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Go There: The California, Twenty-Thirteen, Defensive edition

Wintertime in S. California. The few weeks out of the year when Southern Californians marvel at the layer of frost (which they we call ice) that has formed on our windshields. The kids in the streets breathe enthusiastically on each exhale as their breath freezes around their faces. And we bundle up in layers of cotton, because wool is too scratchy (not to mention practical).

On my hands and knees in my front yard "weeding" my flower beds, I felt the cold soak into my hands and numb my toes and fingertips. People say you are supposed to talk to plants and play them classical music in order to foster the proper growing environment. Does swearing at weeds when they break off in your hand count? I heard my next door neighbors yelling at each other inside of their house, and my body tensed up. A visceral response.

I've been having a lot of those lately, quick and sudden responses as if my body just reacts to whatever is happening and I have to quickly moderate/check my facial expression to make sure it is socially acceptable. Or maybe, I have always had that kind of response, I'm just more in tune with it now.

Here's the thing. In Peru, whenever I was in a tense or emotional situation there was the language/cultural barrier. My comprehension of what was happening around me had a time lag of a few split seconds (on a good day) which gave me time to mirror the people around me, which  meant that I was, in some way, protected from my own emotional response. At least, that's my theory, because now, when I feel myself reacting to something as it's happening, I think, "Woah!" and I want to defend myself.

In the case of my yelling neighbors, I had to mentally talk to myself into looking up at them as they exited the house, raising one grubby, frozen hand at them and saying, "Hey! Happy New Year." My gut response was to keep my head down, avoid eye contact, and pretend I was focused on my task of ripping weeds from the dirt.

The thing about defensiveness is that when it takes over you are only thinking of yourself. You spend your energy on staying safe. You stop thinking about people who are not connected to you by DNA. There is a place for this. In a life or death situation you can bet that I'm going to defend myself and my family, and rightly so. But, when I feel defensive because someone just said something that made me feel uncomfortable, and decide that I'm going to protect myself by avoiding that person, there is a problem.

I came to a similar realization in Peru when I realized that because I was so perfectionistic about my work in the local hospital I was actually missing out on Loving people.

Side note: The Church does this too. We see things that scare us and decide we need to defend ourselves from them. Remember Harry Potter? Remember all the concerned parents who were convinced that reading Harry Potter was going to make their children turn to witchcraft and become rebellious? That doesn't even get into all the other people/things that The Church has decided we need to keep out in order to be safe. Here's the thing about Jesus. He didn't keep people out, ever. There were things He didn't do. Yes. But there were no people He didn't love. You don't see Jesus being defensive. You see angry Jesus, you see compassionate Jesus, you see Jesus weeping over separation from God in the garden. But He doesn't do defensive. I'm not saying that to my church. I'm saying that to The Church, to all of us followers of Jesus. Because I do it too, and I wish I didn't.

Life comes full circle, and I am again feeling like I need to buckle down, man up (woman up?), and try to push back the things that keep me self focused. Isn't it weird that I feel more defensive HERE in my own culture?

So, here's the thing. It's a new year. I'm back home. I still pick my boogers. I'm still going to try to "Go There" in terms of growing, changing, and letting Jesus make me more loving and less defensive just like He was.

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