Archive for February, 2015

discernment                                           The Most Discerning Man I Know  🙂

I created some confusion in my last blog. I said that I was “afraid” of people and that was misleading.  It was a bad word choice.  I’m actually quite good with people. Many friends and acquaintances would attest to that. As revealing an exercise as writing is, it is important to note and respect its unique power and unique danger especially with words inadvertently penned.

A better phrase would have been, “I am overwhelmed and exhausted in the presence of many spirits.”

Let me explain.

I was raised in a poor family with six brothers and sisters.  One of whom was mentally handicapped. Please don’t query me on my politically incorrect word usage for mental retardation.  We’ve lived through several of the world’s changing phrases my brother Len and I. Mentally retarded, mentally handicapped, mentally disabled, mentally challenged, intellectually disabled, to name a few. Whatever phrase you want to use, it will mean something different to you than it will to me.  For you, it’s the latest, greatest, most accepted, and most sensitive LABEL. For me- he’s my brother and I love him no matter what label you put on him.

My brother Len was a year younger than me.  That made him my shadow. That made him my charge. It also meant that every insult hurled his way hit me first- full on. It wasn’t enough that we tumbled out of the Rocky Mountains, dirty little waifs, shoddy in second hand clothing, and the brunt of every joke that cruel and unenlightened children contemptuously slathered upon us.  Here, too, was an oddly moving and speaking character whose abundant “difference” incurred wrath from other children and one heartless family member as well.

Some say that I have the gift of discernment. And I do. It is of the heightened variety. It is not on its practice run, nor in its rudimentary stages. It is developed. Keenly.

But I have often wondered- at what stage does God give out the gifts? Is it at birth? Is it when He decides we need them the most? Or are they developed over time?

For many years I did not realize- was not aware- that I had the gift of discernment. I thought everybody could do what I do: read people’s hearts based on spirit lurches that were plainly visible to me.  It wasn’t until around the age of forty that it became apparent to me that other people did not all share in this experience of knowing- or that I did indeed carry in my spirit the gift of discernment.

Looking back now I see this gifting probably as a kindness and a stabilizer from the Lord. A protection and a guide that would lift me above the chaos that would ensue. I was always on high alert. I never knew what  special form of misery was going to present itself with each new school day.

Back then, mentally handicapped individuals were integrated into the regular classrooms without special assistance or attendants. Len was a sitting duck for ridicule. I learned to see them coming. At first I bought their phony kindness hook, line, and sinker. You know, that sweet manipulation of our emotions just before they went in for the kill.  Where a friend at last turned out to be the meanest bully of them all.  So this is where my gift of discernment was developed. Or this is where it was given to me, there, when I needed it the most. I learned to discern every little body flinch. I deciphered the layers beneath their words. I dissected intent. And I did it all in a flash. In a split second. I absorbed it all. And that is how I lived my entire life.  I did it unconsciously.  I did it with grace. With giggles. In shyness. In movements, mannerisms, and conversations. “To survive it you play deaf and dumb.” (a brilliant quote from the man pictured at the head of this blog).  I have the gift of discernment and it is strong.

And this is why I say that” I am overwhelmed and exhausted in the presence of many spirits.”

My gift of discernment has morphed into a sophisticated and grown-up understanding of people.

Like you, I try to surround myself with people I trust. People who I know have my best interest at heart. People who are genuinely kind and easy going. I like hanging out in those crowds. A safe environment where my zanny, creative and audacious self can shine forth. And I do have these people in my life, pockets of them here and there. Oases in a desert. Sparkling water chugging down a parched throat.

But put me five minutes in a room with a mixed bag of people who may or may not fit into this category and I start to absorb. I may be carrying on a conversation, but consciously and unconsciously I pick up every little thing. I pick up motives. I pick up intentions. I pick up arrogance and agenda. I pick up pain and inadequacies.  I am especially sensitive to the odd man out- the least popular. I pick up hurts and loves.  I pick up goodness. And I am drawn toward it. I do not even have a name for everything that I pick up. But it sticks to me and I carry it around like a lead weight.

That’s why I retreat. That is why I go and try and work out all of this mess quietly, privately in song. “Music is the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend.” – Ludwig van Beethoven

I’ll come back again after a day or two. And I may even be the life of the party for a while. Why?  Because I genuinely love people and desire relationship. It’s just an awful lot for me to absorb- that great big world out there, because I pay attention. Not by choice, but by design.

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I have been afraid of life.  Afraid of people. You have to understand. I have a crazy background. Some of you know the story first hand.  others have heard abbreviated accounts. But only my husband has felt the true weight of my tears, my joy, my triumph, the lessons learned, the wisdom gained from such a chaotic past.  He sees the good fruit, but he has also quietly listened to, and then prayed over, my confessions of fear.  Fears that become more evident with each passing day. For healing and maturity will not come without truly embracing what lives inside of us.

