Embracing what isn’t “fair”

We’ve all repeatedly heard, “Life’s not fair”, and we’ve probably all even said the words ourselves. But if we look past the words to how we really feel deep down, I think we have to confess that somehow we expect fairness in life. We don’t face each day anticipating something unfair to happen, so when it does, it takes us completely off guard, to the point that we cry out like children in complete disbelief, “What?!?” And when the shock at something “not being fair” subsides, anger sets in and we silently protest, “But that’s not FAIR!

I’ve never really been able to deal very well with unfairness or injustice when it happens to me. And I’ve always wondered why. Now I think I know. It’s my fundamental expectation of “fairness.” Simply put, I’ve somehow grown up believing that life is fair. That I not only want fair treatment, but I deserve it. And worse, that I can even prevent injustices if I do and say all the right things. Or at least fix it – make it all right and fair again – if it happens. So of course, when the inevitable injustice comes along, I have absolutely no idea how to process it in a healthy way, deal with it, and move on.

So how did I arrive at this place where I am incapable of processing and coping with unfairness? I think a big part of it is that my life has always been, well, …. fair. I was not born in a war torn country or a crime infested neighborhood where I had to constantly worry about my safety. I never wondered if I would get to eat that day. I was not born into a home broken by alcoholism, poverty, neglect, or abuse. I never had to deal with childhood cancer or the loss of a parent. I had a home, food, parents who loved me, and every opportunity for educational and spiritual growth. I had it all.

So I guess when you hear words like, “Life’s not fair”, when you’ve been given the luxury of a loving family and a safe environment, the words somehow seem empty.

Then suddenly, you grow up, either via age or via a painful event, and you move out of the protection of your imagined fairness. For me it started when I entered a tumultous relationship with a person who despised me for reasons I could never understand. Then I developed chronic pain that no doctors could resolve. Then I lost a friend. Then a friend lost her child. “Why?” I cried out. And when that same friend later lost her husband, I cried with her, and I said the words that came up from deep within the recesses of my soul, “It just. isn’t. fair.” And suddenly I was shattered by my realization that I live it a world where truly nothing is ever fair. There is absolutely nothing just about the tragedies that strike some people while leaving others alone. And there’s no escaping the same fate. We are all delivered blows. And it’s just not fair.

So now when I hear my children sing the all familiar “it’s not fair” song, I see way beyond their words. I see deeper into what the implications are of attitude that life should be fair, and how that belief will affect them in the future. I see them years later, like me, completely incapacitated and not knowing how to move forward when something that’s “not fair” happens to them.

So deeply ingrained is their misconception of fairness, that the idea weaves itself through how they analyze every event. Yesterday I was telling my daughter that at her next girl scout meeting, she was going to have a Halloween party. “What?!?” My son immediately demanded. “That means she gets TWO Halloween parties – one at scouts and one at church! And I only get the one at church. How come she gets two and I only get one?” He wasn’t angry. He was truly sad.

Wow, what have I done wrong? I’ll tell you what I’ve done wrong. I’ve led by example. I myself want life to be fair for me and my kids, and I work tirelessly towards that end. I hold them strictly accountable for fair and just treatment of others, so I (and they) have come to expect that others will do the same to us. But they don’t. Which isn’t fair. But it’s reality. So I say with my lips, “Life isn’t fair”, but then my actions don’t refelect that because I work against any unfairness that comes our way, trying to make it “right”. Not too long ago, I made a point to give the last piece of candy to my daughter and said, “You are getting this last piece of candy, not your brother, because life isn’t fair. And some other time, he will get something that you don’t get. And that’s just life.”

I think, as parents, it’s time we intentionally expose our kids to unfairness. All levels of unfairness – small ones like candy, and big ones like kids in third world countries who are overjoyed at just getting some water that won’t make them sick, or possibly kill them. We cannot deny that unfairness exists – on many levels. And we fail as parents if we don’t prepare them for the real world that we know awaits them. A world where life isn’t fair. We need to equip our kids with a toolbox for coping with unfairness and injustice, and we can’t do that if we don’t first teach them that true unfairness does exist, that no one is spared from it, and most importantly that it’s okay that everything isn’t always fair. They’ll be okay. Some unfairness is a tragedy, but not all. If we can’t accept (if not embrace) unfairness, we will be blind-sided by it, and it will cripple us from moving forward. I’m afraid we will be setting our kids up for failure if we don’t start, right now, redefining what’s “fair”, accepting what’s not, and embracing the life we’ve been given, unfairnesses and all.

