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.

Who has time to wonder?

When was the last time you stopped and took a moment to marvel at who God is? No? How about the last time you stopped and took a moment to just be amazed at what He’s done for you in your life? Yeah, me neither. It’s been a while. Not because I’m ungrateful or because I’m overly self-centered. I’m just busy, and I think it’s better to spend my time wisely doing the things that God has told me to do with myself while I have the time and energy to do them.

But is our life supposed to be hustle and bustle all the time? Are we supposed to be constantly on the go? Never stopping to breathe, to think, to praise, or to just be?

I struggle with this. Even when I’m supposed to be doing something fun and relaxing, I’m still thinking about how I can leverage the situation so that I’m still time efficient. Like recently when I went to the zoo with my three Forever Sisters and the Unsinkable Hoochild. I was looking forward to hanging out with them, to catching up, to being together with them, but I was also using it to get my daily two miles into the schedule so that I could get straight to work when I got home later. Nothing wrong with multi-tasking, right?

Well, as per usual, the Hoochild taught me a very important lesson that day. This kid teaches me something every time I see her, and that day was no different. She was so excited to see the sheep. This kid loves sheep. She laughs and jumps and claps her hands whenever she sees them.

Do I like sheep? No freakin’ way. I’ve had way too many experiences with sheep in my life to ever go to the zoo to see them. But I love going to the zoo to watch Hoochild see them because she finds joy in things that my grown-up attitude no longer appreciates.

Hoochild wondering at the tigers at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Hoochild wondering at the tigers 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.”

This is one of those passages that makes me cringe every time I read it. More often than not, I’m Martha. I’m the one running around trying to do too much all at once. And, please don’t get me wrong, there is definitely a time and place for that. We need the people who will work hard and get things done. But there’s also a time to sit still and wonder at Jesus, and as adults–especially Christian adults–I think we lose that.

Jesus Himself said it. There’s only one thing worth being concerned about, and Mary figured it out. Mary was sitting at His feet, listening to Jesus and marveling.

Hoochild turned two this week. Two whole years old, and I just can’t believe it. It was just yesterday that I saw her for the first time when she was less than 12 hours old. It was just yesterday her mama made me hold her while I was sitting in my cubicle at work, and I was terrified I would drop her. Wasn’t that just yesterday?

Hoochild's adorable uncle many, many moons ago

Hoochild’s adorable uncle many, many moons ago

But then yesterday Hoochild’s uncle was four years old, sitting on the plastic slide in the old church’s playroom, narrating Dave and the Giant Pickle verbatim while I minded him during a ministry banquet. That was yesterday too, right? Wrong. That was like 17 years ago, and today Hoochild’s uncle is getting married. He also graduated from college this year.

My goodness. Where does the time go?

When you’re young, you listen to your elders talk about the rapid passing of time, and you think it can’t possibly go that fast. You can’t go to bed one morning when you’re 14 and wake up and be 30. That just doesn’t happen. I can testify, friends, it really does happen. It’s happened to me. And I thought I was being careful about it too.

When I think back over my life, how much time have I spent on useless things? How many hours have I wasted worrying about people and relationships and events and things that God had already taken care of–things I ultimately had no control over anyway? Maybe I thought worrying and twiddling my thumbs would be productive, but it never was. Wouldn’t all that time have been better spent in wonder at Jesus? Wouldn’t those days of frustration and anger or irritation been better if instead of giving in to my anxieties, I spent them in amazement at God’s grace?

Hoochild marvels at sheep. And maybe I don’t like sheep much, but I can marvel at my first conscious breath in the morning. I can wonder at the stars in the sky and that even amidst all their numbers, God still knows my name. I can stand in awe of the fact that God is a God of brilliance and creativity and that He made a world of infinite complexity for me to enjoy. That’s time well spent, Christians. Because you can worry and fret and stew and sulk all you want, but you won’t gain anything. But if you spend your time in wonder at God, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of who He is and just how much He loves you.

Who has time to wonder? Maybe the better question is: Who has time for anything else?

God’s timing is perfect, even though it means we have to wait

I was irritated at God last week.

Yeah, I don’t like admitting that, but I was. Not angry. Just put out. See, I’d known that this whole freelancing thing was 100% dependent on clients. Eventually I want to get to the place where my novels will support me, but I’m not even close to that yet. So it’s freelancing that’s putting food in my mouth. And my big main client’s workload was starting to diminish, just like I knew it would. But nobody was stepping up to take its place.

But every time I sat down to start beating the online streets for new clients, something would happen. My internet would crash. Some issue would blow up with the publishing company. Something crazy would happen that would take my attention away from the search for clients. Later, every time I would sit down to contact people, I just had this overwhelming sense of hesitation, and I only experience that when God is trying to tell me not to do something.

Really? He doesn’t want me to announce that I need clients? What difference could that possibly make to Him?

Well, we had a conversation, me and God, and it came back down to the very same issue we struggle with constantly. Trust. He wants me to trust Him. He wants me to believe that He has everything under control and that I’m not the one who’s in charge of my own wellbeing. It’s not the freelancing that’s putting food on my table, it’s His grace. And that’s hard.

