Decisions, Decisions

 

light sea dawn landscape

So many opportunities, so little time.

For years I’ve prayed, in an ongoing and fervent way, that God would open and shut doors as I careen through life. I’ve learned through many years of detours and crappy consequences that God’s plans for me are a whole heckuva lot better than my plans for myself.

Sometimes my plans and His coincide, sometimes they don’t. It all depends on the sensitivity and clarity of my hearing. It took me a long time to even WANT to listen to God’s voice and obey, let alone ferret out which voice is which amongst the drivel and cultural indignities that define our society in 2019. Is it my voice I hear? Is it Twitter or Instagram? Facebook? Ads that assault me in every discernable media outlet?

I’ve learned that when I do actually decipher a direction from God, it’s up to me to step out and find out. Activity is involved. Focused, intentional activity in the direction I’ve heard, expecting open and shut doors to guide me. I love the way God is crafting my character lately through shut doors (said no one ever). Just last week, I got a hefty dose of door-shutting. True life experiences are so much fun, aren’t they?

In waiting for my editor to get back to me on the latest batch of changes to my second book, “The Deadening,” I decided I’d contact a local magazine and pitch an idea for a series of articles to fill the void. To my surprise, they loved the idea, and furthermore, they paid a good fee for said articles. I wrote one. Got a check. Wrote the next one. Got a check. Wrote the next one. Got a check. All the while, mind you, coming up with ideas and writing these articles was distracting me from working on book number four, not a good thing, but…the checks kept rolling in! How could I NOT write the articles? Plus, as a super-duper bonus, they were quite vocal in how much they loved them. I was about as happy as a duck in a pond. Keep in mind, I continued to pray that God open and shut doors. This, I figured, was a safeguard.

Sigh.

Article four was edited by the magazine into a mere shadow of itself, which disappointed me. Article five was “pitch us some ideas” and when I did, the response was “sorry, our staff is already working on those ideas. Have any ideas for yada yada yada? (months down the road). By this time I’m starting to get the idea that the lack of specificity in direction for future articles means: no thanks, we’re good. Suddenly, I experience an epiphany. Not only am I wasting time crafting ideas for this magazine that they apparently already have covered, but I’m beginning to suspect that this is their way of weeding out unnecessary writers. I’m slow, but I’m not stupid.

sherlock cartoonGod closed the door, and I’ve finally learned not to resurrect the door, not to bang on the door, not to jerk open the door and demand attention, not to ask why. What happened was a detour from what God wanted me to do (primarily), which was work on my next manuscript. And the next. And the next. So, in my quest for maturity as a Christ-follower, I decided not to have a pity party and instead, rejoice in the fact that the detour was short and I even made a little money.

I had the distinct impression, after this lucid and years-in-the-making reaction, that God patted me on the back and said ‘Good job, daughter, they’re getting shorter, these detours of yours’.

When I lost the opportunity (well, maybe not, since I left the door open…), I felt a little slice of me slide away. But cropped-img_1345.jpgthe problem…the ongoing problem…is that the slice of validation I got from clutching the title ‘valued writing contributer’ was not the kind of validation that is  life-giving. The kind of validation that is eternal and incredibly rewarding is from God. The validation that says ‘well done, good and faithful servant’, or ‘well done, enter into your rest’, or ‘way to go, girl, you held your tongue when you wanted to cuss out the person at Wal-Mart with hundreds of coupons holding up the line but didn’t. Instead you smiled, and silently prayed a blessing over them. Well done!’ This is true validation, and as I get older, I seek it like a sunflower seeks the sun.

Additionally, I’m distracted by emotional responses that are not grounded in practicality or a sense of direction. By way of example, I got all  teary-eyed  after church a few weeks ago, and found one of the ministry leaders and declared I wanted to do something, anything to serve.  The following week I was called in and given an opportunity which I slept on, then said yes. After weeks of waiting for a yay or nay and instruction or whatever they needed me to undertake regarding the opportunity, I decided all the waiting was ridiculous. I emailed them for a direction. Swiftly, on little wings of rejection, I was told that there wasn’t really enough interest and thanks but no thanks. Shut door number two, all in one week.

