Women of the Year

Each year a certain mainstream magazine publishes its Women of the Year. Their choices range from the obvious to the obscure, featuring women who have made remarkable impacts on their little corners of the world. That got me to thinking: What women have made a difference in my life in the last year? Who would I dub my Women of the Year?

2017 was one of the most extraordinary years of my life. I had recently resigned from a 24-year career in teaching and had more flexibility than before. I traveled to places I’d only dreamed of: Israel, Alaska, and Poland. I saw my only daughter marry into an absolutely terrific family. I began and ended a second career. 2017 was hard and wonderful and everything in between.

As I reflect on the last twelve months, the people and experiences that shaped me, I see that two very different ladies have taught me the same very important lesson: gratitude.

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From the time I met a group of Holocaust Survivors four years ago, I began praying about going to Israel. It is a tiny, mysterious land, ripe with historical and spiritual significance. It was also home to some new friends who had almost immediately wrapped themselves around my heart. But making a trip to Israel is no small feat. There are places where it simply is not wise for a woman to go alone. I have never been farther than the shopping mall by myself, and I can get lost going somewhere I’ve been a dozen times. There was no way I could do this on my own. Enter Karen. I shared with her my dream of making the trip to Israel: I had the time and the money (a totally cool story in itself) but I needed someone with experience to go with me. She immediately volunteered.

Here’s the thing. I could not have chosen a more perfect travel companion if I’d tried. Karen is a former airlines employee who has literally been all over the world, including several trips to Israel. While I am a very much the introvert, Karen has never met a stranger. She has contacts in most any country or culture you can possibly imagine…and even when she doesn’t, she knows someone who does. She’s also extremely laid back, which was a much needed balance to my OCD tendency to over-plan and then nut up a little when the plan doesn’t work. So this woman, this amazing woman, at her own expense, gave up a month of her life to accompany me on the trip of my dreams. Wow.

That’s not even the best thing about Karen. Karen is a woman who has this uncanny ability to breathe in chaos and breathe out peace. If you are around her for more than five minutes, you will hear her say, “I’m so grateful….” All day. In any situation. Now most people have a pet saying, like, “You know what I mean?” or “Ummm” or some such. That can get annoying. Once you notice it, you can’t un-notice it. Not so with Karen. A genuine heart of gratitude continually flows out of her. It is, without question, who she is. And after spending time with her, it starts to color who you are and how you see the world around you.

More than once we got lost in questionable neighborhoods and the two block walk back to our lodging might easily turn into a mile or more. Somehow we always managed to find our way back, fueled by her optimism and excellent memory. Even the wrong turns became mini adventures. I saw new places and ate new foods and tried new things that I probably never would have on my own. And I am grateful for the experience.

IMG_0042The second woman who has taught me gratitude is my friend Hawa. She is from Sudan, the mother of nine of the sweetest children I’ve ever met, and though we are different in practically every way imaginable, she is my sister and I cannot imagine living my life without her.

I first met Hawa a little over a year ago when I began volunteering in an English language class. The second week, the leader asked me if I could give Hawa a ride. I was so nervous about having someone in my car who I could barely communicate with. But we both survived it, and I drove her again the following week. Somewhere along the way, things just sort of clicked. A few weeks later I spent the day with Hawa and she taught me how to make a traditional Sudanese meal (which was unbelievably delicious!) Periodically I go over to visit her and play with the children. We will build with blocks and put together puzzles. Before too long, someone will bring out a book, and we have an impromptu English lesson. Two of my favorite memories were last year when my family had the opportunity to introduce Hawa, her husband, and all the kids to their first American Thanksgiving and Christmas. We played in the floor (all of us), ate together, then taught the adults and older children how to drive the golf cart. Now THAT was hilarious! Language can be an issue sometimes, but never a barrier. Usually our miscommunication moments leave us laughing, and laughter is the same in any language.

