Assumptions, Advice, and Other Stupidity

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Getting older does have its perks. Like the change in wisdom and perspective. And one of my all-time favorite and ongoing revelations is how incredibly stupid and UNHELPFUL the giving of unsolicited advice actually is—not to mention the assumptions and judgments that are usually bundled within those advice packages.

Because unsolicited advice USUALLY comes with presuppositions.

And if a listener goes straight from hearing information to advice without passing GO (aka asking any sort of clarifying questions), then the listener has already indubitably stepped into some form of judgment. You lost them somewhere along the conversation. Their brain actually segued away from being present and landed instead at some label, diagnosis, or other assumption. And assumptions are the worst.

We all know what they do, right?

In case you happened to miss out on learning this particular colloquial gem, here it is for your reading pleasure:

“Assumptions make an ass out of you and me.”

Get it? Try spelling it out if you still don’t see it: Ass-U-Me.

I proactively taught my kids this particular saying a few years ago when they all hit middle and high school age because I figured they were finally old enough to be accountable for their assumption stupidity. And now when we are at home (not in public), I’ve started a new family mandate when I see assumption occur. When any of the kids start a roaring fight because of some assumption or another, they now have to apologize to each other with these words:

“I’m sorry for assuming and for making an ass out of you and me.”

True story.

Because I actually have a visceral reaction whenever I’m talking to someone and they go straight into assumption or advice. I’ve learned over time to moderate the outward display of emotion, but I’m for sure doing an internal eye roll.

Uh huh. Uh huh. Okay, thanks. I need to get going. Good talking to ya.

I sometimes slip into advice giving and not being present too. But I’ve learned over time that it’s usually because I am either uncomfortable in the situation, extremely tired, or I’m just trying to close the conversation loop. And sometimes I do need to end a conversation. Because being an empathetic listener tends to magnetically draw me people in pain with long stories.

But in general, my heart’s intent IS to really understand and listen to people’s stories. It is to really give each person dignity through my attention and listening ear. But advice does just the opposite. Advice basically shoots a person in the heart, tells them you aren’t really listening, and tells them they aren’t smart enough to figure out a way forward themselves.

Like the wisdom that God has given the listener supersedes the wisdom that God has given them. Pulleeease. Cue eye roll.

It’s that junior holy-spirit complex all over again.

Now when someone does actually ask for feedback or advice, that’s a whole different story. In that case, the person is purposefully seeking out new information. But when someone is sharing pain or processing from their heart and the listener opens their big mouth and starts dumping out advice in the sacred space of story, I just cringe.

When someone does it to me, I automatically shut down and they have just lost the opportunity to hear any further details of my heart or story. Because advice tells me that someone isn’t listening to understand, they are listening to diagnose or to fix—neither of which I want.

In all honesty, I thrive on vulnerability and authenticity. But the harsh reality is that I can’t be vulnerable and transparent with every person in the world. It’s not wise. There are times to share and times to refrain. Sometimes sharing is like casting pearls before swine and God warns us:

Not all people are safe.

God tells us the heart is sacred, that out of it flows the wellsprings of life. So even though I try to be authentically me everywhere that I go, the depths of my heart are NOT for common use and they should be shared with those who have earned the trust and the access.

I learned this the hard way through sharing pain and story with the wrong people, but I wouldn’t change my experience. Because it was only through risking vulnerability that I could find out how to find the right people to begin with.

Because the right people DO exist. There are those who CAN be trusted with pain, those that know how to create an atmosphere of safety and trust for vulnerability and story to flow. An atmosphere where judgment and advice are absent.

I’ve met a TON of people that are emotionally disconnected (Christians included) and sadly these people aren’t usually safe for entrusting with deep pain or sacred story. And then I’ve met a plethora of others that just haven’t learned the skill of listening through the lens of curiosity yet rather than through the lens of diagnosis.

Assumptions are stupid.

Advice is counterproductive to connection.

Judgment is stepping into God’s shoes.

But giving someone a listening ear and our undistracted attention?

That’s healing. That’s holy. That’s a gift.

Nova

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In The Name of LOVE and Bullying

savingPNG (9)The other day I took some heat from someone who was upset with me for stepping into a conversation turned debate and trying to shut it down. It was one of those conversations that was going nowhere. And I actually raised my hand in the middle of our group meeting to interrupt and ask everyone a simple question:

“What was the original inquiry that started this whole thing again?”

