Everyone loves a comeback

Sometimes, you just need to see with your own eyes and feel the impossible win.

The life-changing magic of never giving up…

I can’t believe it’s playoff time again.

I can’t believe I care...

(See what I did there?)

If I’m watching a sport, one of my kids is playing. Or it’s the last 5 minutes of a college basketball game… But I’m talking about football (can you believe it, Dad?). Hang with me though, if you’re a hater. There’s a point.

Up here in Washington, they get a little excited about their Seahawks. And it’s a little contagious. Okay, a lot contagious. And not just because I live with some serious fans.

There are friendships forged in the hardest of times. When we’re together, our conversations are often about the nearest and dearest to our hearts — our families, our faith, our prayers. Football doesn’t fit.

But last January, we talked about the game.

Over tea. Over coffee. Over lunch…

And we might have gotten a little teary about 3:52 and 19 to 7.

If you’re a Seattle Seahawks fan, you know what I mean.

On January 18, 2015, chances are, if you live in Seattle, you listened to the conference playoff game on the radio because your power was out. If you were lucky enough to have TV, you kind of wished you didn’t. Because it was bad. Too many turnovers. Too painful to watch.

Chances are you reminded yourself we’re a second half team and then you got giddy because the guy who’s supposed to hold the ball for the kicker threw it instead to a guy you’d never seen before — a trick play like kids do in pickup games on playgrounds — and it worked. (This is what it sounded like on Seattle radio.) You dared to believe…and then…another interception.

The clock ticked away. Fail after fail.

Chances are, you turned off the radio once Steve Raible began to sound hopeless. Or you changed the TV channel. Or you left the stadium…

win probability 2
graph cred: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/201501180sea.htm

With 5 minutes left in the game, the Seahawks had a .1% chance of winning.

Point One Percent.

The odds were decidedly NOT in their favor.

The Seahawks got the ball again with 3:52 left to play in the game. And they had to get two touchdowns in order to win.

No way.

It seemed impossible. And it was. (see graph for statistical proof)

But when the Seahawks got the ball again, with 3:52 left in the game and the score was 19  to 7, something changed.

Marshawn Lynch moved up the field 14 yards in those golden shoes and suddenly, it was on. And Kam Chancellor was running down the sidelines yelling to Russell Wilson that Doug is open! Throw it to Doug! like he’s 14 years old. And you saw the team light up with him. And then Russell Wilson ran in for the touchdown with 2:13 left in the game.

And the strangely sad, silent crowd — normally infamous for their volume — rallied, too. Even while the commentators were claiming the victory for the Packers. How awesome is it that even though we’re going to lose this game, they’re not giving up? We said to ourselves. What a great example for the children.

And then, my goodness. A rookie gets the ball back in an onside kick. And now you dared to hope, not breathing at all. And holy cow, when those gold-soled feet ran 24 yards to score ANOTHER touchdown with just 95 seconds left in the game and you could hear the whole neighborhood cheer because what is even happening??

And then, a desperation pass as Wilson ran out of time and threw the ball up on his way down but the other Willson miraculously caught it and put the Seahawks ahead by 3 points.

Are you kidding me? (that’s my Steve Raible impression, right there)

But wait. Nope. Way too much time left… funny how that happens…and the Packers wanted it so bad. And now the game is tied and going into overtime and you just. want. it. to. be. over. Because good grief, you DIDN’T EVEN CARE. And now you do. And the tension of overtime is way too much…

But Seattle’s so awake now in overtime. Wilson to Lynch. Wilson to Baldwin. Wilson to Lynch. Wilson to Baldwin. And then a beautiful thing…

Every time Russell Wilson threw to Jermaine Kearse in that game it failed. Every. Time. All four interceptions were intended for Kearse. But both Wilson and Kearse have the guts to try again.

Chances are, if you’re  a Seahawks fan, you maybe cried just a bit when the guy who’d played the worst game of life up til a few minutes before hit his knees and gave God the glory. Because you know he must have prayed that ball into Kearse’s hands for the win. And maybe you cried a little more when he said he wished his dad had been there to see it.

Chances are, when the shock wore off and the win sank in, you realized that you just saw something happen in real life that only happens in the movies.

And you started thinking about the things you think only have a fraction of a percent of turning out well.

About the hard things. The times you’ve failed and can’t bear to try again. The times you’ve wanted to give up on that kid, that man because chances are the chances are impossible and the odds are against.

I wonder as I write this, What sparked that unbelievable Seattle comeback? What fueled it? Was it the 12th Man? Was it their roar of encouragement at the slightest hint of turning things around? Was it the injured superstar players who refused to leave the game? Was it Pete Carroll, good old positive Pete who didn’t give up on Russell Wilson and pull him out of the game?Was it Russell Wilson who just kept at it over and over until he got it right?

