Pinch Me

Reality can be a Vulcan nerve pinch. A painful, paralyzing squeeze.

A few weeks back, I intruded upon my daughter and her friends in the midst of a hairstyling frenzy. After twisting and tying and combing and spraying they digitized their artistry via an iPad camera. I perceived this as ripe opportunity to enhance my ‘super cool dad’ image. After asking for an appointment to get my hair done, I weaseled my way into their photo shoot. I felt youthful and cool, expecting to ‘wow’ with a smoldering mugshot. Of course, my intense self-absorption blinded me to their collectively raised eyebrows and silent thoughts of, “Ummm…he’s, like, weird!” Reluctantly, they took my photo.

Mouth-covered giggles bounded among the young ladies as my photo was viewed. I pensively reached for the iPad, expecting to see an unappreciated GQ-like mugshot. I neither giggled nor grinned. I gasped. Shocked, I was, at my visible scalp-to-hair ratio. I was losing population in my hair metropolis (and I’ve been such a good mayor!). The ego-deflating snickers continued as I relinquished my attempt at ‘cool.’ No longer can I deny that my steps are firmly plodding on the ground of middle age.

Confronting the truth about who I am is a curious engagement. A tenuous mixture of pride, fear, expectation, denial, longing, and disappointment. It’s a collision of questions unanswered and uncomfortable truth. It’s thinning hair alongside relational complexities.

It’s easy to dwell on what I lack. What I don’t like. What I wish was different. How I desire more ‘this,’ less ‘that.’ Accepting my finite self is difficult. Frustration and sadness and anger can swell in discontented moments. And when I brush against my limitations, I often hear the burdening lie of inadequacy and respond with passivity and silence. At times, I do laps around the pool of self pity or fret away hours coveting the skill or ability or circumstance of another.

But I must live in my reality.

Pinch.

I am what I am. A special blend of the spectacular and deficient. A moldable soul, ready to be shaped – shaped divinely by the tool of grace.

Grace that can sting as it transforms through corrective words, firm nudges, providential circumstances, difficult choices, loss, and gain. In those moldable settings, when confronted with my incomplete humanity, do I reach for bricks and a trowel to build a wall of defensiveness, or submit to the all-wise care of the Gentle Shepherd? Do I embrace my short-comings and yearn to be shaped more and more into a humble, patient, grateful follower of Jesus Christ?

I’m a weak, imperfect creature. So are you. But we’ve been crafted to flourish. To enjoy and promote the good, true, and beautiful. To bask in the benevolent and powerful grace of our Creator, who lovingly shapes us with life’s grace-filled pinches.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9, ESV)

Shoo, Lie – Don’t Bother Me!

I never mow alone.

But I wish I could.

Mowing isn’t work for me – it’s solitude. The ear-muffled drone of the mower’s engine while traversing a patterned course around my property is peaceful. With the precision of a figure skater I glide along the terrain, restoring a sense of order. Slowly. Carefully. Methodically. It’s wonderful.

But such tranquility can be destroyed – by them.

Flies.

They perch in my apples trees, glaring with iridescent eyes while crafting their aerial torment. They flit around in the tall field grass, pausing to preen their monster-like leg barbs. Inaudible insect communications cascade around me as a platoon of winged warriors coordinate their assault upon my peace-filled mowing.

But I’m a fighter. I’ve strategized a defense that has required me to become an excellent one-armed driver. With one hand, I can deftly turn the tightest radius while engaging safety switches and gear selectors. This technique frees my other arm for maniacal waving to ward off those fiendish intruders. Still, those little devils kindle my rage as I flail intensely, hoping to thwart their space invasion.

Whether mowing or picnicking or even sitting indoors, badgering flies are a picture of a deeper torment. A tension strung deep in the soul. A clash between what’s true, and what’s not. Like a fly that won’t leave me alone are the lies I believe about myself.

