Memories. And a Net of Thanksgiving.

This post first appeared at http://www.inspireafire.com/casting-a-net-of-thanksgiving/

Memories can turn bittersweet in a second.

I can be happily following the rabbit trail of my thoughts, hopping between afternoon plans and pleasant reminiscing when WHAM!

Thoughts in a rabbit candy dishIt’s like a hole suddenly opened up beneath my feet, or a rock slammed me back twenty yards. Use whatever analogy you want – perhaps you’ve experienced it too? – but a wave of sadness, or anger, or fear (or all three) has me pinned and wriggling beneath its weight. My happy little thought trail just turned deadly.

Maybe it’s the loss of a loved one, or a struggling relationship, or a transition you’re trying to navigate. There will be a time when memories bring you joy and comfort, but not right away. First, they hurt. They hurt like a red hot poker you can’t get near enough to touch. And so you stay away. But eventually those memories start to sneak in. A familiar location, a familiar scent, a familiar sound. Between the red hot poker phase and the happy memory phase there is this in-between time. A memory starts out so innocently that you glance its way. And then it pummels you.

I’m navigating that in-between time right now. Trying to learn when it’s okay to look, and when it’s not. When it’s safe to let my mind wander, and when my mind is about to turn against me. It is a journey by trial and error. But it’s a journey I have to take. If I never touch the thoughts, I never progress. I would simply harden my heart, withdraw, turn cold. But on the other hand, if I move too quickly, I will drown in the floodgates of emotion.

I am learning to walk my thought trails with a weapon at the ready, and the weapon I have found most effective may surprise you. There is a fraction of second, a space barely the size of the gap between two thoughts, when I feel my thoughts turning against me, swinging me over a pit of grief.

TrailAnd in that thought gap, that fraction between thought and emotion, I throw a net.

A net of thanksgiving.

“I am thankful for this memory,” I say. And then I transition immediately to the present. “I am thankful that God is continuing to take care of me and preparing new moments for me to enjoy. I am thankful God is restoring old relationships and bringing new relationships. Thank you…”

The secret to success with this weapon is three-fold. First, I have to throw the net the milli-second I feel myself being swung over that pit. I can’t test the thought to see if it’s really turning on me; I can’t think a little further to see if it’s really all that sad. I lose that battle every time, and once I’m on the way down, it’s much harder to grab a handhold.

Second, I have to move away from the memory that threw me over the pit to begin with. Too many times I’ve tried to weave a net of thanksgiving by stringing together everything I’m thankful for in that old memory. The problem is that while my brain is saying thank you, my heart is feeling the loss of every one of those old memories. Before I know it, I’ve used my net to climb down into the very pit I was trying to avoid.

View from hammock.Third, this is a safety net, not a hammock. This strategy disrupts the spiraling thoughts just enough for me to get back to safer ground. Whatever train of thought brought me to the edge, now is not the time to hop on board again. Too many times I’ve swung myself out of the pit just to ride my thoughts right back down into it. If I can’t lead my thoughts elsewhere on my own, I need to turn on music, a podcast, or call a friend. Anything to move to a new location in my mind. I can go visit that train of thought some other day.

Memories are finicky things. They don’t always announce whether they are friend or foe, whether they carry joy or sadness. Often they carry both. Memories allow us to learn, to grow, and to relive moments. But their power should propel us toward our future, not hold us mired in the past. There are times we need to thank them for their service, and walk away.

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Delayed. A story of fun things.

This post originally appeared at http://www.inspireafire.com/delayed-a-story-of-fun-things/.

I hope you enjoy!

Plane

It wasn’t the dinner-with-family I had envisioned.

I should have been there by early afternoon, but after a series of delays, cancellations, and rebookings, I found myself with an extra seven hours at the Charlotte airport.

Seven hours is a long layover.

Fortunately, there were two pieces of good news. First, I could still get out that night, so my long-weekend was still intact. Second, I’m a writer. Writers know exactly what to do in situations like this.

We go looking for something interesting to write.

My first stop was a model airplane mobile circulating above a sushi bar. I had already walked by this spot several times, but I never noticed it until I started looking. The slowly moving aircraft were mesmerizing, and all different. People rushed by me en route to their gates, but I stood so long staring over the heads of the diners that one lady finally got agitated and left. I took her seat.