Seriously? I could’ve used an open door or two at that point. Then I realized all the ‘no’s’ led me straight to a more intentional path for the better stuff. Not that the other two opportunities weren’t good, but they apparently weren’t the best decisions in this season of my life. This is where faith steps in, takes me by the hand, and tells me to hang in there. Shut doors do not mean I have no value. I’m of great value, the Bible says.  (And so are you, dear reader.) Yes, I’m being molded. Yes, I’m experiencing the (painful) blessing of shut doors. And…God impresses upon me, if I would only WAIT a second or two, in contentment and trust, HE would give me a shove in the right direction instead of having to correct my course all the time.

Well then.

Okay, I whisper for the thousandth time. Okay.

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A SUMMER SLACKENING

Madeira beach sceneHow’s your summer going? Gone on any cool trips? Family reunions? Enjoyed wonderful company?

These are the primary summer behaviors and expectations, aren’t they? This summer, for me, has been a series of ups and downs and at this point, I’m just happy to be healthy and able to pay the bills. Morose, maybe, but true. I’m grateful.

Sometimes, I rationalize, there are other priorities than racing off to Europe or the Bahamas; or maybe I’m just wishing, in retrospect, that my husband and I had gone somewhere this summer.

Nope. We moved to Hilton Head Island in order to be on permanent vacation in preparation to retire. So we enjoy being here. We don’t enjoy flying much, either.

Which brings me to my point. There are times to go ‘slack’.

I’ve been on a vicious cycle of doing instead of being, rediscovering myself in semi-retirement, wondering if my life really matters and how else I can possibly validate it in the remaining time I have left. Leave a legacy.

Then I think – what the heck are my kids, chopped liver? Shouldn’t I be content to have borne and raised them to be somewhat faithful, responsible, enjoyable adults?

Well yeah, but…everybody does that, I tell myself.

I ‘reinvented’ myself as a novelist, and that has been one, long, continuous learning experience and an exercise in patience. There is so much ‘waiting’ in the business of writing that I’m twiddling my thumbs much of the time. This is dangerous, this space in between what feels like actual productivity and learning how to use the idle time to advantage.

This is when I launch into new stuff. Look for a new house, look for a new way to volunteer at church, look for new groups to join, new furniture to buy. All this activity leaves me confused and downright exhausted.

man in blue and brown plaid dress shirt touching his hair

 

 

When I finally get tired of spinning around like a demented maniac, I settle down enough to ask God what the heck I should do and when and how and where, exactly. That’s when I feel Him smiling, looking at my discomfort and wondering why I crave productivity and validation, when I have all the validation I should ever need from Him.

Why, indeed.

It’s been a long, arduous journey to arrive at the point I can actually relax and enjoy life without one crisis after the other looming on the horizon, and part of me feels crisis is normal and life without valleys and stumbling blocks is boring. My daughter shared with me a presentation by Melissa Helser (www.jonathanhelser.com) that talked about embracing my humanity instead of becoming a demented maniac like I’ve been lately.

Melissa’s presentation boiled down to this: it’s okay to be human. There will be stressful times. A driver will pull out in front of me and I will probably spit out a cuss word, but this is a human response. Get over it.  There will be times that I lose it with my grown kids or my husband. There will be times I say the wrong thing. We are human, not little holy deities running around. Even Jesus was fully human. Granted, He was both. Fully human and fully God. But I’m basically a bunch of human with a glimpse of holiness inside of me, and I fail a lot. It’s okay. It’s okay not to smile all the time. It’s okay to let tears fall, or anger melt me into little puddles of self-pity as long as I understand I shouldn’t stay there. Emotions make me human, but they shouldn’t dominate my life. It’s not okay to walk around condemning myself and seeking to produce, produce, produce when I don’t even enjoy and take care of what I have.

