A lifestyle that’s for the birds

Yesterday, a friend and I went hopping all around Wichita scouting locations for some photoshoots that will be featured on the next year’s catalog of books from Crosshair Press, and we found ourselves in the renovated jungle exhibit at the Zoo. Seriously, if you’re in the Wichita area, you must go to the Zoo. It’s amazing.

But as we were walking around, I kept hearing this one particular bird. Now, the jungle exhibit is packed full of birds. There are always birds singing. But this one bird? My goodness. That sucker had a set of lungs. And I had no idea where it was until it landed on the post right in front of me, and I snapped this photo.

Imagine. Being a bird. You eat. You sing. You hop around and look pretty. And that’s about all you’re responsible for. No wonder birds sing all the time. That’s got to be the greatest life! No worries at all!

Know what? That’s the kind of life you can have too.

Really loud bird singing his heart out at the Tropics exhibit (Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS)

Really loud bird singing his heart out at the Tropics exhibit (Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS)

Today’s verse is Matthew 6:26-27.

Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

I always think of this verse when I hear birds singing. Birds are carefree because they don’t have to worry about anything. But it’s not that birds have nothing to worry about. They just know they don’t need to.

People are a different story. We have the ability to worry, so we take advantage of it. We think about what we’re going to eat. We think about what we’re going to wear. We think about what we’re going to drive. We think, think, think all the time, and when we discover that most of the things we think about are out of our control, we worry.

Stop right there. That’s not the life we were designed for. I’m talking to myself here, because worry is one of my besetting sins. I don’t talk about it out loud, but inside I’m usually a mess of anxiety and nerves about something. And in my brain I know that worrying is silly, but I can’t seem to help myself.

So it was a joy yesterday to run into this little fellow singing his little birdy head off. A great reminder that birds don’t worry about tomorrow because they’re trusting God to take care of it. God is trustworthy. He’s never let them down, and He never will. So why stress?

That should be our lives. That should be my life.

I belong to Jesus, but it’s a daily choice to follow Him and live the way He would. Sometimes is less of a choice and more of a battle. But regardless, God has promised to take care of me and provide for me and help me. He’s made the same promise to the birds, and He’s never let them down. He’s never let me down either. And He won’t let you down.

So that think you keep worrying about? Let it go. And when you start worrying about it again? Let it go again. Sing a song instead of worrying. Turn your praise music up as high as it will go and sing at the top of your lungs. Tell God how great He is and get on with your day.

It works for the birds. It’ll probably work for us too.

Stress is my comfort zone

When you’re carrying a heavy bag, it’s a bad time to try climbing a mountain. Even if you’re in great shape, hauling a heavy backpack around when you’re trying to find good footholds and solid rocks to step on is difficult. It’s slow going. And it’s exhausting. So why do we expect mental stress to affect us differently?

I do. Because, I mean, I’m just thinking. Or I’m just organizing. Or I’m sorting through emotions and expectations and deadlines. It’s not “real” work, so it shouldn’t make me tired. It shouldn’t exhaust me. Well, that’s not true. Mental exhaustion is a real thing, and it’s something people need to take seriously (especially creatives… you know who you are).

I always end up there. Always. It doesn’t matter what job I’m working or where I’m living, eventually I end up in the place where I’m stressed out and exhausted and still pushing forward even though I’ve got nothing left. And frankly, I’m tired of it.

sky-ditch-eye-holeToday’s verse is Proverbs 12:25.

Worry weighs a person down;
    an encouraging word cheers a person up.

Anxiety is heavy. It weighs you down much more than you think, but it’s also one of those burdens that’s really difficult to drop. I don’t know why that is. My worry and my anxiety are the burdens I despise yet can’t seem to let go of.

My anxiety and my worry are actually the reasons why I end up over-stressed and over-worked, because I fall back into my same old habits of performing. Because if I perform above expectations, God will bless me above expectations. But I take it to the next level and run myself into the ground and then despair because my situation hasn’t changed. Some take that as a sign that God isn’t listening. I take it as a sign I’m not working hard enough.

So guess what I do? That’s right. I work even harder.

God is teaching me–yet again, seriously because this is the same lesson He’s been trying to teach me for 20 years–that I have convinced myself I need to feel stretched thin. I yearn for that stressed-out, busy feeling to make me feel like I’m accomplishing something, to help me feel like I’m doing something important. And that’s just foolish. God never intended for us to live that way. It’s not healthy, physically or mentally. And it’s not the best for us. Maybe we feel better, but it’s not actually better.

