Word for the Year 2018 – Stretch

For the past 20 years or so, I have chosen a Word for the Year on which to focus. This year it all began with a bad back. I had spent more money than I care to recount at the chiropractor’s office, so when she recommended a book that claimed to fix back problems with stretch exercises, I was all ears. And then I began to think about what it would look like to s-t-r-e-t-c-h mentally. I don’t want to turn into a crotchety old lady, set in her ways, unwilling to stretch and grow. I want to stretch myself, learn new skills, go outside my comfort zone, establish new habits, explore a little, push through any fears or objections or self-doubt.

And so I began to brainstorm ideas and do a little research into free resources for beginners. I made the goal of beginning one new stretch each month. Some goals I continued throughout the year; others I did not. Here’s my list— and below that is how it all played out and what I learned in the process.

  1. Fix my back (yay!)
  2. Dance (seriously?)
  3. Learn something about photography (fun)
  4. Learn to draw (astonishing!)
  5. Visit a new country (Jordan)
  6. Learn the Hebrew alphabet (briefly)
  7. Read War and Peace (slogging)
  8. Maintain a blog (I did it!)
  9. Lose 15 pounds (good)
  10. Play golf (surprise!)
  11. Listen to the Beatles (ugh, okay)
  12. Do some brain exercises (sort of)

Fix My Back

Stretch Foundation bookI purchased a used copy of the book  Foundation: Redefine Your Core, Conquer Back Pain, and Move with Confidence by Eric Goodman and Peter Park, a revolutionary book on exercises to strengthen your back muscles. I diligently read all the introductory stuff on why it works and then began slowly, adding a new daily stretch only after I’d mastered the first. Once my back muscles learned this new way of bending, I found I didn’t have to continue the regimen after the first month. Now, occasionally, if I feel a little twinge, I immediately go into the stretch routine and it seems to fix the problem.

What I learned: Gratitude! Do what you can, not complain about what you can’t do.

Dance

First, you have to know that I was raised in a culture that taught that dancing was a sin. Even “sacred movement” was a stretch for my imagination. Through the years, however, reason overcame emotion and I knew it was time to attempt the impossible. Somehow my eldest daughter Sharon inherited her grandparents’ (on Scott’s side) ability to move her body in ways that mine rebel against. She urged me to go with her to her dance studio to take my first ever ballroom dance lesson—the waltz. To make sure I would have a successful experience, Sharon taught me the box step in the privacy of my living room. I was shocked to discover I could actually follow instructions and make my body do what the instructor said: start with my right foot going backward and count out loud to six. Why did I think this would be so hard to do?

Next, I signed up for free line-dancing classes at the St. Clair’s Senior Center. The teacher was so patient and kind and encouraging that I actually began to have fun in spite of my two left feet! Will I continue? I doubt it. I just wanted to be able to say I did it.

What I learned: Quit the negative self-talk! With a positive attitude and lots of practice, I found some measure of success in this endeavor. (p.s. Didja notice I purposely have no photo for this one?)

Learn Something about Photography

Stretch shadow

Late afternoon walk

This was a rather nebulous goal since I didn’t know what I didn’t know. If you look at the photos on my phone, you’ll notice a theme: flowers, trees, flowers, trees, grandchildren, flowers, trees, grandchildren. I wanted to improve my ability to perceive what makes a good photograph, so first I enlisted my youngest daughter Katie, a professional photographer, to give me a lesson. We talked about perspective, lighting, and the rule of three and what makes a photo interesting. Next, I picked up an old textbook at a secondhand store and read through all the chapters except how to develop film (I said it was an old textbook). I figured out I didn’t care about apertures and lens types. I just wanted to learn more about composition, framing, clutter, etc.

What I learned: “It’s not what you look at that matters. It’s what you see.” (Henry David Thoreau)

Learn to Draw

I claim that when my sister Grace (a renowned gourd artist gourdsbygrace.com ) was born, she sucked all the artistic genes out of my mother’s womb and left me with the dubious ability of drawing stick figures and crooked lines. Our middle daughter Cindy is a master 3-D sculpturist. Talk about intimidating! I am in awe of her artwork. But she agreed to give me a lesson in the basic elements of art.

