Life, Philosophy, Relationships

The Importance of Yes

yes-by-jose-picardo-on-flickr

Given the recent controversies in the States with the Brock Turner trial and the latest allegations against Trump – global news thanks to the media – you’d be forgiven for thinking that I’m going to be writing about sexual consent; however, I’m going to assume that my readers would already understand the importance of ‘yes’ in that context(!).  Here, we’re going to examine the importance of ‘yes’ from a Christian perspective – the value of agreeing with what’s proposed; signing up; raising your hand; and being willing to both give and receive.

We’re so busy these days; we guard our schedules so closely.  Every blog, magazine, and opinion piece I’ve read lately seems to have proclaimed the necessity of learning to say ‘no’ – and here I am proclaiming the opposite!  It’s true – I agree with that other proclamation in this: we do need to be careful not to just agree to do whatever is asked of us regardless of the cost to our sanity, our dignity, and our felicity – but we also miss amazing opportunities when we’re too quick to say ‘no’ or to push aside a vision for something we’d like to be involved in.

So often, I think, something is asked of us, and our immediate instinct is to turn down the opportunity.  We think, “I’ve already got too much on!” or, “This is WAY out of my comfort zone – NO, THANKS!”  But when we resist that urge to say ‘no’ and instead jump in – boots & all – the results can be amazing.

Yesterday at church we examined the idea and practice of prayer.  At some point, around the middle of the service, we were asked to gather with those around us and pray together.  We were also encouraged to separate from our spouses for this purpose, so that we’d be a little further out of our comfort zone and meet a few more people (it’s a fairly large church).  I love to pray, but my immediate thought was, “Uh – do we have to?”  Just the idea of having to introduce myself to people I didn’t know and then pray – to share the intimacy of our hearts’ cries to God – was daunting.  But I ignored the impulse to just huddle with my hubby in a prayer-group-for-two and instead headed to a few pews ahead to pray with some people I’d never met.

I discovered through our prayers that they were a family group, and they were dealing with some tough stuff; they were a bit emotional and one of them even apologised to me, as if she felt badly that I’d ended up in the middle of what they were going through.  But I was delighted to be there.  It was my joy and my privilege to pray for healing; I was happy to share prayers for our community and our church with these godly women, even in the midst of their own trials.  God knew where he wanted me, and that’s where I ended up – but only because I said, “Yes.”

We need to be ready to say ‘yes’ in the moment – to ‘let go and let God’, as those in Christian circles are wont to say – because when we ignore our fears, push aside our doubts, and give our anxieties to God He will more than meet us in that moment.

We also need to overcome our reticence to say ‘yes’ when someone’s offering to do something for us or to share our burden.  The women I prayed with today – they did that.  They shared what they were going through; they welcomed me into prayer over their burden, delving into what really mattered to them, when they’d undoubtedly have found it easier to just stick to the script and pray some general prayer with me to get it over with.

I’ve just spent three weeks in virtual quarantine; our family’s been through a bad flu (high fevers, chills, and then colds) and conjunctivitis.  Several kind friends offered to help in some way, but I was generally inclined to just soldier on as best I could.  This was partly because there’s always someone who’s got it worse and partly because, what could they really do?  What you really need when you’re in the midst of a family-wide flu is either (a.) a housemaid with a strong constitution (so she could clean up the inevitable tsunami of mess that accompanies a family of six being cooped up in a house for several weeks without, herself, succumbing to the bugs that had laid us so low);  or (b.) a magic wand that would make me well enough to escape the confines of the infirmary (alas, with a grossly swollen eye I was fit only for the most desperate of forays into public for the purpose of gathering supplies!).  Finally, though, a friend on her way to the supermarket offered to pick something up and – light bulb moment, here – I said, “Yes!”  Well, after first saying ‘no’…  I realised that we were out of oranges – and oranges were what my feverish ones were begging for – so I texted her back and said, “Yes, please – we’d LOVE a few oranges.”  And *wow* – those oranges were such a treat (thank you, A, if you’re reading!)!

We’re so independent, most of us.  We are so reluctant to let others do something for us – so hesitant to accept help.  It’s pride, sometimes, that makes it difficult for us to say ‘yes’ to help; sometimes it’s more a sense of being undeserving of their kindness.  Whyever it is that we’re reticent to accept help, we need to overcome that instinct, because relationships are built and strengthened by this give-and-take.  I want my friends to accept an offer of a meal if it’ll make their lives easier for an evening when they’re dealing with illness, a new baby, or grief; I want them to let me fetch something when I’m doing my own shopping, or loan them something they’re short of, or collect their kids from school with mine when they’re running late for pick-up.  And I know that they want me to say ‘yes’ to their offers to do the same.  Saying ‘yes’ to involvement in the lives of those around us is key in building relationships.

