Beth Armstrong

Christian wife, mom, & author. Doing life with my eyes fixed on Jesus. I walk, I stumble, I fall. But God is big. And this is what I write about… Thanks for stopping by!

THE STARE DOWN

The stare down between us started at 9:15 Wednesday morning.

I was outside visiting with a gentleman who had his scooter parked alongside the handrail of the wide sidewalk from the front door to the parking lot. It’s about 30 feet from the door to the edge of the sidewalk where our company van picks up folks to transport them to various places.

In the middle of our conversation, I looked up and there he was, hunched over, unable to stand erect, using a cane instead of his normal walker, struggling to take his steps toward the van. Scruffy beard (which I’ve complimented by the way), bald head, glasses half way down his nose. Worn and weathered stern looking face. Headed my direction.

I heard him say something to me in his gruff voice…something that I couldn’t quite make out. So I asked him if he needed any help…if there was anything I could do for him.

He immediately bit my head off. I didn’t understand all of his rant, but what I could decipher was a few expletives shot right at me, stating his adamant independence and his desire for me to leave him the hell alone.

That’s when it happened. The stare down between him and me. I didn’t say a word and neither did he as he made his way right toward me. He stared at me with his devil face and I stared right back with my bitch eyes. As he passed by me we were only a few feet away from each other, deadlocked on each other’s faces. Eye to eye. I didn’t crack and neither did he.

Stare DownHe turned to get in the van as we gave each other one last, long, look. Then I turned and walked inside. Not a word was vocalized after his outburst. Well…perhaps many words were spoken, just not verbally. This is the same gentleman (if I can even call him that) I blogged about on June 28th. He’s crusty and very rough around the edges.

At the moment of his blasting, I wasn’t at all taken aback. I’ve gotten used to it from him. I wasn’t necessarily left speechless, because again, I’ve been on the receiving end of his chastising before. But at the same time I didn’t know what to say back. I’d had it. It hit a nerve this time. So I stared him down and quite likely in my mind spewed words so sharp it would have cut the scruff right off his beard.

I fully believe everything I shared in my previous blog about dealing with difficult people. I believe we are supposed to bless those who curse us and love our enemies. I believe we shouldn’t repay evil with evil or insult with insult. With regard to “Mr. Crusty Man” I’ve literally put those words into practice.

But after I got home, something (or perhaps someONE—who’s far greater than me) reminded me of the passage in Scripture where Jesus tells His disciples “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet” (Matthew 10:14).

Could it be that this is what God is calling me to do with him? I wrestle with the thought. On one hand, I feel that I should love unconditionally. That I should continue to offer grace and mercy to a guy who certainly doesn’t deserve it, because isn’t that a picture of what God does for us daily?

On the other hand, there are Jesus’ words to His disciples to “shake the dust off their feet” which is a symbolic indication that they had done all they could do and no longer carried the responsibility of it. They were free to walk away with a clear conscience.

Is this God’s way of telling me to move on? To “shake the dust off my feet” with regard to this guy who I’ve poured into, prayed for, tried to encourage, helped in every way I can, planted seeds, and made an effort to take our conversations Godward when I could?

I’m stuck in the middle of these two teachings of Jesus. Both right. Both true. Both I believe firmly in.

I haven’t seen him since the stare down occurred. When I encounter him next, will there be the sweet fragrance of Jesus in the air…or just a cloud of dust?

DISHING ON DIFFICULT PEOPLE

I was being kind and compassionate and was prepared to go out of my way to be helpful. Then he bit my head off. I immediately thought, “Thanks for nothin’ there, bud!” I always go the extra mile in the respect, caring, and kindhearted department with this guy. And what I get in return is short, impatient, disrespectful responses. He grunts, he groans, or he growls at me nearly every time. He’s crusty. He’s rough around the edges to say the least. He once told me that when he dies he’s “going straight to hell because he’s one mean son of a bitch.” (Yep, that’s a direct quote from him.) Ever since he made that declaration, he’s been on my heart. For whatever reason, this week when I reached out to help out with my normal positive, considerate approach, and when he bit my head off, I thought to myself, “I’m done! I’m over you, dude! Game over!”

