Actions speak louder than words. A person can talk for hours on end about what he or she is going to do or what he or she believes in, but at the end of the day if that individual’s actions don’t support his/her words, then all the talking in the world means nothing. The expression “Put up or shut up” is rude but succinct. Did you ever know someone who had all kinds of plans to do this or do that, yet never actually DID any of them? If you have been a parent, and you are even moderately observant about your children, you noticed at some point they really do copy what you do far more than they act on what you say. Because our actions speak louder than our words. My actions speak louder than my words - I cannot tell myself that enough.
I have been a leader of volunteers for over twenty years. Countless times when I led Awana Clubs at the churches I volunteered at people would come up to me and tell me how valuable children are to the future of the Church and how important it is to teach them and mentor them and care about them and blah blah blah. All those words are true, but I only believed they were sincere when the people who spoke them actually volunteered somewhere to help out with the children. If you genuinely care about the kids in your church, your neighborhood, your school, your family, your actions will show it. You won't make excuses, you won't duck responsibility.
Sometimes I stop and check myself. What kinds of things am I telling people I plan to do? What do I say I believe in? What do I actually DO about those things? You can tell someone you love them in twenty different languages, if you don’t lift a finger to support them - they will never believe you. Why should they? We pursue the things we really care about and proclaim the things we want others to think we care about. Facebook provides such a forum for that. It can be used in so many different ways and I am thankful for freedom of speech which allows it. But I think we have to be careful we don’t merely become a society of words. It is often entertaining to read the hundreds of Pinterest quotes people post on their walls every day. And it is easy to hit that “like” button for every single one of them. The danger is if we start to think we are actually making a difference for anyone merely by what we say.
When I was a little girl we rarely got new things if it wasn’t Christmas or a Birthday, so on the occasions we did get something unexpectedly it was a really big deal to me. One time I accompanied my mom on her errands and I saw the biggest pink eraser I had ever seen in a clearance bin I was digging through. It was 2 inches wide and 4 inches long. I was so happy when my mom bought it for me. Across the front of the eraser it said, “I NEVER make big mistakes”. I thought that was so hilariously clever because the eraser was big enough to erase the biggest mistake I could possibly make and then some. Remember, I was eight.
It’s funny how when you are a child it is so much easier to admit you make mistakes. It gets harder as you get older. I think in our drive to be independent and self-sufficient we also build up a desire to always be right. We also make it difficult for others to admit when they make mistakes. Of course, public figures and politicians help to drive that - usually the only time their apologies come out are when their errors are revealed. I’m not talking about moral lapses and failures here, I am talking about genuine mistakes people make. Nobody is infallible, we all make mistakes, but when other people do it sometimes we act superior and as if we would never err in our choices, decisions or actions.
I read an article in a magazine one time about a man whose father had died in a hospital as a result of a mistake made by a team of doctors. The author described the meeting he had with the doctors and other hospital officials. In the midst of his grief he heard them apologize for the mistake that had been made. He said he looked around at the table and saw a group of men and women, not a bunch of doctors-on-a-pedestal. He acknowledged they didn’t want his dad to die and that it was a mistake in his care they regretted deeply. The doctors were fully prepared for a lawsuit but the author decided not to sue them because everyone makes mistakes and he believed their sincere apologies. I read a lot of responses to that article - and most people thought the author was an idiot because he had a chance to sue and make all kinds of money and doctors should have to pay for their mistakes and etc...
A lot of people missed the point of the article. People make mistakes. Even the best of them make mistakes. Nobody is infallible, nobody is perfect. It happens. I don’t know anybody who wants to make mistakes and many people won’t admit when they have made one. It took courage for that group of doctors to meet with that man and apologize for their mistake. I refuse to look for an ulterior motive, I think he was right - they were genuinely grieved about the mistake and apologized to him.
Sometimes things can happen in life which instantly change everything forever. Sometimes they are good things - like the birth of a child or the acquisition of a long-awaited job. Sometimes they feel devastating - like the death of a loved one or relational losses or even a job loss. Eventually, I tend to take the good changes that happen in my life for granted. I find painful change hard to shake off. I was thinking about that as I have been praying often for a family who lost two children in a tragic accident recently. They may never know me, but my God knows them.
