Eat Your Heart Out

 

My 6-year-old granddaughter thinks I am awesome because I can reach into the refrigerator and retrieve two eggs using only one hand.  “Wow, Grandma!” she said.  “I wish I could do that!”  I then encouraged her to show me something special that she could do.  She proceeded to whistle (sort of) and snap her fingers (almost) at the same time.  I praised her accomplishments.  We all want to be good at something.

A problem arises, however, when a person fails to discover and develop his or her own gifts and instead focuses upon and envies those talents possessed by other people.  I am wowed by Barbra Streisand’s voice.  I love watching Dame Judi Dench and Sir Anthony Hopkins perform in British-based movies.  I am moved to tears by the inspiring works of prolific Christian writers like C. S. Lewis and Oswald Chambers.  My life is richer because these people have taken their God-given abilities, honed and perfected them, and shared them with me.

A great singer, actress or writer I will never be.  If I make mastering one of those arts my life’s ambition, I will be disappointed.  I do enjoy singing though, during worship services and while doing chores around the house.  The fact that no one would pay money to hear me sing does not grieve me.  I will never be on the stage or in movies, but I can play act with my grandchildren all day long, and though I don’t expect to write a best-seller, I do derive pleasure from turning out these little slice-of-life essays that you are kind enough to read.

Frank McCourt, who won a Pulitzer prize for his biographical novel, Angela’s Ashes, gives this advice:  Find what you love and do it.  Other people have stated this same principle in other words:  Be your own kind of beautiful.  Bloom where you are planted.  Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.

This tendency of ours to demean and diminish the quality of our own abilities while lauding those of others reminds me of a story I heard recently.  A particular man was the father of three strong, healthy sons.  His life was incomplete though, he said, because what he really wanted was a daughter.  This man was blinded by what he considered a deprivation and could not see the blessings he already possessed.  We all need to focus less upon having what we want and focus more upon wanting what we have.

So, sing, act, write, dance, paint, garden, quilt, teach, refinish old furniture, ride horses, play the spoons or do whatever it is you love to do.  Honor God and bless others by doing with energy and a grateful heart that which you enjoy and can do well.

At the risk of being a braggart, I will tell you that in addition to my finesse in handling eggs, I do have other skills.  I can crack open a peanut with one hand and can even tie shoelaces without having first to make bunny ears.  Eat your heart out.

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Stupidity? Me?

Several months ago some coworkers and I were having lunch at a Chinese restaurant that we visit frequently.  Our custom, after discussing all of our grievances about our jobs, our weight, and other people’s bad decisions, was to take turns opening our fortune cookies and reading our fortunes aloud.

Each of my companions cracked open a cookie and read aloud her fortune.  All were the usual assembly-line fortunes about being blessings to others, taking advantage of business opportunities and traveling the world.  When it was my turn, I opened my cookie, removed the little piece of paper inside, and read this:  Perhaps the problem is your own stupidity.  We were all shocked into silence. Finally one friend said, “No way!  It doesn’t really say that!”  I passed around the paper and let each woman read it for herself.  Then, of course, we began laughing and conjecturing about the person who was hired to write these fortunes.   We decided that he or she had probably had enough of all the sunshine and roses predictions and wrote a nasty one for relief.

One of the girls asked for the fortune because she wanted to plant it secretly on the desk of one of her office mates.  I understood the worthlessness of such “fortune telling,” but I thought about what I had read.  Stupidity?  Me?

I recalled that a few days earlier on my way to work I had observed a female jogger pushing hard against a street sign in my neighborhood.  My first thought honestly was this:  That poor woman is trying to straighten that leaning sign.  (She was stretching her muscles.)  Thank goodness I didn’t stop and offer to help her.

I also remembered those times when I had searched high and low for my eyeglasses while I was wearing them and for my cell phone while I was talking on it.   Then there was the day when I was listening to the song I Know This Much Is True by Spandau Ballet on the radio and trying hard to figure out the lyric that was repeated over and over at the end of the song.  A coworker entered my office while the song was playing, so I asked him what he thought the words were.  He answered, “This much is true.  This much is true.”  “Oh,” I said, “I couldn’t make out those words.”  “What did you think the singer was saying?” he asked.  “Well,” I said, “what I kept hearing was ‘The stars are tripping. The stars are tripping.'”  He gave me a strange look and returned to his office.

