Be Careful What You “If”!

From my 2009 Journal. Around 1895 Rudyard Kipling wrote a famous poem entitled “If.” (It’s well worth the read if you haven’t heard of it.) That word if is an awfully small word that can pack an awfully large punch. I hear it all the time in conversations: If you’re free . . . If you love me  . . . If I’ve offended you  . . . If there is a God. . . .

I got to noticing that little word if in the book of Judges, and recorded a few of my observations.

Remember the story of Gideon and the fleece (Judges 6)? The Israelites are distraught because the Midianites have overpowered them, and God shows up one day to tell Gideon that he’s been chosen to deliver his people from the oppressor. But Gideon is skeptical:

IF I have found favor in your sight, then give me a sign that it’s You who talks to me. (v. 17 NASB)

It’s not a bad request. We are indeed admonished to test the spirits (I John 4:1). God granted his request and confirmed His authority by lighting Gideon’s sacrifice and then disappearing. God is willing to respond to a genuine request for confirmation that it’s His voice we’re hearing.

Later, in obedience to God’s instructions, Gideon pulls down his father’s altar to Baal and the Asherah pole beside it. Using this wood, he offers a burnt offering on a new altar that he’s to build on top of the Baal one. When the irate town’s people show up at his dad’s house, his dad stands up for his son and says:

Will you contend for Baal? IF Baal is a god, let him contend for himself! (v. 31)

Sounds rather reasonable to me!

SheepskinSo now it comes time to face the Midianites, and Gideon gets cold feet. Here’s where the two famous dry/wet fleece tests occur. (If you need a story refresher, click here)

Fleece test #1. IF you will deliver Israel by my hand as you have said . . . (v. 36)

Fleece test #2. The if is not repeated, but it’s implied. (v. 39)

So I begin to ponder: how is Gideon’s response to God’s command different from Moses’ response to the burning bush command or Jonah’s response to the command to go to Nineveh?

Moses said:  I can’t!

Jonah said:  I won’t!

Gideon asked:  Can I?

Moses appears to be resistant, stubborn, willful, maybe even whiny. And Jonah is downright rebellious. Gideon, on the other hand, seems timid and fearful: Am I sure I heard You right, Lord? Later on when God tells Gideon to go down to the enemy’s camp, He anticipates Gideon’s response and says, But IF you are afraid to go down, go with Purah your servant down to the camp (7:9-10).

In all three stories, God’s will is accomplished and His mission fulfilled, but He responds differently to each character. With Gideon, God honors his need for courage and does what Gideon requests. This gives me hope when I am feeling less than courageous at God’s calling on my life. The true seeker of God will find Him faithful.

Following God’s words of assurance, the final antidote for Gideon’s fear is personal experience (when he goes down to the camp and overhears the Midianite’s dream). Gideon’s response? He worships. Fear is gone at last; he’s ready for battle. There are no more “ifs.”

After the rousing victory with only 300 soldiers, the Ephraimite tribe gets mad at Gideon for not asking them to join the battle. There is no fear response from Gideon at their accusations. Instead, humility has taken its place (Judges 8-1-3). Matthew Henry says, “Humility is the surest method of ending strife.”

God prepares His servants for His service. (I wish the story ended here, but it doesn’t. Gideon has other character flaws that need to be worked on.) I know I’m human and have fears and doubts, but I pray that every time God speaks, I’ll have faith to believe and leave my “ifs” behind!

Do you have time to read one more “IF”? This one is truly bizarre.

 Jephtha’s story (Judges 11) intrigues me. His dad is from Gilead, and his mom is a harlot. His half-brothers kick him out of the tribe saying he can have no inheritance with them. He flees to the town of Tob where worthless men gather around him and they go on raids together and he becomes a mighty warrior. When his half-brothers are attacked by the Ammonites, surprisingly they go to Jephtha to beg him to be their leader! Even more shocking, he agrees to do so.

But now it gets even more interesting. Jephtha makes a foolish vow. IF You [God] will indeed give the Ammonites into my hand, I will offer up for a burnt offering whatever comes out from my house to meet me (30-31). And we know the outcome . . . his only child, his daughter, comes out the door.

