Joyce Landorf Heatherley is a nationally known author, public speaker, recording artist and gifted Christian communicator from Austin, Texas. Her books have been an inspiration to millions of readers, who find encouragement and comfort in her honesty and hopeful outlook on life. Her newest book is called Special Words: For When You Don't Know What to Say, which is also the title of her message today. [Biographical information is correct as of the broadcast date noted.]
The Gift of Acceptance
First broadcast December 8, 1991
[Transcribed from tape and edited for clarity.]
Of the gifts my mother left me a number of years ago—the gifts of having a sense of humor, of wonder, of faith—the one I am going to talk about today is the gift of acceptance.
I see it in three packages. First, understanding that God has accepted us. My mother had a genius for accepting herself as she was, as God saw her. She looked into the mirror one day, saw herself and decided that she would accept God's forgiveness for her, God's mercy for her. She would accept whatever it was that God had in mind for her and then, secondly, she would accept herself. I don't think she had a problem with self-esteem as many of us do, myself included, because she continually looked at herself as God saw her.
Women, especially, have a problem with age. I just turned 59 not too long ago and I received a birthday card from a friend of mine, Barbara Johnson, another author. The card said, "Do you know why 59-year-old women don't have babies? We don't have them because if we did, we would put them down some place and forget where we put them."
Most of us have a problem accepting ourselves, even our age. The fact that I am 59 is coming hard to me. I never thought I would be that old. I need to look at myself, and you need to look at yourself, and accept yourself as is, or as God sees you—59, 29, 79, or whatever age you are. The Bible says we need to accept each other as Christ accepts us. I believe that means not only each other, but accepting our own selves, too.
It is hard to do, though. Perhaps somebody told you a long time ago that you had ugly hands. I remember a mother-in-law I had once who has now gone on to be with the Lord. She always talked about how ugly her hands were. One day I took both of her hands in mine and I said, "Margaret, who told you your hands were ugly?"
She said, "When I was a little girl, my mother said, 'Margaret, you have ugly hands. Always wear gloves when you are in public.'"
All through her life she could not accept her hands. I remember taking those hands and saying, "Margaret, how many diapers have these hands washed? How many meals have these hands cooked? How many times have you ironed with these hands? How many times have you hugged with these hands?"
She just smiled because she had done all of those things and done them well. I kissed her hands and said, "They are beautiful to me."
So first, I think God would have us understand that he accepts us as we really are—as he sees us—not as we wish other people would think, or other people have told us we are, but as we are. Then, second, to accept myself as God sees me.
The third thing that she worked on very hard with me is that I should accept others as Christ has accepted me. I know the most about that kind of an acceptance from an experience that I had.
I used to do a lot of mother and daughter banquets. I remember arriving at one of them and there was nobody there. The tables were set for about 250 people in this big church gymnasium, but nobody was there. I put my stuff down and looked around for the chairman because I was the music for the evening and also the main speaker.
I looked for the chairman and couldn't find anybody. All of a sudden, out of some double-doors on the side of the gymnasium, a woman in a red dress came rushing through the tables over towards the kitchen. When she got near I said to her, "Excuse me, can you tell me who the chairman is?"
She said, "I am sorry I can't talk with you. I can't talk with you now. I am too busy."
She went off and I sat down. Soon a lady came in with a table, tickets and everything else. The women started coming in and I still couldn't find the chairman to tell her that I was there, so I decided I would make myself useful and help the ticket lady. And about the time I went to help the ticket lady, the lady in the red dress was back. I said to her again, "Excuse me, but can you tell me who the chairman is?"
She looked at me for the second time and said, "I am sorry, but do you have a ticket?"
I said, "No. I don't have a ticket. No, I don't"
She just blew me away when she looked at me and said, "Well, I am sorry but I can't deal with you. You have just come in off the street. I can't take you. You don't have your name down here for reservations. I am sorry but I just can't handle you now." And for the second time, she walked away.
I sat down and much, much later, a little lady at a table close to me turned around. She saw that I didn't have a chair at one of the tables. She got up, sat me down in her chair and said, "Now, I am going to go get some silverware for you. You sit right down here. You shouldn't be sitting back over there."
She started to walk away and then she said to me, "What is your name?"
I said, "My name is Joyce."
She said, "Okay."
She started to walk away again and then came back and said, "Joyce who?"
I said, "Well, I'm Joyce Landorf."
She said, "You are our speaker for today. You are not supposed to be here. You are supposed to be up at the speakers table."
I laughed and said, "I can't get there from here."
She said, "Just a minute, I'll go get our pastor's wife because she is the chairman of tonight's event."
I watched as that red dress came down through the tables and to me. And when the woman got to me she said the most surprising thing I have ever heard. She looked at me and said, "Oh...well...if I had known who you were, I would have asked you in."
I have never forgotten the moment. Why do we have to know who someone is before we can accept them, before we can say, "hello?" We have to know their pedigree. We have to know what school they graduated from, if their husband is famous, if they are married or not married, their work experience or their denomination.
