A return to the story

Walking through the grocery store, I heard a ping, then another, then another. I looked toward the sound and saw a woman grabbing her phone, looking at the screen, then smiling. She put the phone down and continued pushing her cart down the aisle. I saw her several more times as I made my way through the store. Each time, it was because I heard the ping first. Her phone was calling her attention, and it caught mine, too.

As I pulled into campus where we live, I drove past a half a dozen teenagers who had just finished rowing practice on the river that flows behind our house. Waiting for their rides, they sat in a silent clump, all hunched over their phones.

I get lost in my phone, too. In fact, as I sat next to my mom yesterday, watching a football game, I was scrolling mindlessly — looking at social media, checking email, Googling to fact-check.

We’re on our phones all the time. We’re always taking in information– seeing what’s going on in the world– trying not to miss anything. We read, we post, we comment. Much of our daily life revolves around our phones.

My attention has been drawn to our phones over the last few days as I’ve simultaneously been hearing a narrative in the settings I’ve found myself in. From a collection of very diverse voices I am hearing the same words in a resounding cacophony: The world we live in today..so much violence.. hurricanes… fires…total destruction… racism… sexism… broken systems ..crime… poverty… corruption…. what can we do? It’s terrible…

Terrible…

Terrible…

And you know, I think the fact that we are continuously scrolling through our cell phones (or sitting in front of our televisions), is related to this narrative –this growing societal anxiety. If we are frantic — about the weather, the environment, crime, money, scandal — then we continue to scroll. When we scroll, our anxiety increases. What can be done? It’s terrible!

The cycle is self-perpetuating.

And we’re becoming a culture of reeling, hand-wringing, panicking worriers, chanting with the masses, “It’s no use! We’re doomed! This is surely the end of the world!”

And, to be fair, these issues are real. and significant. and scary.

I’ve found myself reeling and worrying, too.

Friday morning, as I was writing out three pages of mind-dump, I cried out, “Lord, help! Lord, lead! Lord, please!”

Not long after, I was listening to a sermon I missed recently, which centered on the text in Exodus 1-2 where Pharaoh was ordering that the Israelite slaves be beaten and that their babies be murdered, a time when certainly the people were reeling, wringing their hands, and panicking. As I pictured the slaughter of innocents, I heard our pastor read these words:

We read scripture in order to be refreshed in our memory and understanding of the story within which we ourselves are actors, to be reminded where it has come from and where it is going to, and hence what our own part within it ought to be.”

NT Wright

I got kinda choked up, and I leaned in.

As I listened to the rest of the sermon, I remembered how God had shown up for the Israelites, how He had miraculously delivered them from the hands of the Egyptians, how he had saved even little baby Moses as he bobbed down the stream in a basket made of reeds. I felt a peace wash over me as I remembered that the God who rescued Moses and the Israelites is the same God who hears me as I “cry out” on the pages of my notebook.

The same God who heard David and Hannah and Mary and Peter.

I am part of a bigger story — a story that was written before the beginning of time, a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

An end! Guys, we already know the end!

Last weekend, my granddaughter wanted me to watch a “scary movie”. When I told her that I don’t like scary movies, she said, “It’s ok, Oma, I will sit next to you and cover your eyes if you get really scared.” So, figuring that I’d probably be ok if a four year old was coaching me into bravery, I agreed. Throughout the movie, whenever a scary part came up, she put her little hand on my glasses so that I wouldn’t get too frightened. Toward the end of the movie, the scariest part of all, she narrated for me ahead of time exactly what was going to happen so that I would know in advance that everything was going to be ok in the end.

And guys, we already know that even if it gets pretty darn scary, it is all going to be ok in the end.

“See, Oma, I told you!”

Sometimes we need to return to the story, remind ourselves how it all turns out, where the story has come from, where it is going, and what our part within it ought to be.

So I listened to that sermon. Twice. (Click here if you’d like to hear it.)

Then, I turned on Pandora and heard these lyrics:

The weapon may be formed, but it won’t prosper.
When the darkness falls, it won’t prevail.
Cause the God I serve knows only how to triumph;
My God will never fail.”