One of the things I’ve learned from watching Hawa is how naturally the social graces are a part of her DNA. She always asks about my family and friends that she has met, then shares greetings from her friends I have been introduced to. And she feeds me. Have mercy, she feeds me! A visit to Hawa’s house is always accompanied by coffee (which she confessed she doesn’t really like, yet she always makes and drinks some with me) and snacks, or even a light meal. This beautiful woman spoils me rotten.

My Sudanese friends have a close bond that many American families would envy. It is not at all unusual to find the entire family together outside, sitting on a blanket in the sunshine, drawing pictures, practicing writing English words, or kicking around a soccer ball. They are affectionate and kind and always take care of each other. You have not lived until you have held a sleeping Sudanese baby. They just sort of melt into you…melting your heart at the same time. Hawa’s family lives very modestly by American standards. Their small home is humble, impeccably clean, and somehow there’s plenty of room for everyone. There is no pretense. No putting on airs. What they have is enough. They are grateful for it, and more than willing to share.

Karen and Hawa have both quietly made an incredible impact on my life, not so much because they set out to teach me lessons in tranquility and gratitude, but simply because that is who they are. It is impossible to be around them and not soak that up. I am a better person, calmer and more loving, for having spent so much time with these two special ladies.

For that, I am truly grateful.

For This Snowman I Prayed

For the past decade I have been praying for snow. This is not an exaggeration. I literally have. Perhaps to you, especially if you have ever lived in a northern climate, that may sound silly, even childish. That may very well be so. And I’m okay with that. The simple truth is that I am one of those people who really, REALLY loves snow. And living in South Georgia, it is a rare and noteworthy event around here when snow finally comes our way.

I can count on one hand my lifetime snow experiences. I do have pictures of my mom, my aunt, and me in front of a snowman when I was a toddler. I have no memory of this event, so it barely counts. In 1989, we had a terrific snow – on Christmas Day, nonetheless. The only thing was, I happened to have been extremely pregnant and no one would let me do anything fun. My primary role was videotaping my friends having spectacular adventures “sledding” down the road on a boat seat being towed behind an ancient Dodge truck. In 2010, we had a freak storm that blanketed our area in fluffy white. I, however, was at the beach with my husband at a marriage conference. There not one flake fell. By the time we got home the next day, there were maybe three or four handfuls left in the shadows of our pine trees. Gone, just that fast. Then this past year, my husband and I took an Alaskan cruise, where we gazed upon glaciers in the distance and witnessed a brief bit of snowfall during lunch at the top of a mountain. It was a wonderful experience, but that was me visiting someone else’s snow. It was not my snow.

And that was sort of the thing: Not that I would go find snow, but that snow would find me.

In recent years, friends who live farther north and who are aware of my snow obsession would send pictures and videos when their winter storms would dump down anywhere from a couple inches to several feet of snow. I lived vicariously through them. I must confess that I did indeed covet their lovely whiteness. And still, year after year, I prayed for some snow of my very own. Last year the winter in Georgia was more than warm; it was downright hot. I began to despair of EVER seeing real snow. Sometimes it felt like chewing the same flavorless stick of gum, but I never stopped praying.

When I first saw the weather forecast predicting the required combination of moisture and cold temperatures, I took notice but didn’t get my hopes up. We’ve been there many times before. Then the percentages for snow kept increasing. The news reported snow “in view” in our area. I could hardly contain myself when the first fluffy flakes began falling!

My To-Do list for the day was officially trashed – for the rest of the week. I had the luxury of being at home on this day, and was therefore able to savor each moment. I ran from window to window, taking quick videos of the progression as my yard became blanketed in stunning white. I spent several hours with my nose eagerly pressed to the glass, awaiting that just-right moment when the accumulation was at its peak. Then, and only then, would I go outside and truly experience it all. After taking about a thousand pictures (well, almost…), I set about crafting my long-long-awaited snowman. Not from someone else’s borrowed snow, but in my very own back yard.

