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
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Reflection

After long absences from my blog, I never know what is going to come out of my fingers when I finally make the time to sit down.  Will I start writing about why I haven’t written sooner?  what we have been doing with our time? what kind of students I am working with? How my health is (or is not) progressing? Or how I am looking forward to what’s coming up in the next few weeks?

I don’t know.   Today I don’t feel a drive to write about any of the above, but I do feel compelled to get back to my blog.  I love the discipline of writing every day, and I love how it causes me to reflect on how I am living my life. Writing causes me to pause and take stock of what is happening and what I think and feel about it.

Last weekend, I visited our two daughters who are currently living in Boston.  We did some sightseeing, yes, but we also had chunks of time when we were just together. We rode in the car from the city center to where we were staying.  We visited coffee houses. We sat together on the couch and watched the Olympics and reality TV.  I found myself, in those moments of sitting with my adult daughters, reflecting on how my husband and I parented our children.  From time to time my musings became audible.

“I wish I wouldn’t have freaked out over the little things so much.”

“I wish I would’ve taken more time to show you kids how to do more things.”

“I wish I would have stepped into some situations more thoughtfully.”

My girls were very gracious.  “Mom, you had three babies in three years!  We were a lot to take care of!  You did your best!”  “Mom, we turned out pretty good.”

They’re right.  We did have three babies in three years and we were very busy for many consecutive minutes.hours.days.weeks.months.years.  And, our kids are pretty great.  We are blessed.

But, you know, twenty-five years flew by pretty darn quickly.  And sometimes I even wished that the moments would speed by. Parenting is hard work. It is exhausting and sometimes overwhelming.  And, in true Kristin fashion, I muscled through.

At one moment last weekend,  in the proximity of my girls, I heard myself say out loud, “You know what I wish the most? I wish I would’ve taken more time to reflect. I wish I would’ve been still long enough to say to myself, ‘How is this working out?'”

They were silent, so I said, “If I could give you one piece of advice right now it would be that: take time to be still and reflect.”

It took me a chronic illness and a six-month vacation from work to realize the power of stillness and reflection.  What began as a crutch to help me hobble through the unchartered territory of unemployment turned into a vehicle that helped me explore my thoughts and feelings about my current reality.  In exploring those thoughts and feelings, I have also explored my past and its impact on my life and the lives of those that I love.  These explorations have, I believe, contributed to my healing — if not my actual physical healing, then certainly my mental and emotional healing.

Over the past eighteen months, I have gradually transitioned from not working at all to working about 20-25 hours a week. This was part of the goal all along.  I love teaching,  and God has provided so many opportunities for me to work with students that don’t require me to have a full-time position. However, in transitioning back to more regular work, I don’t want to flush the lessons I learned during the stillness.

This is the challenge of real life, isn’t it? How do I find balance?  How do I get the fulfillment that comes from work while also taking the time to care for myself? How do I care for myself through exercise, healthy eating, and time for reflection, without overlooking the needs of the people closest to me?  How do I attend to the needs of my family while still finding time to connect with friends?  How do I make time to connect with friends and still have regular time to connect with God?

I sure don’t have a simple answer.  However, what I have learned is that, for me, one way to take the pulse on how I am doing with finding that balance, is to take some moments to reflect through writing.  So, here I am, returning and reflecting so that I can continue to heal and continue to grow.

Psalm 116:7

Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.

Creativity

Just under two years ago, as I said goodbye to teaching in St. Louis so that I could move to Michigan with my husband, I imagined that I would take four to six months to rest and recover and then I would find a job and get back to some kind of ‘normal’ life.  My limited view couldn’t see what God had planned for me.  I couldn’t imagine how He would allow me to experiment with different types and levels of employment so that I could see for myself what would be fulfilling, draining, energizing, depleting… I couldn’t envision a life where I would have so much freedom to learn and grow.  I couldn’t see how He could provide for us financially, so He had to show me.

In the past two years I have worked for Reuters as an election agent, tutored students in English, writing, reading, study skills and test preparation, participated in intensive reading and writing instruction, edited everything from a young adult novel to a Master’s thesis on cancer-treating drugs, scored standardized math assessments, and taught college-level writing and literature courses.

