Good Grit

It’s Saturday night and I just came across a handwritten very rough post.  I’m doing something that I’ve never done before and sharing this completely unedited.  Honesty, I don’t even really remember writing this, but I do remember living it.

A Long Winter

It’s been a crazy long one.  Early snow, extended single digit temperatures.  The treacherous driving conditions have been my least favorite part of this winter.  I’ve had loved ones in the ditch a few times this winter season.

The early fall snow snuck up on us.  We were so busy with the final stages of getting our house into livable condition, that we didn’t get the snow tires on before a nasty early storm hit.  There I was with no traction, the road slipping out from underneath me.  Not a secure feeling.  Where was the sand truck?  I could use a little grit.

If you’re still with me, this post isn’t actually about the challenges of winter weather – well, not entirely.  It’s about the challenges of a long winter of life.

It could be a difficult person that you live with, a failing relationship, a death, financial struggles.  It could be anything, and you just need a little grit to stop you from slipping around and going out of control.  You need traction so that you can get to where you are going.

I haven’t always been gritty.  It’s been acquired after too many chances to let the pressure of trials, perform a transformation in me.  I used to run, beg and plead to get out of the work of transformation.  But the pressure is how I developed a little spunk and pluck.  I stopped running away and instead I started doing the work.  Looking in the mirror is a good place to start.  Complete honesty is a must.  I’m learning to sacrifice my perceived rights – my right to have it my way or my right to get what I want or what I think that I need.  I’m learning to do the right thing even when it feels impossible or seems unfair.  I’m learning to take full responsibility for my sin and not blame shift.  I’m learning that I don’t have to take responsibility for another’s sin.  Every bit of this drives me directly to God.  If He is faithful to convict me, He is certainly faithful to walk me through confession, receiving forgiveness and turning in a new direction in repentance.

This is where your grit becomes attractive.  This is not an angry, judgmental, religious person.  This is a humbled yet tenacious follower of Christ who has credibility.  When they tell the truth, it comes from a place of love, because they’ve struggled.  Good grit is soft, but not wimpy.  It doesn’t stay paralyzed by fear.  It’s bold, but with the smooth finish of a confident hope that comes from knowing that God has a perfect plan

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He’s God and I’m Not

Brilliant!  But, do I have a post that will offer something more substantial than a snappy title?  Actually, when I dissect my own nature, attitudes and struggles, the concept presented in this title, is massively substantial.  I’d like a chance to explain, and I’m hoping that by sharing what I’ve been learning and applying, it will help you to experience peace – the peace that surpasses all human understanding.

I’ve had a taste of it from time to time, but unfortunately the taste is gone too quickly.  As I get older, there seems to be more opportunities to long for it.  I’m speaking of peace.  True peace.  It’s very different from the “mind over matter” kind of peace that comes when I successfully distract myself, push a situation out of my mind, or when I have time to go to a quiet place.  These can be useful and very nice, but the peace that puts my mind, heart and soul at ease, is very different.  It’s like a supernatural tranquilizer.  There’s either no angst or worry, or it’s very short-lived, and at the core of this, is the very simple fact that He is God and I am not.  It is an unwavering trust, belief and knowledge, that God will bring beauty out of my ashes.  Sure, I could get impatient, cook something up, hatch a plan to manipulate my circumstances or the people in my life, but even my most extraordinarily crafted plan, pales in comparison to what God has for me and others.

What does this actually look like?  It’s complicated, but it’s simple.  Here’s what it’s looking like in my own life.

>When I have anxiety, I examine myself for control-freak tendencies.  Am I wanting to control the actions or methods of a person, or the outcome of a situation?  Stop.  Confess it, and give it to God for proper handling.

>When I see a problem in someone’s life or attitude, I examine myself, looking for a large piece of wood.  In other words, while I’m trying to remove the speck of saw-dust in someone’s eye, is my gigantic log swinging around and whacking them in the head?

>When I see a need for change, I remember that just because I’ve pointed something out, doesn’t mean the change will happen immediately, or that it is even necessary.  Frankly, I may have been wrong.