Stress is my comfort zone, my own personal ditch where I can fall down and stay put. And while I worry and fret until my hair turns gray and my insides twist all up, I convince myself that I’m doing good work. I must be. Because I’m so stressed out!

All my life I’ve been told God doesn’t want us in a comfort zone. He doesn’t want us comfortable. He wants us obedient. So those of us who are hiding in our stressed-out ruts, lying to ourselves and everyone else, we’re not doing what God says to do. God says get up. God says get out. And trust Him. Don’t just talk like you trust Him. Actually trust Him.

But I’m practical. It’s one thing to know you’ve got a problem. It’s something else to work out a way to solve it. That’s where those encouraging friends come in. If you haven’t got them, you need them. Go to church. Or go to a friend’s house, someone you know is close to God, and be brave enough to be honest about where you are. Because the longer you stay in your stress pit, the lower you’re going get. And the lower you get, the harder it is to climb out.

Listen to wisdom. Do wisdom. That’s one way you can tell the difference between wisdom and knowledge. Wisdom is active and real. It’s something you can take with you and use everyday. So don’t just hear words someone says to you. If they’re wise, listen and do it.

It’s not easy. But you don’t have to do it alone. You have a lot of people around you who love you. Maybe you don’t feel like it, but at times like that, don’t trust what you feel. Trust what you know. Ask for help. Then get up and do something about it. And don’t worry what people will think. People will always think something. The people who matter won’t care.

Make a list. Make a schedule. Decide what you’re going to do and do it and then stop. Find someone to keep you accountable if you have to. Just stop killing yourself to please God. That’s not what He wants. And you know that. Running yourself into the ground to please Him is only to make you feel better. It’s not for Him.

What God wants from you is faith. Faith that what He asks you to do is enough, regardless of how you feel about it.

Fear is more than what’s holding you back

Sometimes it feels like there’s a giant wall between me and what I’m trying to accomplish. The wall takes many forms. It’s being busy. Being tired. Being distracted and discouraged. Sometimes it’s even being happy and being around other people. But that’s been the story of my life–trying to write while I’m distracted, trying to create when I’m exhausted. So I think I’ve been afraid to tear the wall down because I don’t know if I can do this without it.

And that’s true. I am afraid to tear the wall down. But I realized something: Fear is what makes up the wall itself.

Today’s verses are Hebrews 13:5-6.

Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have.
For God has said,
“I will never fail you.
I will never abandon you.”
So we can say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper,
so I will have no fear.
What can mere people do to me?”

There’s something in us that tells us we have to provide for ourselves. We have to take care of ourselves. Our safety and comfort and freedom and life are all up to us, and if we don’t do something, we’ll lose them. There is a morsel of truth to that, but first of all, we have to understand that none of that comes from anything we’ve done. Our safety and freedom and life are all gifts from God. And while we do have to work to preserve them, we should never accept the concept that we did anything to earn them or even deserve them.

The Bible says over and over again that God is our strength. He’s our freedom. He’s our help. He’s the one we should turn to in our dark moments when we don’t know what to do. Heck, we should turn to Him even if we do know what to do.

Work backwards through the verses. God is our helper. So we don’t need to fear anything. That verse (verse 6) starts off with the word So, which means that to understand it fully you need to refer to the verse before it. We can confidently say God is our helper and we don’t have to fear because God says He’ll never fail us or abandon us. The same is true about the word For. God will never fail us or abandon us and that means we should be satisfied with what we have instead of endlessly grasping for material wealth.

We don’t need material wealth if we have God’s promise to never fail us and never abandon us. He’s our help. So why are we afraid?

Fear is a paralytic, yes, but it’s also a drug that keeps you sedate. It mimics the idea of safety and comfort, because if you never challenge it, nothing ever changes. You never grow, so you never have to experience growing pains.

I struggle with fear and anxiety. The worry is ever-present in my brain. What if I can’t find enough work? What if I can’t pay my bills? What if I have to go back to a corporate job again? Does that mean I’ve failed? Does that mean God didn’t want me to strike out on my own like this in the first place? Have I just been fooling myself? It’s a vicious spiral of anxiety that usually ends in self-loathing and utter discouragement.

