Every year, on the first weekend of October, my church hosts a huge rummage sale, called the Whale of a Sale. All year long, we collect pre-owned items, storing them in PODs on church campus. Then, two Saturdays before the sale, we empty the PODs and fill a gymnasium. For two weeks, we continue to accept donations, organizing and pricing everything from furniture to – literally – kitchen sinks.
Inevitably, well-intentioned people donate broken, torn and dirty items. One dedicated volunteer who organizes the linens every year finds a few donated suitcases, fills them with dirty sheets, blankets, curtains and bedspreads, takes them home, washes them and brings them back. She’s diligent. Why bother with stinky, dirty donations? Why not just throw them away? Because she also volunteers for the United Methodist Children’s Home and she knows. She knows that some people have nothing. And dirty can be washed. Torn can be mended.
Last year, a leather couch was donated. At one time, it must have been beautiful. After hours of standing, day after day on a cement gymnasium floor, I can tell you it was comfortable.
But it was also dirty.
Some of the volunteers wanted to throw it out. I said no. They gave me their reasons, I gave mine. As co-chair of the event, I pulled rank and the couch stayed.
It didn’t sell. The first charity truck we called to pick up the remaining sale items left it behind.
But the day after the sale, before the second charity truck was to arrive, a church family brought in another family in need. We told them they could have anything they saw. We were offering them the stuff that no one bought, the stuff that a charity truck left behind.
Among the items remaining were a few Bibles, which we always give away freely during the sale. The children each picked up a Bible and the littlest one, a little girl no more than five, who had found a children’s bible, looked up at me and asked, “I can have this? It’s mine?”
Nearly wrecked me.
When I said, “it’s yours!” she ran to her mom to show her, saying “LOOK WHAT I GOT!!”
That’s when I noticed her dad, a very big guy, sitting on a very big, very comfortable leather sofa, with a very big smile on his face.
They filled a pick-up truck and a mini-van.
I am so blessed.
(This is not the couch, just what the mom was talking about doing to it)
My friend had asked me to meet her for coffee because she was smack in the middle of unsettling change and feeling lost. She was seeking direction, feeling powerless, overwhelmed and discouraged by her circumstances. She began our conversation by explaining that over the last few months, every time something would happen, she would think, “I really need to talk to Julie.”
Why me? Not because I knew what she should do, because I most definitely did NOT know what she should do. I don’t have some freakish sixth sense and as much as I pray for discernment, I have very little confidence in my ability to interpret God’s perspective on things in my own life, much less in anyone else’s life.
I responded by telling her that my plan was to listen and ask a lot of questions. She said, “THAT’S why I want to talk to you. You always know just the right questions to ask!”
I’ll admit. I can ask me some questions. And I know that both my plethora of questions and I can get annoying, especially when the answers begin to chip away at mindsets and decisions that were previously firm. But if I ask a question and someone’s answer leads them to doubt or to consider possibilities they hadn’t before, I view that as a good thing. It’s never good decision-making to dismiss alternative points of view without consideration. That kind of tunnel vision leads us to believe we have the best idea ever, only to come face to face with roadblocks and monkey wrenches later. Or even worse, it leads us to believe we’ve come up with the only viable solution to a problem, when really, it’s just what we found at the end of the path of least resistance. If we never consider alternative scenarios, how do we know if we’ve even come close to the best case scenario? Unchallenged thought processes run the risk of leading to substandard ideas and a false sense of security and, sometimes the high and low extremes of a false sense of superiority or resigned hopelessness.
My friend’s comment got me thinking. What are the “right” questions? There are a couple of factors.
First, I ask the honest questions, no matter how “inappropriate” or politically incorrect. I don’t have a lot of patience for pretense (reason #1 and reason #2). Because of my desire to be used by God and my understanding that He equips me for service, I always pray for Him to lead me, to give me the right words to say and to tell me when to ask them and when to SHUT. UP. I pray with full confidence that God will give me the right words to say and since I have that confidence, keeping my mouth shut or skirting around a question that pops in my head feels like a lack of faith. And disobedience. If I ask God for help and He gives it and I chicken out by rejecting or ignoring His help, that’s disobedience.