Everyone loves a comeback, but not everyone has the guts to believe it can happen and see it through to the end.

Sometimes, you just need to see with your own eyes and feel the impossible.

That’s what we said over tea. Over coffee. Over lunch. Even if it’s football. Because it’s not really about the game at all.

It’s about hope. About how it’s never over til it’s over. About how the impossible CAN happen in real life. About how encouragement may come from the most unlikely places. About how even the strongest fall and have to pick themselves up and keep on fighting. About how what you believe about yourself affects your actions. It’s about throwing the ball one more time to a guy who’s missed over and over and that one more time is the most important time of all but you’re giving him another chance.

It’s about never leaving the game early.

Never give up. Never. Ever. Ever. Not on yourself. Not on that friend. And mama, don’t ever give up on your kid.

It may take perseverance. It may take a miracle. But comebacks do happen and they are beautiful.

Dave and me as farmers
Me and my comeback guy.

P.S. GO ‘HAWKS!

(12th Man Flag from Seattle Seahawks http://www.seahawks.com/wallpaper)

the truth about welfare

The distance between poverty and “self-sufficiency” is a no-man’s land. It’s two steps forward, three back. And there are more enticing reasons to hang on to the help when you can get it than to kill yourself to stand on your own two feet.

Uncomfortable revelations seem to be my lot in life.

You know, the kind you get when you’ve been super judgmental of something or someone and then you suddenly find yourself in their shoes . . .

For example, my older brother had three kids before I had one. I remember riding in their van and being astonished by the crayons and toys and sippy cups littering the floor.

How hard is it? I actually uttered those words in my head. Keeping your car clean can’t be that time-consuming.

Oh, yes. I did.

Twenty years and four kids later, my van is still a mess. I feel like a permanently-dirty-van curse was direct and swift punishment for my judgmentalism.

. . . I could give you countless other examples of this. The things I would never and suddenly am . . .

But the one that is pricking my heart right now — well, I still have a hard time putting it into words.

I’m not sure I can adequately express to you how humbling it was to go through the interview  process for TANF: Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, formerly known as “welfare.”

I think I cried more varieties of tears in November and December of 2007 than I’ve cried in my whole life combined. The joblessness, homelessness, Dave’s relapse . . . painful sledgehammer blows to my pride.

And the lady in the DSHS office had zero compassion.

She shared with me in the most condescending tone that I would be better off and get more assistance if I left my husband. As it stood, we could get no rental assistance, no cash benefit, and no food stamps for at least a month (due to a technicality with Dave’s final paycheck) even though we had absolutely nothing. We were welcome to come back the next month and apply, but, she warned me, everyone in the household over 16 years old has to be pursuing full-time work in order to get anything more than food benefits.  I had no idea what all that meant, other than that if  I got a full time job, our youngest would go to daycare. And though I argued with her that I could make more money working part-time as a teacher and not have to pay for daycare than working full-time doing anything else and having to pay for daycare, she said those are the rules.

Once Dave had a low-income job, however, we were eligible for food assistance, for which we were extremely grateful. But every pay increase, no matter how small, reduced our assistance — even though we were below Federal Poverty Level for more than a year.

And one day, it stopped all together. Which was good, because it meant we were getting back on our feet, but I could not help wondering, as we subsequently lost free lunch for our kids and then reduced medical while still struggling to pay off debts and live, What is the point? What incentive is there to work hard and get out of poverty?

The  distance between poverty and “self-sufficiency” is a no-man’s land. It’s two steps forward, three back. And there are more enticing reasons to hang on to the help when you can get it than to kill yourself to stand on your own two feet.

I remember the day I got the letter  about free college tuition. My child could have free tuition if I signed up during 8th grade and was still financially eligible when she graduated from high school. I looked at the income limits and had a Scarlett O’Hara moment: As God is my witness, we will not still be that poor in four years. And we weren’t.

I have so many bottled up thoughts and feelings from being poor . . . I remember skipping recovery group because we could afford neither gas or nor child care. One of those Friday nights, I sat on the landing between the flights of stairs of our tiny two-story townhouse, planning cheap meals to maximize food benefits (which weren’t half of what I spend on food now) and make them last the full month, praying for raises and hand-me-downs, and feeling ashamed of my ignorance and judgment of people in this affluent country who ask for help. I sat on the stairs, the oddest and only place to be alone, and talked to God about how I would not forget my American poverty and would speak up and do something about it.

But I’ll be honest with you, it’s pretty daunting.

