“To Do” or “To Be”?: Exchanging Checklists for God’s Presence

Not long ago, I finished up a beautiful study on the book of Hosea by Jennifer Rothschild. She challenged her readers to do something I love: to make a to-be list instead of a to-do list.

I’m prolific at creating master to-do lists. They give me a sense of control, a sense of accomplishment and keep my cluttered mind from letting crucial jobs slip through the cracks of my faulty memory. (Correction: these things give me illusion of control, accomplishment and clearer brain function.)

Despite my love of meddlesome to-do lists, I think they are overrated. Our culture is so consumed with “do more”, schedule-juggling, organizing, managing and rearranging that we’ve lost sight of something quite important. Call me crazy, but I think we’ve got the whole cram-more-into-your-day-and-wonder-why-we-need-caffeine-and-stress-management-to-keep-up thing down.

No. Better organization isn’t the problem. What we choose to tackle in a day has less to do with a checklist and more about what our priorities are. In other words, to do is not nearly as important as to be.

As yourself the question, “Who do I want to be?”

For you hard-core list makers, start writing. I started my to-be list and, in just a few minutes, I was running out of room on the page. list making

To Be:

Compassionate

Loving

Kind

Less prideful

Less stubborn

More flexible

Teachable

Heart to serve others

Look at people through God’s eyes

Wise

Slow to speak

Serene

Joyful

Encouraging

Prayerful

Seeker of God’s heart…

The longer I gripped my pencil, the more I realized I was circling around one person, one focal point. All these character traits and more were compressed and displayed in the person of Christ. Scanning the list, it became clear…I want to be like Jesus.

Flip over to 1 John 2:6 and you’ll see that John worded it this way: the one who says he abides in Him[Jesus] ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”  

So to be like Jesus, I just need to walk like Jesus. Got it. Check that off the list.

If only it were that easy.

That’s kind of a tall order, you know? It’s like saying to be a great basketball player, just play like Michael Jordan. To be pretty, just look like Cindy Crawford. It seems unattainable. Impossible.

little boy basketballmichael jordan 2

Before I crumpled the overwhelming list in my hand, I took a deep breath. The Lord knows I’m not perfect, and He knows I have, and will continue to, mess up. That’s why He sent His Son.

The idea isn’t to be sinless…it’s to strive to be like Him. To please Him. To know His heart. To let Him mold me into the image of His Son.

So like any good, organized girl does, I made a list.

How did Jesus Walk?

  1. His prayer time with God was long and a priority.
  2. He sought out the broken, rejected, abused, mistreated & social outcasts.
  3. His concern was doing God’s will, and ONLY God’s will.
  4. He battled temptation with scripture.
  5. He touched the untouchables.
  6. He made people mad.
  7. He spoke the truth.
  8. He was a God pleaser, not a people pleaser.
  9. He wasn’t consumed with material wealth.
  10. He did not chastise the broken for being broken. He offered them Living Water instead.
  11. He served those he knew would betray and abandon Him.
  12. He wept for people who rejected Him.
  13. He forgave.
  14. He offered compassion.
  15. He loved people, even when they were messy.

This list barely scratches the surface, but it’s a start. I may never be all I should be, but with His help, I can strive to respond like Jesus, to show forgiveness like Jesus, to extend a hand like Jesus and to love like Jesus.

There’s an old story that claims when Michelangelo revealed his masterpiece statue of David, a man asked him, “However did you create such a breathtaking work out of nothing more than a block of lifeless marble?”

Michelangelo replied, “It is not difficult. A person need only chip away the parts that do not resemble David.” sculptor

That’s what God wants to do with us—chip away all the hard stuff in our hearts and lives until we look like His Son.

A good way to start? Drop the to-do lists and focus on how to be like Christ. Spend time with Him. We are who we hang out with. When we shift our focus on to-be, our to-do list rewrites itself.

And isn’t that a relief? No more to-do lists.

Check.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. What are other ways that Jesus walked? Are you a list-maker? Have you ever switched your to-do list for a to-be list? What differences did you notice in your focus?

