On Complaining…Or Not

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long. (Psalm 23:6, NRSV)

On a past trip to visit my mom in Arizona I came to a new awareness. It wasn’t completely new, but it sure hit me in a new kind of way: I have very little tolerance with complaining. Let me clarify. I believe that there is room for dissatisfaction and the proper communicating of that. My problem is with people…like a woman at the movie theater.

Mom and I decided we were going to see the movie, “The Proposal.” Romantic comedies are one of my favorite genres of films (followed closely by Disney animation). I was pretty excited to see the film, partly because I like the star, Sandra Bullock, but also because it was nice to see a grown up movie (a grandma’s dilemma). We were standing in a line waiting to buy our tickets when a woman came in with a group and immediately began to complain. The line was too long. She wasn’t going to get a good seat. Couldn’t they afford to get adequate help so she didn’t have to wait? On and on she went.

When we got into the theater, even though it was a multiplex, she was seated right behind us. I don’t think she skipped a beat and went right on complaining, loud enough for everyone around her to hear (which was pretty loud, keeping in mind this is a retirement community). The upcoming movie ads were too long. The theater was too cold. The seats were too hard. Sandra Bullock was too thin. The movie was too predictable.

When I had enough, I leaned over to Mom and told her I was about ready to stuff a sock in the woman’s mouth. I wouldn’t have done it, but it was a tempting thought. After the movie Mom and I were laughing about it. Then she turned serious and informed me complaining is a way of life for the people down there. That ended the discussion, but not my thinking about it.

I am still mystified why retired folk in Arizona would be complaining. Sure it’s warm, okay hot, but it’s a dry heat. On that visit people were complaining about 30% humidity while the humidity back home in Ohio was over 100%. They live in beautiful homes, surrounded by amazing scenery. They are retired so all they have is time, but they complain about waiting. I just don’t get it.

I decided to make sure that it was complaining that I had the biggest problem with, so I checked the definition out on dictionary.com. The distinction that stuck out most clearly to me was the between expressing dissatisfaction and a constant whining complaining about everything. It wasn’t occasional dissatisfaction that bothered me, but that seemingly total frustration and complaint about everything that really grates on me. One of the descriptions is “to whine like a spoiled child.” And that hit it right on the head for me. Whiners and complainers walk around exuding some kind of sense of entitlement that irritates me to no end. That’s what got to me about the woman at the movie. She seemed to feel she was entitled to immediate attention, and seating, and the perfect movie experience.

As I read all the way through the definitions I found that they listed an antonym at the end. The antonym for complain is rejoice. How perfect is that! Paul admonishes the Philippians to do all things without grumbling or complaining. He moves through a discussion on growing spiritually deep and hits with pretty solid intensity their need to rejoice. And he says it again, probably louder and more forcefully: Rejoice! James echoes the teaching by telling the readers of his letter to “count it ALL joy.”

At one of the darkest and most shame-full periods of my life, not even my typically optimistic and sanguine personality seemed to be much help. I had to make a conscious effort to be thankful. I had to look for things to rejoice about. The more I looked, the more I found. The more I found, the better I felt, and the more joy that became apparent to others. The shame wasn’t erased, but the heaviness was lifted. I was surrounded by much whining and complaining but all I could feel was an abiding gratitude for the way God was bringing me through. I was in a dark, dark valley, but goodness and mercy walked me enabling me to avoid the grumbly pitfalls and come out on the side of joy.

Maybe that’s why I get easily irritated by the complaining and whining of others. I know where I’ve been and how easily it would have been to give up. But honestly, what good does whining and complaining do? I haven’t seen one occasion where it has made the situation better. Whereas, I have seen the insertion of thankfulness and joy into an otherwise abysmal situation make all the difference—for the good—in the world!

So don’t make me take out my sock! Things not going well? Look for what is and plant the seed of thankfulness. Who are your traveling mates on the journey? If they aren’t Goodness and Mercy, then beat feet away from the negativity and soak in the grace that will release you into joy! Who you travel with and how you travel is really up with you. You want some control? Control that!