I wish we could all just see caring for the poor and wandering among us as our God-given responsibility, but we don’t. Instead we draw lines in the sand and redefine “neighbor” to suit. We pull out the worst stories of abusing the system and sling the word “welfare” like mud. Because there are plenty of entitled people out there whose behavior makes you cynical in a heartbeat.

But the truth is, there are more than we can possibly know who slip through the cracks of a system we think just hands out money to poor people and foreigners.

And then there are those for whom the system sort of works — like us.

* * * * *

The president of a rescue mission spoke these words from Isaiah to me in a phone interview early in those years of poverty and writing. I know he had no idea what they meant to me, or how they would seep into my soul.

This is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people.

Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.

Then when you call, the Lord will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ He will quickly reply.
Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!

Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.

The Lord will guide you continually,
giving you water when you are dry
and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.

Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.
Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls
and a restorer of homes.

 Isaiah 58

* * * * * *

Soon, I’m going to paint those words on the wall of our own home, over the landing between the flights of stairs.

I want to remember always to have compassion.

To not forget the help given to us by God, by our church, by family and friends and by our government.

* * * * *

Photograph: Poor whites, Georgetown, D.C. photographed by Carl Mydans, 1935 Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, [reproduction number LC-DIG-fsa-8a00144]

dear mom who feels the darkness

May Your unfailing love be with us Lord, even as we put our hope in You. Psalm 33:22

***originally posted October 31, 2014***

It has not been a quiet week in our town.

Poulsbo, Washington sits on Liberty Bay 18 miles across the Puget Sound from Seattle. Our “Little Norway”is full of Scandinavian charm and actual Scandinavians.

On a clear day from various hills around town you can see the Olympic Mountains to the west and Mt. Ranier to the southeast. Woods hide flaws here. And tides mark time.

But this week, our hearts are raw from shock, fear, alarm, and now grief over yet another young person in our little town overcome by darkness.

As parents, we are shaken, and moved to pray deeply, from broken hearts, for our kids. To love them more clearly, more vocally. To give them hope that darkness passes.

Honestly, sometimes, it feels like it never will. The world outside is war, and disease, and death. And school is fear. And tragedy hits home.

Sometimes, it feels foolish to hope. Every day the headlines are worse.

They see it, too. They know. They can count. One every year, my son said.

* * * * *

Dear mom who feels the darkness,

I feel it, too. So heavy. A darkness consuming days, raining sorrow.

Inescapable dread, eclipsing joy.

It’s so hard to see in the dark. My eyes are old. And tired of seeing pain. I bet yours are, too.

But night does not last forever.

This is a promise we can trust. We have evidence every day as night passes into dawn.

Tell your children you love them and pray they will hear and embrace the truth that God loves them and has a purpose for their lives.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord . . . Jeremiah 29:11-14

And tell stories of when you were nearly overcome by darkness, but you reached out to God for help and he helped you even when the situation looked impossible.

“Exactly at the instant when hope ceases to be reasonable it begins to be useful . . . . the only kind of hope that is of any use in a battle is a hope that denies arithmetic.” G.K. Chesterton

And pray always, dear mom who feels the darkness, because you are fighting a spiritual battle for your children’s lives.

* * * * *

The silver rectangle in my hand with the cut out flower was a gift from a teacher for working in my

youngest son’s kindergarten classroom. She gave it to me for Christmas just weeks after my husband lost his job and we lost our home. It was the darkest time of my life.

 

Hope was the thing I needed most desperately. I needed to believe God had a future for me, for Dave, and for our family.

And He did.

But I could not see any of it for a very long time. Not just days, but weeks and months.

The walk through darkness does not have to end in despair. Cling to hope and pray through til the light dawns again.

May Your unfailing love be with us Lord, even as we put our hope in You. Psalm 33:22

* * * * *

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hope from a season of despair

On Thursday night I sat at a round table with co-workers and friends in an enormous room, dining on filet mignon and jumbo prawns, and witnessed contagious, hilarious generosity. Just the sort of evening to breathe new life into a tired writer.

I’ve been a writer at a marketing agency raising money for nonprofit organizations for the past six years. I’ve written for prison ministries, for family ministries for humanitarian aid, justice ministries, rescue missions. The stories entrusted to me help spread the word about what our clients do and raise money so they can keep doing what they’re doing.

Several years ago, on my first interview trip, it struck me that even though my life had been Sunday school, Church, mission field, Christian family, and I had had zero exposure to illegal drugs, when these men and women talked about coming to the end of themselves, I got it. Though our lives couldn’t be more opposite, the end result was the same.

The devastation that drugs and addiction bring to a person and a home are universal. Neither Dave nor I went to prison, we didn’t get a divorce, our kids weren’t taken away, and yet we came to the same breaking point as an addict on the street: God, I need help now.

