Tag Archives: letting go

Ordinary Extraordinary

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img_0592Just read  this post by Melanie Dale, who writes about living a life she didn’t choose. Her story resonates! 

I often struggle with our culture’s obsession with living a big-adventure, unconventional, extraordinary life. While I’m the first one up for a big adventure and extraordinary anything, let’s face it: life can sometimes be downright hard and limiting due to forces far beyond our control. The relentless challenge to live an outside-the-box, call-of-the-wild adventure can sometimes feel more cruel than inspiring.

“Ordinary,” we are told, is a sell out.  If we aren’t pursuing our dreams–and mind you, it better be a BIG dream–then we are, at best, settling. At worst, we are losers because we lack the faith or the personal gumption to “be all that we can be!”

I just don’t buy it anymore.

As a Christian, if Jesus is my model (and he should be, right?)  his version of an extraordinary life is not exactly the adventure-filled, wild ride we have in mind.  But if Jesus taught us anything about living an extraordinary life, he taught us to follow him into places we would never otherwise venture. In fact, he taught us that losing your life is the way to finding it.

What?

Don’t get me wrong. We were created to dream and to cultivate the unique gifts that each of us possess. In fact, Jesus often challenged the too-small thinking of his followers, just as he also challenged them to use the gifts they already had to accomplish extraordinary things.

At the same time, I don’t know about you, but I’ve followed my dreams right off a cliff before.  I’ve learned to be careful what I ask for!

I’m also learning to dream big but then to ask God to help me trust him to fulfill those desires in ways I cannot imagine.

One of my favorite movies is Under the Tuscan Sun. In the film, the main character is a depressed and despondent divorce who, on a whim, buys an old villa in Italy and sets out to renovate both the home and her wreck of a life. All kinds of things go awry, of course, and during one particular low point, she sobs to her only friend in the village, who also happens to be her realtor, about all the dreams she had for her house–dreams of a wedding and children and home filled with friends and family.  “I bought a house for a life that I don’t even have,” she wails.  I don’t want to spoil the film for you, but let’s just say that by the end of it, there’s a wedding, but it’s not hers. There’s a child, but it’s not hers. But she is surrounded by extraordinary love, family, and friendship.  The realtor reminders her: she got everything she wished for and more, just not as she imagined it.  But the reality, though much messier and more frustrating than her dream, was also a better and even more of a beautiful mess than she could have conjured on her own.

No one would choose a cancer diagnosis.  But because of that diagnosis, I’ve been introduced to new levels of extraordinary. Like the regular phone calls from my sons…just to talk. (If you have sons, you know just how extraordinary this is!)  Or like the  friends and family who showed up on my doorstep with food or flowers, or sat all day with me at the hospital. Or my friend, Dawn, who sends me something to laugh about every, single day. Or my friend Connie who cooks for me when we’re together, not because I can’t cook for myself but because she is spoiling me a little.  Or like the quiet back-porch nights with Barry that are even better when it’s storming.

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Or there’s my new friend Audrey at the radiation center. She’s a feisty, sassy grandmother of 10 who loves the Elks Club and likes to wear the hospital cape with the poker cards all over it. She scared, but she’s brave. I like her.

There is a certain amount of drudgery, frustration, and fear in everyday life that no one is immune to. But extraordinary usually happens right there, right in the midst of the muck and mess.  I have a vivid picture in my mind of the first time my son Isaac smiled. I was an exhausted mess of “new mom, ” who was just hoping this 3 am feeding would go quickly so I could go back to bed!  And then he stopped, looked right at me, and grinned from ear to ear. Thirty-three years later, I still see it perfectly.

Losing your life to find it is such a strange but true paradox.  I’m not suggesting that there’s any romantic allure to pain or suffering.  I’m only saying that if we look closely at the cracks in our oh-so-ordinary lives, we may find a bit of glory filtering through.

This post by Melanie Dale speaks beautifully to the whole idea of finding an extraordinary life in the least expected place.  It deserves a read!

Melanie Dale knows something about life not looking like she thought it would. After twelve years of building her family through infertility and adoption, she finally snuggled down with three kids from three different continents, cultures, and stories. She thought, “Now the fun begins,” but then they encountered diagnosis after diagnosis. With words like “autism,”…

via when you’re living a life you didn’t choose — A Holy Experience

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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”?

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.