THE EMPTINESS OF BUSYNESS

BUSYNESS

“Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day”.  This is an apt observation from Tim Kreider’s article, “The ‘Busy’ Trap”. 

 When was the last time you asked one of your friends how they were doing and they replied:

  • “I absolutely have nothing to do”
  • “I wish I had more things to put in my schedule”
  • “I think one more hour of idleness is going to push me over the edge”. 

Probably at that point you would want to take their pulse and see if they are still breathing.  The most frequent response I get from my retired friends is “I’m now busier than when I was working.”

 Why are we so proud of being busy?  Do we get extra brownie points from God because our calendars are overflowing?  Does God smile when we are so tired from overwhelming schedules that we begin forgetting things and making mistakes?  Is God’s picture of the ideal life the commercial in which the mother speeds off with the present to the birthday party having forgotten that her child who was the invited one is not in the car?

 We live in a society where people wear their busyness.  Have you ever seen a businessman with multiple cell phones strapped to his belt?  Walk down a city street and notice how many people are talking on their cell phones, because that call just couldn’t wait.    I have been in restrooms in which the woman in the next stall is having a loud conversation/argument via the phone with her beloved. 

How did we get to this point in our lives?  When I was a kid Sunday afternoons were for visiting family and sitting on the porch.  Sunday was a slow day.  Often for parents of today Sunday means having to taxi their children around so they can participate in making a win for the team (and sometimes for multiple teams).  Whatever happened to neighborhoods in which the kids just played outside in impromptu games till the sun went down? 

 Whatever has happened to leisurely conversations, without “Let’s make this quick, I have to be somewhere in five minutes.”?  Whatever happened to “Be still and know that I am God”?  I know you probably want to reflect on this, but you might be too busy right now…

HAVE YOU FALLEN OFF THE MATH (FEAR) CLIFF???

My symptoms of math phobia show up especially when I am tired. Many of you fellow sufferers are in the same boat. “Math Phobia” is defined by the website “Great Schools” as:

“A negative emotional reaction to a situation that requires mathematical problem solving. Math anxiety plagues millions of adults and children – each of whom have their math horror story – thanks to an insensitive teacher, a clueless parent, a concept that never clicked. According to Stanford professor Vinod Menon, who co-authored a study on the neurodevelopmental basis of math anxiety, the part of the brain agitated by math anxiety is the same part “that responds to fearful situations, such as seeing a spider or snake. It most often rears its head in the early elementary school years, then escalates during the upper elementary years. Middle school is also a time many children, girls especially, fall off the math cliff.”

When I am in full math phobic swing, it is doubtful whether I can multiply, divide, or add. Give me Excel anytime because if I only have the resource of the math center of my mind, then I am in trouble.

So what are your fears help push you off your own personal cliff? Maybe it isn’t the math cliff, but the fear of confrontation, fear of bad health, fear of being alone, fear of losing your job, fear of the unknown…..the list can go on and on.

All of us have in common one fear, the fear of not being able to measure up, the fear of failure. I have seen people react differently when faced with this fear. There is the braggart who is so secretly unsure of himself that he has to go to great lengths to loudly share with everyone in earshot all his past accomplishments (ad nauseum) so they will overshadow his current misfire. On the other end of the spectrum is the retreater – the person who faces failure and then tries to hide under a rock.

Yesterday was a “hide under a rock” day for me. Faced with our current circumstances, things looked pretty dismal and living obedient to God despite the situation seemed out of my grasp. I felt doomed to failure. Then I came across Deuteronomy 30:11-14:

This commandment that I’m commanding you today isn’t too much for you, it’s not out of your reach. It’s not on a high mountain—you don’t have to get mountaineers to climb the peak and bring it down to your level and explain it before you can live it. And it’s not across the ocean—you don’t have to send sailors out to get it, bring it back, and then explain it before you can live it. No. The word is right here and now—as near as the tongue in your mouth, as near as the heart in your chest. Just do it! (The Message)

What this is saying to me is that I don’t have to live with the attitude that I am doomed to failure and having the prospects of constantly falling short of God’s plan. Yes, I know myself well enough that I disobey God’s Word – resentment for our circumstances, envy toward those who have a no cares existence, letting fears overwhelm me of how we are going to pay bills are just some of my short-comings. Yet I don’t have to be God Phobic. The answer is in Phil. 4:13, I can do all this through him who gives me strength. I have my God tutor in the Person of the Holy Spirit willing to guide me every step of the way and I have Jesus my Savior offering to give me the strength to get through every test, every trial, every disturbance.

