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

 

 

Intermission

The phone call from my agent was less a thunderclap and more a gentle spring shower.

I’d finished the darn manuscript three years ago, gotten picked up by an agent a yearimagesCA00AB3C later, so how on earth could it take so long to find a publisher?

I read with fierce anxiety every rejection from major publishers. In truth, they were nice rejections, with compliments woven in, but a rejection all the same. I prefer to call them ‘redirections’. I do that because it is pretty hard to get that many rejections, although most manuscripts don’t even get a thorough read by the big boys, so there’s that.

But I thought being represented by an agent guaranteed a publishing contract in ten minutes.books and coffee nook intermission

Haha. Nope.

So I muddled around, thinking about what I should do in the meantime. I’m not a person who can just . . . be okay waiting. Surely I could hurry the process along. Isn’t that what we all think in the waiting? We have to do something.

I wrote more stuff. I prayed. I asked God if this wasn’t the right direction, should I just quit writing? Should I change course and write magazine articles? Should I work for one of those ten-cents-per-word blog writer companies? Work out more? Take up knitting? Get more cats?

This ‘being a writer’ thing is not as cool and interesting as it appears. A lot of time is spent writing into a void and I’m a person that needs encouragement. I still can’t figure out why I’ve always felt an inner urge to do this. I am the most needy and impatient person on earth and I don’t handle rejection well. A writer, by definition, is nearly synonymous with rejection.

I’ve learned a lot about waiting the past couple of years. Waiting means that eventually, the right thing to do will make itself known and nothing I can do or say will make it green arrow on stairshappen on my timetable. Oh I can bluster something in, ignore red flags, knock down doors that should remain closed and make the wrong thing happen and spend a couple years on a disaster detour,  but I’ve done that before and don’t want to do it again.

I’ve learned how to be content in the waiting, trusting that my prayers are heard and my desires are noted. I can trust the process if I’ve done the right things and have the right heart attitude. I’ve learned I can enjoy myself in the waiting, do stuff that I might not have time to do if I am busy meeting deadlines. I don’t have to sputter and spew complaints all over everyone that I’ve not ‘arrived’ yet or that people are just not ‘getting’ what I’ve accomplished.  I’ve learned not to pull the plug too fast on something, but wait. Be patient. I’m still learning how to do that, but I’m definitely better than I was.

I’m learning that just sitting in the chair and putting my hands on the keyboard will yield something, anything; and that is better than nothing. Waiting is a great time to practice whatever skill or endeavor the waiting is attached to. Waiting also exposes the good, the bad and the ugly inside me, which gives me the opportunity to work on becoming a better person.

I wonder if there are many things quite as hard as waiting on something wonderful we’ve decided we must have. Problem is, often it isn’t something we just have to have. It may be a burning desire, but not an actual need. I didn’t have to ‘be something’ in order to validate myself or prove that I am a worthwhile human being. It’s been hard, but I’m learning to let go of the belief that my identity is wrapped up in what I do instead of bible intermissionwho I am. So I went sighing and moaning to God and gave him my desire to be a novelist, told Him it was all His anyway, so there.

And that was the week I got the call. By that time, I barely cared. The hold it had on me was broken. I was happy when I got the contract offer, but not overly impressed with myself. I was humbled instead. God gave me a gift! I want to be responsible and take care of it, but I’m no longer panting with desire or pushing and prodding and forcing it to happen through sheer self-will. cozy nook time intermission

It didn’t happen on my timetable. It happened when I quit trying so hard and caring too much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Two Letters

One of the most powerful words in the English language is ‘no’. Two simple letters that pack a huge punch.

Be it an overloaded calendar, an unruly or inappropriate co-worker, a toxic relationship or activity, an adult child or friend that has over-extended his need for money; if we are still above ground and breathing we have a choice.

So…no.

No to those things that steal my time and joy. No to over-commitments that add nothing to my life or those precious ones around me. No to jobs that suck out my heart and soul and mind. No to conversations that give me a panic attack. No to lies that attack my mind and soul. No to immoral, profane and horror-filled shows that fill my nights with dread. No to dead ends, no matter how peer-pressured I feel to pursue them.

There are way too many ‘yes moments’ to live consumed with guilt because we didn’t say no to something.

So…yes.

Yes to thoughtful and mind-provoking discourse. Yes to relationships that encourage and lift up. Yes to shows that have a wholesome message and inspiring ending. Yes to a thought-life filled with positive and inspiring truths. Yes to people that need help and utilize it to make a positive change. Yes to church. Yes to a life filled with the wonder of the supernatural, living God and His Son, Jesus Christ. Yes to hope. Yes to life. Yes to joy. Yes, yes, yes!

Exercising the ‘no’ muscle is often painful, but the benefits can be endless and eternal.

Think about it.