Later, another gentleman (not sure he really deserves that title if I’m being honest) told me he didn’t like me one bit at all. (What I really wanted to say was, “Yeah, the feeling is mutual!”) He let me know I was terrible at my job and that I needed to get with the program. He then stated that he didn’t like being around me and told me to go away. Apparently not long after we met I ticked him off. He doesn’t look at me, speak to me, or acknowledge me in any way. I say hello to him every time I see him. I ask him how his day is going. And he pretends that I don’t exist. Until this week. When I got an earful. And again, I thought to myself, “I’m done! I’m over you, dude! Game over!”

head buttWhen I deal with difficult people, my motto (and self-talk reminder) of the last several years has been, “Just kill ‘em with kindness.” But after this week, my new motto just might leave off the words “with kindness.”

“Bless those who curse you,” He said. I’d like to think Jesus was plum crazy or maybe on something when He challenged His listeners in this way. But that wasn’t the case at all. He was always taking what was right-side-up and turning it upside down. Or perhaps better to the point, He was always taking what was upside down, and turning it right-side-up. Paul reiterates Jesus’ words by adding, “Bless and do not curse.” Then Peter adds his two cents by saying, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing…”

I think Jesus initiated these words because He knew that life was a grander story than just mere moments of insults and ingrates. He knew that He was part of a bigger story than the one written in the heat of the moment of disgust or displeasure with an individual. Not only was His story bigger, but so was that of the insulter, the attacker, the persecutor, the difficult person. And if He could weave kindness, compassion, grace, and mercy into their story, maybe it would awaken them to the bigger story they were a part of but just didn’t know it.

“Love your enemies,” He said. Why would I want to love them when they don’t return the sentiment? Loving them is an investment that doesn’t produce any kind of return, other than frustration on the part of the one giving the love. But this is what we’re challenged to do. To participate in God’s story–one in which He is speaking and acting. A story of unconditional love. And grace. And mercy.

“Love, do good, help, and lend to those difficult people in your life,” He said. Those difficult people in our lives aren’t problems to fix. They’re people. Made in the image of God. People to love. People to serve.

Jesus also added these words, “…expecting nothing in return.” That’s where it gets real. That’s where it gets raw. I want progress in return. I want a glimpse of something positive in return. I want my effort to mean something, to make an impact, to influence…and see evidence of it.

God says to all of us, “It’s not about the return. It’s about the story. I am writing your story just as I am writing theirs.”

So…we gear up, we armor up, we fill up and prepare ourselves to spill out love and blessings to those who curse us, our enemies, the ungrateful, the selfish, the hateful, and the mean-spirited. And we know after all the spillage, our bucket will indeed be empty. (Jesus probably experienced this on a regular basis.) But we go straight back to the Source to refuel. The Author of our story. The One who invites us to participate in it as best we can. By loving…doing good…and blessing.

 

WHY JESUS DIDN’T HALF-ASS

“A job isn’t worth doing unless it’s done right the first time.” It was something like this that my grandmother embedded into us when we spent the summers with her. We “earned our keep,” so to speak. We had a list of chores to do each day. We memorized Bible verses at meal times, we were expected to treat each other with kindness and respect, and she set the bar high. We had to make our beds each morning…perfectly. We had to do the dishes…completely and thoroughly. We had to clean out the toy closets and ball closets…spotlessly. We had to sweep the garage…immaculately. She wasn’t being mean, or harsh, or a taskmaster. She just expected us to pitch in. She wanted us to learn the value of hard work. She wanted us to learn to do a job right…the first time. It’s a waste of time to do a job half-assed, then do it repeatedly until it’s done right, done well, and with care and excellence.

