Posted by: pamrichardswatts | April 11, 2015

Empty Wallets & Full Hearts

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Two places I take the prize in parenting:

  • Spending lots of money on my kids;
  • Making lots of cracks about how much money I spend on my kids.

Stop me if you heard these before:

“It took Katherine a week to learn the moves for high school dance team. It only took me sixty seconds to master the dance momma move: write a check, write a check, write a check!”

“I’ve got one kid going into college, one kid getting behind the wheel, one kid going into braces . . . and one momma going out to sell plasma.” braces

And every newly orthodontured child is reintroduced to the world with an emphatic, “Smile—and show everybody momma’s trip to Europe!”

(I have a ridiculous confession to make. This momma actually has been to Europe—three times, no less. Shouldn’t I be the one smiling?)

Oh, I’ve got quite the little routine going . . . and I perform it every chance I get.

But like many funny people, I go for the laugh to cover up the pain. The kind that comes from head-on collisions with my own self-centeredness.

See, it’s not the financial sacrifice I mind as much as giving up my right to spend as I please. Then I turn the “high cost of child-rearing” into a scapegoat for my discontent:

IF we weren’t covering the gas, maintenance and insurance on four cars, THEN maybe Brent could finally drive something manufactured in this century.” (At the moment, he is making do with a secondhand beater he likes to call “The Pimp-Mobile.”)

IF we weren’t so ‘college poor,’ THEN maybe I could graduate my smart phone up to the Ivy League version most of my friends have.”

IF it weren’t for the financial acrobatics of competitive cheer, THEN maybe I could _______.” (At this point, I make several passes over all the stuff I’d like to do/have/see/wear, off a list as absurdly long as the competition season itself.)

What will bankrupt me is not my children . . . but my attitude.

Fortunately for me, God’s economy works much differently. He invites me to open my heart along with my wallet and empty it of those things I cannot afford, like greed, envy and selfishness.

He offers a loving exchange for items of true value, like gratitude, celebration and trust.

I am thankful for my children–I can be equally thankful for the gifts and talents God has given each of them. I can celebrate the many opportunities they enjoy to develop and express those talents. And I can trust God to provide us with the means to realize those opportunities.

And I can definitely give thanks for the joy-filled life of a booster mom. Let’s face it, most of my sacrifices come wrapped up in tutus and trophies, as opposed to say, weeks in a children’s hospital.

My empty wallet is simply a visible reminder of how full my life truly is.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

And that’s no joke.

If you want to follow Me, you must deny yourself the things you think you want. You must pick up your cross and follow Me. The person who wants to save his life must lose it, and she who loses her life for Me will find it. Matthew 16:24-25 (The Voice)

This is my last gift to you, this example of a way of life: a life of hard work, a life of helping the weak, a life that echoes every day those words of Jesus our King, who said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Acts 20:35 (The Voice)

Bring your full tithe to the Temple treasury so there will be ample provisions in my Temple. Test me in this and see if I don’t open up heaven itself to you and pour out blessings beyond your wildest dreams. Malachi 3:10 (The Message)

 

Posted by: pamrichardswatts | March 20, 2015

Pride Before a Fall

I am frequently amazed at the way life with competitive kids keeps me fighting. My toughest opponent? My pride

Managing extracurricular life all on my own is my idea of a booster mom win. That is the game plan. But rarely does it turn out that way. Regardless of how prepared, organized and resourceful I try to be, I can’t do everything. And I sure can’t control everything.

I need help. And sometimes I just need help . . . accepting help.

This was one of those times. I had a dance company daughter, three younger children . . . and a husband on the road. Since Brent couldn’t make this performance, I enlisted the services of a gracious teen to oversee the little kids. That way I could double-time as spectator mom and backstage mom.