 

 

Book Review: Letters from My Father’s Murderer

Book review letters from murderer

I like a book that starts out by telling me where I’m going to end up. And Laurie Coombs does that in this book. In the preface she states that ultimately this is “a story that displays the glory of our God.”

I have met the author and was very impressed by her humility and sincerity. So when I got the opportunity to read this book, I jumped at it. And I wasn’t disappointed.

As I read the story, I felt like I was sitting across the table listening to Laurie while we shared a cup of coffee. The reader can be sure this hasn’t been “prettied” up. It’s a raw and real struggle to be obedient. The story took Laurie into some difficult situations and conversations, but in the end it truly displays the glory of God.

Ms. Coombs points out that we often think the journey of faith is like “skipping through a meadow, hand in hand with God” when in actuality it’s much more like “summiting Mount Everest.” Definitely not a stroll in the park.

I normally read rather quickly through books I’m going to review. This book is not meant for the speed reader. This story invites the reader into the true give and take experience of biblical forgiveness. It’s a process that can’t be rushed.

I appreciated the material the author included at the end. Hearing from Anthony and the other inmates who were changed by this process was interesting and encouraging. Forgiveness truly has a ripple effect.

I recommend this book quite highly.

I was given a copy of the book by the publisher in return for an honest review.

Book review laurie coombs

You can follow Laurie Coombs on Twitter and Facebook.

Welcome Aboard.

WP triptik

I think Lent comes at a very good time of the year.

Typically we start the year out with great resolve, high hopes, and a few plans for improving life. And we usually make it for a few days, maybe weeks…and then we peter out.

My spiritual word for this year is habits. I started out amazingly. I was exercising daily, eating well, and reading through my Bible. The only habit I have faithfully maintained is reading my Bible. Both my healthy eating and my exercise have been inconsistent at best for the last couple weeks.

What has made the difference with my reading?

I’m not doing it alone.

In my church we were challenged as a congregation to read through the Bible this year. But as nice as that challenge is, it hasn’t motivated me. It’s not personal enough.

The difference is I have an accountability partner. I have someone who not only asks, “So have you read your Bible today?” We also discuss some of the interesting, surprising, familiar, and favorite things we read.

My partner? My husband. It’s handy and it’s a blessing.

I have accountability partners for my writing, too.

Why? Do you want the long answer or the short one? You get the short one. When I’m not accountable, I can make all kinds of poor choices. When I am accountable I find I am more successful. And I want to succeed.

There are numerous examples and admonishments to be accountable in scripture.One for today as we think about this faith journey: Encourage one another and build up one another.(1 Thessalonians. 5:11)

It’s not that we can’t or won’t see Jesus on our own, but let’s look together.

There’s joy in the journey…together.

WP group travel

PRAYER MOMENT: God you are our leader and guide. Your Word tells us you go before and follow behind. You led the Israelites through the wilderness with a pillar of fire and a cloud. A map or sign might be nice, but more than that we want to feel you beside us as we maneuver the hazards of life. Thank you for the encouragement we can receive from other travelers and help us to be encouragers as well. Create good habits in us this Lenten season as we seek to see you, know you, and find you daily. Amen.

Waiting Through Construction

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6

 

He loves you too much to leave you where you are. “It took him just a week to make the moon and the stars, the sun and the Earth and Jupiter and Mars.” He’s still working. Life is journey. Growth is process.

PRAYER: Thank you Creator God for your commitment to finishing the work you started in me. Amen.

Praying on the Journey

Bill Hybles wrote a book entitled, “Too Busy Not to Pray.” I own it. It looks like a good book. I haven’t read it. The title is convicting enough. I am without excuse when it comes to my prayer life.

My spiritual theme for this year has been “never leaving the temple.” I confess I haven’t been as conscious of it as I need to be. To be honest, I lost it in the month of February. How fitting it should return to my focus on Fat Tuesday, the day before my Lenten journey begins.

So my busyness and my laziness have dimmed my focus. The result has been a pathetic lull in my prayer life. I pray for each prayer request the hits my mailbox or Facebook feed—at least once.

Somehow I have to do better.

