Archive for September, 2011


Integrity

Let’s take a look at integrity today, shall we? It’s one of my favorite words in a long list of words I like, and it’s one I’ve spent some time absorbing. Integrity is something I very much want to have present in my life. Like most everything in life, its presence has been something of a process.

An important part of this process has been asking questions. As I began to ask them, an unpalatable realization emerged. I was not as honest a person as I’d thought I was. I’d been fooled, I was fooling myself, and since I was doing that, I wasn’t telling other people the truth, either. This hurt. I’d prided (can you tell what got hurt?) myself on being an honest person, and I’d had nothing but contempt for liars. To find this discrepancy in myself was indeed painful.

Unfortunately, in some ways,I didn’t help myself very well in dealing with my own lies, but that’s another story. What I think that I did do well is to search for understanding of what honesty means. Along the way I learned that there is a difference between behaving honestly (what I’d been attempting to achieve) and being an honest person.

Being an honest person is much more demanding. You can’t settle for a mask or the appearance of honesty. Instead it requires some soul searching to see if the honesty goes any deeper than the surface. You have to look at uncomfortable things like motivation. Honesty is a good thing, but there are bad reasons to pursue it, like pride in one’s good behavior. I can tell you firsthand that pride in one’s honesty can give a person an unwarranted sense of superiority.

I was trying to move past the mask. I did the soul searching and got very angry about what a crappy person I was. That, by the way, would have been me and not God piling on the blame and hate. He doesn’t operate like that. Anyway, I also dragged out a concordance and started looking up references containing honesty. I pulled out dictionaries and found definitions of honesty. I even got into the thesaurus and found synonyms for honesty and repeated the process with some of the synonyms.

Not surprisingly, integrity was listed as a synonym. Honesty and integrity go hand in hand. At the time, all I knew about integrity was that it could be used instead of honesty, and it would mean the same thing. It was a synonym, right? Well, that is true, but as I dug some more, I had a beautiful insight.

Here’s the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of integrity:

1 : firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values : incorruptibility
2 : an unimpaired condition : soundness
3 : the quality or state of being complete or undivided : completeness

Let’s compare this to honesty, shall we?

1 obsolete : chastity
2 a : fairness and straightforwardness of conduct b : adherence to the facts : sincerity
3 : any of a genus (Lunaria) of European herbs of the mustard family with toothed leaves and flat disk-shaped siliques

We’ll skip the obsolete meaning and the one about the mustard family, because we’re talking about people, and focus on door #2. Honesty, the “fairness and straighforwardness of conduct,” could be fairly mistaken as a behavioral measurement, could it not? You do this, this, and this, and you’re considered honest. Yay! You look good. However, let’s go back to integrity and pick out a couple  of words, like “condition” and “state.” Those go a little deeper than “conduct.” You start talking about the state or condition of something, and you’re talking about what it’s like. You might even be talking about its essence, that elusive element that makes it what it actually is. Interesting, no?

Let’s look at another dictionary’s definition of integrity, which is what I did to reach that insight. I looked things up all over the place, because I was trying hard to understand what I was reading and not be writing my own mistaken ideas into it. Integrity is:

1. adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.
2. the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished: to preserve the integrity of the empire.
3. a sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition: the integrity of a ship’s hull.

Look at that. Isn’t it beautiful? Whole, entire, undiminished, sound, unimpaired, perfect – I don’t know about your heart, but that’s exactly what mine was straining toward. God says things in the Bible about how His people will be a “new creation”, that we’ll be born again and have eternal life, and that the life we have will be “to the full.” If you go snooping about the Bible, you can find all kinds of good things God says about the people He calls His. You can even find some references regarding integrity. I like I Kings 9:4-5 and the ones in Proverbs, personally, except for 29:10. But, yeah, beautiful!

There I was with a disconnect between who I was and who I wanted to be, between who I was and who I should have been, and there’s integrity, a word meaning wholeness, perfection, and unimpaired condition. Now, remember that my goal in life is and was already at that point to love God with my heart and mind, soul and strength. How do ya’ do that without integrity? How do you do that without wholeness or soundness? How does a person who is diminished or impaired or broken all to pieces even try to love God with their whole being? Got me! I don’t even want to try. I don’t think it’s possible, and I started asking God specifically for integrity.

For myself, honesty alone doesn’t cut it. I need something more than “straightforwardness of conduct” to – well – keep me honest. Integrity, however, seems to fit admirably. It’s got more depth and, to me, more hope to it. It’s about being honest all the way through. It’s about wholeness and soundness and being a person who actually might be able to love God with all that they are.

I even hear that God likes it! See?

I Chronicles 29:17a

I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity.

Catch you later!

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Dust

It is hot today. Chances are that this will be the last hot day of the year. As the sandpaper in my hand mechanically strokes the board, my thoughts reflect that torpor. I’m not thinking much. I’m sleepy, tired, and mentally dragging – yawning internally. My eyes slowly blink as I watch the wind tickle the trees. The stirring of the leaves makes it look like the trees are giggling.

My amusement soon switches to annoyance. End of the summer means the yellowjackets are out in force, and they are operating aggressively. Mom said she’d seen one earlier that day stalking a disabled grasshopper. Their hard lines and bright colors emphasize their swaggering, predatory arrogance. I don’t like them. After all, an angry jacket (and they have no patience this time of year) can sting, run away, and live to sting another day. It makes them bad company. Carefully, I shoo them away from where I’m working, and I set myself to watch for their return. They can’t take a hint, and it won’t matter that I’ve nothing nearby for them to eat. They’ll be back.

