Best of Community: When Your “Yes” Holds You Back

Positive Thoughts, Mr Glen

Several years ago a mentor told me, “Potential does not equal calling.”

“It doesn’t?” I replied, puzzled. Because if I’m not supposed to take on a new task, why did God give me the ability? Why all these golden opportunities if I’m just supposed to say no?

She then gave Jesus as an example . . .

——–

This week marks the last week for many editors at The High Calling. Many thanks to them for their excellent work in making community and connections over the years. I am honored that they chose one of my articles as part of their “Best of Community” highlights. Read the full article at The High Calling: When Your “Yes” Holds You Back.

Photo credit: Glen Scott, via Flickr Creative Commons

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Cold Shoulder / Silent Treatment

Giving the lens the cold shoulder

I know how to give the most vicious, wicked “cold shoulder” and “silent treatment” (CS/ST). I activate CS/ST when someone does something to upset me. Sometimes, the people on the receiving end are caught off guard because they have no clue why I am upset with them. This bewilderment makes CS/ST especially effective in its caustic damage. Also, CS/ST makes me feel powerful. I indulge in a crazed, cruel pleasure in hurting people.

The above paragraph is a confession. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed” (James 5:16). I’m confessing to you and every person with access to the World Wide Web how malicious I have been and still can be.

***

I have many job titles: teacher, editor, budget manager, house cleaner. Chauffeur is one of my favorite titles. I don’t consider driving my sons to their various activities a tedious chore but a pleasure. I actually like taking them to art school or the library or track practice.

“Don’t worry if practice runs late,” I tell my son. “I always have a book with me, so I’ll read in the car.” I have even dropped him off at an hour-long event and stayed there, taking advantage of a full hour of reading or writing time, instead of going home.

But in one case, I gave him 12:15 as a firm pick-up time. He misunderstood and thought I meant I’d be there at 12:15 but, as in other cases, would read a book and wait if he ran late.

Not only did I have no book, but my other son was with me, and we had other errands to run in a short time. At 12:45, after waiting and working myself up to a fuming (but silent) rage, I went into the building to get him.

He had no idea.

I activated my CS/ST at full throttle.

He tried pleasantly chatting about his time with the teachers at the event. I answered curtly: “Oh.”

We went to drop off recycles. I opened the door to get the recycles out of the trunk, and he said, “Do you want me to help?”

I pretended not to hear him and shut the car door without reply. Silent treatment. Caustic.

Next stop: Goodwill, to discard unwanted books and clothes. The same thing happened there: “Should I get out and help?” he asked.

Cold shoulder. Icy silence.

Final stop: pick up Dad after his soccer game at the park. The game was not yet over when we arrived, so the poor kid was trapped in close quarters with his mother emanating shock waves of malice. I am an expert in CS/ST tactics.

How could I have been so cruel to my own child? If he were two or three years old instead of a high school senior, he would have been traumatized and in need of counseling. Not until hours later did I explain why I was angry. Not until days later did I finally apologize and repent.

When my husband and I married, we spoke our own vows in addition to the traditional ones (for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health). One of our custom vows: “To be honest and open with one another in an attitude of love and humility.”

In other words, don’t hold grudges. Talk it through instead.

Ann Kroeker recently offered her readers 6 Questions to Ask Yourself. Question #3 is “How do I need to change?”

I need to change by shedding my CS/ST habit and the deranged satisfaction I get from the “power” it gives me. There is far more power in love and humility.

What is the opposite of Cold Shoulder? Leaning toward the person in conflict. Pressing past cruelty’s false sense of superiority and control. Asking myself, as a friend advised, “What’s really important here?” Putting the relationship before my selfishness.

What is the opposite of Silent Treatment? Quick communication about what’s bothering me. Being honest and open, with an attitude of love and humility.

God, help me to change.

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Click to tweet: There is far more power in love and humility.

For The High Calling community writing theme: Reconciliation at Work. UPDATE: This post was featured at The High Calling.

Also, don’t miss Glynn Young’s perspective on Change at The High Calling.

Photo credit: Juhan Sonin via Flickr Creative Commons

Letter-Writing Day (for The High Calling theme: Live Happy)

When my son makes a birthday card, he doesn’t just write “Happy Birthday.” He writes “Happy” over and over again—the same number of times as the birthday person’s number of years. Last year I got “Happy” on my birthday card 42 times.