What else makes for the “right questions?” It depends. And that’s key. It depends on what the other person says. If you ever give me the honor of an onion layer conversation, I’m going ask you questions and based on what I hear, I’m going to try to ask MORE questions that (hopefully) progressively peel back the layers that may be concealing or distorting the crux of the underlying issue. I pay attention to your stories, examples and explanations with the foundational possibility that they are all manifestations of something bigger and deeper. I’m not a-scared to ask the questions that might be embarrassing or make someone angry with me. (Well. Usually. Remember the disobedience thing.) I try to test assumptions (yours and mine), whether I see them as valid or not. I’m not unaccustomed to people getting exasperated with me. As a matter of fact, exasperation is a big clue that I may be on to something. If they didn’t care about a particular issue, they wouldn’t get upset about it. The goal is to find out if they care because they are unwaveringly passionate about something or frustrated because they see the erosion of the reasoning for their point of view? Either is a step in the right direction as far as I’m concerned.
Rationalization is a huge obstacle in these conversations. I’m pretty good at it myself. Given enough time, the right books and at least 3 pages of Google search results, I can convince myself of just about anything. I can ignore the elephant in the room no matter how much he stinks. Statistically, I can not be alone in my expert and stealth rationalization skills. I’m thinking I have many, many partners in crime.
For the most part, I’ve found that deep down, people already know what they think and how they feel about their circumstances and choices. They just have trouble extracting it out of the subjective overwhelming chaos of their mind during the frantic pace of their days. We so rarely take the time to be still and think. And when we do, the sudden unaccustomed quiet is often barreled over by a deluge of overlapping thoughts all vying for top billing.
So when I’m blessed with an opportunity to engage in these deeper conversations with someone, I try not to start out by talking. There are already more than enough voices in their head already. I wait my turn, listen to the voices and, based on what I hear – sometimes spoken out loud, sometimes in between the lines – I ask questions.
Hopefully, the “right” questions.
I’ve said before that I’m the friend who prefers coffee and conversation over a couple of hours sitting silently in a dark movie theater together. I’m the friend you can talk to about the stuff that keeps you up at night – and I’m not going to judge you or tell you what to do – because I have no idea what you should do. If you let me, I’m going to pray with you and if you’re uncomfortable with that, I’m going to pray for you on my own. I’m going to listen and ask you relentless questions to help you think through and hone in on what you probably already know but sometimes can’t see because it’s blurred and hidden by the chaotic pace of life. or maybe fear. or rationalization.
I’ve been blessed and honored to have been trusted in many of those kind of conversations over the years. I’ve been blessed to see God move in some of my friend’s lives in unpredictable and phenomenal ways.
But it’s not at all uncommon for God to use these conversations to change ME. Rarely do I come out unaffected. If I’m open to it, I learn something every single time. About myself, what I believe, why I believe it and what God would have me do with what He’s teaching me. It’s one of the selfish reasons I’m so motivated to continue having “onion layer” conversations with people.
But learning is always risky. The results can be inconvenient. It’s so much easier to stick with the status quo. I usually find change unsettling and sometimes its effects are uncomfortably far-reaching. But when I have the courage to listen and be open, I make myself available for God to work in my own heart and life.
In one situation, I had a friend who asked me a question I couldn’t answer. Well, I answered it, but my answer was . . . lacking. I’ll tell you the question, but trust me, it’s not as simple as it appears:
If someone has what they believe to be – and what, in every way sounds like – a saving faith in Jesus Christ; If they believe He is THE only way to Heaven, their redeemer, the son of God, without sin, was crucified, dead and buried, descended into Hell, was raised and sits at the Father’s right hand. If they believe all this, and have gratefully accepted this gift of grace, if they regularly read the Bible and believe it is the Word of God, if they consistently spend time in prayer and they strive to live their life seeking God’s will . . . here it comes . . .
Is it possible to believe and accept Jesus WITHOUT believing and accepting His claim to BE God?
In other words, my friend believed Jesus is the Son of God, but didn’t believe Jesus IS God. They believed Jesus had all the authority of God because God granted it to Him, as His only Son. BUT. They did not believe the Father and the Son were One. They did not find the trinity to be reasonable any more than they found the word trinity in the Bible. When they asked, “When Jesus was praying in the garden of Gethsemane the night before he was crucified, who was He talking to? Himself? That doesn’t make sense!”
