Saturday, May 7, 2011

The God of Do-Overs

The truth? Sometimes I still secretly (or maybe not so much) wish I were Perfect Woman. You know her; you know her well. You envy her. She has perfect hair, the perfect body, the perfect husband, perfectly-behaved children who never mouth off or sass back or put their muddy shoes on the back of her leather seats in the car. She graduated Summa CumBaya with her PhXYZ from The University of Amazing Awesomeness. She is a professional. And a mom. And the best friend anyone could hope to find. Oh, she makes mistakes of course; if she didn't, you wouldn't want to be her friend because she wouldn't be "relevant" and "approachable" and "down-to-Earth." Oh yes, she makes mistakes. Once.

Okay, the jig is up: I am so not her. And this week, just to keep me good and humble, I was reminded of that.

I screwed up on a promise I made to myself this week. It's really not important for our purposes here to share the gory details; suffice it to say, right at this moment, my humanness is showing. And it's a little embarrassing.

Perfect Woman makes mistakes once. Imperfect Me makes them over and over, as many times as it takes, evidently, to remind myself of my desperate need for mercy. For grace. For friends who love me anyway. For the heart of Jesus, who is such a fan of do-overs that He commands us to forgive one another 490 times a day (70 x 7, for the non-mathletes out there). So why is it that each time I screw up, I tend to think it must be my 491st foible of the day, and that surely this time He'll be good and ticked off at me?

Truth is, I am so much harder on myself than God is. He already took my punishment, all those centuries ago on a stormy Friday afternoon. And I believe that as He hung there, thinking of you and me, doing what He did for us out of obedience and unfathomable love, He knew even then that I would mess up and go back on my word this week.

So there I sat, in my neediness and imperfection, looking around me at the pieces I'd have to pick up from my latest mistake. At first, I started gathering up the pieces quietly, hoping no one would see. Hiding the pieces with my silence, my isolation. But have you ever tried to isolate from God? It isn't easy. Like every good parent, He has eyes in the back of His head. And He is so big that He sees all from where He sits. He tapped me on the shoulder last night around 10:00, just as I thought maybe I had found a good hiding place from Him under my covers in bed. But, metaphorically speaking, He gently pulled my blanket off of me, exposing all those pieces I was attempting to hide under there.

"Give those to me," He said, His eyes smiling tenderly.
"Don't look!" I gasped, hurriedly pulling the covers over the pieces.
"Give them to me," He repeated, just as gently as before. "We'll fix it together."
"I made a mess," I cried.
"I know," He said. "Would you like a do-over?"

I hesitated.
I closed my eyes.
I felt the tears come.
I nodded.

The God of Do-Overs is infinitely more forgiving of me than I am. How I long to be more like Him! In fact, I think I'd do better to be more like Him than like Perfect Woman. She is a myth. He is the real deal. In fact, Perfect Woman doesn't think she needs the God of Do-Overs.

Tragic, really, to be so self-sufficient. She will never know Him like I do.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Put On Your Big-Girl Panties and Cowboy Up!

Have you ever noticed how much more credit we give people after they're dead and gone? Artists' paintings suddenly become valuable, musicians' singles start getting more airplay, writers' books enjoy revivals on best-seller lists. It always strikes me as a little bittersweet: "Boy, he sure is successful nowadays. Too bad he's underground."

Today would have been my friend Cindy's 36th birthday. She's been on my mind all week. It isn't just famous people whom we tend to exalt posthumously. Cindy, for example, was never famous at all (except to a very small circle of friends by whom she was adored) -- and yet now, six years after she went to meet her maker face-to-face, I find myself remembering things she used to say and suddenly, even if only in memory, I am listening. Really listening.

Cindy was a true Texan. Her drawl was contagious; Midwestern friends could always tell when I'd spent the night before in a two-hour phone convo with Cindy because I'd have a hard time keeping "y'all" out of my own vocabulary. I used to get a kick out of the phrases that became known as Cindyisms: "Heavens to Betsy!" and "Well, shooooooot!" and "Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle!" could always make my giggle. Cindy liked to tell me what to do; two years my senior, she proudly referred to herself as my "bossy-boots big sister." And one of her most common bits of advice for me was to "Put on your big-girl panties and cowboy up!"

Several times this past week, I could almost hear her voice saying that to me. I've had to do some hard things over the last few weeks, and the temptation to give up, cave in, and wuss out has been pretty strong. But it's amazing how the Spirit of God will lead us into portions of His Word where the letters seem to jump off the page at us, just as we need them most -- and this, I suppose, is why I found myself reading James this week. I'm particularly fond of James in the Message translation. Check this out, from James 1:3-5: "You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way."

I realize now that a lot of Cindy's sisterly advice to me could have been straight out of the NTV (New Texan Version) of James 1. Maybe I should have listened a little more closely all those years ago. But of course, now that Cindy's in Heaven, her words carry a little more weight. And I swear -- I swear -- as I read James a few nights ago, I could almost hear Cindy standing next to Jesus, her hands on her hips, saying to me, "Yeah, Jena! What He said!"

Advice like this is hard to hear sometimes, whether it's from a bossy-boots big sister or from the King of Kings. Stick it out. Suck it up. Deal with it. Don't give up, wear down, back off, or fizzle out. Keep on keepin' on. Um, okay . . . how am I to do this, exactly? Thank God for verse six: "If you don't know what you're doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You'll get his help, and won't be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought."

Phew. I'm so glad God allowed for us to "not know what we are doing." 'Cause sometimes, not only do I not know how to put my big-girl panties on, but I don't even know which drawer to find them in! And God knows that. Even when I can't find my big-girl panties, He still covers my backside.

I can do this. All these hard things I'm facing this week, I can do through Christ. I'm puttin' on my big-girl panties and lookin' for my saddle. Happy birthday, Cindy.