Why I Can’t Say NO

I can’t stand saying no.  My inability to refuse requests means I wind up in tight squeezes.  Often.  It also means I feel stressed.  Most of the time.

So WHY is it that I can’t (or won’t) say “no” to requests from various sources (kids, family, work, friends, church, self, society in general)?

I’ve decided to figure it out, using a series of posts, especially since I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this!

Reason #1 Why I Hate Saying No:

Somewhere along the way, a scripture verse was implanted in my mind.  Something about not withholding good from another person when it is within your power to do something.  For most of my life, I’ve believed that it’s my responsibility to do good when I’m able.  I still think so, and this verse often goes through my head when I consider a new opportunity or request for my time, services, friendship, etc.  So God wants me to do good every time I have the opportunity, and to never withhold a good deed from someone when I’m able to accomplish it.  Right?

Sounds great, but how would one actually accomplish this?  For example, I saw a man today on the street in New Orleans.  He was holding a sign telling me he’s homeless, needs help.  I had a ten dollar bill in my wallet.  It technically WAS within my power to act.  But I didn’t.  I didn’t roll down my window for this guy, and I didn’t stop the car to let him get in.  I didn’t bring him out to eat or help him find a job, even though technically I do have the ability to do all those things.

Keep going with this and you’ll have a glimpse of the craziness that happens in my head.  How is it possible to NEVER withhold good from a person when it is in my power to act?  Let’s face it:  with technology today, and living in what is still the wealthiest country on earth even in an economic slump, there’s not much that’s outside my ability.  I CAN make a call, find a resource, introduce a person, give a ride, make a meal, have a talk, buy a bag of groceries… it’s almost always within my power to do something.  Oh yeah… except for that whole 24 hour in a day limitation and all.  (But when have I ever let that stop me??)

I decided I’d better look up the verse, so here it is:

Proverbs 3:27
Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act

At first glance I noticed some words I’d failed to remember before:  “Do not withhold good from those TO WHOM IT IS DUE,”

Hmmm…. what does this mean?  Honestly, I’m not totally sure, but I find it interesting that there IS a qualifier in there: to whom it is due.  Does this mean the person receiving the good deed should be deserving?  Does it mean we should not withhold good when we OWE it in some way (as in payment of a bill)?  Is it a reminder that we should fulfill commitments made to do good?  Whatever it means, it’s no doubt significant that a guideline was placed in there.  Up until now, I’d interpreted the verse as a command to do good to EVERYONE, period, no matter what, when it is in your power to act.  Now, I realize there’s a qualifier.

I’m also pondering on the idea of WITHHOLDING good.  I picture myself with a bag of delicious cookies or a box of cupcakes, hogging them all to myself, refusing to share with even the hungriest of my friends or family.  The idea of having something good and refusing to share it is appalling to me.  Clearly unbecoming of a believer in Jesus.  But, if I say “no” to a request when I truly don’t have the time, the expertise, or couldn’t easily get the resources, am I really WITHHOLDING good?  Can you withhold something you don’t already have?

Scripture is also clear in other places about a wife’s responsibility to husband, a mother to children, a daughter to family, and employee to employer.  Often saying “yes” to a request that I technically COULD accomplish means I end up withholding good from those to whom I clearly OWE the responsibility: my husband, children, family, or employer.  So it becomes clear to me that saying “no” could sometimes be a way that I OBEY this command rather than fail to fulfill it, especially when the request I refuse would cost me time and energy that already belongs to my marriage, my children, my family or my job.

If my life (myself, my heart, my emotional energy, friendship, capacity for love and compassion, my time, my intellect, etc.) were a bank account, I gotta be honest with you, I stay overdrawn.  At the very least robbing Peter to pay Paul if you know what I mean.  I recognize the same condition in most of my friends and acquaintances as well, especially those among the believers.  However, I’m not sure our Father meant for us to be out of balance in this way.  Even in the above mentioned scripture verse, I’m not sure He was trying to command me to behave in the way I’ve been trying to.  I’m not sure He meant “Say yes to everything you are asked to do, make everyone your best friend, and take on every unfortunate situation as your own.”

