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Liminal Spaces

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Forgiveness

I often talk with clients about the need to let go of things that happened in the past. This sometimes means to forgive someone for some hurt or pain they caused. Most people really resist letting go of anger and justification for the hatred of someone who has hurt them. It is easy for most people to forgive for simple actions like making a snide comment or borrowing something without asking. But some people even have trouble forgiving small events like these. It is as though they are needing to keep score. They tally up all the negative comments, hurtful remarks, and thoughtless actions of other people in a need to justify their distrust of other people. This scorekeeping helps no one.

Others are dealing with severe memories of physical or sexual abuse, affairs, betrayed trust, unnecessary deaths (as in a car accident), or even criminal acts. Terrible things can happen when someone else acts without thinking through the effects on others. For instance, someone needs cash fast, so they charge into a convenience store to get money and a clerk is shot. The robber did not actually intend to shoot someone, but that makes him no less guilty. If he carried a gun into the store, he knew the risk was there. The wife of the clerk who was shot is now dealing with trauma of the injury, expense of medical care, fears of their loved one going back to that work environment, and rage at the shooter. All of these are justified. If she harbors this rage and reacts with anger every time she hears of another mugging, robbery, or shooting, she can destroy her own peace of mind. She can lose the joy in her life and focus on that one event for years, gradually destroying her relationship with her husband, the actual victim.  She can develop a distrust….even a hatred of all people who share something in common with the shooter. That may be his race, country of origin, part of town, or even style of dress. She can destroy herself by holding on to her anger. Now, how is her anger affecting the shooter? He may have even served jail time. He may be suffering from a terrible sense of despair and guilt that he acted so thoughtlessly. He may not really care. But the wife does not know what he feels. He is unaware of her ongoing anger. Her anger does not change what happened. It does not turn back time. Her anger does not punish the shooter. It does however….punish her. It keeps her and her husband trapped in that moment of time…unable to move forward. Unable to embrace the beauty of the world around them. It is time for her to let go.

Letting go does not mean she forgets. It does not mean she is saying that the action was ok. It clearly was not.  She is not saying the shooter was justified. He certainly wasn’t. Letting go only means that she is choosing to move past it. She does not know the thoughts or the heart of the shooter. Yet, in her rage, she creates a monster of a villain in her own mind. That exaggeration made it harder for her to let go of the rage. If she stops being mad, she thinks she is letting him get away with it. For her to move past this event, she needs to let go of the need for justice or vengeance. That is what the law is for. She needs to focus on today and shift her energy back to her relationship with her husband instead of giving away her energy to her anger. This is step one in forgiveness. Forgiveness is something we do for ourselves.

If we share that we have forgiven a friend for some past offense, they may benefit. That is… only if they know you harbored the resentment to start with. But if that resentment was only in your own mind and the other person was not actually involved…does it help them for you to tell them you have forgiven them? Nope. Sometimes, you are angry at another person and they have no idea they offended you. They held no malicious intent. They just learned you held something against them. Now they are hurt too.  They knew nothing of the anger you were holding until you told them. So, was your intent truly to forgive ….or was it to get back at them?

True forgiveness requires personal honesty. If you still feel the need to get back at that person….you are not being honest with yourself. You have not let it go. You have not forgiven. Sharing your forgiveness with the other person is only helpful if they know there is gap between you or if they are aware they harmed you. Then, you are releasing them. You are no longer allowing them or the pain they caused to control you.

Now, if you are a person of faith, you want to involve God in this process. True forgiveness is not just saying, “I’m sorry.” It is a process. It requires that you “let go”…sometimes multiple times. You let go of the power you feel your anger gives you. It is letting go of a belief that you are superior in some way to the one who wronged you. You can ask God to search your heart and make you aware of any dishonesty within. You can ask God to help you see the other person as He does.

A good friend shared an insight she had. The next step in forgiveness is to let go of the need to leave it to God to punish the other person. Instead… asking God to forgive them too. Then, you know, you have let go of the need to see them punished. Now, that is true forgiveness.

