“C.S. Lewis (on reading another author):
“He brought me violently face to face with…”
from Yours, Jack by C.S. Lewis
I LOVE it when that happens! It’s why I read dead guys and footnotes when I don’t have to. I love it when a writer makes me think. I love it when my beliefs are challenged, when my complacency is given a swift kick in the pants, when my arrogant assumptions are blindsided by something I never considered before.
Why do I love it when a writer brings me “violently face to face” with a new perspective I hadn’t considered or a truth I hadn’t realized?
Long story short? Complicated and detailed reasoning summarized? I have an extreme aversion to uninformed myopic opinions being spouted as declarations of objective truth.
I like to learn. To think. And I learn a LOT from books. I like to plow into what other people have written. Reading and learning fuel me and fuel the conversations I have, the words I write and the decisions I make.
You don’t have to be a reader to be informed. In the age of Google and Wikipedia, you can find out whether what you believe is hooey in a matter of seconds.
I’m allergic to hooey. The last thing I want to do is spread it around.
“A friend of mine is a singer. From time to time she goes to record vocal tracks at a studio here in town. One evening she went and she was in a different room than she had ever been in before. In a studio, there is always some form of sound absorbing material, so that the recording is clean and clear, but in this case the sound materials were unique. The guys in the studio called them “trees” because instead of being attached to the walls, the whole room was full of these sound absorbing columns. My friend would stand on her mark, and they would move the columns around her, surrounding her with the trees. Well at one point, the lights went out and if she hadn’t already been on her mark, she would not have known where she was, and would have been bumping into the “trees,” and unable to find her mark. Because her feet were planted before it got dark, she felt secure and confident, she just had to wait until the lights came back on. Do you see where I’m going with this? There will be struggles in this life. You will have suffering, and loss, and confusion. But the question is not “where are the trees,” but “where are your feet?” If you understand that Christ has made a way for you to be in the presence of God both now (through the Holy Spirit), and in the end (in the New Heavens and New Earth); if you cultivate a relationship with his Holy Spirit–becoming ever-more aware of his daily, constant presence with you; if you worship in light of these truths–knowing that God is here in Christ’s name, and if all of this seeps down into your heart, then when the lights go out you’ll be on your mark, you’ll be secure and confident, and you just have to wait until the lights come back on–in this life, or in glory.”
by Curtis Froisland
[to read my version of this story, CLICK HERE]
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)
Father, thank you for turning the lights out. again. Thank you for stripping away all the tangible, visible things that had become a stumbling block in my pursuit of an intimate relationship with You. Only You know the extent to which the extraction of those things rocked my faith and shattered my confidence. Even though these last 5 months have been the darkest of my life and I may never fully understand them, I’m grateful for the lessons I have learned. Thank you for striking me full in the face with the reminder that if I sincerely want the intimacy with You that I say I do, I have to be willing to be vulnerable. Transparent. I need to wholly surrender to Your sovereign plan. Thank you for helping me to find peace in the process and result of letting go of my own dreams and plans. Please help me find sustaining and true joy in trusting You and following You NO MATTER WHAT. Please, please help me find that fine line between dying to self and being a good steward of the gifts You bless me with. Please help me to relentlessly pursue my passions without allowing them to become idols. Please help me to overcome my fear and determination to NEVER put my love for them above my love for You ever again and to boldly “go and make disciples” in every single area of my life. Help me to step forward even though I know one of those steps could result in disobedience and discipline. again. Please help me to remember that pruning is necessary in order that I “bear much fruit. Thank you for helping me to understand Your silence doesn’t mean You’ve left me alone in in the dark.”
“You move in the unseen. You set the captives free. As I stand and sing, you’re breaking the chains off me. Breathe in me Your life, I can feel You are close now. I can never hide You are here and You know me. All I need is You
And I love You…Breathe in me Your life ’til Your love overtakes me. Open up my eyes, let me see You more clearly.”
by Bones (Live) by Hillsong
I’ve known for a very long time that I’m different. Not “better” different. Because, really, “better” is relative. Better than what? The comparisons are limitless. and I’m thinking at least 50% of them wouldn’t be pretty. “Different” can imply too much trouble. too much work. weird. tiresome. exasperating. I don’t deny those adjectives. They’re not my favorite, but they’re not untrue.
I’m not a kid anymore.
I’ll be 49 this month. In 4 days actually. Time for (another) hard look in the mirror:
Retin-A prescription. check.
paralyzing self-doubt. che…WAIT.
WHAT THE H3LL is THAT DOING HERE?
no no no no no. That has got to GO.
Somehow, somewhere, some way, the idea that I’m “doing it WRONG” had planted itself smack in the middle of my writing path, taking me on a multi-month detour that led straight into a dead end. I stopped “doing it” altogether and focused instead on the WAY I was doing it. Which again, I
perceived believed was WRONG.
Ironically, the thing that triggered the paralyzing self-doubt was the exact same thing that knocked me free from it.
~ Someone telling me my blog posts were selfish made me forget that a blog, by definition is an online journal. So, by definition, MY blog is about what I think and how I feel and how I process. It’s not a place where I write one-size-fits all articles directed at the masses in exchange for money. I intentionally don’t monetize this blog because I want to say what I want to say without outside censorship. Almost overnight, internal censorship resulted in words that were so restricted and appropriately vanilla that proofing them was like reading something written by a complete stranger. A boring stranger. KMN. I forgot that clicking – or not clicking – a mouse button is a choice every single person who reads my blog is free to make…or NOT make.
~ Someone telling me they don’t read my blog because I tend to ramble on, somehow made me count my words – instead of considering the fact that maybe they just DON’T WANT TO READ it. I took the “ramble on” feedback to mean that I needed to learn to write more concisely – instead of considering the possibility that maybe – just maybe – what I have to say just flat out doesn’t interest them.
~ Two different people tell me they sometimes have to read something I’ve written twice and I focus on the one who tells me I lost them instead of focusing on the one who wants to have coffee to explore what I said and talk about what she took away from it after the second, slower read it required and the deeper thinking it led to.
~ And most frustrating and challenging of all, there were widespread tangential comments from, and conversations with, multiple people about both my Christ-centered church and my search for joy blog posts which didn’t seem to be related to the content of what I had actually written. I had written extensively about the why and how we do things and the feedback was all about what we do – or about something else entirely. I was overwhelmed and grieved with the heartbreaking realization that we were suffering from a fatal illness and the feedback I was hearing was all about how dedicated we are to our health and how hard we work to eat right and exercise. It was a disconnect I couldn’t reconcile.
and so I shut down. no more writing until I could learn how to do it with more clarity.
Finally, after months of being unable to even open my book draft, and after finally identifying exactly WHY (a lack of confidence in my ability to effectively encode ANYthing I wanted to say), I began asking people to restate, in their own words, what they thought I said. One after another, multiple people made it crystal clear to me that my encoding was spot on. The message was clear. It was understood.
It was just rejected.
wait. that’s probably just a different kind of bad.
BUT IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH MY ABILITY TO COMMUNICATE EFFECTIVELY!
I’m used to rejection. Being dismissed is old hat. I’m SO much better at respectfully agreeing to disagree than I’ll ever be at pretending to agree.
But being an educator and believing I had become an incompetent communicator? That was paralyzing.
