Life as a headless chicken

[su_dropcap style=”simple” size=”5″]M[/su_dropcap]y solid old farmhouse is more than 100 years old. That may not mean much to folks in the northeastern United States or my dear friends in England, but in Kansas, it’s a big deal. It’s the perfect sanctuary for writing. I turn on my music and hammer out words by the tens of thousands and feel good about myself. The trouble comes when somebody needs me.

My office is on the second floor at the south of the house. The only stairwell is on the north. There are several solid wood doors between us, and if it’s summer time, I also have a window air conditioner running. There’s so much noise, I can’t hear when anybody shouts up at me. I can’t even hear my cell phone ring. So if anyone wants to get my attention, they have to walk up the stairs, throw my office door open, and throw things at my head.

It’s a chore to get my attention sometimes. But that’s true even when I’m sitting in a quiet environment.

One of my favorite television shows, Longmire (based on the brilliant book series by Craig Johnson), has an episode called “An Unquiet Mind” where we get a peek inside the main character’s tumultuous thoughts. His mind is never quiet. He’s always thinking about something, and that’s how I feel most times.

Do you ever feel like that? Like your brain is so noisy that you can’t get a word in edgewise?

[su_pullquote align=”right”]Here in America, we’re expected to live busy, crowded, noisy lives. That’s what it means to be American, isn’t it?[/su_pullquote]

My mind is never silent. It’s not chaotic. Not usually. But it sure is loud in there most of the time. I’m thinking about what I have to do today, what I have to do tomorrow, what I have to do next week, next month, next quarter. I’m worrying about friends and family. I’m fretting about the dwindling decimals in my bank account. I’m thinking about bills that need paying, chores that need doing, meetings that need scheduling, manuscripts that need editing, blog posts that need writing, etc.

We weren’t meant to live like that. That’s not how God designed us to function, in spite of what those around us might say. Here in America, we’re expected to live busy, crowded, noisy lives. That’s what it means to be American, isn’t it?

But is that how we were meant to live?

We’re not supposed to be lazy. We’re not supposed to sit back on our blessed assurance and live a life only reacting to trauma and disaster. But we’re certainly not supposed to live life like headless chickens either.

So how do you prevent being dragged into the chaos of life and still manage to get things done? I’m not sure there’s an easy answer.

peachy-divider

[su_dropcap style=”simple” size=”5″]I[/su_dropcap] underestimate the value of silence. Silence isn’t something I’ve ever truly appreciated until recently. Silence always meant that something was wrong or someone was waiting on me. And I hate it when people are waiting on me. But it’s difficult to find an instance in the Bible where silence is considered negative.

Sure, there’s all sorts of Psalms begging God not to be silent, but most of the time, silence is a good thing. Proverbs says over and over again that even fools are called wise when they shut up (Proverbs 17:28). Fast forward to the New Testament and James encourages people to make listening the priority rather than speaking (James 1:19).

Silence is hard to find, both externally and internally. But it’s something we should strive for, because—like it or not—Someone is trying to get our attention.

God talks to us every day. He makes Himself known every moment. The whole world has no excuse for ignoring God. But for those of us who know the Bible, we who’ve been raised in it from cradle to pew, how can we possible explain ourselves? Burying our lives in chaos? Drowning ourselves in anxiety and noise?

God’s calling us. He’s shouting at us, waving His arms in desperation, trying to catch our eyes.

Pay attention! Listen to what I’m saying! I’m here, and I’ve always been here, and I’m not leaving you. Not ever. I’ve done everything to prove Myself to you. Why aren’t you listening?

[su_pullquote]God’s calling us. He’s shouting at us, waving His arms in desperation, trying to catch our eyes.[/su_pullquote]

We don’t have to succumb to the tidal waves of stress and exhaustion the world (and even the church) sends in our direction. We don’t have to fear what’s coming tomorrow or in November or in ten years. God’s in control. He knows what He’s doing. He never makes mistakes. He always keeps His promises. And all we have to do is trust Him.

Yes, easier said than done, but nothing worth having was ever easy to achieve.

