Courage to Encourage by Michelle Jones

The road to Hell is too often paved with “good advice.”  I found that out one day during one hell of a conversation.

I shared my plans to take on my weight with my friend Lee (not her real name).  I told her how excited I was about my quest to “release weight on the inside and shed pounds on the outside.”  I dreamt aloud about being able to become free in my own body and then help others get free.  My enthusiasm was evident.

Then I heard that hisssssss that happens when you toss a bucket of water on a burning fire.

“You look fine.  Your clothes fit you fine.  What kind of standard are you trying to live up to?

“Look at my frame,” I told her.  “I should not be carrying this much weight on this bony frame.  I have more fat on me than is healthy.  Plus, the pounds are just an outward expression of inward issues.  The inside is my focus.  Once that’s dealt with, the pounds take care of themselves.”  I was sure she could hear me grinning proudly from ear to ear over the phone.  I was wrong.

She seemed agitated by my answer.  “I don’t understand.  Why can’t you just be satisfied with the way God made you,” she snapped back, “with whatever bones and flesh, and puffy fat you have?  Why do you have to beat yourself up?”

“This is not the way God designed me!  I did this to me.”  I was so frustrated.  I was making sound, practical, honest sense to my own ears.  Why wasn’t she hearing me?

“I have obviously not been a good steward of the body God gave me,” I said.

“Says who?  That’s just low self-esteem talking.”

Was she actually fighting me about this?

“Look, I just want you to be happy,” she finally said.

“Want me to be whole,” I countered.  “Want me to be healthy and healed.  Want me to be willing to do the work, even when I’m not happy.  Want me to have joy, which doesn’t always come with being happy.”

“I just want you to be happy.”  She said it again.  It seemed to depress her and take the wind out of her sails that I wasn’t willing to settle in where my bad choices had put me.  She sort of sighed like she was giving up on her pathetic friend and said her good-byes.

I thought about how desperately she was trying to change my mind about this.  She really thought she was helping me.  And she was angry that I was being so stubborn.

How much damage do we do when we fail to encourage a brother or sister’s attempts to improve themselves?  How badly do we hinder their progress when we push them toward complacency and compromise?  “God loves you just the way you are.”  How many times has that beautiful truth been used to murder someone in pursuit of her destiny?

Of course God loves me just as I am.  And because He’s God—unchangeable and complete—He or His love will not become greater if I am fitter, richer, or nicer.  Nor will it lessen if I take up drinking or stripping.  God’s love for me is not in question.  And it’s not the point.

The point is this:  If I decide to become someone better than I am, ENCOURAGE ME.

If I choose to evolve, grow, break free of some things that have held me bound for too long, ENCOURAGE ME.  Don’t keep showing me the easy way out, or the low bar.  I’m stronger than that.  Let me live up to the expectations of the Spirit within me.

If I want to go deep into my soul, and pull out all the painful, ugly, garbage that keeps me afraid of intimately connecting with others, ENCOURAGE ME.  There is no safety in hiding.  There is only loneliness, and none of us wants to stay lonely.

Pain and discomfort are a part of living, but you do me no favors when you tell me to embrace the consequences of my transgressions along with the suffering.  You are not helping me when you ask me to be satisfied with running half a race.  There’s no such thing as half a win or a partial prize.

ENCOURAGE ME.  Give me some of your courage, because I may be afraid as I move forward.

If you don’t have any courage for me—if you have no confidence in me, or you are too afraid that I will fail—say nothing at all.  Just watch and pray.

And when I finish this race, I will encourage you.

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What if I… by Michelle Jones

I’m at the beginning of a journey I have begun many times.  I can’t see the end from here.  This is always the scariest part for me…day one, step one, moment one of anything I really want to finish.

The “what ifs” are already crowding my head.  What if I fail (again)?  What if it’s harder than I thought it would be? What if I don’t have the character to tell the truth when I slip or compromise?  What if I run out of run before I run out of race?

I know in my knower that all of this is panic and foolishness, but I still have to get it out and look at the mess as it is.  Courage comes with clarity, and clarity comes when I tame all the lying monkeys swinging between my thoughts and the truth.

Turns out the “what ifs”—despite their persistence and intensity— are not my problem.  They’re not hiding the truth from me.  Rather, they expose my duplicity because they have all been true at one time or another.  I have failed, fallen short, and been weak of character more times than I want to think about.  It’s not only possible, but likely that I will be again.

