The grace in thinking twice

I never thought it would happen to me. I was sitting in the drive-thru line at Starbucks, eagerly anticipating my pumpkin spice latte. I pulled up to the window, offered my smart phone screen for the barista to scan the code of my Starbucks Card Account. And the barista leans out and says: “The car in front of you paid for your coffee.”

We all heard about the rash of “pay it forward” acts of kindness that seem to strike people in the drive-thru lanes of coffee and fast food establishments. I’ve even done it before, paid for the order of the person behind me. And it’s an amazing feeling!

But this isn’t a post about being grateful. This isn’t even a post about being generous. This is a post about how you shouldn’t feel.

Because when this happened to me, my initial reaction wasn’t gratitude. It was irritation.

Why? Because all I needed was one more purchase on my card to earn a free drink. And because some overly nice person in front of me bought my coffee for me, I’d have to come back again to earn my free coffee.

Yes, I’m that bad of a person.

Yes. Please laugh at me. Because it will make me feel better about being such a horrible, ungrateful person. Goodness.

This is what the Bible means about taking captive every thought, folks (2 Corinthians 10:5). Maybe your initial reaction to something isn’t what it should be, but that’s not the reaction you have to act on.

Tough stuff can happen in life. Things go on that make us question what we believe or lose our faith in others. And then sometimes good things happen too. Sometimes we expect the good things that happen, and other times we don’t. Regardless, whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, we’re still supposed to be thankful for it (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

I would love to get to the point in my life that my first reaction to anything is spiritual, whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent. I would love to be the person who can look at any situation and see the beauty of what God is doing immediately. But I’m not there yet. Maybe someday I will be, but until then, I have the grace of second thoughts.

Gratitude isn’t my default. Faith isn’t my default either. My initial reaction any situation is to try to fix it myself or to evaluate it based on my own capability. But, frankly, it isn’t my initial reaction that matters.

My initial reaction to a situation only matters if that’s what I choose to act on. If somebody paid for my overpriced latte and I continued to feel irritated about it because I didn’t get my way, that’s a problem. The question comes down to what’s in your heart? What is your true attitude?

Proverbs 27:19 says, “As a face is reflected in water, so the heart reflects the real person.”

Initial reactions normally reflect our sin nature. People have bad days. We have difficult seasons that color the way we see our lives and other people. And if you catch us off guard at one of those moments, with a good thing or a bad thing, the way we react at first might not match up to what we say we believe. But that’s not hypocrisy. That’s a startled reaction from a flawed human being.

What matters is how we choose to act from that point on. Second thoughts are usually the point where I get a hold of myself and calm down. My second reaction is usually calmer than the first, reasoned and thought-out, once I’ve had a moment to think about how I feel, what I feel, and why I feel that way. And I’d be willing to bet I’m not the only one out there who would say this.

So what can we all take away from this?

Don’t base your understanding of someone on their initial reaction to a situation. It takes a lot longer than a snap decision to get to know another person. Sure, a snap decision can tell you a lot about someone, but not the deep stuff.

And for those of us on the snap decision side? Maybe a spiritual reaction isn’t our default, and maybe it never will be, but that shouldn’t stop us from striving for it. No, we’ll never be perfect, but the more often we choose the right reaction to a situation (good or bad), the sooner that choice will become habit.

So, thank you, whoever you are, for paying for my pumpkin spice latte. It was delicious! And thank you too for helping me understand the grace in thinking twice and the habit of gratitude.

Advertisements

Tomorrow will be better if you wait

[su_dropcap style=”simple” size=”5″]I[/su_dropcap] like coffee. Any kind of coffee. Hot or cold, blended or iced, black or with cream, Americano or latte, plain or flavored. Whatever. I like it all. In the heat of summertime in Kansas, there’s almost nothing better than a big Frappucino from Starbucks (yes, I like Starbucks coffee).

I didn’t used to like them, though, because they didn’t last very long. And once I finished, I was left with a cup full of partially melted ice mixed with watered-down coffee and slightly chocolate-flavored foamy stuff. Bleck! It was so much better to get hot coffee and sip it slowly.

But during the summer in Kansas where we had more than 30 days over 100 degrees, I broke down and bought a Frappucino. But something happened, and I had to let it sit for a moment before I could come back to it. And guess what? When I was done, I didn’t have ice left.

At first, I thought it was a fluke. But the next time I got a Frappucino, I let it sit for a little while, and the same thing happened. I let the ice get started melting, and I sipped it slowly. It lasted much longer, and it tasted much better than it did when I drank it all quickly.

It was better to wait

But waiting is hard. It takes effort and discipline. It takes concentration because you have to constantly remind yourself why you’re choosing to wait. You have to force your brain to remember that the end result will be better if you just hold your horses.