So what does Jephtha do? Incredibly, he shifts the blame! YOU [daughter] are the cause of great trouble to me; YOU have brought me very low (11:35, emphasis added).

Are vows retractable? I think so. Why could he not have suffered the consequences and taken the debt in her place? Why couldn’t he have gone to God, confessed his foolishness, and let God give him a creative alternative?

But his daughter is more righteous than he. She accepts the vow as binding. We don’t know if Jephtha actually sacrifices her on an altar or if she’s simply banished for the rest of her life and disallowed marriage. In any case, as often happens, our sin, ignorance, and foolishness impact others, whether intentional or not.

Be careful what you IF!

Where Is Your Focus?

Focus 3

From My 2009 Journal. Work got canceled, and I had an unexpected, unplanned glorious day to myself to work on the computer and catch up on some work. But one thing after another, my day got interrupted multiple times. I ended up stewing and angry as I headed to the grocery store to pick up some bread, just to discover that the shelves were empty! I’d been trying all day to get rid of my feelings of irritation and hadn’t succeeded too well. Praying for inner peace, I wandered around the store, asking the Lord What was the purpose of all these interruptions to my day?

Just then, I passed a plaque on a shelf that read, “Delight yourself in the Lord.” I laughed out loud. My focus had been all skewed. Thanks, Lord, for putting things into perspective. I chuckled all the way home.

The rest of the verse says, and He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4 NASB).

Where is your focus today?

Shoulds and Ought-tos

From My 2009 Journal. I feel a hesitancy inside when I think that God loves and accepts me just the way I am. I’m still caught in the trap of “I need to.” Being a task-oriented person, “doing for God” feels like a “should” or an “ought to.” It’s a continual mind battle to shed the guilt that I’m not doing more for Him. What is that all about?

I hear in my head the voice of some preacher saying, “You ought to knock on doors for evangelism.” I thought I shed that obligation a long time ago. I know I’ve been derogatory toward those who touted knocking on doors, considering them to be a little kooky, driven by fear or guilt (never mind that I used to be one of them. How hypocritical is that!) But I don’t know their hearts—for all I know, they could be more spiritual or passionate than I am about following God.

Hallway with doorsVisual:  I see an endless line of doors that need to be approached. It’s exhausting and the task is never complete. While walking down the hallway, there appears to be a large hand guiding mine, like I’m a child in training. I thought at first it was the preacher’s voice and hand on me, but now I see him standing to the side at a pulpit. The hand that guides me is that of The Father.

I erroneously compare myself to the famous out-front Christians who have great influence over many crowds of people. They’ve been entrusted with ten talents and have been faithful to use them. Bruce Wilkinson comes to mind. Billy Graham is another. Our faithful pastors as well. And then there’s little ol’ me with a very small sphere of influence. I think somehow I’m supposed to do their work.

I know all the right answers: be faithful with what God entrusts to you. I know that God has not created me with the temperament to spend massive amounts of time with people or in front of people—which is what I seem to equate with the highest rank of God-pleasers.

Here’s my bottom-line question: Is God pleased with me and my performance? I’m fully aware that character is far more important. That’s a given, and I work on that constantly. But I still need the question answered—am I doing enough? Enough for what?

I feel uneasy. Like I’m missing something. How do I know how many talents He’s given me? Yes, it’s His work through me. Yes, I must be obedient to His every command and instruction. No, I don’t have to have the big picture or understand everything God’s chosen for me to do. “Rest in Me,” He says, “and I will guide you. I will show you which door to walk through and when.”

HikeAnd the visual changes. “I’ll make the path for your feet,” He says, “and shed light on the stumbling stones. Just keep walking. I’ll tell you when to put down a stone or pick one up. I’ll let you know when it’s time to lend a helping hand to a fellow traveler, when to give away what’s in your hand, and when to keep walking. Sometimes you have to just keep plodding through the forest. The glen or open spaces are yet to come. Sometimes it’s okay to sit on a rock and rest and take a drink or eat. Doing is not always what’s best for you. Self-discipline is good, but listening to Me is better.”

And so, Heavenly Father, I give to You today my path. I trust You to guide me. Help me not to run ahead of You or lag behind. Give me the energy to keep up. I can walk in Your footsteps, unafraid of the dark and the animals nearby.