If I would have been able to have a calculator during all my elementary school years to use freely during every math class and a math tutor in my pocket, then I would not have had a fear of facing the scorn of my teachers and the disappointment of my parents. I would not be math phobic. For the Christian life, God hasn’t given me a list of rules, said “Good luck!” and then gone on His merry way, abandoning me to live an obedient Christian life. God has instead given me the very life and strength of Christ Himself to pursue the road less taken, to swim upstream, and to be able to sleep calmly at the end of the day. Not even when I am tired, beaten and distracted do I have to fear the challenge of living obedient to God because I have a Cheerleader, a Tutor, and an Extra Shot of Espresso, all in the person of Christ. Maybe I will still be math phobic, but I don’t have to tolerate being God phobic. Fearing God just isn’t an option!

40 YEARS IS JUST THE BEGINNING

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Tomorrow is our 40th wedding anniversary and I have to tell you that God picked both the most unusual type of husband for me and the best type of husband for me all at the same time.  Probably when we got married there were some people who thought it would never last – we were quite young, penniless college students, and about as opposite in personality as one could imagine.  I don’t think that either of us really had a clue as to what we were committing to, but I know that God gave me the cream of the crop though I don’t think Bill was as fortunate in what he received.

This is the man who through the years has consistently encouraged me to run after my dreams, even when they seemed out of reach or off the wall.  He pushed me to go back to school for vocal performance, he has always been my number one fan and “roadie” for the countless music productions I have directed, he has treated me with respect and on equal footing as a Bible teacher even though we have served in some cultures which have not had that attitude, and he has loved me even when I have put both feet in my mouth (and then some).  I am impulsive, running at the speed of light, and turbulent while he has been steady, kind, and my rock.

His calling in life has been to the ministry, but he has always loved our family dearly.  I remember when our kids were very young Bill was working fulltime 2nd shift at a foundry, running a ministry, and going to college part-time.  It was the middle of winter and we had the worst snow of the decade.  Bill was working a couple of miles across the river in Wrightsville from where we lived in Columbia.  A lot of husbands would have opened the exit door of the machine shop at that shift and decided to just bunk in Wrightsville that night because the snow was so heavy.  In contrast, Bill was so concerned about us at home that he left work to cross the mile long Wrightsville/Columbia Bridge through blizzard conditions.  His was the only car out on the road and he had to gun the car the whole way across the bridge because if he stopped he would have gotten stuck in the snow (which at that point was not plowed and was over a foot deep).  He did that because he loved us so much.

Bill you are a man of character, of courage, of conviction, and commitment.  I want to say I received the best present and the one I most needed when God gave me you.

Happy Anniversary Loved One!

BUT HOW DOES THE STORY END???