I urge you to stop allowing things that happened in the past to control your today. Learn to let go. Learn to forgive. Then step into your today and live it to the fullest.

 

Elizabeth Gregory is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice in Leeds. She can be reached at elizabethgregorylpc@gmail.com or by phone at 205-396-8972. Website is http://www.gregorycounselingandconsultingllc.com.

 

 

Love

We use a lot of words so often that their meaning is watered down. Then, when we need to talk about them, we are without words to express ourselves. “Love” is one of those words. Think about it. We use “love” to describe how we feel about our favorite food, TV show, celebrity, ball team, city, or activity. “Love” is not just a stronger version of “like”. So, let’s look at what love is not.

Love is not a noun……Love is a verb.

Love is not a one-time decision……..it is a continual choice.

Love is not “need”.

Love is not a desire to control another person.

Love is not ownership of the other.

Love is never used to manipulate or control.

Love is not being dependent on another person to meet our needs.

Love is not demanding…or demeaning.

Love is not withheld as punishment.

Love is not sex….sex is meant to be an expression of love.

Love is never expressed in jealousy or violence.

Love does not seek to change the other.

Love is not fearful that it will lose the loved one.

Love does not just happen.

In working with couples, I often hear “love” used to mean “need” or “want”. Some common phrases used include: “I need this person in my life”, “I can’t live without him”, or “I am lost without her”. These describe an unhealthy dependency. Your happiness is your responsibility. Your “loved” one is not responsible for making you happy. Most unhealthy relationships develop because the two people involved were not emotionally mature enough to know what it meant to “love” another person when they entered the relationship. We mistakenly look to the other to “complete us”.  You cannot “love” another person until you love and respect yourself.

Now let’s look at what “love” is.

Love is the ability to want what is best for the other person, even when that causes you to be uncomfortable.

Love is patience… allowing your loved one to come to their own decisions, make their own mistakes, and learn from that process.

Love is kindness. Love is not giving your left over energy and attention to the one you love. It is putting them ahead of other responsibilities and activities.

Love is understanding.

Love is allowing the other person the same rights you claim for yourself. If you have a night out with the guys, it is right for her to have a night out with her girlfriends.

Love is trust….and being trustworthy. There is no room in love for lies, deceit or unfaithfulness.

Love is being willing to own responsibility for your actions and decisions… and how those affect the one you love.

Another common misconception about love is that it takes a lot of work. “Love is hard”, we say. Well, not really. If you are mature enough emotionally to enter a relationship in which you honestly want only the best for your loved one, and you are willing to be straightforward, honest, kind, patient and understanding…you are an easy person to love. This does means that you do not get your own needs met. Love is not the same as being a sacrificing and passive person. That is not honest. This dishonesty leads to resentments. Resentment leads to contempt. Contempt kills love.

What if you are already together, you have children together, or responsibilities to meet and then you wonder if you love the other person? What if you feel unloved in your marriage? Is it too late? Usually, no. There is hope that you can grow together and strengthen your relationship as you each grow.  As each person learns to respect him or herself, grows in understanding of their own motives and reactions, and is willing to be genuine with their partner, a tremendous intimacy also develops. That initial elation at “falling in love” is not sustained over the course of years.  Love changes. It deepens and grows to something much more precious than mere physical attraction. It grows in self-respect and respect for the loved one. It grows to a deep friendship and then true kinship.

Love is a dance. There are times we are embracing in a slow dance that brings us feelings of closeness. At times, we pull away from each other in a faster dance and do our own thing….but we are still connected in the dance. Love is reaching out your hand and inviting your partner to come close again. Love is responding to that invitation with joy.

Conservative? Liberal?

It is an interesting thing that these terms in the past year have come to be disparaging remarks about anyone who thinks differently or voted differently. They are uttered as though they are obscenities.

I am curious at this point if the meaning we attach to them is anywhere close to their actual meaning.

I actually see myself as conservative. I save money, plan ahead for expenditures, plan for retirement, avoid spending needlessly, and avoid collecting things that I do not need.