It’s so hard to let go of that thing you think you need to do. And if you’re doing it because God says to? I mean, you can’t exactly talk about your reasons with other people because you’ll come off like a lunatic. So I came to my decision. I decided to trust Him. To not even ask for new clients. To just let Him bring them in His time.

I don’t like to wait for anything, generally. Patience is something I struggle with on a daily basis, but some things are worth waiting for. Waiting for your coffee to cool off is worth it. Waiting for the gasoline to finish pumping in your car is worth it. You get the idea. But if there’s one thing I can’t stand waiting for? It’s an answer.

Whether it’s from the doctor or a friend or a family member or a coworker or even God Himself, waiting for an answer drives me insane. So as a result, I often run ahead. I refuse to sit still while others think about the what if’s and the whyfores and the such-and-suches. I make up my mind, I figure out a way to do everything by myself, and I forge ahead, often alone. And while being a self-motivated, independent thinker is always a good strength, it can become a great weakness … especially when you start running ahead of God.

DSC_0060

Big yellow jungle flower at the Tropics Exhibit, Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Luke 14:25-28.

Look at the ravens. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for God feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than any birds! Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?

Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

Have you ever had to wait on an answer from God? Let me tell you, there’s very little else that runs my limited reservoir of patience dry than waiting on God to answer a question I’ve asked that I think is time sensitive.

Think about that. I’m irritated at God because my request is time sensitive. He’s the One who made time. Who do I think I am to be irritated at Him?

Anyway, God works in his own time, and what I’ve learned is that He never stops providing for His children. Everything He gives to His children is right on time. Not on their timetable but always on His, and that’s better … because He knows what we need and when we need it. And we just don’t. And if God cares for birds and flowers to the extent the verses describe, how much more does He care about you and me?

God won’t ever let us go it alone in the world. Yes, waiting is hard. Keeping the status quo is hard, especially if you’re one of those people who likes to improve things. But if God is calling you to stop for a while, you need to stop. If He’s calling you to stay still or go climb a mountain or read a book or bake a cake, you need to do it, and you need to do it now, whether it makes sense to you or not. Maybe you think it feels like a waste of time, but nothing God asks you to do will ever be wasted. Not ever.

And as for me and my client situation? No sooner had I told God I would stay put and let Him provide than two clients appeared. Is that an accident? No, it’s not. It’s just an example of how God takes care of us. Are you waiting on an answer from God? I think everybody is. But don’t be discouraged. He’ll answer when it’s time, and His timing is always perfect.

Trouble isn’t an inconvenience, it’s an opportunity

If you’ve ever traveled to another country, you understand what it’s like to be immersed in a culture that isn’t your own. Even if the common language is something similar to what you already speak, everything is still different. And we’re very fortunate to live in a very small world, where the major cultural differences are something you can research before you leave home. But in my experience, it’s not the major things that throw me. It’s the small things.

Take England, for example. I knew they drive on the other side of the road, and while that took a little getting used to, it didn’t affect my everyday life as much as trying to navigate the shower did. In the US, we have one knob for a shower, usually. You just turn it and water comes out. Well, in England (at least, where I stayed), there’s a knob for pressure and a knob for temperature, and if you get them mixed up, you’ll be in a lot of hot water–literally.

It’s kind of like life, if you think about it. The big troubles are easy to identify. You might even be able to prepare for them before they hit you, but the little, annoying, nit-picky, everyday problems can’t really be quantified. You can’t prepare for them. You just have to survive them.

step-forward-e1338890548766Today’s verse is Matthew 6:34.

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

We all run into trouble every day, no matter who we are or where we live. Sometimes it’s big trouble, but most of the time it’s small. Like little pebbles getting stuck in your shoes. And when those little troubles keep hitting like ocean waves pounding on a beach, it’s important not to focus on them.

Trouble is easy to focus on because it’s obvious. You can’t get away from it, and no matter how far you run, it always finds you. Trouble is everywhere because the world is broken and because none of us have a perfect life. But that doesn’t mean we have to live our lives focusing on our troubles.

If all you can see is the trouble you’re in and how it’s going to affect you tomorrow, you’re going to miss what’s happening today. See that’s the problem with focusing on little troubles. They feel huge when they hit, but they really aren’t that big of a deal.

When you get a rock in your shoe, it feels gigantic, doesn’t it? Or what about an eyelash in your eye? You have to stop everything. And it’s not wrong to stop, as long as you keep moving again.

What would happen if you’re walking across a parking lot and get a rock in your shoe. Sure, you stop to dig it out, but what would happen if you decide it’s too much trouble to keep walking? What if you turn around and go back because you’re afraid of the other rocks that might get in your shoe next?

That’s no way to live.

Big trouble you can often see coming from miles off, but the little trouble springs its traps on you at the most inopportune moments. But if you live your life worrying about those moments, you’ll only see them as inconveniences, instead of what they really are–opportunities for God to show how big He is.

Be ready for the future, yes, but don’t let the problems of tomorrow dictate your actions today. You don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. Yeah, it’ll probably include some kind of trouble, but that’s life on Earth. And we can’t let it derail us from the path we know God has set us on.

Don’t be afraid to live life one step at a time. Focus on today, and don’t let the little troubles get you down. God is bigger than any trouble in your life, and He’s just waiting for you to let Him prove it.