This feedback led to a significant pivot point. These people were able to succinctly restate my message. They had a very clear understanding of what I wrote and their ability to precisely restate what I said – along with their rejection of it – was just the epiphany I needed to break free from this quagmire. In that pivot point moment, I saw it. I was suffering from toxic levels of avoidance. I couldn’t write. Not because I didn’t have anything to say, but because by NOT writing, there was absolutely ZERO chance I could create selfish, rambling, rhetoric that loses people. I had spent weeks re-reading previous blog posts with the eye of an iron glute professor armed with textbook communication theory and a psychological red pen that could berate Dr. Seuss for lack of clarity and nonsensical vocabulary.
I’m not saying I’m going to insulate myself from honest, yet sometimes negative feedback because it might derail me again. I understand the dangers of a steady diet of rainbows. I’ve paid a therapist and a voice teacher to tell me the truth. I’m going to keep seeking feedback. And NOT only from people who believe every kid who plays should get a trophy. I just need to REMIND MYSELF of ONE thing EVERY. SINGLE. time I process a word of it:
I’m a square peg.
and I LIKE being square. I think round things are inefficient uses of space. And I know the look I get when I say that out loud to someone. It goes with the eye roll you just gave me. Nobody thinks or cares about the the spacial efficiency of square objects.
except maybe me. because I’m different.
If you read my last post, “growing pains” you know I’ve been having trouble seeing God’s hand in my life over the last few months.
God has been silent.
When I first became aware of the silence, I immediately assumed sin was separating me from God. I confessed all the sin I could identify. I raked through my life and identified the sin I had been rationalizing or been numb and oblivious to. I asked God to reveal to me anything I hadn’t found.
Be careful what you pray for.
I let go of some things in my life. Good things. One thing in particular that was responsible for actually helping me to discover how to worship God – to praise Him – for who He was instead just thank Him for what He did for me; for the blessings He afforded. This was something I had never understood or been able to do before. That’s what made leading worship a good thing. a very good thing.
I let it go because it had morphed into a crutch I had become dependent on to facilitate that worship.
I let go of other “good” things too. They had become obstacles in my relationship with Him.
But if you are one of the handful of people who actually read this blog regularly, you know all that.
Since then, God has been silent.
I’ve been seeking God every day. Relentlessly.
that’s an understatement.
Still. God has been silent.
After more than 6 years of sensing God’s presence and movement in my daily life, it took less than two months for me to become resigned to the silence.
Not seeing or sensing God’s hand in my life, I stopped looking for it.
I expected the silence. It became my new normal.
I began reading everything I could about finding delight and joy in God. About spiritual dryness, spiritual darkness, the absence of God and the silence of God. C.S. Lewis, R.C. Sproul, John Piper, Philip Yancey and authors new to me, like Thomas Green, John of the Cross, and Teresa of Avila. People who experienced and wrote about the “dark night.” Some of them talked about the dark night lasting the rest of their life.
I stopped writing in my prayer journal.
I had nothing to say.
I began abiding.
I threw myself into the mindless work of purging my environment and my life of superfluous things.
I began learning how to “pray without words” as C.S. Lewis would say. I stopped filling up the space between me and God with my voice. my incessant talking. I shut up. and I listened.
And God was silent.
In the beginning, I hated it. It was unsettling.
I was brokenhearted. I don’t say that kind stuff about myself. But there’s really no better way to describe it.
C.S. Lewis described it this way:
“We can bear to be refused but not to be ignored. In other words, our faith can survive many refusals if they really are refusals and not mere disregards. The apparent stone will be bread to us if we believe that a Father’s hand put it into ours, in mercy or in justice or even in rebuke.”
from Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer
After a few weeks, there was peace in the quiet. Like sitting with a close friend. The kind of friend you can ride in a car with, not talking, and feel no need to fill the void with spoken words. completely grounded. no need for a stealth “#awkward” tweet from the passenger seat.
so, there was peace.
but not joy.
In my last post, I said that I hadn’t been able to pray any specific petitionary prayers because I didn’t trust my motives. I said that last Monday I had hit bottom. The silence had become unbearable.
I asked God to let me sing again. In my weakness, I instinctively reached out for the one thing that had allowed me to experience true JOY in God – regardless of my circumstances.
Singing to Him. I hadn’t been able to bring myself to do it since June 30th.
I went to bed that Monday night, the silence ringing in my mind. Disappointed in myself for caving. For chickening out and turning my back on whatever God is trying to teach me in this time of silence. Instead of trusting in the process of this journey, I reached out for old, tried and true, comfortable habits.
I wimped out.
I was convinced God was teaching me something. Something important. Although I had no idea what and I had no idea how long the lesson would last. It seemed that, at what appeared to be the hardest part of the lesson, I was asking God to give back what I had given up. I was going backward. I was turning my back on what He has for me now.
As I fell asleep, I took back my request. I told God that I didn’t want to settle for temporal blessings of comfort and happiness in exchange for this new relationship. Even if the new relationship meant years of silence.
Last Monday night was my darkest night.
[CLICK HERE to see a listing of all the blog posts in this series "the search for Joy."]
“…what I testify to is the power of visual art, and especially music…They have the potential to awaken the mind and heart to aspects of God’s glory that were not perceived before. Paintings or photographs of mountains and streams can call forth a sense of wonder and peace. If we are willing to “look along” (not just “at”) these pictures, as Lewis taught us, our eyes will run up the beams to the Original Glory, and the wonder and peace will rest finally in the wonderful and peaceful mountains and streams of God’s power and mercy.
…We must make it our aim that the joy awakened by music be joy in God…Then the effort to delight in God through music will involve a prior shaping of the mind by the Word…Then the effort to delight in God through music will also involve a thoughtful testing after the music has already awakened joy. Is this joy…stirring my desires to know Christ better and love him more and show him to others at the cost of my own comfort? So before and after music has its immediate effect, we pursue the goal that music make us more glad in the glory of God.”
When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy
by John Piper
Lord, thank you for using praise music and my worship through that music to awaken my mind and heart to aspects of Your Glory I had never perceived before. Thank You for the joy it brought and the delight I found in You because of WHO YOU ARE. Thank You for the overwhelming and undeniable awareness of Your presence in those moments. Thank You for helping me to completely forget myself and for moving me into deeper praise, no longer centered in gratitude for Your temporal blessings, but grounded and focused on eternal things: Your Sovereignty, Your Holiness, Your stubborn love for me and my desperate and relentless need for You.
Even though the lesson was one of the hardest I’ve ever faced, thank you for teaching me that finding worship through music wasn’t enough, that it only took me part way. It limited true praise to those brief moments. Thank you for showing me that my dependance on music was quenching Your Spirit. It prevented me from finding joy and delight in WHO YOU ARE in the ordinary, everyday moments of my life. Thank You for the understanding that I can’t find that joy and delight on my own, through my own striving, depending on anything in this world to facilitate it.
Holy Spirit, please bless me with joy and delight, so I won’t be tempted to settle for less by depending on anything or anybody but Christ.
“The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang:
“He is good; his love endures forever.”
Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God”
2 Chronicles 5:13-14 (NIV)
“Come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet. Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the Mount I’m fixed upon it, mount of Thy redeeming love
Here I raise my Ebenezer. Hither by Thy help I come.
Oh, and I hope by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home”
sung by Kings Kaleidoscope
[CLICK HERE to see a listing of all the blog posts in this series "the search for Joy."]
I’ve been telling a story.
My mistake was that I started at the beginning. I should have started by stating my premise and then worked my way backward.
I attempted to chronicle what God had revealed to me and how. Telling the story in the order the events took place was not a good idea.
The only people who understood what I was getting at were people who already recognized what I was describing.
