Don’t should on yourself. 

I should take my Christmas lights down. I mean, for crying out loud, Valentine’s Day is on Tuesday. Yet there they are – twinkling proudly in front of the whole neighborhood. And, if I am going to be brutally honest in this confession, I should probably also admit to the multiple strands of colored lights that are strung along my back deck. From Christmas twentyfifteen. That haven’t been plugged in since. Strung merrily on the deck that should also be pressure washed and repainted. I should feel guilty about this. I should put this near the top of a honey do list. But…. meh. 

I have a feeling that most of us have a long list of shoulds that confront us from the moment we pull our heads off of the pillow each morning. I should have gotten up an hour earlier to exercise. I should make the bed. I should drink less caffeine. I should take a shower. I should buy stock in dry shampoo. I should have a wholesome family moment including scripture reading and some sort of commissioning prayer each morning with my kids over a hot cooked breakfast. I should not be putting on mascara while driving my children to daycare. I should listen to that voicemail blinking on the work phone. 

All those shoulds and it’s not even 9 AM.

And even more insidious than those are all the shiny happy social media shoulds. I should take my kids to the children’s museum. I should read more. I should make my own soap. I should have friends to be drinking wine with on a Tuesday night. I should go on vacation to Mexico and take pictures of my polished toenails in a hammock. I should learn to knit. I should join the PTA or PETA or the PLC. I should be doing the 21 day fix or eating paleo or crossfitting. (Confession- I am not entirely sure what any of the last three things are). 

We spend so much of our lives shoulding all over ourselves. And, my friends, should is a dirty word. Should is a sibling to shame. Kin to guilt and insecurity and depression. When has a should in your life ever brought you a feeling of freedom? Ever come with a sense of joy? Shoulds never do. They are heavy and muddy brown. A burden, not a gift. 

And this too – most shoulds are not actual shoulds. They are not necessary to sustain life – I would posit that one could live a full happy life without bowing to many shoulds at all. 

In fact, here is a thought experiment: what if you turned all of your shoulds into coulds? Instead of I should read that book: I could read that book. All of a sudden an obligation has turned into an invitation. One that you were free to either except or decline. You could learn how to can vegetables, or you could not. By changing one tiny letter, you sweep the desk clean from stacks of imaginary burdens, and create room for possibility. 

If should is connected to shame, could is akin to whimsy. To opportunity and, dare I say it, joy. Could invites the imagination to engage. It automatically puts you in a mindset where you can decide if this is something you actually want to do… something you actually have time for. Should forces its way in, while could simply knocks and waits. 

So. Next time you discover that you are shoulding all over yourself, stop. Ask your self if this is truly something you want to do. And even if you want to do it, ask yourself if it is something that you ever actually will accomplish. I will give you a hint – if you are anything like me, starting your own garden and/or learning to quilt automatically goes in the “I’m never going to do that” category. 

Let your should turn into what it actually was all along… A could. And see if that invitation sparks joy, or anxiety.

So yes, I should take down my Christmas lights. But darn it, I like them. So shine on you gorgeous twinkly stars. Life’s too short to should your pants. 

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Are you a real person? Am I? What about them? 

True fact. I have birthed two babies in the last five years. Which means, in the last five years I have gained and lost 50 pounds. Twice. I have been all the sizes. All of them. I may never have been skinny, but I have certainly been fat.

My friend, who has been in the same situation, remarked yesterday that she was shocked at how differently people treat her now that she has lost the baby weight as opposed to before. She recently took a flight for a work related trip. She couldn’t believe how different way she was treated this time than she was a few months – and several pounds – ago. 

I have had the same experience. When I weighed more, I received less eye contact. People didn’t hold the door open for me or smile for me nearly as much. It could be argued that this was just my perception, since I felt more insecure about myself, but the difference is so marked that I am convinced it goes beyond that. 

And what’s more, I am convinced that this is not just an experience of people that struggle with weight. Watching and listening to the national discourse over the last few months, I truly believe that different people have different experience in this world. And let me say right now that this is not a political blog. I’m not pushing a feminist or leftist worldview here. However, I do want to make an appeal to my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. This is not right.

I don’t care how you feel about federal funding, immigration, abortion, politics. (Or perhaps I do, but not in this blog). What I do care about is how we as Christ’s image bearers treat our fellow man. 