As wonderfully fitting as my work is, I confess that I get discouraged. I feel like I’m writing everyone’s words but my own. My name doesn’t go on anything I pour myself into. The fruits of my creative labors are for somebody else’s benefit.

But on Thursday night I sat at a round table with co-workers and friends in an enormous room, dining on filet mignon and jumbo prawns, and witnessed contagious, hilarious generosity.  Just the sort of evening to breathe new life into a tired writer.

Items up for bid at this included float plane excursions, U.S. Open tickets, and time doing various things with people like the Seahawks’ Kam Chancellor, the Sounders soccer team, and Macklemore.

And they didn’t go cheap. The minimum bid for anything in the live auction, hosted and called by local television personalities was $1,000. A night on the Mission’s Search & Rescue Van with Macklemore sold for $25,000. A donor called in from his hospital bed to pledge $100,000.

I don’t know who these people are, but I know they believe strongly enough that broken people can be renewed to open up their wallets and give $1.5 Million to help heal them.

A man named Richard told his story. He’d been homeless and a meth addict for years, and he laid on a park bench for five days and asked God to take his life. Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission’s Search and Rescue Van found him there and when they asked if he’d like to spend the night in the mission instead of on the streets, he said yes.

A year later he’s standing up on stage at this event telling 500 people that God did take away his life. He took away the life of addiction and drugs and hopelessness and gave him a new life in Christ.

I also witnessed the very thing I wrote about two days ago. That thing about monks and how we defeat discouragement and depression and acedia with serving and working with our hands.

The keynote speaker, with a net worth of $100 Million, famous for his role on a successful TV series surprises us, “Tonight, I’m going to tell you my story.”

And his voice breaks and he says, “I’m not afraid of anything, I’m known for being a shark, I don’t have weaknesses. Except . . .” And he weeps out words of devastation, of losing his kids in a divorce.

And he says all the money and fame and prestige could not heal the most painful hurt in his life. He was in such deep despair he went to the balcony and contemplated ending his life.

Afraid of himself, he called a friend and said, “I need to help someone else right now, or I’m going to die.”

That friend sent him to Seattle where he labored at the Men’s Shelter, alongside men like Richard. Through choking tears, he tells about going out on the Search and Rescue Van with Richard and how they found a man who was crying in a park and the two of them prayed over him and served him, millionaire on one side, homeless meth addict on the other.

And in the end of his story, this broken mega millionaire says: simple acts of service fixed me.

Stories of hope and revival lead to other stories of hope and revival.

No way in my life did I ever dream that our worst season of despair would turn into a season of philanthropy. Impossible that I would heal while writing words that help raise millions of dollars to help hurting people. I suppose about as impossible as a grateful meth addict reviving a billionaire.

* * * * *

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the healing power of daily discipline

We’re all in a season of something, we might as well live it.

You can do anything for 30 days.

I said this a few months back — before I’d really thought it through.

I’m a great starter. I’ve got vision, enthusiasm and energy for something new almost always. But finishing takes every ounce of discipline I don’t have.

Take the “30 Day Shred” for example . . . I enthusiastically accepted a friend’s challenge  and kept at it for approximately ten days.

And then we went camping. And then I had to write a website for a client. And then, no matter how much Jillian yelled there is no modification for jumping jacks! I make 400 pound people do them you can do them, too! my ankles and knees began to tell me things I’ve never heard my body say before . . . things I really can’t repeat.

I’m a big thinker. A dreamer. But the daily grind, the day to day . . .  it takes everything I have to fold my clothes and put them away. It’s so daily! That’s why cooking is my favorite home chore. I can create, dream, and delight my family. Frankly, no one is all that delighted by my tidy room. I’ve asked.

To be fair, it’s not that I’m completely unable to do anything consistently. I brush my teeth every morning and every night. I’m just not so disciplined.

Over the years, I’ve embraced this freedom and turned it into an art:

  • I’m spontaneous, creative, I do my best work at the last minute. (All true.)
  • There are more important things than having a clean house. (Also true.)
  • I’m a Mary not a Martha. (Not so much true. I’m more of a daydreaming Mary who decides at the last minute to be a Martha and then pleads for all the Marys in the house to help.)

This “procrastinating perfectionism” has worked for me for years. Years. In just about everything.

At least I was. Until I hit a wall.

About a year ago, I ran out of words and writing became a chore. The problem is, writing is my job, so I had to find a way to recharge. Plus, I love to write.

I read books. Memoirs about writing. Self-help books for writers. I did exercises. Nothing really worked. I was deeply discouraged and it affected everything. I withdrew. I gained weight. I became listless and apathetic.