He picked up this habit from his Great Granddad.

happybirthday1

My husband declared the first Sunday of every month Letter-Writing Day so our three sons would grow up knowing how to write letters—the pen-on-paper, stamp-on-envelope, delivered-by-postal-carrier kind. Our sons write to anyone they choose. Often, the letter is for the person who wrote back last time.

Great Granddad, my husband’s paternal grandfather, was a favorite choice. He wrote back with “original art” on the stationery: a smiling head drawn at the bottom, next to “Love, Great Granddad.” The head, representing himself, had a single curly hair on top, Charlie Brown–like. He wrote in print, not cursive, and put a distinctive curl at the beginning or ending of some letter strokes. The downward mini-flourish at the end of his ‘s’ was most memorable to me.

ggdadletter3-lg

Great Granddad’s letters often included a joke. (Why did the golfer throw away his socks? Because he had a hole in one.) My sons sometimes replied with jokes of their own. Even without the jokes, his sense of humor came through. When telling us of an accident in the house which resulted in his falling, he wrote that his daughter, who lives with him, “suggested that I draw one of my original art pictures to show me flying through the room, but my limited ability cannot do justice to the situation.”

Great Granddad also told stories of his growing-up days. In one letter, he told of the farm where he grew up:

Our farm of about 50 acres included 10 acres of woodland. We had 1 cow, 1 heifer, 1 or 2 horses, 4 pigs, + at least a hundred chickens. My mother had to milk the cow twice a day—in the morning and in the evening. My father was a school teacher. We had coal oil lanterns for light until we got electricity, when I was 3 or 4 or 5 years old. We had a coal stove in the kitchen which met our cooking and heating needs. I will try to tell you more about my childhood in future letters.

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When Great Granddad was a child, they grew strawberries on that farm. Now it is a Christmas-tree farm. Though no Sharman has lived there for many years, the subsequent owners kept “The Sharman Homestead” painted on the barn wall.

A commissioned painting of the barn hangs in our dinette. It is to be handed down to the oldest son, generation after generation.

Our sons also learned about Great Granddad’s day-to-day life:

On Sundays we go to church about two miles from here. It is the church in which I was baptized when a baby and confirmed when I was 15 . . . About 1 day a week we visit friends and go to places in the Amish country; then we return to their house and play Rummeyo.

Sometimes his letters contrasted his childhood with theirs:

You mentioned that you went skiing at Black Canyon. When I was a boy I had skis which had straps to hold your feet onto the skis. Sometimes I fell painfully. Today you have better ways to hold the feet.

There’s his dry humor again.

My sons’ relationships (and joke exchanges) with older generations make me happy. Letter-writing day makes me happy. Growing older makes me happy. And, according to my son’s birthday cards, the older I get, the happier I am.

Live Happy

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For The High Calling community theme: Live Happy. Visit The High Calling for more posts on what makes you happy—or what keeps you from happiness.

Rocket to the Moon

This post is for The High Calling | Share Your Story: Spiritual Disciplines. Visit The High Calling for other community posts on Spiritual Disciplines.

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People don’t buy quarter-inch drill bits. They buy quarter-inch holes so they can hang their children’s pictures.

– Chip Heath & Dan Heath, Made to Stick, page 179

The Saturn V is the rocket that took the Apollo 11 lunar module “Eagle” to the moon.

Having worked two summers as an undergraduate research fellow at JPL/NASA, I can imagine what it took to make the Saturn V (pronounced “Saturn five”) a reality. Rocket scientists pulling all-nighters. Precise calculations coming from years of education and research. Tests, failures, reworked designs, more tests and tests and tests.

I can imagine myself as one of the astronauts on my way to the moon. I have practiced and studied to understand the rocket that will take me there. I know how this spacecraft works, down to every knob and meter, every strap and latch. I train in it every day, becoming more familiar with its details and mechanisms. I want to set my boots on the moon.

I love getting to know the rocket. I ride in it and know the thrill of several G’s of pull on me during liftoff and, later, the rare exhilaration of weightless space travel. But after all my astronaut’s training in the rocket, I know I want more than the rocket itself. I want the moon.

Sometimes I leave the Bible on the kitchen table all day, open to where I can read the verses on that page every time I pass by.

My Bible reading is an alternating-day habit. Every other day, I read one day of a one-year Bible reading plan. In this way I read the whole Bible about every two years.

