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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Do-Over

School is getting hard in our house.

Where once there were idle afternoons and evenings with no homework, no material to study for tests, no papers to write, projects to manage, or chapters to read, now we have it all.  Nightly.  No more declarations of “I finished it in study hall.”  Teachers are no longer saying “I don’t give homework” on back-to-school night.

Until this year, school work was so different from when I was their age.  Daily math worksheets, books to read, reports to write – all of these were normal parts of my day, starting in elementary school.  It continued until my last day of graduate school.

Now my eldest is juggling math concepts along with social studies papers, blog entries for language arts, and studying, studying, studying.  He’s never done this before.  He hasn’t ever brought home much schoolwork. Now he brings several subjects to study and learn every night.  It’s fine.  School is different now.  My kids are smarter than I ever was.  I’m not complaining.

But it’s hard.  For all of us.

Teaching a teenager how to study, how to prioritize assignments, how to manage time – it’s not for the faint of heart.  I know how to do this.  He wants to do it himself.  I can see the gaps in his efforts.  He wants me to leave him alone.

The other night, there was yelling and swearing and general gnashing of teeth.  Yes – we use this phrase in our house.  There was gnashing of teeth.

I want a do-over.  I want him to go back to elementary school, where things were slower and easier, and he was more apt to listen to his mother.  I want to have better prepared for this and given him homework to do when the teachers didn’t, so he could practice the skills he needs now. 

More than this, though, I want a do-over on the gnashing of teeth part.  I want to take back the shouting, my frustration.  I want to eat my words, bitter as they are.  I want to have responded to an assertion of “I don’t have to memorize this” with aplomb instead of an f-bomb.

I want to be given another chance to shut up, already.

As I get older, my words haunt me more.  They are the source of my greatest sins.  More than pride, stubbornness, lack of faith – the words I say reveal my heart and drive my actions, and they are what God uses most to teach me life lessons.  I learn through words, written and spoken. 

And those which should have been left unspoken.

I can’t count the number of times I wished for a do-over on situations that end with me saying words that harm others or show a glimpse of my character that I choose to keep hidden most times: the rash emotional tempest that shows itself for a moment in times of extreme frustration and exasperation.  As quick as it comes, then it’s gone.  But the effects are lasting.

There are no real do-overs in life.  We can’t go back in time and take back what was said or done.  Once it’s out there, it’s out.  The consequences of our humanity can be painful and cringe-worthy memories about what we have done, a tarnished impression of our ideal selves that we leave with others, and wounds that we inflict without lifting a hand.

But we can do better – there is always another day, another chance for improvement.  We can make better choices.  We can choose our words and actions more carefully.  We can apologize for our actions. 

When we reach out to others with humility and sorrow, we show them love.  We show them that they are worthy of better than what we have given them.  We say we’re sorry for our behavior, for our frustration, for the words that hurt.  We can ask for another chance.

And we can ask Jesus for forgiveness.  We can ask him to help us correct our habits, to be more godly.  To love others instead of tear them down.

Even if those we have harmed choose not to give us another chance, Jesus will come through for us.  Our forgiveness is sure if our hearts are in the right place, if we believe that we have sinned and that only he can make it right. 

I wish I could say that I have no need for forgiveness, that I always do the right thing, that my thoughts and words and actions are always upstanding and holy.  But they are not – I need Jesus’ forgiveness and am so thankful for his sacrifice that wipes my slate clean.  I have no illusions about the true effects of my behavior.

The gnashing of teeth give it away every time.

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When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise. ~Proverbs 10:19 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Bogged Down in the Details

My daughter and I share this character trait where we focus on the fine print.  We have the patience to work in fine detail: we unravel knots, erase and rewrite over and over, and remove lint and crumbs one at a time.  We look up at the end of a task and time has slipped by, and we still have many more to do.  We overthink, ruminate, and stay with something until we have it all worked out.  We are slow movers, deliberate workers.  We are the sloths of the human world.

As an adult, it’s no big thing.  I can do things quickly and with sparkling accuracy.  I just choose not to, most of the time.  Most of the time it doesn’t matter.  When timeliness counts, though, I can bring the action.

As a tween, my daughter is not so good at this.

“You’re getting bogged down in the details,” I say to her when she’s on hour five of a posterboard project, drawing with glitter and glue, fretting over the wrinkles that the drying adhesive made under the surface of the layers of colorful paper.  “The grading rubric says ‘no wrinkled paper!’” she replies.  “I’ll lose points if the paper is wrinkled.  Do you think it’s creative enough?  I’m going to add more pictures,” she worries more.

“It’s great, and those wrinkles don’t count,” I said.  “Move on.  Get it finished.  You’re spending way too much time on this.”  I try to help her understand task priorities.  A posterboard project does not trump studying for a science test.  How long will that take?

“Do you know what ‘bogged down’ means?” I ask her.  “Yes,” she says.  “I just want to do a good job, and it takes time.”

She’s right.  Doing well takes time, practice, and care.  We should always strive to do our best.

“I only want to have my hands on this once,” a former co-worker used to say.  His attention to detail was something that I admired; we got along well because we understood being meticulous in our work.  Unlike him, though, I was not always consistent, and I suffered through many revisions before I was satisfied with what I had produced.

But I learned to do better over time; in a year I was able to move with lightning speed and accuracy through the tasks laid out before me.

God wants us to do our best.  Whether it is a mundane household task, school project, or billion-dollar business deal, we are to put forth our best effort.  It takes time and practice.  This builds our character, trustworthiness, and work ethic, among other desirable qualities.