One thing I learned right away is that making a snowman is not nearly as easy as it seems. Those Hollywood three stacked balls are quite difficult to get rounded properly then attached to each other without them falling apart. Building my snowman took the better part of an hour, with very careful attention to detail. After numerous failed attempts, we found that the best method was to begin with a fat snowball then keep adding, one handful at a time, carefully patting and shaping each one. Perhaps others with more advanced snowman-making skills could have done it faster and easier, but for me this was an experience ten years – TEN YEARS – in the making. There was no need to rush. This was a time to enjoy the journey. Slowly, each inch of his stature was lovingly sculpted by my hand. Flu or no flu, this was the moment I’d been waiting for. And it was so worth it! When done, he was about three feet tall, with a carrot nose, button eyes, and a red scarf. A snowman so eagerly anticipated dare not disappear in anonymity; he must be granted a name. I donned his straw hat and christened him Jasper, a true Southern snowman!

IMG_0538Throughout the course of the day – one of my favorite days ever – I thought about some lessons I might glean from a slightly lumpy, lopsided snowman.

1. God is Faithful

He hears the prayers of His children, even ones asking for snow. Now I will not under any circumstances pretend that snow is essential to life itself. I could have lived out the remainder of my days very well without it. The snow was a gift and I enjoyed it as such. As we delight in giving good gifts to our children simply because we love them and want to see them smile, so it is with our Heavenly Father. This snow fell onto a season of my life that needed some encouragement and a splash of frivolous joy, and it happened on a day when I was perfectly poised to both receive and fully appreciate it.

  1. Be patient – it is worth the wait

Waiting is hard, and as a general rule, I tend not to like doing it. But when something is worked towards or cherished over an extended period of time, it becomes highly valuable to us. I would be hard pressed to explain to you why snow matters to me so very much. All I can say is that somehow it represents something magical, something rare and precious. Had it started snowing three minutes after the very first time I prayed for snow, that would have been pretty doggone terrific. But it didn’t. Time after time after time, it didn’t. But then one day it did. All those days in between made the flakes more valuable to me. The waiting made something “nice” into something “exceptional.”

  1. Power of community

Each individual snowflake is unique, one-of-a-kind. That’s pretty cool (HA!). On its own, however, one Georgia snowflake probably is not going to last very long before it melts away into nothing. It takes the combined effort of all those tiny individuals to make a snowdrift, a snowball, a snowman. Much like us, they last longer and can create more when in community with others. A lot of little flakes working together can make something truly amazing.

  1. Even the ordinary looks beautiful when there’s snow

Right now my front yard is a symphony of dried grass. It’s not the most stunning view on earth. Then came that special combination of water, temperature, and wind. As the lawn was coated with millions of frozen flakes, that dead grass was transformed into a thing of beauty. I wandered all over the yard snapping pictures of things I never would have bothered to notice before – sticks and leaves and fallen trees. By adding a dusting of fluffy white powder, even the fence posts and ant hills became part of a wintery fairytale.

  1. Abundance

One of the things that really struck me was the abundance of God’s gift. This wasn’t simply a couple flakes that melted upon impact. We had three- to five-inch layers on everything – the cars, the roof, the patio, you name it. This was not some chintzy half-answer to a decade-long request. We still had large patches of snow five days afterwards, which is unheard of in these parts. This was a lavish reply. There was one moment when I was standing alone outside in the stillness and the silence, in awe as I reflected on the perfection of this day. I dare say He was even showing off a little. My heart could scarcely take in such beauty. On this treasured occasion, as my childlike dream was fulfilled, I could feel His pleasure. And I LOVE that about God! He goes all-out to shower His love upon us.

