Failure…

Failure is a funny word to me, because I truly believe that we rarely utterly fail at something.  Sometimes, it is simply a matter of perception.  Follow along with me for just a moment on that thought before we get into the meat of this topic.

Below is a series of photographs from a wedding, several years ago.  At the time, I owned my own confectionary.  This was not my first big event, but it was my first wedding.  The bride wanted a confection bar full of candies, sweets, and treats.  She didn’t want a traditional wedding cake at all.  We decided upon some cupcake towers and a small cake at the top, which was adorned with their wedding topper and serve for the “cake cutting” part of the reception.

What you see here is a very well executed plan, right?  Wrong.  I had a MAJOR failure.  I promised her Jolly Rancher Cotton Candy.  I woke up that morning to make the fresh cotton candy, only to find that there was just too much humidity in air.  The cotton candy, which I had made dozens of times before, was melting before I could even bag it.  So, I bought some cotton candy that was pre-made and portioned it out into the bags.

The bride was happy, there were no gaping holes in the table set up, and there was not a single bag of cotton candy left over.

I failed.  Yes, it was due to circumstances outside of my control… but I still failed to deliver what I promised.  Even if, ultimately, I was really the only one who knew about the failure.

 

The next large event I catered was for a fundraiser.  I met with the planning team and they presented an adorable center piece concept.  They brought out super cute little tiered dessert stands. The plan was to have the stand filled with cupcakes. There would be a giant cupcake “topper”.  The small cupcakes were part of the dessert for the evening.  They would have table drawings for the centerpiece (inclusive of the giant cupcake topper, plus an additional 1 dozen mini cupcakes).  In addition they wanted gift bags for the VIP sponsor tables.  I was super excited to get started.  I measured out the centerpiece they provided to determine the number of cupcakes that it would hold.  Sent them a quote.  The order was set.

When I arrived the morning of the event to set up, to my shock… the tiered center pieces had be replaced.  They made the decision to go with something nicer, which was the right decision.  However, they neglected to inform me of the change.  These new centerpieces were MUCH larger.  Almost twice the width on every tier.  I placed the topper, the dozen mini cupcakes, and it was SPARSE.  I flagged down the coordinator, explained the problem, and she made the decision we would forgo the dozen cupcakes as part of the table prize and instead use them to fill up the tiers.

The following Monday, I received an email from the main chairperson.  She wanted a partial refund because I failed to produce the dozen cupcakes per table for the prize.  She was never informed by the coordinator, and thought I had shorted their order.  I explained what happened, who authorized the decision to use them, and apologize profusely.   In her response, she was very kind and canceled the request for the refund.  However, I never received another order from her or their organization again.

In this case there was a perception that I failed.  I knew that I hadn’t, and that I met my obligations.  However, based on what she could see… the chairperson perceived that I failed to come through.

This weekend I was reading an blog piece in which the author was brutally raw about her feelings, as she declared that Jesus had failed her family that year.  I was really stumped by those words. Jesus… who is perfect, flawless, dependable, truth… failed you?  I couldn’t understand it.  It didn’t seem possible.

In all the years of unanswered prayers, I’ve never felt like Jesus let me down.  Not once.  I can’t think of a time where I looked up to the heavens and declared “Lord, you really let me down this time.  I needed you to come through.”  I was struggling with every single time her words “Jesus failed me” flew past my eyes.  Yet, I not offended … angry … or hollering out “heretic”.

Perhaps, that is because in all of those times where things didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to… I blamed myself.  I told myself that the reason my prayer wasn’t answered or the Lord didn’t show up was because I failed Him.  I feel like I fail God daily.  I never feel good enough.  I question why in the world He would want to use me in ministry.

What I realized was that how we see things was very different.  I was seeing failure in the way I described the first scenario.  In some way, I failed to deliver on my end of the bargain… even if I did my best.  Even if I made up for it in someway.  Even if no one in the world knew or cared about it.  I knew.  I failed.  My focus was there on that place where I failed, versus the ways that I succeeded.

The woman who wrote the blog piece was more akin to my second example.  She was the chairperson who had expectations on how things were going to turn out.  She brought in the right people, and through no fault of her own in that scenario, something wasn’t right.  She turned to the person she trusted to come through, and she said “you failed me”.

You see, she ascertained that failure based on the limited amount of information she had.  She didn’t know that the centerpieces were different sizes, or that it would make a difference in the end product presentation.  She didn’t know that I was never informed of the change.  She wasn’t brought into the decision making being done on the spot to accommodate the changes, nor filled in after the fact of what happened & why.

When the Lord is working out things for us, we are not always clued in to what is going on in the background.  We can’t always see the people or situations that the Lord is coordinating into just the right places, at just the right times.  In fact, sometimes we never will.  We may never see those fingerprints where God was moving mountains and mustard seeds.  So, when the end product (or process) isn’t what we expected… we may feel like God failed us.  He didn’t come through.