Ever been there? When you’ve made that difficult choice to follow God instead of what the world says matters? You’d think it would get easier when you give God your yes, right? Ha. Sorry, folks, it’s doesn’t work that way. There’s nothing easy about following God because we’re trying to follow Him through a minefield, and everywhere we step, we run the risk of blowing ourselves up.

It’s so easy to just stop walking. It’s so much easier to just stay where you are. Why try to climb the wall if you know you can’t do it? Why try to tear the fence down when it’ll just build itself up again overnight?

Fear is an emotion. It’s something we feel, and like all our other emotions, you can’t always trust it. Our fear is just as broken as we are. So there’s really only one way to handle it, and that’s to read what the Bible says about it and trust that what God says is right.

Fear is more than what’s holding you back. It’s the wall around your that’s keeping you in. So don’t give into it.

God promises He’ll never fail us, even if we fail Him. He promises never to abandon us, even when we turn our backs on what He says is right. And because He always keeps His promises, we don’t have to be afraid of anything. He will always provide. He will always be there. And nothing anyone does to you will change that–not even what you do to yourself.

Knowing the next step is half the battle

I like plans, but I’m not very organized. So operating in a corporate environment using a workflow chart was difficult to wrap my brain around at first. I didn’t get the concept of connecting geometric shapes with squiggly lines to symbolize processes at first. It just seemed like a lot of extra work to write down a process when it was easier to remember what came next.

When you have simple processes, that’s true. But in many corporate environments, a work process can involve dozens and maybe hundreds of people and multiple departments. With a process that complicated, you need to have a standard to refer to in the moments when a project gets crazy. You need to have a road map to look at so that you can get back on track.

If you think about it, nothing is more complicated than life. So why do we attempt to get through life without some sort of plan? How do we expect to keep ourselves on track and on target without a map to refer to when we get lost?

sea-beach-holiday-vacationToday’s verses are Psalm 37:23-24.

The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
He delights in every detail of their lives.
Though they stumble, they will never fall,
for the Lord holds them by the hand.

God doesn’t give us the whole plan for our lives all at once. Honestly, He rarely shares the entire plan with us in our lifetime. But one thing God will always provide for us is the next step.

Following Christ isn’t a chaotic mess of disorder and strife. Sure, we all have struggles, and we all have varying amounts of stress to deal with at times. But if your life is chaotic, something is wrong. God doesn’t work in chaos. That’s our enemy’s specialty. God is always clear about what He wants. It’s our hearing that’s often plugged up, and it’s usually plugged up by our own voices.

You can get as spiritual and theological about God’s will as you want, but what it comes down to in the end is doing what God says is right one step at a time. God’s will is too big and too much for us to comprehend, because it encompasses the length and breadth and depth and width of our entire lives and even aspects of our legacies. I don’t know about you, but my puny human brain couldn’t take all of that in. So I’m glad God doesn’t tell me. I think it would scare me to death.

God has a plan, but He’s only going to tell us the parts we need to know when we need to know them. That’s His right. And if we think we deserve more than that, well, we should remember whose plan it is and whose story we’re living in. So when God gives us a piece of the plan, we need to act on it right away.

Example? The first step is to trust Jesus. That’s what God wants for all of us. He wants us to make the call to follow Jesus, to trust in Christ’s sacrifice alone for our salvation. That’s the first step, and until you take that step, nothing in life will make sense. And after you take that step, well, life still won’t make much sense, but you’ll be able to see God working.

After that, the next step is to actually start following Christ. You do the things He did. Like baptism, an outward expression of an inward change. You live like He lived–loving God and loving people. Following Christ will take the rest of your life, and it will look different for different people. And, frankly, God isn’t always specific about what He expects. We’re to “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly” with God, yes, but those three things can take a variety of shapes and sizes in our lives.

So what next? That’s the question many of us face. We’ve chosen to believe in Jesus. We’ve committed to following Jesus. But what does that mean?

Honestly, you just have to get to know God better, and He’ll tell you. He’ll show you. He always does. He’ll reveal in your heart the path that you should take. He’ll open the doors for you. He’ll muddy up the roads you should avoid and straighten the roads you should walk. You won’t be able to get away from it.

So don’t worry about what’s next. Trust that God knows where you’ll end up, even if you can’t see where you’re walking. Focus on growing closer to God. Spend your time talking to Him, reading about Him, learning about Him, and He’ll show you what comes next.

