Tyranny of the Good

“Sometimes saying ‘No’ is the only way back to a life of ‘Yes.’”  Shauna Niequist.

All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things build up.  I Corinthians 10:23

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Good Things

Have there been times in your life, maybe even now, when you are doing good things—really good things, LOTS of good things—but you realize that something isn’t quite right? If you’re like me, the answer is a resounding “YES!” And if we’re honest, most of us walk (or run really fast) that pathway more often than not. We get busy doing activities or jobs that are productive and helpful and serving others and life-giving. Why would we NOT want to do those things??

When our family moved from our beloved east Texas to Colorado several years ago, I felt that if I didn’t get involved and be of service and make friends pretty quickly, I might sink. We had left the place where we raised our children and ourselves; where we helped start a church, served in the community, and were involved in myriad home school activities; we left friends we did life with and with whom we developed roots. So even before we got unpacked, I started putting my name on lists, volunteering for needs at church, and looking for people who were in the same life-vein as I was.

All of those things were good!

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But about a year after we got settled in CO, something—or Someone—spoke to me. “Slow down. Stop striving. Rest.” And then, “You will be just fine—even better. Get to know yourself and love those who are most important in your life right now. All of those other activities and needs and people aren’t going anywhere—but the most important ones are right in front of you. THIS is where you need to be.”

STOP! Get to know yourself and love those who are most important in your life right now.” What?! Wasn’t I doing that? Hadn’t I done that all along? I was already doing that by staying busy with all the good things and people around us, while also teaching my children about service and what was important. What does that mean, “Get to know yourself”??

Tyranny of the Good

Somewhere along the way of life, where so many good things were before me, I thought I had to do them all and work to make sure things got done. I had to serve because there were so many needs, and surely, no one else would do the job; or because others expected me to do it; or maybe because it made me feel important. Really? Rather than pray over all of those good tasks (there’s a concept!) before deciding what was best for all concerned—especially my family and me—I took off running. I loved what I was doing: working, teaching, leading, heading up hospitality committees, attending to others’ needs.

And even though I thought my busyness and service were necessary and good, they weren’t best. The work I was doing wasn’t always profitable—at least, not for me; I was striving. The goodness of life, while always a gift, had started to become a very heavy weight; and before I realized it, I was on a track where knowing God, knowing myself, and knowing those I love most, had taken a back seat.

Saying No

Soon after I heard that voice telling me to slow down and “get to know myself” and to truly connect with and love those around me, I started saying “No.” I said No when I was asked to manage a website for something at church; No when a need was posted for a co-op leader; No when asked to volunteer weekly at a food bank. All of these needs were important, necessary, and good—and it wasn’t easy using the N word (at first). But eventually, I gained a freedom that was even more important, necessary, meaningful—and so much better.

Gradually, I started saying Yes to quiet mornings at home; Yes to writing more; Yes to deep and important conversations with my adult children; Yes to serving those in my home. I had to learn No so I could get back to Yes.

In the process, I slowly began to realize things about myself and understand more of what God wanted me to know: that He will use me right where I am; I don’t need to chase after all of those good things in life I am not responsible for; He directs my path toward goodness as long as I seek Him first.

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He who dwells in  the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. Psalm 91:1

Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.  Psalm 116:7

Return to Your Rest

Once you find the Rest your soul needs, you’ll realize that Life is still there, all of those good things are still waiting. But you will also be able to discern what is profitable. When you’re able to step back and see not only what the world around you needs, but what YOU need, you’ll walk toward to a more healthy and whole path and will be able to say Yes once again.

        “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness                                                                    and in trust shall be your strength.” Isaiah 30:15

 

Words…

“Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” Proverbs 16:24

“Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” Proverbs 13:3

“Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” Proverbs 17:28

“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1

Words have so much power. We can use them flippantly or thoughtfully, and even just a few words can change the course of someone’s life, for better or worse. Yes, words and how we use them are important; heaven knows I’m guilty of using them unwisely and thoughtlessly. Too often, I’ve had to humble myself and ask for forgiveness from people I love  – and hurt – with my words.