So what is a girl to do if she just wants to learn how to draw? I ordered a used copy of The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, by Betty Edwards, and discovered that I’d been fooling myself all these years. I actually could draw if I could just get past my left brain!

Stretch hand

My left hand

Over the course of the year, I worked through the exercises in the book and began to train myself to see the world through different eyes. Will I ever be as good as my naturally-gifted family members? No way! I don’t have the drive or passion to spend the hours it would take to develop this skill. But it was a fun process of discovery.

MonkeyThen a friend told me about twice-a-month free art classes for senior citizens (there’s some compensation for getting older apparently). I decided I needed to get over myself and just make an attempt, no matter how bad the result. The teacher was encouraging and complimentary, and I began to gain a little more confidence each time I went. We were introduced to a variety of styles and mediums and techniques, so every attempt made me feel like a first-grader, but I made some new friends and we all muddled through it together. I threw away most of my creations but kept my papier-mâché monkey to add to my sock monkey collection.

What I learned: I was shocked to discover that I could actually do what I thought was impossible.

Visit a new country

Stretch camel

Petra

In April, Scott and I had the privilege of returning to Israel with Charlie Dyer (The Land and the Book), but this time we also visited Jordan. I found myself stretched in the dry wilderness, the border crossings, the foreign food, mosques in every town and village, the ladies all dressed in hijabs. But I think my biggest stretch experience was peeing while squatting over a hole in a bathroom stall and having to call for help from the male attendant when the door jammed shut!

The highlight for me was visiting Petra where I experienced my first camel ride. There we learned about Nabateans and the spice routes, and we purchased samples of frankincense and myrrh—gifts the Magi gave to Jesus at His birth (more expensive than gold we learned).

What I learned: Make sure to invest in good walking shoes. Stay hydrated but time your bathroom breaks!

Learn the Hebrew Alphabet

Stretch alefbetIn preparation for our trip to Israel, I found a website “How to Learn the Hebrew Alphabet in Under 1 Hour.” I tried it and it worked! Except that after that hour I forgot it. Yes, at my age it takes ten times as long to make information stick in my brain, so I had to keep practicing and reviewing and practicing and reviewing. However, I managed to make out most letters on the street signs in Israel. Never mind that I didn’t know what a word meant. I was just excited to be able to recognize the alphabet—read from right to left of course. Now that I’m back in the USA, I’ve forgotten half of it again. Sigh.

What I learned: It didn’t occur to me that, like English, there’s a difference between hand-written, printed, and signage letters, and oh, don’t forget the dots. Confusing!

Read War and Peace

War and Peace (Modern Library Classics)Ever since I began reading the classics in junior high, people would shudder if you mentioned the epic novel War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. The length alone was a deterrent to any but the most dedicated reader (my paperback copy, translated by Constance Garnett, has 1,386 pages). Besides, I have a mental block against the subject of history, so why not add this novel to my stretch goals this year! Before I began reading, I had zero knowledge of Napoleon, of Russian history, and of the War of 1812. I wish I’d known ahead of time that there was a summary of the War on page 1346.

I was determined not to cheat by reading Cliff Notes or downloading a list of characters from the Internet, so after encountering 61 characters in the first section alone, all of whom had multiple names and some had nicknames, I had to create an Excel chart to keep track of them all. I wouldn’t know which ones were important to the plot of the story till later. (Just so you know, among the four characters named Marya, Marya Dmitryevna Ahrosimov was not important.) And even then, deep into the novel, I had to continually refer back to my chart to figure out who was in love with whom. Eventually, I learned that I could ignore 90% of the names and keep following the handful of main characters.

I was so proud of my progress until the day I mentioned it to my history buff friend John Rogalsky who casually observed, “Oh, yeah, I’ve read it twice…” Are you kidding me?!

My favorite Quote: “I simply can’t understand why men can’t get on without war. Why is it we women want nothing of the sort? We don’t care for it.” (Prince Andrey’s wife Liza, p. 24)

What I learned: So was it worth it? You bet! I’m glad I did it, not just for the accomplishment but because of all that I learned in the process. Tolstoy had a lot to say about the causes of war, the forces that move nations, and the role of leadership in history. I also learned some new vocabulary words like cunctator (procrastinator) and excrescences (nodules or growths) and contumely (insolent or insulting language or conduct).

