Puzzling

I like working on puzzles — dumping a thousand pieces or so onto a table, finding the border, sorting by color and shape, and beginning to bring order from chaos. I know there’s an image that’s been shattered, and I like the focus and intention it takes to put it back together.

It’s a broken I know how to fix.

Several years ago, I had a puzzle sitting on a small table in our family room. Our teenagers liked to watch television and movies, and, though I didn’t always like what they were watching, I did like being around them, so I would plunk myself down at the puzzle table and listen to the laughter and the commentary. I just liked being where they were.

But even though I was right in the room, bringing insignificant order to meaningless chaos, I was overlooking the broken pieces that had flung themselves on our couches. I was oblivious to the hemorrhaging from a brutal assault; I was ignoring simmering depression; and I was wishing away the striving for perfection. I was not hearing the silent crying and unspoken questions hanging in the room.

I just was just puzzling.

I’ve been sitting at a different puzzle table here in our house by the river — the nest that was emptied, probably too soon, of all the wounded who set off flapping, trying their best to soar.

I’ve been bent over this puzzle since January — sometimes for five minutes, sometimes for five hours — trying to find where each little piece goes.

Puzzling

It’s various shades of gray, black, and white, and the images on each piece are minuscule, so I actually have to examine each one closely, holding it very close to my eyes, so that I can see which way it is oriented and if it has any specific identifying marks. It’s a long process that won’t be rushed.

So I keep on puzzling.

Some might accuse me of trying to escape reality; I prefer to believe that I am embodying metaphor.

What if I approached every problem the way I approach puzzling — what if I dumped the whole mess on the table, examined each piece, and then, without rushing, sorted it all out and found something beautiful.

To be clear, this has not been my traditional approach to problem solving. No, I have often preferred what I call the slam-and-jam method.

Someone presents me with a problem — sick child, malfunctioning computer, or, say, gun violence — and I immediately spout out a list of strategies for solving the problem.

It looks like this:

Adult child: “Mom, I’m sick. My throat hurts, I’m tired, and I have a headache.”

Me: “Zyrtec, Motrin, rest, and fluids.”

Or this:

Co-worker: “Kristin, I keep losing my internet connection with my student.”

Me: “Refresh. If that doesn’t work, restart. If that doesn’t work, have the student restart. If that doesn’t work, have the student re-set his wifi.”

Or this:

Everyday newscast: “One person was killed and three injured in yet another attack on a synagogue. The accused is said to have used an AR-type assault weapon.”

Me: “Get those damn assault weapons off the street, prohibit violent shooter video games, and provide more access to mental health services.”

Now, I’m not gonna lie. My rapid-fire reactions to these types of solutions are pretty accurate and effective most of the time (although the gun violence theory has yet to be tested), but they are really just first-level responses. They are quick fixes. I am the master of quick-fixes — patch ’em up, move ’em out. But here’s the thing — the wounded lying on my couches didn’t need quick fixes. They needed a slow deep examination of each piece. They needed me to pour over the mess for five minutes or five hours every day…sitting, puzzling, searching, seeing.

Actually, many problems need a quick response — immediate attention– and a longer look. Once the initial crisis is somehow averted, we need to look at causes, repercussions, and long-term solutions.

Like this:

Me: “This is the fourth time you’ve called me not feeling well this month. Are you eating right? getting enough rest? How many days have you had to miss work? Do you think you should see a doctor? attend to more self-care?”

or this:

Me: “It seems you always have tech issues with this student. How much instructional time have we lost? Can we have IT evaluate the situation? Do we need a new computer?”

or this:

Me: “What causes a 19 year old kid to drive to a synagogue and shoot at people? Why did he have an automatic weapon? Why are there so many attacks on faith communities — Jewish, Muslim, Christian — lately? How many lives have been lost to gun violence since Columbine? What damage are these attacks doing to the fabric of our nation where “all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” Which right is more important — the right to worship in safety or the right to own an automatic weapon? What would it take for Americans to come together and decide that enough is enough? What will it take?”

Sometimes you have to sit with these pieces, move them around on the table, look at them from different angles, and see them in ways that you never saw them before.

I had been working on my black and white puzzle for several months. Actually, I’d been kind of shuffling by it, nudging two or three pieces, and then walking away. I was getting nowhere. I couldn’t find any movement. I was beginning to consider tossing it back in the box unfinished. Was it really worth my time and trouble? Certainly I’d never finish this one.

