Coinciding with the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, I set-up an office Olympics where I work. We had three teams: Fiji, Jamaica, and Barbados. I chose tropical locales because, frankly, it has been a long cold winter here and we all needed a hint of the islands. Over the course of three weeks we had a variety of different events such as Recycling Basketball, Paper Airplane Javelin, Lemon Fencing, Synchronized Office Chair Swivel, Finger Skating, and Rubber Band Archery. Each activity only took about 15 minutes out of our day and it was well worth it. The resulting laughter and just the simple act of getting out of our individual offices and workstations and coming together for a few minutes every day around something other than work was refreshing. The closing ceremonies were this past Friday and included a photo slide show (set to the Olympic theme song, naturally) of the participants and spectators at each of the events.
What I found to be the most rewarding part of the whole experience was seeing how everyone in the office rallied around one of our co-workers in particular. She is a quiet lady who works hard and keeps busy. She hails from outside the United States, and has a lovely accent and a gentle spirit. During the office Olympics, her team needed someone to sign-up to compete in Rubber Band Archery and she agreed even though she admitted that she didn't know how to shoot a rubber band. She approached me in the hallway one day and I thanked her for volunteering and she said, she was nervous about it because she didn't know what rubber band archery was. I told her that it isn't a thing... that I just made it up as a fun activity...that nobody knows what it is. She was so relieved to hear that! Have you ever been sure that everyone else knows about something and you are the odd, clueless man out? I explained that I would be setting up some targets and that rubber bands would be given out and that the object was to shoot the rubber band with your fingers at the targets and try to hit them. Nothing to worry about!
The day of the event arrived and I set up a bunch of paper and plastic cups on the ledge of an empty cubicle and let the competitors from teams Jamaica, Fiji and Barbados have a few minutes to practice. She stepped up to the line and acted like she had been shooting rubber bands her whole life. It was like the heavens opened and shined down on her and her alone for those few moments. She knocked those cups off the ledge one right after the other like a sharp shooter, stretching each rubber band back nearly to its breaking point before letting them fly. The staff who were gathered around cheered and watched in awe, even those who weren't on her team. Turns out that someone on her team had sent her a link to a YouTube video of how to shoot rubber bands (Is there nothing you can't find on the internet these days?) and she had been practicing at home since she had signed-up! She ended up winning the gold medal without breaking a sweat and a conversation broke out around the office at how her approach to rubber band archery closely resembled her approach to everything that she does. Her colleagues raved about how if there was skill she didn't have or a program she didn't know how to use, she would pay close attention as it was taught and she would work at it diligently until she became as good or better at it than the person who taught her. Everyone in the office started seeing this quiet, sweet lady in a different light and by the time the closing ceremonies came around last week, when a photo of the rubber band archery champ came up on the screen, the whole office clapped and cheered.
It took stepping outside of the normal routine to be able to see her uniqueness for what it was. Now when we step back into the norm, we will have a new found respect and a clearer picture of who she is and what she is capable of.
How can you create opportunities in your family, your job, your church, your group of friends to shake off the old routine enough to give people a chance to let their uniqueness show and give yourself a chance to notice it? Give it a try! You'll be glad you did.
I am currently reading the autobiography of Helen Keller. I am barely 100 pages in and I have already become enthralled with the world and life of this remarkable woman who lost both her hearing and sight at the age of 18 months (due to illness).
Before language had been fully developed in her mind, she was thrust into a world where her only means of interpreting the stuff of life would be her sense of touch, taste, smell and imagination. She couldn't see the love in her parents eyes or hear their words of affection. Their identity in her life became an amalgam of how they smelled, what they did for her and exposed her to, and how they touched her. She had no way of expressing her needs and wants other than crude pantomime, and she had no way of contemplating anything that wasn't concretely observable through her remaining senses. Talk about a dark existence.
Enter Ann Sullivan, the woman Helen would come to affectionately call "Teacher." When Ann first met Helen (almost age 7), she brought her a doll as a gift. In the days ahead as Ann tried to break through the darkness in Helen's mind by teaching her language by spelling out words in her hand using the manual alphabet, Helen would, understandably, become frustrated and angry. In one moment of particular frustration, she took out her aggression on the doll: "I became impatient at her repeated attempts and, seizing the new doll, I dashed it upon the floor. I was keenly delighted when I felt the fragments of the broken doll at my feet. Neither sorrow nor regret followed my passionate outburst. I had not loved the doll. In the still, dark world in which I lived there was no strong sentiment of tenderness.”
On that same day as God would have it, Helen had a breakthrough. Ann took her outside to the well on her family's property and poured the cool well water over her cupped hands and then spelled the word W-A-T-E-R into her palm. "Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten – a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that w-a-t-e-r meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away.”
While this story in and of itself is truly amazing and wonderful, it is what happened next in Helen's account that captured my attention even more. When they came back to the house after her encounter with w-a-t-e-r, this is what she recounts: "On entering the door, I remembered the doll I had broken. I felt my way to the hearth and picked up the pieces. I tried vainly to put them together. Then my eyes filled with tears, for I realized what I had done, and for the first time I felt repentance and sorrow.”
