Fighting cancer with surgery, radiation, chemo, etc is this whole lifestyle. You put your head down with determination, you think positive, you deal with physical pain, exhaustion, you combat the side effects with medicine, home remedies, rest, prayer, massage, warm baths, lotions, creams, healing foods, tea. You wish the bad days away and hold onto the good days, dreading the next chemo. But basically, you’re getting through it. You have a timeline. You have a specific goal…get through the next chemo, and ultimately, get done with chemo. You can’t wait to be done. You’re jealous of those ahead of you – if someone has just one fewer treatment than you do, you are insanely envious of them. Oh, to have just 3 instead of 4 left!!!
But then you get done. And a few things happen. The first is relief and celebration. It is AMAZING to not have to schedule your life around chemo treatments and how your body will be handling them. As the nausea, heartburn, neuropathy, cold sensitivity, joint pain, fatigue begin to subside, and as the nails, hair and taste buds start to grow back, you have a different feeling that can take hold. Fear.
You’re done fighting. Now we have to see if you’ve won or not. And the enemy could show up again anytime, without much warning. The future is filled with scans and blood tests and hyper vigilance. Healthy, cancer fighting foods, exercise, stress reducing behaviors, avoiding exposure to nasty chemicals. It’s easy to get swept away by the fear and the stress that every thing you do is either inching you toward or away from cancer.
This is the part I struggled with the hardest, mentally and emotionally the last time we crossed the chemo finish line. Chemo – it takes quite a toll. But the time after, it’s a different kind of challenge.
Primarily, it’s a challenge of faith. This is where we have to just take God’s big, strong hand, and choose to let go of our fear. All this time, we prayed and trusted Him we’d get through the chemo. Now we have to trust that, no matter what, He’s got us. He’s in control. He’s all over this. It doesn’t mean your cancer won’t come back. Maybe it will and maybe it won’t. But we’re called to a life of adventure, a life of uncertainty. A wild ride of a life where we’ve handed the keys over the the Big Guy and believed this was the best way. It is the best way. We can’t control it anyhow, so why not just rest in the knowledge that the best possible tour guide, navigator, driver, event planner and travel companion is in charge. Gratitude and trust can stamp out fear. I’ve experienced it many times. You simply can’t be thankful and afraid at the same moment. One has to win out. Light casts out darkness, not the other way around.
Yesterday, I got unplugged from my Wonder Woman Power Pack, also known as the stylishly bedazzled fanny pack that I would wear home for 46 hours, after completing my bi-weekly infusion at the clinic. The fanny pack contained a very powerful drug that has caused me all kinds of side effects. And as of now, I am DONE with that drug and the rest of them.
It is a strange time, the days following the END of chemo. Partly because, although the drugs have stopped dripping, the side effects are just ramping up. You’re thrilled to be done, but still have a couple weeks of pain and suffering to endure. You want to bust out the champagne and celebrate but your body is just not ready, so it’s a little bit anti-climactic. The celebrations have to be delayed as your body begins to react to the latest (last!) round’s effects, head downward, then slowly, the trajectory changes and you’re on the upswing. Can’t wait for that feeling!! And as the the celebrations – woohoo, have I got plans!
It’s particularly strange because the last chemo treatment tends to be the worst, so you’re headed into slightly unknown territory at a time when your brain and soul just want to shout from the rooftops, sing at the top of your lungs, paint the town red, dance it out, party like it’s 1999. So, this period of time requires a little patience. I remember being very frustrated by this the last time I finished chemo, back in March of 2014. I was so ready to get back to feeling normal, and it seemed to take FOREVER. It was several weeks by the time I really started feeling more like myself. You feel like the worst should be behind you, but you have to come to terms that it simply is not.
