Break Time

 DawnToDusk

This post originally appeared at: http://www.inspireafire.com/break-time
And yes, that moon photo is one I took recently on a drive through IA. Isn’t it amazing?

I was walking through the Wal-Mart parking lot when three individuals stepped out of their separate cars. They unknowingly fell into step with each other and headed toward the entrance. I watched in amazement as they reached out their left arms with the precision of synchronized swimmers. They moved like extensions of the same organism: first extending, then bending, then bringing their cell phones to their ears.

I don’t think any of them noticed the others. I wouldn’t have noticed them either, except for once I was not on my cell phone. I was not talking with a friend, checking messages, or otherwise engaged. I was simply walking my dog on a shortcut through the parking lot and toward our favorite park. As I went, I realized it had been a long time since I had simply walked and looked – I mean really looked – around me.

computers

All of this convenience, and yet…

There was a time when walking my dog was how I sorted through my day, just me and God and the occasional squirrel who rudely interrupted my ruminating by dashing a fluffy tail under my dog’s nose. There was a time I could say hello to the Wal*Mart greeter without him wondering if I was talking to him or the person on the other end of the line.The convenience of phones not tethered to walls means that I can squeeze in my verbal correspondence almost anyplace. With the advent of smart phones, I can even squeeze in my written correspondence while waiting in line or sitting on a park bench when I should, perhaps, be watching the sunset instead. All of this convenience allows me to connect with those whom I otherwise could never find the time to connect with. And yet…

Somewhere along the line my schedule got a little tighter. I joined this group, then that group, and worked late “just occasionally.” I volunteered for this, signed up for that, and was recruited into oh-but-you’d-be-so-good-at-this!

All of it was important. Most of it was fun. None of it could be dropped. Except of course, it could.

I’m not even sure how it happened, but it was gradual. I didn’t sign up for the next session. I stepped down for a term. I didn’t renew my membership. And suddenly I found myself walking freely across a parking lot, watching the ballet of the synchronized cell phone users and thinking: Sometimes freedom in Christ means giving Him the freedom to act in my life.

sunset road

Freedom means giving God room to act in our lives.

It’s a stunning thought, but I can hinder my own freedom by not giving God the necessary space to act in my life. When I have every minute of every day packed with activities, I am blocking God’s plans. Oh sure, God can and will use the activities I am part of, but I’m talking about that dawn to dusk treadmill that has me running so hard I might not even notice God is there. Heaven forbid He suggest I put my cell phone down and say hello to the cashier. I don’t have time for that!

It’s easier than I realized to become a slave to a schedule of my own creation. And there is more freedom than I ever imagined in letting it go… even for a short time.

It won’t be long before my little cushions of time get filled again. I’ll sign back up for this and return once more to that. But in the meantime, I am pierced by this probing question: How might God have used that time I filled with classes, sports teams, even church activities? While I am free to do as I choose, will I be even freer if I leave a little space for God to do as He chooses?

I’m taking a little break to find out.

MeOnBreak

 

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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)

Stalking Time

computers

Ever wish you had more time? After a 6 month lapse in blog posts, this seems like an appropriate one to share! This was originally posted on Inspire A Fire and you can view the original post at http://www.inspireafire.com/stalking-time. 

I wish I had more time.

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t lament the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day. There are so many things I’d like to do, so many things I can never quite get to. And the days, the weeks, the years, flit by.

Some people say that time is money, but that just isn’t true. The richest people in the world still have 24 hours in a day.

I don’t deny a certain level of financial stability can purchase amenities that make our lives easier and purpose to give us more free time. But just as likely, those fancy amenities begin a spiral of dependence that seems to take rather than make time. How many of us truly feel we have more time because of our televisions, cell phones, computers, automobiles? Don’t we instead just drive further, work longer, stare at screens more? The answer to more time is not found in increasingly fancy gadgets. The answer to more time is far more basic than that. Here’s what I have discovered.

Stop looking for more time. It doesn’t exist. Sometimes I find myself spending my time trying to figure out a way to squeeze more time into my schedule so that I can finally get started on The Project. It has never worked. It never will, because God – not us – created time. God created the earth and the sun and the daily and yearly cycles. God has also set our days. Moses noted in Psalm 90:10, “The length of our days is seventy years, or eighty if we have the strength.” Even with all the advancements we have made as a society, the average life span is still in line with that of the ancient Israelites. Spending our time looking for more time is not the answer.

clocks

Use the time you have. Remember the man who stockpiled all his grain, even building bigger barns to hold it all in the hopes that once he had enough he could take life easy? “God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.” (Luke 12) We can do the same thing with our time – trying to stockpile it so that once we have enough we can do X or Y or Z. Don’t wait for “enough.” Start doing X or Y or Z right now, just a little bit, with whatever time you have.

