Apparently, the best way to judge the success of a summer trip is by examining tan lines. We went on a scuba diving trip for the first time in several years (since before Engelberta was born) at the beginning of the summer, and as we checked out of the hotel, the desk clerk noted my sunburn/tan and remarked, “Oh, I see you’ve got a nice tan, so it’s been a good trip. Make sure to get some good lotion for that burn, and maybe it won’t peel much.” When I got home, most of my friends complimented my tan and determined that a good time was had by all because my formerly pasty white skin was suddenly colored. I had a great trip, but my sunburn/tan was a hard-earned measure of success. As Paul Harvey would say, here’s “The Rest of the Story.”
I have had motion sickness for as long as I can remember, so scuba diving off a boat presents some challenges for me. Fortunately, my dive buddy husband usually sets up my gear and sends me out of the cab to stare at some point on the horizon. Unfortunately, what sea legs I had managed to develop atrophied terribly. So, my first day on the boat involved the captain delivering the Coast Guard briefing with a nonchalant remark about moderate chop followed by, “but I don’t think anyone will get sick or anything,” followed by renewing my status as “designated chummer” by hurling my lunch overboard with great gusto. I never made it off the boat. At the advice of our captain, I laid on the bow underneath the window visor and attempted not to puke again. I didn’t move for several hours, so every bit of skin I had managed to free from my wetsuit baked in spite of my sunscreen. I was so sunburned that we went and bought a sun shirt for me to wear for the rest of the trip to avoid any further damage. The good news is, I got several great shore dives in, and I managed to get off the boat once. For me, that single boat dive was worth it, and I know my (wobbly at best) sea legs will grow back. It was a good trip. I saw amazing things in the ocean. But the single measure of success everyone noticed was actually a physical sign of my abject failure to do what I had gone to do. My tan was achieved by clinging to the bow of a boat, praying not to puke, instead of successfully jumping off the boat.
My outer shell projected success, but anyone who wasn’t on the boat with me had no idea what that tan cost me. So, it’s not always what you think. I’ve developed a lot of my strengths the hard way. Someone recently noted that she didn’t think anything could phase me because I generally roll with whatever gets thrown my way. She probably doesn’t know the rest of the story – that my unflappability is the result of years of dealing with circumstances so big and so far out of my control that the only option is to wait and see what God will do – that being “flapped” by grief and depression make little deviations of course ridiculously small by comparison. I choose my battles with greater precision, but developing that skill cost me in pain and in hope deferred.
But just as my outer projections of success don’t tell the whole story, my shortcomings don’t either. I have been struggling with a shorter fuse lately. Some of that is just a natural (though not at all godly) side effect of parenting a tiny human – I seriously lost it over fake money scattered all over the floor because Engelberta decided to ignore my requests to pick it up and chose to pick a booger instead. Lost. It. There are moments that you need to be able to yell at a child – “Don’t touch that hot stove,” “Don’t lick the electrical socket,” and such – “Put the money in the bag” doesn’t make that list unless you’re training the kid to pull off a bank heist. My temper that keeps bubbling up to the surface isn’t the whole story. It is sin. (Don’t get lost on that word – sin is any imperfection that falls short of God’s perfection.) It is ugly and regrettable and unholy and ridiculously stupid because I know better. I think we all feel that way about sin in any form in our lives. And here’s the rest of that story:
Sin (imperfection) is all a result of brokenness. We are all broken. We live in a broken world. Just look at the headlines. Look at yourself. None of us are perfect, and we spend lots of energy and time attempting to repair the broken pieces of ourselves. My short temper and anger problems of late are the outer projections of hurt and despair I have unsuccessfully tried to bury. But what the world sees is a cranky, impatient jerk. I could spend a lot of time working on anger management techniques, but that will never address the root of my sin. It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t work on curbing my temper; it does mean that unless I address my hurt and brokenness with God, my anger will never dissipate. I have a lot of work to do with God, but what I know about God’s grace tells me that he will do the hard work if I will just bring him my pain. I honestly don’t always know what that looks like or how to let go of it once I bring it to him. I do know that I have experienced incredible grace when I abandon myself to him, when I just follow and roll with the punches, when I remember that I can be unflappable because God, who is greater and bigger than I can imagine, holds every detail in perfect order in his holy and capable hands.
So remember when you examine yourself and when you encounter prickly people, those strengths are no accident – they came at some cost to you – and those oh so visible weaknesses aren’t always what they appear to be. They’re clues to the rest of the story.