Me. Myself. And I.

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When I think of selfishness, I think the most common form is an unbalanced attitude that has been promoted by the idea of self-care. Taking care of ones needs and simply paying attention to how we function best isn’t a bad thing. If you know you need times of solitude, or are one who knows you need a lot of socialization, sleep, exercise, independence, or partnership, etc.; those are personality traits that make each person unique, enabling them to live to be the best they can be, when practiced in balance. That isn’t selfishness, that’s just smart, self awareness.

Although, it never ceases to amaze me the level of selfishness people have achieved. Just do a quick internet search of the word selfish. Especially if you look it up in images, you will see every quote and philosophy of why selfishness is such a wonderful thing. I’m sure there are many of life’s experiences and circumstances that cause people to become selfish. Maybe it is past hurts that have caused them to build walls so they won’t be victimized again. Or it could be a false belief that having it all and being number one is what success looks like. The biggest lie is that we have to care for ourself first, above everything else. For whatever reason made them that way, I know two things: It is hurtful to those who love them; and nothing about selfishness is even close to being Christ-like.

Those who love selfish people are never put first in their lives. At some point, everyone who is in relationship puts the other first – except selfish people. Every interaction, whether it is as small as a text message or as large as marriage, will always be at the convenience and only in the best interest of the selfish person. One of my extended family once had their outgoing voicemail message say, “I’m probably here but I don’t feel like picking of the phone. Leave a message and I’ll call you back if I feel like it.” That’s a pretty funny message to be sending to a telemarketer, but this family member really meant it for everyone and it’s actually how they felt. Now that is selfish. (Or they’re just a jerk.) It was hurtful to people who called and really wanted to talk with them. Selfish people do things that could be detrimental to their own well-being, just because they want to. Never mind that it causes worry and concern for those that love them. At the very worst, they risk their own lives through selfish behavior of NOT taking care of themselves, or other life-controlling behaviors or actions, without considering the effects it will have on those who love them.

Selfishness is contrary to everything Jesus stood for. There isn’t any place I know of in the New Testament where Christ followers are told to be selfish and put themselves above all else. As it applies to relationships with others, and people who love, the most obvious scripture is in I Corinthians 13:3-4; the love chapter.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”

Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Romans 2:8 “But for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.”

I can’t find anywhere that the Bible tells us to do what we want, when we want it, the way we want it, and everyone else can go kick rocks! The very basis of Christianity is selflessness. It doesn’t get much more selfless than to die for the sins of every person. John 3:16 “God loved the world so much that he gave his only son to die, so that anyone who believes in him would have life forever!” God is the only one who is worthy to consider only He, Himself, and His. Even though he could, he didn’t.

Allow Room for Change

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When I was a child, I used to believe in everlasting consequences. I had an unbalanced concept of cause and effect, believing that the results of every action lasted forever. I am so happy to say that I was so very wrong! The thing is, it often occurs to me that many of us still believe that behaviors of the past will be part of us forever. If we don’t believe it of ourselves, we too often believe it for other people – at least we behave as if it’s true for them but not us.

How many times have we begun a statement about another person with “they always…” or “they’ll never change”? What we knew about a person’s behavior, attitudes, or actions in the past, should not keep them chained to the present without evidence that there’s been no change. After all, isn’t that the basis of our faith as Christians, to believe that Jesus came to save us from our sins and renew our hearts, giving us a new life in Him? There is so much in the Bible about the change that has taken place in people by the power and miracles of Jesus, so why would we doubt that it’s still happening today?

We must be careful about holding people to habits and attitudes that were once part of their life because it doesn’t allow for the growth and change that we claim to believe in! Many times the person we once knew (even if it is ourselves) has worked very hard to make changes. Maybe the change is a natural progression as they have grown in faith, maturity, or a personal awareness that improvements needed to happen. Regardless of how and when positive change happens, we absolutely need to allow room for change. When we don’t, we teeter dangerously close to judging people based on old information. It’s a very fine line that could cross into an attitude of unforgiveness, bitterness, gossip and even slander.

I know I have changed over the years, and I hate it when people treat me as if they know what my actions and attitudes will be, based on what they knew about me many years ago. I wish they’d allow room for the changes in me, and if I’m wishing that for myself then I know I need to allow it for others.