My immediate thought was, pshh. I talk to myself all the time.
Wait. Is that weird?
Citing multiple personality disorder as my strongest apologetic? Would not have been my strongest witnessing moment. I had to face the unpleasant fact that I was pitifully prepared to provide scriptural reasons I believe Jesus IS God. I had my own personal reasons and they made perfect sense. To me. But my friend was asking me to show them in the Bible. And I couldn’t do it, at least not on the spot. I had to tell them the truth. The inexcusable fact was that I had long ago worked through what I believed and why I believed it regarding the trinity and once I did, I moved forward. I remembered very little about why I believe what I believe. I just knew it to be truth.
As a result, even though the conversation was focused on them and their struggles, I experienced collateral learning that extended far beyond that conversation. That one question was the impetus for some serious Bible reading and theological discussion. I found multiple scripture verses supporting my belief that Jesus and God are One essence. And I’m going to remember them this time.
But I still didn’t have an answer as to whether believing Jesus and God are One is essential to salvation. Meaning, I found lots of support for my belief that they ARE One, but nothing about what it means to believe and accept Jesus WITHOUT believing and accepting His claim to BE God. But even that statement seems paradoxical.
So what did I learn, besides the scriptural support for my belief in the deity of Jesus Christ? I had to come to terms with the fact that there was NOTHING I could say or do to convince them. For every verse I found to support my position, they could point to another which supported theirs. Convincing them that Jesus IS God was not my job. It was GOD’S job. My job was to remain open to God’s leading and obedient to his promptings. He would do the rest. In His time.
My friend told me that God used me in their life. I would say the same.
I’m back to writing my book again! Momentarily holding distractions at arm’s length.
Working on my chapter on Influence, writing about the impact of Groupthink. Curious. If you were in the elevator with these people, what would YOU do?
In Kari Jobe’s album version of Revelation Song, the fourth verse builds and the word “mystery” is held for about 18 seconds. (It starts at the 4 minute mark)
I couldn’t do it.
And I really, really wanted to do it. For over a year, the worship leader didn’t even go near it. Then, one night at rehearsal, when I didn’t know it was coming, we held it out the extra beats.
I was hooked.
I rehearsed the rest of the week, and that Sunday, just before we were supposed to lead Revelation Song, the pastor lost track of the fact that we had one more song to do and began speaking.
It was scheduled again on a week with a guest worship leader. It took me THREE breaths to get through it. THREE.
I had taken it to my vocal coach and worked on it for weeks. No matter how hard I worked, no matter how many times I vocalized and repeated those particular voice lessons along with a CD, I couldn’t master those stupid 18 seconds. I achieved a whopping 50% success rate. On a good day.
Time and time again, I ran out of air after 15 seconds. If not sooner.
I took Revelation Song to the recording studio and was relentless. In the end, I was able to hold it every time, but only by holding my hands straight up in the air as far as I could reach. Whether it was physical or psychological, I seemed to make room for more air that way. But I held it. Made me lightheaded every time. And it had no building power. It actually got softer.
A thought occurred to me and I pushed it aside. For two weeks, I ignored what I believe now was God trying to tell me something.
Finally, two days ago, I told God that if I was trying to hold “mystery” out of pride, I wanted to fail.
Haven’t held it since.
Of course it’s possible that I’m freaking myself out. But more likely this is an ego smackdown straight from God. This is one of those failures I can’t overcome by working harder. Have to let it go. Counter-intuitive.
I told two other people on the worship team this ugly little truth and one of them immediately came back with this verse:
“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”
Colossians 3:5 (NIV)
ouch. That’s kinda harsh, dontcha think?
I like this one better:
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.
Isn’t that prettier? I told my husband that it kinda felt like putting lipstick on a pig. His response?
“It’s a cop out if you ask me.”
Ugly but true.
Colossians 3:23 is a goal. Something to strive for. Colossians 3:5 is about acknowledging sin. Big, fat, ugly, lipstick covered sin. And who wants to see that? I certainly didn’t.
So ugly I didn’t even want to put that pig picture on this post.
