How To Be Helpful, For Those Who Aren’t (Like Me)

How to be helpful, for those who aren't (like me) || boldly, tanya
photo credit

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:2

I used to be mean. (Okay, I still am.) Not the nasty, talk about you behind your back mean. Or the pull your hair and spit in your face physical mean. Not even the call you names mean. I was the uncompassionate and unhelpful kind of mean.

When I saw someone with a need, my first reaction was to pretend I didn’t see it. The second someone started sharing a burden, I got a sudden urge to visit the loo. Or I developed an insatiable thirst that needed to be immediately quenched. I even became so engrossed in the lint on my sweater that I completely missed everything the person said.

Most people figured me out and let it go. But, some keen people saw through my ruse and sought me out. They had to make sure I knew the excruciating specifics of their need.  As they approached, I would steel myself in preparation of their needy onslaught. My spine stiffened. My eyes narrowed. I put on my stern face with the pursed lips and employed Jedi mind tricks to persuade them. Mine wasn’t the help they were looking for. Most took one look at me and kept walking.

Still, some managed to resist my telepathy and forced me to think up an excuse. You need help moving? Next weekend? I am so sorry but that is the weekend I planned to shampoo my carpets. I’ve already committed to renting the machine. It’s in my planner in ink so I can’t change it.

I was not helpful. But I was a child of God and the two didn’t add up. God wants me to care for His workers. My heart needed change, and as I prayed, I recalled a verse from Galatians. “Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (6:2).

How do we do that? What does it mean to carry each other’s burdens? In the original Greek, the word for carry (Strong’s G941) means, “to take up with one’s hands”. That’s action! We have to do something.

Also, a burden is heaviness, weight, or trouble. That can be different for different people. Maybe you think my hardness is burdensome while I think your neediness is troubling. It can be difficult to ascertain exactly what needs to happen.

That is where this quick start guide comes in!

Step 1: Find out exactly what the burden is.

There are a few ways to do this. First, we can observe from afar. What makes our friend buckle under pressure? What leaves her gasping for air? That is a good way to get an idea, but a far easier option is to engage. Talk to her. Find out what bothers her. Ask her what she needs.

Step 2: Come up with a plan.

Is our mom friend desperate for two uninterrupted minutes of alone time? How can you tangibly meet that need? Do we have time to watch her kids? Do we have the money to hire someone else to do it? Do we have a teenager we can make do it for free? Think outside the box. Do we have a box set of Baby Crack Einstein DVDs that we can loan her? (No shame, just solutions).

Step 3: Do it.

We can spend our entire day thinking up ways to help. We can talk about it to our spouse and friends. We can lament about how awful the situation is, but none of that is helpful. We still haven’t done anything. Remember: we must take action. We must use our hands to lighten someone’s load.

Did Suzy fret about having no time to prepare dinner since taking on a big project at work? Bring her a meal. Buy her a gift certificate. Have pizza delivered.

Maybe Sally mentioned she would be spending Monday in the hospital. Her mom was having surgery. Show up. Wait with her. Bring a sandwich and a magazine or a book to leave with her.

Perhaps Samantha revealed her husband was on a business trip. She complained of boredom and loneliness. Invite her over. Watch Netflix and chill.

That is how we start. Yes, taking those steps is hard. Many times I found it awkward and even painful. But we must bring our thoughts and actions into submission to God’s will and commands. We do it as an act of faith and expression of love. That is what it means to be a servant of Christ. Fortunately, as servants of Christ, we can trust He gives us everything we need to fulfill His Word.

For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

Romans 6:14

Whose burden have you carried? What are some ways you helped out?

Please share because I need ideas.

My path to heaven’s throne room is paved with Gospel Bluegrass

Boldly, Tanya || My path to the throne room of heaven is paved with gospel bluegrass
Photo Credit

It’s too late to make a run for it. My grandpa’s heavy footsteps are pounding down the threadbare hall carpet. Seconds remain before he finds me snooping through his stash of pocketknives. Yes, he has told me a thousand times to stay out of them. But how can a spindly tom boy resist the call of a secret cache like that? Especially after he ordered me to leave it alone? Slamming the lid on the shoebox and shoving it into its hiding place, I send up a silent pray that Grandpa’s poor hearing will work in my favor. Then, I flip onto my back, throw my hands behind my head, and perch my left foot on my bent right knee in a desperate attempt to look nonchalant. I just wanted to pass the time hanging out on my grandpa’s bedroom floor.  I know I shouldn’t be here. I also know I am about to get what all snoopy, disobedient children have coming to them.

