Didn’t we just start 2021? Hard to believe we are one third of the way through!
April was a technicolor month, full of intensely diverse experiences.
- Excitement: Viewing the final-final version of my book, and reading the incredibly kind reviews and foreward for the first time. Tears about that, and joy.
- Grief: Saying goodbye to a friend whose body finally gave out on her at thirty-two years old. They gave us butterfly keepsakes at her celebration of life, because butterflies were precious to her. I am puzzling over the “deserve.” What do I deserve? Wings? Life through death? I thought putting it next to a cross and a crushed robin’s egg would balance it all out nicely. My sorrow for her was grief and re-grief – she is my third friend to die from the complications of addiction in some form. I pray that by the fourth time, we will know better how to heal. If medicine can’t do it, and recovery can’t undo it, then all that is left is eternal life, and wings. This does not seem cause for ache, but somehow it is.
- Nourishment: Meeting a far-away friend halfway, and sharing shrimp tacos and a quiet café corner, and Scripture and babies and questions and light. I love her. I needed that day, and my heart is still full.
- Distress: Relational conflict I cannot fix, and the knowledge that I am causing pain as well as experiencing it. Late night drives talking to Jesus about these things.
- Sheer joy: Strawberry lemonade freezy drinks with my daughter, a walk with a friend, sunshine and rain and my spring flowers which I love best, energy, a successful craft project, my nephew’s shy grin, the feeling of fresh sheets at night, Jesus near, the glorious world, and a deep sense of wellbeing on the good days.
Now to the intentions. (For anyone who is new here, I’m reporting each month on my goals: one Scripture focus, one joy focus, one abstinence.)
Scripture: 1 & 2 Peter
Beautiful passages, full of life!
This month, one thing I added to my usual practice of a) reading repeatedly, b) reading from multiple translations, and c) reading in one sitting, was watching short YouTube overviews from the BibleProject.
When I first encountered the BibleProject, I wasn’t big on the style of cartoon-like visuals, but I have realized since that they know their audience well, plus are packing massive amounts of material into short presentations, plus are bringing a remarkable level of scholarship. The visuals really help – seeing the book laid out on a page, with its various sections and themes. Not to mention the accompanying illustrations and all the main points appearing on the screen as you go. It catches the mind in a really good way.
I also accidentally listened to a life-changing podcast by Paul Tripp, called Uncomfortable Grace, based on a passage from 1 Peter 1. I say accidentally because I didn’t know it was going to be from 1 Peter, and I didn’t know it was going to be life-changing. My husband said, “You need to listen to this.” And then a day later he said, “Have you listened to it yet?” And then a while later he said, “Seriously. You need to.” So I thought he was probably in earnest, and I listened.
If you are going through a hard time, or have recently gone through a hard time (which I know is 99% of you, so no ducking behind each other there), please listen to it. Please.
Joy: Random acts of kindness
I’m not going to give you a full list here, because “let not your left hand know what your right hand doeth” and all of that… But here are some nearly free ideas I enjoyed, and three big things I learned through this month’s experiment.
First, giving joy itself requires very little effort from me. Making a meal for a new mom – maybe more work. Telling my friend what I love about her children – ridiculously free, for a disproportionate amount of happiness. This is what I used to call “something from nothing,” and it’s a really fun way to bless and be blessed.
- Giving an unexpected compliment
- Inviting someone to step in line ahead of me
- Picking up pieces of litter
- Baking a snack for the fire department
- Writing a thank you note to the mail carrier
- Donating unneeded baby items
- Sending a message to a friend for no reason except love
- Giving blood
- Tucking notes in my children’s lunches
- Dropping a book in the Little Free Library (full disclosure: I owed them one)
- Giving unexpected micro-gifts, like a pretty feather or a $5 gift card
- Telling a friend what I love about her children
Another thing I learned by contrast over the past months, as I practiced giving up people pleasing and later added random giving: It’s hardest to give spontaneously when I’m holding myself to an unrealistic standard of performance. Easiest when I have margin and do it for joy.
But last and best on my list of lessons learned this month: It is difficult to out-give your community. Here’s an example. On the day I went to town intending (from my little planned-out list) to greet someone who looked sad (my level of intention here is embarrassing), and to speak an encouraging word to a harassed mom, I had these words said to me: “Can I take your cart back to the store?” by a man who was limping in a leg brace, and these: “I can’t believe you just had a baby. You look wayyy too skinny!” (which is basically straight-up love talk in my ears) from a woman who looked so lonely that I had noticed her already and wanted to bless her.
It happened repeatedly. I intended to bless, but my plans were lost in becoming the one blessed instead.
Abstinence: Giving up criticism
I said I was going to give up disrespecting my family in private behind their backs. I gave up eye rolls, trash talking under my breath, and cycling through scornful thoughts. The first few days, this was frighteningly hard. Apparently I had fallen into some horrid habits by mistake (she says, having wallowed blissfully in the muck).
One takeaway was that I simply can’t retract what I already did. The eye roll happens in a fraction of an unguarded second, and then I can’t “give it up” anymore, can I? It’s something I have done. Past tense.
The best part of this exercise was how much it called my attention to my thoughtless, automatic patterns. I was relying on scorn much more frequently than I thought I was. Repentance was called for.
Private scorn grew easier to give up.
And I got happier.
A lot happier.
And may I mention once more how much Jesus is calling my heart away from control these days? I’m starting to see it as the sin beneath the sin, as Shannon Popkin says. I can fight anger or fear or scorn or indulgence or anything else, all I want, but if underneath that there is hiding a different sin, say refusing to trust God to save and love and protect and correct and manage all of my life including my own heart and the people around me – then my fighting the surface sin is a losing proposition. Worse, I simply don’t believe what I say I believe about God, that he’s loving and sovereign and enough. I’m lying to myself. I’m feeling like I have to help him out with his job here. Recovery comes to terms with this in its own words: “He is God. I am not.”
At the end of the month, I followed Mrs. Popkin’s challenge to spend five days giving up all “correcting, criticizing, condemning, complaining, and comparing.” (FYI: She notes that some correction is an essential part of motherhood – she is simply calling women to examine our habitual/excessive/compulsive motives and behaviors, and reset the compass.) I’m sure I failed as often as I succeeded, and didn’t even notice. But it was a great call away from relying on my own efforts to change the world and its problem people, seven of which live in my house. Yes, I am including myself in that headcount.
It helped me let go of silly, silly fights that I usually feel obligated to solve while throwing in a lecture for good measure – fights like “Who Sat in the Front Seat Last Time” and “My Brother Looked at Me the Wrong Way.” (Children, children. Don’t you ever stop chewing on each other? Why can’t you just let it go? Don’t you prefer to lay down control over the minutia of the universe? Hmmmmmmmmmmm???? Don’t you???? Oh. Oops. Me too.)
And so – that was the month of April.
How was yours? I’m especially interested in hearing your insights if you joined me in the “giving up private criticism” goal. What did you learn?
My month of May will be –
- Scripture: Mark
- Joy: Nature
- Abstinence: Giving up frequent/constant/habitual communication online, in favor of efficient check times and greater in-person presence and connections