This last day of May 2018 – the perfect morning to sit with my cup of coffee and my book. At this time of year the sun in the east finds a break in the wall of trees between us. It shines through the translucent blades of grass, lighting them up. It shines through my dusty windows, to the floor and back up into my eyes. The husband thinks it’s too bright and shuts the blinds. But what on earth is light? Why can’t I see it, but without it, I can’t see anything else?
It’s a wonderfully quiet time of day. I can hear the cardinals, a mating pair, that live in the backyard. I can hear the refrigerator running and the faint hum of my “device” as I sit and think and type. It’s a wonderfully quiet time of the year, as the number of summer tourists is much less than the number of winter tourists. The traffic problems are lessened, noticeably. It’s the last day of May and I realize that summer is starting and the slower pace and the heat affect everything, in a good way. I find it easier to relax. I have slept well.
I can sit here and think so many different thoughts. Am I hearing all the electrical synapses as they connect and bring up memories, phrases, mental pictures? (I think I can!)
“How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you. “
I don’t want May to end but I don’t know how to hang on to it either. Time is like light, another thing that I can’t quite comprehend. Some people think they know all about light and time, but I don’t believe them. If that were true there would be nothing left for science to explore. We will never have it all down. Light and time are actual creations of someone not like us. Someone “other”.
“Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
It’s not just me. People have been thinking thoughts like this for a very long time.
The Bible, Psalm 139 (My new memorization project)
We had discovered a big time delay in our schedule when planning the electrical upgrade on the rental house. The electric company (FPL) could not schedule the power cut off until May 7th! The best we could do was to get on a cancellation list. When there’s nothing I can do, I’m pretty good at saying I’m leaving it in God’s hands, it’s his timeline I want to follow.
Suddenly, there’s been a cancellation and the electrical work is getting done this Monday. I’m overwhelmed with the speed at which this house could go on the market, overwhelmed with all that I have yet to do. I’m finding that it actually requires more trust in God’s timing when there are things I can and should do. Will he equip me in necessary ways? Will he bless my time management?
M for Management
Being a general contractor is a complex job. When a house is being built, it’s not easy to get all the specialists on the site at the right time, with the right supplies and equipment. I think I’m getting a small taste of what that is like as we orchestrate this sale and this move. It’s a little like reverse house building.
Some days I have two or three workmen stopping by either to do work or to look and give proposals. I take them around and go over our lists with them. Sometimes I watch them work, or pitch in and help. Our houses are not brand new. As we “peel off layers” of furniture, dirt, etc… we find new things to fix or clean up. The plumber, bless his heart, has been back three times for small things that have come to light.
It’s almost looking like the rental house could be ready before my own house. I haven’t finished a couple of paint projects on my side, and then there is the packing… The packing, yes. The rental house is empty, our house is definitely not. Realizing that we could actually leave, once the pictures are taken and the house is listed, I am trying to figure out what should be stored long term, and what should be available for our use until we have another house. When should I order the storage container? How long will it take to pack it? Should we leave any furniture in the house? If we pack it all, how will we manage ourselves and for how long? How will all this coincide with the husband’s plans to give notice and stop working?
Even today, as I struggle to rest and restore, I am trying to figure things out. I am answering calls about the furniture listed on Marketplace. I am thinking about which box to put my daughter’s keepsake Raggedy Ann in. I am wishing I had mowed the lawn yesterday. I am wondering who might want our grandfather clock. I am thinking, thinking, thinking, and not resting, resting, resting. I struggle to be still.
Big changes require a lot of physical work and maybe more importantly, for me, a good deal of spiritual work. I am discovering what God’s plan for us is, by seeing what he makes possible. He is an excellent manager and he will thoroughly equip us to do what needs to be done. I am comforted by that… just sayin’.
I’d like to encourage people today, although I don’t know exactly who or in what way. Does your head hurt? Did you sleep poorly last night? Have you gotten bad news lately? Are you feeling stale? Numb? Anxious? Maybe I want to encourage you.
Go read Psalm 103. You don’t have to be someone who has a religion – it’s literature, a book that’s been around a long time and is easily accessible. Just read it.