Plane mobile

After this I strolled through a line of fake trees. It wasn’t exactly Sherwood Forest, but with a bit of imagination and the cute little directional signs I could almost pretend I was in a quaint English village. Almost.

Inside Trees

One entire terminal was open during construction. They weren’t kidding about the construction. Exposed wires, cardboard floors… I didn’t stay down there very long for fear that I might plummet onto the tarmac. But I did stay long enough to snap a picture of this exposed ductwork that I thought looked a bit like a silver saguaro cactus. Don’t you agree?

Exposed duct work

Throughout the Charlotte Airport are these fantastic seating areas filled not with the traditional bolted down airport seats, but with sparkling white rocking chairs. (You’ve got to love southern hospitality.) No matter which terminal I went to, these special rocking chairs were almost always filled to capacity, but one advantage of a 7-hour layover is you can outwait almost every other passenger. I did eventually get my turn to rock. Twice. And it was quite nice.

Rocking Chairs

Down what I dubbed the digital terminal, there was a fascinating display screen that constantly morphed into different colors and shapes. I stood amongst shrieking children pointing and exclaiming at the wall. I’m pretty sure more of the nearby adults would have joined in our jubilant awe, but they must not have had a long enough layover to shake off their layers of self-consciousness.

The nearby sign explained that this wall was a visual representation of all the data flowing through Charlotte International Airport at that very moment. Something in my brain does not allow me to understand how data punched into a computer morphs into something visually cool, but that’s okay. I decided to spend my time enjoying it rather than figuring it out.

Digital display

From there I wandered down countless more corridors, jumped on and off moving sidewalks, and ran up and down some stairs just for fun. I danced to oldies music outside a burger place and mariachi outside a Mexican cantina. I enjoyed some Carolina Pit BBQ with collard greens because it seemed like the thing to do. And then just like that, it was time to head to my gate and fly away.

Perhaps you’re also finding yourself someplace other than your intended destination. Maybe family vacation plans got rerouted, or maybe life threw you a curveball. Let me encourage you to take the time to explore where you are. Don’t compare it to where you’d rather be – of course it won’t measure up – but you might be surprised how God shows you some interesting things right here until He is ready to move you on to the next leg or your journey.

The Joy of Yoga

I recently started a yoga class that should be described in the brochure as “death by planks.” The instructor initiates each class session with the statement:

“My goal is to make you all sore tomorrow. And I love planks.” Followed by a long, cackling laugh.

A plank, if you’re not familiar, is essentially the “up” position of a push-up – arms and toes extended against the floor, back straight, pain searing through the abs. Most instructors consider the plank to be a strenuous pose to hold for 30 seconds and then release. This instructor considers it a resting pose.

“Now come back to plank for a few resting breaths,” she’ll say. Or, “Rest in plank position for a moment while I change the music…. Hmmm. Where is that song?” (Long, cackling laugh.)

I did well for the first set of plank exercises. I was “pressing strong against the floor.” I was “feeling the heat rise within my center.” I was “toe tapping” and “stretching my intercostals” and “maintaining my shoulder position.”

By the second set I lost all will to continue and collapsed into face plant position.

“Remember to do what is comfortable for your body,” the instructor continued. “You can drop down one arm and thread the needle if you’d like a deeper pose…”

A deeper pose?

By the time we got to side planks, I had modified my pose to the twitching log. Across the room I saw another participant curled in the fetal position. This gave me hope. I was pretty sure the class would end only when we were all collapsed on our mats. I tried not to look at the lady across from me who was still soaring like a carnivorous bird on a magical updraft of hot yoga wind.

That is not normal.

Speaking of carnivorous birds, as a break from planks we entered into the eagle pose, which the instructor described like this:

“Stand on your right leg and wrap your left leg around your right leg about three times. Now slide your right arm under your left elbow and intertwine—“

At which point I went into the toppling tree pose. I also learned yelling “Timber!” in the middle of yoga class is not appropriate.

The peace and the light within me greets joyfully the peace and the light in you. It does not topple with a death crash onto the floor. Ever.

