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.

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“The View From In Here” by Michelle Jones

I just went on Amazon.com and ordered my favorite movie of all time:  “Life As A House.”  It stars Kevin Kline as an architect who lived in a dilapidated shack on an amazing piece of property overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  He inherited it from his father, an abusive alcoholic who killed his wife (KK’s mother) and another couple in a drunk driving accident when Kline was just a kid.

Kline’s character learns that he’s dying of cancer at the beginning of the film.  He decides to spend the time he has left trying to make things right with his rebellious, estranged son who lives with his mother and hates him because he was never there.  They spend the summer building the house he designed for that property.  His motivation:  “…to give my son something better than my father gave me.”

As I watched the movie for the umpteenth time, I wondered, for the umpteenth time, how we manage these lives that we have “inherited” from our parents.  As we move through our days, sometimes it’s difficult to see the beauty around us because of all the crap that’s inside us.

It’s a beautiful story about relationship, redemption, healing, and forgiveness.  What always strikes me though is how the house they built together was one that had windows everywhere.  The view—which was ALWAYS THERE—could be seen from the inside looking out, and if you were outside, you could see the beauty that was inside the house.

Isn’t that one of the goals of life, to SEE what is really there, what’s always been there—the truth—and to show the world a “house” that was built with that view in mind?  If the “house” is my heart and not my physical being, or my circumstances, it makes sense that we can’t see the “view” as well from the shack as we can from the new house.  If we’re believers, we can only say so much about the awesomeness of God if our lives are not a reflection of the truth we say we know.  Kevin Kline tells his son at one point, “We have to tear this thing down before we can begin to build.”

I was afraid to tear down the house I had become so used to living in, because I didn’t know if I had what it took to start, much less finish my life according to the plans God has for me.  I have failed at too many things to count.  I have left so much unfinished.  I have been wrong more times than anyone has a right to be.  I was tired of watching my life fall down around my ears, over and over again, and I was too scared to believe God would—and could—meet me in my squalor and cover me as we built anew.

It’s tempting to want to just go outside to look at the view; momentarily forgetting the shack is where we really live.  I have been guilty of avoiding facing what’s damaged and neglected in my life, through deflecting, blaming others for where I am, or busily fixing other “houses” in other neighborhoods.  But those are temporary respites from reality.  Eventually, I have to go home and sleep in my own bed.  I have to hear the creaks under my own floorboards and the rattling of my own pipes.  I have to try and look at the view through my own tiny, dirty windows…until I’m willing to roll up my sleeves and do the work.

Once I decided to show up for work, I found out that God’s sleeves were already rolled up and that He—Author, Finisher, Designer, Builder, and Decorator—had always been there.  He was just waiting for me, because you see, faith only works when you do.

We’re all in various stages of “construction.”  I’m not always comfortable in my unfinished digs.  I imagine that I’m an eye sore to the neighbors from time to time, but the truth is they all have their own homes to deal with.  If they’re focused on mine, I can’t do anything about that.  I just have to keep hammering where I’m employed.

I want a house where the view can be seen from every room.  I know it’s doable now.  I am sure that’s the plan He has for me—for all of us.  I don’t want to just talk about a view that can’t be seen from where I live.  I don’t want that life.

Atlanta has been good for me because I’ve been forced to look at the condition of my heart without distraction.  It’s not always easy, but somehow God is growing my confidence in His ability and willingness to create the heart He wants in me.  The “view” is becoming more visible from the inside of me and in the inside of me.  I am certain now that before it is anything else, Love is PATIENT and KIND.  If not for that, I would have no hope.

I shared some of these thoughts with my friend Suzan, and she suggested I share them with others.  Every day this week, someone has said something to me about writing down what’s been on my mind and heart for others to see.

It finally hit me a moment ago.  Each time I learn a truth, and write about it, it’s like God telling me that He has installed another window in my house. When we do the things God put us here to do in the way that He planned for us to do them, it is like a window that gives us another glimpse of the magnificent view of Him.

When we love our husbands, raise our children, give to those in need, weep for those who suffer and lift our hands to help them, study and share the Word, celebrate the beauty in another person’s life, hope when life appears hopeless, or give ourselves when our pockets are empty, we confirm that there are windows where decaying walls used to be.

