the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit;” (RSV)
Sunday, August 11, 2019
DEALING ONE DAY AT A TIME
Do you ever have days when you wake up and feel so overwhelmed that you would want to go back to bed because you just can’t, there is just too much on your plate, too much to do, and you just don’t have the energy or the brain power to tackle it all?
Maybe those days come because you have been traumatized.
Maybe they come because you have become so discouraged that you are barely hanging on and feel depressed most of the time.
Maybe you have those days when everything seems to all come at once and neither your plate nor your calendar have enough room for it all. Or, if you have recently gone through a divorce, you may feel that way because of the overwhelming loneliness that has come to your home.
Whatever the reason, that experience can become debilitating. What do you do?
How do you manage when you feel life has become unmanageable? Of course it may involve prayer, it may involve counseling, it may involve the support of good friends, but in addition to all of those, there is a simple truth that can help. When things get to be too much, when there is more than you can possibly do in one day, when the plate is so full that you can’t even lift it, then it is time to adjust your focus. Hone down your perspective so that your attention is not consumed with everything, but instead is consumed with ONE thing.
Find ONE thing among all the things, that you can do first. One thing for today. One thing for this hour. One thing to begin with. Forget about trying to do everything, and do one thing. Let that become one step. And do that ONE step. No matter how long it takes, no matter how much energy it consumes, no matter how many other things you leave behind to do it, do that one thing. You will then be able to scratch one thing off your list. Afterwards, you can consider what might be the next thing, but that is only afterwards. Right now, do the one thing. And measure success by doing ONE thing, not by whether or not you do EVERYTHING.
One thing is progress. One thing is something. One thing is one less thing that awaits you. One thing is an accomplishment. One thing is one thing you can take off the plate, because it is done. One thing means that you ARE not doing nothing.
Oh, sure, there may be other things thrown onto your plate while you are doing that one thing, and the schedule may become more full even as you make progress on the one thing. But when you feel like you can’t do ANYTHING, that ONE THING proves otherwise. And when you are talking about doing everything you can, some days, one thing may literally be ALL that you CAN! Give yourself credit, then, for the one thing you have done.
Once you have managed to accomplish one thing a time or two, you might decide to take a day to tackle TWO things that day. Or, it may be that the one thing you select gets done in less time than you thought, at which point you might decide you want to do one more thing unexpectedly. Eventually, you will get back to being your own self. In the meantime, give yourself some grace, and focus on what you CAN do, not on what you CAN’T.
All of this reminds me of a passage in Isaiah that often comes back and gives me hope in dark days. Isaiah 61, quoted by Jesus as referring to himself, describes the difference God wants to make in our lives, the changes he wants to bring about. In verse three, a couple of changes described are these:
“the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit;” (RSV)
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit;” (RSV)
There is a replacement for the heaviness of heart of our lives. God wants to replace the gray skies of mourning and fainthearted weakness into gladness and praise. But often that replacement occurs only one step at a time. As you step ahead, take time to give God thanks for who he is, for his help in each thing, and to celebrate the fact that one thing has been done. As time goes by, God will restore your soul and you will discover the gladness and praise that you seek.
But for now, just do one thing. And then, let that one thing count!
Sunday, July 28, 2019
TIME HEALS ALL WOUNDS…
BUT HOW MUCH TIME?
At my church, this year we are celebrating our 150thyear of ministry. It is kind of fun, going back and reading all the old stories and looking at a lot of old pictures of those who went before. People share some of their stories and find the photos often spark memories from days gone by.
As part of the celebration, we are moving through history decade by decade with reminders of world and church events of the particular decade. Today, the focus decade was the 1990’s.
As I read over the list of events, I found striking the number of terrible things that occurred in that decade, the Rodney King trial and riots, World Trade Center bombing, Hurricane Andrew, Oklahoma City bombing, the bombing of the Olympics in Georgia, and the shooting at Columbine. What a decade of tragedies! And even as the words were coming out of my mouth, I thought of another tragic event of the 90’s, my own divorce in 1998.
Now don’t get me wrong. Life has moved on for me, and I have spent the last 15 years in a good marriage with a great wife, and I can look back and see how difficult it would have been for that first marriage to continue, let alone become a good and healthy relationship. There remains some tidbits of fallout here and there, some of which still bring sorrow or difficulty, but by and large, life has moved on. Still, 21 years out of divorce..that seems like such a really long time! It’s amazing to think that there would be ANY fallout still around.