Enter my brother-in-law, Jerry, who, with my sister-in-law, was staying with us for a few days. I jokingly said, as I say to everyone who comes in our home, “bonus points to guests who sit at the puzzle table and put in a few pieces.” He laughed and shook his head, “oh, man, that looks like a tough one.” Then he, like most people do, turned his back to the puzzle and chatted with me while I prepared dinner. Just as I figured, he wouldn’t bite. I was on my own.

A couple hours later, I was sitting in the other room, and Jerry walked in, “Hey, I got a couple pieces put in.”

“You did?” I said, standing and walking to the kitchen. At that point, it was hard to tell if any progress had been made. Two to three pieces out of 1000 do not a dramatic difference make, but Jerry stayed at our house for three days.

He developed a system and brought me in to collaborate. We spent twenty minutes here and twenty minutes there puzzling together. And guess what happened — we began to see progress.

Jerry at the puzzle table.

We sat together, looking at hundreds of black and white pieces, putting them in place, and watching an image slowly appear.

Now, did I craft this metaphor? Did I intentionally select an image of Abraham Lincoln, a great American liberator, to work on during a season of unprecedented gun violence? Did I consider that the black and white pieces might match the attitudes that I and many others have held about race, religion, and guns? Did I imagine the time it would take to sift, and sort, and examine before a coherent image would begin to appear? Did I understand that complicated problems often require collaboration? Did I know in advance that black and white and gray can come together to create something that has complexity and depth?

No.

Sometimes, this stuff is sitting right in front of us, and we don’t recognize it. Sometimes we get so frustrated we want to walk away. Sometimes we need to let others see the mess on our tables (or on our couches) and invite them to help us sort it out, see it in a different way, partner with us in finding solutions.

Got any brokenness lying around your place? Let me know if you’d like a partner to sit at your table to help sort the pieces.

you take brokenness aside and make it beautiful, beautiful.

All Sons and Daughters, “Brokenness Aside”
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Of Easter and Sexual Assault

Is it weird that Easter falls in the middle of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention month?

Is it strange that during Holy Week my husband and I joined a couple dozen students to watch I am Evidence, a film about sexual assault and the disturbing backlog of unprocessed rape kits in our country?

Is it inappropriate that on our drive home from our family celebration of Easter we discussed sexual assault and the impact it has had on our society in general and our family specifically?

No. Nope. Not at all.

It’s not even a juxtaposition. No amount of jelly beans or bunnies can hide the fact that Easter came at the end of a week full of assault.

The crucifixion was the culmination of several days worth of violence, degradation, and abhorrent human behavior. Masses of people jeered and swore at Jesus, threw rocks at him, and called for his execution. Guards whipped and beat him within an inch of his life. He hung naked on a cross for an entire day while onlookers mocked him, guards poked at him, and the people who loved him bore witness.

While we have no evidence that Jesus was sexually assaulted, he was certainly exposed, humiliated, and brutally killed in front of a complicit crowd. So if I follow Holy Week with a post about sexual assault, it shouldn’t come as a shock.

Sexual assault and its impact are all around us. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center claims that “one in three women and one in six men experience some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime.” And, because it is the most under-reported crime (63% of sexual assaults are not reported to police), you likely interact daily with people who have been impacted by sexual violence, even if you are unaware. Of the sexual assaults that actually are reported, very few are prosecuted. According to RAINN, “of 1000 rapes, 995 perpetrators walk free.”

Why am I telling you this? Because it’s important. Because a culture that allows this to happen won’t change without a concerted effort by all of us.

It’s kind of like caring for the environment — to preserve and protect the Earth and reverse some of the damage caused by decades of neglect, many must take intentional action. If only a few people in every community choose to share rides and limit their use of plastics and electricity, we won’t see great change. To truly transform our planet, many will have to take small steps every day — carry cloth bags to the grocery store, recycle or reuse containers, reduce consumer waste, and bike instead of drive.

In the same way, we all have to work together to reduce the prevalence of sexual assault in our country. If we ignore this enormous problem, it will not go away. It’s going to take a commitment to intentional action.