If I’m honest, I don’t like “what ifs” because they won’t provide me with the one thing my fearful self desires most—a good enough excuse for opting out.  Think about it.  Giving up because of what might happen is like losing an argument with someone you’ve never met. Do I really want to go out like that?

Dwelling on what might happen is a distraction.  We can justify it by claiming we’re wise for considering possible costs before moving forward.  Not so.  Costs are fixed and certain.  They are “what is” not “what ifs.”  Knowing the cost of something helps you move forward.  Wondering “what if” just holds you back.

The best use of your mind in the moments before you begin the journey toward a big or important goal is to ask yourself if it is something you would do if you knew you would not fail at it.  If there were two lists to be read aloud at your funeral—one of things you attempted to do, and one of things you would not attempt—which list would you want it on?

I suspect you already have what it takes to make a first step, don’t you?  I know I do, or I wouldn’t be entertaining worry at all.  What stops most of us is not lack, but slack.  All we really need to finish most things is to begin them, each day.

Day one, step one, moment one…

Here I go.  I hope I have company.

Of A Certain Age by Michelle Jones

I read once that potential makes good breakfast but lousy dessert.  Most of us believe that, don’t we?  Common sense tells us that fantasizing about who we could be is much sweeter than lamenting who we could have been.  The problem is common sense has never been a sensible judge of accomplishment or destiny, because we were created to be uncommon.

Let me be clear about something that may or may not encourage you to read further.  I believe there is a God; one supreme, amazing, spirit/person who imagined, planned, and fashioned all of everything except Himself, because He has always been.  His personality, His relationship to humankind, and His desires for us—as I understand it—are seen in the design of all of Creation.  Patterns repeat themselves over and over on earth and in the heavens, so much so that theories of big bangs fizzle not just in my religious mind, but my logical one.

That very belief brought me to an impasse recently as I looked back at what is likely more than half of my life.

Do you know what it’s like to watch time slip through your fingers like sand and wonder how much of the best parts of you are gone with it?  Have you ever choked on the ashes of dreams that can never be?  Is there a list somewhere—on paper or in your mind—of what you would do differently if you had known then what you know now?  Maybe you’re not hopeless, but do you hope less than you used to?

When we’re young and looking forward, our potential—and the plans we make to realize it—keep us energized.  In the run for our lives, they are simultaneously the wind at our backs and the prize we reach for.

But, somewhere along the way, responsibility supplants possibility in the contest for our attention, and our identity and the plans we once stood on with such confidence begin to wobble with the weight of our obligations.

We keep our balance by modifying and fine-tuning the plans to salvage what we can of our ideals about ourselves. We fall from self-made pedestals, a little bit with each change, adjustment, failure, loss, or tragedy until the ground gives way beneath us, and disappointment crashes into us from below.

The pain is real and we feel it enough to forget how good we felt dreaming not so long ago.  Which brings me to my impasse.

Lately I’ve been wondering when I stopped thinking my life was ahead of me and started viewing it from a rearview mirror.  When did I stop being ambitious and hopeful about what was in my heart?  When did it become resonable to decide that my destiny is less real than my disappointments?

Ants carry 600 times their weight.  Shouldn’t that show me endurance?  A caterpillar doesn’t wrestle in her chrysalis.  What does that tell me about patience?  A river keeps running over the rocks thrown into it, polishing them on its way to the ocean.  Is that not a glorious picture of perseverance, grace, and undying devotion?

Those patterns exist for a reason.  They are there for our benefit, to teach us something about how we are to live.  Why do we insist on existing beneath their example?

There is divine reason and purpose attached to me.  I was designed to succeed.  That truth is animate as long as I am.  Destiny does not have an expiration date.

So who are we to become?  Someone uniquely beautiful if snowflakes or butterflies are to be believed.  Perhaps someone as powerful, enduring, and life sustaining as the mighty Amazon.  Someone connected to a greater plan if we can discern anything from the very cells and systems of our own bodies.

I’m going to look forward as I advance on the latter years of my life, not wondering who I might become, but certain that who I am is enough to become whoever I was created to be.  I know now what I did not know then.  Why not do now what I could not do then?  Life happens.  It’s about time I returned the favor.

God Himself breathed life into me.  Isn’t it ironic that when I consider all He has done to show me that I have value in His world—when I look at everything He created to enjoy me and teach me how to enjoy Him—it takes my breath away.

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