Broken ring made whole

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Yesterday I was surprised with a beautiful gift, a new diamond ring. Ok, so it wasn’t a real diamond, but it was real love. It was a shiny silver plastic, the back of it broken so that it no longer made a full circle, the hot pink “gem” was glued on it off-centered, and most of the little “diamond studs” around it had fallen out, leaving nothing but the yellowed glue that once held them in place.

But my 5 year old son had come home from school chatting excitedly about this “surprise” he had for me. He got straight to work making a card, finding a box to put it in, fishing through the gift bags for the perfect one, and adding wads of tissue paper – purple, my favorite – for the finishing touch. He was happily at work for over 20 minutes, spurred on by the thought of my delight at his gift. He finally presented it to me with a face full of pride and excitement.

A broken plastic ring. The most beautiful I’d ever seen, equal in my eyes to the engagement ring I was given 16 years before, because it held within it the same amount of love that he was so eager to pour out on me. He had been eyeing it for weeks in the prize box at school. As the days went by and he earned tickets for good behavior, he would see it, but end up cashing in his tickets for another toy at the last minute. But yesterday, he earned his tickets with a new goal in mind. To get Mommy that ring.

I read a child’s testimony in the Crumb Donor newsletter once about pennies. The child wrote that this ministry was in the business of “picking up thrown-away pennies and making them priceless”. He related himself as the penny. Dropped and forgotten somewhere in a parking lot or on the side of the street, something of so little value that no one even sees it. And those who do see it most often don’t even find it valuable enough to bend down and pick up.

But that child’s life IS priceless, whether or not deemed so by passers-by. Because God is in the restoration business, making broken things whole. Making forgotten things shine. But only when given to Him. That ring is priceless to me. It is transformed from brokenness to wholeness because it is filled with love. Before, while mixed in with other donated plastic toys, it was forgotten – tossed away by someone who no longer saw value in it because of its brokenness. But my son saw beauty in it, and great potential as he imagined the joy it would bring me. And he was right. Because once filled with his love, it became a priceless treasure.

So the next time you see a penny on the road, or a broken plastic ring, stop and pick it up. And take a moment to consider this – what or who around YOU is a thrown away, forgotten, or broken? What in your life needs to be noticed, picked up, dusted off, and re-purposed as a representation of your love? Who do you know that can be transformed from worthless to priceless, simply by being filled with your love? Because love changes our value. Without it we are broken. With it we are made whole again.

A reflection of light

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The other day, I was going through some old pictures when I stumbled upon one of my husband and I at a party at the turn of the Millineum. We had taken a trip to Paris to visit my sister who was studying abroad there. So on Dec. 31, 1999, we got all dressed up and went to a Chateau for a costume party to ring in the Millineum. There was a lot of speculation about computers all over the world crashing, planes dropping out of the air, and outbreaks of violence in big cities. But we weren’t worried. We were practically newlyweds, happy and excited to be heading out for this once-in-a-lifetime New Years. I wore a sparkly blue dress, which was covered from top to bottom in sequins. I felt “decorated”, sparkly, and beautiful. I loved that dress, and since that time, have not been able to part with it. (Even though now, the only thing it is “decorating” is the dusty hanger in my closet).

Catching sight of it one time, my daughter, then 4, commented on how sparkly it was. She admired it with big eyes. She said, “Ooooh, Mommy, turn out the light so I can really see how it glows!” I explained that the dress doesn’t sparkle or glow on its own. It does not possess it’s own light. It merely reflects the light. So it has to be near the light to really shine.

We too need to be near our light to really shine. There are times we see people around us in a dark place. And there are times we ourselves are surrounded in darkness. Darkness spreads quickly, and sneaks up on us when we’re unaware. It creeps along silently, attempting to cover everything in its path. Suddenly we find we’ve been taken victim by it. We don’t know when it captured us or how we let it; all we know is a spirit of anger or sorrow is pushing us further and further into it. That’s how darkness works. But the funny thing about it, it runs and hides from the Light. Because it knows the light will overpower it.

We, like my sparkly dress, grow dim when we step too far away from our light source. When in darkness, and operating on our own power, we can let that darkness overcome us, and we become stuck there. But only if we forget to draw close to the Light. If we remain in the Light, we can truly shine. Even through the darkness. Maybe even BEST through the darkness. Because then we might even be able to bring light into a neighbor’s darkness too.