On alternate days, I do an in-depth study of whatever book of the Bible I choose (currently 1 Samuel), taking just a few verses each day in the “manuscript Bible study” method I learned at Campus by the Sea and in CCF Bible studies.

I memorize long sections of the Bible using a memorization aid: write the first letter of each word. Then I take that paper with me on my daily walk, thus combining a spiritual discipline with a physical discipline.

I sing lyrics that glorify God and edify His Body by downloading free lead sheets from my favorite songwriters.

The words of Scripture are wonderful and exalted.

”Open my eyes, that I may behold
Wonderful things from Your law.”
– Psalm 119:18

“You have exalted above all things your name and your word.”
– Psalm 138:2

But to maintain the spiritual discipline of daily Bible reading, I need to think of the Bible as the rocket. What I want even more is the moon.

My Bible reading happens before I even open the cover. How do I approach the Bible? With what heart attitude do I turn the pages? Do I read it only as an intellectual exercise and remain content with the increased head knowledge? If so, it’s just words on a page. That rocket goes nowhere.

Intimacy with God is the moon.

Another day passes. I awake at 2:30 a.m. and see the full moon out my bedroom window. I watch the moon’s descent until its smiling circumference kisses the mountain silhouette. I think of the moon as insomnia gives way to slumber, and I know that tomorrow again, I can open God’s Word. I’m not in it just for the ride—but what an awesome ride. The Word is a blast!

I want the moon, but I can’t get there without the rocket. So I turn the pages and read. The Eagle has landed.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.
– Psalm 130:5

crossbeams_SaturnV

Top photo by Patricia Hunter.

Bottom photo: my son with the toy Saturn V he designed.

TheHighCalling.org Christian Blog Network

Running Uphill

For The High Calling community link-up topic: How do you pursue God? One way I pursue God is by obeying Him—and when I pursue Him this way, His blessings pursue me!

How about you? Submit your own story on pursuing God by October 4!

UPDATE: This post was featured at The High Calling. Join me there.

pursuegodlinkup

Over the 2009 holidays I fed my belly with lumpia, atole, chocolate cake—everything that came out of my kitchen.

I overindulged. Something had to change.

Two days after Christmas, I started running every day. We live on a hill, so those first days I ran half a block (downhill) and walked half a block (uphill), three times. Three times around the block wasn’t much.

Still, each day built on the one before. Eventually, I worked up from almost-negligible to three miles a day. I still go slowly, but I go.

A couple of years after I started running, someone close to me had hurt me. That Wednesday and Thursday, I was raging. I fed my heart with too much bitterness, resentment, hatred—everything I allowed to come out of my heart.

I overindulged in anger. Something had to change.

As I jogged that angry Wednesday I asked God my standard question that works for any circumstance: “Father, how do You want me to respond?” When I pray like this, I often get no neon sign, no immediate answer.

But this time it was immediate, in big, flashing neon:
Love her.

Impossible, I thought, feeling my upper lip wrinkle. IM-POSS-I-BLE.

Yet I chose to remember God’s works in my past. (The remembering was crucial.) I prayed out loud in faith: God, I remember years ago when I thought it was impossible to forgive Ben. But you did the impossible and helped me forgive in that relationship. I believe you can do it again, in this relationship. (I spoke these words with my vocal cords, but inside I thought, Yeah, right.)

I turned left, up Centennial Blvd (the steepest part of my running route). God brought to mind the run with endurance verses. I felt my leg muscles pushing off the pavement, steadily. There was a time, though, when I refused even to attempt that route, turning right instead of left because there was no way I could run up that hill.

extreme uphill portion
But one day I tried it, and it was hard. I repeated it every day, and the hill became not only possible but no longer difficult.

This brought new meaning to the phrase “run with endurance.” If I would try loving her just once, and build up my endurance by repeating loving acts, then rather than seeming impossible, it would actually no longer be difficult. It would eventually become easy—as Jesus said His yoke would be.

In order to “run with endurance,” I first had to … start running.

The biblical “run with endurance” doesn’t happen at the first attempt; it happens over time, when I run over and over. Running with endurance doesn’t mean I can wake up in the morning and, if I set my jaw firmly enough, I can finish any race, whether marathon or hundred-meter dash. Endurance doesn’t come instantly. Endurance has to be built up.

The transformative process is always done little by little, small obediences over and over.
– Jean Fleming

I turned to do the steep uphill in this relationship. My first act of obedience was to call her on the phone. A little later, I called her again simply to ask, “How are you?” I kept running up the hill, showing her acts of love, because my Father told me to love her.

