Love, Forgiveness, and Understanding Trump Perfect

Love Tullips

Recently, I was reminded of the awkward girl who inhibited this body of mine more than 20 years ago.  She barely spoke above a whisper or made eye contact with others. She also walked stiffly, wore a veil of rejection, and held a basket of fears.

Perhaps that girl reminds you of someone whose reflection flashed in the mirror of your youth. Those character traits are shared by many. And even for those of us who tightly closed the doors of the past, there are still reminders.

Not necessarily painful memories, because true healing is the best pain reliever, but more like souvenirs from a different lifetime that hint toward progress and validation.

Knowing who we were then helps us better identify who we are now.

However, for as much as I have grown in character, a few ragged remnants of my old self remain. I long for the day when I finally throw those scraps away. What a contradiction of character that I still hold them, unable to assign them to the trash heap in which they belong. One tattered fragment that at times still holds power over me is my struggle with perfectionism.

Perfectionism is nothing more than a form of pride, but I often mislabel it for “caring about others,”  and “holding myself to a high standard.” It’s perfectionism that causes me to put on the verbal boxing gloves and berate myself for a lapse in judgment.

Truth is, I’m going to mess up. I’m going to fall short. Despite my best intentions, I’m going to mildly offend some people and enrage others.

Some of the mistakes I make will be huge and marred with selfishness. Others will be small, unintentional blunders like forgetting someone’s name or speaking out of turn.

What I’m learning is that while it is absolutely necessary to accept responsibility for my mistakes, it also is absolutely necessary that I not dredge up those errors as a means of self-deprecation. It means I need to accept the unconditional truth about who I am in Christ.

I’m forgiven.

I’m forgiven even if the person I grieved chooses not to forgive me. I’m forgiven even if I hold onto to the shame of my mistakes.

I’m loved.

I’m loved even if the world calls me a fool and my friends abandon me.

I’m loved the same amount when I’m volunteering in a nursing home and when I’m cussing because I stubbed my toe.

I’m understood.

I’m understood even if someone looks at me like I’ve parachuted in from another planet.  God doesn’t always agree with my thoughts and actions, but He understands my heart. He made it. He speaks to it. He pieces it back together after it’s been wounded.

He holds it.

He owns it.

He has made it whole.

Forgiveness, Love and understanding trump perfect every time.

But when full understanding comes, these partial things will become useless. When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.— I Cor. 13: 10-12 (NLT)

A version of this post was originally published on June 21, 2010 at (in)Courage  under the title “Contradiction”

When You’re Tempted to Judge

Duck on Wiser Lk Sunrise

Birds make me nervous. The seeds of apprehension were planted during my girlhood with my uncle’s  cockatiel, Felix. Stunningly handsome, but meaner than a sack of vipers, Felix would swoop by and  perch himself on my shoulder just long enough to snip my earlobe.

Felix wasn’t the only bird who made me uneasy. There was an Emu at a petting zoo that hissed at me and would have removed my right index finger if given the chance. And I can’t forget about the Seagulls that swooped low to grab picnic lunches and later dropped an unwelcome surprise on my head nearly every time I stepped foot on a sandy beach.

There is one feathered frenemy, however, that  turned my distrust for birds into dislike– an Amazon Parrot named Romeo.

Romeo, the beloved pet of a former employer, showed off a few tricks during an office party. He talked, danced, and clasped his claws in prayer formation before flying over to where I stood. and ripped into my neck with his pointed beak. Blood trickled toward my collarbone as I flailed and screamed. To this day I have no clue why Romeo attacked me, but nonetheless, the sound of rapidly flapping wings still evokes terror.

After the Romeo incident, I would not even go into a house of a friend who owned a bird unless the pet was securely locked in its cage. I never flippantly decided to despise birds. I remained guarded around them for good reason; after all, it was the birds who had a vendetta against me.

And although I never tried to harm birds, I also didn’t care much about promoting their survival.

Owning a birdhouse, bath or feeder held no interest for me. I appreciated their songs, but certainly did not want to attract those chirping creatures to nesting anywhere near my home. A few years ago, my bird-loving daughter first asked me to purchase a bird feeder, I balked. Not wanting to transfer my fears on to her I simply replied, “not now … maybe later.”

A few weeks after her initial request for us to buy bird seed, I read an article about wild birds starving during winter months. My heart softened and there began a deeper desire to cultivate my daughter’s love of nature and her interest in caring for God’s creatures. Putting my reservations aside, we went shopping for some bird seed blocks and dispensers. We hung up the feeders and then waited.

Birds didn’t instantly flock to the new dining establishment. In fact, I wondered if they would ever arrive. And then one Saturday morning, while I was washing breakfast dishes, I heard a few dull taps outside my window. A regal looking red-chested bird sat atop one of the feeders. A short distance from the bright fellow were two smaller birds pecking away at a bell shaped clump of seed hanging from a tree.

I returned to that window several times during the morning and throughout that entire day. Instead of seeing what I once classified as ill-mannered scavengers, I saw sweet and resourceful creatures beautifully dressed by the hand of God.

Joy ran deep in my soul as I recounted scriptural references about birds … about His eye being on the sparrow and about the swallow who nests near His glorious alter.  After feeding a few birds, I delighted in their appearing, I appreciated their attributes, and I felt blessed by offering them sustenance.

I learned a lot that day. I learned about birds,  about trust, and about rushing to judgement. I had judged  an entire species based on a few shady fellows.