Maintain a Blog

Well, here you are! I had already typed up 40 pages of entries from my hand-written 2007-2017 journals, so I just started there—picking out topics that seemed relevant to this journey called life. And, yes, the over-arching theme I discovered was my pursuit to find inner peace.

What I’ve learned: Some people actually read this stuff. Astonishing!

Lose 15 Pounds

Stretch appI have an inherited blood sugar issue, so the thought of food reduction makes me nervous. Everyone has his or her own pet weight loss plan, but this is what worked for me. I downloaded the app “Lose it” and set my goal to shed 15 pounds at the rate of one pound a week. I loved how easy it was to keep track of what I was eating. Will I set a new goal? I’m not sure yet. Who gets to decide what’s a healthy weight for my age and gender? I feel better, and that’s what counts. The downside, for someone like me who hates clothes shopping, is I had to buy all new pants.

What I learned: Cheating on the app doesn’t help. It’s what you’re actually doing that counts. And drink, drink, drink. My goal was 64 oz. per day. Ugh. But it really and truly made all the difference in my success.

Play Golf

Stretch golfNotice I didn’t say, “Learn to play golf.” Anyone who knows my husband Scott knows that he was born with a golf club in his hand (his grandmother was a Canadian golf champion). Early in our marriage, Scott begged me to join him on the golf course, but my golfing career ended before it got started. The day I relented we were on the second hole when I got a call from the elementary school saying I needed to pick up a sick child. That was the end of that! But when my excuses finally wore themselves out (no money, too busy raising kids, no aptitude, arthritis pain), my sister-in-law gave me her old clubs, Scott bought me a golf bag for Christmas (oh goody) and signed me up for golf lessons with a pro. Thanks, Honey (okay, so there’s a tiny bit of sarcasm attached). My initial goal was not to learn to play golf but to simply spend time with my husband.

What I learned: When I started hitting that little round sphere well enough for it to go up in the air and forward instead of dribble, dribble, dribble, it actually started to get fun. I love being outdoors, so that is a bonus. Oh, and don’t let your husband give you lessons. Just don’t.

Listen to the Beatles

As a sheltered child of missionary parents whose sole musical exposure in Africa was church hymns and Gilbert and Sullivan (my mother’s favorite record), I shunned all things that smacked of rebellion when we came to the States. Listening to the Beatles was off-limits. Unable to converse with the music lovers in my family, however, I decided it was time to educate myself. I grabbed a biography from the library and learned all about quiffs, skiffle, winkle-pickers, and twat ‘ats. (If you don’t know what those are either, I’ll feel vindicated in my ignorance.) And then I listened to about as much music as I could take from a group that lived for sex, drugs, money, and creating new sounds.

What I learned: Just about everything, since I knew nothing. But what I learned confirmed why I’m still not a fan.

Biggest Surprises: The song “Ob la di, ob la da” [which I’d heard but didn’t realize was a Beatles’ song] meaning “Life goes on” was a phrase Paul McCartney heard from a Nigerian friend in London!

I also discovered that one of the first Beatles’ songs was a ditty we sang as children—“My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.” Who knew!

Do Some Brain Exercises

After reading The Organized Mind—Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, by Daniel J. Levitin, I was challenged to download an app called BrainHQ (from Posit Science) that provides daily exercises to improve one’s brain. By December I was tired of setting goals and keeping them, so there was no “daily” about this! I thought about purchasing the full version, but I knew I’d never take the time to make this a priority. As an alternative, I considered learning to understand American football, but I couldn’t muster up enough interest to follow through with it.

What I learned: How can one measure if one’s brain capacity has increased? I’ll have to take the experts’ word for it. I think it’s now time to give my brain a rest!

Now it’s your turn. Did you have a Word for the Year? How did yours turn out?

What If?