On the other hand, we can become so focused on all of the areas where we ARE messing up… that we think we have failed God to the point He is ignoring us.  We may think He is deliberately keeping blessing from us.  We may even think that he is disciplining us.

In the first case, we are so focused on our perception of the situational outcome that we can’t see those who kept their word and did their part.  We don’t appreciate the people who were pressed into hard decisions.  We lose the ability to give people the benefit of the doubt.  We make assumptions, assign unjust blame.  Our vision becomes clouded to the work God is doing, the blessings that are coming, the people who did care, and the hundreds of little ways God came through with something BETTER.  Jesus never fails us, we just perceive that He did because we didn’t get the outcome we desired.

Or, we become so focused on how wrong and sinful we are.  We become so inwardly focused that we beat ourselves up, disqualify ourselves, and stamp FAILURE on our foreheads.  We make vows to never try again, step away from commitments or ministry work, and wallow in how terrible we think we are.  We put up our hands to the Lord, shouting STOP… I can’t be used.  I’m a failure, not Jesus.

Christ died because we are failures at keeping God’s statutes and commands.  Throughout the Old Testament, on a repetitive cycle…   God would move, the people would celebrate, the people would forget, the people would fall & cry out, and God would rescue.  By the time of the New Testament, when Jesus enters the arena… God’s ultimate plan of redemption for his people who just can’t keep it together on their own.  In her piece, she repeated a few times that she waited for Jesus to rescue her… and He didn’t.  I would contend… HE ALREADY DID, ON CALVARY.

And, in that moment we were given victory over sin and death.  We are not failures, but perfected in Him.  By His stripes we are healed.  We need to keep our eyes on Him, not ourselves.  Trusting His word, even when we don’t understand what is happening around us… or God seems quiet or far.

Then, I read the article a 2nd time.  Something else jumped out at me, and we are going to talk about that next time.

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How Deep is Your Faith?

Some of you may recall that back in June I experienced quite a bit of delays trying to fly out to a conference in Indianapolis.  The benefit that came from those delays was the amount of time it gave me to dig into this book without many distractions.  I had no idea how much that reading was going to impact me while in a city far from my own, and would linger since returning home.

amwbook

In the beginning I thought this was going to be a book about deepening my faith.  In many ways I was right.    Exposing shallow faith, where law becomes an idol, and the wake we can leave behind when we are not walking in love and grace.  Recognizing that we have to do more than go through the motions, and that there will be times our faith will take out out of comfort zones into the deep end of the waters.  Pushing ourselves to a deeper understanding of the scriptures and what the Lord expects of us as a response to His Word.

What I didn’t expect to happen was the deeper convictions I was going to feel about how I interacted with this world.  Who was I serving?  How was I serving?  Was it easy, comfortable?  Did it require much of me?

I was great at serving those in my church, but what about the “least of these”?  What real needs have I been engaging?  Was I limiting the Gospel?  Was I limiting my service?  Was I talking a good talk but not walking along with it?  These questions were bouncing through my mind, as I sat in the airport… waiting.

Having a ministry position where I train other leaders, my biggest burden at that point was…

Am I training leaders who are going to go out and serve their people well … or are we just learning how to put on another successful event?  Are we playing ministry or living it?

Had I allowed the Gospel to be too small, was I not seeing the big picture?

This is where the book took me on a new journey about serving, loving, and living the Gospel out in real tangible ways.  Where it becomes more than talk.  Brandon Hatmaker’s words were reeling in my head, as I was walking back to my hotel after the conference let out for the evening.  It was late.  That is when Gregory made eye contact with me.

Gregory walked up to me, tears in his eyes. He was a homeless man, and he was hungry.  I don’t carry cash on me, but directly behind me was a restaurant.  It wasn’t fancy, but it was a better meal than a fast food place.   In Indianapolis, I met a man named Gregory who was from my home state.  I could smell the alcohol on his breath.  I wasn’t sure if I believed his story about being mugged and just needing a few dollars for some food.  It didn’t matter, I knew the man was hungry.

As we walked into the restaurant, Gregory was still crying.  He was sorry for bothering me.  He was sorry for asking. He was sorry for taking our time.  He asked for very little, but I told Gregory to order whatever he wanted.  He first asked for just a sandwich, but I told him to order more.  He gently asked my friend, “Do you think she’d let me have fries too?”.  She smiled and said absolutely, and immediately followed that up with inquiring what he wanted to drink.    In the end we had two sandwiches, french fries, and a large drink for Gregory.   He was grateful, his tears and slurs made him almost inaudible at times.

We prayed over Gregory before we left to return to our hotel.  It sounds like a beautiful moment, doesn’t?

What I neglected to share until this point, was the response of others.  The manager, saw Gregory walk in with us.  She approached us, looked right past my friend and I.  To Gregory, she spoke directly… “Looks like you convinced these nice ladies to buy you a meal.  You can wait here for it, but you can’t eat it outside.  You’ll need to take it and go.”