And though that sounds like a lot, I’ve had the luxury of making new friends, participating in a regular Bible study, joining a new church family, working out consistently at a local gym, reading dozens of books, visiting family across the state, exploring Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti with my husband, and providing a refuge for my daughters as they navigated some difficult life situations.  Not only that, I’ve had time to experiment with medical strategies — discarding some, embracing others — to find ways to feel better both physically and emotionally.

Much of that journey has been chronicled in this blog. I think I started writing imagining that I would arrive at a destination — that I would someday get to “The Next Chapter.” However, I think the theme of this chapter is learning to live in the process, to trust that God knows what is coming next and He is preparing me for it. I’m learning to not look too far ahead, but to enjoy each moment.

This morning, I was supposed to be doing some online scoring, but ETS contacted me and said that due to reduced volume, I was not needed and would still receive half of my pay for the morning.  So, I stayed in bed reading a great book a little longer than usual.  I got up, straightened the kitchen, made my tea, and picked up my old faithful devotional, Whispers of Hope by Beth Moore.  After having set it down for a while to study Hosea and Breathe, I turned to the first page to start my third journey through this book.

Was I surprised that the message applied directly to my life? Not really.  I’m starting to expect it.  I no longer get stunned when I see a message like this: “What God is doing in your life right now may not make sense to you, but it’s not because He’s nonsensical.  It’s because He’s creative…In His wisdom God knew [His creation] was good because He knew what was coming next.  He knows what’s coming next for you…Give God room to be completely creative.”

Two years ago, I had no idea what was coming next.  It was pure obedience (plus exhaustion and a touch of desperation) to move here with no plan. Granted, He had made it quite obvious that we should take this leap of faith by providing a position that was custom-crafted for my husband in Michigan, which we both call home, but still, for a chronic planner and do-er, it was a totally new experience.

What God was doing in our lives did not make sense to me, but it wasn’t because He was nonsensical.  It was because He had a creative response to my self-destructive soldiering ways. He had information that was beyond my scope.  He knew what was coming next. And in my exhaustion, I was willing to allow him the room to be completely creative.

Guess how creative He is — He’s giving me the opportunity to teach high school students from across the country and around the world this summer at the University of Michigan. I’ll get to speak into their writing process and, hopefully, into their lives.  He’s allowing me to lead three sections of writing at Concordia in the fall — a three-minute walk from my kitchen to my classroom. And – gasp – He’s orchestrated an opportunity for my husband and me to chaperone a group of students to Israel for two weeks in January!

Could I have imagined all of that two short years ago? Not in a million years.  I was picturing myself shelving books at the public library. Not that that would’ve been a bad gig; perhaps that’ll be the next Next Chapter.  For now, I’m pretty content in this chapter and grateful to its Author.

Jeremiah 29:11

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord

“plans to prosper you and not to harm you,

plans to give you a hope and a future.”

 

 

 

The manna-Giver

Am I “more consumed with conserving and accumulating manna than in honoring the manna-Giver”?  That’s the question that stopped me in my tracks this morning.

Let’s take a stroll back to Exodus 16.  The Israelites, newly emancipated from Egypt, fresh from their crossing of the Red Sea, quickly forget these miraculous works of God and start complaining because they are thirsty and hungry.  They don’t say, “God, you brought us out of Egypt; you’re amazing!  You parted the Red Sea; you’re incredible! We know you will provide food and drink!”  No, they say, “He should’ve left us to die in Egypt, at least there we would’ve had food.”

Stupid ungrateful Israelites.

But God, being God, casually brings fresh water from a rock and rains down manna from the sky.  You know, casually.  And He tells Moses that they should only gather what they need for each day because God will gladly provide them enough.  They don’t have to horde or worry. God, who got them out of Egypt, who parted a whole sea, who brought water from a rock, who made bread fall from the sky, said He would provide enough each day. But, the Israelites decided to, you know, just grab a little extra to make sure.

Stupid untrusting Israelites.

So, my (your?) story is not too different.  I wasn’t exactly a slave in Egypt, but I have been a slave to many things — my eating disorder way back in the 80s, my fears about money, my need to control, …. and as the king said, “etcetera, etcetera…” I didn’t walk across the dry bed of an ocean or anything, but I did witness the freeing words of Christ come out of the mouth of an agnostic therapist, I have witnessed over and over God’s financial provision when it didn’t make any sense at all, I have been taken away from my life of soldiering into a time of rest…Etcetera, Etcetera.  And still, like the Israelites, I complain and fret…

Stupid ungrateful me.

