Dancing with Regret

This post was originally published on the blog of my dear friend, Bethany.  She impresses me in a million ways, but especially as a writer. Do yourself a favor and check her out!   http://www.truebedtimestories.com/


“Don’t blink,” they say.
I remember hearing that when he was a brand new baby and I found it super annoying.  

Blink?! Seriously?! How about SLEEP? I would have enjoyed one LONG 5-hour blink.  

There is no tired in the whole world like “New Baby in the House” tired, right? It seemed to me that the exhausting newborn stage was going to last FOR-E-VER. I wasn’t sure I was going to survive it.

I know when folks say “Don’t blink,” it’s meant with good intentions. “Don’t blink” means “you’ll be amazed how fast the time is going to go, so you better keep your eyes open so you won’t miss anything!” 

 They were right. It did go fast. So stinking fast. I don’t know who coined the phrase, “The days are long, but the years are short,” but they’re right.

Back when I flipped the calendar over to May, I found myself face-to-face with a date that seemed so far away not so long ago…graduation. He’ll graduate from High School this month. For the life of me, I don’t know how that happened.  

While I find myself feeling a mixture of sad and sentimental that this chapter of our lives is almost over, I’m very excited, too. I’m excited for everything he’ll experience and for the “new beginning” college will be for him. I’m excited about the friends he’ll make and the lessons he’ll learn. I’m excited about how God is going to use this next chapter to mold him into the man He intends for him to be.

But in the midst of all of the nostalgia and excitement, I find myself dancing around with an old, familiar partner: Regret.

Regret and I have danced a few times before. I know this partner well.

Regret is a stupid jerk-face that likes to show up, usually in the quiet of the nighttime, and yell in my ear that “everything is ruined” and “nothing good has happened.” In my experience, regret is loud and bossy and rude. Regret wants me to spend my time constantly looking behind me, reliving poor decisions and actions. When it comes to this particular season of motherhood, regret really wants me to wallow in the times I have failed as a mom. Believe me, there are plenty of instances for regret to bring to mind.

In this dance, I find myself feeling regret over the things I didn’t do, didn’t say, or said too loudly. I feel regret for decisions made, consequences that were unrealistic, and opportunities missed. Hindsight, they say, is 20/20. I can always see what I “should have done” so clearly once the opportunity to do so has passed. Tell me that happens to you, too?

See, if I dance with regret long enough, I get dizzy and disoriented and forget which way is up. And that’s just what regret is hoping for! Regret wants to teach me a history lesson, but not a whole one. A history lesson that only includes the bad parts (the mistakes), but doesn’t include the good (the forgiveness), is really not a complete lesson. Teachers who don’t tell the whole truth should be fired, shouldn’t they?

What is regret’s motivation?  

I think it’s simple.  

Regret lives to steal joy. 

And what is the remedy for regret?

That’s simple, too.

Truth. Specifically, God’s Truth.

See, nothing shuts down regret faster than Truth.   

Regret says, “You could have been a better mother to him.”  

Truth says, “I was chosen by God to be his mother. I’m a human. God’s been aware of that all along. He knew I’d need forgiveness and has granted it through His Son.”

Regret says, “Your son is only going to remember the times you failed/yelled/were distracted.”  

Truth says, “He’s also going to remember the times I asked for forgiveness, showed up when it was hard, and helped him succeed in crazy, wonderful ways.”

Regret says, “This chapter is over. Look at how you failed.”

Truth says, “Yes, this chapter is over, but a new one is beginning. God will be just as much in the new chapter as He was in the old one. In God’s economy, even our failures can be used for His glory.”

Regret wants me to forget the truth and to only see my life through a lens of loss.

God’s Truth just isn’t having any of that.

No, God’s Truth redeems and makes things whole again. His Truth calms storms and heals the sick. His Truth even takes the ordinary, everyday mistakes of a mom in Alabama and uses them to teach and mold a boy into the image of His Son. Go figure. God does amazing things. Held up against that kind of power, regret doesn’t stand a chance!

When regret invites you out onto the dance floor, you have a choice whether or not you’ll go. You can tell regret to take a hike. Truth is what shows it back to its seat.

And if you find yourself out on the dance floor wishing you hadn’t agreed to dance in the first place, remember that you don’t have to let regret take the lead. Regret is pushy, but ridiculously weak. At their core, bullies usually are, you know. You can totally overtake it with truth. In no time at all, you’ll see regret sulk away. Bless its heart…it tries so hard. 

