Habits – #3

HABIT #3:  YOUR CHOICE IS YOUR VOICE

I am not the sum of the voices that ring in my head, but rather the choices I make before bed.

I am three hours into a 13-hour flight from San Francisco to Singapore.  Despite the fact that the afternoon sun is shining on the nose of my Boeing 777, it is “evening” inside the plane. We’ve had our supper and dessert.  People are dozing under blankets, proverbial bumps on reclining, video-equipped, tray table-fitted logs.  The shades are down on the windows, so those of us who remain awake read, write, or watch movies with our lights on.

We play this game theoretically to get us ready for the time change at our destination. It makes sense in a make-every-minute-count sort of way.  We humans love to remind ourselves that we can control outcomes despite circumstances.  Well, not all humans, mostly just adult humans.

There’s a boy on this flight.  At least, I think it’s a boy.  Every 20 minutes or so, he flies past me, running as fast as he can, up the aisle on my side, and down the aisle on the other side of the plane.   He’s a blur really, but I can make out short black hair and pumping arms and legs.  I feel the wind of him more than see him, and since girls don’t usually run with such gusto, I assume the blur is a boy—a boy who chooses to run like he’s in an open field on a Saturday afternoon, despite his surroundings.

Children are little balls of combustible moments until we begin the work of turning them into “someone.”  My son “the doctor,” that little “troublemaker” who lives in the yellow house, the “fat girl with the alcoholic mother”…

“What do you want to be when you grow up,” we may ask them, because we desperately need the combustion to settle down and become a label.  We like labels. They appeal to the lazy coward in all of us called Humanity.

Labels tell us who to like, pity, or protect ourselves from without us having to do the tedious work of relating, learning, or forgiving faults and offense. Without them people just “are” whoever they want to be around us.  Expectation and predictability—read safety—go out the window.  They take up space in our brains reserved for surprise parties and crises, the place where we give ourselves permission to be powerless and caught off guard.

What would children become if we encouraged them to surprise us and keep us off our guard every day? If we didn’t have to collect the moments they throw at us and make sense of them, and we invited them to shatter our expectations, might they settle for being miraculous?  If we loved them more than our lazy coward, could they wake up every day and decide to put “be amazing” at the top of their To Do list?  What does it look like when the “running blur” is free to run into old age?

Many months later, I would have my answers.

My friend Sheralyn’s mother, Dr. Rosalyn M. Blake-Jones, age 75, is reciting poetry to me from her bed in a Florida nursing home.  It’s hard to make out some of the words.  Diabetes and a stroke have left her with a rebellious body, often going its own way, or not going, despite her efforts.

The verses—composed in her head because she cannot see or write—soar.  From memory she speaks of Forgiveness; of angry words and bitter emotion released from the prison of the heart, through explanation, and set free to be forgotten.  The flow and rhythm of her prose pass unhindered over halted speech and muscle tremors.  Her beauty is stunning and I am rapt.

Mommy—my name for her— is blind, but she guides me to a truth I could never have seen without her.  She is that black-haired boy on the plane, friend of the wind, choosing light and choosing joy instead of opting for what makes sense to the rest of us.

Sheralyn feeds her mother lunch, combs her hair and straightens up around her while we visit.  She knows I am in town to speak at a woman’s conference.  “Tell me what you talked about,” she says between bites, and then gives me her undivided attention.  She interrupts with the occasional “Oh!” or “That’s so beautiful!” to let me know that she is with me, present and accounted for.  Could I be so generous and helpless all at once?

We are not what happens to us or what is happening around us.  A doctor can tell us we are dying, but we decide how we’ll live our last days.  We can lose our legs, our money, or our spouse, but still move from regret to gratitude for what—and who—we have left.

Beyond my labels or my appearance—past what I do or what has been done to me—who am I really?  The raven boy and beautiful Rosalyn challenge me.  I don’t want to settle for a life that merely shouts, “I am what you see!”  I will keep choosing light and joy until it whispers, “You see who I am.”

Then I’ll be free.

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Habits – #2

HABIT #2: DON’T KEEP OPPORTUNITIES WAITING

The opportunity of a lifetime must be seized within the lifetime of the opportunity

The time to act on anything is not a moment sooner or later than you are able to.  You have no guarantee that an open door will remain open, no assurances that your power to act in a circumstance will not expire.

An opportunity presents itself as a gift, designed for us to be used by us to make our lives better.  But gifts are ours to keep for as long as we want them.  An opportunity is not a gift.  It is a provision, and a perishable one at that.

Like a fortuitous wind on the seas, we find it courting our sails, offering us a lift here or a push there.  What we do not hear in the wind—and what we will never hear—is a pledge to remain.  “Use me now!” she urgently whispers instead, “Tomorrow is not mine to give you.”

Opportunities only appear when we are ready to receive them, when our hearts and minds are open to seeing, and our circumstances have made room.  They’re never early or tardy.

They are, however, jealous.  If you keep them waiting, or allow fear to distract you from them, they will move on.

Habits – #1

Over the weekend, I spoke at a church in Palm Bay Florida.  I think I learned more than I taught about a blind man named Bartimaeus.  For the next week or so, I will be posting about him.   You can check him out in Matthew 20:29-34, Mark 10:46-52, and Luke 18:35-43 if you’ve a mind to, but what I’ll be sharing are a few habits I’d like to incorporate into my life in light of what I read.  Hopefully they’ll stand on their own with or without the passage.  I hope you think so.