Right now, I’m tired, foggy, groggy, and I have quite a significant rash spreading in new places (it’s taken up residence on my neck and eyelids this week.) My anti-nausea meds have kicked in and are doing their job, thankfully. My skin is so dry, it’s crazy – my elbows look like they belong to an elderly gorilla. Some unidentified person kindly sent me some products from Amazon to help soothe these issues (identify yourself so I can thank you!!!!) I have these crazy infected finger and toe nails – I really need these to get better ASAP so I can start really training for the relay of the upcoming marathon. My face is flushed and feels warm. The rash on my hands looks like burn marks. I have some sores in my mouth that make chewing tough, but I do have some medication for that, thankfully. Slight heartburn has started, but I have meds for that, too, so we should be able to knock that out pretty soon.
So, right now, while all I want to do is celebrate, I am forced to downshift into a lower gear, rest, recharge, and continue to let others take care of me and my life for a little while longer. I will be fighting the side effects and impatience. I need your love and laughs and thoughtful kindness now more than ever – send me those funny YouTube videos, words of encouragement and anything else you think I need to get me through. The end is near, but we’ve got a little ways to go!
While all of that is a little difficult, I continue to be incredibly grateful. I have had some wonderful people step up and check on us, making sure we have what we need to get to the finish line. I have had thoughtful coworkers put my needs above their own, and some who have sent powerful words of encouragement and promises to keep praying. Some food has been delivered so I don’t have to cook – thank goodness! I have gotten cards with kind words, letting me know we aren’t alone in this.
Well, I’m pretty sure my cat is nibbling on my lunch in the other room. His way of letting me know I’m not alone, I suppose, haha! Thank you to those of you who have kept up the support and care in these last weeks. We are so appreciative of you understanding that it ain’t over ’til it’s over. Thanks for being in this with us all the way. Love to each of you!
According to an article in the Seattle Times, over 600,000 Americans will die of cancer this year. That’s an enormous number. The article was primarily about the fact that celebrities and other people often times do not disclose what type of cancer they had.
So I was feeling a little down today. I am recovering from my last chemo session, but it wasn’t about that. Do you ever go on Facebook and see something that someone has posted that either isn’t very nice or comes across as passive aggressive? And there is this little dirty, mean, self-hating part of you that thinks it might be about you? Maybe once, years ago, someone suggested that you might be a little selfish or a little controlling or a little arrogant or a little bit of a failure. And then, long after, you see this post about how horrible selfish or controlling people are, and you wonder if they are talking about you? Most of the time, I scroll right past that stuff without a second thought. But now and again, that ugly little part of myself takes pause and wonders. And worries.
I feel misunderstood sometimes. I think sometimes my directness, confidence and drive to get things done steer me into this category that some people just don’t know what to do with. Lots of people enjoy these aspects of my personality and respect them a lot of the time. But sometimes, my drive, my passion, my unrelenting certainty presses against someone else’s insecurities and it just pushes their buttons in the worst way. I inadvertently become a villain. And it always mystifies me. I think I’m encouraging someone and it comes across as pushy and self righteous. I think I’m showing someone an important truth and they characterize me as having an agenda. I think I’m listening carefully and they think I don’t care.
So I saw this annoying thing on Facebook, and the story I made up in my head was that it was about me. And I saw who “liked” it, and it felt like a chapter out of Mean Girls. And my first response was that I was hurt. And my immediate follow up response was all of the reasons why these people mean nothing to me and do not get to hurt me, because they are nasty jerks who are so insecure they have to post these little thinly cloaked insults that they aren’t brave enough to say outright. And my next response was frustration. Being misinterpreted is just the worst. And I sat in that misunderstood feeling for a while.
And then I went to my bookshelf to find a book to start, to take my mind off of this crap. And a great book that I deeply love, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller literally fell out of the bookshelf, fell open and a greeting card skidded across the floor. It was a card from a good friend and coworker. And if ever there was a physical piece of evidence that some human in this world understands me and knows where I’m coming from, it was this card. I read it. It made me cry because it was so, so, so needed right then. The printed, sentimental words that the card makers published, and the messy handwriting, scrawling across every blank square inch of the card – words that comforted and healed. Words that reflected that sometimes my very best self does come across and is accepted and acknowledged and appreciated.