There’s always time for what you do first. If I’m completely honest with myself, my lament for not enough time is often nothing more than a handy personal excuse. There is something I wanted to do and I did not do it… not because I tried extremely hard and was repeatedly thwarted, but because I never got around to actually starting it. I had time. I spent it on something else. Jesus chided his followers not to worry about life, food, drink, clothing. Worry is a waste of time. “Your heavenly father knows that you need them. Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33). How are you spending your time, really? What’s the first thing you do when you get up, when you get to work, when you get home?

Don’t confuse difficult with impossible. If God has laid something on your heart to accomplish, He will give you the means to succeed. “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised” (Hebrews 10:36).

Time is an elusive quarry, and the secret to catching it is counterintuitive: Give up the chase. Focus your pursuit not on stalking time, but on stalking those things that you most want to fill your time with. You will find that God has indeed given you enough time to accomplish what he has purposed for you to do.

Waiting

I recently found myself in the midst of a possible house purchase.

I don’t remember ever thinking, “Hey, I think I’m ready to go look for a house.” I just woke up one day and discovered I was already looking. Despite my years of happy renting, I was suddenly staring at a potential purchase. Exciting. Terrifying. A little too sudden.

Then just as I was working up the nerve to put in an offer, my realtor went incommunicado.

Who does that? What realtor that close to an offer suddenly shuts down? What if this is my dream house and it’s sold out from under me while I wait? Worse, what if this is a sign that I should back off because it’s actually my nightmare home, and I could end up owning it?

Finally in desperation one night I prayed, “God, I give you this house. Do with it whatever you want…” And then I added, “But if you want me to do something, let me know. Because I could send the realtor another email. Or I could call. Would you like me to call? Or maybe I should see if there’s a different house I should look at. Maybe there’s a reason this is suddenly being put on hold. Maybe there are concerns with this house. Let me think about the possible concerns…”

Two hours later I still wasn’t asleep.

The next day my verse of the day was Psalm 27:14: Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!

The following day a song on the radio reminded me, “Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord. We will wait upon the Lord.”

I was starting to feel a bit like the lead character in that movie (Was it Bruce Almighty?) that was driving down the road calling out, “God give me a sign!” And all while he was pounding the steering wheel, a giant truck was weaving in front of him loaded with constructions signs that read “Wrong way. Do not enter. Danger.”

So okay, then. If I am supposed to wait upon the Lord, here is one conclusion I have come to: I’m not very good at it.

I have handed that house to God at least 217 times in the last several days, and every time I snatch it right back. I spasmodically check for messages from my realtor. I find myself re-routing my errands to drive past the house. I walk my dog through the neighborhood. I browse listings to see if anything has changed. I have done everything I can possibly think of… except actually turn it over to God.

I’m honestly at the point where I don’t even care what the outcome is so long as the outcome happens so I can stop thinking about it. You’d think that would make waiting easier, but it does not. Because while I don’t care which answer is the right one, I want the right answer to prevail. And what if I’m supposed to be doing something? What if God is waiting on me?

Hahahahahah

It’s laughable, isn’t it? To think almighty God needs something from me before He can act. And yet, in these terrible moments of indecision, isn’t that what it comes down to? Isn’t there some part of us that is scared that we are going to screw it up? As though there is something we could do that could possibly thwart God’s good plan for us.

Now that I think about it, God probably is waiting on me. I suspect He’s waiting on me to let go, and to let Him. He’s waiting on me to demonstrate my trust not just through my words, but through my actions.

God is waiting on me, to wait on Him.

Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails (Proverbs 19:21).

Blog by Friday

Earlier this week I had the startling realization that I have not posted a blog in a month.  I pledged that I would write a blog by Friday.

At the beginning of the week, that seemed so doable.

It’s not that I don’t have any ideas.  I have lots of ideas.  The problem, as I told a friend the other night, is that I need a 10 minute idea, because that seems to be about all the time I have these days.

“So write about the value of having ten minutes,” she said.

“I could do that,” I answered.  But when I hung up the phone, I washed dishes and walked the dog and went to bed.

So I told myself I would shelve my ideas that needed more time, and just pick any old idea that I could jot down quick.  Someone once said that a mediocre idea that is implemented is better than a brilliant idea that is never manifested.  “I will put this theory to the test!” I said.  I will write about the value of taking action.

Ironically, I never did.

