Adventures with Carlos the Cardinal

Not too long ago, my husband and I received a pet we neither expected nor asked for. A cardinal has taken up residence on our porch in a most bold fashion. We’ve all seen the adorable pictures of bird nests in mailboxes and in attic rafters. In all fairness, birds are creatures of nature and in many ways we have encroached upon their habitat. As such, they tend not to recognize or respect our property lines. While I don’t blame them for that, the simple truth is that sometimes their presence can be cute and charming, at others, annoying or even destructive.

As spring bravely attempted to arrive in GA (truthfully, this took several tries), our back yard was suddenly filled with birds – bluebirds, cardinals, finches, woodpeckers, sparrows, and doves. In a flurry of stunning songs and colorful feathers, they clamored and flitted and staked out nesting sites. It was quite a spectacle for several days, I must admit. Eventually turf was established, nests were built, and things generally settled down into a comfortable rhythm. Then there was Carlos.

Carlos is a beautiful red male cardinal. He and Mrs. Carlos have a nest among the wisteria vines on the trellis twelve feet off our back porch. We’ve had nesters here before and were perfectly content to share the space with them. We’ve always enjoyed having birds around, especially now that we don’t have an attack cat trying to single handedly consume the entire Southeastern bird population.

I learned that there is quite a bit of mystique about cardinals. Here’s what Google had to say:

“Cardinals have long been symbolic of beauty in the midst of darkness, hope in the midst of sorrow, and renewal in the midst of winter. Whether these symbolic meanings came from the folk proverb, or the proverb came from the traditional symbolism, in any case many people are reminded of the presence of a departed loved one when seeing a cardinal bird land nearby. “

I was home alone a few weeks ago, just wiping the sleep from my still-groggy eyes when I heard a racket on the back porch. Our elderly chocolate diva Lucy is now rather ottoman-shaped and more inclined to napping than frolicking these days. Surely that wasn’t her. It sounded for all the world like someone beating on the back glass. I dressed quickly and tentatively stuck my head around the corner to see what it might be. There he was. Carlos. Rather I should say, the cardinal-soon-to-be-named Carlos. When you invest this much time in a bird, he gets a name.

Carlos sat on the porch swing, then hurled his body at the window, wings spread wide, beak crashing into the window. Over and over and over again. For thirty minutes this went on. I thought surely he would eventually tire of whatever game this was and move on to catching worms or something. Surely I was wrong. He never stopped. That sucker was relentless.

I did some further research and discovered that male cardinals are prone to this behavior. They see their reflection in the window and believe it to be a rival male. They are highly territorial and seek to ward off the offender. Swell.

In an effort to distract Carlos and end this madness, I decided to cover the window. In doing so, I reasoned that it needed to be outside so he wouldn’t continue to see his reflection. Wouldn’t you know it? There are no curtain rods on the outside of my house. Eventually I duct taped a beach towel over the window then added a piece of cardboard at the bottom. Success! The window was covered! Carlos inspected this new development and flew away. For about ten minutes. Then he was back – at the next window. Have mercy!!!

So it has been all day every day for the last two weeks. Sunrise to sunset. On and on and on he goes.

Since this is how my brain works, I began to consider what observations we might take away from Carlos the Cardinal, or as I sometimes call him, Tenacious C.

  • He bravely defends what’s his

Those soon-to-be-born baby chicks have a father who valiantly defends those under his care. He is not afraid to take on that shiny red bird in the window if it means protecting his little brood.

  • He never seems to tire

Day in and day out, Carlos never calls in sick and he never sends the Mrs. out to do his job. He is fiercely dedicated and untiring in his efforts to protect his family. His beak must be throbbing, yet he shows up again bright and early the next morning.

  • His focus is entirely wrong

Like Don Quixote, Carlos spends his entire day fighting a foe that is no foe. The shiny red bird in the window is an illusion. There are, however, bigger birds and probably snakes in the vicinity of his nest. None of these seem to have his attention. How often do we burn emotional energy on all the wrong things, while very real dangers go ignored?

  • He does not want or welcome my help

I went out of my way to help Carlos. In the past, we’ve had birds come crashing full-tilt into our back door, knocking themselves to the ground. The moment they landed, there was a dog or cat, highly offended at the encroachment upon their home, who gobbled them up without blinking. I was hoping to spare Carlos this fate. He did not recognize my assistance for what it was and simply moved on to the next window. This can happen to us as well when we see someone else’s need and step in to offer assistance. Sometimes they are too deeply involved in their circumstances to recognize that they even need help. Sometimes they don’t appreciate us butting in uninvited. Sometimes we are the towel hanger; sometimes we are the bird. Not every situation requires our input. It takes wisdom and discernment to know the proper time to offer and to receive help.