For some reason I look back on my life of slavery and remember how proud I was to be so thin, forgetting that I couldn’t think/remember/drive/communicate. I look longingly at the times that I kicked butts and took names, forgetting that my self-sufficiency felt lonely and isolated.  I long for financial security and try to store away extra, forgetting how God has consistently and faithfully provided for all of my needs.

Stupid untrusting me.

The manna-Giver has rained down bread from heaven so many times in our married life. When we had young children and seemingly un-payable medical bills, He provided. When we went to the seminary, people we didn’t even know provided for our tuition and even Christmas gifts for our children. When an error in withholding resulted in a tax bill that we couldn’t imagine ever paying, He met that need. When, just this week, one of our children didn’t know how to find the money to pay for summer tuition, within hours, a scholarship was provided to pay the bill in full. Etcetera, Etcetera.

And yet I am tempted, just like the Israelites to, instead of praising and thanking the manna-Giver, become “consumed with conserving and accumulating manna.”

This is one more area where I need to “resist the urge to continue”.  When I am “bent on turning” to go back to those days of slavery, I need stop, dead in my tracks, and remember the mighty works of God who has freed me, fed me, and provided for me in every way.

I can trust that His character does not change.

I can trust that He holds me in the palm of His hand.

 

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3: 20-21

 

Catch phrases, re-visit

This post, first written in April 2016 and revised in March 2019, might resonate with you if you just can’t stop trying to go it alone.

Recently, I wrote about how Jennifer Rothschild’s Hosea pointed out that I am ‘bent on turning’ away from God. Now, Priscilla Shirer has told me to “resist the urge to continue”.  Let me see if I can unpack what this phrase means to me.

I’ve spent significant white space in this blog discussing my ‘soldiering years’ — my long period of working hard and believing that I was tackling all of life’s challenges on my own, thank you very much. Although I was removed from that life of self-sufficiency by my chronic illness, the pattern of striving is deep in my DNA and hard to leave behind. I still try to turn back to that old way of living, filling my days with work and achievement in order to convince myself that I have control over my life. Even though I have been given this opportunity to live a life that has a slower pace, fewer demands, and plenty of time to take care of myself, connect with God, and care for the people around me, I still am bent on turning back to the familiar — soldiering.

Now, sure, it looks a little different than it once did. Instead of power walking down the hall in an a-line skirt and heels intimidating poor little freshmen into tucking in their shirts and getting to class on time, I now wear comfortable clothes and sensible shoes and typically move at a much slower pace as I work with and encourage one student at a time. However, the underlying drive is the same — a need to be busy, to prove my worth, to make myself useful, to be in control.

It’s a rhythm that has felt comfortable to me for quite a while. Although I don’t always like working as hard as I do, the rhythm makes me feel safe. It assures me. It’s a way I’ve come to know.

Priscilla Shirer in Breathe: Making Room for the Sabbath, recalls that the Israelites, too, had found a rhythm that was familiar during their 400 years of slavery in Egypt. They had worked hard and long under the fearsome watch of the taskmaster. They had labored in the heat with very little rest their whole lives. You might think it would be easy to leave all that behind and live according to the commands God gave them, but old habits die hard. Perhaps one of the hardest challenges for the Israelites (and for me) was believing that God would provide for all of their needs even if they took time to rest.

Shirer points out that God did provide the Israelites with enough manna for each day — their ‘daily bread’. They were to collect only what they would eat that day, and not try to store up extra. They were to trust that the next day He would provide again. But you know, they hadn’t had plenty to eat in a long time, so they figured it would be wasteful to throw the extra away. They kept it and woke up the next day to find it rotten and worm-infested. They were given a double portion on the sixth day so that they could observe the sabbath on the seventh. Regardless, some of those Israelites still went out on the sabbath looking for manna, but they didn’t find any. They didn’t find any because they didn’t need any;  God had already provided plenty.

Silly Israelites.

Cricket — cricket.

Yeah, I’m silly, too.

All that time I was soldiering away, God had already provided for all our needs. Even though I might like to think that I somehow made the life of my family healthier, stronger, or more provided-for, I was really in all my soldiering making our experience as a family worse. I was overlooking God’s provision. I was failing to take a sabbath. I was forgetting to turn to Him with all my needs. And even though sometimes I got a glimpse at what was happening, I couldn’t resist the urge to continue. My pattern was comfortable. It felt safe. Putting down my weapons, falling to my knees, and admitting my helplessness before God was, at that time, out of the question.

