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It Takes a Light Touch: Neighborly Advice for My Fellow Control Freaks

It Takes a Light Touch: Neighborly Advice for My Fellow Control Freaks

A few years ago, my parents bought a new lawnmower.  It isn’t just any mower.  Oh, no.  This bad boy is a zero-turn, superspeed, grass-chomping terror mobile.

It has a seatbelt.

It needs a seatbelt.

It’s one of those mowers with the handles that move in opposing directions to steer it. My mechanically-inclined brother swears it’s very easy to steer.  I beg to differ.  You can’t convince me that those handles aren’t arbitrary doomsticks, producing random results with each push and pull.  It’s like a slot machine on wheels, only with sharp blades and tons of horsepower.

Side note: I am a pianist.  I’m quite used to my right and left hands doing different things at once, while my feet do something entirely different.  But this mower.  THIS MOWER.  I am telling you– it’s sentient. It scoffs at my ambidexterity.

While I was visiting my mom this week, I offered to mow her lawn. Now, when I say “lawn,” you should be picturing several acres, dotted by trees, flowers and other beautiful obstacles, just waiting to be crushed by 1,000 pounds of steel. It’s the penultimate Mario Kart track.  I’ve never driven this mower (let’s call it “Megatron”) for longer than a few terrifying seconds on my parents’ driveway. After considerable effort and a number of lucky guesses, Mom and I successfully get Megatron to start, and I buckle up and ease out of the garage, hand trembling on the throttle. Megatron bucks and roars and veers every way except the way in which I wish it to go.

I avoid approximately 4,000 trees on my way to the open field that Mom suggested as a good “starter patch.”

So far, so good.  I’m sweating a little, but I haven’t hit anything. Oh, wait…I just hit something.  Did Mom notice?  No?  Onward.

I make it to the field, feeling very much like Bambi stepping out into the meadow.

I make it one lap around the field.

Surveying my work, it looks like a badly failed field sobriety test. Another trickle of sweat drips down my back. Just as I start to ease the doomsticks back into some sort of forward motion, I see the neighbor approach the fence.  I gingerly climb off Megatron, careful never to turn my back on it or break eye contact with it as it roars at me and inches nearly imperceptibly down the hill. The neighbor looks at Megatron, then back at me, then at the bead of sweat running down my face.

“First time?”

“Is it that obvious?”

He gazes over my shoulder at my mowing progress, which looks a bit like the gameboard from “Chutes and Ladders” and then back at me.

I say, “I hope that if God lets people peek down from Heaven on loved ones, that Dad isn’t peeking at this mess right now. He was an expert on this thing.  Made it look so easy.”

The neighbor smiles at me and says, “You’ll be fine.  Here’s what you need to remember: You can’t white knuckle it– makes it even harder to control. Use a light touch. Secondly, when you’re in the straightaway, use that time to prepare for what’s next.”

Light touch. Prepare for what’s next. Got it.

Climbing aboard Megatron once more, I baaaaaarely touch the doomsticks in the direction I want to go, and miracle of miracles– it works.  As I breeze down the straightaway of the field, I think about the sharp turn ahead and mentally calculate what I need to do next.

I am ready for it. And I make it.

I mowed that whole field (only hit one pole just a little), another open area and the whole front yard with its smorgasbord of traps (hit a power line guidewire just a smidge. It’s fine. We’re all fine).  Megatron was placed back in the garage, appropriately humbled to have been broken by a mere mortal like me, and I went triumphantly into the house to pat myself on the back (Literally. Had to check myself for ticks).

I love a good analogy, so here it comes.

I’m a (slowly) recovering control freak. I white-knuckle my way through most things. And the more I latch on with my death grip, the more out of control things seem.

This isn’t all up to me. Life is a machine made up of many different parts– all working to make the whole thing go. It’s not all doomsticks and death grips. There are other mechanisms to help us steer.

When I pray, I let go a little.  When I read my Bible, I let go a little.  When I talk through my feelings with my family, I let go a little.  And it all feels more manageable when I do.

And that advice about using the straightaways to prepare for the curvy parts? That’s genius.

Our kids are entering new and unknown seasons of life in different ways.  I’m entering a challenging, but exciting season in my career.  Life is changing at breakneck speed.