I recycle paper, plastic, aluminum, cardboard, plastic bags, books, magazines, and donate used items that can be used by others.

I believe in conservation and the human responsibility to care for the planet… “this fragile earth, our island home”, and actually get concerned about all the space junk we are leaving in the universe. I even believe that trees and flowers, shrubs and vegetable plants are living things. I am uncomfortable with dogs being kept in kennels and outdoor pens all day and then again all night. Why do you have a pet if you only to keep it locked up?

I am concerned about climate changes, man-made or not and the effects on all species including humankind. I despair to hear that another species has gone extinct.

I believe that my highest calling is to love God with all my heart, all my strength, all my mind…and to love my neighbor as myself. That loving my neighbor includes people who are a different race, religion, creed, socio-economic level, ethnic origin, gender orientation, and yes…even political party.

I believe that God intended us to watch out for one another. Sure, there are limits as to how much I should do for another. I do not want to rob them of the immense joy gained when one learns to care for oneself. But welfare is actually appropriate for a short term means of helping someone recover from devastating loss. So many in our affluent society do not even receive adequate education to prepare them for work and cannot afford or access advanced education.

There are people with intellectual, emotional and physical challenges that require we give them a little help along the way for them to be as productive as they can be.

I believe in being honest in business. I believe in accepting responsibility for my own mistakes or bad fortune instead of looking for someone to blame or sue for damages. I believe it is my responsibility to think before putting a plastic bag over my head, for instance, or handing a marble to an infant.

I believe in watching out for my neighbors and their children. We have some of the best around. Your kid locked out of the house after school? It really is okay with me for them to come in and work on their homework until you get home from work. I am willing to share some lemonade to help them stay cool. We might even play a game of Sorry TM or shoot some baskets.  A neighbor leaving town and needs me to walk and feed the pets…sure. It’s a good change from my usual day.

So….why do others refer to me as tree hugging, bleeding heart liberal? I just don’t get it.

A Simple Act of Kindness

I witnessed a simple act of kindness in the grocery store. By itself, it was barely noteworthy. A woman was in line paying for her groceries. As she received her receipt, she exclaimed, “Oh! I forgot about getting ice.” She glanced back at the line waiting at check out. The cashier glanced at the line and back at her. She said, “I’ll just get back in line.” The woman next in line said, “You’ll do no such thing. Go get your ice. How many bags do you need?” “Just the one”, she replied. Then the woman said to the cashier,  “Just add her ice to my bill. “

No big deal…right. Less than $2 to help a stranger.

What caught my attention was the responses of the both the woman needing ice and the cashier. Their jaws dropped and they looked seriously amazed by the small act.  That is what I found myself pondering. What does it say about us as a society when a simple act of kindness creates an incredulous response?

We are deluged with negative messages about our members of the human race multiple times a day. We quickly jump on anyone who says anything that could be construed as an unkind judgment about others.  We seem to be forgetting that God created both man and woman and He declared them good.

Our Western religious mentality seems to need to see man as “fallen”, “sinful”, inherently “bad…even evil.” But that is not what scripture of any religion tells us. We humans were created by a God that declared us good. He loved us so much, he came to earth to live among us. He loved us so much, he suffered a cruel and unjust death and forgave humankind for failing to realize who He was.

If we are created in His image, how can we be inherently evil? We have gotten this salvation story all backwards and sideways and turned around. God did not need Jesus to suffer a cruel death to redeem us. He could forgive and wipe the slate clean any time He wanted. He still does… every day. He does not hold sin against us. He emptied himself into human form and came in the “flesh” to be here with us.  Being in the flesh is not a bad thing. It is a gift.

It is being in the flesh that allows our souls to minister to all in God’s great creation. It is the flesh that gives us hands to soothe a dying man, arms to cradle a crying child, lips to speak love and kindness, feet to step up and speak for the oppressed, and a heart to yearn for the love of our creator.

We were built to do simple acts of kindness. Why is that such a surprise?

