Meet Chuck

Two weeks ago I sat across from a 17 year old guy who slouched in his desk, waiting for my writing lesson.  He listened politely enough but when asked to write a sentence, he said matter-of-factly, “I can’t.”  The others filled me in:  he always says that. They didn’t encourage or expect him to do anything.   Unoffended, he confirmed that, in his own words, he “can’t do much.”  With a shrug, he looked at me blandly as I stared at him, incredulously.  Can this kid be serious?  I perceived no attitude, no defiance… just a simple statement of fact – from his point of view, that is.  Apparently, from the reaction of his peers, everyone just took his inability as the way it is.  Ha! Challenge accepted, kid.

I wish I could have introduced him to Chuck.  In case you didn’t know, Chuck Close is a world famous artist and I stumbled upon his work this week.  I was drawn to his concept of only using faces as his subjects but as I read more, I was more and more impressed; not with his work as much as with him.  His book tells of his growing up as an artist which is quite predictable, I guess, but what grabbed me is that this man graduated from high school not being able to add, subtract or multiply.  To say he had learning challenges is an understatement.  Yet, he graduated from three colleges, the last being Yale.

After finding much success with his art, marrying and raising daughters, he suffered a medical emergency which left him a quadriplegic.  Many would find it reasonable that his art career would be over but not this guy.  His assistants Velcro the brushes to his hands and he’s fashioned special chairs and lifts so he can work on his super-large paintings.  Impressed yet?  I am!  So I think back to this kid who told me he can’t write a simple sentence.  He was perfectly healthy and academically capable but his attitude was awful.  Actually, I’ve seen lots and lots of negative attitude but this guy was indifferent, which some would say is worse.

I’m happy to report that at the end of our time together, this young man found some inspiration and wrote two pages for me.  I ribbed him before I left, “Couldn’t even write a sentence, huh?  Look at you now.”  He seemed pleased and not a little surprised.  I hope that’s all it took to shake him from his complacency and realize that he has so much more ability that he thought he did.  I hope even more that he finds himself meeting people who let him know just how capable he is.  Even if he were to lose the use of all his limbs, he is STILL able to do so much.  After all, look at Chuck!

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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.

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.