HABIT #1:  RID YOURSELF OF IGNORANCE

There are two ways to rid yourself of ignorance:  REPENT of it through your learning, or CONSENT to it and let it be swallowed up by your stupidity.

Even without power in our circumstances, we still have access to definition, explanation, hearing, and believing.  Learning creates space in our lives for moments that can recreate us.  Tomorrow may come with yesterday’s problems, but revelation gives us another tool for the challenge or maybe a way of escape that we didn’t see before.

When we settle for just what we already know, we can only live our current moments over and over again.  We make the same decisions, choose the same men (or women), and halt in the same posture no matter the situation.

In ignorance, night becomes day, but we remain asleep as the world moves ahead around us.  We view our circumstances through a darkened lens, pray to an unimpressive God, and show Him to others as limited and fathomable.

Curiosity keeps the mind supple.  Understanding makes our hope elastic.  Learning–the bridge between the two–puts Forever within our grasp.

“Big Baby” by Michelle Jones

As I write this column from the upstairs bedroom of my brother’s San Francisco loft, an argument ensues downstairs.  Pilar Brielle and Landon Asher—my 9-month-old godchildren—want what they want, and apparently their parents are not giving it to them fast enough.

The twins are loud and insistent.  That is to be expected.  What’s hilarious to me are my brother Tim and his wife Denise trying to reason with them.  They speak in smooth, patronizing tones, the way a psychiatrist talks to a guy in a straight jacket.

“Pi-laarr?  Your bottle is almost ready, okay?”

“WHAAAAAAA!!!!”

“Landon… Landon?”

“WHAAAAAAAA!!!!”

Hearing the conversation in the babies’ heads, I imagine it goes something like this:

“Bla-blaah?  Blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah, blah?”

“I’M HUNGRY! YOU!  FOOD LADY!  BRING FOOD!”

“Blah-blah… Blah-blah?”

“HEY! I’M HUNGRY! GIANT MAN!  HELP FOOD LADY!  NOW!!”

This, uh, discussion goes on for a few minutes before the grownups abandon reasoning and scramble to shove bottles or baby food in where all the noise is coming out.  As soon as they do, there is blissful peace, punctuated by sweet sucking sounds.

The parents feel competent, heroic even.  They have stopped the babies from crying and righted the world, as they know it.  The babies let them bask in this illusion.  So do I.  It is obvious to me that the infants run this asylum.  Tim and Denise are staff—unpaid staff—working their tails off for a reward of catnaps and baby food stained clothes.

Later, between flipping Landon upside down and clapping with Pilar (clearly I was hired for my entertainment value), I marveled at how eagerly we all doted on them.  It seemed obvious at first.  You wait on babies because they’re needy, right?  Right.  And they let you because they know they’re needy, right?  Wrong.  Babies don’t know that they need you.  They know what they want.  Big difference.

Babies are haughty.  They are entitled superior little beings.  You will never hear a baby described as “humble.”  Humility appreciates its own smallness and understands its own helplessness.  Humility asks for—it doesn’t demand—what it wants.  Landon and Pilar are lots of cute, soft, sweet smelling (most of the time) things, but there is not a humble bone in their pudgy little bodies.

Jesus tells us to come to Him as a child not a baby.  It occurs to me that in some of my dealings with Him, I have come like Landon, grabbing and snatching what I want, or like Pilar, with an ear-splitting scream demanding it NOW!

Children are not babies.  Like babies, they are smaller than we are, and they do need a lot of help, but the difference is they know it.  They are aware that someone must take care of them lest they starve or go naked.  They wait to be picked up at school.  They call you mom and dad, not Sally and Dave or What’s-your-name.

Children don’t—as a rule—order their parents around fearlessly (unless somebody’s not doing their job).  They don’t expect to pay the gas bill because they know they have no responsibility in that area.

The difference between a baby and a child is in the attitude.  Babies are arrogant.  They demand that their needs are met and they don’t care how.  One hand with a bottle or a dry diaper is as good as another.  Children have learned to be confident.  They know what they want, but they also know where to go to get it.

A “good” child doesn’t accept a ride from a stranger.  She doesn’t expect an allowance from any grownup passing by with cash.  If he has a booboo that needs kissing, only one pair of lips will do.  When she brings a trophy home, nobody’s attagirl matters as much as mom’s or dad’s.

Come, as a child, not a baby.  Come.  Approach.  Move from where you are to get what you need from the One who is waiting for you with everything in His hand.  Come, don’t sit and pout, rant and rail, scream, accuse, put your hands on your hips, flip your wig, or storm off in a huff because you’re tired of waiting.  Come expecting, not snatching and grabbing.  Come to your Father, not a stranger, as a beloved son or daughter, not an orphan.

Landon can’t walk yet, and he’s not fond of crawling, but every day he waits for my brother—his daddy—to come home from work.  He listens for the key in the door, and when it opens, the sight is hysterical.  No matter what Landon is doing, he stops, drops to the floor, and scoots like a tadpole toward the “Hey Little Man!” coming from the giant man who rocks him to sleep every night.

He’s learning.  When I grow up, I want to be just like him.

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