Something my mom used to say to me was that if I didn’t want others to read what I wrote, then I shouldn’t write it. Good advice. Today during my junior high writing class, we talked a lot about the power of words, written and spoken. We talked about the importance of measuring them, of choosing them, of guarding them. Of sometimes not saying them, and often keeping them to ourselves. Of venting to God, sometimes written, but maybe more often, not. We talked about social media and how we can use it to divide or to bless, and how we should never ever use it to announce others’ information or tell someone else’s story.

We talked about how words hurt, how we cannot take them back ~ how we should use them in ways where we wouldn’t want or need to take them back. How once they’re ‘out there’, we’d better hope we’re ok with them being out there, because in today’s world, they may always be out there, and we don’t want to regret them.

When I was in high school, I wrote a lot ~ in journals ~ and I truly thought what I wrote was profound and extremely sensitive and deep. And sooo wise! Many years later, when a friend from high school years and I got re-acquainted, we laughed till we cried at some of those profundities. Those high school musings really seemed important at the time ~ but to no one but me. If anyone else saw them, they’d probably slate me for therapy, for sure.

Not too long afterward, I burned those journals. Just doing that was therapeutic. The words I wrote as a high school girl, which at the time seemed to come deep within my soul (and maybe they did), weren’t the words I’d use today, as a person who is learning to understand my Redemption. Now I know how very important it is to choose wisely, carefully, prayerfully.

Another piece of advice, again from a mother, came from Thumper’s mom ~ if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. I might amend that just a little ~ if you can’t say something nice — stop — and if it needs to be said ~ really needs to be said ~ say it in a way that will be constructive and part of a solution, and say it in a way that will bless. Or as James 1:19 admonishes, be slow to speak. If we stop and asses the situation well, we may see that listening may be what is needed way more than any of our words.

Through the Looking Glasses…

I started wearing reading glasses when I turned 40. Almost overnight, my eyes changed, and written words looked fuzzy and unclear. I didn’t want to admit that my vision was getting weaker, but life became limited pretty quickly — so the glasses went on. And when I can keep track of where those glasses are, seeing words is no longer a problem.

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Unfortunately, glasses don’t work for everything. I still need clarity in so many areas, and vision is only one of them. Sometimes I don’t want to admit that my perspective is changing, that life seems fuzzy and unclear. Because then I have to admit that maybe, just maybe, I’m not in control anymore…that I’ve even been wrong about some things, that I’ve had blind spots, and that the life I had envisioned as clear and easy, may not be.  And you know what four letter word that brings up?  FEAR. And it can be blinding.

Those parts of life that are familiar – friends, relationships, church, work, committees – are so often life-giving and meaningful, purposeful, safe. They often define us and give us vision, and those are good things.

But those are also the areas in which we often become way too entrenched, and then we are too close to the setting to see a bigger and more complete picture. Focus gets fuzzy and the lights begin to dim a bit. If we don’t know when to step back for a different view, we can almost become crippled. And in the middle of realizing that maybe we need to move, to change perspective, is fear. We don’t want to make changes because we’re afraid of what life will be like if we move, so we stay in the ‘safe’ world of what we know.  And in the midst of all that activity, we begin to project what we perceive as the best or most important, on those we love.

When my children were growing up, we taught them what is Right and True and Good. We got caught up in the 12-step-plan, the do-all-the-right-parental-things-and-your-children-will-turn-out-like-you-want-them-to handbook. We made sure they were doing ‘all the right things’, being part of all the right groups and activities. But somewhere along the way we picked up the wrong glasses, and our perception changed – and so did our expectations; we wanted them to look like us instead of the unique people God made them.

I needed a different set of glasses. Maybe my quest to find fulfillment in the doing and the ‘perfect parenting’ was caught up in striving more than in stillness, and I put my children in the same place. “Be still and know that I AM GOD.” “Trust Me.” I wasn’t being still, and I wasn’t seeing what God wanted me to see. I let fear into my sights. I needed to step back.

And this is when my vision started to fade. I needed to get being still into focus.

If all the activity of life and parenting, which we often think defines and validates us, keeps us from seeing that it’s time to be still and trust, then what we do is as a loud noise — because Love and knowing the God of Love is the most important — above all else. When we can’t slow down enough to put that Love into perspective,  it is easy to lose our vision and we focus on all the wrong things.

But some days I think that maybe it’s coming back, just a little. I think I see a little more light and have a little more clarity. I see that the doing, all the striving, is changing to listening and laughing and enjoying and walking alongside. And being still.