“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” Revelation 3:20

rev3-20Is your life so noisy you can’t hear Him? Is your life so busy you can’t see Him? Then something should change. Maybe it’s the way you live. Maybe it’s the way you think. But something’s got to give, because you weren’t made for this.

Don’t let yourself get so mired in noise and the craziness of life that you can’t hear Jesus calling you. It’s easy to get there. Believe me. But you don’t have to stay there. Climb out if you can. Ask for help if you can’t. Just get out. Open your ears. Open your heart. Listen.

Jesus is knocking. Can you hear him?

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God doesn’t call you to wear yourself out

I’m always busy, and I like it that way. But that means I burn out. Frequently. I try to head it off, but most of the time I have to crash and burn before anything changes.

For years, people have told me that I need to rest. But I’ve never really let myself do–well, because it doesn’t accomplish anything. At least, in my own mind, it’s a waste of time.

For me, what makes me feel rested is just being at home. Sleeping until I wake up, without an alarm. Having a real breakfast. And then spending the whole day just doing homey stuff. Cooking. Baking. Maybe watching a movie or two. Walking outside or playing in the snow–or just watching the snow fall with a cup of hot tea.

No word counts. No deadlines. No plans.

But when you have so much to do, so much to accomplish, so much to get done, it’s really really hard to take a real day off. Just because I’m not at my day job doesn’t mean I’m not working. At any given moment, I have five novels in progress, and the thought of taking a day off and not using the time to work on some personal project is horrifying.

So what if I need the rest? I only have a limited amount of time and energy, so I’d better be a good steward of what I have. And God will give me the strength and the energy and I need.

Won’t He?

Today’s verses are Matthew 11:28-29.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

I do believe God gives us supernatural strength to finish the things He’s called us to do, but as with everything else in our lives, before we just assume He’ll do something for us, we need to check our hearts.

For me, I don’t think I’m always driven to be busy for Him. I’m driven to busy because I want to prove (to myself) that I have a purpose or that I’m useful. I think that’s my greatest fear is not being useful. But I think I’ve equated being busy with being useful for so long that when I’m not busy, I feel useless. And that’s not true.

This is why God gives us best friends: to talk sense into us when we’re being dumb.

Yes, it’s true that God calls us to work. He has great things He wants to do through us, but that’s up to Him. Not us. And just as He calls us to work, He also calls us to rest.

I fought it, but my best friend eventually convinced me to take a mental health day. Sure, I had to work overtime to get it, but I had plenty to do. And in other times, I would have used that extra day off this weekend to knock out 10,000 to 15,000 words on one of the four projects I have sitting around.

But I didn’t.

I didn’t write anything. For the whole day.

I woke up when the sun came up. I ate a lovely breakfast. I spent time with my parents. I cooked and baked. I Skyped with my best friend for two and a half hours. I watched a movie. And I went to bed when I got tired. And I didn’t allow myself to feel guilty that I didn’t get work done. I just enjoyed my day, and I woke up Saturday morning and felt–new.

How often do we push ourselves past the breaking point because we think it’s what God wants? I think I do it more than I would care to admit. But that’s not the life He’s called us to. A life following Christ isn’t easy, no, but it shouldn’t have the same burdens as a life lived without Him. That’s where we get it wrong.

The world tells us we have to be busy. We think we have to run around like crazy people so that everyone will know that we’re accomplishing something. But that’s a lie Satan uses to distract us and wear us down.

No, don’t be lazy, but don’t let the world set your schedule. Don’t let the world’s standards hold you to a timetable you’ll have to kill yourself to achieve. That’s not God’s path.

God’s road is narrow, yes, but there’s no weight He gives us that He won’t help us carry. So stop working yourself to death. Stop driving yourself into the ground. It’s okay to rest. It’s okay to take a real day off. You need it. Everybody needs it.

The main street at Old Cowtown, Wichita, KS

Doing the one thing you’re called to do

When you have three good paths you can walk, how do you choose the best one? Has anyone else ever been there? I seem to end up at an intersection of competing opportunities every other day, and being the perfectionistic people pleaser I am, I always try to do everything for everybody.

But you can’t do that forever. You can’t always say yes. I mean, you can, but sooner or later, you’re going to crash and burn. Because you’re not superhuman. You have to sleep and eat and take care of your health at some point, whether you believe it or not.

