Accountability. Why? I asked myself. Why couldn’t I just keep my mouth shut? I tried to justify my response by telling myself the following:
You know she is just so provocative.
You didn’t sleep well last night, or the night before.
If you didn’t have a headache you would have been more patient.
But there is no justification good enough. I just should have pulled out my spiritual duct tape and kept my mouth shut. You see, I was visiting family, people I love, people I want to see and visit and have in my life. People who, I believe, require a little bit of extra grace ~ just like I do sometimes.
After traveling and uneasy sleep and no good quiet time, I just wasn’t able to let the comment slide and I added my two cents. Not once, but twice ~ I don’t know, maybe even three times. Meanwhile, my poor husband is sitting silently between the heated discussion of two women he loves. Needless to say, I felt less than great about myself.
But the situation was a disaster waiting to happen. A California girl, stuck inside for too long because of a snow storm, no real sunshine or fresh air ~ I had reached the limit before I realized it. I didn’t realize that the storm outside was nothing compared to the turmoil inside. I needed to get out ~ in more ways than one.
“I’m going for a walk,” I told my husband. “The fresh air will do me good.” I can’t say he was sorry to see me go, and I don’t blame him. I bundled up as fast as I could and took to the streets. Literally. The sidewalks were buried in snow, so I had to walk in the street. I didn’t care. And I didn’t want to walk too far because, unlike in California where people curb their dogs, in the Midwest dogs are often allowed to run free. I love dogs, but not until we have been formally introduced. So I reduced my walk to the street where we were staying.
Up and down the street I paced, talking to myself as I went. It was a heated, ping pong conversation of “You know you shouldn’t…” with a quick volley back of “But she said this…or she is so that…”
I thought about my focus word for this week: accountability. I knew that regardless of the situation or the people in the situation, I was accountable for my own attitude. I knew this, but my attitude was still bad. So I kept walking.
There was a boy down the street shoveling snow off his driveway, home from school, no doubt, because of the snow. I must have passed him 20 times. I am sure he was beginning to suspect I was either crazy or a child abductor. I smiled and said “hi” and kept walking. After a while his father came out to help him. I’m not sure if he came out to really help or to be sure I really wasn’t some kind of threat. I’m sure other neighbors wondered about the crazy lady walking up and down the street. I didn’t care. The attitude of anger, bitterness and self-pity had blanketed my heart like the snow and I was determined to walk it off.
I got back to the house, still feeling the remnants of the storm inside me, not ready to go back in. I looked at the driveway covered with snow. It had been a long time since I had shoveled snow, and by long time, I could mean never.
I opened the front door.
“Jeff, when you get a second, can you set out a snow shovel?”
Scoop. Throw. Scoop. Throw. I pushed the shovel into the white snow with a vengeance. I heaved it over my shoulder with purpose, as though each shovelful represented a heap of bad attitude being tossed out. I scraped down to the cement, I shoveled one side to the other, I even shoveled the walkway. I like shoveling snow. The exercise felt great, the act of throwing the snow in a pile felt exhilarating, and when I was done I could see the fruits of my labor. That driveway was cleared of more snow and exposed more cement than any other driveway in the neighborhood. I finally sat down and admired my handiwork. The time had come to go inside.
It still wasn’t easy to keep my attitude in check and my tongue under control, but it was easier. I reminded myself that I was accountable ~ to God, to myself, to my husband ~ for my own attitude and words and I vowed to do better. I vowed to do better; but not on my own, because I know too well that on my own I am really not capable. Just ask my husband. But during my walk and shoveling the Lord reminded me that, with Him, I can do ALL things ~ even change a bad attitude. Thankfully, He also provided an endless supply of snow in case I need some extra help.
Sacrifice. I sat in church this morning listening to the pastor talk about being a servant to others, and I began to think about my focus word for this past week ~ sacrifice. Had I ever really been sacrificial? I thought. And if so, at what times in my life? Two thoughts immediately jumped to mind ~ children and marriage. And just as quickly, the word joy also filled my thoughts.If any of you have ever been fully committed to another human being, maybe as a spouse, a parent or a caregiver, then you know full well that fulfilling that commitment will involve sacrifice, and probably lots of it. Over the years I have sacrificed time, emotions, physical comfort, money, pride, vanity, pleasure, preference and many other things out of love for my children and husband. Oh yes, I have sacrificed. To love well requires sacrifice! Now before you start thinking either (1) what a prideful woman I am or (2) you should submit my application for sainthood, know that I have also lived very selfishly alongside my children and spouse, choosing my own wants and needs over theirs many times. I said I have been sacrificial, not a perfect saint!
