We all need a shove sometime

I loved summer as a kid.  Summers meant playing outside with neighbors, spitting watermelon seeds, running around the Recreation Center while dozens of church leagues played softball, stopping at the open-air ice cream shop on the way home, mosquito bites and lots and lots of swimming.  A natural swimmer, I was always called a fish.  None of us took lessons; we just jumped in and figured it out.  But as easy as swimming was, diving was something entirely different.  I just couldn’t do it.

So there I was, one summer morning on Big Star Lake in Baldwin, Michigan where we rented a cottage for two glorious weeks every July of my childhood.  Rocking at the end of the dock, my brothers shouted personal remarks of the un-encouraging sort.  My dad, never a patient one with kids, decided he’d had enough and stomped up behind me.  Knowing how he works, I warned him that this time I was going to do it.  I was just going to dive in.  Any second now.  K…in a few minutes.

My thumbs were intertwined, my knees bent, my ears squeezed between my shoulders.  “I’m gonna do it.  I’m gonna do it.”  This was the day.  Or not.  “Oh for pity’s sake, just do it already!”  This did not help.  I decided to make a show of it to appease my dad, but I knew that I wasn’t going to do it, but… I rocked for his sake anyway.

Then, I was sucking lake.  With foot on my rear, (I’m not making this up) he gave me a good, hard shove.  My entrance into the lake was not the lovely arc I had hoped to have but more of head-first plop.  This did not thrill me, but I did dive and the first time didn’t have to be pretty.   A few summers ago I had the joy of diving and diving and diving from the dock in Lake Chelan with my two sons.  Oh it was fun and I have to say, my dives were quite graceful.

As much as I didn’t like it at the time, sometimes a good shove is exactly what we need.  Not many of us are going to ask for it, but when it comes to kicking us out of complacency, sometimes we need a friend behind us giving us a good shove.

Many times we find ourselves on a dock of some sort, about to be pushed in.   I think God needs to put us in situations like those because there’s no other way we’ll jump in.  (Ever avoided a dock altogether?) We all have standing-on-the-dock experiences.  Maybe it’s a new job, a life transition, a big move.  It’s scary but this is where we switch to autopilot and let God take over.

When I look back at my dock experiences, often I’m standing there in position, rocking, saying “I’m gonna do it; I’m gonna do it,” with absolutely no intention of doing it!!  So often we need to get shoved out of complacency or inactivity.  But, we argue, talking about it with friends is so much easier!  That’s when I pray someone gives me a shove!! After the fact, I’m so thankful.  It’s so much better to have done it.  Even if we’re sucking lake, we did it.  Might not look pretty, but who cares?  The next time will be better.   Graceful, even.

I’m meant to be me

Many years ago I hosted someone for coffee and was a bit in awe of all she’d accomplished. Her resume was long and contained so much of what I wished mine would contain.  Half my mind listened to her talking, the other half cataloged my very short list of accomplishments. (why do we do that?)  That wasn’t the only time I’ve listened to an impressive list of works cited but I’ve noticed that each time, it’s more okay.  I’m not sitting there green with envy or seething with jealousy as much as I’m a little impatient with myself.  I’m not much of a visionary where I’m concerned, but I would like to add to my list of credits.  And, I like to think that it isn’t because I want my own name glorified, but because He’s given me gifts that I wholeheartedly believe must, and will, be used as He intended.

Well, it’s been 7 months since I declared this the year of courage and I realize that sometimes the most courageous thing we can do is accept ourselves and get going with using our gifts.  It’s my impression that most of us struggle with that.  Clearly, it takes some courage.  We’re quick to look at our flaws or our short list of accomplishments or worse, think we’re less than the next person.  In our minds we know that’s not right.  But in our hearts, we’re guilty some days.  Since then, I’ve also met with other accomplished folks and each time they’re gracious and friendly and warm.  And not only that, inspiring.

It’s a new concept that I’m embracing:  liking me and how I’m made.  It’s been a long time coming, but I’m getting it.  For many years it was more like an extra-large shirt that didn’t fit.  It felt inside-out, the color was wrong, the buttons didn’t match their holes…now I’m starting to think that I’m rockin’ this shirt!  I’m so glad it’s mine!!  At this rate, I’m expecting to find it quite flattering, even.   I can only expect that because He’s allowed me the courage to accept myself.