Her response was as if my friend and I were naive out of towners, taken advantage of by this con-man.  It was insulting to our intelligence and demeaning to Gregory.  He was now a paying customer, and should have been treated as such.  Gregory didn’t leave our thoughts for the rest of the trip, and quite often we prayed for him.  We didn’t see him again before it was time to leave.

Layovers and delays on my return flight home, I kept reading.  Over and over again, I found myself writing in the margins (next to a piece of text)…  Gregory.

From the book:

“It’s true that giving a sandwich to a homeless man on one day is not going to end hunger on the streets of your city.  But it will bless that man today.”

and in another passage:

“You see, after Jesus taught the most significant sermon in the history of time, Jesus didn’t make his way to the next sanctuary to meet  with the religious. He made his way to the next street corner to meet with the outcast. 

By meeting him in his greatest need, Jesus restored more than the man’s health; he restored his dignity. “

Gregory.

A Mile Wide opened my eyes to see so much more than how deep my own faith was, but my willingness to go the distance for my fellow man.  It changed my vision and scope of how ministry was supposed to look, and how I was going to change the way I approached our ministry work of training leaders.  It inspired me to a bigger Gospel.  A global Gospel.  A Gospel that feeds the man on the corner, that restores dignity, fights for justice, helps the Great Commission with feet on the ground.

Lord, I pray for Gregory tonight… where ever he lays his head.  I pray Lord, when I return to Indianapolis next year… I see his face again and we can break bread together.  Keep him safe, bring him to healing, and if I can’t see him again… let it be because he has returned to his family.  I pray for the hardened hearts that have forgotten that Gregory and those who are like him… are human beings made in your image.  Let us treat them as you would.  Amen.

Forgiveness & Reconciliation

MBA

A few weeks ago, I was sitting through our weekly small group meeting.  We took a bold step and decided to tackle Authentic Intimacy’s Passion Pursuit.  Dr. Juli Slattery began to discuss the importance of forgiveness in healing and improving our marriages.  She also delved into the need to forgive past hurts in order to move forward.   Something she said jumped out at me:

The acknowledgement that forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing. 

As she waded through the waters of forgiveness, the words FREEDOM were key.  Forgiveness leads to freedom because what ever that wrong was, it no longer holds on to us.  However, reconciliation may not be possible.  Perhaps the other person hasn’t apologized, hasn’t repented because they do not believe they were wrong.  Or, perhaps they took ownership of their wrong doing but for your own safety you can not resume a reconciled relationship with the person.  In some instances the person may have died, moved away, etc and there isn’t a way to even reach out and start a reconciliation process.  However, we can still forgive them and more forward.  This forgiveness does not free them from the CONSEQUENCES of their actions, it does however free us from being held captive by that person or situation any longer.

I walked away that evening reflecting on several situations through the years that cause me distress.  I thought of the scriptures that call us to forgive and reconcile.  I felt like a failure in many ways because even despite my willingness to forgive, there were relationships that were not reconciled.  I had sold myself to believe that I couldn’t more forward until reconciliation had happened.   I resolved that those relationships wouldn’t necessarily reconcile to what they once were, but that to at least be on “civil terms” would be enough.  When that couldn’t happen, I felt like I failed.

Now, that burden was lifted.  I had permission to walk in that freedom of forgiveness, even I was walking alone and the other parties were not ready to join up yet.  Today, I watched a video from The Gospel Coalition on forgiveness without repentance.  One of the things I took away from the video is:

Reconciliation requires repentance and forgiveness from both sides.

It can’t be both sides saying they are sorry, and no one changes.

It can’t be a change of behavior by both sides, without anyone actually apologizing.

It can’t be an exchange of apologies, modified behaviors, when one or both don’t truly forgive.

Forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation may not come in that exact order & not all at one time.  It may be a process that can span days, months, or even years to complete.  Reconciliation may not even come this side of heaven. 

If we have chosen to forgive, and if we have identified our own mistakes and repented… we may have to be okay with reconciliation’s slow arrival.  If it even comes at all. 

For each of us lies the responsibility of our own actions.  Have we come to God and asked Him to reveal if we are part of the problem?  Is there more to this than being sinned against?  Are we too guilty of sinning against the other person?  If you have a trusted mentor, have you shared the situation with them and sought their counsel and guidance? 

Once you have taken an honest look at yourself, if there is a need for you to apologize then you are responsible for taking the step of repentance and seeking forgiveness.  Then you can also extend your forgiveness to the other person and work toward reconciliation, should both parties agree.  However, if you are truly the only one who was sinned against and the other person is unwilling to repent and ask for forgiveness… you can still choose to forgive as Christ has forgiven.

All of our sins are against a perfect God, who has done nothing wrong to us.  Yet He is able to forgive our sins and cast them to the oceans depths.  If the Lord can forgive me, how can I not forgive those who sin against me?  Reconciliation may not happen, but that doesn’t mean that forgiveness is impossible.