A few people who didn’t understand what I was getting at – and wanted to understand what I was getting at – either asked to meet with me or sent me a personal message and we talked through it.
Thank GOD for them. They have been a blessing and an encouragement while providing accountability.
But there have also been a few who didn’t understand. There have been some who summarized 10 blog posts with “she criticized the pastor” and/or “she wants there to be an invitation at the end of every sermon” and tawked amongst themselves, spreading unfounded gossip.
That’s unfortunate. and sad.
I can’t fix that. It would wear me out to even try. Instead, I’m praying the people hearing that summary won’t take someone else’s word for it and will want to see for themselves. I’m praying that those people will seek out my blog for firsthand information and that, as they read the posts, the Holy Spirit will guide them as they form their own individual thoughts about what I’ve written.
There are some people who are reading, taking it all in and are quietly pondering. I love me some thinkers. I’m praying that the Holy Spirit moves in their lives to draw them into an even deeper, more intimate relationship with Christ as they work through what they themselves believe about all that I’ve said.
Some people don’t give a flying flip what Julie Mills thinks.
I expected all of those responses. But some things I didn’t anticipate.
I didn’t anticipate that assumptions would be made about what God had revealed to me before I could get to that part of the story.
I didn’t anticipate that those assumptions would be so far off the mark.
I didn’t anticipate that the preconceived ideas of some of the people reading would so completely envelope and suffocate my true message.
I didn’t anticipate that people would disagree so strongly with me without understanding what they were disagreeing with.
I didn’t anticipate that I would get so sidetracked by the task of explaining what I was NOT talking about.
I didn’t anticipate that I would get completely derailed by tangents.
So I’ve made a decision. Forget my story. If I get back to it, I get back to it. If not?
I’m grateful for the lesson learned. If God leads me to tell this story in the future, I will start at the end and work my way backwards.
Me, lamenting to FirstHusband: “It’s like I started out talking about oranges, but before I could even finish describing one, some people assumed I was talking about apples. And not just apples, ROTTEN apples. Now, somehow, I find myself not only talking about apples, but clarifying in painful detail the difference between rotten apples and fresh apples. I have no idea if and when I’m ever going to get back to describing the orange.
(Here’s how to crack that Julie code: Oranges represent abundant life in Christ. Rotten apples represent fire and brimstone turn or burn evangelism and fresh apples represent being open about what Christ has done and is doing in your every day life with the people in your every day life.)
So. For those of you who give a flyin flip, I’ve got another post, or maybe two, about fresh vs. rotten apples coming up and then I’m gonna start peeling an orange.
“If you love learning, you love the discipline that goes with it—how shortsighted to refuse correction!”
“A good listener tries to understand what the other person is saying. In the end he may disagree sharply, but because he disagrees, he wants to know exactly what it is he is disagreeing with.”
Kenneth A. Wells
This is the 11th post of a series. CLICK HERE to view a page listing all the posts in the series.
Yesterday I gave something up.
I realized it was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. But I didn’t give up this “something” for Lent. I haven’t observed Lent for decades, for reasons I won’t go into right now.
When I decided to give up this “something,” I knew I wanted to give it up forever. I need to give it up forever.
What is it?
For months, I had prayed like a widow, asking God if he wanted me to post some things I began writing in August of 2012. For months I fought against God’s relentless prompting to post. I rationalized. I pleaded.
Finally, I got a word from God I knew I could not ignore. I knew I was being blatantly disobedient and that I would find no rest until I posted. So, nauseous and against my will, I hit publish.
And then F5.
again. and again. and again.
I continued to post every day. And I continued to refresh my blog stats.
Over the last week, God revealed to me that I had a refresh addiction. That stupid little F5 key was having a significant negative impact on my blog posting. From everything I wrote to what I posted to when I posted it. It was intruding on my thoughts. and my sleep.
I skipped a day. Posted. Skipped another day. Posted again.
I knew I was holding back. I was letting digital feedback interfere with God’s direction. I knew I had to cut off the stats. I’ll still respond to comments and private messages, but I’ve moved my blog stat widget and my “Top Ten” widget down in my navigation menus, out of my line of sight. If I find that I can still see them as I work, I’ll remove them altogether. I’ve turned off email notifications for when someone “likes” a post or “follows” my blog. I haven’t viewed my stats page or my “Live Traffic Feed” widget since early Wednesday morning.
It’s the end of my second day without blog stat feedback and I can honestly say.
I have absolutely no idea how many people are or are not reading my blog. I have no idea what posts are being read or how often. I have no idea where visitors are coming from or what they click on. I have no idea what search strings are being used to find my posts. I know nothing about my blog activity.
I thought I would be anxious. But I’m surprisingly relieved.
Here’s what my new blog plan looks like:
6. Trust God to do whatever He is going to do.
I need to depend on Christ for affirmation.
To read the next post in this series, click here: “I made a mistake.“
Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Honored to have had the privilege of delivering this message to a group of women at a Brunch this past Saturday morning. This video will give you a preview of the book I’m writing. If you’ve got 8 minutes and 27 seconds, check it out.
I have two responses to that:
1. Of course it is and
2. Of Which I am the Greatest
For nearly a decade, I’ve volunteered to work my church’s annual Whale of a Sale, a gymnasium sized garage sale. The last two years, I served as its co-chair. Every year, two Saturdays before the event, we unload PODs (portable on demand storage) into the gym and for two weeks, we sort and price literally thousands of items while continuing to accept additional donations and offering free pick-up for large items. This past year, on the Saturday before the sale, we had scheduled about ten pick-ups and had put out a call for men and trucks to come and help with them.
I arrived that Saturday morning to find a group of about ten guys waiting for me. One gentleman in particular surprised me. He was overdressed for the occasion in dress shorts and loafers. As we entered the gym, I greeted him with “Well good morning! Are you here to help or to donate?”
In front of the other men who had come to work, he replied “I’m here to buy.”
Not to work. Not to donate. To buy.
Let me set this up for you. The sale was a week away. Pre-shopping privileges are offered to Whale volunteers as an incentive. If, while they are working, a volunteer discovers something they would like to buy, they are allowed to purchase it before the actual sale. Two people – neither one the buyer – price the item. Expensive items are researched and we aim for approximately 25% of retail.
“I’m here to buy.”
I said, “Let me get these guys going on their pick-ups and I’ll be right with you.”
Before I could open my mouth to relay a single address to one of the pick-up teams, he continued, ignoring my response as if I hadn’t spoken at all. “SoandSo told me there was a donation of a thingamagig and I’d like to buy it.”
I looked him in eye and said, “Do we need to do this right now? These gentlemen are waiting on me.”
Without missing a beat, he thrust a twenty dollar bill out and said, “Is it worth twenty bucks?”
I immediately and firmly said, “YES.”
He thought I was agreeing that the thingamagig was worth twenty bucks. I had no idea what the thingamagig was worth, I hadn’t even laid eyes on it. What I knew – and what the men who were listening knew – was that I meant it was worth twenty bucks for him to LEAVE and take his coveted thingamagig with him.
And then there I was, holding a twenty dollar bill. We have rules about money. I wasn’t supposed to just put it in my pocket. Besides, even if I bent the rules and temporarily put the money in my pocket in front of all those people, I knew I would get busy and forget about it. I told the men I would be with them in a few minutes, hightailed it to the other side of the gym, spent a few minutes unlocking a door with an annoyingly tricky lock, fetched the hidden key to the cabinet holding the cash box, secured the twenty, locked the cabinet, hid the key again, and crossed the gym back to where all the guys were waiting on me.
