Saul and I just bought a fixer-upper lake house. We envision long, lazy summer days filled with sounds of laughter and the splash of water as our children jump off the dock.
We knew going into this project that there would be no early morning fishing or late night marshmallows until we put in quite a few hours of sweat equity to make the place our own.
So, we loaded up the minivan with a bucket of tools and got straight to work.
The problem is, I’m no Chip and he’s no Joanna.
I am, however, a learner. While Saul used his big strong muscles to haul out old carpet, I watched every youtube video ever made on removing wallpaper. I called an army of friends and a few professionals for tricks of the trade. I was ready to make some serious headway.
But after 20 hours of staring at the same blue and yellow intersecting lines, I’ve come to a disturbing conclusion: that wallpaper isn’t budging.
I’m ready to throw in the towel. My nose has been pressed to the side of a bathroom wall so long I see it in my sleep.
I took a break yesterday to have breakfast with some friends. I was lamenting and second guessing and wishing for a fairy godmother when one of my wise friends said, “Why don’t you just cover it with wainscoting? Or shiplap?”
If you’re not a DIYer or an HDTVer, let me pause to explain that those are basically decorative pieces of wood that are mounted to the wall, thus covering everything underneath them!
Hallelujah! The clouds parted and suddenly I could once again hear the sounds of giggling children running barefoot through the house looking for ice cream.
So, what does this have to do with you? Maybe nothing. Maybe you can always see the forest through the trees. Maybe you can always stand back from your problems and analyze them with the a critical and creative eye. But I can’t.
This little wallpaper fiasco taught me a valuable lesson. When my nose is pressed up against the problem, it doesn’t leave any room for God to get between the mess and me. We have to back off (or perhaps seek the counsel of wise friends) long enough to keep the problem in perspective.
We weren’t created to handle every situation on our own. Sometimes it takes a little help from a higher power, a helpful friend, or a handyman with truck-full of shiplap.
Who is in control of your body? Your time? Your decisions?
I have a friend who asked me an intriguing question. She said, “Are selflessness and kindness the same thing?”
I thought about her question all day. Then I thought about her question the next day and the next. My brain wants to produce a black and white answer, but my heart seems to think it’s a bit more gray.
I still have to work out my thoughts on this, but I wanted to share what I’ve come up with so far in hopes that you can add or subtract, or at the very least, we can get a variety of opinions on the board.
Will the answer to this question change the world? No. But it just might change the way we approach the “want to” versus the “have to” chores in our lives.
My initial viewpoint is that selflessness is about being obedient to our roles. We have roles as wives and mothers and friends that often call us to give selflessly when we’d rather not.
Kindness seems more fun than that. Kindness is like a secret passageway through which God blesses us while we bless others.
We get a “helper’s high” from being kind, but that doesn’t always happen when we’re being selfless.
If selflessness feels overwhelming and is wearing us down, maybe we need to go back to the beginning and ask ourselves some questions: “Who is in control here? Who is in control of my body, my time, and my decisions?”
If your mother calls to chat just after you go to bed every night, even though you’ve asked her not to, you have a choice. You can either pick up the phone or let it go to voicemail. Yes, there may need to be another difficult conversation the next day when you remind her again that 11pm doesn’t work for you, but you remain in control. You control the amount of sleep you get or the amount of drama you let into your life just before you head off to bed.
When my wicked flesh screams out that it wants to be in control, instead of arguing with it, I work around it. When I have to do the dishes (even though it was someone else’s chore), I maintain my sense of control by telling myself, “I am the mom and I am choosing to do this for my children.” But don’t let me fool you, I am still a serious work in progress on this one.
Sometimes I have to take it a step further. Sometimes there is something that I really don’t want to do. Or a situation that puts me in a place where I have to give even though that wasn’t my plan. In those situations, I look up.
God is God and I am not. I’m just a person. What makes me so special that I can’t humble myself to help out just because it wasn’t “in my plan”? It’s God’s job to keep that wicked flesh of mine in check, and I think acts that require selflessness do that.
God knows, those are some of the most beautiful experiences of all, because I still get to be in control. (Okay, I get to be second; God’s first.) Those are the times when I get to say, “God, I don’t want to do this, but I think you’ve set this up for me. So I am going to do this as an act of obedience to you.”
An act of selflessness may not be as fun as a random act of kindness, but when it becomes a moment of worship and humility, I guarantee you’ll gather the blessings.
So enough from me. What do you think? Please share your comments on Facebook. I can’t wait to hear from you!
Pain and joy exist simultaneously. I’d say I wish it weren’t true. I’d say I wish I could just have the joy without the pain, but then I guess the reverse would also have to be true.
I’d have to accept the pain without the joy.
Where would that have left me during my breast cancer diagnosis? Where would that leave you when your child comes home heartbroken? Or any other part of your life suddenly crumbles?
I definitely want the joy when the pain comes, so I guess that means I have to suck it up and take a bit of the pain when the joy is so evident.
I was sitting in my sweatpants wrapping Christmas presents over the Thanksgiving break. Boxes and ribbons and scraps of paper circled me. I’m certain if someone could have shaken the room, it would have looked like a snow globe.
I picked up the last present to be wrapped. My book. My new book. The first one I’ve ever written, but the one I’ve been working on for four years and longing to write for many more.
My dad was always the biggest proponent of my publishing career. For years he’s been asking, “How’s that book coming along? When are you gonna let me read it?”
I gently set the book down on the wrapping paper. Then I picked it back up. A wave of heat instantly formed in my throat and I involuntarily gasped. The tears came before I even knew what was happening.
He’ll never read it.
My dad will never get to read this book.
I could feel my mind desperately scraping for the silver lining, trying to talk me off the ledge. C’mon Nic, be happy! It’s your first book! You finally did it! Other people will read it. Who cares if your dad can’t? Besides he probably read most of these stories when they came out each week in your newspaper column.
My emotions were at war. I felt the joy and excitement of holding that book in my hands, but all I could picture was my dad, still sitting in the nursing home after suffering a stroke last summer. He can’t process information well enough to read– or even to be read to for more than a few moments.
I finally asked the question I never once asked during my battle with breast cancer.
Why can’t he read it, God? Would it really be so hard for you to give him back that ability? To let him truly feel the pride that I imagine he would have felt if he could totally process what this book means to me? To us?
I’m like a little girl again, needing to hear my daddy tell me I’m smart and talented and good at what I do.
Why God? Why can’t I have that?
This is all part of the grieving process, I know. I have been given the opportunity to say goodbye to my dad slowly, thanks to this stroke. I have been given the time to get used to him being gone, before he really is.
The joy of knowing people will read my words of kindness and perhaps cast a new vision for their own lives will win out. I know it will. But today, it still hurts.
In a strange way, I’m grateful to feel the pain that goes with the joy of this first book. I never want to get to a point in life where I forget that everyone has pain. Even those with the fancy Facebook photos and those who get the great job and those who write the New York Times bestsellers.
Because when we recognize everyone has pain, we are able to greet everyone we meet with compassion. And that’s the place where kindness lives.