Category Archives: values

A Time to Walk Away

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cast away

Photo by Beni Ishaque Luthor

Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville” isn’t exactly a pensive song. At first glance, it seems like nothing more than a celebration of a perpetual drunk fest on some Mexican beach. But tucked in the lyrics is a slow, somewhat poignant, realization: As he considers his Margaritavile demise, the singer first claims it was “nobody’s fault,” then “…it could be my fault.” And finally, the epiphany, “It’s my own damn fault.”

Oi vay. I can relate this slow grind to humility, especially when it comes to knowing when to walk away. When I was a young teacher, I was surprised to so readily see among my colleagues the ones who had stayed too long. I remember telling Barry, “Please remind me to quit when I don’t like the kids anymore!”

But sometimes we are the last to see when it’s time to go, aren’t we? Ecclesiastes says, “There’s a time to keep and a time to cast away.”

Wisdom is about knowing when.

When is it right to let go of whatever we are holding onto? A job? A person? A dream? A grudge? A personal war?  I don’t always know, do you?

I do know this: Hang on too long, and the misery that ensues is often my own fault because I’m only hanging on out of fear, comfort…even laziness. I may even have legitimate grievances to pin my frustrations to, but the truth is that I have outstayed the grace I was given to deal with them. Without that grace, the weeds in any human interaction eventually wind round our necks and choke the living daylights out of us.

Knowing the “when” is hard, though.  I’m often too close, too tangled in the weeds to see. I do know this much. It’s time to walk away if–

1) My only reason for remaining involves fear, laziness, or the desire to be comfortable

2) My “round” self just no longer fits the ever-tightening square hole of my circumstances

3) I’ve made a god of the thing or person I’m clinging to–and I’m trying to squeeze life, or affirmation, or provision from it, when I should be trusting God for those things instead.  Ugh.

I’d love to know how others deal with this question, though. As you think about letting go, what determines your “when”?

Pay Attention

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One of my goals for this year is to PAY ATTENTION. I simply want to be more aware of simple joys; to tune my ears to hear God’s whispers; to pay closer attention to kindnesses as well as to the needs of others. As an exercise to pay closer attention, I’m keeping my camera handy to capture a few things.

So…in that spirit…here are this week’s “Things that made me smile.”

 

Grace Both Ways

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Give and Take

Photo by Bhagathkumar Bhagavathi

We are often inconsistent about grace, aren’t we? Think of those times when you, or someone you know, have been hurt by someone at work, or at church, or by a good friend.  Our righteous indignation kicks in at the injustice of it all. Where is the compassion, we wonder—where’s the grace?  the kindness?  We complain loudly about how we are treated—and then we tend to write the Offender off as persona non grata.

The Offender no longer exists.

Ironically, we withhold the very thing we wanted from the Offender.  We wanted grace. We wanted understanding. We wanted forgiveness when we screwed up.  We wanted kindness.  We didn’t get it.  So now, we are going to be certain that the Offender never gets it from us.  I hate to say it, but I see the worst of this in three groups:  Those who’ve been offended by judgmental parents, by a boss, or by a church.  The plaintiff, in each of these circumstances, becomes a “withholder.”  I’ve done it myself more than I care to admit.  It goes like this: You offend me.  I wanted grace or kindness.  I didn’t get it.  So now, I’m withholding mine from you. I’m taking all my toys and leaving.  I’m taking my grace. My kindness. My forgiveness. My love. You aren’t getting any of it because you are a jerk!  You don’t deserve it.

And when I do this…I become like the very person or situation that offended me in the first place.  Grace goes both ways. We want to receive grace, but sometimes we don’t. In those times, all we can do if we are to hang on to any shred of integrity is to offer grace. That is the nature of grace. It is undeserved. If we fail to do so, we simply become a different version of the Offender.

In our image

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So God said, “Let us make man in our image.” If we are really “like” God, in the way that we are like our fathers or our mothers, think of the implications when you consider the beauty of creation. Take a look at some of the wonder works of God that I saw yesterday at Selby Gardens in Sarasota.

photo by Kay Johnson

What artistry!  If I accept that God is Creator, I am breathless when I walk about God’s museum and take in the show.

photo by Kay Johnson

What kind of mind creates this?

photo by Kay Johnson

Or this?

photo by Kay Johnson

Or this?

photo by Kay Johnson

And if I am “like” God, does that mean I have some smidgeon of this kind of creative power?

photo by Kay Johnson

I am stunned at the idea that we could surprise, awe, delight, or cause others to wonder in the way that these images caused me to stand amazed and mesmerized. But haven’t we all been moved in similar ways by music, or a painting, or a book or poem?