At first, I was indignant. But then I realized. He did this in front of at least nine men of the church, three of whom were impressionable teenage boys who got up early on a Saturday to come to church and volunteer with their dads. This man had made it clear to everyone in earshot that he viewed his time as more valuable than everyone else’s time. He got what he came for, but he was completely oblivious to the fact that he had made a terrible impression and lost the respect of those who witnessed his behavior. He was the only church member during the entire two weeks of preparation who bought something without working. Later, hearing about the exchange, another man commented that the man had traded his reputation for twenty bucks.
It’s sad and wrong. But unfortunately, it happens in churches just as often and as easily as it does in the secular world. He wanted what he wanted when he wanted it. And because I knew that doing the right thing would have caused all those guys to wait even longer – because I valued their time – I unfairly afforded one person a privilege that I didn’t afford to anyone else. In the church environment, examples like these are the cases in point when someone says they’ve been jaded by the church.
I personally used this particular situation as a teaching moment with my kids. I stepped through what happened and asked them for their opinion. Thankfully, they didn’t view this as an example of how powerful men get things done. Instead, they identified behavior and reasoning they didn’t ever want to emulate (my daughter used the word copy).
The question is, other than use it as a springboard for teaching my kids about character, what am I going to do about it? Do I give up on all churches because of the selfish actions one person? Am I going to hold a grudge? Am I going to allow someone to have that much power over me? Am I going to allow a person for whom I’ve lost respect to drive a wedge between me and God? Are you? Because make no mistake, unforgiveness is a big ol’ wedge between you and God.
“If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” 1 John 4:20 (ESV)
And here’s the harder question. What have I myself done to leave another person with a terrible impression? It’s highly improbable that I have a stellar reputation in the church or anywhere else. What things have I said or done to damage my reputation and evidence a horrible representation of Christ? Who, when relaying how they’ve been jaded by the church, has told a story about something I’ve said or done?
If I’m honest with myself, I am not without guilt. It’s extremely difficult to face and take ownership of the things I’ve said or done that I’m ashamed of. I believe it’s difficult for any Christian to face and accept the possibility that we’ve done something to damage the cause of Christ by providing fodder for the “they’re supposed to be a Christian” rants of people who find it much too easy to discredit Christians who behave badly.
In my case, it was exactly one week later when I said something I’m ashamed of. Only 7 days following my episode of indignation before I myself was a poor representative of Christ.
It was the last hours of the sale and I was making announcements about discounts over the loudspeaker. Just as I finished saying “Everything in the boutique is negotiable.” a woman approached me.
Woman: “That’s not true. They’re not negotiating in the boutique.”
Me: “They should be. They asked me to make that announcement.”
Woman: “Well, they’re not. I want to buy some teacups and they’re not negotiating.”
Me: “Okay. Show me the teacups.” (me, in my head: “I could not care less about teacups”)
We crossed the gym and entered the boutique. She headed straight for the checkout. Three unmatched teacups with their saucers were in a box. All three had their original price tags on them, but all three also had blue painter’s tape with a lower price handwritten on them. The cashier read the prices on the painter’s tape, pointing to each teacup as she spoke.
Woman: “That’s not negotiating.”
Me: “You asked them to lower the price and they have.”
Woman: “That’s not negotiating.”
Me: “What price did you have in mind?”
Woman: “I was thinking two dollars each.”
Cashier: “I’m sorry, I can’t do that.”
Woman: “Actually, you can.”
You could have heard a pin drop. This was not her first negotiation. and then,
Cashier: “No, I can’t. I didn’t set the price…”
Woman, interrupting her: “That’s not negotiating.” (me, in my head: “stop saying that.”)
Me: “The person who set the price has the option to retain any items until next year rather than sell them below their value.”
Woman: “You said the prices were negotiable….”
When I interrupted her to say “Give me a few minutes and I’ll talk to the lady who set the price” I knew I was completely over the teacup conversation.
The woman turned and walked into the gym. I spent a few more minutes in the boutique and discovered the woman had been at the sale the day before and had scored a name brand pantsuit at a discount by saying she was out of money. That, combined with the already reduced price of the teacups and the fact that unmatched English teacups are not a necessity for living, led me to back up the pricing decision of the volunteers. I decided I didn’t need to drag the person who priced the teacups into this “negotiation.” If they wanted to retain the teacups for next year’s sale rather than see them sold for less than they were worth, it was their call.
I walked into the gym and was immediately approached by the woman.
Me: “We can’t reduce the price of the teacups any lower than we already have.”
Woman: “I think it’s just that one girl.”
Me: “The girl who told you the price is not the person who set the price.”
Woman: “Well then, what’s her name?”
And here’s where it went south. Here’s where I had an opportunity to do the “right” thing and caved to the easy thing instead. And I even took a few seconds to think about it before I replied.
Me: “No. I’m not going to give you a name. If you would like to buy the teacups at the reduced price that would be fine, but I’m not going to give you anyone’s name.”
Woman: “Why not?”
And then I made it even worse.
Me: “Because I don’t do drama and I’m not going to nail my volunteers.”
The woman’s jaw dropped and her hand flew to her chest like I shot her: “I don’t need this!”
Me: “Need what?”
Woman: “You REALLY hurt my feelings!”
Me: “I’m sorry I hurt your . . . ”
Woman, interrupting: “I don’t need this! I am NOT causing drama!” (me, in my head: “this isn’t drama?”)
Me: “I think you may be overreacting.”
Woman: “WHO is in charge here!?!?”
I took way too much pleasure in this one: “Me.”
Woman: “And who is in charge of YOU?!”
Me: “My pastor.”
Woman: “I can’t believe you’re being this way over teacups!”
Me: “This has absolutely nothing to do with teacups. This is about people. And I’m protecting mine.”
Woman: “I don’t need this!”
Right then, another shopper interrupted us to ask me to price something for her.
As the first woman left crying, the shopper who interrupted us said, “I didn’t really need a price, I just wanted her to leave.”
I looked over her shoulder at the door and the shopper patted me on the hand and said, “I saw what happened. Don’t give her another thought.”
But I knew. While I did the right thing by backing up the volunteer’s decision and definitely did the right thing by preventing the woman from initiating a confrontation with the person who priced the teacups, I did it ungraciously. I didn’t get emotionally upset, but also didn’t extend an ounce of compassion. I was very . . . factual.
Stating facts without grace and compassion can easily be interpreted as meanness and insensitivity. And nobody had to convince me that the “I don’t do drama/not going to nail my volunteers” comment was uncalled for and out of line.
I stood there a few minutes, replaying the entire thing in my head, knowing what I should have done:
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Colossians 3:12 ESV
And then her husband was standing in front of me. A man who was able to extend the graciousness I had abandoned. He told me that his wife had come running to the car crying and that she said I was very upset with her. His wife was crying and he was asking me if I was okay. I assured him I wasn’t upset and that I was sincerely sorry that his wife was upset.
Then he told me that he had been out of work for a very long time. And that their son had been killed recently in a tragic accident. He told me that because of these two things his wife was oversensitive. I apologized again and offered to follow him outside and apologize to her in person if he didn’t think that would make things worse. He told me he would tell her what I said and then he left.
And here’s the thing. She was rude. She was confrontational. She was arrogant – while she was aggressively going after what she wanted. But when I confronted her, she immediately became a wounded victim, unjustly accused and unfairly treated. I’ve seen this behavior before. I know to react with grace when I see it.