What comes next is the easy part. God already has that worked out. The hard part is actually doing it.

Keep trusting even if you have to keep letting go

When I give my worries and problems to God, I struggle with leaving them there. How about you? That’s one of those Christian metaphors we like to talk about–casting our cares on God, laying our burdens down, etc. Practically speaking, it means you do what you can according to God’s rules and then you let God work it out. You don’t spend time worrying or speculating about what could go wrong. You don’t invest emotional energy in fretting anxiously.

Has anyone mastered this concept? I haven’t.

Every time I entrust my fears and failures to the Lord, within moments I’m taking it back. And then I have to go through the whole process of letting go all over again. I get so angry at myself. I get so irritated. But I realized something the other day.

I don’t know anybody who’s mastered the art of trusting God completely. We all fail at this. We all try to carry our own burdens without His help. So instead of beating ourselves up about how often we take our troubles back from God, maybe we should focus on how many times we’re willing to let go of them.

pexels-photo (1)Today’s verses are Luke 11:9-10.

And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

God wants to hear from us. He wants us to pray and talk to Him. He wants us to hand over our burdens because they’re all too heavy for us to carry on our own. But what if we have to ask Him over and over again? What if we have to turn over the same problems again and again?

I don’t like to pester people. I don’t like asking the same questions over and over again. I don’t like being asked the same questions over and over again (this is one of the reasons I would never make it as a journalist). But sometimes you have to. Sometimes you’re not asking the right question. Sometimes you’re asking the right question at the wrong time.

God will always answer. He is unfailingly patient with us, and He doesn’t get upset or unhappy if we pester Him.

Granted, if we know the answer is No, we shouldn’t keep asking. That might bother Him. But if you honestly don’t know what to do or to believe, ask Him. And don’t just ask Him once, ask Him over and over again until you get an answer. And I believe it’s the same with our troubles.

God remembers that we’re not perfect. He knows us inside and out. He knows our control-freak tendencies, and He isn’t angry at us when we try to take things back from Him. But He grieves when you try to keep it.

Don’t keep your troubles because you’re afraid to give them back again. Don’t beat yourself up or assume a negative perspective because you lose patience with God’s timetable. Everybody does. We’re all in the same boat.

It takes a lot of faith to trust your worries and your fears and your problems to God. It takes even more faith to keep giving them to Him, even after you take them back.

Just keeping turning your problems over to God. There’s not a time limit or a transaction limit, like at a bank. It’s better if you don’t take things back from God after you turn them over, but if you do, you can always give them back again.

The difference between stillness and effectiveness

Colorado has lots of beautiful lakes and streams and creeks, and many people who go out to camp bring boats and kayaks and rafts. We didn’t. If we’d had room, maybe. But I don’t go to the lakes to boat or kayak. I go to take photos. There’s an old family legend about a specific lake in Colorado, Taylor Reservoir–a photograph my dad took many moons ago. The world was so still that the Collegiate Mountains with all their trees and the sky and the moon were reflected perfectly in the waters. Dad snapped a photo of it on his old film camera, but in trying to get the image reproduced again, he lost both the negative and the only print of it (conspiracy theories, anyone?).

In any case, none of the lakes we visited in Colorado this time were still enough to take a breathtaking photograph of. The breezes were strong enough to toss the waters and obscure the reflection. It was still beautiful, but I would have loved to be able to see the mountains reflected perfectly.

Mirror Lake near Tincup, CO

Mirror Lake near Tincup, CO

Today’s verse is Psalm 46:10.

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

When God says to be still, immediately my brain jumps into defensive mode. Still? I can’t be still. I have too much work to do. So I brush it off and continue running around like a chicken with my head cut off, and before I know it, I’m more stressed and more frantic than I was before. And surprisingly I haven’t gotten as much done as I wanted because I can’t focus.

I make the mistake of confusing being still with being effective. Being still isn’t sitting around doing nothing. Being still is living at peace with God, trusting that God has it under control, and taking steps to take care of yourself in the mean time. That means taking a Sabbath. That means eating right and caring for the body God gave you. Being still is a lifestyle, and it has nothing to do with sitting around. It just isn’t being frantic all the time.

When you’re still, you can catch reflections. Like the waters in the lakes of Colorado reflect the image of the mountains and the sky, we can reflect the image of God to people around us. But if we’re running like busy crazy people all the time, God’s image is obscured. All people will see is our own craziness and not God’s power.

