Story Short: Sorry, Wrong Address

I wondered why it was that places are so much lonelier when one is alone. — Daphne Du Maurier

The vehicle had stopped moving, but Alex couldn’t recall when. At some point, he had just awakened from his trance-like reverie and realized the vibrations had stopped.

The inside of the box was warm and soft, lined with a thick layer of cotton batting. It was starting to smell in here from several used diapers stashed in a plastic bag in the corner, but he wouldn’t think about that now. He took another breath from his respirator, waiting for the sounds outside to quiet down.

All at once, the box tumbled on its side with a heavy thud. It startled him so much that he almost straightened his legs. That would have been a disaster. Alex hugged his knees to his chest and waited.

The loud, muffled voices outside were very close, and clearly engaged in a heated argument, although he couldn’t understand a word they were speaking. He didn’t speak Portuguese. They were settling something between themselves, the moving men. He heard one of them stomp closer and punch the side of the box to emphasize a particularly good point. Then they moved away.

Alex held his breath a moment. He heard the truck engine rev to life and slowly fade into the distance.

Then came the deep silence. Alone. Maybe too alone. Where was he?

He rocked the box until it tipped up again, then kicked with his legs until the tape popped against his back.  He pushed aside the cotton and rose up into the dense, moist outside air.

He was alone on the side of the road in a place that looked like the Amazon rainforest… and it was starting to get dark.

This was definitely not what he had written on the label of the box.

Couldn’t those men read? Had they figured out his scheme and dumped him here? Most importantly, what was he going to do now?

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Walk through the jungle. Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Alex gingerly poked one leg over the edge of the box, but before he could lift the other one, the box tipped again, dumping him in the dirt like a new, blind puppy.

He stood up quickly and whirled around, straining his ears for sounds of human life. The jungle pressed in from all directions, responding with slow, growling rumbles and the light, beeping chirps of distant animals.

What did a jaguar sound like, again?

Too Busy to Rest?

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Sick in Bed. Photo by jurien huggins on Unsplash

Last Monday, I noticed a bit of a scratchy throat coming on. I tried to ignore it, but by the time dinnertime rolled around, I had to face facts. I was sick. Running a low temperature, sore throat. Fun days ahead.

Flash forward nearly a week later, and I’m still so feeble from all the medicines I’ve taken that I keep falling asleep in the afternoon. Whatever this germ is, it’s very hard to kill. At its worst, my 5-day sore throat felt like someone stabbing golf pencils in my ears and thumb tacks in the base of my tongue every time I tried to talk. I’ve been through a round of Zithromax (antibiotic) and most of a round of Methylprednisolone (steroids), as well as a steroid shot on my second trip to the doctor’s office. I’ve taken so many pills at a time, it seemed like that was becoming my main source of nutrients. Today, it has moved from my throat to my lungs and nose, but at least I can talk again. I’m going to beat this.

This is not what I had planned for this week. I had planned to wrap up two big multi-week projects at work, as well as attend a training for trainers on gamification (something I had looked forward to for three weeks). In fact, I had a packed schedule for every day on the work calendar. I had planned to end the week with a weekend full of cleaning and decorating in my bedroom (I finally got a shelf to hang on that big blank wall behind my bed), followed by choir at church tomorrow and preparations for another packed week. I had planned to do it all, to scratch off a ton of projects this week, and somehow still find a moment to lean back on my elbows and rest in those accomplishments.

Instead, I turned over all those big work projects and my seat at that training to colleagues and laid down to sleep off my killer germ. My room is more of a mess than it was, and frankly, I don’t care right now. Maybe that’s the medicine head talking? And my voice is shot, so I am not thinking about choir; in fact, I think I will probably stay home with my cooties and watch the live stream of church tomorrow.

Germ, ten points. To-do list, zero.

You know, I had been thinking I was feeling run down and under-motivated last week. Something about fall always makes me feel intensely restless, and I tend to fill up my schedule and keep it that way. Perhaps I am trying to make sure I end out my year with a feeling of accomplishment, rather than a big fizzle. I guess my body was trying to warn me about the Germ of Doom, but of course, I didn’t listen. I thought skipping some evening plans last Saturday night and going to bed early would fix it. Nope.

Surely I’m not alone in feeling the fall restlessness, right?