So, whatever season of life you find yourself in, remember that God’s Truth covers every situation you face!  

And regret?

Well, you really don’t have much time for that, do you?

You’ve got too much of a life to live! You’ve got people to love! It’s way more fun to dance with them, anyway. 

Batter Up!

I wasn’t expecting to learn a lesson at the ballpark that day, but that’s God for you…always ready to show His children the way in unexpected places.

As a Children’s Pastor, I enjoy being invited to the various activities of my “church kids.”  I can’t make them all, but I try to go to as many ballgames, recitals, and plays as my calendar and family schedule will allow.  I think it sends a message to my tiny church tribe that they matter OUTSIDE of the church building, and that’s important to me.

This particular evening found me at the ballpark watching what might be one of THE most entertaining sporting events on all of the Planet Earth:  a t-ball game for 4-year olds.  Is there anything better?  Guaranteed entertainment!

Next up to bat:  Tommy.

I didn’t know him from church, but a nearby mom mentioned to me that Tommy wasn’t always “feelin’ it” when it came to t-ball.  I didn’t understand the depth of that statement until I watched him during his first time at bat.

Observing Tommy, it was clear that he was indeed not “In It To Win It.”  Everything about his stance and swing said, “I AM OVER IT. AMEN.”  The only way he could have put in less effort would have been to put the bat down.

After missing so many blessed times, Tommy’s bat finally made contact with the ball.  Hallelujah! The fans in the stands began to cheer wildly as he turned to run to first base…only he didn’t run.

He walked.

And not just any walk, mind you.  He walked slower than I’ve ever seen any kid walk to a base in all my t-ball-watching days.

The look on his face said to the opposing team, “Go ahead. Tag me. I am not concerned. I’ll be in this general area if you need me. Don’t hurry yourselves on my account.”  Even though his coaches and parents were strongly encouraging him (read “screaming”) to run, he was not having it.

Then, as if his slow walk and come-what-may attitude wasn’t enough, once he made it all the way to first base, he SAT DOWN.    All.Done.Thank.You.

In case you’re thinking he might have been in danger of being tagged out during his slow walk to the base…no.  This is t-ball, people.  The ball went through the arms and legs of nearly every kid.  Their effort was epic (and funny), but Tommy was NEVER in danger of being touched by the ball OR an opponent OR the will to seem interested.

Just when I thought this could not be more entertaining, the next miniature batter made a successful hit and off they ran to first.  Tommy, in the opposite of “a hurry,” eventually lifts himself up from the base and starts to walk to second.

Same slow walk. Still no chance of running.  Stay in it, Tommy.

By the time he made it to home plate, walking the ENTIRE way, three runners had passed him.  As I was laughing at how non-committed this little guy was, I felt God’s Spirit tap me on the shoulder.  “You’ve been acting like Tommy, you know.  And that’s not how I intend for you to live.”

Oh.

He was right.  I knew it immediately.

I hadn’t been putting my whole heart into “running the bases” of my life at that time.  That particular t-ball game was near the end of not just the school year, but also of a long, challenging year of ministry at a new-to-me church.

I was tired.  I knew I had been slipping into patterns of apathy and laziness, but I had been ignoring it.  I wasn’t taking care of myself the way I should have and it was starting to show in every area of my life.

I was still going “up to bat”, but I wasn’t really trying to hit a home run and, when I did manage to connect with the ball, I certainly wasn’t running.  A half-effort is super cute on a 4-year old on the t-ball field.  It’s not that attractive on a 44-year old who’s been blessed with the gifts of a beautiful life, but is burning out due to a lack of balance. I simply wasn’t taking care of myself the way God intended.

So, sitting in those stands that night, I asked God to forgive me for my lack of real effort and asked Him to help me live a better balance.  I needed more rest, real food, and realistic boundaries and I needed Him to help me figure it all out.  A year later, I can attest to the fact that balance is key!  Rest works wonders and boundaries, though challenging to keep, are blessings.

If we’re going to “run the race” set out for us, we’re going to have to take the time to come to Him and rest.  There’s no healthy way to do one without the other.

 

Messy

I somehow managed to catch it.  I hadn’t been one of the multitudes who kept vigil on Animal Adventure Park’s pregnant giraffe, April, since the YouTube feed was set up in February.  She wasn’t really on my radar at all, honestly.  I’m prone to binge watching a show on Netflix like any good American, but watching a pregnant giraffe walk around her pen in a New York zoo for weeks on end isn’t going to make my “must see” list.