Because about ten minutes into the group conversation, I was seriously confused as to what the topic even was anymore. And at some point in the back and forth discussion, I realized that our usual culture of having an open forum for idea sharing with concurrent value for individual viewpoints was nowhere to be seen.

I saw that the conversation had turned a bit nasty and had progressed into a right or wrong discussion, which basically meant that no one could win this particular argument. Because if someone actually won the debate, it meant the other one would lose.

And it was two against one, which was so uncool.

I might not have stepped into that moment and attempted to throw the kibosh on the debate had it not been a good friend of mine sitting in the actual hot seat. But it was and I did. And looking back on the situation now, I’d do it all over again because my heart’s motivation in that moment was love.

The truth was that I cared about my friend and I didn’t like to see her getting verbally pecked at like a woodpecker by people trying to make their point at her expense.

Not to mention the fact that it was me that had asked the original question that started this whole circus parade. And my question was meant to just be a casual check-in on my friend’s wellbeing because I had noticed she’d gone radio silent.

But the whole thing just sort of blew up.

I felt somewhat responsible for the verbal tornado that my inquiry caused, even though I knew that technically it wasn’t my fault. I knew I couldn’t control another person’s need to be right or point-proving agenda.

I knew I wasn’t that powerful.

But I did know that I had the right as a human being to step into the flow of conversation and say that I thought we needed to end the meeting because it wasn’t going anywhere. I knew that I had the right to try and help extricate my friend out of an increasingly awkward situation.

Because I didn’t like bullies.

And even though there was no physical pushing or shoving, the verbally-forced control of the conversation was enough. And no one should have to sit in a stream of verbal questioning that feels accusatory and attacking of their belief system and opinions. Debating in my opinion is ungodly anyway, because it is never motivated by love or an attempt to understand. It is always motivated by an attempt to be right.

Jesus told us people would know us by our LOVE—not by our ability to have a roaring good debate or dogmatically attempt to prove right or wrong.

And so looking back, I have no regrets about how I handled the situation. Even though I didn’t do it perfectly. Even though I took some conversation heat for it later from the same person who proctored the initial debate who now wanted to pour some shame on me and convince me that I had control issues.

Even though I cried about it on the drive home because of the emotional toll it took on me.

The reality is that I am not a badass conflict-management person by nature. I’m a peacemaker. I’m a healer. I love pouring love and mercy into broken people. But bullies are another story. Bullies can’t be coddled or appeased or they will never change. And people who use manipulation, intimidation, shame, religion or passive-aggressive behavior to control others are in essence bullies.

They need to be stood up to.

So even though I’m not great at it yet, even though it still feels scary, and even though it’s taken me a loooong time to get here, I’ve finally grown enough spiritual balls TO START to stand up to them.

And I’m proud of myself for being brave in the name of love.

Because I’m not just pushing back against a bully when I do, I’m also pushing back against my learned passivity upbringing—where the only conflict coping mechanism I accrued was how to freeze in the midst of it all and become invisible.

So God has been intentionally building and strengthening my stand-up-to-bullies muscle.

My knees still wobble when I do it sometimes. And that’s okay. I know it’s all part of the journey and I don’t have to do it perfectly.

But when I stand before the throne one day and Jesus asks me if I learned to love, I want to be able to say YES:

Yes, I showed kindness and mercy to the broken.

Yes, I stood up to bullies in the name of advocating for others.

Yes, I learned to yield to love.

Nova

It’s Only Temporary

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I ended up in a lawyer’s office yesterday through some rather unusual circumstances. And as I waited alone in the little conference room before we had our chat, I had a chance to look over the titles of the fatty books in his rather staturesque bookshelf. Most of the books were law-flavored encyclopedias and chronicles of some sort.

And I was pleased to find that I remained largely unimpressed.

I knew that this man obviously knew a lot and had been around the lawyer block for many years. I knew that he could probably help me with my questions. And yet even with that knowledge, I found that the net result of my visual perusal was more than just a general lack of interest—it was actual boredom.

Because I’m just not impressed with knowledge anymore.