  • He made a mess

Having camped out for two weeks on my porches, Carlos has left behind some tangible evidence of his presence. There is bird poop strategically placed near the porch rail, the bench, the swing.  My windows are covered with literally thousands of marks his beak left behind. I can tell exactly where Carlos has been. Eventually someone will have to clean all that up, and you can rest assured that it won’t be Carlos.

  • He’s incredibly distracting

It is hard for me to even hang out in my own living room right now. The fluttery attack, tap-tap-tapping on my windows take place ad nauseam. It is difficult to think of anything else. I keep hoping that it will be like having a home near the railroad tracks and eventually acclimating to the rumble so that you don’t even notice the trains anymore. We have not yet reached this point. While I appreciate his efforts as a good father, I must confess that there are days I contemplate cooking up a little Carlos cacciatore. (I’m kidding. Mostly.)

  • He’s both endearing and frustrating

Some days I feel sorry for Carlos. He will never, ever defeat that bird in the window. Likewise, he will never completely rest because obviously attacking that shiny bird is always on his mind, his first and last act each day. Some days I’m amused by all the flutter. Some days I’m frustrated by the non-stop tapping. It can be that way as well when dealing with problems in life. Something that should be a minor irritation, when it continues and continues and continues, can grow into something much bigger in our minds. Our attitudes definitely shape our perspective.

Short of reapplying our wooden Hurricane Irma window coverings, I’m not quite sure what to do with Carlos. Like the rest of us, Carlos is a mixed bag of positive and negative attributes. We can be fiercely dedicated to an ideal and invest every ounce of our time and energy into it – but it matters greatly whether or not that passion, that chosen path, is worthy of our time and effort. Is it really accomplishing what we hope it will? Or are we wearing ourselves out over illusions – perhaps well-intended, but illusions just the same?

How can we tell the difference? I leave you with two verse of Scripture that speak to this question.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” – James 1:5

“Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think on these things.” – Philippians 4:8

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Cardinal info found online: http://www.usurnsonline.com/memorials/cardinal-appears-yard-visitor-heaven/

 

Prayer Ax Part 4 – Diligence

Our daily prayer times have much in common with chopping wood with an ax. We achieve better results when we understand the order of things. Our efforts are improved when we use the proper tools and prepare ourselves. We achieve more when we are focused rather than swinging away at anything and everything. Today we turn our attention to one last, necessary trait that prayer and wood cutting have in common: diligence.

You know what I tend to think would be incredibly terrific? If God would just go ahead and answer my prayer before the words were out of my mouth. I mean, seriously, wouldn’t that be fantastic??? Well, maybe not. Sometimes I am overly emotional or angry or scared when I sputter a prayer, and on those occasions I might blurt out things that I don’t mean at all once I’ve calmed down and rational thought returns. Then I am incredibly grateful for the calm patience of our loving Father. He never gets in a hurry. He never gets flustered. He has thoughts of us and plans for us that go so far beyond our current level of comprehension. Left unattended, my thoughts and plans would just create one big ole hot mess after another. His timing, His responses are perfect.

During our regular, consistent conversations with God, we need to go in expecting some wait time. God’s timetable is rarely as quick as ours. We want Him to use a microwave, when He’s actually got some nice coals smoldering under a stone oven. The outcome probably won’t be quick, but it surely will be good. With this in mind, it is so important that we learn to be diligent in our prayers.

  • There’s more than what meets the eye

Roots – even those for pine trees – don’t grow straight. One root has many attachments that you don’t see at first. Actually, much like an iceberg, what’s underneath the surface may be a whole lot bigger than what you can see. When God leads us to pray about some particular topic or character issue, it can seem like no big deal. So we pray. And expect immediate results. Which don’t come immediately. So we pray some more. Through it all, as we seek God and read His Word, learning and growing in the process, we begin to see that there was so much more to that issue than we ever imagined. Often there are smaller attachments that need dealing with as God grows our roots deeper in Him.

  • Dirt gets packed in over time

One of the things that makes cutting up tree roots so difficult is the accumulation of dirt, decades’ and decades’ worth of dirt. It packs in tightly and does not want to leave its cozy spot. But If you are going to successfully chop up the root ball, the dirt has to go. Our lives can get dirt-packed over time as well. Sometimes these are things we have done; others are things done to us. We need the cleansing power of Holy Spirit to lead us through to repentance, forgiveness and sanctification.

