Wednesday, May 21, 2014




Coming from Texas, I hardly ever meet a stranger—some strange characters, perhaps, but not really strangers. Most Texans whose families have lived here for generations are taught from childhood to treat others as we would want to be treated, so, we don’t meet strangers; we just meet new potential friends.

When we stand in line with others at the store, we sometimes share our views of the weather—at the very least. When we stop to help a motorist, we might share our water, our views on the lack of “relief facilities” on the highway, or, more likely, our common complaint about the heat and dry weather. Life’s common core concerns pretty much have Texans covered, so we never really lack the understanding that others have the same problems as we do.

Defining a stranger for me connects to someone entirely different from the folks we meet. The strangest one for me is the stranger within. Just recently I heard someone tell a group of people that folks who have addictions have an “emotional and mental age stop”—a cease from the maturing process that allows one to learn from experience and find channels of change. I thought about what was said and read some materials on the changes within the brain that occur both in those who are addicted, those who have some shattering experience—with or without associated grief—those who are already prone to some nervous compulsion (OCD or that type of problem), those who are suffering from some type of guilt, and finally, those whose brains have been affected by damage from some physiological source—stroke or accident damage.

I want folks to know right here from the get-go, the business about the brain being “stopped” at certain age or at a certain stage is a stinky pile of male bovine excreta! The documented plasticity of the brain is totally amazing! Even if we have physical brain damage, the brain can recover or at least compensate to be as good as or better than it was before the damage occurred. If we have an addictive “personality” or compulsion, or if we are suddenly confronted with a life altering loss and overwhelmed with grief, or if we have a tendency to look at everything with a negative outlook, we CAN change the way we live and think. ONE tiny little change or even attempt to change can make a huge difference. Every effort is rewarded in one way or another in the brain. Yes, we can have failures, but had failure not been an attempt, we would never have seen the incandescent light bulb! Our brain allows us to attempt, to hope. When we observe even a tiny change in our attitude, we have made progress beyond measure. The brain has developed a new insight that does not simply vanish.

When I look back at the past two years in my own life, I see some of the areas that I have not really challenged. I still do not like to be around crowds of people and still have little panic attacks when put on the spot to “participate” in group settings. Sometimes those attacks result in some pretty stupid comments or even actions. Maybe that will change in time or maybe it won’t. It does not really matter as long as I can be comfortable within myself and live with who I am. But thinking about how grief has affected me has caused me to think about how guilt and other problems can affect any of us. Guilt feelings can condemn us to hell and back because we may never be able to change any of the circumstances either of the past or what will happen in the future. I call this trying to live with the “if onlys” and “probably should haves.” For instance, I can’t go back and see to it that my little baby has the hospital care she needed right after birth for her to have a chance to live. That situation is a done deal. And if her death is partly my fault for not demanding better care, then nothing I feel about it can make a difference now. So, all I can do is ask God for peace. If I need forgiveness for my lack of active participation in her care, then THAT forgiveness is assured.

Everyone who finds this stranger within can see that we don’t really know ourselves as well as we think we do. We all have a tendency to feel that our problems are ours alone and that those will be with us always! God tells us otherwise. We are told that a day will come when there will be no tears. “He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces. The rebuke (blame) of His people He will take away from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 25:8

Won’t it be glorious not to feel guilt or condemnation! A stranger will live within us—already DOES—who will feel unbelievably happy and free! All we have to do in the here and now is take the tiny little steps to building a foundation for changing our thoughts. Little actions, little beliefs, little hopes will allow us to make the eventual changes that will make our lives better. For me, some of the first steps began with buying clothes that I really liked with a little “bling” to them. Then I took a couple of huge steps—two trips, one to the Hill Country with a friend, and then a trip to the East Coast with another friend. And now I have been to Europe with my daughter and have driven—by myself—to see my brother in Arkansas. I used to think that I could only go somewhere if my husband were with me or at least be where he could get to me if I needed him. He was my balance and my safety net. After his death, I could still hear his voice telling me what I should do, but now I listen more carefully to my own inner voice. Oh, Triple A and GPS help me get to places and feel safer on the trips, but to tell the truth, I know a better source of help is with me all the time. I have heavenly access 24/7 and don’t even need a phone to get in touch. And if I get a bit off balance now and then and become obsessive over some neighborhood situation, I ask for help as soon as I realize that my mind is making something out to be more than it is in reality.

Finally, let me just assert that I don’t plan on being “stuck” at any stage or plateau of emotional or psychological development. That part of my brain that gives me free will may see me revert back to fear and timidity once in a while, but overall, I can make the changes in my life that I want—even small changes. I can learn to love the stranger who lives within me, the one who wants me to be free and happy with life.

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