“See a Victory” Elevation Worship

Hundreds of times during the day, I check my phone — for texts, for calls, for updated news, for weather reports. Just once every morning, I return to scripture as I drive into work. And I wonder why I feel a bit unsettled and somewhat frantic. My dosage is off. I’m taking in too much frenzy and not enough fact. And when I do that, I can forget.

I can forget that:

I was lost, ’til You called me out by name
And I was down, ’til You picked me up again
And I was wrong, ’til Your love it made me right
I was dead, ’til You sang me back to life.”

“Garments” Cory Asbury

When I return to the story — not only the story of scripture, but the story of God’s faithfulness in my own life — when I see where it has come from and where it is going, I start to wonder what my role within this grand story might be. I wonder if my role is to join the masses in frantic scrolling, hand-wringing, and worrying, or if it is to continue to return to the story, to remember that I already know the ending, and to live a life a hopefulness — a life that knows that times get dark and scary, but it’s going to be ok in the end.

Because guys, we live within a story that has been crafted by the Author and Creator of life. He has designed for each of us a life of hope and significance. Each of us matters before Him, and we have the great privilege to live into that truth and to share that truth with all of our fellow scrolling, hand-wringing sojourners.

We are not a people without hope.

We are a people who know the story of how God has been kind and merciful to His people over and over again — in the direst of circumstances: famine, flood, subjugation, tyranny. We have seen Him provide for us, connect to us, and lead us.

We know how the story ends.

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

“This Dust” Kip Fox

Let’s keep returning to the story; we’re gonna be ok.

Advertisements

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, revisit

This post was written in April 2016 — after the first period on the couch and before the second. I was in motion, and I chose to reduce the amount of time I spent on the phone to put more margin into my life. However, my recent stay on the couch may have returned me to some old habits, so I am re-visiting this post in October 2019 to inspire a return to that practice as get back of the couch.

Sometimes when God nudges us to make a change, we make that change and then slowly over time notice the benefits. Other times, we get 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 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, crocheting and watching Bizarre Foods. We watched and laughed at its ridiculousness, then I crawled into bed and 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.

I woke up the next morning 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 and emails and 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.”

Sigh.

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 out loud, “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 the past, 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 was lying in bed, 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.

Let me just be quiet, so I can hear Him.

Speak for your servant is listening.”

I Sam 3:10

The Power of Fewer Words

Last week I wrote about the Power of Words — how my words (and yours) can be a soothing balm or a source of pain.  That is one of the lessons I am learning on my new job; another lesson comes with it: fewer words can be more useful than more words.

This is a challenge for me.

Stop laughing.

Really.

I really like to talk. When I was in middle school our report cards showed two grades for each subject — a letter grade to show our academic performance and a number grade to show our citizenship.  If you forget about penmanship, I usually had all As in academics.  You might imagine that an all-A student would also get the highest citizenship scores — all 1s.   Ones indicated that you followed classroom rules, paid attention in class, refrained from disrupting others, and (here it is) didn’t talk during class time.  Twos indicated that you were doing great with a few minor exceptions.  Threes indicated that you had room to grow.  Fours meant that you were a nuisance to the teacher. Fives meant you were one of those students.  I hereby confess to all the talkers I have ever taught and scolded in my class that beside most of my As were 3s, 4s, and occasionally a 5.  (Pause for collective gasp.)

Naturally I chose a profession that would support my predisposition to garrulousness — I became an English teacher.  Where else would I get paid to stand in front of a captive audience for eight hours a day?  Where else would my anecdotes be celebrated?  Where else could I justify tangential commentary?

I often said in class, “well, this is totally unrelated to what we are talking about, but…” My students, especially seniors, would smile and lean in for a little “story time with Mrs. Rathje”.  Sometimes I could claim that my stories had lasting life-lesson value, but often, I gave my students (and myself) a little break with an amusing (or not) story from my life experience.

Now, for the past several years I have been working with average and above average students who can easily sort out the necessary content from the stand-up routine of a rather verbose instructor — especially when given the verbal cue, “this is totally unrelated to our lesson today.”  But now? Now I am working with students who really struggle with reading — with words.  They don’t need extraneous noise or extra words to muddle their thinking.  I have to practice a little restraint (or a lot of restraint) and focus on giving only the positive reinforcement plus the corrective guidance that will enable my students to more easily decode and comprehend.  I’ve got to keep my stories inside my head — at least until I get home and can put them in my blog for you.