Goodness, I’m warm. The breeze is a nice idea and keeps the air from being completely smothering, but the breeze itself is pretty warm. The dust from my sanding is not helping, either. Actually, there is a lot of dust in my area. I had to cut those boards before I could sand them, and the fine, white powder is everywhere. It clings to me, to my clothes, and – oddly enough – the boards themselves. I’m not used to that. Sawdust is usually a little more coarse and sloughs off the boards happily enough. This stuff requires brushing and pounding and unusual effort to remove it. I’m having trouble getting rid of it. It makes me feel a little bit more sorry for myself.

I’m still watching for those yellowjackets, who I feel are undoubtedly infernal agents sent to torment me and everybody else outside today. I see something yellow and black hovering over one of my discarded boards. Alarm strikes me, but then I realize the yellow is really gold, and this hoverer is fuzzy. It’s a honeybee. I don’t exactly like bees, but I appreciate them, their honey, and their habit of pollinating flowers. This one’s behavior interests me. Bees like blossoms, but this bee seems out of place. She’s hanging out around my icky sawdust. Curious, I watch her, and I see her get so close to the board that the breeze from her wings stirs the sawdust. It gently pushes the dust away from her.

Something happens in me as I watch the dust waft away.  It’s almost like a cool breeze that I feel inside. My soul feels refreshed, hopeful even, and I wonder why. A thought lifts on that stirring of hope. It’s a verse, Genesis 2:7.

7 Then the LORD God formed a man[c] from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

I smile. “God can work with dust.”

 

– from yesterday, September 11, 2011

A Wooden “I Love You”

Last week was a busy one. With summer’s end nearing, I was trying to get several projects finished while the weather holds. It’s best to caulk the bathroom and paint and varnish and all that when it can be done outside or with the windows open, so I spent Friday and Saturday busily working. It wasn’t all chores. I also had a chance to say “I love you” and “I care” in a creative manner.

You see, Carey had a pretty stressful week. Some of it was good stress – like being a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding – and some of it was flat-out hard. Fortified with lots of hugs, I sent her off to Wedding World on Friday. I probably should have packed her an extra box of tissues. Didn’t think of that, though, because I was already scheming about a surprise I had in mind for her, something that would be a special way to let her know that she is loved.

In case you didn’t know, there are lots of ways to say, “I love you.” One fellow by the name of Gary Chapman wrote several books on what he calls “The 5 Love Languages.” According to Chapman, a love language would be “a primary way of expressing and interpreting love.” He believes that a person will give and receive love in one of five ways.

Briefly, the languages are Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. These are pretty straightforward. Words people need to be told in so many words, “I love you.” Chances are that they say “I love you” a lot, too. Quality Time folks want and give attention. You might be able to tell what they care about by how they spend their time. The Receiving Gifts crowd aren’t greedy. It’s that nothing says “I love you” to them like the giving and receiving of gifts. Know anybody who is always doing stuff for others? Their language might be Acts of Service. Try doing something for them, and see if they smile. My mom does! The people who need hugs and give them freely are likely to be Physical Touch folks.

The 5 love languages probably should not be considered to be hard and fast rules. What I’ve seen is that individuals will most likely express and accept love using all five, and that primary might only be in use barely more often than the others. For instance, I’d be a Quality Time person, but words are pretty important to me. Carey is a touch person, which would be what prompted all of the hugs, but I happen to know that she won’t turn up her nose at gifts. Then again, there are people who have a strong primary, like my friend Lana, who loves gifts, or my friend Steph, whom I used to call tactile, because she was always touching the people in her space.

One fantastic outcome of Chapman’s work is the awareness it raises about how differently people can function. We don’t all communicate  using the same methods. There are many ways for me to tell others that they’re loved, and they might be using some of them to say the same to me. Sometimes, they even overlap. Think about it. My thing is quality time. There’s not much, if anything, that can be done without some investment of time. Giving somebody a hug takes a little time. Telling somebody they’re loved takes some time. Acts of service can definitely take time, and gifts? Well, just buying something takes time, and if you’re making it, it’s a good bet more time will be involved.

Speaking of gifts, maybe I should move onto my wooden message. Over the last year, I’ve worked on various projects, like building shelving, that involvedg boards. All of these projects left me with various pieces of scrap wood. I was looking at them on Thursday last week, looking at Carey’s room, and had an idea. “Mom,” I said in a moment of Carey-free space, “I’m going to build Carey a bedside table while she’s gone.”

“Yes!” my mom replied. “I’m in!”

Carey left Friday morning, and that night I started working on her table. She’d been wanting one to replace the stack o’ boxes currently gracing her bedside. Before I started working, I of course, like always, drew up extensive plans. All ten lines easily fit onto a single Post-it note, which I never looked at again after I started. 😛 With Shelah’s help (she got to satisfy her craving for hand work with sanding, planing, and using my drill press) on Saturday morning, I think it took about 8 hours of labor to build the table. Once built, we turned it over to Mom, who was finished painting it by Saturday night. Even Stephers got involved. She picked up a few things for us to help make the table perfect. It just looked great. I was a little jealous, to be honest. I may have to make one for myself.

Sunday morning, Mom came up for “coffee,” and we surprised Carey with the table. She loved it! Judging by her response, she also felt loved. That was the best part.

This was a cool thing to do for a lot of reasons. The table itself filled a need. It will certainly function a little better than those long suffering boxes. It’s also a good example of something I love about my family, that we make a great team. We’re even greater when we’re doing something sneaky. Carey felt loved and supported! Furthermore, it was a great opportunity to express that love and support to her utilizing some of those other languages and gifts possessed by my family members. There just aren’t always good opportunities for that. Last but not least, that table also made a great home for those lonely pieces of scrap, something I find immensely satisfying. There’s a lovely symbolism in turning “junk” into treasure.

Hope you’ve had a great week, and that you had your own wooden “I love you” story!