Watch me fail…

Yesterday was game day: my daughter’s debut on the middle school basketball team.  As most sports enthusiasts know, girls’ 5th-grade basketball is where it’s at.  The NBA has nothin’ on the drama of a 20-minute scrimmage of tweens.  The NCAA can’t compare to the fast pace surprises and amazing display of developing talent.  It truly was a memorable evening.

The three mini-games played last night were purposeful.  Most of the young women participating were only just beginning to learn the rules of the sport.  So, the shortened matches were a chance to learn by doing.  (Sort of a toss the baby in the swimming pool approach)  Dribbling a ball down the court in practice alongside your teammate only requires one set of skills.  However, maintaining control of the ball while a ponytail covered in spirit ribbons whips you in the face is another.  Practicing lay-ups and working on jump shots provides some building blocks of the basics.  But, remembering which basket to aim at in the midst of screaming pre-teens and enthusiastic parents, now that’s an essential lesson all of its own.

A friend and I were laughing as we watched.  Some of the athleticism in unintentional plays was awkwardly unreal.  In the split-second of receiving the ball, the ability to chunk it towards the side wall as if it were a football (or a soggy sock) takes amazing muscle reflexes.  The agility required to scramble on the floor over jump ball after jump ball is not qualitative.  We both agreed that we probably couldn’t imitate was we saw, even if we tried.  And if we were to attempt such feats, there’s no way we’d last a full 20-minutes.

Thankfully, my daughter has wisdom beyond her years.  She was telling us before dinner the night before about this upcoming match.  With great excitement she said, “Ya’ll have to come!…Come watch me fail!  We are horrible!  There’s no way we will win, but you have to come!  It will be great!”  Oh, my sweet, sweet, girl.  I love that she held excitement in the sport, not in the hope of winning.  I love that she didn’t merely want to play the game, but moreover wanted us to enjoy simply watching her play it.

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“Come watch me fail…”  

Wow.  She has more self-confidence and security than most adults, including myself.  I don’t know if I’d invite any of y’all to be spectators at an event in which I was assuredly going to bounce my own ball into my own face.  She could have pouted.  She could have turned red in embarrassment.  She could have cried from the uncomfortableness of her awkwardness.  Her hope, however, was not placed in points or winning.  Her aim was to learn and enjoy the game.

Many of us are in situations or circumstances that likely require us to learn.  I’d argue that none of us is beyond spiritual growth, for sure.  2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”  But how do we approach the opportunities to grow set before us?  How do we approach our transformation?  Do we listen to the Spirit to even discover chances to mature?

One tendency is to approach the court in fear.  There was another sweet girl on our team who avoided the ball at all cost.  I don’t think this was intentional, because she was happy to be there, she was glad to be a part of the team, and she had some occasional hustle.  However, at one moment in the game, as she stood next to a fellow teammate, the ball was passed in her general direction.  As it barreled towards her, she dodged to the side, in an instinctual response to avoid fast-flying objects.  The girl next to her reached as best she could to cover for this young lady’s evasiveness, but to no avail, the ball hit her elbow and bounced off.  Like a pinball machine the orange ball of danger was directly boomeranged back into the poor timid girl’s arms.  She caught the ball squarely in front of the chest, as coach had taught. But, as if it were an intense orb of fire, she immediately flung it in the air…into the arms of the opposing team.  Without hesitation, she turned her face to the coach and mouthed with distraught wrinkled brow, “I’m sorry!”

Our fear in situations can cause us to rely on instincts that are better reserved for real-life-danger.  Is it really necessary that I react to my children as if they were an attacker mugging me in the parking lot?  Is it really necessary that when confronted with conflict I hide in a back room as if an axe murderer was hunting me down in my house?  These reactions, while they seem completely rationale in the moment, only deprive us gaining wisdom and strength through trials.  Rather than soaking in and absorbing wisdom, we repel it like water on a duck.

We can also deflect the scary ball of responsibility onto others, but the lesson is for us.  It always ricochets back.  They have their own issues to deal with and their own path of maturity.  Only we can deal with our ‘stuff’.  Do we receive the hard things as opportunities of growth?  Do we instinctually fling them into the air?  Even if our acknowledgment isn’t as quick as the young girl’s, we will eventually feel regret that the opportunity to grow was lost.