Our service and activity and doing doesn’t validate us. We aren’t defined by our outward work or how we think things should look on the outside. We’re defined by who God is making us, and that looks different for each of us. And if how we look on the outside isn’t kind and caring and loving, then does it matter?

I think I’m beginning to see some things I couldn’t see before. My glasses may not always be where I need them, but I’m sure glad I have them. And I’m thankful to God for His vision ~ because His perspective is what truly counts.

 

Light a Candle

“I am waiting in a silent prayer, I am frightened by the load I bear in a world as cold as stone. Must I walk this path alone?…Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness…”

This time of year… family, friends, decorations, lights, trees, gifts, music, yummy spicy smells, cookies…Christmastime. So many love to start celebrating early each year and keep the Christmas music going and the tree and lights up through winter. We all love the storybook Christmas.

But this time of year is also sadness and loneliness for so many — often magnified because of all of the lovely holiday trappings. Life doesn’t stop because it’s Christmas. Every year, I seem to be more acutely aware of this side of Christmas, of the messiness of life, of those who are hurting. I can take cookies, send gifts, say words of encouragement, pray for peace and healing — but the sadness and pain are still there. There are those walking through a dark night of the soul, and Christmas lights don’t take that darkness away.

There are so many.

But God…

For He is Light. Jesus. He knows the pain and the loneliness and the darkness. And for those of us who love Christmas let us remember why we love it. All the fluffy things are wonderful. But God became flesh in the midst of a dark and hopeless world. He is the Christmas Light. He gives hope  —  because we all need it.

So each night during this season, I light a candle for those whose hurt is magnified during Christmas, and I’ll pray for some small comfort, some small light to guide them.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” Isaiah 9:2

 

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But God…

There have been many times over the years — and especially lately — I’ve wanted to vent and rant on social media about one thing or another. But because I vowed many years ago not to use facebook in that way, I fight off the temptation.

But believe me…I grapple and struggle with and work through — thoughtfully and prayerfully and often tearfully — all the issues and events going on around us and in this oh-so-much-smaller-and-louder world in which we live. And sometimes when it seems too hard or I get angry, I want to go back on that vow I made and shout from the rooftops. Or I selfishly want to retreat forever.

But I know that neither is an option.

Because no matter how I feel today or tomorrow about a, b, or c, and no matter what changes take place in the world overnight, we have a Great God who is calm and compassionate, and He desires us to be the same. Oh how easily and quickly we forget that our confidence is in Him, no matter what is going on around us.

The nations (and events and evil and fill in the blank) can rage, but in vain, and the authorities and powers-that-be are ultimately not going to win.

So what it comes around to is this: there is no reason to rant or vent or shout. Instead, I need to remember, trust in and rest in the One who is truly in charge. His Grace is sufficient.

The Goodness of God

“God is good when He sends good weather. But God was also good when He allowed my sister Betsie to starve to death before my eyes in a German concentration camp.”  Corrie Ten Boom

Wow Corrie – pretty much 2 extremes. How can the god of good weather be the same god in a German concentration camp?

I’m not exactly sure, except that deep down – way deep – I know it’s true.

When I first read those words, somehow they brought peace to my heart. I don’t know how or why, because when I imagine the suffering and despair in that concentration camp and when I hear in the news about the suffering and despair in the world – my heart aches. But Corrie Ten Boom’s words bring peace? Yes. Yes, they do.

The continuum of God’s Goodness, from happiness to hardship – from weather to death in a concentration camp and everything in between – yes, it is hard to understand why it’s all part of the goodness of God. Too often we don’t recognize Goodness, because we put our circumstances ~ as hard as they often are ~ above what we know about the God who made us, who loves us, and who wants to spend eternity with us. Of course, our initial response and reaction to hard things is often instinctual. But then we need to step back and focus up, because It is in our heart and soul where we experience God’s Goodness no matter what.

And I realize that is also where we experience great pain and sadness. When life throws its curves, which it does all the time, we can choose to give up on the beauty we have at our fingertips – because the circumstances loom so big before us – or we can look deep and know that those circumstances can be transforming, for better or for worse. And while I’m here, I want to live life in the best possible way, whether I’m hoping for good weather at a picnic or doing my best to find peace out of chaos in a concentration camp.

raindropConc campPeace comes easy when life is easy. It’s when we can’t see through the darkness that we need Peace that passes understanding ~ Peace that is so real and so strong that we have joy in the midst of great sorrow.

