The Gift of Being Needed

grandbabyMy sweet baby granddaughter Alice occupies most of my time these days. I’m serving as her nanny, and loving every minute of it. Her smiles melt my heart. Her cries melt my heart. In fact, all her funny faces and little noises are dear to me. I’m extraordinarily happy, and it’s not just because Alice is small and cute and happens to be my grandbaby. It’s also the joy of being needed. I wake up every morning knowing I have an important job to do. My daily efforts matter tremendously to our little baby girl and to her parents. During the hours I’m alone with her, I am her whole world.

Babies are inconvenient. I can count on Alice to suddenly need attention at the precise moment I’m sitting down to enjoy my lunch. Ditto, when I’m dialing an important phone call. Some days she can’t seem to get comfortable unless I hold her against my shoulder, walking the floor until my arms ache. During one of these sessions, pacing back and forth with my empty stomach rumbling, I happened to wonder, why am I enjoying this so much? Why is this different from all those times when I’ve resented being inconvenienced by the needs of others? Is it just because Alice is my grandchild? [Read more…]

“What Difference Does it Make?”

Some people say, “I don’t know whether heaven is real or not, and it makes no difference for my daily life. I do what’s right because it’s right, not because I’m chasing my eternal reward.”

This sounds like a noble sentiment. Even some Christians think it’s virtuous to downplay the resurrection. I believe they miss an important point. When Jesus turned up alive after his crucifixion, the excitement wasn’t all about the pearly gates. Thomas didn’t say “Thank goodness, this proves there’s an afterlife.” He exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!”

It wasn’t until Jesus crashed his own funeral that the disciples understood who he really was. They had believed all along that he was sent by God, as a teacher, a prophet, or maybe even the messiah. They’d thought his mission was to usher in the “kingdom of heaven.” They may have been right about the mission, but they envisioned a future kingdom, with a program of events that must unfold before God could make His home among men. They overlooked the fact that heaven was already right there with them. God was walking beside them in the flesh, much as he had walked with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. [Read more…]

The Servanthood Quest: One Year and Counting

Friends,

Exactly one year ago today I launched my new blog, “Assertive Servants.”  Thank you for supporting this adventure with your prayers and comments.

On January 1, 2014, the first post outlined my mission statement.

The night before he died, Jesus prayed, “I revealed your name to the people whom you have given me out of the world. They were yours, and you have given them to me.” (John 17:6) 

Wouldn’t it be great if each of us could know which people and purposes God has assigned to us personally? We could focus our energies in a sustained and meaningful way, instead of spreading ourselves thin, trying to be all things to all people. My resolution for 2014 is to seek answers to two questions:

1. How can I know what my love-mission is?

2. Which skills and attitudes will help me carry out my mission well?

[Read more…]

Choosing to be Frazzled

frazzled-300x210I was worried about the meeting that afternoon. I didn’t want anything to go wrong, so I left home early. Halfway there, I pulled into a parking lot, turned off the engine, and bowed my head. “Dear Lord, I need to raise some difficult issues at this meeting. Please help me to frame them in a positive way.” My racing heart slowed as I pictured God’s love surrounding each person. My thoughts came into focus. I opened my eyes, letting the beauty of the day bolster my confidence. All would be well! God was in charge! Besides, I was well prepared. My talking points were neatly arranged…

Oh no! The folder with my papers was not in the car. I’d left it at home on the kitchen table!

[Read more…]

Can Emotions Be Trusted?

220px-EmotionsWhen I asked readers how they discern God’s will, several mentioned “a feeling of peace.”

But a “feeling” of peace is an emotion, isn’t it?

Jeremiah 17:9 says that “the heart  is deceitful above all things.” Surely we can’t trust feelings to lead us along godly paths.

Yet, I must admit that the experience of being guided by a sense of peace is familiar to me. It seems to happen when I am praying in a spirit of obedience, willing to follow God’s plan instead of my own. [Read more…]

The Samaritan Question: Readers’ Responses

samaritan_morot

What’s the difference between meddling and helping? How do you discern God’s will when someone’s need tugs at your heart strings and you’re not sure of your proper role?