  • Stir up ants

Sometimes once you start chopping wood, you stir up tiny woodland creatures who are never happy to see you. They are grumpy and they bite. As we draw closer to God, we suddenly find ourselves on the enemy’s radar. Make no mistake. This is an all-out war. There can be physical manifestations of a spiritual battle. Our enemy is sneaky and stubborn and he wants you gone. However. Take a deep breath. This is a time for faith, not fear. 1 John 4:4 reminds us that “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”

  • Keep plugging away

Once you start swinging that prayer ax, you are eventually going to get tired. Don’t quit. Every stroke is one step closer to breakthrough. Sometimes praying the same thing more than once feels like a lack of faith. Actually quite the opposite is true; it shows faith not to quit. Even as we make that same request over and over and over, God is refining us, shaping us. Just like the man in Luke 11 who kept knocking on a neighbor’s door and eventually received the bread he sought – not because of their friendship – but because of his “shameless audacity”, we are admonished to ask, seek, and knock. And knock some more.

  • Know when to take a break

When I got to whaling away on those roots, I could tell my newly-developed form was beginning to slip. I was approaching exhaustion, but I had a goal and I was flat out determined to accomplish it. No. Matter. What. When the ax began to sink a little lower with each swing, however, I finally gave in and took a small break. Five minutes and some cool water gave me the boost I needed to finish strong(ish). Sometimes when we diligently apply ourselves to praying for a specific matter, we run out of gas, whether emotionally or spiritually. Our prayers become like chewing the same piece of gum long after the flavor is gone and our jaws are aching. It’s not a bad idea to take a break from that particular topic for a day or two, then you can resume when you are rested and refreshed. You may even need to ask for help. In both prayer and log chopping, we are certainly better together.

  • You need a shower 

After hard work, especially of the manual labor variety, you kinda stink. You need a long hot shower to wash away the grime and to relax your weary muscles. Similarly, after a particularly strenuous season of prayer or ministry, you need a break. Spending time alone with God in nature is an amazing way to recharge your batteries. Living in a coastal area, one of my favorite mini escapes is a walk on the beach: no prayer list, no agenda, just showing up and allowing the Father to nourish my soul. If there’s a sunset or sunrise included, that’s just gravy.

  • Weakness at the moment makes you stronger later

Swinging an ax for more than six seconds was difficult and awkward for me. The weight distribution is weird, and my puny upper body strength was quite apparent as that ax head landed anywhere except where I wanted it to. It took determination and focus; eventually my technique improved. The second time out things were better still. So it goes with prayer as well. Our first attempts at praying through a difficult time or learning to trust God can be equally as pitiful and awkward. We need to stick with it in spite of all that. We will learn a great deal along the way, and we will grow in the process if we don’t give up.

  • Blisters today = roasted marshmallows tomorrow

…or a house or a table or a bonfire. In prayer as in life, when any kind of skill is involved, whether learning to play the guitar or drive a car or do long division, we have to pay our dues up front. But that is more than okay. Eventually the results will come. Small successes, or even failures, today prepare us for the future.

  • All you can do is all you can do

Just because we pray about something, we are not guaranteed to get what we want -or what we are convinced at the time that we absolutely need. We like normalcy and order. We like things to make sense to us – using our own logic as a frame of reference. Neither God nor tree stumps work according to the rules we would create.

A.W. Tozer says, “We do not pray in order to persuade God to change His mind. Prayer is not an assault upon the reluctance of God, nor an effort to secure a suspension of His will for us or for those for whom we pray….God will never be other than Himself.”

Prayer is not about us turning the head of God with our clever words. Prayer is about relationship, about developing intimacy. It is, in its simplest form, a conversation aligning ourselves with Him, not the other way around.

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Prayer Ax Part 2 – Tools & Preparation

Prayer is one of those amazing gifts from God that is as simple or as complex as you care to make it, kind of like the advertising for the game Othello: minutes to learn, a lifetime to master. Some of the most beautiful prayers I’ve ever heard were from brand new Christians who hadn’t learned all the flowery language and rhetoric that can slip in over time. They only knew that they were in love with Jesus and He was in love with them. Prayer can be lovely in its simplicity. It can also be deep and complex, without being complicated, which is also beautiful. At its core, prayer is simply talking to Jesus, then listening to what He would say to us.