I wish I could offer some great, godly advice about how to schedule your life in a healthy way so you don’t end up like me, too busy to rest until you’re too sick not to. I’ve had a lot of time to dream up some great inspirational sayings while staring at the ceiling above my bed, but I spent most of that time, well, dreaming.

So I’ll say this:

I know that God didn’t make us to be human doings instead of human beings. If that’s where you find yourself today, check your to-do list for spaces to rest. Make some, if they’re not there. Fall is a season of wonder, where the trees teach us how to go out with a bang. Don’t miss it.

Don’t collapse like I did. I guess that’s the lesson for this week.

Diversity is Freedom

It’s been awhile since I wrote that blog post on saying “no,” and I want to go back to the topic now. Re-reading it, I keep thinking about the right to disagree with people.

When we lose the right to be different, we lose the privilege to be free. — Charles Evans Hughes

One chess pawn on a board looks different from the rest
Be Different. Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

So often during this “no” experiment I have been running, I have gotten push-back that my “no” meant something was wrong with me. For instance, “No, I dislike wearing bikinis,” or “No, I actually like archeology more than sports,” have branded me as either a sheltered weirdo or some kind of heretic.

Just playing devil’s advocate, here, but what if it’s perfectly fine to not like what some other people like? What if being myself is not intended as a judgment on other people? What if being myself is something I owe to God? Continue reading “Diversity is Freedom”

Poem: Nuthatches

Sitting on the verge of the hill

Under the trees full of nuthatches

And a clear, cool sky perched above them,

My heart reached for God like the trees

And all the weight of a handful of years

Fell away like leaves from the branches.

That day I decided I could be happy

Like the nuthatches in the trees

Hopping lightly from the earth

Song unburdening their hearts to God.

 

Journal Keeping

There have been many moments in life that have knocked me back onto my heels so hard, I couldn’t find words to talk about it, no less write about it. Sometimes it has been grief that has kept me from being able to put it on paper (or a screen). Sometimes its a feeling of being completely unworthy of being read, usually after someone said something to me to that effect.

On the other hand, I am a writer at heart, so trying to bottle up the words makes me feel like–well, exploding. You can’t just stop being who you are.

The best solution I’ve found for such a situation  is to keep a journal. I’m learning it helps me work through a lot of things without having to beat a topic to death in conversation (and yes, I have done that).

It also seems like I get truth out on paper better than I can by talking. Something between the conception of an idea and the action of writing it out longhand on a page makes ideas and conclusions solidify into something more concrete. I don’t get the same effect from talking.

On the topic of diary keeping, I have a funny confession to make. I couldn’t write openly in a diary for over two decades of my life, because I had this morbid fear that anything I wrote in a diary would outlive me, perhaps as a humiliating legacy. This led to a lot of self-censorship, and I think it delayed healing at times.

I guess I’m still not past self-censorship on many topics, but since I started my latest journal earlier this year, I’ve been purposefully writing about the stuff that bothers me. This has changed the journaling experience into a part of my prayer life, with significant results. I would recommend this to anyone.

How about you? Do you have any tips for keeping a diary as a part of your prayer life?

 

Saying “No”

noOver the past two days, multiple sources (blog articles on LinkedIn, memes, customers at my workplace) have told me that one of the biggest keys to success is the habit of saying “no.”

This gives me pause.

I have spent most of my life saying “yes” to just about everyone and everything, with mixed results. When you need money, you will say “yes” to just about any legitimate-sounding offer of work. When you are lonely, you will go along with someone else’s ideas of fun. In my experience, these “yes” moves have mostly introduced me to things I never would have tried and brought good things into my life. I’m glad I said “yes.”

But, what about saying “no”? I look back at some of the biggest moments I have said “no,” and see those might have had an even more profound effect on my life than the times I have said “yes.” There was the time I decided not to go to my parents’ alma mater for college, or the time I ended a very serious relationship that had been headed toward marriage. Those “no’s” were dramatic, but I wouldn’t be the person I am if I hadn’t said them.

While saying “yes” has brought hope and possibilities into my life, saying “no” has closed doors and burned bridges, which helped me identify what I really wanted out of life. Saying “no” helped me move forward by taking away the anxiety of having too many choices to make.

I’ve always been reluctant to say “no,” except on the topics I consider “unquestionable,” such as my faith and what I believe God has told me to do. Lately, I’ve been seeing that I need more and better boundaries. A lack of good boundaries have left me feeling off-balance, and parts of my life have been brought to a standstill by indecision in these moments. Maybe, (and it is even hard to write this) I should be saying “no” a little more often.