Tonight I came home and went to turn on my kitchen sink. I had no faucet.  At least, not where I expected.   Apparently the maintenance guys have been here and given me a new kitchen faucet.  It’s been so long since I put the request in, I had forgotten about it.  (I had, in fact, requested an entirely new kitchen sink, but apparently they decided I only needed a new faucet.)

I spent a disconcerting moment with my hand flailing in midair before my brain registered what my eyes were seeing.  Have you ever had that jolting feeling when something is unexpectedly unfamiliar?  It’s amazing how automatically we maneuver in familiar spaces.  My hand expected a single handle in the middle; my new faucet presented separate hot and cold, small and to the sides.  I preferred my previous style, but at least this one doesn’t spray water out the side, so I won’t complain.  Maintenance to me is kind of like cooking – If I don’t have to do it myself, I try not to complain about the outcome.

As I stood there rinsing dishes I thought, maybe I can blog about my new faucet!  I’m not sure what spiritual lesson I would have drawn, but I’m quite sure God could have written something.

And that, my friends, is the point.

Yes, there was a point.  Read it again.

Sometimes life is a bit like this blog post.  Rambling and circuitous and just plain a struggle.  We have ideas that never come to fruition.  We don’t have enough time.  We don’t have enough energy.  We’re in a situation and we don’t see the point – we may even doubt there is any point at all – but we keep trudging along.

Until God writes us something.

God does, in fact, write each one of us something.

He has written our days in his book (Psalm 139:16).  He has written His Spirit on the tablets of our hearts (2 Corinthians 3:3).  He is the original author and perfector of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

God does not write random and rambling blog posts.  He writes the very book of life.

Thank God He writes better than me.

You are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts (2 Corinthians 3:3).

Speed Reading

At any given moment, I have a stack of at least a dozen books that I am reading concurrently.  Some end up taking me months to read; others ensnare me and I finish them in days.  But always there is this stack, beckoning me.  I listen to books on CD in the car and around the house.  I set an open book before me while I eat; I have a pile by my bed for those moments right before sleep.  Even now, while I am typing this, I have a sandwich on my plate next to my laptop so that I can take a bite between words.  Reading them.  Writing them.  It’s almost a compulsion.

The other night I pulled from my stack One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp.  I set it on the table next to my dinner plate and proceeded to stumble through her opening text, tripping over her lyrical style in my rush to turn the page between forkfuls.  “This could have been written so much simpler,” I thought in frustration.  It was only the high acclaim of the book that kept me from relegating it to the bottom of my stack.  Yes, I admit it.  Sometime it takes me a long time to understand the obvious point.  And here is the obvious point: this is not a book that can be shoveled in alongside a plateful of spaghetti.

After dinner, I moved Ann’s book to my “quiet reading” stack, where it is much more at home.One Thousand Gifts Cover

Ann Voskamp’s style serves an interesting purpose for me.  It forces me to slow down.  It is this trait that initially frustrated me… and ultimately has endeared me.  I don’t like to slow down in anything, least of all my reading.  There is so much more to read!  But Ann’s style forces me to slow down.  To read deliberately.  To consider the words.  To taste the flavor of them.  To think.  When I let go of the clock, when I accept the fact that I will not “finish this one and start the next one” tonight, it becomes a richer experience.  This is not unintentional.

“Time is life,” Ann writes.  “And if I want the fullest life, I need to find the fullest time.”

She continues her story, standing at the sink, scrubbing dishes:

I wipe a water spot off the tap; there is a reflection of me.  Oh, yes, I know you, the busyness of your life leaving little room for the source of your life.  I’m the face grieving.

God gives us time.  And who has time for God?

Which makes no sense.

In Christ, don’t we have everlasting existence?  Don’t Christians have all the time in eternity, life everlasting?  If Christians run out of time – wouldn’t we lose our very own existence?  If anyone should have time, isn’t it the Christ-followers? (p. 64)

If anyone should have time, isn’t it the Christ-followers?

It is not a rhetorical question, and I consider my answer.  God gives us all things.  He gives us enough of all things.  Why, in this particular area, do I act as though He does not?  Why do I say, almost daily, “God, I do not have enough time!”

I do not learn quickly.  I still sit here, keyboard at one hand, sandwich at another.  Still trying to cram disparate activities into the same moment.  But later tonight, I will pause.  I will think “I do not have time for this,” but I will do it anyway.  I will curl up on my couch with my dog’s head resting on my knee.  I will take just one book from my quiet reading stack.  I will read just one chapter.  Slowly, deliberately, thoughtfully.  I will not speed read.

It will be enough.

But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.”  My times are in your hand… (Psalm 31:14-15a).