“I can’t” usually means “I won’t”

As a mom and teacher and cook, I’ve heard “I can’t” so many times, I’ve lost count.  Here’s a sampling:  “I can’t eat tomatoes (or insert other God-created food)”, “There’s no way I can clean my room”, or “I can’t read that…it’s too hard”.  I’ve got their number – they’re looking for sympathy…and a way out.  Too bad they’re stuck with a lady who believes more for them than they do for themselves.

Before you think I’m a harsh task-master, I know that a number of tasks are legitimately too much for someone to handle; but like most moms, teachers and cooks, I’m not asking for something I don’t think my young charges can handle.  They find it hard to believe that I’m actually asking them to do something that I believe they can do, based on what I know about them emotionally and intellectually.

If you’ve read my previous posts, you know I’ve had students who either believed about themselves, or had others tell them, that they couldn’t.  The work was too hard or they weren’t capable.  Well, we changed that.  One such student will hold his own in his post- high school classes and no one will guess that not long ago, it seemed that he couldn’t.  We have a reading program in our house that everyone must read at least one book a month.  Not doing so earns you 2 weeks free of all distracting screens.  How sweet, right?  It downright scares my kids.  The thought!!!  Well, I gave my son a 700+ page whopper to read and a few, including him, thought it was a little much.  Guess who’s reading for hours each night?  Yep!  He CAN!  (I already knew that.)

Don’t even get me started on when my kids tell me they can’t eat carrots or bananas or broccoli.   I’m still trying to put words to those feelings.  Anyway, I’m inspired by people courageous enough to tell themselves that they can!  It inspires me!  After all, “I can’t” messages are often meant to be overridden.  When I was on the platform with ziplining gear on, the thought crossed my mind [strongly]!  When I took an accounting job for the summer even though I don’t even balance our checkbook, a few loved ones thought, she can’t.  But last night, I did payroll.  Oh how far we can come when we tell ourselves we can.

So, Son Two has just come home and feels one of his classes is going to be one long struggle uphill.  He’s probably right, but when I said that he might get a little outside help, he said no…quickly followed by, ‘I’ll just have to work harder.’  Maybe he’s finally getting the message that I’ve been telling him for years:  you can do it.  And I want to be right beside him showing him that I’m doing it, too.

 

Squantos wanted

Know much about Squanto?  He was amazing.   Not only was he well-traveled for living in the 1600s, (okay mostly against his will, but hey, he still traveled), he was bilingual and a curious learner.  Most admirably, he apparently had a heart void of malice.  I imagine how movie producers could really take his story and make it full of nefarious plots, revenge against the white man, and scenes laced with bitterness, but that would not be true to the life this man lived.

So, why are more Squantos needed?  I don’t mean that we need interpreters for Native Americans or for others to work for the elite in shipping and trade like the original man did.  I mean we need curious learners who are willing to listen, absorb and then turn around and help.  Squanto was the bridge who stood between two cultures.  Seeing the need for help on both sides, he allowed himself to be a conduit to bless both sides by translating, explaining and demonstrating.  With him, others were able to thrive.

Too often, we are a bridge to nowhere.  Our spheres are small which means our influence is, too.  Mostly, we do our own thing, for our own people, for our own interests.  Many modern-day Squantos exist and they’re inspiring.  One couple gives up to 70% of their income away to those they know need it more (and they are not rich by anyone’s standards), one couple chooses to live in a neighborhood with people who outwardly are not like them so ministry opportunities will abound.  I know two people who are retirement age who are busier than ever blessing people by listening to, traveling to and serving alongside them.  Agencies exist to help those who struggle to help themselves, who society would deem unreachable in many ways.  Here are our Squantos!!

Those might seem too lofty for some of us to attain today, although the Lord may allow some of us to bless in similar ways.  But after doing much listening lately, I know that more humble opportunities await us all.  Here’s a few you can take to the bank:  someone you know needs you to stop talking about your stuff for a bit and listen to them talk about what’s on their heart and mind.  Someone you know is pretending their life is all together but they have a deep ache/need.  An agency near you needs more volunteers.  An older and/or ill person craves a phone call or an invitation to coffee.  Someone outside your family looks in at yours longingly.

I’ve been stepping into Squanto’s moccasins more lately and I’m here to tell you, it blesses me more than it blesses others.   The need is so incredibly great.  Join me?

 

The importance of 100%

One of the toughest aspect of parenting has to be consistency.  You know, not changing the rules of the house too often, making sure kids know what’s expected.  I’ve found that consistency – or lack of it – can drive people crazy.  For example, I know someone who says his mom was rarely consistent.  One day he could sleep in, the next she wanted to know why he was in bed.  What’s a kid to do?  For parents, keeping after kids to do what is expected of them is hard work though, and it makes sense that sometimes we just want to relax a bit.  However, I’ve seen the results of those who do less than 100% (ever been to a dirty hotel room?) and if that’s the alternative to good training while my kids are still home, then I’m motivated!

I don’t know how many times I’ve had to have my kids completely complete their work.  Here’s how it usually goes:  they are sent off to do a job, say vacuuming, and it’s not long and I hear the vacuum being put away.  Too soon, actually.  “Did you do a thorough job?”   They always say yes.  “Would I think so?  (Trust me, folks, I’m not that picky!) They usually say some form of ‘probably not’.  “Shall I check?”  I then hear the vacuum running again.  Some would argue that I’m being too fussy, or I could just finish the job myself.  Maybe…but what message does that send the child?

Here’s what I see:  Not expecting someone to do 100% of a job when you know that they can, but are just choosing not to, tells them something you don’t want.  Here’s my list:1. it’s okay to be lazy,  2. it’s okay to not do what is expected of you,  3. I can do something different when my parent/boss isn’t looking, 4. I don’t expect much of myself, 5. this is a habit that feels comfortable.