  1. Squeeze all the good out of it

Certainly in life there are more ordinary days than spectacular ones, so when the really super-dyna-whopping experiences come along, we need to make much of them. Savor them. Memorize the moments. File them away to refresh our spirits during the lean seasons which will inevitably come our way. One of the ways I did this was to keep a running update on Facebook about how Jasper was doing. I had waited most of my adult life to build this snowman so I wanted to enjoy him for as long as humanly possible. It was silly and fun, and I happen to be blessed with some amazing friends who came along side me during this slightly ridiculous exercise. While pointless from all practical purposes, it helped me prolong the joy. No regrets.

  1. Endings and Beginnings

Almost a week later, I came home from running errands and noticed that the large patches of snow had finally melted and that Jasper was leaning dangerously low. Thirty minutes later, I looked again and he had toppled over. Of course I knew this was coming, but it still made me a bit sad. As I wistfully gazed on my melting creation, a fluttering caught my eye. A pair of bluebirds lighted in the inexplicably green honeysuckle vine on the trellis over Jasper’s head. As the birds gathered twigs for their nest, Jasper melted away, surrendering himself to the water cycle. I couldn’t help but smile as one form of beauty gave way to the next.

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Further Thoughts on “Who’s the Genius?”

Inspired by a comment from my friend Alice, here are some spiritual insights based on last night’s stuck in the mud experience. If you missed the original post, I will copy its text at the bottom, or you can click on the link for the Who’s The Genius post.

Spiritual Insights (in no particular order)

Follow Me –

  • Jesus said quite simply, “Follow Me.”
  • The implication in that statement is for Now, not when we get around to it
  • Good followers trust their leader

He’s Got a Plan –

  • No evaluation on our part is necessary
  • Very often the things Jesus calls me to do make precious little sense at the time, but when He speaks and I listen, I find that what seemed so ridiculous to me in the beginning was actually quite the perfect thing to do. (The caveat here is that I must be listening carefully to the voice of Jesus, not just making up stuff in my own head.)
  • Going my own way was a complete disaster
  • He is ready to take action to get us back on track
  • The mud extraction plan wasn’t obvious to me, but all of the necessary elements were already there

Mud Pits Await –

  • Challenges and hard times are going to come our way
  • We need to navigate carefully through life
  • Sometimes we will get stuck
  • I never saw the mud pit coming, but it was there all the time, had I simply looked around more carefully
  • We need help from others

Scars and Mud Remain –

  • Even when the problem is solved, consequences remain, some more costly than others
  • Scars are not fun to receive, but the mark left on our bodies – and our hearts – can remind us of lessons we’ve learned
  • Challenges can be beneficial if we learn from them

Ever Forward –

  • Falling into a mud pit is one thing; choosing to stay there is another issue entirely
  • Someone may need to help pull (or even snatch) you out of the mud, but then it is up to you to keep moving forward
  • Accept help when you need it, but don’t become entirely dependent on others to do everything for you
  • Solid ground is just ahead
  • You may have to work to get there

Daylight –

  • A deep breath and a step back from the chaos can do wonders for our perspective
  • It all looks a little better in the daylight
  • Psalm 30:5b NKJV says, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Here’s the original “Who’s the Genius?” post:

Tonight the Haywood’s played a little game called “Who’s the Genius?”

When our paths finally converged this afternoon, Jeff and I met at a building where he needed to do an electrical job after the business closed. When he was finished, we planned to do some Christmas shopping for three little girls who have wrapped themselves firmly around our hearts.

As we walked out to leave, Jeff said, “Follow me.” Sure. That sounded simple enough. The parking area behind the building was like a dirt bowling alley – long and very skinny. We had to drive all the way to the far end, turn around, then head back out the way that we had come in. I didn’t quite understand the logic of that, but Jeff said to follow. So I followed. When he reached the back of the lot and made his turn, it occurred to me that my car needs considerably less space to corner than his truck. I went ahead and made my left turn – right into a giant mud pit. I never saw the gaping expanse until the moment I sank into it. I quickly noticed that I was indeed not the first to slide into its soggy depths. This was no consolation. The hole was about a foot deep, black mud was up to my bumper, and I just so happened to be wearing the single most expensive pair of shoes I own. Face palm. Actually several face palms.