I’ve got a few things going on, between our boys’ activities, church, writing work, and so forth.  There are some new opportunities for involvement at church and school, too, and I’m having to consider each one before just leaping in and finding myself swamped.  At the same time, I’m also working to avoid the trap of just saying, ‘No!’ to one more thing.  I have to fight the urge to shut down and say, “No WAY can I take on more – have you seen the state of my HOUSE??!  I can barely find energy to make lunches on school nights – how on earth will I find energy for something else?!”  Because I know – as you probably do, too, in your heart of hearts – that when I’m doing things that I love, it energises me.  When I make time for things I believe are important, I feel fulfilled; my time is reduced but my sense of accomplishment grows to more than compensate for what I’ve given up.  It’s true that we have a finite amount of time and we need to be careful what we spend it on – but it’s also true we waste a lot of the time we have; perhaps even more when we haven’t said ‘yes’ to things that demand inclusion in our schedules.

It’s so easy to get into the habit of saying ‘no’.  It can become our default method of self-preservation – but it can also prevent us from truly living up to our potential.  It can hinder us from receiving a blessing; and it can prevent us from being a blessing to those around us.

Really, what it boils down to is this:  Your ‘yes’ is important.  It’s essential, really.  So don’t be too frugal with it.  Seize those opportunities!  Bite off more than you can chew!  When we open ourselves up to opportunities for service; avail ourselves of the kindness of others; and follow our vision with passion, we realise that none of the reasons to say ‘no’ really mattered at all.

 

NB:  This post is dedicated to the memory of H.R., a wonderful brother-in-Christ who is now more than ‘resting in peace’ – he is living in Glory!  He said ‘Yes!’ to God a long time ago, and his life was a tribute to the power of that commitment.  He had a special gift for greeting and welcoming others, and I pray that I’ll always honour his memory by putting aside my shyness and greeting those around me – even those I don’t know – with warmth and compassion.

Thanks for reading!

-Trix  x

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Faith, Life, Philosophy

Otherness

Otherness by tokyoform on flickr

“There are only two types of people in this world,” announced the waiter – obviously a man of experience – to my young parents, “There are those who like parmesan… and there are those who hate it.”

I remember my folks telling this story (although, admittedly, I don’t actually remember that the appreciation for parmesan was the line upon which he divided the human race – I know it was something equally ludicrous!). You’ve probably heard a few of these statements, yourself.

There’s something that appeals to human nature about having a neat system to categorize the people around us.  It seems that, particularly regarding subjects about which we’re passionate, we see things in dualities: either you’re ‘for’ what I’m for, or you’re against me.  It’s ‘us’ vs. ‘them’.  But even when it’s a more nebulous concept – something less obvious than a preference for Italian cheeses – we can be quick to draw lines of division.

Those people…”

Have you ever said, or thought, those words?

Maybe ‘those people’ were the ones from the wrong side of town; the kids whose parents worked jobs that your white-collar parents would disparage because they were ‘unskilled’ or ‘uneducated’ – or perhaps ‘those people’ were the privileged offspring of the ‘entitled’ elite, never having to work to earn the riches they enjoyed, looking down at you and ‘your people’ because they think that they’re where they are because they work ‘smart’ while your blue-collar families just work hard.

Maybe those people were in a community from which you felt an outsider – separated from them by language, culture, or religion.  You don’t understand why they don’t think like you, act like you, talk like you – and why they don’t seem to want to change, as you think they should, to ‘fit in better’ in their new country.  Or perhaps you’re the new one on the block, and you feel like ‘those people’ whose citizenship goes back some generations view you with suspicion, treat you as ‘other,’ subtly exclude you from things because “you won’t get it.”  You feel like they’ll probably never consider you to be truly one of them…  You don’t trust them, and they don’t trust you.

Whatever the case, the assumption you make is that those people are essentially different from you.  You assume that they have different values, different beliefs, different motives…  You figure that they don’t care about the things you care about, and – if you were honest about it – you’d admit that you don’t like them for it.

Money, education, culture, race, politics, religion – these things can be the lines upon which we divide ourselves from others; they’re at the root of some pretty deep rifts between fellow humans.

