Well…notice how some people have lots more energy than most of us? I mean – TONS more??
I have a friend who has six kids. At one point, she was home-schooling several of them while working part-time, serving as president of a women’s organization, and volunteering at a children’s theater for which she sewed 40+ costumes every single season.
I don’t think she sleeps.
One time, I told her I believe she was born with ‘D’ batteries, while I was given the ‘AAAs.’
Now, I could belittle myself for not accomplishing as much as she does each day, but what good would that do me?
I’ve traveled down the “woe is me” road before, and it’s a bumpy ride.
It makes me anxious, actually.
Because when I compare myself to others, I am placing them (or their thisor that) above me or below me. It’s as if I’m standing on a ladder, looking up or down.
So – let’s consider…
By definition – this situation is unstable.
A ladder is NOT a rock.
I need a big, flat ROCK to stand on.
And I’ve found – strangely enough – that my soul was built for this.
It’s called toward only One rock.
A verse from Psalms sums this up nicely:
Teach me to do your will, For you are my God. May your kind spirit guide me On ground that is level. -Psalm 143:10
I need to stand flat-footed in this world – keeping proper perspective. Humble before the God who looks on me as his beloved, beautiful one (Song of Songs 2:10). Shoulder to shoulder with my fellow humans. Focused with a grateful heart on the One who gave me Life, and acknowledging my talents as His gifts, for His love surpasses all human kindness, and His intentions are perpetually pure.
My gifts (and yours) are perfectly suited to their recipient, and when I seek the counsel of the Giver, I will be blessed with guidance on how to use those gifts, and when.
There is a quote hanging in my home office that I read every day to remind me that there is Hope and a Plan for my life, set forth by the One who created me to be uniquely myself:
Let us not be confused by the talents and missions of other saints.
Let us be the kind of saints we were created to be.
So it’s the last day of my Month of Good News 2016, and I have not fully completed the challenge. Including this post, I’ve done 22 in 31 days. Not bad by most standards. But not up to my expectations. I had wanted to post every single day during October.
Yet have you noticed – that oftentimes our expectations are unrealistic?
It’s fairly easy to see that our expectations of otherscannot be fulfilled. When was the last time you asked a family member to complete a task and they did it exactly and precisely the way you wanted? The timing might have been off, or something else wasn’t up to snuff. They bought the ‘wrong’ brand of orange juice, missed a few spots while cleaning the bathroom, or didn’t arrange the towels, dishes, magazines, shirts etc. the way you would. The truth is, no single person can meet our expectations unless we decide to relinquish those expectations.
Now, consider yourself. Are you always faithful to your resolutions? Do you eat healthfully, get enough sleep, exercise, return all phone calls and emails, remember and check off each item on your to-do list, speak kindly to every person you encounter, and thank God for your life and all of its blessings (both seen and unseen) – every single day? Every 6 hours?
I am not. I fall short.
In my Bible Study group a week and a half go, I once again came to the realization that if I am to ‘treat my neighbor as myself,’ I need to think about the impact of my attitude and actions. Not only is it important to display the qualities of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness and love to the neighbors – especially the 4 living in my home – but it’s also imperative that I show myself the same consideration.
And – I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty hard on myself. If I don’t meet my own expectations, I’m likely to come unglued. As my best laid plans are derailed, I become cranky, resentful, and angry. But instead of dropping my lofty, ‘perfect’ plans, I tend to unleash my emotions on the people I love most. Or I get a migraine – in which case, I’ve turned the fury on myself.
So, a week and a half ago, I asked the women in my Bible Study group to pray that I would slow down and be more fully present to both my neighbors and to myself.
Those faithful friends of mine prayed. And my eyes were opened.
It’s one thing to say we need to be “good to ourselves,” and yet it’s another to do it, largely because we are flawed and limited in our ability to help ourselves.
When I was in 6th grade, my teacher Mrs. Walker had a motto on the ceiling of her English classroom. It said, “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me.”