( God had fun with this one. Pink and white "paint" splatters all over the leaves)) Photo by Kay Johnson

And, is it just me, or do you get the sneaking suspicion that God was…well…having fun, when he made this stuff?

Cocao nuts (Yes! As in–this is where chocolate comes from!) Photo by Kay Johnson

There is joy here.  There is delight.  And we feel both as we look at the end results.

photo by Kay Johnson

I hope my own work, whatever it is, will have the same effect.

photo by Kay Johnson

P.S. Happy Birthday, Barry. One of the things I love most about you is the joy you take in life, in your family and friends, in your music, and in me.  I KNOW that when God made you, he was having SO MUCH FUN.  I can just imagine God saying, “Just WAIT til they get a load of this one!”  Haartelijk Gefeliciteerd,  Schaat.  Ik hou van jou.

Barry Johnson. Photo by Kay Johnson

To Mothers of Boys

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My mother-in-law raised four boys. Four! Boys!  That deserves a trophy or something. Let’s face it, though, men just aren’t great about things like Mother’s Day. We girls get it, don’t we?

Lest some of you men beg to differ, let me just ask you: How many women changed their profile pictures on Facebook to a picture of their moms today?  How many men did the same?

Go ahead…count. I’ll wait.

As a mother of two boys, I don’t worry too much about this. I understand that holiday remembrances are not often a guy’s priority. Boys don’t plot for weeks about how they will surprise their moms this year. (“Hmmm…should I get her the manicure or the facial?”)  They don’t call us up to chat or drop by to take us to lunch. But it’s all good.  Moms of boys know that their boys love them–even whey they are being…well…typical boys.

So this is a toast to all the moms of boys out there. While mothers and daughters and planning their pedicures, we will chalk it all up to a nice day off and not worry about it.

But since she did raise FOUR BOYS, I thought my mother-in-law deserved a little tribute today too. Over the years, I’ve come to know a three critical things about my relationship with her:  She loves me.  She will fight for me. And, annoying as it is, sometimes she’s (darn-it) right!

Marilyn is outspoken, and she’ll tell you so! Sometimes, this makes it hard for her to have easy friendships, but there is something amazingly redemptive in this very aspect of her character. She has remarkable compassion for outsiders. She’s been teased about her tendency to collect “stray puppies” in the form of lost, broken, lonely people. She spots them a mile off, and she swoops them up when others won’t go near.

Marilyn came to a life of faith later in life, and perhaps that’s why she is so ardent about it.  She remembers all too well what life was like without it. Her hope in God got her through some tough times, including the loss of her oldest son, T.J., to cancer. Amazingly, she can still declare a steady faith in a loving God. You cannot watch faith like that and not be touched by it.  I am grateful to have had the opportunity.

I love you, Mom.

(Oh…and thanks for Barry. I still say I got the pick of the litter! ;))

Janice LaNita

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My mother looks for miracles in the every day.  A chance encounter.  A casual conversation. A random passage of Scripture she happened to come across that spoke into her circumstances at the moment. I used to think she was almost superstitious.  Now I understand she simply looks for God in everything–and she expects to see Him looking back!

I don’t worry so much now that I’m “reading too much” into the same sort of everyday “God winks.”  I’d rather look for God too much than miss him completely when he’s right in front of my nose.  My mother taught me that.

My mother is Janice LaNita Hood. She is:

  • Southern Gospel
  • Sweet Tea “with extra ice and lemon, please”
  • Suppertime Storyteller
  • Shoe shopper extraordinaire
  • Southern Living decor on a shoestring budget
  • “Jay-un” or “Jay-un-nice,” depending on if you are from Tennessee or Alabama
  • “Red”
  • Lucy’s daughter and Ray Ray’s princess
  • Ron’s ever lovin’
  • Pam and Kay’s “Mither”
  • Isaac, Michael, Brad, and Brian’s “Nana”
  • Clancy’s “Woof”

She blessed us with unconditional love, a heritage of unflinching and unashamed faith, and a model of what it means to be a faithful wife and friend. She she gave us a stable home where we might not always get what we wanted, but we never lacked  anything we really needed. Her mother did the same. Her mother’s mother did to. So did my Father’s mother, and her mother.  I am embarrassingly rich with a heritage of amazing women. I hope I do them proud.

I love you, Mama.

For the pure joy of it

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Joy-Hebrews 12:1-3

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

Hebrews 12:1-3, The Message

Where do you get your life?