I have no doubt that my life could have looked very different had I let circumstances rule rather than look deep for what God was doing. I could have let bitterness take over when I was 17 and my dad died in my arms. Or I could have let the confusion I felt in college rule my life when I was so desperately trying to find my feet in my new-found Faith, and I struggled to find those who were like-minded. Or when my friend died from aids. Or…

Sheldon VanAuken, in his beautiful book A Severe Mercy, speaks of wanting to live life in a way where he truly experiences its beauty and heartache – the Heights and the Depths. Life is Heights and Depths – but do we allow ourselves to feel them, learn from them, grow because of them, learn to love deeper? To realize that they are all part of God’s Goodness?

“Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow-creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.” C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Choices – those others see, and those only we know about…those internal choices which point us to God’s goodness even when we can’t see it. But His goodness is always there.

Our friends from Rwanda lost family and friends to genocide and aids and eventually escaped to the U.S. Did they think of God’s goodness when they were burying loved ones or running for their lives? Yes ~ because they knew then, as they know now, that the God of the universe loved them, loved those around them, loved their countrymen ~ and that one day, all would be redeemed. When they talk of God and His goodness, joy shines on their faces – and that joy can only come from the Peace that rests deep in their souls and knowing that God is good in the midst of heartache and tragedy.

Corrie Ten Boom lived it in ways that are so hard to comprehend. But something about her words get to the deepest part of my soul, and I get it. Because though we will probably never live or die in a concentration camp, life presents everyday-hells that we must rise above if we are to know that peace that passes understanding. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”

We are called to walk alongside those who suffer – with humility, a listening ear, kindness, graciousness, goodness. That is exactly what Corrie and her sister did, while they also suffered.  “You will regret burning bridges like a pyro but you will never regret gentleness” (Jen Hatmaker). The Goodness of God.

 

Thank you Mom, for your Service

In the summer of 2009 my mom fell and injured herself — not too seriously, but enough that she needed rehab — so we started the process of learning how to best help her. Because she was with the Women’s Army Corps during WWII, someone suggested that we try to get VA benefits for her, so I met with the VA representative about her case. While visiting with him, he asked me if she’d ever received her medals. I told him I had never seen any or ever heard her talk about them. As he was perusing her documents, his eyes suddenly lit up, and a big smile crossed his face. “She was a combat vet! I rarely see this!” He then explained to me that she was considered ‘combat’ because she was serving in the European combat zone. She worked in the Medical Records department in France and was in London when it was bombed by Germany.

Mom during WWII                                                        **********************

When I was growing up, I often heard Mom tell stories of her years as a WAC, but until recently I never really understood that part of her life. Even now I can only ‘get it’ from a distance. Those years shaped her and solidified a value system that few of us today will ever understand.

Mom grew up on a military base because my grandfather was career military and fought under General Patton, and she spoke often of her ‘drill sergeant’ father (who died many years before I was born). So for a young woman to do something fairly unconventional for women at that time probably wasn’t too strange to those who knew her then — especially during WWII, when help was needed everywhere; even those who weren’t enlisted volunteered or sacrificed somewhere. And by becoming a WAC, Mom knew she could travel, which she much preferred over staying in a small dusty TX town.

Looking back on my childhood, I think I understand a little better why we moved so often; Mom wasn’t one to stay in one place very long. We either moved from one town to another or from one house to another — she got bored with her circumstances quickly and convinced my dad that it was time for a change. Now, I think some of that may have been a longing to find some of the excitement and variety she found and loved in the military.

One year after that initial meeting with the VA representative, he called me to say that he had requested and received her medals. At a Veteran’s Day ceremony, after more that 66 years, Mom was honored for the work she did during WWII. I was thrilled to be there with my family and hundreds of others who were there to honor her and 3 others from WWII.

My mom was 90 when she received her medals, and she passed away 6 months later. She wasn’t living in our area at that time; even in her late 80s she was still moving from one place to another (some things never change!), and I’ll never forget all those moves! But Veterans Day is the day I think about her most — and I think it is the day she’d want to be remembered.

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