I can truly understand and relate to the words of Bob Dylan when he knowingly proclaimed, “I accept chaos, I’m not sure whether it accepts me.”  My sister June probably summed it up best when she asked, “WHY are you not in a mental hospital? How is it you are still standing?”  The answer to that question is, of course- Jesus.

And he has protected me. But in the past ten years I have padded that protection myself.  I have built walls.  I have also built my house.  Comfortable and beautiful.  A place for everything and everything in its place.  My days are carefully orchestrated and predictable.  I like it like that.  No surprises. No inconveniences. No chaos- no mayhem. No……….Ministry.

Ministry, as it turns out, is messy. Ministry involves people. People have, and bring, mess. I, for one, do not need any more mess in my life.

I recently made a trip to Panama City, Florida.  It was a forced trip out of necessity. I was scouting out the land. We used to live there eight years ago on that beautiful Florida coast. We have friends and family there.  We have roots. Recently we moved to Texas and have been living here a few years now.  But sadly, some of our basic needs are not being met here, namely:

Gardening: I am a grower. I have to feel my hands in the soil. The need to grow my own food is as innate as my need to walk. As it turns out, we live in the deer capital of the United States.  We have about a dozen deer in our yard every day. They eat everything.  Everything I plant is gone within a week. I can barely accept that I will not be able to grow my own food- but my narcissus? Come on now! I bought the bulbs expressly labeled, “Deer Resistant.” As it turns out the deer in our neighborhood are profoundly ignorant, for not only do they eat everything in their path, they also, clearly, cannot read!.  Now perhaps, with thousands of dollars, we could put up a seven foot fence around the back yard to protect the produce, but I am not also going to try and enclose my entire front yard to protect all of my pretty flowers.  And life without narcissi is no life at all.

Water: We live around several lakes. Perfect, right? It would be, I suppose, if one lived on the water. For everyone else there is no lake access.  None within walking distance.  No decent place to swim. You can, indeed, drive twenty or thirty miles and find a rocky shoreline, or pay to get into a state park….sigh.  I am Canadian. Public access into any body of water is a given. Our tax dollars pay for luxurious outdoor locations free for all. Not so, here, in the land of the free.

Music: If gardening is as innate as my need to walk, then music is as innate as my need to breathe. And it just aint happening here. For the sake of brevity, I will not go into detail about why that is. But trust me, it just aint happening.

Culture: My husband is a beautiful African American and let’s just say he has certain…ummm….African American needs. I can’t explain that to you if you aren’t black. I would have never known myself, except that I am so closely knit to him. He has needs- and they aren’t presenting where we live.  He’s good about it, though.  Tim can get along with anyone. He’s lived all over the world and speaks three languages. He assimilates well- even with white folks. So much so that you will have to do a double take and re-examine his skin color to ascertain if it hasn’t possibly faded to white after all. But he isn’t white. And though extremely patient and giving in his marriage to a white girl, that is not his color.  He is African American with African American needs.  Namely a taste, at least every now and then, of his African American culture.

And so I took a trip. A fourteen hour both ways journey by myself to Panama City, FL. I admit, every single reason why I went to Florida was selfish. I went to re-asses the land where we began, to see if it could provide the things that are so desperately void in our present existence.

And, indeed, in Panama City, the gardens are not overrun with deer and there are no need for fences. There is public beach access everywhere.  I already have several venues set up to play music in and there is an abundance of African American people and culture.

But in the last three places we have lived in the last ten years, I have worked tirelessly and quite successfully at keeping mess and chaos far from me. I have indeed been safe. I have been comfortable.  WE have become extremely comfortable.  Every need we have has been met. But I have also become very sad on the inside. Lonely. And lost.  How can it be that I have perfected my life to such a degree, but it does not bring fulfillment or contentment?

I have to say that everywhere I looked in Panama City, FL there was mess. Even the most organized, perfected, and together individuals will encounter chaos in this beach town as soon as they step outside their door. Every kind of people are drawn to the beach- to the ocean. There is a kind of variety that is akin to what I experienced on the streets of Manhattan.  It is that vast. It is that engaging.

To live on the Florida coast is to engage. To live on the Florida coast and have Jesus in your heart, is to minister. To live on the Florida coast is chaos. To live on the Florida coast, for me, is learning to love again. To throw myself out there into the arms of those in need. I have good reflexes. They are always tested there. No more predictability.  No more fine orchestration. No more comfortability.  A life interrupted. A messy life. But to quote Mr. Dylan yet again: “He not busy being born is busy dying.” And to quote the wisest man who ever lived,”I have set before you life and death…. therefore choose life.” Ecclesiastes 7:12

Am I strong enough to engage in life once again? Is Tim strong enough? I doubt him far less than I doubt me. Are we ready?  Today we have both said “Yes” and offer our lives up in prayer. Lord Jesus bring what may.  Be our strength and our stay.

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