Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Chance to Do the Right Thing

Over the weekend, I re-watched the film To Kill a Mockingbird. During the famous courtroom scene, I remembered an interview with the actress who played Mayella Yule, and the struggle she’d had trying to understand her character’s choice to lie on the witness stand. She pointed out that Mayella had many opportunities to tell the truth that Tom Robinson had not raped and beaten her—that she’d been “mighty beat up” by her own father. So why didn’t she do the right thing? Why stick to her story even as it became more and more obvious that her family had accused an innocent man? What was so worth putting a man’s life at stake?

Then they filmed the scene and reached the moment when Atticus Finch gives Mayella one last chance to be honest.

“Do you want to tell us what really happened?”

In the interview, the actress describes the feeling that came over her when she looked across the set at the man playing her violent, vindictive father, Bob Yule.

Suddenly she understood what drove Mayella to lie. Fear. Fear of what would await her at home if she came clean. Fear of the man who might kill her this time. Fear smothered any cries from her conscience or sympathy for the man who’d done nothing but chop her kindling, haul her water, and greet her with a polite tip of his hat while passing her house on his way home from the fields.

So she stuck to the lie, sealing Tom’s fate, and branding Mayella Yule as one of the most pitiful, unlikable “victims” in literature.

I’ve never liked Mayella. Even after watching that interview I had a hard time sympathizing. She didn’t seem sorry for what she did. How could she live with herself afterward? As I watched her scene this time, however, I identified with her for the first time. A few weeks earlier I’d made a decision that required me to silence my fears, including my dread over how people might react. And I’d done it! But it had taken every last crumb of courage, and I didn’t have an abusive father glaring at me from across the room. I certainly couldn’t claim a long track record of courageous moments to go along with it. More often, I’ve responded like weak-willed Mayella and given in to the threatening faces of those who would have (heaven forbid) disapproved of my choice—been unhappy with me—explained why they would have done things differently.

When faced with a difficult choice to do the right thing . . . or not . . . I don’t want to be like Mayella. My prayer is that I will be willing to do the right thing even when it means offending, upsetting, or disappointing those who I most want approval from.

I caught myself wondering how To Kill a Mockingbird might have ended if Mayella had given a different answer to “Do you want to tell us what really happened?” What if she had done the right thing? But that would mean rewriting a classic, and I wouldn’t dare attempt that. It would be a lot more beneficial for me to use my recent act of gutsiness as motivation to do the hard thing more often. How different could my life be then?

How different might yours be? What fears most often keep you from doing the right thing?


Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Good Things

Today it would be very easy to focus on all that is wrong. A bad situation isn’t getting any better, my insecurities are running high, and the part of my brain that blows things out of proportion refuses to listen to the part that is in touch with reality. If I told you the whole story, you’d probably say I had permission to wallow. But I’m thinking I’d rather not do that today. I’d much rather share some good things that happened over this past year in the midst of the not-so-good.

• I accomplished some goals, including . . .
Reading Les Miserables (the unabridged version, and in one summer)
Learning to crochet
Blogging more often (I think I’ve even found a “focus”)

• I met 9/11 survivor Michael Hingson and his former guide dog Roselle (they escaped the World Trade Center together).

• I had some great singing experiences, including a solo on Good Friday that went much better than I expected, and performing the National Anthem at Little League Opening Day for the 2nd year in a row.

• I made some new friends who have become precious to me.

• Through all of it—both difficult and exciting—God has surrounded me with love.

What kind of day, week, or year are you having? Challenge yourself to list some good things that God has done recently, even when circumstances were hard.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Lessons from the Inbox

Yesterday I spent almost two hours clearing out my e-mail inbox. It had started looking an online version of a hoarder’s file cabinet, crammed with literally thousands of old messages that I might need again someday. I’ve started the process many times only to give up at about page three. This time I decided to start on the last page and work my way backward, figuring the end was where I could most often click “check all” and delete.

I sent hundreds in a row to Trash and others to folders dedicated to encouraging notes, helpful information, recipes, and pictures. But many, I must admit, I reread. The more I opened, the more I started feeling like I was looking through an old photo album or a journal. What popped out at me most often were the responses to past prayer requests. At the time they had been vital enough to e-mail friends, family, and prayer loops with calls to “Please pray,” followed by updates and praise reports. I’d held onto each promise of prayer, offer of help, and reminder to “call if you need ANYTHING.” Some of those prayer requests were written with such a deep, aching desperation that it was all I could do to get the words out in a way that made sense. It got to a point where I could predict which prayer-request-related e-mails I would find based on the dates in the right-hand column.

