Monthly Archives: January 2014

If You’re Carrying Extra Weight, Part 1

I bet the inventor of the rolling backpack was a parent of a middle school student.  I think about this as I watch my poor kid stagger through the school parking lot to the car. She’s practically bent in half under the Lands’ End cargo on her back.

“Lots of homework tonight?”

“No, not really.”

“Huh? Why all the books?”

“I just didn’t bother to stop by my locker and unload them.”

Hmm …

In a New York Times article about weighty backpacks, a teacher observed that sometimes students carry heavier burdens than necessary: “A lot of kids don’t take much time at their lockers to sort out what they need.”*

(Judging by the blue floral boulder in the back seat, I’d say the teacher’s observation is on point.)

20140127_154141

But according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission,  carrying a 12-pound backpack to and from school and lifting it 10 times a day over the course of a school year puts a cumulative load on a kid’s body of 21,600 pounds. That’s the equivalent of six mid-sized cars.*

Why would anyone carry a heavier burden than necessary?

(The spiritual parallel is pretty obvious, wouldn’t you agree?)

And yet we do. We cripple ourselves with loads we are not meant to bear.

For instance, the burden of anxiety:

“Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength – carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” (Corrie ten Boom)

Or the burden of performance:

“We all get to choose where we set up the stage of our lives — before the Crowds, the Court, the Congregation, the Critics (inner or otherwise)-– or the Cross of Christ. All except One will assess your performance. Only One will accept you before your performance … Only in Jesus is there 100% acceptance before even 1% performance.” (Ann Voskamp)

Take unforgiveness:

Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” (Nelson Mandela)

Ever feel burdened by keeping up with the Jones’?

“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Jesus in Mark 8:36)

Or regret?

“I think that if God forgives us we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise, it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.” (C.S. Lewis)

Those persisting sins?

“If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.” (Jesus in John 8:36)

Are you weary?

“Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Jesus in Matthew 11: 28 – 29)

Jesus invites us to an exchange, and who wouldn’t accept? His rest … exchanged for our encumbrance. His freedom … swapped for our shame. His gentle peace… traded for our turbulence.

Obedience to His yoke …. offered in place of our oppression.

And yet, oftentimes, I don’t accept.

Why?

The heart of the matter, for me I’ve found, is the weight of my worth and the weight of His worth. Which will I choose to accept?

Would you ponder that with me?  In Part 2, I’ll join you in 2 Corinthians 4 to unpack what this means to me …

Resource: Jane Brody, “Heavy Backpacks Can Spell Chronic Back Pain for Children” – http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/23/heavy-backpacks-can-spell-chronic-back-pain-for-children/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

When You Need to “Lean In”

It’s a sunny, midwinter day that compels me outside into the unusual warmth, and I want to go but I don’t want to go. While this rare opportunity beckons me to rake out the flower beds, I’d much rather set aside yard work until spring. These days, I set aside even things I used to enjoy like getting dirt under my nails.

But as I kneel beside the Lenten roses and scrape the dead leaves away with my fingers, I notice that tiny blooms are rising like a fist against the barren winter of my soul.  Where I live, Lenten roses are one of the earliest reminders that new life endures. Suddenly invigorated, I rake and rake and rake. Away with these decaying leaves! My plants need to breathe.

20140121_101535

Something like hope rides on the fresh air. My soul is gasping for it.

So I lean upon my rake to literally catch my breath.  And I remember:

“The best advice I can give you is to lean into your grief.”

I had nodded knowingly at the kind lady as if I understood. But I didn’t understand.

In the middle of my yard, I stand with my rake and wonder –

What does that mean?

I’ve hear it before.  “Lean into your grief.” Sounds a little cliché. But I know this lady has been through this kind of pain.  Maybe there’s something to learn here.

With dirt under my nails, I go inside and do what inquiring minds do – I google: “Lean into grief.”

Lots of stories, blogs, and articles appear. Many of them express a similar theme:

The process of grief can be long and bleak, like winter. But it’s necessary to let the grief take its course. Instead of pushing it away, have patience and allow your soul to work through the pain. Eventually a new season will come.

Ok, I get that.

Is that all?

I need more.

