I’m crossing some things off my list this year

A couple of years ago, I jumped on the “resolution revolution” bandwagon and joined an initiative called OneWord365. The idea was that instead of making New Year’s resolutions (which never worked for me), participants would choose a single word to focus on for the entire year, a word that would sum up “who you want to be or how you want to live”. That year, I decided on the word “harmony”.

I had chosen it prayerfully, knowing that being mindful of this word could change the soundtrack of my life if I let it. I began to “take a beat” before I reacted to things, and ask myself, “Do I know this to be true?” And further,  “Is my response in this situation going to create harmony or jeopardize it?” This practice became reflexive over time and helpful in a variety of ways.

I’m back on the bandwagon this year, and I’ve chosen a word (again, prayerfully) that seems to particularly resonate at this point in my life.

My word for 2017 is “Release”.

If you know me, you know that I’m something of a perfectionist. (Okay, maybe a lot of a perfectionist.) And the truth is, being a perfectionist – though it might sound desirable – can actually hamstring my effectiveness in both my professional and personal life. I would argue it’s a cowardly way to be and I need to knock it off. That means I need to do more than just loosen my grip; I need to drop the reins entirely and get off the dang horse, handing over control to God.

The first step to doing this, I’ve concluded, is for me to identify the root of this need for control. What makes me want to take over and do everything in my power to manage outcomes . . . or wring my hands with worry when I can’t? Why do I hold myself to an impossibly high and thoroughly unhelpful standard?

To be fair, I think we all do this, at least to some extent. We hedge our bets, we try not to care too much, we hide, we pretend we’ve got it together, and some of us become perfectionists as “insurance” against failure. And still, we fail. So why do we do that?

Once I figure out my underlying motivation, I believe I’ll be headed in the right direction.

Now before you give me “that look” because you’re skeptical that I can change this tendency of mine at this late date, let me add this. I still intend to do what I do with excellence, because that honors God. But I’m going to make it a priority not to try and micromanage my life, because that’s a losing proposition (and frankly, exhausting). And honestly? I have a habit of letting things go and then taking them back, so I’m going to need God’s help if there’s to be lasting change.

So here I go. Already I’m starting to get some clarity on this just by landing on the word and I intend to probe it with intentionality in the coming months. I’m excited to see what God puts His finger on for me to release this year.

Maybe the process will help you, too.

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I learned a new word

When you think of the Puritans, do you envision a group that had it together, faith-wise? Super pious and dialed-in to God in a way the rest of us could only imagine? Speaking in “thees” and “thous” like old English poets or certain translations of inspired scripture? I do. Or at least I did.

I have a book of Puritan prayers, a Christmas gift from a dear friend a few years back. I regularly pick it up to ponder the eloquent way they expressed their deep and authentic relationship with God back then. I want to be inspired in my own prayer life and this helps.

Interestingly, I’ve found from these prayers that the Puritan “saints” wrestled with doubts, temptations, and failures just like the rest of us. Fortunately, many of them journaled their meditations and contemplations, not for publication but for the exercise and deepening of their personal faith. Their writings provide the source material for the book . . .  and some enduring lessons for me.

Recently I read a selection titled “Weaknesses” and learned a new word: carking. I can honestly say I had never heard this term before but in context it makes perfect sense. Continue reading I learned a new word

The best question I’m asking myself these days

I woke up in pain. My right hand felt like a water balloon that was about to burst. “Must be a new iteration of carpal tunnel syndrome,” I thought as I tried every possible position to get the throbbing to stop. Finally, I lifted my hand in the semi-darkness to look at it and instantly saw the problem. 

FullSizeRenderI had one of those coated ponytail elastics on my wrist where I had placed it the night before after picking it up off the kitchen floor. I meant to put it away, but forgot and slept with what turned out to be an actual tourniquet on my wrist. I yanked it off and immediately began to feel relief. Then I wondered how much permanent damage I might have done to my hand (because if you know me, you know I tend to go to the worst case scenario in my mind.)

Obviously, I didn’t intend to put a darn tourniquet on my wrist and then leave it on while I slept. But who thinks of those little ponytail thingies as potentially dangerous? They seem so harmless . . . 

I think I sometimes do that with my thinking.

What starts out as a practical framework for my ideas turns into a flawed and possibly dangerous assumption. Instead of wisdom or insight, I default to an interpretation that constricts and risks damage to my relationships, to my attitude, even to my own personal peace.