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. 

John 13:35

The story of the New Testament is one of a struggle for identity in the new church. There was a constant debate going on about who is on the inside and who was on the outside. Jews versus Gentiles. Circumcised versus uncircumcised. The rights of women. Who is allowed at the Lord’s supper. Which widows and orphans are allowed support by the church. And again and again the same answer prevailed. All are welcome. We are all sinners, all redeemed by grace. Through the blood of Christ, we all are equal.

It is the habit of our fallen nature to discriminate. To decide who is like us, who is acceptable, who is worthy of notice, of compassion, of kindness. But Jesus made a business of reaching out to those not universally accepted. The Gentile, the adulterous, the woman, the child, the tax collector, the day laborers, the uneducated. People whose stature in society was low. People who did not get doors held open for them, or eye contact, or friendly words from strangers.

And we as Christians are called to follow that example. Which has convicted me lately – what are my unconscious biases?

Last week I was walking downtown on my way back from lunch when I saw an elderly African-American gentleman stumbling in front of me. His appearance was disheveled. Instinctively I tightened my grip on my purse and looked around me. But then, I checked myself. This man was not drunk. He was not interacting with anybody on the street. He was elderly, poor, and disabled. And my first inclination was not to offer aid, assistance, or compassion. It was to guard against him. I stood convicted by the Holy Spirit.  

And it has forced me to ask myself: what do I think when I approach someone on the street who looks or seems different than me? How do I treat people who live different lives than the one I am used to? I am not saying in a larger sense, but in the common everyday mercies I extend to others. Am I more annoyed by someone who cuts me off in traffic if they look different than me? Am I more likely to greet somebody at the grocery store if they are young and able bodied versus old and slow when pushing the cart? In what small ways can I extend love and grace to people who may not speak my language, who may not live in my neighborhood or who may not know my Jesus?

Before we can change the world, I think we have to take a long hard look at ourselves, to confront the unconscious biases we hold, and to actively seek to love our fellow (wo)man, all of them. 

And for me (perhaps getting a little bit political here) I have felt an overwhelming conviction that I need to listen. To stop protesting that I am not a racist or sexist or a nationalist or a whatever -ist, and listen to see what the every day realities of people who are not me may be. I have been shocked. I have been humbled. I have been convicted. I have been encouraged. But mostly, I have seen that what I thought was reality is not the every day experience of people all around me. Which has led me to think and pray about how Christ would feel about this. How Christ would react to these stories. And how I as a Christ follower should also be.

No answers yet. Just more listening. And praying.

Two Men, Three Crosses

 There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Luke 23:38-42

The car is not a happy place for me.  Four times my car has been totaled.  Four times the wreck was not my fault.  For me, when I am driving, I am fully aware each second that I am not in control of what anyone else on the road may do.  When something unexpected happens in the car, I can’t seem to stop my mind from playing the scenario through to it’s gory, fiery end.  Therefore, I am frequently on edge, white knuckling the steering wheel.

It is in the car that I most often ponder my demise.  It’s the closest I can imagine to what the thieves on the cross must have experienced, starting into the certainty of their mortality.  Two men, two completely different reactions.  One looking into the void with bitterness and arrogance, the other chastened, humbled.  And between them, a savior.

When I was young, I was afraid of dying,  afraid that I would die without asking forgiveness for each individual sin. I thought Jesus was capable of forgiving all, but that I had to recite each one.

To the thief on the cross, forgiveness was granted with open hands.  There was no complicated or detailed acts of contrition required, no game of cat and mouse.  Simply grace, offered openly.   Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise. 

How do you encounter Jesus?  Do you allow grace to be this easy?  Or do you muddy the waters with your own dance of atonement?  I know that I do, feeling that I must fully wallow in my guilt and seek to fix things before I allow Jesus to lift away my sin.  Grace is a free gift.

But grace, though freely given, was purchased at a costly price.  On the cross, in between those two thieves, was one innocent man.  Who suffered.  Groaned.  Bled.  For your sake, and mine.  On this Good Friday, I challenge you to take some time to reflect on the price paid for your sin, and offer up thanks to your Savior.

three-crosses-kelly-nowak