Then there was the habit I have of losing my car in parking lots, of pushing hard to enter a door clearly labeled “Pull,” and of updating my Yahoo calendar by carefully marking upcoming events, only to discover that I was using the calendar for last year.  I did one time, when sewing, put in a zipper upside down and backwards, and I cut half a leg off the sweatpants I was wearing while trimming the edges off a pattern piece that I had laid across my lap.

Do those constitute serious lapses in my mental processing?  Should I be worried?  I asked my daughter, who is painfully candid with me at times, what she thought.  “Mom, she said, “on the day that you can’t remember what a toothbrush is used for or recall the names of your children, then you should start worrying.”

I left her house feeling a bit better, until she called to me from her front door as I was stepping into my car.  “Mom,” she said, “that’s my coat you’re wearing.”

Chasing After the Wind

Last Sunday morning, after I was dressed for church, I picked up a glass of iced tea and promptly spilled it down the front of my outfit.  Then as I was leaving the house, my purse strap caught on the doorknob of the front door, jerking me off balance and causing most of the contents of my purse to scatter across the front porch.   After I picked up that mess and moved on to step into the car, I realized that I had left my Bible on the kitchen island.  I left the car to return to the house to retrieve my Bible, forgetting that my front door was now locked and my door key was on the key ring inside my purse inside my car.  I retrieved my door key, went inside the house, got my Bible and returned to the car, only to begin wondering if I had remembered to turn off my curling iron.

Life may be a comedy of errors, but I am not laughing.  I feel like the kindergarten teacher who likened her day to trying to keep 17 corks submerged under water at the same time.  I can’t win for losing.  The hurriedier I go, the behinder I get.

Logic tells me that in order to combat these daily snags, I need to:

(A) Make lists.  I do make lists.

(B) Plan ahead.  I do plan ahead. That is why I make lists.

(C)  Learn to say ‘no’ to some people and some things.  I have learned to say ‘no’ to some people and some things.  My lists used to be longer. 

I tell myself that the fact that life is frustrating is my fault.  On the day that I finally manage to plan better and work harder, life will fall in line and start playing by my rules and utopia will begin.

Thus, I agonize, strategize, and organize, with the goal of gaining control, but the day of serenity never comes.  Instead, I identify with the thoughts of the Wise Man, Solomon, recorded in Ecclesiastes 2:11:  Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

Life will never play by my rules because I am not now and never will be in charge.  I have power to control very few of the things that life brings my way.  Life, however, has incredible power to control me if I allow it to do so. My task is not to function so expertly that aggravations do not occur, but to recognize that they will occur and then respond appropriately to them.

Tomorrow, despite my good planning and hard work, I will probably once again lose, spill and break things.  I hope I respond to those irritations by calmly looking for, cleaning up and repairing those things.  Believing that through my own diligence and effort I can prevent such occurrences from happening is simply a chasing after the wind.

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Nourishing Words

My friend Jan took her normally sweet-natured dog, Duke, to the groomer this week. Duke has been mad at Jan ever since. He refuses to look at her when she comes through the door after work, withholds his usual wet, slobbery kisses, and in general gives Jan the cold shoulder. Jan misses his companionship, but she understands the situation and knows that eventually their relationship will return to normal.

A statement in an Edward Fudge GracEmail post this week caught and held my attention. Edward was discussing the fact that since God created us for relationship, He wants to commune with us and to be involved in our everyday lives. God desires both to speak to us and to be spoken to by us. Edward said, “Speaking is the nourishment of relationship.” How true that is!

Have you ever been on nonspeaking terms with a relative or friend? I know of family members who intentionally have not spoken to each other for years. Even some spouses talk to each other only when absolutely necessary and then only in the most mundane and unemotional ways, such as to remind the other one to lock the door or get milk at the store. I picture such a relationship as a wilting plant, dying from neglect.

In a grocery store one day I observed a little boy who was about five years old shopping with his mother. Apparently, the child had committed some offense, maybe begged for candy or lagged behind the cart instead of paying attention and staying with his mom. Whatever it was, the mother was “punishing” the child by refusing to speak to him. The little boy pulled at his mother’s sleeve and begged, “I’m sorry, Mommy,” he said. “Please talk to me again. Please. Please say something to me.” Tears ran down his cheeks and he sobbed loudly as he begged for a return of her nourishing attention. The mother moved silently on. My heart broke.

