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!

Archive for the tag “listen”

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.

JESUS, WHERE’S WALDO, & PROBLEM SOLVING

About 15 years ago or so, the Kansas City Star used to put Where’s Waldo in the lineup of comic strips in their Sunday edition. Back in the day, we spent lots of Sundays with my folks who took the paper faithfully. I remember Sunday after Sunday, lying on the family room floor, poring over each comic strip with an occasional grin or chuckle. But one of my favorite parts of the funny papers was Where’s Waldo. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s one of those seek-and-find type things. Waldo is a kinda geeky looking guy with a red and white striped shirt, round glasses, wacky brown hair, and a red and white stocking cap. Where's WaldoEach cartoon features Waldo tucked away in some crazy, action-packed scene. And your job is to find him. I usually couldn’t. I’d spend a good 5-10 minutes searching for the guy, but wasn’t very successful. Then my oldest son, who was about 4 or 5 at the time, would come scrunch down beside me, and within 30 seconds would say, “There he is, momma!” I thought it was coincidence at first. But week after week, I’d search high and low, studying the scene with a careful eye, trying to find Waldo. I’d find someone who closely resembled Waldo, but not Waldo. Then like I said, Caleb would swoop in, and find him in a heartbeat without even trying.

Sometimes I think solutions to our problems are like this. We search high and low, in what feels like some crazy, action-packed scene. We look the scene (aka our problem) up one side and down the other and just can’t seem to find the solution. For us it’s sometimes grueling and clouded by seeing the same reality over and over again. Someone else, however, can take a look at the same reality and see the solution quickly. They can come in with a different perspective—one that’s not emotionally charged—and see the solution.

But here’s the thing…we don’t like those people. Even though they can see clearly what we should do, we don’t listen to their advice. We brush away their wisdom. It’s a pride thing in us. We have trouble admitting the fact that we have weaknesses and need help. There are times when we should seek out wisdom, help, advice, or counsel from others, but instead we just insist on trying harder ourselves.

You remember the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead? When He stood at the entrance of the tomb and hollered for Lazarus to come out, scripture records that “the dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face” (John 11:44a).

Why did Jesus do that? Why didn’t Jesus bring Lazarus out all clean and fresh to put a further exclamation point on this miracle? Why did Jesus have Lazarus come out of the tomb all “mummified” like that?

The very next thing Jesus said to those close by was, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go (John 11:44b).” That’s why. Jesus asked whoever was near the tomb to help Lazarus take off what bound him. You see, Jesus knew we needed each other. Jesus knew the value of others stepping in to help, to unbind us, to be hands-on in setting us free from our problems.

If you can’t find Waldo, you might ask Caleb to help you.

If you can’t find the solution to your problem, however, you just might consider the Jesus method—of asking those nearby to help unbind you.

EVERY DAY A PURPOSE: 16 Daily Choices to Make

Every once in a while I take notice at what is written on t-shirts, bumper stickers, billboards, or church signs. I sometimes chuckle. Other times I roll my eyes. I’ve certainly been appalled more than a few times. But mostly I’m intrigued.

Every Day A Purpose

“Every Day A Purpose.”

That’s what was written on the back of the t-shirt. I didn’t notice it at first. I noticed her, but not her shirt. She was in a corner at Starbucks either reading or working on her laptop. She was young, casually dressed, and by herself. But when I glanced over at her again, I saw the big white letters on the back of the blue t-shirt. “Every Day A Purpose.” Truthfully, I wanted to see what was on the front of the shirt, but didn’t know how to accomplish that since she was in the corner and her back was towards me. (The nonchalant method of sleuth-stalking was not gonna work this time.)

So I left that day not knowing what her t-shirt was all about. Not knowing who chose this motto. Not knowing what organization or team or church was promoting this idea. I left that day not knowing anything about “Every Day A Purpose.”

I wonder if my curiosity had been satisfied—if I had found out who was choosing to live this way—would the motto have left me. Would it? Would I have dismissed it as only “their” mantra to follow? Would I have blown it off in some critical fashion because I had seen evidence to the contrary? I’m glad I didn’t find out who it belonged to.

I cannot begin to tell you what kind of impact the back of this stranger’s t-shirt has had on me. “Every Day A Purpose.” It has challenged me to do just that: live each day with some purpose in mind. To set about my day intent on doing something, accomplishing something, making a difference, making an impact, etc. No, not solving world hunger issues, or righting the many injustices in the world, but simply living with intentionality.

To live every day with a purpose in mind:

  • To love someone more today than I did yesterday.
  • To find somebody to bless.
  • To let go of a wrong done to me.
  • To make the phone call or send the email that’s been avoided for way too long.
  • To really listen to what’s in someone else’s heart.
  • To be “media-free” for an entire day…or two (yikes!).
  • To pick up that book and read that first chapter.
  • To part with the unwanted (and long neglected) things in my closet so someone else can get some use out of them.
  • To have that chat with God that I don’t want to speak, but He longs to hear.
  • To say “yes” to joining the committee, organization, or group.
  • To admit my sin or weakness to someone and ask for accountability.
  • To compliment someone I might normally criticize.
  • To gracefully move to the solution side of the problem, rather than arrogantly stay on the problem side of the solution.
  • To say “thank you” and genuinely mean it.
  • To help the random stranger in the store or restaurant or parking lot with something they’re struggling with.
  • To pay attention to the world around me and the people who occupy it.

“Every Day A Purpose.”

What’s your purpose today?

WHY BOTHER OBSERVING AN “OBSERVANCE”?

An observance. By definition it’s a “procedure, ceremony, or rite, as for a particular occasion.”

When you think about it, there are lots of them—a wedding, a baptism, a convocation, a Memorial Day service, a Veteran’s Day celebration, a bar mitzvah, a graduation, etc. And there are lots of things going on at them. Things you can learn from if you’re in a receptive state of mind.

An observance. By definition it’s also “an act or instance of watching, noting, or perceiving.”

At most “observances” we watch, but don’t note. We see, but don’t perceive. These “observances” take place, go on, end, and that’s it. Do we really observe? Do we really listen to the words being spoken? Do we really get what’s going on?

An ObservanceWhen you think about it, the very thing going on at an “observance” is life itself. Real people, real feelings, real commitment, real emotions, real memories…real life. Life is always going on. And life is precious. God is always going on. And you, who attend an “observance” are always going on.

Maybe the word “observance” itself suggests what is perhaps the most profound thing about them.

Author and literary critic Henry James wrote, “Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost.”

OBSERVE! Be present. Take note. Be receptive. Learn something. At each “observance” you only get one shot to be observant. Don’t be lost. Observe well!

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