My lies plague me. Every day. They buzz about my thought life, whispering that I’m a runner-up, not a winner. That I’m not good enough. I don’t measure up. I have nothing to offer. These lies of inadequacy pester and plague. They seek to preoccupy my activities with thoughts of disappointment and pain – pain that tempts me toward a silent withdrawal or prods me to anger while eroding my joy.

Lies mar our self-image and steal opportunities for us to flourish. When we’re absorbed with the nuisance of deception, it’s difficult to be an engaged, faithful spouse. A sensitive, patient parent. A trusted, available friend. It’s like driving a lawn mower with one hand. Our relationships are worthy of a diligent care that one-handed driving can’t provide.

The strategy for lie-swatting? God’s Word, His Spirit, and His people.

A consistent feasting on the truth of God’s Word is excellent lie repellent. Praying and listening in the Spirit is a sure way to crowd-out whispers of inadequacy. Trusted, God-centered, deeply honest relationships bolster spiritual resilience and help with embracing life whole-heartedly – both hands on the wheel. The lies may still stir exasperation, but the buzz lessens as we tune into the One who rejoices over His children with singing (Zephaniah 3:17).

If I were Lord of the Flies, my kingdom would be fly-free. Alas, I must accept the accompaniment of my mowing buddies. Even more, I must face the reality of the enemy’s lies that perturb me with tireless persistence and tempt me toward disbelief in the goodness of God. But thanks be to Jesus, who is Truth and offers grace sufficient for every moment of struggle.
 
So, in the name of Jesus, “Shoo lies – don’t bother me!”

For more on the real-life struggle of truth and lies watch this panel discussion recorded at Blythefield Hills Baptist Church, Rockford, MI

Getting Personal

Things are getting personal in our home. Personal, as in personality tests.
It started when one of my children and his circle of friends became intrigued by the Myers-Briggs test. A free online version of the test fueled their ongoing discussion, analysis and comparison. Sometimes they refer to each other by their type indicator, like ESFP or INFJ. They enjoy speculating what other people might be. My son pegged me as an INTJ.
Assessments like Myers-Briggs, DISC, Strengths Finder, Kolbe, et al can be instructive. There’s value in understanding how and why we behave in natural and adapted ways. It can be enlightening. Fun, even. As a parent, insight into the hard wiring of my children can lead toward the development of better and more effective ways of communicating and nurturing. In the workplace, assessments can go far toward crafting efficient, productive, unified teams.
Contrarily, assessments offer temptation. To use results as a shield or wall to hide behind. To legitimize negative behavior. To respond to confrontation with a flippant, “Well that’s just who I am.” It’s also tricky to stay away from categorical labeling such as, “Well, she’s an INTJ you know” or “Yep, he’s got his hands full with that high-D child.”
I’ve fallen prey to some of those temptations. I’ve jumped to conclusions. Pigeon-holed. Sold people short. And when I do, I discount their uniqueness. My assumptions close the door to enjoying the beauty and strength of each personality type. Unfounded judgments choke the possibility for relating in a way that brings honor and glory to the One who made all of us.
Jesus is our best example of how to live with all types of people. He burst upon our human experience “full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) He’s Lord of the introverts and the party animals. The entrepreneurs and the dutiful. The controllers and the drifters. The dependent, the self-righteous, the compulsive, the brash and the misunderstood. In all His relationships Jesus gave, and continually gives “grace upon grace.” (John 1:16) I am called to do the same by softening interactions with ENFPs, high I’s, the unorganized and the chatty (did I mention I’m an INTJ?). I’m to have a graceful disposition that absorbs misjudgment of things I did or did not do. Said, or did not say. Grace that gently guides to the truth and love of Jesus Christ.
Whether shy, decisive, free spirit, analyst, artist or strategist we are all worthy of dignity and respect. We all bear God’s image and each of us is responsible to harness our entire being – strengths and weaknesses – for God’s glory. The Westminster Catechism states it this way: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Bringing glory to God involves shedding sin. It demands loving God and loving people. (Matthew 22:37-39) It should result in ways of living that align with the clear instruction of God’s Word. It means allowing room for differing personalities, styles and strengths recognizing we are all much less than perfect. (Romans 3:23)
Peace and unity in a world of diversity is a tough gig. It’s the tension of balancing truth and love while finding grace for the gray areas. Such is the call of a Jesus follower – no matter your personality type.
O Spirit of God…help me to walk the separated life with firm and brave step, and to wrestle successfully against weakness. ~ Valley of Vision, “Weaknesses”

Elementary, My Dear Watson?

