Listening

Listening is a learned skill. We grow up thinking because we have ears we were born with the ability, but there is a distinct difference between listening and hearing.
According to Webster’s dictionary hearing is “the process of perceiving sound,” while listening is, “to hear something with thoughtful attention.”

Usually, when we think we’re listening to someone, we’re actually hearing what we want to hear and planning our response before the other person has finished expressing themselves. I can’t count how many times Mike and I have gotten into an argument because one of us “heard” something that wasn’t actually said. James 1:19 reads, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” yet I often find myself in reverse of this instruction, slow to listen and quick to speak and to become angry. I also usually behave this way with people who think differently than me, assuming I know everything they think before they say it and that it’s my job to lecture them into my way of thinking. I even used to bring Jesus’s name into it, until I had a friend once tell me, “You’re not doing Jesus any favors by shouting His name as you’re arguing your point.” That made me pause. Didn’t Jesus wash His disciples filthy, mud-covered feet? Was he arguing His point as he washed them? Nope. And didn’t He spend an entire chapter in Matthew warning of hardened religious pride? His words are clear,
“For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Matthew‬ ‭23:12‬ ‭

I have found the more I feel compelled to speak is exactly the best time to keep my mouth shut. This takes a considerable amount of control because I have an usually large mouth. My dad lovingly called me ‘motor mouth.’ Listening takes humility, an open mind and heart, and genuine affection for the person who is speaking. If Jesus is my example, I should practice listening with every person I meet, for it may be the only opportunity I have to show His love. How many times have I squandered moments like this just to drive home my own passionate agenda, which ironically always falls on deaf ears. Why should I expect anyone to listen to me if I don’t practice listening to others?

I’m not suggesting this is an easy task. It’s actually one of the most challenging struggles in this life, because whether we love Jesus or not, the human heart is filled with arrogant pride, and we’re always inventing new ways to disguise it from ourselves and others. My goal is to be quick to listen, and instead of immediately offering my view, to ask more questions and find the commonalities between myself and others, attempting to build bridges to cross instead of strongholds to hide behind. I’m not always successful, let’s face it, ‘motor mouth’ is an accurate nickname for me, but I will continue to wrestle with my nature and consciously “hear with thoughtful attention.”

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Stop Kicking the Can

There’s been another mass shooting in America. There have been 32 since 2010, yet our government and many of us, continue to pretend it’s not about access to firearms. Remember the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

I grew up Republican, am still registered as one, but can no longer accept that easy access to semi-automatic firearms isn’t an issue. The NRA has had great power and influence over the past few decades, spewing forth fear-based arguments that our government can’t take away our right to bear arms and leave us defenseless against potential future evil regimes. What’s interesting is they also bring up the mental health issue being the main concern, without acknowledging their own arguments against gun control are being taken seriously by paranoid, unstable people who are storing up semi-automatic weapons ready for the next Armegeddon. Yes, mental health is an issue too. The demise of the family is a component as well. There are many factors that are part of this equation, but claiming that the focus should be on mental health is just a way to deflect responsibility. Having better laws on assault weapons is the first step to reducing these attacks. Other democratic countries get this and have taken action with dramatic results. We need to learn from our allies. Yemen is second to America in mass shootings, and is also second to America in freedom for firearms. There is a direct correlation that can no longer be ignored.

As an elementary teacher, I see so many families who are defensive when they’re told their student has behavioral issues. Because of the threats of lawsuits, teachers and administration’s hands are tied from effectively disciplining students, and many parents don’t even want teachers telling them anything negative about their child. To think that the government is going to be able to effectively impact mental health in individual families is absurd, because it would take pervasive action. Americans won’t stand for personal mental health screenings for themselves and their children any more than the NRA will agree to gun laws. Focusing on mental health is just a way to keep kicking the can down the road while students and teachers live in fear of the next mass shooting.

Whether you are Republican or Democrat, the facts are clear. Other developed countries have better gun control laws and less mass shootings. Research shows our mental health is about the same as other wealthy countries, but easy access to guns is America’s biggest issue. It’s time to pick up the can and toss it in the waste basket.

Uncomfortable

I recently had a conversation with a very deep young person, an “old soul,” who said an adult Christian leader told them their questions about faith and their decision not to be in a small group made people feel uncomfortable.

Isn’t that the point? Whoever said Christians are supposed to feel comfortable?

If you’re feeling secure and cozy, tucked away in your church, school, or group of likeminded friends, I would venture to guess your faith isn’t growing. One of my previous blogs is titled Sheepish about how sheep-like we humans are, following the pack, afraid to venture out away from group think, be it in politics, religion, or work. However, those who dare to think outside the box are the ones that usually end up changing the world. They’re the first to be criticized for making the rest of us feel “uncomfortable.” We can’t ignore their thoughts or questions and they get our own brains thinking and questioning, which can be a frightening experience. To think we know is so much more comforting. The unknown is scary and untamed. I prefer controlling my surroundings thank you very much! Yet we are reminded throughout scripture how little we know and never to think we know God’s mind.