The scriptures state that as much as it is possible, and is up to me, to live at peace with everyone.  Reconciliation isn’t entirely up to me, it takes both parties to happen.  But forgiveness is a choice I can make to bring peace into my heart, life, and relationships.  Then we can lean into trusting the Lord to do the work in the other person, and if reconciliation is possible it will happen under the guidance of the Holy Spirit’s conviction.

When we forgive, we can live in the freedom of Peace.  I choose Peace.

So… I saw Bad Moms, and I laughed.

In case you don’t have any clue what movie I am talking about, here is a promo shot:

badmoms.jpg

First, I’d like to admit right out of the gate I didn’t walk into this movie with naive expectations.  The trailers gave a pretty good indication that there would be some inappropriate humor.  Second, I am not planning on giving away any spoilers.  There were definitely some parts I thought the movie could have lived without, not only for the story line but even in the presentation.  Sometimes it could go too far.  Third, there were some parts of this that were REALLY unrealistic when you are talking about any group of moms.  Lastly, there were also a LOT of truths.

Overall, I laughed and I laughed hard.  At one point I laughed so hard (as I was taking a sip from my straw) that I pushed air through the straw, which caused a small tidal wave in my cup, and that resulted in my drink landing in my eyes.  Which just caused a whole other fit of laughter for myself and those sitting around me.  I laughed until I cried and my stomach hurt.  Yet, there were some moments that I nodded in solidarity.  There were moments that were uncomfortable.  And, yes… as I said before totally unnecessary.

What I want to write about (and I’m up for conversation too) is WHY a movie like this not only resonated with moms but was drawing us in like moths to a flame.

My first thought is probably the most obvious, there is an enormous amount of pressure on moms to be it all, do it all, and do so perfectly.  Whether it is the perfect birthday party, bento box lunches, or simply making it to every school and sport activity… we feel the pressure.  We notice so much of what is around us, like the mom who has the perfect hair and make up in the parent pick up line… when we were struggling to get out of the house with a bra under our pajama shirt.  We see the kids with the perfectly styled hair, accessories, and sparkling white sneakers…. and we just spent the last 40 minutes looking for eyeglasses or a belt.  Other moms dropping their kids off early, and we are 10 minutes late because we had to go back home and pick up the flute that was left behind… or because our darling child took 15 minutes to brush her teeth.

How do these moms do it?  We cast shade in their direction, but really we are asking ourselves… why can’t I do it?

I think there are a number of moms who have run the scenario through their head of just saying no.  No to the requests by the husband, kids, school, coaches, etc.  An opportunity to just walk away from the pressure and enjoy life again.  To make the choice of not being the perfect mom anymore, and instead be the bad mom.

This brings me to my second thought, as you watch the trailers you see a group of women having fun. We are not talking bunko party fundraiser fun, but the kind of fun we had as teenagers  and young single adults.  The fun we had when we didn’t care what others thought, where it was ok to be silly, and there was an expected freedom in the general knowledge we were going to make mistakes and bad choices.  It takes us back to a time when we didn’t have to be an adult, and could just let loose and be free.

With motherhood came some sort of unwritten code of conduct, that we couldn’t be silly anymore.  We began to take everything too seriously, including ourselves.  Let’s face it, books and the advice of television “experts” reinforced this.  Reminding us over and over again that it was time to grow up, put away childish things, and get our heads out of the clouds.  As we did this, many of us sent fun sailing away for good.  We stopped smiling, we stopped laughing, and we stopped being silly.

The movie Bad Moms called out to that free spirit inside of us, that desperately wanted to laugh… and laugh hard.  So, it pulls out all the stops.  The women let loose in a way we couldn’t, and we live vicariously through them.  They say the things that roll through our minds & do the things we secretly wished we could.  (Ok, maybe not all of the things they say and do, but you get the point).

I also believe this appeals to Christian women so deeply because of the bar that is set for our expected behavior.  If other moms are feeling the pressure to be perfect in their every day life, Christian moms understand the additional expectations put on the Christian mom.  To have perfect children that love Jesus, quote the bible, volunteer with the elderly, and gladly donate all their birthday money to the missions fund.  To be women who are serious about the study of the Lord, leading small groups, inviting women over to mentor and pray together, to dress in simple clothes, and be ever diligent in our choices of entertainment.  There is a pressure that all of our time should be so seriously focused on Christ, that we can’t let loose and laugh until our sides hurt.

Confession… I saw the movie on opening night.  It’s taken me almost a month to admit I saw it, because frankly… I expected to be judged for it.  I was worried about what my church friends, my readers that look to me for wisdom, the women or leaders who are reading through my blog trying to decide if I would be the right speaker for their next women’s event… what would these people think of me?