Many years ago, I gave a talk called “Shooting Down Our Excuses.” My topic was study and my aim was to address many of the excuses people (including me) throw up to keep us from moving deeper in our relationship with God. Some of those same excuses fit when we think about our prayer life.

Pastor Hybles is absolutely right we’re too busy not to pray, but how do we find time to pray?

I believe part of the problem has to do with our image the person who prays. We all have someone, either in our families or early church experience who lived the prayer warrior life. They spent hours praying…and seeing results. We consider our own lives and schedules and we feel we’ll never measure up.

We’re probably right, but a seemingly unattainable image isn’t enough reason not to pray.

Scripture tells us to “pray without ceasing.” I don’t think Paul meant we’re to be consciously praying one hundred per cent of the time. Centuries ago, Brother Lawrence described the wonder concept of practicing the presence. Our prayer should be as close to us as our breathing.

In each of our lives there are ample unnoticed opportunities which could encourage us to pray. I thought of a couple just this morning as I was getting ready for my day.

First, as I washed my face, I was aware of a feeling of tension and stress leaving as gently rubbed my cheeks and forehead. My mind was pulled into prayer as I asked Jesus to help me to release the things I was stressing over. Hmm, this could work. I started to wonder what other tasks I mindlessly went through that I could be using to prompt and improve my prayer life.

My next idea came to me as I started to brush my teeth. I got excited. I could use the time I spent brushing to pray, asking God to use my words to encourage, comfort, and teach. I could be praying the psalmist’s words, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight my God (Psalm 19:14, my paraphrase).”

It didn’t go quit like I thought. Recently, my husband purchased me a Spin toothbrush. It’s battery operated. I am pleased with how clean my teeth and gums feel after I use it and my dentist is happy too. This morning I wasn’t quite as focused as I should be and I forgot to turn it on when I began brushing my teeth.

There I was manually brushing away. It felt odd, sluggish, as I pushed the potentially powerful brush across my teeth. As the awareness of what I was doing dawned on me so did the spiritual implication. I had all the power necessary for a good cleaning right in my hand, but I wasn’t connected. And spiritually, I have all the power of God available to me. Each moment contains ample opportunity to connect.

Many years ago a dear friend of mine was going through a particularly difficult time in her marriage. She kept her Bible in her car and each time she was stopped at a long red light she would either use the time to stop and pray, or pick up her Bible to read a few verses. She found both of these things strengthened and comforted her and as a result she was able to stand firm in her faith.

I think we might be amazed at how much time there really is in a day to pray if we will just look for it.
I want to be better connected. I want a prayer life filled with joy, coming from focused intentionality, not from a place of ought and should. I’m going to use this Lenten season to accomplish this.

The inevitable question of Lent is, “What are you giving up?” It won’t be chocolate, pop, TV or the internet…not even Facebook. I’m giving up my laziness. I’m giving up “leaving the temple.”

These next forty days I’m going to be more mindful of times when I can connect with God and intentionally connecting with others.

How will you be using this season to grow in grace and knowledge?

And onto the next…

Today my job ended. The woman I’ve been caring for the past five and half years died this morning. I had the privilege of being there.

I was still a little numb when I got home. When I lost my job in 2008, I hadn’t gone looking for a job as a care giver. It was quite hard for me at the beginning. God and I had some long talks because I felt so useless. At the beginning my lady was still “with it” enough to resent the heck out of my presence. I likened it to babysitting a teenager: they don’t think they need a babysitter, yet it brings comfort to the parents. I was comfort for the family.

More recently, as she became bed fast, my lady accepted my help–most of the time…but like a child: she didn’t like bath time.

It seems to me that life is held together by bookends. We start sleeping a lot, eating orange fruits and veggies, and wearing diapers. The end looks that way too.

The family I worked for cared about me. Not long ago they made me a huge basket with fresh produce, a loaf of zucchini bread (which my husband enjoyed) and several other things. It was so heavy I could barely lift it into my car. Today they included me in their grieving and their remembering. It was such a precious gift to me.

Back to feeling numb…I sat here at home for a bit and half wondered, half prayed. I heard the mail truck go by…actually I heard the dogs barking out in their pen, like they do when the mail arrives. My body responded by going out to the box, even though my mind wasn’t really in the task.

