grace for them


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.         

Doing the best we can

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.      


At least I don't have tuberculosis

Last night I went to bed anxious that the impending snowstorm was going to wreak havoc on my already cumbersome commute.  I fretted about getting enough sleep (I’m coming off of a rough chemo weekend) and leaving early enough to get my Tuesday morning meeting.  

Interestingly, as I slept, I had a dream that I somehow contracted tuberculosis.  A doctor diagnosed me and when I told my family, coworkers and friends, they all insisted it wasn’t any big deal.  There was some obligation I was supposed to attend – an event or appointment or something – and everyone urged me to just go.  That I probably didn’t really have anything serious.  That it was silly to prioritize this minor problem.  The expectation was clear – go.  Be “on.”  Deliver.  

In this dream, I had a deadly, highly communicable disease, and I bowed to the pressure of expectations.  I typically don’t think much of dreams.  Mostly because mine are usually filled with mundane, normal stuff or complete, utter nonsense.  But this one seemed to have a message.
Sometimes I do not feel ok about resting, unplugging or eschewing my responsibilities.  Even in this season of my life. I don’t think it’s because people actually don’t let me.  I think I make assumptions about what is required of me.  And what people will think if I fall short.  
Don’t get me wrong – I take the breaks I need to…sometimes I’m just totally deflated and have nothing left.  But I never really feel ok about it.  I feel like I’m slacking, failing and letting everyone down.  I feel judged.  Again, it’s not anyone’s fault.  I own it.  
Sometimes I wish someone would send me away – see, I can’t send myself…someone actually sending me would be, I don’t know, permission. An allowance to unplug from my obligations.  
While a weekend at some lovely spa would be outstanding, it won’t fix my problem.  My problem, and this is absolutely not exclusive to cancer fighters, is that, sometimes, my worth is tied up in what I do.  How much I do.  How satisfied people are with my performance.  In all areas of life.
Do you do this to yourself, too?  If you think about somehow, magically, being totally free of obligations and expectation, does it make you want to just cry with relief?  
There’s good news, but it’s pretty blunt.  Jesus is the only answer to this.  My identify has to come from who I am as a child of God, wholly and dearly loved.  I am not good because I’m well behaved, productive, efficient and freshly showered.  I’m not valuable because I cook a decent vegetarian chili or can juggle 37 projects at once.  Those things are good and they make me ME.  But they aren’t what determine my worth.  My worth comes from He who created us.  I’m worth something because He says so.  Even if I’m laying on the couch eating a cronut.  
The tricky part is grappling with the feelings that come with falling short of people’s expectations.  Or, more accurately, the expectations I believe they have.  This is where it helps to have people around you that love you, and while they do want you to make your bed and go to work and send Aunt Martha a birthday card…they don’t love you because you checked off your chore list. They love you over and above and around your shortcomings.  
Once I was late to pick up my daughter from my parents’ house and I had a complete, total breakdown.  I was so afraid they would think I was being disrespectful, irresponsible, selfish.  But when I got there, a sloppy, messy, snot-filled, teary-eyed mess…I was met with grace.  
The other day I sent my husband into the snow to pick up some take-out I’d ordered for us.  Turns out, I placed our order at a different location of the Mexican chain – one 20 miles away.  When he called to tell me, I expected anger at my stupid mistake.  I had done almost nothing the entire weekend, so sick from chemo.  And the one thing I tried to do:  epic fail.  But my husband just took care of it and brought me my quesadilla anyway.  Grace.  
Grace is so sweet.  I expected ridicule.  But I was received lovingly.  And I was so relieved.  I was reminded of how God deals with me…daily.  If you want to really rock someone’s world, give them grace when they think they deserve your disapproval, your disappointment and your cold shoulder.

I’m working on my issues with fearing letting others down.  I’m working on remembering who we are in Christ.  Let’s be liberal in reminding each other of that. And liberal with our dispensing of grace.

The best version of you

What if I treated you, every day, in every way, like you were the absolute best version of yourself?  Like you were really, really awesome.  The YOU that God created you to be.  The you He is gently pressing you toward?

That sounds hard.  I mean, much of the time we react to each other as if the other person is the very worst we can imagine.  He’s rude.  She’s immature.  They are mean.  We take the small amount of information we actually have, and then make assumptions and place labels and take any opportunity to infer that someone’s motives are the very worst. 
Maybe it makes us feel better about ourselves.  Maybe it’s a form of self preservation.  We won’t be caught lying down, thinking someone was good, only to be hurt in the end!
But when you flip it around and you think about how you want to be treated, how it feels to be thought of as the worst version of yourself…it’s not only painful and cruel…it certainly doesn’t make you want to be any better, does it?
Conversely, think of someone who always thinks well of you.  Someone who trusts you.  Someone who would be SURPRISED to learn you did something unkind or selfish.  Someone who gives you the benefit of the doubt.  They overlook your offenses, chalk your rudeness up to a bad day, respond to your harsh word with a kind one, receive your grumpiness with understanding.  Don’t you just LOVE those people?  Don’t you want to really BE your best for them?  
We’re so concerned with getting taken advantage of – but it seems like maybe it works in the opposite way we think it does.  Maybe the way to bring out the best in someone is to just start treating them like they’re already there.  I know, it sounds risky and unsafe.  But I know when I think of how it feels to be treated like I’m already mature and trustworthy and kind and giving and selfless…it’s incredible.  It makes me feel loved and special and it honestly ups my game.  If you believe my motives are dark and my priorities are selfish and my choices predictably fall short, I’ll probably either give up on myself or you.  But…if you show me appreciation and admiration, I’ll go to the moon to give you my best.  I’ll give you my all. I want to be that person you believe I am.  
So, I want to criticize and judge less, and do more to help people realize their potential.  There are a handful of people who have done this for me.  I will always be grateful to you, and I’m trying to be more like you.