Obedience to Perfection or is it to Faith

One of the more fun things I’ve gotten to do this year (aside from the Say Something Show) is hang out with the MOST (Moms of Students) crowd at First Baptist Grapevine. We’ve been using the analogy of clothes to talk about identity issues in the context of the Lord’s vs the world’s views. This Sunday, we’re talking about shoes (“obedience”) – the action/taking steps. Which can look a lot like and lead to performance issues & pressures.

So I thought I’d share here what I’m going to share there (and also at Pine Cove’s Mother-Daughter Retreat in April) just because I really do think it’s interesting – and I’d love to know what you think. Why obedience? Why is it so important to the Lord? Seems like a heavy load to carry and yet the words “light” & “easy” are used when Jesus invites us to follow and obey.

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The heavy topic of perfection once again sucked all of the oxygen from the air surrounding one of my kids the other night. I watched as the lure, the expectation and the absolute inability-to-be-perfect weighed heavy and locked in like a heat-seeking missile to its target. I guess with five kids, this topic was sure to be on deck – often.

Perfection. Best. Winner. Top. Words that, though not always spoken outright, inform so much of what we do. It probably enters the conversation so often because perfection/aspiration is the side-kick of doing, the action steps in life. And with it comes performance tension, since its hard to know how do things without some sense of measurement.

And if/when these words are applied to a life of faith, they can be all the heavier. Especially as it relates to obedience – another word for doing.

The topic came up the other day with a friend of mine – not as it relates to school/grades/college applications like it can to my kids – but to parenting.

“It’s funny,” she said. “My husband and I were talking about it just last night. We thought we could ‘plan’ our family. And that parenting would be so rewarding. Cute outfits. Sweet artwork. Cheering from the stands at a baseball game. Birds singing. … And yet here I sit. Our family looks different than we thought it would. And we doubt ourselves every day. Then wallow in our inconsistencies and beat ourselves up.”

“And we want,” she continued, “– maybe even need – for our kids to be perfect. For so many reasons – for them and for ourselves since we can’t shake the reflection thing. Then, we stress obedience. Obey to be good.”

What is it about obedience. Why is obeying so important? It’s a theme we see often in Scripture. In the NIV, it shows up 223 times. And apparently, “(t)o obey is better than sacrifice.” (NIV 1 Samuel 15:22) Which is saying a lot. (See also: the book of Leviticus]

But obedience can be a tricky thing. Especially when considering the world’s idea of obedience compared to the Lord’s standard of obedience (which can be a mind-bender to grasp – as if we can this side of heaven.) Though the word is the same – obey – the road to it and outcome are significantly different.

With one, the road is uphill both ways striving to hit an ever-moving target that never satisfies. With the other, the road travels more like a journey than an arrival at a destination that is paved with doing as an outflow of trust and surrender.

One track dangles perfection like an artificial lure set forever out of reach, circling a track like a greyhound in a catch-the-rabbit race. The other offers perfection as a gift wrapped in brown-paper packaging which can make it easy to misunderstand, to overlook and even to trade for the more logical work-to-be-perfect box.

As far as I can tell, taking it down to the studs, it looks to me that:

Obedience to perfection = the world’s standard. Maybe even religion’s standard. If I do x then y then z, I’m good. In which case, we base-line trust in the ways of the world.

We live in the world, so how can we think anything different. The ways of the world not only seem good and right, they pave every path and define our self-worth from almost the minute we breath our first breath. From the age we crawl and how long we crawl determining intellectual capacity to the number/names of college acceptances weighing in on our identity – the world’s ways can be fickle. The Top Ten’s change, as do styles, as do all standards of perfection – even body types. The path to perfection or even simple acceptance is one paved with doing, and doing and a little more doing – according to standard to the day.

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The perfection thing is a prison, heavy-burdened with shackles. It matches perfection to works rather than love.

But …

Obedience to faith = God’s standard.

As I think about it, I’m convinced God wants us to obey not to be perfect, but in order to increase our faith.

To obey his commands (genuinely obey from the heart – which is different than being compelled to perform or out of fear) is to trust him. Trust. Literally transferring my will and my way to the will/way of someone else.