Here’s an example: A couple of weeks ago, I was walking in my neighborhood at dusk and three people rode by on bicycles — a 50-ish man in the lead followed by a woman around his age and then a younger woman. Probably a family, I thought. As they rode by, the man was holding forth on how much to inflate their tires for maximum comfort and how to regulate their speed to conserve energy. The two women looked miserable.

My first thought was, “What a know-it-all gas bag. Why can’t they just go for a leisurely ride? Why does he have to preach them a sermon on how it’s done?” I felt myself getting ramped up.

Continue reading The best question I’m asking myself these days

A tragic story with a tender twist

The headline read, “Cop-Shooting Fugitive Dies in Gun Battle with State Police and FBI”.

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(Attribution: Arlington Heights Patch)

The incident itself was all too familiar — a disturbed guy with a lengthy criminal record shoots and wounds a small-town police officer following a traffic stop, then flees into a nearby forest. He is armed and desperate.

He breaks into a church, where he steals donation money, medical supplies, and food. He is then spotted with an assault rifle and a shoulder belt of ammunition, running through the church cemetery toward an abandoned house.

Never a good situation.

An FBI SWAT team and the State Police track him there and in the ensuing confrontation, an agent is wounded and the subject is killed. The automatic rifle is found next to the gunman’s lifeless body, suggesting he was bent on more violence had he not been stopped.

This man was clearly troubled and homicidal, arguably even suicidal, to shoot a police officer and then engage in an armed standoff with law enforcement. He represented a danger to himself and everyone around him until he was finally brought down in a hail of bullets.

What made this incident stand out to me, though, was not the circumstances; these situations, while tragic, are unfortunately not uncommon. What flattened me was what the man’s father said afterward. Continue reading A tragic story with a tender twist

Gosh, people are a mess

Do you ever feel that way? I find myself saying, “What is WRONG with people?” when I’m frustrated for any of a variety of reasons.

  • Did they really think cutting me off in traffic would gain them an advantage of more than one car length?
  • Can they seriously not hear how they just interrupted to turn the conversation back to themselves . . . again?
  • Don’t they get it that the promises of that politician are empty?

As if I’ve got it together and they don’t.

jigsaw puzzleMy husband’s uncle is a great lover of jigsaw puzzles — the 1,000 piece, really challenging ones that, as we used to say in the South, “could make a preacher cuss”. He can spend hours focused on one of these things, not giving up until he finishes it, which by the way, he always does. And then he starts another. He’s amazing.

There’s something about interacting with and understanding people, especially those I care about (and even those I don’t), that reminds me of those puzzles. Continue reading Gosh, people are a mess

I’ll take the red carnation, thank you – revisiting an odd tradition

This post was originally published for Mother’s Day 2014. It is as relevant now as it ever was, so I am reposting it this year in honor of my sweet Mama. To those of you who never knew her, you missed a real lady.   

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red-Carnations38Recently, I was handed a red carnation as an acknowledgement of my participation in a community event. Looking at it, I was reminded of a tradition in many churches when I was growing up.

On Mother’s Day, at least in the South, when you went to church you wore a carnation on your lapel or dress – a red one if your mother was alive, a white one if she had died. (Do you remember this?) Continue reading I’ll take the red carnation, thank you – revisiting an odd tradition

The surprising thing about “weakness”

IMG_9610.PNGWho among us hasn’t wondered about the role of prayer in the overall scheme of things? Almost no one turns down an offer of prayer in a crisis, but why do we pray when God already knows what He’s going to do? Can we change His mind? What’s different about prayers offered silently and in private, versus praying aloud with others?

For all these questions about prayer there are surely an equal number of deep theological responses (which I for sure don’t have). But I find there’s beauty in wrestling with our uncertainty and lovely things to discover about our God as we communicate with Him.

Here’s an example from just this week: Continue reading The surprising thing about “weakness”

The holiness of a four-way stop

It’s rush hour on my usually-quiet suburban street. Well, maybe not rush “hour”, exactly. It’s really only about 15 minutes.

From around 7:10 to 7:25 most every morning during the school year, the street in front of my house is bumper to bumper with high school students trying to get to classes on time.

IMG_3496bfree-largeSchool starts at 7:30 and they’re lined up at the four-way stop, struggling to properly yield the right of way to each other (as they oh-so-recently learned in driver’s ed). Now and then, I hear someone sound their horn over whatever perceived infraction just took place. That usually happens as it gets closer to 7:30 and the possibility of being late becomes more real.

Oh, and sympathies to you if you have to back out of your driveway during that time frame. Taking turns and being nice apparently only applied to kindergarten. I may have muttered about this from time to time over the years…

Interestingly, I’ve found that there’s something positive and even holy about this brief traffic jam in front of my house each morning. It gives me an opportunity to see the individual young faces in those cars and wonder if anyone has prayed for them yet today. Maybe not. (I’m thinking, most likely not.) So lately, I’ve started praying.

