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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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.

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.

Civility

Some might consider me to be old-fashioned.  I believe in the value and necessity of kindness, civility, others-respect and self-respect for all man-kind, but this post is written specifically about a certain person.  The person that proclaims that they are a believer and follower of Jesus Christ, the son of God, blessed redeemer to those who put their trust in Him.

 

I’m finding myself increasingly demoralized by the lack of civility in our society, but what really gets to me, is when the foul language or vindictive attitudes come out of a fellow Christian.  When they’re behind a computer screen, some seem to have invincible courage, or at least a lapse in good judgement.  Why do so many feel the freedom to behave in a mean-spirited way online?

 

I wonder if they’re not thinking very far ahead, and only considering what feels good to them in that moment.  I wonder if in that moment, they are forgetting who they belong to.  I know this for sure – there is a human being on the other end of that remark, meme or photo.  The snarky words that make the writer feel as though they’re hilarious or vindicated, have the potential to break someone’s heart.  The recipient is not weak-minded – they are simply human.  There is nothing outdated about common decency, using discretion, and respecting other human beings, or even self-respect.  The author of poor taste humor or foul attitudes and language, would benefit by following the golden-rule.

 

Perhaps using some simple damage prevention tactics would be helpful.  Consider how you’d feel if this was directed at you.  A personal cooling off period – say ten hours of prayer and consideration on whether or not the comment or post is acceptable.  Will it hurt someone or damage a reputation?  Does it add value?  Institute a personal code that you will not violate, and double check that your code lines up with Scripture.

 

Unfortunately, there will be times that we unintentionally hurt other people, but being mean-spirited is disgraceful.  There’s a flesh and blood human with feelings on the other end of the comments and posts.  Our words and actions have consequences – they will always have an effect.  Even though you cannot see the reaction on the other side of the online world, it is still occurring, and that reaction might be a tearful, broken heart.  Is this really who you are?  Is this who you want to be?

 

Do not be wise in your own opinion.  Repay no one evil for evil.  Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.  If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.  Romans 12

Unacceptable Heartache

Scrolling through her feed, she sees a prayer request.  A child with a debilitating disease, a husband fighting the ravages of cancer, a parent injured in a car accident, an elderly couple needing assistance.  She stops to pray, and something very treasured has taken place.  Facebook connects us to each other, and people who find themselves in horrible circumstances can feel the support of caring human beings.  But unfortunately, there is a dark side.  It is the loneliness of the unacceptable heartache.

 

What is an unacceptable heartache?  It’s not a real thing – no heartache is unacceptable, but due to shame, embarrassment, stigma and the fear of judgement, some would never feel the freedom to share their difficult circumstances or heartache.  At this very moment, you know someone who is experiencing unacceptable heartache.  A mother and father that cries because their child is rebellious and wayward.  A husband that walks on eggshells around his mentally ill wife.  A child who lives in a difficult home situation.  Someone held captive by a life enslaving sin.  A wife or husband that is lonely in their marriage.  A marriage that is falling apart.  You know them, but you do not know the pain that they are in.  They walk this hard, dark and lonely road alone.

 

What then can we do?  Get involved in the life of others.  Not in a nosey way.  Build relationships.  Be trustworthy.  If someone shares their heartache with you, two things are happening.  They desperately need to unburden themselves and receive support, and they are exercising great trust in you.  This is a monumental privilege – please don’t abuse their trust.  Be a friend.  Listen.  Help in the method that they are asking for help.  Never, ever share their story with anyone else without their permission.  Your mere presence in their “secret”, may be a lifeline to them.

 

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

Lending More Than Your Ear

Listening is a craft, and it involves so much more than simply hearing.  Some are fantastic listeners, but most of us could improve our skills to effectively listen, and demonstrate empathy toward others.

 

We may lack confidence in our ability to speak well, but have you ever considered that listening well makes you a far better communicator?  Listening can be a way to demonstrate that you put others first.  As long as listening is not for the purposes of plotting, scheming or searching for a chink in someone’s armor, it is a selfless action to listen, rather than to be heard.  When a person needs someone to listen, they need someone to lighten and share their burdens.  Their mind unlocks, and burdens begin to ease as they feel that another human being cares for them.  You have helped them to pour out their confusion and overwhelm, and now they can gain clarity.  Since this is so important, let’s look at a few of the most crucial aspects of good listening technique.

 

>Concentrate on what is being said, instead of how you will respond.  Most of us tend to hear while we are actively thinking about our response, or how we can relate to what is being said.  Instead, completely focus on what they communicate.

>Let them speak without interruption.  Interjecting your questions or thoughts, causes them to feel as though they didn’t complete their story.  They feel cut off.  If you’re concerned about forgetting questions or points that you would like to make, try jotting down some reminders.

>Don’t finish someone’s sentences or help them find a word, unless they ask for help.  They don’t feel helped, they feel interrupted.

>When they’ve finished telling their entire story, it’s time for you to jump in.  If they are looking for advice, here is where you may offer it.  If they are not looking for advice, but are instead trying to problem solve or gain clarity, try drawing them out with open-ended questions.  Asking questions is also a great non-confrontational way to help someone see error in their thinking, and they are more likely to come to conclusions without feeling judged.

>A pleasant and relaxed smile with natural eye contact, will communicate your sincerity, empathy and engagement.  Be aware of your head nodding.  Nodding gives an impression of agreement.  If this is not the impression that you want to communicate, then make an effort to control that.

>Summarize what you’ve heard.  This is your opportunity to prove that you have been actively listening, and that they have been heard.

>Be patient and understanding.  They may need to tell the same story repeatedly.  They are working through things, and for some, this is very helpful.

>Finally, make sure to follow up with them.  This demonstrates your sincerity, and that they are not out of sight – out of mind.  Knowing that someone truly cares, removes feelings of loneliness.

 

Let’s look at another type of listening.  Listening to someone who is upset with us.  Too often, we feel the need to defend ourselves, or make excuses.  God’s word gives us helpful guidance in this area.  James 1:19 says “so then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath”.  Proverbs 15:1 says “a gentle answer turns away wrath, a harsh word stirs up anger”.  As difficult as it is, a confrontational situation can be defused by following these very simple words.  Arguing or making excuses for yourself, will further inflame.  It is wiser to listen, and then take it to prayer, allowing God to show you the truth.

 

Listening is so much more than hearing.  When we really listen, we are fully engaged.  We hear, but we also see the other person’s emotional state, and we feel compassion and empathy.  One of the most powerful ways to minister to another human being, is simply listening to them.  Most people don’t need someone to solve their problems – they need someone to listen.  When we give our time, and make the effort to really listen, we lighten the burdens of another human being.  Most of us won’t get this completely right every time, but try putting a few of these tips into practice every time that you have the opportunity.