Apologizing Second Instead of First

apologizing

Apologizing is easier if the other party goes first.

When I walked into the kitchen that morning, it was apparent that I’d need a knife to cut through the air. Two boys seated at two different tables. Each boy had his own bowl, spoon, and cereal on the table and a gallon of milk. Two gallons, one almost empty, were sitting there in the summer heat. Obviously, these two boys were not going to eat at the same table and they were most certainly not going to share the milk jug or its contents. They weren’t talking and their looks told me they expected me to slice through the problem quickly. Both boys obviously thought I should choose his side. Neither boy had any intention of apologizing.

Scattered across the kitchen counters was the dishwasher ingredients – newly washed, but not put away. The drawer of the cupboard housing the set mouse traps stood ajar – another obvious sign that there had been a disagreement about who got to check the mouse trap first.

I checked my smile and feigned sleepiness.

“Well, it looks like we’ve got a lot to get done before we get to eat breakfast this morning. Let’s just put the milk back in the fridge and move everything on the dining room table to the kitchen, since we never eat breakfast in the dining room.”

Grudgingly, they complied, still not talking to each other. Their glares kept passing through me from one boy to the other. Apologizing was still not on their agenda.

While they restored the dishwasher contents to the proper kitchen cabinet, I discovered the problem. Both boys wanted to check the mouse trap drawer. [Here is where I confess that country living guarantees mice from time to time in one’s kitchen]. Both boys wanted to empty the dishwasher. Neither boy wanted to put the items away. Both boys knew there would be no breakfast until this morning job was done. Neither boy was going to give in, so they hoped I’d acquiesce this one time and allow them to go ahead and eat without completing the job.

“You know we don’t do that in this house,” I told them. “You know we eat after the dishwasher is emptied. Plus, food goes down a whole lot better if everybody is happy when they eat.” [Here is where I confess that I knew holding off breakfast would guarantee an interest in getting things between the two of them fixed sooner rather than later.]

apologizing

Not Giving In

The problem was that this time, neither boy was going to give in. Neither boy thought he was in the wrong, so neither boy saw any need of apologizing. They called a stalemate and each had claimed a spot for breakfast: one in the kitchen and one in the dining room.

That was when I walked in. It was all I could do not to smile at the looks on their faces and the obvious staking of turf between the two of them. It was a little early in the morning for me to talk out reconciliation, but after my coffee, I was ready to think clearly. [Here is where I confess that my chatter while making my coffee helped slice through some of the thick, cold air, so I took my good ole’ time fixing my coffee and chattered away because I felt the ice begin to thaw and saw the benefits right before my eyes.]

I suppose that by needing to work together to clean up the mess their discord had made, they were a little more amicable than before. I also suppose that hunger called forth willingness to find a way to settle their discord.

Finally, the older (by one year) brother spoke, “Okay, George, I’ll say I’m sorry to you if you will say you’re sorry to me first.”

“Oh, no, no, no, no, no,” I replied. “That is not the way to say you’re sorry. If you’re going to make him do something before you say you’re sorry, then you’re not sorry. If he has to do something first before you apologize, then you’re really not sorry. You just want to eat.”

In time, they worked it out. [Here’s where I admit that kids are usually quicker to forgive and go on than adults are.] We sat down together and only needed one gallon of milk between the two of them. Everybody ended up being happy – and sorry. Everybody apologized. I can’t even remember who spoke first, but they worked it out.

That evening I told Dave about the incident. We laughed with each other about these foster boys we’d come to love in just a few short weeks.

“That never works in marriage or a job,” Dave mused. “They need to learn how to deal with conflict the right way now.”

Truth.

apologizing

Apologizing First

Whether it’s marriage, family, or work-related conflicts, calling a stalemate until the other party apologizes is not really working things out. When an apology isn’t sincere, the other party will know even though he might not show it.

Do you ever feel that you always have to be the first one to apologize?  Me, too.

Does that matter?

That slogan, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” is so untrue. Love really means you’re more than willing to say you’re sorry.

It takes a bigger and stronger person to apologize first. Doesn’t it?

Be the bigger person. Be the stronger person. Be the leader. It will put you ahead, every time.

apologizing

 

Forgiveness: Taking the First Step

When I don’t feel like putting my best foot forward, and when I’m not even sure what to do next, I remember.   I had slipped into a private room on campus to spend some time alone with God.  After minutes of crying out to God and telling Him that I just couldn’t possibly forgive the person who had hurt me, I lifted my eyes and saw the poster in front of me.