I wanted to cry. I wanted to laugh.

Completely unfazed, Jeff went straight to work. He removed a tiny circle from my front bumper (which I never even knew was there), attached a short bar from the jack, then stretched out the chain that he ever so conveniently had in his truck. With a brilliant rooster tail of black mud, he pulled me right out. Christmas (shopping) was saved!

Some observations:

  1. My husband is an amazing man in both attitude and abilities.
  2. The car extraction plan my brain feverishly conjured up would surely have ripped the bumper right off the car. And I’d probably still be stuck.
  3. I am convinced that southern men with pickup trucks secretly long for the day when they can pull out a big ole chain or a set of jumper cables and rescue people like me who accidentally do stupid things at inopportune times.
  4. Sometimes when you are given directions it is sufficient to follow the general spirit of the instructions. Other times it is imperative to observe the full letter of the law.

 

Who’s The Genius?

Tonight the Haywood’s played a little game called “Who’s the Genius?”

When our paths finally converged this afternoon, Jeff and I met at a building where he needed to do an electrical job after the business closed. When he was finished, we planned to do some Christmas shopping for three little girls who have wrapped themselves firmly around our hearts. 

As we walked out to leave, Jeff said, “Follow me.” Sure. That sounded simple enough. The parking area behind the building was like a dirt bowling alley – long and very skinny. We had to drive all the way to the far end, turn around, then head back out the way that we had come in. I didn’t quite understand the logic of that, but Jeff said to follow. So I followed. When he reached the back of the lot and made his turn, it occurred to me that my car needs considerably less space to corner than his truck. I went ahead and made my left turn – right into a giant mud pit. I never saw the gaping expanse until the moment I sank into it. I quickly noticed that I was indeed not the first to slide into its soggy depths. This was no consolation. The hole was about a foot deep, black mud was up to my bumper, and I just so happened to be wearing the single most expensive pair of shoes I own. Face palm. Actually several face palms. 

I wanted to cry. I wanted to laugh. 

Completely unfazed, Jeff went straight to work. He removed a tiny circle from my front bumper (which I never even knew was there), attached a short bar from the jack, then stretched out the chain that he ever so conveniently had in his truck. With a brilliant rooster tail of black mud, he pulled me right out. Christmas (shopping) was saved!

Some observations:

1. My husband is an amazing man in both attitude and abilities. 

2. The car extraction plan my brain feverishly conjured up would surely have ripped the bumper right off the car. And I’d probably still be stuck. 

3. I am convinced that southern men with pickup trucks secretly long for the day when they can pull out a big ole chain or a set of jumper cables and rescue people like me who accidentally do stupid things at inopportune times. 

4. Sometimes when you are given directions it is sufficient to follow the general spirit of the instructions. Other times it is imperative to observe the full letter of the law.

When The Going Gets Tough

When the going gets tough, the tough go tromping through mud and wet grass for a three-mile run. It was a great plan. I’ve been in such a purple funk lately, fighting my way back to solid ground after letting the circumstances of life toss me about. Over the last few years, running has been both my physical fitness activity of choice and my emotional release from the stresses of life. It was the obvious choice.

I had determined that this summer would be the time I got my running game back on track. Or at least on treadmill. And wouldn’t ya know it, we have experienced one of the rainiest summers in recent memory. On any given day, once I got finished with work or whatever else needed doing that day, the monsoon had begun. I do own a treadmill. It is totally accessible. I just hate using it. So, most days, I don’t.

This particular day was surprisingly sunny, though not surprisingly, humid. I suited up in a cute runner girl ensemble and headed out the front door for a run around our property. To say that I went for a run is, I must admit, a liberal use of the term, but I was running at some points, so you will have to give me the benefit of the doubt here. Truth be told, our land has never been pane-of-glass smooth, but after a visit from Hurricane Matthew last year, it was even less so. Running in the grassy sections would be unwise because there could be a hole there and I would never know it until I found air instead of solid ground beneath my feet. So mostly I was doing some brisk power walking through two sides of the rectangular area and running when I hit the road and my driveway. It was a great plan. Until it wasn’t.