Liminal Spaces

Have you ever felt you were in a place where you know something major was about to happen, but you had no idea what? It is like standing in the doorway between 2 rooms. There is some shift in the cosmos. Some new awareness at the subconscious level. You may have flash of a thought or an image. You respond to that flash…or you ignore it.

Have you ever had the same dream several times with minor changes? Perhaps a dream you were flying or that you are back in high school and can’t remember your locker combination?

Have you ever wakened and realize you were dreaming but can’t quite recall what the dream was about?

These are liminal spaces. There is a brief fleeting sense that there is something going on but we can’t quite make it come to the conscious level. Sometimes, these places can seem to be just under the surface for a longer period of time. They can become times of major transformation if we allow the thought, image or dream to linger. If we invite it to speak to us, we may learn more. If you are artist of any kind, you most certainly have experienced such a moment of inspiration. You may have received a warning of danger this way.

There is always more happening around us than we can take in. Our senses direct our attention to what is most immediate. Since we tend to live hurried lives, we miss a great deal every moment of every day. For these messages to work their way to consciousness, we sometimes need to just…wait. We need to stay quiet. For some, journaling helps, Allow yourself to write whatever comes to mind, even if it makes no sense. Dreams rarely make sense until we sit with them.

In Biblical times, people treated dreams as messages from God. Those who payed attention to this inner knowing were revered. Now, we discount these experiences and people who experience them never talk of them. If you are one of those discounted people, you are not alone.

A liminal space is like the caterpillar in the cocoon. It is like a sapling setting roots deep into the earth, waiting for its time to spring up toward to the sky. It is like a bird growing in the egg. If we rush the time of unseen growth, then the new creation will not be able to survive. Transformation takes time. It requires patience…not a well- known American value.

For me, this is when God is doing His work. I may not understand what He is trying to teach me. My part is to be still, and listen. My part is to cooperate with patience. My part is to trust.

When going through transformation, I write. That is how I allow thoughts to spring into conscious awareness. That is how I make sense of inner work. I want to put this process into my painting, but I am not quite there yet. I will be…in time.  These periods of transformation for me have occurred following a major life changing event. Like a divorce which left me questioning everything I had believed about love, life and God. It was an incredibly painful period. I relived everything that had happened for years leading up to final decision. Was there anything I could have done to prevent getting to this point? Was I doing the right thing? Where was God? Had he abandoned me? Had I abandoned Him? Life was difficult with high debt, extreme demands and unrelenting responsibilities. I was overwhelmed and felt utterly alone. I stumbled along the away, trusted the wrong people, lost my central sense of who I am and made further mistakes.

Then, that liminal space appeared and I felt God calling.  I stopped and prayed. I stopped telling God what I wanted Him to do. I asked Him what I needed to do next. “Wait”, was the first answer. “Wait in me, and I will show you the way.” And He did…one scary step at a time.  It was like walking a path through the woods at night and a light is shined on the next step…then wait until the next step is illuminated. It has been quite a journey. It is one filled with fear, then trust, then wonder and awe.

If you are getting those small nudges or flashes, I urge you to stop and wait. Listen. Allow them to rise to consciousness. Trust that God in within. Ask for guidance. Transformation takes time.

 

Elizabeth Gregory is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice in Leeds. She can be reached at elizabethgregorylpc@gmail.com or by phone at 205-396-8972. Website is http://www.gregorycounselingandconsultingllc.com.

 

RisingSpirit

I have been writing a column in the Leeds Tribune for the past year entitled “Get a Grip”. It is time to move to an online format with the hopes of a wider audience. My focus has been on promoting overall health, wellness and emotional well-being. In my counseling practice (Gregory Counseling & Consulting LLC in Leeds, AL), I work with all kinds of personal issues that are mostly common to many of us. Anyone can benefit from counseling at some point in our lives. However, many of the problems that lead people to need my services begin with unrelastic expectations of ourselves and others. So this blog will address how we create many of our own problems.

I am also in a major time of personal and spiritial growth and would like to share that process with you as well. So, if you are interested, join me in my journey.