“The journey of a thousand miles,” it said, “starts with a single step.” (Lao Tzu).

That was when I realized I had been focusing on the journey instead of the next step.

Forgiving someone takes consistent energy.  

The devil thrives on throwing incidents back in our faces, reminding us of wrongs in the past and re-inflicting pain from those memories.  Rather than focusing on the next step, I tend to want to become stagnant wallowing in the painful memories.

There’s the story of Corrie ten Boom, whose family helped hide Jewish people during the Nazi regime.  Her father died in a concentration camp, as did her sister Bessie.  Corrie and Bessie  ended up in Ravensbrück concentration camp where they had to strip for inspections by male guards. Years later, Corrie shared her testimony in a church. Afterward, one of those guards came up to her to ask her forgiveness.  He reached out his hand to shake hers.

She had a choice, and she didn’t have a lot of time to think about it.  All she knew was that she did not want to forgive this man who had treated her so brutally.

Could she forgive?  Would she?

You know what Corrie did?  She didn’t focus on the 1000 mile journey.  She focused on the next step.  She didn’t try to figure out if she was capable of this (because she wasn’t capable alone).  She focused on the next step.

Her next step involved a move.  She reached out her hand to shake his extended hand.

As she took that next step, she felt forgiveness flow through her.  Impossible of herself.  Yet, because she took that next step, God came.

When I am grappling with how to respond to someone who irks or frustrates me, when I struggle with forgiving, I remember that the journey doesn’t have to be completed today.  Yet to complete the journey, I need to take that first step.  Sometimes the first step is reaching out my hand; sometimes it’s saying something positive about the person who has brought pain; other times it’s doing something for that person.

If you’re struggling with this, you probably already know what your next step should be. If you’re like me, then you’ve experienced this: it’s easier to figure out the next step than it is to actually take that step!

I’m not so sure that it matters to God which step comes first; what matters is that I extend myself and take that first step. After you take the first step, then take the second step.  You’ll get there, one step at a time.

Don’t focus on the journey.  Focus on doing the next thing – taking the next step.

miles man walking

Where does your 1000-mile journey need to take you?

Go ahead – take that first step.

 

Three Ways to Respond When Life Brings Us Pain

 

joseph egyptian pyramid

How easy it is to read someone’s story from the other side and think it’s simple to see God’s hand at work.  But when we’re going through the hard times, we can’t see the other side.

We can only choose how to respond.

Joseph (eleventh son of Jacob) responded to his life situations the way I’d like to respond.

We don’t know much about Joseph’s childhood. We do know that his mother died when he was young and that his older half-brothers didn’t like him very much. The reason for their animosity toward Joseph could be because he touted them with his dreams of superiority over them in future years. Maybe it was because he and his brother were sons of another mother. Perhaps it was because he was, indeed, a favorite of his father.

If you’re not familiar with this story, you can read it here.

joseph slave

 

God had given Joseph a dream, but that dream seemed to die when his brothers, in a moment of anger, put him into a pit. When a band of foreign merchants “happen” to pass by on their way to Egypt, the brothers decide to sell him as a slave, rather than kill him.

That’s a hard pill to swallow: from favorite son to unknown slave.

When things go wrong for Joseph, he does some things right. In Egypt, Joseph is sold to Potiphar, the captain of the guard. He finds favor in Potiphar’s eyes (because the Lord was with him) and is put in charge of everything in Potiphar’s house. When Potiphar is gone from home, he trusts Joseph with everything.

joseph woman and man

Potiphar’s wife has a crush on Joseph. He’s good looking, and she wants him in her bed. He refuses. He has the opportunity to commit fornication, but he refuses. The rejected wife of Potiphar seeks revenge and she gets it.

Joseph ended up in prison because he did the right thing.  Had he sinned and the relationship remained secret, he would have stayed in the same position as Potiphar’s steward.  (I happen to think that Potiphar did believe Joseph and knew his wife was lying; why else did he merely put Joseph in prison instead of killing him?)

If I had been Joseph, I would have been asking God: “Are You really going to finish the dream you gave me?!”

In prison, the warden places Joseph in charge of all the inmates. Everything is left to Joseph’s care – because the Lord was with him.