Another tendency is to over-analyze the situation and our position.  There were some young athletes who really took to heart their defensive positions, that even after the ball had moved cross-court and was now in their team’s possession, they were still defending their territory.  They got so lost in their assigned job, that they missed the larger lesson and flow of the game.  There was no acknowledgment or rejoicing that their own team had the ball!

Man, I do this every stinkin’ day.  I get lost so easily in my tasks or seemingly designated position (usually self-appointed) that I miss the larger picture and the goal that Jesus is working me towards.  I can over-think what I should be doing and how I should be doing it, that I miss valuable play-time.  I forget that the purpose and plans to which God has called me are also ordained and controlled by him.  I can become very self-focused on what I feel is a valuable priority, that unknowingly I am left standing alone, in a very defensive position, with only my check-list in hand.  Meanwhile, the Spirit is yelling and pointing at me to get down court and help.  Your team has the ball!

Lastly, the tendency I observed in my daughter is the one that I hope to learn from.  This is the tendency to joyfully engage.  She was puzzled most of the time.  She kept up with the team and when the ball came to her, she dribbled a few times and then passed it off to someone who had a little more experience.  Over the course of the three-game evening, I saw great improvement in her understanding and her skills.  She never perfected her skills, nor did she ever fully understand what was swirling on around her.  She did, however, slowly transform from nervous and timid, hands glued to her sides, to quick feet with spurts of trying to steal the ball from the opponent.  I watched as she fervently sought out the coach and his instructions throughout play.  And, thankfully, she has a great coach, who is teaching the girls through encouragement and support.  He could have gotten worked up about the lack of points on the board, the number of turn-overs, or the amount of double-dribbles.  Instead, he guided each player only in a way that resulted in joyful participation.

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We left having lost, won, and tied at least once.  My daughter, though she expected to walk away a “failure”, left with new knowledge, confidence, and deeper joy.  I am thankful that she engaged the challenge of flying balls and twisted feet.  I pray that I learn from her to have the same joy and courage when it comes to potential failure.  I pray that I have the guts to invite others to come alongside me and witness my weakness and inability.  I pray that just like her I find my value in something other than winning, gaining points, or being impressive.  Instead, I hope to score steadfastness and maturity.  James 1:2-3 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”  Every time a hurling challenge flies my direction, I can respond with thankfulness, knowing that the opportunity for joy and a strengthening of faith awaits…I just need to have open hands, elbows out, palms forward to receive it.

After the game, we went to a sandwich shop for dinner as requested by our star-player.  My jersey-wearing-girl ferociously downed her meal.  She said, “Man, playing basketball is a good workout!  I could eat two of these.”  When we also engage with the circumstances laid in front of us–when we don’t run or hide from the difficult and sometimes intimidating things to which God has called us–we get a good workout and a healthy appetite as well.  Our bodies and souls, while fatigued, become stronger and more steadfast.  Our desire for Jesus and His word intensifies.  We look less to unhealthy escapes or quick-fix wisdom because it just doesn’t sound good anymore.  We’d rather be fueled through these hard times by the healthy life-giving and recharging Word of God and His encouraging Spirit.

Thank you, God, for 5th-grade girls’ basketball.  Thank you for the awkwardness, the confusion, and the spirit to confront fear with the best of friends.  Thank you for my daughters invitation to watch her fail and for the safety she must feel in our relationship to take that risk.  Thank you for coaches that speak words of encouragement and refuse to let us quit.  Thank you, God, for the sovereignty of Your plan and Your testing through any circumstance.  Thank you for opportunities to grow and to enjoy having a position on Your team.  Thank you for gratitude and the joy that quickly follows.

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Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God on the lyre!
He covers the heavens with clouds;
he prepares rain for the earth;
he makes grass grow on the hills.

Psalm 147:7-8

He prepares all things for our growth.  What wisdom and beauty He is.  To Him be all glory and thanksgiving!

Pass the friggin’ peas!

I realized this weekend that something has happened to me.  I wish I could say it’s been a good change– a noble transformation.  But in terms of Life After Rehab, it probably would fall under the category of “relapse”.  The best way for me to sum up my condition: an ugly exchange.