So in my moments of darkness, I remember my dress. And I remember that without drawing closer to the Light, my life is like those sequins in the dark. A lot of potential beauty. But sadly, not only useless, but dull and lifeless. And utterly incapable of fulfilling the purpose for which they were created.

Taking our thoughts captive

At the last women’s group I went to, the chapter discussed “taking our thoughts captive”. Taking charge of them. I like this idea, but it almost seems unattainable to me. Often for me, it is the other way around – my thoughts take ME captive. They drag me down and, in a way, I go willingly, because I’m not trying hard enough to stop or control them. I can control my tongue, I can control my actions, but sometimes my thoughts literally have a mind of their own. They take off, (often NOT in a good direction), without my even being aware of it. Suddenly this spirit of negativity comes over me, and my mood darkens, and I’m not even sure why, or how I arrived at this cloudy dreary place.

So while I like this idea of US being in control of our thoughts, not our thoughts being in control of us, I have trouble figuring out how to achieve that. Often I have found, particularly in times of trial, I cannot escape the downward spiral my thoughts take me on. As I pay closer attention to why my thoughts end up where they do, I realize that I am often having a dialogue in my head. Sometimes with a person who has offended me, and sometimes with myself, but always a lament on some sort of injustice.

I think I have misidentified the other “voice” I hear, the voice justifying my anger or agreeing with my victimization. In the past I’ve thought of this other voice as somewhat of a friend, a confidant, (ie “Yeah, you’re right! That was terrible how he talked down to you like that! He was out of line! He’s trying to undermine you…” But can a voice that fuels my anger and encourages my thoughts further into a dark, downward spiral be of God? And if it’s not of God, I shutter to think whose voice it might really be, disguising itself as a friend or confidant.

I read once that it’s like a dirt road. With grooves down it from a path previously traveled. If you’ve previously traveled down a negative path, and if you revisit that path often, the grooves will be so deep that it’s hard to steer your thoughts off that path and onto a better one. To get out of that rut and onto the lesser traveled positive path, you will need not only a real intentional effort, but a lot of strength for the fight. It is a real uphill battle to be sure, but I think once I travel it enough, some new grooves will develop and deepen. A new positive outlook, like a new pair of glasses, that changes the way I look at everything. I love to imagine something that was once hard work, becoming second nature. Positive thinking being a habit; something I can’t help myself from doing. And I love to picture how my life could be changed if, with no effort at all, my thoughts naturally flow down the positive path. Wouldn’t it be awesome if I had to WORK to get down a negative path because I was so used to looking at the bright side? How wonderful if my thoughts just instantly saw the silver lining and dwelled on that instead of the storm? If perception is reality, then this could literally change the reality of my life!

Hahaha, I know. That will never happen.

(oops, negative rut, I guess old habits die hard.)

Seeing beyond

It was a blessing to me to be teaching Sunday School this week, as it forced me where I really want to be anyway, in the Word. I taught on Exodus 14, which I encourage you to read. But one of the parts that stands out to me the most is this:

As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”

13 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Wow, the Isrealites were pretty harsh, and in fact, openly hostile towards Moses and God, who had just helped them escape slavery in a most dramatic fashion. But the point I made in class on Sunday, and the one that keeps sticking out in my mind, was Moses’ calm and reassuring response. He could have been angry, yelled at them, and pointed out how wrong they were. But he didn’t.

Moses responded by lovingly reassuring them that their deliverance would come. (And boy, did it!) So how did he do it? How did he absorb their attack, yet still respond in love?

The answer is easy to see, but sometimes not so easy to apply. The answer is that he looked on them with a Godly love, which sees beyond the words or actions, and straight to the heart. He saw, instead of their hostility, their fear.

I keep wondering to myself, what if we all did that? What if we all saw past the accusations and hurtful words, to what’s really underneath, at the foundation of it all? In this case, it was fear. But it could be anything. It could be brokenness, loneliness, grief, anything. If we all did this, the possibilities for peace in our lives, and in our world, are almost incomprehensible. It’s almost hard to even imagine how far reaching it could be.