What if we could see our whole life at a glance from, say, age 10 onward, along with consequences for various choices we make? For example, you could see the results of choosing to attend College A or College B. Or what Husband A would be like in old age versus Husband B. Or how many kids you’d have if you chose Husband C? Or what career choices would lead you down which path and what state or country you’d choose to live in? Or what you’d look like or feel like according to various eating habits you maintain.

ChessInteresting thought: God CAN see it all—in an instant. He sees the end results of the poor and better choices I make right now. He has so much good planned for me, but I don’t see it. I can only see the here and now—what’s in front of my face. No wonder I need to trust God for every choice. I take comfort in the fact that He can weave even my poor choices into an outcome that brings Him glory.

We are not victims of our circumstances. We have choices to make regarding how we respond to our circumstances. Yes, there are consequences if I choose to attend College A and marry Husband B and eat Diet C, but I still get to choose how I make Decision D. I have concluded that I want to make wise choices based on peaceful emotions.

What keeps us from making better choices? Fear? Anger? Hopelessness? Regarding not wanting to change our habits, author John Assaraf observed this typical scenario: Baby throws a toy out of the crib and then cries. Mom retrieves the toy and returns it. Baby does it again. Why? His conclusion:

We would rather master disappointment than seek fulfillment.

It’s getting close to New Year’s resolution time. Do I like the trajectory of my life or do I need to make Decision D to change the outcome?

A Slice of Life

orange-food-juicy-fruit-65923

It’s fascinating to me what details we include in peoples’ obituaries to summarize their lives. Most often we include a list of their relatives, but then we talk about what character traits they were known for or what accomplishments they achieved. Fifty, seventy, or ninety years of living are reduced to three to five paragraphs.

Joshua 15:16-19 records an interesting little glimpse into one obscure name—a tiny slice of one man’s life.

The characters in this story:

Caleb, the godly spy

Caleb’s daughter Aksah

Caleb’s nephew Othniel

The Plot: Caleb promises his daughter Aksah to the man who conquers the city of Kiriath-Sepher.

Okay, so we have an 85-year-old man who’s still strong and able to conquer new territory, who decides to use his daughter as a prize. It’s hard to imagine in our culture today, but arranged marriages were the norm at that time. But using her as a prize? I suppose Caleb wanted to find a brave go-getter for her, a conquering hero, and Aksah willingly goes along with the scheme.

So who wins the prize? Caleb’s nephew Othniel. We know nothing more about him except that he is forever remembered as being the man brave enough to fight for the hand of a nobleman’s daughter.

If someone chose to record for all eternity just one event in my life, for what would I be remembered? What one story will be told at my funeral?

Shenandoah

ShenandoahFrom My 2008 Journal. I recently watched Shenandoah—an old Civil War movie starring Jimmy Stewart who plays a widower Charlie Anderson, father of six sons and a daughter. Charlie’s attitude toward the War is non-involvement—“It’s not my war,” he declares—until it affects him directly. When his youngest son is captured by enemy soldiers, it suddenly becomes his issue and he goes out to find and rescue him. He and his sons never do join the fight, but the War affects Charlie profoundly as he loses three family members.

I’ve been pondering his statement, “It’s not my war,” and then “Now it’s my/our issue” when it touches him directly.

I can relate to that. I can hear about wars and floods and tornadoes and murders and causes for this or that, and I remain unmoved . . . until it touches me and my life personally. And then suddenly it’s important to me.

Sometimes I feel a twinge of guilt that I don’t respond to news with more feelings of compassion, with prayer, or with a desire to jump in and help. But I recognize that I’m not called to do everything—I’m only responsible for the things God tells me to do.

So am I saying it’s okay to be nonchalant, uncaring, or unfeeling about the sufferings of people around the world? Well . . . yes and no. I’d be an emotional wreck if I could feel everyone else’s pain all the time. Perhaps it’s a blessing and a gift that I’m not able to. I have to trust God to give me the passions that He wants me to have. I was not created to take on the cares of the world, but I know Someone Who can.

In his book A Journey into Victorious Praying, Bill Thrasher states: “We aren’t called to pray for every request with the same intensity. . . . God will not give any of us every prayer burden. [What a relief!] Ask the Lord to bring to your mind what He wants you to pray for. Sometimes when I ask, nothing comes to mind. Maybe He’s just calling me to silence.”