What if there is a God and that is an accurate picture of him? What if there is some “pit” he wants to pull you out of? What if he does want to satisfy the desires you have to be loved and valued? You could jump on that train of thought, just for a few minutes and see how it feels. I’ve memorized this chapter because I so often need to hear what it says.
I’m getting pretty aware of the things that are wrong with me. When I hear a writer describing a distance “as far as the east is from the west”, and he’s telling me that’s how far away all my wrongness is going… I get the impression that someone has a plan to deal with bad stuff, mine and everyone else’s. Thinking along those lines gives me hope. Hope is important.
Here is the most hopeful part of the reading for me – the part where “he knows how we are made, that we are dust, earthly”. I do kind of add my own translations as I think more and more about it. To me, it says “I know how I made you – different from anyone else. I know exactly what you are capable of and I don’t expect any more from you than that.” That’s the way I want to be known. It encourages me to think that God and I might be on the same track in that regard.
The writer of this psalm felt that even when God knew him completely, he still loved him in a way described as “from everlasting to everlasting”. I’m a writer, and I can’t think of a way to top that. When I rehearse this psalm in my mind, I always think I want to be know that way and loved that way. It would make me happy, encouraged, hopeful. It’s a place to start.
Sure, there are some qualifiers in there, referring to those people who are known and loved. Again, as a writer, I’m paying attention to the verbs throughout the whole chapter. “Rescues”, “satisfies”, “works righteousness and justice”, “made known his ways” – all things that God does and is doing instead of things I have to do. I think the writer is saying that God is willing and able to work with people, to bring them to where they love him back, want to keep his covenant and remember to obey him.
It encourages me because it’s a good deal. It’s better than finding an honest used car salesman, or whatever analogy you want to use. There’s more in that chapter and maybe there are other parts that will seem important to you, if you read it. Try it on. See what it makes you feel and want. And consider that it is meant to encourage you.
Been thinking a lot of how God is in the business of eventually making all things new – restoration. And strangely, over the last 24 hours I’ve thought maybe I should be more like him and restore the piano. Three hundred dollars isn’t all that much. Maybe it can be fixed. It will feel good to try, even if it’s a bit crazy.
By God’s design, I am pretty sure, three young homeless men have come to live in our house. I don’t know why, but I am learning.
It was an amazing happening, there in the dining room around the table. I never would have imagined it.
One of the young men had come in after a day of work very depressed and anxious. He had driven Uber until 3:30 am that morning, had fallen asleep and nearly missed his wake up alarm for his day job. He was mentally depleted and close to having an asthma attack. I tried to get him to calm down and eat something, go to bed. He kept talking and rehearsing his dilemma.
The two other guys arrived about that time and heard what was going on. They jumped in with their own brand of cheerleading/encouragement. Words, stories, lots of “bro this” and “bro that”, and finally A, who hadn’t really told me much about his feelings about God or faith, said to D, “Bro, do you want to pray about it?”
“Yes, I pray” D said. He wasn’t expecting it to happen right at that moment, but A walked over, sat down and took his hand. J took another side of the table. There was one side left so I sat down and joined them. J started praying, talking to God very sincerely for a good five minutes. Tears were coming down D’s cheeks when the prayer was done.
They talked some more, to the point where there was something to laugh about. I could tell D was feeling better. They were all having something to eat. J was pointing out that all three of them had hard things in their stories, but they were still there in spite of those things and that they were being given another chance. Why not take it? They all had children to live for and people who would be devastated if they gave up.
I felt so included in their story, and so a part of their camaraderie. I said to them, “We are all adults here, and even though I am much older than you, I don’t mind if you call me Shirley instead of Miss Shirley.” There were looks of disbelief on three faces.
“But that’s a sign of respect, and if my Mama knew I called you anything but Miss Shirley I’d be in trouble no matter what my age!” one of them said. The consensus was that they were going to call me what they were used to calling me and it was going to be Miss Shirley.
That got them talking about how they each had not wanted to stay with us in our home – just because it had seemed so uncomfortable at first. But the misery of living in their cars had been great enough to drive them to accept. I realized how uncommon it is to move into a stranger’s house, and especially a stranger from another racial background. This is not something that very many of us ever do.
