Mirror Moments

Have you ever looked at an image in a mirror and wondered, “Who is that, and where did that person come from? When did I get to look like that??!!??”

I had something of that experience recently. I was getting ready for work. Sitting at my vanity, reaching for something, my glance hit the mirror and I saw something I hadn’t seen before. When I moved my arms forward to reach for things, the skin on the lower part of my neck got wrinkly.

My glance then happened across my hands. While grabbing things, my skin was the smooth, even texture I had always seen. But when I just held them in a resting position or was using them in other ways, wrinkles appeared where none had been before.

Where had these come from? When had time done its inexorable march on my physical self to cause me to start to look so much older than the me inside feels??

Now, lest you think these thoughts are rooted in the mind of someone so selfish and vain all I care about is my image and appearance, allow me to correct that assumption. I wear makeup because as a business owner, it makes me appear more credible. I put it on as a necessary chore, not a pleasurable one. After years of searching, I finally have a hair style that doesn’t take a tremendous amount of effort to look good in the morning. I wear coordinating clothes and jewelry because of my creative, artistic sense, not to be fashionable or to please anyone else (except my husband, who gave most of it to me!). I tend to wear the same necklace (my husband gave it to me for our latest anniversary) and the same bracelet (he gave it to me for Christmas last year) every day. In other words, my appearance is something I give about 1/2 an hour of my day to in the morning, and only scant attention to any other time. It’s an issue of practicality, not vanity.

So, why did the wrinkles bother me? Because when I saw them, I was instantly reminded of a conversation I’d had as a child with my grandmother. And I suddenly realized what an egotistical, self-centered jerk I had been, and how loving and gracious my grandmother had been.

I was no more than 8 or 10, and visiting their home in Syracuse, NY. I was there for the week with my older brother for Vacation Bible School, which we often did in the summer.

We were in Grandmother’s kitchen, and I was helping Grandmother and a friend of hers with some baking. At some point, I looked at their hands, compared them to my childish ones, and made some comment about the wrinkles on them. I then further compounded the immense insult by remarking about the wrinkles on their faces!

Grandmother and her friend could have rightly chosen to be offended. They could have chosen to become upset. They could have chosen to speak harshly to me. They chose none of it. They answered with love, kindly and graciously, simply saying these were signs they’d so far lived long and well, and someday I would understand.

There was something thing I realized as I reviewed that conversation in my memories. Looking at it now, from the adult’s perspective, Grandmother and her friend were likely around the same age I am now! At the time, they seemed immeasurably old. Now, at the same relative age, I look in the mirror and see someone still young looking back (except when I see wrinkles!). But I have a calendar awareness of the passage of time, as well as tangible proof like grandchildren, arthritis and gray hair (just ask my stylist).

When I look in the mirror, I see someone who could have 30, 50 or 100  years left to do all I want to accomplish in life. Okay, I admit it, 100 is pushing it! Or, I could be hit by a bus, get into an accident and my life would be over tomorrow. Don’t believe me? See When Life Turns Upside Down, in which I talk about life after a near-death experience last year. The point is, you never know.

I realized I needed to repent, and say I was sorry to God and the memory of Grandmother for being such an obnoxious, selfish and self-centered jerk of a kid. I know what you’re thinking. Kids have no filters. I certainly didn’t that day. But if time has taught me anything, it’s that a heartfelt “I am sorry” is never out of place when your conscience hits you with a guilty sting.

Finally, I realized as I reviewed that conversation the passage of time has done its work. I understand what Grandmother and her friend meant that day. I have tried to live well, for as long as I’ve had so far.

The Bible has a lot to say about aging and the experience and potential of wisdom that comes with age.

Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life. Proverbs 16:31

Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days. Job 12:12

My absolute favorite on the topic, however, is this one:

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Psalms 90:20

I know, you’re asking, “Number our days?!?!?? What does that mean??!??” It means more than that calendar awareness of time I was mentioning before. The ancient Greeks called that calendar awareness of time Chronos time. It’s the time of clocks and calendars, that we can understand, quantify and measure. What we need is an understanding that our lives, that we see as so long, so significant, so important to us, are really just blips and specks on the timeline of eternity. In other words, what the ancient Greeks called Kairos time. Kairos time is not something quantifiable, understandable or measurable because it’s eternal. It’s all that was before and all that is and all that will be, all in one package, all in one big picture. It’s God’s view of eternal time, as He Who was and is and ever will be.