book  “The question most people ask when they first meet me: How does an attorney from a reputable law firm in La Jolla end up on death row?” That is the opening sentence to Joshua Graham’s novel Beyond Justice. I wanted to know from the get-go if the guy ended up being executed and where this was headed. We all have personality quirks and one of mine is that I definitely want to know where I’m going. This carries through even to watching movies on my Kindle. I’ll watch the first ten minutes and then fast forward to the end. I want to know there is a plan and that it makes sense.
Maybe because of my quirk that is why sometimes I get so crazy at God. I have events in my life which don’t make sense to me and I only have a little sketch of the last chapter of God’s book. There are lots of missing chapters yet to walk through.
Over three years ago my husband lost his job and because he was considered self-employed, there was no unemployment. It was the first time in my life I had ever experienced panic attacks. My anxiety level was through the roof and it felt like I was sealed in an airtight box. We spent hours and hours looking at leads for jobs and nothing panned out. All the while, we were paying our mortgage with early withdrawals from my husband’s annuity. Our spending habits changed drastically. As for the first holidays, we cancelled hosting the annual Thanksgiving feast for my husband’s family (all 25 of them) and I had to cut down to the bone our Christmas giving. Bluntly, I was embarrassed and we have been living on a thread ever since. Some days it feels like the tread is going to snap.
I have wasted a great deal of time wondering why all of this has happened to us, (actually I have probably wasted weeks of my life pondering this) looking for God’s purpose. Recently I came across a quote from JJ Packer’s Knowing God I wish someone would have pointed out to me years ago. Packer comments on the mistake of Christians who think “if they were really walking close to God, so that he could impart wisdom to them freely, then they would…discern the real purpose of everything that happened to them, and it would be clear to them every moment how God was making all things work together for good.” At this point, all I can say is: Good luck with that!! Packer also writes, “Such people spend much time poring over the book of providence, wondering why God should have allowed this or that to take place.” He adds we don’t have “inside information as to the why and wherefore of God’s doings.
In the Bible, Job didn’t have any inside information why he was lying on the ground, covered with sores; David didn’t have any inside information as to why King Saul was chasing him endlessly through the wilderness; the Apostle Paul didn’t have any inside information as to why he was alone in a dungeon and dreading the cold of winter. Get the picture? God doesn’t have to defend Himself and God doesn’t have to answer to me and my tiny little conception of Who He is. God is God. He is my Father and I dearly take to heart this passage in Ephesians chapter 1: 7-10 “Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything and provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, and everything on planet earth.” (from The Message) All God wants me to know is that I am free (I take that from the repetition of the word), God is going to provide everything I need and God has a long-range plan. I’m along for the ride and He is riding with me every step of the way. This is one story I’m going to have to wait until the last chapter to find out how it ends but since it is God’s writing, it will end brilliantly!

Don’t Let Your Misfortunes Find A Home

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Home: the place where a person lives

 Years ago I received a phone call from a seasonal friend.  This was the days before caller ID and as soon as I heard her voice I knew what kind of conversation I was in for.  She had a habit of calling me only when she was the most depressed.  I don’t think I ever heard from her when there was any good thing going on in her life.  What we had in common was that we both have fibromyalgia, but what we didn’t have in common was that her illness had become her identity. All she could talk about was her pain, her unsympathetic husband, and her depression. 

 From my own experience, I know that fibromyalgia produces lots of valleys, but this is where my friend came to permanently reside in: the valleys.  People didn’t know her by her smile, her caring attitude, her outpouring of love; they just knew her as “the victim”.  There were no conversations that did not include mention of her illness.  It was a pretty bare bones way to live and she had unconsciously chosen to live a life doomed by her illness.  She couldn’t understand it when I asked her who she was reaching out to, who she was loving, and how was God using her.  She thought I just had a less severe form of the illness since I was reacting differently. 

 For those of you not familiar with fibromyalgia, according to Webster’s Dictionary, it is considered “part of a chronic disorder characterized by widespread pain, tenderness, and stiffness of muscles and associated connective tissue structures that is typically accompanied by fatigue, headache, and sleep disturbances”.  In other words it is no walk in the park and when there is a flare up, there is no merrily skipping through the park.  I was diagnosed in 1992 and when it is at its worst, it hurts when someone even shakes my hand.  The condition is often worsened when one is under stress or has had a medical procedure. 

This past winter I had a complete knee replacement and the recovery was brutal because of the fibro.  The fibro patient’s brain response to the chemistry of pain is greatly magnified.  What registers as a level 4 pain to a normal person can register as a 9 or 10 in the brain of a fibromyalgia patient.  I’ve already had doctors barely touch me because they were so afraid of hurting me.  Hence, my recovery sessions with the physical therapist post-op were accentuated with lots of screams.  My husband remembers sitting in the waiting room while I was undergoing a therapy session and the guy next to him wondered out loud if the screams they heard were coming from his own wife.  My dear husband said,  “Oh no, that’s definitely my wife.”

That’s exactly how I don’t want to be identified as – the person screaming in pain and the person who is so consumed by their illness that they have lost their purpose.  The Westminster Catechism asks: What is the chief end of man?  Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.  That sounds like a terrific purpose to me, to glorify God and to enjoy Him. 