When we’re still, we can reflect God’s peace into other peoples’ lives. When we’re still, we can focus on what matters. We can see clearly because our vision isn’t clouded with anxieties or insecurities that we have no control over. And all of that makes us more effective in general.

So don’t fall for the lie that being still means you won’t accomplish anything. Actually, being still and focusing on God will help you accomplish more than you would otherwise. And, what’s more, you’ll be able to portray a beautiful picture of God to the world around us. People will see Him in you. Isn’t that why we’re here anyway?

Sometimes even weeds can be beautiful

In the spring and summer, our yard here at Safe Haven Farm is full of dandelions. Weeds. All over the place. We’ve had some years when the yard was practically yellow from all the dandelion flowers. And what I’ve learned about dandelions over the years is that the more you try to get rid of them, the more keep popping up.

Dandelions are like the Hydra from Greek mythology. Whenever the hero would chop off one head, two more would grow back. Weeds are the same way. You can chop them off, poison them, hack them to bits, but they always come back because the roots are too deep in the soil to remove completely. Have you ever stopped to think that worry and anxiety is exactly the same?

No matter how efficiently you think you’ve dealt with your worrying, it won’t go away completely. No matter how far away you’ve distanced yourself from anxiety, those horrible, twisting anxious thoughts keep coming back. And it’s not because you want them. It’s because the root of the problem is buried too deep to reach.

What is the root of the problem? For me, it’s fear.

I’m afraid that I’ll fail, that I’ll disappoint people, that I’ll screw up, that I’ll make a mess of things, and that I’ll do such a good job of it that not even God will be able to get me out of it. That’s the fear that whispers to me. Fear tells me that I’ll never be good enough, that I’ll make mistakes so great and so grave that no one will forgive me. And even as I listen, I know it’s all lies, but somehow I still worry. Even though I know it’s not true.

So what do you do? How do you respond to the paralyzing fear that holds you in place and tries to convince you that it’s not worth even trying anymore?

Dandelion at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Dandelion at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 56:1-4.

O God, have mercy on me,
for people are hounding me.
My foes attack me all day long.
I am constantly hounded by those who slander me,
and many are boldly attacking me.
But when I am afraid,
I will put my trust in you.
I praise God for what he has promised.
I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?
What can mere mortals do to me?

Fear doesn’t come from God. That’s not how He works. So if you’re making decisions based in fear, you might want to make sure you’re following the right person. If you’re feeling fear, which is leading to worry and stress and anxiety, that means you’ve got the enemy’s attention. Usually that means you’re doing something right.

I know that’s not much comfort. Believe me. But it’s the truth.

So how do you manage worry and anxiety if it’s never actually going to go away? And it’s not happening because you don’t trust God. You do. You wake up every morning determined to trust Him for everything, yet still that little voice whispers in your mind. And soon you’re in knots because you’re worrying, and then you tie yourself in more knots because you try to stop worrying so that you won’t worry about worrying. Ugh, it’s a vicious cycle.

I don’t know the answer, but I do know who God is. And I know what this verse says. When I’m afraid, I need to trust God. When I’m afraid, that means I’m trying to solve problems on my own. I’m looking at the difficulties I’m facing and trying to overcome them in my own strength, and I can’t do it. I’m not big enough.

The problems in my life are God-sized. And when anxiety gets the better of me, it’s usually those moments when I’m trying to rush God’s plan or trying to do it myself without Him, usually because I feel like He’s moving too slowly.

Trusting God means not taking matters into your own hands. It means letting go of your plans and your dreams and your goals and giving them to Him. It’s hard and scary, and often it hurts because letting go of anything that matters to you isn’t fun. But that fear you feel in response to letting go isn’t from God. It’s from Satan. He’s trying to keep you from experiencing the very best God has, because God can’t transform your life while you’re still holding on to it.

Remember what God promised. He won’t leave us. He wants the best for us. And His plans for us are good. So it doesn’t matter what anyone else can do to you, as long as you’re on God’s side. You stay right with Him, and He’ll take care of the rest.

You can wear yourself out pulling weeds, and they’ll all just come back again the next day. No, just wait. Let them bloom. Let the seeds scatter. And if at all possible, enjoy them. Even weeds can be beautiful at times, and even weeds like dandelions have can be useful.