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There is no such thing as an innocent bystander

Standing by.

It seems such an innocent thing.
To watch and not take part.
To hover and see who wins
Then, unknown to my innards
To jockey for good position
In order to see how all this comes out.

Spectating.

Not rooting for or pulling against,
Just waiting for it all to pass by.
To blow over, really,
I’m above all this;
Never stoop to this sort of thing.
It will be over soon, I tell myself.

Then I feel a tug at my garment –
A pull on my conscience –
And suddenly, there I am
at the center of the fracas:
Beaten and bruised,
Battered and bloodied.

Standing. still.
Not by. with.
Guilty.
This is not blowing over for these.
Then neither is it for us.
May it be said, “She has done what she could.” (Mark 14:8)

There is no such thing as an innocent bystander.

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Stormy seas demand investment and balance

My little family, the part of it still here and not traveling all over Europe, went to the Outback Steakhouse for dinner Saturday night. Not a regular dining spot for us, but the one selected this evening. My 16 year old daughter and I approached the door, and just to the right was a table ably “manned” by several girl scouts.

“Wanna buy some cookies?” one asked, smiling.

“No. We’ve already gotten some,” I replied and reached for the restaurant door.

But scout girl was ready, “You could donate some for the troops,” she said, voice pleading and head tipping to one side.

I stammered, and hemmed, and my daughter shoved me toward the door. “Uh, not this time,” I may have eeked out.

“Enjoy your steak,” she called after me.

Oooohh. Ouch. What a dig, I thought. And I said so to my daughter. She assured me this “little” girl meant nothing by the remark. I wasn’t so sure. To me it meant, ‘Oh, you’re gonna spend your money on a big steak but you don’t have a few dollars for the troops?’ I found it both unkind and indicting.

Happily the girl scouts had gone home when we exited the restaurant. I looked.

But this raised some uncomfortable questions for me.

  • Should I be donating to the troops? Did they really need cookies?
  • Did I need to give?
  • Did I feel compelled to since I had been asked?
  • Why wasn’t I ready with a response?
  • Was the girl right, was I so tight-fisted? 
  • Did she really mean to accuse me by her question or was I just making this up?
  • The kicker: what is my relationship with my dollars, donations, giving, resources?

Because obviously I had some baggage stowed around this issue. Amazing how a 10 year old with a green vest can call this out in me. Guilt around “not giving” when I “should.” Where does this “should” come from, and why have I given it so much power over me that I can’t even say “yes” or “no” to a 10 year old?

True, I grew up in a household where money was “not discussed.” Children were not to know how much Dad made or how much our house cost. We had what we needed and we got, within reason, what we asked for. I don’t ever remember feeling like I had to “go without.” But I never developed a relationship with money. It was something my parents managed for me.

Now that I’m an adult (by most accounts, pardon the pun) money is something I have to deal with. Asking for payment, paying the bills, negotiating the cost. How much are things worth? How much am I worth?

I am fortunate to be married to someone who negotiates these things beautifully. He handles the bills, investing, savings plans and kids education funds. His income is more than sufficient for our needs. Ironically, he grew up in a family where he was challenged to account for his spending. So much so that he even threatened to cut any ties to parental support at one point. In the matter of finances, he is free of dis-health because he was made to negotiate the boundaries.

I was not and don’t experience that freedom. I don’t think I’m alone in this, judging from the financial woes of so many in today’s America. It seems that many, even those well-resourced, settle at the extremes: either “don’t think about it – spend now and pay later” or “think about it constantly  – and hold tight to every penny.” Oblivious or anxious, neither is healthy. We need to attend in a responsible way.

For me it means navigating mid-stream, making course corrections according to the wind and the waves. To say yes, go right, and when it gets choppy, say no, go left, adjusting the sails in the new course. Funny, I’m quite a good swimmer, but sailing never has been my thing. I think God knew this when he put in my mind to marry a man who had a sound footing in finances.

So it’s taken me until middle age to really become the skipper and launch the Fit2Finish (my fitness business start up in 2001, incorporated in 2005 and now writing my way into 2103) skiff into the world of “high finance.” Well, it seems high finance to me when I look at the wind and the waves. I just keep hearing,”Don’t get out of the boat!” I don’t think my swimming will save me and walking on water is not an option.