And then I came across a book about monks and acedia:

The desert monks termed acedia “the noonday demon” because the temptation usually struck during the heat of the day,  when the monk was hungry and fatigued, and susceptible to the suggestion that his commitment to a life of prayer was not worth the effort . . . .

. . . . I have come to believe that acedia can strike anyone whose work requires self-motivation and solitude, anyone who remains married “for better or for worse,” anyone who is determined to stay true to a commitment that is sorely tested in every day life.

Acedia & me  – Kathleen Norris

That was it. Acedia was what ailed me.

Anxious to discover the secret to defeating this demon, I devoured the book in a week. If you’re anything like me, you are not going to like the answer I found. To battle acedia, monks turned to simple, daily discipline serving through the doldrums. Working with their hands while talking to God, creating a rhythm that renewed their passion for prayer.

I know this to be true. If I was writing at home, I washed dishes and carefully cleaned the kitchen, praying as I cleaned. I spent four hours deep cleaning my bathroom. I washed everything in the house and folded every piece. I went for walks with my boys. I said yes to invitations and activities. After a while, I needed a pen and a notebook next to me while I was making dinner again.

I wrote and wrote. And it felt so good to be writing again.

About that time, I ran across another month long challenge: writing every day for 31 days.

I mentioned it to Dave — who is very happy that I’m writing again. But he said, “You’ve never done 31 days of anything. The last 15 days will be a surprise.”He’s right. So I’m taking lots of pictures just in case I give up and this becomes 31 Days of Cats.

But I figure, maybe I’ll have to clean something every day in order to write every day. In theory, if I am successful, I should end up with a spotless home. In theory.

So I’m taking the challenge. Because discipline really is reviving me.1500 size Live the Season

I settled on a theme, wrote out a list of posts and ideas, tidied the blog, played around with graphic arts and I’m ready to go.

My theme for the next 31 days is contentment: Live the season. I expect I’ll write about parenting, recovery, being 45, and relationships among other things. Some days will be serious and others not. I mean, I’ve never done anything like this before. Who knows what will happen?

No matter what season you are in,  I hope you’ll follow, add to the discussion and share posts with friends.

We’re all in a season of something, we might as well live it.

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pride, part two . . . or, a sampler of thoughts on arrogance

Sometimes, my “better than” comes from wounds. Maybe yours does, too.

I’ve written this post no less than six ways. By now it is a chapter for a book, the beginnings of a dissertation.

And since no one wants to read all of that, I’ve settled on a bit of a sampler instead.

* * * * *

Love is not proud.

The word pride in 1 Corinthians 13:4 is also translated puffed up or arrogant. I can readily see how a bloated sense of self leaves no room in a relationship for love. It is entirely consumed by self-image and self-importance and superiority of mind and position.

But arrogance in real-life relationships rarely looks like Gaston stomping around in boots singing his own praises. It’s more subtle, I think . . . and without a chorus. Well, at least not one others can hear.

Consider . . .

I.

There were times when I saw myself as so very superior to my husband: I was not an addict. I was responsible with money. I could get out of bed in the morning. I didn’t tell him lies.

Oh, I knew I had flaws, but they were nothing compared to his.

In earthly terms, I was right. He was wrong.

He didn’t deserve forgiveness, and I was not in need of it.

But that’s the very thing Jesus kept hammering home to the teachers who knew all the things and kept all the rules. None of us is perfect. Not one. And though it was hard, so hard, for me to imagine how it could possibly be, I came to understand that my sin of superiority and pride was every bit as bad as Dave’s addiction. Every bit. And, dare I say this? Even more so. He knew he was wrong. Confessed it regularly to God. I didn’t.

I’ve seen the grace that overflows from someone who has been forgiven much. And the tight-fistedness of one who has been forgiven little. Verses like Luke 15:7 are hard to grasp: “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” God loves a repentant sinner, whether we like it or not.

Tight-fisted grace is arrogance, thinly disguised.

II.

Arrogance comes from knowing things. From the top of our column of study, we look down on those who have not yet arrived at our level, or our view.

We fling about superiority of mind, painting opposing viewpoints with broad brush strokes, ceremoniously shaking the dust of a community off our sandals. Claiming to speak the truth in love. Clamoring for seats at a table. Arguing among ourselves over who is the betrayer of grace . . . while Jesus kneels and gently washes our feet asking, Who is greater? The one at the table or the one who serves?*

Knowledge puffs up (1 Corinthians 8:1), eclipses love and devolves into decisive division. Like bickering brothers in a family. If you like this, then I will hate it. If you call this good, then I will call it bad. If you criticize it, I will praise it.

We are wise in our own eyes. So reactionary.