Moses listened to the anger they spewed at him, but all he heard was their fear. Amazing! I want a pair of ears like that! And he saw with eyes of love, because he saw with God’s eyes, not with human eyes. Yes, I want a pair of eyes like that, too. If we SEE with love, we can RESPOND in love. There’s no other way a loving response is possible. A reassuring response like Moses’ could never flow from a place of pain, or of feeling insulted, hurt, and unfairly attacked. True love, and therefore a truly loving response, can come from God – and HIS love – alone.

Love flows only from love. And God IS love. So if I abide in it, and abide in Him, the wisdom and the love that “sees beyond” can flow from me too.

It’s not MY story

It’s amazing how the crumbs leftover from my table can have such a positive impact on the lives of others. Pennies, nickels, and dimes is all it is, really, but those “crumbs” have changed stories of brokenness to stories of redemption, and stories doomed to repeated cycles of pain and fear, to repeated cycles of love and hope.

Mark’s story, below, has always been one of the most meaningful to me. I realize as I grow in my Christian walk, that my life, my “story” was never really meant to be for me alone. God has given us each a story, and they all can become so beautifully intertwined that the end result is a symphony of sounds and experiences that are no longer my meager individual song, but a perfectly orchestrated masterpiece. My life is not MY story, but only a part of OUR collective “story”. Mark’s story has become a part of mine because it has inspired me to give more, live more, and trust more.

What if he had never shared his story? Or allowed God to do something beautiful with it? It would remain nothing more than brokenness. The end of the story would be pain, sadness, and hopelessness. If Mark can allow God to bring healing to his brokeness, so that his story can become part of mine, then surely I can do the same. And what a humbling honor if then in turn, my story can become a part of someone else’s.

“YOUR CRUMB DONATIONS SAVED MY LIFE”
“By Mark, a family man”

All I know is my birth parents were out of my life before I was 5. Also there were no grandparents ever. An “uncle Kevin” is who I lived with. For some reason when I was 10 years old, I went and hid from Uncle Kevin in my neighbor’s back yard. He found me, duck taped my arms and legs and toss me in the closet for the rest of the night. This became my punishment for the next 3 years. I still hate closets. Hate closets so much that in my home, I have removed all the closet doors.
A learning disability added to me not doing well in school. Uncle Kevin was told by school officials that I needed more discipline at home resulting in me living in the closet. The school system gave up on me when I was 13 years old saying I would never graduate but my test scores would too high for me to be put in special classes. I left school and Uncle Kevin at age 13 and have been on my own ever since. It is very easy to get forgotten about in the good old USA, if you are too dumb for school and too scare to live on the streets.
I manage to keep my nose clean so cops didn’t notice me and eventually learn to blend in the homeless camp for awhile. But I was tall for my age so was able to get a job with a guy who cut trees and did lawn care. As part of my pay, his wife and him let me stay in one of their apartments in east Chattanooga. Again, I was too afraid to go anywhere but work and this managed to keep me out of trouble.
But when I turned 25, depression hit. The man who I had been working for died. I lost my job of 11 years and my apartment. I had no identification. I had never been on a date and realize I would never be a husband, a dad, or have a family. I have no driver’s license. I could not read or write very much. I was afraid of everything and everyone. Also it hit me that I was 25 years old with no past, no presence, and not future. I took a long log chain heading to the rail tracks with a plan to hang myself with it. This ended up being my miracle.
On my way to the tracks, I walked by the Community of Christ ministry center. There were people there trying to pull a bush out of the ground with a pick-up truck and a strap. They were not having any luck and I offered the use of my log chain. It worked and the bush came out easy. I was so moved by how happy these guys were. They joked around and yet noticed every person who walked by and greeted them with an hello. After the bush was pulled out, I picked up my log chain to head down to the railroad tracks, but they invited me to hang out with them and I did. We played basketball, at a lot of hot wings, and I went to my very first movie theater with them. I was a stranger but they took me in like I belonged there forever. It was the best time I have ever had. When they offered to bring me home, something came over me and i felt a trusting attitude. I broke down and told them I had no home along with the story I just told you all. They told me, if I promise to attend church tomorrow they would put my in a hotel for a couple of nights. The next morning, I went to church for my very first time and met God there. They did some baptisms and Mr. Jimmy spoke and said that when we get baptized, God blesses us with the promise of the Holy Spirit who guarantees us that we will never ever ever ever ever ever be alone. I cried and cried. Not being along ever again sounded so good. I got baptized that very afternoon and it is true that I have never been alone since.
More than 3 years later, I am married to a wonderful woman with a little girl who calls me dad. This Christmas will be my very first FAMILY CHRISTMAS and my church family gave us a FAMILY BIBLE. I have my driver’s license, attending GED classes, renting a home, have bills to paid (which is a grown-up thing), have a church family, talks to God, do family devotions, attend counseling sessions learning I am not a dumb loser, read the bible all the was through (I can read now), am one of the ground keepers for my wife’s employer (have to work Sundays but host a WE CARE group on Mondays), and I smile a lot.
I asked my pastors not to use my name if I wrote this because of fear of something or someone from my past. But I know now perfect love casts out all fear, so my name is Mark and I am a life changed by Jesus Christ using your crumbs. After my baptism, your crumbs helped lift me up and gave me a foundations so I could work on establishing a foundation with God. Please realize your crumb donations are life savers. Not only did it help save my life, but it gave me enough dignity to find peace in Jesus!”

