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The Fine Art of Failing

file000786402730Since I’ve started blogging, I’ve experienced an epic number of failures. I write about reading the Bible in a year and then have my worst Bible-reading year ever. I write about prayer and can’t seem to discipline myself to pray. Simple living–I haven’t done half bad on that one, but I haven’t done more than half good, either.

I mean every word that I write. I know what I should do, how to implement change, how to grow and improve. I just…don’t. Not always. Not consistently. Not diligently. I get distracted, discouraged, bogged down, and I struggle to get things back in order. In my head, it all works out–spiritual disciplines, schedules, Bible reading, community service, anything else that might help me to grow in Christ. It’s beautiful. I know it’s what I want more than anything in the world, to live what I believe, to be a beacon to the world that screams of Jesus’ love and the truth of His Word.

And yet, reality hits, and I lose myself in Facebook. I watch Netflix some evenings until I can’t see straight or start the day jumping into my novel writing and ignore my Bible reading. I fail.

I follow a few bloggers who are young women. And all of them seem to have it all together. I wonder if they grow at a steady pace or if they are sprinters like me who run, walk, stop, turn the other direction, get distracted by flowers and clouds, then run again, mostly in the right direction, and then do it all over again. Shouldn’t I be past this? If the young women are flourishing, what’s wrong with this older woman that she can’t make things work?

It makes me tired. Some days life is so wearying. Failing. Calling on God for help. Dropping my burdens in His arms and then scooping them back into my own so I can fail again. Over and over. A seesaw of chaos that never seems to get better.

This week I was faced with yet another failure. Earlier this year I forgot an obligation I had at church, and someone had to cover for me. I promised myself I would do better. So, last weekend I got things ready for church the night before. I looked at the volunteer list. I was going to do Sunday right. I got there on time, not too early or late (now that we live so far in the country I’m either way too early or late, so to get there on time is an accomplishment.) I was pretty pleased with myself.

Except I had failed. I had somehow missed one obligation again, and someone had to cover for me. I wanted to leave.  I was sad and angry with myself because I tried so hard and it wasn’t enough. How hard could it be to read a calendar and remember what it says for a day or two? Apparently it’s harder than one might think.

Failure. Feels like the default setting sometimes. I fail friends, family, everyone. And yet, however frustrated I get, however often I blow it, there is hope. Jesus always hands us hope. I am so very thankful for that.

We’re told in the Bible to abide, to be branches to Jesus’ vine. Cling. I may fail in a lot of ways, but I can still cling. I can hold on even when everything around me makes no sense. In light of losing a brother. In light of a chronic illness. In light of my husband’s employment struggles.  In light of being off schedule in Bible reading or misreading a calendar ten times. Sometimes the only thing I do is cling. Is that enough?

The Bible promises Jesus is working in me, that I’m improving and He won’t give up until I’m the way He wants me to be. I hope I don’t have to stick around in this realm until He’s finished, or I will have to live to be three or four hundred years old, and I’m way too tired for that. But I trust that if I cling, if I abide, then the failures aren’t held against me. Jesus opens his arms and picks me up and says “Try again. No stumble will ever be the one where I leave you on the ground as a failure.”

So I try again. Maybe everyone around me does better than I do, but that doesn’t matter. Jesus only asks me to abide, to obey, to trust. To cling. And that I can do. He does the rest, and I trust He will make my clinging into something pleasing to Him, something beautiful, even when I fail.

 

 

On His Terms

sunset rays MGD©I’m writing a rough book right now. The main character has lived through an extreme amount of injustice, betrayed by the judicial system, his family, and his friends. He realizes that everything he’s done for the past decade has been on someone else’s terms–where he can go, what he can do, even relationships with those he lost. And those terms are rarely fair.

No surprise, I’ve been thinking about this in my own life lately, because of course what I write has to resonate in some small way with my own experiences, or I can’t empathize with my characters. And I keep coming up with the same phrase. Someone Else’s Terms.

I’m a peacemaker at heart. That means I will give ground to make peace. Or, I will relate on someone else’s terms to make them happy. I have friendships with women who work outside their home or have children, and of course we have to schedule our friendship on their availability, on their terms.

As an introvert, most of my relating is on other people’s terms. Often I’m expected to socialize in a group setting where I am so uncomfortable it’s laughable. I can show up and socialize on those terms, or I can be alone. As I get older, I bow to other people’s terms less often, and I kindly bow out of the most uncomfortable events. But in the past, when I was younger and it was more important to belong, it was on someone else’s terms.

This is part of life. We are meant to serve those we love, and that means discovering how to relate to them, how to love them. It means knowing them well enough to know the terms where they will feel love. Friends who know me and know I’m a diabetic don’t invite me to their house and eat pie in front of me. They know there are a few terms that are set in stone. And I am thankful for that. And it’s up to me to know the same about them. It’s friendship. It’s love.