Now is the time to prepare for what’s next.  The twists and turns that we can see, but also the ones we can’t yet.  Be present, but be prepared.  Life is anything but predictable, but we can still handle it with a light touch.  It takes practice and patience. I am not there yet, but I’m easing my way out of the garage, anyway.

Get out there and show your Megatrons who’s boss, friends.

Walk Softly and Carry an Empty Purse

Walk Softly and Carry an Empty Purse

I was in New York City this week to meet with customers.  I love NYC—especially this time of year.  The storefronts on 5th Ave are brimming with Christmas cheer, and there’s a crispness in the air that signals the subtle change from fall to winter.

macysAs much as I love the city, I always empty my purse of all but the necessities, just in case.  Hey—I don’t want to replace my prescriptions, my Costco card, and every single discount card I own in the event of a mugging.  Nope!  Ain’t nobody got time for that. I carry my ID, my corporate card and the earbuds that I always have in place (but with nothing playing through them so that the solicitors leave me alone.  Oh, yeah.  Midwesterner street smarts, you guys.  I got ‘em.). Go ahead and steal my purse full of zero things, muggers.  Joke’s on you.

purseThis visit came on the heels of the terrorist attacks on Paris. I talked to my children about what had happened.  They were fearful that terrorists could come to our city.  I agreed that it’s possible.  Wide-eyed, they asked what we can do about it.  I told them that all we can do is just live our lives and refuse to let fear take hold.  We know who holds our future, and He wants nothing but the best for us.  Even it is something we can’t possibly understand in this lifetime, we don’t need to understand it.  We aren’t meant to.

While I was in New York, I had meetings in Times Square. I met a friend at a restaurant packed with people.  I walked around Manhattan enjoying the sights and sounds and peculiarities only found in New York.  Even in the midst of uncertainty, life goes on if you allow it.

One of my customers is in an office across the street from where the World Trade Center once stood.  When I visit them, I sit there, looking out the window and wondering how they ever got the courage to come back to work–to that building, across from two charred, empty holes in the ground.  I am not sure I could have been so brave so soon.

I had one moment of panic when I walked from my hotel to grab a slice of pizza in Hell’s Kitchen.  I was walking through one of those dimly lit, graffiti-addled construction labyrinths when I came around the corner, and someone grabbed my ankle.  I screamed, but no one came running. I was all alone in the dark—I thought.  I looked down, and a homeless gentleman (clearly as panicked as I was) stared up at me in surprise.  I woke him up with my loud footsteps, and he was afraid I would step on him in the dark.  We didn’t exchange a word.  He let go of me, and I kept walking.  He has no idea how close he came to getting kicked in the face.  (B and I are avid Walking Dead fans, and I was channeling Rick Grimes for just a split second. You go for the brain stem when someone grabs you.  It’s just what you do.)

I took the long way back to my hotel, and my heart pounded for what felt like hours.

When terror is thousands of miles away, it’s easy to tell your kids that even in the worst case, if tragedy finds its way to our doorstep, we will awake in the presence of God.  It’s another thing if it actually finds your family.  Would I be able to hand my children over to God without resenting Him for taking them?  I thought a lot this week about what I tell my kids about our confidence in the future and the contradiction that is often in my heart.

never-give-in-to-fear1My last night in New York, I decided not to take the long way around the construction walkway.  I walked right through it, with the intention of finding that man, not stepping on him, and apologizing for scaring him half to death.  More for me than for him, honestly. He wasn’t there, but it didn’t seem quite so terrifying when I walked into the darkness with intention instead of trepidation.

I want to be smart in this life, but I want to be brave. I want to trust Jesus so completely that no matter what comes, I walk through it with intention, compassion and confidence in His plan for my life.


(I’ll still empty my purse when I need to, though.  That limited-edition MAC lipstick isn’t going to replace itself.)

What Do You Do When You Can’t Look Away?

What Do You Do When You Can’t Look Away?

I am taking a little digression away from the original intent of this blog. My heart is so heavy tonight, and the only thing I can do, aside from praying, is to write about it. As I write this, I’m high above the earth, at 30,000 feet, comfy in my first class seat, on my way home from a business trip to New York City. It’s so calm up here. So unusually quiet and still. Ordinarily, I fall asleep, almost against my will, as soon as I buckle myself in. I barely realize when we’ve taken off and landed. After years of business travel, I think my subconscious has developed a special brand of narcolepsy to make the arduous process of flying just a little bit less unpleasant. Tonight, I can’t sleep.

