A crown of righteousness

Many students have left an impression on me but recently I thought of Kathryn, a girl with weekly-changing hair color, piercings and a sullen look that challenged anyone from getting too close. Could I give her a ride? Sure! When she muttered something about how annoyed I must be with teens like her, I was quick to say that nothing could be farther from the truth. “I love teenagers!” Her look said she didn’t believe me. I assured her: it’s true. I think they’re the most fun, exciting and interesting people around.
“No one likes us,” she muttered.
“Ha! Not so. I do.” I hoped my sincerity came through. My young friend left my van a little perplexed but hopefully more affirmed than when she got in.
I feel blessed to see teenagers differently. I see their potential as future adults; as kids with caring hearts, desirous of being themselves but also wanting relationships with accepting adults (though they’re often loath to let adults know that). God has created my heart to be drawn to them. Most of the time, when people learn that I’ve spent my entire adult career working with teens and love it more with each year, they are completely befuddled. It’s usually because they remember their own teen years fraught with heartache and confusion; a time where one foot is in adulthood while the other still resides in childhood.

As a former teen, I remember what it’s like to have a teen’s energy and stamina but also what it feels like to be young and foolish. I’m not young anymore but I have a clear perspective of those incidences that showed me in a less than flattering light in my youth. I keenly remember feeling embarrassed or ashamed or confused after a flub; sometimes getting yelled at, sometimes just feeling the sting of silence. Mostly, I puzzled things out on my own because as a Christian young lady, I “should have known better”; however, I was still a kid and needed someone to put their arm around me and tell me how to correct myself, make things right and then to soak in forgiveness and restoration.
As a mom of three kids, I’ve witnessed their own navigation of their teen years and cherished those times when a trusted adult loves them in their awkwardness or embarrassment. If you’re working, ministering or living with teens, you will have myriad opportunities to love them after a mistake.
I recently had a front row seat to a situation that brought this all to mind. As you could guess, it involved a young person and foolishness. Teens are not yet adept at interacting with people and they’re bound to hurt others – usually unintentionally. And so this girl did. She hurt others by her actions and felt terrible about it. Eventually, by the grace of God, things smoothed out but what a lesson for her! In this case, she made a mistake, was forgiven and then restored. Throughout this experience, what was loud and clear is that we’re not princesses born wearing a crown.

Because of what Jesus did, we’ve earned a crown of righteousness, but in our humanity, we forget and behave otherwise. We make mistakes; we offend; we frustrate. That’s to be expected. But those of us who’ve lived through our years of doing the same have a huge responsibility: to remind the younger person that the crown is there, they just have to live up to it.
It’s not just teenagers. Sometimes we all just need someone to hold that crown aloft for us to want to stand up high enough for it to rest on our head. The best, most wise people hold it a few inches above us and when they do, almost everyone will rise up to it.
I’m not always going to get it right, but I want to be the one who holds the crown over a teen’s precious head. I want to inspire them to be better and to forgive them when they’re not. After having so many students through the years, the most special to me are the ones who tell me years later that I did that for them. They don’t use those words, but it’s more like, “I knew other adults were annoyed by me or saw me as trouble. You seemed to like me.” Hey kid – I did. You’re amazing, fun, spunky…and full of potential. And I can see that crown hovering over your head. It was a little askew sometimes, but that’s okay. In His mercy, God let me adjust it every once in awhile. Now, go do that for someone else.

A Buddhist and a Christian walk into a room….

I met a new friend a few years ago who I liked instantly.  I hoped that we would be able to know each other for a long time.   Then she shared that she was a Buddhist.  Oh.  I have no problem with that; it’s just that I’ve never known a Buddhist before.  This was new and it was a good new. We talked openly about things and what was most appealing were these words: “I’m not going to judge you.”   How refreshing!

I know all about judging because I feel like an expert some days.  It’s so hard for us NOT to judge and we do it so sub-consciously that it becomes our default setting.  Granted, some are better at this than others, but I’ve also heard from some amazingly honest people lately about how opinionated they are, how they find it easier to gripe about people than listen to them and they seem to have more fun with friends with they’re criticizing others. Hhmmm….

After thinking about these comments, I prayed about trying a different approach with people:  to assume the best more often, and to not judge but ask about what else might be going on so I can have a more complete picture than the one I knee-jerk guess.  Or, just praying for them. As a Christian, I have prayed for forgiveness many times for my critical spirit and my lack of grace with others.  There’s no excuse when Jesus has been generous to the point of giving His life for me.  But I also know I’m a sinful woman who can look Him full in the face and His mercy covers me anew each day.