“Not enough,” “should,” and “ought-to” are not are not quantifiable concepts and don’t belong in God’s vocabulary for me.

Call It What It Is

From My 2009 Journal. I was in a bathroom stall at the Orlando airport on my way home from my mom’s memorial service when I had an epiphany.

Hook

The hook on the back of the door was missing, and my first thought was, How annoying! Where am I supposed to hang my purse?

Now, I didn’t want to be a complainer about insignificant occurrences in my life—a hook on a door compared to death and dying . . . a little thing like that should not have controled my emotions!

And so I started searching for the right word—because “annoying” or “frustrating” or “irritating” were really too strong to describe what I was actually feeling inside. I wanted a neutral word. That’s when I thought of “inconvenient.”

The circumstance is inconvenient.

How I feel about the circumstance may be annoying, frustrating, irritating.

And so, with the change in vocabulary, there was a shift in my attitude. I would call it what it was and acknowledge that the circumstance was less than ideal, but I didn’t have to have a negative response to it.

What has helped you to “call it what it is”?

Stay put or run?


Run and hideI Samuel 23:2-3.
I’ve always wondered why David went into hiding from his enemy King Saul? Couldn’t God have protected David if he chose to stay put and not run? Did God tell him to run? Did instinct? Would it have been foolish to stay put when a spear was thrown at his head?

God delivered him every time, but it seems He could have done it without David having to run and hide all the time. Daniel stayed put. And Shadrach and his buddies did too. They didn’t go underground when persecution started. Perhaps, unlike David, they had nowhere to hide. Corrie ten Boom went underground when she chose to hide Jews. Risky no matter what. But when caught, God delivered David, Daniel, and Corrie. But He didn’t deliver martyrs in the early church, and He didn’t deliver Corrie’s sister Betsie from death. (Is that a cop out to say He delivered her from further torture?) When do you go into hiding, and when to the lion’s den?

Two things go through my head: this was part of David’s training to let him experience God’s faithfulness in the hard times as well as learn about this part of his future kingdom. Second, man has freewill and choice. God could have knocked out Saul at the first sign of rebellion, but He continued to give Saul chances to repent. And Saul refused. Obedience to God’s command in the moment is the key, I think.

What’s your opinion?

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

Frequently asked questions

I was almost 50 years old before I discovered what I wanted to be when I grew up.

My mother knew in third grade. When she took a hygiene class, she decided then and there to become a nurse. She also knew early on that she wanted to teach others to read. If you had asked me in grade school, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I would have replied, “a missionary nurse and schoolteacher like my mom.”

In junior high “Uncle” Bill, one of my boarding school teachers, stopped me one day on the sidewalk and challenged me to consider becoming a missionary doctor instead. Because I loved and admired him, I agreed to do so in order to make him happy. The problem was, I neither felt drawn to working with sick people, nor did I have a propensity for the sciences of any kind! But I did know that I fell in love with Miss Pat’s English class.

During my senior year of high school in the USA, I began to panic. What should I do next? My parents were overseas and unable to help me with college decisions. Mrs. Casler, my friend Cindy’s mom, suggested I attend Word of Life Bible Institute, a one-year school of Bible training, before heading to medical school. And so I did.

At the end of that year, I visited a nearby Christian college to check out their pre-med program.  And that’s when it finally hit me—I was pursuing someone else’s dream. With a sense of relief, I gave it up, only to flounder—what do I do now?

Enter Ron, a guy I dated a few times. “Go to TTU,” he suggested. “They’re offering a full tuition scholarship for MKs (Missionary Kids).” And so I applied.

Am I seeing a pattern here?! I didn’t like or know how to make decisions. I just went where others directed me.

I remember sitting in a large classroom when I first arrived on the TTU campus. I was supposed to be filling out forms, including my intended major and class schedule. I didn’t have a clue what to do! The only constant up to this point in my life was that I knew I wanted to become a missionary. I leaned over to the student next to me and said, “I don’t know what I want to major in.”

“Just put down Education,” he replied. “Many students do that. You can always change later.” And so I did.

It was when I took my first education class that I began to back-pedal. A friend who was in the midst of student teaching said she was required to have perfect handwriting and it felt like she was acting all day, and it was exhausting. The thought of teaching frightened me.