We continued with the chair pose, which makes me understand why chairs were invented. And the hoverboard position, which requires you to somehow scrunch up your abs enough to levitate your entire body off the mat. I can tell you there was lots of scrunching but very little levitating on my mat.

“Notice how your breathing may have changed,” the instructor said.

Yes, my breathing had changed. I think it had stopped altogether.

“Try to return to the same gentle flow you had at the beginning of class…”

Right. I returned to a modification of the twitching, gasping log pose.

“There is so much more we could do, but I’m sorry our hour has come to a close,” the instructor finally said.

There were general sighs of relief and one chirpy voice that suggested a two hour class sometime. “Wouldn’t that be fun?”

I hope my grimace looked like a smile.

I slowly rolled my mat and hobbled toward the door. I am so into this yoga thing.

What’s your new thing for 2017?

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland (Isaiah 43:19).

On the Road to Success

We were on the road to Success.

Literally, I mean. We were driving along route 62 East across Arkansas when we crossed a junction with a township sign pointing to Success. This prompted the conjecture you might expect: How many people do you suppose live in Success? How long does it take to get there, and is Success hard to find?

Before long, we had pulled a U-turn (legally, of course) and were on the road to Success.

Road Sign to Success
Turn here for Success! (Photo by Janet Beagle)

This prompted a great deal of conversation on – you guessed it – success.

“What’s your definition of success?” my friend asked.

“Well, my interview answer is to be in a position where I can constantly learn new things.”

“And your non-interview answer?”

“Probably the same thing,” I admitted.

“I don’t think we can ever really be successful. Success is like this perfect ideal we strive for but never really achieve,” my friend commented.

We talked about work and whether work-in-progress could be deemed successful or whether an event needed to be completed before it could be labelled. We talked about relationships and successful people. We talked about the difference between success and contentment or success and happiness. We concluded that success was not an easy word to define. Apart from being a very small town in Arkansas.

Despite our meandering conversation, it turned out Success was only a few minutes from where we had started. (And to think we almost missed it!) Very few people live in Success – only 180 according to the population sign. It seemed like a nice enough place, but for us, Success was fleeting. We had miles to go before we slept, so we captured a few photos on the edge of town, and then continued on our way. I wonder how often the Successians look out their windows to see crazy tourists snapping pictures of their population sign?

In the weeks since I’ve returned from our detour, I’ve often pondered the term. So often “success” is associated with fame, monetary wealth, prestige, or power. In today’s culture, it seems to be obtained in a winner-take-all rush for the top with little regard to the methods used to get there. Yet the Bible gives us a very different definition. “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” (Joshua 1:8) In God’s design, we become successful when we follow His commandments, not the whims of the world. Again and again the history of Israel shows us how generations who were obedient to God thrived, and how those who turned away from God were overthrown. In God’s design, success is not a location to drive through and snap pictures; it is a way of life walking in obedience with Him. It is a journey we take with Him securely at our side.

Town of Success Sign
You never know when God might take you on a detour through Success. (Photo by Janet Beagle)

I encountered my favorite definition of success just the other day embedded in one of those email forwards I usually delete. In it, a little girl asked her grandmother for her definition.

“Success,” she replied, “is when you look back at your life and the memories make you smile.”

What kind of memories are you building? Are they the kind that will bring a smile to both your and God’s face? It is a new day and a new opportunity to start your journey. Take the time to reach out to others, to work hard, to spend time with those you love. Listen to God’s guiding voice. He may just send you on a little detour through Success.

This blog was originally posted May 10, 2016 at http://www.inspireafire.com/on-the-road-to-success/. 

Think Light

I was reminded the other morning of a time when I was little and hiking through a meadow of snow with my mother. The snow was deep – at least a couple feet – but had formed a top crust hard enough to sometimes stay afloat. Especially for someone as little and quick as me.

“Think light!” I called as I ran ahead, giggling.

I didn’t stop to consider that my mother was twice my height, or that my boot print barely filled half of hers. I knew only that if I imagined I was as light as the wind and stretched my mittens far out from my sides then I could run across the top of the snow. But if I stamped my feet and hung my head and concentrated on being heavy, then I broke through with a satisfying crunch. The powdery snow underneath would swallow my legs until I was practically sitting in the snow, even though I was also still standing. I repeated my light and heavy game all the way across the meadow, calling to my mother who seemed, no matter how hard she tried, to repeatedly be sinking to her knees.