In my closet there are any number of running shoes, various types for various purposes. I wore my old favorites because they are comfortable, and I wasn’t too worried about getting them all muddy. It seemed like a logical choice at the time. I was about halfway through my distance goal of three miles. There were about five running strides left before I shifted back to power walking. Without warning, I did a face plant. I’m not even sure what I managed to trip over, but in a movie-like slow-motion sequence, I watched the muddy ground get closer as my left ankle twist painfully and awkwardly to one side. The ridiculous thought that raced through my mind at the moment I bounced off the terra firma was, “Woman! You have trail shoes in your closet!”

In one slightly less than fluid motion, I picked myself up and scraped the worst of the mud off my legs. The ankle was none too happy but could support weight, so I took a step, then another, and decided to press on with the run. After one slow and steady lap, I felt confident that there was no damage and returned to the running segments. While I was chugging along, I remembered a time when I’d had a much more serious fall while running down a street in near-total darkness. With the help of my friends, I hopped up, ignored the blood, and kept on running. Recalling that incident gave me the courage to not wimp out this time. If I bounced back from a tough run once, I could surely do it again.

That made me think about King David. Long before he assumed the title of king, David was the runt-of-the-litter little brother who was left behind to take care of the sheep while his older brothers, by all accounts burly and impressive young men, who were off having exciting exploits as members of Israel’s army. Only things weren’t going so well for them. David showed up and offered his assistance. When the brawny brothers pointed out that David was indeed a runt, he remembered times in the past when he’d faced tough situations and how the God of Israel had strengthened him. He said, “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” (2 Sam 17:37). You might say that David had a giant problem. This is quite literally true because David was about to face off with a giant, not in a figurative sense, but in the original, honest-to-goodness, for real and for true giant named Goliath who was nine feet tall and not at all a nice person.

In that moment, David recalled the way he had faced challenging situations before and triumphed. He knew that his God provided the strength necessary. He didn’t cower in fear and run for cover. He didn’t complain about how he’d been in much better shape when he faced the lion, or that the conditions had been better on that day. But what he did do was remember a success from the past, which in turn gave him the courage to face the giant on this day.

Now I don’t claim to be a David, and getting up after a small stumble may not be that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. But perhaps there are some lessons we can learn here.

  • Remembering the trials we have overcome in the past can give us courage to face different, but equally challenging, difficulties in our present.
  • We often need to think of our circumstances differently. In a crisis situation, it is easy for molehills to become mountains in our minds. Taking a step back and calming down can do wonders for our perspective. When we are calm we simply make better decisions.
  • Sometimes we just have to develop the best plan we can and go for it. I’m sure David’s sling and rock attack didn’t look like an especially wise military maneuver to anyone else. But he trusted his God and slung that rock. The results speak for themselves.
  • My Faith not in my Strength – that comes and goes – but my Strength is in my Faith. More specifically, my Strength is in the One who is the source of my Faith.

Psalm 121:1-2, written by David, this same shepherd boy turned mighty warrior, says, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (NIV)

When the going gets tough, the tough call on Jesus.

I Didn’t Read My Bible Today

I’m sort of an OCD kind of person. Actually, I am a really OCD kind of person. Structure and organization give me a sense of calm, and nothing makes me happier than having a good plan and seeing it through to completion. That’s just how my brain operates. The same principles that held true when I was an English/Social Studies teacher are relevant in my personal life. I like for things to be in their “proper place” – in the refrigerator and in life.

When it comes to my personal quiet time/devotion, I also like normalcy and order for the most part. One of the first things I do each morning is to read my Bible, usually working my way slowly through a specific book or topic; read a daily devotion from Oswald Chambers; and record key quotes or personal reflections in my journal. Then I pray about whatever God has brought to mind or any specific issues I’m facing, before beginning the day-to-day part of my day.