How remarkable this is to me! It wasn't until the light shined into Helen's dark world through the gift of language that she was able to step outside of her own self-centered existence to grieve over the ramifications of her actions. The doll immediately became, not just "one more thing in a dark world to be touched and examined," but rather "a gift" from someone who cared enough about her to work with her through her frustrations to help her get to a place where the light could shine.
Perspective is a gift. How many things in our lives do we (literally, or figuratively with our words) "dash upon the floor" in frustration all because we lack the perspective?
This is how Helen describes the end of that blessed day in her book: "It would have been difficult to find a happier child than I was as I lay in my bed at the close of that eventful day and lived over the joys it had brought me, and for the first time longed for a new day to come.”
Perspective. Light. Grace. Living Water. The Word. These are the things that brought Helen Keller out of darkness, out of that unfeeling place and into a state of mind that could make a blind and deaf child joyful and thoroughly excited about the days ahead. Because of the love of God, the best teacher of all, these things still have this power and always will.
The words of Jesus from John 7:38, "He who believes in me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'" NASB
Normally, living in Central Pennsylvania in November is associated with walking through crunching leaves on the sidewalks, pulling out the sweaters and sweatshirts that have been stored away since May, enjoying pumpkin whoopie pies, and going on outings with friends and loved ones to corn mazes and bonfires. This week in Central Pennsylvania, however, has been associated with grand jury indictments, firing of PSU employees, tears, riots, anger, and a pit in the stomachs of thousands of people. The pit in my own stomach has caused me to do some serious reflecting. Here is what God has taught me thus far:
1. There is a reason that the Bible refers to sin as DARKNESS and to truth and righteousness as LIGHT. Light exposes, darkness obscures. Light reveals, darkness covers. I John 1:5b-8 (NASB): "...God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth, but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us." When we sin and cover it up as though we have not sinned or have no such inclinations, we are walking in darkness. When we see darkness creeping in and ask God to expose our sin and cleanse our hearts we are walking in the light. Even though we may feel ridiculously vulnerable choosing to have our sin exposed by God and dealt with, the very light He shines that makes us feel so vulnerable is actually our protection. Romans 13:12 (NASB) says, "...let us lay aside deeds of darkness and put on the ARMOR OF LIGHT." What does the armor of light protect us from? If we have to ask that question, we need only read the grand jury indictment against Jerry Sandusky, Tim Curley, and Gary Schultz, or better yet, look back at our own lives and some of the ways we've let sin creep in and make its home in our hearts for too long and ponder the result of not allowing light (truth and righteousness) to be our armor.
2. Keep Short Accounts. This was a phrase I heard a lot as a kid, but I haven't heard it much since then. The idea of keeping our slate wiped clean and not allowing sin upon sin to accumulate without earnestly seeking God's forgiveness. I John 1:9-10 (NASB): "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His Word is not in us." Not asking for forgiveness on a regular basis is the same as saying we have not sinned. If we have sinned, the only fitting response is asking for forgiveness and repenting. How many days have I laid my head on my pillow and slipped into restful sleep while effectually calling God a liar by not acknowledging my sin from that day?
3. Let God Test Your Heart. I am human. How about you? Human too? I thought so. There are things we do that we shouldn't and things that we don't do that we should have done that slip off our radar pretty quickly, and meanwhile they are corrupting our hearts, and we don't notice one little bit. Only God can look into our hearts and expose things that we have managed to cover up so well that we've even fooled ourselves. Jeremiah 17:9-10 (NASB): "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds." We can ask Him to search and test our hearts daily, or we can let things build up and deal with the ramifications when our secret sins end up hurting not only us, but those around us. If the situation at PSU is any indicator, the longer we let things go, the more people are negatively impacted and the greater that impact is.
4. Develop Godly Sorrow. 2 Corinthians 7:10 (NIV) says, "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death." Saying sorry doesn't cut it when it comes to sin. When our 10 year old son comes to us and says, "I'm sorry," we inevitably respond with, "Sorry for what?" Until we admit what we have done and why it was wrong, and truly desire to make it right (as far as is possible) and take steps to insure we don't sin in that way again, we haven't a clue what Godly sorrow is all about. We're just sorry we got caught. The next verse in 2 Corinthians goes on to detail what Godly sorrow looks like, "earnestness, eagerness to clear yourself, alarm at your sin, longing to correct it, concern, readiness to see justice done, a yearning to return to innocence." That is the kind of reaction that saves us from continuing in darkness. It doesn't alleviate the consequences of our sin, but it ultimately "leads to salvation."
5. Don't Pretend You Don't Struggle. Oh how tiring it is to keep up appearances. And how futile!!! Eventually everyone figures out that we don't have it all together... in fact, they usually figure it out before we've realized they've figured it out, so our charade becomes more and more pathetic with each passing year. James 5:16 (NASB) says, "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much." By pretending that we don't struggle with sin, we are missing out on one of the potential factors that could heal us of that sin: the effective prayers of those fellow Believers whom we confess to!
I am sure that God has much more to teach me from these recent events, and I hope that I am able to absorb each and every lesson. Praise the Lord that we can learn from His Word and from the events around us. We don't have to walk down every dark path to see where it leads. May we be teachable and humble, and filled with grace for each other... always remembering, "but for the grace of God, go I."
JOHN 8:12 (NIV), Jesus says: "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!