I’m originally from South Africa.

I wonder if anyone thinks, when reading that, ‘Oh, she must be one of THOSE people…’

Well, I will tell you that I do know a thing or two about the issue of ‘those people’.  I’ve been the fish-out-of-water; I’ve been the standout ‘other’; I’ve been the new kid in class.  I have also, very occasionally, been the ‘local’ with something of a history in a place.  But let’s look beyond my own history to see what History says about what happens when we get a bit caught up in maintaining that separation between ‘us’ and ‘them’.

Apartheid was a system adopted by the ruling parties of South Africa toward the end of the 1940s.  We know now that this policy of separate development resulted in an oppressive regime in which people of one race enjoyed every benefit at the expense of everyone else – and we know now that the system of apartheid, aside from being intrinsically unjust, was one that perpetuated injustice, prejudice, and the subjugation of these ‘minority’ peoples under the rule of the others.

We know that NOW, but back then – when apartheid was first instituted – it was based upon a very idealistic (and misguided) belief by many white South Africans that it was in everyone’s best interests for each group to retain their own customs, culture, and language within the confines of their separate but parallel societies.  In theory, this was a kindness (such was the lie that was sold to the voting public).  In practice, there was nothing kind, respectful or just about it; apartheid was simply the institutionalization of racial discrimination.

We know THIS: History has proven that the separation of people based on these divisions – ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ – results in greater misunderstanding, greater prejudice, and greater rifts between one person and another.

Not knowing people personally, but instead confining them to a category, leads to a kind of small-minded cynicism about their motives as well as a hard-heartedness towards them as fellow humans.

Remember that assumption I mentioned earlier?  That ‘those people’ are essentially different from you?

We’re all ‘other’ to someone else.

This post isn’t me being political; this is me being personal.  I’m not immune to these lines of division. I have also sometimes been caught up in concern about ‘others’.

I love diversity.  I think that one of the special things about our world is the colour and texture provided by different cultures, languages, traditions – even ethnic differences; the spectrum of eye colours, hair colours, skin…  I love it that, just the other week, here in New Zealand a pair of little girls from our school – one Sri Lankan and one South African – joined together to perform at a local Chinese singing competition (and they won an award!).  So sometimes, when I’ve been thinking about the potential for one nationality or another to dominate all the others because of that nationality’s increasing population, I’ve been concerned about the dilution of that diversity.

I was struggling with this recently, because I try to be conscious of identifying and erasing those lines of division in my own heart that separate me from my fellow humans; and I said to God,
“But if one group or another of us kind of ‘takes over’ then we’ll lose all that diversity that I love so much!”

I felt instantly convicted by this response:

“That stuff doesn’t matter to me!”

What???  But why did God create such interest and diversity if he didn’t care about all those differences?  Variety is the spice of life!

The truth is, our world will always have diversity.  Between the crazy and wonderful gene combinations we’ve got floating around, the variety of physical characteristics, personalities, styles of dress (and other forms of self-expression), and opinions – which we know will never align completely on this side of heaven – we’ve got plenty of diversity.  What we need to do is to ensure that those distinctions don’t become a barrier to connection between ourselves and others.

We’re all equal before God:

“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Galatians 3:28

Ultimately, all the differences we see – those things that separate ‘us’ from ‘them’ – are nothing to God.  Clinging too tightly to our national/ethnic identity has a way of blinding us to the hearts and virtue of others; God wants us to recognize our kinship with others.  We’re all His children.  And there’s none of us – not a single one – that God wouldn’t be glad to have in heaven.  We all have equal access to Jesus – and His heart is that we’d all accept him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, so that we can spend eternity together.

So what are we doing drawing divisions where none truly exist?  Really, the only ‘us’ and ‘them’ there can be are those who’ve answered His call and those to whom He’s still calling.  We’re all his children – and that makes us family.

Go out today and greet your brothers and sisters with love and warmth.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”

-Matt.22:37-39

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Life, Parenting, Philosophy

A Little Reminder

Old Shelter by Leonard J Matthews on flickr

 

“Nice place you got here!”

My toddler stands in our driveway, hands on hips, nodding appreciatively as he surveys our house.

“Why thank you, Kind Sir!” I reply, suppressing a giggle at this real estate connoisseur in a Pull-Up.

“Is it OUR house?” he asks, turning and squinting at me earnestly.

“Yes, it is,” I answer, deciding that it’s not the time to quibble about property ownership vs. tenancy.

D, at age three, wants to know what’s what.