Such a truism can be inspiring to a degree, but as we earnestly meet the challenges of daily life for years, we eventually realize the limitations of mantras like this one, which are premised on the idea that I alone can do whatever it is that needs to be done.
I hit a wall in the last ten days, and clearly saw that I canbe a writer, but I can’t generate material that I don’t have. I simply didn’t have enough things I wanted to say, much less time to research and write them, here at the end of October. The schedule is just too full of practices, awards ceremonies, family visits, birthdays, and costume sewing (as well as meals, exercise, and homework). Yes, I could have started writing back in August and then posted everything I’d accumulated in October. But I don’t work that way.
I want to have fresh things to say, as the Lord prompts me to say them.
And whoa – right there in that statement came my moment of reckoning when I understood the real Truth.
My limitations are the exact points where God wants to step in and give me the strength, creativity, and time that I am so desperately craving.
The question is not, “What can I get done?” but instead, “What does God want to equip me to do?”
As I evaluate my tasks for the day, I need to ask,
Does this activity have eternal value?
Is it something God would want me to focus on?
Will He be upset with me if my expectations are not met?
Failing to meet our own expectations is actually a blessing. It’s a correction to our human tendency to make ourselves a higher priority than God.
In my case, it was also the answer to a prayer.
He came alongside me and in His gentle way said, “I will help you write, but it won’t be on your schedule. It will happen on mine. And I will help you to be the good mom and wife you want to be. Let Me fill you. Let Me be your peace.”
God promises to be with us every step of our lives, but it’s up to us to turn to Him and say, “I trust you. Please equip me with your grace, because I am weak, but You are strong.” (Philippians 4:13)
He will give us grace. Guaranteed.
This is the very best of all Good News. May we carry it with us, and share it with those He places in our paths.
He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.
“Are you writing your blog?” asked a cheerful voice I’d recognize anywhere.
“I don’t want to interrupt, but I do want to say hello, Sweetie,” my beautiful friend Ana continued, as she sat beside me at the little round table in the taekwondo school where our sons have practiced together for years.
I finally looked up, still scowling, still hunched over my laptop, and ignoring my daughter, who was now reaching across the table to slowly push down my screen and force an end to my misery. She too, wanted to rescue me.
“Yes,” I conceded. “I’m trying to write a piece about the presidential election.”
Ana’s eyes grew wide and everything I needed to know was right there in her expression.
“I know. It’s a bad idea. And I’m so, so frustrated!!”
I had been writing and rewriting the piece for hours, obsessing and rehashing, all the while feeling angry and uninspired – all of which are warning signs for me that I’m not in a good frame of mind and shouldn’t be writing on the topic. But was I paying attention to the little warning bells going off in my head? No.
Ana could see that, I’m sure. Because I probably looked like this.
It’s a small wonder she approached me at all. But she’s a brave one. So she then proceeded to do what good friends everywhere do.
Commiserate. Empathize. Act as a Sounding Board. Encourage. Divert from the Source of Tension. And Ultimately – Pull Me Out of the Muck.
And the stuff I was writing about? Well, “muck” is a nice work for it, isn’t it?
My friend reminded me to look for the positive. And in that moment, I just couldn’t do it on my own. So God sent her to me.
Today, I just want to thank the Lord for my friend Ana, and remind you that if you’re trying to figure it all out on your own, you’re working too hard. We were never meant to be alone. We have each other. By Divine design. Let somebody who cares about you defuse you today.
When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. (Job 2:11)
When did we stop walking through our lives with wonder?
Looking for the next amazing thing?
Seeking out another delight?
Expecting a miracle around the corner?
A bunny in the bushes?
That we’d surely see…while wearing shockingly purple glasses with no lenses….just because?
When did we stop dancing through life knowingthe wonderful was coming?
The promise of it has always been there.
Let’s reawaken our souls to it today.
However far back we need to go, let’s go there. Let’s go back to when we simply accepted that there was so much we didn’t know, and we just trusted, and lived in awe.