As much as I hate to admit it, I can’t be best friends with everyone.  I can’t be responsible for the welfare and happiness of everyone I come in contact with every day, and trying to do so produces a life spread so thin that no one gets anything good.  So either God has commanded us in the aforementioned verse to do something we can never, ever actually do, OR maybe He was saying something a little more like: “Be careful to share and give good things to those that I’ve given to you to care for. Don’t hold back from those I’ve given you to love, and watch closely for those times when I’ll give you the opportunity to do something that is easily within your power but is an extraordinary work on my behalf for someone else.”

And that, my friends, is reason number one that I can’t say no… only it’s not a reason anymore.  Next?



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So I hurt my back last week.   How I wish I had a heroic story to tell of a brave and wonderful way I got this injury.  But no.

I was brushing my teeth.  Yes, brushing my teeth, and when I bent to spit out the bubbles created by our particular brand of toothpaste, something in my back twisted and jerked, rendering me helpless in the “bent over to spit” pose.

After 24 hours, I still couldn’t straighten.  I was sort of functioning in an “S” shape.  S for SUPERWOMAN, right?  I NEEDED to be superwoman to stand that kind of pain.  I’m talking pain of childbirthing proportions, only childbirth had an END in sight!!  So I ended up at the chiropractor’s office in a desperate attempt to reduce the pain.

My chiropractor has this wonderful thing… it’s a bed/table type thing that you lie down on and it uses jets of hot water to massage your back.  It’s lovely.  But it gets better!  This amazing miracle table is located in a small room with minty aqua walls.  So the doctor gets me all set up on the table and then leaves the room, closing the door behind him.  I was lying there ALL ALONE.  Stuck for the duration of the treatment, there was no way to hurry or try to cut a corner to get it done faster.  There was no one standing outside the door yelling “MAMA!!”  There was nothing to do but lie there and think.  So I thought.

I thought how nice it was to be alone in the quiet for a few moments.  I thought how insane to be enjoying a back injury because it gave me a few quiet moments alone. I thought if not for that pain, I’d be running around in my usual craziness, spinning plates like I always do.   I thought of the guilt I felt for spending money on this doctor visit, but I had no choice since I couldn’t even pick up the baby or do most any of my usual daily tasks.  I thought how thick-headed I must be to have not learned by now that those who are counting on me would be much better off with a calmer, healthier me.  I thought how all my hustling and bustling really isn’t blessing me or my family.

So this weekend, we played in the rain.  We went to bed early.  We had friends over for a simple but yummy dinner WITH dessert.  I let the kids stay up late.  I took a nap when the baby napped.  I wrote my husband a love letter and took him on a date.  With Sunday services canceled due to tropical storm weather, and Labor Day falling on this weekend also, I had a day off from both my jobs. I went for coffee with a friend and talked over some ideas I’ve been having.  We spent time with family and the house was filled with laughing crazy cousins playing together.

I slowed it down and guess what?  TWO stressful situations at work resolved themselves, housework still got done, kids still got bathed, fed and dressed, and life still went on, only I truly LIVED it.  Imagine that!

Sometimes when life gets me stressed and harried, when I’m moving too fast to really even live, that’s when the IMpractical becomes the most practical thing of all.  I had NO TIME to be lying on a chiropractor’s table, but there I was anyway, and it was right where I needed to be.

So I brushed my teeth, bent over to spit, and stood back up (several days later) a little smarter.  I’ll still see ya on the highway, but more often, I hope, in the slow lane.





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Much Obliged

Jan Karon, in her novel Out to Caanan, tells of a hurricane that hit the small town of Mitford.