The main street at Old Cowtown, Wichita, KS

The main street at Old Cowtown, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Luke 10:38-42.

As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

This is a familiar story. Most everyone probably knows it, and it’s probably been used in more Sunday school lessons and sermons than anyone can count. I know I’ve heard this story all my life.

So why do I keep trying to make decisions like Martha?

Martha’s heart was in the right place. She wanted to use her gifts to serve Jesus, but she was trying to do too much. She weighed herself down with too much responsibility, and then when she saw her sister sitting and listening, doing one thing (no matter how important it was), I’m sure she got irritated.

I would have been. But Mary had the right idea. She had the opportunity to do one thing–listen. And I think we all usually end up in that same place. We have the chance to do many things or we have the chance to do one thing, and if you’re the sort of person who can manage lots of multitasking, you won’t want to stop with one thing.

And it’s not bad to multitask. If you’re a “ten-talent” servant, make the most of what you have. Use your gifts and your abilities for God, and He’ll multiply them exponentially. But remember even the ten-talent servant started out with five talents. It was God who doubled them. He didn’t take ten and try to make good on the investment on his own.

What has God called you to do? Do you know? Some people know specifically. Other people have a sort of vague understanding. But whatever it is God has called you to do, just do it. And just do it alone.

Don’t do anything else. Don’t try to add to it. Don’t try to supplement it. Don’t try to enhance it.

God has created you for a specific task, and maybe you’re one of those people who can handle multiple tasks, but I’m willing to bet they’re probably all related to each other in some way.

Everything I’m good at has to do with words. Everything God has gifted me in has to do with words and communicating. When I try to do anything other than that, I can do it, and I can do it well, but it’s difficult for me. It’s not my gift. And most of the time whenever I agree to do something outside my gift, it’s to please other people.

Not always, of course. When I have the time and I can help set up chairs or work outside and pick people up and drop people off, I’m so glad to do it. But when it comes to efficiently managing the time that God has given me, saying yes to tutoring someone in math would be a horrible idea, no matter how much I want to make them happy.

Get serious with God. Get close to Him. Get to know Him. And the more you get to know Him, the better understanding you’ll have of what He wants for your life.

Ask Him, and keep your options open. Be willing to do what He asks you to do, and you never know where you might end up.

The old house at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Everybody needs a safe haven

I don’t like admitting that I need help. Admitting that I need help is showing weakness, and I never want people to think I’m weak. Similarly, I don’t like admitting when I need to rest. I’d rather live in denial and push forward until I collapse instead of being proactive and planning for the need to slow down every so often.

That’s probably my pride and my stubbornness showing through.

But realizing that you need to rest doesn’t make you weak. It makes you human. No one has super powers. None of us can push forward through life without needing rest or at least a quiet place to recharge. If we try it, we’ll burn out. And once you burn out, lighting the fire again is ten times as difficult.

I’m just coming off one of the busiest weeks of my year, and as I lay awake in bed this morning, my brain was buzzing with everything else I have to do. April is so full, part of me is scared to even look at my calendar. And May is worse. It’s all great, wonderful things. Tremendous opportunities. Fun challenges. Exciting events. But it does take time and energy and emotion, and at the moment, not yet recovered from National Sales Meeting, I can’t imagine being ready for any of it.

The old house at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The old house at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength,
    always ready to help in times of trouble.
So we will not fear when earthquakes come
    and the mountains crumble into the sea.
Let the oceans roar and foam.
    Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge! Interlude

A river brings joy to the city of our God,
    the sacred home of the Most High.
God dwells in that city; it cannot be destroyed.
    From the very break of day, God will protect it.
The nations are in chaos,
    and their kingdoms crumble!
God’s voice thunders,
    and the earth melts!
The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
    the God of Israel is our fortress. Interlude

Come, see the glorious works of the Lord:
    See how he brings destruction upon the world.
He causes wars to end throughout the earth.
    He breaks the bow and snaps the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.

 “Be still, and know that I am God!
    I will be honored by every nation.
    I will be honored throughout the world.”

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
    the God of Israel is our fortress.

