performance

I Don't Have to Do a Thing—and Neither Do You

It’s been a while since I’ve posted—I’ve been enjoying a break from scheduled writing and posting (though I’ve still been doing some of that over at karatmag.com). Today I’m taking a “break from my break” to share a couple things that have been wrecking my life (in the best way), and I hope they encourage you! Here's what I’ve been learning.

When God speaks to us, it isn’t always because He wants us to do something.

At the beginning of the year, I spent time praying about when, where, and if I should travel. I felt the Lord was saying this would be a year that I’d get to share a country I loved (Cambodia) with others.

I was thrilled at the prospect. Sharing Cambodia is one of my favorite things—I wish everyone in the world could visit at least once! Quite quickly, I created a long list of possible travel buddies in my head.

Then life sped up. I agreed to various commitments and shouldered new responsibilities. Days sped by, then weeks and months, and suddenly I was committed to going to Cambodia on a medical mission trip—without having “recruited” a single person. I was disappointed.

Yet a couple weeks later, one person wanted to come—and then another, and another, and another. Suddenly, a group of people I knew (and some I didn’t even know!) were eager to travel to Cambodia.

It was then I remembered the other thing God had spoken to me at the beginning of the year: 

You don’t have to do a thing.

Photo by  Aki Tolentino  on  Unsplash

Photo by Aki Tolentino on Unsplash

I hadn’t connected these two phrases previously, but I was blown away when I did. I realized the Lord wasn’t kidding around when He said in John 15:15, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

For some reason, I’d started to believe the main reason God spoke to us was because He wanted us to obey Him. When I think of the Bible, I think of instructions and commands—often within the church it’s called the “instruction manual for life.” 

Yet when I really examine the Scriptures, I find much more than instructions. I find stories, poetry, and promises—all pointing to connection. Connection with the One who created us. In fact, the majority of what I read in the Bible guides us to walk with God, not work for God.

For the first time, it dawned on me that perhaps Jesus placed that sense in my heart—the sense that this would be a year when I’d share Cambodia with others—not to instruct me but to give me something to delight in. As a friend shares exciting news with confidante, the Lord had whispered this news to me. Simply because we are friends. Simply to share His joy.

To be a servant of the Lord—this would be enough. Yet He invites us into friendship, too!

As I write, I cannot think of anything sweeter. Sometimes when He speaks, He does call us to action for and with Him. Sometimes, it’s simply for the pleasure of our company in the knowledge of His will.

That is a most beautiful thing.

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Flashes of Lightning and Flashes of Clarity

One summer a few years ago I was in Cambodia with a team. Darkness had fallen, and we finished scarfing down fried rice for dinner so we could load up in the van and head back to the hotel. We were staying near the Vietnam-Cambodia border, and as we drove down the bumpy, pot-hole-filled route, enormous trucks full of imported goods from Vietnam would rumble by, shaking the whole road as they passed. Rain began to patter on the windshield. Everything was pitch black, but I knew the road sloped down on either side and morphed into acres and acres of muddy rice fields. As I stared out the windshield, two tiny dots of light slowly enlarged as the headlights of a vehicle approached: another gigantic truck full of imported goods.

Windshield view during the day

Windshield view during the day

Side view of the road during the day

Side view of the road during the day

When we were about 100 meters from the oncoming truck, a flash of lightning suddenly illuminated the sky, the road, and everything around us.

In that split second, we could see everything. We could see the ditches alongside the road. We could see the miles of rice fields and the hills beyond them. We could see the long stretch of road ahead. And we could see the over-sized truck ahead of us. The truck was carrying an extra-wide load that stretched across nearly two-thirds of the road. We were heading straight for it.

One split second, and everything was dark again.

Stock photo from Pixabay.com

Stock photo from Pixabay.com

But one split second of clarity was all we needed. Our driver swerved to the side of the road as we passed the truck, thunder clapping in the distance and cement road vibrating under us. We all exhaled loudly.

We could have died. But God, in His mercy and in His sovereignty, placed a lightning bolt exactly where it needed to be, exactly when it needed to be there, and we were safe. This single moment of clarity had the power to change a van-full of young people's lives. When I think back on this experience, I marvel at the Lord's providence. I wonder at His power and His goodness. I realize again how a single moment of stark clarity can change a life. 

When I visited Cambodia in July and came back with the decision to quit nursing, I reached a pivot point. Though I didn't intend on resigning my nursing job when I left for Cambodia, my time there provided the right setting for the Lord to provide significant clarity.

Once again, a moment of clarity in Cambodia changed the my life. It wasn't a bolt of lightning, and it wasn't a literal swerving on a concrete road during a storm. It was, however, perhaps just as important a moment of clarity in my life. It eliminated guesswork, extra stress and anxiety about putting in my two weeks' notice. It was crystal clear I needed to reroute the direction of my life to avoid a major wreck.