But no matter how hard I tried to cover everything, I had some slipups. I forgot the bobby socks for the fifties number. I failed to pin Katherine’s cap on securely enough, leaving her to tap-dance her way through “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” with a hat hanging down her face. I figured this recital would go down in Watts family history as “The Great Accessory Crisis.”Our wedding-toast0001 - Copy

First pride, then the crash— the bigger the ego, the harder the fall. Proverbs 16:18 (The Message)

It was quite the comedy of errors—but not all my missteps were so funny. In my haste to return to my seat, I tripped over one of the aisle risers. Soon after I sat down, I realized something was terribly wrong. It appeared I had actually managed to fracture a toe. As families began to file out of the auditorium, others noticed that the tears on my face were not those of a proud parent.

Including her. The Dance Company Mom.

woman fallsShe was one of those women who, for some reason, always intimidate the snot out of me. The kind who never seem to put a foot wrong. The kind who leave me feeling like a bumbling idiot by comparison. And here she was, bearing down on me in my moment of clumsy, blubbering helplessness.

Oh no. Can someone else help me, please? Anyone else?

Two are better than one because a good return comes when two work together. If one of them falls, the other can help him up. But who will help the pitiful person who falls down alone? Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (The Voice)

The great thing about gals like this is that they are the best people to have around in crisis. Before I knew it, she had everything under control. Someone was dispatched to round up my daughter and help carry costumes. Someone else ushered my children outside. Meanwhile, our sitter helped me limp to my car which—thankfully—she was licensed to drive. (Wouldn’t you know I disabled my pedal foot. I couldn’t even get home without help!)

Pride lands you flat on your face; humility prepares you for honors. Proverbs 29:23 (The Message)

In the days to come, I continued to lean on family and friends as I hopped around on my one good foot. I learned just how graceful life can become when we let others help.

I admit, it’s a step I’m still learning to master. Thankfully, I get lots of training on the sidelines of my children’s activities. That’s where I’m learning what it really means to be a “company mom.” And I’ve discovered that the real win as a booster mom—and a godly mom—comes from being a humble mom.

The kind who will leave her ego backstage.

The kind who will accept help when she needs it.

And who will be grateful for those who pick her up when she falls.

hands up

Posted by: pamrichardswatts | March 4, 2015

The Evolution of a Parent

When I was a child, I spoke, thought, and reasoned in childlike ways as we all do. But when I became a man, I left my childish ways behind. I Corinthians 13:11 (The Voice)

Nothing is more entertaining than watching an angry monkey go wild. Unless it’s you he’s after.

In Night at the Museum, rookie night guard Larry Daley never expected to guard himself from museum exhibits coming after him. As wax figures, skeletons and other displays magically came to life, Larry had to fight to keep them all out of trouble.

who's evolvedAnd no one gave Larry more trouble than Dexter. Dexter is Larry’s nemesis from the get-go. Dexter is crafty. Dexter is mean-spirited. And Dexter . . . is a Capuchin monkey. Watching Larry go up against Dexter creates some of the funniest moments in the film.

When Larry proposes a truce, Dexter responds by smacking Larry on the head. Larry moves as if to strike back, but is restrained by a thoughtful reminder from his mentor (the animated statue of Teddy Roosevelt):

“Lawrence—who’s evolved?”

My friend Rebecca returns to this same question whenever her children are acting like Neanderthals. She asks herself, “Who’s evolved?” Obviously, the answer is, “I am.”

This little exercise helps keep her temper and actions in check. She is the adult. She is the parent. She has more maturity, more wisdom, more self-control—and more accountability. There’s a higher code of conduct at this end. Fully-evolved human beings are expected to walk upright.

But parental evolution is easier said than done.

Angry-monkey-7399791As a busy parent on the competitive cheer circuit, sometimes I feel like I’m caged inside a high-priced zoo. Road trips, late nights, bad meals and taut nerves can make even the most poised, disciplined athlete go positively ape.

At least, this is what happens to my child. She remains perfectly composed from beginning warm-ups until the final awards ceremony. Then the adrenaline wears off, blood sugar drops—and all civility disappears.  Total regression.

At our last competition, the change was in fact so dramatic that one of her teammates remarked, “Liz—have a Snickers®. You’re not yourself when you’re hungry.” By the time we finally got some food in front of her, she had deteriorated from merely impatient and irritable to irrational, angry and downright hostile.