Just like my back yard, scattered with downed trees after Hurricane Matthew, opportunities for prayer are all around us: a friend rushing her son to the ER, communities around the globe in need of medical care and clean water, an upcoming real estate exam, deciding where to attend college, the need for forgiveness, and any of a thousand things that may come to your attention during the course of an ordinary day.

In considering the idea of the prayer ax, I am referring to our regular, consistent times of communing with our Father in prayer. Certainly there are times of emergency or despair when our approach will change. And, please bear in mind that this is simply an analogy. Anytime we compare the spiritual with physical things, eventually the analogy will break down. This is not intended as a deep theological treatise, but rather a few word pictures that helped me solidify some understandings about time spent talking with God.

So what does chopping wood have to do with prayer?

  • There is an order to things

In chopping wood, it is important to properly prepare and employ tools that are effective. So it is with prayer. We are not manipulating God, and we’d be ridiculous to even think that we could; rather we are learning Who our Father is and aligning ourselves to His will.

  • Use the right tool

One of the best tools we have for prayer is Scripture. While Facebook memes, or even advice from well-meaning friends, may sound quite clever indeed, if the words don’t line up with absolute and unchanging truth of Scripture, they are simply someone’s opinion. You can whack away at a tree all day with a plastic spoon but achieve no results. Same principle applies here.

  • Use a sharp ax

Similarly, make sure your ax is sharp. It is important to spend time in the Word of God in order to know the heart of God. As we meditate on the Word, we become sharper, and our prayers more effective. In addition to your own time spent with God, it is SO helpful to be aligned with like-minded believers. Proverbs 27:17 tells us, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” We need godly people, iron, in our lives. A dull ax is highly ineffective, no matter how strong its wielder is. It is important to have – and to become for others – properly prepared tools.

  • Use the correct end

One of the things we love to do is grab a certain Scripture out of context and apply it to our situation. My sister says that we love to scan the Bible for verses that make us feel better about our circumstances. Certainly there is a time and place for that. The Bible is, after all, His Story. We were given the words of God as a guide for knowing Him and for living our lives as His children. When we take things out of context, however, we are again losing effectiveness. Some things in Scripture are general principles and some are specific promises; some are intended for everyone and others for a certain group of people at a certain moment in time. It takes a great deal of discernment to tell the difference sometimes. Beating on a tree for hours using the blunt end of the ax will only produce a badly bruised log. Use the sharp end.

But what if you don’t know what the sharp end is? Ask God: Does this particular Scripture apply to my situation? What is a promise that I can claim here? How would You have me pray about this?

  • Sometimes you only need a hatchet

Not every situation requires the full resources of heaven. Sometimes short and simple will be sufficient. Other times, a season of intense prayer is required. I experimented with three different sizes and weights of tools before I found the Mama Bear medium-sized ax was my best fit; on occasion, however, a tiny handheld hatchet was just the ticket. Use the right tool for the job, but understand that it may change periodically.

  • Let weight of ax head do its work

We can work ourselves into a frenzy trying to “help” God do His work. Here’s a real news flash – You are not the ax. You were never meant to be the ax. You just need to apply the proper tool in the proper way at the proper time. Then it can do its work.

  • Maintain solid footing

When I first started swinging the ax, I was all over the place. My feet kept shifting and I was unstable. I may or may not hit anywhere in the vicinity of my target. Flailing away required a great deal of effort but produced no meaningful results. Eventually I figured out how to stand firmly and to calmly approach the task at hand. So it should be with our regular times of prayer.

  • Watch your eyes

For the first few minutes, I just hacked at the tree root. A few minutes in, as my swings became more efficient, I actually began removing chips of wood….which flew straight at my face. So, I got the safety glasses I should have been wearing all along. When you begin a time of regular, consistent prayer, make no mistake, stuff will come flying at you. We are engaged in a spiritual battle. Anyone who thinks that the Christian life is one of absolute ease has never paid much attention to the life of Jesus or His disciples. As we draw closer to God, the enemy takes notice. It is essential that we protect ourselves. Fortunately, Scripture teaches us how to do that.

  • Start small and build up

This is sound advice for any new endeavor. My first few swings were with an ax too heavy on a root too large. Jeff, recognizing my imminent failure, quickly helped me adjust my tool and my focus. I also had to change my technique. With an experience base from the gym rather than the forest, I began chopping wood with what can only be described as a dipping bird method, which used my legs and back but not my arms. And ax-wielding is all about the arms. (That name comes from a garish pink plastic bird my grandmother had back in the 1970s. It dipped its beak in water for some reason, stood upright, then did it again. All day long.) Once I got the idea of how an ax operated, I was able to move on to larger tasks with greater success. With prayer, too, we do well to start small then progress to more complex issues. If you are in the beginning stages of establishing a regular prayer time, you will likely find that the nature of the topics you discuss with the Father become deeper, richer, more intimate over time.