And to that end, this morning my Buddhist friend called and left me crying when I hung up.  Not tears of sadness but from a weight of compassion.  She asked the right questions, listened compassionately and understood my vulnerability generously and accepted my honesty graciously.   That kind of love brought me to tears.  I don’t claim to understand a thing about Buddhism; and I have a long way to understanding the complex mysteries of my God and Father, but I know for certain when He brings two women together to bless each other.

So here I am, a committed Christian, wanting to be a little more like my Buddhist friend in her acceptance and openness of people.  It makes me think of others who aren’t Christians but have something about their natures that I want to emulate.  Speaking only for myself and not for Christians at large, I know that I live in a bubble of my own making.  To my shame, I can’t rattle off a list of non-Christian friends.  It’s not because I’ve intentionally avoided them, but because my orbit is a little too small.  I’m working on that – and excited about it.

When we first met, my friend asked me if it would be a problem for me to befriend her and I said No immediately.  For one, I rarely think of her religion and, I also believe God can use anyone and He clearly is using her to bless me.  As we approach Easter, I’m reminded of the new life that He gives us and I’m thankful that sometimes a new turn of heart comes from unlikely places and people.

Can you sum up your life in 6 words?

i can’t help it, I’m always on the prowl.  Magazines, flyers, books, sites, the backs of cereal boxes, for pity’s sakes… you name it, if it has words on it, I want to read it.   I scour, wander, search and I find.  Besides my own edification, I want to find an interesting writing assignments for my students, and to that end,  I stumbled across a book on six-word memoirs.  I tore through it, wishing I could know some of these people who so succinctly summed up and shared their lives in this form.

 

How do you even begin to start when asked to state your life in a mere six words?  Were it me, I could go in a number of different directions.  My health? How about Need replacement body; this one’s broken.  My family? Married kind, gentle, guy; never fight.  Or, Won kid lottery, have three winners.  My career: Best job: teens plus writing, reading.  My hobbies: Chocolate: bake, frost, share, slice, savor.

Here are my favorites:

Optimistic:

Curly haired sad kid chose fun.

Tragic childhood can lead to wisdom.

I live the perfect imperfect life.

Working with what God gave me.

 

Sweet:

Sweet wife, good sons; I’m rich.

Polio gave me a happy life.

We were each other’s favorite person.
There’s an interesting story behind these:

Almost a victim of my family.

Thought I would have more impact.

I fell far from the tree.

It was embarrassing so don’t ask.

 

Funny:

Without me, it is just aweso.

It’s pretty high, you go first.

Overjoyed I’m not like my sister.

Well, I thought it was funny.

Now it’s your turn.  I know I have readers who don’t post a comment but I’d love to see your six-word memoir. If you can sum up your life in six words, please do!

 

 

Temporary idiocy

Since I spend the majority of my time with teenagers, I sometimes get the honor of being a friend, too.  And when they get hurt, I offer my love through a listening ear.  Recently, a few of these dear people have unburdened their hearts with stories that leave me sad but thankfully, not confused.  Here’s how it goes:

As adults, we know that it doesn’t take long on this planet before someone’s going to hurt us.  Well, these friends of mine were hurt so badly and couldn’t understand why the people who they previously thought were friends were behaving so, well, unfriendly!  In one case, they were unrepentantly snubbed with merely a shrug and in another, were the scapegoat for someone else’s sins.  People on the periphery did nothing to help, just left them stranded in cold water.

In talking to them, one observation made us mildly cheered and that is that most people are just temporary idiots.  The periphery people, especially teenagers, are basically good, solid kids.  Their hearts are in the right place and they want to do the right thing, but when friends’ relationships sour, the folks on the fringe don’t know what to do.  So, they end up doing nothing, which can hurt in its covertness as much as the original hurt in its overtness. Saying nothing is sometimes the wisest route, but other times, saying nothing hurts terribly. This is where temporary idiocy comes in. Their silence or hurtful actions are hopefully temporary.  Usually when the dust settles, they can see they were in error in stranding their friend.  The true friend will tell them that later.

I know this because I had a friend do something similar to me.  She had distanced herself with giant bounds because she guessed I wouldn’t like a decision she made.  I had no idea why she was so cool, but I gave her space and didn’t freak out.  Almost a year later, she called me and shared that she had changed course and now wanted to talk.  It was one of the best talks ever because I could honestly tell her that ignoring me didn’t help either of us.  She had assumed incorrectly.  I was completely indifferent about her decision so her fears were ungrounded but just having her say she was a temporary idiot made me admire and love her more.