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water

© Olga Donskaya | Dreamstime.com

A friend recently told me I was giving too much life to a situation I was chewing over. Of course, she was right.  And the truth is, for all the energy I expend in worry, I will get no Life in return!  We do that, don’t we?  We give lots of energy— in the form of anger, unforgiveness, anxiety, or jealousy—to people and circumstances. We exchange pieces of our lives on problems that we cannot solve or situations we cannot change.   We give our lives away—not in teaspoons, as Eliot said, but in heaping cups.

So I’m paying closer attention to the things I give life to. Maybe even more important, though, I’m also asking myself, “Where are you drawing life FROM?”  Are you trying to extract Life from something or someone that cannot possibly give it?  Are you drawing water from a dried-up well?  As a Christian, I suppose I should pay attention to Jesus.  He says that he is Water, Light, Bread, the Vine…Life. (He also said he was God. Therefore, go to God–the SOURCE–for things that feed your soul and give you real life.)

It’s so easy to draw life from just about anything BUT God: career, kids, romance, food, friends, jobs, wealth, fitness, hobbies, or even the next good time.  All of those things are part of this crazy, joy-filled, tragic, and magical thing we call life, but none actually breathe LIFE into our souls. For that, we have to turn to THE Lifegiver. And I think we probably need to pay attention when we do find ourselves giving life to something that is incapable if giving life in return. When I find myself doing this, it’s a red flag: I’m looking for something that people or circumstances cannot always give–whether it’s love, forgiveness, justice, understanding, encouragement, acceptance, or affirmation.

Whatever it is, there is only one perfect Source for true Life-giving sustenance. That’s where I need to go. (Feel free to remind me!)

vine

© Galina Barskaya | Dreamstime.com

Bread
photo by Kay Johnson

Go ahead. Make a fuss!

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dishwashers

photo by Pam Roberts

Guys, need a Valentine tip?  If your girl says, “Don’t make a fuss!”—trust me—MAKE A FUSS!  It’s simple, really.  When you make a fuss to do something just to make her smile, you are telling her, “You are so worth this. You are worth my time. You are worth my effort.”

My friend Lela wrote on Facebook the other day “There’s nothing sexier than a man cleaning the kitchen!”  She got 21 comments off that post.

Why? Pay attention, guys. It’s about noticing. (Hmmm.  Maybe she’s tired.) And it’s about taking the trouble. (You relax! I’m cleaning the kitchen.)  The point here is not about cleaning the kitchen for Valentine’s Day, though that might be a nice start.  Just pay attention. What would make her smile? Whatever it is, go to the trouble. You don’t have to spend a mint, but you do have to spend a little time and effort.  Take her for a sunset walk. Plan a surprise picnic. Take her for a bike ride. Get creative, for Pete’s sake!

In the end, maybe that’s a good definition of thoughtfulness for all of us: Stop thinking about yourself long enough to consider what might encourage another. And then go to the trouble. Admit it, it’s nice when someone troubles themselves to show you they love you.

 

Telling the Truth

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Dr. KingI must confess that I am not afraid of the word ‘tension.’ I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.”  Dr. Martin Luther King wrote these words in his now-famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

If there is anything that can stir up tension, it is the truth—especially when presented in humility. Hemingway said that a writer’s job is to “tell the truth.” I don’t know about you but I find that to be a daunting charge.  The truth?  Do I even know the truth?

Read the rest of this post here

Beating the Bah Humbug in Me

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Mr. GrinchYesterday, I caught a snippet Dennis Prager’s radio show where he challenged those who believe that crass commercialization has ruined Christmas. With playful sarcasm, he reasoned, “During one period of time each year, the great majority of Americans feel obligated to buy presents for their friends and relatives. Imagine that! What an awful thing!”

He had me there.

He goes on. “Spending one’s money on presents for people is one of the nicest traditions in society and ought to be cultivated, not discouraged.”

Now, I have to admit. I have grumbled incessantly about buying gifts. “I’m not a big shopper,” I reason. “People have too much ‘stuff’” anyway!” But I think I’ve missed the point. It’s not about what people need, and it’s not about me.

I don’t know all that there is to know about love, but I do know this. Love is extravagant. That’s why diamond rings were invented. Their very extravagance says, “I treasure you.” When Barry and I got engaged, we were serving as missionaries in an urban mission in Amsterdam. We were poor as dirt, but we went window-shopping for rings. I fell in love with a very simple, dainty ring with a very small diamond. We ventured inside where the sales associate told us that the diamond in this particular ring was a lower quality “brown” diamond versus the flawless and superior “blue-white” diamond. (Amsterdam is THE place to learn about diamonds.) I didn’t mind. Heck, I was thinking I’d be lucky to get cubic zirconium. I thought it was a beautiful little ring and it suited me just fine, but I wasn’t sure Barry had funds even for this.