The path to perfection for God is different than the world’s. In the strangest, counter-intuitive way it’s a path based on His perfection, not ours. It looks less like doing and more like remaining – in his love. And it looks like trust. In fact, trust is kind of the linchpin. Because without trust, there sure aren’t any steps. But, I need to know Him and what He says in order to believe/trust. Which leads directly to faith, being sure of what I hope for and certain about what I don’t see. (Hebrews 11:1-2)

Obedience to faith – taking steps that put trust into action that on the other side of taking them lead to active faith. God’s standard is never obedience to perfection. He already took care of that. Maybe obedience is actually a gift that when accepted reveals the object of the faith required to open it.

Hmm….. Thoughts on obedience – hard to put into words, fun to contemplate, lots more to be considered – of that I’m pretty sure.

Thanks for walking the road with me.

-Kay

Hydrating for Holidays – More on Gratitude

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The opportunity to practice thankfulness seems to have no boundaries – even though it is often overlooked. Not only do opportunities amply avail themselves, scientifically documented benefits come along for the ride.

According to Forbes,

gratitude may be one of the most overlooked tools that we all have access to every day. Cultivating gratitude doesn’t cost any money and it certainly doesn’t take much time, but the benefits are enormous.

As we hydrate for the holidays – I mean really be aware of and tap into filling our tanks before they get below the white line – here are a few inspiring benefits that accompany thankfulness:

  1. Gratitude opens the door to new relationship. Thank-you goes a long way. My grandmother always told us, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all.” Well, how about FIND something nice and say it – specifically something of gratitude. Go one step further and find a way to thank a hard-to-love person in your life. You never know what might be on the other side of that. A simple thank-you with no expectations of one in return can be just the gentle word that needed to be heard.
  2. Gratitude improves physical health. Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and they report feeling healthier than other people
  3. AND psychological health. I’m not an expert, but I think it might have something to do with where our eyes are focused when grateful => not on ourselves.
  4. Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression – something that could be very helpful with all the holiday-induced close quarters. Practice it today, so the long lines and traffic plus all that comes with it won’t get our blood boiling.
  5. 6 & 7 – produces better sleep, improved self-esteem and increased mental strength.

All things that can not only make our holidays (and every day) more enjoyable on a personal level, but might also infuse the season with its reason: Joy, Peace, Love.

Walking out of the Finley-Ewing Cardiovascular & Fitness Center where I swim laps (let’s just say I’m at least 25 years younger than most of the clientele) I loved what has been posted on the wall:

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Most of the folks who exercise here are not doing it to be a certain size or to look a certain way. Many are rehab clients. Most are elderly. Rarely, if ever, do locker room conversations center around weight, muscle-increase, clothing size (or decrease there-of). No, it’s usually about the best brand of walker or sharing a roast recipe. Sometimes it’s about not knowing “how to work my that darn phone my daughter bought me!” (Seriously – I had to chuckle when I heard that one yesterday because that’s me with my mom – trying to get her to use an iPad instead of her laptop!)

The staff and trainers do such a terrific job meeting each “client” with respect and hope. They too know the power of gratitude. As of last week, a jar filled with blank leaves invites folks to write and share things for which they are thankful. img_9274

Thankful for kids, for health, for friends, for family, for love, for laughter, for food, for health (over & over), for “restocked candy jars”, for “all the nice people who work here” and “for life in Christ” (multiple times over.)

Such a great reminder from those who have lived enough life to know.

Need some practical?

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Water Station: Taking Note, literally

Maybe we should take their cue and do the same thing – today.

For ourselves and the folks walking alongside. Consider putting blank cards/paper leaves in a jar for your house today – maybe keep a stack in the car and invite yourself, as well as passengers, to write down things for which you/they are thankful. When WWIII threatens to break out over something as big as getting to sit by the window, be that mom and have them write down something about the other person for which they are thankful. At best, peace will be ushered in and birds will sing. At worst, you’ve provided rehearsal dinner fodder for which they’ll laugh/complain, “Remember that time when Mom made us write down how we loved each other?!” – followed by fake groans and eye-roll laughter. [But we know they love it!}

Not crafty? Check out my friend Catherine McInnis’s terrific Treedition Tree. (Note: this isn’t a paid ad – I just like her stuff :)

She has the perfect leaves to help us take note. But it doesn’t stop there. Check out her Christmas line – plus lots of other meaningful ornament ideas to remind us of life’s important things – namely the people walking alongside.

Here’s to filling our tanks today, so we’re hydrated and ready to fully live tomorrow :) Thanks for walking the road with me.