So I dig a little deeper and discover that the metaphor, “leaning in,” originates in athletic activities.

Interesting. Yet that doesn’t relate at all to loss or grief, I think.

But perhaps it can.

In sports like snowboarding, skiing, or speed skating, athletes learn to “lean into the turn.”

skiing_downhill_2_edit[1]

i-0fd320ca678cbadfea1b20cd87507619-2010-02-17_ohno[1]

According to the Physics Classroom:

“The same principle of lean that allows the speed skater to make the turn around a portion of the circle applies to the wealth of other sporting events where participants lean into the turn in order to momentarily move in a circle. A downhill skier makes her turn by leaning into the snow. The snow pushes back in both an inward and an upward direction – balancing the force of gravity and supplying the centripetal force … A bobsled team makes their turn in a similar manner as they rise up onto the inclined section of track. Upon the incline, they naturally lean and the normal force acts at an angle to the vertical; this normal force supplies both the upward force to balance the force of gravity and the centripetal force to allow for the circular motion.”

Did you get that? Me neither.

But the general principle (I think) is that leaning in drives an athlete’s energy forward. It acts as a counter-balance to forces that would drag the athlete down.  It also suggests “embracing risk and not shying away from difficulty or obstacles in one’s path.” (1)

imagesCVBYFQZC

“Leaning in” has become a popular catchphrase in the professional world also.

“Lean in,” advises a successful businessman, “All energy goes into moving forward.” (2)

Finally, this helps. I had visualized “leaning into grief” as if it were a crutch.

Of course, there are moments when the urge to wallow in sadness is greater than the longing to move through it.  And sometimes that’s really okay.

But if “leaning in” is a metaphor for onward and upward, it changes the way I think about leaning into loss and heartache. I’m constantly surprised by suffering. It is complicated and messy and unique to every person. But this “leaning in” can lead to unexpected and redemptive blessings. It’s acting upon faith. It’s struggling yet persisting in hope. It’s leaning into God’s power that becomes stronger through our weakness. It’s embracing His relentless love and sovereignty and eternal glory.

The redemptive part comes through a moment-by-moment choice to receive these blessings. We see this redemption through the people of Scripture who chose to move trustingly into God’s unstoppable plan:

*  “You meant it to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Joseph in Genesis 50:20).

*  “(The Lord) lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire, He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand” (David in Psalm 40:2).

* “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength” (Isaiah in Isaiah 40:31).

* “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are not sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord … The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to go on the heights” (Habakkuk in Habakkuk 3: 17 – 19).

* “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Jesus in John 16:33).

* “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (Paul in 2 Corinthians 4: 17).

* “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (James in James 1:2).

Hope lives in these stories. It is an unpredicted bloom rising out of the hard earth. It is an athlete pressing on with the finish line locked into sight. It is a grieved soul clinging to an eternal expectation. It is a child of God choosing to trust His promises.

It is a Savior overcoming.

What will “leaning in” look like for you today? You may be surprised.

“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3: 14

“… let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter  of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him … so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12: 1 – 3

Resources:

* Motoko Rich – Making a Word Meme – http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/19/fashion/making-a-word-meme.html?_r=1&

(1)  Ben Zimmer, Leaning Back to Look at “Lean In” –http://www.vocabulary.com/articles/wordroutes/leaning-back-to-look-at-lean-in/

(2) Daniel Priestly, Maximise High Performance – http://www.danielpriestley.com/2012/07/31/maximise-high-performance/

The Physics Classroom – http://www.physicsclassroom.com/class/circles/u6l2c.cfm

Photo credits:

Skier – aLindquist @ http://www.flickr.com/photos/alindquist_/3529374910/

Speed Skater @ http://scienceblogs.com/dotphysics/2010/02/17/apolo-ohno-physics/

Snowboarder @ http://wakpaper.com/id49666/snowboard-slide-sports-snowboard-full-hd-desktop-wallpaper-3000×2000-pixel.html

“Leave Something on Someone’s Heart”

While going through Daddy’s things, we’ve discovered some gems of family & social history. Daddy was adventurous and nostalgic, and his possessions speak of his glory days in drag racing, travels around the world, and his heritage. We’ve stumbled upon some photographs of our ancestors, and this family looks like a real lively bunch. In comparison with today’s photography norms, one might guess that this crew is highly bored, maybe even irritated.