This lesson is of course causing me to think that perhaps I need a little verbal restraint outside of work, too.  I mean, I don’t have to use up 20,000 words every single day. I could choose to use closer to 13,000 and give others some air time.  I’m not the only person in the world (or my house) who has things to say.

I used to say in my class, “God have you one mouth and two ears; respect the ratio.” I need to practice what I have preached.  I need to listen at least as much as I talk, and if I ‘respect the ratio’, I will be listening twice as much as I am talking.  For a chatterbox like me, that is quite a challenge.

And I could probably further apply this lesson to my prayer life — I could listen to God for at least as long as I list requests, or even twice as long. For a selfish human like me, that is even more of a challenge.

I like to fill space with words — spoken or written– but silence is really ok.  Silence allows time for thinking, processing, listening, and truly hearing.  It’s probably well-past time for me to give silence a try.

Isaiah 30:15

…in quietness and trust is your strength…

If I had sent a card…

I didn’t buy Christmas cards this year.  I didn’t write a Christmas letter.  I’m struggling with it a little bit.

Every day cards, letters, and photos arrive from people that we love, who cared enough to ask for our new address, who wrote personal notes — some of them quite long, who made sure to remember us this Christmas. As they arrive I have that internal battle — does my desire to simplify and not send cards send the message that I don’t care?  That I don’t miss our friends in St. Louis? That I don’t remember family that lives far away?

I hope not.

Because we are so blessed.  We do care about all the people we have known over the years — our friends who are missionaries in Tanzania who recently made the decision to adopt their first child there, our friend serving in Guatemala who is coming home for the holidays, our friends in Oregon, and Minnesota, Wisconsin, Florida, Texas, and Michigan.  We do miss our friends in St. Louis — the friends who labored so hard and for so long to build the congregation where my husband served, the colleagues at the high school where I taught, our neighbors, and all our dear friends. We do remember family in Texas, California, New Jersey, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Arizona.

We just didn’t do a card or a letter this year.

So let me say here, that if we would have sent a card or a letter it would have wished you peace.  Peace in whatever circumstances you are living, peace in the face of all the conflict in the world, peace within yourself.  We, too, are looking for the peace that passes all understanding.  We know that one day we will experience it fully.  We pray that we, and you, get a taste of it this week as we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace and that that taste lingers into the coming year.

John 14:27

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.

I do not give to you as the world gives.

Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

One remedy

Ahhhhh….I woke up from a restful sleep this morning and said to my husband, “It’s amazing what we take for granted, until we don’t have it for a couple of days.”  I was, of course, referring to a good night’s sleep.  And, I must say, it was lovely.

But then I did my usual routine of checking Facebook, email, and messages to find that once again there was an officer-involved shooting in St. Louis last night, and once again, it was racially charged.

I take living in a peaceful community for granted.  I am very insulated at the moment.  When I was in college, way back in the 80s, we called it ‘the Concordia bubble’.  It’s nice and shiny in here, guys.  I have mentioned, ad nauseum, the river, the deer, blah, blah, blah.  We live in virtual peace with God and man inside this little bubble.  When we drive down to little Gallup Park, we walk alongside people of a variety of backgrounds all smiling and nodding at one another.  We pick up our messes and leave the park how we found it.  It’s eerily Eutopian.  When I go out for lunches, all the ladies play nice, smile, laugh, share… I don’t really experience conflict.

Yeah, it’s weird.

I mean just three months ago, I was living in the heart of pre-Ferguson St. Louis.  I won’t say I experienced conflict at all.  Actually I lived in my racially mixed neighborhood in relative peace.  We exchanged pleasantries with neighbors, moved among people from countless backgrounds, and had very few bumps of any kind.  But the tension was there to be sure. It runs like an electrical current under all of St. Louis.  It would be naive to say that I was unaware.  Centuries of history have bred mistrust and anger among the people in St. Louis and the electricity is tangible.