Some might choose to get involved in big ways by volunteering to work on rape kit processing projects in major cities across America, by creating safe houses for victims of sexual violence, or by developing preventative programs that promote emotional health among young people. But you don’t have to do big things to make a big difference. If each of us practiced small things every day, we would begin to shift a culture that allows a third of our girls and women and 17% of our boys and men to be assaulted.

What if we all decided not to listen to or tell sexual jokes? Or what if we called out our friends who make lewd or inappropriate comments? What if we turned off television shows, movies, or music that glamorize sexual violence? What if we kept our eyes open, paid attention, and noticed when people look afraid or uncomfortable? What if we asked complete strangers, “Are you ok? Do you need help?” What if we gave money to agencies that help victims of sexual crimes or to college campuses to fund sexual assault awareness programs? What if we simply voted only for leaders who had a zero tolerance for the sexual mistreatment of anyone and had never been implicated in sexual crimes?

If one or two people made one small change, they would have a small impact — they might stop one or two rapes, and that would matter. If many of us decided together that we would take small actions each day to shift our culture toward one that values and respects all people, we might stop 10 or 100 or 1000 sexual assaults.

In America, where every two minutes a woman is raped, we cannot look away.

As Jesus hung naked, exposed, in front of all who loved him and many who hated him, he took action. He asked John to care for his mother, Mary. He reached out to the thief on the cross next to Him and had mercy. He didn’t wait until another day — He cared and had mercy right then. He was, in his suffering and humiliation, rescuing us all.

We were desperate for help, and He came to our rescue.

He didn’t look away.

How do we rescue victims of sexual assault? I don’t have all the answers, but I have a few ideas.

We can start by acknowledging that victims of sexual assault are in the room. Every room. Knowing that, we can choose words and actions that are tender — that avoid insensitive or triggering language. We can refrain from coarse joking and innuendo.

Next, we can believe victims of sexual assault — without qualification, without asking where they were, what they were doing, what they were wearing, if they’d been drinking. We can believe them. Period.

We can sit on juries, listen to evidence, and put people who hurt others in prison; we can give them consequences for their crimes and prevent them from hurting anyone else.

I Am Evidence follows the story of thousands of rape kits that are currently being processed in cities like Detroit, Los Angeles, and Cleveland. As more and more DNA is entered into CODIS, prosecutors are finding trails of repeat offenders who could have been stopped years ago if 1) rape kits had been processed, and 2) victims had been believed.

Women who endured the secondary trauma of submitting to rape kit examinations have been waiting years for justice. For closure. For the assurance that those who harmed them can never harm them again.

How can we look away?

We can see victims. We can believe victims. We can prosecute perpetrators, and we can insist that our criminal justice system does a better job. To ensure that it can, we need to provide the needed resources — an adequate budget, plenty of staff, and our support.

We can do these things. These small things. Because they are big things.

They matter.

People matter.

Victims matter.

On Friday, Jesus was in excruciating pain. His death was long and slow, and when it was finished, his friends wrapped him in cloths and carried him to a cave. They rolled a stone in front of the opening so that no more harm could come to his body, and they went home grieving.

Is it within our power to act so that no more harm will come to the bodies of victims of sexual assault? Can we acknowledge the pain that they have suffered and sit with them in their grief?

On Sunday morning, they went to the cave and found the giant stone rolled away. Inside stood Jesus, resurrected, transformed, made whole.

Each year over 320,000 lives are brutally injured by sexual assault. Millions of lives are longing to be resurrected, transformed, made whole.

He has the power to heal the sick and raise the dead.

We have the power to do small things each day to aid in this healing.

We cannot look away.

Death is all around us
We are not afraid
Written is the story
Empty is the grave

“The Dust” Kip Fox

Return to the Lord, re-visit

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This post was written days after Easter in March 2016. Since then, I’ve been on many mountaintops and into far more valleys than I ever saw coming. It’s the rhythm of life, and He continues to be faithful in April 2019.

Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.

Hosea 6:1

Yesterday I celebrated my 50th birthday by going to the gym, shopping with my husband, and going out to dinner. All day long family and friends sent me their well-wishes. If ever I felt loved, yesterday was the day.  I was flying high and enjoying every minute of celebration, but you know the saying, “what goes up, must come down.”