And I didn’t. I took the easy way out. The “right back atcha” way out. It was wrong and I knew better. My past has equipped me to respond to this type of behavior graciously, but my circumstances led me to react dispassionately. Unkindly.
And I knew why. It had been days since I had spent dedicated time alone with God. The Whale of a Sale hours were demanding and I was exhausted. I wasn’t hungry and if people hadn’t brought me food during that last week, I wouldn’t have eaten. I went through an entire carton of Epsom salts and used way too much hot water, I was taking too much ibuprofen and not enough Nexium. I was physically and mentally worn out and spiritually bereft.
I had spent so much of my time serving God, I had neglected to be with God. I was operating and making decisions from my own limited view of my circumstances instead of striving to see the bigger picture through God’s greater perspective. My intuitive decisions were selfish instead of stemming from the Holy Spirit’s presence within me, not because the Holy Spirit had left me, but because I couldn’t hear God’s voice above all the noise – the external stimuli, my non-stop and easily distracted thoughts, my screaming muscles. I needed to STOP. To take a few minutes to talk to God and, just as importantly, to listen to God. To abide in His presence. Because I hadn’t, I needlessly hurt someone. If I had been spending dedicated time with God every day, would I have given the name of the person who set the price of the teacups? Would I have overridden her and reduced the price of the teacups?
no. and no.
But I would have been much more gracious about it. I would allowed myself to be the hands and feet and ears and voice of Christ.
Thankfully God can use hypocrites. Especially when they learn from their mistakes.
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.
Ecclesiastes 9:10 (NIV)
another year, over. No do-overs. No take-backs. Only lessons to be learned and new choices to be made.
Lord, am I where you want me? Am I living the life you’ve given the me the way you know would be best?
I want to be a living sacrifice for You. But sometimes – much of the time – I know my choices are driven by my own idea of what that looks like.
What does it look like to You, God?
My fear is that my desires are selfish and much bigger than those you have for me.
Is it possible that the plans you have for me involve me sitting across the table from one person, listening, asking questions and sharing my faith one on one? That this book I’m writing is equipping me for those conversations, but will never actually be read? or even finished?
Is it possible that the plans you have for me mean that the primary reason I’m recording is for the witness that occurs during the recording sessions themselves and that these recordings will live forever on my computer in obscurity?
And those things are good. Very, very good.
But you know I want more. Is that from You?
The last thing I want to do is pursue a dream you haven’t given me. I’m desperate to saturate myself in your will and I want to have tunnel vision when it comes to following Your lead. Please don’t let me pursue anything that actually takes me away from You. Please show me what I could or should be doing to bring You glory.
I think of the story about You asking a man to push against a rock. Day after day, year after year, the man pushed, eventually becoming discouraged, saying, “God, I give up. I’ve pushed and pushed with all my strength and I haven’t moved this rock even one inch. What did I do wrong? Why did I fail?”
The story says that you replied by saying, “I didn’t ask you to move the rock. I only asked you to push against it. You say you’ve failed, but have you? Look how strong you’ve become. You’ve done exactly what I asked.
Now I will move the rock.”
I know you don’t need my help Lord. Please allow me to serve you anyway. Please use me anyway. Please guide me. Please equip me. Help me to be obedient. Please don’t ever let me give up.
Too often, we bide our time with the routine of a life that we hope
will one day take us across the chasm. Our days become stacked upon other days.
And as time moves forward, we think about the great abyss in our quieter moments.
We wonder if we should take the leap soon.
But the busyness of our days pulls us back from the edge and we perpetually postpone it.
Why? Because we are afraid we do not have the strength to make it.
Don’t let that happen. You’re stronger than you think.
Dr. Les Parrott
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.
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.
I’ve described my mother as a “defiant non-compliant diabetic.” She ate what she wanted, when she wanted, blood sugar be damned. After decades of neglect, her body began to deteriorate and finally shut down completely. I found a receipt in her wallet dated just days before her death. She had driven through Burger King on the way home from dialysis and ordered a BK Stacker (22 grams of fat, 700 mg of sodium.). She was suffering from congestive heart failure, taking 14 different medications and on dialysis 3 days a week, but she wanted a BK Stacker, so she got one. There were more fast food receipts in the pockets of her clothing and on her desk.
Time and time and time again she chose immediate personal gratification and a comfort zone, over long term goals, discomfort and inconvenience – and not just with food.
She bought what she wanted when she wanted it, even if she didn’t have the money.
She wanted a warm, inviting home, but she focused on the house and its contents more than the people who lived in it.
She wanted passionate relationships, but was controlling and plagued with pride.
She wanted to travel and experience new things. But instead, she booked the same vacation for years.
She loved to play the piano. But she didn’t make time for it.
She loved to sing. But she only sang in the house. And rarely.
She wanted to write. But she didn’t.
She wanted so much, but she settled for so little.
Her desire for the things she wanted made it challenging and sometimes impossible for her to recognize, much less appreciate, the blessings she had. Her inability to see that she had power to change her circumstances if she stayed true to her long-term goals kept her firmly rooted in mediocrity and the status quo.
I paid attention. And I learned quite a bit about what I want for my life by watching her choices.
I still pay attention. And I look for consequences – good and bad – so I can learn from other people’s choices. I learn a LOT about what I want as a result of my OWN choices and their consequences.
My mother had a stroke and blamed her doctors and her medication. She had a stroke and I got a personal trainer. Before and after her stroke, she relied on medications to make herself feel better and to lengthen her life. Before her stroke, I was following in her footsteps. After her stroke, I began relying on exercise and lifestyle changes to make myself feel better and to lengthen my life.
I had a choice. I could continue to go with the flow and eventually find myself at risk for a stroke or I could intentionally and consistently walk backwards against the current. If you know me, it shouldn’t surprise you that when I’m floating in a lazy river, I will at some point, become bored and walk backward against the current. It’s a metaphor for my life. I intentionally choose to view every experience God has allowed in my life – good AND bad – as a blessing. Together, these blessings fuel me with determination.
I’m a big believer in benchmarking. When I want to learn how to do something, I find people who do it well and I copy them. But I also learn what not to do by watching the things that people, myself included, do poorly. I pay attention to choices and consequences – good and bad. I call it opportunistic learning and it helps me discover what I want in my life.
I want more than immediate gratification and a well worn spot in my comfort zone.
I want MORE than the comfort of air conditioning, dry, pleasant smelling clothing, a good hair day, less laundry and an extra hour every day. I don’t consider a handicapped sticker on my car to be a well deserved ticket to a great parking space and the inability to walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded scares me more than a hurricane warning. The inability to walk up a flight of stairs at all scares me more than an actual hurricane.
I want a stronger body, even if it needs two showers in one day, generates smelly, wet laundry, “wastes” 30 minutes or more of my day and requires a longer walk from the parking lot. I want to get stronger as I get older, not weaker. I want to be a good steward of this body God has blessed me with. I’ve experienced the limitations of a body that won’t do what I want it to do and I hated it so much I NEVER want to experience it again. I’ll do anything I can to make sure that my body doesn’t deteriorate due to neglect.
I want MORE than a 6 inch high plate of nachos with a phenomenal cheese sauce or the most decadent, melt in your mouth chocolate lava cake in the world. I want MORE than the thousands of milligrams of sodium and double digit grams of fat in the restaurant food that saves me from cooking dinner when I don’t feel like it. I want MORE than a bedtime snack of ice cream or a Grand Slam breakfast from Denny’s. I want MORE than a BK Stacker.
