that I asked. So, He stood behind me and put His great, powerful hands over mine and guided them and He showed me how to use the tools in the workshop. With His sure guidance, directing my hands, I marvelled at the work of art that came out. I cried, "Now that you have helped me, I am going to come into the workshop often and this will be a fun room to come to. Will you always help me?" He said soberly, "Yes, if I am invited, but I never come unless I am invited."
Next, I took Him to my drawing room. This is a small, quiet, peaceful place in my heart for deep thinking and meditation. He seemed pleased with it and comfortable there. He said,"Let's meet here often, at least twice a day. We can have long talks together and you can tell me all about your activities and ambitions, and problems. We'll talk it over together everyday." I thought that that sounded wonderful. So, I made an appointment with Him everyday that I would do that .... and I did, at first, faithfully. But, then I got so busy and sometimes I would forget to come in the morning, and somethimes I would forget at night. Then days and days would go by and we never had a talk at all. Now, it wasn't that I didn't want to talk to Him. It was just that I was so busy....
One day, as I started my busy day, I noticed Him standing in the doorway of the drawing room. I said, "Have you been waitng there every morning for me?""Yes", He replied. I said sheepishly, "You are a guest in my house and I have neglected you and I am sorry'. I had called on Him when I was in need to come and help me and He always came. That was about the way I used Him. When things went well, I didn't think we needed to chat as much as we did when things were bad. I had decided that it had been a very one-sided relationship and I also realized that He missed me.
"I have so many projects and so many things that need to be done. I could use a friend like you. For example, I have no money in the world at all. I only have yours to use. Would you let me use some of yours?" "Yes, of course", I said. "And there are people I want to help. Could I send you to represent me. Would you do that?""Yes, I could do that", I said. And so I went and I experienced great joy in this.
After awhile, I became rebellious and I exclaimed, "YOu demand too much of me." This was not a nice way to treat a guest. He gently showed me,"The nature of my projects benefits all, including you. Perhaps not monetarily, but nonetheless, you grow and deepen as you abide my will."I saw this and was ashamed. Everything I did benefitted me as well as those I was serving and not Him personally. I had misunderstood His work. So, I continued to do His work.
Then one day, He queried me about a locked closet in the house of my heart. "Although you have let me go into every room in the house, this door has always been locked." I was very reluctant to let him have access to this closet. "I cannot stay in this house if you do not give me the key to the closet", He said seriously. And He left.
I was sad and in great despair. Depression came over me. You see, once having Him as a guest in my home, my life became unbearable without Him. I went down on my knees and tearfully pleaded with Him to come back. I promised to give Him the key. "I will withold nothing from you. I cannot stand to live without you in my home".
So, I gave Him the key and He opened it. Then, quickly and efficiently, He cleaned out those things that were dead and rotten that I wanted to ignore. Memories of past hurts and offenses were swept out. Misunderstandings were fumigated with His word. He made it clean and it could be unlocked now for it was clean. "Now, I see only a house that is completely acceptable to me", He proclaimed. "I have cleared out so many closets, but it's a strange thing, I never remember afterwards what was in them." He smiled and embraced me. I felt peace.
A thought suddenly came to me. I turned to Him and exclaimed,"I wonder, could you be the owner of the house of my heart? I could be the guest and sort of servant and we could switch places. Instead of me calling on you to help me with my life, you can call on me to help you, use me in any way you will because I trust you completely. Is it possible?" "Why yes, this is my plan for you". So, I ran and got the deed to my house and I signed it over to Him and I said, " It is yours. It belongs to you and I withold nothing from you."
After I gave Him the deed, He immediately started remodling the house of my heart. He was the architect, the planner, the builder and told me that eventually we would have a magnificent structure in the world which we would build together. He remodled. He was the master of the house and I was the servant. I did whatever He bid of me. There were times when clouds came and gathered around the house-war, hate, and sin and they beat on the house and demanded entry. But, because He was the Lord of this house, it had a firm foundation and His protection. None of these things were allowed to enter. Inside, I reside in peace. warmth and tranquility regardless of what is outside.
He told me as time went on that He would move my house to another city. He would take care of all of the arrangements. I wouldn't even have to know the day it would take place, or when. He said that I would be in a city where He held the deeds of all of the houses. There would be no storms or darkness and I would like the neighbors better. I look back now so long ago to when I first invited Christ to come into the house of my heart. First as a guest and then gave Him the deed to this life of mine. I wondered why I had been so stingy and had reluctantly wanted to turn it over. He has showered me with gifts and has taken care of all my needs, all of the remodling of my character so that I resemble Him. And I was always the debtor.

By Darren Butterfield (revised by Miss Rumphius who taught college English and knows how to bring out the beauty of this piece)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Life as a Garden

Our lives as adults are overwhelmed with demands: demanding relationships, distractions. Young adults have an espesially distracting element to their lives. The intrusion of their circle of acquaintainces and friends through their cell phones. There is the overwhelming urge to answer every call, repond to every message. At one time, a young man checks his messages and discovers that the same friend has called nine times while he was at work and his phone, naturally, was off. The last message in this string of annoying repetitions, "Where are you, man"? This is a heated demand for accessibility. A demand that there be a call back.