– Kay

Hydrating for the Holidays – Tip #1, Gratitude

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I don’t know if it’s coming off the crazy election period or if the extended Texas summer (we hit upper 80’s on Wednesday!) has us stupored by holidays zooming in from around the corner. But rather than let stress/pressures knock us down why not fight to find the reason of the season – joy, peace & goodwill toward men – in the midst.

I’m grabbing a moatblog idea floated last year and putting it back into practice. Want to join me in Hydrating for the Holidays? Let’s take a cue from seasoned athletes and start hydrating today in preparation for tomorrow’s race. Because who wants to be caught parched with tanks running low when faced with invitations (or lack of thereof!), gifting, packaging, decorating, Christmas-carding & all the comparing/measuring up that comes along for the ride.

Beyond water/juice, there are a few things we can do to fill our tanks TODAY so the reason for the season won’t get lost in the mix and the mad dash to Christmas won’t grinch-stealing our attention.

So – over the next several days, I’ll share a few hydrating tips plus some practical water-station stops.

Here’s to a joy-filled 2016 holiday season! Because maybe the real holiday comes when we focus less on getting, more on giving; less on doing, more on being; less on self, more on others.

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#1 Pump-Up the Gratitude

According to NSMI (Sports-medicine experts) warm-up/stretching is of essential importance to fitness. The warmup should gently prepare the body for exercises by gradually increasing the heart rate and circulation; this will loosen the joints and increase blood flow to the muscles. Stretching the muscles prepares them for physical activity and prevents injuries.

I’m all for preventing injury – not only in traffic, busy malls and the like, but also injuries of the heart. Thankfulness is the warmup to do just that. It gets our hearts beating for and our eyes focused on something other than ourselves.

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Have you ever considered the fact that Thanksgiving comes BEFORE Christmas? What terrific opportunity to practice/warm-up so we’re fully functioning when all the holiday-crazies tempt us to believe that we’re lacking, falling behind, and in desperate need of things.

Buttressing the barrage of “what do you want”, “what did you get”, “where are you going”, “what are you wearing”‘s of the holidays with a steady foundation of gratitude for what we already have can smooth uncertain landscapes. Sure it might sound cheesy, but it works.

  • When walking into Costco and my eyes are bombarded by all the latest & greatest televisions, phones, coffee-makers, even cars (!) – start ticking off the great things we already have. So what if we still use an iPhone 4. It’s a phone with a screen! It wasn’t long ago that I fought my way through trying to text on a flip phone. (My sweet father-in-law still does: 4-4 “H”, 4-4-4 “I” => Hi )
  • When our budget is a bit low thanks to major oral issues that ran rampant through our house during the month of October – 8 impacted wisdom teeth, 2 baby-teeth abscesses, and an implant that still is on hold (sounds like a depressing 12-Days of Christmas :) Why not choose to be overwhelmed by gratitude for the wonderful dentists & oral surgeons. Instead of being overwhelmed or feeling like a victim of crummy circumstance, be thankful we live in a day and age where medical technology makes these things a lot more comfortable than in days gone by. Count our blessings that an oral-abscess is treatable and not deadly like they used to be.
  • When the words “Your rack and pinion steering need to be replaced” grab more from that limited, now non-existent budget, fight for thankful and rest in provision. That car has been wonderful for years. It has safely transported our crew to and from school hundreds (thousands!) of times. It has prompted countless thought-provoking conversations, endured hours of off key singing-along-with-the-radio, lived through 3 student drivers and so much more.

Gratitude dials down stress. It promotes a re-focus and infuses life-giving oxygen into almost any situation. After fighting to find it, words like “Go ahead and replace it” to a trusted mechanic float a lost more easily off the tongue.

Practicing gratitude isn’t always easy. So, here’s a water-station stop to help they hydration flow.

triathlon-water-station-by-dominikgolenia1Water Station 1: Clutter Control

The simple, yet slightly time consuming, act of decluttering can not only make us physically feel better, but can almost instantly bombard us with the reality of ALL the stuff we already have – a complete counter-balance to the pressures of want.

Proven scientific benefits of decluttering include:

  • Stress reduction
  • Improved Focus
  • A sense of accomplishment
  • Improves Your Environment
  • Boosts Your Mood

So take some time today to clean out a drawer or fill a couple of bags from your closet. Put in in your car and deliver it to a donation-truck. And remember, as Ethel Sexton, one of Dallas’ greatest garage-sale shoppers used to say: “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Just ask our youngest who, today, is wearing a handed-down polo-shirt. In fact most of his wardrobe is from a friend whose youngest has outgrown his clothes. Some favorites for which we are super thankful.