>When someone has hurt me, blame-shifted onto me, or gossiped about me, I remind myself that I don’t need to seek vindication or vengeance, because God knows the truth, He loves truth, and He will set things straight in His perfect time.

>I work hard to keep my life caught up, bills paid and spending under control, because crisis management steals peace.

>When I’m worried about my children, I remind myself that God loves them even more than I do.

>When my children’s attitudes or choices concern me, I remind myself that I have no right to expect them to be further along on their path, than I was at their age.

>When others are unkind, I remind myself that I will have zero regrets, if I control myself and allow room for God to work it out.

You’ve probably noticed that in order to respond correctly, there must be a shift in thinking and action.  I emphasize this point because this is where most of us get into trouble.  I’m a thinker, and my mind never seems to shut down, so I literally repeat the following statement as often as needed.  “The only person that I have control over is me.  The only spiritual work that I’m responsible for, is my own work with God.  That other person is not accountable to me – they are accountable to God.”

There you go – it’s that simple.  I said simple, not easy.  He’s God and I’m not.  This is where transforming peace can occur.  There’s incredible peace in knowing that the omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent God is bigger than anything going on in your life, and He’s definitely not wringing His hands in worry.  Take your thoughts captive to Him.  Cast your anxiety on Him as many times as you need to, and then replace your concerns with truths about who God is, and His endless love and mercy.

A Lifetime of Love in a Moment

Is Mother’s Day a difficult day for you? In my last post, I’d promised a Mother’s Day post, but as this day approached, with mother’s recent passing, the words weren’t coming very easily.  I decided to write a letter.  A letter to Mom.   I hope it will help to heal your heart and bless your relationships.

This pulmonary disease was tough, but you were tough too.  The medicines were a necessity, but I despised them.  They took away your appetite and they wreaked havoc on your body.  You’d go down on the scale and then back up a little, barely hovering at 100 pounds.  You’d get weak and then a little stronger again.  I know that you mourned the loss of your strength and endurance, and I mourned for you.  Those trips in and out of the hospital were the norm, but you’d always rally back.  Mom, the biggest part of me believed that you’d overcome this disease.  After all, you’d overcome so much during this lifetime – surely, you’d win this battle too.

I sensed that it was to be meaningful, but how could I have known that it would be the last lucid conversation that you and I would have?  At least the last conversation, this side of eternity.  You didn’t know that I’d gone into a more private room, shut the door and sprawled across the bed.  I was settling in, to listen deeply and intently.  You’d always been one of the strongest women that I’ve known, but this time, there was a new kind of strength.  It seemed as though you’d made a decision, and you were trying to protect your baby girl from it.  Mom, this time the strength was different for me too.  You see, during the past several months, you’d given me a gift.  You’d allowed me the privilege of ministering to you.  When you asked me to pray for you, read and explain Scripture to you, you thought that I was serving you, but you were actually giving me a treasure that I will cherish for my lifetime.  You were actually helping me to grieve your death.  During our last conversation, the baton was being passed.  I reminded you that we were now talking woman to woman, that I was a big girl, and you could tell me anything.  I asked you what you really wanted, and you told me that you wanted peace – that you wanted to be with Jesus.  You’d begun the process of letting go of this world, and you’d helped me to begin the process of accepting that I must let go too.  Just a mere fifty-four hours later, you left this world.

Mom, this disease was horrible, but it never defined you.  You were the vessel that God chose to give me and my brother life, but you were so much more than that.  You were strong, smart and wise.  You were kind, thoughtful and always respectful of others.  You were gifted in ways that made me marvel at the work of your hands, inspired by the creativity of your mind.  You made everything more beautiful, including any room that you were in.  I’ll always remember your pursed smile, and how you were the belle of the ball.  You were never able to grasp how amazing you were, but you so easily spotted amazing in those around you.

