Perfection

Growing up, I often played a game called Perfection. The object of the game is to match twenty-five tiny shapes on a board full of twenty-five tiny holes before the timer runs out. Let me tell you: it’s a nerve-racking way to pass your childhood—the ticking timer and the eventual explosion of all of those pieces. I suppose the moral of the game is to learn that the pursuit of perfection is futile…and stressful.

 

I have a dear friend who is always wishing she could be more domestic, more like Martha Stewart. She wants to cook more and learn to sew. She’s insecure when it comes to the art of crafting (She’s the only person I know who has glued her own hair with a hot glue gun). But she’s just not sure where to start.

 

Most anyone who does excel in cooking or crafting or sewing or gardening will tell you that you have to be willing to fail in order to improve. In our first apartment, I nearly burned down our kitchen while attempting to boil a pot of fettuccine noodles. I’ve sewed curtains that were too short and crocheted throws that angled into a trapezoid instead of a rectangle. I’ve hammered nails into the wall to hang pictures, and then I’ve changed my mind so I’m pretty good at filling holes with painter’s putty. And I’m still trying to grow a successful vegetable garden.

 

I try and fail and try again. I’m not so much in pursuit of perfection but basic accomplishment and continued learning. If I am successful in any of these interests it’s because I was willing to fail.

 

I hope to live my life in a way that shows I wasn’t afraid. If I’m fortunate enough to live to old age, I hope to tell the faces gathered around my sick bed that I wasn’t perfect but that didn’t stop me from living a life of purpose and perseverance.

Ringtones

When it comes to technological devices, I’m never among the first wave of early adopters. In most instances, I’ll come around eventually but it may take a while. That’s the case for customized ringtones. So when I recently decided I wanted a special alert for when my husband calls me, I searched to find the perfect one.

 

There are endless choices in the iTunes store, but I finally landed on the song “I Just Called to Say I Love You” by Stevie Wonder. Though my husband rarely calls just to “say I love you,” I liked the overall theme, if not the accuracy and applicability of the lyrics.

 

Why would I want to know who’s calling just by the sound of the ringtone? Wouldn’t it only take a second of reading the screen to see who’s on the other line? His ringtone was especially chosen just for him. It’s uplifting to hear the distinct voice (Stevie Wonder’s) and thereby know it’s my husband calling.

 

In John 10, we read that the sheep know the shepherd by his voice. They won’t follow anyone else but their shepherd. The sheep see this man as someone they can trust, someone who knows them all by name.

 

We all desire to be known. We post on Facebook and tweet on Twitter and blog on blogs. We may control the content of the information but there’s a part of us that wishes for others—or at least one intimate friend—to not just know us but to know-know us.

 

I work hard to know-know the most important people in my life. I know one of my daughters needs lots of space and she doesn’t like people to touch her hair. My other daughter is the opposite; she has a minimum required number of hugs I must fill everyday. My son is an early riser, constantly in motion. He plays with the drawstrings on his shorts when he’s deep in concentration on the soccer field.

 

But I want my children to know they are not only known by me and their dad, but also known by God. Psalm 139 says, “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me…Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.”

 

If you continue to read John 10 and Christ’s description of the Good Shepherd, you see that the shepherd is willing to lay down his life—his actual body—in the way of a hungry wolf. The one who knows his sheep inside and out is the one willing to die for them.

Multitasking

I saw a sight as elusive and rare as an albino chipmunk today…a man multi-tasking. He was smoking a cigarette and texting on his cell phone while riding his bike on a busy street in the rain. Not recommended but impressive nonetheless.

 

It’s a proven fact that women are better at multi-tasking than men. Searching for evidence reveals test after test with women coming out ahead. Most of these tests involve a combination of activities, like completing simple arithmetic problems while answering the telephone and formulating a plan to find lost keys. In other words, a typical after-school afternoon.

 

Are women better at multi-tasking because their lifestyles require it so they improve out of necessity or do they allow their lifestyles to include multi-tasking because they are naturally capable of it? Nature or nurture? Either way, it’s amazing to witness an expert in her field.