None of the parents I know would intentionally treat their children so harshly, but in recent years I have observed moms and dads giving rapt attention to their cell phones while their children stand nearby, asking to be heard and being told to wait. Many of us have observed couples “dining” together while both are busy texting or talking on their phones. The temptation to tune in to electronic devices while tuning out to people is great.

I am not innocent in this matter of failing to communicate. In our home office, my computer and my husband’s computer are on different sides of the room. Sometimes when both of us are using our computers at the same time, we carry on conversations with each other. The other day in just such a situation, I noticed that Dan got up from his chair and walked to the door unexpectedly. “Where are you going?” I asked. “I’m going outside,” he said. “You aren’t listening to me.” He was right. I was not listening. I had chosen instead to focus my attention upon an email, an Internet search, or even an online crossword puzzle.

Multiple distractions vie for our attention. Determine to shower the people you love with nourishing words. Listen when they talk. Look at them. Touch them. Speak life into your relationships.

Life in the Doghouse

(From my archives)

For twelve years we held our ground. “No animals in the house!” we vowed. Against a steady barrage of pleading from our two children, their dad and I budged not an inch. We stood firm when they paraded past us beautiful beagles, terriers, poodles and mutts belonging to their friends. “A dog will shed,” we reasoned. “It’ll ruin the furniture, keep us up at night, and destroy the carpeting. It makes no sense for this family to get a dog.”

Therein lay our first mistake—thinking that the matter of pet ownership was subject to reason. The kids offered no rebuttal to our logic. “But we want one,” they simply said.

We realize now that we made a tactical error by agreeing to visit the animal shelter for a casual look-see. There they were, the enemy, lined up in cages for us to view: big dogs and small ones, long-hairs and short, quiet dogs and rowdy ones. They looked out between the bars and barked in unison, “Take me home!”

“We’re not set up to care for a dog,” we argued. “We take lots of trips. Our yard is too small. We know nothing about training animals.”

“But we want one,” said our opponents.

That was two months ago. Since then we have been sharing our house with Ginger, a rambunctious, mixed-breed pup. First, she was to stay in the backyard. Then cold weather hit. All right, she could come in but only into the family room. Okay, she would be allowed to roam the house but under no circumstances was she to be on the furniture. Now I practically have to ask Ginger’s permission before sitting down in my own recliner. “You can have it for now,” she barks, “but I get it back when Those Amazing Animals comes on.”

My husband and I look at each other, the stress of constant defeat showing on our faces. “Why do we have this dog?” we ask each other. From another part of the house comes the answer, “Because we want her.”

Many of the things we once valued have now exited our house by way of the trash can. But of course nothing that gets put into the trash can stays there without Ginger dragging it out for one last inspection. I once came home to find two banana peels, a shredded cereal box, a tooth-marked shampoo bottle, and three days’ worth of newspapers scattered across the living room floor. There sat Ginger, innocently tilting her head at me as if to ask, “When are you going to clean up this place?”

Plus, Ginger has provided me with many new experiences. I now know what it’s like to vacuum the house with a quaking dog firmly attached to my right ankle. I have gotten up in the middle of the night and stepped in puddles that did not exist when I went to bed. I’ve attempted to carry on sane conversations with repairmen while having a crazed animal sniffing at my crotch.

A friend of mine often jokes about sending her husband to live in the doghouse. Ha! I live in a doghouse now! I dream of residing in a home where there is no trace of dog hair, no chewed-up furniture, and not a whiff of puppy urine in the air.

Come to think of it, I may know of just such a place. In the corner of our backyard sits a neat little house, never used, totally untouched by canine paws. The printing above the door declares that it belongs to someone named Ginger, but, hey, turnabout is fair play. That little house may be the perfect place for me to curl up and finish that novel I have started reading—the one with the cover ripped off it.

Why and How?

It seems to me that many questions beginning with the word “Why” require the questioner to do no more than think, while questions beginning with the word “How” often require the questioner to take action. That is probably why I prefer “Why” questions to “How” questions most of the time.

Right now a force of thousands of angry, marauding terrorists is summarily beheading, crucifying and otherwise killing anyone who gets in its way in Iraq.  At the same time, the whole world is quaking at the threat of the Ebola virus, which is cropping up in new places every day. Compassionate people are sickened to realize that people in some third-world countries have no option but to drink the same water in which cattle have urinated, defecated, and even died. We hear horror stories about elderly people in this country having to choose each month between buying food and buying medicine.