Often he asks me why we have to have a house, and I tell him that we need shelter from the sun and the rain and the heat and the cold, and that we’re so lucky to have it.  I tell him that we have beds to sleep in, and they’re comfy and safe…  I tell him that, if we didn’t have those things, life would be pretty hard for us.

There seems to be some comfort for him in the repetition of these questions and the reassurance of my answers.  He comes away from the exchange satisfied; but I’m not sure that I am.

Every time my sweet child asks me about these things, I remember that our family has them – but that other families do not.  Every time I answer his questions about the necessity of our shelter, I’m reminded of others who are constantly seeking a place to rest their heads at night.

D has asked these questions so often lately that he now comes up with the answers himself:

Why do we have a house?  Is it so that we don’t have to get wet when it rains?

Why not do we have to sleep outside? [He’s still getting the hang of word order!] Is it because we have a house to sleep in?

Why do we have beds?  Is it because otherwise we’d have to sleep on the floor?”

This repetition – this listing by my littlest of the comforts we enjoy that I might otherwise take for granted – is a great reminder for me that what we have is a delight.  D acting as my own little reminder has helped put me in a posture of gratitude – so I thought I’d pass on the good turn.

Consider this a little reminder to count your blessings.  Let’s be grateful for all we have, and mindful of those who have not.  “Nice place you got here!” – Indeed!

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Faith, Grace, Life, Philosophy, Reflection

Growing Old Graciously

Folded hands by Horia Varlen on flickr.jpg

There was a series of ads for a popular anti-aging cream a while back that ended with this tagline:

“I don’t intend to grow old gracefully.  I’m going to fight it every step of the way!”

The line was delivered by a beautiful, feisty woman; one who didn’t look her age and one who, by her own admission, had no intention of allowing her beauty to fade as she grew older.  This was ostensibly her main goal in life.  As if wrinkles somehow negate a woman’s beauty.  As if youth were a commodity more precious than experience.

But is it truly a measure of ‘aging well’ that we should remain unchanged by the passage of time?

Aging, and how (or whether) we change as we grow older, has been on my mind lately because I’m on the cusp of a milestone.  As I’m a sentimentalist, this birthday feels like a significant event in my life; and, as with all such things, anticipating this milestone has caused me to evaluate the past and make plans for the future.

To me, the mirror isn’t the only place we should pause for reflection.

There’s so much to celebrate about the decade I’m leaving behind.  In the past ten years I have borne children (I had only my eldest in my twenties); I have moved countries (twice); I have travelled (with kids!); I have studied (and I’ve been a student in the school of life); I have written (and been published!); I have served (and been served).  I’ve grown.  I’ve matured.  And, most of all – I’ve softened.

I’m not just talking about the physical softening and the extra exertion of gravity on a body as it ages; I’m talking about a softening of the heart.  The years have had a tenderizing effect on me; many times when my heart is full, so are my eyes.  I no longer contain my emotions as carefully as I once did; I am no longer in such firm command of the inconvenient welling-up of love, or sympathy, or heartbreak.  And yet – I’m stronger, too.

I’ve seen more death, so life is more precious.

I’ve seen more life, so death has more significance.

I know more about people, so I can relate better and sympathize more.

I know more about myself, so I can play to my strengths and work on my weaknesses.

flaws quote

And there’s more to come.

In the decade ahead, what will I learn, and how will I grow?

This is what I’m hoping for:

I hope that I will grow more tender – and yet stronger, too – with each year that passes.

I hope that I will reach out more to those around me; to shake off the guilt over what I haven’t done in the past and embrace the opportunities that present themselves in the future.

I hope that I will honour my belief in the paramount importance of Relationship by nurturing the relationships I feel privileged to enjoy, while also opening my heart to new friends.

I hope that I will be quick to listen and slower to speak; I hope that the perspectives of others will always inform and interest me.

I hope that I will continue to listen and heed God’s call upon my life; my time; my service; and my heart.

I hope that, while my body ages, I will continue to be renewed by His grace.

Lamentations 3

I hope that, whether or not I grow old gracefully, I will grow old graciously.

 

Maybe my reflections will give my friends pause to consider their own.

How do you intend on growing old?

 

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Faith, Life, Personal Growth, Philosophy, Reflection

Books and Covers

Books and Covers by judy and ed on flickr

It was one of those church concerts you so often just stumble upon in European cathedrals.  A visiting Welsh girls’ choir was performing, and I nipped in and grabbed a pew just as the choristers filed in.  They arranged themselves on the sanctuary steps and very shortly a divine sound echoed into the cavernous reaches of the church.