I’ve been on this crazy disenchantment journey lately, where God has been detaching me from any past esteem for socially or culturally important—albeit temporary, things. And He’s changed my focus so that I’ve become more and more poignantly focused on what actually remains. On what actually matters.

On what’s eternal.

And I have become OBSESSED with things that will stand the test of time, and therefore with pursuing relationships that manifest those eternal things. Things like faith, hope and love have become central. And things like knowledge, accolades, or other cultural accomplishments have dialed wayyyyyy down in volume and value in my life.

I actually told a friend the other day, “I don’t care how much a person knows. If they aren’t a nice person, I’m not impressed.”

Because knowledge is temporary and much of it becomes obsolete very quickly. But show me a person who has a lot of knowledge, money, or power who can get around a hurting person and be compassionate and attentive, without flaunting who they are or what they have—and I’ll definitely listen to what they have to say.

My value system has seriously morphed over the years in my journey with God to where I only want to be impressed with what He finds impressive.

And even though I was always in awe of Jesus’ general nature, my attentiveness to His value system has increased to a much more passionate level. And I know now not just theologically, but also experientially, that God values the internal reality of a person WAY more than the external.

The heart is of utmost importance to Him.

I USED to be really impressed with people who knew stuff, had stuff, and could do stuff. In the world somewhat but especially in the church. Any stuff of importance. But those things feel really stale to me now because I’ve seen people get knowledge, positions or other spiritually esoteric experiences and yet remain largely unchanged and ineffective for the Kingdom in our current culture.

So in my own life, I’m no longer pursuing knowledge for knowledge’s sake. It just doesn’t satisfy me. It doesn’t remain. I’m pursuing Jesus. I’m pursuing the eternal things that matter to God. Because those things remain. Those things bring transformation. And if God wants me to increase any area of knowledge in my life as a tool for love’s sake to my family or to other people, He’s really good at making it clear to me so that I’ll do it.

But I refuse to pursue knowledge or any other temporary thing just for the certificate or accolades that come at the end of such pursuit.

And the questions that I’ve been wrestling with lately, the questions that come out of my passion for the eternal are: “What WILL remain?”, “What CHANGES people?”, “What really makes a DIFFERENCE?”

These questions keep me going. These questions help me see through the matrix of everything that’s temporary. These questions recalibrate me back to God’s eternal heartbeat.

These questions haunt me every day in the best possible way.

Nova

“Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”
(1 Corinthians 13:8)

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love”
(1 Corinthians 13:13)

Emotion HATER

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I used to hate seeing tears or other upset displays of emotion from adults because I never really knew what to do in the midst of them. I didn’t trust them. They never felt safe for me to engage with and they usually felt like they came with strings attached. Other people’s tears used to bring me extreme feelings of panic and fear, as I would feel like something would be required from me to appease them. And I never knew what that would be.

Even more evidence of my early childhood trauma and scars.

Recently, however, I had a motherly friend of mine cry repentant tears in front of me over something she was struggling with and her tears actually poured healing into the vacuum of misunderstood emotion in my soul. Watching her wrestle through her bitter tears of pain while synonymously trying to forgive someone was a hugely redemptive picture for me.

Because as she sought to honor God in the midst of her pain, I saw what a truly repentant heart looked like in action. She was not trying to blame shift or get out of the consequences of her own actions through the use of manipulative emotion. Her tears were not merely to garner empathy.

In fact, she didn’t want anything from me at all.

In that moment, my friend was actually owning her own responsibility in the matter before God and her tears poured out of the purest place in her spirit that wanted to honor Him. I’d never seen that played out before.

I felt privileged to witness the sacred moment.

And I knew when I randomly stumbled upon the conversation that led to her tears that God was up to something. I could just tell the situation had His redemptive stamp on it. I had learned most anomalies did. But it would be months before I would begin to understand just how deeply He was leveraging this particular moment to heal my heart.

Over time, I began to realize that the picture of her repentant tears was in direct contrast to the confusing and manipulative use of tears that I had seen modeled in my childhood and early adult years.

I was familiar with the picture of people using emotion to manipulate me, with people capitalizing on my compassion to coerce forgiveness and the excusal of their deplorable actions—yet with no intent to change.