I have no doubt this Christian leader as well as many others have good intentions. We feel a burden for all we meet to accept Jesus’s love and grace and we fear for their salvation. The key word is fear. Being driven by fear is never the right motivator. Perfect love casts out fear. Love is big enough for questions and doubts. Love is strong enough to befriend others who think differently than we do, and understands that we are on equal ground with all people, as “God so loved the world.” One of my favorite characteristics of God is his sense of humor. I have often found myself humbled in the presence of people I’ve been trying to save. God has used them to teach me of my own arrogance. He has spoken to me through their acts of kindness, their deep hurts, their insights. God is responsible for saving the world. We need to love and serve the world. All deserve to be treated with respect and honor instead of condescending pity or fear based chastisement. Our mutual respect and servant hearts do much more for the Kingdom than our preaching. Let us never be too comfortable in our faith.

“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭12:10‬ ‭NIV‬‬

“The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭23:11-12‬ ‭NIV‬‬

There But for the Grace of God Go I

I just watched Heir McNair about the Tennessee Titan’s football quarterback Steve McNair. It was absolutely heart wrenching. Here was this amazing person who beat the odds by working hard to become a Hall of Famer upon his retirement from the NFL in 2008. He was 35 years old and said he now had the time to devote to his lovely wife and two young sons. Within a year he was dead.

He worked hard to be one of national football’s best. He loved his family. He was a great guy. He helped a lot of people. He made some really bad choices that led to his murder and devastated his family. One bad choice can never be undone.

This is why Mike and I have told our boys every day they walk out the door to “make good choices.” We’re not asking for perfection, just striving for excellence. So many of us are blind to our own weaknesses. We delude ourselves into thinking we’re in control. We convince ourselves one little vice won’t effect our lives. In fact we tell ourselves we’re entitled to a few guilty pleasures. Addiction, be it sexual, drug, alcohol, or whatever else isn’t a conscious choice. No one sets out to be an addict. It begins with a false sense of control, “I can handle this.” And you can, until you can’t. The delusions we buy into are so predictable if we just take the time to see reality. That’s the problem…reality isn’t always glittery, shiny, and exciting, so we often don’t look for it.

As I was watching Steve McNair’s son sobbing at his dad’s graveside, I wished somebody in Steve’s life had said, “Run…run as fast as you can from temptation. Run Forrest Run!” Maybe someone did and he just didn’t listen. He thought he could handle people the way he could a football. People are much more complicated and can never be controlled.

I guess I’m writing this to remind us all that no one is exempt. Often we watch someone else’s story and compare ourselves, thinking we would have never chosen the wrong path. But I am humbled with the knowledge of “There but for the Grace of God go I.” I am not exempt from bad choices. In fact, I think each one of us is only one decision away from total ruin. You’ve heard the stories, maybe you even know someone personally who seemingly had everything, lived an upright life full of good choices, and wavered on one thing, made a poor decision and lost it all.

There but for the Grace of God go we. Let us humble ourselves, be conscious of our decisions, think carefully before we act, rely on God’s love and example, and daily…moment by moment…may we make good choices!

 

Unspoken

The last song in my 1999 never released album is Unspoken. It’s about becoming comfortable with the silence of God.

I have a childlike spirit who feels the dark empty silence of God as abandonment…yet like a child I choose to believe beyond the silence, because in my heart I know hope is more powerful, more meaningful than a lifetime of disillusionment and disbelief. As I forced myself to hear, to feel God’s silence, I began to hear and feel an assurance of His presence in a profound way. Facing my fear brought me to God’s doorstep. I have placed my hand on the door and felt His hand just in the other side. I’ve never heard audible words…just felt His presence in an undeniable way. God is here…God is faithful….God so loves the world….

Unspoken
Silence…it is frightening
As it echoes through empty halls
Defeating and deafening
As it resonates through these walls
Constantly in our ears
Nothing can drown it’s voice

Years of running, avoiding
The acceptance of its force
Creating diversions that will quiet it’s endless noise
Tired of fearing nothing
Facing the hollow sound…

I could almost hear you in the quiet hush
Your lips formed the words,
“I long to feel your touch”
They go unspoken

Silence is tranquility
It envelops a tired soul
Wisdom comes from listening
Through the stillness to the unknown
Waiting for you to answer
Yearning for one small word…

I could almost hear you in the quiet hush
Your lips formed the words,
“I long to feel your touch”
They go unspoken

Hush…hush

 

Letting Go

Letting Go is a song about a wife with regrets and unfulfilled dreams and a husband who is emotionally closed off, in self-preservation mode. Unfortunately it’s a common tale, and I wrote it as a journal entry describing Mike and my marriage in 1998. The music is by David Zaffiro.

