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I wrote parts of this many years ago when I had deeply wounded a friend. Today I am struggling on behalf of another friend whose mistake I did not see in time to help her avoid it. I am holding on to God’s promises and asking Him to do what He says He will: work this—even this—together for good…

 

I made a terrible mistake.
I made a terrible mistake and I cannot fix it.
“I’m sorry” lacks the power to mend.
“I was wrong” will not repair this bridge that I have burned.

Yet in the midst of my tears, God gently reminds me of who He is:

The One Who Heals.
The One Who Provides.
The Deliverer.
The Redeemer.

The Redeemer.

Redeem: “to compensate, or make amends for,
to return something lost or stolen,
usually through the fault of another.” In this, I find peace.
In this, I am reminded that God has placed Himself in charge
of making amends that I cannot.
God has made Himself responsible for restoring what is lost.
Even when it’s my fault.
Even when I don’t deserve it.
Even when I can’t see how.
I am hurt, but not without hope.
I am full of regret, but not despair. “Where sin abounds, grace abounds much more” (Romans 5:20) “For love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8)
“All things work together for good.” (Romans 8:28)

 

Rina Marie

30 days of Poetry, Day 21

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If You’re Going to Date a Writer

You can expect letters in the mail
And love notes on your pillow
And sweet scribblings on your mirror
And long, rambling emails in the middle of the night.

You can expect love quotes on your phone
And song lyrics in your inbox
And affirmations in your lunch box
And “I love you’s” on the windshield of your icy car.

You can expect encouraging lines
And witty sketches
And sympathetic verses
And sexy sonnets designed to get you into bed.

You can expect to be the muse for an essay
Or the motivation for a rant
Or the inspiration for a comedy
Or the arousal for a romance

You can expect to find yourself highlighted in the chapters of my book,
Featured in the articles of my blog,
Headlining in the pages of my journal,
And draped across the verses of all my poems

You can expect that I will scrawl you fiercely into my life
And compose you carefully into my mind
And draft you tenderly into my thoughts
And pen you painstakingly, permanently upon my heart.

Rina Marie

30 Days of Poetry, Day 20

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Be Free

“True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness.”
—Brene Brown

I recently had a difficult conversation with a loved one. I’ve never been good at confrontation, and I knew that if I answered their questions honestly it would be impossible to keep from inflicting pain. Just a few wrong words had the potential to impact our relationship far into the future, so before answering, I paused and asked myself one question:

What’s your goal?

If lack of pain wasn’t a goal I could achieve, and reconciliation might not be, either, what was a goal I COULD strive for? After much thought, I came up with an answer:

Speak the truth, as kindly as you can.

I spent much of my early life lying, in one form or another. I learned the rules of the social game at a young age and began suppressing thoughts I knew weren’t welcome and catering my responses to obtain the desired outcome. White lies, lies of omission, lies to avoid hurting people’s feelings, likes to hide difficult truths, all sorts of lies aimed at one goal:

Be Liked.
(Aka: be accepted, don’t rock the boat, don’t make people angry, protect others from pain…)

I wanted to be liked by my family, partners, friends, coworkers, hell, I even wanted to be liked by strangers in the check-out line. And my primary methods of attempting to achieve this likability have been the omitting of truth and the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) bending of truth to slant it toward my own likability.

Several years ago, I began working to be more deliberately honest with another goal in mind: to build authentic friendships. I decided to speak the whole truth at all times and risk losing some people, if it meant my relationships with others grew deeper. I worked hard at being truthful, but I still found myself holding back or scrambling to find the “right” words that would cast me in the best light, at times. It wasn’t until recently, after reading the words of Brad Blanton in his book Radical Honesty, that I realized that the goal of building authentic friendships, though slightly better than the goal of being liked, is still a bad one. They both focus on and require the participation of another person. As I read Blanton’s book, the following words leaped from the page:

“When you tell the truth, you are free simply by virtue of describing what is so.”

In that moment, I realized there is another, better, goal to strive toward than Be Liked or Build Authentic Friendships:

BE FREE.

“Telling the truth means telling everything you have hidden that you have done in the past to the very people who you think would be most hurt or angry or surprised or embarrassed by the revelations… The first thing you have to get over to tell the truth is politeness—modification of your report of your experience out of ‘consideration’ of the other person’s feelings.* That is, unless your spouse gets a clear feeling from your report of how much fun it was when you f*ked his best friend, you haven’t told the truth yet.”

This sounds horrific and almost guaranteed to result in the loss of a relationship or two hundred. But the moment I understood FREEDOM as a goal, this kind of “radical” honesty made sense. Freedom doesn’t require anyone else’s participation. It stands regardless of anyone’s opinion and exists regardless of where I am or who I’m with.

