do you have true grit?

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Josh Irby, a good writer and a good man, is writing an inspirational blog series based on True Grit,one of my all-time favorite books and movies.  If you’ve never read True Grit: A Novel by Charles Portis, drop what you’re doing and read it right now. (Read Josh Irby’s series too, it’s awesome.)

Both versions of the movie True Grit are great, but as much as I love John Wayne (and I really love John Wayne), I like the Coen Brothers’ version with Jeff Daniels 100 times more, especially because the child Mattie Ross is played by Hailee Steinfeld, an actual child, instead of the uber-annoying forty-year old Kim Darby. Hailee Steinfeld’s Mattie has true grit.

Grit drives the best stories: The SearchersBlack Hawk DownTears of the SunCasablanca, Defiance.  In a story driven by grit, justice must be served, or an opponent defeated; someone rescued or avenged; and at all costs, it will be done, or die trying.  Failure is always a possibility, but quitting is never an option.

Grit is not pretty.  Grit is not about technique or training; it is about knowing that there is a thing that must be done, and you will do it, and you will not be stopped.  “I will see the thing done,” Mattie Ross says in True Grit, as she sets out to capture the man who killed her father.

If grit were a sport, it would be wrestling.  Low glamour, high intensity, no equipment other than muscle, will and mind.  In the end, a wrestler’s real opponent is himself–will he give in to weakness and the natural desire to quit? Or will he “hold on when there is nothing in him except the will which says to him ‘hold on”? (Rudyard Kipling, If.)

Grit is not morally ambiguous, but it answers to a higher law, and it may bend the rules, although never break them. Grit is about sacrifice, and usually about privation.  Grit cares little for glory and nothing about fame; it cares everything for honor and keeping promises.  Long after the quest for glory has burnt out its pitiful little flame, grit will still be marching on, driven by duty, loyalty, honor and a deep, abiding faith that there is a battle between good and evil, and good must win.

Who has (or had) grit? Winston Churchill is the icon of grit in his indefatigable quest to beat the Nazis (“Never, never, never, never give in”) and probably the only politician who could make my list. George Washington, certainly.  St. Paul.  Leonidas. Henry V.

I don’t know if I have grit, and maybe not knowing means I don’t have it.  Maybe I won’t know until my testing time comes.  But that time comes for each of us, sooner or later. I hope I am ready.

Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.  Winston Churchill

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Hebrews 12:1-2

Who do you think has grit?  Do you?  Please share in the comments, I’d love to hear what you think!

this could still be a good day

This evening I didn’t want to run. My right ankle hurt, I felt a strain in my left adductor, I was dehydrated and depressed. When I walked in the back door after work, my house seemed airless and exhausted, like all the hope had been sucked out by a giant vacuum cleaner of despair.

It was supposed to be a good day.  That morning, I watched the inspirational short video A Good Day by Brother David Steindl-Rast, in which he encourages us to be grateful for this day, because this day is a gift.  He urges us to bless each person with our smile, with our presence.

Somehow, as the day dragged on, I lost the confidence to believe that I could be a blessing to every person I met.  I wanted to be grateful.  But the day’s events turned into an assault against my heart and dignity.  Try as I might, I couldn’t will this day to be a good day.

So I came home, feeling spent and out of touch.  I did a couple of things around the house, then convinced myself I needed to go for a run. Slowly, I gathered my gear: my iPod loaded with all the good running songs James gave me, my new ear buds, my special jacket and headband.  [pullquote]But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings of eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.  Isaiah 40:31[/pullquote]

As I stepped outside into the frosty night, I looked up to see the warrior Orion lunging across the the deep navy sky, bow in hand.  My peripheral vision caught an enormous orange glow, and turning, I saw that it was the moon, lumbering up over the horizon. If I had stayed indoors I wouldn’t have seen Orion or the moon–what a blessing I would have missed!  

And I wouldn’t have felt the moist cold air on my face and hands, or the feeling of my own feet faithfully falling, one after the other, one block, then two, to the top of my street, then swooping down the hill, a little faster, a little stronger than before.  I kept expecting my body to fail me, but my legs kept running.  As I reached the back stretch to run for home, I saw that the moon was now resting in the tree tops and had turned a soft buttery yellow.

As I neared my house, I realized I was holding my breath. I exhaled the anxiety and fear, breathed in life and hope, and thanked God for one more day. 

This was originally published just about a year ago.  I reread it tonight and thought it was worth sharing again.  I hope you watch the video , it is really a gem.

Wings of wax or wings like eagles

Icarus fell.

King Minos of Crete imprisoned the inventor Daedalus and his son Icarus in the Labyrinth…Daedalus used his skills to build wings for himself and Icarus to escape… Daedalus warned Icarus [that] if he flew too high, the sun could melt the wax of his wings…Once they had escaped Crete, Icarus became exhilarated by flight. Ignoring his father’s warning, he flew higher and higher. The sun melted the wax holding his wings together, and the boy fell into the water and drowned.  (Martha Thompson, Encyclopedia Mythica)

I started my Finish Year project, brimming with good energy and evangelical zeal.  I blogged about it, told anyone who would listen–I was so enthusiastic, think I probably got a few people to start their own Finish Year (you’re welcome.)  Just six weeks later, I have been felled by my old nemeses: overreach and anxiety.  Like the mythical Icarus, I flew too close to the sun.