You visit the earth and water it,
make it abundantly fertile.
God’s stream is filled with water;
you supply their grain.
Thus do you prepare it:
you drench its plowed furrows,
and level its ridges.
With showers you keep it soft,
blessing its young sprouts.
You adorn the year with your bounty;
your paths drip with fruitful rain.
The meadows of the wilderness also drip;
the hills are robed with joy.
The pastures are clothed with flocks,
the valleys blanketed with grain;
they cheer and sing for joy.
Every waking moment is an opportunity to find peace.
I rediscovered this last night, when I was awake from 2:30 to 5:30 a.m.
I know why it happened – the insomnia. I made the mistake of looking at the computer, and then the iPad, for the few hours before bed. I let myself be sucked into the black hole of cyberspace, and I lost my way in there.
Then, I didn’t pray before dropping my head to the pillow.
You’d think I’d have learned by now, because I know that this is necessary for me. I even wrote a post about that awhile back – How to Sleep Well. But we are all stubborn and slow learners, and we often fail to follow through on what we’ve learned.
So at 2:30 I woke up – head churning with to-do lists and plans for today. After 45 minutes of trying to fall back to sleep, I gave up, went downstairs, drank some milk, made the kids’ lunches, organized clutter, and read a magazine. For another two hours.
In my meditations this morning, I heard the question, ‘What does it mean for me to have freedom within, and obedience to, God?’
The One who has taught me so lovingly was there waiting for me last night. And until the very end of my restless wakefulness, I didn’t trade my burdened mind for the light load He was offering me.
Small trials like a lack of sleep can remind us of our dependence on the routines we were designed to keep. Obedience to the deepest needs of my body and spirit enable me to have the life I want. The good life intended for me.
And in that good life comes the peace of understanding that is beyond my capabilities. In flutterings, wisdom and direction are showered on me like soft petals.
When I go it alone, I doom myself to unnecessary suffering.
I was at the gym yesterday (a minor accomplishment in itself), and I took a pure barre class. I think of it as “Ballet for Dummies and Non-Dancers.”
We didn’t have a barre on the wall; instead, we used folding chairs, balls, and elastic straps for balance and resistance. I hadn’t been there for awhile, and it showed.
The full-length mirrors made it possible for me to check my alignment (or lack thereof) during each exercise and, like three-way mirrors in department store dressing rooms, they dispelled any illusions I had about my physique. Further, the rubber bands we used proved that my arms are not as strong as I thought they were.
In short – I’ll just say there is work to be done. And I am loathe to do it.
But I made it through the class, vowed I would be back, and trekked off to the locker room to shower and get on with my day.
That’s when I heard her crying – a woman in the aisle of lockers adjacent to mine. She was on the phone, upset, and angry.
“I’m at the gym, God damn it!!” she said. “I’m trying!!”
I’m not sure what the conversation was really about. Whether it had to do with fitness or myriad other things. But I could tell her spirit was depleted. For whatever it was that was bothering her, she needed reassurance. She needed help in letting go of expectations – her own or someone else’s. She needed to know unconditional love.
This world would have us believe that we are measured by our output. That we have to perform every day. That these things determine our value. But that’s not the Truth.
We are loved beyond measure, simply because we ARE, by One who calls us “lilies among thorns.”
Today, as I tend to my sore spots, I will rest in that.
This past Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, I fasted from Facebook and other media including newspapers, magazines, and TV in order to spend more time in prayer. I broke the fast only to watch a movie with my boys on Saturday night.
My primary motivation was to listen for divine guidance in my role as a voter, and to pray for our nation. This year’s primaries have jostled my nerves like never before, and I wanted to shut off the political loudspeakers and let what I’d already heard digest a bit. I figured that doing so would rid my head of static. I was right. But there were even more gifts from my fast than I’d expected.
Gift 1 – Freedom from the encumbrance of others’ views.