Now, I don’t consider this a hard path. Not anymore.

———-

Photo credit: djfrantic, via Flickr Creative Commons

Making History (or Not)

yourworkmattersgraphic_0(For The High Calling community writing topic: Your Work Matters to God. Visit The High Calling for more posts on Your Work Matters to God!)

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I was running afternoon errands and pulled into a parking spot between the Rockrimmon Library Branch and Safeway. First on the list: return library books.

Near the library entrance, I spotted a bumper sticker that said, “Well-Behaved Women Don’t Make History,” which immediately triggered some thoughts, including:

The woman who peeled the backing off this sticker and pressed it permanently onto her rear windshield—what is she like?
What does she mean by “well-behaved”?
What do poorly behaved women do?
If she knew me, would she consider me “well-behaved”?
If so, would she disdain me for being well-behaved and not the type to make history?
What does “making history” mean to her?

Making history typically means that, years and decades and centuries from now, people will know about her actions and influence. Making history implies that our lives are recorded and remembered. Making history means being famous.

I walked into the library with my 9-year-old son. We dropped our books through the book return—a delightful, mysterious hole in the green wall leading to the sorting room, whose door is secured with a digital combination lock that beeps when they push the combo numbers. These librarians are serious about protecting our books.

It occurs to me, now as I write this, that no one knows the names of the librarians and volunteers working behind that wall. They are sorting books, many of which will be transferred by unseen library drivers to several other branches in the Pikes Peak Library District. Without their work, we readers wouldn’t have such convenient, organized access to picture books, novels, how-to books.

And history books.

Each non-famous book sorter is not making history, but without them, we couldn’t read about those who did.

After the book drop, my son and I separate, looking for more books. We pick up our holds from the holds shelf, go to the library computers to put more books on hold (and now I am thinking of all those IT workers who set up and maintain the computers, whose names will not be recorded in any human history book), then walk out in the summer brightness to get milk and mangoes at Safeway. Friends have invited us for dinner, and I want the mangoes to make a spinach-mango salad.

My son is good company; Byron makes even errands fun. He smiles a lot, he makes me smile, and he tells me he likes my smile.

We plan to go on vacation soon, so Byron will need a sitter for his two guinea pigs. He tries to hire his standard go-to for this job, but that neighbor will be away at Boy Scout camp. Another neighbor boy down the street can do it, though. Byron wrote a list so the sitter can easily remember what to do.

The guinea pig chores list:

guinea-pig-chores

The last item on the list: Smile (optional).

Your great-grandchildren probably won’t be reading about you in their history books. No one is keeping track of the fact that you found a good deal on mangoes. Your dishwashing and lawn-mowing won’t be recorded. The world will never know that you spent the afternoon finding Lego pieces for your child.

In God’s history books, your work does matter. But believing that, and smiling about it, is optional. (See #8 above.) Choose to believe it: your work does matter to God.. It’s “making history,” redefined.

Smileworthy, isn’t it?

Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.
–1 Corinthians 15:58 (NLT)

Sun-Bleached

(For Tweetspeak Poetry’s laundry poem prompt.)

stonebench

All my laundry is white.
No strategically chosen colors,
no distracting patterns
to hide any stains.
I hang them in the sun
and something in the light
makes them bright again
and warms a nearby stone
where I can rest.

Poolside Spider

(For The High Calling writing prompt: Best Vacation Stories. Write your own and share it!)

iwontdance

We went a mile down the hill to Wilson Ranch Pool. All three boys splashed into their forty-minute swim lessons. A white plastic lounge chair welcomed me poolside, and I accepted its invitation.

When my sons take swim lessons, for me it means two weeks of sunbathing by the pool with a book, or with pen and paper. Each day, forty minutes of enforced relaxation.

I settled down to read but couldn’t, for a jealous spider on the arm rest caught my eye. (“Look at me, not that book!”)

Because the tiny spider was ochre-gold and seemed translucent, I wondered if it was young—a spiderling. I continued my sunbathing but closed the book, for this spider already had claim to a heartstring or two.

The spider was playing! The spider was dancing! (Would it have put on such a display if I had not watched but kept reading?)