I Didn’t Sign Up for This

How many times have we made the claim that “I didn’t sign up for this”? For me, it seems that when I’ve made a commitment to something it eventually transitions into being something more, something different, maybe more difficult or more of a challenge than I anticipated. The problem is in the expectation, not in the outcome.

The truth is, I actually did sign up for this. (Whatever “this” is.) Expectation versus reality is most evident in marriage. We are pie-eyed and full of dreams for the future on that magical day. The bride and groom are so full of love that they sign up for the whole deal: for better, for worse, richer or poorer, sickness and health. It all sounds so noble until that worse is far more worse than our expectation – it might be addiction, a mid-stream career change, or a new calling. The poorer may be the loss of a job, unplanned debt, even bankruptcy. And sickness isn’t always a terminal illness. It could be chronic pain, a mental illness, or an accident that resulted in a complete physical change. But yes, we did sign up for this.

The great news is that we also signed up for better, richer, and health. The times when life is good, satisfying, free of financial worries, and enough energy, time and health to have great fun!

I’ve found myself saying “I didn’t sign up for this” in a work environment. When my peaceful, quiet office turns in to mayhem of freight, or when twenty five people all decide that I’m the person with the answers to their questions all at once! But yes, I signed up for this. It was in the interview process when I said I was flexible, that I wanted to be in a position to serve, and when I prayed that I would get the job that was where God’s best plan for me would be.

When I base my commitment on an expectation that is only an idea in my mind, then I can be sure it will turn out differently than I thought it would. I can’t anticipate every possible scenario for every situation in order to make a decision whether to commit to it or not, so I move forward with the understanding that whatever comes, that yes, I did sign up for this.

 

 

A Collector of People

I’m not much of a collector of things. I have a small figurine collection that was built entirely because they were given to me. The same thing happened with a collection of unique salt & pepper shakers: I mentioned I’d like to start a collection & suddenly it was what everyone bought for me. But I decided that I am a collector of people. When I came to this realization I looked it up to see if it was a real thing? There are a few people with different takes on the concept but this is mine.

The general concept of collecting is to gather & cherish things of value. I have gathered so many valuable people throughout my life that I think I could consider them a collection of people. It started from the beginning of childhood. I remember family friends from when I was very young and I still try to keep in my sight, today. Childhood friends, family of any sort no matter how distant or far-removed, adult friendships from different places I’ve lived, high-school, college, former co-workers, – they all build this unique array of people who I cherish and value.

When people are new in my life they are front and center where I’m constantly aware of them, learning and seeing new details as time passes. Gradually, I get to know all their colors and am very aware of how their presence impacts me. But the very most important ones are those that came at great cost and sacrifice, either by myself or by someone who gifted them to me. Other special treasures are those that, old or new, have been present during significant seasons of life. They were just there, ready and willing to do their part.

For whatever reason, I lose some of my collection from time to time. Maybe there’s just been too many moving days – too much packing & unpacking and they have gotten lost in the shuffle. The risk of carrying extra baggage, I suppose. I remember what they look like and how I felt when I was with them, but it’s a bitter sweet memory, realizing the loss of something so valuable with such fondness. As much as I miss those people, it seems appropriate to add to the collection with new ones!

As a collector of people, I don’t posses them or own them. I’ve been rewarded with all their best qualities and learned a lot about grace. Any part of a collection has flaws that we have to overlook in order to see their real value to us, the collector. I don’t display them or show them off to one another and oftentimes they aren’t even in the same place at the same time, except in my heart.

Loves me. Loves me not.

He loves her, she loves him not. She loves him, he loves her not.  And so it goes with teen romance all the way through young adulthood.  There are crushes, dates, and actually sometimes love but there’s never been a time that one of these relationships didn’t produce character and gained maturity and understanding.

I was criticized behind my back and surprisingly to my face about the freedom with which we allowed our teenagers to date.  The boyfriends and girlfriends came and went at a pretty regular pace.  The permissive approach to dating didn’t come without rules and a lot more discussion than our kids would have probably wanted. I’m not naïve enough to believe the rules were always obeyed or the truth was always told but enough of it got through to provide them with a foundation to weigh their options when they faced making good decisions on the fly.

