Be bold!

“And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness . . . .” Acts 4:29

What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” This is the question that greets me every day on a little sign in my kitchen. Some days I hardly read it, some days it stops me in my tracks and I wonder, “What would I like to do with my life?” One recent morning I allowed myself to admit that I’d really like to pursue inspirational writing – really pursue it, not dabble in it once every few months – and I was overwhelmed by a sense of God’s presence, a feeling of awe and gratitude. God’s spirit seemed to be saying “Yes! You can do this. You must do this.” Later that day I received an invitation to write a series of devotionals for a Presbyterian publication. When I described to the person who had sent the invitation what I had experienced that morning we both were amazed at the timing of God’s grace.

I invite you to contemplate, prayerfully, your response to that question. Let God work in your heart to reveal hopes and dreams you haven’t yet discovered, or been willing to admit. Be bold, shutting down the voices of doubt that immediately will crowd out any timid response. It may take some practice, so go ahead and make your own sign and put it in a place where you will see it every day. And let me know what happens!

Lord, thank you for your awesome, amazing grace. Amen.

Beware

“[The scribes and the Pharisees] tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” Matthew, 23:4

Last week I was in Florida, sitting along the shore of Lake Pierce, at the Future Farmers of America Leadership Training Center, an educational retreat center where I was leading a workshop for faculty members and administrators from Florida Southern College. It was a gorgeous day, sunny but not humid, with a light breeze. I watched an egret on the shore and a great blue heron that was chasing the egret from place to place along what must be good fishing grounds. There were occasional splashing sounds in the reeds and water in front of the dock on which I was sitting. Those sounds made me a bit uneasy, thanks to the big sign warning about the alligator. By the time I heard the splashing and looked in its direction I couldn’t see any movement, not even ripples on the water’s surface. I wondered if the sign meant that there is one alligator to beware of and I doubted it. In this context I’m guessing that “alligator” is the plural as well as the singular, similar in an odd way to “moose.”

Beware of alligator sign

What were my “take-away” thoughts from this peaceful-although-occasionally-anxious setting?

  1. Danger is a part of life, whether we can see it or not. Depending on the kind of danger (an alligator) we can take preventive measures and be pretty confident that we will be safe. Other kinds of danger (illness, loss of income) can arise regardless of what we do or don’t do, and their unpredictability brings its own anxiety.
  2. Some people have more resources to deal with danger and its accompanying fear and anxiety than other people, depending on the form of the danger and the type of resource.

I should add here that I’m reading David K. Shipler’s book, The Working Poor: Invisible in America, a very sobering account of Americans whose lives are different than my own. My parents remain married to each other (and celebrated their 63rd anniversary this year!), still are healthy, and both earned bachelor’s degrees before they had children. My dad had a steady job as a teacher and my mom was a full-time mom for my brother and me. We were well cared for and loved, got great educations, and were raised with a Christian faith that emphasized God’s love and minimized God’s judgment. I could believe in the American dream because that was my family’s experience.

Given what I’m reading, I have to acknowledge that for me to write about danger in life is like me writing about playing football – I’ve sat on the bleachers watching many games but have never played the game. So I’ll bring this essay to a close not by providing a happy, Pollyanna-type ending, but by being thankful for what I have been given in life (lots of advantages, including good health); praying for peace and justice in our country and our world; and committing to take action, in addition to prayer, for the same.

God, thank you for your loving grace, freely given and not earned. May all your children experience it every day. Give me humility and compassion, and the courage to work for justice for all. Amen.

Lake Pierce

Photo of Lake Pierce

Leaving the party

“In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” Mark 1:35

The gift of time alone. That is one of the things I got after my divorce. Time alone when the kids were with their dad. Not just for a night or a weekend but regularly for four or five days at a stretch. Painful at times, but also an opportunity to read and think and write. If it were not for those times of being alone I don’t think I would have written any of these essays. With other people in the house I think I would have filled my time doing things with them and for them, and for myself, but probably not writing.

Fortunately it is possible to find time alone without getting a divorce but it may not be easy. It involves choosing one thing over another, and building up the discipline of making the choice consistently, over the long term. Who wants to leave a party when people are having a good time? Or who wants to get up early, crawling out from under the warm covers or leaving the warm side of a loved one in the bed? Yet making these kinds of decisions provides other spaces to open up, spaces that are needed to accomplish other things: getting in extra hours of studying, getting to work early (or on time), exercising, reading, thinking, writing, praying. The discipline of leaving the party early (figuratively speaking) takes time to practice and repetition to strengthen, but it is not a magical skill that some people have and some do not. It is a choice made hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, until it becomes more like a habit than a disruption.