It’s still tempting for me to believe that admitting my helplessness before God is out of the question. But guys, shouldn’t it be out of the question for me not to admit my helplessness before God?

It’s got to be.

It’s got to be out of the question for me to think that I can possibly work hard enough to make myself useful, to prove my own worth, or to be in control. It’s got to be beyond my imagination that I would think that I know more than God or that I am above the need for a sabbath. It’s got to be completely ludicrous for me to believe for one minute that I can do anything at all that God hasn’t already done for me.

It’s got to be.

And yet, I’m bent on turning…turning back to that old life, that old comfortable way. I’m just like the Israelites. So, when I see myself turning, and I almost always do, I’ve got an opportunity to resist the urge to continue.  I can stop dead in my tracks as I’m heading back to Egypt. I can say to myself, “Really? You wanna go back there?”

I can choose to admit to myself that all my soldiering was a façade on a frightened little girl who didn’t believe that her Father had gladly given her the kingdom. But He has, guys, He has gladly given us His kingdom.

I think it’s time I learned to resist the urge to continue.

Luke 12:32

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.

Marginally Speaking

Sometimes when God nudges us to make a change, we make that change and then slowly over time notice the benefits.  Other times, God gives us an immediate indicator that we are heading in the right direction.  That happened for me this week.

If you read my recent post, Margin, you know that I decided, while reading Priscilla Shirer’s Breathe: making room for sabbath, to turn off my phone from 8pm to 8am every day. I made that decision just two days ago while sitting right here on this futon doing my Bible study. I blogged about it then went through my day.  I got home Tuesday night, played all my turns on Words With Friends, checked Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, then turned off my phone a bit before 8.

I wasn’t quite ready to go to bed, so I sat next to my husband on the couch, crocheting and watching “Bizarre Foods” (I only recommend watching this show if you would like to curb your after dinner eating — yuck!).  We watched and laughed at its ridiculousness.  Then, I crawled into bed and, as usual, settled in to read.

Typically after an evening of watching TV and constantly checking my phone, I can read for thirty to sixty minutes before falling asleep.  Not Tuesday.  Nope.  I got into my comfortable position, opened my book and made it through two or three pages before I had to surrender to sleep.  I slept hard.

Then, I woke up around 7:15am.  Usually, the first thirty to sixty minutes of my day are spent in bed checking email, messages, Facebook, etc.  But it was 7:15, and I had made a commitment to keep the phone off until 8am, so I crawled out of bed, showered, made my breakfast beverages, and dressed for a day of Bible study, teaching and tutoring.  Around 8,  I checked messages, emails, etc. I noticed that I had missed a call, so I messaged the friend who had rang me, talked to my husband for a few minutes before he left for work, then settled in to prepare for Bible study.

The phone rang.  The same friend called to explain why she had called — to talk through the fact that her day was not going the way that she had planned.   She’d had an interruption that was causing her to spend an extra two hours on the road to retrieve an item that had been left on our campus.  I commiserated with her then hung up to go back to my Bible study about margins.

I started reading then thought to myself, “You’re dressed.”  Yes, that’s right, I was dressed and ready to leave for Bible study and I didn’t have to leave for another 30 or 40 minutes. I turned back to my reading.

“You know, you could  get that item and meet your friend half way.” That one wasn’t me.

How do I know?  Because I argued back, “but I’m supposed to be at Bible study in half in hour.”  I went back to my reading.

“What would happen if you were late?”

“Well, I’m always late.” Yes, I picked up my phone, made arrangements, and started driving.

So, here’s my analysis of what happened.  If I had not decided to add in a margin to my life — some white space — by turning off my phone from 8p to 8a, I might have still been lying in bed when the friend called.  I would not have been dressed. I would have been reading Facebook posts and playing WWF.  I wouldn’t have had the space in my day to drive twenty minutes to help her out.  But, I did make that decision.  I did put the margin in my life.

And the very next morning after making that decision, God provided a tangible reward — an opportunity to use that same time, the time I’d been filling up, to help a friend.