Grandpa lumbers in, sighing heavily before collapsing onto the edge of the bed. I might have felt relief if the strongest man I knew wasn’t crumpling in defeat before my unbelieving eyes. One of his calloused hands suspends his ever-present cap above his balding head just enough for his other hand to scour his scalp. It’s like an eraser trying to rub out an unwanted memory. Then he smartly replaces the cap and reaches for the blue milk crate full of faded vinyl records.

In silence, he thumbs each one until he finds his old standby, George Jones. Not honky-tonk George, but gospel George. He slips the black disk out of its worn sleeve and reverently places it on the turntable. He still hasn’t noticed me, or maybe he is choosing to ignore me. It’s strange because he is the only one who ever notices me, and he never ignores me. That’s one of the reasons I love him more than anyone. Still, I practically faint from holding my breath, lest it betray me.  The thought occurs to me: I don’t know whom he is when I am not there because I am always there.

Clicks escape the record player. Then a quick but harsh static follows the drop of the needle, a portend to the crying fiddle and haunting steel guitar that will soon fill the room. Grandpa closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. Then as Mr. Jones begins to sing, so does he, harmonizing as well as his untrained voice allows. I watch him and listen as they sing about unbroken circles, and unclouded days, and mansions over hilltops, and peaceful valleys.

Realization dawns across my childish mind. He isn’t just singing, he is lifting. His downcast eyes are the first to rise, followed immediately by his bowed head. Now they are both fixed heavenward. His spine straightens, one vertebra at a time until his shoulders no longer slump. His foot flexes to lift his toes as he taps out the tune. Finally, his right hand starts drumming on his thigh. He hums or whistles when he doesn’t know the words, but he never stops lifting something up until his entire body attunes with the music.

My Grandpa may have been sitting in his bedroom, but he was also sitting before the throne of his Savior. Each measure of those songs was a bucket used to carry his burdens to the Lord. In his moment of defeat and despair he went straight to God with worship.

When the record stopped. My grandpa called me from my pathetic hiding spot. I perched next to him and said I liked it when he sang. Although true, I was actually hoping to soften him a bit, since I was sure to be in trouble. He said next time, I should sing along, too. Then, he asked me get him some ice water because all that singing made him thirsty.

I would like to say that from that day onward, I stuck to my grandpa’s side, chirping along with a mandolin or banjo, but that isn’t true. Around the impressionable age of ten, I discovered New Kids on the Block, my gateway drug to pop music and rebellion.

Yet, twenty plus years later, nothing exposes my roots quite like turmoil. When I feel the sting of despair, I know where to find the soothing salve. It is in the worship of my Lord. It is in the hope of my salvation.

But, I also know that for me, gospel bluegrass paves the shortest path to heaven’s throne room.

Dear Old Dad

My father: partially responsible for my existence, wholly responsible for that one time I was interrogated by NCIS (not kidding). That pretty much sums up our relationship.

Boldly, Tanya || Dear Old Dad

Everything about my dad is large. Unless he is outside, he is ducking; always too tall for whichever confining place he happens to be standing. As soon as he is seated, he stretches out his long legs, his size fourteen boots nearly reaching the opposite wall. Seventy-six inches of arms fold at the elbows to rest his extra large hand behind his head. One might suppose that he was so afraid of running out of space he needed to take up as much of it as possible, but that implies he has fears, which seems unlikely. Instead, it is like he bullies the rooms, daring them to stretch out and contain all of him. The people who share the space suddenly seem smaller in the shadow of his magnitude.

 

But it isn’t just his physical size. It’s his intensity. Tiny hairs along the back of your neck or your arms stand on end when you are next to him, charged by his electricity, anticipating what will happen next. If you are lucky he will begin to speak.

 

His baritone voice rivals rolling thunder, starting in his chest and bursting out of his mustachioed mouth. His laughter is the fierce crack of lightning that follows. You can count the seconds between the two to judge his mood. If the laughter was fast and frequent, you knew you were in for a show. If it wasn’t, there was a chance you would still get nice rainfall to wash away your worries. Still there were times when it didn’t come at all. When the joviality was gone and replaced with an edge sharp enough to severe your thoughts and convince you to run away as fast as you could and seek shelter from the havoc about to erupt. You would do well to heed that warning.