When this intrusion becomes daily, a young person really should cancel his cell phone number and try to shake off these encroaching messages. As one matures, a certain ruthlessness about one's privacy grows. Availability of one's time and attention to others becomes a controlled commodity. Many young people find themselves on the phone over four hours a day either listening to messages or dealing with multiple messages and talking to people who spontaneously call them with a need to talk, 'hang out'. I have eavesdropped on some of these conversations waiting for my young friend or my adult child whom I am visiting when their phone rings. It is apparent that many phone calls are simply an encroachment.

If one's life may be compared to a garden, one's plot of ground for the duration of one's life, then we should guard it, work it, and keep one's life a priority. This implies that one's time is also a carefully monitored priority. It is far too easy to allow the world to wander, crash, or slip into one's life. In order to preserve one's garden for our own use and control, we must build a fence around it and protect it from intruders. How does one decide whether a new acquaintaince is an intruder, or a reciprocol friend. If one has already committed to having a certain unavailability or aloofness, then it will be a ground rule in meeting new people. They will sense it. When it is time to work or attend college classes, there is no distraction or lure which undermines our plan. Every garden, every life needs weeding which means some 'friends' who are not synergistic or who tramp around in our carefully tilled area must be asked or forced to leave. This is a very hard discipline for young people to grasp now. They find themselves hosting parties which descend upon their apartments without permission. Young women find themselves in a relationship with an obsessive man they 'took home' from a local bar. They victims of these intruders could have prevented the wasted time, disrupted plans, and even a traumatic encounter if they had formed a fence around themselves which can be felt.

If an attractive young woman is asked on a few dates and then there is a sudden rush of gifts and effusive talk of everafterness, she must decide whether to sit the man down and explain that she is not ready for this seriousness or drift into a relationship she doesn't want. She will have to show strength of character and take him to the gate of her garden to gently push him out. If she doesn't, she is at fault for cowardice for whatever pain she causes him and herself. Young people don't realize that their waking hours are theirs to spend or squander. A call to go to the kareoke bar doesn't mean one must go it there is an important deadline looming.
Just as there are deadlines for pruning, transplanting, fertilizing a garden, there are also these tasks for our life. If we must make room for one more college class in order to graduate on time, then the social life must be seriously curtailed. Not available. One is simply unavailable so that the class can be completed. Of course, people have feelings. When they are rebuffed, it can seem that it has been rude. However, if there is a fence arounds one's life from the very onset, then others will feel it, honor it, and will not feel ostracized.

This makes it necessary to carry this fence around you life with you into any social setting or social encounter. When someone asks for your number or address, give it only if you feel you would like to allow this person into your life knowing that it could be an encroachment or an enrichment. Assess if the person is reciprocal. Will they help you till, weed, plant as well as celebrate the harvest? Actually, if the person being considered is a reciprocal type, they also have a fence around their life, and allow only those who they feel will be synergistic into their lives as well.

So many young people allow so much fluidity through their cell phone and chance encounters that they get very little done and consequently must drop out of school, lose jobs, and become estranged from their family because they have not learned to discipline themselves. At thirty, tragically, they awaken and wonder what happened to their lives since high school.
If our lives are a garden, work the plot, plan the life. Discipline controls time, keep the end in mind. Short term goals attained create a long term goal acheived. The harves is a life of attained wealth of love, family, security.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Toward an Integrous Life