But with those sacrifices of self I also experienced an indescribable joy ~a sense that this is what I was supposed to be doing. In those times when I have poured myself out into them and their lives, I have felt that I was being refilled with joy. Not always, but often.
When I helped carry the burden of a broken heart, or worked to pay for school tuition, or set aside my time to be there for them, I could feel the joy that comes from sacrifice stretch the lining of my little heart, making it grow just a little more. The thing is, I know that on my own, this isn’t possible. It is only through God’s power and example that I am able to sacrifice AND feel joy.
I love what Mother Teresa said about sacrifice, “A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, and must empty ourselves. Give yourself fully to God. He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in his love than in your weakness.” Amen, Mother Teresa! But be prepared for unexpected joy!
Today I listened to a friend give a talk about Jesus ~ our sacrificial lamb, the Alpha and Omega, beginning and the end, the Word, Emmanuel. Her talk rekindled in me an awe at the depths of God’s love for us, that yet while we were still sinners, still thinking jealous thoughts, still turning a cold shoulder to someone in need, still lashing out with unkind words ~ that even though we are so imperfect, never good enough to be with a perfect and Holy creator ~ even in the midst, He sacrificed Jesus out of love for us. And what God tells us about that is even more amazing (note, emphasis is mine)…
For the JOY set before him he (Jesus) endured the cross (sacrificed), scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him (Jesus) who endured such opposition from sinners (YOU AND ME!), so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Keep sacrificing!) Hebrews 12:2-3
Focus. “Can I tell you something I learned from riding my motorcycle?” my co-worker asked from behind his cubicle.
I was curious to know what riding a motorcycle had to do with my marital crisis and separation. I had just been lamenting to my co-worker about my need for affirmation. After having been married for 19 years I now found myself separated at 40 and my insecurities were high. I shared with my friend that I wondered what it would be like to date again. Would anyone out there find me attractive? Is it possible for a nice Christian man to fall for a 40 year old woman with two kids? Should I start dating? What about online dating sites?
I wasn’t sure how motorcycles fit into all of this, but maybe it was a guy’s way of offering some dating advice and for that, I was all ears.
“Sure, I’m listening,” I said.
“You know, one of the first things I learned when I was riding a motorcycle was the power of focus and attention,” he went on, speaking with a slow Southern drawl. “If I were riding down the road, say, and I see a parked truck up ahead. Let’s say I just start to focus on the bumper of that truck. Well, you know what?” he asked with complete sincerity.
“No, what?” I asked.
“As sure as all get out, I will run right into that bumper. I will crash right into it, even though I know it’s there and I have the whole road around me. If I put my focus on that bumper, I will crash into it every time.”
“Hmmm…” I murmured, letting his words sink in and trying to see the correlation.
“You see, Lynne,” he continued, “you’re still married.”
“Separated,” I corrected.
“Still, is dating where you want to put your focus right now? Cause if you keep focusing there, you will go there, and I don’t think you’re ready to go there just yet. I don’t want to see you crash.” Of course he was right and I have never forgotten his words or the genuine care and sincerity with which he shared the truth.
During this time in my life, my focus was beginning to shift more and more to God, to His desires for my life, for my children, my family. It was a process and it wasn’t always easy. There were many times when I focused on the emotional pain I was in, the hopelessness I felt for my future, the sins of my past, the failings of my present. It was a dark time and if I had kept my focus there, well, I am not sure where I would be today.
Instead, I learned to shift my focus to God. I would go to His words to us in the Bible and read His promises. They reassured me that no matter what I went through here, He was with me. That no matter what anyone said, He could transform me. That no matter how bleak things looked, through Jesus, I had an eternity in paradise with Him to look forward to.
Though I will probably never ride a motorcycle, I have kept this safety tip tucked in my heart. God only knows how many crashes I have avoided by putting my focus back on Him! How about you? Where are you putting your focus?
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8
Perseverance. Two definitions:
Steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.
Continuance in a state of grace leading finally to a state of glory.
After days of trying to get this post written, I am not feeling the steadfastness to push through; instead, I am feeling more like settling into a state of grace. Does this make me a bad person?
As I have been thinking about perseverance the past few days and after a couple of false starts at writing this post, it occurred to me that there are two kinds of perseverance ~ one that requires action and one that requires patience. Sometimes I need the first kind (like now) and sometimes I need the other ~ and sometimes I need both.
