Category Archives: wisdom

Trust what you see

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Several years ago, I got stuck between two team members in a confrontation. Call them Joe and Steve.  A coffee date was set for the purpose of working things out. Steve apologized right away, admitting he had screwed up.  Joe wasn’t having it. An apology didn’t give him a chance plunge the knife and twist it hard. Steve tried to apologize again—several times, but he got nowhere.  Finally, in frustration, he said, “I don’t know what else to do. I’ve said I’m sorry.”  Joe leaned in, narrowed his eyes with a sadistic glint, and with a twisted grin he said, “Why don’t you say it again?”

I knew in that moment that I no longer wanted to work with Joe. It wasn’t a matter of forgiveness. I’m not perfect. Lord knows I’ve said stupid things. I just knew that I didn’t ever want to inflict that kind of behavior on my clients or other teammates.  Still, in the ensuing weeks, I wondered if I should let bygones be bygones.  One morning, I was reading in the Proverbs, a treasure trove of wisdom and always a good place to find insight. These words practically jumped off the page at me:

Don’t make friends with an angry man, and don’t be a companion of a hot-tempered man. Proverbs 22:24

I took comfort in those words. I know I’m required to treat others as I wish to be treated, but these words reminded me that I’m not required to befriend everyone. Wisdom offers protection. But how do you discern between the person who simply needs that extra measure of kindness and mercy versus the person you should avoid?

Jesus said, “You’ll know them by their fruit.” Unfortunately, we have all become adept at the fine art of putting on our best “Facebook” for the public. So how can we distinguish the authentic person versus the fake? Whether it’s the newscasters, the politicians, or the scandel-ridden public figure, we’ve seen the best of the best make mud look like diamonds. Jesus warns us not to be fooled though. Just look at the person’s life, he says. You can’t get fruit from a weed. If you see goodness, faithfulness, or kindness, you are looking at the real deal. If, though, you see someone talks one way but consistently lives another way, Jesus teaches us to trust our eyes.

Do you trust what you see?  Or do you second-guess, think you’re being “too hard” on someone, and backtrack from believing what is right in front of you?

Thorny nests, Dips, and Cul-de-Sacs

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thorny nests

photo by Mr. T in DC

I once read that birds actually build thorns deep into their nests. Apparently, it’s a parenting issue. When Mama bird finds herself with a too-comfortable fledgling, reluctant to spread wings and fly, she says, “I’ll fix this” and begins removing downy layers, one by one, to expose those thorns. Baby bird says, “Hey–ow! That hurts! Ma! What’re you doing?!”

Suddenly, the nest is not so cozy. The idea of leaving seems more inviting.

Is it possible that God himself builds thorns into our nest?  When we find ourselves in thorny circumstances, are we being prodded to leave because the nest has become too comfortable or, at least, too familiar? We refuse to budge, so God lovingly removes the cushioning, making it harder and harder to stay.

Maybe God just wants us to fly. Without exposure to those prickly barbs, though, we might never know the joy.

Over the years, when I’ve found myself in difficult situations, I’ve wondered, “Are these thorns? Is it time to go? Or do I still have things to learn here?”  Very often, I knew the answer deep down. Admitting it…well, that often takes time…and more thorns.

In his excellent little book The Dip, Seth Godin reasons that times of conflict represent either a dip or a cul-de-sac.  Every job, relationship, and circumstance has ups and downs. Sometimes, we’re just in a dip, and the right thing to do is to push through and grow from the adversity. But sometimes we’re in a cul-de-sac, doomed to endless driving in circles…unless we leave.

Dips. Thorns. Cul de Sacs. It takes time and a little cold, hard honesty for me to know when my struggle is a simple dip or a nasty thorn–poking me in such confounded ways that the idea of leaping off the edge sounds infinitely better than staying put. Seen in this light, I can let go of the struggle and come to a place of grace. No need to find someone to blame (though I admit I try).  Truth is, the thorns were probably always there. They were just covered by God’s protective grace for a time. But he sometimes he removes that protection so that I will have no choice but to brave right up to the edge and take a flying leap.

And I suspect that looking back is not a good idea when in flight.

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”?