I put these questions to readers of my blog, and they gave thoughtful, detailed answers.  As they described the process of listening for God’s voice, a few common themes emerged:

[Read more…]

Good Samaritan or Meddling Busybody?

lifebuoyMy life has taken an unexpected turn lately. One of my friends has needs so great that it feels perfectly natural to give more help than she asks for. More help than my previous plans allowed for. Priorities are shifting as I let other goals slide. Helping her feels good and seems right, but how can I be sure? Maybe I’m butting in where I don’t belong. Maybe I’m pushing my own solutions instead of letting God do His work. [Read more…]

Did You Weed Your Dream Today?

misc_mulching_300When I hear about gutsy people who have accomplished amazing things, I’m seized by a desire to Do Something! NOW! to turn my own daydreams into reality. All I need is grit, determination and courage. So I grit my teeth and burn my bridges, determined to lock myself into an ambitious new course before my courage fails me.

The sense of urgency passes quickly. Within hours I’m wondering, “What was I thinking? I can’t go rushing off to change the world. I have responsibilities. I have limitations.” [Read more…]

Captive Audience

mowingSince writing about Influence by the Inch, I’ve been watching to see how my habits affect the people around me. It turns out that the person I influence most is…me.

If I drink coffee late in the day, I’m the one counting sheep in the middle of the night. If I waste an evening watching television, I’m the one rushing around the next day catching up on my work.

Most significant is the influence of my inner dialog. While part of my mind is thinking whatever pops into my head, a different part responds to those thoughts with scoldings or pats on the back. For example, when I’m mowing the lawn (not my favorite chore) unhappy memories arise. I berate myself for my past mistakes. But then I start to remember how other people have made mistakes too —mistakes that have hurt me. That’s when I give myself comforting pats on the back. After all, I’m the victim. Don’t I deserve some sympathy? Not surprisingly, my thoughts tend to dwell on other people’s mistakes much more than on my own. [Read more…]

Influence by the Inch

teachingThis past year, I served as an aide for after-school homework help. The lead teacher, Linda, explained that only whispering would be allowed during study time. Nice try, I thought while dutifully nodding. Did she really believe that, after seven hours of classes, the students would surrender their after-school time to further regimentation?

She did believe it! And because she believed it, the students believed too. From the first day onward, Linda kept her own voice to a whisper, and reminded everyone else to do likewise. My hearing isn’t the greatest, and I often wanted to tell the kids to “speak up,” but one glance at Linda’s earnest face convinced me to listen harder instead. [Read more…]

What do we REALLY need?

alphonsine

Alphonsine Imaniraguha’s blog presents a perspective you won’t find anywhere else. Her deep faith was forged in the fires of hell. She was in eighth grade when her parents and two siblings were murdered in the Rwandan genocide. In the aftermath, she sought refuge with a religious cult that trapped her in a web of lies. By God’s grace, she saw the truth and escaped the cult in time to finish high school and earn a scholarship to a college in the United States. She has lived here ever since. Despite the horrors she has experienced, her writing overflows with forgiveness and (amazingly) gratitude.

This week, Alphonsine posted a poem that surprised me. At first glance, it seemed to echo some familiar platitudes. Half way through reading it, I realized, “By golly, she’s describing my life!!”

More specifically, she was describing the hopes and dreams that give me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. And then, for each of them, she showed why it was a dangerous deception. Ouch!

The line that hit me hardest was: “God, I am not asking that things go my way; I may think that I am leading.” (I get so frustrated and angry when life throws me curve balls!)

I have printed out the poem in hopes that, if I read it often enough, I’ll begin to crave the superior ambitions that Alphonsine points to.

My blogging theme is “Assertive Servants.” I usually say more about the “Assertive” part, than about the other half. Now, in a spirit of Servanthood, I invite my readers to visit Alphonsine’s blog and read her poem. Read it more than once. The pretty words are not platitudes. They are precise descriptions of real experiences.

Here’s the link to Alphonsine’s website:  http://asoothingvoice.wordpress.com/2014/06/09/a-poem-im-not-asking/

Blooming from the Inside Out

photo 29I spent Memorial Day weekend with my Aunt Joan—one of the nicest people I know. These days, her short-term memory is impaired, but it really doesn’t matter. With or without memory, she’s friendly and generous, with a tendency to see the best in people. She told me over and over: “I’m so glad to see you,” “it’s great that we can spend this time together,” “I hope you can come again soon.” And my personal favorite: “You’re so pretty.” She made me feel cherished and appreciated.

If I lose my memory someday, I hope I’ll handle it half so well. The trouble with dementia is that you can’t monitor your own behavior. Whatever’s inside you, leaks out. How will I keep a lid on my impatience and defensiveness? With Aunt Joan, it’s okay because she’s full of optimism. When she wakes up in the morning and doesn’t recognize her surroundings, she assumes she’s in a hotel, and bounces out of bed ready for a vacation adventure. [Read more…]

Turning Gossip Around

gossipMark Twain said “It takes your enemy and your friend, working together, to hurt you to the heart; the one to slander you and the other to get the news to you.” 