A few weeks later, we went out to dinner, and he surprised me with that very ring. But when I looked at it closely, I realized that the brilliance of the diamond was different. It was the blue-white diamond. He had asked the jeweler to switch out the brown diamond for the blue one. In his mind, the lower quality just wouldn’t do for the girl who would become his wife. Relatively speaking, for us this was beyond extravagant. It was lavish, but I’ll never forget the loving intent behind the gesture.

Such expressions of love are far more about giver’s love than the receiver’s need or merit. (Think of Joseph and his amazing multi-colored coat, a gift that was ALL about the father’s love versus Joseph’s merit.) We don’t earn a right to be loved, and, if we’re honest, we often don’t deserve it. But when you love someone, say, your children, for instance—you love them even when they are rotten. Like from the age of around 13 to 20. And you give them things they don’t deserve, like 2nd and 3rd chances, or forgiveness, or your time and energy when you are tired. We give our children precious pieces of our heart every day because we love them, even if they don’t always love us back the way we would wish. And that’s how love often works.

Clearly—gift giving is no substitute for the daily hard work of loving each other day in and day out, through thick and thin. But when that hard work is crowned by an extravagant gift (extravagance being purely relative to each individual’s circumstance and resources), the gift becomes a wonderful expression and symbol of the love that it represents.

So is it such a bad thing to get over myself long enough to consider a way, through a tangible gift, to encourage and bring a little joy to others? I’m thinking…no.

God is the first and most supreme gift giver. Clearly, it brings God joy to give to us. For Christians, consider this: Besides life itself, is there any more lavish gift than one’s first-born and only son? As if that weren’t enough, God’s giving doesn’t even stop there. He continues to open his hand to us. Should we do any less?

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Romans 8: 31-32

Now, I’m ready to go Christmas shopping.

Read Denis Prager’s thoughtful essay.

 

© 2009 L. Kay Johnson, L is for LaNita. All rights reserved.

"Makes No Sense" Joy

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2 Corinthians 4: 6-9, 16-18

6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body…16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

A few days ago, things looked pretty bleak for someone that I love. And when you love someone through a tough time, let’s face it, you go through it with them. But as I was driving one day, it occurred to me that while my heart was heavy and I felt the weight of sadness, I had this inexplicable hope. Weird as it seemed, I even had joy. What was that?

Then I recalled this passage from the Book of 2 Corinthians. Paul is a man who knows conflict. Chased out of more than one town, usually running for his life, he was well acquainted with adversity. Once he was stoned by a mob and left for dead. He was dragged in and out of courtrooms, jailhouses, and was even shipwrecked. Remarkably, though, he did not despair. He holds on to those “things unseen” with joyful hope in his heart. And as I felt the weight of my own sadness, I realized that my hope and joy arise from the same source of Paul’s certainty. It is certainty and hope in a God who is at work in and for us, no matter what our circumstances. This is a God who never allows our sorrow to be wasted, and who has already demonstrated, in Christ, what his love for us (and his glory) looks like. That, my friends, is a reason for hope and joy.

 

© 2009 L. Kay Johnson, L is for LaNita. All rights reserved.

The Things that Remain

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The downward slide of the global economy continues to result in sobering and alarming headlines. The horrifying story yesterday of the man who took the lives of his five children, his wife, and himself after losing his job leaves us all speechless.

When I taught high school, I used to read a book with my students called Alas, Babylon! The premise was a nuclear attack that took out a number of major military bases in Florida, which, at the time the book was written, included Jacksonville, Orlando, Pensacola, and Tampa. The story focused on the survivors in the north central area of Florida who were instantly transported to primitive living. Suddenly, an entirely new value was place on things formerly ignored or easily discarded like books, rowboats, bicycles, salt, or even rain. The discovery of an old Victrola and the accompanying records was a luxury beyond belief. Much had been lost, but the best things, the things that mattered—like family, friends, and communityremained and were, ironically, strengthened.

Today, a friend who works at a coffee shop, said that one of her customers came in with the worries of the day’s headlines weighing heavily on her. “What are we going to do?” she asked. My friend replied, “I guess we’re just going to have to help each other out more.”

Indeed. The age of greed and rampant consumerism is dead.

We also cannot anchor our hope in careers or governments or even in hope itself. We must, instead, anchor our hope in the things that remain when everything else is stripped away.


And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.


1 Corinthians 13:13
© 2009 L. Kay Johnson, L is for LaNita. All rights reserved.