When we get a Kairos view of time, when we learn to “number our days,” as the psalmist says, we understand our own insignificance in the vastness of God’s perspective. That sounds like it would be something to bring down our self-image and not give us wisdom, right? Well, God’s views are different. When we look at things the way He sees them, we look at ourselves and our lives through His plans, His purposes and, most importantly, His immense and overwhelming love for us. We see our faults, our failings, our flaws and yes, even our wrinkles, in the light of what He has taken us through, and where He is taking us to.

One of LIFE Leadership co-founder Chris Brady‘s favorite quotes is by noted author Henry David Thoreau:

It’s not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?

In our lives of Chronos busy-ness, getting a Kairos view of things from time to time gives us a perspective to understand what we need to be busy about. Day to day living can smother purpose, gobble up passions and devour dreams in the minutiae of things that just have to get done. An eternal view from time to time realigns our perspective, sharpens our focus and reminds us what is truly important.

So, where do we go from here? For me, going back to the start of the post, I’ve earned my current set of wrinkles, and hope to earn lots more. I want to earn more doing things that matter in life, things that have a Kairos impact on a Chronos world. For me, these are things like loving people, sharing the Gospel, and being all the light I can be wherever my life’s candle is placed, just to name a few. On a more selfish level, I want to have some more adventures, a bit of fun, and maybe even acquire a few more gray hairs (for my stylist to hide) by doing exciting things in incredible places with wonderful people.

What about you? Who do you see in the mirror each morning? How are your “mirror moments” lately? Our “mirror moments” are the best when we see not only who is physically looking back, but who is looking back from within. I wish you joy in your journey of discovery.

 

Failure?

When I was younger, I tried a lot of stuff. My oh-so-checkered orthopedic records are a log of how most of my attempts went. Here’s a brief (incomplete) list:

I ran track and cross-country, and sprained both ankles several times. Each. I ice and roller skated, breaking my tail bone and both wrists in 3 different episodes. I skied, and blew my left knee my first time off the “bunny slopes.” I blew my right knee falling off my heels while dancing! I even broke my wrist (again) tripping over a cat while cleaning house. More recently, I broke my hand tripping over a curb. (There are some good stories behind some of these, but they’re too long . . .)

From all of this, you would be justified to believe I’m either accident prone, or a klutz! My orthopedic surgeon thinks so and my extended family members tend to agree. I look at it this way: I have spent my life learning what I could do by learning what I could not do. Unfortunately, what I could not do physically turned into often painful lessons in not doing that again. By the way, I do many things well, including singing, crafts, sewing, quilting, calligraphy, cooking, drawing, painting and writing, though you will have to judge the writing part. 😉

I failed at a lot of things. But am I a failure? No, of course not! That’s because failing is what I did. Being a failure is rooted in who I am, the inner picture I have of myself. Failure is what I have, not what I am.

It’s the same for all of us. Just because we try at something and we don’t succeed (or succeed immediately) doesn’t make us a failure. It means we tried. And, unless circumstances demand otherwise (as in the case of me skiing, for example), to try again and learn from what we did wrong. As Henry Ford said,

Failure is an opportunity to begin again more successfully.

Portrait of Henry Ford (ca. 1919)

Too often, though, we make the mistake of allowing the times when we failed to define us, or our future attempts. We look at the behavior and wrongly translate it into character, personal attribute and/or destiny, instead of seeing it for what it is, an event. We take moments in time and turn them into our identity, melding them into our past, present and worst of all, our future.

I did this for years. Told I did not measure up in many ways, I transformed these criticisms (which were often harsh) into a poor reputation of myself. Failing at things I tried to do fed my low self-image, reinforcing it and deepening the damage to my psyche. It became a vicious cycle. It was only through the slow process of love and constant affirmation from people who showed me over and over how much they loved me that I was freed from this horrible trap.

Now, I understand and am able to relate to something I heard recently from speaker and blogger Bill Lewis,

Your past failures do not predict your future!1

I am learning again the words we were taught as children,

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!”

These sound trite, but truth is often found in trite sayings. I am learning my past is my past, and just that. My future is an unwritten page, on which I decide the direction the story goes. My past need have no influence on it. The book of life only goes forward, not backward. Yours is just the same.

If you, dear reader, struggle with failure as I did, allow my words to take root in your heart and mind. Find people who love and affirm you for who you are, who care about you and want the best for you. Take hope if I can learn how to fail without being a failure, so can you.

Now, get out there and fail at something! Because if you’re not failing, you’re not trying . . . (But that’s a talk for another day, and another post!)