God, of course, meets us where we are, but then He sets His terms. We are to obey certain commands and strive toward holiness. W

\hat makes Him different is that His terms are always, always for our best. He made us, so His terms let us live exactly the way we were meant to live. He makes terms for family life, sexual life, interacting with others, all kinds of things. So many people balk and feel God is unfair to dictate His will to us, forgetting that His will always trumps ours. He wants us to thrive, to live in peace, to experience great joy and comfort, even when hardship comes. That means reading His instruction manual and living according to His terms. Unlike some of our dealings with people, His terms are completely for our own good.

I’ve been letting things slide during our moving transition. Bible reading and prayer are happening, but not as consistently as they should. I’m not taking the time to drive back to town for Bible studies or fellowship opportunities. I am still figuring out the new normal. However, it’s good to know God’s terms haven’t changed. He still blesses the peacemaker or the poor in spirit the way He always did. He still loves the way He always has. And His terms for a life well lived are still the same, still written in an ancient manuscript by my bed, where I can find explicit instructions from the Creator on exactly how to get the most out of this fleeting life He’s given me.

I will continue to look for the terms for my friendships and family that are the best for all involved, and sometimes I will fail. But I take comfort in knowing God’s terms for our relationship are set and solid and will always bring me joy and lead me closer to the one who loves me more than anyone in this universe. Those are terms I can live with.

Up a Gravel Hill

img_20170217_075026Last Monday I was able to fulfill a long-term dream. My family moved into a little manufactured house on 3.6 acres, so we are now living in the country. Across the street is a farm where cows wander all day. Behind us are horses that occasionally top the hill so we can see them against the horizon. It’s quiet out here. Roosters crow from the horse farm, and red-winged blackbirds call from everywhere.

I spent a lot of time this week thinking about slow living. I like the idea of simple living, but I don’t focus on the decluttering part as much as the busyness part. I like living slow. And yet, I’m conditioned to  fight that.

I can watch an hour of television and feel no guilt. It’s entertaining, and it’s culturally acceptable. It’s even acceptable to turn on Netflix and binge every now and then and watch a season of something in a weekend.

However, if I stare out my window at cows for an hour, I feel like I am wasting time. Why? It’s interesting to me. I love to see and hear what goes on outside. Why is it wasteful to watch God’s Netflix but acceptable to watch man’s? And face it, what I watch out my windows is a lot more acceptable to God than some of the antics on the screen I call entertainment. Am I the only one who struggles with this?

As I was ‘wasting time’ this week watching skies and clouds, I was thinking about heaven. I wish God had given us more hints about what heaven will be like. But I suspect we can be present without guilt. We can take time to pursue a thing without worrying about needing to do something else. I want to stand on a cliff side and watch the sea for hours. I want to stare at the stars and listen to the wind or the rain and not ever feel the tug of time, not play a mental list of better ways to use my hours, never feel guilt about choosing to feed my love of beauty or my love of creation. In fact, people I love might stand at my side and stare in awe with me, for what will that landscape look like, when sin no longer causes creation to groan, when all is as it was meant to be from the beginning, when I can work with God keeping up the perfection of his world and never fear working against it?

I realize this is a blog filled with rather discordant ideas and thoughts, but that’s where I am this week. I left the home where I raised my children. Only one child moved with me. We’re not around the corner from the grocery store. I feel loss as well as gain, wonder as well as emptiness. There are a lot of emotions to process, because we all know a move has little to do with geography and a lot to do with memories and heart and people. And although we didn’t move far, only thirty miles, in the world of people that’s a long way. Things aren’t what they were a week ago. And it remains to be seen what our new life will look like.

I am excited about this new step on the path. But I also know location doesn’t change the deep things. I hope to see God here on the hillside, but my sin is still my sin. My struggles are still my struggles. I’ve added images of beauty and awe, but I am still me. And I knew that would be the case, but sometimes I wish it was as easy to change the inner self as it was to change geography.

Anyway, that’s enough rambling for this post. Next time I’ll try to be more organized. My physical life will be more organized as I work through boxes. The emotions should be calmer as I work through the new distances from my adult children and my friends. I might even post a blog entry with a specific point. But until then, if you find yourself on a meandering path, feel free to share that with me. I get to write to you all the time, and I’d love comments or emails with your stories, too. Everyone’s path includes stories worth telling, ideas worth pondering, insights worth sharing. Feel free to share yours. Here in the country I have time and space to hear and ponder with you.

An Unglamorous Word

I wrote a post this week sort of tearing down the American idea of goals and resolutions, or at least questioning it. And now I’m going to participate in one of those very things. So, bear with me. I might not always make much sense.

A lot of people like to choose a word for the year. I wasn’t going to do that this year. I was simply going to let this year happen without a specific word or thought or Bible verse guiding me. Not that I’m opposed to that idea–I often do it myself. Last year my verse was Jeremiah 6:16 This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.

This year, the word came to me in the middle of the night, a long night when I was feeling sick because diabetes and I were warring, and I was losing. I felt terrible. And while I was awake, I was worrying. About where to live. What to do with a few hard relationships. Aching for lost family members. And all the while, feeling that somehow I needed to fix all of it, that if I was just better/smarter/kinder/wiser, everything and everyone in my world would be happy, God-loving, and ready for anything.