It was just a matter of time before a spark ignited the explosive emotions that people can barely keep in check. And I have to believe that that is the reason that Ferguson is not over and forgotten.  Everyone there knows that the divide between blacks and whites exists. And now that the current of suspicion and hatred has been exposed, the citizens want to make sure it stays in the open.  I mean, seriously, grown adults are making public statements at Cardinals games — hurtful statements in a nation-wide arena where the whole country will see.  “Notice us, America, we are hurting over here and we don’t know what to do about it!”  (That was their statements after being passed through the Rathje decoder.)

And how is anyone, inside or outside of St. Louis, supposed to see the actual truth when years of emotion are clouding the issues?  And the emotions are valid!  I am not able, from this distance, inside this skin, to tell you what is happening, who is right, who is wrong, but I am able to tell you that these people are hurting.  And they have been for a very long time.

Humans were not created to be at odds with one another.  We are all children of God.  We are all sitting in the palm of His hand.  He alone knows the absolute truth of who did what, what were their motives, who should be held accountable.  I would love to say that the courts will sort it all out.  But the courts are made up of humans and the courts in St. Louis are made up of hurting St. Louis humans.  It’s gonna be difficult for anyone to get a fair and impartial trial at a time like this.

And really, is one trial going to solve the hurts of centuries of conflict? Would one hundred trials solve the hurts?  a thousand?

Nope.

After all, no one, really, is innocent.  We all have sinned.  We all fall short of the glory of God. But, He has promised…”If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).

It’s the only remedy that exists.  And in order for it to work, everyone will have to put down their weapons and trust in something larger than themselves.  Then conversations can start and healing can begin.

be still, there is a healer

His love is deeper than the sea

His mercy is unfailing

His arms are a fortress for the weak.

Let faith arise…

–Chris Tomlin

Shift Happens in the Grace Period

So, I do realize, as you may have been wondering, that this grace period is not just a time for me to go out to lunch and chat with friends.  That is a bonus, to be sure, but also, a shift is happening.

I am slowing down.  I had previously underestimated the value of slowing down.  I have been known for being ‘on a mission’.  At the high school where I taught, before I had to give up my heels, my students claimed they could hear me coming down the hall and identify me by my cadence.  I moved, people.  In the five minutes between bells I could descend two flights of stairs, traverse two hallways, use the restroom, make twenty-five copies, and still make it back to my class before my students. I might communicate with ten people within that five minutes, probably disseminating information: get that paper in, see me after school, your book is in the office, tuck your shirt in, get to class. I might also respond to a couple of questions: do we need our book today? will you be here after school? would you unlock my classroom? 

These were all quick exchanges.  Necessary?  Yes.  Deep and life-changing?  Not likely.  That is not to say I didn’t ever have deep and life-changing conversations.  I did, but most of my time was spent on-the-go.

I move pretty slowly these days.  I don’t shout orders when I walk through the campus or the grocery store.  Nobody is regularly coming to me for help.  This shift is making me very observant.  I notice things that I might not have noticed before — there are deer eating leaves outside my window, the leaves are changing colors, I am, and have been, surrounded by amazing people.

I am healing.  Physically, spiritually, and emotionally.  No, I have not experienced a miracle, I still experience the same physical issues — pain, fatigue, and other various minor stuff — but I am learning about things that I can do to improve my health.  I must say that daily exercise is improving the way I feel. I continue to read about and experiment with dietary changes.  And, I am finding a pace that my body appreciates.

I am reconnecting with the word of God on a daily basis and am impressed with its relevance to my life.  I knew this, of course, I just hadn’t been making it a priority.  Seems I had forgotten the seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you truth of Scripture.  We heard Carl Madearis speak last night.  His simple passion for sharing the person of Jesus engaged me.  God’s love is powerful and effective.  Period.  I am remembering that and learning again to embrace it.

I am feeling things — great things.  I have been having so much fun talking with people, laughing, listening, sharing.  I may have earlier made it seem like I haven’t had any friends in the past ten or more years, not true.  However, I hadn’t allowed myself to fully invest in friendship in a very long time.  I have guarded my time, my emotions, and myself from others.   I may still be doing that, but I am realizing that with slowing down, I am more available to explore my emotions and actually feel them.