You might think that my friend is the only one who benefitted. Not true.  The whole time I was driving I was thinking to myself, “Really?  You’re gonna respond to my decision that quickly? You want to affirm this decision that strongly?”  I was flabbergasted. I was stunned to notice God working in my life in such a way.

And here’s the nugget, guys.  I noticed because I wasn’t face-down into my phone. Yes, this is hugely convicting and embarrassing.  I have spent far too much time in my phone.  I’ve known this.  I just didn’t want to make a change.

And, I’ve got to be real honest here and say that it’s been just as hard as I thought it would be.  After 8pm last night, I kept mentally reaching for my phone to check for messages, see if everyone was ok, or if I’d missed anything.  I had to continue to remind myself that I had already turned it off for the night and that everyone would be ok without me for twelve hours.

The hardest part, however, wasn’t the lack of checking in, it was the awareness of all the thoughts I have routinely shoved down by occupying myself with my phone.  With my phone turned off, lots of ugliness creeps to the surface — regrets and questions about how I have parented/continue to parent, worries about finances, personal insecurities, and all sorts of stuff I have chosen not to think about.  With my phone down, I can not ignore these nagging concerns.  I am forced to look them in the face.  It’s not pleasant, guys, to look at all that stuff.  It makes me feel yucky.  I don’t like feeling yucky.

Last night after I put my book down, I closed my eyes because I thought I was ready for sleep. I was tired, but as I lie there trying to sleep, the ugliness started playing out on my mind screen.  “Ugh,” I thought, “why!?!?!?”  I felt overwhelmed.  In desperation I said to God, “Is this real?  Is my memory real? Please replace these images with what is true!”

Did you see that?  I didn’t shove the images down.  I held them up to God and asked for His reality check.  Why was I able to do that? Because I’ve put a margin into my life.  I’ve left some white space, expecting that He will step in and fill it.  I am acknowledging that the story I am writing is rough and needs the hand of the Master.  I need Him to speak into my life — to offer encouragement, correction, and guidance.  I haven’t been leaving room for that.  I’ve been writing all the way to the edge of the paper.

I’m a mere two days in, guys, but this change is so important that God is already dramatically stepping in.  It’s like He’s been standing by waiting for the opportunity.

 

I Samuel 3:10

“Speak for your servant is listening.”

 

 

Margin

I’m still behind on my new Bible study, Breathe: making room for sabbath by Priscilla Shirer, but I’m not feeling the need to rush.  I’m trying to drink in the ideas and let them tumble around inside my head for a little while.

What I’m tossing around today is the idea of boundaries. Priscilla Shirer uses the terms ‘margin’ and ‘boundary’ almost interchangeably.  The idea is to leave space in our lives — to not plan ourselves out to the edges.  When I think of the term ‘margin’ , as a writer, I think of the edge of the page.  My students are required to double-space their papers and to leave a one-inch margin around their text.  Why?  Well, for one thing, it makes the page look nice.  But more importantly is the fact that they are leaving room for me. They are leaving space on the page for me to engage with their ideas, to comment, “nice job!” or “I see what you mean!”  They are leaving a place for me to give guidance, “I am wondering if you could clarify this a bit for me” or “Say this more concisely.”  They are planning for the actuality that I will be joining them on this page.

So why don’t I apply this rule to my life?  Why, so often, do I plan my life right out to the edge of the paper, single-spaced, in 10 pt. font!  I’m not leaving room for anyone — not the people I pass throughout my day, not my kids, not my husband, not my own thoughts, not God.  Nope. I’m filling it up, often well ahead of time.  And I’m sitting here wondering if I do it so that I won’t have time for others, myself, or — gasp — God.

Let me pause for a minute and say that I have more freedom for boundaries in my life right now than I have had in a very long time.  I am only working part-time and much of that is scheduled by me.  We live in a very small home, which, except for the interior, is maintained by someone else.  The only other beings who live with me are my husband and my dog — both of whom are extremely low maintenance.  And still, still, I plan myself out to the edges of the page.  And, when I don’t have anything planned, I fill my time with activity — crocheting, television, Words With Friends, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.  I don’t often let my mind be still.  And I’m starting to think I am doing this on purpose.

Why? Because when my mind is still, it wanders to things I don’t like it to think about — mistakes from the past, worries about the people I love, things I wish I could change. So, rather than looking those thoughts square in the face, I occupy myself, or at least my mind.  It’s a way of avoiding reality, I suppose.  But, you know, I think I am also avoiding something else.