  • Dress for the occasion

My first attempt at becoming a lumberjack diva was sort of a spur-of-the-moment thing. I trotted out to the tree line wearing a pair of shorts and old running shoes. Both tangled briars and angry ants found my exposed ankles. I spent an embarrassing amount of time flapping around trying to get away from both. The next time out, I donned a pair of jeans and some work boots. My footing was more solid and there were less distractions to deal with. On a spiritual level, Ephesians 6:10-18 elaborates on how important it is to clothe ourselves in the full armor of God: the belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shoes of the gospel, helmet of salvation, the shield of faith, and our only offensive weapon, the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Putting on this armor every single day – not just in preparation for the five or fifty minutes we may spend in prayer – but for the dangers of everyday life is nothing short of crucial.

Now we have our preparation and our proper tools. Next time we will turn an eye towards our focus when praying.

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An Aspiring Writer on Writing – Part Two

Yesterday I called myself out for what can best be described as fiddle farting around with writing. Mostly what I’ve been doing is shuffling around stacks of hastily scribbled notes and occasionally looking busy without actually accomplishing a whole lot. Today I have drawn my own line in the sand and put myself on a writing schedule. Some days the fruits of that labor will show up on this blog; some days it will never again see the light of day. Both are okay. The important thing is that I’ve given myself a tangible goal to achieve each week. It’s one thing to set a goal and not quite make it, and quite another to not really try. I am determined to avoid the latter, since one undeniable truth I’ve learned over the last few months is that words don’t write themselves. They’re kind of stubborn like that.

Today I’m going to take a look at the pros and cons of being a writer. I strongly suspect that the principles here can be applicable to any artistic or practical endeavor that involves stepping outside of the norm, whether that means painting, composing a symphony, getting your carcass to the gym, or launching your own retail business.

One of my biggest issues, without a doubt, is procrastination. Things that I find absolutely no joy in – like cleaning the bathroom, or sweeping the living room, or possibly cutting the grass with a pair of fingernail clippers – take on an immediate appeal when it’s time to sit down and write. Why on earth is that?? I love to write. I find joy and freedom in this form of expression. But man, let me just get these dishes done first, whoops, forgot all about posting that picture on Facebook. Next thing I know, an hour has passed and it’s time to start dinner. Well, maybe tomorrow….

Finding the rhythm to my day, choosing the best time of day to put words onto the page has been harder than I expected. I volunteer in several different capacities, so my schedule is different from one day to the next. However, having a specific goal – whether to produce a certain number of pages or to write for a specified length of time – does lend itself to my OCD nature. I thrive on being productive. Not to say that I have been lately, but it makes me feel better when I am. One of my least favorite questions is, “How’s the book coming along?” because well, honestly, it hasn’t been. I say something like, “I’ve got the outline figured out now,” which is really writer-ese for “I’ve been lazy and distracted and haven’t written a doggone thing.”

Another related factor is distraction. One thing that I have started being more intentional about is unplugging from all electronics throughout the day. I don’t know what it is about that little red notification that is SO very compelling. If I see it, I can’t not check the message. So I try to put my phone down periodically and not even look. John Eldredge calls this “creating soul space,” and rightly so. Even five minutes of stillness and silence can make a huge difference. This continues to be a work-in-progress for me, but each day I increasingly see its value. I can think more clearly and focus on things that matter. My soul is more at peace without these electronic Chihuahuas continually nipping at my heels, demanding my attention.

There’s a certain vulnerability that comes with writing. Publishing, or even sharing with a friend, what you have written is very much like standing on the stage of a very large theater wearing nothing but a very small bathing suit. In that moment it is extremely challenging to feel cool and confident. Exposed is a better description. And that’s kind of the two-edged sword of writing. There are words inside me that are clamoring to get out. A writer simply must write, even if on occasion he is the only person who reads the words. At the same time, each shared piece opens him up to trial by the Court of Public Opinion. Truth be told, I get a queasy feeling in the pit of my gut each time I hit the Publish button on my blog: “Oh no! What have I done? Will anyone like this? Anyone at all? Is it meaningful? Does it make any sense? What was I thinking???”