Some kinds of information should not be shared.  Proverbs 17:9 reminds us that love should govern our speech:

“Whoever covers an offense promotes love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.” (World English Bible.)

More than hurt feelings may be at stake. For an eye-opening account of the destructive power of gossip, I recommend the historical novel, Kathleen Creek, based on real events in a Minnesota town, nearly a hundred years ago. [Read more…]

Emotional Levers: Approval

We all want to be liked and respected. It’s perfectly natural to want to please and impress other people. In fact, it’s a good thing. Just picture a world where no one cared about anyone else’s opinion!

Like most human traits, the yearning for approval has both a light side and a dark side. It’s important to understand the difference because the pleasure we receive from approval can be a powerful motivating force. [Read more…]

Emotional Levers: Fear

Fear can be a lifesaver. It operates faster than thought to increase our heart rate and and prepare our muscles for action. These physiological responses are outside our conscious control—a fact which leaves us vulnerable to manipulation. For, example, the “fear-then-relief” technique releases hormones that make a person more compliant and cooperative in the first moments after a threat has passed. The threat doesn’t have to be real, it just has to seem real. The anticipation of future danger causes the same physical symptoms as a real and present danger. To further complicate matters, the hormone adrenaline is triggered both by fear and by romantic attraction. [Read more…]

Emotional Levers: Guilt

 

A man calls his mother in Florida.  “Mom, how are you?”

“Not too good,” says the mother. “I’ve been very weak.”

The son says, “Why are you so weak?”

She says, “Because I haven’t eaten in 38 days.”

The man says, “That’s terrible. Why haven’t you eaten in 38 days?”

The mother answers, “Because I didn’t want my mouth to be filled with food if you should call.”


Emotional manipulators use guilt-aversion as a lever to control the behavior of others. In the joke above, the mother has many options for dealing with her lonely empty-nest feelings. She could reach out to other empty-nesters, or make herself useful to friends and neighbors. When she wants to talk to her son, she can call him. She can give him incentive to call her by being pleased and happy when he calls: “It’s great to hear your voice! How are you? What’s going on?”—courting his attention as she would with any valued friend. She might even open up and confide to him that she’s having a hard time moving on to the next stage of her life.

The mother doesn’t take steps to solve her problems because, subconsciously, she believes she needs those problems as levers of control. Guilt mongers tend to view themselves as uninteresting and unloveable. Their only claim to fame is that they’ve suffered more than others and so deserve extra consideration. Therefore, they need to preserve a veneer of misery to use whenever they want to wring something out of someone. They are “victims with intent.” [Read more…]

Dealing with Shame

Emotional Levers — Part One:  Today’s post begins a series about the emotional pressure points used by Aggressive people to manipulate the behavior of others. We who want to live assertively need to stand our ground and pursue our missions undeterred by manipulative tactics.

The children’s book Ramona the Brave opens with an insightful portrayal of an experience of shame. Six-year-old Ramona hurries home from the park, eager to tell her mother how she stood up to the big boys who were teasing her sister. As Ramona launches into her proud description, the older sister, Beezus, interrupts to say that Ramona’s tirade embarrassed her almost to death. The book describes Ramona’s reaction:

She felt as if she were standing aside looking at herself. She saw a stranger, a funny little six-year-old girl with straight brown hair, wearing grubby shorts and an old T-shirt, inherited from Beezus, which had Camp Namanu printed across the front. A silly little girl embarrassing her sister so much that Beezus was ashamed of her. And she had been proud of herself because she thought she was being brave. Now it turned out that she was not brave. She was silly and embarrassing. Ramona’s confidence in herself was badly shaken.

[Read more…]

Assertive or Aggressive?

The words “Assertive”  and “Aggressive” are sometimes used interchangeably, but we shouldn’t ignore the profound differences between them. As far back as the 1920’s (according to my dilapidated Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary) the verb “assert,” meant  ”to affirm, state positively,” or “to maintain; vindicate a claim or title to.”

By contrast, the verb “aggress” meant, “To commit the first act of hostility or offense; begin a quarrel or controversy.”