Learning Joy in Failure

 

learning joy in failure

The Arkansas State Police is a happening place to be, especially in the motor vehicle office and even more so from one to four when they are administering driving tests.

I recently took a family member to fill out some paperwork, which provided me plenty of time to sit in the waiting room and watch people coming and going. Anxious teens milled around, some of whom were too cool to show their jitters. Nervous mothers smacking gum contrasted against parents who rolled their eyes, muttering to the person on the other end of their cell phone that young Anthony “better not fail again. I’m tired of dragging him down here over and over if he ain’t gonna study.” Middle aged men getting their CDL and motorcycle licenses, female bus drivers, terse police officers and everyone in between. It felt like a cross between the DMV and America’s Got Talentdrivers test ecard

The hour long wait provided me quite an education in one particular area: the art of failing. During that entire time, only one kid passed his permit test. Just one. He, of course, was all smiles. The others…well, that’s an entirely different story.

Some slunk out of the room with a scowl, shoving their paperwork at their parents with a grunt.

“Didn’t you pass?”

“Do I look like I passed?”

Others bit back tears or merely shrugged with a careless attitude. “No big deal. I’ll try again later. I didn’t really care about it anyway.” One particular boy stomped up to his dad and glared. “Stupid test. That’s the fifth time I’ve taken it. I think they deliberately make it harder and harder each time. They want me to fail!”

Some parents offered hugs or condolences. Some told their child, “You’re right. It’s just not fair.” My favorite parent was one very wise mother who, after her daughter had fussed because she’d flunked, stared her down and spoke with a stern calmness I envied. “You know why you flunked? Two reasons. Your attitude stinks and you haven’t been studying like you should have. Both reasons tell me you’re not mature enough to drive yet. So guess what? We’re not coming back to try again next week. We’ll try again in six months.”

Go, Mom!

My favorite of all was a sixty year old man who’d taken his CDL exam. He ambled into the waiting room and stared at his wife. She put down her magazine and stood.

“Well, let’s have it. Please don’t tell me we drove all the way down here for nothing. Again.”

He chuckled. “Sorry, sweetheart. I failed.”

She groaned. “Dale, that’s makes the fourth time.”

He walked up and kissed her on the cheek. “The good news is I only failed by one question this time. Only one! I’m getting better each time. I’m failing my way to success. Next time I should have it. I’m learning all the ways not to pass my CDL test!” His wife giggled. “Say, you in the mood for cheeseburgers or Mexican?” And off they went.

That sweet man is the perfect example of how to find joy in failure.

failure vs successLife is a series of mistakes with a few successes thrown in. Some of us have become so paralyzed by fear of making a mistake, we’ve stopped learning. Stopped discovering. Stopping crawling outside our boxes and exploring the beauty around us. We hold on the illusion of control, somehow thinking all will be right. No pain, no discomfort…that is, until we fail and our world tips on its axis.

How you handle failure reveals more of your character than how you handle success.

ryan-riggins-216051Adversity reveals our true nature. Pressure, heat, resistance…all of it is like a hand squeezing around a toothpaste tube. It isn’t until the fist squeezes that we see what is truly inside. When pressure is applied, the inner man is revealed. It’s easy to blame others, the system, or any other host of issues for our mistakes, but we still won’t learn a thing, will we? We may even find some folks who will agree with our finger pointing, but then what? It doesn’t bring us one step closer to our goals or dreams.

The only way to learn from failure is to embrace it.

Some of the most beautiful things can be birthed from the messiest. God has shown it to me over and over in my own life, but it takes a heart willing to say, “I have no pride. I have no agenda. I want to learn, both what to do and what not to do. Teach me. I’m Yours.Failing doesn’t feel like failure at all in that state of mind. It’s just…learning.

What a great place to be.

The Boy in 22 F: When There are No Answers

I was sitting on a rumbling plane in Chicago, waiting for the painfully slow pilot to push us back from the gate. No one seemed to be in a hurry that morning. Not the airline nor the stewards. Even the ground controllers outside my window appeared to be dragging their feet. I blinked the grit from my eyes. I wasn’t faring much better. The stale air blowing through the circular vents overhead wasn’t helping. Everyone seemed sluggish…except for the four year boy seated behind me in 22 F.

kid-on-airplane

The squirming tyke with his high-pitched voice was chattering nonstop, barely stopping for breath, peppering his Dad with question after question.