Sometimes I think the greatest act of parental heroism is “to bear with [our children] in love” when those children are behaving unbearably. It is a mark of our maturity, wisdom and self-control. It is what evolved people do.

I have to admit, the best I could manage on this particular day was self-control—and even that was mainly for the benefit of those around me. Every time my daughter lashed out at me, I wanted to smack her on the head—I was simply waiting for the right moment to strike. Not exactly wise, mature and loving.

The minute I got home, I greeted my husband with a shrieking, poo-flinging monkey rage: “You won’t believe what she said! You won’t believe what she did! If she thinks I’m going to give up my time and our money just to cart her all over the state so she can fall apart and make everyone miserable . . . I am not doing this. I am not training up my child this way.”

Who’s evolved?

Part of my rant was for Brent—the rest was for God. “Did you see? Did you hear? Now what? When You dropped us off at this particular zoo—surely this wasn’t what You had in mind. Let us out!

My frustration was checked by this thoughtful reminder:

“Daughter, this is precisely what I intended. To give you every opportunity to teach your child how to confront and tame “the savage beast” within. For her to experience a love that endures all things—even a tired, cranky unbearable child at her absolute worst. To show her what it means to be raised up in Christ.

This is how I train up my children—and keep you evolving until you look just like Me.”

“Let us exult and triumph in our troubles and rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that pressure and affliction and hardship produce patient and unswerving endurance. And endurance (fortitude) develops maturity of character.” Romans 5:3-4 (Amplified)

Now also put these things out of your life: anger, bad temper, doing or saying things to hurt others, and using evil words when you talk. You have begun to live the new life, in which you are being made new and are becoming like the One who made you. This new life brings you the true knowledge of God. Colossians 3:8, 10 (NCV)

You raise me up

Posted by: pamrichardswatts | February 19, 2015

Winter Warmth

Winter warmth

Two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? Ecclesiastes 4:11

I’ve never been a big fan of winter. There is little I find to recommend it. Maybe it’s because I spent most of my life in central Texas, where the seasons are referred to as “almost summer, summer, still summer—and Christmas.” My blood is just too thin for serious cold. I even turned down admission to Vanderbilt University—all because Tennessee in April was “too chilly.” I’m a regular little hothouse flower.

Recent cold weather reminds me of another harsh winter we endured a few years back. At night, temperatures routinely dropped below freezing. Even with the thermostat cranked up to 70 degrees, wearing flannel pajamas and huddled under my heaviest wool blanket, I couldn’t seem to get comfortable. Seeking the warmth I needed to fall asleep, I discovered a delightfully unexpected bonus. As soon as I was under the covers, the chill drove me straight into the arms of my warm-blooded husband. His body heat provided the comfort I needed.

However, this took some maneuvering. Since we sleep in an enormous king-sized bed, I had to work my way from my side all the way across the mattress to reach him.

As I snuggled into his welcoming embrace, I found the solid reality of his presence both physically and emotionally comforting. I slept better. I dreamt better. I woke rested and refreshed. It didn’t matter what happened during the day, or what might be waiting for me in the morning. In those precious nighttime hours, I had Brent close beside me. I could drift off to sleep in the assurance that I faced nothing alone.

I don’t take such security for granted. I recall the days when my husband traveled for a living, and I spent most nights alone. I think back to the months my sweet friend visited her husband in hospice care. She endured many nights of solitary slumber—with even more ahead. I try to remember to count my blessings at bedtime—especially the one sleeping peacefully beside me.

One particularly cold night, as I nestled contentedly beside my husband, I was grateful for this luxury even in my sleep. I found myself dreaming of another wife—one who had just lost her husband. I knew she would miss the kind of reassuring presence I currently enjoyed, and I mourned for her.

The next day I was stunned to learn that my uncle had passed away less than twenty-four hours earlier. It was my aunt who would now sleep alone. It was she who faced many lonely nights ahead. Awake, I grieved for her even more. I prayed that God would meet her every evening, wrap her in His comforting embrace and remind her that she was not alone.