“Think light!” I encouraged her again.

And then (to my now adult amazement), she did. She rose up out of the snow with a giant leap and came running across the top. Two, three, four steps before the crust gave way and she sank back down, both of us laughing.

I was reminded of that time just recently as my dog and I made our way across the snow covered yard on our morning walk. The crust was just thick enough for her to bound along on top, while every one of my footfalls cracked through. She bowed and pirouetted and bounced back and forth, not understanding why I labored so slowly. She knew nothing of the fact that she was less than half my size. Or that her paw print barely filled half of my boot print. More importantly, she knew nothing of how weighed down I was with sleepiness, with the pile of work that awaited me, with the thoughts that ran incessantly through my head.  She knew only that the stars were still out and the air was crisp and quiet. She knew that if she jumped hard enough she could crash through the snow in a pillowy poof. Most importantly, she knew if she was light and quick on her feet, she could dance spinning circles around me, tongue hanging out and laughing eyes clearly coaxing me on. I could almost hear her say, “Think light!”

How easy it is for our foot steps to feel so heavy. And how much I needed the reminder that it is possible to raise up out of the wallow and run lightly on the surface. If I just start thinking a little lighter.

“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” Jesus said. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

God promises that his burden is light, which means when it starts to feel heavy, I’m focusing in the wrong direction. Just like that crusty snow, as soon as I start looking down, I feel myself struggling through knee-deep mire. The good news is that it is possible to shift my attention outward and upward. Like the mittened hands of that little girl of my memories, I can feel myself being lifted up. I need only to remember to lift my head and my hands. To focus my attention outward. To call out to help another. And to think light.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3)

Only Writing

Only writing is writing.

I don’t recall now whether I read that in a book or heard it during a presentation. Either way, its truth is brilliant.

They went on to say, “Reading is not writing. Thinking about writing is not writing. Researching what you’re going to write… that’s still not writing. Only writing is writing.

“Until your butt is in the chair and words are coming out your finger tips, you’re not actually writing.”

I don’t know if they actually said that last part, but if not, they definitely should have. Because that’s the part that finally inspired me to put my butt in a chair. This exact chair I’m typing from right now, in fact. Let me tell you how I found this chair.

I had 75 minutes before I needed to be across campus to a class I’m taking just for kicks (during the time, I might add, that I’m supposed to be writing.) And so, I was going to seize that time and write! But first, I needed to find The Place.

As every good (current or former) graduate student knows, there is no point in even trying to get productive work done if you are not in The Place. (Entire books, by the way, have been written on the power of graduate student procrastination tactics – comic books, but still.)

It could be the third study corral from the right on the 14th floor by the stacks. Or the beat up couch by the whining vending machine down some back staircase under the lab. The point is, you know it when you see it. And until it’s perfect, well there’s no point in even trying. Until it’s perfect, or you really, really have run out of time. Like its 4 a.m. and the paper is due TODAY and you really should have started it sooner and you don’t think the professor will understand that you just couldn’t get it done because someone was in YOUR place.

That’s when every good current or former graduate student switches to plan B. And actually starts to write.

So I came to the most logical nearby location to find The Place. It’s quiet and filled with so many books that I was sure their presence would ooze intelligible insights into my weary finger tips. I tiptoed past students already huddled into their places. I ventured down hallways that ended in emergency exits. I trekked up flight after flight of stairs. I discovered oversized picture books for when standing in front of classrooms of students. I brushed past volumes I am quite certain have not been opened in 50 years. I even strolled casually past an entire glassed-in area dedicated to special collections and manned by a guard who eyed me curiously when I accidentally had to pass back through again.

In all that wandering, I could not find The Place. My 75 minutes were dwindling. And so I retreated. Back down flights of stairs, through the stacks, and to Plan B: the first empty study corral near the door. And, coincidentally, near giant volumes of bound papers of Ulysses S. Grant and Thomas Jefferson. There are 41 volumes for Thomas Jefferson alone. Each one at least 2 inches thick and ranging in dates from 1760 – 1803. Plus several special editions. In case you were curious.