…….

Amazing, right? I hope Mark’s story can become a part of yours as well. I don’t really know how OUR collective story will go, but I know the end of our story is victory.

Pickiest. Eater. Ever.

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How did we get here again? I just finished an hours’ worth of food preparation for a food I THOUGHT my picky eater would really like. I dreamed of him coming to the table and his eyes opening wide in surprise and delight. I actually envisioned a huge smile crossing his face, and lots of compliments like, “Wow, Mommy! This looks GREAT! Thank you SO MUCH!”

Haha. I know. It’s funny, right? Later (much later) I, too, had a good laugh at my foolishness.

But after an hour of painstakingly preparing these adorable little apple snacks, I spent the next hour listening to my son complaining about how yucky they are, and to whining about how there’s no WAY he could ever eat them. After 15 minutes of being his perky cheerleader, forcing a smile and encouraging him along, I grew weary and began pleading. Begging. Bribing. 10 minutes into that, we progressed to the next level. Demanding. “I don’t care if you like it or not. That’s what I made, so if you want dinner, that’s what you need to eat.” This was followed by tears. Full out sobbing and crying, (while also trying to incoherently speak about the tragedy of it all.) Then we progessed to the final level. Threatening. Miraculously, I am still calm at this point, so I firmly announce, “We were going to do a firepit and smores tonight, but you will not be getting any if you don’t eat these.” This was his last straw. Realizing the severity of the situation, he (while continuing to sob) attempts to put a speck of a speck of apple in his mouth. This of course results in literal gagging, accompanied by large burps, and finally, throw-up. Seriously.

I realize now that I can pinpoint specific stages of my situation.

  1. Denial. (“He will just LOVE these!”)

  2. Confusion. (“What? Why isn’t he eating? I don’t get it… it’s not asparagus or lima beans or peas. It’s just apples, peanut butter, and marshmallows, all of which he likes. What went wrong here?”)

  3. Anger. (“There is NO reason you cannot eat this! You like all that stuff! Why all this drama? This is ridiculous!”

  4. Grief. (“OH, you think YOU feel like crying???”)

  5. Acceptance. (I dissassemble the whole thing, wipe the peanut butter off each apple with a napkin, remove every speck of skin from each thin apple sliver, and finally he can choke it down.)

This is, by no means, the first time a scene like this has played out at our house. Take a look at these. I thought for SURE this would be a winner. Not only was it all food he likes, but also in the shapes of his favorite characters, Phineas and Ferb.

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Nope. Bread is too flat (hence the name “flatbread”) and too squished. Not sure why I keep putting us both through all of this. There are so many other things I could have been doing in the several hours I spent looking online for cute ideas, shopping for ingredients, preparing the snack, then begging him to eat it. I don’t want my time with my kids to be spent that way. So my kid doens’t want his food to touch. Fine. A spoonful of peanut butter and an applesauce cup it is. Then let’s get on with life. We’ve got playing to do.

64 Simple Steps

If you’ve ever stood in the make-up aisle, seen a commercial, or glanced through a beauty magazine (or any magazine!) you know what I’m talking about. The infinite steps required to make you beautiful.

It’s so simple, really. First you remove the facial peel and replenishing night cream (that you hopefully applied the night before), wash, exfoliate, apply a facial oil (with age fighting ingredients like retinol and vitamin C) to your dry areas, a tone correcting cream (with soy and vitamin A) to your age spots, and an acne treatment (with allonin) on your acne prone areas. Then add a moisturizer with SPF or a BB or CC cream with SPF (that both corrects redness and protects skin from UV rays).