Paul Tillich says, “Trust is the courage to accept acceptance.”  So in this year of courage, I’d like to accept that the Lord has me firmly in His hand and is working out exactly what He has for ME to do.  My role is not going to be what someone else’s is, obviously; it’s tailor-made for me.  Not only does that inspire me to believe that exciting adventures await, but it also allows me to be genuinely happy for others when they become who they’re meant to be.

I don’t want my kids to be happy

I read it again today; heard it on TV last week.  Here’s the scenario: child gets in a bind, struggles, must admit vulnerability, turns to parent for support.  Then, amid sappy music (even if provided in your head)…

 “But I tried so hard!  I just want you to be proud of me.”

“Honey if you’re happy, that’s all that matters.”

“Really?”  They sniff.

“Really.  That’s all your father and I ever wanted for you.  We just want you to be happy.”   Big hug.  Wipe a tear from your own eyes.   Gag if you’d like.

Now before you accuse me of being a grump, I have to protest with the weakness of these parents’ goals.  Happiness?  Really?  That’s it?  It’s not just in media.  I’ve heard real, in-the-flesh parents say the same thing. Sure I want my kids to be happy but if that’s the chief goal of their lives, they’re in for some shocking moments.

The truth is, happiness seems to be our default setting anyway.  We all will naturally choose it, so let’s push ourselves and our kids just a little bit more.  If my only goal is happiness for them, then they won’t reach beyond an elementary level in anything, won’t leave home with domestic discipline, won’t stretch themselves in academics, will always have homogeneous relationships…

I want them to try harder, be uncomfortable sometimes, take a risk, feel awkward, be confused, see injustice, feel empathy.  Which of us adults have escaped any of that?  Don’t these make us better, more sensitive  people?  I want my kids to check their own preferences at the door sometimes and go out of their way for another.  I want them to be moved to action when angered by something grossly unfair.  I want them to speak up for those who can’t speak up for themselves.  I want them to work harder and more ethically because it’s the right thing to do; not because their boss is watching.   I want them to push themselves to understand, not just know.

I could go on and on.  Will any of the aforementioned make them happy?  Maybe not immediately.  These actions will build over their lifetimes and as they mature, they will see that God does not wish for their happiness exclusively, either.  They’re meant for something far higher than mere happiness.  They will know their purpose when they become the created one the Created One created them to be.  (can’t take credit for that great line, but I quote it here aptly.)  And that might involve some unhappiness along the way; but it will also mean their lives have more depth and breadth and that, I think, will make them, their parents, their peers, and their God very happy indeed.

Earning the right to have a voice

Many, many years ago, my college writing teacher visited our town and I was able to hear him read from his new collection of stories.  He wrote about the Heartland, having an obvious love for it and its people.  The writing was honest but respectful and insightful, bringing pride to the locals who read and valued his observations.  In my conversation about writing with him afterwards, he mentioned something critically important that he had not while I was in class: “You have to earn the right to have a voice.  People don’t want to hear what you have to say unless you can show you can be trusted.”

He makes an excellent point.  So about what do we all have a voice?   Especially those of us who are not writers?  Well, plenty!  We all have something to say to the people around us.  Many levels of talk exist but when you’re with someone and you throw in your two cents, you must have first earned the right, in order to be heard.  And don’t we all want to be heard?  Here’s a short list of examples of how people have earned that right.

  •  a parent who has consistently loved and listened
  • an employee who has put in the time and been faithful and reliable
  • a spouse who is always where he/she is when he/she says they are
  • a friend who’s quicker to compassion than judgement
  • a writer/speaker who has lived it before speaking of it
  • a student who shows clear effort and communicates with their teacher

These are the folks who will be heard.  Even though I love to have a good conversation, there are a few places in which I say precious little and I’ve realized that it’s because I either have not earned the right to speak into the situation (lack of experience, haven’t known them long enough) or because I do not trust them with my thoughts (those who have been duplicitous or shown mean-spiritedness come to mind).

However, during the last several days, it’s struck me that the Lord has blessed me with some rich conversations (He knows I love that!)  And each one has been able to reach a depth that only comes when one has earned it.  Just yesterday I came home and said to my husband that I rarely revealed the details of my story to anyone, but I had over lunch to this new friend because she had already earned the right to hear the story.  I was also blessed, when others said, “I don’t know why I just told you that!”  but I knew it was because I had earned the right to listen….and they knew I would keep it in confidence.

So, soon, someone dear to me is going to return my call and I’m going to share what is on my heart about a particular nagging topic.  I have kept it to myself for many years, but I realize that she has earned my trust and I need to tell her.  Will it take courage?  Absolutely.  But that’s what this year is about:  taking a deep breath and diving in.