I learned something from the movie though… my eyes were opened to how long it had been since I had laughed so much and so hard.  I realized how seriously I take myself and made the decision not to.  I embraced that silliness is okay and even healthy for my kids to see.  I made the decision that I wanted to laugh more, but with those whom I am the closest to… not a theater full of strangers.  I want that girl posse who has my back, in the most biblical way possible… and who will be silly with me.  Women who know how to laugh, smile, and stop trying to be something that is impossible to attain… perfect.

All of those parts of the movie that I thought were unnecessary, they don’t have to be part of my life.  But the good stuff… I welcome it.  We are all GOOD MOMS despite our imperfections and the times we muck things up… because we are LOVING MOMS.  In the end that is what matters.  The Lord didn’t call us to a life of misery, but of fulfillment and joy as mothers… and laughter.  So much laughter.

A Fixer of Things

MBA

Some people are just fixers.  It wasn’t until a very recent conversation that I realized how much I fall into that category.  I love solving problems.  I appreciate seeing something that once functioned poorly, now working effortlessly.   I have fixed the dishwasher, saving my husband from having one more thing to do when he gets home (or money in parts, replacement).  I have fixed organizations and systems, friends problems, etc.

I also realized this is something I have always been fairly good at doing.  In high school, I helped fix our dwindling Drama Club.  In college, I wrangled in a campus club that was off kilter.  In my career in retail sales, I would be moved from department to department & store to store, solving problems that others couldn’t.  I prided myself in my ability to see the problem, find the solution, and execute that solution in an expedited fashion that would save money.

I didn’t realize it, but my affinity for fixing things is quite like a hunter on the prowl.  He looks for his prey, I look for problems.  He locks eyes on his target, I come up with a plan.  He brings down his game with grace and precision, and I execute my solution effortlessly.  The hunter walks away with the satisfaction of a “good kill”, and I pat my back with the satisfaction of a “good job”.  However, we do not linger in that satisfaction.  Instead we already begin to set eyes on what comes next.

In recent years, big game hunters get a lot of heat on the internet.  The reason?  People don’t see the need for the hunt.  We have plenty of food in this country, so what reason could someone possibly have for wanting to kill big game animals?  They see it as unnecessary.  Not everything needs to be hunted down for the sake of hunting.

What finally hit me, as I was enjoying serious conversation with a very wise friend, was that not everything needs to be fixed for the sake of fixing things.  We have all heard that phrase:  “don’t fix what isn’t broken”.  Which is totally something that I deep down believe.  I’m not one for reinventing the wheel, or trying to make something better that is actually functioning well and doing it’s intended job.  That didn’t prevent me from being on the hunt to find something to fix.

After solving one problem, I needed somewhere else to put to use my gifts and talents.  I wasn’t content not having some sort of project to work on.  So, I would find my next target.  However, I’ve learned a new phrase:  “not everything that is broken wants or needs to be fixed”.  Even more convicting is the phrase: “not everything broken is supposed to be fixed by me”.  Let’s unpack those thoughts a bit.

Not Everything That is Broken WANTS to be Fixed:

This scenario often deals with people more than things or projects.  You may be watching a person spiral out of control, personally or professionally.  But, unless that person truly wants help any attempt to fix it is going to be pushed away.  We can talk until we are blue in the face, throw suggestions and solutions in their direction, but none of it will matter if they don’t want to hear it or change their lives.

A friend who is struggling through addiction, who has begun having an affair, who is blowing all of their money shopping, etc… are all REAL problems.  But if the person is not at a place to desire change, you can’t fix them.  And, it’s not our job to convict their spirit to desire those changes.  That is up to the Holy Spirit, which is a job that none of us are qualified for.  This doesn’t mean that we don’t pray for them, and even make ourselves available for when they are ready.  It does mean, however, that we are not going to beat a dead horse.  The more we push, when they are not ready, the more they are going to distance themselves.

Even in ministry work, if you see that the ministry is dysfunctional… but you are the only one that seems to have a problem with it…. then it may not want to be fixed.  You have to be willing to step back.  We must pray that the Lord would put His hands on the situation and bring about the desire for change or repair.

Not Everything That is Broken NEEDS to be Fixed:

Many years ago I was lamenting to my husband about a problem I was seeing in an organization that I was volunteering with.  I could see the writing on the wall, if these issues were not fixed the ministry was going to fold.  It broke my heart to see that happen, because I believed in the potential of their work.

My husband, in his wisdom, pointed out that perhaps God didn’t want it fixed?  Even though the work they were doing was good, it may not be Kingdom work.  If it’s not Kingdom work, then the Lord may have better use of those people and resources.  I had to be willing to let it die, so that something better could be born.

We can spend many hours super gluing a shattered plate back together.  Carefully piecing it together, using the best of our tools to get the job done, but the second it gets the slightest tap… it shatters back into pieces.  There are times where things are broken beyond repair, to spend so much time trying to fix it becomes a waste of our time, resources, and the gifts the Lord has given us.  We must seek God’s discernment on whether something is worth saving.  Just because we can save a ministry, program, church, event, etc… doesn’t mean we should.