Beginnings

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Carolina morning

Carolina morning. Photo by L. Kay Johnson

The importance of accepting new beginnings has become clear in recent months. I know I’m in a time of transition, but where there’s no road map or guaranteed formulas, every morning is like a new experiment..a “why not try it this way” kind of day. I’m learning to be okay with that. I’m also learning to rely on that “new every morning” mercy. A few practical routines and practices seem to help:

  • Breathing: Sometimes taking the time to breathe is an act of trust.
  • Gratitude: I’m reading Ann Voskamp’s 1000 Gifts. Timely stuff.  (Highly recommend it, by the way.)
  • Prayer. My favorite these days:  Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done. Seems if I can keep these two prioritized, the rest is water under the bridge.
  • Journaling: Forgive the analogy, but when my mind is roiling, journaling is kind of like throwing up on paper. Messy and gross. But you feel so much better afterwards. And somehow it all often magicaly transforms into clarity and useful ideas.
  • Exercise. Don’t think. Just do.  Amazing how much clearer my mind is when I give myself this gift.
  • Sleep.  Do I really need to give myself permission!?  Apparently so.
  • Sunshine. Seriously. Amazing what a few minutes outside can do for my attitude.
  • Truthful Friends. No substitute for friends who listen when I wail and then tell it like it is.
  • Trust. Like breathing, all of the above require trust.

One blogger captured some great ideas about how to start the day that I thought I would share as well.  Good stuff. Now trust…and go for a walk.

Blessed are those who mourn. Really?

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I’ve been re-visiting the Sermon on the Mount. That’s the one that starts out with the “Beatitudes,” and I’m struck, again, with how strange and totally foreign these words are to our “Anthony Robbins” way of thinking. This is not a success-by-numbers speech. This is anything but.

Think about it. Who are our “golden” ones–our “blessed” ones? Those who pursue their passion. Those who set goals and meet them. Those who courageously and fearlessly plow through obstacles or face fears to win the prize. Our ideals are all wrapped up in performance.

Jesus takes a completely different stance. He says that the blessed ones are those who are “poor in spirit” and “meek.” He lauds those who “hunger and thirst” for righteousness. He calls the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted blessed. He even says that those who mourn are blessed. There is not a hint of stellar performance in these character traits. He describes people who are down on their luck, desperate, and denied. How is that blessed? He contrasts these with those who are rich, fed, comforted, and well respected. He says they are the ones to be pitied “for they’ve already received their reward.” If we are honest, doesn’t “rich” describe most of us who live in the U.S.? Can we even compare our poor to, say, the poor in Haiti? Calcutta? Zimbabwe? I don’t think so.

I don’t think Jesus is condemning material blessings. After all, all blessings come from God, but I do think he is warning us about being lured into a false sense of security and comfort by them. Those who are desperate, those who mourn, those who are hungry–they know all too well their need. Those who are comfortable and well fed can all too easily fall into a belief that they have need of nothing. When we believe we have (or have access to) all that we need because we are comforted and well fed, we’ve missed the real treasure–and in so doing, we’ve missed everything.

The Facebook Looking Glass

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This last week, I was struck by a weird God-like feeling as I perused Facebook posts, catching those minute glimpses of all that is happening in so many lives.

Here’s just a quick snapshot:

  • On Monday, the death of a good family friend was announced.
  • On the same day, a young girl I know had her first baby. (It’s a boy!)
  • On the same day, another friend welcomed her 2nd grandchild into the world (also a boy!)
  • Another friend lost a cousin in a bizarre murder.
  • Another friend met her soon-to-be adopted child in Africa.
  • Another posted pictures of her first weekend at home with her just-adopted child.
  • A couple of friends grieved the loss of their mothers in the recent past.
  • One mom grieved the absence of a son who is in Iraq, while she also celebrated her daughter’s recent new job.

You get the idea. Remember in Bruce Almighty where Bruce can actually “hear” all the prayers of people all over the world–and it almost drives him mad? I had a Bruce Almighty moment reading these Facebook posts.  Even news headlines can be dizzying.  In 3-day time period, we saw a notorious terrorist killed, a swarm of tornadoes rip through the South, and a stunning royal wedding full of beauty and promise. Facebook may be one of the best tools for helping us understand how truly finite we are and how desperately we need the guidance of an infinite mind. The tragic and joyous cycles of life are squeezed into television and social media outlets and then broadcast back to us in such as way that we are confronted with our absolute inability to take it all in, much less make sense of it or even do anything to help most of the time.  To do that, you’d really have to be God. And I am decidedly…not.