Okay, so now what? To become a missionary, I knew I needed to know my Bible, so I switched to a Bible major. Now here was something I was familiar with.

Enter Speech 101 with Dr. Euler. Though the thought of public speaking terrified me, I had enough poise apparently to impress the teacher. “You should consider an oral interpretation speech major as well,” he declared. At first I balked at the idea, but again, a teacher has clout and I listened. The literature appealed to me, and my performances in junior high and high school plays gave me something to build on.

When I got married and didn’t end up on the mission field, I wondered what good my speech and Bible majors did me. I suspect it was my husband Scott who encouraged me to apply for a job teaching English and speech at Berean Academy, a small Christian school. But my four-year teaching experience there exhausted me. It was hard work—mentally, physically, emotionally. I felt intimidated by American teenagers and couldn’t relate to them. I was too young and inexperienced to handle a classroom, but I enjoyed the challenge of trying to keep my students from getting bored. I also enjoyed directing plays and preparing students for speech competition, but again, the work was extremely demanding and I made many embarrassing mistakes. Thankfully, Mrs. Calvert was a sympathetic and supportive supervisor, along with some parents who encouraged me.

Raising three babies and keeping house and moving four times kept me busy by default for the next several years. When we needed the extra money, Scott found out that a local junior college was hiring evening English teachers and urged me to apply. I returned to teaching, but again it was through someone else’s initiative.

It was while we were doing some in-service teacher training that the light bulb finally came on in my mind. We were introduced to the topic of brain studies and were examining how different brains are wired. After taking an assessment test, each teacher was instructed to approach an easel, take a pushpin, and place it in their dominant brain quadrant. I was chagrined to discover that my pin landed on the green square whereas most of the other teachers put theirs in the blue section. Apparently I was working against my natural bent, and it made sense why teaching exhausted me so. And I realized for the first time that all my life I’d been pursuing other people’s directives rather than following my heart.

Shortly after that, we moved to Tennessee, and I had to step down from all responsibilities at church, at school, and in the community.  I was starting over with a new life and many possibilities. One Sunday morning I sat riveted in my seat as Pastor Dean asked the question, “What is your passion?” That sermon, along with its guidelines, became pivotal in my understanding of who I was created to be. At first I didn’t think I liked what I knew about myself. All along I pridefully thought of myself as a professional—someone with status and education. But now I realized that I got far more pleasure out of shuffling papers around than trying to influence and push people to perform a certain way. I had been an introvert in an extrovert profession.

I jotted down in my journal that I loved order, the preciseness of grammar rules and the repetition of data entry.  I also knew I had a passion for reconnecting MKs. I was already meeting those needs as editor of Simroots (a magazine for adult MKs). Life was getting neater and tidier, but I knew I needed more than that to keep me busy while the girls were in school. I just wasn’t sure what.

And then it happened. My world flipped upside down and got messy again. In walked Minna Kayser, a very wounded, suicidal adult MK who landed on my doorstep and stayed. I know now that it was a God-event of epic proportions. (You can read all about it in our book Diamond Fractal.)

I never in my wildest dreams would have thought that working in the counseling field would be a good fit for me. It is far removed from sitting in front of a computer all day and losing myself in organizing script for a magazine. What was God thinking!?

To this day, I’m still not sure what happened. How did I get here? How has a speech and Bible degree and classroom experience and proofreading skills prepared me for this inner healing prayer ministry? How is this related to how my brain works? I’m a visual learner, not an auditory one, and yet what I do requires intense listening. I don’t have the gift or the passion for traditional counseling. I don’t even have the traumatic past that often draws counselors and psychologists into this career. I don’t get it! This calling is so much a God-thing that I am left shaking my head in wonder.

I’m still editing Simroots, and I still enjoy connecting MKs, but my real passion now is watching the light bulbs come on in people’s hearts and minds when God speaks truth to them in a prayer session. What astonishes me is that I got catapulted into this work without the skills or training at first to do it. I got thrown into the deep end before I knew how to swim.