How does/can gratitude help you navigate holiday pressures?

Thanks for walking the road with me.

-Kay

Powering Down Perfectionism

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It almost goes without saying that the days of yesteryear seemed so much less stressful and rude and judgmental and on steroids than the days of now. Pressures certainly existed back then and likely did their best to trip up even the most laid-back of folks. Rude and judging have always been around; but maybe we took heed to follow elderly advice “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all.”

Not so much these days

Quite frankly, I’m tired of it all. But at least I remember a normal that included propriety, respect, decorum and regular (the regular where everyone didn’t need to be Best.) And I wonder what normal looks like for my kids.

Recently, one of my girls let the truth surface.

My heart literally ached the other night as I stood in her tiny bathroom that she shares with her sister. I had walked by on my way to bed when I heard crying – a soft cry – you know, the slow leak kind. I didn’t know if she was missing someone she loves who recently lost a battle to cancer or if her heart had been hurt by one of the many varieties of fitting in (social media, inclusion, attire, size … fill in the blank) that line her walk in life.

“What’s wrong, honey?” I ask, quietly praying that she’ll talk. You never know with a teenager (with me either.) Her response? “Nothing.”

I gently push. Quiet tears aren’t like drama tears. They’re real and deep. I really wanted to nab whatever had grabbed her thoughts and was holding her captive.

Finally, she sighs. The floodgates open and “I can’t do this” bursts from her lips. This – not to be dramatic – signifies everything in her world. Regular has been crowded out by all things AP/social-standing/GPA/friend-group/filled-calendar/athletics/fitness/volunteering/… (fill in the blank) that when molded together create a persona, a product almost, to be placed on a life track. What you do and where you fall determines who you are.

The pressures for them to be are heavy and incessant, almost without borders. Mid sob, she releases the horrible admission that threatened to be true if spoken aloud: “I can’t be perfect.”

Apparently normal looks like perfection.

The idea of life being played out as if on a stage has jumped from the place William Shakespeare put it in As You Like It, to the always on, photo-ready/shopped reality – any time, anywhere, even when alone. Because the audience is watching. And the bar is set at elusive perfection that moves, stays just out of reach, then steals the show – ruthlessly taking down all in it’s path.

Interesting. Because oddly enough, the only thing that gives life to Perfection is – the idea of it. Because, Perfection isn’t real. So, how can it be worth all the time we give it?

Is it time to ask: IS anyone or anything perfect?

Siri’s answer is a lame “Interesting question, Master.” (Which leads me to wonder which one of my kids told Siri to call me Master.) Google’s best answer: “it depends on what your definition of perfect is.” Because in all cases, other than objective quantifiable cases like a multiple choice exam, perfect is subjective – a far cry from achievable aspirations.

The tempting lure and the pressures to reach it have the highest of stakes. Because, Perfection rarely travels alone. It brings with it an entourage that acts more like thieves than companions. They threaten to steal precious time, bogging it down with worries and fears and pressures that cloud any ability to truly relish the moments and/or the people walking alongside.

A friend and I were recently chatting with Shauna Niequist about the topic. It’s a topic she has deeply explored and contemplated over the past year, compiling her assessment in the best-selling Present over Perfect:

I think we can never overestimate how strong the cultural messaging toward perfectionism is… culture is screaming that message in a loud, one-note way.

So how to deal.

In as much as the problem is aimed at people, people are a large part of the answer – as in healthy relationship with the people around us and with ourselves. “You don’t have to wake up every morning and perform in order to be loved,” Shauana shared. But that’s hard for a lot of us to believe. So much of belonging and acceptance appears tied to positive performance. That’s a dangerous treadmill that leads to nowhere – except to frustration at best, self-harm at worst.

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… even yourself.

Another part of the answer lies in our belief:

Do I believe that every day when I wake up I have to hustle and perform for my worth? Or, do I believe that my worth and value on this planet has already been decided – therefore I get to live with the freedom, the grace and the hope that comes with that.

So – believe it. We’re going to believe something – why not Truth. And talk to the people in your life about it so that they’re your companions on the journey. Walk together instead of against each other. Remember along the way that people are not a product. And, life isn’t a stage.

Thanks for walking the road with me.

-Kay

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