I don’t much care for “winters of the spirit,” either. The cold and stillness of these seasons make me feel restless, lonely and completely out of my element. I was made for warmth. However, at such times, when I desperately need reassurance, I find relief in the arms of my Father. He reminds me that He has been and always will be with me. No matter what happened yesterday or what’s coming tomorrow, I face nothing alone. I get up and go forward, rested and refreshed.

For anyone enduring a particularly harsh winter, I invite you to come out of the cold. Reach out and seek the solid reality of God’s presence. Burrow deep into the comfort of His arms. Allow Him to wrap you in His embrace, and reassure you that you are never alone.

It’s time to get warm.

in_jesus_arms“His left arm is under my head, and his right arm embraces me.” Song of Songs 2:6

“His huge outstretched arms protect you— under them you’re perfectly safe.” Psalm 91:4

“God, Your faithful love is so valuable that people take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.” Psalm 36:7

Posted by: pamrichardswatts | February 10, 2015

Performance Anxiety

Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

I once asked my pastor if he had spoken in public often enough to overcome the fear of public speaking. To which he butterflieswisely replied, “The butterflies in your stomach never really go away—you just train them to fly in formation.”

My youngest son is quite the performer. Given that he’s ALSO a perfectionist, he gets anxious about performing WELL. He asks for prayer regularly that “the butterflies would fly in formation.”

Evan had one of those “high stakes” performance recently—UIL competition in Music Memory. He had practiced very hard and wanted to do well. Perfect, in fact. However, I was not on hand to lay hands on him that day—I was attending a women’s ministry event at our church. So I decided to be there in spirit instead. I set my phone alarm to go off just as his test began as a reminder to pray for him.

It “just so happened” that we had some trouble with our video broadcast that morning. Right as the big screen went blank, my phone screen lit up. It was time to pray for Evan.

In the quiet pause that followed, the church staff worked to resolve the technical difficulties, giving me just enough time to lift up Evan’s challenges in prayer:

“Lord, please give him a focused mind, clear recall and a peaceful spirit. He has worked SO hard for this—help him do his best.”

At the awards ceremony that afternoon, Brent and I held our breath as Music Memory results came in. We were quite surprised. SIXTH place? (We later learned this was because FIVE students had tied for first.)

However, we were even more surprised by Evan’s reaction. Even though he missed the perfect score—by just ONE point—he was perfectly content. He smiled and celebrated with his teammates, confident he had done his very best.

Ever noticed that prayer has a way of bringing its own surprising results? Here I had asked God to give Evan peace SO THAT he could perform well. Instead, God gave him peace no matter HOW he performed.

That kind of peace . . . completely surpassed my understanding.

How PERFECT.

Music Memory

He will keep in perfect peace all those who trust in him, whose thoughts turn often to the Lord. Isaiah 26:3 (TLB)

Posted by: pamrichardswatts | February 6, 2015

Get Moving

(This post is a continuation of my 21-day “One Word” Challenge: Fearless.)

When I think of a fearless life, I picture it as a grand and glorious adventure.

Ever notice how adventures usually lie beyond the comfort of our own home? Sure, Dorothy may have realized that if she’s searching for her “heart’s desire,” she doesn’t need to look any farther than her own backyard. But adventure? By definition that is something we have to GO OUT to find.

615In fact, some of my grandest and best-loved adventures were the ones that took me furthest from home. The most recent—and favorite so far—was a senior trip to Europe with our oldest daughter. Twelve days cruising the Mediterranean—now there’s a GRAND Tour. We were on the go almost CONSTANTLY. By day, we covered exotic ports of call like Florence, Rome and Monte Carlo as far as our feet would carry us. By night we were everywhere on the ship—restaurants, comedy shows, and—my personal favorite—LIVE BAND KARAOKE.

To me, there are few adventures I love more than getting on stage, in front of people, with an actual live band behind me—and singing my heart out. Truly glorious.

When we came back, I declared to my husband: “I can’t remember the last time I had SO MUCH FUN. We have GOT to GET OUT more!”

However, once home I got . . . comfortable. Comfortable in my house, comfortable in my routine, and comfortable with excuses:

“We’re too busy. I’m too tired. There’s nothing to do in this town.”