I seem to have lived my whole life in default mode, following instead of leading, listening to others rather than listening to my heart. Was God’s voice in Uncle Bill? The stranger who sat next to me on the first day of school? Did He direct Ron so I’d end up at TTU? Or use Scott to get me into teaching?

Why didn’t God just show me or reveal to me my passions way back when I was a little girl—like He did for my mom? Why did I wander for so many years in areas that didn’t fit me? Am I such a slow learner? Or is that all part of the growth process, the learning progression?

The funny thing is, contrary to my friends’ observations, I don’t feel gifted at all for this ministry. But my mother the nurse, my first role model, claimed she could never do what I do. She didn’t even understand it when I tried to explain it to her. Is this a supernatural, spiritual gift or is it physical—the way my brain is wired to think after all? The fact that God does all the work and I get to watch makes me think that anyone could do this ministry if they just had the training and a willing heart. But I know now that not everyone is called to do what I do. My conclusion? I have learned that when God calls, He equips.

How did you figure out what you wanted to be when you grew up?

 

Keep Your Mouth Shut!

I’ve said some pretty stupid and hurtful things when I’ve been emotionally triggered. And once words were spoken, they were awfully hard to put back in the box. I wonder what set off Miriam, Moses’ sister?

Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite.  “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” (Numbers 12:1-2a NIV).

We only meet Moses’ first wife Zipporah a couple times in the Scriptures and then nothing during the wilderness march. Does Moses take a second wife or is Zipporah now dead? We don’t know.

Do you suppose the Cushite wife made a comment over dinner preparations one day to her in-laws about how privileged and great her husband was? And Miriam and Aaron got jealous or defensive? After all, had God not used them (especially Aaron) in a mighty way in Egypt as the front-man speaker to Pharaoh? And hadn’t Miriam felt some ownership in caring for her baby brother when he was placed in the Nile? By association, she was the privileged one, in the inner circle. Who was this Cushite woman who was horning her way into the family business? Why can’t I speak against my own brother? she thinks. Who does he think he is? I’m a part of this team, aren’t I? Did Miriam feel left out?

In any case, this interesting phrase follows: And the LORD heard this. As a parent, I could listen to my children squabbling in another room and not say or do anything. But when the altercation brought one of them to tears or one was teased or hurt or put down, I tried to intervene and mete out justice or punishment to the offender and comfort to the wounded.

Whatever was going on in this family, it got God’s attention, and He came to Moses’ defense. “Suddenly” (without warning, in the midst of their conversation), says the Scripture,  God speaks to the three of them: Come to the tent of meeting.

Uh-oh. Someone’s in trouble. The parent steps in to take control. Only there’s no questioning here about who said what or who’s to blame. He knows! The cloud pillar comes down to the door, and there’s no escaping this confrontation.

“Aaron and Miriam—step forward,” God commands. It’s a lineup of guilty parties. “Step out of the lineup, you two.”

Hear My words. (Words had been spoken by the created. Now words are to be spoken by the Creator.) When there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, reveal myself to them in visions, I speak to them in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?

And instantly Miriam becomes leprous. But why only her? Why not Aaron as well? Had God “spoken by Aaron”? Well yes, He had. But He had never (at least in the recorded word) spoken by Miriam. So perhaps Aaron’s part in the guilt was in not defending his brother?

I’m intrigued with Moses’ reaction. Instead of revengeful thoughts (Ha! Miriam deserved it! She’s getting what she asked for—she had no right to say what she did), he flies to her aid. He pleads with God to restore her. Why?

And Aaron who had just reviled his brother cries out: O, my lord, I plead with you; lay not the sin upon us. (Us? He’s not the one being punished, but he was in the lineup. He drove the getaway car—a co-conspirator.)  We have done foolishly. (He recognizes his/their guilt. The God of the Universe has exposed his heart.)

And God listens to Moses and agrees to remove Miriam’s leprosy—after seven days outside the camp. 

We live with the consequences of our indiscretions.

But Miriam’s response? Nothing. Nada. Silence. Don’t you know Miriam never made that mistake again? What a painful life lesson to learn:

Keep your mouth shut when you’re triggered!

Mouth

Command or Culture?

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind (Romans 14:5 NIV).