This is what my grandmother taught me. I didn’t care much for those lessons at the time. Matter of fact, I kinda thought it was a crock. Since when do kids go to their grandmother’s house to work? It’s supposed to be all about fun. And, truthfully, we had a lot of fun with her…after the work was done. She loved to play games…after the chores were complete. Part of her mission, I think, was to teach us grandkids to do a job right the first time around. And it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

I ran across a passage this week that made me think of this very thing. Some people brought a man to Jesus who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to heal him. Jesus took him aside, put His fingers in the man’s ears, and some of His spit on the man’s tongue. (Yes, this sounds disgusting!) Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Be opened!” In an instant, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue loosened, and he began to speak clearly. It was gross, crazy, strange, and miraculous all at the same time.

The people who witnessed this were absolutely blown away. And do you know what their response was? Here’s what they said about Jesus… “He has done everything well…” What they were indicating about Jesus was, “He does everything beautifully, commendably, and with excellence. Jesus does admirable things that are honorable, surpassing good and noble.”

He didn’t just do some things well. He did all things well. He didn’t choose to half-ass a few things now and then. He chose to do the job right (and with excellence) the first time. The Message Translation of Mark 7:37 records it this way, “He’s done it all and done it well.”

I wonder if Jesus grew up with a grandmother like mine?

Or maybe He just knew that it made perfect sense to do everything well. That doing things half-assed is a waste of time. Maybe He sensed that excellence and honor was the way God intended it to be. Maybe He figured out that if you’re gonna do a job, do it right the first time. Because in the end, this is the way, the effort, the attitude, and the character that pleases God…and my grandmother.

 

ISSUES EXIST…LOVE ENDURES

I have issues. It bugs me when people stand really close to me. I don’t like people messing with my hair. It drives me crazy when, in an empty public restroom with a dozen open stalls, the next person in chooses the stall right next to me.

Like I said…I have issues.

I have bigger issues than the ones I mentioned above, however. I’m stubborn—and it’s not easy to overcome. I’m arrogant—and it’s a daily battle within me to keep my ego in check. I don’t have a stellar bank account or the perfect marriage. And my kids are on pace to be every bit as flawed as their mother. Oh joy!

Like I said…I have issues. I’m not proud of them. I’m not flaunting them. I wish I didn’t have them. But the truth is I struggle with them just like you struggle with yours.

Everybody has issues.

Your friend has issues. She’s insecure as all get out. Your spouse has issues. He/she is arrogant, insensitive, and controlling. Your co-worker has issues. She’s overbearing and doesn’t let you get a word in edgewise. Your neighbor has issues. He lies constantly. You wonder why he feels the need to do that. The lady in your bible study has issues. She’s got a root of bitterness bigger than Dallas, but hides it as best she can. Your nephew has issues. He’s into pornography, but doesn’t see the harm in it.

Everybody has issues. And issues present us with an interesting enigma.

The question is, can you see past my issues? Can you overlook your co-worker’s issues? Can you embrace your neighbor despite his issues? Can you be kind to the lady in your bible study regardless of her issues? Can you get along with your friend even though she has issues?

Here’s what I have found to be true in this interesting enigma: issues exist…but love endures. At least a Christ-like love does.

Issues Exist Love EnduresJesus loved His disciples—all quirky, ill-equipped and flawed twelve of them. I don’t know if that was easy for Him or not. My guess is He wore thin of patience with a few every now and then because you know what? They had issues. Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Maybe they were easier to love than His disciples. But Martha certainly had issues, and Jesus brought those into light.

Jesus also loved the rich young man who ended up walking away from Him—materially wealthy, but eternally bankrupt. Ouch!

Jesus had compassion on all sorts of people who had all sorts of issues. He hung out with sinful people. He touched “unclean” people. He embraced the ones who were far from perfect. He did life with people who were self-absorbed, broken, messed up, whacked out, and didn’t buy what Jesus was selling.

They had issues. They had struggles. They had challenges. They had problems. They had difficulties. Their lives were not pretty little packages wrapped up with pretty little bows. And truth be told, neither are ours.

Can we have compassion like Jesus did on others who have issues? Can we hang out with people like Jesus did who are far from perfect? Can we do life with people like Jesus did who have hang-ups, problems, and struggles? Can we embrace people like Jesus did who don’t even acknowledge Jesus?

