I got it all wrong

I got it all wrong.  And I was just trying to get it all right!

I think this goes back to my early days of school.  I was a very strong student.  I loved to learn and I was pretty good at it.  Outside of cutting with scissors and penmanship, I scored pretty much straight As all the way through elementary and middle school.  I knew what I was doing and I was usually right.  This continued on through most of high school until I hit a wall somewhere in my junior or senior year; I just didn’t care any more.  Well, actually, I cared, but less about school and more about having a job and making money.

I knew that I would have to come up with most of the money I needed for college so I started working at age 15.  I started at a small dress shop on the main street in my home town, then moved over to McDonald’s in the neighboring town, and eventually added a second job at a day care center run by the public school system.

I was making money, putting a little in the bank, and spending the rest on clothes, shoes, food, movies, and all the other things that high school students spend their money on.  Meanwhile, I was pretty good at faking it at school and still bringing home mostly As with an occasional B.  Good enough. I knew what I was doing.

But not really. I have told this story over and over to my high school students, at least this next part.  In trying to earn enough money to pay for college (and not really saving enough to make a substantial difference) I lost my focus at school.  I was still in National Honor Society; I didn’t really want to be valedictorian or salutatorian anyway.  Though apathetic, I finished in the top 11% of my class.  Why do I know I was in the top 11%?  Because my college financial aid office had a large scholarship — almost full tuition — for the student who finished in the top 10% of her class.  Yeah, I was the top 11%.  I missed a huge scholarship because I was trying (poorly) to take care of it myself.

Why do I bring this up today?  I’m 48 years old and long past high school and college. (I’m also long past paying the student loans I took out to pay that tuition.)  I bring it up because I was thinking this morning that this is my life pattern.  I see the situation, formulate my own solution, assume I’m right, and find out years later that I got it all wrong.

Let me give you another example.  While I was independently figuring out my finances in high school, I noticed that I didn’t have the petite little figure of many of my classmates,  so I decided to join Weight Watchers.  I would lose weight and become more like them.  As a matter of fact, weight loss consumed many years of my life.  Diet after diet turned into anorexia nervosa and doggone it, I became petite like my high school friends.  Yeah, I lost weight, I just couldn’t drive a car without getting in an accident or maintain any relationships outside the dedicated few who hung with me through thick and thin. (Not too punny, I know.) It took a long journey to realize I’d gotten it all wrong.  Trying to be like everyone else wasn’t the answer; learning to accept myself was the answer.

The ‘got it all wrong’ topic for today? Parenting.  I welcomed those little babies into my arms and into my heart with the intention of doing everything right.  I read books, I took classes, I built schedules, I had structure. I was going to get this right.  And, you know, I did a lot of things right, by the grace of God.  But I got some things wrong, too.   Now that my kids are all 19 and older, I am starting to reflect and notice the good, the bad, and the ugly. The things I did right and the things I did so very wrong.

But that is not the lesson for today.  Nope.  My lesson for today is that life is good, bad, and sometimes ugly.  Making the decision to work in high school didn’t ruin my life.  In fact, I learned a lot of life skills working at McDonald’s. Balancing two jobs helped me figure out how to schedule my time and how easy it is to use and misuse money.  Losing out on that scholarship showed me that there is more than one way to pay for college.  Having an eating disorder did not damage me; it shaped me.  My parenting ‘mistakes’ didn’t ruin my children, but it did allow them to see my imperfections and to recognize (hopefully) that they don’t need to be perfect either.

So am I embracing my imperfections?  I might as well!  One thing I have learned, that I know I am right about, is that I am not perfect.  I do stupid stuff.  And, yet,  miraculously I have a college education, a fairly healthy self-image (finally!), four wonderful children, a daughter-in-law, and a granddaughter (!!!).  Even though I got it all wrong.

Lamentations 3:22-23

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his mercies never fail.

They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

A little more on writing

I attended a poetry reading by Li Young-Lee last night.  He read three poems he said he is ‘working on’.  In fact, after the first, he said, “I need to change one word in that one.  Next time.”  I smiled and thought to myself, “No writing is finished, merely abandoned.”

I can’t remember who said that to me.  And maybe they didn’t even say it to me.  But it has stuck with me.  In fact, I said that phrase to many students who wanted their writing to be ‘just perfect’ before handing it in.  I don’t think it’s possible for writing to be ‘perfect’.  Revision is always possible.  We can always ‘change one word’ or one phrase.  We can always have a better introduction, a better conclusion.  We can always find a way to say something differently or better.

Also last night, a young writer sent me an essay she just received back from her teacher.  I had ‘helped’ her with her process and she had received a 69/100.  Ouch.  The marks all over her paper were valid.  Of course there is room for improvement.  She is revising at this moment.

Revision.  I do love revision.  But it’s so hard!  In order to revise we sometimes have to delete our creation!  We have to cut out words that were so difficult to find in the first place. We have to make decisions about which of our thoughts get to stay and which have to go.  It takes time.  And thought.  It’s agonizing.

And ultimately, we have to decide that enough is enough.  We have labored so long on one piece, revised ad nauseum, and we can’t stand to work on it any more.  So, we ‘abandon’ it.  We submit it ‘as is’.  It’s ‘good enough’.  We did all that we could do.

We are not perfect.  We cannot produce perfect work.  It’s impossible.

Yet in our imperfection, we are not abandoned.

Do you remember the t-shirts from back in the day that said, “Be patient with me, God is not finished with me yet”? Cheesy, yes, but true.  We are works in progress.  The Creator continues to make revisions, shaping and molding us.  He can visualize the finished product, and guys, we will eventually arrive there!

We will not be abandoned.  The Creator does not tire of working with us. He doesn’t wad us up and toss us in the general direction of the trash can.

Nope.

He cradles us in the palm of His hand, gently caressing and reshaping us.  He conforms us to His image.  And one day….

He who began a good work in you 

will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Phillipians 1:6

We, my friends, will not be abandoned.  We will be completed.