 

Always, it beckoned me from the depths of childhood preoccupation, and placed me in his thrall. I waited around for a crumb of attention while he regaled us with stories. They weren’t intended to be stories. My dad was just rehashing something: his day, an event, a conversation. It’s just that my dad knows how to tell a tale. Mundane details don’t stand a chance. They slowly ride his dulcet voice past his cigarette-laden lips and magically transform into riveting narrative. To this day, I call just to hear him talk about anything. It has a soothing effect, even if it is complete nonsense, and a lot of what Dad says is nonsense.

 

If charisma is one side of his coin, pensiveness is the other. He has mastered the art of deep thought. He could equal Rodin’s The Thinker, except Dad needs space to ruminate. He can’t figure things out when he is all hunched over and balled up like that. His big thoughts need big space to move about and grow into bigger ideas. Ideas that grow wings and take him to out of reach places so he can get lost for a while.

 

But no matter how lost he gets, he can never escape his demons. They are bigger than him and perpetually lurking. On the best of days, they mutually regard each other from a distance until a passing nod between them signals a momentary reprieve from endless torment. On the worst of days, they take out everyone who finds themselves within the wake of their destruction.

 

I have been there a time or two, and only for minor detonations. Distance proved to be a valiant protector. Others haven’t been as lucky.

 

My father is turbulent, a constantly churning sea with picturesque white caps and breathtaking ocean views. You can’t help but dip your toes in or wade deeper to float in the tide. Some are daring enough to surf the waves or dive the depths. But you must remain vigilant, or the dangerous undercurrent could sweep you up and carry you away.

 

The question is: is it worth it?

 

For me, the answer is yes.

 

When I was a kid and he visited, I would beg him to spin me. “Like a plane,” I would say. On the best of days, he actually did. He would take my tiny hands in his and start spinning in circles while I ran around gaining speed and momentum until together we had enough to lift me into the air. I swear he could get my feet higher than his head as I orbited faster and faster and screamed with glee. There were times when my hands would slip out of his, but I never flew far. His gravity kept me close. It didn’t matter that I hit a few trees or scraped a few rocks. I loved it. The anticipation, the long waits between visits, the times I got hurt, the times he said no, none of that was enough to keep me from going back for more. Every single time, the thrill of holding his hands and flying through the air wins.

Yellow Cake

Boldly, Tanya || Yellow Cake
Photo Credit

Tinkling bells signaled our arrival as we entered the old corner grocery. It was small and dark and smelled like cardboard, but the penny candy and sunshine radiating through the front windowpanes made it warm and inviting.

As we walked, the worn cotton wood floor squeaked in protest of my grandpa’s heavy footfalls. It never did that when I walked on it, as if it thought I was too slight and insignificant to bother with. It wasn’t the first to feel that way or treat me like that. Except that day it didn’t matter what the floor or anyone else thought of me, because it was my birthday, and I was hitching a ride on grandpa’s hip.

I loved it when he carried me. He was a man of great stature (in both importance and height). He was well over six feet tall, and stocky and muscular, but he was also a bit paunchy around the middle, having succumbed to middle age, fatty food, and beer. He was the perfect mix of strong and soft. I was convinced his arms were made to carry me. In them, I felt safe and protected. I dreaded the moment when he would have to let me go.

The boisterous grocer (whom I desperately want to call Eugene, although I don’t remember his name) looked like the long lost cousin of Colonel Sanders and Orville Redenbacher. He had white hair and wire rim glasses, spoke kindly, and had never met a stranger. He called out to my grandpa, asking what he was looking for.

I felt my grandpa’s baritone answer rumbling about his chest before it left his mouth. “We are looking for cake,” he explained. “Today is her fourth birthday. We have to make a cake for a big girl. Not some baby cake.”

I smiled and bashfully hid my face in my grandpa’s neck. He smelled like cigarettes, greasy metal, Old Spice, and sweat. I am pretty sure that is the exact smell of heaven.

“Four years old!” exclaimed Eugene the grocer with an added whistle. “She will be driving before you know it.”

“She’s almost long enough to reach the pedals now!” my grandpa retorted.

I squeezed my bony legs around his belly and locked my ankles on the other side of him as proof of my burgeoning tallness. It was something I was just able to do having finally grown enough and I desperately hoped someone would notice. No one did.

Instead, Eugene pointed us in the right direction. We stopped in front of a colorful collection of boxes and pondered our choices. Then I saw it: the lonely box of yellow cake mix. It needed someone to love it, and I was just the girl. I let Grandpa know. He picked it up and then asked what kind of frosting I wanted.