My church has also been involved in helping with local flood relief, even after four months. Many parts of our city have moved on, living their daily lives with little or no impact from the flooded rivers that impacted the area back in March. But this week we had a group of hard workers come from Kansas, North Dakota and Minnesota who worked hard to help some of the folks who haven’t yet been able to move on, because their homes are far from back to normal. We met people struggling to move on, struggling to get back to where they were, struggling to feel safe once again, struggling to feel that someday things are going to be okay. They have been waiting and waiting for something to happen, for authorization to make repairs, for enough money to purchase materials, waiting to get through all the hoops and waiting periods required to apply for FEMA help, and then to appeal when they are denied, and then to apply for SBA loans when they still are denied.
They are tired, they are sad, they are discouraged. Some of them wonder if things will ever get back to normal, if life will ever move past the disaster for them.
It seems to me, there are some significant parallels in these experiences. Divorce, floods and other life change moments can hit us hard and leave us devastated and numb. Forward progress can feel very slow, and the hurt and discouragement can run deep. But, over time, a new normal comes into existence. It’s just that, it takes time, hard work, patience and perseverance.
In the midst of the tediously slow progress, sometimes one is well advised to recognize and celebrate the little steps of progress that are made, even while facing a mountain of work ahead.
A counselor friend of mine offered an insightful statement. She said, “a little progress is still progress.” Sometimes we want things to get back to normal NOW, to accomplish everything NOW, for the hardship to end NOW. But often, that simply isn’t very realistic.
Sometimes, all we can accomplish NOW, is “a little progress.” And a little progress sometimes can count in a very big way.
The work the visiting group did for flood victims wasn’t a lot, there are hundreds of homes still needing assistance. But they DID make “a little progress” by making a difference for a few homes. And that little bit of progress meant everything to the people who were helped.
Maybe time doesn’t really ever heal ALL wounds. And maybe it takes more than just time to make some progress. But no matter how daunting the path ahead, it is always wise to recognize even a little progress when it is achieved, because life is lived only one day, one moment, one step at a time, remembering that in the end, the journey becomes a long, marvelous trip.
Sunday, July 7, 2019
SINGLE DADS MATTER
I was driving the other day and saw a bumper sticker on the car in front of me. It said, “Single dad’s lives matter.” Of course, it is a spinoff from the “Black Lives Matter” slogan, also imitated in the slogan, “Blue Lives Matter.” In every case, the motto is an expression of frustration and a cry for recognition of a problem, a desire for significance. I understand the frustration of the single dads bumper sticker, though there are lots of frustrations all the way around in the world of divorce. I thought the topic worth consideration in a blog.
I once knew a man frustrated by the court as he sought custody of his young child, who was living with his mother who had a live-in lover at the time, and the lover was a known drug dealer, and yet the court refused to give the dad custody. As near as I could tell, the dad was a responsible sort of guy, had a decent home, a decent job, worked hard, attended church, spent time with his kid when he could. Why did he not get custody. The man told me that it was because the judge in the county of jurisdiction was biased toward women, and always gave full custody of the children to the mother. I thought it odd that a judge could actually be that way, until I ran into another couple going through divorce from a neighboring county. The wife had filed for divorce in the other county not her own, because she knew that the judge in that county always favored giving the mother custody. These two contacts I had were years apart, miles apart and independently verified that the bias did exist….justice isn’t always quite as blind as the famous statue would suggest. Since that time, I have seen a lot of times where such bias exists. I was even struck that a popular Christian divorce recovery program’s materials were written in such a way that they clearly assumed the mother had custody of the children and that it was the dad’s job to be paying child support. No wonder the car had a bumper sticker demanding that single dads matter!
The battle of the sexes often comes to the foreground in divorce. I have known of a number of husbands who falsified finances in various ways to keep from having to give money equitably to their divorcing wives. But then, I have also known women who have done the same thing. I suspect that the bumper sticker not only originates from custody experiences, but also from all the discussion in the media about single moms and their struggle. I want to point out that there is often a disparity between single moms and single dads, because our society still has disparity in pay between men and women in a number of fields, so a single mom often has a harder time earning the same salary that the single dad makes. But not always, of course. There are a lot of single dads out there struggling to make ends meet, and feeling especially a pinch on the wallet when running a household and paying child support, and sometimes maintenance (or alimony). It is such a tangled web.