There have been times when I looked at some people in the manner I once regarded birds. I  harbored mistrust toward individuals who remotely reminded me of others who caused me pain.

I’d quickly label someone as shallow, snobby, arrogant, or abrasive if that person demonstrated a characteristic of a kid who made fun of me in high school or a coworker who stole my ideas.

When we don’t know someone, it’s easy to make rash conclusions based on a few facts or even unrelated past experiences, but doing so is foolish and could rob us of the opportunity of a rewarding friendship.

A defensive stance is warranted with wildlife, but when it comes to people, it is always better to slow down and think before rushing to a verdict. Joy and blessing do not live among bricks of judgment or walls of protection. Instead, they rest in the place where vulnerability is unveiled, service is offered and love is lavished.

Have you ever caught yourself rushing to judgement about another person? Have you ever been a victim of being blamed for the mistakes of others? Please share your story … you’ll find no judgement here.

3 Things to Soothe the Sting of Failure

 

Photo Credit: CBS

Photo Credit: CBS

The Atlantic recently put out a seemingly forgettable tweet that I’ve nonetheless gotten hung up on: “‘The Odd Couple’ is the latest failure for Matthew Perry.

Full disclosure: I didn’t watch CBS’s modern reboot of the Neil Simon classic and therefore don’t know whether or not it is a flop.  Also, Matthew Perry is one of those celebrities whom I really want to see win. I tend to root for individuals who experience huge success, stumble from the limelight, slay more than their fair share of demons, and stand up resolved and ready for a comeback.

But what really bothered me about the tweet was the trumpeting of the word “failure.”

When it comes to failure, no one is immune. Mistakes mark the human journey like lines on notebook paper: There are many, and each one is needed for the page to be complete.

Failure often serves as a stepping stone toward victory, but when people are slapped with defeat, the last thing they need is for someone to point out their shortcomings.

Now, I understand that David Sims’ —  the entertainment journalist from The Atlantic who wrote the article that inspired the tweet — does not have a responsibility to protect the feelings of celebrities. He’s not Perry’s friend. He’s a journalist tasked with writing witty sentiments about television shows, and he’s good at it. I certainly don’t fault him for expressing his opinion.

The tweet merely served as a reminder of what people don’t need (and what they do need) when they fail. For instance, people need …

A reminder that THEY aren’t a failure

Ideas, circumstances, products, and projects are failures; people are not.

When I worked for a community bank, one of my responsibilities included writing the CEO’s letter for the annual report. The letter I penned turned out to be bold, inspiring, well-written, and exactly NOT what the CFO wanted (At the bank, the CFO was in charge of the creative and financial components of the annual report). The communication piece I spent hours researching and carefully crafting never even hit the CEO’s desk. My work was deemed a failure, and I was crushed.

Sometimes a wonderful idea, even when it’s followed by hard work and talented execution doesn’t pan out as expected. At those times we need someone to come along side us with a gentle reminder that we’re not the flop. In the case of the annual report, my boss offered solace with the following words:

“Angela, you’re a great writer and that was one of the best annual report letters I have ever seen. But, the CFO’s an accountant and he wants to take an extremely conservative approach to the letter and focus on the numbers. On the bright side, everyone loves the ad copy you came up with for the home-equity commercials!”

My boss’ encouragement reminded me that I wasn’t a lost cause even though my contributions to a particular project weren’t accepted.

Distance from the critics

This world bustles and brims with people who derive great pleasure from the misfortunes of others. In the words of Paulo Coelho from his book, Eleven Minutes:

“Don’t listen to the malicious comments of those friends who, never taking any risks themselves, can only see other people’s failures.”

While there is good reason to heed constructive criticism and glean all that can be learned from a failure, sift out the nasty remarks from the well-meaning words of advice. When the wound is freshest is when we need the greatest distance from those who feel happy when we fall.

A champion

I once auditioned for a musical in high school even though I couldn’t carry a tune in a steel bucket. My chorus instructor somehow was under the impression that a songbird fluttered somewhere inside me and was hindered by my shyness. I always dreamed of performing a showstopper on stage, so I believed him. I picked up some sheet music, practiced, then sang my heart out for the judges … who looked simultaneously horrified and sympathetic.

Later, when I told my nana about the painful audition she gently, but honestly said,

“Angie, you can’t sing. You never could and you never will. It’s just not the gift God gave you. But don’t let that stop you from doing what you can do. You can act, so next time just try out for a speaking part. And you can write. Spend the time you would spend trying to sing writing instead!”

My nana believed in me. She didn’t believe I could sing, because I couldn’t and still can’t. But she believed I was talented and let me know, with her loving brand of candor, that she was in my corner.

Hopefully Matthew Perry won’t be bothered much by negative reviews, and will be surrounded by encouraging people who will remind him of his endearing charm, past successes, and ability to trigger belly laughs. We all deserve a little positivity, especially after we’ve been knocked down.

What I learn about myself when I draw closer to God

when-Im-closest-to-my-Father-Im-1

“Too often I strained to be a carbon copy of someone I admired instead of allowing myself to feel cozy in my own skin. More than once had I hopped on top of a ledge stacked with comparisons, looking at those ahead of me and wanting to catch up . . . wanting to be anywhere but in the place in which I stood.”

Can you relate? Come on over to (in)courage to read the rest of the message inspired by my son’s need for better impulse control.