Democracy is based on the idea that every person’s voice matters. But it’s easy to forget that when we’re drowning in the latest sound bites, which fail to convey the totality of the political picture. To make reasonable decisions, we have to weigh facts and presentations against our own experiences and values. Doing that in an echo chamber is nearly impossible. Over the last three days, silence allowed me to hear the voice I should when I enter the voting booth – my own.
Gift 2 – Closeness to the people who really matter.
While being informed and voting is important in a democracy, I need to keep this civic responsibility in proper perspective.
If I’m trying to live in accordance with the plan I believe God has for me, I need to consider at all times my sphere of influence. Some people may connect with thousands. Me? So far in my life, I’m called to serve only a few. My position as a wife, mother, or community member may seem small on an average day, but what I do is critical and irreplaceable. It deserves my full attention.
So, liberated from distractions, I was free to love the people entrusted to my care better. I studied their eyes. Listened – to what they weren’t saying in words. Touched them. Gave and received hugs. Held hands.
Physical closeness matters – to them, and to me. When I think of who is really “there” for me – in the flesh with me, in good times and in bad – it’s these people. And they won’t be with me forever. Best to wrap my arms around them now.
Gift 3 – An increased sensitivity to my own emotions.
My daughter is an Irish dancer, and she and her school were invited to perform multiple times over the weekend at Irish Fests and St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. I’m usually rushing to get her to these events, and then feeling a bit anxious when she heads out on stage, thinking about details such as whether her wig will stay put, shoes stay tied, and smile stay fixed if she slips on an unfamiliar floor. None of this has happened to her yet. But still – I worry.
On Sunday, I had a perfect seat to stage left and because of my fasting, noticed that I was able to focus on her dancing. I saw the muscles in her legs working in time to the Celtic beats, the sparkle in her eyes as she surveyed the room. Dancing gives my daughter joy. And without the extra noise in my head, I could share that joy with her. I could feel it in my gut.
Gift 4 – A deeper understanding of the value of time.
Truly, only God knows how much time I have. And how much I’ve wasted scrolling through photos of cute babies and puppies I’ll never meet in person. Or reading articles that just made me angry or sad. Countless hours. It’s silly, even stupid, when I consider that there’s no way of knowing if today is the last day of my life.
Teach us to count our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart.
I learned to change this verse to a prayer.
Help me to live as if each day is numbered, so that I can gain wisdom as to how to spend my time.
A few hours into my fast, I knew that if I were given just a handful of days, I sure wouldn’t spend them on Facebook.
Gift 5 – More laughter.
I’m not an overly serious person, but no one would call me jocular. What I find funny often depends on my frame of mind. For example, when our family is eating out, I expect the kids to behave. Tableside antics need to be kept to a minimum. But Sunday night, we were sitting in Jack’s Fortune chinese restaurant when my 6-year old draped a napkin across his head and deadpanned, “Here comes the bride.”
I laughed right along with everyone else. He’s developing his own sense of humor, test driving punchlines to check our reactions. I might have missed out if my mind had been on its usual wander.
Gift 6 – A reawakening to my own interests.
In the quiet of the past few days, I finished a novel, worked on a couple sewing projects, and made a Norwegian dish that I’d never cooked before. With a clear mind, I was savoring each activity, appreciating it for the satisfaction it brings. Sweet moments like these give life color, and they filled my heart with a sense of gratitude.
Gift 7 – A reminder to ‘take the long view.’
My oldest is 13 – a challenging age. My husband and I are seeking ways to understand the pressures our son is facing, and also to help him identify his strengths and weaknesses.
The three of us had a couple rich discussions this weekend, talks that I know will affect the man he’s to become. What we do and say today changes tomorrow’s picture, for better and for worse. I don’t want to waste precious opportunities to give my son a faith foundation for this life, and guidance on how he’s to prepare for the next.
In the silence of media-free days, I can hear the whisper of the One who helps me lead my children and explore the abundant life intended for us. I gain confidence that my voice really does count – with Him who reigns supreme.