This is a pretty doggone good system. I love communing with God before I have to face the rest of the world. Keeping a journal is also a great way on those tough days to look back and see the last thing God said to me.  This helps to anchor me when life seems crazy. Seeing His fingerprints from days gone by remind me that He is still very much in control today.

One day recently, though, I did not do that.

I gathered my materials, a meeting of ancient and modern, with both an iPad and a soft, leather-bound journal, and just sat there. I simply could not bring myself to read the Bible. I couldn’t. On this particular day, I was more than just bothered by something; I was distraught. My mind was locked up almost. I could not think straight. Reading was out of the question. I tried to pray, I really did. Nothing was coming out right. My sentences were a tangled jumble that made absolutely no sense, and I’m sure they even contradicted each other as I attempted to bring my petitions before the Father. Then the tears started – not polite little drips, but monsoon-caliber torrents accompanied by much wailing and a fair amount of snot. It was not a pretty scene.

In that moment a couple of things happened. All that Scripture I had hidden in my heart from the time I was a young child came rushing back to me. I wasn’t worried about chapter and verse, but the words from the greatest love letter that has ever been written flooded my heart and my mind and my jumbled up prayers. A line from this verse, a line from another, swirled together, all pointing to the faithfulness of my heavenly Father Who is at work behind the scenes in ways I cannot even begin to imagine.

I also understood a passage I’d always heard, and have probably referred to on more than one occasion, in a totally new way. Romans 8:26 says,  Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” (NKJV) This is one of those really great verses to pull out when times are tough. I expect I had done that before. But on this day, I totally got it. I was so wiped out, emotionally, spiritually, and physically; I had nothing left. The only word I could utter that made any sense at all was, “Help!” I reached the end of me, and allowed Holy Spirit to take over, which He had probably been patiently waiting for me to do. Somehow, I knew, whatever the outcome might be, God was very much in control of the entire situation. I could rest in that truth and quit trying to resolve this on my own.

So, is a carefully planned devotion time or simply winging it the better option? To this question, I would have to say, Yes. There is a time and place for both. There is a danger, of course, in being toooooo orderly all the time when spending time alone with God. It can quickly become more of an itemized checklist than ever-deepening relationship. Years of diligence in study, reflection, journaling, and memorization combined to lay a foundation upon which I could depend when I needed it most. Sometimes though, you just have to chuck the plan and go with the moment. When I had no words of my own to offer up, Hope – stored away in a lifetime of memorized Scripture, along with the promised presence of the Holy Spirit – filled in my blanks.

Cutting & Rolling: Lessons From a Paintbrush 

Truth be told, I really hate painting. Not the fancy kind that people display in art museums and dentist offices. The kind where your living room looks dingy or dated and the obvious cure is a fresh coat of paint. That’s the one I’m not so fond of.  

I think it all started when we were building our house. My husband told me that as soon as we were done painting, we could move in. I thought, “YES!!! We will be in by the weekend!” HA! Or not. We painted for a month. One long, hot, thought-it-would-never-ever-end month. We both worked full-time jobs, came home, consumed some manner of edible substance, grabbed our brushes, and picked up wherever we’d left off at midnight the night before. It was not my favorite aspect of the house-building process. 

My first job was putty-er. Jeff would nail the trim down with an air hammer, then I would come along and putty each and every individual hole with caulk. I used a caulk gun, popsicle sticks, my bare fingers, damp cloths, anything to make the job go easier and faster. Then I had to sand the trim to a smooth texture. By the time this was completed, my fingertips were raw and swollen, my back ached all the time, and my attitude was slightly south of chipper. Then…and only then…was I given a paintbrush. Finally, we’ll make some progress, I thought. Or not.  