Frosting? What kind of frosting goes with yellow cake? The box paired it with chocolate, but I noticed that most of the cakes had a frosting that clearly went with it. White cake had white frosting. Strawberry had strawberry. Chocolate had chocolate. German chocolate had that weird coconutty stuff. But there was no yellow frosting for my beloved yellow cake. Instead, they were trying to convince me it went with chocolate.

I became fretful.

“Grandpa, there is no match,” I whined. “There is nothing to go with yellow cake.”

Grandpa always had an uncanny ability to sense my moods and know what I was thinking, even if I didn’t.

“Who said they have to match?” asked Grandpa.

“But all the other cakes their own frosting. They all go together. Chocolate already goes with chocolate. It’s not supposed to go with yellow. Yellow is supposed to go with yellow,” I lamented as tears began to streak my dirty cheeks.

“Says who?” He asked.

“I want yellow frosting. Yellow should be with yellow,” I reasoned.

“Well baby, there isn’t any yellow frosting. Sure, chocolate taste good with chocolate, but who says chocolate can’t go with the yellow cake, too,” he consoled. “Anyway, look at us: we don’t match, but we go together good, I think. There is no yellow and your cake won’t match it’s frosting, but it doesn’t mean you still can’t have a good cake. Now, which one of these is your favorite?”

“Chocolate,” I whimpered.

“Well then, what are you waiting for? Get some chocolate! In fact, you better get two. Now that you are four you might decide you want extra.”

I grabbed two cans of Betty Crocker chocolate frosting and we made our way to the checkout. Eugene, anticipating our needs, had already switched aprons and abandoned the butcher’s counter for the cashier’s desk. He made small talk with Grandpa as he began to ring us up.

My memory fades as we are checking out. I don’t know where we went after that. I don’t remember what the cake actually looked like or how it tasted. I don’t even remember my TWIN sister. (She has to be part of this story. It was her birthday, too.) I just remember being held by my grandfather in the middle of the grocery store as he spoke some of the most epic words of my life. He communicated love and acceptance that transcended time. His wisdom was tailored to fit a four year old, but it is still resonating in my heart more than thirty years later.

That memory is my first. That is as far back as I can go. Yet, it does not escape me that the very first memory I have, as a child who was abandoned, is one of love and acceptance and explanation. That is the way God has worked my entire life.

I cannot count the number of times I have felt like that ridiculous box of yellow cake mix lumped with chocolate because I didn’t have frosting of my own. I felt like an intrusion. My parents weren’t really my parents; they were my grandparents who got stuck with us because no one else wanted us. My home wasn’t really my home; it was a place to wait for my mom to come back, except she never did. Not even my toys and clothes were truly mine; they were loans or second hand finds that I had to share with my sister. My life was defined by encroachment. Even now, there are still times where I feel like I don’t belong, like I am an interloper or a squatter in someone else’s space.

In those moments, I think of the words of my Grandpa. Who says? Am I missing something wonderful because I am too busy sobbing over the way things are supposed to be? What if I enjoyed what I have, even it isn’t the way I imagined it. What if I looked for unexpected joys (like the fact I got to have my favorite chocolate frosting on my yellow cake) instead of focusing on what was wrong (chocolate doesn’t match yellow)?

In a dusty grocery store on my fourth birthday, Grandpa taught me not to give convention the power to steal my joy and rob me of blessings. Maybe what I have doesn’t fit the pattern or look like the things other people have, but that doesn’t make it less. Sometimes, there is more beauty in the unique than the ordinary, and more value in the unprecedented than the expected.

 

 

My One Word for 2016: Discipline.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/biggreymare/2398172541/in/photolist-4DVg9r-dPiSNM-nt4xA6-dpRbkd-7gT96N-r2m7zu-bCqiy5-5zBD5k-7Yyxyt-cL4GY-odRrTs-rx7TX9-h1ZeTT-8LvY1T-5EW43p-bNPvLc-4dGEs-gFhNKF-jVjtjr-f9Xtn3-7CKs5z-7bLUS7-u97n1u-fNuK9r-qRYacS-uvLKdU-f9XtJb-8wr3c-e67hxo-apWagw-phvTY9-d2AWt-2fMECq-cZqjMm-ACWW3N-7UW4At-akEYeW-8rTpN9-s6bcir-uBfiA9-sHC6yq-oHby5z-ejMD8-f9HdVH-7vhPpA-f9nGXa-f9nGPT-dafoMe-4MW54G-azhdVh
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Last year, I set out to do so many Things. I had so many intentions and I made so many plans and I invested so much time into figuring out how to do the Things just right, but now, at year’s end, the Things don’t look the way I envisioned. The budding beginnings of these wonderful Things withered into non-existence due to my neglect. I failed to nurture them into greatness. I failed to see things through.