There are times where a group or project is not functioning well, but getting the job done.  We can see the hundred ways it could run better, and even the greater potential that is being overlooked.  However, those who are overseeing it may not desire anything greater than what it is currently doing.  It may not need to be fixed, because the job is getting done and the details of the “how” are really not important.  We need to seek God’s wisdom in knowing when something doesn’t need to be fixed at all, or when it’s simply not my job to do it.

Not Everything That is Broken is MY JOB to Fix:

Quite some time ago, I was involved in a ministry project.  Each team member had a very distinct role, and I was fulfilling my part.  However, I was seeing that another portion of the project was struggling.  I offered my opinion to the person in charge.  It was dismissed.  I offered my help, I was turned down.  In my arrogance, I tried to assert myself more.  This resulted in a come to Jesus meeting, and I was the one invited.

The fellow leader was brutally honest with me.  “I know this isn’t coming along perfectly.  I know that you could do a better job.  If you want my job, just tell me.  Otherwise, I need you to let me do this my way. Right or wrong.”   She was absolutely right.  She never asked me to come in and fix it, she wasn’t even in denial that there were some problems. It simply wasn’t my job to fix it.  It was up to her, to do the job she was entrusted with.  I apologized immediately, and I learned a tough lesson.

What I find almost humorous about this, as I reflect, is that one of the things that gets on my nerves the quickest is…. unsolicited advice.  But, there I was… dishing it out.

Occasionally, everyone can see the problems in the organization or project.  You may have all the answers, but in simple terms… it’s not your job.  The Lord may have someone else who is going to work those problems out.  The Lord may need the ministry to stumble in your absence to draw attention to the bigger issues.  Or, the Lord may have a greater plan that what you can imagine down the road.  He may be trying to get you out of the way, so that He can do something beyond comprehension.

Because no matter how much you think you can do to fix the problems, hiccups, and hold backs… HE CAN DO GREATER.  We need to be in prayer that we would not only get out our own way, but even more so that we get out of God’s way.  Let Him do the work, open the doors, and work out the miracles.  All you need to figure out is if you are going along for the ride, or if He is directing your gifts and talents to another ministry.

In the end…  generally speaking… if something is broken and we have the capacity to fix it, we should.  This piece isn’t about standing back and doing nothing.  Instead, this piece is a reminder that all the things we can do need to be in surrender to God, His glory, and His plan.  If we seek Him before we act, we will understand our role.. to fix, to pray, to let go, or to step aside.

Opened Eyes

MBA

Years ago, I had a conversation with a friend.  We were discussing racial equality, because any of my friends will tell you … I’m not afraid to talk about deep stuff.  Generally speaking, I prefer to do it in face to face conversations with people who know me.  Why?  Because I know they can see my genuineness vs. written conversations that lack tone, body language, and that personal touch that comes with seeing someone’s face.

I was sharing with her my inability to see that racism and discrimination were still as bad as she claimed they were.  (You most definitely can eye roll at this, Lord knows I am eye rolling myself so hard… I’m going to get a migraine.)    The argument she gave me, at the time, was that I didn’t understand what it was like to be discriminated against.  And I retorted back that I in fact did know.

As a woman, I faced discrimination.  As a professional working woman, I once had a man refer to me as “little girl”.  I couldn’t even count the number of times a man wanted to speak to my manager, only to see his disappointment when he found out my manager was a woman too.  Nor, the number of times this same scenario happened and I was in fact the manager.

Before that, in my youth, I can recall walking into local stores and being looked at suspiciously because of the way I was dressed and the people I was with.  The instant look of distrust, eyes watching us the whole time we were in the shop, just waiting for us to do something wrong.

At the time, I felt like “I get it” and “it’s not exclusive to any race”.    I’ll pause a moment, and let you get a few eye rolls in… and even a few verbal responses too.  I know…I know…

Now, I’m looking at things with a new set of eyes.  Why?  Because there are women who have taken the time to help me understand.  They are willing to have the uncomfortable conversations with me.  THANK YOU, ladies, for being gracious and not smacking me upside the head for my naivety.

These conversations don’t discount the fact that I faced discrimination as a woman.  However, even within those discriminating moments… there was never “hate” because I was a woman.  My male peers and counterparts respected me, my work ethic, and trusted me to do the job I was hired for.  My discrimination came only from those who didn’t know me.  Customers and clients who were interacting with me for the first time.  Even then, when they realized my authority (like it, or not)… their attitudes did shift.   In fact, one even came to prefer working with me exclusively after he was able to get over himself.  This is a different response than you’ll find in racial discrimination.  Where people of color (whatever ethnicity they represent) may not even be given that benefit of the doubt.