Just this morning I listened to another employer telling me he can’t find good help.  “They all want to screw around…I feel like I’m running a babysitting service.”  These are people who aren’t doing 100%.   Those who master domestic discipline are less likely to become those folks, I believe.  Son One has his first full-time job and just received a raise.  His boss is so pleased that when he asks him to do something, he does it.  Unfortunately, he stands out as atypical.  My son just says, “He told me to wear safety gear and I did.”  Apparently the others decided it’d be optional.  Bosses notice those kinds of things.  Teachers notice when kids meet deadlines and complete all requirements.  Spouses notice when requested chores are done.  Sadly, most people are more surprised when this happens than not.

So tomorrow, when Son Two mows the lawn and is tempted to skip a section that he doesn’t favor, I’ll be there to remind him, “100%”  Someday, my daughter-in-law will thank me….maybe his boss too.  But most importantly, is that he’ll work to the glory of God, knowing he’s giving his best every time.

Is anybody listening?

Recently I was poking around in a furniture consignment shop with my daughter when a man came in and spoke to the employee.  Seeing a large bench, the kind that might have been outside an old general store once, he told her, “I’m looking for a couple of benches, white, for our kitchen.  My wife would like them about this length but more modern-looking.”

Wanting to be helpful, the employee asked, “So you’d like some stools?”  (Now they had my attention.)  “Uh, no.”  Okay, what are you looking for?  He repeats himself.  Then she asked which color at which point I wanted to say, “he’s said ‘white’ twice, m’am.”  He was more patient than I was.  She continued on with questions that, had she been listening, would have been irrelevant but eventually, the man moved on, without the benches.

Oh that this were rare.  I just came from an engagement where someone bemoaned to me how good listeners are in short supply.  I know this is true because I teach.  Those kids light up my life but goodness, they are not good listeners!  But, neither are adults.  Back to my friend.  This person is gifted in listening skills.  So much so, that whenever he’s with another, they always share their concerns and hurts.  “Just one person,”  he said. “I’d like just one person who would ask how I’m doing.  I have things I need to talk about but everyone’s so busy telling me stuff, I get no opportunity to share my stuff.”

I could empathize because I often find myself on the same end of the conversation.  Don’t get me wrong:  I’ll take someone who likes to talk over someone who’s more reticent but I’d love to see a little more balance.  After all,  “The most basic and powerful way to connect with another person is to listen.  Just listen.  Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention.”  (Rachel Remen)    Listening well is more than preventing the annoyance of having to repeat  words.  It’s paying attention to someone else.  That connection with another is what so many people long for.   Maybe that’s why listening is so difficult for so many.  Listening requires concentration and the ability to key into non-verbals.

The Chinese symbol encapsulates what we need to do when we have opportunity to listen to another.  Engage your ears, yes, but also all of you.  This includes your eyes (what does their body language tell you?), your heart (what can be ‘read’ between the lines?), and give them your undivided attention (don’t scan the room looking for a distraction, don’t butt in with another topic).  Of course there’s time for less serious banter but you should know when someone needs to talk, really talk.

So I’m praying that this person would find others who are as good at listening as he is and that soon, he could share his heart.  Maybe he will have the courage, as I have had to on some occasions, to honestly say to another, “I need to talk” and that listener would allow him to do so.  What a lovely gift to give to another – to put yourself aside for a bit and just listen.  What a sweet way to give someone else your heart.

“Yeah, but you love us.”

Aside

Years ago I taught at an alternative high school.  Even though I feel extremely comfortable in a room full of teenagers, these kids were unruly, some of them had poor manners, and others had no idea how to behave in a classroom setting.  Many days I talked myself into showing up; more days I talked myself into staying.  Often, I wondered what God’s plan was for me there.

After months of training them behaviorally, as well as academically,  there were still times that their attitude and behavior drove me crazy.   As the months went on, it wasn’t that they were being more naughty, they were getting more comfortable with me.  Yet more than once, when I’d reach my exasperation point, I’d chew them out.  (envision stern face)  “This is how you behave.  This is what I expect…” that kind of thing. One memorable day, I had just given them “the talk” once again when one piped up and said, “Yeah, but you love us.”  Immediately, I said, “True.”

True.  I did.  They made me nuts, but I loved them.  Know what’s super important to a teenager?  To know they’re loved.  Heck, we teachers need that, too.   It’s been a long time since I’ve been in high school but I can relate to those kids because if I’m really honest, I’ve just described how I must look to God sometime.

I’m the kid in high school who has clear instructions laid out but still has moments where I have no idea how to behave.   And I know He has to have moments of exasperation with me.  “She knows better than that!” After that year (I left that position), I struggled spiritually in a way different than I ever had before and all I could count on were promises He makes to not abandon me, and that His love is wider, deeper and richer than anything I could ever comprehend and the best part – is mine for the taking.

When I’d feel most out of control in my spirit and desperate for someone to save me, my deep assurance was that I could say to God, “Yeah, but you still love me.”  It’s so assuring that He’s not going to quit on us, He’s not going to say,  “You’re worthless and you’ll never learn.”  God would never sit there and wonder if He should walk out because I’m slow to catch on.

He knows all about what’s going on in my heart and yet deals with me tenderly, like the loving Father He is.  So that memorable day, I learned why God had me there: to love those kids who were rarely loved; to receive gratitude from those unaccustomed to giving it.

If someone exasperates you, at least let them know that despite that, you love ’em.  They’re looking for it just like you are and we’re all children who need it.