“At the edge of the village, Old Man Mueller sat in his kitchen, trying to repair the mantel clock his wife asked him to fix several years before her death.  He happened to glance out the window in time to see his ancient barn collapse to the ground.  He noted that it swayed slightly before it fell, and when it fell, it went fast.  ‘Hot ding!’ he muttered aloud, glad to be spared the aggravation of taking it down himself.  ‘Now,’ he said to the furious roar outside, ‘if you’d stack th’ boards I’d be much obliged.'”

A few days ago, someone I counted a friend said some unkind and severe criticisms about me and to me.  You see, I have this “thing” this NEED for people to like me.  So much of the time, my need to please and my inability to say “no” gets me an overloaded schedule and an overburdened heart. Pair this with my unrealistic expectations of perfection and I’ve got a formula for a pretty severe emotional thunderstorm.

Situations like these tend to bring out those old thoughts, reopen old emotional wounds for me.  “You’ll never be good enough.”  “No matter how hard you try, it never works, so why keep going?”  Sound familiar to anyone?  I hope not, but just in case it does, here’s what has occurred in my heart:

I have a forever Friend.  His name is Jesus.  He’s been there since the beginning, seen it all, knows the deepest darkest.  He has invited me to hide under His wings, in His shadow, inside His fortress.   From there, He can tell me what is true.  He can gently and lovingly show me pieces of myself that need repair work.  He can remind me how steady and sure His love is for me, and that no matter what anyone thinks of me, He and I know who I am.  It’s like He and I can sit in the kitchen like Old Man Mueller, watching the storm’s damaging attempts outside, and be able to appreciate and smile at the good brought about by challenges and difficulties in life.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that this realization has come after my husband got to witness not one, but two emotional fall-aparts.  He got to hear plenty of the old disgusting ideas that seep like infection out of my old emotional wounds before I’ve finally decided to take this situation to the “kitchen table” with Jesus.  Sometimes running to God isn’t always my first reaction.  Sometimes it’s my last resort, but it ALWAYS is the right solution.

Yeah, so maybe I had a little hurricane come through.  Maybe it knocked over a thing or two for me.  But I know who I am.  I’ve examined my heart and it’s right with the One who matters.  So thanks, little storm.  And if you’d stack th’ boards I’d be much obliged.


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Important to Me

As I write this, my two oldest kids are sharing a bowl of popcorn and a game.  My youngest is playing contentedly with a glo-worm on the floor, and my husband is napping on the couch.  It’s Saturday, a rare one when we are both off of work and all five of us are together.  Though this moment in our lives would make a nice Norman Rockwell painting, my days aren’t always this easygoing.  I do my share of “hurry up, we’re late!” and “I’m too tired to deal with this right now.”

But today… today we’ve savored a slow, relaxing time together.    I think of all the time I’ve spent running and rushing, wishing and hoping, and shooting for goals, making the sale and putting out the fires and carrying what sometimes feels like the weight of the world.  I realize that all those things I try to accomplish are important.  Yes, they are important.  But there’s important, and there’s important TO ME.

I hope in the end my life will count for something important.  More than that, I hope it counts for the things, the ones that are important to me.   This home, this family, being a great wife and mother, carrying on the good name my mother and father gave me.  That’s more than important.  It’s important to me.

So I have a new question to ask myself as I prioritize my crazy life.  Is it important?  Is it important TO ME?  Wonder if I’ll change my mind about what’s on the top of my list?


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Black Coffee

So I’ll get right to the bottom of things.  It’s been a scary summer.  Right as my big kids left for Florida for the summer, my husband got sick.  Really sick.

It’s been weeks of guessing, wondering, steps forward and then as many steps back.  Things are looking up now, and I’m pretty sure we are on the last stretch of the road to recovery. Looking back over the summer, I’ve hardly known how or what to pray.  Even a seasoned believer like me who likes to think she’s experienced God a time or two…no idea what to pray for.  Of course, I told God what I wanted:  A happy, healthy husband.  But the questions in my mind continued to swirl.  I lost one marriage already in a painful end, and after finding Dwayne and daring to love again, after all the joy I’ve found with him, the idea of losing him is more than I can entertain.  I have really been wrestling with what to say because the last several years of my life have taught me that God may say yes to my request but he also may say no.  And what does that mean to me and my faith?