I recently reflected on a young woman I worked with, and how a customer once treated her.  She was a beautiful black woman, her skin was like midnight.  She was also disabled, only to the point where she moved a little bit slower than the rest of us.  Yet, she was one of my staff members that I could count on the most.  Need someone to stay late, she was the girl.  Need someone to fill in for another staff member out sick, she’d come in on her off day.  Never once did I have to fix a mistake she made, her work was accurate and dependable.  I can still recall MANY times I had to intervene with a client who was anything but pleasant with her.  At the time, I thought this issue was her pace.  But the more I have thought about it, the more I realized this was not their issue.  It was the “safe” complaint they could make, under the public eye.

A friend of mine posted on Facebook her thoughts about racial discrimination and our response to it.  She’s not a Christian… and her post was riddled with curse words that would make some of us a bit uncomfortable.  So, I’m going to paraphrase her (if you read this, I hope I do justice).

If you have never had to

  1.  run through scenarios of what not do in public places so you are not perceived as a criminal…
  2. have your parents explain to you how to behave if you get pulled over by the police so that you can survive
  3. wonder if a picture of you will be used out of context to justify you were a bad person…

… then sit down.

If your only contribution to the current conversation is to point out all the mistakes a person ever made as a reason why they deserved to die…

If you have a clean record, college honors, amazing career, beautiful family…. but do not have to live with a baseline of fear of being killed in the wrong circumstances…

… then sit down.

She was sharing her real feelings about her every day life.  This is her reality, so yes the news causes her to respond with her feelings.  And one thing I have learned over the years is that we all have a right to our feelings.  Regardless of the situation, our feelings are real.

And, as she finished her post she left the question:

Is that feeling worth at least a conversation?

Yes.  Yes it is.

It’s also worth some serious introspection.

You see, back in the day… when I walked into those stores and distrust was flung my way.  Yes, you could say I was discriminated against by the way I looked.  But, let’s be honest.  That look… I chose it.  Those friends… I chose them.  I could have walked right out of that store, gone home, changed into plain jeans and a t-shirt, adjusted my make up and hair, and returned to a very different response.  I would have been welcomed, no eyes would have followed me as I perused the shelves. I would have been greeted with a warm smile, a friendly how do you do, and thanked for my business.

That is not the same outcome for people who don’t look like me.   It wouldn’t have mattered if they walked in a track suit or a 3 piece custom fitted suit.  I could go home and change my choice of clothes, but they can’t go home and change their skin color.

My husband and I were talking about it, and he said….

It comes down to this, if you are pulled over by the police… what color do you want your skin to be?

He grew up in a predominantly black neighbor, and he can recall his own interactions with the police.  He told me that the cops in that area were hardened.  They were used to being lied to, and they expected the worst from everyone.  Everyone was suspected.  However, he also shared that he knows his interactions with them were far better than if he was a black kid.

Watching a documentary one night, our eyes were opened even farther.  When you can see the long standing distrust of the police in a community, from not so distant days where bathrooms were not only defined by gender but also color… you begin to understand.  You can see why communities, as one of the women interviewed stated, “protect their own”.  Because, at one time… innocence or guilt didn’t matter.  Those neighborhoods wouldn’t be so quick to hand over someone to the police, but instead would deal with it in their own way.  They took the risk that their lies to protect the innocent might mean a guilty person got away with it.  The recognized that the punishment that would fall on the shoulders of the guilty black man would weight heavier than if he was white.

If you think that doesn’t still exist, just look at the news.  A white, student athlete from Stanford raped an unconscious woman after a party… he was given a six month sentence.  A black, student athlete from Vanderbilt raped an unconscious woman after a party… he was given a fifteen year sentence.   And we wonder why a community of people has a distrust for our legal system?

We wonder where anger stems from?  We wonder where suspicion stems from?  We wonder where the pain stems from?  We wonder why “they” feel the way they do?

In the words of my friend:

Is that feeling worth at least a conversation?

This is where I believe we all start.  A willingness to at least have the conversation.  Maybe you have not experienced this discrimination or witnessed it.  But, I would challenge you to have those awkward conversations… the uncomfortable ones.  It exists.

It shows up when the teacher asks for the “black perspective” on a piece of literature from the only black student in the honors literature class.

It shows up when we assume a college student was accepted to an ivy league college because of the color of their skin vs. the merit of their work.

It shows up in how the media reports potential crimes, the photos they use and the details they share.

It shows up in how our judicial system dishes out punishments.

It shows up in the conversations that parents have with their children, and how different their life lessons are.

When we are willing to at least have the hard conversations, our eyes are opened a little wider.  Maybe things are not quite as we see them.  It may not be as bad as it was, but we still have a long way to go.

May we see each other with the same eyes that the Lord does, image bearers… our family of believers.  All of equal value, merit, worth, and love.

Thank you to those who are willing to have the conversation.  Thank you for the grace, as I am still seeking to understand.  May the conversations we have be fruitful!