Having read this far, you may be thinking, “Why doesn’t this lady just get a job selling moderately priced home furnishings at Target and be done with it?” That’s simple: because I love writing! Actually, I love words – the subtleties and nuances and shades of meaning within the English language are fascinating. (Yes, I have known and willingly acknowledged for years that I am a word nerd. There is a certain coolness in being so very uncool.) There are feelings and thoughts and understandings of the world around us that I need to express. Though no writing is ever 100% completely “done”, it brings a degree of satisfaction, to know that a particular piece – whether a chapter or page or paragraph – is as good as I can make it at this moment in time.

I’m not sure that I will ever at any time in my life write something so deeply meaningful that will inspire the masses, but there are times when I learn important truths from the ordinary, the mundane, the easy-to-miss. I figure that if this was a lesson I needed, perhaps someone else does as well.

So, I will be true to myself and write more words. I hope that you enjoy them and find value in them.

If not, no worries. Just be thankful that the cover photo features a cute little kid.

 

 

Photo credit: goo.gl/images/TwJaLq

When The Going Gets Tough

When the going gets tough, the tough go tromping through mud and wet grass for a three-mile run. It was a great plan. I’ve been in such a purple funk lately, fighting my way back to solid ground after letting the circumstances of life toss me about. Over the last few years, running has been both my physical fitness activity of choice and my emotional release from the stresses of life. It was the obvious choice.

I had determined that this summer would be the time I got my running game back on track. Or at least on treadmill. And wouldn’t ya know it, we have experienced one of the rainiest summers in recent memory. On any given day, once I got finished with work or whatever else needed doing that day, the monsoon had begun. I do own a treadmill. It is totally accessible. I just hate using it. So, most days, I don’t.

This particular day was surprisingly sunny, though not surprisingly, humid. I suited up in a cute runner girl ensemble and headed out the front door for a run around our property. To say that I went for a run is, I must admit, a liberal use of the term, but I was running at some points, so you will have to give me the benefit of the doubt here. Truth be told, our land has never been pane-of-glass smooth, but after a visit from Hurricane Matthew last year, it was even less so. Running in the grassy sections would be unwise because there could be a hole there and I would never know it until I found air instead of solid ground beneath my feet. So mostly I was doing some brisk power walking through two sides of the rectangular area and running when I hit the road and my driveway. It was a great plan. Until it wasn’t.

In my closet there are any number of running shoes, various types for various purposes. I wore my old favorites because they are comfortable, and I wasn’t too worried about getting them all muddy. It seemed like a logical choice at the time. I was about halfway through my distance goal of three miles. There were about five running strides left before I shifted back to power walking. Without warning, I did a face plant. I’m not even sure what I managed to trip over, but in a movie-like slow-motion sequence, I watched the muddy ground get closer as my left ankle twist painfully and awkwardly to one side. The ridiculous thought that raced through my mind at the moment I bounced off the terra firma was, “Woman! You have trail shoes in your closet!”

In one slightly less than fluid motion, I picked myself up and scraped the worst of the mud off my legs. The ankle was none too happy but could support weight, so I took a step, then another, and decided to press on with the run. After one slow and steady lap, I felt confident that there was no damage and returned to the running segments. While I was chugging along, I remembered a time when I’d had a much more serious fall while running down a street in near-total darkness. With the help of my friends, I hopped up, ignored the blood, and kept on running. Recalling that incident gave me the courage to not wimp out this time. If I bounced back from a tough run once, I could surely do it again.

That made me think about King David. Long before he assumed the title of king, David was the runt-of-the-litter little brother who was left behind to take care of the sheep while his older brothers, by all accounts burly and impressive young men, who were off having exciting exploits as members of Israel’s army. Only things weren’t going so well for them. David showed up and offered his assistance. When the brawny brothers pointed out that David was indeed a runt, he remembered times in the past when he’d faced tough situations and how the God of Israel had strengthened him. He said, “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” (2 Sam 17:37). You might say that David had a giant problem. This is quite literally true because David was about to face off with a giant, not in a figurative sense, but in the original, honest-to-goodness, for real and for true giant named Goliath who was nine feet tall and not at all a nice person.

In that moment, David recalled the way he had faced challenging situations before and triumphed. He knew that his God provided the strength necessary. He didn’t cower in fear and run for cover. He didn’t complain about how he’d been in much better shape when he faced the lion, or that the conditions had been better on that day. But what he did do was remember a success from the past, which in turn gave him the courage to face the giant on this day.

Now I don’t claim to be a David, and getting up after a small stumble may not be that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. But perhaps there are some lessons we can learn here.