Our truth-in-love-speak resembles nothing of the gentle, humble kindness of our Lord.

 

III.

Sometimes, arrogance is a cover.

Sometimes, my better than comes from wounds. Maybe yours does, too.

Wounds made by comment, culture, criticism . . . making us self-conscious of appearance, ability, size, personality . . . leaving us with feelings of less than.

Wounds made by trusted friends that were not accompanied by love but rejection. You have done this and therefore we are done.

Wounds made by grown-ups, even now, putting on a face of friendship but gossiping and stirring up trouble behind your back.

Some wounds are so deep they take longer to heal than anyone would dream. Heal to the point of walking again, let alone loving . . .

. . . sometimes, I still cling to the thing that makes me feel better than. I reach for it when I’m hurt or afraid of being hurt. I use it as a weapon.

How is it that we so easily slip into treating others the way we’ve been treated?

IV.

I believe this: there is grace for even the worst offender.

And after years of having the truth ground into my soul, arrogant thoughts of better than quickly dissipate from my mind the moment I recall my own weakness.

But sometimes, knowing my weakness too well is part of the problem . . .

I don’t know when I became such a perfectionist.

Paralyzing perfectionism: the urge to rip it all up and start over and never let it see the light of day: my living room, my writing, my body, my personality, my words, my gifts.

Somewhere, deep in the recesses, my perfectionism becomes a barrier to love.

Can there be an arrogance toward self? Is an arrogance toward self a fear of being seen as less than who we think we are or should be? Is it really, in the end, an insidious sort of pride masquerading as not good enough?

I don’t know.

But I believe God is painting his love over the wounds of my life. The better thans, the less thans, the know-it-alls, and the places where I just can’t yet. Even my procrastinating perfectionism.*

And I believe He does that for you, too.

It’s sort of the point of grace, isn’t it? Arrogance is just another reason we need Jesus.

* * * *

But God is so rich in mercy loved us so much
that even though we were spiritually dead and doomed by our sins,
He gave us back our lives again when he raised Christ from the dead . . .
And now God can always point to us as examples of how very, very rich his kindness is,
as shown in all he has done for us through Jesus Christ.
Because of his kindness, you have been saved through trusting Christ.
And even trusting is not of yourselves; it too is a gift from God.
Salvation is not a reward for the good we have done, so none of us can take any credit for it.
It is God himself who has made us what we are and given us new lives from Christ Jesus . . .
St. Paul, Ephesians 2:4-10

* * * * *

* Luke 22:20-27 and John 13:14

* Procrastinating perfectionist — a term borrowed from Jon Acuff, Quitter

 

 

 

repost: a light between here and there

the Grandma I wrote about in this post passed away today. she was an example to me of a love that endures at a time when I needed it most.

My Grandma I wrote about in this post last summer passed away today.
She was, and will always be, an example and encouragement to me of a love that endures at a time when I needed it most.

Someday, I will write about that, but tonight, before I tuck myself into bed, I just want to go back to my earliest memories of her and smell those cotton sheets.

* * * * *

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. — Matthew 5:14

When I was a little girl, my parents packed us into their old, red Datsun mini station wagon and traveled north from Denver to Casper.

I don’t know how many times we made that trip to my grandparents’ house, or how many times we drove those hours at night. At eight years old, squished with my brothers in the back seat , the drive (which might be just four hours) seemed an eternity. Even with my dad singing cowboy songs.

Somewhere behind us, the lights of the city disappeared, leaving only black nothing ahead.

Miles and miles of darkness. No highway lights. No inside car lights. No light-up games. We floated through space.

Lone beacons in midnight fields, like bright stars, reached out with comfort  — and questions.

Who would live so far out in the nothing? Wouldn’t they be lonely? Where would they go to school?

Someone chose this solitary place. A rancher, maybe, with a thousand head of cattle. An oilman with a hundred wells. A lineman, quiet and content with the company of tumbleweeds . . .

Finally, we’d reach a rise and see, off in the distance, the white-blue glow of Casper. Almost there. Always, it seems, it was then I would fall asleep.Midland Pennsylvania at night

More than an hour from the first sight of city lights, through town and out again, into the dark countryside once more, was a country school in the middle of nowhere where my grandparents were caretakers.

Noisy vibration of wheels hitting cattle guards jostled me awake. A floodlight on a lonely road marked our destination.

Into the driveway, around the school, we coasted toward light pouring through the windows of my grandparents’ house, inviting us out of the cramped car onto the lawn and into the glow.

I can still smell the cotton sheets of the bed grandma had made up and waiting. Stretching my legs under the covers, I drifted into darkness again — the feel of the road in my limbs as the journey replayed behind closed eyelids.