For me, that means living a life with the goal every day of reflecting Christ and to consciously make an effort to enjoy the journey because God is in the middle of it.  It doesn’t mean a Pollyanna existence in which I see the world through tinted glasses and I deny all problems, but it is an existence in which I recognize that God is working His ends through everything in a glorious way.   Because of the pain I have gone through, I am more quick to notice people who are physically struggling with pain.  I make a point of being there to open doors, hold bags, and ask how they are doing.  Because of the depression I have gone through, I notice when a person’s smile doesn’t reach their eyes and their strength is registering as empty. 

I’m a firm believer in the truth of 2 Corinthians 2: 3-5 All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too. 6-7 When we suffer for Jesus, it works out for your healing and salvation. If we are treated well, given a helping hand and encouraging word, that also works to your benefit, spurring you on, face forward, unflinching. Your hard times are also our hard times. When we see that you’re just as willing to endure the hard times as to enjoy the good times, we know you’re going to make it, no doubt about it.  (The Message)

That is one of the purposes of suffering, so that after God has walked us through it, then we can position ourselves to then accompany someone else who is encountering what we previously encountered.  No cry and no tear is without purpose.  Some days it is easier than others to make this choice, but I choose to make joy my home.  I think that is the way God would have it, no matter the misfortune which is defined by Webster as: calamity, cataclysm, catastrophe, disaster; affliction, hardship, trial, tribulation, woe; distress, misery, suffering, unhappiness; defeat, failure, fizzle, nonsuccess; curse, evil, sorrow, trouble; accident, casualty; blow, body blow, disappointment, letdown, setback; circumstance, destiny, doom, fate, lot, portion.  I have chosen as my home God Himself, rather than my illness. Cool beans!!!

WHEN THE STORMS COME

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Today is grey and rainy.  It is perfect for staying in bed viewing a movie on my Kindle and shutting out the world.  When I got up this morning, no way did I feel like running towards the day with a big enthusiastic grin on my face, eager to take on all challenges.  (In fact due to extensive back pain, I could barely get out of bed.)  This is a day in which I would like all the sandpaper people in my life to leave town and all the unresolved issues to reach a sudden wonderful happy ever ending resolution.  This is a day in which I think I deserve an easy ride.  Wish God’s plan lined up with mine.

God says some pretty terrific stuff in His Word in Isaiah 45: 2“I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; I will shatter the doors of bronze and cut through their iron bars. 3 “I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden wealth of secret places, so that you may know that it is I, The Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name. (NASB)  I love the beginning of this section because I am all for my God to be a steamroller smashing those things that cause me terror in the night.  A God who can beak down all barriers and prisons is pretty dynamic.  Yet, it is disconcerting when I look at the last part of this passage.  It talks about treasures of darkness and wealth of secret places.  It kind of reminds me of the Indiana Jones movie I saw this past weekend.  As usual,  Indy was bent on finding the treasure but had to go barrel through huge hazards to get there.  All the gratuitous snakes, spiders, pits and flying knives were part of his journey through the darkness.  To get to the treasure dear Indy had to brave them all.

God must think it is worth it when we go through seasons of darkness; those times when life seems filled with more than a soul can bear.  Those perods when one’s faith (or lack thereof) is stripped to the core and God asks you to persevere because He has treasures for you to discover about Himself in the time of darkness.  This is the God who has untold riches that can only be uncovered by our walking through the depths; through those seasons when we just don’t have any more strength, any more smiles, any more anything. It is during those times when I finally cast myself totally at God’s feet that I really get to know Who He is.  When I come to the end of myself and stop pretending that I am strong, smart and resourceful, then I truly get to know who God is.  “The Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name.” Wow – He knows my name and He calls me even though He knows me down to my bent little toe.  The journey may not be pretty and the landscape may appear bleak, but I dearly want to know this amazing God, regardless of the landmines hidden along the way.  I guess it is worth getting out of bed after all.

Addendum:  I always ask my dear husband to read my work before I post it and he commented, “That’s kind of dark” and he was right on the mark.  I failed to include the riches of enduring such dark times.   Let me share one of the dear and lovely treasures God has given to me through the seasons of darkness.