  • Remembering the trials we have overcome in the past can give us courage to face different, but equally challenging, difficulties in our present.
  • We often need to think of our circumstances differently. In a crisis situation, it is easy for molehills to become mountains in our minds. Taking a step back and calming down can do wonders for our perspective. When we are calm we simply make better decisions.
  • Sometimes we just have to develop the best plan we can and go for it. I’m sure David’s sling and rock attack didn’t look like an especially wise military maneuver to anyone else. But he trusted his God and slung that rock. The results speak for themselves.
  • My Faith not in my Strength – that comes and goes – but my Strength is in my Faith. More specifically, my Strength is in the One who is the source of my Faith.

Psalm 121:1-2, written by David, this same shepherd boy turned mighty warrior, says, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (NIV)

When the going gets tough, the tough call on Jesus.

Cutting & Rolling: Lessons From a Paintbrush 

Truth be told, I really hate painting. Not the fancy kind that people display in art museums and dentist offices. The kind where your living room looks dingy or dated and the obvious cure is a fresh coat of paint. That’s the one I’m not so fond of.  

I think it all started when we were building our house. My husband told me that as soon as we were done painting, we could move in. I thought, “YES!!! We will be in by the weekend!” HA! Or not. We painted for a month. One long, hot, thought-it-would-never-ever-end month. We both worked full-time jobs, came home, consumed some manner of edible substance, grabbed our brushes, and picked up wherever we’d left off at midnight the night before. It was not my favorite aspect of the house-building process. 

My first job was putty-er. Jeff would nail the trim down with an air hammer, then I would come along and putty each and every individual hole with caulk. I used a caulk gun, popsicle sticks, my bare fingers, damp cloths, anything to make the job go easier and faster. Then I had to sand the trim to a smooth texture. By the time this was completed, my fingertips were raw and swollen, my back ached all the time, and my attitude was slightly south of chipper. Then…and only then…was I given a paintbrush. Finally, we’ll make some progress, I thought. Or not.  

While Jeff and some friends who were kind enough to come bail us out on occasion were wielding paint rollers and even this awesome electric air sprayer for the cathedral ceilings, I had a brush. A stinking, hand-operated brush. I may have contemplated bopping them in the head with their fancy equipment. Maybe. One thing is for sure, I was exhausted, and I was grumpy. It’s a wonder that people who were around during this season of life still spoke to me without an armed guard and a pound of chocolate present. 

I’ve matured a little bit in the last twenty years. Painting is still my least favorite construction activity and I will do just about anything to avoid it. While on mission trips with my church, this has led to me developing other skills, like operating a skill saw, running a weed eater, and even using a bit of feng shui to build a pretty amazing rock-lined ditch.  

Recently my friend asked me to help paint the stage at church. I still hate painting, but I love both my friend and my church. Of course, I said yes. As is so often the case when there is painting to be done, I found myself in command of a hand-operated brush. I got a little pan of paint and set to work. Rather than being resentful of this particular duty as I have in the past, I found myself waxing philosophical as I began tracing around the edges of the trim. 

When it comes to painting a wall, there are two primary roles: roller and cutter. Rolling creates the more noticeable end product. Great masses of wall can be covered in a very short time. The results are obvious, and the room looks better almost instantly. Rolling is showy. Rolling is glam.  

Cutting-in, by contrast, is slow. It is tedious. It takes time and precision, and often brings tired knees and aching backs from sitting in the floor to carefully trace over electrical outlets and along baseboards, window casings and door jambs. Cutting-in requires a steady hand; rushing can be disastrous.  There is little to show for your work. Certainly it lacks the “ooooh” factor of rolling an entire wall in five minutes.  

But is one better than the other? Absolutely not. If the wall were to be painted using only a roller, the outer perimeter would look sloppy and highly distracting, in a word, awful. Of course walls can be painted using only a regular brush, but the time and effort involved would most likely outweigh the benefits. Your list of available friends would diminish quickly if that were the proposed painting plan.Each method of painting has its strengths and weaknesses. Rolling gets the job done quickly and thoroughly, and and cutting-in provides the pop, the attention to detail, that sets the room off properly. Cutting makes rolling “work”. 