Can we love like Jesus? Regardless…in spite of…even though…
Issues exist. Love endures.
Go love like Jesus!

 

HOW OUR THOUGHTS HOLD US CAPTIVE

I was recently troubled by some things at my job. (Who isn’t, right?) Untruths being spoken and shared. Judgment being questioned. It happens. But it bothered me more than usual. I kept replaying the scenes and the words in my head. The more it repeated in my mind, the more worked up I got. It drove me kinda crazy actually. I was trying to let it go, but it just wasn’t working. The more I thought, the more I was ready to put the hammer down on everyone involved!

Because I felt like my thoughts were consuming me, I literally had to tell myself out loud, “Okay…stop thinking about that. Just stop! Be done! Let it go!”

And in my mind, I’m sure the scenes I recreated over and over again, got a little more intense and a little further from the truth each time. My reactions were probably overreactions. It happens.

I recalled the verse from 2 Corinthians 10:5 “…take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ.” (I do love when God’s Word pops up in our minds at the right time and in the right space.) This one was timely for me. In all reality, however, we probably take it a bit out of context from what the Apostle Paul was talking about in the passage. But the application of this verse certainly doesn’t lead us astray.

So, as I was replaying these scenes and words from work in my head, and this verse was brought to my mind, I decided to look it up in the Message Translation. Check this out…“fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ.” 

Hmm…

Loose thought…

Emotion…

Impulse…

Yep, those three things described exactly what was happening to me as I churned over and over the events from work. Ugh! My thoughts of anger, irritation, uneasiness, indignation, being undermined, etc. All of them fit right into that verse.

metal-structure

But Paul encourages us to fit those things–our loose thoughts, our emotions, our impulses–into the “structure of life shaped by Jesus.” I love that phrase! I had to quickly measure my consuming thoughts, emotions, and impulses against the “structure of life shaped by Jesus.” Structure of life…shaped by Jesus. (Let that phrase marinate for a while…)

Jesus who said:

  • “Don’t worry.”
  • “Take heart.”
  • “Have faith.”
  • “Follow Me.”
  • “Trust Me.”

The scenes I created in my mind didn’t fit with the “structure of life shaped by Jesus.” Not even close!

Here’s the thing…the words and actions of others can, in a way, hold us in bondage. By dwelling on them over and over again, they can enslave us. But Paul exhorts us to “take captive every thought” we have. The Greek word there actually means to “lead away captive.” So in essence, we are to bind, gag, and lead these unproductive, acetic thoughts away from us. Rather than be held captive by our thoughts, we are to take them captive. And we have the powerful God-tools to do so. It’s just a matter of recalling them, grabbing them, and putting them to use. Not necessarily a walk in the park to accomplish, but available and powerful.

That’s how I’d describe our great big God!

CAN YOU BRIDGE THE GAP?

swing-bridge

I have a friend who’s really wigged out by bridges. Not totally creeped out, but pretty freaky about them. I had no idea this existed in her until several years ago. She invited my boys and me down to the lake to spend a few days with her and her kids. We hung out and did some sight-seeing and driving around.

One day we were driving through one of the state parks. It was a pretty remote area with deep woods and winding gravel roads. Somewhere in the middle of the winding and driving on our primitive path, we came upon an old suspension bridge with wooden planks that you could see through straight to the water below. I thought it was cool. So did the kids. They wanted to get out and walk across. So we stopped the car and her uneasiness began. Again, I had no idea she was so wigged out by these things. She wanted no part of getting out of the car. Matter of fact she wanted no part of even driving over the bridge even though car after car had gone over it for years. It wasn’t like she was totally freaking out or anything, but was noticeably bothered. Honestly, at the time I thought she was just messing with me. But, no. Oh no. It was for real. She does not like bridges and this old, rickety suspension bridge was proof positive.

Some time ago at work one of the entertainers at our facility played the Simon and Garfunkel song Bridge Over Troubled Water on the piano. I hadn’t thought about my friend and her freaky bridge aversion in a long time. And for whatever reason, this song brought back that memory. Personally I like the song. If you read the history behind it, you’ll find the “true meaning” of the song lies somewhere between Jesus and heroin and the few strands of gray in Mrs. Simon’s hair.