I am listening.  To others, to myself, and to God. I have often told my students ‘God gave you two ears and one mouth; respect the ratio.’  However, I haven’t fully respected the ratio.  I love to talk.  I have a lot to say.  But, so does everyone else.  If I fill up all the spaces with my words, no one else has room to speak.  This is a challenge for me, but blogging is helping.  I am putting a lot of my words on the page, and I don’t feel the need to share as many with my mouth.  This is allowing me to ask more questions and, get this, listen to the answers.  When I close my mouth I can hear others’ hearts.  I can hear my own thoughts.  I can hear the nudgings and proddings of God.

(If you just fist-pumped or said ‘Hallelujah, she is shutting up!’ I won’t judge you.)

So, in all, I highly recommend the grace period. It’s turning out to be life-changing.  I am still looking toward the end, and admittedly scanning the classified ads for positions.  However, I am pretty settled in for the next couple of months to see how I shift and and what God has planned for me in the next chapter. 

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,

and all these things will be added to you.”

Matthew 6:33

My journey

Have you ever plotted your life journey on a map?

I’ve done it a couple of times in the classroom.  My students and I were once reading a book about a girl who had lived all over the country with her job-hopping aunt.  We plotted her life, and then I plotted mine via GoogleMaps to show them the journey.

My St. Louis, Missouri students always thought I was making up the fact that I grew up in St. Louis, Michigan and that I went to St. Louis High School.  So, I always had to prove to them that it did exist.

This morning I was reading about the travels of Paul, Silas, and Timothy.  My Bible study had me combing through Acts to plot a portion of their journey on a Biblical map.  It’s pretty incredible, actually.  Their commitment to share the Gospel had them trekking all over the countryside with no help from Expedia or Hotwire.  And, often, they were chased out of town by a violent mob, or worse, tossed in the slammer for a while.

I wouldn’t say my journey has been that dramatic. I am going to try to share a link to a map I created this morning that shows all the places I have lived in my just under fifty years*.  There are twelve points on the map representing the different towns/cities I have lived in.  Within those cities and towns I have lived in multiple houses.

The point of the Bible study was to look at how God had nudged or shoved each of us through our decisions.  How he had orchestrated my life journey. So, I got a bit introspective.  I got to thinking that any little change along the way could have reconfigured my whole life.  Have you ever thought about that?

What if my parents had not divorced, and we had moved with my dad to Indiana? How might my life be different?

What if I hadn’t transferred from Michigan State to Concordia so long ago?

What if my husband and I had not resigned our positions and moved to be closer to our son?

What if we had chosen to not go to the Seminary with three school-aged children?

What if he had not accepted this call back to Michigan?

So much would be different!  With any of those choices or so many other decisions, the trajectory would have been altered dramatically!

But, God allowed this journey.  He placed me in a loving family that has now stretched from coast to coast. He gave me lifelong friends from each location along the way.  He shaped me through my experiences as a student, a teacher, a mother, a wife. He has led us from one step through the next, all the while shielding and protecting us.

And through all the moves and transitions in my life, I (and you) have been sitting right in the palm of His hand.  It is mind-boggling. I wouldn’t change one step.

Psalm 20:24

A person’s steps are directed by the Lord…

* http://www.mapcustomizer.com/map/klrlifemap

Walking, part 2

On the heels of sharing the blessings of my aunt, uncle, and my grandparents, I read my Bible study this morning that focused on hindrances that keep us from doing what God has planned for us.

The study looked at three hindrances — others, Satan, and good old numero uno, that’s right, the person in the mirror.

If I’m going to be honest, and by now, you know I am going to be, my chief hindrance has always been … me.  Sure, I have faced human opposition.  Of course, I have experienced spiritual warfare. But really, Satan doesn’t have to spend as much time on me as he does on others, because I create my own issues.

You already know that my biggest hindrance is my belief that I am self-sufficient, battling through all obstacles, kicking butts and taking names. I prefer doing to being, and I often do so much that I don’t listen to others, let alone God.

In spite of this, God has managed to use me for ministry.  It’s usually like an out of body experience when a student or friend comes to me in the middle of my busy-ness, pours out her heart, and asks me for help or prayer.  I think to myself, “Wow, God kinda plunked that down right in front of me, didn’t He.”  He has to be very obvious to get my attention.  There are usually tears involved.  I am aware enough to notice tears. Or, a cluster of frantic teenagers saying something like, “Mrs. Rathje, you have to do something!”  Ok, ok!  You’ve got my attention.