20140113_121938

You’ve probably seen older photographs like this, and have you ever wondered why everyone’s so formal and somber? Were those days that dull and bothersome? Perhaps in some cases, but a little research into these expressionless faces offered a few explanations:

Early film required long exposure times to capture an image (perhaps several minutes). It was difficult to hold a smile for this length of time, so people avoided smiling all together.

20140113_123915

20140113_123958

20140113_210710

Having a photograph taken was unusual and special, so people who might be remembered by only one picture took the occasion very seriously. When cameras became more portable, amateur photographers increased in number and captured more casual, animated images.

A broad smile captured in a photo was often thought to be unwise and reckless. A closed smile was acceptable, but showing teeth? Definitely not. Consider the opinion of funny guy Mark Twain who wrote, “A photograph is a most important document, and there is nothing more (unfavorable) to go down to posterity than a silly, foolish smile caught and fixed forever.”

(What would he think now?? Yikes. Perhaps such photographic prudence should be a lesson we take to heart.)

Apparently image was important then too, but in terms of visible representation, it was much simpler to handle. Image management, once an industry primarily for famous people, is now relevant to anyone with a social media account.

Lately I think a lot about teaching my 12 year old daughter the differences between image, identity, and influence. She’s discovering who she is while learning to navigate an increasingly ‘image is everything’ world, and that’s complicated.

Image management can be enhanced or comprised by media but it isn’t limited to media. As a confessed people-pleaser, I’ve been overly concerned with what others think of me, long before the days of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WordPress, or Snapchat. My hope for my daughter is that she will find security and affirmation in the eyes of Jesus rather the eyes of people.

I googled “image management,” and learned that, yes, it is truly serious business. Take into account this definition:

“Image Management is the ongoing, pro-active process of evaluating and controlling the impact of your appearance on you, on others, and the achievement of your goals. It is a science and an art that provides a framework, addressing all the elements – clothing, grooming practices, body language and etiquette and vocal communication – that help create the right image for each role that a person undertakes at different occasions. Given that each person is unique, image management takes into account the person’s personal style, enhances strengths and downplays weaknesses while making optimal use of resources.”

Does anyone else think this sounds exhausting??

Yet we do this every day. It’s how we learn to navigate multiple roles and cultural norms. It’s okay to be concerned with how we present ourselves at job interviews. It’s okay to present ourselves differently at football games (while keeping some common sense, of course!)

Perhaps it’s because I recently lost my father that I think more these days about influence and less about image. In our digital world, image has a fleeting quality, because unlike our ancestors who may have had one literal shot to capture their likeness, we can present ourselves in hundreds of ways. When you lose someone you love, the pictures are precious, but it’s their character and lasting influence that stays with you.

Image management gets thorny, I think, where it is used to promote oneself above respect and relationships. We live in a world of entitlement and self-promotion. Discerning the motives behind our manner of presentation is more important than ever. It’s okay to encourage my daughter to dress nicely and speak politely at a future job interview in order to demonstrate that she respects the organization, the opportunity, and the person who is considering her. I want her to intentionally look people in the eyes because face-to-face connection is becoming a lost skill. And politeness still communicates respect for others.

It says more about a person when her first concern, above promoting her own image, is to honor the image of God in other people.

Everyone presents an image. Everyone makes impressions. I want my daughter to be an influencer. I pray that she will value respect and honor relationships; and that instead of promoting herself, she will demonstrate a preference for others (Philippians 2: 3 – 4).

When I asked Caroline what it means to be an influence, she replied, “Well, a person can be a good influence or a bad influence.” True. So assuming that I mean good influence, what does that look like?

“I think it means to leave something on someone’s heart.”

I couldn’t say it any better.

So, how do we do this? Here are some things that I want my daughter (and myself) to think about …

* God created us with needs for affirmation and acceptance. So often we look to the world to meet these needs, but the world is fickle, especially with failures. It’s inevitable – we’re going to mess up, fall, and fail. Only God can love us perfectly and unconditionally. It’s an amazing mystery that we are so human and yet we bear the image of God. We must learn to define and ground ourselves in this truth. Finding our worth in the eyes of Jesus and securing our identity in His image frees us from the futility of promoting and managing our image in the world’s eyes.