Why do all of these lamentable conditions exist? Why isn’t someone doing something? Why does God not step in and put an end to suffering and injustice? Why can’t everyone enjoy peace, prosperity, and health? Why is the whole world so out of balance?

Pondering such “Why” questions leads me every time to the same answers.   (1) These conditions exist because we live in a fallen world. Satan, though limited somewhat in the menace he can create, is having a heyday. (2) These conditions exist because people are free to do whatever they want to do as long as they can find a way to do it. People find ways to do some horrible things. (3) These conditions exist because most people in the world have rejected Jesus, who is the answer to every question, and Jesus refuses to force His way into anyone’s heart, thinking, or decision-making.

That is about as far as I can go in answering the “Why” questions. My answers give me no peace. I remain heartsick over the conditions outlined above.

My only hope of feeling any better, of obtaining any peace or sense of offering help lies in my willingness to answer some “How” questions.

  • How am I to respond to a God who maintains control and does not always act in ways that make sense to me? Answer: I am to respond by trusting His promises and by arming myself daily with Scriptures that reassure me of His infinite love for all people and His ultimate goal of saving the lost.
  • How can I make a difference amid all the chaos, sadness and depravity surrounding me? Answer: I can make a difference by knowing, standing for, and proclaiming the truth.  I can make a difference by serving, befriending, ministering to, praying for, and loving to the best of my ability everyone in my sphere of influence.
  • How can I protect myself and the people I love from falling victim to all the dangers that threaten us? Answer: I can protect myself and others from some of the dangers some of the time by being well-informed, attentive, diligent, and prayerful. I can’t protect anyone from everything.
  • How can I keep from being overwhelmed with despair, worry and sadness? Answer: I can keep from being overwhelmed by the existence of evil by choosing to think about those things that are pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy. (Philippians 4:8)
  • How can I stop asking the “Why” questions? Answer:   Start asking the “How” questions and acting upon the answers to them.

Until Then

I hope one day to lose the weight I need to lose, establish an exercise routine that I enjoy and will stick with, and stop eating and drinking things that are not good for me. Maybe I will attain these goals, but until then, this is what I will do. I will thank God for my good health, buy and wear clothes that are appropriate for my size, smile, and use the talents and gifts God has given me. I will not make sad comparisons between me and the models pictured on the covers of glossy magazines, yearning for a face and body that I cannot have.

I hope that one day I will master the art of organization. My home will be tidy; my paperwork caught up; my flowers all watered, weeded and well tended; and my days all streamlined for maximum efficiency. Maybe I will attain that goal, but until I do, I will move forward and do the best I can. I will not beat myself up for my many shortcomings, tell myself that I am a lost cause, and resign myself to living in absolute squalor and chaos.

I hope that one day I will master my iPhone, my iPod, and Windows 8, but I know that I am not mentally as sharp as I once was. I forget facts I need to remember, call people by the wrong names, misplace things, and struggle to keep up with technology. I hope one day to function more efficiently, and maybe I will. Until then, though, I will not throw away my electronic devices, stop trying new things, cease challenging myself and become completely dependent upon my children to help me make phone calls, enjoy my recorded music and audiobooks, and post my weekly blogs.

I hope that one day I will listen more and talk less, encourage and not criticize, serve without whining, and surrender my stubborn will completely to God’s purposes. Maybe I will one day reach that plateau, but until then, this is what I will do. I will work on improving myself in all of those areas, striving for perfection but celebrating progress. I will not put a quilt over my head and denigrate myself into a depression that renders me useless.

It is true that I am overweight and disinclined to exercise, somewhat prone to messiness, a bit of a chalkboard thinker in a touch-screen world, and decidedly deficient in all the Christian virtues. Those are not admirable qualities, but they do not cripple me. In fact, they rarely prevent me from accomplishing the things I truly want to accomplish. Therefore, instead of focusing upon my limitations, I will focus upon doing what I can do and helping other people to do the same.

May God help all of us to adopt the attitude of Edward Everett Hale, who said: “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”

For friends who share common interests with me and enjoy reading lighthearted, inspirational, and entertaining articles, many with spiritual applications.