Further, we are to do it all for him.  I find that my tasks go more smoothly and I have a better attitude about them when I know that they are being done ultimately for the glory of God.  I find that I get bogged down in the details less when I know that the work is being done for a higher purpose than just making it perfect.

I see myself in my daughter when she knits her brows together at a rogue blob of glitter glue, the barely perceptible wrinkles on her project; it will bother her until she works out how to fix these problems, and is satisfied with the result.

She needs to learn that those small wrinkles don’t amount to much.  

What’s important is that God knows that her best effort has been put forth.




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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

More or Less

Our family is not particularly strong in outward faith.  We go to church and Bible study once in a while, say a quick “God is great” before dinner on the rare nights that we all sit down to eat together, but we don’t hand out pamphlets on the street or ask friends if they’ve found Jesus yet.

Sometimes I think that we could do more, say more, and be more for God.  We could take more opportunities to share his love and the gospel.

It’s so typical of a person in our society to think more is better for everything.  Gimme gimme.

After all, the more years we live, the more people we meet, the more opportunities we have to show God’s love to the world, right?

The reality is, sometimes more in one hand looks like less in another.  We give up favorite habits.  We meet others who don’t share our beliefs, and they cross us off their list.  Relationships suffer because we are on one path, and others are on another, and those people slip through our lives and we are left with one less friend.

Sometimes the scales tip within us.  We get to a point in our faith where we feel like we have to start over.  We’ve grown out of our beginning faith clothes so we put on another outfit that has more room for us to grow into.  It can be uncomfortable, lonely, painful.

Maybe we start a new Bible study.  Maybe we stop a bad habit that comes between us and God.  Maybe we make new friends.  Maybe we add a new activity to our lives.  Maybe we make a stand within a group of people who are sitting down. 

I help out with our church’s youth group.  My kids and I go every week.

To say it has changed us is a little dramatic, but it has.  Spend over two hours with thirty or so teenagers each week and you’ll say the same thing.

Before I started helping out in youth group I was sitting next to you, whispering about how terrifying teenagers are.

Our kids are in middle school, and they love youth group.  They want to go to church and see friends and do fun activities.  I knew they’d love it for those reasons.  What I didn’t expect was they also want to learn about Jesus, and how he can work in their lives.

They are learning about the importance of faith, and they are working out how to strengthen it while also realizing that other people aren’t interested in that.  The scales within them are tipping.

I hope they continue to want to learn about Jesus and strengthen their faith.  I pray that they stay on the path that God has for them.  I hope they do not waver when they meet someone who tells them that there is no God, that Jesus was just a guy, that the Bible was written by men and it has nothing to do with our lives.

I hope they realize that sometimes when we have more, it only looks like we are getting less.



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Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. Colossians 2:7

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

No Worries

Are you a worrier?

I’m not.  Not really.  Sure, there are times when I’m feeling especially overloaded or burdened, when my eyes snap open in the middle of the night with thoughts that keep me up for an hour or two.  I toss and turn, trying to work out several solutions or outcomes for the problems that roll around in my head.

Thankfully these times are few and far between.  They were more frequent not too long ago.

Maybe life is just easier now, you think.  I don’t know about that.  Life moves forward faster and faster, and responsibilities and experiences pile up and more difficult situations to overcome present themselves.  Every snowball gets bigger as it rolls along, and life is no exception.

I don’t think my opportunities to worry are less than before.

Things like jobs, relationships, the repercussions of my own behavior, good health and safety, doing right, doing well, missing opportunities, and messing up are always ripe subjects for worrying.  As I’ve gotten older I am gripped by the realization that there is little that I can control about most things in this world.  My own words, behaviors and decisions.  Maybe daily tasks.  It’s not much, but it’s enough.

I’m just laid back, man. 

The worries never really went away.  So how am I so chill?

Call it age, faith, maturity, or all three, but I got tired of worrying, and finally learned to pray.  I give more worries to God these days than I did maybe the first twenty years of my life.  Maybe.  There’s no way to count.

If we kept score by the worries that plague us, most of us would be winning.  But God doesn’t want us to worry.  We are his children; does any parent wish his or her children to worry?



So far today, I’ve prayed for:

A good day for us all.

Safety for my husband on the road.

Safety for my kids as they walked to the bus.

Peace for a friend.

Love for a friend of my child.

Healing and comfort for a friend of a friend whose child is ill.

Comfort for a friend who lost her grandfather.

Thanks for the rain (to drive me inside so I couldn’t exercise outside.  I can’t say all my prayers are selfless.)

Thanks for a smooth morning.

Thanks for his watchful eye.

My kids to do their best in school.

Patience.

The prayers don't stop.  They come more naturally because of practicing, I think.  I learned to stop and pray when I read the words “please pray for…” and if something terrible has happened, or if a person’s face or name comes to mind.  The worries are kept at bay because when they surface, they come up against God’s omnipotence, goodness, and grace. 

Try it.  It works.

I wish I could say that I’m 100% successful at not worrying, that I am so in tune with God that his heart is mine.  It’s not.  After all, I have prayed thanks to God for creating weather conditions that prevented me from exercising so that I could stay inside and be lazy.  My prayers could use a little tweaking sometimes.  They could use a little more specificity, a little more frequency, a little more thought.  There’s always room for improvement.

I trust that God is always listening anyway.  That’s something none of us has to worry about.

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But let all those rejoice who put their trust in you; let them ever shout for joy, because you defend them; let those also who love your name be joyful in you.  Psalm 5:11 (NKJV)