How does God DO this?

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.

Mercy-drenched Morning

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Ever notice the color of things in the morning? Look around at nature before the sun fully rises and washes everything out with its brightness. Cool air, quiet streets, rich hues that you can’t really see during the heat of the day—all serve to clear the cobwebs in your head, especially after a good night’s sleep.

Sienna Morning 1

photo by Kay Johnson

With the morning comes new perspective too. Even Scarlett O’Hara got it right when, faced with increasing pressures, she would say, “But I won’t think about that right now. I’ll think about it tomorrow.”  Sometimes, tomorrow really is another day, and it pays to wait.

Sienna breezway

photo by Kay Johnson

“Tomorrow” can bring new perspective.  In Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert describes one of her darkest nights—a time of personal agony. For the first time in her life, she prays. For hours, she can only sob and repeat, “Tell me what to do!”  To her great surprise, God answers! And what does God say?

Kathryn of Sienna

“Go to bed, Liz.”

And that’s how she knew it was God. At that moment, going to bed was the wise—and only—choice. It was not a time to make life-altering decisions. It was time to rest and let God hold her heart.

In the book of Lamentations, right in the midst of some really depressing stuff, there is this whisper of hope.

I will never forget this awful time,
as I grieve over my loss.
Yet I still dare to hope
when I remember this:

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.

(Lamentations 3:20-23)

Fresh mercies every morning.  I like the sound of that.  I also like the advice God gave Elizabeth Gilbert:  Go to bed!  Such advice is consistent with the character of a God who says, “Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are.”

Go to bed.

Get some rest.

And see with fresh eyes in the mercy-drenched morning.

Sienna sunrise

photo by Kay Johnson

I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
therefore, I will hope in him!”
The Lord is good to those who depend on him,

to those who search for him.
So it is good to wait quietly

for salvation from the Lord.

(Lamentations 3: 24-27)

Filled with Your Fancies

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© Simone Van Den Berg | Dreamstime.com

Ran across this Proverb the other day while working on the book I’m writing. This quote is the voice of “Lady Wisdom” lamenting the decided lack of interest in her offer to help us poor humans learn to live well.

Proverbs 1:29: “They would have none of my counsel and despised my every rebuke. Therefore, they shall eat the fruit of their own way, and be filled to the full with their fancies.”

Ooo…I don’t know about you, but the idea of being “filled to the full with my fancies”  sounds a little scary. Wisdom teaches us, doesn’t it, that we are sometimes the absolute worst at knowing what we really want or need. I don’t know about you, but I’m okay with depending on God to keep me on the right path. When you look back, don’t you see those times when God gave you exactly what you wanted, and you lived to regret it?  I can just imagine God shaking his head sometimes and saying, “Ok…if that’s what you want…but don’t say I didn’t warn you.” I’ve learned to listen a little closer, test the waters a little more carefully, trust my latest passion a little less, and move forward with a heart open to allowing God to make route corrections along the way.

Firing Up Your Imagination

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firewoodWhat do you do to fuel your imagination? Author Eugene Petersen says that imagination is a playground for faith, so it is vital to our well being. But it is also our most under-developed faculty. In a multi-media world, Petersen says “we let others do the imagining for us.”

Last night, as I watched the Superbowl with friends, I noticed that every upcoming movie ad was big on testosterone, special effects, explosions, and boobs.  There was zero evidence of a good story in any of them. I couldn’t help but think of what Petersen said: We let others do the imagining for us.  Even worse is the fact that too many of the “others” in and around Hollywood are simply not very imaginative.

Are we fueling our creative “mind muscles” with Twinkies and Krispy Kreme donuts? There’s not an creative vitamin or mineral to be found in so much of what we see.  When I think of how much more wonder and imagination is instilled in me when I read a book, I start to ask, “What else could I do to stimulate my imagination?”

Any suggestions?  What do YOU do?

The When of Wisdom

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prissy girl

© Glenda Powers | Dreamstime.com

When I was a kid, I hated the word “proper.” It’s just such an uptight word. I hated the notion that there was only one right way to be, or one right way to do things—and I certainly didn’t care to fit into anyone else’s idea of what that might be. I grew up in the South where, believe me, we have ideas about proper behavior for any given situation, including how a lady should sit (or not!) on a toilet in a gas station.