And as for the candidates I’ve been ignoring temporarily, I will pray they receive the same gifts given to me. Because a deep, strong understanding of our proper and humble size compared to Him, is valuable in a public servant.
Who are your “heart friends?” The ones you can count on anytime to help you through whatever it is that ails you?
I am blessed with a few, and there are two in particular who pray with me, and for me, regularly. We have a 3-way message group that perpetually stays near the top of my devices, because we lean on one another via texts nearly every day.
As the snow fell yesterday afternoon, this message popped up on my screen:
Can one or both of u spend 5 min praying with me over the phone? I know it’s a snow day so may be too hard to break away I just feel it would be so good. Not urgent and nothing too serious just felt it would be a good blessing to do this.
My friend reached out when the Spirit prompted her, hoping that one or both of us could ‘be’ with her for a time, and it was my privilege to do so. In fact, I could see immediately that our conversation was what had been planned for me.
I’d been feeling a rather nondescript sluggishness all day – the let down after a wonderful Valentine’s weekend away perhaps – but the feeling was also rooted in my lack of trust and faith.
It’s easy to believe you are living a joyful existence when beautiful music plays, the food is delicious, and your eyes have new sights to behold. But when life returns to its normal pace – when the kids are bored during another snow day, a variety of real-world concerns plague your mind, and you are adding to the month’s to-do list while berating yourself for not making things “perfect” – where is the joy then?
It’s in these moments that I turn to my friends – my fellow believers in the world unseen. They remind me of life’s true purpose – that it’s not about how much we accomplish, or whether things turn out the way we expect or hope they will. In fact, there’s a very real chance that nothing will go according to our plans. That while we believe everything is working for our ultimate good – we won’t see this ‘good’ in our lifetimes. Scripture doesn’t promise us a smooth journey, just that we will never be left to navigate it alone.
And I write this from a place of incredible privilege. I am a citizen of a free country and so are my children. I’m in good health and so is my family. I have not known the pain of hunger or poverty. My suffering, compared to that of others, may be small. But is that the point, either?
No. God’s hand is on me and He knows my circumstances and those of my friends, and He’s dropped me into this space and time for His purposes. And as believers we know that we are given His strength, which we can find in one another at the times when we need it most. Our friendship is not mere chance. We were placed in one another’s lives for a reason – to help each other weather whatever storms come.
Last summer, I watched a local theater production of Mary Poppins and I was momentarily struck dumb when the delightful nanny says to her charges, “When will you learn to look past what you see?”
Learning to see beyond is actually a process of conscious and constant surrender, and it’s not easy. But we are promised the greatest reward possible. Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” (James 11:40)
So once again, we grab that umbrella of faith, our own or the one we borrow from a trusted friend, and we allow it to lift us higher, to the place of hope and true joy. This is the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine of life go down.
So we’re two days in to 2016 and maybe you’re feeling like the words, “Happy New Year” are more of a threat than a good wish.
Maybe your heart is heavy because all you can see from where you sit is that this year is already bringing in challenges, or heartaches, that you just don’t want to face. You’re not that excited about a new start, because you’re in the middle of something you never wanted to experience, and January just doesn’t feel ‘fresh.’
Some time ago, I wrote “How to Sleep Well,” about my first experience of surrender. And in that holy moment, when I was utterly exhausted and thought I couldn’t go on any more, I was given a new perspective. A clearer mind.
The problems weren’t solved. The struggle didn’t end right away. I wasn’t healed in an instant. But by dropping to my knees and asking for help in trusting whatever it was that controlled the universe, I found that the churning inside stopped. Not permanently – oh I would still take back my desire to control a thousand times over after that – but for a moment, I let go.
If you are holding on tightly, clenching your fists in anticipation of the thing you fear, today might be the day for you to open your hands and ask Love to come in, and give you peace.