“Trust me; I’m making you a better sailor.” That’s what the wind whispers. So I set sail on a sea of resources, for which I give God thanks and praise. He has entrusted them to me – a great ballast of responsibility. Let me not be the one who buries them and returns what only what was given. Let me be the one who doubles them and returns them with interest.

No telling how the One who invested in me might magnify the return on that investment. That’s probably good. Don’t put me in charge of the investing, just the day to day spending. Maybe start me with a canoe and some paddles. Bi-lateral effort is my specialty.

Casting off was the tricky part, and there are sure to be waves. But tied to the shore is no place for a sailor like me.

Out of Sight Insight

I am not particularly proud to admit this but…out of sight, out of mind. This may not guide my whole life, but it certainly takes a very strong hold.

My golden retriever (of photo fame) lies whining just outside the door to my office. I can see her as well as hear her. I feel so bad for her because she has a skin ailment that itches and makes her miserable. I spent most of yesterday either worrying about her or caring for her. Took her to the vet; now she has been treated and is on the mend. But still, just outside my door, she is a complete distraction. In sight, in mind.

I have lots to attend to today, having gotten most of nothing done, so I retreat…to the front porch. Where I can neither see nor hear her. Oh, she’s still miserable, may even be whimpering, but out of my sight, out of my mind.  Now, I don’t feel guilty at all. Not even a twinge. (this, by the way, works with siblings arguing with each other)

Where has my guilt gone? The circumstance is still the same. The dog is still fairly miserable, but I no longer feel guilty. Shouldn’t my guilt have a one to one relationship with the event or circumstance? Either I am responsible and feel guilty or I am not responsible and don’t. It shouldn’t depend on what I see, but it does. Or at least it seems to.

So guilt, I find, appears to be a creation of my mind – at least in cases like this. (aside here: If I have committed a crime or broken a law, I am guilty according to the law, regardless of whether I “feel” that way. This is not what I am referring to here, although I have on occasion found the law a bit unfair in this regard, but I will take that up with the officer who pulled me over in the school zone — who knew?)

What I’m talking about is, let’s call it, gray-area guilt or the absence of it. Guilt I assign based on what I am looking at. The responsiblity to do something about what I see. If I don’t see it, I don’t do. Out of sight out of mind.

Now, in life’s general practice, acting on what you see works. When I see the overflow of clothes in the hamper, I do laundry. When I see dishes in the sink, I put ’em in and run the dishwasher. When I see my kid planted in front of the tv and school starts in two days and I know she hasn’t done her summer reading, I fuss at her to turn off the tv and get her work done. Isn’t that how life works? (Btw – those techniques have variable efficacy.)

But what about what I don’t see that really needs doing? When do I make a place for what I don’t see? When do I put off or delay or shuffle in my schedule in order to attend to something that clambers quietly from my to-do list. Perhaps God has been calling me to quietly. God never shouts.

God is always out of sight. How do I keep God in mind?

and the flip side…What if Evil knows and uses my distraction by the visual to tempt me away from what I should be doing? To incline me away from what God wants me to do?

This is the dilemma for the in-sight-ful Christian. Who reflexively sees and does, without thinking. Are we aware of the effect visual impact is having on us? the marketing people out there certainly are. The folks who put pictures of that juicy burger on the slick menu as well as the ones who put the snapshot of the child with the cleft palate in my magazine. Both have designs on my action. Want to stir me out of inaction.

For now, at least, I am claiming attention. Noting the effect that “what I see” has on how I feel about “what I will do.” I am recognizing the hold this has on me, that maybe it shouldn’t. I have it within my power to close my eyes, to seek respite, to remove myself from the circumstance that has undue pull on my actions. I can go to a place away and, for a moment, seek direction…To have clear sight. Or at least cleared sight.

Without compulsion. Guilt free.

This is making me really wonder about the cause and effect of behaviors. Is that chocolate cake really calling to me when I see it in the refrigerator? What if I didn’t see it? What if I tossed it? What if I sprinkled dog food on top of it. So long, attraction. Well, not for the dogs, but then chocolate is not good for them.

Ha. Even my blog knows this about me. It’s “mode” to see the whole page and make it easier just to say what you gotta say and move on is called….”distraction free.” Really!!

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