As I pulled the stack of bills out of the box, I noticed one that had a hint of green in the window. A check. I wondered what my husband overpaid this time. I glanced at the return address, Judson Press, and realized the check was for me. They had accepted another devotion. Instantly I could see nothing else as my eyes filled with tears.

The $20 check didn’t make me rich, but I still felt lavishly loved in that moment. Last week two publishers mentioned my submitting articles. I was encouraged by that and began immediately to work on articles for them. On the weekend, a friend whose opinion I highly respect, spoke to me about my blog and her words encouraged me deeply. Then this. I’m dense at times, but God got all the way through my fog and numbness.

Write, Tina.

So until something else should come along, I will be writing. I have so many things started and now I have time to finish them. Submit them. Edit others. Work on two books I have in process. Seek out contests.

I don’t feel as numb. Actually, I’m feeling excited. And ready to get to the next phase of this journey.

A final thought:
As I read back through this another thought occurred to me–another window into God’s hand upon my life.

I used to function in an extroverted manner that was off the scale. It was so bad that I used to think I needed others around me just to breathe. Then God gave me the job as caregiver. It was one on one. It was quiet. And except for my lady, I was alone. I didn’t like it at first. I chaffed. I squirmed under God’s hand. But I stayed, and I came to love it. The quiet has become so much a part of me that I can’t imagine going back to the world of noise.

As I have immersed myself into the world of writing, I have read many articles about the solitary lifestyle required for writing. I questioned whether I would be able to survive in that lifestyle. This morning the voice of hindsight whispered in my heart, “You’re ready.”

Now isn’t that just like God?

Lenten Learning Curve

The Lenten Learning Curve (and for some reason, I want to keep typing Leaning instead of Learning…hmmmmm) has felt like a roller coaster this year.  So many ups and downs, I have just barely been able to hold on.  But I don’t want to go through Lent, or any part of life, with my squeezed tightly shut and my hands white knuckling the lap bar.  There is no joy in that, only prayers for the end of the experience.

I have never considered myself adventuresome or courageous and I have been befuddled when others tell me how much they appreciate those qualities in me.  For example, they marvel at how “comfortable” I am with getting up before a crowd and sharing my heart.  I crave those opportunities.  I feel fully me when I’m preaching or teaching.  I can’t imagine not doing that. 

That being said, there has been a vicisious battle with fear this season of Lent.  I have wrestled a deeply subconscious battle up to where I could identify it and why it had such a strangle hold on me.  I have been confronted with my reticence and reluctance to move forward towards publication in my writing.   I have had to deal with relational issues resulting in painful confrontations.  Part of me would love to press rewind and pick a different path, but I know that the lessons would just come from a different direction and who knows how severe the learning would be then?

So while the lessons have not been easy, they have proved to be immensely beneficial, life-giving, and even freeing.  And while I’m not ready to throw my arms in the air and scream wahoo, I’m at least willing to admit that I’m thankful for the lessons learned.

Yesterday I faced the largest of those lessons.  I went and registered for the last time.  The deputy who worked on my paperwork was nearly as excited for me as I was.  A couple times he mentioned that he didn’t get to do this (finish someone’s paperwork) very often…um, never.  He asked if I was going to have a party.  Several people have offered to throw one for me.  Not only is the dark cloud lifted, but the fear that somehow it never would happen is gone too!  And the still small voice in the back of my heart whispers, “Will you trust Me now?”

In an endeavor to be more trusting, I took a couple steps.  I applied for a scholarship to the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference.  And I got it!  My reaction when I opened the email was such a mix of laughter and tears.  Then I decided that I would apply to different publishing companies to be a reviewer of books on my blog.  And I was accepted by one company.  I can barely describe how encouraged and excited I am. 

So I’m learning and leaning.  Trusting more.  Maybe I haven’t gotten to a full-fledged “Yes!”, but I’m at a very decent, “Okay!” with God.  It’s not perfect but it’s progress.  And that’s good for me.  Not bad for a recovering perfectionist.  Not bad at all.