And that is how I came to be positioned in this particular chair.

I’ve had to stop several times because people strolled buy, sometimes wheeling carts, sometimes lugging books or backpacks, sometimes quietly, sometime talking. It’s not the noise that distract me; I just can’t write with someone looming over my shoulders. But that’s okay. Better to have something interrupted then to have never even started.

This is certainly true of writing, as my rather dismal blog-posting record these last 12 months might indicate. It’s easy to put it off until I actually have time. Until I’m ready. Until I’m in the perfect place. It’s much easier to think about it then to actually do it.

I bet writing is not the only thing. How easy is it to postpone a phone call to a friend because I’ve only got a few minutes? Or wait to send a card until I have time to write a full letter? Or to skip quiet time with God because I’d prefer uninterrupted time to little snatches?

Eventually there comes a time when we need to retreat to Plan B.

Just do it.

Dear children, let us not love with word or speech but in actions and in truth. (1 John 3:18)

 

 

 

Pray. And Go.

This blog was originally posted in November 2014 on Inspire a Fire, a blog site for inspirational Christian messages. Visit the original post at www.inspireafire.com/pray-go/.

Sometimes we are the answer to our own prayers.

There is a scene in the third installment of the Harry Potter series that I love. Harry and his friends are attacked by foul creatures known as dementors and are losing the fight. Suddenly, in the hazy distance, Harry sees a figure that looks like his father raise a wand and scatter the dementors. Saved – but how is that possible? Harry’s father is dead.

Fast forward a few chapters, and in that intrepid J.K. Rowling fashion, Harry and his friends have travelled back in time and are watching these same events unfold. They are standing just a few feet from where their rescuer appeared. Even as Harry watches their earlier selves succumb to the fight, he is watching and waiting for their rescuer to appear. Harry knows it will happen because it has already happened. But where is he?

Photo courtesy www.freedigitalphotos.net & Salvatore Vuono

Photo courtesy http://www.freedigitalphotos.net & Salvatore Vuono

Then suddenly Harry realizes: it was him that rescued their earlier selves! It was him he saw from a distance and mistook for his father. And leaping to his feet, he draws his wand and shoots the powerful rays that scatter the dementors. All along he had been waiting, but it was him that had to do it.

Yes, sometimes we are the answer to our own prayers.

I don’t think this principal is accidental. In fact, we see it modelled in Jesus’ work with His disciples. Jesus told his followers to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest field. “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few,” He said (Matthew 9:37). Jesus saw the rampant needs of the people He encountered. He knew additional help was needed to share the message of salvation and bring physical healing to the sick.

But Jesus did not stop with merely instructing his listeners to pray. Both times when this quote appears in the Gospels, it is followed by incredible action. In Matthew 9-10, Jesus instructed His disciples to pray, and then He sent them out to be the very workers they were praying for. In Luke 10, Jesus similarly instructed His listeners to pray, and then He sent out the seventy-two. “Go!” He declared. “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons…” (Matthew 10:7)

Jesus told His listeners what to pray for, and then He answered their prayer by sending… them!

Field at Sunset

The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. (Photo by Janet Beagle)

Be careful what you ask for, I have heard. Because you just might get it. Be careful what you pray for, I might add. Because you just might become it.

God already knows who He wants us to become. He knows what task he has for us to do. Like the twelve disciples and the seventy-two, God wants to send us into the harvest field. God is looking for us to cry out like Isaiah: Here I am, Lord. Send me. Send me! This cry may look different for each one of us. Some may be called to far-away mission fields. Some may be called to a backyard harvest. Either way, the process is the same. The first step is to pray. Then we must go.

Like Harry looking back on his earlier self, we can rest in the assurance that our Savior will come to save us, because He already has. Our God has sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die upon a cross and thus pay in full the debt of our sin. But also like Harry, this assurance does not prevent us from doing the task that is at hand. In addition to assuring us of our salvation, our God has also given us a job to do. As Jesus’ followers, we too are called to pray for more workers in the harvest. And then we, too, are called to go.