“Why are dese seats so big?”

“Will we get ice cream on dis plane?”

“Will we be flying into outer space?”

I found myself smiling at his Junior Asparagus style voice and contagious enthusiasm. I set down the book I trying to read as God impressed this directive into my heart, “Listen.”

The boy had apparently pressed his face up against the window, for his voice sounded muffled and mushed. “Why are dose men waving dere arms?”

His father patiently replied, “They signal the pilot and other workers where to go. The plane is big and there’s a lot going on. The men help the pilot see all around him so we don’t bump into anything.”

The boy squirmed and pointed. “What are dose little trucks for?”

I heard a smile in the father’s voice. “Those trucks bring different things to the plane. Some bring fuel. Others carry our suitcases.”

“That’s cool.”

The boy grew silent for a moment when another vehicle must have caught his eye. “What about that one, Daddy? What is that truck for?”

The father looked at the open-air truck carrying spiked pallets. “I’m sorry, buddy. I have no idea what those are used for.”

The boy was quiet.

The father leaned in. “I wish I could tell you the answer. Are you upset that I don’t know?”

The little boy giggled. “Don’t be silly. I don’t need all the answers. I just like asking you questions and having fun with you!”

And then I knew why God had me eavesdrop on their sweet conversation. The boy in 22 F was teaching me, and anyone else who was willing to listen, a beautiful lesson.

i-want-answers

We are an answer-driven people. We want to know why.

Why did I lose my job? Why is my health failing? Why is _____________ battling so hard when they have given their life to God? Why does it seem like the cruel people flourish while the good guys barely scrape by? Why was my child born “different”? Why doesn’t my spouse love me anymore?

We want answers. They give us a false sense of control. When we beg God to know the ‘whys’, what we are really saying is, “I need to know the plan. God owes me the details. I want to be the one in the driver’s seat.”

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Are you ready?

You and I have no control. None. Control is an illusion. Period.

I can’t control how my boss, or anyone else, will treat me. I can’t control or understand how good and bad falls on both the just and unjust, nor can I control it when airlines lose my luggage, when a loved one dies, an unexpected diagnosis, or a thousand other things the human heart hopes to never hear. guarantees-or-god

We can beg and plead for answers all day long. Sometimes we get them. Sometimes we don’t. But in all of our crying for answers, we can miss out on the most important part of walking through the unknown…that is experiencing the God Who is walking through it with us.

A friend recently asked me if I thought my recent struggles with my voice and gastroparesis were due to an attack by the enemy or because God is closing a door in a specific part of my ministry. I told her I had searched and prayed for months but honestly, I had no idea. And that’s okay. I’ve learned to be content in not having the answers. Instead, God has taught me how to redirect my focus into the joy of simply being with Him. In knowing Him in a deeper way, a relationship that isn’t dependent on answers because my trust isn’t based on what He does but is grounded on Who He ispsalm-23

I want a relationship with my Father the way the little boy in 22 F looked up to his. ” I don’t need all the answers. I just like asking you questions and having fun with you…”

I want my faith in Jesus to be unshakable…no answers needed.

Finding a Voice: When God Changes the Plan

I sprinted behind my son, attempting to wrap his dripping hair in a towel. Wrestling him out of the bath had worn me out. Wrestling him into pajamas was even more difficult. Now he had broken free and was running down the hall. He squealed in delight as I huffed, “Boy, when I get a hold of you…”

We rounded the corner and I stopped short, blinking in surprise.

My husband stood in the living room, a big grin on his face. His hands gripped a beautiful violin and bow. The irritation with my wayward son melted away. violin

My breath caught as I walked in slow steps towards him, an amazed smile tugging my lips. “I don’t understand.”

“Happy Anniversary, honey.”

I studied the way the beautiful instrument caught glimmers of light. I ran my fingers across the gleaming wood.