I was re-reading a story from Chicken Soup for the Soul, Family Caregivers the other night and ironically the story was placed under the section entitled “Peseverance”. Penelope, the author of the story, found herself in a season that required both steadfastness in doing and continuing in a state of grace. A young married woman with an infant son, she unexpectedly found herself acting as a caregiver to her 28 year old husband who suffered several devastating aneurysms. I had a chance to meet Penelope in person at an author’s luncheon and I can tell you that she exuded peace, trust and hope, in spite of the life detour she found herself on. She and her husband were steadfast in his recovery process, hoping for complete healing; but resting in a continued state of grace, not knowing what the actual outcome would be. Her story and her countenance were an inspiration.
Maybe persevering isn’t about everything looking pretty. Maybe I have been placing expectations of perfection that have kept me partially paralyzed. Maybe I have been just feeling lazy. Whatever the case, perseverance this week has meant stringing a series of words together. Maybe not the best words in an amazing order or with profound content ~ but words on the screen nonetheless. The action is complete.
But, truthfully, the spirit is in a little bit of a funk, feeling a little apathetic. I am sure it will pass but until it does I will persevere by remaining in a state of grace, trusting in the One who gives the grace to persevere. My challenges aren’t life threatening, not even life altering, so a part of me feels like saying, “Curly Girl! What’s your problem?” Does that make me a bad person? I hope it just makes me human. So I will be inspired by Penelope, who embodied both kinds of perseverance, I will accept that I am a flawed human being, and I will rejoice in a fresh start tomorrow.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9
Satisfaction. The dog was looking up at me with those big brown eyes. Then she glanced over at the take out container I had in my hand and gave me that look, the look that says, “I would like some of that!”
“Okay, Hope,” I said, kneeling down to give her one of the leftover pancakes. I justified the treat by telling myself it was a whole wheat pancake, after all, and she just loves anything that comes out of a Styrofoam container. As I was breaking up one pancake another one fell out, but I quickly grabbed it knowing that one more for our little dog would be one too many.
I set the container with the cut up pancake in front of her, but she just looked at me intently as I held the other pancake.
“Hope,” I said sternly, “be satisfied with what is right in front of you!” What is the matter with that dog? I muttered to myself as I threw the remaining pancake in the trash. No sooner had I heard the smack sound of the pancake hitting the plastic liner did I also hear a small voice in my head say, “Oh, like you don’t do that!”
As I took my plate of eggs, which was glaringly absent of carbs, and sat down to eat, I realized that too often I am just like my dog. In front of me was a perfectly nutritious plate of food. It was seasoned with spices and salsa and topped with guacamole. But I still looked longingly at the toaster, the bread and muffins sitting in the bread basket. What I wouldn’t give for a carb right now! Thinking a thought that has entered my mind many times since realizing that I would have to change the way I eat if I ever wanted to have the energy and body I desired. It’s a challenge, sometimes, to be satisfied with what is right in front of me.
I wish I could say the challenge was isolated to food, but sadly, that is not the case.
“Yes, Lord, I am grateful that my piece was published in Chicken Soup, but wouldn’t it be great if I could just get a book published.”
“Yes, Lord, I know I get to speak at women’s luncheons, but wouldn’t it be great if I could just get listed in the speaker directory, then I might have better opportunities to speak.”
“Yes, Lord, I know I have all my teeth and they work just fine, but wouldn’t it be amazing if I could have teeth as perfect and white as her.”
“Yes, Lord, I know you have prepared a place for me in heaven, and I know heaven is a glorious place, but wouldn’t it be great if this could be heaven now.”
Satisfaction – sometimes I can’t seem to get none. Another word for satisfaction is contentment and the apostle Paul sheds some keen insight into this nebulous state of being. He said, “…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Phil 4:11
Learned – Paul learned to be content. Learn is a verb, it is an action word; therefore, this means it will require some effort on my part. Maybe that means making a conscious effort to, first of all, see all that I have already right in front of me. And second, keeping my focus on that and not what someone else has. Third, I might try being grateful for the blessings I already have in my life. And finally, I could try to keep a heavenly perspective, remembering that this life is temporary and broken but God has something better planned. Yes, I must learn to be content in every circumstance, and regardless of what they say, you can teach an old dog new tricks!
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. Phillipians 4:12
Appearances – as in keeping up with.
“It looks like you are living your dreams, doing what you want,” my friend said. “I keep up on your life through Facebook.” Our families were having lunch together and I wasn’t in a position to go into a lengthy explanation with my friend about how things aren’t always as they seem and it has been bothering me ever since.