 

A real exception to the female-only multi-taskers is Jesus. When you look at chapter five in the Book of Mark, we see Jesus at his busiest. He’s just removed a legion of demons from a crazed man who lived in the graveyard. The people are troubled by Jesus’ power so they urge him to leave.

 

He boards a boat to cross a lake. No sooner has he landed, than a man begging for Jesus to save his daughter approaches him. Jesus agrees to go with him, but he’s stopped suddenly by a distinct feeling. A bit of his power has left him. He looks around and sees a woman so desperate for healing she reaches for the cloak of this powerful man passing by. Jesus leans in to the trembling woman to tell her she’s free. Her faith has released her from the disease.

 

No time to waste, Jesus continues on to help the man and his dying daughter. The man’s friends come to tell him they are too late. But Jesus tells the grieving father, “Don’t be afraid. Just believe.”

 

Jesus leans in again but this time in a quiet room by the bedside of a dead girl. He takes her hand and tells her to get up, like it’s just another morning and time for her to start her day. The effect is immediate. The girl is up, walking and eating.

 

I love this series of stories. I love to think about Jesus, plopping down on some floor cushions at the end of this very long day. Stretching his sore shoulders, suddenly realizing he is hungry. He’s been busy tending to others’ needs and now he can rest. It’s a multi-tasker’s finest hour—that moment when your tasks are done.

Hide it under a bushel…NO!

Waking up in our home in Memphis on July 22, 2003, we saw just what a few minutes of severe weather could do to a city. There were no tornadoes or flooding. It was just a thunderstorm but with 100 M.P.H. winds. This storm, later called “Hurricane Elvis,” brought that busy city to a grinding halt.

 

I don’t fully understand what happens when we lose power during a thunderstorm. But in this case, even to someone who knows nothing about running a power grid, anyone could see the power lines flapping in the wind and the electricity poles splintered in half and lying across the road and know that this was going to be a long repair process.

 

More than half of the homes and businesses were without power. Our street didn’t get the lights turned back on for 13 days. For the first few days, there was concern that the water wasn’t properly sanitized so we were cautioned from drinking or cooking with it.

 

We had one-year old twins at the time. On the first day after the storm, I loaded my girls in the car and we drove to the closest grocery store. I planned to pick up a few necessary items to get us through the day. When I got there an hour after the store had opened, I saw that the shelves were nearly empty. Like I was suddenly dropped in the middle of a grocery store game show, I planned my course of action. I sped the double stroller to the breakfast aisle where I quickly grabbed a box of off-brand Cheerios and a dented can of peaches, and then I headed to the dairy section.

 

The dairy cases were locked shut; a heavy chain snaked through the handles with a padlock in the center. A woman was pleading with the store manager to sell her milk for her baby. The man firmly but kindly told her he couldn’t do it. He said the power was out at the store and the generators had just kicked on so the milk had been unrefrigerated for too long and was not for sale. The panicked mother fell to her knees, wailing. I took that as my cue to leave. I returned the items I had planned to buy to the nearest shelf and took my girls home.

 

The girls and I stayed in Memphis for the rest of the week, but my husband eventually drove us to Nashville to stay with my parents. The heat finally beat us.

 

When I look back on that week without electricity, for the most part, I don’t remember being afraid for my safety or for the safety of my girls. (Luckily for me, this was before the post-apocalypse/zombie craze hit our popular culture.)

 

The only time I really remember feeling scared was when I drove at night. Without streetlights or traffic lights or lights shining through the windows of homes, a driver can lose her bearings easily. I would pass through intersections without stopping because I didn’t know I had approached one until I saw headlights coming down the cross street.

 

Light is something you can’t fully appreciate until it’s gone. It’s no wonder we associate grief and wickedness with the absence of light. When you search for the word “light” in the Old Testament, you find an abundance of examples in the Book of Job and in the Psalms. The authors plead for light and the clarity it brings. In the dark, he is weary and afraid. He feels alone.

 

In the Gospels, Jesus claims over and over that he is the light. He asks us to accept his offering of light, which will bring goodness, peace, and direction. After we receive it, we are charged to let his light shine through us for everyone to see.

