Lessons from the service station

Sometimes, I think cars choose the most inconvenient times to act up, just for kicks.

I speak from experience. One day I was flying out of the house, late to drop off my son for practice and late for a tutoring session, when I noticed my tire needed air. Badly, of course. I drove to the nearest service station and found my way to the air pump/machine. This computer-type gadget was fancier than the last one I’d used; it had all kinds of digital settings and buttons. It was set to 75, which seemed like a nice number to me. But after a few minutes of filling the tire, the machine’s readout was still hovering at 38. Suddenly, all this fanciness didn’t seem so great. When I looked up to check again, there was a scary, sour-faced man staring at me. Two things registered immediately: 1) He was an employee there. 2) He was losing a battle with drugs. Badly.

The contempt in his eyes was only bearable because he couldn’t seem to focus on any one object for too long. With sluggish distaste, he moved towards me, asking if I knew what I was doing.

“Probably not,” I said, smiling – and silently grateful for daylight and the other people with car trouble.

Oblivious to my humour, he berated me for setting the machine to pressure meant for truck tires, and asked if my SUV looked like a truck. I held my tongue, aware that my answer wouldn’t help his mood. After a few more barbs, he loudly showed me the spot inside the car door where a sticker dictated what the air pressure in each tire should be. Then he asked me to read it. Breathing very slowly, I did. The sticker said 33. That floored me. I’d been driving around with that for years, but had gone through service stations just…guessing.

He checked the pressure on the other tires (none of them registering what the manufacturer had so kindly suggested), snorting disbelief with each adjustment he made. I tried to thank him for educating me, but he turned off with a dismissive gesture that might as well have been a middle finger.

To this day, I’m grateful for that guy. He taught me what it looks like, practically, to give Grace to people who need it. It’s not as easy as it sounds in sermons – I’m just saying. A related lesson: gifts don’t always come in pretty packages. An unpleasant situation could be hiding a life-saving lesson, if we’re patient and willing to look at it with fresh eyes. I also learned that silence can pave the way to a blessing. Several times during that “conversation”, I wanted to be salty; to give as good as I got. But sometimes, just being quiet can accomplish far more than we can imagine. So maybe instead of reacting by rote to life’s bumps or panicking at its flat tires, we can be still long enough to discover that the answers we need have been with us the whole ride.

The Power of a Seed

About two months ago, I cut open an avocado to discover a nest of roots growing from the base of the seed and resting on the surface of its green flesh. Feeling horrified (and vindicated in my decades-long stance that avocados are gross), I showed it to my husband. Instead of mimicking my gag reflex and slam-dunking the aberration into the garbage (like he did in my head), he shrugged and said it was no big deal.

I beg to differ.

Not because it was disgusting (which, I maintain, it totally was). But because those roots were the foundation of a lesson I pray never to forget. Theirs was a timed release from a seed that came pre-packaged with everything it needed to reproduce. At the right time, that seed did exactly what it was programmed to do. It didn’t matter that the conditions were inconvenient, or the atmosphere imperfect. When it’s time, it’s time.

I don’t ever want to forget that, because sometimes when I look at my life, I see a less-than-perfect environment to birth the things I dream of; the things God promised me. On hard days, I let myself be haunted by the ghosts of those unseen things. And the more time passes, the louder those ghost whispers can become.

But the avocado reminded me that none of that matters. Not if I have the seed; the Promise that one day I’ll see everything I dare to dream. If I can just remember that the seed carries all I was created to be and do, that it’s incorruptible and that its contents are time-released, then I’ll always see beyond my environment. I’ll know that it doesn’t matter how it looks; my seed is powerful. And when the fullness of time has come, everyone who rests in its shade and eats of its fruit will know how big a deal it really was.

To tell the truth…

Like most people, I’m usually excited about a New Year, but the last few have been bittersweet.  I learned a lot during the year, and letting go isn’t easy.  However, to fully access the new, I must let go of the old.  That’s something to keep in mind as January opens: To reach the highest, best version of ourselves, we have to release the old; abandon all our heavy things so we can climb higher.   This includes things that aren’t dreadful—just distracting.  Or stationary.  Going higher always requires separation from anything unmovable. 