Or so I thought—until I read words that were music to my ears.

LIVE BAND KARAOKE. karaoke

Call it a fluke; I chose to see it as Divine Appointment. After all, I did hear about it at a CHURCH function. At a newly-renovated venue owned and operated by a CHURCH leader. My grand and glorious adventure was right in front of me, just hours away—if only I would show up for it.

And so the showdown began—between fearless, adventure-seeking me—and lazy, comfort-loving me. Lady Adventure was happy to get up, go across town, and go into a strange situation filled with strangers. But as I changed clothes, put on “go out” makeup and prepared to stay out past nine o’clock on a school night, Lady Leisure screamed in protest:

“NOOOO! Stay home! Stay in your comfy clothes! Stay in your comfy spot on the couch! Just STAY!”

Sometimes the obstacle to a fearless life is not fear—but inertia.

I’m happy to say that fearless won the battle. I went after the adventure—and I found it. And boy, it was grand and glorious indeed. (Should that much fun even be legal?) I ROCKED.

But I found other things, too.  For starters, I found Divine Confirmation on the way there.  In an AFR broadcast of a sermon on Ecclesiastes, the speaker preached—and I quote—“God wants us to have FUN.” (Does it get any clearer than that?) Once I got to the theater, I found new friends moving through their own adventures.  Like the young man, new in town, needing a church home. Or the mid-life mom, raising teenagers, needing prayer.

Finally, I found renewed inspiration to get out of my comfort zone and pursue life fearlessly as the grand and glorious adventure God intended.

Even if it means staying out late on a school night.

“I heard the Lord ask, ‘Is there anyone I can send? Will someone go for us?’ ‘I’ll go,’ I answered. ‘Send me!'” Isaiah 6:8 (CEV)

 

 

Posted by: pamrichardswatts | January 23, 2015

Follow the Example of Fearless People

(This post is a continuation of my 21-day “One Word” Challenge: Fearless.)

Last night I got to do one of my favorite things: browse the bookstore. On the bargain table, I came across this eye-catching title: Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child.

I have been a big fan of Julia’s ever since I saw–and then read–Julie and Julia. And the more I learn about her, the more I want to learn. So I started skimming the first few pages to see if this particular volume needed to come home with me.

Then I saw it: the author described Julia Child as FEARLESS. That was it. I had to have the book. I had to get better acquainted with this remarkable, fearless woman. Julia Child

Fearless people make good role models. I would argue that every remarkable individual who has ever made a difference has possessed some degree of fearlessness. Particularly those who’ve left their mark liberating others from oppression and fear:

The founding fathers. William Wilberforce. Harriet Tubman. Gandhi. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Feel free to insert your own favorite heroes here.) The list could go on and on.

A fearful life leaves no legacy. A fearless life can change the world forever.

I don’t expect to make history, but I do hope to make a difference. To leave the world just a little bit better than I found it. So I’m going to spend more time with fearless people and watch how they do it.

“My friends, I want you to follow my example and learn from others who closely follow the example we set for you.” Philippians 3:17 (CEV)

Posted by: pamrichardswatts | January 14, 2015

Walk (and Drive!) in Faith

(This post is a continuation of my 21-day “One Word” Challenge: Fearless.)

Faith . . . as an antidote to fear. Sounds pretty self-evident, doesn’t it? Still, in my car/classroom yesterday, I discovered I am fearful because I am DOUBTFUL. I’ve constantly been second-guessing myself on the road: “Is it safe to pull out now? Now? NOW?”

Our multiple car accidents (more in 3 months than the last 30 years!) have left my confidence as shattered and shaky as my car bumper. 001I’ve gone from a defensive driver–to a suspicious one. These days, I don’t trust anyone behind the wheel–least of all, myself.

I do NOT want to drive that way–or live that way.