Here’s the thing…people struggle, people have junk and baggage. When they look through the wooden planks of their lives it’s far from sturdy. And all they see through the weathered and worn out planks is troubled waters. They see failure, shortcomings, regret, poor choices, guilt, remorse, and shattered hopes and dreams. They don’t see peace. They don’t sense calm. They don’t feel stillness. Like the bridge they feel suspended in mid-air without any kind of solid foundation underneath.

Can you, even for a moment, bridge the gap between their hurt and your hope? Can you, even for a moment, bridge the gap between their pain and God’s promises? Can you, even for a moment, bridge the gap between their struggles and your Savior?

When you’re weary, feeling small,
When tears are in your eyes,
I will dry them all
I’m on your side
When times get rough
And friends just can’t be found
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down…
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down…

To my friend’s credit she did drive over the bridge after a little coaxing and several offers from me to take the wheel. We made it. All in one piece. With memories to share and stories to tell when we safely arrived at the other side.

Ah, yes…the other side. Safety is on the other side, but the journey to get there sometimes has to go over old, rickety bridges with weathered and worn out planks.

When you’re down and out
When you’re on the street
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you
I’ll take your part
When darkness comes around
And pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down…
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down…

 Who can you be a bridge for this week?

(*Note: This post originally appeared on the Clutter Interrupted website on November 23, 2014)

WHY I’D BET ON A MILLION-TO-ONE ODDS

Which is easier to do—protest, or pray?

Which do we resort to first—complain, or cry out to God?

Because sometimes we want to appear super spiritual, we quickly offer up the “I pray” answer to those questions. But think about it. When things are awful, when life really stinks, when nothing seems to be going right, which is easier? And which do we do right out of the gate? We protest and complain:

  • “This just isn’t fair!”
  • “Why me?”
  • “God, don’t You care?”
  • “I can never seem to catch a break!”
  • “Why can’t something good happen for a change?”
  • “I am so fed up with this mess of a life!”

Have you ever been in a situation where everyone around you was complaining, protesting, or just flat out negative? It’s tough not to join them, isn’t it? It’s tough to be positive. It’s tough to convince them that things aren’t that bad or that the circumstances will change if they had hope or faith.

Imagine how Moses felt. Shortly after leading the Israelites safely out of the bondage of slavery in Egypt, the masses started protesting. And when I say masses, I mean million (or maybe even plural). In Exodus 15:22-27, a million people protested, but one man prayed. A million people complained about their circumstances, but one man cried out to the Lord.

complain

One million versus one. Not very good odds, huh?

Whose voice was louder—the million that protested, or the one that prayed? Whose voice ultimately accomplished good—the million that complained, or the one who cried out? It seems crazy to think that in these million-to-one odds, God honored the one. God brought relief to the people. Not because a million of them complained, but because one of them cried out. God met their need. Not because a million of them protested, but because one of them prayed.

In your next difficult situation—when the odds are stacked against you—will you protest or will you pray? In your next challenging circumstance—when the odds are stacked against you—will you complain or will you cry out to God?

If popularity was the issue, I’d bet on the million. But since power is the issue, I’m betting on the one.

(*Note: This post originally appeared on the Clutter Interrupted website on February 8, 2015)

 

DON’T LOSE A MINUTE

I spent about 10-15 minutes fixing an older gentleman’s watch recently. It wasn’t a simple, ordinary watch. It was a Casio LCD World Time Watch. I didn’t even begin to understand all of its features. It had several different abbreviations on it that I had no idea how to interpret. All I could figure out was that the straight-forward things like time and date were incorrect. After pushing lots of buttons and scrolling through many time zones, I finally got it to function correctly. When I sat there for a moment, I thought of the irony that I had spent so much time on fixing time. I invested so many minutes on the minutes that just tick away on a man’s wrist.

Time. It’s a given. It happens whether we give it permission or not. It passes whether we waste it or invest it in the process. It’s a constant. It’s endlessly moving forward…and forward again…and forward some more.