While Jeff and some friends who were kind enough to come bail us out on occasion were wielding paint rollers and even this awesome electric air sprayer for the cathedral ceilings, I had a brush. A stinking, hand-operated brush. I may have contemplated bopping them in the head with their fancy equipment. Maybe. One thing is for sure, I was exhausted, and I was grumpy. It’s a wonder that people who were around during this season of life still spoke to me without an armed guard and a pound of chocolate present. 

I’ve matured a little bit in the last twenty years. Painting is still my least favorite construction activity and I will do just about anything to avoid it. While on mission trips with my church, this has led to me developing other skills, like operating a skill saw, running a weed eater, and even using a bit of feng shui to build a pretty amazing rock-lined ditch.  

Recently my friend asked me to help paint the stage at church. I still hate painting, but I love both my friend and my church. Of course, I said yes. As is so often the case when there is painting to be done, I found myself in command of a hand-operated brush. I got a little pan of paint and set to work. Rather than being resentful of this particular duty as I have in the past, I found myself waxing philosophical as I began tracing around the edges of the trim. 

When it comes to painting a wall, there are two primary roles: roller and cutter. Rolling creates the more noticeable end product. Great masses of wall can be covered in a very short time. The results are obvious, and the room looks better almost instantly. Rolling is showy. Rolling is glam.  

Cutting-in, by contrast, is slow. It is tedious. It takes time and precision, and often brings tired knees and aching backs from sitting in the floor to carefully trace over electrical outlets and along baseboards, window casings and door jambs. Cutting-in requires a steady hand; rushing can be disastrous.  There is little to show for your work. Certainly it lacks the “ooooh” factor of rolling an entire wall in five minutes.  

But is one better than the other? Absolutely not. If the wall were to be painted using only a roller, the outer perimeter would look sloppy and highly distracting, in a word, awful. Of course walls can be painted using only a regular brush, but the time and effort involved would most likely outweigh the benefits. Your list of available friends would diminish quickly if that were the proposed painting plan.Each method of painting has its strengths and weaknesses. Rolling gets the job done quickly and thoroughly, and and cutting-in provides the pop, the attention to detail, that sets the room off properly. Cutting makes rolling “work”. 

So that’s all well and good if you happen to be standing there with a gallon of semi-gloss and a natural bristle brush in your hand. But what does this have to do with real life, you may well ask. Quite simply, everything. We all have our own fair share of both strengths and weaknesses. There are things that we do well and things that we wish we were better at. In the Bible, Paul speaks to this very issue in 1 Corinthians 12. Using the analogy of the human body and its many parts, he says that while some are more prominent than others, the contributions of all are essential to the proper functioning of the whole body. Ever broken a finger or had a toothache? It impacts the efficiency of the entire body. This is true of our physical bodies, our churches, our businesses, our families, and of our society as a whole.  

We each have different roles to play. Some are more flashy, more noticeable. Some are more subtle and occur quietly, behind the scenes. Each has great value. Every individual part matters to the proper functioning of the whole. So we all need to figure out what we are wired to do. What is your passion? What are you doing when you feel most alive? Writing news stories? Cooking? Building houses? Balancing budgets? Organizing gala events? Designing spacecraft? Teaching a toddler to use a spoon? All of these things matter. Learn your role and do it with excellence. Even if you are one of those wacky, amazing people who just so happens to love painting. Whether you are the roller or the cutter or the kid who stirs the paint, give it all you’ve got. Our businesses and families and nation and world need you to get out there and be you! 

You are the only one who can. 

(On a side note, in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 12 is followed by Chapter 13. I’m pretty clever, huh? This famous passage is known as “The Love Chapter”. I don’t think this progression is an accident. Once you figure out your passion, consider how you might use it to love the people around you, and maybe even those on the other side of the globe. Goodness knows, genuine love and compassion can be hard to find these days. But we can be the generation that turns that around. You hold in your hands an incredible amount of power. You possess the ability to impact the world …..beginning by being nice to the people you come into contact with. Think about that.)