I need to read this Psalm every day. I need to remember everything in this Psalm every moment of every day and maybe twice a day in the stressful times.

Needing a refuge isn’t weak. Everyone needs a refuge, a safe place to go when life gets too crazy.

I’d been away from home since very early Sunday morning, and I walked through my door last night where my roomie was waiting for me. She made dinner, and we watched The Desolation of Smaug and ate pasta. I could relax and not worry about tomorrow and just be.

I’m so fortunate to have a safe place I can go, but not everyone has that. So where do you go when you don’t have a comfortable couch with an awesome roomie?

Maybe it sounds clichéd to talk about resting in God, but that’s what we need to learn to do. That’s what I need to learn to do, especially in those moments when I’ve overworked myself and I don’t have time (or the ability) to run home and hide in my basement with a movie and a cup of tea.

Finding rest in God can be difficult because it requires a change of perspective, and when you’re exhausted anyway, expending the effort to change the way you see the world seems like too much trouble. But the truth is, my safe haven isn’t safe because of my movies and my hot tea and my comfy chair and my awesome roomie. My safe haven is a refuge because it helps me slow down and remember who God is.

That’s the key to resting. It’s not being lazy. It’s not being weak. It’s slowing down enough to regain the right perspective on God, and when you do that, you’ll get the right perspective on everything else.  Remember who God is. Recognize what He’s done for you. Realign your thinking to match His. And you’ll be amazed at how refreshed you feel afterward.

So where is your safe place? Where can you go to slow down and remember who God is? If you don’t have a place like that, you really need to find one. Life won’t slow down, so you have to.

Otter at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

The difference between distraction and importance

Have distractions ever caused you to be someone you’re not? Or to do something out of character? Recently, I experienced just that. Friday two weeks ago, I had a big day planned. I got off at Noon and headed for home. And the only explanation I can offer is that I was six steps ahead in my brain when I pulled out of the parking garage, and in my mind I was already on the highway. But you can’t drive like you’re on the highway when you’re navigating downtown Wichita at Noon.

I ran a red light at Central and Broadway. A 2010 Honda smacked into my passenger side and threw me into a big red Dodge Ram. No one was seriously injured (thank God), but my car–my awesome 2008 Malibu that had served me so well–was completely totaled.

I wasn’t texting or talking on the phone. I just had too much going on in my head. I just zoned out. And zoning out isn’t bad. Don’t misunderstand. Sometimes you need to zone out, but there are times when you can’t. There are times when you have to stay focused and on your game, and one of those times is when you’re driving in a city.

Distractions are everywhere. But it’s our choice to be distracted.

Otter at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Otter at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Luke 10:38-42.

As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

The story of Mary and Martha is one of those old Bible stories that is recounted in flannelgraph and puppet shows all the time, mainly because it’s so relevant to everyone. Even as adults, it’s a message we need.

Don’t get distracted. Even if it’s by something good.

You get that, right? Martha wasn’t overloaded doing bad things. She was making a big dinner for Jesus and His disciples. That’s not bad. That’s awesome! Remember, these guys left home. They left everything they had. Not a luxurious way to live. And I’m friends with enough guys to know that if they hit the road all together, they would rarely have home-cooked meals. They would eat out all the time. For Martha to sacrifice her time and her finances to provide a big home-cooked meal for thirteen hungry men is incredible.

And Jesus was grateful, I’m sure. But you have to get down to the heart of the issue here. Martha was a doer, a controller, a worker bee. She was probably Type A. On my writing blog, I did a series on character profiles based on a book called How Can I Get Through To You, and I’m pretty sure that Martha would classify as a Driver. And Martha had convinced herself that she needed to do something for Christ. She needed to make Him a meal.

Cool. That’s good of her. But Jesus hadn’t asked her to do that.

It’s never Jesus’ intention for us to run ourselves ragged. We weren’t designed to be in constant motion. We weren’t designed to fill up our brains with details and stress until it’s so full we can’t function properly. We weren’t designed to live that way.

God designed us to work, yes. And work is good for us. And serving is even better. But in Martha’s case, serving became extraneous. Her focus had become the work. Her perspective had shifted to herself, and she wasn’t serving so much anymore as she was just running around like a crazy person and hoping that Jesus would realize she thought she was doing it for Him.

