Road Maps

At the end of our driveway stands a new mailbox. Its presence marks the end of a long road of frustration that began when the mail carrier drove up to our old one and opened the lid with such force that a hinge broke, causing it to fall to the pavement below.

When repeated attempts to fix the hinge failed, Bill wired the top of the lid to the box to keep it from flopping open every time the carrier forgot to treat it with care.

I read once that people will do what’s important to them at their own inconvenience. What I didn’t catch was: When? When does the pain of ‘what is’ become enough to motivate us to work toward what can be? For me, the moment came when I tried to squeeze an armload of letters out of a half-open mailbox and imagined how hard it must have been for the postal worker to slide them in there.

I’ve met a lot of people who refused to start a project until they knew exactly how it would end. The problem with this approach is that God never gives us a complete road map. Instead, He wants us to step out in faith and trust that the journey will eventually lead to the finish line.

My first step was to call a customer service representative from Frontgate, because I had seen a mailbox that looked like ours in their catalog. The person I spoke to gave me the name of the manufacturer and, after confirming that ours was made by the same company, I called them about replacing the lid. To my delight, the one that our builder purchased came with a lifetime warranty.

A few weeks later, the broken lid was a distant memory and it wasn’t just our mail carrier who noticed.

“I need to fix mine too,” a neighbor said when he saw Bill replacing ours.

After seeing the bad condition that his was in and comparing it to the flawless appearance of ours, it occurred to me that people, like mailboxes, stand side by side. Some looking more worn than others: All able to be made new with a single leap of faith and the decision to say ‘no’ to the status quo and ‘yes’ to the delivery of God’s very best in life.

“For we live by faith, not by sight.”

2 Corinthians 5:7

Making Things Happen

“You know what I love about being in this family?” Katie asked me one day after school.

“What?”

“That you support my dreams.”

“What do you mean?”

“When I want to do something I’m interested in, you make it easy,” she replied. “I realize that if I want something in life, I have to work for it; but it’s nice to know that when I need a new color of polish for a nail art design or if I want to see my favorite music group when it comes to town, you’ll make it happen.”

Katie was right. I make her progress a priority  because I don’t want my daughters to succeed in spite of their parents. I want it to be, at least in some small part, because of us. It’s the reason that I talked to musicians to find out the best guitar to buy when they both wanted to take lessons. And it’s why I agreed to have my oldest at school by 7:45 a.m. every day for six weeks this summer so she can free up a slot during the school year to take photography.

At times, the list of tasks can seem endless and the amount of appreciation in short supply. Maybe that’s why I was so surprised when Katie thanked me for helping her to pursue her passions. According to developmental psychologist Robert Kegan, children under sixteen years of age (and 15% of adults) operate out of a level of consciousness where they see another person in terms of what he or she can do for them. In this egocentric stage, people can’t imagine the feelings of others and focus only on their own needs and desires.

Watching my oldest step out of this mindset for long enough to be grateful to someone else made me even more motivated to say “yes” when she made her latest request: “Mom, would you help me find something that will work to organize my art supplies?”

The words were music to this organized mother’s ears. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing when there’s no place to put it, and the mess in Katie’s room had been bothering me for long enough that I quickly agreed to fund her latest project.

One 10-drawer craft cart and a nail polish rack was all it took to restore Katie’s bedroom to a serene sanctuary. And as I looked around her clutter-free surroundings, Proverbs 14:23 came to mind as I remembered that all hard work really does bring a profit; and when you help your kids to achieve their goals, once in a while they return the favor by completing one of yours.

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Flat Stanley

When my 14-year-old asked me to drive her to school a few days ago, I immediately told her: “No.”

Katie is notorious for dragging herself out of bed so late that she and her sister barely make it to the bus stop in time. This morning was no different and I was not about to rearrange my schedule to ease hers … until I walked downstairs, took one look at the food on the table that would go uneaten, and decided to show a little mercy instead.

“If you make your bed before coming down for breakfast, I’ll drive you to school.”

“Really?” Katie asked, clearly relieved.

The one person who wasn’t happy was Hollie. Having called me a pushover on several occasions for going back on my word, she couldn’t see that holding a grudge is counterproductive to demonstrating God’s grace. Life is full of trade-offs; and sometimes we have to choose between sticking to our guns and standing for others who are unable (or unwilling) to help themselves.

Never was this more clear than in the scene from last week’s episode of The Middle where Axel shut his fingers in a door and needed his brother, Brick, to free them. Axel’s on-screen predicament made me think of the time I accomplished a similar feat while living in Nebraska. I can remember like it was yesterday: The girls were playing in the front yard; Bill was working in the garage; and I had just walked outside to see how everyone was doing. For some reason, the trunk of my car was open and I decided to close it from where I stood on the passenger side of the vehicle. Without thinking about how my right hand would be impacted as it rested on the top of the car’s rear quarter-panel, I awkwardly reached over with my left to push the lid down and felt a bone-crushing pain the second it locked into place.

Feeling a lot like Flat Stanley as I looked at the tiny opening that half of my thumb had disappeared into, I called out to Bill for help. Unlike Brick—who took his time responding to Axel’s cries—my roommate was quick to free me from the grip of my latest mistake.

Whenever I think about what would have happened if he had not been there to pop the trunk, I thank God for saving me from the unbearable pain and possible loss of my thumb.

James 2:13 says that “judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.” I used to think that this verse was more about conviction than evangelism; but now I realize that people need love the most when they deserve it the least.  And if we want to have the mind of Christ, we first need to adopt the attitude where those who make their beds don’t have to lie in them because mercy triumphs over judgment every time.