I recently read Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, and Unashamed by Christine Caine. Both books reinforce this concept in their own ways, and called some areas of my life into question.

I decided to push back, and start saying “no” when I was justified. This has turned out to be a harder project than I realized.

I started small, by donating a lot of belongings I owned because of guilt or “making do” or “because someone else insisted” (I may blog about this soon).  I signed up for a dance class, started learning FreeCAD software, and checked out books on grant writing and e-publishing because I had let habit and lack of experience take the place of real decision making.  I have started to redraw some life boundaries and say “no” to some things when I had been putting that off. I’ve started very, very small, but I’ve started.

Even though I’m not the expert on “no,” and I’ve got a long way to go, I thought I’d share some questions I’ve been asking myself when trying to decide whether to say “yes” or “no.”

  1. Am I saying “yes” just to please other people? God has called us to be kind and accommodating to our fellow man, but He didn’t tell us that we cannot say “no.” Let me say it again! “No” is not an unchristian word! Being afraid to displease others can be a kind of bondage that ties us to their whims and sets us against our own consciences sometimes. God has given us free will, but He did it so we could trust and obey Him, and achieve the things He prepared in advance for us to do.
  2. What will I lose when I say “no”? It’s biblical to count the costs, but I have a problem with exaggerating them in my mind. This question is good for giving yourself some reality therapy. A decision to ignore some well-meant but misguided advice on a trivial matter should not (in normal events) end a relationship.
  3. What will I gain if I say “no”? If, in the last example, saying “no” ended that relationship, perhaps you gained some freedom from a toxic relationship. Most of the time, the benefit is seen more in free time to do other things or clearer goal-setting, and these are very valuable in my efforts to reach my full God-given potential.
  4. Why am I afraid to say “no”? This question has helped me figure out what was holding me back in relationships, in career choices, and even in small lifestyle decisions like sorting clothing to wear or to give away. “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7 NIV).
  5. Have I said “yes” to avoid something else? I’ll admit to having said “yes” to things, simply because they would be nice distractions from the task at hand, which I didn’t want to face. This question is to help me refocus on the goal and deal with why I am actively avoiding it.

I think there is truth in this statement that “no” is the key to success, but I’m still working on it.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this, including any revealing questions you’d like to add to my list. Leave me a comment!

Muscle Memory

“It’s going to take a little time to learn it, but you’ll get it. You’ve not had dance lessons before, so you don’t have the muscle memory yet,” my friend (who is also teaching me Irish dancing) encouraged me.

I certainly am not the best dancer in the class, but at least I know there isn’t judgment there. I am taking the class to challenge myself, to stretch a little outside my comfort zone. Okay, maybe way outside my comfort zone.

I am used to being able to learn things quickly, but hopping up and down on tiptoe while doing a variety of kicks and toe movements, all in sequence to peppy Irish music…well, let’s just say I’m picking this up very, very slowly. I’m certainly not keeping up with the music at this point, but it feels good when I at least manage to copy the movements.

I decided a couple of years ago that maybe my muscles are a little bit too used to doing life like I had been doing it. I had started to close myself off due to fear, particularly fear of failure and of being judged and rejected by other people. I am a Christian, and because of that, I don’t believe fear is the way I should live: “ For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). Irish dancing (and a whole lot of other things I’ve tried, lately) are part of a personal decision to confront those fears and open myself up to the adventure of discovery in God’s beautiful world.

But I should really put that verse back in its proper context. It was not originally written as empowerment to learn a jig or write a book. It was addressed to Christians living with fear when sharing their faith publicly to a world that truly hated them and persecuted them.

Fear is a serious opponent, even in today’s world. The news is full of fear. Sometimes even the workplace is full of fearful news and a barrage of reasons not to live out our faith publicly–and this is the West. Being a Christian in the eastern world is far more dire.

All the more reason to keep practicing until our faith gets stronger. We need the “muscle memory” that helps us see the current, active presence of God in our lives, where we work, and where we live. We should learn to see the patterns in world news that God predicted in His Word, and learn the contents of the Bible so well that we can call it to mind at will when we are under attack.

This isn’t muscle we can build overnight, but we’ll always struggle at mastery if we don’t keep practicing.

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up,” (Galatians 6: 7 NIV).