I get that way. I think we all do. But the point today is that if we fill up our lives with distractions, even if they’re good distractions, they’re taking us away from a true relationship with God. If we’re so busy running around trying to accomplish things and be productive, we’re going to miss the opportunity to be still and listen.

God never told us to kill ourselves serving Him. He told us to be still and know Who He Is. Yes, we’re supposed to do the Word, but the Word is to listen. Yes, action is important and necessary, but the Bible is a book of balance.

Slow down. Focus. Eliminate distractions. Make priorities and keep them. Because the more extraneous details you get tangled up in, the better your chances are for missing the point completely. And not only will you miss the chance, you may end up doing something out of character. You may end up hurting someone.

God is a God of second chances, yes, and I’m thankful for that. I’m more thankful for that than I have ever been. And when we screw up, He’s there with forgiveness. But if you know the truth, why live like you don’t? If you know the difference between distraction and importance, why choose the one that will waste time?

Mulberries - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Remember what God has done

We are forgetful people, and we live in a forgetful culture. I don’t think we forget on purpose. There are many times I truly believe we just get so busy and our brains get so full that forgetfulness just comes naturally. But it sure isn’t purposeful. I forget things all the time, but mainly that’s because I’m running around like a crazy person.

Example: I forgot to post yesterday. Did I do it on purpose? Not at all. My flight got into Wichita about 12:30 in the morning Wednesday, I slept for a few hours, and I work up and went to work. Posting a devo completely slipped my mind until later in the afternoon.

Mulberries - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Mulberries – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Samuel 12:24.

But be sure to fear the Lord and faithfully serve him. Think of all the wonderful things he has done for you.

God has provided so many things for me. Sometimes it’s tempting to believe that we have gotten all that we have through our own intellect or our own skills, but that’s just pride talking. Any good thing in my life has come from God, and I have a lot of good things.

But I take everything for granted, I think. My friends. My family. My job. My house. Because on the bad days, I feel like I have nothing, and I feel like God isn’t working at all, and I start to wonder if He really keeps His promises.

I don’t know why He puts up with me.

He’s so much more patient than I am. If I had been half as good to someone else as He has been to me and they treated me like I treat Him, I would have given up years ago. But not God. His love baffles me.

Today’s verse actually comes out of a similar situation. The people of Israel, who God had chosen and blessed and taken care of and rescued and all that jazz over and over and over again for generations, had decided that they wanted a king other nations could see instead of an All-Powerful, All-Knowing, Always-There God they couldn’t. Samuel, their High Priest who served as God’s mouthpiece, told them they were making a mistake, but they were insistent.

So God gave them what they wanted. A king who looked good but didn’t have much going on inside, but that’s a different story. What is interesting to me is how God reacted in the first place.

If you have a chance, read 1 Samuel 12. Samuel stands up in front of the people of Israel and reminds them of everything God has done for them. And he warns them that if they forget God and how He cared for them that they would have to endure some suffering until they remember who God is.

Throughout Scripture, God has always demonstrated His love and faithfulness for the people of Israel. The Old Testament is brimming with stories of how God rescued them from danger and how they turned around and forgot him a short time later. And as a child, I used to think that they were the stupidest people on the planet. But am I much different?

God has opened doors for me that I could never have opened on my own. He has provided a comfortable place for me to live that I could never have provided for myself. He has given me a wonderful family, incredible friends, etc. etc. etc. So many good things. And after He has saved me and rescued me and given me more blessings than I can handle, I turn around and forget and start worrying about tomorrow. 

I’m just as bad as the children of Israel. And God is just as faithful to me as He was to them.

Forgetting is dangerous. Because if we forget where our blessings come from, we’ll start thinking we did it ourselves. And then when trouble comes again, we’ll rely on ourselves. And there’s no power there.

Samuel warned the people of Israel not to forget God. And maybe that generation listened, but the generation afterward didn’t get the memo. And even the king himself wasn’t paying much attention. And God was forced to remind them.

It works the same way in our lives. So don’t forget. Or God will have to remind us who He is.