I just returned home from my mission boarding school reunion in Texas. One topic of conversation among the MKs (Missionary Kids) was the memories of what activities were forbidden growing up (going to movies, dancing, playing cards) and what our parents permitted us to do on Sundays (not much!).

How does one determine in the Scriptures what is an Old Testament command or a promise for the Israelites and what is intended for the believer today? How can we pick and choose which of Paul’s admonitions are meant for us and which for the church in his day?

When Paul asked believers to pray for him while he was in jail, this is obviously not a command for us in the 21st century to pray for him. But when he asks us to remember those who are in prison, we can certainly apply that injunction to someone today who is incarcerated.

What about when he told the Corinthian women to cover their heads? Was this a command for every woman across every culture and ethnic group and time period? Some people believe so. I’m not one of them.

How then do we discern and determine what commands God has for us today? The apostles grappled with this very thing in the first century. Were they permitted to eat meat offered to idols or not? I think every generation must struggle with and debate the controversial topics that arise at the time.

I remember back in the 70s when male Christians were admonished not to grow their hair long or wear facial hair because—at that time—it represented a worldly symbol of rebellion. Today, that connotation is gone. (In fact, I quite like the look of my sons-in-law with their beards.) And a time when women’s hair must never be cut, for that was their glory. Is God less pleased with me because mine is short?

TN170410_JOSH_ALEX_KC0006_LO

Two handsome dudes — Josh and Alex

Or take the subject of modesty. There was a time in our country’s past when it was considered inappropriate for a lady to show her ankles. And a time when showing cleavage was quite fashionable (though only in the evening)—and then it wasn’t—and now it is again. Yet where I grew up in an African village, the women all went bare-chested. (Today, not so much.)

So who gets to dictate the standard for modesty? Can it change over time? From one culture to another? Are there any absolutes, or is it always first and foremost a matter of the heart?

So I have to ask myself where is my heart today? Do I hold some pet traditions that I think are biblical mandates when in reality they’re merely cultural preferences? Is it okay for men to wear ball caps indoors today, whereas in the past it was considered quite improper? Does the Bible address this issue?

The Scriptures say each person must examine his or her own heart and be fully convinced as to what’s right for him or her regarding sacred days. We are to listen to our inner conscience as directed by the Holy Spirit. But I don’t like that. I’m just enough of a Pharisee that I want absolutes: put on this, don’t wear that. Give me rules any day over principles and then I don’t have to grapple with the subject. With principles, my judgmental spirit is required to relax and be more grace-filled with those who differ from me.

Guess I’ll go buy a headscarf and see if I’ll feel more spiritual—or not!

What issues, cultural or scriptural, do you grapple with today and why?

Who’s Really the Teacher?

From my 2010 Journal. This morning I was teaching the story of David and Saul to my Grade 3 Sunday school class. Wanting to illustrate the subject of jealousy, I began the lesson by asking the children to look at each other’s eyes and tell me what color they were. We had 5 children with brown eyes, and 3 who had blue. Next, I told them that I had a special gift for each of the blue-eyed children:  a one-dollar gift certificate to McDonald’s. I instructed the brown eyes to clap and applaud for them. And then I paused, waited, watching for their response. I asked the brown-eyes how they felt about their classmates’ gift. One said she felt “left out.” Another said, “sad,” and another “unfair.” They all admitted to feeling jealous.ice cream

And then it happened. Little blue-eyed Ethan stood up and walked over to brown-eyed Holly (who had made a decision just this week to follow Jesus) and gave her his gift certificate. I praised him and then immediately handed him a replacement.

Next I told them the story of when handsome, beautiful-eyed, strong, courageous, musically-gifted David was anointed king (not because of his outward appearance, but because of his heart for God), about his brothers’ jealousy, about his slaying of Goliath, and Saul’s subsequent love and admiration for him. And then how the women sang “Saul has killed his thousands, but David his tens of thousands” and how Saul’s admiration turned to jealousy, to hatred, and eventually to attempted murder.

We discussed what things made 3rd graders jealous (toys, talents, privileges), and how jealousy can lead to bad things. We talked about how God gives each of us gifts—not for the purpose of self-glory, but to be used for Him and given away.