But, in the spirit of the next chapter, I am trying to do things differently.  And, in the spirit of full-disclosure, I must remind you that God fully-orchestrated this next chapter.  He interrupted my busy-ness to bring me to this grace period.  He initiated the chain of events that led me to this Bible study.  He has provided my little house by the river.

And, you know, in the last two months (yes, I have been in Ann Arbor two months!) I have been noticing a lot more. I have been able to hear that still small voice, and have even been willing to listen to it.   I have been able to see the people around me, and notice what is happening in their lives.  I am embarrassed to say that this is a new experience.

When you are in your combat gear, moving at break-neck speed, everyone blurs together.  Yeah.

So, visiting my Uncle Louis and Aunt Margaret, remembering Grandpa and Grandma Meyer, and realizing their commitment to loving God and loving me, I am inspired to shift.  I see the blessings in fully-embracing this next chapter.  I am not sure what all God has planned, but I am willing to watch and see.  I am willing to toss the combat gear.  I am willing to walk into whatever it is that He has set before me.

Hebrews 12: 1

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,

let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely,

and let us [walk] with endurance the race that is set before us.

Walking

I love running.  I didn’t always.  It grows on you.

In my middle school and high school years the only thing I loved about running was when it was over.

But in college, when I was battling an eating disorder, I began to tap into the benefits of running — stress reduction, calorie burning, cardio-vascular health.   I found another benefit when I began to date my future husband.  We ran together.  On our after-school runs (we were both teachers), we would talk and laugh while letting go of the stress from the day, pounding out the miles.

Although I took a break from running while we were raising our children, I started up again when we moved to the seminary.  Again, I found it useful for exercise, stress-busting, and ultimately, bonding with my daughter and many students.  In fact, I was able to run two half-marathons and many 5k races before I had to sideline myself due to fatigue and pain.

Over the years I have connected with Scripture that uses running analogies, ‘they will run and not grow weary’ (Isaiah 40:31), ‘run that you may obtain the prize’ (I Cor. 9:24), ‘let us run with endurance the race marked out for us’ (Hebrews 12:1).  These were images I could relate to.  Running and not getting tired, running and winning a prize, running a race that had been chosen for me.

But to be honest, as you know I have to be, running was part of that soldier mentality that believed that I could do all things through me because of my strength. Yeah, that’s not really scripture.  I am aware.

Probably the knowledge that running would no longer be part of my daily routine was one of the first blows toward destroying that self-reliant attitude that could keep God on the sidelines.  That blow hit hard.  Running had become part of my identity.  I was the ‘teacher who ran’, the ‘mom who ran’, the girl whose heart rate and blood pressure were amazingly low, ‘because she ran’.

Transitioning to walking was a blow.  But ultimately it was the beginning of a slow-down that has changed my entire pace of life, of thinking, of being.

I used to rush to work, rush home, hurry to change so I could run, hurry home so I could make dinner, quickly wash the dishes, take a few minutes to straighten the house, make sure the kids had everything they needed, ‘sleep fast’, as my dad would say, and get up to do it all over again.  I was rushing so much that I didn’t really take time to feel, or process how anyone else was feeling.

I don’t rush very much any more.  I roll out of bed, stumble through my routine, work up to doing Pilates, saunter out for a walk, stop to talk to people in my path, write about my experiences, think, read, feel, rest, sleep. Rinse, repeat. Nothing happens very quickly, but plenty happens.

I have been thankful for this transition, while at the same time being a little sad about it. I mean, I was rocking the running routine.  Even if I was leaving the people that I care about in the dust.

At the moment, I’ve got nothing but time.  So, I am walking.  And this morning, in my Bible study, I was challenged by Paul, Silas, and Timothy to “walk in a manner worthy of God” I Thes. 2: 12. I was reminded that God Himself walked in the Garden of Eden, that Enoch walked with God, and Noah walked with God.  Maybe walking isn’t so bad.  I mean, I have noticed already, that I am not alone.

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children, and

walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…

Ephesians 5:1-2