I want unblocked arteries, normal blood pressure and stable blood sugar. I want my 7 day pill case to be filled with vitamins and supplements instead medications. I want to model good nutritional choices for my children, especially my daughter. I want to live a longer, healthier life than my mother did. I’m not swayed by spoonfuls being shoved in my face along with an exasperated voice telling me to “just taste it.” It’s not that I secretly want it and am just denying myself. I really don’t want it. I’ll never be convinced to abandon my long term nutrition goals just because someone belittles me for not eating something they want to eat. I’ll never belittle them while I watch them eat – but I also won’t sanction their choice or cave to middle school level peer pressure by picking up a fork and joining them.
I want MORE than a good marriage. I want MORE than candy and flowers and jewelry on Valentines Day and my birthday. I want MORE than a husband who handles car maintenance, toilet repair, heavy lifting, jar opening and high shelf reaching. I want MORE than a “good” sex life and a husband who does what I want in order to get it. I want MORE than a husband who agrees with me to avoid conflict and who spends time with me because he’s supposed to.
I want a GREAT marriage to a man I can’t go a day without talking to. I want to be the person who respects my husband more than anyone else in the world and I want him to know it beyond a shadow of a doubt. I want to come to the end of my day and be confident I didn’t say a bad word about him to ANYone. I want to be the kind of wife he wants to come home to and I want to be genuinely happy that he’s home when he walks in the door. I want a partner – a LIFE LONG partner – who tells me the truth in a gracious tone of voice, motivated by love. I want us to share EVERYthing without holding back: our thoughts, our ideas, our weaknesses, our fears, our passions and our bodies. I want to share household and parenting duties and I’m thankful that I figured out early in our marriage that different isn’t wrong. I want us to be able speak in idioms and always understand each other. I want us to be able to communicate with facial expressions and eye contact. I want to stay married to my best friend for the rest of my life and I’m thankful that we are both willing to run to a marriage counselor the minute our relationship can be described as “fine.”
I want MORE than compliant children who make good grades, keep their room clean and behave appropriately at all times. I want MORE than happy, safe children. I don’t want my children to do what they’re told because I say so.
I want to hear about everything that interests them, because I know that if I don’t listen with interest, they will stop telling me. I want to be challenged by their mind, fascinated by their discoveries, respectful of their ideas, convinced by their reasoning, inspired by their passion and exasperated by our differences. I want to always strive to respect them as individuals instead viewing them as extensions of myself. I want to be comfortable with their potential to embarrass me for the sake of their (and my) learning curve. I want my children to learn life lessons from remorse and disappointment as well as from pride and achievement. I want to equip them, not protect them. I want them to do the right thing because it’s the right thing, even when nobody is looking.
I want to be debt-free. I want to own my home, not hold a mortgage. I want my car to start every time I turn the key, and if it does, I don’t care how many miles are on it. I want to be a good steward of my financial blessings. I want to save and pay cash for the things I want. I don’t want to pay interest. I want to teach my children the value of a wise financial choice. I want to teach them that delayed gratification ultimately makes them happier and more secure than an impulse or convenient purchase. I want to give God MORE than 10% of what he entrusts to me and I want my kids to want to do the same.
I want MORE than to help lead a “good” praise set on Sunday morning. Lukewarm makes me restless. Holding back makes me unsettled. Trying to please everyone is deeply discouraging. Settling for fine wears me down. I don’t want to give God less than my very best. No one is drawn to mediocrity.
I want to work my butt off to prepare and when Sunday morning comes, I want to block out all the logistics and make myself open and available for God to equip me for service. I want to respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, not the body language of someone in the congregation who is missing His presence because they are preoccupied with what someone else thinks. I want to allow myself to be saturated with the Holy Spirit, so much so that Satan doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in Hell of distracting me from my goal of bringing as many people with me as I possibly can while I abandon myself to authentic, consuming praise. I want to go all out and see what God will do with my all.
I want to use everything God has given me – the good and the bad – to serve Him. When I write, I have no idea if the result is a cathartic purge or if someone will identify with something I say and be encouraged or changed by it. It’s just as possible that what I’ve written will alienate or discourage someone. I have no idea if God will use it to reach someone, but I pray He will. I don’t want the words I write to be in a vacuum.
I. want. MORE.
Do I always get it right? Not by a long shot. I do not find all this to be intuitive. These are determined choices I make, over and over and over again. And when I screw up, I start over, even if I have to start over multiple times a day. But I’m not going to stop striving. And I’m willing to wait for whatever God hasn’t entrusted me with yet. I’m willing work for it.
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness,knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 5-8
“Never neglect what you’ve seen God do in your life. Take a careful look at these things from God’s perspective, all the way from your birth to where you stand right now. They’re all significant.”
Experiencing the Spirit
Henry and Melvin Blackaby
“so, have you spoken to them about their behavior?”
That was the question I was asked after publishing my post entitled “you see the big hat too . . . right?“
(For those who don’t have time to read that post, here’s the twitter version: “passive-aggressive narcissist. boundaries, distance & prayer. attempted normal relationship. failed. back to boundaries, distance & prayer.”)
Back to the question – Have I spoken to this person about their behavior?
The person asking me the question is someone I respect. They deserve an answer with a reason. So here goes.
As Christians, we tend to think God wants us to reek of Ephesians 4 and live in “Unity and Maturity in the Body of Christ.” My concern, the reason I’m still writing about my response to passive-aggressive behavior, is that some Christians interpret “unity in Christ” to mean we should get along with everybody God has placed and/or allowed in our lives. Some Christians believe that “unity in Christ” means that anger is a sin and most importantly, that we should strive to resolve differences when we encounter conflict.
Have I spoken to this person about their behavior? It’s a reasonable question – from a reasonable person. And therein lies the problem. The assumption we want to make is that everyone is, at least for a few minutes of every day, reasonable.
What a beautiful theory.
In reality, it’s more like this:
(oh, chill out. It’s just a cartoon. God loves jerks too.)
To answer the question, Yes. I tried confrontation. I was a communication major. I have a conflict resolution model memorized and am ready to use it at a moment’s notice. So, yes. I did speak with them about their behavior – Before I figured out their standard MO (with everyone, not just me) was passive-aggressive behavior. Specific behaviors were openly addressed and were discontinued, at least temporarily, only to be replaced with a different manifestation of the same root issue. See, passive-aggressive behavior is like a flu strain. It subtly morphs, but is never eradicated. Since the behaviors never stop, the need for attention never ends.
I have years of experience with narcissism and its key characteristic – passive-aggressive behavior. I spent months saturated in research on it. Once I recognized it in this person, I knew exactly what to do. Over and over and over again, the books and documentation suggest that boundaries and distance are the only long lasting solution.
really. I’m not just making this stuff up to avoid confrontation. Remember, I tried confrontation. Confrontation produced temporary results:
“Realize that the narcissist may agree to change the dynamics of the relationship for a short time, to get you off his back,” but will usually revert to what he or she considers “normal.” In the end, the only healthy way to live with a narcissist is to become more of “your own person” and to create a space between you and the narcissist from which you both can live . . .
Minimize direct confrontation with the narcissist’s unhealthy behavior. Most narcissists are simply unable to receive criticism, even if it is meant constructively and spoken in a soft and respectful manner . . .
