Lead with your limp

This morning on the way to work I heard two talk-show hosts talking about  a celebrity that, from the outside, looks quite perfect.  They also gave her props for (so-far) living a scandal-free life.  That celebration was short-lived though as she was maybe, kinda, if-you-read-between-the-lines implicated in a hint of a scandal…and they were glad!  She was too perfect for their taste, apparently.

My thought as I was listening was that not too many people would be offended for this celebrity.  I’ve found that folks desire imperfection.  That sounds counter-cultural, but I believe it.  Proof?  Think of someone who performs well on the job, is a healthy weight, has sound relationships, ‘normal’ kids and can cook/bake/scrapbook/garden…whatever…and you’ll find a line of folks who hate her/him for it.  Sadly, I’ve been in on too many conversations where, instead of celebrating someone’s gifts, the lips sneer and the eyes roll.

Just to be radical, I think we should own our limp.  Everyone has one.  A limp, that is.  Okay, maybe not a physical one but if you have a pulse, you have an emotional, spiritual, relational or maybe even a hidden physical limp.  To be human is to be flawed yet somehow, some of us pretend we’re not, others of us despise it in ourselves and most criticize it in others.  Can we all be a little more gracious, please?

How about instead we lead with our limp?  As in, put it out there a little more.  I’m not advocating that we talk about our weaknesses all the time, but acknowledging them from time to time with a trusted friend is awesome. Maybe we could laugh about our errors a little quicker.  Maybe not fret for hours when we get something wrong.  When we do that, people are more comfortable around us.  They’re relieved!  It’s healthy for teachers to say, “I don’t know,” when asked a question.  I appreciate when someone can admit they’re not very good at something – but they’re willing to try.

We don’t need a flaw fest, but it’s okay to reveal a shade of imperfection.  And, if we’re with others, we sure can quit pretending that we’ve got it all together.  Most people don’t like that, anyway, if talk show hosts are any gauge.  But if we live within a community, we need to be who we are, flaws and all.  I’m on a committee right now and as we get to know each other, we can see our different strengths and weaknesses emerge.  Collectively, we’re a group of imperfect people who, together, make a perfect team.  We rely on strengths to get the job done and feel okay about another’s ability to do what we cannot.  When we’re all thankful for how God covered our weaknesses with another’s strengths, we can get on with it.

As a teenager, I remember my pastor saying that someone accused him of using Christianity as a crutch.  His quick reply, “It’s true!  But please, I’d rather be in a wheelchair in that case.”  I’ve spent my fair share of days weakened and I know first-hand that those times are my spiritual/emotional weight-training.  So if you’re noticing a flaw in your life, feel free to work on it, but don’t hide it.  Make friends with it…and in the meantime, your friends will thank you.

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Just show up!

Driving back from my son’s graduation party last year, we were literally aglow with how well the night went.  Our 18 year old was able to express his gratitude for our community and his thankfulness for the wonderful people we know.  We know we’re blessed.  After a moment of silence, though, he said, “I wonder why so and so wasn’t there.  They said they would be.”  Even though we had a pile of people show up, he did what so many of us do: notice who wasn’t there.

I’m sure there were any number of legitimate reasons why someone couldn’t come to that party or other events we all participate in, but I know we under-estimate our mere presence.  I know and believe this because of the myriad times I or my family or friends show up somewhere and the hosts greets us so thankfully.  Now, we don’t add much to any party, trust me, but we all communicate something when we show up and that is that we care.  We give a rip.  You’re important.  I took time out of my day for you.

Since I’m a happy teacher of middle and high schoolers, I receive invitations to games and parties and recitals.  I make sure I get to all that I can because it says something I want to say: you have worth to me.  And no matter what people say about teenagers, I know they’re just as interested in having people they like come watch them perform or be a part of their celebration.

When a friend did some sewing for my daughter lately, I made her a scone she just loves.  My daughter thought that she’d stay home while I dropped it off.  Uh, no.  Not happening.  If you’re grateful for her help, she needs to see your thankful face.  She went.   When a friend hinted that she wanted some of my baking, I arrived at her job with cupcakes.  Her face was all the thanks I needed.

So this year on my birthday, I’m going to a lovely little new cafe and piano bar because one of my students is playing.  The last time I went, the expression on his face was thanks enough, but before long, he was playing a song he knows I like.  Sweet kid.  Other than the applause he received from his grateful listeners, we all communicated something else: you’re worth the trip.

I’m too afraid to be courageous!

