Managing Others

Hollie wanted to borrow a shirt from Katie but was afraid that her sister would get mad if she came into her room.

“Send her a text,” I suggested. “That’s how I got her to bring me the towels out of your bathroom.”

“Katie has to listen to you,” Hollie replied. “She doesn’t have to answer to me.”

“Send the text from my phone,” I schemed.

My suggestion worked like a charm and the outcome got me thinking: Why does relating to other people have to be so hard?

Can’t we all just say what we mean, mean what we say and forget about managing others?

This summer, I spent a lot of time managing a difficult relationship. One where constant conflict and irrational behavior left me so emotionally drained that I was ready to give up on the person altogether—Then I read a bible study lesson that talked about how the real enemy is not the person with the maladaptive behavior, but the devil who was behind it.

Satan works through flawed characters to bring out the worst in well-intentioned ones. As soon as I realized that I was not the only one trying to gain control of the situation, I stopped trying to.

Sometimes you have to give up control to gain it. Only then can we experience the peace that the apostle Paul wrote about in Philippians 4:7.

Life shouldn’t have to be like a game a chess where we are always plotting the other person’s next move; but when it is, it helps to remember that we are all on the same team. And difficult people are not the enemy, but unwitting pawns in Satan’s plan.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation,

by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,

will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

A Little More Jesus

It’s been said that absence makes the heart grow fonder but, sometimes, it just makes me wonder: What’s been keeping a person away for so long?

Was it something I said?

Or something I did?

As a coach, I am trained to listen for two things: The story and the truth. The story is what we say to make ourselves feel better (or worse) about a situation. The truth is rooted in, not perception, but fact. And the fact, in this instance, is that the mind can get pretty carried away without something real to keep it grounded.

I was reminded of this just yesterday when I received an e-mail from a friend who I had not talked to for most of the summer. I’d thought about reaching out to her on several occasions but, because it was her turn to call, I stubbornly decided not to. Immediately upon reading her e-mail and learning about the challenges she’s been facing since we last spoke, I realized two things:

1. I was the person in the wrong.
2. Good friends don’t keep score.

Why is it that what bothers us most about others is the very thing we are guilty of ourselves? Sometimes I think the world be much simpler if we never had to spin stories to hide our hypocritical cores.

The story I spun about my friend was that she had lost interest in our friendship. The reality is that silence does not mean indifference. I, of all people, should know this after taking time off from writing following my father’s death last June. In the six years since publishing my first newsletter, this is the longest that I’ve been away from my craft—and all of you; but with an obituary to write, a slideshow to create, and an overwhelming amount of other projects to tackle as my brothers and I started the long process of cleaning up our Dad’s farm, I knew in my heart that it was the right thing to do.

What wasn’t right was my decision to also take the summer off from God. It’s not that I didn’t want to spend time with Him: It’s just that with everything that was going on, spiritual disciplines always seemed to be the last thing on my mind. And as the dog days of summer wore on, it became clear that the longer I went without studying the bible, the farther I felt from God.

If out of sight is out of mind, then out of mind definitely leads to lack of heart. It’s the one time when absence makes the heart grow, not fonder, but fussier as we lose all compassion for others.

I often joke that I get along great with people as long as I’m the only one in the room. What I don’t say about this philosopy is that it doesn’t account for God. Although it doesn’t always feel like it, silence doesn’t mean absence−just that He has chosen not to comment on our behavior.

I definitely had moments that left God speechless as certain relationships and circumstances left me ranting and raving like an emotional toddler. To make sense of these situations, I listened to self-help audio tapes while driving to and from Nebraska. One batch that I checked out from the library included the title ‘One Month To Live: Thirty Days to a No-Regrets Life’ by Kerry & Chris Shook. Although I never got used to the narrator’s deep voice (think James Earl Jones from the Lion King), I was glad that I stuck with the guy for long enough to hear him challenge listeners—myself included—to never give up something that we can’t go a day without thinking about.

What can’t you go a day without thinking about? Do you know?

I asked myself this question in early July and already it was apparent that I can’t go a summer without Jesus. And as someone who was away from home for 47 days last summer, I speak from experience when I say that if you’re feeling far from God, it’s your actions and not your location that needs to change. It felt good to return to my pre-summer ways when life settled down enough to pick up where I left off in my bible. As soon as I did, I was welcomed back with these words from Psalm 16:

5 Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
you make my lot secure.
6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.
7 I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
8 I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

How comforting it is to know that, no matter how long or far we travel, our lot is secure as we keep our eyes on the Lord and our behavior in check by putting a little more Jesus in our day.

Top Twenty Tweets of 2011

I started using Twitter in 2009. At first I treated this social networking site as a mini version of Facebook, sharing status updates and personal musings in 140 characters or less. Over time my posts evolved to become a reflection of, not what I’d been up to, but how God was working through circumstances to teach me about life. As we move into a new year, I share my top twenty tweets of 2011 in the hope that they will inspire you to create your own record of lessons learned.

Living with Purpose:

1.  When you can’t do anything about it, do something with it.

2.  Find a way, not an excuse.

3.  Better to fumble around looking for open doors than to grumble about the ones that are closed.

4.   If the person who’s standing in your way is you, maybe it’s time to move.

5.  Be the change you wish to see in the world and, one day, it will.

6.   More important than encouraging kids to pursue their dreams, is showing what it’s like to reach for ours.

7.   The danger of watching too much tv is not the bad habit it produces, but the behavior it prevents. Lack of discipline limits potential.