A few months ago I noticed a friend’s post on Facebook.  She said something like: “God is so good.  We were in a car wreck and none of us were hurt.”  My knee-jerk reaction was to comment: “So if you had all been hurt or killed then God would be bad?”  I know that’s not what she meant, but so often I find myself popping off a similar phrase, that churchy talk that was once such a part of my daily allotment of verbage.  I can’t settle for that anymore.

If there’s anything I know without a shadow of doubt it’s that God IS good.  His love is everlasting.  He is enough.  He’s good when I get what I want, and He’s good when I my worst fears are realized.  It’s in my worst moments of suffering and frustration that I’ve found God to be most faithful, most trustworthy, and most loving.  It’s on the bottom that I’ve committed to trust Him no matter what happens.

If God is as big and as real as I need Him to be, then there absolutely MUST be more to everything than what I see and know.  There MUST be something He can see, something He has planned that will set all to right, that will make it all worthwhile in the end.  I’m finding, though, that it takes a bit more faith to pray and tell God what I want, knowing He is capable of granting my request, and being confident that He hears me, daring to hope that He’ll say yes and yet choosing to trust that He’s still right if He says no.

Not so bad if you’re praying for a new car, but a little more challenging if you’re praying not to lose your husband.  Do I even dare to pray for something I want and need so much, risking the pain I’ll feel if I let myself hope for a yes and then I get a no?  Is it worth it to keep hoping and praying when there are no guarantees?

The answer for me is “Yes.”  Yes because there ARE, after all, SOME guarantees.  God’s presence and His love.  His mercy and His grace.  Heaven for me as a believer is a guarantee.  When it’s all said and done, what more do I have, and what more do I need in light of forever?  So yes, I’ll tell God what I want.  Yes, I’ll dare to hope He gives it to me.  I’ll risk that openness with God, and I’ll somehow wrap my brain around the idea that if He says “no” to my request, He hasn’t said “no” to me personally.  I think I’m learning how to let God seep down into the deepest darkest crevices of my being.  I’m learning how to share with Him the deepest, most desperate wants and rest in the guarantee of His love instead of conjuring up a guarantee that He’ll do what I hope he will for me right now.  I’m learning how to walk with God and let Him show me how to enjoy today rather than wondering what I’ll do if my fears come true tomorrow.

These thoughts might be considered a black, black cup of strong coffee since they are being poured out here.  But I have a feeling there are a few out there who enjoy a good cup of black coffee like I do, and aren’t scared to sip on these ideas with me and offer feedback as well.


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Crazy Love

So my husband spent a few days in the hospital last week.  He’s home and getting better every day, but it’s been miserable.  I mean really miserable.  He’s got plenty of frustrations of his own, struggling to get well and hating being unable to function normally.  He’s got some lifestyle changes to make that aren’t easy.  But he’ll have to get his own blog to tell about all that. 🙂

I’ve been in a quandry about my own reaction to his illness.  I’m really struggling to keep it together.  Several times I’ve scolded myself, thinking there’s no way I should be this stressed out and uneasy.  Looking inside myself, I wondered what in the world had me so upset.  Was I THIS spoiled, used to his helping hands with me all the time?  Was I THAT hungry, missing his yummy dinners usually waiting when I got home?  Am I such a spoiled brat?

Then, a couple of days into his recovery, he looked over at me and grinned.  One of his trademark melt-my-heart smiles.  It was a glimpse of him… happy.  And for that moment, every bit of my worry and frustration and sadness disappeared.  I realized then that my problem is the same ol’ thing that got me wrapped up with this guy in the first place.  Crazy, awesome, incredible love. 