I still don’t really like the word because so much of what is proper is culturally determined. At the same time, age and wisdom have shown me that there really is a time and a place for “everything under the sun.” But how do you know the right time and the right place?

Wisdom is the key.

How do you know when it’s more effective to speak up versus keep your mouth shut?  How do you know if it’s time to search or time to give up?  Is this the time to plant, to build a business, to marry and have children, or to buy a home? Or is this a time to uproot, end a toxic relationship, give up on a dead-end job, change careers, move to a new town, or just sell everything and become a hippy?

Wisdom is your guide, and you will find heaps of it in the Proverbs. Granted, the Proverbs are not a Ouija board. You won’t find answers to specific questions like, “Should I take this job?”  There are principles, though, that help you sort through the noise and anchor yourself to wise conclusions.

Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding;
for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. Proverbs 3:13-14

This post is an excerpt from a book  I’m writing about wisdom. The book focuses on the Proverbs and other books of wisdom.  Stay tuned for more…

© 2011 L. Kay Johnson, L is for LaNita. All rights reserved.

A Prosperous Chapter 11

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The words “chapter 11,” usually mean ruin and bankruptcy, but I recently enjoyed a chapter 11 filled with prosperity. It’s from the book of Proverbs.  Trust me—this is better than a multi-vitamin.

There’s a common thread in this chapter that goes something like this: It pays to be good. If you think about it, this is generally true. Sure, bad things do happen to good people, but for the most part, people with integrity, people who are honest, trustworthy and responsible—these are not the people you typically find in jail. In fact, these are usually the people who do well for themselves in life, no matter what their circumstances, even through the storms (even when they are unjustly jailed!).

Consider just a few gems from chapter 11*

The integrity of the upright guides them,
but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.

The righteousness of the blameless makes their paths straight,
but the wicked are brought down by their own wickedness.

The righteousness of the upright delivers them,
but the unfaithful are trapped by evil desires.

Those who are kind benefit themselves,
but the cruel bring ruin on themselves.

Truly the righteous attain life,
but whoever pursues evil finds death.

Be sure of this: The wicked will not go unpunished,
but those who are righteous will go free.

I think this is one of my favorites.

A generous person will prosper;
whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.

Guidance, life, relative safety, refreshment: There is a trove of blessings and benefits here for those who live with integrity. I highly recommend this kind of  “chapter 11” (along with the other 30 chapters of Provers).  A chapter a day keeps stupidity away.

Read more and tell me—what benefits do you see here for the good and “upright” person?

*New International Version

Today’s post reflects ideas in a book I’m writing about wisdom. The book focuses on the Proverbs and other books of wisdom.  Stay tuned for more…

Pack up your camel and go

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three camels

© Albertoloyo | Dreamstime.com

What do you do when your brain turns to fuzz and you need to get the cobwebs out of your head?  Today is Epiphany, which is, traditionally, the day the wise men arrived to find the Christ child. An “epiphany” has come to mean a sudden awakening or realization.  I wrote a couple of days ago about how I had a little epiphany of my own while vacationing in Italy. Like the wise men, I discovered that if you want to find truth, sometimes you just have to pack your camels and go after it!

Psychiatrist Ed Hallowell, author of Crazy Busy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and about to Snap!, is a real advocate for the idea of walking away.  He notes that sometimes our brains are stuck in a loop like a scratched record. We spin away, but we keep hitting that same scratch over and over. We become the noise in our own brains. At that point, it’s time to move. Get up. Go for a walk. Meet a friend for lunch. Pray. Dance. Get out of town for a few days—or even longer if possible.

Again, it’s about trust. Just put that thing you are chewing on into bigger hands and TRUST.  Before you know it, the solution to that problem you’ve been looping over and over in your brain becomes clear.  It’s really weird how that happens.  Kind of like your “big idea” waits politely for the fuzz in your brain to move over and make room for new ideas to settle into your soul.  And if there’s no room for simple ideas, there’s even less room for imagination…for wonder…for amazement.  And what is life if you aren’t filled with wonder and amazement now and then?We become the noise in our brains

The wise men had the right idea. Walk away from your daily work, your routine—even sometimes from all that you know.

Follow that star!

So what about you? What do you do when it’s time to hit the reset button?

© 2011 L. Kay Johnson, L is for LaNita. All rights reserved.