Tag Archive: hardship

Experience, Sometime Foe

There’s a proverb commonly used about experience. It says, “Experience is the best teacher.” People certainly seem to believe that when it comes to jobs. Having some work experience can certainly make it easier to get hired. I’d say fire and heat is another area where we’re great believers in the teaching power of experience. As Tolkien wrote, “The burned hand teaches best.” One of the reasons I trust my doctor when he gives me a diagnosis is because he’s experienced. The checker at the supermarket who has been there a few years is definitely faster than the brand new one. I’d rather take my car to a mechanic who has some experience than one who doesn’t. Pilots should definitely be experienced. I don’t want to book a flight on somebody’s first ever attempt.

Experience, while not the be-all-end-all (other factors, like education, work ethic, and a good attitude are important, too), has advantages. People with it can work more smoothly and efficiently. Common pitfalls are generally more adroitly avoided, and experienced people fumble less. Somebody who knows the territory usually gets lost less than somebody who has never been there before.

So if education is twelve kinds of awesome, why is it that sometimes having experience is held against you? What makes some kinds of experience a “bad thing,” not to be trusted, or somehow a problem? It’s almost like there’s sometimes a prejudice in place.

See, my dad wasn’t the world’s best dad. He wasn’t the world’s worst, either, but he was closer to worst than best. He beat my sibs and I and did other things that loving fathers aren’t supposed to do to their children. Abuse and neglect are strong themes in my childhood story, making for lots of hard experiences, and I most certainly did learn things from those experiences. I will be the FIRST to admit that some of what I learned was bad, like how to hurt and manipulate other people. Being afraid of my father is not a good thing to have learned, either.

Other people’s reactions to my story can be pretty interesting. Some people are very sympathetic and supportive. Others can clearly relate all too well, some are unsympathetic, and then there’s another group. They acknowledge that I was hurt, but then seem to hold that against me. I’ve been told that my beliefs or opinions about family, parents, church, and all kinds of things probably are just the result of pain and bitterness and therefore couldn’t possibly be valid. I don’t get that reaction. I think it’s condescending, not to mention rude and lazy and sometimes self-protective. Quite frankly, I’d rather deal with outright hostility than deal with somebody who believes that I’m so crippled by my past that I’ll never be able to “walk. “

I do understand that sometimes when people have been badly wounded, they aren’t necessarily reasonable or rational. I know that it’s easy to become set upon what a person knows, those lousy experiences, and to refuse to grow. I know bitterness is a sweetly fired, spreading poison that gnaws the bones. But just because somebody is unreasonable or irrational and not necessarily objective, does that make them wrong? Does that invalidate their opinion? Does it make their information worthless? Should we merely humor and otherwise dismiss them? If “the burned hand teaches best,” why on earth would the burn victim’s experience be counted as less than the person who hasn’t faced the flames?

I am not saying that experience can’t be a problem. It can be. It sure can be. All the wrong lessons that keep a person bound and crippled and festering are frequently learned from painful experiences. I just don’t think it’s fair or right or very smart to uncritically discount what those have faced flames have learned. If nothing else, even if they’re all wrong, simply listening without dismissal can tell them that they matter.

Thanks for listening!

Back to My Roots

I woke up this morning grumpy. My back hurt, I didn’t want to go to work, and I could hear the rain pouring and the wind howling outside. Grumpy doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable, does it? I’ve noticed the last couple of days that I’ve had to watch my attitude. Grumpy is coming easily. A little bit of grumpy is no big deal, but chronically grumpy sours into bitterness, and that’s not how I want to live out my life.

What can make it hard is that I have some legitimate complaints. I’ve been in pain, often a considerable amount of it, almost constantly for about three months. Pain, I’m finding, is a wearing and exhausting thing with which to live. Besides the fact that it hurts, it grinds on me. It makes me feel weaker. I’m always devoting a fair amount of energy to living with it. I also feel guilty about it. It’s been three months, and I’ve been cooperative with my plan of care. Shouldn’t I all better by now? What am I doing wrong? I’m not, by the way. Apparently, some of the damage done can take six months to heal, but knowing that doesn’t necessarily make me feel great when I’m feeling down about it. I still hurt. I still feel weak and guilty. I’m still angry over the unfairness. I’m still being disappointed in my desire to be better, and that makes it easy, easy to feel all grumpy, and then to be snarky and sour, and then… You see how this goes, right? Somehow, I need to allow myself room to be in pain and to have reason for complaint without allowing it to eat me alive.

This isn’t the first time in my life that I’ve had something hard and unfair. I learned some things from those prior experiences that I’m finding helpful now. One is that I do need to watch my attitude. When I was a kid, I didn’t know that. I didn’t watch it very well which meant that I had some difficult messes to clean up when I started dealing with the reality that I’d suffered childhood abuse. Another is that I need to leave myself room for the legitimate pain and emotional turmoil I’m experiencing. I can’t just tell myself to shutup and ride without doing more damage. Yet another is the realization that I can’t do this on my own. I need God’s help and provision and ear.

