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
Pain. “Okay, I am going to touch each tooth with a cotton swab that is very cold, I want you to tell me if you feel anything,” the endodontist said.
As he put a little pressure on the suspect tooth, I smugly shook my head. Nope! Didn’t feel a thing!
“Now,” he said, “I am going to take this tongue depressor and I want you to grind on it really hard on this tooth.”
I ground really hard.
“Really hard,” he encouraged. I complied. Nope! I didn’t feel anything. Not a twinge of pain.I knew it! I knew it was just a little infection! I won’t need a root canal, I didn’t feel any pain at all! I thought to myself.
“Well,” the endodontist said with a somber tone in his voice, “I have bad news. You are going to need a root canal.”
What? I was too stunned to say the words out loud. What was he talking about? Didn’t I say I didn’t feel any pain on that tooth?!
As though reading my mind, he said, “The fact that you don’t feel any pain on that tooth indicates that the nerve is dead. And…”
Wait, no way! There was more?
“I am concerned about the tooth next to it. You might need a root canal in that tooth as well.”
It was too much to process. Completely contradictory to anything I had expected. If there is a problem, shouldn’t I feel pain in the tooth? Sure, I had discomfort in my gums ~ I knew something was going on. But it was an irritant more than anything. I could overlook it, live with it. It wasn’t something so uncomfortable that it drove me to the endodontist. No, it was my dentist at a routine cleaning that told me I needed to go. Despite a lack of real pain, apparently I had an infection.
My incident with the endodontist got me thinking about pain, and life, and our spiritual journey. You have a lot of time to ponder when you are laying on a chair with your mouth wide open! I wondered ~ is seeking a pain-free, comfortable life always the best thing for us? Or is our pain-free, comfortable life masking an infected soul and spirit?
Sometimes I think the enemy of our soul wants to keep us in a comfortable and pain-free place. After all, without pain, what motivation is there to change, to move outside our comfort zone? Without pain, how will ever empathize with those who so desperately need the comfort we could supply? Without pain, when would we cry out to our Lord and Savior for rescue and redemption?
I know that in my own life I have experienced the most incredible spiritual growth during the most grueling seasons of emotional pain. Before, I didn’t know the depths of my infection. Sure, I had some moments of discomfort, minor irritations, but I could overlook them, handle them on my own. The pain wasn’t that bad but it masked a serious infection. Thankfully, God created pain. He created pain as a way of letting us know something is wrong. We need to make a change. We need help. And when it comes to the state of our souls, we need more than any doctor can provide or prescribe. We need a Savior.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
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
Detours. Back in the day, I used a map (and a magnifying glass, if truth be told) to plan my route. When Mapquest came on the scene, it was a treat to ditch the map and magnifying glass in favor of a nicely printed list of turn by turn directions to get me where I wanted to go. And now, I simply use the map application on my phone and a lovely voice guides me to my desired destination. I like having a detailed plan to get me where I am going ~ it makes me feel confident and in control. Life is the same way. Don’t you feel in charge when you have a plan for your future? A detailed outline of the things you want to be, do and have?
Funny thing about road trips…and life…is that sometimes you are faced with an unexpected detour. We begin with good intentions, determination and a plan but sometimes somewhere along the way we are faced with a road block. Maybe we didn’t finish that project on time because we underestimated the time it would take to complete. Maybe we had to order pizza because our kids’ needs interfered with making dinner as planned.
Sometimes the detours are more serious. One day you wake up and the one you love tells you they aren’t sure they love you. Perhaps the job you head to in the morning doesn’t exist by noon. Or the blinding headache you had the night before turns out to be something more serious than just a headache. That is what happened to a sweet woman I know.
I’m sure her new year started out similar to the rest of us ~ celebrations, plans to grow her business, thoughts of making new memories with her husband and children. Her journey into 2013 barely got started when she hit the detour. A tumor. A biopsy. A course of treatment still to be determined. As I read her Caring Bridge journal entries updating friends and family on her condition, I am in awe and inspired by the grace and courage she has in the face of this detour.
The road ahead is unfamiliar, a sharp turn off the original course and I am sure parts will be very scary. But I also have this strong sense that this brave woman will be a witness of faith even in the midst of her humanity. I believe that even though she is traveling without a map, Mapquest, or the soothing voice of her phone navigation application, she is trusting in the One who created the road and who travels with her every step of the way. And I firmly believe that He will use this detour for good, as only He can.
Many are praying for my friend, lifting her up to the great physician, asking and believing for complete healing and peace for her and her family. And I know that in spite of this detour, this year will still hold many wonderful memories and blessings for her.
It’s only a matter of time before you and I will encounter a detour, a road block, a change in direction from our own charted course. But, more than likely, our detours won’t take us off course in a way that drastically alters our lives. So how will we respond to a change of course? Will we go forward with courage? Will we trust that the detour will offer an opportunity to grow our character in good ways? Will we choose an attitude of flexibility, grace and maybe even adventure, trusting the mapmaker to get us back on track, His track? “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understandings, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6) One of my favorite verses ~ one I hope you will think of the next time you encounter a detour in your life.
Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. Psalm 25:4-5
Beginnings. “I love how you just go for it! Look at all the stuff you’re doing,” my friend said during our girl time the other night.
“Humph,” I grunted. “Don’t let me fool you, Sharon. I am a great starter, not so great finisher. I am more easily distracted than Narcissi in a room full of mirrors.”
It’s true. It’s not that I don’t finish anything~ incredibly, in spite of many false starts, I do manage to see the finish line on some projects. But I still start and stop more things than I should. Websites. Blogs. Business ideas. Stories. Diets. Exercise plans. You get the idea. It is a character issue I am continually working on and I believe I am seeing improvement. It’s just that I really love beginning!
If you look at my side of the bed you will find no less than ten books scattered around. How many started? Ten. How many finished? I’m still working on it. Each one sounded so good that I had to take a peek, give it a start…until the next one caught my attention. And so it goes…
That is probably one of the reasons I love celebrating New Year’s Day ~ it’s a beginning, the start of a new year. Never one to look back, I am much happier leaping forward. It’s so exhilarating to dream and plan all the great things I am going to do ~ that is, if God is willing (see my previous post!).
But this year I think it would be wise to pause before I begin, take a minute to reflect on the last year and how it went. What went right? What could have been better? Am I a better person today than I was a year ago? Did I finish well?
I still can’t wait to begin 2013, with my dreams and plans in tow; though I hope to begin with a little more intentionality, a little more focus. What about you? Do you embrace beginnings or do you find it hard to start? Is there something you need to start this year or is there something you need to finish?
An excerpt from my reading this morning was ever so timely, written in a letter by Brother Lawrence, a Carmelite monk, in 1685:
He (God) knows what we can do, so let us then begin. Perhaps He expects but one generous resolution on your part. Have courage. We have little time to live (you are near sixty-four, and I am almost eighty.) Let us live and die with God.
Oh, Brother Lawrence, how relevant your words are today! Friends, as we turn the calendar page to 2013, let us remember to number our days and let us begin!
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17