It took me a while to join the wave of people who were part of the Facebook social networking community. To me, it just seemed like one more thing to do that I didn’t have the time for. Plus, I wasn’t too excited about being contacted by people from my past. It surprises many people who know me that this curly girl has introverted tendencies, but I do. However, a speaking mentor insisted that I would need to get involved in social networking if I wanted more opportunities to speak, so I grabbed my boogie board and jumped on the wave.
Now I love Facebook ~ even the introvert in me! It has allowed me to remain in contact with people with whom I would otherwise lose touch. I can check in on family too far away to see on a regular basis, to see baby pictures, and share in the success of others. But I have felt a downside to social communities, too.
It can be a sea of temptation where undertows of discontentment and comparison are often stirred. Where, at times, friends are only seeing the pretty blue, calm surface of our lives and, if we are honest, appearances are not always what they seem.
I don’t think any of us do it intentionally. It’s not as though we say to ourselves, “I think I will go on Facebook today and make everyone else feel bad about themselves by sharing all the wonderful things that are going on in my life – my travels, my accomplishments, my picture perfect family.” It is certainly not at all what I think when I share ~ I just want to share the great waves I catch on this ride of life. It doesn’t seem right to share those times when I crashed on the ocean floor.
I don’t want to bring people down. I want to be positive. I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. I want to appear always grateful. Who wants to be a Debbie Downer? But maybe it’s really about not wanting to be that vulnerable. And I don’t think I am alone.
Sure, we will post when something really serious happens in our lives that is out of our control ~ an injury or illness. We will ask for prayer…and we should. But what about those days when I am feeling so insecure about myself because I haven’t heard anything back from publishers regarding the seven personal stories I sent out. What about the days I worry that I am getting old and less attractive, that my hair might be thinning and it is hard to be a curly girl for God if you don’t have any hair. What about the struggles I have with anxiety and the days my husband and I just can’t get along. Do I really want to be that vulnerable with my 154 friends?
Maybe not all of them. Maybe not always. But I do think I owe my friend a Facebook message with an explanation. Friend, things are not always as they appear. Best not to completely judge me by my Facebook posts. Sure, life is wonderful most of the time…but there are many times in between status updates when life is, frankly, just okay or not great. And that’s okay. That’s life. Maybe not Facebook life, but it is real life.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Psalm 139:15
Appearances. They aren’t always what they seem. Don’t judge a book by its cover. All that glitters is not gold. I don’t know why writers get so upset about clichés; after all, they do convey a message in an effective manner. I guess it’s because they are just so…well, cliché. But back to appearances, what I am trying to say is you don’t always get what you pay for and what you see is not always what you get.
Years ago I had an acquaintance who was a fairly wealthy young woman. She drove a very nice Mercedes but also liked to dress very casually. Sometimes she would run her errands wearing jean shorts with holes in them and an old t-shirt; sometimes she might not even wear make-up. One day her car broke down within walking distance of a Mercedes dealership, so she walked over to talk to them about getting her car fixed. Who knows? She might have even been interested in buying a new car.
On this particular day, this gal was dressed very casually, her hair might have been less than coiffed and she told me she was definitely wearing that old t-shirt and pair of jean shorts. By the time she got to the lot, she might have even been a little sweaty and disheveled. When she walked onto the lot she was appalled at the way she was treated. No one came rushing over to see if she needed assistance, the sales force wasn’t fighting to see who would get to show her the latest Mercedes model; in fact, she could barely get anyone to talk to her. Are you surprised that the dealership didn’t get any of her business?
It’s human nature to make assessments about life based on what we see or hear and that is not always a bad thing. In fact, this ability to make judgments based on our assessment of people and our surroundings has probably kept us safe in many situations. Even so, I believe this is an area of life that requires self-examination from time to time.
Am I treating someone differently because I believe they are wealthy? Or lazy?
Am I giving preferential treatment to someone who looks like me, assuming they are like me?
Am I avoiding those I perceive to be very different from me?
Am I ignoring the ones that might make me feel embarrassed?
Hard questions to ask; harder yet to answer. When I find myself making mental assessments about people based on their appearances, I am often reminded of my wealthy young acquaintance. It doesn’t always keep me from falling into the trap of faulty first impressions, but sometimes it does. Have you ever found yourself in that trap? If so, let’s remind each other of how God feels when we fall into this way of thinking.
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? James 2:1-4