This quiet home — a light, far from town, a shining dot on a dark landscape — was Grandma and Grandpa’s house. A place of wide open spaces and adventure and cousins and giant sprinklers and stories and jeep rides on scary back roads and arrowhead hunts and a refrigerator full of name-brand soda in cans.

There is a place for solitary light. A reason to live in the darkness between here and there.

* * * * *

I wonder how long we will live along this dark highway. . . in the daily-ness of nurturing, guiding, growing, of learning to be faithful in small things.

Because sometimes, I wrestle with the limits of my little light.

Sometimes, I am reduced to flickering – a candle wick bent, weary, drowning in wax. And I begin to envy the power of the luminous city, of the brightness that cannot be hidden. And I become a lamp, out of oil, puffing stinky smoke . . .

Sometimes, I want to pack up and leave the quiet place. To find significance as part of a big thing . . . cars drive past in a hurry from here to there . . . 

But somewhere, in the middle of the night, someone is searching. And a small light will illuminate his steps, even if just one step at a time.

On the journey through darkness, a solitary light marks the way: Keep going, you are almost there.

A solitary light gives comfort:  Traveler, you are not alone.

A solitary light gives courage — It’s possible to live in the middle of nowhere for a very long time.  

Even a solitary light holds back the night. Even a glowing ember can be revived. And a dimly burning wick He will not quench. 

This is the light God gave me.

 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  Matthew 5:15-16

Sometimes a city, set on a hill. Sometimes a lamp, on a stand. Sometimes a flickering candle. But always light. Always and ever dependent on the Father of Lights for filling to fight against consuming darkness.

. . .  there is a purpose for solitary light. A reason to live in the darkness between here and there.

* * * * *

Since through God’s mercy, we have this ministry, we do not lose heart . . . .But we have this treasure, this light, in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:1,6-8) 

* * * * *

Thank you, Grandma Barrick.

of pride and pompousness, part one

maybe love does not boast means I don’t need to prove how much I deserve love

“Nothing is more deceitful,” said Darcy, “than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast.”
– Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

* * * * *

The cat and I found a bit of sunshine this morning. I, to trim an overgrown bush, which is bent on blocking my porch swing view of the trampoline, she to watch me wear out my arms.

We have learned, the two of us, to bask in sun while it is sun. Already, the spotlight has made its way across our patch of woods and shade covers all but a sliver of the sparkling grass.

Perhaps I am avoiding the house. It is all at sixes and sevens — a phrase for which, out of curiosity, I have now had to consult the OED . . . or rather, the Wikipedia, as it appears there is an annual subscription rate of $295 for the Oxford English Dictionary.

And so, Wikipedia must suffice this morning for the meaning of the phrase, which is derived, roughly, from: a French dice game (6 & 7 being unlucky). Chaucer. Shakespeare. Gilbert & Sullivan. Which is pretty much the evolutionary path of all English words.

I suppose I am in an especially English mood this morning. Sipping tea because I’ve had far too much coffee. Imagining petticoats pant legs six inches deep in mud if I follow my flight of fancy down to the beach (which smells particularly of sulfur this morning). Wishing I had housemaids to right my messy house. Counting hours til I see my daughter in Whitworth University’s Pride and Prejudice. . . . and pondering one’s opinion of oneself

* * * * *

I wish I knew classical Greek. Really knew it. Lexicon skills only take you so far. Because I think there is a depth of poetry to the Love Chapter, and I am only skimming the surface.

Saul of the New Testament was a Jewish scholar. A Pharisee. Memorizer of the entire Torah. Expert in the Law of Moses. But God chose him, Luke says in the Acts of the Apostles. Chose Saul specifically to take the story of Jesus — whose followers he had persecuted to death — to the Greeks.

I read somewhere that the church at Corinth, to whom St. Paul wrote love is had become competitive. They bragged about their gifts and knowledge and enlightenedness. Exalting self — just like their city’s vain goddess, Aphrodite, the goddess of love. The worship of Aphrodite makes you realize why the Christ followers in Corinth needed a full, detailed explanation of love . . .

Which brings me back to Greek. St. Paul used a word here that most of us read in our Bibles as brag or boast. But this particular Greek word is used no where else in the New Testament, not even in any of St. Paul’s other epistles. It’s a word used by Greek philosophers and historians of gods and goddesses — translated into the English language (making the usual trek through Chaucer and Shakespeare) originally as vaunteth:

  1. a self display, employing rhetorical embellishments in extolling one’s self excessively

Vaunteth puts on a parade of self. 