The truth is, no matter what we do, how hard we strive, or what stories we tell, reactions and feelings and opinions are not something we can control. No matter how many “right things” we say or difficult truths we withhold or skew, we can’t determine how someone else will respond or what they will feel. But unlike a feeling, honesty is a behavior. Honesty is something we can choose. And the resulting freedom is an experience we have access to, whenever we want it.

I spoke with a friend recently who expressed fear that if she told the truth she might lose some of the important people in her life. It’s a legitimate fear. It speaks directly to our biologically hard-wired need to belong. Thinking out loud, I asked: “what if freedom is better than belonging?” But today it occurs to me: What if freedom IS belonging? I recall a conversation between Maya Angelou and Bill Moyers:

Angelou: You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great…
Moyers: Do you belong anywhere?
Angelou: I haven’t yet.
Moyers: Do you belong to anyone?
Angelou: More and more… I belong to myself. I’m very proud of that. I am very concerned about how I look at Maya. I like Maya very much.

Freedom is the way we keep in right relationship with ourselves and God, regardless of our relationships with others. Freedom is a much better goal.

An interesting thing happened when I spoke the truth to my loved one. During the course of the conversation, I was able to see the other side just a little more clearly. I acknowledged and admitted some of my own mistakes, developed a greater understanding, and learned some important lessons about my own judgments. In the end, though feelings might have been hurt, the conversation allowed for greater connection, and I came away with a little more compassion and a little more love. Isn’t this what life is all about? Isn’t this the work we’re called to do while on this earth?

“Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Christ.”
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.”
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”
—Ephesians 4:15, Galatians 5:1, 5:15

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* I, personally, disagree with Blanton’s opinion that in order to tell the truth we must disregard politeness or consideration for another person’s feelings. While I do believe there are times when this is true, I also believe it is our responsibility to “speak the truth in love” by carefully considering how best to phrase our truths in a way which causes as little damage as possible—the surgeon slicing with a scalpel in an effort to heal vs. the soldier swinging a sword for the purpose of killing. Words have both the power to heal and do irreparable damage. Sometimes that damage is unavoidable—the very surgery aimed at healing often kills. But I believe it is our job to always do our best to reach for the scalpel not the sword.

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What I Cannot Say In Words

Show me your curves, your edges, your smoothness, your scars,
every sun-kissed spot of age.
Show me how and when and where to touch,
show my mouth your favorite place.

I want to be fluent in your body language
and read between your lines.
I want to mold you beneath my hands and tongue
and trace your shape to mine.

I want to burn your skin into my palms
and dance across your hips.
I want to paint your body with my breath
and play your ribs with fingertips.

Let me climb the arch of your neck
and memorize your curves.
Let me tell you with my hands and eyes and lips
all I cannot say with words.

Rina Marie

30 Days of Poetry, Day 19

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Naked and Unashamed

Some day, I will stand bare before you.

Tender. Vulnerable. Exposed.

And I will be safe.

Accepted. Cherished. Loved.

Not because you have created a safe place for me,

But because I have.

Rina Marie

30 Days of Poetry, Day 18

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More thoughts on judgment…

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“I know who you are.”

Directed at me in anger, the statement takes me by surprise. By what form of clairvoyance, I wonder, did this person obtain such extensive insight into who I am, considering we’ve only had a handful of conversations in the past five years? I certainly don’t know him, so how is it that he knows me? The truth is, he doesn’t. The truth is, none of us really know ANYBODY.

Yesterday I wrote about judgment. Today, I realize that part of my judgment of people comes from the fact that I believe I know them. Especially if they’ve been in my life for a long time, I believe I have insight into their motivations and often assign blame for intentions that, in reality, I don’t know they actually have. Because the truth is that all I ever know about anyone are the parts of themselves they choose or are able to present to me. I am familiar with the Jon who lives in this house, the Jon who is my husband, the Jon who is the father of my children. But I know nothing of the Jon who shows up to work each day. I don’t know the conversations he has or the advice he gives or what kinds of things he laughs about. It’s very likely I would be surprised by that Jon. We’ve all experienced the thought about a loved one: “I can’t believe they did that!” These are the moments when what we think we know about someone runs dead into who they actually are.

Each of us exists in the minds of everyone we know as a different version of ourselves. In the minds of our friends, we may be outgoing and free-spirited while in the minds of our coworkers we are serious and hard-working. My best friend’s version of me might be caring and compassionate, while someone I have deeply wounded might see me as judgmental and hateful. We play the villain in some stories while in others we play the hero. Some of these versions are closer to the real truth of who we are than others, according to proximity and time spent together, but no one knows the fullness of who we are, which is, I think, why God says He judges the inside and not the outside.