By eliminating the margins in my life, I am eliminating the spaces where anyone else can enter in.  I’m making myself so busy that I have little time to chat with a friend, to phone my sister, or to pray. And by not leaving much room for these others to engage with my life, I am limiting their ability to encourage me and to guide me.

The first chapter in this Bible study challenged me to identify specific areas that I let have too much control over my time. I identified two — working and social media. Let me explain.

The nature of my work right now is that I teach one class at the college where we live — three days a week for fifty minutes.  That is very easy and do-able.  Yes, it is an English class, yes I have papers to grade, but it is very manageable.  However, in addition to that I am a private tutor/proofreader.  I have an online profile through which potential students can contact me at any hour day or night.  Sometimes I get a message at 9pm asking if I could proofread a 3-page document before midnight.  I also get requests all day long for in-person tutoring.  I can make my schedule as busy as I want it to be. I don’t always do a great job of maintaining a healthy boundary.

Social media is a great modern tool.  It allows us to connect with people around the world.  We can share photos, engage in political dialogue,  or promote causes we care about.  However…..we can also use it to fill in the white spaces in our lives.  If I’ve got five minutes to wait in a line, instead of noticing my surroundings, I often check email, text a friend, or post on Facebook.  If I’m in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, I play Words With Friends or read my Twitter feed.  If I’m sitting next to my husband on the couch at night, I usually have my phone in my hand — checking messages, playing games, reading posts.  I’m not allowing a margin that invites others to engage with me.

I’ve known this for a while.  And, I’m a little hesitant to continue this paragraph because I know I am about to publicly commit to change. And change, my friends, is not always easy…especially when it relates to those behaviors that offer us some kind of protection from ourselves or the world around us.  I’m thinking that one change I can choose to make that will allow me a little more white space, a little more opportunity to engage with others, including my own thoughts and God, would be to put my phone down. Every night. From 8pm to 8am. There it is. In print. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, does it?  I think I’m going to actually turn it off during those times. Any messages I receive between 8p and 8a can wait. Right?

Are you like me?  Does a decision like this raise a little anxiety?  What if I get bored? What if someone needs me?   What if I miss something?  Yeah, the fact that I’m freaking out a little bit tells me that this decision is long overdue.   I’m feeling very resolute at 2:35 pm, but I have a feeling that I might feel a little uncomfortable around 8:15.  Nevertheless, I believe this is one small step God is calling me to in my quest for Sabbath.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Hebrews 12: 1b

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.

Re-thinking Sabbath

Yesterday, after having missed two weeks of my Bible study, I returned. While I was gone, the battalion had finished the study on Hosea and had transitioned to Priscilla Shirer’s Breathe: making room for sabbath.  

I joined the study already in progress, so I’m a little behind.  I tried to skim and engage during yesterday’s gathering, but I kept feeling like I was missing out because I hadn’t read every word from the start.

So, today I sat down and turned to page one.

But before I tell you what I found, let me rewind a bit and tell you what I have thought about the sabbath during these first fifty years of my life.

Many of the women yesterday resonated with my first understanding of sabbath.  “Sabbath means going to church. Every Sunday. Without fail.” Going to church is an excellent practice.  I am all for gathering in community, hearing the word of God, uniting in prayer and song, and devoting a regular portion of my week to public worship.  However, sabbath is not church attendance. 

I have also understood sabbath to mean an absence of work. This has Biblical grounds, of course, and traditional significance.  Many people, for centuries, have observed the sabbath by refraining from work.  Again, I fully support this notion.  I think it is healthy and even godly to find a rhythm in which we regularly cease toiling.  However, the sabbath is about much more than just the absence of work. 

So, I’ve started my definition of sabbath by telling you what it is not. Why? Because that is where I am starting.  I am acknowledging that my previous understandings of this word were limited and not exactly what God modeled for us when He “rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done.”  Nor do they line up with the heart of God behind the third commandment to “remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.”