In that conversation, my mother and I celebrated our last Mother’s Day.  I told her how I felt about her, and what she’d meant to me.  She told me why she was proud of the woman that I’d become.  It was a lifetime of love in a moment.  I miss my mother, but I have joy.  It’s the joy of having known this woman, and the knowledge that she’d placed her trust in Jesus Christ.  Only eight short years ago, my mother realized her need for the Savior, and she trusted His death on the cross as full payment, for the debt that she owed for her sins.  She understood that her salvation came through the work of Christ alone.  She became completely reconciled with God.  Now she is released from suffering and she is in His presence.  Sometimes I reach for the telephone to talk to my mother, but then the realization comes, and I simply ask Jesus to tell my mother that I love her.  He comforts me, and it becomes more of a lifetime of love in a moment.

Well, It’s Not Any Wonder

I’m a juggler.  No, a magician.  Superwoman?  The truth is –  I’m dropping the balls, the trick has lost its magic, and I definitely don’t feel super.

 

Suddenly, the little chunk of world that I’ve managed fairly well, seems to be coming undone at the seams.  My mom who is my only living parent, is very ill as I write this.  Those babies, that I held in my protective arms, are now going out into the big scary world and making big scary choices.  I’ve loved deeply enough to have been hurt.  I’ve lived long enough to be blamed for things that weren’t my fault.  My once orderly home-school seems disordered.  I’m still running a business and still trying to finish up our new home.  I’m being faithful to my ministries.  Most importantly, I’m taking care of my husband, marriage and mothering a teenage young man.  And the cherry on top – I’m officially menopausal, and I’m no longer recognizing the woman that looks back at me in the mirror.  It’s still acting like winter here and honestly I feel like I’m living through a long winter of life.  Well, it’s not any wonder that I’m overwhelmed and mildly depressed.

 

Sorry for the gloomy introduction, but there’s just no way to sugar-coat the pressures that a woman feels in this stage of life, and there are days when it does get the best of me, but I’m learning to focus on living well, and I’d like to share what I’m learning with you.

 

>When I realized that I was emotionally disconnecting, I told my husband what was happening.  We need to let someone know – they may not be able to identify this on their own.  Now, he is my lifeline – he can pray for me and intervene, and since he knows my insecurities about aging, he tells me that I’m getting better with age.

>I asked a few trusted friends to pray for me.  I withheld nothing.  They know exactly what state I’m in.  Since they are each unique – they have each encouraged me in unique ways.

>I’m focusing on the people and relationships where I have influence.  No matter how tired I am or inconvenient it is, I’m intentional, because I don’t want regret.

>I’m reading God’s Word every single day and sometimes multiple times a day, and I fall asleep meditating on His promises.  I’m praying bold prayers – no wimpy prayers for this woman.  This has given me hope.

>I’m choosing forgiveness where others have wronged me or continue to hurt me, and I’m choosing to believe that God is my victor, and He will bring the truth forward when the time is right.

>I’m doing what I need to do to take care of my physical health.  No guilt.  I’m sleeping in if I need sleep.  I’m making my nutrition and exercise a priority, and I’m throwing the to-do list aside if necessary.

 

You are everything to someone.  Please don’t forget that.  You don’t need to jump higher to please others.  You are amazing exactly who and where you are, because God has put you in your unique setting to solve a problem – so take a breath, and be still, and know that He is God.

 

Update:  My precious mother passed away two days ago, just after I wrote this.  I’ll be taking time to grieve and help my brother.  My next post will be a Mother’s Day post and I’ll tell you all about this amazing woman that I called Mom.  Thank you for taking the time to read, react and comment.  You really do encourage me.

History should never be rewritten, but we can use what we know for certain, and then explore further possibilities, by using what we’ve learned about human nature.  With a slightly different perspective, we can gain valuable new insights from a well-known story – in this case, David and Bathsheba.  Here’s the highlights of what we know for certain.  David wasn’t away at battle with his men, but instead napping and strolling at home.  A beautiful woman named Bathsheba, was bathing to purify herself, most likely in the privacy of her home, and yet she was somehow within view from the palace.  Finally, we know that her husband Uriah, was extremely dedicated to king and nation.