What kind of news touches your heart?

Do I Really Need a Grocery List?

Grocery store

I’ve been a life-long student of the subject of intercessory prayer. I’ve read all the books I can find on the subject, tried all the methods suggested, and read biographies of great prayer warriors. But like the majority of us, I still struggle with my inner prayer life. Here’s a journal entry from 2009.

I have a list of people I pray for—but it’s just that—a list, for the purpose of jogging my memory. It serves the same purpose as a grocery list—it’s a reminder so I don’t forget the items at the store. The list doesn’t do much good though until it becomes fulfilled—that is, the item is taken off the shelf, paid for, taken home, and consumed.

There’s no spiritual magic for listing names of people or organizations on a piece of paper. But when I take those names with me to “the store” (the throne room of grace), I can hand the list to God and ask Him to fill the request for me, and then my soul is satisfied. In the process, I give Him permission to make substitutes—perhaps what I put on the list isn’t good for me (or for the person I’m praying for). Maybe there’s a better selection. I ask for generic and He wants to give me the brand name. Sometimes I specify a brand name, and He gives me generic because it’s a better value for my money. And then I need to ask Him to help me remember the people or things I forgot to put on my list. He’s good at that!

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed (Mark 1:35 NIV).

In his book A Journey into Victorious Praying, Bill Thrasher states: “The word for ‘praying’ in Mark 1:35 does not primarily refer to intercession for others but to the outpouring of His own soul to the Father for renewal and refreshment.”

Thrasher also said, “God is capable of taking my feeble prayer and interpreting my desires and deep longings and motivations. The Holy Spirit knows. . . .” He related the story of Augustine, a leader in the early church, who lived a sensual lifestyle in his early years. When he planned to go to Rome, his mother prayed, “O Lord, do not let him go to Rome because he will only get into further debauchery.” God did let him go to Rome. But it was there that he was converted. “The Spirit of God pled the deeper desire of the mother for his spiritual well-being, and God answered her heart.”

Maybe next time I go to the grocery store, it’s okay if I forget my list. Maybe I should just take time to chat with the “Grocer”!

Do you use a prayer list? Why or why not?

The Right/Wrong Game

When our girls were little, we used to do a little exercise we called the Right/Wrong Game. For each of the four deeds and motives below, we tried to come up with examples.

  1. Right deed [Give to the poor], wrong motive [makes me look good]
  2. Wrong deed [Steal from the rich], right motive [to give to the poor]
  3. Wrong deed [Steal from the rich], wrong motive [spend on my pleasure]
  4. Right deed [Give to the poor], right motive [meet a need]

I thought of this little game when I read II Chronicles 25:2.

He [Amaziah] did right in the Lord’s sight, but not with a perfect or blameless heart.

I think Amaziah fell into Category #1.  I want to live in Category #4.

Anyone care to share some other examples for this game?

Be Careful What You “If”!

From my 2009 Journal. Around 1895 Rudyard Kipling wrote a famous poem entitled “If.” (It’s well worth the read if you haven’t heard of it.) That word if is an awfully small word that can pack an awfully large punch. I hear it all the time in conversations: If you’re free . . . If you love me  . . . If I’ve offended you  . . . If there is a God. . . .

I got to noticing that little word if in the book of Judges, and recorded a few of my observations.

Remember the story of Gideon and the fleece (Judges 6)? The Israelites are distraught because the Midianites have overpowered them, and God shows up one day to tell Gideon that he’s been chosen to deliver his people from the oppressor. But Gideon is skeptical:

IF I have found favor in your sight, then give me a sign that it’s You who talks to me. (v. 17 NASB)

It’s not a bad request. We are indeed admonished to test the spirits (I John 4:1). God granted his request and confirmed His authority by lighting Gideon’s sacrifice and then disappearing. God is willing to respond to a genuine request for confirmation that it’s His voice we’re hearing.