And now you’re ready to start your make-up routine! Simply apply concealer (for your dark spots), and eye cream (for those dark circles), a pore vanisher (to give your face that air-brushed look), foundation, mineral based powder, blush, eye liner, a minimum of 2-3 shades of eye shadow, mascara, lip stick, lip liner, lip crayon, protective gloss, and finally a bronzer, (which you’ll need for that “natural-looking sun kissed radiance.”)

By this time it’s 11:30 and you can get to work on your hair, which requires shampoo, conditioner, curl enhancer, hair color, hair serum, deep conditioning treatment, hairspray, volumizer, shine spray, and dry shampoo. Then you can begin styling. 

All you have to do is set your alarm for 4:30 and by 1:00, you’re ready to show your face to the world.

I am overwhelmed when I look through magazines on all the latest and greatest “must-have’s” to finally achieve beauty. I am one of countless other women who have a beauty supply graveyard. Things we bought with high hopes that we’d finally feel beautiful, that just didn’t deliver. As I look back, I never really was satisfied with my appearance. Maybe I would have been in my mid 30’s if I could have lost a little weight. Early 30’s? Nope. Too many age spots. Late 20’s? No, my hair was too stringy and flat. Early 20’s? Nah, too pale. Teenage years? Nope. Acne. Suffice it to say, even when I was 96 pounds with no age spots, a clear complexion, and a cute ‘do, I still found reasons to be dissatisfied with my appearance. Will I be an old wrinkled woman in a nursing home who looks back on pictures of my younger, beautiful self, and shake my head sadly because even then I was blind to my beauty, thereby  never finding the confidence I needed to be TRULY beautiful? Because that’s the path I (and many of my friends) have been on the past 30 + years. In fact, the last time I can remember not being overly critical of my appearance was when I was…. well, my daughter’s age.

This realization is a bit alarming to me. Especially since she’s already made comments expressing dissatisfaction with herself. It’s already happening. She’s at a critical crossroads that will set her on a path to either a positive or a negative self-image. As I stop to consider the women in my life (many of them beautiful women!), I can’t think of a single one who is perfectly content in her appearance. We are never happy. So how do I stop my daughter from descending this maddening spiral that so few of us escape from? Well, I think I can start by being a better example. I stopped criticizing myself in front of my kids a long time ago. That was an important first step, and not an easy one. But it is only a first step. Now I need to follow it up by replacing negative self-talk with positive self talk. Verbalizing my strengths so she can see that it’s okay to like things about yourself!!!! 

Somehow without even realizing it, I started believing that admitting you have strengths was not ok, but admitting you have weaknesses is perfectly acceptable. I thought it was prideful or boastful to like something about myself. Being honest about yourself does not mean measuring yourself to a perfect standard. Sure, extreme pride and extreme self-loathing are both wrong. But simply loving who you are, being proud of an accomplishment or a strength, is nothing more than confidence. Something I, for one, could use a lot more of. 

Verbalizing my strengths, then verbalizing hers. Not just generalized statements like “beauty is within” , because that doesn’t mean much to a pre-tween. Especially coming from Mom. But very specific attributes. Her empathy for others, her affectionate nature, and the wisdom and strength she has gained from trials. Her compassion and outreach to ANYONE who is hurting around her, even those who are socially awkward, those who are mean to her, and those who have repeatedly let her down. She extends a tremendous amount of grace. She is truly an amazing little person. And if these things aren’t drilled in to her by the time she hits teenage years, it may be too little too late for me to start talking about her “beauty within”..

The answer for my daughter, therefore, isn’t trendy clothes, cute hair accessories, sparkly jewelry, or that hair glitter she loves. And it’s certainly not a 64 step beauty process when she’s older. The answer is when she can stand on a foundation that’s not skewed in either direction, accept that perfection is unattainable, but she is beautiful just the way God made her anyway. That’s when we achieve the confidence that shines through whatever skin we’re in, because we have learned to love ourselves.

Persistence & Diligence

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I’ve have persistence on my mind a lot lately since my women’s group discussed it last week. The week before that we discussed diligence. The definitions of both surprised me. I have always thought of these as inherently good things. Being persistent and determined and diligent seem like good qualities. But their definitions are actually neutral. Neither definition means striving towards something good. “Persistence: A constant effort at whatever is undertaken.”

