Archive | April, 2021

A Blessing in the Mess

27 Apr

At the end of a meandering, choppy day, do you ever feel as if nothing you did made a difference because you never achieved that magical moment when you felt accomplished and “got something done?” I’ve had some days like that recently. Even when there are bright spots and a few fits and starts to projects, some progress here and there, often the overwhelming take-away is that I didn’t do enough. That often leads to a regretful mental spiral that starts with “Should have…” Nothing worse than that remorseful refrain. It drowns out the quiet list of “I dids.”

Such was last Thursday. I’ve been out of town a lot, tending to my parents’ moving process, and so I had big plans for my full day at home. It began promisingly — a trip to the market to replenish the fridge and prep a couple of days’ worth of meals.

But then, the wheel-spinning started. I lost my mojo. No focus. I can’t tell you what I did or didn’t do, or what exactly led to the derailment. There was a text exchange that got in my head a good deal more than it should have. A work meeting with sad news. Pain in my hip that hi-jacked my walk and had me limping home less than half way through my circuit, defeated and exhausted. There were fits and starts on a blog post that remained unwritten. A garage in sore need of attention as the bounty of donation items stack up, staring me down — when will you take us to Salvation Army?

I recounted this to my husband and son over the shrimp risotto dinner I had prepared, remarking that it was kind of a wasted day.

“Dinner sure is good,” said my son. Hubby concurred.

I thanked them, and added, “There was one bright spot.”

I shared: Looking past the overwhelming stack of items to be sorted and hauled, late in the day I decided that at the very least, I could clean out the back of my SUV (which has lately served as a refuse transport).

As I opened the garage and got started, my next door neighbor stopped by and asked if I had a minute to talk. “Actually, to listen,” he said. “And really I need 10 minutes.”

For the briefest moment, I was a little frustrated. Not even this task was going to go smoothly. And, honestly, I wondered if perhaps our perennially-wonky sprinklers were spraying their house, or if our barbecue grill had been wafting mahi-mahi smoke into their house, or our palm tree was dropping seeds into their gutters. (Honestly, they are the best neighbors. This was just me being grumbly.)

He walked up to the garage, notecards in hand. 

And then he asked if I would give a listen and help him hone his Father of the Bride speech. 

His Father of the Bride speech!

He wanted the content of the speech to be a surprise to both his daughter and his wife. “But my wife wanted me to run it past someone. She suggested you.” (Not entirely random, as she has attended women’s events at our church where I was a speaker.)

So here’s this esteemed father of three adult children, a retired OB/gyn, sharing his tender heart for his baby girl, right there in my driveway on an otherwise unremarkable overcast Thursday afternoon, our only witnesses, an overflowing Waste Management bin and a pile of discarded home goods.

And the speech — It was touching and precious. We both had a “little something” in our eyes by the time he was finished.

After telling him how beautiful it was, he asked if there was anything he could cut out to reduce the time a bit (as his daughter had asked). I gave him one suggestion, and then another to punch up a funny line.

“But really, it would be perfect just as you’ve said it,” I told him. “No one will have a stopwatch on you.”

As I finished relaying this story over dinner, I said, “So, yeah. A bright spot, but kind of an unproductive day otherwise.”

Hubby jumped in: “Wait a minute. Do you think he would feel that way? I bet he thinks you had a very productive day. And you were there when he needed you. And what a compliment to you that they sought you out!” 

Did I mention I have a wonderful husband?

I paused. He was right. I was focusing on all I hadn’t done that day. All the ways I had fallen short of expectations (mine and others’). And yet, because of my thwarted plans, I had time for my neighbor when he needed an assist for, in his words, “the most important speech I will ever give in my life.” 

If I had been busily typing away in my office, or running up and down the road, or walking purposefully on the street, I would have missed this opportunity — this blessing — to serve and do God’s work. To “love our neighbors as ourselves,” is straight from the mouth of Jesus when asked what’s most important. It came right after, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” (Mark 12:30,31)

I was focusing on the undone, rather than the done. I know to my core this is destructive thinking — heck, I coach this in my wellness workshops — but it’s so much easier to recognize it in others than in myself. In the long years of parenting young children, going to bed, exhausted, but still with a messy house and wet laundry in the washer, I would pray that God would help me “sense that my gain was good,” from Proverbs 31:18 (ESV). I love The Message translation too, about this amazing Proverbs 31 woman. “She senses the worth of her work.”