 

I’ve seen the confusion and hurt darkness can bring. Let’s choose to embrace this offered light!

Waiting

This summer, I’ve introduced my teen daughters to the incomparable and unfortunately unrealistic world of Jane Austen. She’s one of my all-time favorite authors. With characters like sassy Elizabeth Bennett and confident Emma Woodhouse, Austen makes us believe romance is not just possible but nearly inevitable if we are only clever enough to snag a good one.

 

Even though we’ve been watching beautifully made mini-series and movie versions of her novels, the stories and language are from the early 1800’s and can be a bit confusing. The restrictions of class and culture and the flowery phrases often require a little explanation. So when my daughter continually asks questions like, “Who’s that?” and “Why is he angry?” and “Is she going to marry him?” over the hour or so it takes to complete an episode, I slowly unravel.

 

Although I will pause the scene if I think the plotline has hit a confusing twist, my basic response is “just watch.” I may say that phrase a dozen times in the space of an hour. I want her to uncover the story as it was designed to be uncovered. I’m sure Austen was very particular about the order of events and how much she wanted to divulge the back story of her characters to her readers at key points. And who am I to mess with Jane Austen’s plan?

 

My plea for my daughter to “just watch” mostly doesn’t deter her from continuing to ask what’s going to happen next. But, as someone who knows exactly how the story will end (Mr. Darcy will come around and fall for Elizabeth! I promise!), I can confidently tell her to wait on the story to unfold.

 

As I wait to see how our family’s story will unfold—specifically if we’ll ever be permitted to bring home our son we’ve adopted from Africa—I hear God telling me to “just watch.” It’s supremely frustrating and not the answer I’m looking for. I want to hear guarantees. I want promises that the closing credits will roll past a scene showing a family of six holding hands with smiles all around.

 

I’ve grown to hate the sentence: “God’s timing is perfect.” When well-meaning friends say those four words to me, I want to punch them in the throat. Of course, I don’t resort to violence in those moments for a variety of reasons. One of which is because I know they’re right but that doesn’t take away from the fact that I don’t like hearing my pain reduced to the equivalent of the inside of a greeting card. Often, those words are said as if my frustrations reveal a character flaw. It’s as if they know it will all turn just the way we want. But the end is just as ambiguous to them as it is to me.

 

Still, my reality is that I must “just watch.” I must wait and see what will be revealed because I don’t know how this will end. Fortunately, I can sit with God—the one who does know the ending—and let Him guide me through the unfolding.

Think on these things

It seems that at least once a week, I’m confronted with some previously healthy food/technique/habit/item that is now bad for me, if not slowly killing me while I sleep.

 

For example, with just a quick scan of Facebook, I see multiple warnings: Presently, we should beware of Goldendoodles, spray-on sunscreen, frozen yogurt, and fabric softener sheets. Taken at face value, we must assume these things we thought were our friends are actually our foes, at least for today. And who knows what it will be tomorrow. It seems impossible to remain vigilant while standing on such shifting sand.

 

With the winds of change always blowing and often toppling the things I set up as concrete pillars in my daily routine, I’m forced to set aside what I am told is the latest and greatest. Instead, I must boil down the stew of everything I hear and read and see. Then I can check what remains. I can see what’s really worth the investment of my time.

 

When I perform this exercise in elimination, it’s imperative I remember Philippians 4:8. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” That doesn’t leave a lot of room for the unnecessary and the pretentious and the Kardashians.

 

When given this simple instruction, it’s fairly simple to mark the good from the bad. But in spite of my best efforts, those silly things that often take a place of prominence in my thoughts will still be flitting around my head trying to distract me from the noble and praiseworthy things I should be concentrating on. If this verse was true when the Apostle Paul wrote it some 2,000 years before the invention of Facebook, it can only be more applicable now.

 

It’s worth noting that the inspired Apostle encouraged the early church to “think about such things” for their own good, not so they would be a bunch of wet blankets, excluded from all of the fun. In the verse that follows, he says if we put these things into practice “the God of peace will be with you.”

 

And isn’t a little peace what we’re all looking for?