Thursday, October 23, 2014

How do you know that THIS time it won't work?

On Wednesday mornings I am required to travel from my office on one campus to the “other” MMCC campus to teach a class. The campus is located approximately 30 miles down the highway. The drive this time of year is enjoyable and each week I try to savor the beauty of the autumn color before the snow arrives in a few weeks or so.  I put a lot of miles on the car in the past month or so as I traveled throughout the state for various events.

 Typically when I get on the freeway, I like to set the cruise-control so that I don’t have to worry about my speed. It’s rare that I travel above the speed limit and the cruise control keeps me in check and, as I’ve been told, contributes to better gas mileage because it keeps the car traveling at the same speed.  For the past several weeks, though, I’ve had a lot of trouble setting this feature. It’s typically a simple thing: click the ON button, accelerate to the desired speed, then set the speed with the acceleration button. I’ve done it hundreds of times before but recently it hasn’t worked. I’d turn it on; let off the gas to allow the vehicle’s speed to register, but instead of the cruise control “catching”, the car would just continue to slow down. I’d have to speed up again to the speed I want; set the accelerate button, let off the gas and try to set the control again. Same thing…speed up; slow down; not working; turn it off; turn it back on; speed up….etc….. A real pain in the neck!  After a few minutes of this frustration, I’d give up and just maintain my own speed. I have no idea what the problem is, but it’s not really that big of a deal; after all I drove vehicles for many years that didn’t have this feature, but nonetheless, it is frustrating to me when I can’t make something work like it’s supposed to.  The comical thing, however, is that I keep trying to set it each time I get on the highway, even though I know that the outcome is likely to be the same: it isn’t going to work and I’ll feel agitated.

Yesterday, I entered the freeway and once I accelerated to the appropriate speed, habit kicked in (why do I keep trying to do something that I have failed at repeatedly in recent weeks) and I hit the buttons to set the cruise control. To my surprise; it worked! WHAT????  What did I do differently THIS time that I hadn’t done three dozen times in the past couple of weeks?  I was confused, but nonetheless, the cruise control was set and I took my foot off the accelerator and let the device do its job as I journeyed on.  I still don’t know that the “deal” is with the thing; why it worked yesterday; whether it will work today when I set out; or what I did different, but it worked THAT time, and I was grateful. Of course, it gave me ‘food for thought” as I pondered how that experience was going to impact my “personal” journey.

On Tuesday afternoon I attended a presentation at the college on Domestic Violence. It was put on by the Woman’s Aid Services and was part of an awareness campaign for Domestic Violence month. The topic was disturbing to me and the reality that many people live with physical, sexual, verbal, and/or emotional abuse on a daily basis left me ‘unnerved.” I’ve not personally experienced that type of horror before, although I’ve encountered many in my life that have been victimized by it.  One of the issues that was discussed was why the abused person remains in the situation and allows the abuse to happen. The presenter pointed out all sorts of reasons and underlying issues that I won’t get into right now, but I was surprised to learn that if the victim escapes the situation and seeks help, more often than not, he/she returns to the environment and the cycle continues. The presenter pointed out that often people on the ‘outside” who are aware of the abuse, often tire of helping the victim because “he/she repeatedly says that he/she is leaving the perpetrator, sometimes he/she does, but then returns; the abuse escalates; the victim is “going to/or does leave” but then goes back…..and the cycle continues.  Sometimes those that want to help get tired of hearing the same story over and over again and watching the victim make the same choices over and over again….and then getting hurt.  She then stated, “You know, I don’t care if I help a person leave 14 times; she returns to the situation 14 times; and then asks me again.  Even though it is frustrating to me to keep trying to help, if I get a call in the middle of the night and it is the 15th time I’ve heard the same thing and someone is asking for help, I’m going to get up and help.”  Her words stirred me and I’ve been thinking about them ever since.  It caused me to think about times in my own life when I’ve done something OVER and OVER and OVER again and it didn’t seem to change the situation in any way. At what point do I just surrender and give up?