As I look back over the last year, I’ve come to the conclusion that I waste a lot of time. If I were to calculate the hours spent in doing productive things versus wasted things, I’d be embarrassed to say that wasted wins.

What about you? Do you cherish time? Do you invest in it wisely?

Peter gives us an interesting challenge in the first chapter of his second book. Here’s what he says, “So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus” (2 Peter 1:5-8, MSG).

dont-lose-a-minute

Immediately Peter says, “don’t lose a minute…” You see, we’ll never be able to get time to stand still or go in reverse. We’ll never be able to get back the time that’s already passed us by. Peter, without a watch on his wrist, evidently understood something about time. Perhaps he grasped a little something about investing time versus wasting it.

The best invitation we’ve ever received is to personally and intimately get to know the God of the universe through His Son Jesus. We’ve been given the privilege to participate in God’s amazing, all-encompassing plan to redeem the world. Peter says we should build on this very invitation we’ve been given. We should complement this “basic faith” of ours with things like good character, understanding, discipline, patience, wonder, friendliness, and love. And guess what…all of these qualities take time.

Even though it feels like wasted wins sometimes, if we have these qualities existing and growing in us, then it means that knowing Jesus hasn’t made our lives complacent or unproductive.

So don’t lose a minute. Grow. Learn. Bless someone. Love bigger. Give generously. Be free. Let go. Make the change. Do something. Be full of grace. Speak the words. Live out loud. Don’t miss the opportunity to build on what you’ve been given.

(*Note: This post originally appeared on the Clutter Interrupted website on January 11, 2015)

 

WHY WHACKED OUT STORIES IN THE BIBLE ACTUALLY MAKE SENSE

For those of you who think the Bible is out of date, irrelevant, and boring think again. The Old Testament is chock full of crazy stories, that not only make you scratch your head and say, “Seriously?” but they’re ripe with application for life today.

Check this out…

Many of you have heard this story before, but maybe not in this light. So hold on and read this whole thing…

There was this super old guy named Abram (whose name was later changed to Abraham). He was married to this super old chick named Sarai (whose name was later changed to Sarah). Not something we do much of today, but God—who changed their names—can pretty much do what He wants, right?

So these old folks have no kids. And they’re way past childbearing age. Like waaayy past. Abraham is around 85 years old, and Sarah is around 75. Sarah—feeling every bit of her old age—gets a bright idea to give her maid Hagar to Abraham to sleep with so that in some whacked out way they’ll have a family.

Seriously?

Yep.

Believe it or not, this works. Hagar gets pregnant by 85-year-old Abraham. And guess who’s feeling left out of the picture now? You got it…Sarah! Ya’ think? Totally! Dumb on her, but apparently that was normal back then.

Hagar, now prego with Abraham’s baby, begins to look down on Sarah. According to Sarah, Hagar was disrespectful to her and treated her like she was nothing. So get this…Sarah blames Abraham for the whole thing.

Wait, seriously? Wasn’t this debacle Sarah’s idea in the first place?

Yep.

In her frustration and lashing out at Abraham, Sarah says, “May the Lord decide who is right—you or me!” Now she’s bringing God into this mess, hoping He’ll side with her, not Abraham.

Here’s where the story gets interesting. And here’s where I get to the point of my blog. Abraham responds to Sarah by saying, “You decide. Your maid is your business.”

(As a side note, Sarah was probably angry at Abraham, Hagar, and God. She was the one who was barren. She made the choice to take matters in her own hands and create what she thought to be an amicable solution. But when it backfired, her anger probably ran deeply to those three in closest proximity—Abraham, Hagar the maid, and God. They became the targets of her misfortune.)

After Abraham lets God off the hook and tells Sarah to make a decision about the matter, the very next line in the Bible is, “Sarah was abusive to Hagar and Hagar ran away” (Genesis 16:6, MSG).

You see, Sarah didn’t just react or even overreact. No, she chose. She chose how she treated her maid Hagar. She chose to be abusive. She chose to mistreat her, humiliate her, and treat her cruelly. Granted, Hagar got a little uppity with Sarah and didn’t treat her well. So, I guess you could say Hagar deserved it.