In conclusion, I instructed the other two blue-eyes to hand their gifts to two of the brown-eyes. Not fair? Oh no! Because when we give our gifts away to minister to others, God blesses us in return. And I handed each of the blue eyes a replacement. Once the point was made, I made sure each child had a gift certificate.

I told the children the gift was theirs to use as they wished. They could spend it on themselves, or they could give it away to bless someone else. It was their choice.

Brown-eyed Chandler said he was going to give his to his brother. Blue-eyed Ethan said, “I wish I could rip mine in half so both my brother and I could use it!” Melina observed that Ethan had given his away twice, and she tried to hand her coupon to him, but he declined. “It’s okay. You keep it,” he said. And then his creative solution: “I know! I’ll spend it on ice cream and I can share it with my brother that way!” Later, Melina sent me a photo of herself enjoying her ice cream.

I think the children taught me as much as I tried to teach them that day!

 

Bless Her Heart

Scott and I just returned from a visit to Vancouver, BC, for his 50th high school graduation reunion. It was here that he lived, off and on, throughout his childhood with his spinster aunt and grandmother (may they rest in peace). Scott’s Aunt Eileen stories are legendary in our family. I recorded this one at the end of a visit in September, 2007.

DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve done pretty well, I think, here with Eileen, but there’s no pleasing her unless you do it her way, step by step. She controls your every move—imperiously. I wonder what her past holds that keeps her so tightly wound up all the time?

There’s a union strike in the city here that has shut down garbage removal, parks, golf courses, and the library. So every scrap of paper, every piece of garbage has to be carefully and deliberately disposed of. She has a system for everything: five different places to store five different kinds of plastic bags—each for a different size and purpose. And woe betide the person who reaches for the wrong bag and uses it for a different purpose than her intention! And one is expected to keep the information all straight after the first instruction—which can change at times, by the way!

Bless her heart (to use a Southern catch-all phrase), she recognizes that she’s crotchety but doesn’t know how to change. [At a later visit, she admitted her regret that she was being so difficult.] Since we’ve been here, we’ve been told what to do and then instructed how in the following areas:

  • Make my bed (how to align the stripes, when to wash the sheets)
  • When to open the blinds in my bedroom (right after making the bed)
  • How to wash the dishes (fill the sink, use the drainer)
  • Prune the flowers, rake the garden (for this one I actually did need instructions)
  • Where to drive, where to park (poor Scott)
  • When to sightsee and where
  • How to feed the cats and when
  • How to polish the silver (which cloth, what direction, how wet, how much)
  • Do a crossword puzzle (which one, when)
  • Eat (what time, how much [i.e. minuscule] – again, poor Scott)
  • How to dress (scarf worn a certain way, belt cinched just so)
  • What books to read from her shelf (sorry, not my taste)
  • Water the lawn (let out the hose inch by inch until it suits her)
  • Prepare the corn on the cob (shuck top down, all at once, boil exactly 6 minutes)
  • Eat corn on the cob (from left to right in rows. Seriously!)

sewing-needle-thread-mend-eye-of-needle-39548Yesterday she asked me to sew a button on a coat that she’d altered (she was most proud of her sewing prowess). We almost came to blows over how to perform this simple task. I started to sew it on with double thread so as to save a knot on the underside, but she insisted it must be a single thread and never mind if it had a knot. (Scott says this is the closest he’s seen me to losing it!)

I’m reminded of Joyce Landorf’s books entitled Irregular People (1982) and Balcony People (1989). Balcony People are in the “balcony” of your life, cheering you on, energizing you with their affirmation. Irregular People are in your “basement” doing exactly the opposite—crushing your spirit with their emotional abuse.

[I must interject here that, in spite of Aunt Eileen’s “basement” responses, she was also legendary for her generosity, her extremely high IQ (she did the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzles in record time), and her ability to encourage her proteges on to excellence. She was an author and internationally-renowned social worker with blind children. The methods she developed many years ago are still in practice today.]

After that little altercation with the sewing, I determined to back off . . . to not be so bold in standing up to her. It’s just not worth it. Not for my sake, mind you. I would have no trouble standing up to her if I didn’t care about her. But why cause her undue stress or distress at this elderly stage in her life? She’s never going to change.

Bless my heart!

Who is your Irregular Person and how do you handle the situation?