As I'm following this new route, I'm learning each day that the change in direction isn't as much a switch from nursing to writing as it is a transition from prioritizing my reputation to building my life around the Lord. Each day, I learn a little more about trust.

Slowly, I'm learning to accept that I'm out of my comfort zone in this new line of work. I'm learning to let go of the pride that says, "I have to be the best in my field."

When it comes down to it, I could work in writing/editing for a couple years, and then this career could completely fizzle out. It could take a nosedive. It could explode. I have no idea what the outcome will be, and I'm learning to be okay with that.

Part of surrendering to the Lord and crafting my life around Him means trusting that what He has for me is better than the dreams of success I have for myself. I can't help but think this is the lesson He wants me to focus on over the lessons in marketing, gaining clients, and self-employment. Because no matter what career I land in, this truth remains: He is faithful, He is trustworthy, and He will take care of me. With flashes of lightning and flashes of clarity, He guides my path and protects my life. All I have to do is to keep my eyes open and say yes.

 

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How the Olympics are Different from Real Life

When I was young, I took piano lessons, and every year I played in a piano competition called “Gold Cup.” Players didn’t compete against each other; rather, each musician prepared two pieces of music and then performed for a judge in a private room. The judge rated the pianist on a scale of 1-5. If you received scores of 3 or above for three consecutive years, you received a trophy.

One year, I entered the little room with the judge and the piano, and I absolutely butchered my first piece. I started off well, and then it all fell apart. I missed a note, my finger memory failed, I literally forgot a whole section of the piece, and I picked back up at the first spot I could remember and finished poorly. It was a disaster.

My second piece was okay. Not excellent, but stellar in comparison to the first song.

I was deeply disappointed, not because I might miss out on a trophy but because I had performed more poorly than I ever had before.

The judge talked about how I started so strong before everything fell apart. The Olympics happened to be occurring during this time frame, and my default for handling disappointment was humor. I must have just watched an Olympian blow a chance at a medal or something, because with a half smile on my face, I jokingly turned to the judge and said, “It’s kind of the like the Olympics. You can work so hard, and then you get one shot, and that’s it!”

After a couple comments on my playing, what the judge said next shocked me: “Why don’t you try the piece again?”

What?” was all I could manage to say. Not only was this unorthodox (and maybe not allowed?), but judges were also always behind schedule and pressed for time. Dozens of children waited in chairs outside the room for the brief, five minute chance to play their songs for a judge.

“Why don’t you try the piece again?” the judge repeated gently.

I ended up playing the piece again—and butchering it again, though I don’t recall if it was as bad as the first time. The judge gave me tips on how to overcome nerves in high pressure situations, but the grace given made a far more lasting impact than the words spoken.

What that judge did made an impression on me. That judge helped me understand life isn’t the Olympics.

As someone with a natural bent toward perfectionism and placing worth in performance, it’s easy to view my actions as make-it-or-break-it events. In some ways, I've viewed my life as a series of Olympic events. Because I demanded perfection of myself, every situation was a challenge with no grace and no do-overs. I've struggled to be okay with mistakes or failures or weaknesses. There's always been a score board. Eventually, if I'd train hard enough and push myself, I would win the gold medal in perfection. Or at least that’s what I told myself all those years.

It's taken me years to learn what the Gold Cup judge tried to help me understand so long ago, that playing the piano as a teenager isn’t the Olympics. It’s real life. It’s messy, and there are screw ups and balks and absolute failures. Living life each day isn’t the Olympics. It turns out I was the only one keeping score of my successes and failures, and training for perfection simply isn’t real. The true reward comes in the lessons learned and the processes of life.

We live, we make mistakes, we do things well, we learn, we build relationships, and we do it all again tomorrow. There is grace. There are do-overs. There is forgiveness and learning, and there are people and a God who welcome us in with open arms at the end of the day, no matter what our performance looked like, because they know who we are.

This week as I watch the Olympics, a shift in values and perspective finds me most drawn to the athletes’ back stories rather than their performance. I want to know where they came from, what they do outside of sports, and what their dreams are for the future. Some are moms, some students, some entrepreneurs.

As they hug and shake hands with their competitors, and as they rejoice with their families after events, I can’t help but wonder at the relationships they’ve built and wonder if those relationships are sweeter than the gold on a string. I can’t help but long to know about the lives they’ve built, because all of our lives are made of so much more than our performances, our achievements, and our actions in the public eye. I can’t help but wonder at where their true identity lies, because I know from personal experience building an identity on ability to perform is devastating.

I wonder about their real, day to day lives, because as much as I love the Olympics (and I do, I’ve been watching every day and set my TV up for the sole purpose of watching them), real life is simply not like the Olympics. No, it’s much, much better.

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