Thoreau wrote, “the mass of men(humanity) lead lives of quiet desperation.” Whether we’re single or in a relationship we have a tendency to live in fear of pursuing our dreams and often feel trapped by our own choices. Being married gives us someone else to blame, when more often than not we are our own worst enemies.

Luckily, writing this song was the first step to a healthier relationship with my husband. We had grown up together from high school to turning 30 and hit an impasse in our marriage….growing. Our HS Love wasn’t enough for us anymore. We were both shedding our young adult skins and finally faced the truth of who we were and who we wanted to be. I was ready to leave, but Mike said the one thing that made me stop in my tracks. “I’ll move out. I know you don’t love me anymore. But just know this. You can color your hair any shade, tattoo your whole body, cut your hair, even shave your head, I’ll love you till the day I die.”
I yelled at him, “Why?? We have nothing in common, we hardly speak! Why do you love me?” He shook his head with silent tears streaming down his cheeks and said I just always will.”
That made me so angry. I couldn’t leave without being the bad guy. Plus…I was puzzled. I didn’t understand that kind of love yet it’s what I always wanted. I stayed. We began marriage counseling and began to realize our marriage wasn’t the problem, WE were. We both were whacked and had never acknowledged all the baggage we each had dragged into our relationship. Once we began working on our individual selves we stopped blaming each other and actually started to appreciate each other again. I fell in love with him more deeply than ever before and learned how to love him the way he loved me. Always. Come what may. Constant and forever.

Neither one of us is perfect, but the important thing is, we KNOW it. We’re always working on ourselves, trying be be healthier, more balanced, more honest, less reactionary, ready to listen, slow to respond, and finally we are trusting each other’s intentions. We’re not trying to hurt each other, we’re just human. We’ve finally learned to let go of expectations and hold onto each other.

Letting Go (Zaffiro/Noller)
She is crying over spilled yesterday’s
Counting mistakes she could name them by name if she tried
Desperately prying away the hands of time

He can’t seem to ask anyone for help
Protecting himself locked away in his shell to survive
When will he finally admit he’s dying inside?

When hanging on is all you know
It seems so hard to just let go
But grace is waiting
With your arms so full of fears you can’t reach for the truth that frees your soul
Just hold on by Letting Go

She has found herself in the past once again
Wondering how she arrived and why she pretends
He makes no sound and no ones allowed in
Only him

When hanging on is all you know
It seems so hard to just let go
But grace is waiting
With your arms so full of fears you can’t reach for the truth that heals your soul
Just hold on by Letting Go

Vincent

Vincent is a hauntingly beautiful song written by Don McLean about the misunderstood genius artist Vincent Van Gogh. I covered it on my album because it spoke to me deeply. Today’s experts think Van Gogh suffered from several mental illnesses including bi-polar disorder. Not only did he feel his own inner pain, he felt other people’s pain and suffering as if it was his own.

Having cyclothymia myself, I have learned what I can and cannot handle. If I watch too much world news I have a tendency to go “global” and spiral into a depression over other people’s pain. I have learned to shield myself from taking on the world’s agony in order to be as effective as I can possibly be doing my small part to make the world a little brighter.

Vincent also reminds me of someone I loved deeply and spent many years trying to save from their own depression and darkness. I failed. As I gave more and more of myself to help this loved one, I found my own world in a tailspin. I couldn’t make enough joy for both of us. As with everything else in this world, it is each person’s own responsibility to “know thyself” and do the work on self through therapy and medicine if need be. No one else can do your personal work. If they try to that’s called codependency and its every bit as unhealthy.

Mental and emotional illness can be like a black hole of need and there’s not enough laughter and joy in the whole world to fill it. I had to let go of my loved one for my family’s sake and for own well being but I still feel the loss, and every time I hear Vincent my heart breaks. My version of the song is the link below:

Dancing with Faith

“Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.””
‭‭John‬ ‭20:29‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Faith is a constant struggle for me. I am not blessed with an easy trusting faith in God. I try to trust, sometimes I achieve it and feel so close to Him I can’t remember ever doubting, and then the silence closes in again and I question everything.

Such is my dance with faith. Awkward at times, stumbling and shy, self-conscious and unsure, but still in the middle of the dance floor. Not sitting on the sidelines sulking. I want to dance, I want to trust, I want to believe, no matter how hard it is for me. Dancing with Faith is the fifth song on my album, A Place to Rest My Head, lyrics are mine and the music was written by producer David Zaffiro.