What a gift I was given, to listen to their unguarded conversation about their life, their culture, and their feelings. I don’t get this kind of experience very often and I’m giving God the credit for it. It was pretty amazing, just sayin’…
J had cautiously “moved in”. I don’t think he trusted that we were willing to let him have the room because it was just weird. His culture, his background was so different from ours. Why would we do that? That is exactly what he asked me one night when we invited him to share our meal. “How do you love people so much?”
I hate being caught off guard by questions like that. I kind of know why I do what I do, but I’m never sure if that’s the most helpful answer. It’s not just because I can offer help, but because something stirs my heart and mind to do it. I know I’ve prayed to feel the right kind of love for people I encounter (because, frankly, I don’t have it, yet) so when I’m given an opportunity to act, I take it as an answer to that prayer. I’m being taught. I think what J wanted to hear was that I had a personal interest in him, not that I was in God’s classroom.
He’s been desperately short of cash ever since he came and there have been several instances where he has asked for $10, $15, etc… for food or to put gas in the car. He’s always waiting for the check from work to show up and for some reason it gets lost and has to be reissued. It’s never timely. When it does come, we don’t really know how much it is or where it goes. Because he’s been injured on the job and is on “light duty” with frequent time off for doctor and therapy appointments, it’s probably not much.
We three, me and my cousin and his wife, were in the car ready to back out of the garage. I was taking them to the airport for their flight north and had plans to drive on to North Carolina, alone, to visit my daughter. Goodbyes were said, and to my surprise J asked me to come back in the house for a moment. My cousin said “He’s going to ask you for money”. Very possible, I thought. But when I went in, J simply gave me a hug and said “I love you.” That was it. It was a very good send off and I’ve thought about it a lot since.
The tables have been turned and I’m questioning “How can he love people like me so much?” Class is in session. More to come…
We have electricity. How much of the time do I not even think about this marvel? That is one of the positive aspects of natural disasters. If you survive them, you do so with a heightened appreciation of normal life. So while I am still connected to the outside world, I will write…
The last few days have been hard mostly because of the uncertainty of the path of Hurricane Irma. Early in the week we decided that we would stay in our house rather than evacuate. Whether in the store, the line at the gas station, or on the road, I abhor crowds of panicked people. That played into our decision, but we also reasoned that everyone can’t leave, and we do have a house with some safety features that is not in an evacuation zone. There has been a degree of peace just in having made the decision to stay.
We are six here at our Oneacrewoods Shelter. We are not helpless and have a mix of skills and abilities that should serve us well. We have put in a supply of water, food, and gasoline to run our generator. We were able to get the generator running – always a questionable thing since it doesn’t get used very often. I have set up the Coleman stove so if when the electricity goes out we will still have morning coffee. Small comforts are taking on new importance.
The worst part so far has been the week long watching and waiting. Preparing for a known thing of catastrophic nature is possible and absorbing physically and mentally. When what is known keeps changing, it is different, creating a confusing array of possibilities to be sorted out and chosen or eliminated. There is also a sense of community and responsibility for family, friends and neighbors close by that makes us want to stay together even though our situations are different. Of course, our default wish is to be in our own home, so there has to be compelling reason to do otherwise. When the compelling reason becomes wanting to preserve our lives – well, that’s pretty compelling, so we really don’t want to make a mistake. If we knew our situation would be that critical, and if we knew the safe thing to do was crystal clear, and possible, we would do it. And as I said, what we know has changed hour by hour throughout the week. We never feel like we know.
(Actually, we know more now, but it is past time to decide and the decision is made for us. We are staying.)
So here we are, at bedtime on Saturday night. Our worst weather is supposed to be in about 24 hours when the eyewall of Irma is scheduled to come up the Florida west coast pretty much through our back yard. I have seen what 100+ mile per hour winds have done in all the islands out in the Caribbean but as I look around at my plants, my huge live oaks, the structures outside – somehow I can’t picture it all ruined, maybe even gone. Doesn’t seem real, or even possible.