“I’ve always wanted to learn to play one. Ever since I was little.”

My husband beamed as he laid it in my hands, much like transferring a fragile newborn. “I know. I remembered. And with our nineteenth anniversary next week, what better time to finally give you one?” He studied me, trying to gauge my reaction. “Do you like it?

I couldn’t speak for a moment. Words choked in my throat. It was more than his thoughtfulness. My husband is not the mushy, gushy romantic sort. When I told him I was going to write this piece, he groaned. “Come on, Tara. Don’t make me sound sweet. I have a rep to maintain!” He is a sweet guy, despite his valiant attempts to hide it. But no, it was more than that.

It was even more than the violin itself, even though I’ve adored violin music since I was a child. My instruments are voice and piano, but if you want to captivate me, play some David Garrett and I’m transfixed. david garrett No, it was something beyond that.

When he asked me if I liked my gift, I cried, stood on my tiptoes and gave him a kiss, a huge smile wobbling through my tears. “Yes! Oh, yes!” He gave me far more than he knew.

Some of you know what I’m about to share. Some of you may not. Others may only suspect.

Several years ago I was diagnosed with gastroparesis, a disorder that keeps the stomach from pumping. It’s a vagus nerve problem which involves pain, nausea, esophagus spasms, reflux and a host of other issues. This nerve dysfunction has now progressed into my larynx. Have you ever had a back spasm? I now have those in my voice. Gastroparesis is a progressive disease. Unless God intervenes, it will get worse. In short, I am losing my ability to sing.

This might not be a big deal to some. For me, it’s been a hard blow. I mean, I wasn’t just a sing-in-the shower kind of girl. I was signed with a Christian record label. Ten years ago, I thought God had made it clear He wanted me to use my voice to help others find freedom in Him. When He began whispering hints of change, I was confused. The God-ordained plans that had seemed so certain to me suddenly shifted. And I was reminded of this important truth…the more you build your identity on something other than Christ, the greater the pain when that identity crumblesmicrophone

It’s been a time of grieving. Yet, it’s also been sweet to sit at His feet as He has tenderly prepared my heart, teaching me, loving me, guiding me onto a new path, a new adventure.

On the days when the grief felt like shards of glass embedded deep into my heart, God impressed this beautiful passage from His Word into my Spirit:

“I will compensate you for the years
That the swarming locust has eaten,
The creeping locust, the stripping locust, and the gnawing locust—
My great army which I sent among you.

You will have plenty to eat and be satisfied
And praise the name of the Lord your God
Who has dealt wondrously with you;
And My people shall never be put to shame.”  Joel 2:25,26 AMP

When I’m tempted to mourn over the ‘should be’ or ‘could have beens’, I take a deep breath and whisper, “He will restore what the locusts have eaten.”

God has show me a great creative beauty in writing. He has allowed me to sign with the remarkably talented literary agent Janet Grant of Books & Such Literary Agency. I’m currently working on my ninth fiction story and my third nonfiction work, as well as numerous blog posts and magazine articles. And as I’ve studied the craft of writing, I’ve learned something quite interesting. Do you know what professionals call an author’s unique way of writing? Their “voice”.

I love to express my thoughts through words. I play the piano. Thankfully, speaking is far less taxing on my voice than singing, so my speaking calendar is quite full. And now I’ve been given a beautiful violin. Do you know why I teared up so quickly when my husband presented me with my exquisite gift? I knew something he didn’t know. Do you know which musical instrument most resembles the tonal quality of the human voice? The violin.

He will restore what the locusts have eaten…

Sometimes we cling with white knuckles to our own plans so tightly, we fail to realize God is trying to give us something far better. But in order to receive it, we must relinquish our hold on the old before we can receive the new.

teddy bear Jesus

I don’t want to settle for good and miss out on God’s best. Through this whole process, God has taught me an amazing truth. Sometimes, to give you a voice, God must first break your instrument.

God may heal my singing voice. He may not. Either way, I’m content. I’m happy. God never takes away without giving something better in return. I have a voice, and I’ll use it for Him as long as He gives me breath.

Because you can have a voice and still not have a voice.