In recent decades, the field of psychology has adopted “Assertiveness” as the label for a confident style of communication that neither dominates others nor surrenders to aggression. [Read more…]

The Donkey Launcher

donkey_launcherI’m a people-pleaser. I hate to disappoint anyone. When folks have conflicting expectations, I’ll twist myself into a pretzel to avoid taking sides. Sometimes I try to prevent conflicts by guessing, in advance, what people are going to want. This doesn’t work very well. It can even lead me to abandon a perfectly good plan because of imagined criticism that hasn’t happened yet.

When I was telling my husband about my latest fiasco, he began imitating the sounds of rocket-propelled warfare: a high-pitched whine followed by an explosive splash.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“A donkey launcher,” he replied.

“I beg your pardon?” [Read more…]

The Conversation After “No.”

As assertive servants, we want to have a positive influence on those around us. As purpose-driven people, we want to recruit others to join our efforts. As human beings, we need to ask for help. The ability to influence others is essential for survival, for success and for service.

Influence is built on trust. People are most receptive when they know we aren’t trying to pressure or manipulate them. We must demonstrate that we can gracefully accept an answer of “no.”

Does that mean we have to back off and drop the subject at the first sign of a negative response? No. A respectful attitude can turn a “no” into the beginning of a constructive conversation. [Read more…]

Persuasion

persuasion“Time to go in!” called the preschool teacher. The youngsters left the playground and straggled toward the building. All except little Bobby. He sauntered in the opposite direction, glancing over his shoulder to see if the teacher was watching.

I saw this as my chance to be useful. As a new preschool aide, I was eager to prove my worth. I walked towards Bobby, planning to take him by the hand. He giggled and ran away. I broke into a run, but he took off with surprising speed. [Read more…]

A Time to Recharge

When I promised to write about “A Time to Recharge,” I planned to say that, without rest, prayer and study, our spirits become depleted and discouraged. That was a fine idea for a blog, but this morning a less-obvious insight presented itself. We were in church, celebrating Transfiguration Sunday, and the words to one of the hymns grabbed my attention:

Lord, transfigure our perception

With the purest light that shines,

And recast our life’s intentions 

To the shape of Your designs

(“Swiftly Pass the Clouds of Glory,” by Thomas H. Troeger.)

This verse suggests a key purpose for our quiet times with God: to submit our perceptions and intentions to His transforming influence. Perceptions and intentions are pivotal. If those are right, God can provide hope and energy “on the fly” in the midst of action. (Mid-air refueling, so to speak.) But if our perceptions and intentions are off course, more energy will only push us faster in the wrong direction. [Read more…]

Marathon Grace

Bankoboev.Ru_u_takoi_beguni_ustala_dazhe_ten

To every thing there is a season…”   (Ecclesiates 3: 1)

Pastors remind their congregations to take time for personal prayer and Bible study.  But our faith journey doesn’t end with those sweet moments of fellowship. Sooner or later, life will place us in the thick of action. The challenge, then, is how to remain centered in God’s will even when there’s barely time to think. [Read more…]

Radical Assertiveness

Praying_woman“Please don’t write another superficial, feel-good, ‘boy-meets-girl’ story. Women need to know how to really love their men.”

The speaker was reacting to my statement that I planned to write a romance novel. She went on to explain her point of view. “I married ‘Mr. Right,’” she said. “He seemed to be everything I was looking for. But after a while, he started criticizing me. The more I defended myself, the more he nit-picked. He blamed me for things that weren’t my fault. I retaliated with snide comments. Things went from bad to worse until we were barely speaking. I thought about divorce, but knew that couldn’t be God’s will for us. I prayed about it and decided I should try to love and honor my husband as if he were Jesus. At first it was hard. My husband rejected my attempts to be friendly. When I felt like crying, I would lock myself in the bathroom, read my Bible and pray; then I’d come out and try again. Sometimes God would show me where I needed an attitude adjustment. I focused on changing myself and left the rest up to God. After a long time, my husband began to realize I was for real. Little by little he opened up and we started talking things over. The more I listened to him, the better he listened to me. We both found areas where we needed to change. We have a completely different marriage now. My husband is my best friend.” [Read more…]

An Assertive Young Man

lions“Daniel in the Lions’ Den” is a time-honored children’s story, but we adults can also learn from this Biblical hero. Long before he met the lions, Daniel demonstrated remarkable grace, common sense and integrity.

The book of Daniel is set in the 6th century B.C. The first chapter describes how King Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem and carried some of the Jews into exile in Babylon. Daniel was among the captives. As an educated young man of noble birth, he was chosen to serve in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace and was groomed for a career in the Babylonian government. Along with the other young trainees, Daniel was expected to eat the hearty food assigned by the king to keep them strong and healthy. [Read more…]