I’m not good at waiting. I see a path that looks promising, and I want to run down it at full speed, barefoot, hair loose, no bags packed or itinerary planned. And I don’t care if I skin my knees or break my toes or have to turn around seven times. At least I’m moving forward, right?

But sometimes moving forward only causes more trouble.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]You don’t escape from quicksand; you’re rescued.[/su_pullquote]

Think about quicksand. Your instinct is to fight to escape, to kick and thrash and flail, but that only makes you sink faster. But you don’t escape from quicksand; you’re rescued. And your best hope to survive is to hold still and wait.

Life’s like that too. But if you think that waiting is the same as doing nothing, you’re wrong.

Waiting is hardest job you’ll ever work. It’s the most challenging class in the school of hard knocks. It’s the most impossible obstacle course you’ll ever run.

Our culture has forgotten how to wait. We live in a world of instant gratification. We’re ruled by our watches and our calendars, and we’ve learned to settle for what’s passable and immediate rather than what’s excellent and inconvenient.

I’m so guilty of this, but I learned the hard way that I can’t rush God.

lam3-26He’s got plans for me, just like He has plans for you. But no matter how badly I want to achieve His goal for my life, I don’t get to decide when it happens. I can strive and fight and push and run as hard as I can, but I can’t move Him. God does what He wants. I can’t change that. And if I really understood His plans, I wouldn’t want to change it.

The Bible says it’s good to wait on God (Lamentations 3:26). I struggle with that. Nothing about waiting is good. It turns your stomach upside down. It turns your hair gray. It makes you cranky and irritable.

Or does it? Does waiting really do all that? Or do we do that to ourselves because we refuse to relinquish control of our lives, our dreams, our plans to the Person who already owns them?

Stuck in summer

I wake up in the morning, and I stare down a beautiful curving path into an autumn forest. Line with golden-leafed trees, blazing red maples and shimmering, white-barked aspens, and it smells like cinnamon and nutmeg and joy. There’s a giant pile of leaves just ready for me to dive into, and pumpkin-flavored everything is waiting just out of reach.

But I can’t get there because I’m stuck in summer. In the heat and the deadness of post-harvest dirt. There’s no end in sight. And I want that world so badly I can taste it, and I can see exactly how I’m supposed to get there. So why shouldn’t I run? Why shouldn’t I just leap forward and reach for that dream? It’s right there.

[su_pullquote] While I’m waiting, I’m learning who God is.[/su_pullquote]

But it isn’t just right there. I can’t see the twists and turns. I can’t see the distance or the effort or the disappointments or the successes that I’ll need to experience before I get there. But God can. And that’s why I have to wait.

That’s why waiting matters. That’s why waiting is good. Just like a Frappucino is better once the ice has started melting, tomorrow will be better if I wait until God says it’s time to run.

lam3-22-23Choosing to wait is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Making the conscious decision to set aside what I want right now in favor of what God wants right now has taken more faith than I thought I had. But I’m still here. I’m still waiting. And I’m not going to stop, because while I’m waiting, I’m learning who God is and who He wants me to be.

Every morning, I get to start over fresh (Lamentations 3:22-24). New day, new mercy, same God. He doesn’t change. He won’t be rushed. And His timing really is perfect.

My pants smell like coffee . . .

. . . and that’s why I’m in jeans at work today, hiding in the corner and hoping that nobody notices. Well . . . actually . . . noticing would be fine . . . because then I could explain how it happened.

Since I stay at Jugement House so late, I’ve been spending the night with my folks. That’s great, but I have to think and plan my wardrobe ahead a couple of days. I brought my jeans and one pair of pants with me, so when I got coffee spilled all down my pants last night at Judgement House and didn’t have time to do laundry when I got to my parents’ house, I just decided to wear jeans to work.

Judgement House has been great this year but very different from other years . . . . The whole thing feels different. I’m not sure how to explain it. And last night was odd. It just felt weird–slow or sluggish or just draggy . . . . I don’t think I have words for it. It was still awesome, but it was like trying to run in mud.

It was comforting to know, though, that everyone else felt the same way. I mean, I know what my issues are and what crap Satan is throwing at me to get me discouraged (it’s not working, by the way) but it was good to know that all the other tour guides felt it too.

Isn’t it amazing how well Satan knows us? How he knows exactly what it will take to hurt us and get us to stop focusing on what matters? He is such a student of our weaknesses . . . . which is nice, in a way, becuase the attacks are easy to recognize . . . . especially when they won’t stop coming. I just started laughing this morning when I woke up. My sciatic nerve hasn’t bothered me for two years and I woke up this morning and could barely walk . . . . and I didn’t do anything to even irritate it. Things like that make me laugh. What else can you do?

I’m excited about getting back to Judgement House tonight. I think it’ll be awesome!