But, staying in bed past the alarm on a lazier than usual Saturday morning, I grabbed my phone and tuned in just in time.  I watched mesmerized with about 1.2 million of my closest strangers as April did what seemed wildly impossible…birthing a  5′ 9″, 130 baby.  I held my breath and was completely captivated by the whole experience.

April wasn’t what fascinated me, although BIG PROPS to Mama Giraffe. Ouch.

It was the calf.  I kept wondering what that calf was thinking?  How uncomfortable is this for him?  Does he feel as stuck as he looks?  Is he liking being licked on at this point? Is he aware he’s being pooped on right now?  What was it like to fall that far onto the ground and then have all manner of after-birth splash down on his head?  “‘Welcome to life,’ baby animal!  Try not to drown before you even get started.”

I’ve found myself thinking a lot about that calf today, Easter Sunday.  Today has been a day of celebrating, not a birth (that’s Christmas), but a rebirth. Jesus died and rose again and because of that sacrifice and miracle, we are reborn.  We’re reborn once and for all into God’s family, but also over and over again in a million little ways.

Rebirth, like birth, can be very messy business.  The rebirth of Jesus required a trial, a devastating beating, ridicule and rejection, and a ghastly crucifixion.  Out of His pain, our hope was reborn.

Jesus had choices, I guess.  The Son of God could have called down angels…could have wiped out His enemies…could have run away.  But that’s not Who He is. He chose the cross, even after a night spent pleading with His Father for another way…any other way.  He chose forgiveness and mercy, even while hanging from nails.

We have choices, too.  The rebirth Jesus calls us to can be messy.

We can get stuck, unable to figure out the next right thing to do. Sometimes we get pooped on by other people’s opinions and plans.  Sometimes the fall is way further down than we realized it would be and we wonder if our soul has suffered a concussion. And just when we think we’re good to go, the not-so-pleasant-but-necessary side effects of rebirth come falling down on us and we wonder if we’ll drown.

But then, just like April started a loving clean-up effort for her baby boy, our Father does the same for us.  He cleans us up, understands that we’re a little dazed and probably have a headache, and encourages us to stand up.  Just like April provides shelter and nourishment for her calf, we are able to stand in the shelter of God’s strength and steadfastness, knowing that He’ll give us what we need this day.

The alternative to rebirth?  I think it’s death.  It’s staying in the womb of “what if” and “if only.”  It’s nice and warm in there, but you’ll outgrow it.  The womb is familiar, while the outside world is a little on the scary side.  But, we’re not meant to stay where the safety lies.  We’re meant for the rebirth.  We’re meant for the messy.

In the Middle

Today is the Saturday after Good Friday and the day before Easter.  It’s a kind of “not yet” place on the Christian calendar.  We don’t commemorate the death of Jesus today and we don’t celebrate His rising either.  Today is the “in-between” day.

I feel like my life is a little like that these days…like I’m somewhere in between the death and the rising.  I’m not who I used to be, but I’m not who I’m meant to be either. Seems I’m ever searching for the right thing to do and the correct path to take.  It’s as if I’ve walked into a spider’s web of doubt and uncertainty.  No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to pick all of it off.  For all of my frantic activity, I don’t seem to be going anywhere.

I know that I belong to Him.  There’s truly no doubt on that topic. I know that I am securely held in His love and grace.  And yet, I have this heavy sense that I’m not really living…that I haven’t really, whole-heartedly risen to the calling He has on my life.

That calling is the same one each of us has as Christians:  the call to live as a new creation…to put off the old and put on the new.  I have a hard time with that part.  I wish I didn’t.  I know people who seem to fully embrace all that salvation in Jesus offers.  They live unencumbered by their pasts and see a future full of promise.  They don’t seem to doubt that when Jesus says, “Come to me,” He’s talking to them.

I think the key in being set free lies in where my mind resides.

What am I thinking about?  What am I believing about myself and about Jesus?  The Bible teaches us in Philippians 4 to think about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.  Pretty sure I don’t spend enough time in those categories.  Thinking that if I did, the web would dissolve somehow or at least be less sticky.

Maybe that’s what I’ll write about on this blog.  Maybe in writing about life and the many shades of God’s mercy and grace I experience, I’ll begin to unweave the spider web that holds me captive from time to time.  Jesus never has struck me as someone who applauds captivity.  After all, the one He sets free is free indeed (John 8:36).