Today is not my birthday. I woke to my typical aches and pains; maybe they were even a…

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Dayenu, re-visit

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I first wrote this piece in April 2015 after attending a Seder meal. Tonight, my husband and I are hosting one. As I mark my blessings in April 2019, I remember that any one of them would have been enough.

On Maundy Thursday, we attended a Messianic Seder. We have, in the past, been privileged to attended an authentic Jewish Seder in the home of  friends. During the Seder, the story of the Passover is retold around a table where participants taste foods that signify the journey of the Israelites out of Egypt. The matzah reminds us that the Israelites had to flee so quickly that they didn’t even have time to add yeast and allow their bread to rise. The bitter herbs remind us of their suffering. The salty water reminds us of their tears. The lamb shank reminds us that the blood of the lamb was placed over…

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Blessing upon blessing

I was standing in a local thrift shop sorting through 50-cent coffee cups. My husband had asked me to grab a half-dozen or so for his office so that college students who come in to grab coffee can take one ‘to-go’. I visit this section often — not only to stock the student life office, but also to replace the many cups that I break or absent-mindedly leave in my path. I was picking out some sturdy looking cups for the students when a beautiful floral pattern caught my eye — it was a little small for my taste, but it was so lovely I decided to put it in the basket with the others and make it my own. Only when I got to the cash register did I realize that it had scripture written on the inside of the rim.

….one blessing after another…

Sometime in the months since I brought it home, I made an un-official decision that this cup will be for special circumstances only. It’s not to be carried out the door in the morning rush, clutched through rush hour traffic, and plunked on my desk at work. No, this cup is for the lingering pondering cuppa. It’s for sipping while sitting and savoring. It’s an object of beauty that I’ll use when I need a little encouragement, a little healing, a little celebration, a little recognition of the grace that has poured out one blessing after another.

I’ve got it in my hand right now.

I’m by myself in my little house by the river for 48 hours of self-imposed solitary confinement. My husband is out of town, so I am seizing the opportunity to be quiet, forget about the clock, take care of a couple tasks, make a few long-overdue phone calls, and spend some time reflecting.

Regular doses of solitude heal and restore me.

So what have I done so far? I’ve practiced yoga, done some writing, read a few chapters in Michelle Obama’s Becoming, slept until I woke up — twice! — and watched six episodes of Queer Eye (a delightful show with a message of healing and hope).

I’ve done some cleaning and organizing, paid some bills, folded some laundry, and worked on a puzzle. I’ve spoken at length to both of my parents and to my parents-in-law. I’ve eaten when I’ve been hungry, lounged on the couch in yoga pants, and sipped several cups of tea.

My dog has been following me from room to room, plunking down wherever I plunk, and occasionally standing in front of me, staring me down, until I remember that it is time to walk around the yard.

It’s on these kinds of days, when the agenda is fluid and my expectations for productivity are low, that tucked away thoughts and feelings jangle loose. I’ve poured a lovely cup of tea to enjoy while I observe them.

I’ve been thinking about the visit I had with my breakfast club girls last week. We got together to celebrate my recent birthday; they showered me with gifts and treated me to dinner. As we chatted and laughed, I was struck by the contrast between this birthday celebration and the one we had last year, when I’d been been buried in grief and had cried as they’d leaned into my pain. This year, I was filled with gratitude for their partnership in my suffering, for their unconditional love, and for willingness to acknowledge and celebrate my blessings.

I’m also looking back at my weekend away with one hundred or so pastors’ wives. I pulled out my notes this morning and remembered our time in Bible study where we sat around tables using pens and colored pencils to draw visual reminders of what we were learning. I heard our voices singing together — both in worship and in fun. I saw friends who I only see at this conference, smiling and saying, “We missed you last year!” I felt the compassion of a soul sister who pulled me aside, probed gently, and let me share just a bit; she bore some pain with me and then shared in my gratitude.

I’m scrolling through thoughts of dinner with my godparents, laughing with friends until my sides hurt, and car rides with new and old friends. I’m relishing in the realization that unlike the last time I gathered with these women, I didn’t need rest breaks, or pain medication — not even when I stayed up way past my bedtime.

Blessing upon blessing upon blessing.

I’m spending this weekend alone so that I can reflect on these blessings. I said no to a few people (probably disappointing at least a couple) and chose solitude. And because I did, I’ve had the time to notice each of these jangly thoughts as they’ve settled down beside me. I’ve had opportunity to look closely at how I’ve been blessed, and I am now restored so that I can step away from my solitude.