In a recent movie, I heard this wonderful line: The heart is not so easily changed, but the head can be persuaded.  Isn’t that true?  Our hearts and minds get entangled so easily, but our heads have hope!  When we give each other some time, and talk openly, we can confess that we all mess up.  With time, we come around.  May we all have the grace to give to each other generously through warm hearts and listening ears.

Okay, that doesn’t help

I know that generally, people mean well.  Really, they do, but there’s some real ham-handedness going on out there.  This week I’ve had a hand-full of people mention how they cringe when they are offered cliches when what they were really looking for was some compassion or understanding.

Okay, okay, I know not everyone is a counselor, nor should they be but can we not say to people who have just lost a loved one, “Well, at least they’re in a better place,” or to someone who’s struggling in a relationship, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” or how about my most loathed, “It is what it is.”  Ugh!!!!

That last one frosts me because I heard it said too many times from someone who used it as an excuse for his ineptness, his tardiness and his apathy.  Schedule a meeting (you’re supposed to lead) and not show up? Well, it is what it is.  Disappoint and frustrate a dozen people because you continually over-promise and under-deliver?  Well, it is what it is.  Actually, no.  What it is is rude.  It’s a cop-out.  It’s lame.  Own it and treat people better, buddy.

The words we use are a good indication of what’s important to us.  Want someone to buck up?  Tell them Kelly Clarkson’s ‘if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger’ line.  (not that she’s the originator of the line) Want someone to get over grieving already?  Tell them their loved one is in a better place.  Sick and tired of someone being sick and tired?  Give a flip story about how you just get up and get on with the day, as if that’s so easy for everyone.  Usually our trite responses just make our listener wish they hadn’t said anything.

Everyone will be in a situation in which we just don’t know what to say, but I vote for saying something kind and loving as opposed to trite and harsh.  Saying “I don’t know” or “I’m so sorry you’re struggling with that’ is better than posturing that you’ve figured their problem out and have a flip answer for them.  Sometimes we want to rush people to the end of the story.  We want people to just get over it already.  Don’t we?

Many, many years ago, I went through a particularly long relapse of Chronic Fatigue.  Throw in a few other complications and I was barely slogging through my days.  It was obvious I needed help and there were those who wanted to help so a cleaning crew of ladies came in and went over my house with invigorating energy.  It was such a boon.  Wanting to thank each of them personally, I called each one over a series of days and expressed my gratitude.  The first few I called were confusingly cool to me on the phone.  A few more were a bit warmer but I was puzzled by their clipped “you’re welcomes.”  Attributing it to anything else but my inklings, I made one last call and out it came:  after they left my house, they went out for coffee and all decided that what I really needed to do was tackle one little project at a time.  Other bits of advice came out but what I heard loud and clear was judgment.  I didn’t hear compassion for being an ill young mom.  I didn’t hear any kind of leeway given for having to tackle these things and more while I feel like I have the flu every day.  It was just a ‘you-really-should….’ list that just plain hurt.

Experiences like those make us clam up.  They make us determine never to reveal a need again.  They make us distrustful, because what’s behind our words are values and assumptions and those can lead to some profound misunderstandings.  Misunderstandings lead to hurt.  When someone is told something as unhelpful as the above comments, we hear what they’re really saying loud and clear and it’s not loving, kind or wise.

As the years tick by and the hurts stack up, so do the occasions where people get it right, thankfully.  I think of my neighbor Sherri who had only a faint hint that I wasn’t the image of health and one day she came onto the yard to see me barely awake and as limp as last night’s spaghetti.  God bless her, she didn’t ask anything, she just took in the scene of two little boys running around and said, “I’ll have the boys at my house this afternoon, go get some rest.  I’ll bring them home in time for dinner.”  I could have cried.  No judgment, just help.  It still brings tears to my eyes.  That scene is a model for me that I refer to often.  I don’t always get it right, but I try, and it helps to know that when people disappoint us on earth, we can lean into a Savior who was an expert at suffering.  He knew it all: betrayal, pain, sleeplessness, rejection….and he chose it.

Everyone’s going to have a weak day or week or month or year and when we do, I want to lean into a Lord who gets it and not rely too much on people who don’t.  I also am reassured that there ARE folks out there who know exactly how to come alongside others and just do what needs to be done, with kindness and love.  So if you know someone who wouldn’t be helped by a ham-handed remark, keep it to yourself and reach for something a little more gentle.  Better yet, just listen without judgment – one of the most beautiful gifts you can ever give to another.

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.

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.