I’m starting with what sabbath is not, deleting my previous notions to make room for a new understanding.  I am feeling a need to do this because the very word ‘sabbath’ is weighted for me.  It is weighted with feelings of obligation, neglect, and guilt.  Somewhere deep inside me is the belief that if I were a better Christian, I would trust God enough to take a whole day every week to rest in Him.  This belief is scripturally illustrated in the story of the Israelites who were told to gather manna six days out of the week.  God provided a double-portion for them on the sixth day so that they would not have to gather manna on the seventh day.  See, they didn’t have to work and still God provided.  Should I not learn from the Israelites and ‘go and do likewise’.

We have to be careful when we start down that path, because even in our attempts to do good, we can reduce sabbath to a rule or requirement.

Also planted deeply inside me is the belief that I am not healthy if I don’t give myself one day a week to rest and recover from my labors.  Haven’t you heard people say, “even God rested on the seventh day.”  They are intentionally, or unintentionally, suggesting that if I refuse to rest on the seventh day I am somehow elevating myself above God — “I don’t need rest.”

Well, of course I need rest.  And of course I should trust God.  But after reading the first sixteen pages of Priscilla Shirer’s study, I jotted down my response to a question and I surprised myself.  After leading me through the Genesis account and some thoughts from a Jewish scholar regarding the sabbath, the study asked me: “how is the concept of rest more than simply stopping an activity? How is rest a positive, created thing rather than a negative cessation of activity?” Before I knew what was happening I wrote: “It’s a destination rather than a requirement. It’s a capstone, not recovery.”

Whoa.

That’s the kind of stuff that will sit you down and make you think for a minute.  God created for six days straight, so that He could appreciate all that He had created on the seventh.  His rest was the capstone of His creation — the finale of his well-spent week. He put the sabbath in our commandments, not to require our worship, but to protect His rhythm.  Why? Because His rhythm is good. All that He created was good.

Why, oh why, do I push against what God has created to be good?  Because, as I learned in the book of Hosea, I am bent on turning….turning to my own ways, to what I believe to be best for me, rather that what God knows is best for me.

Are you bent on turning, too?  “Have no fear, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you His kingdom.” And in his kingdom, my friends, He has provided a sabbath rest.

Re-think it with me, won’t you?

 

Hebrews 4:9

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God

In My Weakness…

Yesterday I was lying on a bed at my physical therapist’s office.  She takes over an hour with me every time I visit.  She finds me in the waiting room; she watches me stand; she watches me walk; she leads me to a room, then watches me sit.  She asks me how I am —  what are my presenting symptoms.  She listens.  She types what I say on her computer, compiling a record of my health and my progress. As I stand again, she assesses my posture and my spinal alignment. As I lie down, she feels my pulses and checks the position of my joints.  For over an hour her hands are on me.  She applies pressure to my skull, to my vertebrae, to my ribs, to my organs, to my back, to my hip.  And the whole while that her hands are on me, we are talking. We talk about family, about faith, about health, and about the body. We’ve been doing this since November.  More than any other practitioner I’ve ever met, this woman knows me.

Since the very first appointment with her, I have felt very comfortable in her presence. I feel like my body is being cared for, and even ministered to, every time I am on that table.  What’s more, is that my spirit seems to be ministered to as well.  Marcy, when she places her hands on me, says that she is ‘listening’ to my body.  I believe, after many hours on that table, that God uses that physical connection to forge a spiritual connection.  And through that spiritual connection, He often impresses His truth upon me. I have written about this before (hereherehere).  Perhaps because I am still for a complete hour, perhaps because Marcy creates an atmosphere of ‘listening’, or perhaps because I am so open and receptive to the possibility of healing, I receive from Him while I am lying on that table.

Yesterday, less than a week into my experiment of living without NSAIDs, I bundled up and drove thirty minutes across snow-covered roads because I believed that Marcy’s touch would be helpful.  I wasn’t wrong.

Somewhere during that hour on the bed, I was sharing with Marcy about some students I had been working with this week, and I heard myself saying, “You know, I feel like I do a lot of complaining about my pain, but the truth is, I wouldn’t have any of the opportunities I have right now, if I wasn’t in this current physical state.”  Right at that moment I remembered the words, “my power is made perfect in weakness.” Marcy didn’t say those words.  I didn’t say those words. I just remembered them.

Later yesterday, as I was driving home in my car, I remembered those words again, “my power is made perfect in weakness,” and I began to think of my low batt. analogy.  I love it when I am fully charged — I feel like I can conquer the world.  I charge through life in my power shoes, kicking butts and taking names.  In fact, try not to laugh, when I was in my prime, I jokingly told my students to refer to me as “the great and powerful Rathje”.  Ok, laugh.  We always did.