After some time has passed, Joseph has an opportunity to interpret the dream of Pharoah’s cup bearer and baker who have both been imprisoned.

He tells the cupbearer, “When you see that my interpretation of your dream comes to pass, please remember me to Pharaoh, for I was unjustly charged.”

In Joseph’s heart, there has to be a flicker of the flame of hope. Maybe, just maybe, the interpretation of this dream is his ticket out of prison.

It isn’t. After the cupbearer is restored to his position in Pharoah’s court, he forgets Joseph. Again, Joseph experiences the death of a dream.

 Joseph remains in prison even though he did the right thing.

He could have refused to interpret the dream for the cup bearer. He could have said, “Well, I could help you, but I won’t. Life hasn’t been fair to me and I’m not helping anybody else.”

Interpreting the dream didn’t change a thing about Joseph’s circumstances; not then, anyhow.

Joseph alone prisoner

From the pit to slavery to Potiphar’s house and then to prison, Joseph did some things right. He kept trusting God to work out the plan He had for him.

He allowed the rejection of his brothers, the lies of Potiphar’s wife and the unfulfilled promise of the cupbearer to make him better instead of bitter.

Perhaps God chose to use those events to strip him of any pride or self-inflation he had. Maybe God was using those events to chip away the rough edges of his character because He had something big for Joseph to do. God didn’t need a man who was conceited and so full of himself that he would not listen to Him.

Finally, after two more years, the day comes when Joseph is released. In less than 24 hours, he becomes the 2nd highest in command in Egypt. Just like that. Joseph is now thirty years of age. It’s been thirteen long years since he was sold into slavery.

joseph man alone

The ultimate test for Joseph comes more than seven years later when his brothers arrive in Egypt from their home in Canaan. They come to buy grain for their cattle and families due to the widespread famine. They have no idea that the government official they will need to negotiate with is their long-lost brother whom they sold into slavery.

Joseph finally has the opportunity to avenge himself of his brothers. He has every “right’ and every power to make them pay. They have it coming to them; they deserve it.

What makes Joseph stand out to me is that although he recognized that the things which happened to him were intended for evil (by his brothers and also by Satan), he also believed that God was in control. God would use all of these experiences for his ultimate good.

“You meant it for evil,” he said. “But God meant it for good.”

Even when Joseph didn’t know the outcome, he recognized that God could use his pain for good.

joseph camel

Even when Joseph had the opportunity to harbor a grudge and make others pay, he recognized that God could use this – if he cooperated – for good.

When we experience the death of a dream, a vision, or our hopes and plans, there are some things we must do if we want to come out of the experience victorious.  Joseph gives us a wonderful example.

It’s easy to read this story and forget the emotional pain Joseph endured those twenty years. He was rejected by his family and sold as a slave. He thought he would never see his father again. He didn’t have a home, and he didn’t belong.

When we are faced with rejection and denial, when we find ourselves as strangers, we can choose to respond in the natural way scripted by our human nature; or we can respond like Joseph did.

We can say, “God can use this for good.”

joseph embrace tree

There are three ways to respond when life gives us pain.

Here is how:

Embrace your pain.

Recognize that it is a part of you. Don’t deny the pain or your anger. Ignoring or denying pain only causes us to bury it. Down underneath, it is simmering as a root of bitterness begins to grow. Thank God for the pain – not because it feels good, but because He will use this to enhance His kingdom. Ask Him to use it. Allow Him to be God!

Taste your pain.

We taste the pain by leaning into it. When a woman is in labor, fighting the pain only delays the birth of her child. To lean forward, bear down and push, she is leaning into the pain. She tastes the salty sweat of her labor as she delivers the child of her travail.

Lean into the pain if you want to experience deliverance. By leaning into the pain, we are acknowledging the unfairness, the injustice, the rending, and the travail that happens when we fight to sweat out the horror and remain sweet. Rather than claiming the pain as ours to hold and harbor, we need to push through it.

When we refuse to taste the pain, we are stuffing it deep inside. Someday that pain will erupt and others will experience the taste of what we refused. If we are willing to taste the pain, we will come out on the other side a better person.

Don’t waste the pain.

It is our choice to allow the pain and turmoil of events and years to harden us or to make us better.  From our own pain, we can learn how not to treat others; how to respond when others are broken; how to acknowledge that God is God, even when life is unfair. When things don’t make sense and when “the wrong seems oft so strong”, God is still the ruler!