I’m misunderstood sometimes. By some people. And other times I am perfectly understood. By some people. That’s the reality And that’s ok. I don’t need to be understood by everyone all of the time. I’m not here to make everyone happy or make everyone feel perfectly at ease and comfortable. I’m here to be me. I’m here to be Jessi in all the wholeness and fullness with which God has created me. Some of me is messed up and still a work in progress. Some of me is perfectly effective and functioning exactly as I should. Some of me is half formed and half baked and half torn apart. Some of me is healing. Some of me is growing. And it’s ok if it comes out wrong sometimes. That’s what grace is for. And if you don’t have any grace for me today, that’s ok. Because God’s got plenty. And sometimes He doles it out in the form of a 6 month old greeting card.
Pretty much, we’re all doing just about the best we can. At least, most of us are. At least, the people that deserve to matter to us are. Keep doing the best you can. I will, too. Because even if that post is “about us,” it’s not actually about us. It’s about whatever broken, half baked piece of that person is dripping out today. And we can be better than that. We can have grace for them.
2015 began without much fanfare, although my cousin got engaged to a lovely woman I can’t wait to be cousins with. A few weeks into the new year, my oncologist suggested we remove Mort the Port. I was thrilled, not because I hated Mort, but because I felt this meant that my doctor felt that the cancer would not make a comeback.
The company, Modere, reached out to me recently and asked me to review some products.
“Your scan looks beautiful,” said Dr. Tsung, my youngish, kind, tall surgeon.
It’s like letting the air out of a balloon – the pressure relieved by good news. No new tumors. Thank you, God. Thank you.
I’ve been in this position so many times. The one where you wait for a doctor to give you news that will drastically alter the trajectory of your life. Those moments are so full and frightening and taxing and stressful. I’ve had to wait hours, days, and even over a week for results. By no means do I have this down, because this sort of thing is always going to be hard. But here are some things I have learned along the way. Perhaps it will help you the next time you face the uphill battle of waiting for important news.
First of all, you really do have to begin with what you believe. If you believe in nothing, that’s entirely up to you, and you can move forward doing basically whatever makes you feel better. Some things to consider: some people like being alone, and others prefer to be surrounded by a support network. Wherever you fall on the introvert/extrovert spectrum, pay attention to your wants and needs and try to adjust your social schedule accordingly. An introvert does not benefit from constant companionship and an extrovert will quickly become depressed if left alone for too long. When we’re out of our element for any length of time, it stresses us and more stress is not what is needed in times of worry. I would also recommend engaging in activities you find to be energizing or calming such as exercise or an activity you enjoy. It’s also good to keep a normal routine – you can’t and probably shouldn’t take a few days off work and sit home and worry. Some of my best work has been done when I’ve pushed my upcoming doc appointment out of my mind and focused on something totally unrelated. Keep your mind occupied by work or mindless tv. Not a bad time to binge on Lost episodes if you were living under a rock circa 2006. I’m not even joking. Good, well written tv shows have basically gotten me through cancer. Ok, more so God, my friends and family have gotten me through cancer, but Scandal and Revenge have helped me forget about cancer for a while. Just turning your mind off can be helpful. This strategy immediately gets derailed when there is a cancer story line added (assuming a cancer diagnosis is what you’re waiting to hear about.) In which case, you can skip that episode or…just watch Lost, ok? No cancer scares on the island from what I recall.
If you’re not sure what you believe, it’s not a bad time to think about it. Have you wondered about heaven and hell and God and what happens when you die? Of course you have. But, like many people, you’re jaded by organized religion (Understandably! Some real idiots out there in the name of various religions, eh?) and/or you haven’t landed on anything that fully makes sense to you. I encourage you to pick something and learn about it. Just start seeking for spiritual meaning and ruling things out. I can pretty much guarantee you will find yourself down a rabbit hole of interesting ideas and philosophies. My own journey led me from kind of half heartedly hoping that reincarnation is real and that I could come back as something that flies if I behaved myself, to believing that Jesus is the real deal. It just made sense to me, eventually, that God is perfect, we sin against Him (we do…all of us) and there needs to be a sacrifice to pay for those sins, and Jesus is that sacrifice – God’s son. He sacrificed the most valuable thing ever, to demonstrate His love for us. Now, because I believe that is true for all of us, not just “my truth” or “true for me”, I hope you will discover that, too. But I sincerely think that simply taking the step of exploring whatever intrigues you will lead you closer to the truth – whatever the truth of this astonishing miracle of a universe we live in is. Taking an honest step toward discovering what all of this is and how we got here and what we’re meant to do – it’s always a step in the right direction. Seek and you shall find.