Most of you are likely aware of the cruel murder yesterday of a US journalist, James Foley, by the terrorist organization ISIS. An unspeakable, unimaginable, horrifically brutal murder.

Everywhere I turned while I was in New York, there was a newsstand projecting the image of this innocent young man, clad in orange, his hands bound, with an air of steely determination in his strong jaw, but a look of abject, raw and heartbreaking fear in his eyes. Next to him, brandishing a knife in some of the pictures (a knife that I can’t stop myself from thinking would not deliver a swift beheading, but rather a slow, agonizing death), stands a coward. A coward who can’t show his face. Instead he dresses like some sort of Arab Power Ranger, only his eyes showing. Even in the grainiest of photographs, the hate in his eyes—the sheer animalistic malice is evident. What shocks me most about these photos is the stark contrast; good versus evil—side by side, but with the outcome already known. Evil wins.

How is that possible? How, in my comfortable, middle-class, Superman, Desert Storm, American reality can that be possible? Don’t get me wrong. I know that there is evil in the world. There is a great deal of evil in America. There is likely a fair amount of evil on this plane. I am not adept at wrapping my head around the sad trajectory of the human race as a whole, but yesterday’s brutal event has forced the reality of it upon me. Time to wake up. I have five children, whom I love with every fiber of my being. Four of them are boys.  As I sat in JFK and watched clips of the interview of James Foley’s parents, it wasn’t hard to imagine if what happened yesterday happened to one of my boys (or my daughter, for that matter—if any of them is likely to go across the globe in the name of adventure, journalism and bettering the human race, it’s her). How I would feel. What I would say. Could I even find words? The grief in the Foleys’ voices was evident. I felt like an intruder listening to parts of it–in a place I shouldn’t be. Lurking somewhere that is private to parents who have lost children. A place that I pray to God with all my heart that I never have to go.

Grief wasn’t all I heard though. I heard love. So much love for their “little boy” as his mother referred to him, and as I will always refer to my sons, no matter what their age. I also heard pride for what he believed in and how he lived. What stood out to me the most though, was resilience. They stood there, in all of their grief, and they defied the idea that evil is going to win in the end. In the aftermath of the most horrific thing that could happen to them as parents, they chose to defy the power of evil in this world and focus on the beautiful life of their son.

I have been tragically behind on my Bible reading the last couple of weeks, so I brought my Bible with me on this trip, vowing to make up for my absence and to get back on track. As I was reading tonight, missing my family, and trying to unsee the images from every television and newsstand, my heart was crying out for some sort of encouragement. Something to hold onto in these days when everything feels so uncertain and so cruel. My head is spinning with all that is happening in Israel, in Iraq, in Syria, in Ferguson, in Africa…it’s too much to take in, but I can’t stop myself from obsessing over it.

So what do you do when you can’t look away? When you can’t stop taking in the horror of it all, but you feel helpless to make any difference. When you worry every day about the safety of your children and your friends and family, fearing that terror could again strike close to home, as it did on 9/11. When your heart is breaking for people you don’t even know and will never meet. What can you do? You pray, but more importantly, you pray with faith, believing that God already knows the outcome of every tragedy and injustice, and that evil does not win.

One of the passages that I was scheduled to turn to today is Psalm 55. It’s as if God chose this day, when I was feeling so overwhelmed, as distant as I am from the atrocities happening across the world, to speak the exact words I needed to hear. “My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me. Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me (Psalm 55:4-5).” But that’s not where it ends! The writer says: “But I call out to God, and the Lord saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice…cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; He will never let the righteous fall. But you, O God, will bring down the wicked into the pit of corruption; bloodthirsty and deceitful men will not live out half their days. But as for me, I trust in you (Psalm 55:16-23).”

Evil does not win.

I encourage you to cling to that promise. I will, every time fear creeps back into my heart.

Dear Father, I pray tonight for the family of James Foley and for all those who loved him. I pray for Steven Sotloff. Put your hand of protection on him and deliver him from harm, if it’s your will. I pray for our administration, that they will make courageous decisions to fight the evil that is arrogant enough to believe that it will prevail. I am choosing to believe your promises, Lord that you will bring down the wicked and protect your children. Thank you for hearing our prayers and forgiving our fear and doubt. Amen.