Relating to Others:

8.   You teach people how to treat you. Create a lesson plan.

9.   Looking good means nothing if you live ugly.

10.  The high road would be a lot easier to take of it wasn’t so uphill.

11.  If the high road is an uphill climb then the low one is a slippery slope. Tread lightly.

12.  If you think that it’s all about you, you’ve thought about it too much.

13.  Getting ahead should never be done by holding others back.

14. When kids won’t do for themselves what they want you to do for them, it’s time for the kids to do without.

Questions to Grow By:

15.  Why is it so easy to let ourselves down if we wouldn’t think of doing it to others? Luke 6:31 applies to us, too.

16.  When you are in an argument, the question is not “Are you right?” but “Do you want to be?” Everything comes at a price, even winning.

17.  Do you ever wonder if the people who exasperate you also frustrate God? Before you answer, ask yourself: Are you one of those people?

18.  Ever feel like everyone has an agenda and God’s not on any one of them?

19.  It’s easy to criticize what happened before us, but are we willing to make the changes necessary to affect those who come after us?

20.  Some people try to use God to get ahead. Others allow God to use them for His glory. Which one are you?

Feel free to post your own life lessons as comments and have a blessed new year.

A Little Help

I recently recruited a girlfriend to help put an end to my mindless overeating. I’d been wanting to kick the habit for a while but, without anyone to hold me accountable, even the best intentions weren’t enough to overcome my weak resolve. Lack of self-control in this area is not something that I’m proud of. This is probably a good thing because Proverbs 16:18 makes it clear that pride comes before a fall.

The opposite of pride is humility and there is nothing wrong with admitting when you need a little help. Mine came in the form of a pact that I made with a friend to write down everything we ate. Knowing that  I had agreed to bare my “caloric all” the next time we got together made a noticeable difference when I went through the drive-through at McDonald’s and ordered one cheeseburger, instead or two. Later that day, while playing pitch with my family, I experienced equally positive results when I passed over a handful of peanut M&M’s and opted for a bowl of grapes.

After one day of mindful eating stretched into three, I began to wonder: Why didn’t I reach out to someone sooner? As much as I want to think that I can handle everything myself, Romans 7:15 makes it clear that no man (or woman) is an island. We are all a part of the human race where we, despite our best efforts to keep from sinning, wind up doing it anyway.

The futility of the situation is something that the apostle Paul seemed very familiar with in Romans 7 when he said: “I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.”

“Oh, what a miserable person I am!” Paul added. “Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Jesus is the answer, but other people are also part of the equation. We know this from Matthew 18 where, in verses 19 and 20, our Lord and Savior said: “If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together as my followers I am there among them.”

I will never cease to marvel at how statements like this one, penned nearly two thousand years ago, can be so relevant today. Everything we need to know to live a godly life really is in the bible.

What I know from this experience is that all roads worth traveling lead to Jesus; and for every roadblock on the journey, we get by with a little help from our friends.

When It Is What It Is

I hate to be tardy but sometimes … it happens. Most of those times, it’s my fault. Like when I was fifteen minutes late to an appointment that my friend Tina was driving me to.

“I should have scheduled the meeting for later when traffic wasn’t so heavy,” I said as she signaled to change lanes.

“I can’t believe you’re so calm,” my friend replied.

I was calm because there was nothing I could do to change the situation. Experience has taught me (over and over) that the peace that transcends all understanding never came on the tail end of a panic attack. And no matter how much we want to be in control, there will always be some unforeseen circumstance to remind us that God is God and we … are not.

I feel so strongly about this that I came up with a rhyme to remind my daughters—and myself—that obsessing over the unknown or the unavoidable is an unproductive waste of time:

If it is what it is, why complain? It makes you unhappy and drives others insane.

Although not my best poetic prose, these words are a reminder that controlling our behavior is in everyone’s best interest as we keep problems in perspective and encourage fellow travelers to do the same.

Whoever is patient has great understanding,
but one who is quick-tempered displays folly. – Proverbs 14:29

My Own Worst Enemy

Have you ever known that something was going to make you feel bad and done it anyway? I thought I could handle the two packages of Rolo chewy caramels that Bill tossed into our cart the last time we shopped together for groceries but, after just two days, they were almost gone.

Why did I do it? Why did I open the last bag when I knew I would be powerless to stop? Sometimes (most of the time) I feel like I  am my own worst enemy because I know what’s good for me and still do the opposite. Sound familiar?

It’s a problem that’s been around since biblical times when the Apostle Paul had this to say about his own struggle with sin: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15) I used to think that the reason behind my cycle of self-destruction was a lack of willpower. That  I could conquer every stronghold and demonstrate any desirable attribute with God by my side and verses like Philippians 4:13 in my pocket.

My position changed one day when, while working through page 119 of Beth Moore’s study Living Beyond Yourself: Exploring the Fruit Of the Spirit, I read that the fruit of the spirit “is the supernatural outcome of being filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Learning that self-control is not about what we possess, but who we reflect, made me realize that Bill’s Rolos weren’t to blame for my latest binge. I was. And if I wanted to stop overeating, I would need to start spending more time with God.  

Any character-building efforts on our part beyond what we put into spiritual disciplines really are meaningless. A chasing after the wind. God is our refuge and our strength because it is He who transforms us (and our eating habits) from the inside out. 

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” – Galatians 5:13