It’s a new way — a new rhythm.

Toward the end of the soldiering years, I remember my husband, who was also trying to slow his pace and find a different way, telling me about a rhythm of sabbath. The idea was to pause daily, weekly, and yearly — to intentionally plan for space to pause. I remember thinking, “That’d be nice, dear, but you do see that I’m busy here, don’t you?”

And somehow, after almost five years in this little house by the river, we have joined this rhythm. Each day the two of us wake up in the dark — before we see our people or do our things — we each take a time of reading, writing, reflection, and intentional movement. On Sundays we extend this rhythm by continuing on to worship with our community. Each year, we’ve miraculously been able to get away for a week or two alone to put our phones on silent, to forget about the clock, and to read, write, reflect, and rest.

This is one more realization that just floated down and snuggled in next to me. I never would have believed we could live this way, and here we are.

I’m going to make another cup of tea and savor every last moment of this solitude, this sanctuary, this sabbath. This in itself is one more blessing.

Ten out of ten would recommend.

Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.

Mark 6:31

Life Course: Humanity and Forgiveness, Revisit

This post was written in April 2019 — just four months ago –however the theme and language resonate with Tuesday’s post, Screw ups, so I’m re-posting a tidied up version today, September 5, 2019.

Teachers sometimes utilize an approach called ‘layered instruction’ to ensure that all students attain mastery. Taking into account the individual learning styles and abilities of their students, they design multiple lessons using a variety of modalities over a period of time .

For example, when I was teaching writing, I introduced the importance of using sensory details by showing my students photographs. “Your writing,” I would say, “should include enough sensory details, that your readers begin to see images, like photographs, in their minds when they read your words.” For some students, that statement was enough. They would begin to include vivid details in their writing. Others needed guided practice in describing a scene.

“Show us where you were,” I would say.

The student might say, “in my bedroom.”

“Tell me what color the walls were. Was the floor wooden or carpeted? What kind of furniture did you have? What sounds did you hear?”

A couple students just needed a few questions to get their imagery flowing onto the page. Others needed to read a variety of models. Some needed to read their own pages out loud and get feedback from peers. A few picked up the concept quickly; some improved gradually over time. Most needed all kinds of practice.

Layered instruction starts with basic principles and, over time, adds nuance and a variety of applications to develop complexity and a thorough understanding of a concept or strategy.

I’ve been taking a course in “Humanity and Forgiveness” for a little over fifty years, and I’ve needed a layered approach. I wasn’t fully engaged in the content for a while, and I may have some undiagnosed learning challenges, so I’ve taken longer than some to get the basic principles. However, my instructor has continued to provide a variety of opportunities to move me toward mastery.

Here are some of the key ideas I’ve picked up.

  1. All of us mess up. Most mess up every day. Even those who intend to do well cannot avoid missteps, oversights, and outright screw-ups. It’s in our nature. Humans are imperfect. The sooner we admit this, the better prepared we will be to manage the inevitable — the actual blunders, the resulting consequences, and the imminent regret. My five-year-old nephew told me this week that “Only God is perfect, Aunt Kristin.” He’s obviously a faster learner than I am.
  2. We can choose to plan for the inevitable. Try this, “Hey, Self, I know you are going to try your hardest today, but you are going to get some things wrong. Some stuff you are going to mess up accidentally; you might even screw up a few things on purpose. It happens, so have a game plan.”
  3. A game plan can be simple. “Hey, Self, in those moments when you realize that you’ve really blown it, how about you take a breath, acknowledge your mistake, forgive yourself, and then do your best to restore the situation.”
  4. We can extend this mindset to others. “Hey, Friends, you are human. You make mistakes — it’s to be expected. You try hard all the time; I’ve seen you. So when I notice you run a stop sign, swear at your mother, or totally disregard the feelings of your friends or coworkers, I’m going to say to myself: ‘Well, there she goes being human,’ and I’m going to forgive you and lend you a hand, if you’d like, in restoring the situation.”
  5. Harshly judging ourselves or others is destructive; it does nothing to restore a situation. If I have acted selfishly, neglected my responsibilities, or totally gone off the rails, calling myself an idiot or a loser will not help me feel better, do better, or move closer to restoration. If someone else has broken my favorite coffee cup, run into my parked car, or been rude to me on social media, categorizing them as a low-life miscreant or microbial pond scum, will not make me feel better or put me in a position to forgive them, myself, or any other human that rubs me the wrong way.
  6. The healthiest response to screw-ups — our own and those belonging to others — is forgiveness. And forgiveness doesn’t make any sense.