Hmmm… a constant effort at whatever you undertake. In other words, you could persist at the wrong thing. You could be diligent in something that’s not in line with God’s will for your life.

Some things are more obvious. One example we discussed was persistence in marriage. What if there are two things you want to persist in that completely oppose one another? For instance, persisting in raising a Christian kid, vs. persisting in a marriage where the spouse actively teaches atheism? Or even just persisting in raising a loving kid when your spouse teaches anger, hatred, or abuse? I have seen people persist in marriage when it was obvious (at least to me) that what they should be persisting in the well-being of their child.

For me, what I persist in is often much more subtle. I am guilty at persisting at the wrong thing. What’s worse, I don’t even realize I’ve chosen to persist in something until my priorities have gotten so off track that they force me to stop and reevaluate. For instance, I am embarrassed to admit how often my to-do list is where I’m most diligent, rather than my relationship with my family or God.

Yesterday I was driving down a road with stop lights every block. I could see far enough up ahead that 4 sets of lights were visible. I suddenly realized a car behind me was following really close to my car. I was going a little over the speed limit, but I guess he was in a hurry. He zipped around me and gunned it, tires squealing a bit as he zoomed past. He accelerated quickly. Towards… a red light. He slammed on his brakes and I avoided eye contact, pretending not to notice his stupidity.

But how often am I doing the same thing? Speeding through my day thinking I’m going somewhere more important than where I am right then? Racing through the doctor’s appointment, to get to the store, to pick up the prescription, so I can get home and make the air duct cleaning appt before the groupon expires, then on to the laundry, then to clean the kitchen so I can make dinner, so I can get the kids showered and to bed on time so we can be out the door by 6:50 again the next morning. Oh, and did I sign that permission slip and send in that money? Whew! I often feel like I’m speeding endlessly towards, well, a dead end. A stop light.

It might annoy me at first, but maybe a stop light is exactly what I need. Who cares if I’m diligent and persistent in all these things? Particularly if my kids are nearby. Still wanting to spend time with me, still chasing after my attention, still asking to play? What I need to be persistent in is my relationships. Lest I am speeding by them so fast I have to slam on my brakes and hope everyone pretends not to notice MY stupidity. “Silly woman…. spinning her wheels cleaning a house no one ever sees.”

 

This is life

Over Labor Day we enjoyed a rare weekend of respite at the lake. It was beautiful – a great combination of play and relaxing, boisterous fellowship and the still peaceful quiet. I remember my son sighing contentedly over some frozen yogurt on a hot day. He said, “Ahhh. This is LIFE.” I always smile at his use of the phrase, and it’s what kept running through my head over the weekend, “Ahhh, THIS is life.”

Somehow on a boat ride on Monday, my daughter and I started thinking about school the next day. Sure, this time tomorrow we’ll be in school. But today? We’re at the lake. And we decided that the “right now” at the lake is what we’d choose to focus on. Because THIS is life.

But after a crazy week, Friday morning I cheered, “Yay, it’s Friday! The weekend is almost here!”

After dropping the kids off at school I felt disappointed in myself for my comment. What was I teaching my kids about how to view life? My lesson was essentially: make every effort to put aside the real world and enjoy the “right now” on a holiday. But not on a weekday. On a weekday, we should put aside – survive even – the “right now” and look instead on the potential future happiness that the weekend holds. What a contrast. If anything, we should be making more of an  effort on a weekday to enjoy the time we’ve been given. Sure, it’s harder. But not less important.

The cashier at the grocery store said to me the other day, “Have a good day,” as I left. I responded cheerily, “You too.” He chuckled, waving his hand through the air as if dismissing my comment, “I’m stuck here,” he informed me. I just smiled, but I thought, “Well, I would still hope you’d have a good day.” Wouldn’t we all still want a good day, no matter where we’re “stuck”?

Where are you stuck? We’re all “stuck” somewhere. How do you want that time to go?

When the kids get home from school, I’m going to apologize for blowing off the “right now” instead of looking for the joy in it. If I can make every effort on a weekend to focus on the joy there, I can make every effort (and more) to look for joy right now.

We can’t just focus on the “right now” when the right now is good, when it’s easy and fun. And then, when the “right now” is not desirable, rush through it, quickly on our way to something “better”.

“This is life”, my son said. He’s right. But not just about the frozen yogurt and the holiday weekend at the lake. Life isn’t just the lake. Most of life happens on the weekday. Life is happening right now.