Joseph embraced his pain. Had he not, he would not have been able to respond to being a slave as he did.  He would have been lax instead of becoming the best slave he could become.

Joseph tasted his pain. He waited for years to be avenged of his situation. He endured thirteen years in Potiphar’s house as a slave and then as a prisoner. By leaning into his pain, he was willing to interpret the dream of his cell mates and remain trusted as the highest ranking prisoner.

Joseph didn’t waste his pain. He chose to allow the pain of betrayal and denial of his brothers, separation from his father, the lies of his employer’s wife, and being forgotten in prison, to make him stronger spiritually.

So committed was he to “doing the right thing”, when the ultimate test of forgiving his brothers came, he was able to say to them, “Come near.  I am your brother. You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”

Joseph recognized that even when life wasn’t fair, but God could use it for good. He chose to cooperate with God and His plan.

We need to do the same.

pinterest three ways to respond

 

 

Why We Need To Call 9-1-1

world rusty gate

Before I went to bed on September 10, 2001, I knew what I was going to do the next day: sleep.

I’d been fighting a cold from allergies, changing weather and the germs my kids probably brought home from school. Because I tend to lapse into a drunken stupor when I take medication for a cold or allergies, I delay until I just can’t take it anymore.

I’d spent that day getting my work caught up, and I planned to spend the next day in my recliner, with medication inside me and liquids at my side.  I was sick, the kids would be in school, and I deserved this day. By the time they came home from school, I’d be well on the way to getting well.

The morning came uneventfully and I managed to get my six kiddos up, breakfasted, and out the door in good time. I took a dose of medicine and tidied the house and the kitchen from the morning school rush while waiting for the medication to push me toward my recliner.

Ah, sweet bliss and oblivion! Pulling my blanket up to my chin and releasing the leg rest on my trusty recliner, I sank back, relaxed, and fell into a deep, deep sleep.

I was awakened by the ringing of my cell phone. My neighbor called to tell me that a plane had hit one of the twin towers in New York. In my medicated stupor, I assumed it was merely an accident. I couldn’t wake up enough to realize this couldn’t have been “just an accident.” The medication was still very much in my system, and I simply went back to sleep.

 

WTC again 2

 

My cell phone rang again.  My neighbor called to tell me that another plane had hit the other tower.

We don’t own a TV, so I couldn’t simply turn on the news. After fixing a pot of coffee, I headed to my neighbor’s house. Along with other Americans, we sat and watched – and watched – and watched what was happening in New York and in DC.


world trade pentagon

 

When you’re so far away from an event and it seems there is nothing you can do, it matters. When there is a catastrophe that doesn’t come near to where you are but has come near to people God knows by name, it matters.

When you want to pray but don’t know how it still matters – because it matters to Him.

world hands bible

That day I kept watching the road for those yellow school buses. I wanted my kids to be at home with me -where they’d be safe. I couldn’t wait for them to get inside the door so I could hug each one of them. For now, they were safe. I wanted them to be safe – always.

That day, I opened my Bible again and realized how much I – and this country – need a Savior.

When we think we have it all together, we don’t need anyone else. We don’t need help from anybody because we think we’ve got it figured out. We think we’ve got it covered. There’s a word for that. It is Pride.

God said, “If my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

world land

First, we have to be His people. We have to belong to Him. We belong to Him when we obey Him.

Then we have to humble ourselves. We have to make that call. When we call 9-1-1, we are admitting that there is a need and we need help.

Next, we have to pray and seek His face.

We can’t seek His face if we’re heading away from Him. We need to turn from our wicked ways. Turning doesn’t mean we’ll take a detour for a little while. It means we turn and go the other way, and we look for His face.

Just like a child who is lost in a crowd looks for one familiar face. He scans other faces, but he doesn’t stop until he finds the face of the one he is missing. Just like a child, we have to seek His face. We don’t stop and we don’t give up until we have found Him.

world sheep farmer

It is only then  – after we have done all these things – that He will hear us. He will forgive our sin, and He will heal our land.

It doesn’t make sense to ask His blessing if we are not following Him. We can hardly expect Him to favor us when we have turned our backs toe Him.

It is past time to make that call. It’s not too late, but it is past time.

It’s time to say, “I need help and I am sorry for going my own way.”

He wants to heal us. He wants to heal our land. He wants to bring restoration.

But we have to make that call.world baby