I adore this man.  And seeing him happy is when I’m the happiest.  Somewhere beyond the initial thrill of infatuation, we graduated to the kind of love that gives itself away.  The kind that delights in the happiness of another, more than one’s own happiness.  The kind that would rather take the loved one’s place than see him suffer.  The kind of love husbands and wives SHOULD share, the kind mommies and babies share, the kind that JESUS showed us so long ago.

Know what I think is SO cool?  That love… the pang in my heart when my loved ones are sad, the leap of joy when I see them happy… God’s the one who gives me that!!  That’s HIM, interacting with me, whispering about who He is and the way He treasures us all. 

I John 4:7-8  “Beloved, let us love one another.  For love is of God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God.  He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love.”


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Weeping and Sowing

Psalm 126:6 NIV “Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.”

At times over the last few years, I’ve been confused, grieving, angry, rebellious, and disillusioned.  All normal parts of being a human dealing with life’s tragedies and disappointments.  I’ll call that “weeping.” 

We all have “weeping” times in life.  We all have joyful times.  Highs and lows, ebbs and flows.  That’s the way life is.  Seasons are constantly changing.  Somehow along my way, I got the impression that a time of weeping was no time to be sowing.  And truthfully, many of my weepier days, the last thing I feel like doing is “sowing” into the work God has for me.  I put away my gift, quit writing, quit speaking, quit ministering and focused on the weeping.

My dad’s a pretty awesome grower of vegetables.  Over the years, though I’m afraid I might not have his green thumb, I’ve learned some things about sowing and harvesting.  Daddy’s corn is without doubt the best in the world.  It’s a taste I look forward to every year, bringing back memories of Christmases, Thanksgivings, pretty much any happy time of celebration when we’d eat our favorite family meals.  Some of that corn would no doubt appear on the table.  Harvest:  enjoying the end result of a season of long, hard, hot work.  It’s the time to dance, laugh, eat, sing and celebrate. 

But not every day is harvest.  In order to get to harvest day, there first must be planting day, then many days between of watering, hoeing, weeding, fertilizing, and dealing with insects and pests. There is no harvest without these in between days of sweat, work, heat, and monotony.

 Thankfully, every day isn’t a weeping day.  Just as times of happiness don’t last forever, neither do times of sorrow.  Slowly, surely, God has been healing my heart, and as He continues to mend it together again, I’m realizing that weeping or not, I must continue to sow.  I must continue to do the work He has given me, use the gifts He’s placed in me, and develop the passion He’s ignited in me.

A few weeks ago, I ran across Psalm 126:6 and God used it to speak to me.  “He (or she) who goes out weeping, CARRYING SEED TO SOW, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with her.” 

I might be weeping, or singing, dancing or dragging.  Regardess, I can’t stop carrying seed to sow.  I can’t stop doing what God’s put in me to do.  Weeping times will come, so will times of joy.  Sowing must go on, so that there may be times of harvest.

Today you might be weeping.  My challenge to you and me is:  Don’t let life’s times of disappointment stop you from planting your seeds, from using the gifts God has given you.  There WILL be times of joy again, and if you continue to plant, that joy can be accompanied by a harvest.

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Sometimes Poopoo Prevails

I’m a mother of three.  A strong woman, in body and mind and will, I can handle a whole lotta stuff.  But there are days… days when it’s clear I must give up and go home for a while.

This past Sunday was one such day.  Three of my good friends and I were at a local restaurant after Sunday services celebrating a birthday.  My little 16 month old, Caleb, was with us.  He kept us all entertained with his cute little smiles and funny attempts at using a spoon.  After a while, he got squirmy in the high chair and I let him get down and toddle around right by my chair.  In a few moments, he positioned himself behind my chair and got very still.  Any mother of a toddler can guess what he was doing.

At first I was simply thankful for a few moments of stillness to converse with my friends without simultaneously wrestling with a small boy.  Then I smelled it.  No time to dawdle on this, being in the middle of a restaurant and all, I snatched him right up, grabbing the diaper bag in one smooth motion and headed off to the restroom.  Upon my arrival in the ladies room, I discovered that Caleb’s poop had run down his leg and into his shoe.  (Yes, since I had picked him up, it was also on my dress.)  Guess how many wipes I had?  A grand total of two! 

