Saturday, April 19, 2014

Striving for 'Exellence'

I have never taken a compliment well. Never. They have always made me uncomfortable in a really itchy, Sheldon Cooper (Big Bang Theory) anxiety attack, sort of way. I have never known how to respond, and I would typically counteract them by insulting myself. I believe most people find that annoying, as though I am fishing for more compliments or insincerely modest, but it is honestly the only way I know how to respond to a compliment. My husband has been very vocal about the ways in which this bothers him. "Just say, 'thank you!'" I hear from him repeatedly, but 'thank you' for what? Pointing out something that is not of me at all? Because I think, deep down, I have always felt that everything found good in me is not, in fact, me.

When I was young people were constantly complimenting my basketball skills. It made my skin crawl. I could instantly think of all of my flaws, and all the players who were better. This was more of a hindrance than anything, because not fully realizing my abilities held me back from being the best I could be. I know that now, but I also know that if not for the Lord, basketball wouldn't have even existed in my life. I had asthma so bad as a young child, that I couldn't even run across our yard without an attack. I never should have been able to play...but I did. Then, as I became more involved in basketball, and it became less and less affordable for my parents to help out, God kept providing extra income and ways for them to do what they could for me to compete. Basketball was never really mine, but I took it, I defined myself with it, I used it to pay for my college education, and I took it for granted. When my career ended prematurely with an unforeseen injury, all I could think about was how I had idolized basketball, and how I did not use it to glorify the One who gave it to me.

And so, compliments of any kind became even more difficult for me to accept.

Any physical beauty found in me was designed by the Lord.

Any talent or ability I have was given from the Lord.

Any good or kindness found in me is the work of the Lord.

And obviously any undesirable, unlikeable, horribly awful imperfect trait found in me, is me; wholly humanly little 'ole me. I tend to focus on those because those are the things I most want to change, and because those are the things within me, that make my skin crawl whenever a compliment is thrown my way.

Then I had children. And my children, imperfect though they may be, are amazing. I see them for who they are, their faults, their strengths, their struggles and triumphs. They are beautiful. Then someone compliments me, "What well-behaved children you have!" And I hear this a lot, because really...they are. And again, I can't just say "Thank you," and move on. I stumble and stutter, and think of all the times they are not, because this compliment falling on my ears, is not mine to claim. Everything good in them is from the Lord. Any good parenting decision we have made on their behalf, is from the Lord, and I thank HIM for the wonderful children they are.

But every now and then, I don't have to say a word, because every so often, in a perfectly timed, humbling moment, they will do it for me.

At a spaghetti dinner a few weeks ago the kids were quietly eating. They ate up their salad before moving on to spaghetti, which, I guess, in a lot of homes is pretty amazing. My kids love salad. They said their 'please' and 'thank you's, and finished their plates. As Elijah took his last bite, a woman to my right said, "Your children are so well behaved! They are very polite and well mannered at the table!"

I smiled, as my skin began to crawl uncomfortably, and Elijah promptly wiped the spaghetti sauce from his face with his sleeve.

She and I both laughed, and I felt relieved. Why? Being reminded of our humanness is comforting. Being aware that our greatness comes from Him, reminds us there is something more, something better, something perfect we have not yet seen.

All through high school I had a quote hanging on my closet door by Michael J. Fox, "I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Exellence I can reach for; perfection is God's business." And yes, you read that right. I can't remember if I typed it up myself, or if one of my parents did, but there was a typo in the quote. The word 'Excellence' was misspelled. I never fixed it. I liked the irony.

Maybe one day I will be able to gracefully receive a compliment without getting squirmish. But sometimes, that humbling discomfort is a great reminder of who I serve and why. I am not here to serve myself. I am not here to collect rave reviews. I am merely a child of God who has some food on her sleeve.

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