This surrender will not guarantee that the road will be smooth, but you’ll gain the same assurance that I did – that indeed, I am not alone. And never was. And the same power that brought me relief that first time I asked for it, is available to me every single day of this new year.
I heard this song today. It’s one of my favorites from last year, and it’s what prompted me to write. Just close your eyes and listen. And may you be graced beyond measure in 2016.
I love my dishwasher. No really. I LOVE my dishwasher. You can have all of my other appliances. I’ll even go to the laundry mat. I’m keeping this one. Forever.
We’d had so much trouble with the last dishwasher that I took a very long time picking this one out. I did tons of research and finally settled on – a Bosch. Not the fanciest model, but a basic Bosch – which still costs more than most other dishwashers, so I wanted to be very sure of this purchase when we made it 7 years ago. So sure that I carted my dishes into Sears and loaded them into the floor model to make sure they would fit the way I wanted them to. You should have seen the sales guy’s face.
Anyway – imagine my dismay today when last night’s gravy had become a gelatinous adhesive on the pots & pans, and the racks were decorated with spinach-leaf polka dots. Huh? This never happens. My machine does NOT let me down. Never in seven years had I seen such…such…ick when I expected sparkles!
I investigated. The culprit? A wooden chopstick jammed at just the right angle to block the lower wash arm. A little hold-up, and the mess remained.
This got me thinking about what it takes for me to feel clean. To truly feel washed clean before God.
I know that I am a child of God, and that when I turned my heart toward Christ, the power of His love and mercy washed me clean of all my impurities and I stood before Him as if I had never done anything wrong. With my life, I want to show Him that I love Him. I want to thank Him for creating me, sustaining me, and saving me. But I still sin. And though I know He always loves me, in order to stay close to Him, in order to see His will for me most clearly, I have to clear away the debris that clouds my vision of Him – and that’s the stuff that I allow to get in the way of my relationship with Him. It’s my arrogance, my selfishness, my pride, my ego, my gluttony, etc. My sin. My sin might look slightly different from someone else’s, but it’s all dirty. And there’s no way to live a life of holiness when you’re sitting in muck.
So – what to do about that?
I was raised in mostly non-denominational Protestant churches. I’d heard about Confession. One of those things Catholics did. It sounded scary. And weird. Sit in a tiny dark box and talk to a priest about all the bad things you’d done? Hmm.
But then after a long spiritual journey, God led me to RCIA – the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults from 2006-2007. It’s the process by which adults join the Catholic Church. In the course, I learned the Church’s views on Confession, also known as Reconciliation. And I came to believe that there could be grace bestowed in this sacrament. And so, near the end of the course, on a Wednesday night, I made my first confession.
I wish I could say it was easy – that I was cool as a cucumber. Nope. I was 35, I wanted to be as thorough as possible, and had made a very long list. So by the time I walked out of the confessional (which was actually quite spacious and bright), my mascara was smeared all over my face and my hair was a total wreck. I vaguely resembled a raccoon riding a motorcycle.
I was totally, utterly exhausted. I drove home and went right to bed.
The next morning I woke up and realized that something had fundamentally changed. An enormous burden had been lifted. I literally felt lighter. And miraculously – somehow – healed.
What I didn’t know about Reconciliation – or rather, what I’d been told, but didn’t believe – had actually happened. It was mind-blowing. Powerful. For the first time ever, I felt CLEAN.
The chopstick of doubt (so to speak) had been removed, and not only did I feel clean, I felt closer to God than ever before.
God will forgive me when I tell Him my sins – whether in this sacrament or on my own. But it is altogether different to vocalize my sins to a priest who helps me determine my culpability, and gives me guidance and hope. The sacrament also confers grace which strengthens me to resist the temptations that have mired me and led me away from the Lord. Most importantly, I know that yet again I have drawn close to the heart of God, and that this is what He wants most.
I can’t say that every Reconciliation experience is a powerful as that first one. But each one has enough amazing grace to keep me coming back.