 

Uriah must have been a remarkable man, but can a man be too dedicated to his calling or work?  Uriah was so dedicated, that he refused to partake of the good and permissible pleasures of life as a married man, while his fellow soldiers were suffering the realities of battle.  I wonder how Uriah’s dedication to his king, affected his wife.  Did Bathsheba feel ignored by the one and only man that was to cherish her, and did this leave her vulnerable?

 

Bathsheba was the daughter of Eliam – a mighty man of King David, the granddaughter of Ahithophel – King David’s chief counsel, and her husband Uriah was close to David as well.  She was connected.  Was she aware that the handsome king hadn’t left the city?  I would never suggest that Bathsheba was a seductress.   Actually, I believe the opposite about her. Nathan the prophet implies that she was a lamb, an animal synonymous with innocence.  Was this innocent so starved for affirmation and fulfillment from her husband, that she became exceedingly needy of receiving male attention?  Most likely, Bathsheba had always been told that she was beautiful, and much of her self-perceived value may have come from this.  With Uriah so distracted and choosing to stay away from Bathsheba, did she question her attractiveness?  Did Bathsheba realize that David might be able to glimpse her soft curves while she lingered in front of her window?  Surely, the man after God’s own heart, would never do more than look, would he?  We know that David didn’t just look.  The look, or being beautiful enough to attract a look isn’t the problem – it’s the heart motive behind attracting the attention or allowing the gaze to continue.  Here’s where the spark of lust turns into an all consuming fire.

 

Obviously I can’t be certain that this depiction is accurate, but I believe that we can still learn something.  Husbands, your first love should be for the Lord, and your next should be for your wife.  She needs your admiration and emotional support.  Wives, if your husband isn’t doing this, don’t seek this from another man, but instead lean into the Lord and allow Him to fill the void.  Men, you were created to be visual – you’re going to notice beauty, but where does noticing lead you?  Is there a second look, a longer look?  Is your mind now playing with her?  Know your triggers and weaknesses.  Knowing them allows you to recognize danger and throw up your protective wall, before the temptation overpowers you.  Are you lonely or unfulfilled in your marriage? Watch out.  Are you over-committed to causes outside of your marriage?  Watch out.  Do you easily move to sensuality?  Watch out.

 

There’s hope for all of us.  God forgives a contrite heart, and He brings restoration out of the worst situations.  In fact, God used David and Bathsheba in the lineage of Christ, and Bathsheba may have been the woman speaking to her son in Proverbs 31 – “charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last, but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised”.  Perhaps these are wise words from a woman who has learned hard lessons.

 

Thank you for taking the time to read, react and comment.  You are such an encouragement to me.

20,000 Chances to Steer the Ship – Relation-ship, Friend-ship, Disciple-ship

Most women express a daily mega-load of words.  About 13,000 more than men.  What if all of those words were uplifting?

 

God says that the tongue is hard to tame, full of poison, and that it’s like a small rudder that’s capable of steering a large ship.  Recently, after sensing sadness within my home, I prayed and asked God to show me what my part was in this.  He revealed that I’d taken my gift of words and wounded my loved-one.  God had given me the gift of words to bless and build, but I’d used them as a curse.

 

A woman enjoys enormous power in her femininity, which can be harnessed for good, or exploited and used for destruction.   We are very much like that small rudder that is capable of steering a large ship.  Along with the abundance of words, a woman’s mind is able to multi-task, and we usually have an enormous capability to be aware of the happenings around us.  We are natural managers, delegators and motivators.  Unfortunately, pride in our abilities can get in our way.  We remember details, so we correct or chide others when they don’t.  We are capable of juggling many tasks, so we demean others when they can’t.  When others hurt us, we wound by expertly wielding the weapon of sharp cutting remarks.

 

I hear your lament – “but Madeline, you have no idea how hurtful my husband has been, or how exasperating my child is, or how cruel that other woman was!”  You’re right, but I do know that life isn’t fair, and that the only person that you have control over, is yourself.  I’ve learned that when another person intentionally or unintentionally hurts me, I have no right to return the hurt.  God tells me that as a follower of Jesus Christ, I possess the same power that resurrected Him.  That’s power!  I should be able to follow His command to love my neighbor – the people that He puts along my path or in my sphere of influence.