As an old choir girl, myself, I was interested to see how some of the choristers employed techniques for improving resonance and maintaining pitch (including opening their mouths widely to let the sound out, and smiling to prevent the notes from falling flat) – but, in spite of the general professionalism of the group, a few girls looked as if they just weren’t trying.

One girl in particular drew my eye.  She was plumpish and round-shouldered, and she carried a neutral – almost sullen – expression on her face.  She barely opened her mouth when she was singing, made no eye contact with the audience, and seemed altogether uncomfortable.  I kind of wondered why she was there at all.

I was surprised when I saw her step forward at the end of a song.  I figured that somehow she had been chosen to introduce the next piece, and I wondered if she were going to mumble an introduction the way she seemed to be mumbling the songs.  I watched as she took a deep breath.  The piano started with a few bars – and she began to sing.

Though many years have passed since my serendipitous discovery of that concert, I still remember the sweetness of that girl’s solo.  Her voice rang out, clear and true, and the audience was transfixed – none more than me.  I sat, awestruck, stinging with my own ears’ rebuke of my prejudice against this girl: the one with the angelic voice.

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As I ran along the waterfront towards home, the sun shone warm above me and salty breezes buffeted the buggy.  In the marina, the sailboats’ rigging lines sang in the wind.

I came upon a carpool of construction workers exiting a beat-up old van at their worksite.  Two of them were burly, with bellies hanging over their belts where their fluoro vests stopped short; another was rangy, with two days-worth of ‘five o’clock shadow’ and a ciggie hanging, unlit, from the corner of his lips.  We called out good-morning greetings as I approached, and in the background I could hear that their music was still playing loudly – as you’d expect.  What you might not have expected, though, was their choice of tunes.  Strains of Tchaikovsky spilled out of the passenger-side door and mingled with the cries of the gulls overhead.

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A global study on happiness was conducted a number of years ago (not ‘The Happiness Project,’ which is somewhat skewed towards richer respondents).  They looked at affluent societies, industrial communities, aboriginal groups, families living in the most abject poverty – in short, the researchers covered a great diversity in living situations.  And they came up with some surprising findings.  What they discovered was that some people living in poverty achieved a greater sense of contentment with life – happiness – than others in far superior circumstances.  I remember seeing an interview with a group of people in a slum in India following the release of this study’s results:

“Yes, we’re happy,” said one woman, “Because we’re together.”

“Together” meant eight adults living in a one-bedroom shack.  Together meant eating their meagre portions of rice in shifts, because they didn’t have enough bowls for them to share their meal at the same time.  Together meant taking turns to sleep, too, because there was only half as much space as they needed to all be stretched out at once.

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“You can’t judge a book by its cover”

We all know this expression, don’t we?  And yet, how often do we heed the truth of it?

A plain exterior can conceal exquisite talents.  Rough edges can hide tender interiors.  Financial poverty can obscure the fact of the wealth of a life shared.

Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.

-John 7:24

Again and again, I am reminded to suspend my knee-jerk judgement and look deeper for the truth.  People are so much more than they appear to be.

This seems an especially apt topic for me to cover right now, as I’m going through a bit of a ‘Common Dowdyfrau’ phase.  I look in the mirror, and all I see is what’s wrong with me – overweight, insecure, unattractive…  I know that this is how others might perceive me, too.

And yet, I also know that there is so much more to me than that.

I am a beloved child of God, for starters – no matter how unworthy I feel, I cannot dismiss the worthiness this gives me.  I am a mother – not always a good mother; not always an accomplished mother; but always, always a devoted mother.  I am a wife – loyal, loving, committed.  And I am a writer, an editor, a friend, a daughter, a sister, a niece…  The mirror tells me one thing, but the Bible tells me to look deeper.  My value – and the value of every other human – is contained in who I am and WHOSE I am, and not what I look like.

How much money you make, what school you went to, where you find your friends on the social ladder, who designed your clothes, and how many ‘Likes’ your facebook statuses get – those things don’t define you.  What defines you is who you choose to be on a day-to-day basis, and whose you are (because, whether you recognize it or not, you were lovingly created).

So let’s get past those covers and start delving into the stories inside.  Let’s stop believing that we’ve got other people all figured out because ‘we can just tell by looking at them.’  And let’s each try to be an open book and invite others to know us better so that they can move beyond appearances, too.

Let’s look inside.

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