I didn’t get a magical, beautiful word. I’ve had friends choose lovely words like Pursued, Loved, Princess. Nope. Mine isn’t like that. I’ve seen people’s words become the tip of an iceburg of change. But my word didn’t seem to be a life-changing word. It’s just a word. Maybe it was just in my head because I was sick and miserable. But I suspect it’s deeper. And although it’s at the bottom of the list of glamorous words, for this year it’s mine.

Regardless. Yep. That’s it. Regardless. On its own, it’s not much. You might need a little context, so here it is.

In school, I was an A student. It’s a great way to win approval. As an adult, winning approval comes through different means. A good job, well behaved kids, important church positions. All of us work to do well in things that we do. And knowing we’re succeeding–tell me it doesn’t feel good.

God doesn’t hate us for doing a thing well. He says those who are faithful with little will be given much. It’s okay to be successful at something. It’s okay to work hard as though working for God Himself, because we’re working for God Himself.

And yet, God then turns around and offers us life and love for no reason at all. And lately I’ve been struggling with that one. It goes against all the rules. All I have to do is…nothing. And God can love me. I find over and over and over that I try to be worthy in some way or another. And when I fail, I worry. Maybe He’s not going to want me now. I failed. I wish I could change things about my decisions, my parenting, just about every aspect of my life. I would do better. I really would.

Then in Romans 5:8 Paul writes But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Or put it another way: Jill, regardless of anything you’ve said or done, any failure or success or judgment, I love you. My son died for you when you were a hot mess, because I love you just that much.

Regardless. He doesn’t regard any of it, not when He determines to love me. It sounds like total nonsense, but there it is, not nonsense at all.

I think I’ve posted a million times how much I want to believe this. And I do, but I don’t live like I do. I don’t act like I do. So. Maybe this year I can make this word and this verse and this thought my mantra. He loves me regardless. In spite of myself, He loves me. Before I ever did one thing right, Jesus died for me.

Regardless. That’s how God loves me. I don’t get it. I  don’t always live it. But at the same time, I’m staking everything on its truth, because try as I might, I sure can’t get to Him and secure His love on my own. I fail every single time. Maybe this will be the year I will finally relax and trust and stop trying.

On Failing 2017 Ten Hours In

file0001417654154(My musings at 10 am New Year’s Day.) It’s that time of year again. January shows up, and we infuse everything with special meaning. Time to wipe the slate clean, start new, make goals. And I admit some years I do exactly that. I take January 1 to have some kind of mythical, spiritual power, and if I treat it right, I can secure happiness and joy for the next 364 days.

Except this year it started wrong. January 1 is a Sunday, and my family is skipping church. I had a terrible blood sugar night, and I felt nauseated all night, and I can’t make myself leave the house yet, not without feeling icky. And my husband, who’s been fighting something for weeks, is asleep. This is miraculous, and no way am I going to wake him up. Unless the house is burning down or zombies come, I’m not messing with him.

Also, we’ve been packing and house hunting, and I haven’t given even five seconds of thought to the year ahead. Nothing. Currently I’m living a life unexamined and unplanned, simply moving one day to the next.

So. Does this mean my year is shot? Have I started a trend that will bring down our family before the year is over? I doubt it.

God likes rhythm. Seasons, days, years–He made those. He gives us rhythms of work and rest. Ecclesiastes points out the rhythms of life more than most, with times to heal and kill and grow and reap. So there’s something to be said for awareness of the rhythms of the world around us, of aging times and growing times and all those other times. And it makes sense that the first of the year is a great time to reflect and think and look to the future.

But this is America. We’re the place that takes good things and goes crazy with them. I don’t believe a bad Monday means the week will be ruined. Or a bad morning kills the whole day. I’ve never been good at goals, not like those people who have everything planned, specific and measured and weighed. Seems God can take my bad Mondays and finish with an amazing Friday. A harsh winter can lead to a mild summer. And a goal–He seems to delight in upending my goals and substituting His own, and usually they look like chaos until that final moment when it all comes together and something beautiful happens.

If you have no goals this January, it’s okay. I have one. We sold our house a few weeks ago, and we haven’t bought another one. So my goal in 2017 is to end it not homeless. Pretty basic goal. I don’t have any specific spiritual goals, because last year I failed. I think I’ll just read the Bible and ask God to put together some direction and goals. I want to sell more books, and I have a few goals there, but honestly what I think will work always falls short, and things I never even considered will suddenly encourage people to buy for reasons that make no sense to me.

Sure, it’s good to have goals. The Bible talks about planning before doing. But I think this year my goals will be small. They’ll be flexible. They’ll be general. And while I wait for Him to put meat on the bones of my hopes and dreams and goals, I want to learn patience and trust. Trust most of all. Sometimes goals are a way of avoiding trusting God. At least they are for me. I struggle to trust God more than any other struggle. So maybe I do have a spiritual goal, but I haven’t the slightest clue how to make that happen. No actionable steps (ooh, I struggle with that word.) Just a vague notion that I’m failing and only He can bring victory. Clearly I won’t be writing a seminar on setting goals this year.

Okay, God, your work is cut out for you. Be my goals. Be my plans. And all You wish to do for and through me–do all of it for and through me.