Luckily, the baby changing station in this public restroom was located right next to the sink and paper towel dispenser.  So, I just gave Caleb the best kind of public-restroom-sink-bath I could.  I wrapped his clothes and shoes in one of those disposable plastic lined changing station pads that are usually always out of stock.  This restroom was well supplied, thank God.  I dressed him in clean clothes, cleaned my dress as much as a dress can be cleaned by a woman having only two hands and needing to keep a stinky toddler off of a public restroom floor, and returned to the table. 

During my difficult but successful cleaning process, I wondered…  “If the poop is in his shoe…  certainly it’s not on the floor also.  I mean, they’re sandals, but it was all contained in the shoe, right?  I don’t see how one little boy could have possibly made THAT much poop.”  Upon returning to the table, my fears were confirmed.  Just behind my chair there was a nice sized pile of liquid baby poop.  Oddly, it had gone unnoticed by my friends AND by the dad of the family sitting behind us (meaning the poop pile BEHIND my chair was directly BESIDE him.)

Mortified beyond imagination, I alerted restaurant staff of the poop problem.  They “messed” the situation up even more, in my opinion.  Instead of moving the affected parties, they simply brought a pile of napkins to place over the poopoo puddle and expected everyone to keep right on eating.  (Which the family behind us DID, completely and graciously ignoring the issue. That guy musta been REALLY hungry. My friends on the other hand did NOT continue eating due to their uncontrollable GUFFAWING at my little predicament.)

We sat for several more tortured minutes and my husband arrived, expecting to enjoy a drink and a visit with our friends.  By this time, however, Caleb was restless, and I couldn’t let him down since we were literally sitting in a pile of poop.  Misery set in for us all. It was time to give up.  Take my toys and go home.  Admit my defeat and let it go.  So I did.  I paid the bill and left the restaurant, wondering how much to tip a waitress who will undoubtedly be doing a little more work than she bargained for.  I left the poop behind and retreated to the safety of my home, where wipes are in abundance and bathtubs are full-size and readily available. 

Sometimes life has a way of pouring on the poop.  And sometimes I just don’t know when to quit.  I find myself sitting in the situation, completely in misery.  The poop situation with my son was just another day in the life of a mommy, but it reminded me of my own stubborn ways.  I don’t want to admit defeat, even when staying and fighting makes things worse.  One of my mentors gave me advice to live by.  He used to say simply:  “Avoid misery.” 

Sometimes I continue in situations where I clearly don’t belong and am ineffective, yet I don’t want to “lose.”  Sometimes, I require things of myself , unnecessary things, and in that process subject myself and my family to irritability, anxiety, and yes, misery.  I’ve decided not to forget this lesson:  Sometimes poop prevails.  And when the poop prevails, it’s time to go home.  Home to the place where you have what you need.  Clean up, recharge, and go out to fight another day.

Next time you’re in a stinky situation, don’t take it so hard.  There are times to stay and fight, but there are also times to retreat and regroup.  May you and I have the wisdom and insight needed to recognize such times, and may we have the grace to give ourselves permission to lose one battle in order to win an entire war.

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Long Week

Things I have learned this week:

1) My husband doesn’t do very well with laying in a hospital bed.

2) I don’t do very well with him laying in a hospital bed either.

3) Newspaper articles take on little personal feeling… until they are about someone you know… or knew. Then they become either word bouquets or word weapons. Unfortunately there are more weapons.

4) Some people can and do work very hard to make big changes. Even those people you think will never change.

5) I’m weaker than I thought I was. And stronger than I thought I was.

It’s been THAT kind of week. I’m glad it’s almost over. My friend posted today on his facebook “God’s grace is enough.” In weeks like this, I’m SO glad it is.

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