But did she?

Sarah chose. Sarah decided. Sarah opted to take her frustration, anger, humiliation, brokenness, failure, feelings of inadequacy, bitterness, and hurt out on Hagar the maid. She became the target. The target that Sarah chose.

Do you get where I’m going? Sarah had the power to choose how she dealt with this situation when Abraham told her to decide. She could have chosen forgiveness. She could have chosen to build a bridge between herself and Hagar and not a wall. She could have chosen to be the better bigger person in the matter. She could have chosen integrity and honor and respect. She could have chosen to reach out and nurture and guide and love. But instead she chose the opposite.

It’s hard when people treat your poorly. It’s hard when life doesn’t seem fair. It’s hard to keep our frustrations in check. But we do have the power. It’s the power of choice. To choose to respond, not to react. It’s the power to choose love over hatred. To choose bridges, not walls. To choose grace over judgment. To choose mercy over malice.

The next time you’re feeling frustrated, angry, or hurt—and you’re looking to retaliate on those you love—why don’t you consider this whacked out story from an old book called the Bible? Because, you see, it actually makes sense.

At the end of the day, when the blame game ends, you have the power of choice. You control how you respond. Will you allow your emotions to override the right thing to do?

In the words of Abraham, “You decide.”

(***Spoiler Alert***) Abraham and Sarah actually do end up having a kid together…when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90. If that’s not whacked out, I don’t know what is.

EVERYONE HAS A STORY TO TELL

She was a 17-year-old senior in high school and fell in love with a 24-year-old man who was widowed and had 3 kids. They decided to get married, but there was a catch. Her school had a rule which stated you could not be married and be in high school. She had every credit she needed to graduate except one semester of history. She begged the principal to allow her to stay and complete the requirement so she could get her diploma, but a rule was a rule. That was in 1951.

She was thrown into instant family, taking on her role as wife and step-mom. Soon she and her husband had kids of their own. She fully embraced this responsibility, staying home to raise the kids and keep their home.

Years went by and she never looked back at the high school diploma that was so close, yet so far.

…Until 1999…

Forty-eight years after she would have graduated from high school, she decided to go back and get it. She met with the principal and told him her situation. He listened with a sympathetic ear and kindly told her to seek her GED. She kindly responded back to him, “I don’t want my GED, I want my high school diploma!”

After much consternation, the administration agreed. And she went back to high school for one semester to complete the history credit she lacked. She walked the halls with high school kids. She sat in class with high school kids. I asked her if she was mistakenly thought of as a teacher every now and then. She chuckled.

She completed her one semester history credit. She proudly wore her cap and gown, walked across the stage, and received her high school diploma…forty-eight years later.

Now this is the part of the story where you might expect me to say something like, “This just goes to show you can accomplish anything you put your mind to.” Or, “Never give up on your dream, go for it, and you’ll succeed.” But truthfully, I’m not much of a buyer-inner to those feel-good, shoot-for-the-stars messages. While they work for some, they fall painfully flat for others.

No, this is the part of the story where I tell you everyone has a story to tell. You see, she’s quiet by nature. She’s not forthcoming with much personal information. She loves to be a part of things to listen and observe, but not necessarily to contribute to the conversation. She’s quiet and kind of soft-spoken. But that all changed when I began to ask her questions. One question led to another and before you know it she had shared this incredible story that blew us all away.

Here’s the thing about questions…they can be accusatory in nature, or they can be inquisitive. We can ask questions with an underlying whisper of disapproval or judgment. Or we can ask questions innocently because our curiosity craves an answer. And when it’s the latter, it opens up a whole new world—one that we wish people knew, but are too afraid to share.

Everyone has a story to tell—an opinion, a viewpoint, a conviction, a past—that’s inside them and just may be longing to come out. With our questions, we can carefully and graciously unearth these things in each other. Or with our questions, we can insensitively bury them forever.

Seneca the Younger once said, “If you don’t know, ask.” It’s why and how we ask that make all the difference.

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