And Coming...

"She-Bear in the Beautiful Garden" is an allegory for children of all ages, written and illustrated by Ellen Gillette. Order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or at

Monday, November 22, 2010

November 22, 2010 Emotional Stew

Today is the anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I was just a little girl when the television announcer interrupted regular programming with the news, but I well remember being bundled into the car with my mother to go to school and pick up my big sister. It was a time of national tragedy—not the last I would observe in my own lifetime, or the greatest, but certainly my first experience with seeing the adults around me so affected by the death of a person they had never met.

A friend of mine was a new mother when she heard the news while scrubbing her kitchen floor, and she dissolved into tears. Her life had been full of difficulties, suffering, abuse, neglect, yet she had never shed tears for herself. Now, alone on the linoleum, hearing the radio’s somber report, she began to sob. All the heartache building up for two decades overflowed.

This has been an emotional week for me, but for no apparent reason. I heard of someone’s work woes in another state and teared up. A dog was lost; I cried. A completely unrelated situation dissolved into a flashback regarding something that occurred thirty years ago and it was all I could do to fight back the emotion that suddenly welled up. I hurt for friends who were hurting, boohooed at a teacher’s conference, excused myself from a group of people to go off by myself and cry in the hallway.

Hormones? Stress? The stubborn and permanent undercurrent of grief that is always just under the surface? Vitamin deficiency? What was wrong with me?

Actually, nothing. Emotions are not wrong. Or right. They just are. It’s what we do with them that brings positive or negative consequences. Christians sometimes downplay the importance of emotions, lumping them in with the flesh (bad flesh! bad! bad! die to the flesh!) forgetting that God himself is a God of emotions.

The 19th century writer and preacher Charles Finney wrote that “the Bible ascribes love, hatred, anger, repentance, grief, compassion, indignation, abhorrence, patience, long-suffering, joy and every other affection and emotion of a moral being, to God.” The Psalms and writings of the Old Testament prophets are especially profound in their descriptions of God’s heart rejoicing over his people’s return to him…or grieving over their betrayal and rejection of his love.

The Bible also has a lot to say about our emotions, which makes sense. We are made in God’s image. If he is an emotional being, so am I.

I for one, take great comfort in this. Some ideologies try to promote a worship of God that is innately cerebral. Yawn. The God who created duck-billed platypuses (platypi?), rainbows, blue morpho butterlies, constellations, and sex is not a God of drudging dreariness. We try to limit God to so many words on a page while he calls us to look up as he paints a sunset. He delights over us! He wants us to delight in him! Delighting is an emotional experience!

Other emotions are not as welcome when they show up, but they are no less important, no less valid. I’m thinking that in God’s design, the sadder side of emotion has a cleansing purpose. “A broken and contrite heart” the psalmist wrote, “God will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). The woman scrubbing her floor had never addressed the deep pain within her, had never gone to counseling, had never “opened up” about the tragedies of her childhood or those she faced at that time. Kennedy’s death lifted the lid off her emotional box, so to speak.

This week, maybe that’s what happened on a smaller scale in my own life. Perhaps once in awhile our emotions need to overflow as a stopgap—not a substitute for dealing with the deeper issues in our lives, but a temporary device to let off a little steam until such time as we, with God’s grace, are called to devote the necessary time and attention to them.

It’s never just about the Hallmark commercial.

Monday, November 8, 2010

November 8, 2010 As We Think, So We Are

Anyone who knows my husband knows that he is naturally quiet. After 33 years of marriage, I am more likely to be the one who speaks up, but this wasn’t always the case.

Before we got married, before we had so much as dated a single time, David came over to my house with our minister. I didn’t know David, had just seen him at church. Plus he is much, much older. It wouldn’t have been unusual for any teenaged girl to be a bit shy under such circumstances.

And did I mention I’d just had four wisdom teeth taken out, didn’t know company was coming, and looked like something the proverbial cat had dragged in?

I answered the door; my minister took the chair and picked up the newspaper, leaving David and I to either stand or sit together on the couch. We sat. The minister read. If there had been a clock ticking, it would have been the loudest sound in the room.

After a few minutes (or seconds...whatever) the minister lowered the newspaper and said, “If you two ever get married, your kids will be mute.” The hole I prayed would appear so I could fall through it never materialized. They left. To state the obvious, we eventually did get married, and proving the minister was no prophet, the kids could indeed speak.

I was quiet and shy, but I adapted to marriage to a quiet man by become more vocal. I also learned that when a quiet man speaks, it pays to listen. Closely. This weekend, he opened his mouth to speak about something he had seen on television that I found intriguing.

Apparently studies have shown that the brain has distinct areas, and that a person’s thought process sends signals between these areas in a unique sequence. No one person’s thinking follows the same pattern as another’s. My first thought was that there had to a finite number of combinations, but it’s not a matter of one combination. The combination changes with each thought at a rate of 400 billion actions per second.

Our thoughts are translated into chemicals. Scientists talk about the trees of the brain. We “grow” trees with our thoughts. They are real, they take up residence in our bodies, and result in actions and more related thoughts. Good thoughts brings good choices. The “default” of the human brain is positive. We are wired, so to speak, to love.

Bad thoughts, however, highjack the God-given order. Chemicals go out of balance. Anger, abuse, frustration, fear…these negative thoughts are not the way we were created to think, so they mess things up. Before we come to Christ, however, and even beyond, negative thoughts may dominate.
Are we stuck with them? Hardly, the scripture that tells us to “be transformed by the renewing of your minds” (Romans 12:2). If the word tells us to do something, it must be possible to obey. We can have our minds transformed from the “new” default of negativity back to the original intent of the Creator. How? The Bible says to think on “whatever is true…honorable…right…pure…lovely…of good repute…(things) of excellence …(things that are) worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8).

Not a matter of positive thinking or visualizing world peace, it is a matter of obedience to God’s word. The fact that obedience also brings added health benefits physically, relationally, emotionally, in all ways…that’s the icing on the cake.

“As a man thinks within himself, so he is” (Proverbs 23:7) David’s interest in what he had heard about the brain led me to look into the subject a little further…which led me back to the word of God. Didn’t I tell you it paid to listen to him?

Permission to use with acknowledgement of source.