* Along with respect and relationships, integrity is a key that opens the opportunity for influence. When our church was getting to know our new pastor, someone said of him: “He is the same person on stage as he is in ordinary moments.” I consider that to be a very high compliment.

Think about this: “Integrity not only calls us to live inside-out, it keeps the outside from coming in. Consistency in our walk and in our talk becomes a transportable cloak of protection around us, going anywhere we go. Life becomes so much simpler when there aren’t so many costume changes” (Beth Moore, Daniel Bible study).

* Understand that everyone is wired differently. For me, finally understanding and owning the qualities of an introvert helped me to accept that I will never be the life of the party. And it’s okay. We don’t need to try so hard. God has given you and me unique ways to be an influence. Be true to the personality that God has given you.

* Don’t find it so important to capture memories with a device. Sure, it provides a visual reminder of the moment, but can you capture it with your other senses (while zooming and focusing?) If there’s always a phone in the middle of memory-making moments, consider the impact upon your relationships.

In an increasingly visual world, appreciate all of your senses when it comes to making and persevering memories. While I enjoy looking at pictures of Daddy, it’s the recordings of his voice and the clothing with his smell that bring his memory to life. While your loved ones are still with you, notice and appreciate those qualities.

So, be present. Technology is meant to make life easier, but if we allow it, it can make life more shallow. Our communication devices often interrupt the natural flow of conversation.  “The cognitive challenge children and youth will face (as we are beginning to face now) is integrity, the state of being whole and undivided. There will be a premium on the skill of maintaining presence, of mindfulness, of awareness in the face of persistent and pervasive tool extensions and incursions into our lives.” *

* Find out who your true friends are. When I was my daughter’s age, I found friends who are still among the closest people in my life. I was painfully shy and awkward, and in those crucial middle-school days my image couldn’t possibly enhance theirs. They didn’t care about that. They took time to get to know me. Their investment in and their influence upon my life are priceless. True connectedness is an intentional choice to remove our masks, look up from our screens, and engage people authentically.

* Forget comparison. Remember this quote: “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel” (Pastor Steven Furtick).

* Release your expectations of people who, for whatever reason – perhaps it’s simply something about the way that they are wired – don’t pat you on the back. Find your satisfaction in a job done well and faithfully, working as for God, not the praises of people (Colossians 3:23). Sometimes while we are busy trying to look important in front of important people, we bypass opportunities to serve the least of these – the very work that is most important in the eyes of God.

* Embrace your weaknesses. The professional definition of image management would disagree, of course, because our world would rather “downplay” weaknesses. Unflattering pictures should be deleted. Life is not a snapshot, however; it’s a full album of the good, the bad, and the ugly. My moments of greatest failure have taught me that life is meant to be received rather than achieved. It’s all about a gift of grace. I don’t have to be a “good girl” in the world’s eyes. I can’t be, not all the time.

Trying to achieve that image is inauthentic. But Jesus has taken this heart and made it good.

Sweet daughter, what He has done is your heart is the most important, influential thing about you. If you share anything with this world, share that and leave it on someone else’s heart.

**************************

“Integrity is not a conditional word. It doesn’t blow in the wind or change with the weather. It is your inner image of yourself, and if you look in there and see a man who won’t cheat, then you know he never will.” ~ John D. McDonald

**************************

Resources:

Michael Zhang – http://petapixel.com/2013/09/23/didnt-people-smile-old-photos/

Robinson Meyer – http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/09/why-didnt-people-smile-in-old-portraits/279880/

Nicholas Jeeves – http://publicdomainreview.org/2013/09/18/the-serious-and-the-smirk-the-smile-in-portraiture/#sthash.87vIitKw.dpuf

Ohio Historical Society – http://ohiohistory.wordpress.com/2011/09/22/why-dont-people-smile-in-old-photographs/

Image Consulting Institute – http://www.imageconsultinginstitute.com/image-management/

* Quote by Barry Chudakov from the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto. http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2012/02/doomed-or-lucky-predicting-the-future-of-the-internet-generation/

You Are Important – A Letter to My Daughter

Dear C:

Do you remember that conversation we had the other night, right before you went to sleep? It went something like this:

You (in a sleepy little whisper): “Mommy has a new job – Mommy is important!”