I could actually scroll through the mental list and see the wide gamut of people who had done so in my past: Abusers in my childhood. Family members. A boyfriend in college.

And I eventually discovered that the seemingly repentant tears of yet impenitent adults had scarred my heart and made me highly cynical and skeptical of anyone experiencing negative emotion in my presence.

And so God was fiercely intentional about redefining the expression of tears for me, about redeeming repentant emotion, about bringing my heart back into righteous alignment with emotions He had originally created as GOOD—even though people had perverted and misused them in my life for years.

Cause that’s what He does.

He redeems stuff.

Nova

Demon Mojo

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Only I would walk into an office building in the aftermath of an exorcism. How else would I have entertaining stories to write about on my blog? No, but in all seriousness, walking into a demonic atmosphere is kind of like walking into someone’s recently deployed fart cloud. It’s affrontive and startling. I usually feel emotionally and spiritually mugged.

And that situation legit happened to me the other day.

Yesterday, I walked into an office I’d never been in before and stepped into a weird demonic swirl that felt very disorienting, almost dizzying, and my brain was instantly on over-sensory mode. I felt like I was trying to think and see through a cloud of thick smog, never mind that I was at the check-in window and also had to fill out paperwork in the middle of that particular spiritual hot spot.

Thankfully, I knew what was going on so I was able to power through it with curiosity rather than with fear or other negative emotions. It definitely took some effort though.

Something like this would have freaked me out in my previous years. In fact, I can actually recall numerous occasions in my past in which I walked into similar situations and just bailed as quickly as I could. But nowadays, I try to lean into the discernment-training exercises that God throws my way. And this particular demonic flavor had a similar feel to one I had been encountering for some months now and hadn’t quite been able to pinpoint.

But I think I finally figured it out this time, thanks to God throwing me another ball.

This time I recognized its pattern in how it affected both my body and my brain. It started with a sort of disorienting, blitzed-out brain feeling and then progressed to sensory overload, followed by extreme difficulty in concentration and communication. The spiritual energy felt all off.

Not to mention that I felt like the room was closing in on me.

I finished my paperwork as quickly as I could and then walked around the rest of the office on purpose to see whether that spiritual muck was all-inclusive in the office space or whether it was more spot specific. It turned out to be more spot specific to an area about 8 feet by 4 feet long.

I asked my daughter what she felt since I was curious if she had discerned anything and she said it smelled weird. I had noticed over time that she had smell discernment and I was trying to help her unpack it. I did too but so far I had noticed mine being limited to smelling either a spirit of death on people or righteousness.

I was hoping my spiritual smeller would grow in range over time.

My first thought at the moment I stepped into that spiritual hot spot was that the land might be defiled from a previous tenant who did who knows what, since I knew the current doctor in that office was a follower of Jesus. My second thought was that maybe the spiritual muck was leaking over from the other side of the office that he shared with another practitioner. I had no idea of the other practitioner’s ideological beliefs.

Turns out it was neither.

And as I met with the doctor for the first time, I asked him some questions about the previous tenants. I couldn’t help myself. I was just so curious and this felt like a puzzle to solve. He got curious about the reason for my questions, so I finally just told him that the spiritual energy felt off in a certain section of the foyer. He asked me where and I told him, and it was then that he told me that he had actually performed an exorcism in that section of the office the night before.

I felt so gratified and amused at the same time.

For one thing, I hadn’t heard the word exorcism since I was a kid and the exorcist movies had been released. For another, I figured he was talking about demonic possession vs demonic oppression. Because nobody that I’d ever met in the spiritual warfare community or deliverance world really called it that anymore.

People who are demonically oppressed get delivered or deliverance.

So someone who needed to be free of demonic possession coming to a doctor’s office at night for an exorcism? Definitely not a story I heard every day in the western world. And my mind filled up with funny quips about the situation like, “Oh how much do you charge for that—do you charge per demon?”

I didn’t say any of them.

I thought about asking the doctor if I could help somehow. Like if he wanted me to pray and help cleanse the area. But I decided to just let the information sit. I figured the discernment info alone was helpful for him to know that something still needed to be cleaned up. And since he had already told me he’d been involved in the deliverance movement since the 90’s, I was hopeful that he had the tools to do so. Plus, I had just met the guy and I was already feeling a little awkward about bringing it up to begin with.