That’s an uncomfortable truth that I’ve been pondering for weeks.  And I’ve discovered that from Moses to Mary, the most incredible, world-changing events began with separation.  More uncomfortable truth.  For many of us, “separation” is just another word for “loneliness”.  And who wants to be alone?

See, in the crowd’s noise, among the “followers”, we can hide or be anything we want—it’s fantastic.   Except, history doesn’t really support the idea that God enjoyed the crowd scene.  From Samuel to Saul/Paul, from David to Elisha, God found and worked mightily through separated people (miscellaneous farm animals notwithstanding).  Some say it’s the “chosen” few that He calls.  That’s comforting, perhaps, but not quite true.  “Many are called”.  Many.  But we must get to the place where we can hear that call and, like Moses and Mary, say “Here I am”—then go change the world.

As we exit 2018, I pray for us the courage to leave behind whatever God asks of us, and climb to that Kingdom place where our Father has need of us.  We may go with watery eyes and heavy hearts.  But I pray we’ll go anyway, believing His Promise to multiply what we’ve given up for His sake (Mark 10: 29-30), and knowing the most comforting Truth there is: we’re never alone.  Just as He was with Moses and Mary—God is with us. (Exodus 3:12; Luke 1:28)

A blessed and Spirit-led 2019 to us all!

Crayons for Christmas

I remember when I was about 6 or 7, how exciting it was to get coloring books and crayons for Christmas—especially that glorious box of 64.  With 3 siblings, man, that mega box was the gift that kept on giving. So by the time another Christmas rolled around, most crayons were long gone, others barely-visible stubs.  But there was always a handful that was literally untouched.  (I’m talking about you, green yellow.  And you, blue gray.)  I wanted vibrant, pretty pictures.  “Blue gray” was as far from that as you could get.  So year after year it got thrown out, branded as dull—until a few years ago, when I saw it used in interior design.  I fell in love with that room, with its artistic and calming qualities.  Admitting I may have been shortsighted in childhood, I welcomed a new respect for the color.

We can get shortsighted with life, too.  Sure, we’d like every day to be vibrant and pretty, but the mundane and overcast days are valuable, too—maybe we just don’t see it yet.  My prayer, as we get ready to pack this year away, is that we’ll value the lessons of every blue gray day we’ve had. Because chances are, those days taught and matured us more than fuchsia ever could.  I pray we’ll go into the new year, ready to see purpose in EVERY crayon this mega box will offer.

“And we know that ALL things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His Purpose.” Romans 8:28

Merry Christmas!

The Squeaking Wheel

Lately, famous people are making depression famous; they’re getting the message out: mental health isn’t an age, gender or “class” issue.  It’s an equal-opportunity predator.  A famous one.  So maybe now more people can feel okay about getting help. Here’s the problem: not everyone can admit they need help.  The root of that might be that we don’t trust people—which seems wise.  We won’t risk sharing a burden with a blabbermouth. Not even a burden that’s killing us.

We just don’t want people talking about us.   That’s a little odd, though.  Because we make sure they do.  We post the posed and perfected pics, creating and ‘marketing’ the life most likely to get commented on and ‘liked’.  But I can’t recall any ‘Worst day ever’ collages.  They’d get comments, too, right?  Maybe that’s the real root: Exposing our truth means losing control of the narrative, of what we want people to say.  We’d rather die miserable than mask-free.  Literally.

Years ago, a colleague justified complaining by saying: “It’s the squeaking wheel that gets the oil.”   I’m not big on complaining, but there’s truth here.  Perhaps we stay stuck in mourning, because we don’t squeak; we don’t signal the person who’s got our oil (Isaiah 61:3).  And we miss a chance to get help—and to help someone else who’s struggling; someone who’ll never squeak alone.  So, maybe the famous people have the right idea.  But maybe the most helpful message will come from someone we go to school and church with, someone we talk to everyday.  Someone who can pause the pretense long enough to admit imperfection and struggle, who’ll tell the kind of truth that can set us all free.