There is such a fine line between “being a doormat” and allowing ourselves to be lied to; hurt; rejected; taken advantage of; unappreciated, etc….before we become strong enough to say, “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH,” and we do something to change our situation. I’m not taking about physical abuse here; I’m taking about those situations in our lives when we have people that continually say, “I’m sorry… I’ll do better…. I’ll help more around the house….. I didn’t mean to…. I’m going to change….THIS time it’ll be different…..just this “one more time”....and so forth…..and we believe the person…..and we end up with the same result.  What about the friend who gossips; disappoints us; tells lies; or lets us down…..over and over…..and we continue to tolerate it and give him/her another chance….only to be let down AGAIN.  When is ‘enough  really Enough….when should we give up and surrender?’

 I think it was Albert Einstein that defined insanity as, “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”  Although I believe that principle wholeheartedly with my own personal behavior and I can’t expect change to happen in my life if I keep making the same poor choices over and over again, I’m continuing to process my thoughts about the whole ‘If someone asks me to help for the 15th time….I’m going to help,,,, because maybe on the 15th time, it will work” notion.  Such a dilemma; such a fine line between helping/enabling; such a gray area.  And so….as I began to ponder, pray, reflect, seek God’s grace….I experienced the “Cruise Control” incident yesterday afternoon.   Hmm…..

Obviously, one needs to come to a point in life when he/she removes him/herself from a situation of abuse, physical or emotional harm, and addictive behavior that seriously impacts one’s life or those around him/her…..sooner than later. Continuing to make poor choices, engaging in unhealthy behavior, or allowing oneself to be harmed or victimized is a completely different situation than ‘being kind; being forgiving; being generous or loving” over and over again. 

I’ve been thinking about the New Testament scripture where someone asked Jesus, “How often do I have to forgive my brother: 7 times?” The reply was, “No, not 7, but 70 times 7 times….”  That’s way more than 15!  I reminded myself of the words of Mother Teresa, as pictured in one of my favorite quotes above….Do it anyway….  I thought about Jesus falling 3 times on his way to the cross during his final journey….and how HIS getting up each time and continuing on to death…..won the battle that SET ME FREE from obesity, disability, and despair. I thought about…. “If at first you don’t succeed; try, try again.”  I thought about that silly little moment with the cruise control yesterday and how on the 25th time or more of attempting to set it (even though it was an act of instinct) it worked!  I thought about how many times I’ve failed in the past; how many times I’ve said, “I’m sorry, God….help me do better;” how many times I’ve given into temptation over the years; how many mistakes I’ve made; how many 2nd chances I’ve been given;  how many times I’ve started OVER….and OVER….and OVER…..and I am humbled and extremely grateful that my God and so many others in my life….didn’t give up on me; didn’t turn their back on me; continued to love; hope; pray; and reach out to me….in spite of myself.

And so….this morning, I am once again overwhelmed with God’s goodness and I am empowered to keep trying to do better….and I encourage you to do the same. I am going to keep ‘smiling at the checkout lady that is ALWAYS crabby and somewhat rude to me’ because maybe TODAY will be the day she smiles back!  I am going to keep ‘being kind” even if my kindness is rejected or I feel unappreciated again…..because maybe TODAY is the day that someone says, “Thank you.”  I am going to trying to be a better person….regardless of the negativity around me….because maybe TODAY is the day that I make a difference in someone’s life.  I encourage you to do the same…not just for others…but for yourself.

So what…. Even if you’ve invited “whomever” to a holiday gathering every year for the past 10 years and he/she has never come; don’t quit asking….Maybe THIS is the year that he/she is ready to be with others. You could change his/her life with your kindness. So what….even if you’ve tried dozens of times to engage your teenager in a meaningful conversation, only to be met with looks of disgust or ‘leave me alone”….keep telling him/her that you love him/her. Maybe TODAY is the day he/she hugs you back and realizes that you are not the enemy.  So what….you’ve tried repeatedly to be kind to the co-worker, relative, neighbor, etc…and are continually met with negativity; don’t stop. Maybe TODAY is the day that you break through the wall.   You get the drift.  

In terms of your personal journey…. SO WHAT…’ve tried before and failed.  Maybe THIS time, it will stick.  SO WHAT……yesterday was a bad day: TODAY is a new one!  SO WHAT…..this may be the 15th time you’ve tried to lose weight; the 10th different diet plan you’ve tried; the 25th time you’ve thrown away a pack of cigarettes: How do you know that THIS isn’t going to be the time it works?  You don’t!  Keep trying; Keep believing; Keep working at it!  TODAY might very well be your day…..are you going to risk it by giving up?  I’m certainly not!

Do what you can to make it a beautiful day!