Maintain good personal boundaries between you and the narcissist. In response to your setting a boundary, the narcissist may attempt to rewrite history or even try to convince you that what you thought (or saw) just happened didn’t, and thus, there is no need for setting a boundary in the first place. Do not back down. . . ” (emphasis added)
My recent problem stemmed from the fact that I intentionally made the decision to take down the boundaries I had set and I attempted to bridge the distance I had established. (To find out WHY I would do such a thing, CLICK HERE to read my post Dear PinkGirl: don’t copy me.
(For those who don’t have time to read that post, here’s the twitter version: “a friend witnessed a passive-aggressive attack that didn’t bother me, but upset her. I explored the possibility that my boundaries were not God’s will.”)
Someone I respected – also a Christian and a reasonable person – witnessed a passive-aggressive attack. Because I had mental and emotional boundaries firmly in place, I bounced back like a quarter on a tightly made bed. My friend, however, was surprised and upset by this person’s behavior. It was new to them and seemed out of character. From my perspective, the behavior was fairly typical. But out of respect for my friend, because it upset her, I decided to prayerfully consider whether I was ignoring any promptings from the Holy Spirit to reach out to the narcissist God was allowing in my life.
Armed with daily prayer and all the research on narcissism and passive-aggressive behavior I could devour, I spent the last few weeks attempting to engage in a positive interpersonal relationship with this person I had previously (and successfully) blocked out for 2 years.
It depleted me. It sapped my energy and stole my peace. It interfered with my work. I became so discouraged I even stopped eating and exercising. I slowly lost my patience and my ability to respond appropriately and began to resent this person and react with frustration when I witnessed continued attempts at manipulation, whereas I had previously felt nothing toward them and had been immune to the manipulation for 2 years. I had experienced 2 years of sincere calm indifference when they behaved badly and now? I wanted to smack ‘em every time they acted out. That ain’t good. CLICK HERE to read “step away from the puppy” to read what I wrote about that.”
(For those who don’t have time to read that post, here’s the twitter version: “emotional bullies wear puppy suits. wounded puppy suits. feeding the puppy just makes him hungrier and wipes you out.”)
After relentlessly praying about this situation and this person and relentlessly asking God what he would have me do, I’m grateful and confident that Christ isn’t calling me to extend compassion by making myself available for continuous attack. (again, with another backstory – CLICK HERE to read “I’m going to stop being discouraged and be awesome instead. True Story.“)
(For those who don’t have time to read that post, here’s the twitter version: “I can’t be discouraged anymore. It doesn’t work for me. It’s like breathing through a pillow.”)
My favorite verse in Ephesians 4? Verse 26a: “Be angry but do not sin.”
And I’m very grateful to Dr. Paul Meier for his interpretation of scripture:
David’s response to Saul offers a three-step process for us to follow today:
1. Remember that you aren’t the issue! David knew the problem was with Saul, not with himself.
2. Recognize you can’t cure the other person. David couldn’t straighten Saul out. If you want peace of mind, you must realize you cannot change a crazymaker’s internal workings.
3. We can only change ourselves. Instead of responding to Saul in a like manner, David refused to become Saul’s enemy. David supported the king even as he hid from Saul’s vicious attacks.
Crazymakers by Paul Meier M.D.
I’ve gone back to a place of peace through the re-establishment of boundaries, distance and prayer – I literally pray for this person multiple times per week. If anything will change them, it will be God. Because, unlike me, HE can do ANYthing.
CLICK HERE to see other posts I’ve written about dealing with emotional bullies, narcissists and passive-aggressive people.
In my previous post, entitled “I’m not your “fun” friend.” I said the reason I prefer “real” conversation over “surface” conversation is because I have “issues” and that you either get used to me or you avoid me.
(CLICK HERE to read that post – it’s short.)
I’ve been thinking about why I’m so intense about everything. Why do I prefer the deeper conversations? Why am I addicted to learning? What is this freakish obsession I have with setting and moving toward goals? Why does the word “can’t” challenge me to defy it? Why is good enough NOT good enough? Why am I so competitive, even with myself? Why am I so passionate about encouraging other people figure out what they want and GO AFTER IT? Why am I so relentless about being actively engaged in an intimate relationship with God – and inspiring others to do the same?
Why am I so intense about LIFE?
I’ve always been overly aware of the passing of time. Of missed opportunity. Lost opportunity.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about why and I immediately came up with four reasons:
1. Saturday mornings
2. TV Overdose
4. Preparation meets opportunity
Saturday mornings were the first thing to come to mind.
I grew up with a mom who loved to sleep.
When I was little, every Saturday was the same. I would wake up early, because, well, I was a little kid. I would crack open my bedroom door and slowly, as quietly as I possibly could, sneak into the kitchen for some cereal. It was slow progress, because the goal was to be completely, totally silent.
The goal was to NOT wake up my mother.
My dad usually worked on Saturday, and he was out of the house early. My mom’s bedroom door was between my room and the kitchen. The kitchen and her bedroom were connected by a wall. Another bedroom wall – the wall with her bedroom door on it – connected to the living room. Where the TV was.
All I wanted to do was get some cereal and watch Saturday morning cartoons. Simple. Kid simple.
Sometimes, I pulled it off. Slowly and silently opening the normally squeaky metal bifold door of the pantry, getting the cereal box down, silently opening the cabinet for a bowl. Silently opening the fridge for the milk by prying the rubber seal open with my fingers instead of pulling the door handle which would have resulted in the sound of the vacuum being broken. Pouring the cereal was the tough part. There’s nothing silent about Lucky Charms hitting melmac. Sometimes, that would be my undoing. Other days, I got lucky and made it through.
Then came the most difficult part. I’d take my cereal bowl into the living room and sit crisscross applesauce, arm’s length from the TV. Volume controls were manual dials back then, so I could turn the volume all the way down before I even turned on the TV. Then came another tense moment. Pulling the TV power knob on made a click noise. Then the electronic hum that followed as the TV warmed up. Sometimes that was as far as I got.
Other days, I made it through. Then came the channel. The good news was that there were only three to choose from: 2, 6 and 9, so I stood a 33% chance that the channel was already tuned to the show I wanted to watch. Other days, I was paralyzed by the dilemma. Do I watch something I didn’t want to or risk turning the knob? Eventually, I got very good at stealth channel changing: a tight, full-handed grip with a s-l-o-w turn. The worst days were when the channel was on 2. Channel 6 to 9 and 9 to 6 were a breeze. But switch between channels 2 and 9? I’d just watch Heckle and Jeckle.
Once I made it to the channel I wanted, there was no sense of relief. The volume was still all the way down.
This part was something I couldn’t really control, but I still tried. I would sit, still arm’s length from the TV, and slowly turn up the volume until I could hear it. Watching a show required constant monitoring. Turn the volume up for dialog, down for music and effects. When I did get caught, it was music and effects that got me every time.
Sometimes, I got lucky. There was only a voice, calling my name. I would turn the volume all the way down and wait. Silently. Other times, I would turn the TV off and slink to the kitchen with my cereal bowl and silently – always silently – put it in the sink. Or even better, slip back into my bedroom with the bowl and shut the door. That way, if she actually got up and opened her bedroom door to look in the living room, there would be no evidence I was ever there. Unless she walked over and touched the top of the TV. If it was warm, I was discovered. More often than not, she would just look out and then go back to bed. I would wait for a while and start again.
For as many times as I made it, there were just as many times as I got caught. The consequences? Get into my mom’s bed with her and stay there until she woke up. Which – on Saturdays, never ever happened before noon.