I start with the obvious prayers like,

Lord, please keep these young people safe at school today, encourage them to be responsible and make wise choices, protect them from peer pressure, help them learn and grow into good citizens.

Then it goes a little deeper:

Let them know that they have value, surprise them with encouragement today from an unexpected source, give them courage for whatever battle they face, make them sensitive to the pain of the marginalized around them.

Ultimately, and arguably most important, I arrive here:

Let them recognize Your hand on their lives, soften their hearts toward faith, welcome them into a relationship with You.

Even if you don’t live near a high school or have teenagers in your life currently, they’re out there–I see them every day from my living room window–and they could use your prayers. Adolescence is a tumultuous time, you may recall, and this rough world isn’t getting any better any time soon.

For sure, if you have a student at the high school in my town and they drive past my house in the morning, you can know they’re going to get prayed for. Maybe running late and getting stuck in traffic at the four-way stop isn’t the worst thing for them, after all.

And for me, it beats muttering.

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If you’d like to receive an email when I publish new posts, just click the “sign up” button in the right sidebar above (or if you’re on a mobile device, you’ll find it below under “visit full site”.)  I’ll send you a link to my free (really short) eBook, Harmony Is Hard: Humans Are Involved just for signing up.

The simple song lyric that undid me

A friend of mine is fond of muttering, “Hell in a handbasket, my dear. Hell in a handbasket.” This is usually in response to:

  • yet another crass reality TV show in the lineup,
  • an encounter with a rude or texting driver,
  • sloppy workmanship in an already overpriced product,

. . . or any of a number of other “proofs” that society is unraveling at a meteoric rate.

It’s become so common, we’ve adopted a kind of shorthand between us. My friend now just looks at me and says, “Handbasket!” Enough said.

It’s easy to default to negative thinking these days, though, isn’t it? You look around at the alarming lack of civility among so-called leaders;  the deep divides along racial, religious, and socioeconomic lines; the creeping fear of violence and danger at every turn . . . and you can start to despair.

If you’re like me, sometimes you’re tempted to turn off the news, gather your loved ones, and just hide,  if only that would help. 

“Handbasket!” Right?

IMG_9488But this past Sunday, a single line in a song at church opened my eyes to a really important truth. We were singing “Strong God”* (listen to it here) and there’s a line that says, “This is God in His holy place.”
Just that one lyric was all it took to pierce my heart and change my perspective.

Continue reading The simple song lyric that undid me

No need for a bucket

I was getting out of my car recently and happened to glance down at the hardy succulents lining my driveway. It was mid-March and they had already started pushing up through the hard ground. These guys come back early every spring, no matter what this harsh Midwest climate throws at them in the winter and regardless of how I ignore them in the heat of the summer.

I think one of the reasons they are so cold-tolerant and drought-resistant is the way they’re designed. Look closely:

IMG_9375The leaves open upward and overlap each other, forming a cup-like shape. Do you see the droplets of water that have been caught within them? From there the moisture  slowly seeps down into the heart of the plant where it will be stored until it’s needed in the dry season ahead.

I’m reminded that we, too, can catch water in cupped hands. We fit our palms and fingers together like this tiny succulent and hold them under a faucet or scoop them down into a creek. Most of us learned this as children,  when it was a form of play. Unlike the plant, for us it’s just a temporary measure, but in a pinch you can sure grab a little and maybe slurp it or splash it, just like when you were a kid.

Cupped hands, like cupped leaves, seem to me a metaphor for prayer.

I see in them a picture of emptiness that needs to be filled, a gesture of acknowledging the Source. As the plant reaches up to absorb the moisture it needs, we offer up our empty hands asking — maybe begging — for what sustains us, too.

God designed these humble plants perfectly to collect what they need to survive; He knows what the seasons will bring. And He does the same for us.

He invites us to come to Him any time — all the time — confessing our emptiness, acknowledging that He is the One who nourishes, anticipating an outpouring of His generosity.  We don’t need a bucket, just humble hands cupped in prayer.

And He delights to respond with a love that overflows, a love that is unending and always available for the asking .

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If you’d like to receive an email when I publish new posts, just click the “sign up” button in the right sidebar above (or if you’re on a mobile device, you’ll find it below under “visit full site”.)  I’ll send you a link to my free (really short) eBook, Harmony Is Hard: Humans Are Involved just for signing up.

Finding Joy in a Workaround Life

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