I know that God cares about what will happen, and I do see this as an opportunity to prove what I know about him. We are asking to be spared the worst because we can ask that. God is not afraid of our requests, nor is he bound to grant them. Whether he does or not I feel he will use this unusual situation in some way for our good and his glory – meaning that he will in some way show himself to be both powerful and loving. He will go through it with us and we will be able to look back and say it was so.
As usual, more to come until the electricity is gone. It is scary how we depend on electricity, just sayin’…
Anxiety is real – be it mild and transitory or crippling and pervasive. I can no longer count the many sources of anxiety and depression in the world. They will touch everyone.
It makes me feel frail. It’s as if my body knows some terrible thing that my mind doesn’t. My heartbeat feels irregular and fragile. My gut is very tied to my emotions and hurts, cramps, rumbles. I don’t know whether I’m hungry or sick but I’m tempted to eat to fill the gnawing in my stomach. Often eating makes it feel worse. I’m restless and on the lookout for some kind of relief even though I don’t know if it should be physical, mental or spiritual.
It’s not knowing what to do. It’s having too many choices with no idea which is most important, or having only one choice but having to wait to do it. It’s the waiting. How can I make waiting tolerable? Indecision is exhausting. I default to easy, time wasting activity thinking that it will calm me and help me feel more control over life. In reality, I end up feeling powerless. I accomplish nothing.
I become aware of my aloneness. No one knows I am feeling this way and I would not necessarily feel better telling of it. My situation is singular, and complex. I could not expect another person, with their different, singular and complex circumstances to understand mine. They are all busy.
If only I didn’t have to feel my heart pumping, physically moving my body with each pulse. It goes on a rampage with a string of fast, strong jerks. I’m a nurse. I know they are PVC’s, but they are nothing new to me. I want to close my eyes and feel sick for a while. Just let me feel sick. And then I realize that the faint nausea is the beginning of an uncontrollable heat that spreads through my body like a hormonal wildfire. That is not new to me either, but I have been unable to learn to like it. I endure it, thankful that it will pass.
What Helps Me Feel Better – Keeping Perspective
Sometimes I know the source of my anxiety. It’s a task that I just can’t seem to finish. I know I need to see it in a new way. Tackle it from a different direction. Or maybe just stop procrastinating. I pray for the clarity needed to deal with the troublesome matter. I pray for the strength needed to start working. Sometimes I decide to not “own” that task any longer. I decide it’s not worth it.
I often ask for some small reassurance that I am not alone. I review who I am, whose I am and that I do not have to have control over anything to be at peace. I remind myself that my body and mind will work together to care for themselves if I do what I can to not interfere with them. Whatever the root of my anxiety, I consider the “worst case scenario” and whether the outcome will matter in the long run. Often, when I have no choice in outcome, I have a choice in my own response to it. I can think about how to be consistent with my faith and my core principles.
Today I remembered exercise. It’s often the last, hardest thing I want to do, but the memory of feeling better afterwards draws me. When my body is moving, my mind orders itself more efficiently. Having a physical reason for being tired helps me relax. There is not as much pressure to decide what to do next. I’ve changed the mix of hormones and burned off some of the anxious feelings.
I practice gratitude. I thank God for relative safety, food, shelter, clothing. I thank him for letting me know that this world and everything in it is a temporary environment. Everything changes, sooner or later. My circumstances change. My feelings change. That too is God’s doing, so I thank him for the passage of time.
It helps me understand myself better to know that God made me able to feel anxiety, and he knew it would be my experience. That’s why he said that there is a way to “cast it” on him. The more I learn about him, the easier that becomes. (I Peter 5:7, the Holy Bible)
I am technically resting, sitting in a comfortable chair, wondering what it really means to rest. It is Saturday, which always reminds me that there is a seventh day of the week, at least on the calendar we use. And on the seventh day of creation God rested. He looked at all his work and was satisfied, and then he rested, or stopped working. He didn’t stop because it was the seventh day. He stopped because he was done with a project. Resting is fun when you are done with a project, but what if you don’t feel done?
Of course, I am not God. I need to rest for other reasons like being tired and needing to refresh and recharge. I’m enough “in God’s image” to wish that I could look at my work and pronounce it good, finished to a satisfactory point, so I could rest. But I’m more like my human composition – I have to be commanded (kindly) to not work myself to death.