The Secret Place

There’s a place we hardly talk about; a private place we don’t advertise, a secret place we navigate alone.  Getting there is easy, too.  It usually starts a little like this: You’ve prayed for and encouraged someone—the 7th or 8th someone—and within days, they’ve received their healing, or breakthrough, that almost-given-up-on thing.  And you’re happy for them.  You really, really are.  But just as you finish praising God and high-5-ing, your hand slowly falling back to your side, it hits you.  You’re here again, in this place.  This quiet, cramped space where it’s just you and that familiar oversized question:  So. Where’s your miracle?  But this time, you’re prepared.  You talk back to it and walk away, because you’re bigger than that now.  You’ve been walking with Jesus too long; you’re too mature to be sucked in by that rusty trap, right?

But it comes back, that question.  Because it’s relentless.  And this time, it’s brought reinforcements.  When is it your turn, huh?  How long are you going to wait?  Who’s praying for YOU, honey?  Relentless, they follow you—to the shower, the wedding, anniversary and going away party—breathing in your ear when no-one’s looking, smiling behind you in the bathroom mirror.  But you keep rebuking them and you keep smiling, because you’re happy for him and her, and them.  You really are.  Plus, you know what you’re supposed to do when someone you love walks away almost by accident with the thing you’ve been praying for—for years.  You’re supposed to smile and pretend like your heart isn’t breaking.  Right?

So you suck it up and stick around to clean up.  And you wish them the best—again—before you go home.  Alone.  Back to the very thing you’ve been praying for so long for God to change.   You close the door; lock it up tight behind you.  And then you put some worship music on, really loud, while you clean your own kitchen.  And the bathroom.  Then you send an email, saying congratulations.  Again.   “Because,”—you whisper, the last song fading as you fall apart in your familiar place,—“I’m over this.”


Mother’s Day – the Truth

Sometimes, Mother’s Day provokes me.

This year (yesterday), the catalyst was an article about a dad who had to raise his one-month-old daughter alone.  No, her mom didn’t die; she left.  Exited. Of course, the story is more detailed than that.  It always is.  But the given details are mostly about the father’s journey.  So while I’m applauding this dad’s commitment to his daughter, I’m also thinking about that mother.  Why’d she leave?  What was going through her mind?  Did she have everything she needed…to stay?

See, we can shake our righteous heads and tell everyone how motherhood is about Sacrifice.  But we don’t always tell the whole truth.  Motherhood, with all its dimensions, is intricate and beautiful—true.  Also true: It. Is. Hard.  And on the hard days, many of us head-shakers have glanced twice at that exit, too.  The holiest of us have looked from screaming baby to snoring partner, struggling with ungodly thoughts.  The gentlest of us have lost it with toddlers and teens; said and done things we wouldn’t confess to Jesus Himself.  And all of us have crumbled for the want of a break (or something equally dreamy) that we wouldn’t ask for or couldn’t get.  We know, live(d) and remember these things. But we don’t always talk about them.  Why?

Maybe we don’t want to be judged by the impossible standards floating around us. Maybe there isn’t enough truth circulating to generate the platform and permission we need to be honest.  So we don’t say that we’re not perfect, that there are days when our greatest accomplishment is… not leaving.  That unlovely truth might be all the help a struggling mom needs.  That alone should provoke us to be honest, to say: “Girl, I’ve been there but I’m still here.  Keep going.  Let me help you…”   But for some reason, a struggling mother doesn’t always provoke us that way.  Instead of supporting, we judge the ones who are barely holding it together in supermarkets and banks—letting everyone know how we and/or our child “could NEVER…”.

I wish every mom a great Mother’s Day, but this year, I’d like to celebrate moms like that beautifully brave lady I met in the bank with her newborn and toddler.  I see you—the ones who struggle, the ones who stay.  Your story isn’t easy or pretty.  But you’re here. You’ve never thrown a theme party; you’re still figuring out your kid’s hair.  But you stayed.  You’re living and loving them on fumes, but hoping for a break, so you stay.  Honey, we’re here, but we’ve been there.  And we’re telling you it gets better.  On behalf of your kids, thank you and Happy Mother’s Day!  I pray you get everything you need.  To stay.