Our pastor recently told the story of The Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:21-35), which compares the forgiveness of monetary debt to the forgiveness of sin. It’s a brilliant approach for learners like me who can wrap our heads around the tangible (money) more easily than the intangible (mercy). In the story, an employer forgives his servant an enormous debt –let’s say a million dollars. The employee owed an amount so great he couldn’t fathom repaying, and his boss said, “I’ll cover it.” A million dollars isn’t just a number on paper that we can put a line through; it’s a stack of bills a million dollars high. If you owe me a million dollars and don’t pay me back, that money comes out of my bank account. I use money that I was planning to spend on a new home, a new car, or my kids’ education, to pay your debt. That’s what forgiveness is, my pastor said. God assumes our debt. He pays it.

Then, He offers us opportunities to “do unto others”. He assumed my million dollar debt; maybe I could cover the cost of someone else’s mistake.

How much does it ‘cost’ us when someone flips us off in traffic — a dollar? Can we let that go? Can we assume that loss? How about when a coworker talks about us behind our backs. What did that cost? Ten bucks? Can we cover that? What if someone breaks into our house? Assaults our child? Seduces our spouse? What “cost” is too high?

Major crimes might seem impossible to forgive, so it’s a good idea to practice on small ones. My husband snarled at me after a long week of work; I can brush that off. A coworker forgot to put supplies away before he left for the day; I can take care of that. The doctor’s office charged me the wrong amount; it’ll cost me a little time, but that’s ok, accidents happen. We can practice forgiveness by overlooking these small offenses.

My justice-obsessed heart had long kept track of all this little stuff; it had wanted a reckoning for every small crime. I practically had a balance sheet of what I was ‘owed’ for all the little hurts that had been inflicted upon me. I had been looking for repayment — a balancing of the books, an eye for an eye.

It’s in the Bible, you know.

But instead of repayment, I incurred more losses — dishonesty, betrayal, neglect, theft. My ledger sheet had me deep in the red. Everywhere I looked I saw someone who owed me, and I wanted repayment.

Here’s the problem: I, too, am human and have screwed up over and over again. If my mistakes were billed out to me, millions wouldn’t cover it. I have no hope of paying it all back. I am buried in suffocating debt.

And I hear the words, “I’ll cover it.” Just like that the bill is wiped clean. I owe nothing. Nothing for lying to my friend. Nothing for yelling at my small children when they didn’t understand. Nothing for neglecting my hurting teenagers. Nothing for holding onto judgment for every little (and big) offense that anyone ever did against me.

I owe nothing.

So I walk my ledger over to the shredder.

Before I release the paper to get chewed up by the row of teeth, I take one last glance. Some of those debts are large; assuming them will cost me.

But one more thing I’ve learned about Humanity and Forgiveness is that holding on to that ledger costs me more. Carrying around that spreadsheet and looking for repayment robs me of opportunity, of joy, of freedom.

During his sermon, my pastor, slapped this little tidbit on the screen:

Forgiving forgives the unforgivable; it can only be possible in doing the impossible.

Jacque Derrida

Yeah. I can’t un-see it.

So, I do the impossible. I shred that spreadsheet, and instead of feeling the cost, I realize that I am free.

See, I told you it doesn’t make any sense.

You might want to test it out for yourself.

I might be wrong. It’s happened before.

I mean, I am a human, after all.

Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

Colossians 3:13

I’ve been wrong, re-visit

I’m gonna make some mistakes today…I’m starting to expect them rather than be surprised by them.

Next Chapter

This post, first written in October 2015, is an early layer in a lesson I’ve been working on. It’s worth re-visiting in April 2019.

Early in our marriage, my husband and I attended a workshop on personality types. Everyone in the room was broken into four groups based on responses to a questionnaire. The groups were illustrated on a four-quadrant chart, each quadrant labelled with a catch phrase. My responses landed me in the quadrant labelled with the catch phrase, “I’m right.”  My husband landed in the quadrant labelled “I know.” I reflexively looked over at him and said, “As long as you know that I’m right, this marriage should work out beautifully.”