I just thought if it was my property, I’d want to know.

We finished our appointment together—which had nothing to do with anything spiritual by the way, and my daughter and I left to drive home. That day had turned into a fun surprise for me. Not just because of the training exercise that God had thrown my way, but because of the revelation that He gave me through it in connecting some dots for me on an already pending spiritual mystery.

Of all the days God could have picked for my appointment—He chose THE specific day right after an exorcism that hadn’t been completely cleaned up. So that I’d learn. So that I’d grow. And I’m sure He executed that decision with a huge, playful smile upon His face, knowing that I’d soon be laughing with Him upon the discovery.

Inside jokes with God are the best.

Nova

Pissing People Off

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Sometimes God uses me to piss people off on purpose. Not joking. It’s never my favorite thing because I am by nature a people pleaser who is desperately afraid of doing something wrong or hurting people’s feelings (I’m still healing out of these areas). But I’ve watched Him use me periodically to bump up against someone’s belief system and idols in order to bring them into the light, so that He can ultimately move them into greater freedom and truth.

I can’t say that I enjoy these moments when they happen, but in retrospect I’ve admired the wisdom of God in each one and I’ve become reconciled to the part of taking someone else’s heat and reactivity in those moments.

I remember one of the first times I noticeably watched Him use me in this way was with a friend of mine. It was during an occasion in which I thought I showed up on time. But as soon as I saw my friend’s face, I realized she was upset with me. I couldn’t figure out what had happened. It turned out to have been a miscommunication of sorts; and she was irritated with me because she had missed out on another activity in lieu of waiting for me at the time when she thought I was going to arrive.

Normally in those moments, I would have defaulted into I’m sorry mode and apologized profusely because I try to be so intentional about respecting other people’s time. Usually out of my stewardship mentality. Partially out of fear.

But in this case, I felt God speak to my spirit and say, “This one’s not yours to own. You don’t need to apologize.”

It was off my grid at the time. Not apologize when she was seriously pissed off? That felt like a friend death sentence. Everything in me just wanted to say, “I’m so so so sorry.” My autopilot mode at the time was just to take the blame, be the peacemaker, and not rock any relational boats. And of course, take all that projected shame and guilt upon myself as well.

But God wouldn’t let me.

Instead, He showed me that He had intentionally covered over a piece of the information in this friend get-together so that I purposefully wouldn’t see it—in order to actually facilitate this run-in. Huh? Talk about a paradigm shift. And then He followed up that revelation by playing back my memory reel on the many times that He HAD covered my butt in the area of potential missed information. I had gotten really used to Him reminding me of specific details and prompting me to check information again so that I wouldn’t miss something.

But He didn’t do that this time.

And even as I felt the full force of her displeasure with me in that moment, God was comforting me and telling me that this had been a divine set up. His hand had purposefully veiled over a segment of the meeting information in order to cause the misunderstanding. And even though I didn’t like being the fall guy, I saw where He was moving in her life.

My friend’s reaction was pretty mean even if the situation had been my fault. I didn’t see any love or fruit of the spirit in that moment. No forgiveness. No kindness. And I saw that God was revealing what had become an idol of control and schedule in her life, revealed by the disproportionate reaction of a small grievance turned pretty large.

I remember it all feeling a bit surreal. 

Like here I was in the middle of a friend chewing me out, and yet God was telling me at the same time that this was a catalytic moment. And even though she still viewed me as the one at fault, I was able to walk through it all without taking on any shame or guilt—which wasn’t my usual response.

And I’ve come to realize over time through these situations that even though it’s much more fun when God tricks me into being life-giving to a person, it is equally as needed when He tricks me into bringing pain to a person—in order to facilitate their transformation.

Because that is what a catalyst does. 

A catalyst agitates things for the purpose of change. And because God has called me to be a catalytic person of influence, that will sometimes (or often) mean that I will push some of their buttons.

And that’s okay. 

A life coach recently shared a research study with me in which the results revealed that people would rather be right even over having money and power.

We as human beings are incredibly invested in our belief systems even if they are incorrect.

And I’ve watched God use these times of confrontation to heal my own people-pleasing tendencies, as well as sharpen my ability to address belief systems in other people’s lives that aren’t rooted in truth.