In times of tragedy and loss I ask God to do something supernatural to help ease the pain for people. The thing is this world we live in is full of evil and painful times are going to come. I know a few people who live what appears to be charmed lives and have faced minor bumps in the road, but never deep suffering. I like it when people like that praise God - because all good things come from Him! But sometimes I wonder why some people seem to be buffered from painful circumstances while others are buffeted by them. I have heard speculation that some people are essentially "bad" people and that is why they suffer difficult circumstances. I disagree.
Of course, I know people can bring their suffering on themselves through life-choices and bad decisions, or even by making tragic mistakes. But I believe nobody is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes and we are ALL sinners and I am convinced God views all sin the same. So - to assume some people’s sins are worse than others, or they must be "bad" people and that is why they suffer more? I just can’t buy it. I don’t think God is in the business of ranking our sins, or in ranking people. Sure, consequences on Earth can be vastly different, but in God’s eyes we are the same. And He loves us equally with unconditional, unfailing love - something nobody on this planet can begin to comprehend.
Monday was a tough day. I’m not going to lie, I allowed myself some time for self-pity and frustration. I have been praying intensely for some very specific breakthroughs in a difficult situation and was hoping for all to be resolved Monday, but the breakthroughs didn’t happen as I hoped. Very disappointing. Then, as you may or may not know, in April I was hired as an adjunct faculty for a local university. I was expecting to begin teaching in September - but found out Monday there may not be a class for me to teach. I have to admit I crashed for a while. Sometimes in the face of discouragement it is hard to keep my chin up and to hold onto positive thoughts.
I am such a spiritual weakling sometimes. I allowed myself to start freaking out about how I would pay my bills if I didn’t teach, because I had been planning on that money to help offset a pay cut at one of my other jobs. Then I let myself get discouraged thinking about starting the job search process again and how deeply I did not want to start filling out applications and going to interviews again. And of course, my ego had to get involved and my thoughts just beat me up. Why had I told people I had that job? I should have kept it a secret, just in case it didn’t work out! After all, if something seems too good to be true, it usually is, right? So my faith went flying out the window and I cried and wallowed in self-pity. I tried to pray, but I have to admit it was a weak, woe-is-me cry out to God.
It annoys me when I let myself get that way, but it is human nature and I take comfort from the Bible. When I find myself acting like that, I always think about the Israelite people after God had Moses lead them out of slavery in Egypt. God Himself led them as a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire during the night. He parted a sea which averages 1,608 feet in depth - just pushed the water to the sides and allowed time for Moses and somewhere between 2½ and 3½ MILLION people to cross on the dry bottom. God held the waters open until all the people were safely across, then released them to flow as usual. He provided bread and quail from the sky when they were hungry. God did huge miracles like that for them - which they ALL witnessed - and yet when they encountered difficulties, the Israelites doubted God was with them. Seems easy for me to scoff at them for that, but I am not, because I often do the same thing.
When I was a little girl, my elementary school covered grades K-6. We didn’t switch classes in elementary school, even if we were in sixth grade. We had a sixth- grade teacher, Mrs. Erskine, who at some point in her life had dabbled in theater, acting and music. Mrs. Erskine was in charge of the school-wide performances we put on twice each year. The first was always in December and was a play with Christmas Carols at Christmastime. We actually were allowed to perform Christian Christmas songs all the way up until I was in sixth grade - and then they were allowed no more. That didn’t really matter much to me, because I didn’t understand all the politics behind it and we still sang a lot of other songs - and my community must not have minded too much either, because Mrs. Erskine’s favorite Christian Christmas songs were still in the program. I just remember hearing the moms talking about how sad it was and where was the world headed.
Mrs. Erskine also led us through a spring performance each year. One year we did a scripted program written for schools called “Free to Be - You and Me”. There were a ton of skits and songs that went with that and the Free to Be music was the only music we used that year. But every other year - no matter what the theme was - and the themes did change - we performed songs that fit the theme of the program along with a selection of John Denver songs. Yes, John Denver. Mrs. Erskine was crazy about John Denver - and I would have hardly known who he was if not for her. Yesterday I caught a brief snippet of “Rocky Mountain High” on the radio and all those songs started running through my head. Nobody in my family was ever a John Denver fan that I know of, but we could sing “Grandma’s Featherbed”, “Thank God I’m a Country Boy”, and “Take Me Home Country Roads” with the best of them. It’s funny now that I think about it - our eclectic collection of K-6 grade Southern California San Gabriel Valley kids belting out “Almost heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains - Shenandoah River - country roads, take me home, to the place I belong West Virginia, mountain momma - take me home, country roads.”