Not my problem

I’ve always cringed when I’ve heard people say those words,  “Hey, not my problem!”  It comes across so flippantly, so lacking in compassion.  Usually it occurs when someone they work or live with has an issue and, not wanting to get involved or help, they simply pop out a “not my problem” and walk away.  It dumbfounds me.  Variations I’ve heard are, “Sucks to be you,” or “Tough luck,”  or worse, “Glad I’m not you!”

One of the reasons I love my husband is that he cares about what I care about.  I remember years ago being frantic about a missing photo.  I was nearing a mild panic when he came home for lunch and saw me searching.  He could have easily gotten himself something to eat and read the paper while I searched, but he got right to work.  After we found it, I told him how much I appreciated how he took the time to absorb my stress and rolled up his sleeves to get to work at alleviating it.  He said, “If it’s important to you, it’s important to me.”  (insert dreamy sigh)

Just today God blessed me with solving another problem.  This was one that I had no idea how to solve and three phone calls and one piece of solicited advice had gotten me nowhere fast.  I imagined a few worst-case scenarios as I took a walk, telling my hubbie about this problem and not having a clue what to do about it.  But I’ve learned a few things over the years and I concluded as I have with many other topics in the past: “It’s not my problem to solve.  God knows about it.  He can deal with it quite capably.  Let’s see what He does.”

Well I only had to wait three days.  Not only did I learn that my problem is solve-able but it has the best, I-never-dreamed-I could-have-it-this-good solution!!  Though I did some leg-work to get this issue addressed, I did nothing but receive this news as gift straight from His hand.  Knowing that He is trust-worthy and more than able to meet my needs has been a beautiful part of my day.

So if there’s something you worry about or causes you stress, ask yourself if maybe it isn’t your problem to solve.  Give it to the One who is more than able to meet and surpass your problems, because if it’s important to you, it’s important to Him.

Don’t let worry overwhelm your wonder

Two summers ago my son was preparing to go on his first Mexico mission’s trip.  At the time, the news was rife with stories of danger for travelers.  For that reason, the team had been advised by locals to not do the street ministry they typically did – it was just too dangerous.  A week before they were to leave, our youth pastor called and told me that the leaders felt the Spirit leading them to continue with the ministry; so strongly, in fact, that they were asking if it were all right if our son participated.  What could I say?  I trusted the team’s word from the Lord and I trust the Lord…there was only one answer: Of course.

That choice was based on love, not fear.  Before you think I’m a stranger to worry and fear, I could tell you stories that prove I’ve spent my time there.  However, not long before that summer, I’d learned about the difference between love-based prayer and fear-based prayer.  So much of our prayers and conversations are fear-based.  ‘What if’ and ‘They might’ sentence beginnings prove it.  If you think about your prayers, so many of them ask the Lord to cover our fears.  He does and wants us to bring to Him all our worries, but I’d found that when I prayed too many of those kinds of prayers, my thoughts followed.  Instead, I tried a new tact: love-based thoughts and prayers.  What a difference!!

So, after that phone call and all during the mission trip, I prayed love-based prayers for my son and the team.  I asked that they truly minister and bless; that their love for Him would outshine any darkness there; that their compassion would be strong for everyone they met…and on and on.  Not once did a fear enter my mind.  The Lord reassured me that everyone would come home overwhelmed with awe and wonder.

Not only did that happen, but my wonder for the  peace He provided and the accomplishments of His goals overwhelmed me, too.  My son experienced beautiful people, the using of his gifts, camaraderie of the team and a stepping out of himself that he couldn’t have, had he stayed home.  With that, was a wonder at what God did.  His hand was everywhere as they all shared stories of an ability to go beyond what their bodies and spirits could do, so they could reach people who needed their touch.

As for me, basing my prayers in love made all the difference.  Had I worried instead of waited for Him to show me his power, I would have missed out.  My son needed to go to Mexico to teach me that, I guess.  Now, even though the world would tell me I have plenty of issues to worry about, I just can’t because I know that around the corner is an experience that will leave me in wonder at what God has done.  If I worry, I miss it, because an important part is for me to trust him to work, set aside my worry and wait for the wonder.  It’ll come.  I know it will because He keeps allowing me to live it, one story at a time.  So if you’re tempted to worry, don’t.   The wonder’s coming.  Watch for it in hopeful and confident expectation.  He will come through because He is a love-based God.