I probably would never have done so otherwise without Him putting the pressure on me. 

And God likes to change strategies up. The ways that He facilitates me bumping up against someone’s pain points or belief system varies. Recently, I’ve noticed a new trend in which He nudges me to share various stories, which end up triggering a weird reaction in them as the story bumps up against a particular contrasting belief.

I still feel awkward in these micro moments when He uses me to piss someone off or trigger pain in them.

But now that I know where He is going from His macro perspective of using pain for transformation, I can partner with Him in these uncomfortable situations and let Him heal the fear of rejection out of me at the same time. And even if I never get vindicated through a specific person’s eyes, even if they never catch the larger picture of what God is doing, that’s okay.

Because placating somebody’s idols or false belief structures is not in my list of delegated responsibilities from God. Nor is it loving.

Pursuing the Light,

Nova

The Eternal Wandering Apprentice

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God took me back to a memory recently of a time during college when I asked a worship leader from my church if she’d mentor me. I wanted to learn from her specifically because I recognized something different about her. My spirit resonated so deeply with something in her own spirit and worship style. At the time, I didn’t know what it was that drew me to her. But now I do. It was her spiritual sound that drew me, and her unique ability to use that sound to draw others into a deeper encounter with God.

The sound and vibration coming out of her spirit was causing my own spirit to ring and sing—a beautiful experience of spiritual sympathetic resonance. I was hooked.

But she said no. I was super bummed. The rejection stung, especially since I had been braver than usual in going up to talk to a person who I really admired but felt shy and intimidated around.

And she wasn’t the only person who told me no or rejected my attempts at spiritual mentorship over the years.

There were multiple others from whom I sought out some sort of spiritual help or discipleship. And I became familiar with the different flavors of rejection, everything from flat-out no’s to the more subtle style of just excluding me from activities and spaces that others were invited into.

None of that was fun.

But I learned something along my journey, which is that God is even more invested in unpacking my spiritual treasures that I am. Because he placed them there to begin with. And I’ve learned that it doesn’t really matter if people tell me no in my attempts to seek out help because God will get me there through another route.

Each rejection and exclusion has hurt, yes, but I haven’t let them stop me.

Some rejections derailed me longer than others as I stayed for a while in shame and pity-party land, but eventually I got back into the game. And I learned through experience that if one door slams shut and I purposefully choose to keep my heart in a trusting and expectant disposition, God WILL eventually open another one.

I understand now that God is bigger than any no I will ever encounter and people are just SOME of the avenues God uses to help me unpack my treasures anyway.

And as I look back on that memory of the girl that was me in college, I no longer feel the sting of the rejection or the shame. Instead, I see a warrior who was so spiritually hungry that she would approach a virtual stranger to ask for help to unpack her own singing and songwriting treasures.

And I applaud her bravery.

And that desire to write songs with the heavenly sound that is within my own spirit is still intact. It has lain dormant for a long time. Decades in fact. It got buried under the rejection and shame and the doubt and minimization that I threw on top, but it never left me. And I’m just now starting to tap into this well that’s always been in my spirit even though I misunderstood it for years.

Because I recognize it’s there now.

So I’ve been slowly moving towards it. I’ve taken a song-writing class. I’ve written one song that is still awaiting a time when I can sit down with my guitar and figure out the chords to make it complete. It’s still a really new area for me. But I’m excited. And I have some song-writing friends now who I can always throw a question to if I get stuck. I think it’s pretty amazing when I look at the song-writing network that God has brought into my life.

He is just the best at redeeming all those failed opportunities if I let Him.

And I think the worship leader that I approached all those years ago back in college missed out on an opportunity to increase her gifting and authority. I think she was called not just to lead others into a heavenly encounter with God herself, but that she was actually equipped to train up the next generation with how to use their songs and heavenly sounds to bring others into that same experience.

I don’t know if she ever figured it out because she eventually moved away. I hope she did. But knowing God and having watched His ways over the years, I know He probably continued to throw new opportunities her way to help her expand and tap into that mentoring ability. No different than how He continued to pull me towards people and venues in my life that would stoke the passionate songwriting flame within me and stir my heavenly sound to come out.

Nova