I have also known of parents who use the children as a weapon or as spies against an ex by undermining visitation agreements, or by manipulating children to woo them away from the custodial parent, or by denying access that, though legally granted, is sometimes hard to enforce. Out there are many dads whose children are living with the ex-wife who are trying to be a good father when only seeing their children every other weekend and a few hours during the week. I think that the core of the bumper sticker slogan is that dads DO make a difference in their children’s lives, and for them to be marginalized or excluded from the lives of their children, or for their participation to be undervalued by court or society is doing a great disservice to the children of divorce. Children do best when they have a healthy relationship with both parents all together in a unified home. When a divorce occurs, the children’s best chance to grow healthy continues to require the involvement of BOTH parents. Using access to children as a way to inflict pain on one’s ex is a cruel and reckless action that occurs far too often. Sometimes, single parents who are suffering from that kind of abuse, can use an encouraging word from those of us who are their friends and family. Probably the guy with that bumper sticker needed to hear someone tell him that he IS important to his kids, and that his efforts to be a good dad DO matter. Divorce is hard enough. Turning it into a war zone leaves devastation wherever it happens.
Monday, July 1, 2019
DO YOU TRUST ME?
Would you mind if I shared some recent learnings on a personal level? So I had surgery on my rotator cuff, and am now assigned to use that arm for NOTHING for a while, keeping it in a sling. At the same time, I began physical therapy, but a really odd one. It is a physical therapy in which my task is: DO NOTHING! I lie down, and the therapist takes my arm, and I am supposed to do absolutely nothing with it while he manipulates up and down and in and out and around and around. Every once in a while (or maybe more), it hurts, I wince, and he pauses. And then he says: “It hurts because YOU are trying to help me. You are NOT supposed to be using your muscles, you need to relax them, let them go limp, and let me do the work. You have to trust me.” So I relax, and trust him….until it goes way out and I wince again, and he repeats the mantra!
Shortly after my first bout of this, I visited with a friend who had the same surgery some time ago, and she shared with me how she had learned during her therapy that, over time, the shoulder pain had caused her to kind of scrunch her shoulders to avoid the pain, which resulting in tensing up the muscles. In the therapy then, it became a major task to retrain the brain to relax instead. When she said that after I had seen the physical therapist, the combination of the two clicked for me. All of a sudden, I noticed how often I was tensing my shoulder and neck muscles on a daily basis, instead of just letting the arm relax and be held by the sling. So I have started really trying to pay attention, and it has taken an incredible amount of concentration to tell my arm and shoulder to relax! It’s crazy!!
When I went in for my second session, I had made significant strides in being able to relax and trust his movements with my arm. But there were times I still winced. Times he had to stop. Times he had to remind me: “Breathe. Relax. Trust me.”
I think God is probably telling me the same thing. And maybe he wants to tell you the same thing, too. There are so many things that demand so much attention, so many questions I have about relationships and the future and understanding God’s will for me in THIS moment and what plans need to be made and all the things I need to get done and what things need to be let go of and…, and…, and…, and…
It’s a lot like that song by Johnny Diaz, “Just Breathe,” which you can hear on YouTube if you don’t know it. Sometimes I think the most important thing we can hear from God…or at least that I need to hear from God…is the same thing my physical therapist is saying: Relax. Breathe. Trust me.
What are the hard things you are facing right now? What are the uncertainties that are nagging at you? What are the questions you stress over? What are the fears that have you in knots? What are the problems bigger than you can solve? What are the ways you feel that everything is spinning out of control? Is God trying to get you to realize you just need to trust Him? That you need to relax, trust him and just breathe? That you need to realize that he does know what he is doing, and he has not left the throne, and you are the apple of his eye (Psalm 17:8)?
Friday, May 24, 2019
ALONE AND STARTING OVER
I haven’t written for a while…been swamped getting ready for some life changing events that were coming my way. One was that last week I was lying on a hospital bed prepping for shoulder surgery. My wife was in the room with me, and there was a full medical staff preparing to take me into the operating room. And yet, in those moments before surgery, I was struck with the awareness that it was me alone in the situation. I was the one who would be cut on, I was the one who would be going into the surgery room, I was the one whose body was going to experience the changes and impacts of the knife.