When I was growing up I was socially inept.  I remember longing with all my heart in elementary school to be part of the inner circle of popular girls.  On the playground I never had the courage to just join in a group playing hopscotch because for some reason I always thought I had to be invited.  I was timid with a capital “T”. I think I spent most of my childhood waiting for someone else to pull me in; to want me just for who I was.  Those invitations did not come and those same insecurities carried into my teen years.  I was depressed and felt like an outsider.  On my face was a smile but my heart was another matter.

However, God ended up doing a great work in my heart.  At the age of around sixteen I went to a Bible Conference and heard for the first time that God loved and accepted me just as I was with all my inadequacies.  Because of that, there gradually came a great turn around in my concept of self and also in my social life.  I began to realize that there were people out there just like me who didn’t feel like they fit in and were also bumped and bruised from life.

God used all of that to give me one of the dearest treasures in my life today, the ability to find and mother hurting individuals.  Can’t tell you the number of times when someone has said to me, “Thanks so much for the note you wrote me, it came at exactly the right time and you said what I really needed to hear.”  That is totally not a me thing for that is a Holy Spirit thing:  the ability to recognize a wounded child of God and to be there for them and know what or what not to do.  Due to all the darkness of my feelings of being left out and abandoned, God has given me a burden to comfort those who are experiencing that same kind of pain and to help give them what I so desperately wanted when I was growing up.  I definitely say it has been all worth it.  Every tear, every moment of feeling like no one cared – it has been invaluable because it has given me a ministry to what I call my “Wounded Birds”.  I love these people with all my heart.  This has been one of the most excellent and wonderful treasures of enduring the seasons of darkness God has walked me through.

Getting Past Not Making the Grade

When I came into work this morning, I found out that I missed filling in an important order online because I checked the wrong line. It resulted in a very uncomfortable situation with my boss. In his eyes I was not making the grade. In my eyes, I was being human. I think we have all been there. Sad thing is that in this life there are always people who delight when you fail, who remember exactly what messed up and when. Whether it is small thing or something huge, still the feelings of not making the grade are able to create a lot of pain.

Not making the grade can stir up deep insecurities we feel inside. I grew up in a home in which in my mother’s eyes failure was not an option. We were to appear perfect, act correctly, and excel in everything. Sadly, our achievements were not celebrated a great deal in comparison to how our failures were magnified. I was not thin enough, not neat enough, not organized enough, etc. Looking back, I have wondered what hurts my mom experienced when she was growing up so that this became her style of parenting. Over the years I’ve gotten to the point of gradually being able to let go of the hurt that built up over the years due to my mom, but the resulting insecurities are deeply rooted in my identity as an adult.

When I was in college I started as a voice major but was unfortunate in that the teacher assigned to me thought that by telling me I was awful that it would spur me on to work harder. He didn’t realize that when I heard his words, I took them to heart and believed that there was no hope for my voice. I eventually stopped singing for a number of years. It took a lot of time for me to work up the courage to find another coach. Praise God, the new teacher saw the diamond in the rough and encouraged me and delighted in my progress. Gradually I became a confident singer who can let things roll off my back. I make mistakes and I have an aging voice, but I no longer hear that voice that shatters my confidence regarding music.

I wish it was that way in regards to all areas of my life. There are still lots of vulnerable points in my personality that are sensitive to the harsh word, the barbed comment, the shattering evaluation of not making the grade. It is at that point I take to heart the words of Joseph in Genesis 50:20: You intended to harm me..but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”(NIV)

So what good has God brought from all of this pain? I have ended up becoming the champion of the underdog. I am painfully sensitive to those who have been wounded and discarded and desperately need encouragement. All those springs of encouragement I wish someone had blessed me with when I was young, I can now shower on others who are dry and thirsty. When I look back, I say all that pain was worth it. Yes, I still have a lot of insecurities rooted in me, but God has used in sometimes miraculous ways to bless others.

So my challenge to you is: Have you let God use your past hurts, those parts of you that have been gravely wounded, to bless others? Have you become a Joseph in the lives of others? By the way, if you aren’t acquainted with the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis, read it. Talk about rising out of the ashes, Joseph is the poster boy. God can also raise you from the ashes, but only if you let Him do it.