There is nothing in the Bible that verifies getting to know somebody before you say hello. You really don't need that. You truly don't. The Bible is full of words like "accept one another as Christ accepted you." "Be ye kind to one another." "Bear ye one another's burdens." We need to accept one another as Christ has accepted us.
Did you memorize this scripture when you were a little kid? I did. "For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son...." The scripture does not say "For men and women so loved God that they gave and did such-and-such-and-such." It doesn't say that at all. It is hard to accept ourselves and it is risky to accept someone else. We don't know if we are going to be rejected or not. We don't know what others are going to do to us, but we don't have to worry about God's acceptance of us.
The gift of acceptance is a very special gift. It is a difficult gift because it means risking. It means loving. It means walking out on territory that we haven't walked out on before. There are three gifts: first, the gift of understanding that God has accepted us; second, the gift of accepting ourselves as God sees us; and third, the gift of accepting others without knowing who they are.
When theologians, pastors and people like me who write books talk about God's love and God's acceptance, we talk about it in terms of His love being unconditional and that is what it means. We don't have to worry about God accepting us. We come to God just as we are. "Just as I am," says the old song, "Just as I am without one plea." That is beautiful; that is God's kind of acceptance.
I pray for you and I pray for myself that we begin to understand the word acceptance starting with accepting ourselves, accepting each other and not worrying about how God accepts us, because He does. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son."
David Hardin: Joyce, before the program started we talked about your latest book, My Blue Blanket, which is about to come out. Why do you call it that?
Joyce Landorf Heatherley: I think we all have blue blankets and I am choosing to put away some of my blue blankets and I am choosing to take out some others.
I think it was Dr. Victor Frankl who said that when you are stripped of all freedoms, and he was in Auschwitz so this is a man who knows, you do have one freedom left. That is the freedom to choose your attitude.
About two years ago, I started looking at my life saying, "What attitudes do I want to choose to keep, to throw out, or begin anew?" I came up with four or five attitudes that I want to have.
One of them is choosing to accept my hurts. Everybody has them to one degree or another. I can choose to fight them all of my life, be bitter and angry about them, to cry about them for the rest of my life, or I can say, "Okay, God, I know that this has happened. These hurts are real. I am not imagining them; they are real and I will accept them. I will take them as if from your hand, just as I take His blessings, just like I take His goodness and all the good things that are in my life."
I need to accept the fact that I have a blue blanket in these, but I need to choose my attitude. Attitude is really what makes the world go around.
Hardin: I know people who are living off those hurts instead of getting on with their lives. I guess part of that is somehow people maybe feel we shouldn't be hurt. The fact is that pain is a very important part of the journey. You talk about the Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen's concept. What is the Wounded Healer idea?
Heatherley: If we were in a medical situation, it is where a doctor is very, very good in a specialty like lupus, and then the doctor himself gets lupus. Then he has the choice. He can choose his attitude in his whole life. He can choose to give up his practice and quit medicine because this is a raw deal, this is a bad thing. Or he can continue as long as he is able to continue and he becomes, in fact, a wounded healer.
When he talks to a patient now who has lupus, he doesn't say, "Well I know clinically this, this and this."
He looks at this patient and he says, "I know. I know your symptoms and I know what you are going through. I know the pain levels because I have the same disease."
I looked at my hurts and my journey. When I saw what had happened—the death of my son, my mother and my grandfather within a very short period of time, the demise of a marriage and all that went with that—when I looked at all that I said, "Okay, I can either give up or I can use my greatest point of wounding to help other people." I choose to become a wounded healer.
I was telling this in a big conference for women not too long ago. A woman just started to sob. She was out in the third row and I saw her. I wanted to stop everything, go down and ask, "What's the matter?"
She told me this amazing story when I was finished. She said that eight years ago she had been tried and convicted for embezzling funds from her office. She said, "I did not do it, but I was convicted of it and I was sent to the Women's State Prison. I spent seven years in that prison and last year someone came forward and confessed to embezzling the same funds that I was convicted of."
She said, "I was furious at God. I had lost my family while I was in prison. I lost my marriage while I was in prison. Of course, I lost my reputation and everything else, with a prison record. Then I am pardoned and what has God got in mind? As I sat here listening to you today talk about the wounded healer, I thought that I can be a wounded healer. I can go back to the prison. I can go and tell them that I know what this is like because I have the same disease. I have felt the same pain and so I have chosen to become a wounded healer."
There are plenty of people out there, Dave, that are hurting so very, very much.
Hardin: The things that happen to us, especially the unjust things, give us some strengths, give us some ability to really be there for people.
Heatherley: That is exactly right.
Hardin: There is nothing quite like it. I think unremitting success is the most dangerous thing in the world.
Heatherley: It is. It gives you a sense of power and you don't learn very much from it. It is from our failures and lack of success, from the wounding process, that we really learn. Then we can turn that to other people.
Hardin: It's been great to have you here.