Afterwards, returning home with my arm limp and numb, again my wife was at my side to assist and aid, except when she wasn’t. She has other responsibilities. And so it was, in the middle of the day, when I thought about having a tuna sandwich that I realized how dependent I now was on the help of others. It occurred to me that while I would like a tuna sandwich, I did not have the ability to work the can opener with just one arm functioning. In fact, there have been a lot of things I have not been able to do on my own, from washing my hair to putting on a shirt to almost everything around the house! At least, not without learning a different way to do the things. For instance, I did have the tuna sandwich, when I recalled that Nola had recently purchased some tuna in pouches and I COULD open those.
It all reminds me of some of the things I experienced during a divorce. There was that sense of being alone, ultimately, in a house without my first wife. There was the realization that things were going to be different. I could continue to do things, but not in the same way. Tasks that once were shared were suddenly entirely dependent on my own ability to do them. What had once been familiar routine was suddenly altered and had to be done in other ways…down to the fact that even the kitchen utensils had been divided and so sometimes I would reach for something that was no longer in my possession. I had to learn a different way.
In my case, these changes of how I am doing things is temporary, in a month or two I expect to using that other arm once again. Many adjustments in a divorce are permanent, but some are also temporary. In my case, the intense aloneness of an empty house has been replaced with the companionship, love and attention of my new wife, something I have especially appreciated during this beginning phase of recuperation! Regardless, though, life is always filled with changing circumstances that challenge us to learn how to adapt and shift to meet the situations we face.
The other thing that has come to my mind has been the whole issue of feeling all alone, and how significant it is that God speaks time and again in the scriptures to this need in our lives. God’s promise is that he will never leave us nor forsake, and as Jesus was preparing to leave earth in the ascension, his words were that he would be with us always, even to the end of the age. One of my favorite passages is from Isaiah 43, where God promises to be with us when we pass through fire or flood. As I entered that surgical procedure, and sensed the aloneness that comes in such situations, the promise of God to never leave us alone was reinforced in a fresh way. Nobody else was allowed to accompany me into the operating room, but no door could keep God from walking with me into that experience. Even while I was unconscious of what was happening, God was present and aware of each knife cut, each suture, each drop of medication. Knowing that my church’s prayer chain had my procedure on their list, and that other friends at a distance were petitioning God on my behalf, meant that I knew in those moments I was never truly alone.
Neither are you. Even if you feel that your life has been disrupted in a radical way, even if your house sounds still and empty, even if you sense nothing around you but darkness and fear, God is always present, nearer than your next breath, just waiting for you to reach out and ask him to guide and protect you through the changing life you are experiencing. I believe that, just as God designed the body so that the wounds made by the doctor will heal, God also has a healing process for our inner beings, and that his remedies for the maladies of our lives are always good. Whatever you are facing today, whatever hard adjustments you are having to make, whatever risks you are taking as you step out into something new, know that God is always willing to walk with you through it all. You have but to call out to him and ask. And while you are asking, please feel free to include my own recuperation in your prayers (and probably patience for my wife in handling her semi-invalid husband!).
Friday, April 19, 2019
Well, I know that I have been very sporadic in blogs lately, and offer some degree of apology for that. However, our flood relief efforts have been extremely time consuming and valuable. Many people who have been really struggling have experienced hope because someone gave them a pair of rubber boots from our supply to wear when they were cleaning out the mud, or because we helped purchase some needed items as flood victims try to put their lives back together. But it has been a very scurrying and taxing effort on our part. As I said to some of my parishioners one day, it isn’t like we can sit back and have some committee meetings to work out all the details of a perfect plan, because people are hungry NOW, people have nowhere to live NOW, people are trying to get the mud out of their homes NOW. So we have met as we could, planned as we could, and then just worked hard to do the best we could, and I would say I am proud of what the difference we have been able to make, made possible only through the hard work of our people and the generosity of others who have given funds and goods for us to be able to distribute.
I just can’t let Holy Week pass, though, without at least a word to my readers. I believe in the power, the promise and the hope of resurrection…not only into the eternal sphere after death, but even here. When life knocks us for a loop, when our plans shatter, when our hope is dashed and we feel like we can’t go on, when problems arise that appear insurmountable and life takes a sudden downward turn, THAT is the time to remember the promise of the resurrection.
