This past summer I took my kids to see the new Pixar movie Inside Out. It was a great film that entertained people of all ages. The story dove headlong into the role that our emotions and memories play in our lives. I would have to agree. It caused me to pause and think about moments that significantly shaped me- the movie referred to these moments as "core memories" Today I want to share one of mine with you.
I prided myself in being a good student. I worked hard, and it paid off. My 8th grade year at Divisadero Middle School was one I was looking forward to. I had a year of junior high under my belt and I began the year with confidence. I had been placed with the team of teachers I was hoping to be assigned to and the year was looking up. I particularly enjoyed my Honors English class. My teacher's name was Mrs. Williams and she was sophisticated, regal and poised. She often donned a string of pearls with her pant suits. Her rendition of Casual Friday entailed slacks and a blouse. I never saw her in denim or sporting a hoodie. She displayed her school spirit by placing a Divisadero pennant on the wall of her class room along with the Ivy league schools she was encouraging us to aim towards. I loved her class. She challenged me to be more clear and articulate in my communication and she expected great things from me.
In the Spring we were assigned a research paper. It was a large part of our grade and was built out in terms of format and content. The assignment was to select three people to research and then find a common attribute between them. For a girl whose favorite game is Tri-Bond, this assignment had me excited. I started the quest to determine which three people would be the subjects of my study. I selected John Walsh (America's Most Wanted Host), Joni Eareckson Tada (a paraplegic artist and motivational speaker), and Anne Frank (Holocaust survivor). I was eager to look at their three unique stories and tie them together with the theme of resilience and determination. I spent plenty of time thinking about how this project was all going to come together, but the actual amount of time I spent transferring those thoughts into action began to pose a problem. I had always had a relatively easy time in school. My tactic of waiting until the last minute had panned out thus far. My strategy of procrastination was falling apart and time was my enemy.
I vividly remember staying up into the early morning hours to finish typing my paper. The morning the assignment was due I skimmed it one more time and made sure I did one last spell check. I hated seeing the screen littered with words underlined in red. I was relieved to have the paper completed and the weight of it off of my shoulders. The assignment was pushed to the back of my mind and I didn't think about it again until I the day we got our grades. That day arrived and I was in shock and awe. The letter that I saw on my paper was one I had never seen before on any work that I had done. I had gotten a D. All my people pleasing, perfectionist, good girl alarms were screaming in my head and came pouring out my eyes. I was embarrassed, confused, and felt like a failure. I managed to make it through the class and was eagerly waiting to dodge out as soon as I could. The bell rang, and I sheepishly tried to escape without Mrs Williams noticing. It didn't happen.
"Miss Hammond, may I speak with you?"
My muscles stiffened and I tried to appear brave, though inwardly I was shriveling, The written correction was soon to be accompanied with an audio sound track.
"I was disappointed when I read your paper. The incident that communicated to me your carelessness in this process, was that you misspelled the name of one of the main characters throughout the whole piece. I expected to see more out of you."
I exited that conversation as soon as I was able and plopped down on a table in the courtyard. I took out my paper and looked at the scores of red circles all over the page. The name Joni (Eareckson Tada) had been spelled Join throughout my whole paper. I flashed back to earlier that morning when I was rushing to get my paper printed and did one last spell check. Every Joni had been changed to Join. My procrastination had lead to carelessness. Even though I had thought about this paper and its content, none of that made it through in my work, I had put the " i" in the wrong place, and it was a detrimental mistake. It rang loud and clear that I didn't pay enough attention to spell the name of my research topic correctly.
I made myself a commitment that I would not make that mistake again. I would check things over closely and not wait until the last minute. Lack of planning makes way for carelessness, and carelessness begins to affect the things that actually matter a great deal to us.
This scholastic train wreak happened when I was 13 years old. I am now 36. It is astounding to me that something that happened 23 years ago has stuck with me the way this incident has. This experience has been continuing to unfold for me throughout the years. When it comes to my mind, I seem to find a new truth or lesson to uncover and explore.
The most recent event that triggered this memory was a conversation I was having with my counselor. I was being given "feedback" on reporting my heightened levels of weariness and fatigue. An observation was made, followed by a simple question.
"It sounds like you are constantly pouring out time, energy and care into your kids, in your marriage, in ministry and your friendships. That is a lot of emptying without much filling. Who is pouring into you?"
I fought against what was being implied. I love all these things and they bring me life. I didn't get far down that line of thinking, when my counselor interjected and said.
"I would agree, you seem to value all these things, but you are lacking balance. It is healthy to have a variety of relationships, some, where you are the giver, some, where there is an equal exchange, and some, where you are the recipient. You seem to lack relationships where you are able to be strictly on the receiving end."
He read my mail and I was reeling a bit. I was identifying for the first time that I was uncomfortable with receiving something without having something to offer in return. Learning self-care, and making it a priority in my life is essential to help minimize the weariness and fatigue that I had become well acquainted with. When running on empty, even the noble attempts to give and love others can be more about us than them.
It highlights where I am finding my worth. When I have put "I" in the wrong place, I have believed that my needs are always worth putting on the back-burner for the sake of the greater good. I want to be someone who loves well, is selfless and is willing to be available to those around me. The problem is found when I keep doing it for others without receiving it myself.
When we are careless with ourselves, then we become careless with other people. When we understand and embrace the principle of abiding, it shifts how we see ourselves in relationship to God. When we position ourselves under the faucet of God's love - to be continually filled up - and choose to have everything we pour out to come from a place of overflow, we are showing a sustainable model of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. This is where I want to live and reside. When I give and I give and I don't take time to rest and receive, it can begin to affect how I see God. God is a giver and He gives generously to us. He gives us a gift and He wants us to accept it, to open it, to use it and enjoy it. I have been challenged with, and convicted by, seeing how often I will receive from God just to quickly turn and give it away. So really, I'm not receiving, I'm just transporting, and that has affected how I function. When I don't receive love or receive grace or receive peace or receive forgiveness, then I am in no place to give it away. Self care is important. There are consequences to putting I in the wrong place. When we don't take the invitation to rest and receive seriously, we can actually be a detriment to those we have been called to serve.