Two legs spread much longer than the others. I thought this varying leg length made it pretty. It must have thought so, too, for she (let me say it was a girl spider) put on a fast-strutting fashion show. Ladies and gentlemen, behold the grace and versatility of these eight slenders! Notice her cephalothorax in perfect position, the sun glowing gold through her abdomen …

She spread her legs all the way flat to maximize her top-view diameter. She turned, ran, and in delicate balance stood all eight “on tiptoe” in complete opposite of her previous position, this time maximizing her height.

As if to say, “See all the things I can do?”

She turned again, ran again, and faced me head down, bottom up. She looked like a puppy teasing and inviting me to play—or a threatening wolf, I couldn’t tell which. Probably a bit of both, and laughing, too. I backed off a little, just in case.

With more varied and repeated displays of legs out and up, abdomen at every angle between zero and eighty degrees, she captivated me.

By now I had put my book back in the bag. The spider’s front was low and her rear higher than ever in a position she had not assumed before.

Was this the finale?

She remained almost vertical, very still to freeze time for me, as if waiting for a drum roll. Then—delight!—she released a fine thread and ballooned away, though I felt no breeze.

Bravo! Bravo! I almost stood in ovation.

Though she would give no encore, my heart-applause sustained. She left something behind for me: her playfulness, joy, and exuberance.

Most awesome of all, she left in me a desire to praise and thank and exult in the One who created her … and me.

Father, you have used one of all Your creation—one smaller than a raindrop and light enough to fly on a non-breeze—to draw myself to You and to bring me to worship of You, Creator of the heavens and the earth, and Owner of all that is in them. Can You use me, too, that others would see You and worship?

———-

(Photo credit: rene de paula jr, via Creative Commons)

How Is a Ham Bone Like a Cedar Tree?

(I just made ham stock for split-pea soup, so this story has been on my mind. Originally posted on June 1, 2011.)

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I met Kathy in 2005, when I was new to our church and feeling friendless. It was Easter 2006, so I had only known Kathy for a few months. We were chatting about our Easter-meal plans. Kathy’s mother, Charlotte, was flying over for the holiday. Others in her family were coming, too. I do remember very clearly that Kathy had ordered a Honeybaked. I think I drooled when she told me.

“Oooh!” I said, still drooling. “Are you going to make split-pea soup with the ham bone?” I love making split-pea soup from ham bones. I imagined how ham stock made with a Honeybaked Ham would taste.

“Nah, I’m not into that,” Kathy answered.

Several days later, after Easter, I was doing this or that in the kitchen when my doorbell rang. My doorbell never rings unless it’s a solicitor, so I approached the front door with my guard up.

Sock-footed, I walked stealthily to the door and looked through the peephole. Immediately my guard went down; it was Kathy! The furrowed-brow wrinkles above my eyes migrated into smiling crow’s feet at the sides of my eyes. I opened the door. In her hands was something in a plastic bag, the kind you get from Safeway or King Soopers.

The first words out of her mouth: “I brought you a ham bone!”

Wide-eyed and wordless, I took the bag.

“I even left quite a bit of the meat on it, too,” Kathy said, grinning.

I never knew how much a picked-over ham bone would mean to me. It meant she was listening. It meant that one day, in her own kitchen, cleaning after a big family Easter dinner, she thought of me. It meant she remembered I liked ham bones for split-pea soup.

It meant I was a friend.

I often don’t realize who I am or how God has blessed or gifted me until someone else recognizes it and expresses the recognition in real actions.

Then Hiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David with cedar trees and carpenters and stonemasons; and they built a house for David. And David realized that the LORD had established him as king over Israel, and that He had exalted his kingdom for the sake of His people Israel.
(1 Samuel 5:11-12)

What Hiram did was a form of encouragement. I have friends like this—friends who have helped me see who I am, what I should be doing, what I am to them. Friends who send me cedar trees (or ham bones). Thank God.

What cedar tree could I send? Whom should I be encouraging in this way?

Lord, I have received it. How can I give it? To whom?

———-

(Linking up with Crystal Stine at (in)courage. Read Crystal’s post and find other community thoughts on The Power of Encouragement!)

Plaid

Jennifer Dukes Lee has invited us to write a color poem! But I couldn’t decide on one color, so I’m doing plaid:

———-

Plaid is the vertical, heaven reaching down,
intertwining with sideways lines—
you reaching out to me
reaching out to you.
Tartan lines, some bold and wide, some
narrow, all coming together
at right angles, motley little L’s
loving one another.

Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.

(Romans 12:4-5)