And, it helps to have some kind of accountability. The weekly phone calls with my “writing buddy” have been going on for years, providing encouragement and holding me to my self-imposed deadlines and goals (thank you, Jerry!!). It is easier to “leave the party” when you are not the only one leaving! It is easier to put in that extra hour of studying or work or those extra steps/laps/sit-ups when you are not doing it/them alone. I need to be alone to write but I do not have to make that choice a secret.

Lord, in this era of constant communication, remind me to seek some time for stillness and reflection. Thank you for the sustaining power of prayer, and for strength to focus on long-term goals. Amen.

Moving

Moving

“See, I am making all things new.” Rev. 21:5

I’m moving offices and although I’ve been in my current office only three and a half years I’ve accumulated lot of files, reports, and books. Between the sorting and packing the other day I took a break to talk to a colleague about a new project. Our conversation led us to the subject of organizational change. We speculated about how a bold new initiative can generate energy and enthusiastic action, then ever so slightly fade over the years as it becomes institutionalized. It gets seen as normal, as “the way we do things here;” new ideas and energy are directed elsewhere. People are curious and as much as we like patterns and routines we also like new things and we like to be creative, creating. Both for our minds and our bodies, we have to keep moving to stay lively, limber, and flexible.

I imagined a lobster trying to grow without shedding its shell. It would be squeezed, constricted, stifled, and unable to move because of the weight of all the new shells formed over the old. While it is disruptive to pack up my office and move to another building, it also is an opportunity to shed some baggage and possessions that are old and no longer useful. If I were to drag to the new office all my old files, books, and mementos, I too would be weighed down and unable to move, unable to grow or change or to do new things. That printout of the presentation I made in 2000? It was a good presentation but now it’s out of date, and the printout doesn’t make it any more current. The national norms from the 2001 survey? They probably are on the web by now, if I ever really need to see them. It is okay to give up old things (old habits, old ideas) so that there is room in my new office (new year, new life) to think and do new things.

What is it that’s holding you down, keeping you from being able to move? Is it possessions? Things you’ve signed up for or agreed to do? Attitudes? Things you think are supposed to be so? What new things could you be doing, what new friends could you be making, if you had some freedom to move, to breathe, to stretch and grow?

It doesn’t have to be difficult, and it doesn’t have to be done all at once. I started with one file, then another. Then one drawer, and a shelf. It felt great! It was liberating to let go so that I can move on.

Which will you be – the lobster with all its old shells, weighed down by their gradual accumulation? Or the lobster with a new shell, growing and changing?

Gracious God, thank you for the example of nature, ever growing and changing. Help me to resist the temptation to stay the same. Let me follow your lead toward newness of life. Amen.

The soaker hose

The soaker hose

“But the Lord said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ ” 2 Corinthians 12:9

Recently I was debating about whether to turn on my soaker hose in the front yard. It has been extremely hot and dry for the past month so the plants definitely needed water. But I thought about how the soaker hose might not be enough because it doesn’t get close to some of the geraniums I’d planted this spring. I didn’t want to spend the time to water those separately, so I caught myself thinking that maybe I wouldn’t turn on the hose at all.

What?! I may not be able to do all the watering so I wouldn’t do any?? That makes no sense, yet that’s what I was tempted to do. Tempted, as in temptation, as in a lack of resistance to the voice of doubt (the voice of laziness?) telling me not to even try. And it almost sounded logical! Why start a job if I may not be able to complete it? Why put forth a bit of effort if it may not be enough? Thankfully, I caught myself entertaining this bit of twisted logic and I went outside and turned on the hose.

Where else in my life does this thinking show up? When I think about exercising or house cleaning, or on a larger scale when I think about how I can make a difference in addressing the issue of poverty, or trying to influence our political process. Will my five dollar donation make a difference? Will an email to the Senator make a difference? One thing is for sure – no action will not make a difference.

Where do you stop yourself before you even get started? What action can you take today to push back at the temptation of inaction? I encourage you to shut down the voice in your head that says it won’t be enough. For today, it will be.

Lord, with you all things are possible. Help me to take one step toward what you want me to accomplish today. Amen.