Daydreams full of tired themes
They run thru my head
And keep me awake
When I should sleep
I lie in my bed as I wonder alone in the dark
Why life seems so hard

Thoughts of hope control my mind
They grab my attention
They hold me close, we dance awhile
But fear tries to step in and show me
To my chair again

Dancing with Faith
I’m light on my feet
I learn about grace when I fall on my knees
I suddenly find that I’m spinning around
And around,
throw my doubts to the ground
as I’m Dancing with Faith

At times I step so awkwardly
I can’t keep the rhythm
I try my best to let Faith lead
And then I forget to look up
Instead of watching my feet

Dancing with Faith
I’m light on my feet
I learn about grace when I fall on my knees
I suddenly find that I’m spinning around
And around,
throw my doubts to the ground
as I’m Dancing with Faith

 

Just Like You

Consistency is one of the most important components to a lasting relationship. Are you going to be there, day in and day out, come rain or shine, in sickness and in health, till death comes? That’s the kind of love to base a lifetime on, and it is personified in God Himself. In story after story in the Bible, from Abraham to Noah to David to Elijah to Isaiah to Jesus to Peter, Paul and John…God is faithful, even if you’re not. He never gives up on you, even if you encourage your wife to sleep with the king (Abraham), sleep with another man’s wife and have him killed (David), deny Him 3 times to save your own hide (Peter), or murder dozens of Christians in cold blood (Paul). Wow. I’m pretty sure the Bible was given to us to help us feel better about ourselves. We tend to compare ourselves with others and the “greats” in the Bible have done some horrific things I’ve never even thought of doing. That’s what inspired my friend Shawna Kirk and I to write the lyrics to Just Like You.

https://m.soundcloud.com/kim-noller/just-like-you
Sometimes when I’m running
I stumble then I fall
I blame it on the ground but it’s not the ground at all!
Wrong way on a one way
I guess I made no plans
Then I wonder how I got here
And You know right where I am
You know where I am!

It’s just like me to get lost in the moment
Forget what I should know
Then you find me and remind me Lord
How to find my way home
No matter what I do
That’s Just Like You!

I wake up with an attitude
You think I’d feel ashamed
I blame the weather for my blues
But you know it’s not the rain
I’m growing more impatient
The longer I don’t see
I’m reaching for the sun Lord
Then you bring it out for me
You bring the sun to me!

It’s just like me to get lost in the moment
Forget what I should know
Then you find me and remind me Lord
How to find my way home
No matter what I do
That’s Just Like You!

I wander aimless in a state of confusion
I even call the clouds names
I’m entertaining all my favorite delusions
Just waiting for the winds of change…

It’s just like me to get lost in the moment
Forget what I should know
Then you find me and remind me Lord
How to find my way home
No matter what I do
That’s Just Like You!

Breathe

My husband gave me an Apple Watch for Christmas and it reminds me daily to breathe. If I click on it it will take me through a deep breathing exercise for a solid minute and it always surprises me how much better I feel afterwards. There wouldn’t be a reminder to breathe unless most of us have an issue. Chronic anxiety can literally steal our breath away. Growing up in a household with an emotionally volatile person, I learned to walk on eggshells and hold my breath. The song “Breathe You In” is about the constant struggle I have had with self image and self worth. I learned at an early age to tiptoe through rooms and often felt guilty for taking up space and air.

The apostle John likens the Holy Spirit to a mighty wind that envelops us. “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
‭‭John‬ ‭3:8‬

How many times have I refused to let go of my fears and breathe in deeply, allowing the Spirit to take over? To be painfully honest, it’s a trust issue. To say I’m afraid God will forget how weak and scared I am sounds ridiculous, He doesn’t forget! But no matter how crazy it is, the fear grips me and I have to name it in order to breathe in His Spirit.

Breathe You In
Scattered pieces of what’s left of me
Blow across my eyes reminding me where I’ve been
And make me question who I am
Winds are rushing through my troubled mind
I’ve fallen on the rock afraid to try again
Lord I’m reaching for Your hand

I’m so afraid you might forget
That I’m not strong enough to stand
Through this storm
While my fears are crashing in
I hold my breath bury my head
But I can’t stop this rushing wind
So let your Spirit flow and I’ll Breathe You In

Though I don’t see the air that brings me life
My body takes each breath and somehow I survive
I don’t even question why
So when Your Holy Spirit enters me
Why do I struggle so rebelliously for control?
You lead me where I’m scared to go

I’m so afraid you might forget
That I’m not strong enough to stand
Through this storm
While my fears are crashing in
I hold my breath bury my head
But I can’t stop this rushing wind
So let your Spirit flow and I’ll Breathe You In

https://mobi.soundcloud.com/kim-noller/breathe-you-in

https://mobi.soundcloud.com/kim-noller/breathe-you-in