I realize today, after hearing my loved one state so categorically that he knew who I was: I am guilty of the same mistake. I, also, assume that I know the people in my life, simply because they’ve been around for a while. I, also, assume I know their internal motivations simply because I have so often witnessed their external actions. I, also, assume the version I have of them in my mind is who they really are. And today I realize that any time I begin an internal dialog with the words “he just thinks…” or “she just wants…” or any other assumption about someone’s thoughts or motivations, I need to be very, very careful of the thoughts that follow. Because I DO NOT—AND CANNOT—KNOW what is going on within someone else’s heart. I might be able to take a good guess, depending on my level of interaction with them, but I can never be certain.

Our thoughts have consequences and we live the consequences of the stories we tell ourselves. We lock ourselves into certain mindsets by those stories, and can easily sabotage ourselves and our relationships. We can cast ourselves and others into the roles of victim or hero, oppressed or oppressor, villain or saint or martyr or warrior, and we get to keep those roles. No one is going to take them from us, and we will experience all the ramifications of those beliefs, and suffer or thrive accordingly. This experience reminded me that I must be very, very careful about making assumptions regarding someones internal state. Better not to make assumptions at all, but if I’m going to, I think a good rule of thumb is:

Don’t declare things as true unless they’re good for you.

That is, unless the outcome of my assumptions are greater understanding, compassion, and empathy–unless they take me to a place of peace and joy and love–it’s best not to use them as the building blocks with which to construct my worldview. It’s best to allow myself, as I mentioned yesterday (and also HERE), to live in the unknown and remember the advice a good friend once gave:

Just because you think it, doesn’t mean it’s true.

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Related Articles:

The Bad Guy

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The Bad Guy

“My life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.”
–Steve Brown

“I am so angry with you! I feel like you don’t even care!”
“That’s not true! Did you know…”
And with that, my loved one began listing everything he’d recently done to show his care and compassion.
And I panicked. I was actually afraid he’d reveal information which would force me to admit I was wrong about my judgments of him. Because the truth is, I wanted to be angry. I wanted him to play the role of villain in my story.

Today as I sit and think about this response, I wonder: why does my brain automatically want to make someone the bad guy? Why is it that within the plot of any good story, there must be an antagonist? It occurs to me that we as human beings are hard-wired to see the world in black and white, good and bad, right and wrong. But what if this itself is wrong? What if this is simply a coping skill that, although effective, keeps us from connection? Blame and anger and hurt and resentment and hate are so much easier to reach for than compassion and love. It would have been much easier to cast blame and wrap my story up with a nice little bow, shove it into my prefabricated understanding of the world, and compartmentalize everything in a way that made sense to me. Talking it through and putting myself in someone else’s shoes, striving to see the world through their eyes, and being willing to admit when I’m wrong forces me to constantly re-work my understanding of the world and MY GOD, how exhausting and frightening that is!

We are creatures of comfort. We’re biologically hardwired to take the path of least resistance to avoid pain and struggle. But just as being willing to experience and learn from pain is how we grow, being willing to do the work that leads to compassion—putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes, seeking to understand, or (most difficult of all) accepting the fact that we never will understand—is how we love.

We may never know the motives behind someone’s actions, never get the whole story, never have all the facts. I realize now that being willing to stand in the place of confusion and accept that I may never understand is a much better place to live than the illusion of certainty that judgment provides. It’s not an easy place, but it’s much better—much more compassionate—to live with humility in the unknown than to try to force things to make sense by building a foundation of half-truths and assumptions.

But what about when we do know the whole story? What if there really IS a “bad guy” in the sense that someone did something horrific that led to the pain and harm of others?

The bible speaks of judgment in two different ways:

“You will judge a tree by it’s fruit” (Mat 7:16).
“Judge not, lest you be judged” (Matthew 7:1).

I wish the English language had different words for these two forms of judgment, because the first speaks of a healthy form (which I will call discernment) based on someone’s actions, and the second speaks more of a hateful, self righteous, finger-pointing kind of blame, based, typically, on what we believe about those actions. We need discernment. It’s how we form healthy relationships and create appropriate boundaries. But we typically take the path of blame to get there, assuming we know the internal motivations behind the actions and judging/blaming them accordingly.

Judgment/blame from this place of anger, hurt, and resentment keeps us disconnected and is the place I was judging my loved one from in the beginning of our conversation. Compassionate discernment and the willingness to acknowledge that people are doing the best they can might lead me to the same conclusions about the wrongness of their actions (ie. Hitler’s best was evil) but it also enables me to discern that person’s actions while still loving and having empathy for them. I imagine it’s the way God sees us—what He means when he says nothing can separate us from His love. Because God can see that we do evil, but can somehow, almost inconceivably, continue loving us. Maybe it’s because he loves us from this place of being able to see that we really are all doing the best we can.

“God does not see what man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord sees the heart.”
–1 Samuel, 16:7

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