This week we had a family mystery. There was a missing item. Several suspects. Conflicting stories. A jury. A judge. And thankfully, no weapon.
I played the roles of prosecutor and judge (that’s the privilege of being “dad”). My assistant, Watson (a.k.a. Katrina) provided me with excellent back-story and evidence from the scene. Feeling well-equipped, I questioned the witnesses – who also happened to be my prime suspects. I tactfully stepped them through some leading questions. I listened. They spilled.
As the “trial” processed, the testimonies and evidence pointed strongly toward a particular conclusion. Although mostly circumstantial, the inevitable verdict had plenty of staying power. An open and closed case. Elementary. Sherlock would be proud.
But not so fast.
Despite the solution to our mystery, the “convicted” remained steadfast in their innocence. They stood vehement against our collective verdict with firm and repeated statements of denial. Justice was questioned. An appeal filed. Happens all the time with court cases, right? Backlash is expected, but quickly shrugged-off. But this is a family, not a court. So our goal is truth, understanding and reconciliation – not prosecution.
So what’s to be done? There I was: the judge. Investigation conducted, verdict delivered. Then there’s my child. Accusation refuted, appeal filed. They sat rock solid in their conviction. As I looked into their eyes across the table, the scene of Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms flashed through my mind: “Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”
I felt stuck. Paralyzed. Frozen in an uncomfortable parenting moment. We were at an impasse. Clearly only one of us was right. I could make this go away, if I wanted to. My bag of consequences is quite full. But would stripping my child of privilege accomplish what I desired? Maybe I should dig-out the hard-backed, unpadded chair from the basement and string-up a spot light? Pressure my child with facts. Wear them down. Give them the silent treatment. Persuade with charm? Whatever it takes to make them see my way.
Which begs this question: is the extraction of a confession my goal? Would a verbal “Alright! I did it!” bring closure? It will, in a way. But it would be an unhealthy resolution. Unwilling compliance only hardens a heart and brews rebellion. Such resignation gives words to a story of self protection, disengagement and lies. I know the truth. My child does too. Still, knowledge is one thing: acceptance another. I’ve been known to be stubborn with accepting the truth, too.
But I wanted this done. Over. Resolved. I’d listen to an appeal if necessary – but make it quick!
After a night of sleep I calmed enough to consider what was really going on. My child was (and still is) clinging to their story like a boa constrictor. They’re afraid. And in their fear they find comfort behind a façade of lies. To admit and accept the truth would push them to a place of painful vulnerability. It’s a ‘catch 22’ of sorts. I’ve been there. Exposure is scary. Precarious. Humbling. The lie seems safer.
While asking God how to handle this dilemma, I was led to a quote from Thomas Watson. He said, “When men and their sins are congealed together, the best way to separate them is by the fire of love.” Bingo! How much better the fire of love than the heat of a spot light. When trapped in sin, will interrogation or pressure yield the desired result? For me, I want someone to come alongside who is patient, loving and encouraging. Someone who listens and prays with, and for me. Not a prosecutor, but an advocate.
Redirected and reenergized, I whisked my child away on a “donut date.” A donut to a child is a sugary way of saying “I love you.” Donuts bring smiles and laughter. They loosen closed mouths. They open opportunities to speak about issues – big and small. I doubt Sherlock ever used donuts with his clients. This morning, I found they work wonders.

Dear Jesus-
Warm me by the fire of your love;
May my child be warmed by me.
Melt the ice from our hearts like the snows of spring.
Even when right, remind me of grace;
Grace greater than all my sin.