With each relationship, however superficial or heartfelt, they learned more about themselves and other families than if they had not been allowed to explore their role with other people.  Every boy my daughters dated, in some way helped them form their standards.  They learned behaviors and attitudes that were real deal-breakers, they saw qualities that they looked for in their future relationships and ultimately their husbands. Every girl my son dated allowed him to see the value of a good mate and in contrast, to see the pitfalls to avoid.  He too, will know what character qualities he’s looking for when he reaches the place in his life that he will choose to be in a relationship.

I’ve been criticized, or at the very least raised a few eyebrows, at how we welcomed each boyfriend or girlfriend into the family.  I can show photos of Christmases, birthdays, graduations, and even vacations where one or another of these extras were present.  We included them in order to know them, in order to be able to give guidance and know when our intervention might be necessary.  We also wanted to know what it was in these young people that captured our kid’s hearts and it often captured ours, too.

Every now and then there was a real conflict. On occasion we did a lot of agonizing over one of them and that’s when we played the parental trump card and put a stop to it. Everything is not always a negotiation, especially when as parents we could see the disaster ahead.  Our kids were no worse for wear from these teenaged dating experiences; only wiser and more aware.

I don’t believe they were wounded, scarred,or that they created any sinful “soul ties” that bound them to that ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend.  Rather, they’re stronger and more secure in who they are in Christ and how grace works in their lives.

I’m happy they love to love. And I’m really, really happy that all that experience lead them to their very best loves as our two daughters grew into confident women and have added two amazing young men to the family. Ultimately, they chose well.

My House Has A Crack

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My house has a crack. Just over the doorframe, creeping to the ceiling. I see it every time I come down the stairs. I asked how this happened and the answer was, “collateral damage.”
Collateral damage is defined as damage to things that are incidental to the intended target. Nothing was slammed against that wall and we had no major earthquake.  But something else, probably underneath, at the foundation had shifted, causing the crack above door.
Oftentimes I find myself being the collateral damage; a by-product of other people’s cracked foundations.  When criticized, neglected or have been rude to, I have to remember that I am not their intended target.  Something that is amiss in their foundation is creating damage all around them. 
Like the crack in my wall, no amount of putty and paint is going to fix the source of the problem. Even though the collateral damage is well hidden, repairing the foundation is the only true fix. 
Psalm 147:3 promises God can fix these broken parts. As He heals our hearts, He will show us that the cracks weren’t the source of the problem. By taking our eyes off the cracks and opening our hearts to God, the more God’s grace will repair our damaged foundation.
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3

It’s a Pretty Big Deal

It always takes me aback when I see an invitation or announcement that lists Family Only. As important as family is – more important than anything actually – I cringe at the exclusivity when friends are not included. In my book, friends are a pretty big deal.

Think of the people in our lives and the role they play or position they hold in our hearts. Family comes first, without a doubt and without question. We don’t choose them but we love them entirely and completely. They rank most important. But absolutely everyone else in our lives (except friends) fall into all kinds of lesser ranking relationships such as co-workers, neighbors, classmates, teammates, or acquaintances. 

Friends. We actually choose our friends. We decide we like someone and we get to know them very well. We build trust between us and them, and share some very special times of our lives together. They come only second to family. So if you’ve been chosen to be someone’s friend, understand that you are special and you hold a high place of honor in their life. There’s no such thing as being just friends. Being my friend is a pretty big deal.

Another Clip of the Apron Strings

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Trying to tie my apron strings behind my back, blindly, with arms twisted and fingers working as nimbly as possible, I find that if I tie it very loosely it’s easier but that only works if the apron strings are really long. It stays in place without being too tight, and it keeps me safe from whatever mess I might get into.

While I was raising children, it’s a good thing my apron strings started out long because they got a regular trimming. As my children grew, I clipped my apron strings according to how far they’d have to stretch and how tightly a grip they needed to hang on to me. As they grew more independent, it became less of need for them to hold on to me, and more of a comfort for me to have them there at my heels. Eventually, I had to clip them so short that neither of us could benefit from the ribbons that kept us within an arms reach . Even though I still wear the apron, the string are barely long enough to tie; just enough to hold my printed, fabric armor in place. It’s the protection I wear when I’m facing the heat and sloppiness of creating something wonderful. 

Simply navigating through life throws children into messy and sometimes heated situations. My hope is that my cut short apron strings that help keep my protecting armor on, will somehow protect them, too. And I hope they always know that the comfort of my apron and that it has just enough length of the strings left to tie my children to my heart forever.