Later, in obedience to God’s instructions, Gideon pulls down his father’s altar to Baal and the Asherah pole beside it. Using this wood, he offers a burnt offering on a new altar that he’s to build on top of the Baal one. When the irate town’s people show up at his dad’s house, his dad stands up for his son and says:

Will you contend for Baal? IF Baal is a god, let him contend for himself! (v. 31)

Sounds rather reasonable to me!

SheepskinSo now it comes time to face the Midianites, and Gideon gets cold feet. Here’s where the two famous dry/wet fleece tests occur. (If you need a story refresher, click here)

Fleece test #1. IF you will deliver Israel by my hand as you have said . . . (v. 36)

Fleece test #2. The if is not repeated, but it’s implied. (v. 39)

So I begin to ponder: how is Gideon’s response to God’s command different from Moses’ response to the burning bush command or Jonah’s response to the command to go to Nineveh?

Moses said:  I can’t!

Jonah said:  I won’t!

Gideon asked:  Can I?

Moses appears to be resistant, stubborn, willful, maybe even whiny. And Jonah is downright rebellious. Gideon, on the other hand, seems timid and fearful: Am I sure I heard You right, Lord? Later on when God tells Gideon to go down to the enemy’s camp, He anticipates Gideon’s response and says, But IF you are afraid to go down, go with Purah your servant down to the camp (7:9-10).

In all three stories, God’s will is accomplished and His mission fulfilled, but He responds differently to each character. With Gideon, God honors his need for courage and does what Gideon requests. This gives me hope when I am feeling less than courageous at God’s calling on my life. The true seeker of God will find Him faithful.

Following God’s words of assurance, the final antidote for Gideon’s fear is personal experience (when he goes down to the camp and overhears the Midianite’s dream). Gideon’s response? He worships. Fear is gone at last; he’s ready for battle. There are no more “ifs.”

After the rousing victory with only 300 soldiers, the Ephraimite tribe gets mad at Gideon for not asking them to join the battle. There is no fear response from Gideon at their accusations. Instead, humility has taken its place (Judges 8-1-3). Matthew Henry says, “Humility is the surest method of ending strife.”

God prepares His servants for His service. (I wish the story ended here, but it doesn’t. Gideon has other character flaws that need to be worked on.) I know I’m human and have fears and doubts, but I pray that every time God speaks, I’ll have faith to believe and leave my “ifs” behind!

Do you have time to read one more “IF”? This one is truly bizarre.

 Jephtha’s story (Judges 11) intrigues me. His dad is from Gilead, and his mom is a harlot. His half-brothers kick him out of the tribe saying he can have no inheritance with them. He flees to the town of Tob where worthless men gather around him and they go on raids together and he becomes a mighty warrior. When his half-brothers are attacked by the Ammonites, surprisingly they go to Jephtha to beg him to be their leader! Even more shocking, he agrees to do so.

But now it gets even more interesting. Jephtha makes a foolish vow. IF You [God] will indeed give the Ammonites into my hand, I will offer up for a burnt offering whatever comes out from my house to meet me (30-31). And we know the outcome . . . his only child, his daughter, comes out the door.

So what does Jephtha do? Incredibly, he shifts the blame! YOU [daughter] are the cause of great trouble to me; YOU have brought me very low (11:35, emphasis added).

Are vows retractable? I think so. Why could he not have suffered the consequences and taken the debt in her place? Why couldn’t he have gone to God, confessed his foolishness, and let God give him a creative alternative?

But his daughter is more righteous than he. She accepts the vow as binding. We don’t know if Jephtha actually sacrifices her on an altar or if she’s simply banished for the rest of her life and disallowed marriage. In any case, as often happens, our sin, ignorance, and foolishness impact others, whether intentional or not.

Be careful what you IF!

Where Is Your Focus?

Focus 3

From My 2009 Journal. Work got canceled, and I had an unexpected, unplanned glorious day to myself to work on the computer and catch up on some work. But one thing after another, my day got interrupted multiple times. I ended up stewing and angry as I headed to the grocery store to pick up some bread, just to discover that the shelves were empty! I’d been trying all day to get rid of my feelings of irritation and hadn’t succeeded too well. Praying for inner peace, I wandered around the store, asking the Lord What was the purpose of all these interruptions to my day?