So that’s all well and good if you happen to be standing there with a gallon of semi-gloss and a natural bristle brush in your hand. But what does this have to do with real life, you may well ask. Quite simply, everything. We all have our own fair share of both strengths and weaknesses. There are things that we do well and things that we wish we were better at. In the Bible, Paul speaks to this very issue in 1 Corinthians 12. Using the analogy of the human body and its many parts, he says that while some are more prominent than others, the contributions of all are essential to the proper functioning of the whole body. Ever broken a finger or had a toothache? It impacts the efficiency of the entire body. This is true of our physical bodies, our churches, our businesses, our families, and of our society as a whole.  

We each have different roles to play. Some are more flashy, more noticeable. Some are more subtle and occur quietly, behind the scenes. Each has great value. Every individual part matters to the proper functioning of the whole. So we all need to figure out what we are wired to do. What is your passion? What are you doing when you feel most alive? Writing news stories? Cooking? Building houses? Balancing budgets? Organizing gala events? Designing spacecraft? Teaching a toddler to use a spoon? All of these things matter. Learn your role and do it with excellence. Even if you are one of those wacky, amazing people who just so happens to love painting. Whether you are the roller or the cutter or the kid who stirs the paint, give it all you’ve got. Our businesses and families and nation and world need you to get out there and be you! 

You are the only one who can. 

(On a side note, in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 12 is followed by Chapter 13. I’m pretty clever, huh? This famous passage is known as “The Love Chapter”. I don’t think this progression is an accident. Once you figure out your passion, consider how you might use it to love the people around you, and maybe even those on the other side of the globe. Goodness knows, genuine love and compassion can be hard to find these days. But we can be the generation that turns that around. You hold in your hands an incredible amount of power. You possess the ability to impact the world …..beginning by being nice to the people you come into contact with. Think about that.) 

Finding a New Normal

I ran today. Well, perhaps that is an overly ambitious use of the verb. I completed three miles today, perhaps a third of which might be considered running. After bringing home a doozy of an upper respiratory infection from Poland, this was my first exercise in almost a month. I honestly did not Want to go running today, but I felt like I Ought to.There was a raging debate when I first woke up. The smart thing to do would have been to put on my shoes and go, but I paused for a split second. This was ample time for the voice of laziness and complacency inside my head to make a fairly solid case for the extreme comfort of my cozy covers. Still, somehow sound reasoning determined not only that I Should get up and go, but that I Would. 

The last couple years have brought a great many changes in my life, some of which I intentionally chose, others, not so much. Some heartbreaking and some truly amazing things have occurred. Through it all though, I’ve felt myself struggling, flailing through life. My two essential foundations – Jesus and Jeff – remained rock solid, but nothing else seemed to quite make any sense. And, I’ve gotta tell ya, Type A people don’t like it when things don’t make sense.  

My new boss is a genuinely fantastic woman with an uncanny ability to “read” people. She suggested I check out the book “Who Moved My Cheese.” If you have not already done so, invest about an hour of your life with this tiny, incredible book. It’s an analogy for business, and for life, told as a modern parable about four mice in a maze searching for cheese. It is neither fancy nor complicated, but it helped so many things suddenly make sense. 

I’ve known all along that I needed to find my new Normal. But try as I might, I simply have not been able to. This has been the source of MUCH frustration, which my family has endured like champs because they love me and know that sometimes I just have to wrestle my way through things. Reading this little story helped me t see that I’ve been trying to make completely new circumstances fit into my old way of doing things, to make the new Normal fit into the same mold as the older one. This is a sure-fire recipe for failure and frustration, and man alive, that’s where I’ve been. 

I used to run almost every single day, raced at least once a month, and consistently placed at the top of my age group. I used to be a pretty doggone good teacher, confident and poised, and ready to bring out the best in my students. Those were great times, enjoyable seasons of life. Today things are different, therefore my approach must also be different. New circumstances require a new ways of thinking.  

So today I went rambling around the pond. It was later in the day, and quite warm, but what a beautiful backdrop! The sun was shining, the squirrels and ducks were each amusing in their own way, and there were other families out enjoying the day. My mind contemplated these things while Daughtery and Def Leppard fueled my feet. I ran and walked and breathed. Then, without warning, I felt my stride shift from awkward shuffle to the smoother glide of former days. Was I as fast as I used to be? Not even close. But, who cares? I don’t need a finisher’s medal to prove that I gave my best. I walked away slimy, completely spent, but absolutely satisfied. 

Seasons of life come and they go. Things change, and that’s more than okay; it’s actually quite exciting. My Should will eventually catch up with my Want To. It’s counterproductive – and impossible – to try to squeeze today into yesterday’s mold. There are too many wonderful things ahead to dwell in the past. Sure. It may still take some time for all the elements of my new Normal to ease into place. But they will.