Avert Your Eyes

MBA

Women are a funny creation, I’d love to have a one on one conversation with the Creator of the World about how women work.  I want to know how much of our way of thinking, behavior, etc is just “how we are wired” and how much is a result of the fall.  How emotional did God really want for us to be?  How complicated were we intended to be?  When woman first bit that piece of fruit, why is it that her mind became a pile of yarn balls all unraveled and going in so many directions at once?  Why did men get the capacity to compartmentalize things and function so differently with thought and deed?  We both ate of the tree of knowledge, yet our brains work so entirely differently.  Why?

It is a mystery.

Interestingly enough, what also happened after woman bit that apple… she saw herself.  She felt shame and guilt.  And, she hid from God.  Until that moment, the Lord had blinders on her eyes.  She saw Him, she saw Adam, she knew her God given task and purpose.  When she bit of the apple, those blinders fell off.   “What if” entered the world.  “What if God didn’t say ….”.  “What if I take a bite…”.  “What if I didn’t hear God correctly…”.

What if.

Throughout the scriptures there are cries out to God to be seen.  See me, search me, do not cast your face from me, see your people, hear your people, help your people…

Eve hid from God.  Eve said… do not see me.  Do not find me.  Do not cast your gaze upon me.  Do not search me.   She didn’t want to be found in her shame and her guilt.

Avert your eyes.

But the Lord looked for them, he sought them out in their shame, held them accountable, and then as He always does… he made a way out.

I’ve known so many women who want to be seen.  They want their spouses to see them, instead of take them for granted.  They want their children to see them,  and consider them worthy of praise.  They want their parent to see them and apologize for past hurts.  They want their boss to see them and recognize their efforts.  They want their church to see them and welcome their gifts.  They want world to see them and say you add value and are worthy to know.

And yet, some of these same women will hide from those who see too much.   When a spouse gets too close, and they feel vulnerable… they push him away.  When the children begin to see through her perfect mom facade, she builds up taller walls and come up with new covers to her sin.  A parent who desires to fix the past will be kept at arms reach because of fear, we do not want to be hurt again.  Women don’t want their bosses to know how much they sacrificed for the job, because they fear it shows weakness vs. strength.  A woman  who wants the church to see her gift but hides the journey to faith that brought her there.  Women who want the world to see them, but only the parts they want to be seen.

Women are complicated creations.  By our design or as a result of our choices, we seem to have the ability to complicate our lives even more than they need to be.  We say we want authenticity in our friendships, but we do not want vulnerability.  We say that we want iron sharpens iron friendships, yet we do not understand that for iron to be strengthened it’s weaknesses must be exposed.  We would rather our friends look up at us as a model of inspiration versus walk with us through our valleys.  We put on a show, get a circle of friends, build relationships… always keeping our arms stretched out so that no one can get too close.

From a distance our cracks and fractures are not as noticeable.  From a distance we can put on a show and no one can see us reading from the cue cards.  From a distance our grand actions are easily seen but our slight of hand goes unnoticed.  From a distance we look holy and righteous, masking our sin and deprivation.  From a distance we appear to have it all together, all of the right answers, the perfect family… no one can see the brokenness behind our closed doors.

Social media has made the perfect playground for superficial relationships, because we can connect with hundreds and thousands of people… posting our perfectly thought out words, edited photographs, and stories spun to make our lives look like a highlight reel of perfection.  When those people began to infiltrate our real lives, and see how we really live… that facade can only last so long.  When they get too close and begin to the see the truth, we cut them out and replace them with someone new.  Cycling our “friends” in and out of our lives to protect the image we have created for ourselves.

We tackle authenticity from a place of mentor to mentee versus a mutual relationship of accountability.  We want others to be authentic with us, so that we can use our gifts, talents, knowledge, wisdom, et’al to help them.   Yet we dare not expose the thorns in our sides, the planks in our eyes, and our sin to those whom we consider our closest friends.   When they come across them and call our attention to it, we are quick to dismiss it.  Quick to blame, and quick to create distance.  We speak truth in love, but I question how much love is really there.  We speak personal conviction as biblical mandate, standing on a soap box of righteousness that is filled with worms.  We are quick to label others sins and quantify them as more terrible than our own, so that when the time comes we can stop the friendship and feel no remorse.

Righteous indignation is easier than self retrospection.

So, we hide.  We hide from God under the guise that our sin is not as bad as others.  We tell ourselves that God is angrier about greater sins in the world, than this little thing I have done.  We hide from those who love us, because we fear that if they see us for who we really are they will leave… judge… or hold us accountable to change.  We hide from ourselves by focusing so much on how others have wronged or hurt us, that we can put our own sin on the back burner.

We want others to avert their eyes to us, while we look at them under a microscope.

Lord help us to be vulnerable with one another, to walk our roads not alone but in the company of our family of believers, let us not fear accountability, and help us to stop hiding from you.