In the last couple of days, I’ve noticed that I’ve almost without conscious thought turned myself toward God. If I’m grumpy, I grouch at Him and complain about how unfair it is. If I hurt, I cry out and tell Him that I can’t do this. This morning, I noticed another old lesson popped up. I was lying in bed, grouchy about being awake, and instead of staying there, I started thanking God for stuff. The truth is that I have not only reasons for complaint, but I also have reasons for gratitude. Work may be getting on my nerves sometimes, but I do have a job, one with decent pay and benefits and an employer that I usually appreciate and think appreciates me. My back might hurt, but most everything else is working great, and my back is better. I have a great mom. I like my siblings most of the time. I have some really good, sweet friends. Some time in the near future, there will be silly lambs bouncing all over the place and making me laugh with their antics. I live in an abundantly beautiful place. There are lots of good things in my life for which I am genuinely grateful.

One thing I would like to point out my attitude of gratitude is not a case of, “Cheer up! It could always be worse.” I’m not happy about having a job because I could be one of the poor folk who hasn’t been able to find one, or because I’m not stuck doing something I truly hate. I’m not happy about my back pain because at least that’s the only body part currently misbehaving. I think cheering up because it could be worse is the same thing as telling myself to shutup and ride. It’s not gratitude. It’s another method to deny the legitimacy of my very real pain and genuine struggle. It takes what I feel and tells me that I shouldn’t be feeling it. I’ve done that to myself before, and I found that while denying what I feel can be good in the short term, making it a long term habit means I have a lot of unresolved issues that eventually refuse to be hidden or denied.

Tell you one more thing for which I’m grateful. It would be roots. It would be the experience I’ve already acquired and the habits I’ve already learned that make turning toward God something that I don’t always have to struggle to remember. I’ve got that established, rooted into my life. That doesn’t mean I always remember right away to turn to God to pray and wait and rest and praise and all that, but it’s certainly quicker and easier and more likely to happen in a timely manner. For that, I’m grateful.

Happily Ever After

I was gone more than I expected to be last week, so I didn’t get a post up. Can’t really say that I’m sorry, though. I got to go visit my friend Steph, which was lots of fun. Then I spent Saturday making sure Carey got to her CBEST test. After the test was over, we went snooping all over the place. We had lunch at The Pink House in Independence. I can’t say I really liked the place. The food was decent (I had a nice, fresh salad), the service was less than fabulous, and the price was too high considering 1 and 2. It wasn’t terrible, but I would not be excited about going there again. Once we finished lunch, we found a used bookstore called Secondhand Books. We definitely had a good time in there. I found an old copy of a Doctor Dolittle book! Anyways, all the being gone was good, but it meant not much writing. I suppose I should plow back into my story!

There I was, in awe over the amazing love of God. I’d been so cynical about it, chalking it up as a fairy tale or a deal simply too good to be true. I’d strongly resisted accepting that “fantasy” as truth, which made the experience of acceptance all the more disarming. I was undone, and I have to say that “in awe” seems inadequate to explain how I reacted. Goodness, there’s only five letters in those two, little words to express my relief and excitement and joy and gratitude and sudden urge to drop to my knees in worship of this God Who loved me first. The biggest problem with dropping to my knees was that I couldn’t jump up and down. It was astounding. I was so happy, and I had lots of fun telling people about it. In fact, I’m having a lot of fun writing about it now. It’s been well over a decade, and I still feel a giddy rush from this memory.

You would think that, having fallen in love and accepted a rescue, and that having experienced the fantastic true love of God, this fairy tale of mine would progress to the age old line, “and she lived happily ever after.” It’s a good line, is it not? It’s how Bilbo wanted to end the story of his adventures, happily ever after. If I were writing my story, I’d like to end on such a happy, reunited note, because it seems like my story had reached a pinnacle there. It was really, really good.

But I’m not the Author, so my story progressed. It went on. I found out that love changed everything, but it changed nothing. It’s a riddle, love is. Just because I’d learned that love will love without its beloved (in this case, me!) being required to care doesn’t mean that I knew much of anything about love. That lesson changed everything but nothing. I didn’t wake up the next morning magically made by the power of love into a perfect person with a perfect life. I still had to work. I still had a family in shards. I still had a huge amount of personal brokenness. In the middle of my messy and difficult life, here comes love, and instead of a fluffy, soft “happily ever after,” it made my life harder.

Yes, harder. Sit with that for a moment. I’m saying that love made my life more difficult. Is that really the way it’s supposed to work? It doesn’t sound like a very good fairy tale or very happily ever after, but that is how it’s worked for me. Harder, because love changes everything, even though it changes nothing. Harder, because love opened a whole, new vista of challenge. I was loved. It was amazing, and it was an experience I wanted to share and to offer, but I did not know how to love other people. In fact, a lot of my life experience had taught me far more about the dark side of the Force, hate and fear. Harder, because hate and fear do not get along very well with love, and my soul got to live in the middle of their war. Love is not ponies and butterflies and rainbows all the time. Love did not instantly make my life easier.

In many ways, after my initial euphoria, love disappointed me. My disappointment was not good (matter of fact, it was dead wrong), but I did feel it, and it did motivate me. I think, though, I’ll leave that can of worms for my next post.