But there it is.
I’m leading Revelation Song on Sunday. And I’m planning on taking a breath in the middle of those 18 seconds. If God doesn’t think I’ve been humbled enough, I asking him to make me need TWO.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Ephesians 4:29-32 (NIV)
Lord, there’s something liberating about an unresolvable situation. It forces me to remember that on my own, I can do nothing. YOU can do anything. So, when I reach an impasse with another person, when I face the undeniable fact that there’s absolutely nothing I can do to resolve a situation, the only thing I’m left with is prayer. Thank you for helping me realize and accept that all my own human efforts will pale in comparison to what YOU can do. If you choose to. Talk and actions may result in temporary manipulation, but long-lasting, fundamental change will come when YOU speak and move. Thank you for reminding me that while Romans 8:28 promises you will work all things for good, sometimes, in my own life, that looks like failure. Thank you for helping me accept that sometimes, in my own life, giving grace means walking away, even if it means walking away from something I love. Please comfort me as I let go. Please encourage me as I seek your will to fill the void this loss will create.
“Jesus washes our feet for two reasons. The first is to give us mercy; the second is to give us a message, and that message is simply this: Jesus offers unconditional grace; we are to offer unconditional grace. The mercy of Christ preceded our mistakes; our mercy must precede the mistakes of others.”
JUST LIKE JESUS by Max Lucado
“So who says he’ll forgive you? And says that he’ll miss you? And dream of your sweet memory? God does. But I don’t. God will. But I won’t. And that’s the difference between God and me.” (what? cut me a break, I’m still working on it…is this better?)
God Will by Lyle Lovett
“Well I find that I’m just not agile enough, to balance the weight of all of this stuff. It’s a cumbersome task that demands too much and it’s gettin’ me nowhere fast…As far as the east is from the west, these are the things that I must forget. I’ll lay down my anger before the sun sets, I will forgive. I will forget. I will remember not, I will forgive. These things that tear my heart, I will forget. I will forget.
Remember Not by Susan Ashton (click HERE to listen)
Back to yoga class this morning. I’m paying for taking the summer off.
PinkGirl: “WHAT is that SMELL?”
FavoriteHusband, working on my shoulder: “your mom calls it ‘stinky hot’ but it’s really called BENGAY.”
PinkGirl: “it’s GROSS!”
A few minutes later:
FavoriteSon: “Why do I smell Pepto-Bismol?”
Me: “It’s stinky hot.”
FavoriteSon: “Smells like Pepto.”
Mr. Miyagi could fix my shoulder without stinkin up the place.
Me: “PinkGirl, you know what time it is?”
Me: “Time to lay out your clothes for school tomorrow.”
extreme, dramatic faux fainting
Me: “And pack your lunch.”
and just like that. Summer is over.
Took FavoriteSon to Walgreens for a rapid strep test yesterday afternoon.
NursePractitioner: “So, what’s going on?”
FavoriteSon: “I think I have strep. I woke up around 3:00 this morning and my throat was killing me.”
NP: A sore throat doesn’t necessarily mean strep.”
Me: He’s correctly diagnosed himself the last two times he got strep.”
NursePractitioner: “We’ll see.”
A few minutes later…
Me: “We doubled him up on ibuprofen to get him through the night.”
NursePractitioner: “He could have had a GI bleed in the middle of the night.”
Me: “I’ve had multiple surgeries and doubled up on ibuprofen for days after my percoset ran out. We gave him one double dose.”
NP: “He’s right. He has strep.”
FavoriteSon gave each other the “we told her so” look.
NP: I’m giving him a prescription for penicillin.”
Me: “Can you prescribe a Z-Pack instead?”
NP: Most people are immune to Z-Packs now.”
Me: Our family physician usually prescribes a Z-Pack for him when he gets strep. It’s been very effective.”
NP: “Why didn’t you just go to your family doctor?”
Me: “Because it’s Sunday afternoon.”
NP: “Well, I don’t want him to have to come back when it doesn’t work.”
Me: “Oh, we wouldn’t come back HERE.” (to myself)
Me: “Is this twice a day for ten days?
NP: “Three times a day for ten days.”