I seriously had no clue what a country road was and never once did I think about the fact I was singing about going home to West Virginia. That’s the beauty of being a child. I wasn’t concerned about what kind of music I was singing. It didn’t matter if it was country or rap or rock and roll - I just liked being part of the program and singing my heart out. I wasn’t even aware was singing about a state located on the complete opposite side of the United States I resided in. Mrs. Erskine took those programs seriously and so did we. We practiced every day for weeks to prepare and I can imagine those programs took their toll on her, but she never lightened up on us and she never seemed to get tired.
I have experienced a lot of different types of pain in my life. It hurt a lot when my parents divorced and when I suffered through my own. I know how it hurts to lose the possessions I mistakenly thought were giving me security and how it feels to walk the halls of poverty. I have also felt the deep hurt of church discord and betrayal of trust. All of those are painful life events which have to be endured despite the pain they cause. But I think I have to say the worst pain I have ever experienced is the death of a loved one. There is something about a loss which can feel so permanent that is as if a piece of my heart was hollowed out and refilled with a nagging ache.
When my older sister Lisa had the misfortune to be the one to call and tell me my younger sister Debbie had died I shut out everything she had to say after those words. Poor girl. She was struggling to figure out what to do out in California with the daunting task of calling all the siblings and parents who were scattered about, while holding in her grief so she could pull things together to go be with my nephews. A true woman of courage and action. I, meanwhile, fell in a heap on the floor in my bedroom and cried into my dirty laundry for hours. I had never felt so deeply wounded. Part of me wanted to hold onto the hope it was all a mistake, that they would discover Debbie had not really died - she was just sleeping soundly - or even that it was not her, but someone else. Nice. I was wishing what I was feeling on someone else. In my right mind I would never do that.
Today, July 3, would have been Debbie’s birthday. It is also my daughter Madison’s birthday. I remember when I called Debbie eighteen years ago to tell her her newest niece shared her birthday. The first thing she said was, “What is her name?” I told her Madison. She blew out a sigh of relief and said, “Oh my gosh! I’m so glad! Mom told me you named her Madeline and I just didn’t like that! It’s not a good name for someone born on my birthday!” From that time forward Debbie always referred to Maddy as “my baby” and reminded me often I better be taking good care of “my baby”. When we visited California she lavished her love and attention on Madison.
I was talking to my friend Roger this morning. Roger owns a concessions business and builds food trucks. He is in the process of building the food truck for us. He called because he wanted to let me know it was his and his wife Anita’s desire to donate ten percent of their fireworks’ sales this summer to help support The Torch. I was so blessed by his generosity. And I told him that he was truly a blessing to us. His response struck me. He said, “Oh, it is a blessing to us!” And he genuinely meant that, if you meet him someday you will see he is exactly who he says he is. Roger really has an understanding of what happens when you serve God. Your perspective gets all shifted around and turned upside down.
There are a lot of ways to serve God and giving financially is one of them. Roger didn’t see the outflow of money from his business - he saw the influx of blessings from God. And when you get to the point where you stop worrying about your costs because the return is so huge, you have a glimmer of an understanding of how God works. And when you get to the point where you are no longer concerned about a huge return, generosity has become a lifestyle and I think your rewards in heaven will be great. A parent of one my children's friends years ago complained one time about my involvement with Awana and how much of my personal time she felt it took. The thing was, I was so in tune with what God was doing through that program, I didn’t stop to think about giving my time. I was serving Him and He was blessing me and I was totally content even if it meant I couldn't attend every other event I was invited to!
I know there are times when pastors or other people who dedicate their lives to God have to back off because they end up neglecting those around them, but I don’t think God intends for that to happen - people let it happen. We, as leaders sometimes feel His work won’t get done if we are not there doing it and so we pour ourselves into every aspect of whatever project we are on. But that does not demonstrate understanding of God. It seems to me it shows a lack of understanding, because if I think God is capable of blessing me and taking care of me, then I should know His work will get done with or without me. It’s all a matter of perspective. I have been in a situation where it felt like I was trying to resurrect the Titanic. No matter how hard I worked or how much I prayed, nothing ever got fixed and things didn’t improve. I learned greatly from that experience. I was trying hard to make something happen, but God wasn’t and I needed to back off. It was pretty exhausting and such sweet relief when I finally saw the bigger picture. But God uses those times in our lives to teach us as well, so I am grateful for having lived it. I have made a million mistakes in my life and learned two million lessons from them.