We are too tough on ourselves, I think. As a Christian, I am constantly fighting this or that battle; putting on my armor according to Ephesians 6 and raising a Holy Spirit sword to cut off the head of anything that threatens me or my family.

Looking at life as a constant battle is exhausting. And there’s no formula to make things turn out the way I want them. Bad things happen to everyone. The bad stuff passes. The good stuff comes. Prayer works, but not always in the way we want it to.

I am working through the concept of ‘slackening’. The example Melissa gives in her presentation, involves a workout band, one of those stretchy, elastic things. With every stressful event, minor or major, we grip the band with both hands and stretch tighter and tighter, until it’s so tight it could break and with it, our hold on self-control, joy or peace.

When I’m stretching that band so tightly my arms shake with the effort of it, I paste a resistance band picsmile on my face and bask in others’ approval of my efforts and feel validated. The more I take on, the more other people seem to like and compliment me. In their eyes, and maybe (pathetically) in mine, I’m a hero! Then the band snaps. I have to let go of the commitment, or I feel the sting of disapproval because I became involved in something that wasn’t right for me. All in the name of feeling productive. Valid.

I must learn to slacken the band. Not let go, exactly, just loosen my grip.

I must learn to let go of the things that stretch me so tight and cling to the things that feed my soul and bless others. Approval of man is a trap. It feels great, but running after it is addictive and often precedes a mighty fall from grace. Holding onto a futile career path, one more volunteer opportunity, the desire for brighter, shinier things might tighten the band so much that when it breaks, a heart could break right along with it. Maybe several.

Slacken. It’s my new approach to summer.

woman walking on yellow flower field

 

 

I Can’t Hear You, You are Talking Too Much

Most conversations are simply monologues delivered in the presence of a witness.

–Margaret Miller

for conversation articleMost folks seem more interested in talking than listening. I notice this as I sit staring at my cold coffee and listening to the person sitting across the table from me who has been talking for twenty minutes without a single thought that the other person might like to be involved in the conversation also.

Isn’t a conversation a two-way street? I always thought so, but maybe not. Perhaps culturally, the word ‘conversation’ has morphed into ‘monologue’.

 

conversation article 2

Typically I look forward to conversations with friends in anticipation of them talking, then me talking, then them talking, then me talking . . . you get the idea. I’m usually the first to dig into the meaty stuff with soul-probing questions like ‘how’s your life going?’ or ‘what’s the best thing that’s happened to you this week?’ which launches an interesting  dialogue. I love to hear what’s going on in hearts and lives and also sharing what’s going on in mine. I love the inspiration and direction that comes from a stimulating conversation.  A rhythm develops, a natural give and take of laughter, caring and transparency.

Every good conversation starts with good listening. Deep conversations with the right people are priceless.

–Anonymous

Of course, this expectation is off the table if one of us is going through a shattering life struggle. That person gets a free pass and my job (hopefully I will not be the one going through an equivalent event at the same time) is to hold a hand, say a prayer, listen with real concern and not look at my phone. Not even once.

But let’s get real, here. Barring a person going through crisis, who wants to spend a couple of hours listening to someone chat conv art 4about themselves indefinitely without realizing the other person is getting all glassy-eyed and bored because they haven’t been asked a single question or given a few seconds of space to jump in and join?  I don’t get it. And I’ve tried being transparent about my feelings, but ohmigosh you’d think I’d barfed all over them by their reactions.

I don’t do that anymore.

Instead, I’m careful to limit contact. I don’t understand the mentality. Plus, I feel devalued when I’m with them.

On the flip side, my husband and I have experienced evenings with couples that leave us smiling and content when we part ways. I think it’s because they were really interested in us. And I suspect they treat most people that way. It is a lovely thing to be around these kinds of folks. I strive to be that kind of person.

Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.

–Margaret Wheatley

Imagine my surprise, when in my devotional time this morning, God impressed on me conv art 5that my conversations with him are similarly one-sided. I laughed out loud and apologized immediately. Then I spent a while listening, really listening, and we proceeded that way for a bit. Him talking, then me talking, Him talking, then me . . .

It was priceless.