In preparation for a women’s retreat in which I am speaking in a couple of months, I’ve been studying the simple reality that God takes the bad and replaces it with good.  Charles Spurgeon calls it the ‘beautiful exchange’.  There are numerous places in Scripture where God promises to take the ugly and replace it with beauty–to give us an amazing trade.  It’s the spiritual version of receiving filet mignon in exchange for a day old peanut butter and jelly sandwich at the lunch table.  We do nothing but benefit from the deal.

However, this is what I mean by my recent ugly exchange:

I’ve given back the fillet mignon and have snatched the pb and j after it’s been halfway down the throat of another.  It’s gross and ugly.

I went from a sensitivity to the Spirit’s stimulation to an overstimulation of insensitivity.

November is the month of ‘thanks’.  It’s customary to stuff our faces, overindulging in the good stuff at Thanksgiving dinner, and go around the table giving thanks for all we have.  What better time is there than now to refresh gratitude, to count bounty, to turn away from the ugly exchange and embrace once again the good Jesus has for me?

I’ve gone from scooping up dish after dish of all that God has placed before me, to starring at my empty plate listening to others ask for me to pass the sweet potatoes.  I look down and have forgotten to lift my eyes to the cornucopia feast laid with care for me– well, for all of us.  I have starred at the emptiness and have entrapped my eyes on all that is missing, insomuch that when I hear the requests of little ones for help in cutting their turkey or buttering their roll, I forget that the table is even set.  When I hear loved ones asking me to pass the green bean casserole, I grow frustrated and disillusioned.  I merely shout back, “We don’t have turkey, we don’t have butter…there is no green bean casserole!”  But, of course, in front of my place card,  the facts are sure and certain:  There is a bounty to be had.  Yet, all I can see is scarcity on a shiny white plate.

There is nothing for me.

There is nothing for them.

What went wrong?  Where has the beauty gone?  Why has the sensitivity to the Spirit abandoned me?

I have approached the table without gratitude, with eyes closed to what the Father has prepared for me.  My vision is near-sighted and all I see is what lay immediately under my nose.  When I have been sensitive to the Spirit, it is only because my first waking breath has started with authentic gratitude.

Ann Voskamp has picked up and reenergized what has existed since creation:  “And God saw that it was good.”  It’s a fact and an attitude of thanks that our society has forgotten.  We love to wallow in our hardships.  We love to loathe in our sufferings, because to do so (in theory) receives the attention and affections of others.  Why are we so hungry for pity and mercy to fill our plates when love and grace have been poured out to quench our appetites?

Have you ever known someone who is (or perhaps you find yourself) longing for encouragement, affirmation, and care, only to receive pity?  It doesn’t satisfy our hearts.  Most of the time when we pity others, they only persist all the more in telling us how horrible or difficult the situation because their need has not been met.  In our selfishness, this only convinces us to serve another round of pity and false compassion.  Almost assuredly when we are overstimulated by the sensitivity of others all we seem to produce for them is disingenuous pity.  It’s a horrible cycle.  In our competitive society we are rarely comfortable to sacrificially love and support one another.  We wrongly assume that genuine care jeopardizes our own successes.  We desire lack-luster meals of pity because there is an absence of daily and persistent offerings of authentic gratitude for one another.

What if we daily fed to one another encouragement, reminders of God’s love, words that promote peace and gentleness?  We’d probably sound like happy-go-lucky hippies…and maybe that’s my point.

We might sound uber-positive in a sarcastic and ribbing world, and that might be uncomfortable (for us and others).  It might even look a little self-righteous or inauthentic in the eyes of those who’d rather live at surface level competing for “best-looking”, “most-popular”, or “most likely to succeed”.  However, we wouldn’t be so aggravated by the weak, the needy, or the hungry.  We’d see the feast of provision before us.  We’d smell all the wonder of pumpkin pie and desire to share it even with those who mock us.  We wouldn’t be so cruel and self-centered and we’d pass the friggin’ peace!


I have taken the beauty of the Holy Spirit and traded it in for the old selfish pouting of the past.  What was I thinking?