Now, for those who consider themselves to be Christians. Coming from the perspective of a Christian worldview, there are certain Biblical ideas and instructions that are very helpful to one experiencing great worry. The first is that God commands us not to worry. Isn’t that interesting?! I have thought about this a lot, because I find it to be such a loving instruction to us as His children. If you are a parent and you think about your child, and you imagine your child worrying, it’s heartbreaking, right? I remember my mom asking me what I worried about once when I was about 9 or 10 years old. I told her, and I recall this very clearly, that I worry that the United States will go to war and my dad would have to go to fight. I regularly worried about this. Having been born in 1978 and having several family members who fought in wars, I heard enough references to war to know that it was very, very bad. I often worried when I saw the news and heard about various tensions throughout the world, it being the cold war and all, When I expressed this worry, my mom laughed and told me that my dad was too old to be sent to war. I was immediately relieved. I am sure if my mom could have read my mind and saw that I was harboring that worry for years, that she would have alleviated it immediately, as she did that day.
I imagine God is troubled when we worry, partly because we spend time worrying that we could be spending doing about 10,000 more productive things, but also because He loves us and doesn’t want us to live in those confusing emotions. He also wants us to trust Him. We might talk about God and go to church and express a belief in Him of some sort. But do we really trust Him? The rubber definitely meets the road with faith when you’re sitting in a doctor’s office, waiting for the doctor to come in and point you down one of two roads – one, that you really don’t want to go down.
Being through what I’ve been through – Two cancer diagnoses, multiple surgeries, two chemo protocols, dozens of side effects – I have a lot of experience in that waiting room. And my time with God, in those moments has changed. I used to think just “no please, no, let it not be cancer, no, please, no, let it be ok.” While a part of me still thinks that way, there is another, emerging part of me, that is calm, willing to hear whatever the news is, willing to go down whatever path is the one God leads me down. I am increasingly challenged to believe in God’s goodness. I am still tempted to believe that bad news means that God is not real, or if He is real, He’s not good and He does not love me. The deeply flawed, human side of my heart and brain turn so quickly from God when He does not act as I would have Him act. That hurts to write that sentence because it reflects such arrogance and short sightedness. We can believe that this being created this entire earth – He invented water, and fire and jellyfish and geysers and the Northern Lights and our incredibly intricate nervous systems. We can believe that, but not that He’s in control, that He will facilitate our lives in a way that is ultimately for our good? Sometimes, believing in God seems a little crazy. And I get why people think it is. But from a logical perspective, it’s actually crazier to kind of vaguely believe in Him but not trust Him with these difficult things.
We do this, because we’ve probably felt betrayed by God at some point. We lost someone that we loved, usually. That is usually the thing that pushes people to the point of refusal to believe that God could possibly be good, when such a wretched loss has occurred. Our hearts are so beautifully designed to love and engage with others, that a loss of love – by death or abandonment – changes us, searches in a rage for someone to blame, shuts off our willingness to trust this being in the sky we call God. But I know people who have experienced unspeakable loss – second trimester pregnancies ending suddenly, car accidents taking away fathers, cancer stealing yet another young life, blindsided by an affair and demand for divorce – and some of these people have the toughest, most serious faith I’ve ever seen. Because they’ve been through the wringer, and they didn’t let go of God’s strong hand.