Yeah, it has been a long painful fall from that kind of pride.

During my first year of teaching, the seasoned teachers on my hallway were keeping their distance from me. One morning, after a huge…

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It’s About Time

Time. We have just enough time.

It never feels like it.

When I was a little girl, I couldn’t believe how much time I had. What was I supposed to do with three months of summer? No school, no homework, no obligations whatsoever. What should I do with all the hours of a Saturday and not a plan on the horizon? Why did it take so long to get from Thanksgiving to Christmas and from my birthday to summer vacation. Passing of time seemed to take so long.

As an adult, I never think I have enough. How will I fit cooking, laundry, and housework into a week that is already crowded with work, let alone find time for friends, family, and self-care? How will I be ready in time for a vacation or the holidays or the family that is coming to visit? When will I have the time?

I have it right now. I already have all the time I am ever going to have. It’s right here. I’m spending it as we speak. I’m trading in my minutes for an opportunity to put words on the page in the hope that they will reveal what’s been trying to surface from beneath layers and layers of doing.

Earlier today I spent some of my minutes paying bills, reading, doing yoga, and taking a shower. I’m sorry to admit that I also spent some of my minutes in rage at an inconvenience — an unexpected interruption to my day. And then I spent more minutes, possibly even an hour, dwelling in the emotion that the rage unleashed — sorrow, regret, and deep hurt.

I had plenty of time for all of it…because I have plenty of time.

We have plenty of time.

Sometimes I believe a series of lies — I have no time, I have so little time, I’m running out of time, or I’ll never have the time. But the truth is, time is the most abundant resource I have. One of the few knowns in human life is the fact of twenty-four hours each day. We each get the same amount, and we often get to choose how we spend it.

Now, I can’t deny that some choices are more malleable than others. We all typically feel obligated to spend large chunks of our days on some form of work or schooling or other endeavors that support our lives — earning money, buying and preparing food, caring for our homes and vehicles, and attending to the needs of those who are in our care. And some of us, through circumstance, or health, or position have much less say over how we spend our moments and hours and days.

However, many of us have liberty with significant blocks of time. In our culture of privilege, many of us have the luxury of spending hours scrolling through social media, playing games, watching television, or shopping. I must admit that in the past few weeks I have spent many hours watching college basketball — and I have loved spending my time this way. (Especially now that my Spartans are in the Final Four!)

I know many people who use what ever spare moments they have to explore creativity, to invest in education, to be entrepreneurial, or to serve others — family, friends, and even complete strangers. And some people try to do it all.

The pattern of my adult life has been to frantically cram as much activity into each hour as possible. I often blame this habit on the demands of our busy life in St. Louis — my husband in seminary and starting a new ministry, me working as a teacher/administrator, both of us raising three school-aged children. Yes, we had plenty to do, but we also had plenty of time. I didn’t believe it at the time, but after much reflection (both on this blog an away from it), I now believe that I chose to make myself busier than I needed to be. I crammed more activity and more stress into those days than was necessary. I had options for how to use my time.

I could’ve delegated more tasks, especially to our children. I could’ve let some things go, particularly housework, television, and my desire to make it look like I had it all together. I could’ve been more present, more flexible, more conscious of the ability to call an audible.

But what I’ve found in these less hectic, less demanding days of the empty nest, is that I still feel that urge to fill my minutes — with busy-ness, with usefulness, with any activity that will keep me from being still. I think deep in my core I am afraid of facing what will bubble to the surface when I finally stop churning out activity. So rather than face it, I just keep busy.

Did you know that years can go by before you finally sit still long enough to examine all the feelings you’ve suppressed by filling up your minutes and hours?

And do you know what happens when you finally do? You realize that you had a lot more time than you were aware of and that you could have been spending it much differently. You could’ve processed those feelings when they were happening, changed the way you viewed life, and interacted more with the people around you. If you’d slowed down in some of your moments, you might’ve lived differently. You might have made different choices. You might have seen more and felt more.

You might have realized before now that you have all the time in the world.

But you’ve realized it now. So sit down, breathe, and reflect. Write it all down if it helps. See a therapist. Change some patterns. Begin to live differently.

It’s safe. You have the time.

So teach us to number our days
    that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Psalm 90:12