 

God humbled me – I apologized and then asked for forgiveness.  I’m determined to steer this ship into peaceful, beautiful waters.  He created me as a woman, to be a guardian of hearts.  My words should be full of grace and seasoned with salt.  I should protect hearts, lift hearts, build hearts, and repair hearts.  Just as salt brings out the flavor of food, I can bring out the best in others.  I can help someone believe that they can overcome and do great things.  I can tell the truth gently, always with the motive of love, and helping another to see the best path – God’s path.  I can forgive again and again, because I hope in God’s purposes.  I can withhold my thoughts, because I understand that my wisdom is limited, and God is always working.  Most remarkably, I can speak words to heaven, interceding for others.

 

Life giving words are sweet and encouraging, savory and wise.  They’re not bitter, nor are they hot.  Perhaps we could taste test our words, before we spit them out.

 

Thank you for taking time out of your day to read.  Your readership, reactions and comments are so encouraging to me.

If at First …

I carefully read all of your comments, and I enjoy each one of these gifts.  Why then did I feel slightly uncomfortable, when I read a comment that complimented my writing abilities?  Somewhere around twenty years ago, I mailed a manuscript to several publishers.  Somewhere around ten weeks later, I learned that all of them thought my manuscript stunk.  They didn’t say stunk – they were professionals – they used a much more courteous approach.

 

I’d never attempted creative writing.  I was home with my newborn, and my job-from-home workload was under control, so I decided to venture into the world of fictional writing.   My hope of becoming a writer was dashed as those letters started arriving in the mail.  As I write about this, I’m experiencing that same sick feeling in my stomach.  Why didn’t my writing attempts stop there?

 

It’s because of my own personal ending.  Not a literal ending, but where I decided to finally accept that a handful of publishers didn’t own the world.  Their pass on my work, didn’t mean that I was a failure.  It simply communicated that they weren’t on board with my writing, or that I needed to eventually go back and work to improve my writing.  But when it first happened, it negatively impacted me.  I was embarrassed and felt like a loser.  I was dejected and out of sorts for a time.  I grew to accept the rejection, and even realized that it was proof that I was courageous.  I had tried something different and challenging, and that fact made me proud.  I always knew that being published after my first attempt was a long-shot, and I don’t want to diminish the efforts of those that have or haven’t been published after years of perseverance, but I had stretched myself and I’d tried despite the odds.  As the years passed, I was honest about the inferior quality of my writing, but I also chose to be gentle with myself.  I accepted that it wasn’t the season to put more work into this, but nothing had to stop me from trying again someday.

 

Working through this taught me a valuable life lesson.  Rejection should not define me.  Easier said than lived out – rejection hurts.  We either believe that it tells our story, or we fight hard to come back from it.  In this way, I’m a fighter.  I fought and refused to allow the rejection to speak for me.   I speak for me through the good things that have already happened, and will continue to happen because of my involvement.   I’m a good wife, mother, daughter and friend.  I’ve encouraged and stood by my husband through many difficult times, and as he completely changed his career at age forty and moved us to an entirely different environment and lifestyle.   I’ve had success in the corporate world, but left it, to go home and do my most important job – raise my children.  I’m far from the perfect home-school mom, but I’ve demonstrated tenacity by sticking with it from kindergarten through high-school.   There are people who trust me and desire to share their time with me.  And yes, I’ve attempted writing again.  This time I chose to write about my own experiences, and my hope is that my writing will reach a special person at precisely the right moment.

 

I’m not the sum total of all of my rejections and neither are you.  You now know more about me, and why your encouragement means so much to me.  Is there something that you need to try, try, again?

Look Up

How are things going?  How are the people that you care about?  What was that?  How about me you ask?  It seems that a deluge of adversity is raining down on many that I know and care for.  Each new day brings another conversation, text, message, email or phone call – another dear one sharing their news and asking for prayer support.  Disease, marital disharmony, betrayals, relationship failures, worrisome decisions, unfair circumstances and wayward children.