When I adhere to the Word of God:

1 Thessalonians 5:18:  “…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

…than I realize I have more than enough to share.  I have more than enough time.  I have more than enough compassion.  I have more than enough love.  I have more than enough prayer.  I have more than enough grace.  Not because I am righteous, holy, or better than others, but because it has been graciously given.  I stop being insensitive and annoyed and am genuinely thankful that I have been adequately equipped for all the hungry mouths before me…and I even start sounding like I have peace that passes understanding and joy that never ends.

Please, be my guest at the table and have a generous helping.  The feast set before us tastes much better…

…and there’s more than enough to go around.

Potential energy

This week has been an adventure.  Paul has been out of town and so in an effort to not go completely crazy, we have been trying new places for school.  Tuesday, we set up shop at Starbucks again.  It worked, but not as well as the first time we were there.  The handle on the back of the car lost its spring as I was loading it up with all our binders and supplies.  So I was unable to open the rear door and unable to toss in the stroller, so Judah didn’t have a comfortable seat at Starbucks. And therefore, our time was cut short in an effort to keep him happy.

Yesterday, we went to my Mom and Dad’s house.  It was great.  This new environment was the perfect setting to motivate and be productive.  Although, I wonder if the quality of the girls’ work suffered in an effort to hurry up and be free to play.  However, the kids got to have some good Grammy and Grandpa time.  Spending more time with family is a goal of our family rehab and it was wonderful to see it actually happen.  Gideon had a chance to just play while the girls worked.  Fresh toys and fresh faces can work miracles. Grandpa, a retired physics professor, even taught science in the afternoon.  Thanks, Grandpa!

Today we have ventured out to The Jumpy Place.  For any parent of a young child, you have to check out The Jumpy Place.  (This is not a paid advertisement–it’s a public service announcement.)  Free-wifi, a room full of jumpy houses, free coffee, a huge carpeted surface for a baby to roll around on, and a new and exciting excer-saucer–you couldn’t ask for much more than that.  There is enough here to keep a whole den of raccoons busy!  When you bring your own snacks and/or lunch, you’re set!  And today, there is hardly anybody here.  The girls zoomed through their first 4 folders, just to get to recess time.  Again, quality of their work may have suffered in the pursuit of freedom to go jump.

I tried to keep some of the work exciting by creating some worksheets for the girls that could only be completed here.  They each had a “follow the directions” sheet in one of their folders.  The directions included simple things, like write your name on the top of the page, as well as some review from the week, like math word problems, and language arts questions.  I included some funny things too, like: climb to the top of the slide and shout, “I have the greatest Mom in the world!”

One of the review questions referred back to our science class yesterday with Grandpa.  We learned about “work” and that it is defined as something with weight or mass, moving in a direction.  We also talked about different forms of energy that “work” for us.  Grandpa did lots of cool scientific demonstrations involving many different kinds of energy.  We discussed the difference between stored, or potential energy, and kinetic energy–all very fascinating stuff. On the review paper today, they had to remember at least three different kinds of energy.

As I sit here at the Jumpy Place, I can observe all kinds of energy.  From Judah, kicking his legs to rotate from toy to toy in the excer-saucer to the constantly blowing fans filling the 7 huge jumpy houses in this warehouse, energy is being exerted everywhere.  Electric energy is pumping in this place to keep the moon-walks filled, the lights glowing, and (would you believe it) the message chairs for the parents undulating.  (This place is a stay-at-home-mom’s paradise!)  To consider the striving to live in a “green”, environmentally friendly, and renewable resource responsible environment while sitting here listening to all that energy being zapped up is kind of funny.  The constant hum of the fans is hypnotizing and relaxing, which makes me think about my own energy levels slowly depleting as I type.  I wish I would have had a healthier breakfast so I could pump as much energy through my tired brain and body as this place pumps into it’s oversized balloon pirate ship. It seems as though I don’t have much potential energy…or kinetic for that matter. However, there is a stored energy inside of me–apart from the sugar from this morning’s syrupy french toast burning away.