To rest must also have a deeper meaning than to do something that I consider fun. I pepper my time every day with fun. I knit, I do solitaire challenges, I sit and read, I ride my bike, I watch TV. I have a lot of fun, restful activity. In all of it my mind is engaged in something other than work. But none of that requires me to engage with God or my own mortality. What does that is aging. The longer I survive, the easier it becomes to think about God and what his plans might be.
I become more interested in looking back, trying to see a pattern, a progression. I become more interested in the clues in my environment that inform me of how God works. I become more impressed that he actually has a written word of instruction – one that has surpassed the effects that any of its scribes could have imagined.
This week we had a storm. It wasn’t a particularly bad one, but it cleaned a lot of dead wood out of the trees. I suppose that is God’s purpose in a storm, whether it be in the woods or in my life. Today, as I rest, I’m going to think about how it is that things become new, with dead stuff removed, and appearances changed.
A somewhat philosophical recount of a fairly common day.
Frankly, I do not want to be in charge of my schedule. I am often an idiot when it comes to knowing what is important to do, urgent to do, not needing to be done and all that. Knowing this, a long time ago I made a deal with God for him to figure out what I should be doing and in return I would just do it and be okay with whatever. This works well for me, especially in all those out of control situations where I pretty much have to hope God has it figured out, because it makes no sense to me.
People say I’m always so calm, and that really is the secret. This is always my message to myself as I sit gridlocked in traffic, as I wait for the husband to get ready for things when we’re already late, when I lose hours of writing to an errant computer. I say, “my time is yours, use it, waste it, end it – I’m not in charge and thank you!”
But there are some days that are… tests, yes, tests. God wants to see if I mean it.
We are in the process of selling a condo that we’ve had since right before the real estate bust. Right before, meaning that we bought high and have been paying people to rent it ever since. Under water, they call it. Our realtor told us yesterday that the light in the kitchen was out and we had a showing coming up. I knew I needed to buy some buy some fluorescent bulbs and tend to that little chore, in case this buyer might just be the one to set us free.
I guess I left home in kind of a hurry, having not thought things through. I got to the hardware store and mentally pictured myself trying to change the light on an eight foot high ceiling. I had forgotten a ladder. The apartment was empty – no chairs or anything to stand on. Going back home just seemed like such a waste of time when there was a store full of ladders right in front of me. So I bought bulbs, and a ladder.
Arriving at the condo and climbing the three flights of stairs (no elevator), with my ladder and bulbs, I felt pretty smart. This was not going to take long at all. I would be done well before the showing time.
So, I got the ladder open, climbed up and got the plastic lens off the 48 inch fixture. I thought it would just hang on the side while I took the bulbs out – the way the ones in our garage do. A minute later as I wrestled with the stupid tubes the lens fell to the floor and got quite cracked up. I did finally get the bulbs in and they did work. But the wrecked lens was a whole new problem.
I went first to the association office to see if perhaps they stocked things like that lens for common repairs. No luck though. They sent me to another hardware store that they had heard carried them. Crossing town, I arrived at the store, and started looking for replacement lenses. I had taken pictures of the fixture and thought I was picking out and purchasing a lens that fit. Maybe, I should have brought the broken lens to compare. That would have been a good idea.
It was the wrong one. That became apparent, after about five minutes on the ladder, struggling with the stupid fixture.
I spent another half hour going back to the store. There was one more possibility, and though it looked a bit small, it was the only one. Pay again, drive again, climb stairs again, and finally on the ladder again, I ascertained that it was not the exact size either. I made it go on anyway. I just hope I never have to take it off.
I had only minutes to spare, so I folded the new ladder quickly and made my way down the stairs for the third time. The last thing on the agenda was waiting in the “returns” line at the first hardware store with the ladder. I really didn’t need another ladder.
It was almost like one of those jokes about how many blondes it takes to change a light bulb, except it was minutes (too many of them) and I have gray hair. I haven’t heard how the showing went, but I know they had light in the kitchen. I did my part. And I remained calm, and accepting, maybe…