In vaunt, I see the actions and words of the king of the humble brag — Mr. Collins (Pride & Prejudice), the pompous and stupid Mr. Eliot (Persuasion), the name-dropping Mrs. Elton (Emma), the preposterously selfish Fanny Dashwood (Sense & Sensibility), the vain and aristocratic Aunt Norris (Mansfield Park). Ridiculous, boastful caricatures.

I would like to leave boasting in an arrogant Aphrodite’s court and in the pages of Austen. I know vaunteth doesn’t belong in real life love.

Oh, but it’s there.

“Boasting is often a sign of my deep insecurity and need for others to validate me with their approval.”**

Maybe, sometimes, we pat ourselves on the back because no one else ever does. Maybe we were starved of praise by parents, teachers, coaches who didn’t want it to go to your head. Maybe we flaunt our accomplishments or beauty or talent or possessions because it’s the only way we’ve ever received attention. And maybe, sometimes, we’re entirely unaware that by inflating ourselves, we’ve eclipsed someone we love.

* * * * *

I’ve paraded myself with my own lips. More times than I care to confess . . .
Maybe love does not boast means you don’t need to prove how much you deserve love . . . because you are secure in the love of a God who loved even the formerly murderous St. Paul. You are loved because you are the beloved.

I think it’s lovely that don’t boast comes right after don’t envy. Love doesn’t try to make people jealous.

Sometimes, in this day of posting words everywhere, our boasts and milder “humble brags” are in our friends’ faces all the time. Things we used to keep to ourselves so quickly typed and out there . . . Sometimes, just asking ourselves why we are saying it stops the me parade.

Sometimes, though, we’re too sensitive, taking outbursts of joy as vaunting. I know I have. And I have to ask myself if I am envious because I’m competing, comparing gifts, discontent . . .

And I have to stop myself from getting up and taking a turn — my turn — about the room so that my figure may be seen to the best advantage.

* * * * *

** Dr. Ralph Wilson, Jesus Walk

when you don’t know what to do, try love

Determination only gets so far in the day in day out.
And romantic stubbornness turns cold.

“A friend of ours, Hugh Bishop of Mirfield, says in one of his books:
‘Love is not an emotion. It is a policy.’
Those words have often helped me when all my feelings were unlovely.”
— Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet

There were other reasons I stayed through addiction:

  • Sheer stubbornness and pride. We were not going to fail.
  • I wasn’t going to let some future woman reap the benefit of my struggles. I suppose that’s jealousy.
  • If anyone was going to leave, it was going to be him. I would not be the bad guy.

Not exactly pure motives.

But determination only gets so far in the day in day out. And romantic stubbornness turns cold.

It’s in the hard places of weighing stay or go, of what’s best for me, best for the kids, of even what’s best for him, of what is faith and what is fear . . . of listening, hard . . .of straining to hear the voice of God more than anything, of pleading for the heavens to open and send down a Gabriel to say: Rise and take your children to California, stay there for two years until David gets his act together.

But answers were not delivered to me by angel, by fleece, by burning bush.

A decade ago, there wasn’t much out in the world to tell you what to do when you have a spouse who was a non-abusive, high-functioning, repentant-when-caught, migraine suffering, prescription drug addict . . . chronic pain complicates things.

I needed words.

We had made a sacred vow: for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, for better or worse, so help me God . . .

. . . I wonder how many nights I sat up late, unable to sleep, praying to God, begging Him to speak words to me. Just wanting to do the right thing. The thing that would make it all turn out for good.

But my responses to Dave were harsh and angry more often than not — justifiably, much of the time . . . But rage accomplished nothing. Except to produce more pain.

Now and then, there were good days. Arms around our children, reading stories, playing games, digging gardens. Soothed by routine, lulled by exhaustion. Encouraged to persevere just because four children (who were not completely oblivious to their mother’s broken heart) needed me to do so.

So, I turned to the only place where I knew I could find God’s voice.

And I found words . . . forgive, compassion, mercy, grace, restore . . .

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. — I John 4:11

This sort of love — a love that is not so propelled by what’s best for me — is not a thing that is do-able in our own strength . . . but it is the mark of Christ on our life. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples. (John 13:35)

* * * * *

I have never been very good at this love.

But in the end, I think it won. In spite of me, in spite of my failings. Because this love is a plan. Every word an action. Something to do: believe, hope, endure . . . And when I finally, mostly quit trying to fix Dave and began to at least really try to love him way God loves me, everything changed. And answers came. Hard ones. The leading out of bondage is not pleasant. And even when it begins, you don’t really know it’s begun because it began just that way in so many times past. You know only waiting, watching, praying. Minutes. Hours. Weeks. Months. Years.

And so, this love begins with a word for waiting . . .

Love is patient . . .
I Corinthians 13:4

* * * * *