So, at some point along the way here, I decided, years ago, that I was all in, as far as God goes. So, when I sit there, waiting, I remind myself of all the good in my life, the history of God’s faithfulness, the truth that He has brought me safe thus far, as that old hymn reminds us, and He will lead me home, as He sees fit. This is the only way I know. It’s not an easy way, but I believe it is the best, truest, most sensible way. I was willing to hear bad news on Friday, when I went to see Dr. Tsung. I was willing to hear that things were not going well. I had high hopes, of course. But I was willing to hear what I didn’t want to hear. I was willing to let go of my timeline of chemo and my deep desire to “get back to my life.” I was willing to accept that I might not be able to go ahead with plans I have for once all of this chemo is over. I plan to run in a relay in the Pittsburgh Marathon, I am toying with the idea of doing another triathlon. I want to go on a short missions trip. I am planning my 10th anniversary trip. I want to visit friends I haven’t seen in a while. I plan to orchestrate a huge capital campaign to build new and better facilities for the organization I serve. I want to redo the retaining wall and landscape that part of my front yard. I wrote a book and now need to get it published. I have plans, yo!!
But I sat in the doctor’s office and offered up my plans and hopes, while I waited. Not my will, but yours, be done.
The nurse took my blood pressure while we waited. I typically run at a 120/80 and in times of anxiety, more like 140/90. My blood pressure was 100/62. I actually laughed out loud. I silently gave God a high five, thinking “Wow, I’ve come a long way!” I was in awe that I was actually that calm – that it wasn’t just an act, that I honestly wasn’t being ruled by my anxiety. It was physiological evidence to me that I was really doing it – really trusting God.
The clear scan, to me, was just the icing on the cake. The cake (I don’t like this whole metaphor because clearly the icing is the best part of cake) was that I could actually trust that, no matter what the doctor said, God’s got me, and He’s in complete control. Had the news been different, yes, I would have been deeply disappointed and probably a little scared. But I know that I am able to recover from those difficult emotions, release my plans and lean into trusting God. I pray with everything in me that I never have to fight cancer again, once we are done with these chemo treatments – they are pretty terrible. The idea of going through all of this again just sends a chill through me.
But, whatever God sees fit for me…I’m in.
Because of my exploration of gratitude, I’ve been paying special attention this Thanksgiving. I am watching closely to see what people are thankful for. Oh, Facebook, you make it so easy to do non-scientific research. I notice that when people post what they are thankful for, it is always first and foremost, family and friends. Second, people thank God (or the Universe or whatever they believe allows them to have these entities they are grateful for) for their home, their jobs, the relative safety of living in this country. They thank for overcoming an illness or being sustained through one. They thank those in the armed forces, police, first responders. They thank for their pets. For good food. For nice weather.
Some that were unique and interesting:
Thankful that an older relative saved old photos to look at now
Thankful for dinners without electronics
Thankful for coworkers to brave difficult work alongside
Thankful I’m not making Thanksgiving dinner
Thankful for a black Friday shopping partner
Thankful for a mom who can be counted on
Thankful for the ability to pay it forward
We are wired to be thankful. It comes spilling out of us when prompted. Gratitude is the right response to this wonderful life. Even if we don’t feel like our life is wonderful right now, or if this has been a really hard year, as it has for some of us, it’s possible to see beyond the cloudy, dark moment caused by pain, loss or fear. The world is abundant! Hope is just beyond that dark cloud. And sometimes dark clouds bring rain and rain makes things grow, and that rain from that dark cloud prompts what will eventually be a needed harvest. Harvest requires rain. The thunder and lightning that come with it must be withstood by the hope of that harvest.
God has blessed us with such freedom, such hope, such opportunity. Especially in suburban, rural or fancy urban American areas where most of my peeps live.
Yesterday, I spent the first half of my day at Light of Life Rescue Mission where I work. We have a number of different programs and services, and one is to serve meals to those in need. We serve breakfast and dinner 365 days a year. On Thanksgiving Day we serve over 1,000 meals to hungry people. This is the seventh year I have done this, and it is a miracle every year. It is many miracles every year. It is miraculous to me that people care so much to help that our volunteer spots (Over 100) are full by early October. It’s a great problem to have to have to turn away so many willing hearts. It’s a miracle that so many people who are in need can experience a warm, lovingly prepared meal, served by gentle hands, surrounded by kind spirits, offering up God’s love to any takers.