Aside

Eleven years ago, on the eve of their 3rd & 1st grade years, I was putting my two little boys to bed when I heard a sniffle.  My oldest son was holding back a few tears.  “What’s the matter, honey?”  I couldn’t imagine what could be bothering this high-energy, highly social little guy.  “I’m worried that 3rd grade will be too hard for me,” he managed.  Apparently he’d been told that the stakes would get much higher, the homework tougher and the challenged more numerous and was now, rightfully, afraid.  He was convinced he didn’t have what it took to manage the coming days.

After ineffectually trying to convince him otherwise, I tried a new tactic.  Telling him he had what it took to face the school year hadn’t worked so here’s what I suggested:  “Let’s freak out.” Eyes wider, he asked, “what?”  I launched into fear-laced moanings of all the things he couldn’t do during 3rd grade: he’d fail, he’d not be able to swim, he’d not make new friends….soon he was joining in.  From the above bunk, our eavesdropper joined in.  We laughed as this little dynamo face-planted during recess, got forgotten on the bus and even received a wedgie from a 4th grader.  Oh, the horrors.

Seems cute when an 8 year old does it, but we adults are no different, really.  In my quest to keep ‘courage’ at the forefront of my mind this year, I was piqued to listen to a conversation recently about people’s main motivation.  What do you guess?  Money? Nope.  Accolades, accomplishments, pride?  No again.  What motivates most of us is fear.  That’s right, fear.  Think about it.  Deep down, so many of our decisions are made because we want to keep our fears at a distance.  I’m not criticizing it…heck, I do it myself.  Why did I watch my kids so closely when they went outside?  I feared they’d be snatched.  Why do we say ‘yes’ to things we don’t want to do?  Fear of what others will think.

For our 3rd grader, it took emphasizing everything that could go wrong to realize how ridiculous it was to worry.  If we’re in a good frame of mind and with someone who loves us enough to let us express ourselves,  we could easily launch into our fears with our finances, our relationships, our jobs.  But I learned something in that moment all those years ago that I need reminding of now and then: “Courage is the complement of fear.  A (wo)man who is fearless cannot be courageous.”  Courage and fear are like ying and yang: close bedfellows.

We cannot have courage unless we first have a taste of fear.  Firefighters and police officers can tell you this.  So can kids going to a new school, you beginning your retirement or someone going to the gym in snug yoga pants. We won’t have any reason to exercise courage unless we’re a little freaked out.  Ever witness someone make a speech when they’re pea-green scared?  That’s courage.  Ever have to stand up to an angry, intimidating person?  Fear could keep us from doing lots of things, but courage allows us to follow through.

So my year continues with looking at my fears but not shrinking from them, knowing that courage wraps itself around those fears, ready to lift it up and out of the way.  It’ll still be there, circling back around for more, but in the meantime, I’ll choose to laugh while I freak out, then move on to face those snug yoga pants.

My cup’s half full…and I like it that way

I just came from a graduation party of someone who is beyond special to me.  Because God put us together for three wonderful years, he will always have a prominent place in my heart.  In the beginning of our time together, the stated goal was that I would help this young man develop in skills that he was lacking.  That, I did.  However, he did far more for me than I did for him.  Sure, he can write a multi-page paper now and is not intimidated by classic works of literature.  His vocabulary has filled out and he can appreciate a well-turned phrase.  That’s great and I’m so proud of his work, but I’m more thankful for how he blessed me.

Before I met him, I thought that my teaching days were coming to an end.  Self-doubt crept in and took center stage in my mind.  Questions plagued me night and day: Would I ever have a classroom again?  Would I ever reach someone again?  Is He preparing me for a different career?  And most confusing, if that’s what you have for me, God, then why do I have such a strong desire to teach?  But that late summer, I carried on and met God’s answer: a teenager who was behind in English.  Could I help him?

Hmmm….little did he know how much I would need him.  Feeling empty, all his attributes filled me.  How thankful I am that I wasn’t ‘full’!  How thankful I am that he wasn’t either!  As much as people like to have it all and accomplish more and be seen as a capable, competent person, I really don’t wish it on anyone and certainly don’t want it for myself.  Don’t get me wrong – some of the ‘all’ I’d sure like to have some days, I like to be capable, and I wouldn’t mind accomplishing more but it’s far better to be half full because then there’s room to be filled.

Earlier this week, someone thanked me for sharing my joy with her.  Another encounter allowed a friend and I to pour a little bit of ourselves into the other.  My husband is particularly good at discerning cup-levels and then goes to work seeing how he can share himself.  This is God at work, people!  He’s constantly using us to bless each other.  May we have eyes to see it!  I love to share myself and I’m getting better all the time at seeing when someone is being used by God to fill me.  Thank you God that I’m not full.  I’ll take my half-cup any day of the week because someone this week is going to pour into me and I welcome it with open arms.