There’s lots of work to do in me still, but every time I look through a window, and see the view of The One who gave me my breath, it takes my breath away, and I am encouraged to keep moving forward.

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.

Too Much of a Good Thing by Michelle Jones

Some years ago I was flipping through channels and saw a news segment about a sheep who had become famous in New Zealand.  She had been given the name Shrek.  What a Disney ogre has to do with sheep is anyone’s guess, but the story got my attention…

Too much of a good thing?

…and then it changed my life.

Shrek was known throughout the sheepherding community.  She was a runaway who had been hiding up in the mountains for six years, and managed to elude recapture several times before the shepherds finally gave up and stopped responding to “Shrek sightings.”

One day a shepherd got a call from a woman who was hiking up in the mountains.  She said she was standing right in front of Shrek and that they could come up and get her.  The shepherd told the woman, who obviously lived under a rock, that she was not the first person who had gotten that close to the animal.  He assured her that by the time they took a man away from his work, gassed up the Jeep, and drove the hour or so up into the hills, Shrek would be long gone, no doubt laughing (if sheep laugh) at the latest mister who missed her.

“You won’t be disappointed,” said the woman.  “Shrek won’t run.  She can’t run.”

The woman took a picture with her phone and sent it down.  Shrek was carrying so much wool on her body that running had become at best an impossible dream.

A little-known fact about our wooly friends:  Sheep born and raised in the mountains never find themselves with too much wool.  They only grow what they need to survive.  Domestic sheep, particularly sheep that belong to a shepherd, are a very different story.  Domestic sheep get sheered, which causes their wool to grow wild and out of control.  Regularly relieving them of it, while good for business, is also necessary for their health and survival.

So after six years away from the clippers, it’s no surprise that Shrek was a bit heavy in the hooves.  The shepherds came up and got her.  The video showed her trying to take a step back when they approached, but she moved like a 300 lb man 1 six-pack, 2 pizzas and 3 quarters into a one-sided football game.  You ever ask that guy to take out the trash?  A head turn, a shift, a grunt, and he gives up.

I remember thinking Shrek looked kind of arrogant with all that wool on her, like she knew she had something people wanted—perhaps even needed—but she had the power to withhold it.

What’s your wool?  What, among your many talents and abilities, is the most obvious and useful to those around you?  Are you holding it hostage?

I’m a writer.  That’s my wool.  For years I kept it close, only pouring into my journals or waxing poetic onstage.  Aside from that, I was stingy because I had been hurt in the past, taken advantage of by people who didn’t care for me past what I could write for them.

I cultivated my other gifts, speaking, teaching, creating, shepherding leaders and others and offered them up instead.  I resented it when people introduced me as “Michelle the writer.”  I was more than that.  When I saw Shrek though, something clicked.

For years I had been saying, “Leave my wool to me!  Look at my leather, my milk, and my meat!  Use my intestines for sausage casings!  There’s so much more to me than my wool!”  How ridiculous is that?  You can’t even see the rest of a sheep until you get past its wool.

I have piles of things I have written that no one has ever seen.  Shouldn’t someone see them?  If I write my books, perhaps I’ll get to speak or teach about what I have written.  If I get my stories out, maybe I’ll make room for more.  If I continue blogging, I might inspire someone I’ve never met, tough people in cities I’ll never visit.  (ooh, elastic!)

If I write…

We’ve all been cheated or taken advantage of.  We have all been misused and abused for our gifts.  If our gift is worth anything—and all gifts are—there will be times when we are lonely because we will offer ourselves to others and they will cling only to what they need and leave the rest.

The way to most of what you have to offer the world goes through your most obvious gift or talent.  That is what will create space for you among people and in places off limits to others.  To be sure, there are poachers and thieves ready to take what they did not earn, and some of what you have will get away from you through painful lessons.  Still, what you have is not your own.  It was put in you to be given through you.  Give it freely and there will always be more of it.

Shrek was carrying 62 lbs. of merino wool on her back, enough for 20 men’s suits.  She was sheered and the money generated from the event was given to a local charity.

What are you carrying around that people need?  What are you holding onto that defines you in the eyes of others and gives you relevance in your community?  What space are you refusing to fill?

Do you have too much of a good thing?

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