Me: THREE times a day? Two times a day is challenging enough. I know us, we won’t finish it. We’ll forget. We always finish a Z-pack.”
NP: I’m prescribing the three times a day for 10 days. If you forget a dose, just double up.
Me: “Pretend I spoke words out loud.” (to myself)
NP: “You might want to think about having his tonsils out.”
Me: “shhh. You’ve lost all credibility with me now.” (to myself)
Later, when my family doc called me back…
Me: “So do I fill the 3 times a day, 10 day penicillin or do you want to call in a Z-pack?”
FavoriteDoc: “No. I”ll call one in as soon as we hang up. But keep the penicillin script in case you get a toothache. That’s about all it’s good for.”
I LOVE our family doctor. He even called me back to tell me the pharmacy was closing in an hour.
“If it was easy, everyone would do it” is one of my mantras.
I say it to my kids when they struggle with ANYthing and I see discouragement or frustration start to set in. I say it to my husband, friends, clients and sometimes, even strangers.
I say it to myself.
When I’m supposed to be writing and find myself staring at the screen, fingers atrophied over the keyboard.
When I spend two hours writing, proofread what I’ve written and immediately want to start over.
When I’m trying to curl a 15 pound dumbbell for the 12th time in my second set.
When I’m 2 minutes and 20 seconds into my 2 minute, 30 second forearm plank.
When I’m trying not to fly off the back of the treadmill during my HIIT walking program.
When I drag myself off the couch to pick up that stupid dumbbell or put on my walking shoes.
When I’m 3 seconds short of an 18 second note I’ve been trying to hold out. For the 100th time.
When my voice breaks on that high note I’m trying to hit in full voice. After two years of voice lessons.
When I’m vocalizing for the third time in a day in an attempt to get the “right” technique to become second nature.
Just a few weeks ago, during a break in a recording session, I mentioned something about needing to work on something with my voice teacher. The sound technician said, “YOU have a voice teacher!?” I responded with a big “Heck, YEAH!” He paused for a moment and then said, “It just seems more like you would teach voice lessons, not take them.” I quickly and firmly told him that I will never be too good for voice lessons.
But that exchange emphasized a very common misconception: The things people are good at just come naturally to them.
SO not true.
And the persistence of that mindset devalues the accomplishment, no matter what it is. The persistence of that mindset liberates other people from trying. It turns a potential mentor into someone to be resented and berated. Instead of being viewed as someone who met a goal as a result of hard work, they are instead viewed as “lucky.” Rather than inspiring someone else to take their own steps toward better and stronger, they become a discouragement to others. Because the perception is that whatever the goal, it’s not achievable by anyone but the lucky ones.
The book, Talent Is Overrated claimed, “One factor, and only one factor, predicted how musically accomplished the students were, and that was how much they practiced.”
The fact is that excellence isn’t easy. It doesn’t happen without work. Usually hard work. Developing a skill takes time. and repetition.
Experience is a teacher in and of itself.
What most people don’t realize is that mediocrity is only one short day of slackin away. Just because I do something well, doesn’t mean I’ve finished learning or practicing.
The fact that I was in a writing zone yesterday doesn’t insure against writer’s block tomorrow.
Being satisfied with today’s writing doesn’t mean I won’t be filled with doubt and repulsion about tomorrow’s.
The ability to lift a 15 pound dumbbell today doesn’t mean I won’t have to opt for 10 pounds tomorrow.
Making it through a 2 minute, 30 second plank today doesn’t mean I won’t collapse at 2 minutes the next day.
Finishing the 30 minute HIIT treadmill program today is no guarantee that I won’t wimp out the next time.
The fact that extracted myself from the couch today doesn’t mean won’t stay curled up on it tomorrow.
As I’ve discovered, holding a note for 18 seconds one time, does NOT mean I can now do it any time I want.
The same is true for that high note – once does not mean always.
Even after spending hundreds of hours practicing the “right” way to sing, I still drift into old habits . . .
For me, excellence isn’t a destination I’ll ever arrive at and rest comfortably. Because of my relentless determination to be a good steward of all that God has blessed me with, the striving for excellence is a lifetime journey.
To find out why I’m so obsessed with striving for excellence, check out this post: I. Want. More.