I watch the faces of those who come for a meal. I carefully make eye contact and say “Happy Thanksgiving.” The responses vary. “Thank you.” Quiet, nervous, maybe a bit ashamed. “Same to you!” Hearty, booming, possibly intoxicated. “Happy Thanksgiving to you as well.” Humble, Appreciative. No response. A nod. A high five. A hug. A shy smile. It’s no chore to me to do my part to provide this food (mostly I manage the people who do the real work, and just make sure everything is as it should be, like a surveillance plane, way up in the sky, noticing all that is well and the small things that need adjusting.) It’s no chore to help a young mother find a winter coat for her little daughter. It’s my great joy, in fact. I actually have to step away, at times, to not be greedy, and allow others the joy of helping. I step back and I watch a nervous volunteer carefully check tags, looking for a 5T size coat. I watch two men calmly decide who the really cool leather jacket fits better. Strangers until that coat. One holds the other’s belongings as they try it on for size. Jovial. Laughing. Knowing there are plenty of coats for all. I bow my head grateful that we don’t have scarcity today. Food for all. Coats for all. One only need a bit of patience to wait in line for a short while. A man and woman sit down on the ground and find comfort in each other. They can’t stay there, because they are in everyone’s way, but the sweetness and the miracle of their claiming that grassy spot for a few moments to rest and feel safe and calm, surrounded by the love and care of so many people who want to reach out, to bless, to give, to love.
The news cameras and the reporters with their pens and microphones come to see. They come to share the story. The story of blessing and gratitude. They don’t know, but they bring glory to my God as they share this work on their tv stations and their newspapers. We don’t have to say it. We know who does all of this and what great things He is up to. Craig Wolfley, former Steeler and current broadcaster, and my friend, stood up to share in the chapel that the real miracle is that for all of us, the one in 100,000 NFL player, the lady next to him with stage 4 colon cancer, the drunk fellow in the back row, the ex-con by the door, the suburban stay at home mom spooning gravy, the lumber jack looking guy answering the phone at the front desk, the Hispanic family who doesn’t speak English but followed the trail of blessings to our doorstep – Jesus came for us all. To scoop us all up from our messed up ways. He knows it all. He forgives it all. All that we are ashamed of. In Him, we have eternal life, and we begin an epic adventure of faith. Faith that allows people like me to have astounding hope that crushes all fear.
As I wrap up my challenge of writing down 1,000 blessings I’ve been bestowed with, I wonder how I lived before. Not noticing. Not making note. Not thanking as a practice.
I’m thankful to write this. I’m thankful anyone would read this. That it would bless anyone in any way. It’s what I have to give. My observations organized into ideas and then words. I hope you like it. I hope it matters to you. I hope it is a blessing to you and that it might somehow make it’s tiny way into your long list of things you’re grateful for.
Are people doing the best they can?
In her research, Brene Brown posed this question to many people and learned a lot from the results. You can read about it in Rising Strong, her amazing new book.
So, do YOU believe that people are doing the best they can?
This is such a huge question. Your answer to it makes the biggest difference in the world. It is the position from which you respond to others and their shortcomings and failures. And people fail and fall short all of the time. Many of the inconveniences and road blocks we experience crop up because of choices others have made. The guy in front of you is going 10 miles below the speed limit which causes you to hit every red light. The coworker who didn’t get their part of the report to you on time. The spouse who forgot it was their turn to get the kids from daycare.
If you are a naturally empathetic person, and/or have been raised in an unusually nurturing environment filled with patient adults, you might quickly respond that, yes, you believe people are generally trying their best. You might even recognize that this comes across as a little naive to others, but you just can’t shake the belief that people are pretty much doing the best they can. Your response to failure in others is empathetic and you assume that this person tried their hardest and is probably more disappointed in themselves than you could ever be.