 

Ask my husband and he’ll tell you that I carry a heavy burden for those that are dear to me.    I will go to war with my prayers.  I’m relentless until the Lord releases me.  I’ll wake up and pray.  When I’m alone at home, I’m praying.  One of my favorite times to pray is when I’m alone in my car.  Pray without ceasing, He says – no kidding.  Recently, bearing the weight, wore me out.  I found myself in a minor health crisis – an outbreak of shingles.  I imagine that stress along with a weakened immune system, allowed the sleeping virus to wake up.

 

Shingles are painful and vile.  I stayed home for two weeks, which was a blessing and a curse.  I suddenly had more time to sleep and rest, but the quiet in my days left my mind more time to think.  I’m a thinker – can’t seem to shut my thinker off sometimes.  The extra time to think, became time to obsess, and the burdens that I felt for others became overwhelming.  It snuck up on me too.  I felt crushed and I couldn’t even put together a cohesive thought and pray.  I sat on the floor of my bedroom and cried as the thoughts raced, and then it all changed in a moment.  For the first time in all of my years, I truly understood what it meant to have the Holy Spirit intercede and make sense of my groanings.  I didn’t recite a list to the Lord – I simply thought of the person and the circumstance.

 

What was happening here?  God was teaching me.  He was teaching me to look up and release the burden to Him.  I can’t walk and hold onto my burden while I am looking up at Him.  If I try to, I stumble and fall.  There’s a fine line.  We are to carry the burdens of others, but we are not to retain them.  We are to hand them over to the only One who has shoulders that are broad and strong enough.  The only One who can bring lasting healing and change.

 

What have I learned?  To boil it down – I can make anything a curse when I attempt to do it in my own power and in my own way.  God brought me to the end of myself.  My own strength was exhausted – literally.  Resting became a necessity, and in His gracious mercy, He taught me to look up.  Being self-protective isn’t the answer – looking up is the answer.  I’m looking up a lot more these days, and I’m not letting the weight of the burdens separate me from the power that my Father has over them.

Intentionally Messed Up

We moved into our new home in November, and I placed hanging our family pictures at the top of my husband’s honey-do list.  I like to call it my family wall.  I do my work-outs in the same room, and I love to look at those photos, and pray for the people in the pictures.  He did such a beautiful job, placing each one perfectly level and plumb, but every time a door closed or someone walked by, the pictures shifted a little and ended up askew.  It became a never-ending straightening game.

 

When I was a younger mother, I always wanted the perfect little Christian family, with the perfect little Christian children.  I’m pretty sure that I believed that if I tried very hard to be a “perfect” mom, I’d have children that never rebelled or disobeyed God.  As I’ve watched my children grow, and as I’ve done the most difficult thing ever – pushing them out of the nest, I’ve spent many moments white knuckling it.  Guess what?  They’re not perfect little Christians, and neither am I.

 

Now, back to the photos on the wall.  I gave up straightening them, and one day as I exercised, it hit me.  Leave them crooked!  Better yet – mess them up as a reminder that we are not perfect, and that we are each a work-in-progress.  When I am reminded that we are each real, with strengths and weaknesses, I am reminded to extend grace and mercy to my loved ones.

 

Mothers are amazingly good at many things.  Unfortunately, we are especially proficient at beating ourselves up.   I agree that we do need to give our children our very best effort, because in doing so, we are giving them the greatest chance at succeeding at what really matters, but there’s no such thing as perfect mothers or perfect children.  When things don’t turn out exactly how you’d hoped, don’t be hard on yourself.  Remember that God is more powerful than your shortcomings, and your children’s disobedience or rebellion.  Remember that He loves your children even more than you do.

 

I had a lot of fun intentionally messing up the pictures, and I am joyful when I look at them.  Those haphazardly placed pictures are a visual nudge to me.  I’m reminded that I need to trust in the Lord, not in my parenting skills, and that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end – they are new every morning, and great is His faithfulness.