Just then, I passed a plaque on a shelf that read, “Delight yourself in the Lord.” I laughed out loud. My focus had been all skewed. Thanks, Lord, for putting things into perspective. I chuckled all the way home.

The rest of the verse says, and He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4 NASB).

Where is your focus today?

Shoulds and Ought-tos

From My 2009 Journal. I feel a hesitancy inside when I think that God loves and accepts me just the way I am. I’m still caught in the trap of “I need to.” Being a task-oriented person, “doing for God” feels like a “should” or an “ought to.” It’s a continual mind battle to shed the guilt that I’m not doing more for Him. What is that all about?

I hear in my head the voice of some preacher saying, “You ought to knock on doors for evangelism.” I thought I shed that obligation a long time ago. I know I’ve been derogatory toward those who touted knocking on doors, considering them to be a little kooky, driven by fear or guilt (never mind that I used to be one of them. How hypocritical is that!) But I don’t know their hearts—for all I know, they could be more spiritual or passionate than I am about following God.

Hallway with doorsVisual:  I see an endless line of doors that need to be approached. It’s exhausting and the task is never complete. While walking down the hallway, there appears to be a large hand guiding mine, like I’m a child in training. I thought at first it was the preacher’s voice and hand on me, but now I see him standing to the side at a pulpit. The hand that guides me is that of The Father.

I erroneously compare myself to the famous out-front Christians who have great influence over many crowds of people. They’ve been entrusted with ten talents and have been faithful to use them. Bruce Wilkinson comes to mind. Billy Graham is another. Our faithful pastors as well. And then there’s little ol’ me with a very small sphere of influence. I think somehow I’m supposed to do their work.

I know all the right answers: be faithful with what God entrusts to you. I know that God has not created me with the temperament to spend massive amounts of time with people or in front of people—which is what I seem to equate with the highest rank of God-pleasers.

Here’s my bottom-line question: Is God pleased with me and my performance? I’m fully aware that character is far more important. That’s a given, and I work on that constantly. But I still need the question answered—am I doing enough? Enough for what?

I feel uneasy. Like I’m missing something. How do I know how many talents He’s given me? Yes, it’s His work through me. Yes, I must be obedient to His every command and instruction. No, I don’t have to have the big picture or understand everything God’s chosen for me to do. “Rest in Me,” He says, “and I will guide you. I will show you which door to walk through and when.”

HikeAnd the visual changes. “I’ll make the path for your feet,” He says, “and shed light on the stumbling stones. Just keep walking. I’ll tell you when to put down a stone or pick one up. I’ll let you know when it’s time to lend a helping hand to a fellow traveler, when to give away what’s in your hand, and when to keep walking. Sometimes you have to just keep plodding through the forest. The glen or open spaces are yet to come. Sometimes it’s okay to sit on a rock and rest and take a drink or eat. Doing is not always what’s best for you. Self-discipline is good, but listening to Me is better.”

And so, Heavenly Father, I give to You today my path. I trust You to guide me. Help me not to run ahead of You or lag behind. Give me the energy to keep up. I can walk in Your footsteps, unafraid of the dark and the animals nearby.

“Not enough,” “should,” and “ought-to” are not are not quantifiable concepts and don’t belong in God’s vocabulary for me.

Call It What It Is

From My 2009 Journal. I was in a bathroom stall at the Orlando airport on my way home from my mom’s memorial service when I had an epiphany.

Hook

The hook on the back of the door was missing, and my first thought was, How annoying! Where am I supposed to hang my purse?

Now, I didn’t want to be a complainer about insignificant occurrences in my life—a hook on a door compared to death and dying . . . a little thing like that should not have controled my emotions!

And so I started searching for the right word—because “annoying” or “frustrating” or “irritating” were really too strong to describe what I was actually feeling inside. I wanted a neutral word. That’s when I thought of “inconvenient.”

The circumstance is inconvenient.

How I feel about the circumstance may be annoying, frustrating, irritating.

And so, with the change in vocabulary, there was a shift in my attitude. I would call it what it was and acknowledge that the circumstance was less than ideal, but I didn’t have to have a negative response to it.

What has helped you to “call it what it is”?