Me (trying to sound casually curious): “So … I’m important now that I have a job?”

You: “Well … yeah.”

Me: “Honey, it’s not a job that makes a person important.”

You: “Oh, okay …” zzzzz

I know you were only half-awake and I think I know what you meant. But I haven’t been able to let this conversation go. I want to know what you really think about this. But more importantly, you need to know for yourself –

What makes a person important? Is it a job? Your parents? Friends? Talents? Accomplishments? Possessions?

Who decides whether a person is important – or not?

Because I like words and I like to know where words come from, I looked up the word “important” in the dictionary.

Important(adjective): of great significance or value; likely to have a profound effect on success, survival, or well-being

This adjective stems from the verb “import” which was first recorded around the early 15th century. Materials that a country could not produce with its own resources were “imported” (brought into port) from another country. Because these imported goods typically became vital to a country’s well-being, they were considered “important.”

Interesting, huh? The underlying concept of importance comes from one’s ability to produce something for someone else. If you are able to bring happiness, success, security, or value to someone else, you are important.

In my head I hear “What Have You Done for Me Lately?” (oh, it’s one of those classic 80’s songs). But the question is widespread in various forms –

Can you make this company more profitable?
Can you help this team win?
If I hang out with you, can you make me popular?
Can you cook, do laundry, keep the house clean?
Can you get a scholarship?

In today’s language, the word “important” has synonyms like “valuable” and “worthy.” We tend to think of these words in the context of what our world considers to be significant.

BUT, as followers of Jesus, we must live in the context of the WORD and not the world.

The world says “What you are worth (your importance) is based upon what you do (your performance).”

The WORD says “What you are worth (your importance) is based upon what Jesus did (His peace, achieved for you).” (Romans 5:1).

Sweetheart, the WORD says that you are valuable and significant.

Who you are is based upon what Jesus did. You don’t have to do anything else.

Ultimately, our worth doesn’t come from our ability to bring security or happiness to other people. Our worth comes from what Jesus has brought to us. He has brought us peace with God and freedom from self-righteousness, from the performance-trap, and from the opinions of this world.

But if being important originates from bringing something, that’s okay. Because you bring something to your Heavenly Father. It doesn’t come from your “doing;” it comes from your “being.”

Your being His –

As the object of His love, you bring Him tremendous delight and joy – Zephaniah 3:17.

As someone who is chosen and adopted into His family, you bring Him great pleasure – Ephesians 1:4.

As a child who is being transformed into your Father’s image, you bring Him glory – 2 Corinthians 3:18.

My child, You ARE important. And as the Father’s child you always will be.
I love you,
Mommy

A Time to …

Happy New Year! “A Time to …” is a re-post from January 2013. The year past brought many challenges and changes, and yet the lessons are still the same. One of my very favorite authors, Emily P. Freeman (Grace for the Good Girl is a gem) invites readers to share on her site what they learned in December: (http://www.chattingatthesky.com/2013/12/30/lets-share-learned-december/).

While I wrote this post originally last January, I have clung to these lessons-learned with all my soul during a grieving December. Most of all I will remember that “A passing away is a promise coming.”

While so much has changed in this past year, God is unchanging and faithful!

dimly burning

(Sigh…) The lights lay in a pile on the floor, as it’s that necessary day in January – the day the Christmas tree leaves the house.  Although I don’t look forward to this annual chore, it always triggers a favorite memory of my sweet girl.

Caroline, a kindergartener, had just finished learning about all of the December holidays in school. A wonderful Christmas had past. My husband and I were relieved that Caroline was too busy playing outside to notice that we were dismantling the tree. After we hauled it to the curb, I went inside to deal with the stray needles. But from the front window, I suddenly noticed Caroline standing over the tree. Alarmed that she was so close to the street, I hurried outside to see what was going on.

As I suspected, my girl was crying, but she caught me completely off guard with what she said.

Tears streaming…

View original post 949 more words