If you are like me, your natural tendency is to believe that when failure happens, well, people just aren’t trying hard enough. You can see the places where they could have made a better choice and changed the trajectory of their failure. You can see how if they would have just hurried a little, or stopped and waited or turned at this point or said something different, everything would have been fine. You assume they have the ability to complete whatever the task was, but they chose not to focus, allowed distraction to get in their way, or just decided at some point, they didn’t care. For me, failure is an invitation to blame. And I’m an expert blamer. I can tolerate failure as long as I know whose fault it was, and that they are really, really sorry and understand that it cannot happen again. Even if I’m the culprit. I’m way more comfortable with it being my fault than it being no one’s fault. And I’m just as harsh with myself when it comes to my own failings.
Now, this characteristic of insisting that someone take responsibility, self included, makes me a good leader. Until it doesn’t. Sometimes it makes me a terrible leader. Because it ventures into me acting like an unfeeling, cold, control freak. While I’ve spent years making attempts at simply controlling my behavior by using different words and tones of voice or taking five minutes before I respond to another’s failure, changing behavior only gets you so far. The changing of the thinking is what causes transformation.
And here’s what changed my thinking. When I flip the script, and put myself in the seat of the failing person, and someone besides myself in the judgment seat, and I experience their judgment of my failure, I feel utterly awful. I’m already crushed by the weight of my own judgment. I’m already embarrassed and angry at myself. I probably was trying pretty hard in the first place. In fact, most of the time, I’m so deathly afraid of failing, I’d risk life and limb (mine or yours) to get me across whatever finish line I’ve set my sights on. Imagine me, doing my very best, but crossing that line just a second too late. Imagine the crushing disappointment, I’ve let myself down. I’ve failed. And then I look up, and who do I see, but someone pointing a judgmental finger at me, shaking their head in disappointment and disapproval. But, but, but…I tried my best. Can’t you see that? Now, not only do I feel disappointed in myself. I also feel shame.
So, let’s back up. When I’m the judge, judging the failure and believing the person just isn’t trying hard enough, where is that coming from? I notice, when I get curious about my thoughts and emotions in these circumstances, that my strongest feelings come when another’s failure impacts me. I am slowed down. I am inconvenienced. I am held back. I have to do additional work. I have to clean up the mess. For me, it’s not so much about feeling superior or wanting to believe I’m better. It’s about blame. If I watch someone make a careless mistake while driving, and bump into another car, I might feel empathy. Ooh, that sucks, dude. Bummer. But if it’s MY car they hit…well, let’s rev up that blame engine because I can find 37 things that person did wrong in .25 seconds.
For me, it’s about how the mistake impacts me. The cost I have to pay because of your carelessness, thoughtlessness, laziness, etc. This brings us into the land of choices, and specifically, the land of choices that include things like grace and mercy. Oh, how I crave grace and mercy for myself. But I’m so stingy when it comes to others. Only if I can see it on your face, see the contrition, see the regret. Then, I’m pretty generous with my grace and mercy. But when you think you deserve it without even feeling especially bad, or, worse yet, you don’t recognize you need it, man does my blood boil.
I realize, as I think on this, that it’s about cost. You failed. It impacts me negatively – so there is already a cost in my having to clean up the mess or incur a financial or time burden, but on top of that, there is a cost to the emotional toll it has on me – I feel angry or hurt. Now I need a place to put that emotion, and the easiest, most convenient place is to point it right at you. Blame leads me to discharge the pain I’m experiencing. But grace leads me to keep it, and take the responsibility of transforming it inside myself instead of discharging it at you.
The idea that people are trying to do the best they can makes choosing the grace path a little easier. That ball of anger that formed when you hit my car is so fiery and sharp. But when I think about the possibilities of what you had on your mind, what might have distracted you, how you must feel about yourself right now, the flame loses it’s oomph. When I consider how you also have a cost now, how you might be late for something important, and how a relationship might hinge upon your arrival. How you made a few other mistakes today and this one is just crushing you. Now, my heart is softer. I can see past the indignant expression on your face and recognize that it’s not true self righteousness, that, if left undisturbed, would fuel that anger flame in me. Rather, it’s a mask to hide the shame. And the flame quiets and shrinks.
I’m choosing to believe, not necessarily that everyone is always doing the best they can, but that in fact, they MIGHT be. For now, that’s the best I can do. But it’s a start.