Incidentally, my neighbor, who is Jewish, had chosen to include a reading from that very chapter as part of his speech. It was my favorite verse, as I told him. We both laughed when he said, “Oh that’s right. You guys (Christians) read that too.”

“Strength and dignity are her clothing; and she laugheth at the time to come.” I shared with him that I especially love the translation: “She smiles at the future.”

I’m thankful for the nudge from my husband for helping me to shift my perspective to see the beauty of that moment, the weight and importance of it to my neighbor and me, even in the midst of a messy, chaotic season where the checklists are long and the checkmarks are few. To smile not only at the future, but also at the past.

Do you sometimes struggle with the habit of magnifying your shortcomings and diminishing your triumphs? What — or who — helps you to flip the script?

In closing, I offer a prayer for us who struggle to focus on the “dids” instead of the “didn’ts”:

Father, help us to let go of the false hope of perfection. Help us to find the sweet spot between being productive and being available, flexible and open to the people around us who need us a little or a lot. Help us to see ourselves as You see us, with love in Your eyes despite our inability to do it all. And help us recognize when something that seems random and flukey can turn out to be the moment when we truly walk as you would have us walk, and be blessed by it. Amen!


Crossing the Jordan from the 5 to the 405 to the 10

16 Apr

Genesis 32:10 “I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps.” — ESV (emphasis added)

I was 23 years old, backing out of my parents’ driveway in Northern California in the photo, headed to a poor-paying writing job in L.A., where I knew no one, with not much more than a shoe rack, a splashy supply of sass, and a wardrobe of severe suit jackets with giant shoulder pads. And that-Patrick Nagel-esque hairdo – the female mullet!

Goodbye family home — off to L.A. Spring 1986

Not visible: a truly skewed, hedonistic worldview and a deep unquenchable yearning that, I didn’t know at the time, could only be met by God.

I drove away from familiarity of the suburbs, through the vast farmland that anyone not from here would swear was Iowa or Mississippi, save for the mountain range on the horizon. Then, just before I bumped my head on a sheer wall of rocky terrain, the road led up and up, the 18 wheelers groaning to my right, up and over the snaky Grapevine (no grapes to be nibbled nor peeled), then down, fast, depositing me suddenly and rather ungently into the blooming red-taillight flats of the L.A. Basin. 

With this “staff” — in my Datsun Maxima — I crossed the Santa Monica Mountains, Annie Lenox and Aretha Franklin providing the woman-power soundtrack via cassette.

All sharp angles and sharper attitude, how did God possibly knife through the bright lights of a really big city to find me? Why would He? 

I don’t know why — for like Jacob, “I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant,” — but I am thankful He did.

With gratitude I look around at my L.A. “camp” today — my kind and generous husband of 32 years. Our incredible sons, solid men like their father. My parents, who arrived in So Cal 20 years later, still with us at age 86. My church family, my friends and neighbors, those people who add so much texture to my life, even in a partially virtual world. Our financial stability, our solid church, our comfortable home, open wide (in usual times) to entertain and host, to connect with our “camp.” My health and strength, the richness and depth of wise teaching available to me, the opportunities to share hard-earned wisdom through the written and spoken word, and the desire and ability to learn, still.

My So Cal Camp today

This abundance is staggering, visceral.

And just 35 years ago, “with only this staff” I crossed the “Jordan.”

I am warmed by the memory, I smile at the naiveté, and I nod sweetly to that younger version of me, who, despite an incorrect assumption that every single thing she thought she knew was true, kept her mind open enough to hear the Truth of the Gospel message, and to (eventually!) accept it.

I am thankful for the patience of a loving Father who blessed me in that Truth and continues to grow my “camp” in light of eternity.

I will always remember, and give thanks to the Lord.

—Shout out to Pastor Joe Hellerman for his 4/11/21 sermon and a fresh look at Genesis 32