When God is part of our lives and planning, defeat and despair never have the final word. God turned an ugly instrument of torture and execution into a symbol elevated on church steeples and adorned to be worn around our necks because it became the instrument by which God won our forgiveness and salvation, that same God can bring new life and promise out of whatever circumstances have left you broken, confused and despairing. I cannot tell you how many times I have visited with Christians who have experienced divorce and then years later are able to describe all the ways God used that changepoint in life to open new doors and opportunities, to create new and better relationships, or even to help those individuals turn to God in a deeper way than they had ever experienced before. And that is just one of the shattering events life can bring, but which God can use anyway.
Resurrection speaks of the promise of tomorrow. Resurrection speaks of a God who is bigger than whatever problem you face. Resurrection speaks of a hope that mourning may be turned into dancing and joy will come in the morning.
I know it’s Good Friday, the day we remember the ugliness and awfulness of the painful death of Christ upon the cross. It was OUR sins that he was dying for…it should have been us there, not him! But even though this is the day we remember the crucifixion, I want to urge you to realize something in the midst of it: if there had not been a death on the cross, there would have been no opportunity for a resurrection on Easter morning.
Whatever hard and awful thing you struggle with in your life, no matter how hard and awful it is, it brings with it an opportunity for God to provide a resurrection of your own as he does something good, something fresh, something powerful on the other side of the struggle BECAUSE you went through the struggle, and you went through it with him at your side.
Remember the Lord’s suffering today, remember the promise of resurrection, and rejoice in the hope that is yours for resurrection beyond the troubles of today! Happy Easter!
Sunday, April 7, 2019
THE FLOOD HIT!
Sometimes in life, we have things come our way that just sweep everything away. Here in my part of the country, we have had a lot of flooding come rather suddenly, causing various degrees of devastation in various areas up and down the river. Some homes have been deluged, others washed away, still others have had mud and water in their basements or garages, and some have had no problems at all. There was little time for many to prepare, to decide what to take when they abandoned their homes, sometimes little warning of what was to come, and yet each person had to make their decisions in a hurry and then face their own particular devastation. Some people are desperately struggling with the difficult circumstances that have come their way. Others are franctically working to help others. This, obviously, has impacted the regularity of my blogs.
Have you ever had your life interrupted by events that come flooding in and suddenly change everything, flooding events that are entirely outside your control. We can easily experience reversals in life. Divorce, job loss, sudden death, threatening disease…so many things in life are so uncertain. How do you prepare for the unexpected? How do you decide “what to pack up and take with you,” so to speak? How do you regain your equilibrium?
We simply cannot predict the unpredictable, right? We may know that there is something wrong, but we may not realize how wrong until that moment when it all falls apart. I have observed a lot of people handling their situations in the midst of this flooding, and noticed that there are some things that help. One of the biggest things I have heard time and again is people recognizing that what is really important in their lives has not been swept away by a flood: those they love are safe, they still have their health, they still have their faith. I have especially noticed a profound attitude among people of faith.
Even though things seem to have spun out of control, they have a sense that things have NOT spun out of God’s control. They confess a belief that God will do something good out of the tragedy, just as he did through the cross of Christ. They trust that God will help them, will guide them, will get them through this tough time. And, interestingly enough, they are thankful. They are thankful for the things that did NOT happen to them, thankful for what they DO have, thankful for those who are seeking to help. These people, it seems to me, have faced their flooding circumstances by remembering what the one stable and unchangeable force in their lives is: God.
Many times in the Psalms, God is referred to as “a rock and refuge.” Watching the floodwaters here in Nebraska, with the sandy soil all around, one gets a real sense of the value of a firm, rocky foundation over the undependability of shifting sands.
Our world is constantly changing. Our lives are much more tenuous and fragile than we often care to admit. But the constancy of God’s goodness, of God’s love, of God’s willingness to take us back, to help us through, to give us hope and purpose can withstand any threatening floods that might come our way.
The thing is, though, that just as individuals around this region often did not have much time to make choices about their valuables or how to respond, and so acted out of the habit and nature they have developed over the years, so in whatever floods and changes come our way, we don’t always have time to figure everything out in a moment of crisis. Instead, we have to lean on the habits and strength we have developed in the more calm and settled periods of our lives.
When your crises comes, what are the sources of strength, what are the stabilizing habits you have developed? The governor of our state issued a proclamation setting aside time today as a day of prayer for those affected by the flood disaster. But I think it is much wiser to not wait until that crisis and disaster come to turn to God for guidance and strength. In the times of stability of life is the best opportunity to develop your relationship with God and establish the habits of strength and time in prayer that will stand you in good stead when you find your world is unexpectedly turned upside down.