I have been pondering and, I'll admit, wrestling with the concept of Integrity...most of my adult life. Recently, my children's obtaining and slipping out of the saddle of this character trait (along with altruism, sensitivity, and artistic expression) I so passionately tried to bequeath them throughout their childhood. I admit I have been reluctant to share any musings with any of them, lest they take an offense and assume I am meddling in character development now that they are no longer children.
While they were sharing with me their agony over the demise of a marriage, defending a drug disabled friend as no such thing, or fretting over taking on the task of getting funding for a degree and making a place for themselves in the world to use their gifts they have been endowed with, I realized that they are terrified that they have become an adulterer-monster, or a person who will wake up at thirty with no life and nothing to show for the first ten years of their adulthood.
How does one live to their potential? How does one live within his/her own skin, peacefully? I think this is the issue that they are grapelling with surrounded as they are with their peers who regularly lose jobs, relationships, opportunities. Oddly enough, it is integrity or the slipping away from it's guiding hand which is at the root of their 'issues'.
An astute law professor, Stephen Carter wrote a book simply called Integrity years ago, which I stumbled upon, bought and read, reread and tried to absorb. In recent months with all of these wretched truths being divulged by my adult children, I am going back to it to find an answer. Can I share it with them? I tried with one, no response except to move in with a woman and not tell me about her or his address until I flew to visit him and met her myself. I discovered that he wasn't being defiant. He was being embarrassed to share with me his unintegrous situation. At least he got my message, even if he cannot live it yet.
Integrity is three sided. It is not simply honesty. It requires work. Mental work. First one chooses to take on the challenge of discerning right and wrong. Taking the time to ponder and consider what the right is and why; what the wrong is, and why. It is hard mental work. It ultimately leads one to examine the culture one is in and their choices about right and wrong, and then its influence on us. Do we allow it to influence us? Or do we take it one issue at a time and consider it independantly. All of this pondering actually leads one to be able to think independently and to be able to discern irony, duplicity, and truth more clearly than others do.
The second side is far beyond knowing what is right and wrong. It is a decision. What do I believe? Is this wrong or not? What do I do about it, personally? Do I do it and rationalize it or do I never do it and hold myself proud that I can say, "I've never done that thing." Once at my work some graffiti was found on the inside of a bathroom stall. Every associate was lined up and then asked by our enraged manager-eye to eye and piercing-'Did you write that?' I could look her in the eye and say, 'No, M'am, I have never in my life written any graffiti'. It felt great to say that. I felt my integrity at that moment.
Number three is a simple one. It is 'to be a person of integrity, one must be willing to say that he or she is acting consistently with what he or she has decided is right'. We give oaths, take pledges, declare testimonies and these were instituted in a time when integrity was known, taught, practiced and valued. Times, as we know have changed. The TV is replete with shows, magazines with articles with people bragging how they cheated the court system, took secret revenge on a coworker or spouse, got away with whatever (including murder).
I regret that I didn't take more seriously teaching my children to ponder and evaluate the right and wrong, decide, act on it, and then have the courage to declare openly their commitment to what they had previously decided was right and wrong. My adulterous child, when his sister confronted him and he fully realized his 'indescretion' was now out in the open and known and his life as a married man was over, crashed emotionally. A rent in his soul was made. I saw him soon after. He cried, he confessed, he slept on the floor of his childhood bedroom. He looked up at the ceiling of this room where the glow-in-the-dark stars and comets still shine dimly just where he and his brother put them Christmas night years ago. Now, he is waiting to file, a year has passed and he still hasn't divorced. He is living separately and neither of them seem to know how to move on and live honestly. Has the world the younger generation occupy skewed so very much different from the one I was presented with when I was 20 and ready to start my adult life?
I think in some ways a dark ages for moral integrity has descended on our culture. How did that happen?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Becoming Our Best Selves

Marriage is work. It is not always a partnership which is equal. At any given juncture, phase, or even minute of the day, one spouse may actually be several pages ahead of the other. A marriage becomes a haven if a few disciplines or habits are worked on consistently until they flow from our body language, our choice of words, timing so that we change and change each other, for the better.
There is a lovely Jewish proverb which says,"We shall light a candle of understanding in our hearts which shall not be put out". This can be applied to marriage as a guide to communicating when one is on a different page or level than the other. If one spouse has leapt ahead a few steps on an issue and the other should be brought along to the same understanding, it requires that a 'light' be shown on the issue in a nonthreatening way: "Dear, I read an article about giving children a chance to experience several types of activities after school such as sports, ballet, scouts. You know, to give them exposure to other things while they are still children. I think we should talk about the options we could give the kids. What do you think?" When the subject is not too personal, just a hypothetical, then the 'light' can shine on the issue and 'understanding' as well as respect for views and equal input into a plan becomes possible.
A great spouse is really like a great pet dog as George Eliot said," ....are such agreeable friends. They ask no questions, they pass no criticism". There are times, and you get to know them, when it is better to just be an agreeable friend because you really listened. You really just sympathized. You really didn't try to solve the problem for your spouse. He felt you understood, nonjudgementally. If there has been a healthy amount of this 'no questions/no criticism', then trust is built for those times when the foot must come down about something important.
The essence of the nurturing process is this: "A good (spouse) friend accepts us as we are yet helps us to be who we should"(anonymous) If each believes that they are entirely acceptable just as they are to the other, there is a powerful bond that is trust/love steel. If there is trust and love, the other's input is valuable, sought for, accepted. If valuable guidance is given, then it is received in their'heart' as a 'light' of awareness and it will 'not be put out' but will be cherished and not rejected.
Of course, we are talking about living a gracious and civilized way-in our marriage. This requires a highly disciplined restraint, carefully guarding impulsive comments and this includes sarcasm, defensiveness and insensitivity. If one does it, the other absorbs it instead of responding in kind. This means nurturing marriage is a paradigm shift from the sitcom or soap opera marriage model. It means work...hard...to create a relationship where trust and friendship as well as all of the childrearing, emptynest adjustments, and elder care required of life on earth. If this other level of being married can be achieved in an effortless interchange of selfless, sensitive acts it will result in our rise to a level of being 'what we should' or becoming our best selves over time and it will be evidenced in every relationship we have both in and outside of the marriage.