Later that day, I was blessed by some powerful words in due season. While still in the car (radio tuned continually to Christian music per Day 5 Challenge), I heard these inspirational lyrics from Hillsong United:

Hillsong Oceans

Then I read these verses on a post from my inspirational friend Charlotte Ramsey Cole. Here’s a woman who understands even better than I do what it means to walk in faith:

“The Lord is your protection; you have made God Most High your place of safety.Nothing bad will happen to you; no disaster will come to your home. He has put his angels in charge of you to watch over you wherever you go. The Lord says, ‘Whoever loves me, I will save. I will protect those who know me. They will call to me, and I will answer them. I will be with them in trouble; I will rescue them and honor them. I will give them a long, full life, and they will see how I can save.”” Psalm 91:9-11, 14-16 (NCV)

If I’m going to move ahead in fearlessness, I need to outmaneuver doubt and mistrust. How? By walking in FAITH. Not in my strength and abilities (driving or otherwise) but in GOD. He has me covered. Everywhere and all the time.

Call it Divine bumper-to-bumper insurance.

Posted by: pamrichardswatts | January 5, 2015

One Word Challenge: Fearless

Fearless

Ever since I declared that FEARLESS would be my “one word” for 2015, friends have been asking how I came up with that particular word.

To be honest, it didn’t take a whole lot of thought. See, I’ve spent a lot more of 2014 than I care to admit feeling fearful. All the way from mildly anxious to completely petrified.

Fear is at its worst when I’m driving. These days driving is harder than it used to be, and that makes it scarier. It seems that my night vision—which was never all that great to start with—has gotten much worse since my last new pair of glasses.  I’ve been scared to drive at night because it’s much harder to SEE at night. Let’s face it—driving when you can’t see well is positively terrifying.

It doesn’t help that I have to drive in strange cities a lot—sometimes at night—which means now I have to navigate, too. In the dark. Where I can’t see well. At least when I’m in my own backyard, so to speak, I kind of know where I’m headed.

And don’t even get me started on how many times I’ve had to cross my home state flanked by truckers and highway construction along Interstate 35, aka “The Corridor of Death.”

All this means that I have spent a lot of time on the road with a death grip on the steering wheel. Driven by fear—and hating every minute of it.

How I miss those days when I was absolutely FEARLESS in a car. As a young adult, I was invincible—caution was for cowards. While my audacity did catch up with me on occasion (we won’t even go there!) it didn’t slow me down for long. I continued to zip up and down Texas highways with glorious abandon. As a matter of fact I DID own the road, thank you very much!

Where did THAT girl speed off to? Somehow in the last three decades, I’ve left my nerve along the side of the road somewhere.

And fear has taken its place.

And just to make matters worse, in the last four months alone the Watts family fleet has been party to four—count them, FOUR—separate car collisions. Three of which I’ve been in. Two of which I’ve been the one behind the wheel.  Even the best Invincibility Shield shatters like fiberglass once you feel the impact and hear that horrifying crunch of metal against metal.

How do I move forward and reclaim the road, free from fear?

Unfortunately, there isn’t much I can do to reroute my driving responsibilities. And I can’t keep always bad things from happening no matter how cautiously I drive. But there are a couple of essential course corrections I CAN make:

For starters, there have been some changes to help with nighttime driving visibility. First Brent cleaned the heck out of the car windshield. And I’ve also gotten better contacts that have helped things tremendously.

The road is a lot less scary once your vision is totally clear.

More importantly, I’ve decided to adjust my spiritual specs (a writer I admire calls these perspectacles). I’m going to refocus on life through the lens of FEARLESSNESS. The kind that God prescribes.

Here’s my personal prescription for the “one word” challenge:

Given that it takes 21 days to establish a new habit, every day for the next three weeks I’m going to take at least one concrete step toward fearlessness. Today I began by changing my password to include the word FEARLESS. God‘s Word counsels us to do such things to ingrain his Truth on the mind and heart:

Make the things I’m commanding you today part of who you are. Do whatever it takes to remember them: tie a reminder on your hand and bind a reminder on your forehead where you’ll see it all the time. Deuteronomy 6:6, 8 (The Voice)

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to share my adventures along the road.

What will your “one word” be this year?

Postscript: I left this post to run errands with my husband (he drove). We had just hit the open road when You Make Me Brave (Bethel Music) came on the radio. Here are the lines that seemed to sing out just for me:

brave

(Gotta love those lyrics “in due season,” right?)