The apostle Paul asks the Corinthians, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”  Think for a moment about what that means.  God’s Spirit dwells in you…in me.  I don’t feel very energetic right now as these fans lull me to sleep.  But that’s a lot of potential power stored up in my body.  God’s Spirit.  Think of all that His Spirit has done.  His Spirit was present when He spoke the earth into motion…when he put it to “work.”  That’s a heavy thing–the world–to move in a direction.  He set the Earth spinning…and it’s still spinning.  He expanded the sky from the sea…and the universe is still expanding.  That’s quite some powerful energy.

His Spirit is still at “work”.  He (the Spirit) is working on my weighty heart. He has been moving through mass for all of history.  He is moving, breathing, stirring, sometimes even spinning.  He is doing something. He is working.  Romans 8:2 says, “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”  Those are action words–“set you free”.  And to think what that verse means.  All the guilt and all the shame that accompanies the law of sin and death is set free.  Brokenness and regret are the kinds of things that can trap a heart and chain it to the floor.  Those are the kinds of things that can swallow up joy and livelihood into a bottomless pit of despair.  There are people who live their whole existence on this ever-spinning planet stuck in one place because of sin, guilt, and shame.

But, there is a Spirit that releases us from that condemnation through Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection.  And He lives in us.  That is a potential that most Christians have, that they don’t even realize.  In our society we are constantly trying to uncover our own potential in life.  We take personality tests, we climb the ladder of success, we deprive ourselves of chocolate cake and work out, all to reach our “potential.”  We can strive really hard to get to a “freedom” that doesn’t compare to the freedom Jesus offers.  Much like the girls, we settle for mediocre quality work in the pursuit of a rubberized jumpy house paradise.  The satisfaction we gain in reaching our own potential, neglecting the potential energy of the Holy Spirit inside of us, is a lack-luster prize.  Nothing compares to the freedom produced when that stored energy of the Spirit inside us releases us from the bondages of sin.  That freedom breaks the chains that disable even the most talented being.  Romans 8:6 says, “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”

We are also used to having to pay a hefty price to have “work” done.  Whether it’s tree-trimming, car repair, or dental work, it comes with a price.  We don’t know how to receive good quality work for free.  It just can’t be so.  If something comes free, it’s either shoddy, cheap, or comes with fine print–not the love and freedom of Jesus, nor the gift of His Holy Spirit.  He has given them to us for free.  There is nothing for us to pay.  And this high quality and quantity of spiritual freedom is not shoddy, cheap, or has hidden fine print.  This gift can have such workmanship and yet be so “inexpensive” to us because it’s high value was paid for by Jesus, in the one-time, all-inclusive payment of his life on the cross.  1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says this about the gift of the Holy Spirit within us and the price that was paid by Jesus, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?  You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body.”

The potential energy that lies within us is not our potential to do amazing things.  Our potential lies in the fact that the powerful force of the Holy Spirit lives in us and is at “work” within us.  Our potential comes not from trying hard or doing better.  It isn’t found when we get the right academic degree or the highest paying job for our personal skill set.  Our potential, our purpose, is to glorify God with our entirety.  When we walk as people freed from the imprisonment of sin and shame, we glorify God and his purpose, his power, his potential.  When we are focused on the Spirit within us, we turn from the fleshy selfishness that keeps us looking inward at our own potential good or value.  We are then freed to see the potential of Christ’s saving love and mercy in the lives of others.  We see with eyes of the Spirit how God, himself, died for those around us who are stuck with the world revolving around them.  We become workers ourselves, with the energy and force of the Holy Spirit transferred from our hearts to our bodies, electrifyingly running through our veins and out our fingertips as we lovingly serve.  The stored energy in our souls becomes acting, working, and kinetic.  Because this same power source that keeps spinning the earth into motion, is the source of our joy and livelihood, we never fade or run out, or meet our potential.  The possibilities are endless, the weight of what can be moved unstoppable.  No more settling for air-filled jumpy place dreams that will inevitably deflate and ware holes.  The quality of the “work” in us can be amazing when it’s done in the Spirit and in the Lord’s timing.  We have no need to rush through anything for the freedom to jump–a freedom that just doesn’t compare to what potential there is in us with the Holy Spirit.  We can have unlimited supply of high quality, high quantity, completely free, and completely satisfying potential energy of the Spirit…and it’s environmentally friendly. 🙂