Welcome to Zootopia

You know a post must be important if you have two migraines in a week and no computer access during non-kid hours. No more impediments! Here goes…

If you’ve got kids, you’ve probably seen Zootopia. Bear with with me a minute while I describe it for those who haven’t. Think I’m required to warn you: spoiler alert.

Zootopia is a fairy-tale existence for animals. All the animals live in peace and harmony with each other, the predators seemingly without the hunting instinct. A young bunny moves into the heart of the city to become a cop. There’s nothing much to do but issue parking tickets. Until animals begin to disappear. Each missing creature is a predator. When the bunny and her fox friend investigate, they find the kidnapped animals have reverted to their primal state; the creatures grunt and prowl in their cages and try to attack the cop. The evidence points to the mayor, who is promptly arrested. There seems to be no cure for the captured predators. Fear reigns in Zootopia. The animals eye each other askance — Will he attack me? and Will she put me in jail just for being a predator? 

Pause for a minute. Does this story line ring any bells? I’ll wait….

Okay, moving on. We’ve all noticed the change in atmosphere lately — tempers flare, words bite, mobs take to the streets. One mention of what was once simply a political issue will get you a verbal lashing. Disagreement? That means you hate. You are a hate-filled person. And the people doing this? Church members. Neighbors. That nice mom from my son’s elementary school. My favorite teacher from middle school. My normally compassionate friend. I was absolutely flummoxed. What happened to these normally reasonable people? Why are we attacking each other? What in the world is going on?

Back to Zootopia. Underneath the pandemonium is a rather clever plot hatched by a sheep who wants to be mayor. Her team used rifles to shoot drugs into the predators’ bodies, causing them to go wild. Fear, suspicion, and some clever manipulation almost gets her into power. But the bunny cop remembers a plant that produces a feral reaction in animals. She realizes what has happened to the predators and follows the trail to the real culprit. The power-hungry sheep is arrested, an antidote is made for the affected predators, and Zootopia is back to normal.

Well, maybe there is a reason for all the anger we Americans are experiencing. Maybe our friends and family aren’t entirely to blame for going on the attack.

Anybody else had someone take a shot at them on Facebook? That seems to be where a lot of the action is right now — rants, attacks, violent expressions of hatred. One of the recent ones I experienced went something like this: “If you’re really pro-life you should adopt or foster a child. Otherwise you’re not really pro-life.” Neither a fair or logical statement. My first reaction was anger — type a super-long defense and chide this person for posting such a thing! I didn’t do it, though. It might have thrown another log on her fire.

Another was a picture of a Syrian refugee, a young boy, face-down in the water of the Mediterranean. Drowned trying to escape the horrors of his homeland. My heart still hurts over that image, but the words…. The words that went along with it were a shot fired at those who agreed with putting immigration on hold in America. It’s your fault he died, was the message of that caption. You don’t care if they all die. I wanted to cry and scream at the same time because those accusing words held absolutely no truth. My instinct again was to react, lash out at the person who posted those nasty words. Again it would have been pointless to do so.

National Geographic recently published a story I knew I’d disagree with, but I read it anyway. Just to see what the arguments were. It all seemed absolutely silly. Where in the world did these people learn to think? And there it was again — anger. Why the heck was I angry? I knew before I read the story that National Geographic and I see the issue differently. I knew that. And I also know myself; I have an extremely slow boiling point. This flare-up wasn’t like me at all.

Something niggled at the back of my brain, something about all these encounters. Who else said, “If you’re really….?”  Where I have I heard that before?

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread’” (Matthew 4:1-3). Aha! There’s that guilt-trippy line, that hint of “You’re not really this unless you adhere to my definition of it,” that goad to act, that spur to do something you don’t want to do, maybe shouldn’t do. That is Satan’s line. Those inciting words about the picture? His tactics. That whisper to my heart about the article? Satan again. 

We are not each other’s enemies. Your friend? She’s been hit with a dart of anger, and that’s why she’s ranting all over the place. Your neighbor? He swallowed the bait and attacked you. Democrat and Republican, Muslim and Christian — we have the same enemy. He’s the one firing those little blue balls of anger at us and watching us take it out on each other. He’s been playing these tricks since the beginning of time. He loves it when we fight and kill each other because that is his desired destiny for us. He’d love nothing more than to see America, land of the free and home of the brave, tear itself to bits.

