I'm quite certain that the kids were a bit astonished and maybe a tad bit anxious about my enthusiasm for this new little gadget. Daddy had picked it out ... after a number of persistent hints. So, when I unwrapped my little green and white mommy-organizing-tool, I was thrilled, Brett was relieved ... and the kids were puzzled.
"What is it?"
"Ooohhhh ... it's a Label Maker!! I've always wanted one of these!"
I then went on to describe the little machine and all the wonderful ways that it would help us to get organized. The kids caught my label making-fever and we got right to work.
We headed to the kitchen and labeled the boxes of crayons, markers, stamps and miscellaneous school stuff. Then the kids brought down some of their bins and boxes from their bedrooms and we labeled them, too. By the end, we had labeled Lydia's diaper drawer, "Godzlydia's Diapers" and the plastic bins in the kitchen, "Sugar", "Flour" and "Brown Sugar". I could feel my home and all it's parts falling into place.
Over the past year, we have put my label maker to good use: school supplies, play kitchen drawers, baby doll dresser and the Barbie bin. While I'm not sure that we a more organized :) we certainly know where things SHOULD go. Everything does have a place ... sometimes they just don't quite make it there. We are a work in progress, for certain.
A few weeks ago, I attended a conference and my penchant for labeling came up again ... but in a different context. As part of the conference, there was a husband and wife team that spoke. Prior to their talk, I browsed through the printed program and read through the short biography about the couple.
They looked nice in the picture.
They had plenty of degrees in their list of references.
They had a website to visit later.
They also had a new-fangled catch-phrase for their ministry: "to help others be appropriately human".
Whatever that means.
I chocked it up to the never-ending attempt by writers and speakers to re-invent simple Biblical truths to make them sound new and fresh again. Perhaps with the intent to help. Perhaps with the intent to make a few bucks.
"Aw well ... we'll see what they have to say," I thought as the lights dimmed and the introductions began.
First the wife came out and with her sweet sense of humor and transparency, I warmed up to the idea of hearing more from her. Then her husband came out. He was gentle in his tone and was deliberate in his speaking. And you could tell that they both really enjoyed speaking together. My initial impressions started to fade away as I could see their sincerity and their desire to speak truth to their audience.
The topic of their talk was centered on the idea that we are each image-bearers of God. But, because of the legacy of sin passed down since Adam and Eve, our mirror that reflects God is broken and we pass on a fractured reflection of God. Then came the words that stopped me in my notes ...
Because of our fractured state and our failure to truthfully reflect God, we also struggle to see others as they truly are on the inside. When we see someone who is different than us (which is everyone!) we take our first impression, jump to a conclusion regarding them and ...
slap a label on them.
For example, maybe you are going to a conference and you read in the program about the upcoming speaker and you read something about them that you don't fully understand and so instead of giving them an opportunity to tell you about themselves, you label them as, "Latest Bandwagon Jumpers." You know ... something like that. :)
The speakers went on to flesh this idea out further. Here are a few of the quotes that I jotted down:
- Our personality/tendencies/giftings put us in "people boxes" which are then duct taped tightly with labels.
- There is no need to go through a box that is properly labeled ... there is no need to get to know a person we have stamped with our own descriptive word.
- Remember that we are each human with a human story ... peel off the label and discover who they are.
As I sat there, I was suddenly convicted of the hundreds upon hundreds of times that I have done just that to the people I come in contact with. I've Judged, Packaged, Labelled and Shelved. Nice and tidy ... but not very conducive to building friendships.
Let me give you a few other examples:
Let's just say that there is this particular person that I interact with who micro-manages everything. Let's call him/her, "Nit-Picker". I have properly labelled said person ... only to discover that he/she is actually very responsible and has a high expectation of the work that he/she does. And he/she answers to other people for his/her work and so he/she feels doubly responsible for the work done. Hmm ... better pull that label off.
Or perhaps I see a mom at our MOPS meeting who has it all together: fashionable clothing, actual jewelry and a nifty carrying case for her piping hot casserole she baked this morning. I'll label her, "SuperMom". But upon sitting together at a table I discover that she and her husband are having marital problems and she's just barely keeping it together. She feels scared and alone. I have to carefully remove that label and listen to her fragile heart.
Then there is the kid in my son's class. The one who is always in trouble. The one who always seems to be in his own little world. The one who seems to have a bit of an obsession with Bionicles. I might label him, "Trouble-Maker". Then, because my son is tender-hearted and wants this boy to be his friend ("Really? That little guy?!") I get to know him and he's sweet ... but life is challenging for him. And my heart is softened as I take off his label and get to know him ... this fellow with a different take on life.
They might make my home more organized. They might help the kids get things in the right places. They might even keep the craft shelves tidy. (Okay ... maybe not ... but we're on the right track!)
But they have no place in my life when it comes to people. Here's to freeing all those folks I have stuffed in their "people boxes" and labelled shut ... it's time to really get to know them.
For more information about the wonderful couple who opened my eyes to my affinity for labelling, check out their website, Soulation. And you can check out the books I bought while I was there, "Coffee Shop Conversations" and "Ruby Slippers" ... yes, I was that moved by their talk. :)