Posted by: pamrichardswatts | December 18, 2014

CUTTING THROUGH THE RED TAPE

red tape

Finding Community in a Competitive World

It makes no difference whether you are a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a freeman, a man or a woman, because in Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King, you are all one. Galatians 3:28 (The Voice)

One of the things I love most about extracurricular life is its community. Team spirit. Esprit de corps. Children’s activities have a way of bringing together parents from all over and uniting us in a common purpose.

I witnessed a beautiful example of this kind of community at a recent competition. We had been watching team after team perform as usual when the unexpected occurred: an athlete experienced a medical emergency. At that moment, individual concerns about points, rank and trophies were forgotten as we rallied to support a fallen teammate.

Event staff circled protectively around the young woman, creating privacy while she received care. Meanwhile, the arena held a collective breath as we awaited the outcome. Once she was escorted safely offstage, everyone applauded in unison. We cheered even louder once we learned she was going to be fine. Echoing the thoughts of many, the emcee finished this announcement with a heartfelt, “Thank you, Jesus!”

It is a wonderful thing to link arms together in unity . . . until the time comes when we have to circle the wagons against “the enemy.”

I saw a little of this at that same competition. Our team likes to sit, support and cheer—as a team. When there are many teams and limited space, it’s common practice to stake out OUR territory. This particular day, an enterprising team mom had blocked out an arena section for OUR gym with strips of red tape. Her strategy would have succeeded—if THEIR gym had not disregarded the tape—and claimed OUR seats as THEIR own. By the time all teammates had arrived, both tempers AND seats were running a little short.

To be fair, the “Skirmish in the Stands” was merely symbolic of a greater struggle. Our gym had recently suffered bitter defeat in a turf war with a rival studio. We were fighting to protect what really mattered to us: OUR teammates, OUR program, OUR victories.

By the time I finally found a seat, I was ready to fume in solidarity with the rest of my team. Meanwhile, THEIR deafening cheers erupted all around us, a constant reminder that THEY had taken over OUR space.

Without warning, one of THEIR mothers turned around and spoke to me:

“I want to you to know we’re cheering for you all too—we hope you do well today!”

I was stunned into a humbled silence. It was all I could do to mumble an awkward, “Th-thank you. That’s v-very kind of you.”

I can’t say for sure what prompted her to do it. Maybe she felt bad about what THEY had done. Maybe she felt sympathy for the small island of US lost in a sea of THEM. I can’t say for sure. But I do know this much:

She modeled community a whole lot better than I did.

The next day, my college kid came home for the holidays. Like so many of her classmates, she is on her own pilgrimage to find community—in her studies, her relationships—and her belief systems. Apparently, since her last visit she had discovered a new ideology that appealed to her. Since it was one I personally have some strong objections toward, it was hard to “be quick to listen and slow to speak.” Silently I asked God to help me “speak the truth in love.”

At length (okay, it took an entire day), I had this wisdom to share:

Be wary of anyone preaching US/THEM ideology. “THEY are the problem—WE are the solution. WE win by beating THEM: THEIR studio, THEIR politics, THEIR religion, THEIR color, THEIR gender.”

This kind of strategy may win the day—but only for those “inside the red tape.” It promises community—but delivers division. Such fierce rivalry will never triumph over a broken world—it will only split it further apart.

Thankfully we do not follow a God of “red tape,” but One who recognizes that THEY are not the problem (Ephesians 6:12) any more than WE are the solution (Romans 3:9-12). In God’s Kingdom, there is no US and THEM. We are all HIS, and find true community through HIM. As members of HIS team, we are ALL sure to win.

Unity1In Christ there is no East or West, In Him no South or North; But one great fellowship of love Throughout the whole wide earth.

In Him shall true hearts everywhere their high communion find; His service is the golden cord, close binding humankind.

Join hands, then, members of the faith, whatever your race may be! Who serves my Father as His child is surely kin to me.

In Christ now meet both East and West, in Him meet North and South; All Christly souls are one in Him throughout the whole wide earth.

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