The sun would be streaming through the window and my mom would be asleep next to me. Notice I didn’t say “sound” asleep. The slightest movement on my part would be immediately met with “be still.” In an effort to keep me safe and protected while she slept, she would reach one arm over and gently place her hand on my arm or my leg. The slightest movement on my part would wake her. I literally watched minutes tick by on a clock. Way, way, way too many minutes.
How has this manifested itself in me?
I hate sleep.
Literally. I just don’t like it. When I sleep, I feel like I’m missing stuff. Opportunities. Experiences. Life. Sometimes, I think that the only reason I can sleep at night is because there’s nothing else to do. Everybody else is sleeping, so I might as well get it over with. I don’t often nap. I have to be non-functionally exhausted or sick to intentionally take a nap.
I think this sense of missing out on life is one reason I’m so focused on “real” conversation with people. Why I can’t take too much “surface” talk before I start asking people questions about themselves. Why I crave conversations that make me think, that open my mind to perspectives other than my own.
It’s why I don’t “do nothing” well. I’ve done enough “nothing” to last me the rest of my life.
Writing about “Don’t Eat The Marshmallow” today. LOVE these kids.
(the premise is that children who are capable of delayed gratification are more “successful” than children who can’t delay gratification. The test? Give a kid a marshmallow and tell them they can eat it – BUT if they can wait 10-15 minutes, they can have TWO marshmallows. Some kids make it. Some kids don’t. Some kids find a way to eat the INSIDE of a marshmallow and make it look like they didn’t eat it. That would be the little girl with the pink headband. The kid vs. marshmallow test video begins around the 3 minute mark.)
Here’s a peek at my day…
Done: 1 HIIT mile and 1 yoga class.
But I’m still in my workout clothes…still wearing shoes. If I can just stop myself from taking off my shoes, there’s the possibility of another mile or two. So…what are YOU doing to be a good steward of the body God has blessed YOU with today?
courtesy subliminal message: m&ms taste like brussel sprouts. you don’t want m&ms. (you’re welcome)
Looks like my van’s getting a new transmission for Christmas. Second one this year. At least this one is free (warranty).
right knee. ice. heat. ice. heat. ice. heat. anti-inflammatories. don’t know if I twisted it in yoga or stressed it jogging. I didn’t move it for an hour this afternoon and it started to stiffen up. Gotta MOVE it! FavoriteHusband…will you please fix my bike?
I narrowed it down. It was the half bow pose in yoga today. NEVER doing that again. more ice. more heat. more anti-inflammatories. epson salt bath. aspercreme.
FirstHusband: “Sit down. I don’t want you walking around. You’re limping.”
Me: “I’m not limping. I’m just walking without bending my knee.”
FirstHusband: “How is that different from limping?”
Me: “It doesn’t hurt to walk if I don’t bend my knee.”
FirstHusband: “Have you ever seen Chester on Gunsmoke?”
Me: “Yeh. so?”
FirstHusband: “If you don’t sit down I’m going to start calling you Chester.”
(Some of you know I’m writing a book. Most recently I’ve been focused on accountability. Don’t know how much will make it through final edits, but today, this is what came out of my memory and my fingertips. Note: (1) This was many YEARS ago. (2) I do NOT really talk to myself like this. That would be crazy.)
I have a collection of coffee mugs that completely fills the kitchen cabinet I’ve designated as the “coffee mug cabinet.” So far, when I get a new mug, I’ve been successful in getting rid of an old one so the coffee mug cabinet stays full, but doesn’t overflow into another one.
I also have a collection of CHRISTMAS coffee mugs that completely fills the same cabinet.
When I first started collecting coffee mugs, I didn’t pay attention to how much space they took up. I saw a coffee mug I liked and I bought it. Eventually I got to the point where all the mugs didn’t fit into the space, so I started packing up the Christmas mugs and storing them in the attic, only taking them down during the month of December.
In December, my cabinet overflowed.
Then a few years ago, I had a long overdue epiphany. When I UNpacked the Christmas mugs, I PACKED the everyday mugs in the same box and instead of putting an empty mug box back into the attic for the month of December, I put a full mug box into the attic.
There’s a lesson here. Just in time for the chaos of the Christmas season.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it until I’m dead:
You CAN have it all, you just can’t have it all AT THE SAME TIME.
Choose on PURPOSE.
Everyone knows someone who’s schedule is overloaded. Someone who has said “yes” to too many things. Someone who tries to do so many things, they do none of them well. Someone who is a job hog. You may even BE one of those people.
I used to be one of those people, until I had a long, honest, humbling talk with myself:
FedUpMe: “What is your problem? WHY do you keep doing this?
FedUpMe: “WHY do you keep saying yes to everything?”
MartyrMe: “Well, they asked me. They NEED me.”
FedUpMe: “They need you. They need you? Are you sure you don’t need them to need you?”
MartyrMe: “Of course not! I’m doing all this out of the goodness of my heart. Because I’m a good person and I want to help.”
FedUpMe: “and you get nothing out of it.”
MartyrMe: “NO! Most of the time people don’t even appreciate all I do for them.”
FedUpMe: “Of course they don’t. Nobody appreciates a half-%&# job.”
MartyrMe: “I do NOT do a half-%&# job!!! I work my butt off! Look at my schedule! I don’t have ANY time for myself! EVERYthing I do is for other people. I don’t even have time to work out! I run on coffee!”
FedUpMe: “This is me you’re talking to.”
FedUpMe: “Save it. You’re not selling that load here. Look at everything you do. You don’t get anything out of it personally? How many of these things you’ve committed to come with lots of people telling you how great you are? How many times do you tell people about all the stuff you do so they’ll tell you how great you are? (mocking voice) ‘Oh, I just don’t know how you do it all!’”
MartyrMe: “I can’t just quit. There’s nobody else to do it.”
FedUpMe: “Are you really that arrogant?”
MartyrMe: “If I didn’t do it, it wouldn’t get done.”
FedUpMe: “Are you sure about that? Are you SURE that you’re not hogging a job someone else wants? A job someone is just WAITING for you to give up so they can have a shot at it? A job you really aren’t suited for? Are you afraid someone else might do it better? Because I’ll tell you now, they probably could. Because you do a half-%&# job.”
MartyrMe: “shut up. I do NOT do a half-%&# job. I’m doing my best.”
FedUpMe: “You did not just say that. (pregnant pause) What is your favorite Churchill quote?”
FedUpMe: “It’s not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what’s required.”
silence. brooding. arrogant brooding.
MartyrMe: “I never liked you.”
FedUpMe: “There are a lot of people who don’t like me. And yet I’m still breathing.”
MartyrMe: “You’ve got issues. and you’re bossy.”
FedUpMe: “duh. I’m YOU.”
MartyrMe: “I can’t just quit. I’m already committed.”
FedUpMe: “Yeh, well, you’re gonna be committed if you don’t find some balance in your life. Look. Start by figuring out two things:
First, what’s important to you? What are your goals in life?
Second, what are you good at? What talents has God blessed you with and which ones are you actively developing?
Be brutally honest with yourself, but more importantly, ask other people for feedback and give them permission to tell you the truth. Then you’ll know what to let go of, what to keep in your life and what you need to improve on. If you want to do something and you aren’t very good at it, then GET good at it. Learn. Practice. And don’t forget. There are seasons for things. Just because you want to do something, doesn’t mean you have to do it NOW. You don’t have to do everything at the same time. You CAN’T do everything at the same time. Not well. Rotate your commitments.
Like Christmas coffee mugs.