I don’t love being at low batt.  I don’t feel like I can conquer the world.  I have to sit down a lot.  I move slowly — very slowly this week. I cannot kick any butts or even remember many names.  Yet in this posture — this posture of sitting, lying, walking — I am able to see the opportunities that God is placing in front of me.  They aren’t glamorous.  They aren’t highly visible.  But they are life-changing.

This morning, I searched Biblegateway for the verse that had been on my mind all day yesterday.  I found it in this context:

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I’ve been praying, pleading with God, way more than “three times,” that He would heal me, but I find myself saying, “Lord, please heal my body, but more importantly, change me.  Don’t let me go back to my soldiering ways. I would love to be free of pain, but only if I have fully learned everything that you want to teach me.”  The pain sucks, kids. It really does. Especially this week. But living a life that fully relies on me sucks even more. 

I’ll be over here on the couch, icing, and being thankful that God’s power is made perfect in my weakness.

Beloved, regardless of wallowing

This must be anti-wallowing week!  What is it about February that induces the blues like no other month on the calendar? Yes, it’s cold.  Yes, it’s gray.  But, come on, it’s only 28 29 days.  How bad can it be?

Well, for an experienced wallower, it can be pretty bad, can’t it?

And I’ll admit, I’ve been a wallower this morning.  I woke around 8am.  I always feel the worst right when I wake up.  Every joint and muscle aches, and I feel somehow attached to my bed.  It typically takes me 30-60 minutes to convince myself that I will feel better once I get out from between the sheets.  Today it took closer to 90.  I didn’t have to stay in bed, but I chose to lie there, read Facebook, Twitter, and email, and take my turn on a dozen or more games of Words With Friends.

That, my friends, is professional-level wallowing.

I am not saying that to judge anyone out there with chronic illness — I know it’s rough, and I know that sometimes bed is where you need to be — I am just saying that for me, today, my first 90 minutes were spent wallowing.

It sounded something like this: “I don’t feel good. I ache. I’m tired. I’ll just lie here a few more minutes. I don’t have anywhere to go this morning anyway. My first appointment is at 3.  I need the rest. I’ll get up soon.”

Thank goodness I have a bladder. It recognized the situation and fired off a red alert.  “Emergency! Emergency! You need to get out of bed now!!”  I can always count on my bladder.  It forces me to pause in my wallowing.

Once I had taken care of the first order of business, I made my smoothie and my tea, and I sat down to my work for the day.  I was able to help a student on a couple of documents she needs to submit for a class and interact with a few friends on Facebook before I got a notification from a friend reminding me that my husband had given the message today at Concordia’s chapel service.

And then I was tempted to resume wallowing. “Seriously, Kristin, you couldn’t get yourself up and dressed in time for a 10:30 chapel service? What’s the matter with you?  You aren’t that sick!  Stop wallowing!”  You got it, my wallowing was perpetuating more wallowing!

And right then I had a choice — go down that path, or turn.

Today, I turned. If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you will know that I was once again ‘shocked’ that my Bible study for today directly applied to this situation. The words “I’m sorry” jumped right off the page at me.  Of course there were many other words, but I think “I’m sorry” was bolded and in 24pt font.  And what am I sorry for?

I’m sorry that I have forgotten to be content in all circumstances.  I’m sorry that I have forgotten the blessing of this next chapter — yes, I am not the person I once was, but that gives me an opportunity to not be the person I once was. You know what I mean?

I am no longer functioning at my best when I leap out of bed at 5:30am to conquer the world and everyone in it for fourteen or more hours.  I am now at my best when I amble into my day at a slower pace, when I notice who is posting what on Facebook, when I am aware of what is happening in the world, when I can offer encouraging words to a graduate student I have never met face to face, when I can sit next to my dog, read a devotion, and reflect on the thoughts I am having and the way I am feeling.

I didn’t take the time for any of that in previous chapters. I was busy trying to achieve, trying to manage it all, trying to be perfect.

I needed to pause from my wallowing this morning to remember that I was not meant to be “be-perfect”; I was meant to be “beloved”.

I am beloved even when I wallow. I am beloved when I stop wallowing.  Nothing I do can change the fact that I am beloved.

Hebrews 13:5

be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”