My plan–and the theory in general–was to cut distractions out of my life and ruthlessly pare down to a few well-defined goals, which were:

  1. Complete Adobe Creative Suite classes through Ed2go

  2. Take Spanish classes

  3. Blog at least once a week

  4. And most important to me, run a 5K

Everything was going along just beautifully.  I had started an Illustrator class, I was writing alot, and I was running almost every evening.  My friend Babette and I had just started taking a conversational Spanish class together.  Then the stress bomb blew up, and everything came crashing down.  My wings of wax melted and I was plummeted into a dark sea of despair.

For the last two weeks, I have been doing just enough to get by: wake up at 6 (completely exhausted), make breakfast and lunch for Joe and get him out the door, go to work and put in my eight hours (feeling like I need a Barbie doll stand to prop myself up), drag myself home and feed the fam, and that’s it.  Most nights I am in bed by 8PM.

The familiar foes of low self esteem and defeatism mock me, snarling and snapping: “Who did you think you were to make these goals?  You’re not a high achiever, so stop pretending.”

To all you high achievers, this would seem pretty pathetic.  “You couldn’t even handle those measly little goals?  I put myself through Harvard by working three jobs while caring for my schizophrenic parents and running marathons every other weekend, and I still found time to rescue feral cats,” or whatever.

And that’s the whole point.  I’m soooooo frustrated because my goals weren’t grandiose or unrealistic.  They are doable, practical  and necessary.  NBD, as James would say (No Big Deal.)   Yet it all proved too much for me.  I’m mystified, discouraged and enervated.

At any rate, this morning I am reassessing.  Maybe I did take on a little more than I could handle.  The buoyant feeling of “doing” made me so giddy with good energy, I flew too close to the sun and my wings of wax melted.  Which is all to say that I never should have been flying on my own power anyway.   Self-made wings of wax will always fail you.

I have to remind myself of my Finish Year scripture, Hebrews 12:1-2:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

The operative concepts for me being “throwing off what hinders” and “fixing my eyes on Jesus.”  I looked at my schedule and hit the “delete” button on some stuff that had snuck in.  Because I want to be instantly good at whatever I start, I had been running every day, when I know very well that the main reason people fail at running is because they try to progress too quickly and either burn out or injure themselves.

Today, I will take a walk instead of running.  And I will pray as I walk.  Because none of this makes any sense if it doesn’t serve God’s purposes in my life.  God doesn’t offer us wings of wax that melt in the sun, He offers us “wings like eagles” (Isaiah 40:31) if we will put our hope in Him.  I’ll take “wings like eagles” over “wings of wax” any day.

Crossing the finish line

I am taking Jon Acuff’s challenge to make 2012 a Finish Year. The idea of Finish Year is that instead of making a bunch of grandiose, vague goals (get in shape, make a million dollars, be a better person, win the Nobel Peace Prize), make a short list of several projects that you can actually finish. I am embracing this concept wholeheartedly, because it sets me free from the terrible prison of unrealistic expectations and overpromises.

Here’s the deal: it is so exciting to start things, but finishing? All but impossible. I have drawers and cabinets stuffed with unfinished projects that I was inspired to start but quickly abandoned. I have invested so much time, energy and money in enterprises that started with a bang and ended with a fizzle. Why? Lots of reasons–sometimes I was carried along on the tide of someone else’s enthusiasm, and I really do have a lot of interests. I am a “Jill of all trades and mistress at none.” But probably the main culprit behind all those abandoned projects is the “shoulds.”

Oh, how burdened I am by the ever present feeling that I “should.” Should do this, should do that. In no particular order, on any given day I feel that I should: have someone over for dinner, blog, read the Bible, pray, run, lift weights, cook a healthy meal, practice target shooting, write thank you notes, manage my finances, start a home-based business to augment my meager salary, have lunch with a friend, garden, clean my house, sell stuff on Ebay, schedule a Compassion event, write my Compassion children… and more that I just can’t think of at this moment.

Is it any wonder that I feel tired and overwhelmed?

There’s a marketing maxim that says “the confused mind says ‘no’.”   When people are overwhelmed by too many choices, they won’t choose at all.  They just say “forget the whole thing.”

As a small business person, I’ve understood this concept for a long time, but it wasn’t until recently that I understood what it means on a personal level.  As all my self-imposed responsibilities started swarming in my mind like angry bees, I realized that my brain couldn’t focus on one activity, so it was just shutting down.  All those shoulds and oughts and have-tos spun around in my head until my thoughts were just blurred out nonsense. My confused mind was just saying “no.”

When I came across the Finish List, I felt this was something that could work for me. I had been given permission to focus on just a few things and tell all those shoulds to take a hike.  I realize this doesn’t solve everything–I still need to clean my house and buy groceries.  But it helps me put parameters on my time and focus on what I can do.

If you would like to join me in writing a Finish List for this year, there are four suggested guidelines. First of all, start small to build momentum. For example, instead of making a goal to write the Great American Novel, just pledge to write every day. Secondly, choose ideas from multiple parts of your life, such as spiritual growth, physical fitness, career, financial or relationships. Third, focus on the effort you are going to expend, not the results, because we have limited control over outcome, but maximum control over how hard we try. Finally, make sure the items on your finish list matter. Your goals don’t have to be perfect, but neither should you pick things on a whim that you’re not really invested in.

I have decided on four goals:

  1. Run a 5K to benefit Wounded Warriors
  2. Complete the Adobe CS-5 series: Illustrator and higher level Photoshop and InDesign
  3. Take a Spanish class
  4. Blog at least once each week

I’ve already gotten started on all but the Spanish class, and I feel great about it. Other wonderful ideas are already competing for my attention, but I am going to stay focused on my finish list. For the first time in a long time, my mind is saying yes.