I just failed.

This forces some treacherous introspection and requires me to confront some nasty truths; the biggest being my complete lack of discipline – a quality that manifests in numerous ways. I give up when things get hard. I succumb to temptation. I get knocked down and just decide to stay down. I find an excuse. I never really start because I am waiting for the right time or for things to be perfect. Worse, I fail to plan anything at all and end up overwhelmed.

On a spectrum ranging from complete laziness to industrious burn out, I find a billion and one reasons not to do something, even if it is something I desperately want to do. Lawlessness is the silver spoon I use to sample each and every one of those problematic motives. Every bite is followed by the repulsive aftertaste of self-loathing; yet, I keep going back for more.

What is wrong with me?

It’s time to put the spoon down and step away from the table. This knowledge necessitates change. So I am making discipline my one word for 2016 (while noting the irony).

I don’t view self-discipline as a stand-alone. It isn’t something you can go to the grocery store and buy prepackaged and ready to serve.

Rather, it is gained through the pursuit of other things. Much like gasoline, it is the fuel required to make the car go, so you can arrive at your destination. You wouldn’t buy a gallon of gas just to have one, they way you might by a television or a necklace. It’s value lies in its ability to aid other endeavors. You wouldn’t need it if you didn’t have a vehicle, and you wouldn’t have a vehicle if you didn’t have a need to get somewhere different from where you are.

The real problem is this: how do you get to the gas station when you have no gas?

How do I acquire discipline when I lack the discipline to acquire anything?

It is a trick question with a simple answer: It comes with the car. The dealer always fills up the tank before you drive off the lot.

God made me for a purpose, and He equips me to achieve that purpose.

Self-discipline, self-control, temperance, however you want to say it, is a fruit of the Spirit. My only hope of ever combating my fleshy lack of self-control is through the intervention of the Spirit. I must continually and prayerfully seek His intercession. He will enable me to go where He is leading. That is step one.

But self-discipline is not only a divine gift, it is also a human task.

Meaning: I can’t just sit here waiting for God to miraculously and instantaneously snap His holy fingers and grant me perfect virtue. That is rarely the way it works. Instead, I have to practice.

So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books. 2 Peter 1:5-9 (MSG)

That passage will be my spiritual anchor this year, but here are a few more practical ideas I am kicking around to help hone my “alert discipline”.

  1. Set goals and clearly define them. I need a map to figure out exactly where I want to go. Then I need a plan so I can figure out what is required to get there. That should keep me from going adrift on the breeze. Idleness comes too easily when I don’t have a plan to which I can moor.
  1. Pursue accountability. It is much easier to disappoint myself than others. That typically means I share nothing, but in doing so, I loose all accountability. I must make room for the support and encouragement of others. God has blessed me with good people. I need them to act as guardrails ensuring I don’t plunge off a cliff.
  1. Stop putting things off. I spend a lot of time waiting for the Right Time, and it stands me up every time. It is never going to come. Things will never be perfect. I need to work on finding the sweet spot, where I have adequately planned but I am not just waiting around for every last detail to fall prettily into place. I will probably need the people’s help with that, too.
  1. Get back up. How good I am at falling down is exactly how bad I am at getting back up. I just lay there pondering and pontificating, but certainly not progressing. Succumbing to failure is easier than standing back up. Obviously, that hasn’t worked out well for me.
  1. Know my limits. I have to learn to say no to some good things so I can concentrate on the best things. I have to move items off my plate before I try to put more on it. Otherwise one of two things happen. I pour a lot into trivial things without rationing anything for the essentials, or I get so burdened I can’t focus on anything.
  1. Take care of me. Fortunately, I know what I need to be successful. I have to make time for those things. Prioritizing proper nutrition, exercise, quality time with my people, and rest is imperative if I want to maintain a steady course, because they are vital to my physical and mental well-being. Hopefully, by taking proper care of myself, I can better withstand temptation. Further, habitually doing these small things inherently increases my self-discipline.

There you have it – my meager game plan. This will be trial and error, but I have to start somewhere.

Do you have any tips or suggesting on how to achieve self-discipline? Do you have one word you are working on this year? I would love to hear from you!