October 2010 . . . I can almost feel the panic I felt that day

December 2010 . . . another trip to the hospital with Norm.

And now those problems were over.

I moved many of those e-mails to my “Encouraging Notes” folder as reminders that 1) I have never suffered alone, and 2) no crisis is forever.

This was one of the sweetest hours that I have spent in weeks. What started out as a tedious task of cleaning out my Inbox, turned into a blessed time of tracing God’s goodness. Once again I am in a season of sending out prayer requests and updates (to fewer people this time), but I feel a little less desperate. I know God is working and that He has surrounded me with friends who are praying and supporting me and my family. And in several months when my Inbox is once again crammed with messages, I’ll rediscover and reread the reminders.

Maybe I’ll let old e-mails pile up more often.


Thursday, May 12, 2011

If He Provides for This . . .

Every year at this time we face the same question: will Nathan continue attending the wonderful Christian school at our church or will finances force us to take him out. I encourage Nathan to pray for God to provide but prepare him for the possibility of being homeschooled if it doesn’t work out. God has made a way for him to stay at his school since kindergarten so I know I shouldn’t worry, but I never want to assume anything. This year I wanted to be especially careful about setting my expectations too high. Our family just experienced a major change that might drag out for awhile. I knew I couldn’t afford to set Nathan or myself up for disappointment. But I also needed to see, more than ever, that no matter what happened in our future, God would provide for us. He obviously knew that too.

Yesterday, I discovered that God had once again provided for Nathan’s education at this gift of a school. At a time when his world is being rattled, he does not need to also face the idea of leaving his friends. I do not need to worry about how I will work homeschooling into my schedule while pursuing more opportunities to earn income. But most of all, this is a reminder that, if God chose to make a way for Nathan to stay in private school (something that he clearly benefits from but is not a life-or-death necessity), He will surely also make a way for us to pay our bills, pay off our Mount Everest-sized mountain of debt, buy groceries, and cover some much-needed repairs and replacements in our home. If He cares about Nathan staying where he feels at home, He cares about my family’s unsettled future.

Thank you, God, for caring enough to provide, not just for our basic needs, but for the things that make our lives feel secure and rich. Thank you for continuing to surpass my expectations, especially when I’m afraid to have too many.


Thursday, May 05, 2011

Glad I Obeyed

Last month at this time I was getting ready to head off to Mount Hermon, open to whatever God wanted to say or do. He had made it clear that I needed to do this conference differently. For the first time in fifteen+ years of attending this conference, I was not submitting or pitching anything. I’ll confess that I almost caved in a moment of fear and packed some old proposals just in case. What would I do with my time if I didn’t have editor appointments? What would I say when people asked about my writing? But I’m happy to say that I stuck with the plan to make this conference about what God and I both knew I needed—to be filled up. I’m so glad I obeyed!

I may not have made any connections with editors (other than one that I set up time with because I write for her on a regular basis and we’d been looking forward to finally meeting in person), gotten in-depth feedback on my manuscripts, or walked away with requests for proposals, but . . .

I received much-needed spiritual refreshment.
I had precious time with friends, including a talk that started a healing process.
God lifted a fog that had been hovering in my brain for a year.
God calmed a fear regarding the future of my writing, and a struggle with creativity caused by the fog in my brain referred to above.
I attended workshops that I might have missed if I hadn’t let Him direct each choice.
I went home strengthened for a challenge that I didn’t know awaited me. But God knew.

In some ways it was more intense and emotional than any conference I have ever attended, because God was working on my heart more than my career. But it was intensity that I needed, and it was mixed with plenty of laughter, fun, hugs, moments when God allowed me to encourage others, unexpected gifts of just the right words, and sweet time with my Heavenly Father.

Sometimes God’s direction doesn’t make a lot of sense. What? Go to a writer’s conference and plan ahead of time NOT to pitch? But when we obey, we see Him do far more than we expected. And I truly believe that my writing will benefit greatly from doing this conference differently, because when we allow Him to search, heal, and refocus our hearts, everything in our lives changes for the better.