Now I do realize that it’s not just Satan at work here. Some people are simply angry people. Some people are out to destroy the U.S. Some people really are hate-filled. I don’t want to over-spiritualize what’s happening in our country, but I do want to examine the invisible forces at play here.

So. Enemy identified. Strategy revealed. Now what can we do when he fires those darts at us? What can we do when a friend or relative bites our heads off? One is to realize who’s doing the actual talking here; the person is not the enemy. It’s worked best for me to hold that thought and remain calm. Sometimes you can have a logical conversation, sometimes it’s best to actively steer it to another topic. Or leave if they won’t drop it. And you can talk to that indignant voice in your head — tell him to go away. Fight him off. Jesus battled with the words of Scripture, and he sent Satan packing. And for me, the media seems to be a major way anger tries to get at me. I’ve had to filter a lot of people out of my Facebook feed, and even now I only check in occasionally. Not reading newspapers or magazines that I know have a particular bent. And praying for help to be loving and reasonable, lots of help.

There are so many convinced that fear and hatred are tearing America apart. That’s largely based on emotion. If we all took a step back and examined the big picture, we’d see that nothing has fundamentally changed. Our reactions have changed, and those emotions color everything. It’s going to be hard to maintain our equanimity and kindness in the face of all this rampant emotion, but with God’s help we can be the peacemakers. We can be the guiding lights for our friends and neighbors.

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Broken or Crushed?

My husband is an amazingly perceptive and communicative man. Most of the time I love and admire those gifts, but a few weeks ago I didn’t like it so much. He pointed out some key issues in my life. Nothing irks a perfectionist more than a wrinkle she can’t iron out. These flaws? Can’t change ’em, can’t cover ’em. But I desperately want to make them go away, whether that means hiding them under a smooth coat of perceived change or actually digging to the root of the issue. It didn’t help much that my husband said I didn’t need to change that instant — point was I didn’t know how to live with my flawed, unchanged self.

I halted my trek to the kitchen when my thoughts hit this wall.

I couldn’t fathom how to live with myself, and I felt in my bones the lack of power to overcome myself.

These words floated through my mind: “‘Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed'” (Luke 20:18).

Finally, FINALLY, I understood those words. I understood how my sin is melded with the rest of my humanity; in fact, it’s inseparable from the good parts. Then there’s the stain of others’ sin patterns on my life. Some have seeped in, others I’ve been able to wash away. But there is no process I can use to separate the beautiful from the bad — they are swirled together in a permanent design.

What does one do when confronted with that? What do you do with cold, hard truth? I bumped up against that hardness. I felt the inevitability of breakage, but there is also a choice.

“‘Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces….'” Jesus speaks of himself as the capstone — powerful, inevitable truth.  I can accept the fact of my deeply ingrained flaws, my inability to withstand his scrutiny, and fall on him. I will be broken. Undone. And it is scary, knowing everything I control, everything familiar and comfortable, my life as I know it may be lost. What will he do with my shattered pieces?

The alternative seems even more horrific: “‘he on whom it falls will be crushed.'” This truly frightens me. To become purposefully blind to my flaws, rigid in my thinking, ruthless with others’ hearts, inflexible and unresponsive to Jesus’ whispers. Every trial and temptation I encounter would serve to further harden me. At the end, I’d be crushed under the weight of the truth I hadn’t allowed in my life. Absolutely and utterly destroyed.  This I’ve seen playing out in the life of someone close to me. It is perhaps the one thing that gives me pause, that keeps me from instantly choosing to harden myself against truth.

So there is the choice: we can either let ourselves break against truth or he will eventually break us. Not because we are wrong and must either change or be eradicated. No, it’s because he himself is truth. And he lets us choose whether we will acknowledge him or carry on to our own destruction against him.

What will he do with my shattered pieces? I choose to let myself break, but I’m so nervous about the outcome. I know in my head he can remake me into something more beautiful. Have to let that get into my heart.

Diagnosis: Heartsick

Recently I took my 5th grade son on a tour of his new school, which happens to be my old high school. I hadn’t been there in years, and I winced at the possibility of flashbacks. Fortunately it was so altered I barely recognized it. I breathed an inward sigh of relief and thanks. Those teen years were some of the worst in my life. By the time I finished high school (crawled out, barely breathing, just survived), I had been diagnosed with ADHD and depression.

Small wonder. For years I had been verbally bullied, same kids since elementary school, no way to hide or escape. I internalized the pain, remembered every insult, relived every incident nightly. My heart was battered mute. And those last few years I went from a good student to just barely making it. Why? Where in the world had my talent gone? Why were the simplest homework assignments major struggles and timed tests nightmares? The final straw came in the form of an AP English class — something I should’ve reveled in, eaten up, breezed through. But I was floundering. I had no social life, and it looked like I would just squeak through my senior year. Small wonder the doctor prescribed Zoloft.

For five years I floated along, experiencing neither joy nor deep sorrow. A few laughs, a few tears, nothing serious. Took my vitamins, sat in front of a special “Happy Light” designed to mimic natural sunlight. I went through life in a slightly numbed state until my marriage. It was a new year of hope; God had been warming my heart, and I had a good man who really loved me. It seemed like a good time to try weaning off Zoloft, to take the risk of experiencing emotions again.

Slowly, so slowly and gently, I learned how loved I am. Each passing year has brought new depth to my relationship with my husband, an opening of old wounds so that truth could be applied, the revelation of my identity and worth as a person. Healing. Eleven beautiful years of healing.

Do you know what I realized? My heart was sick, and Zoloft only treated the symptoms. Vitamins and Happy Lights couldn’t repair the damage. I needed to be told that  I have worth and value in God’s eyes, that I could find my identity in him. I needed to be loved on, held, told how beautiful I am, told that those horrible words spoken to me were lies and I shouldn’t let them take root in me. I needed the men in my life to stand up for me and protect me, the women to share their love and affection and what it means to be a woman. All that beautiful medicine has been applied in liberal doses over the past decade, and I am no longer depressed. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick; but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12).

 

I have to wonder how many of us are suffering physical symptoms of sick hearts? What might be cured if our doctors would look beyond our bodies to our hearts and minds?

 

 

Simple Arithmetic

It has been a very long time since my last post. Life has been bulging at the seams, and my husband and I have been trying to cut out the fat — all the extraneous activities and commitments that bog us down in busyness. So far we’ve been getting up earlier, sending the older boys to public school instead of homeschooling them, setting aside time for ourselves as a couple, and pulling (gracefully) out of various groups that devour our time and energy and give little back.
Good.
So why haven’t I been writing more? Correction: Why haven’t I been writing at all?
It’s all a question of simple arithmetic; marriage plus five children ranging from about eight years old down to four months plus housework plus a few church-related activities equals still every minute of every day spoken for. No time for me to be me and do the things I enjoy doing. Want to see that in an equation?
Marriage + 5 kids + housework + church activities = no leftover time.
It’s a common tale, isn’t it? We are all fighting the clock and losing. Years zip by in which all we do is take care of our families and count it a successful day if everyone is alive and reasonable healthy and happy at the end of it. Right. The problem is we are not meant to live like that. Correction: That is not living at all; that is existing. To treat our days and ourselves in such a fashion is to retreat into the barest semblance of humanity. At best, it is a faint shadow of the vibrant life we could have.
Well, I refuse to give up doing all the things I love merely so my house can be squeaky-freaky clean and my children attended to the second they discover a need. I refuse to become a robot. But that’s where I’ve been the last few months.
Do you know what I love to do? Write!
(Of course you knew that. I know you knew that. Bear with me a minute….)
Do you know what I’m like when I haven’t written anything in a while? Grouchy, subdued, apathetic, discouraged, bland.
Do you know what I’m like after I’ve had a chunk of time to scribble? Impish, witty, spontaneous, optimistic, almost energetic! It’s a morale thing. I can better handle what my five munchkins can dish out, a sleepless night, a frustrated and discouraged husband, anything with this lovely shot of adrenaline for my heart.
Why, why, why would I sacrifice that? I am a much better, more joyful, vibrant person, and isn’t that good for everyone around me?
So I must write. It is a requirement for me to live. Now how do I change that awful equation? I’ve decided to ignore everything that clamors for my attention for a few hours every week and just write. I claim this time as my own. May it bring life to myself and others.
You might have had all this figured out long ago, and now you are nodding your head in amused agreement. Well, thank you for sticking with me through this. I am glad there are people light years ahead of me in living a vibrant life — you are lighting the way for the rest of us.