pick one thing

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When our oldest daughter Carlen was 4 or 5 years old, a friend gave us a timely book to help us teach her about cause and effect. The book was called What If Everybody Did That? The premise of the book was showing a child moving throughout a day making seemingly insignificant actions and the repeatedly asked question was “what if everybody did that?” Then on the following page, the fallout was shown of the same action performed by many people.  Throwing a banana peel out the car window seems minor until the entire city begins to throw their trash willy nilly.
Picture mountains of garbage causing traffic to come to a halt. This book evoked plenty of giggles but the point was cemented in our minds, our small actions matter whether individually or collectively.

I unplugged last week for a few days. I found myself feeling overwhelmed by each email bearing the subject line of “our response to COVID-19”. Every email was well-meaning but when amassed it became daunting.  So when emails begin piling up in our inboxes one by one they sidle up next to the stress already present inside us. Because when our senses are lured to a solitary topic, our emotions follow and grow.

We are beginning another week of isolation and the needs around us are most likely going to continue to increase. My suggestion is to pick one thing in the various areas of your life right now to lessen the potential of being overwhelmed.

As life would have it, I have had plenty of home alone time since Thanksgiving, thanks to leaving a job. I knew that particular time was to be about resting and healing and slowly looking for work. But a small corner of my mind started compiling a list of ALL the things I could do with this new unassigned time. I could repaint our kitchen, organize decades of photos or reorganize ___________. 

But I soon realized, rest and being uber-productive aren’t very compatible companions. Now that I do have actual companions during the day and night, it becomes even more important to choose areas that breed peace to me and those who suddenly surround me.

I want to suggest that you don’t have to achieve or accomplish anything monumental during this time. Your most important assignment is to find ways to navigate this segment of time as best and right as you can. We are not the same, possess the same personalities or preferences but collectively, none of us have encountered this newfound reality before, let’s tread gently. 

Since I have had a little head start, this is what picking one thing looks like for me now:

For my body, I am taking a walk outside every day. Yes, I would love to try every online exercise workout currently available for free, but for now, I am keeping it simple. Also, my personality is the pick too many good things and because of all the choices, I don’t start anything. 

For my mind, I am taking five minutes before I go to bed and writing in a journal about what the day was like, what I did and how I am feeling. The other day, I might have rejoiced about beating Caleb at backgammon. I have forgotten to journal once already. It’s an intention, not perfection.

For connection, as part of my morning practice after my devotional time, I am writing a card to a loved one. 

For others, I purchased a gift certificate from a business I fear will not survive. There are countless ways I can give and there will be more ways I will give or help in the weeks to come but last week, I picked this one way. 

For my home, I will clear the weeds along the fence and plant nasturtium seeds.

For my people within my walls,  I will love and care for them well, however, that may look on a given day.

For my people outside my walls, I will check-in frequently via all the wonderful ways technology allows.

For those I encounter outside, I will smile at them.

Yes, I said pick one and I have listed eight. I have picked one thing in the areas of my life I want to nurture during this time. However, you might pick as your one thing to: 

Meditate every morning. 

Listen to music while cooking dinner. 

Endeavor to look for something beautiful every day and list it. 

Create a bracket of picture books by reading two a day and determine the champion as a family. 

Learn to say I love you in different languages and reflect on the people with this tongue. 

Take a nap every day. 

Read a poem at night. 

Blow bubbles at sunset. 

Read a psalm.

Learn a joke and tell someone. 

Complete a crossword puzzle every morning.

Start bird watching.

Watch no more than an hour of news.

Limit scrolling your devices.

Watch the flames in your backyard fire pit or fireplace.

Reread a favorite book.

Paint your nails a color you normally wouldn’t. Be bold, you are not in public.

Share never told stories with those who are living in your midst.

Fill an egg carton with dirt and plant some seeds, let each day be numbered by growth.

Print out these coloring pages by one of my favorites and color something gently humorous.

Pick one thing which can provide an anchor during these challenging times. 

What if everybody did that?

We might just create a mountain of peace, joy, and love. 

our bodies are truth tellers

 

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I quit my job last year.

The word “quit” has always weighed me down by the negative connotations attached to it. It’s another four-letter word to add to the list of ones to be careful not to utter too often.  It brings back echoes from school playgrounds when someone exits a high stakes game of kickball in many shades of upset as a chorus of “quitter” begins to be murmured. 

I don’t want to be a quitter. 

In fact, I have taught my children to not quit even when it’s hard.

I quit drinking coffee for over 5 years and now whenever the aroma becomes too intoxicating, I will savor a cup but not frequently. 

I partially quit drinking coffee.

I stopped eating sugar until I forgot to decline the offer of dessert. You could say I am a pro at quitting, quitting sugar.

I have definitely quit diet and exercise plans.

The majority of things I have quit have been mostly related to me.  I somehow find it easier to break my word to myself than when others are involved.

I have quit more substantial things than coffee or sweets. The job I quit was because I had quit wanting to practice physical therapy.  

Prior to last November, I had never left a job except for reasons of an impending baby or a move across the country.

When I handed in my letter of resignation two weeks before Thanksgiving, it was one of the toughest and easiest actions I ever completed.

For a long time, I pushed aside the strain my workload had on me physically and emotionally.  The repetitive nature of my daily tasks exacerbated an already degenerating neck. I spent weekends recovering enough to return to work. Sometimes it meant resting or sleeping more. Often it looked like bedtime in a recliner under a hazy combination of muscle relaxers and pain killers.

I should have quit two years earlier but I didn’t. For reasons I am still trying to unravel, despite my body breaking down, I couldn’t bear quitting a job because I felt an undeniable need to be helpful and believe I was indispensable. 

There were other factors that developed during the last six months of employment which necessitated making a decision crucial. But I wanted a plane skywriting above me with the answer to my questions about staying or leaving. Instead, my body decided to send me an engraved message.

During my last month on the job, I could barely turn my neck to the left or right. My constant golf ball-sized knot between my neck and shoulder morphed to resemble a baseball. One morning, I woke up and my right arm was numb with tingling fingertips. I unscrewed a lot of amber-colored bottles to continue to work each day.

I kept on working with the mindset of eventually leaving my position, but in the best shape possible despite physically falling apart. Whenever anyone asked me about my work situation my hand touched my temple and then my heart. My body language revealed knowledge I was too disconnected to absorb. Even in the months since leaving, I catch myself reciting a laundry list of reasons for my decision and physical pain usually is one of the last bullet points mentioned. 

I mistakenly believed hard work might entail pain. 

Pain is not normal. Although it is an unavoidable reality for many.

Pain is a warning sign.

I lived as if constant pain was my status quo. 

My physical pain began to diminish the day I gave notice. Today, my pain level is back to the baseline of 5 years ago. 

In the last several months, I will admit there have been days when I have felt foolish.

Foolish for waiting so long and quitting without a game plan. My willingness to allow a part of my body to be severed from nerve input for the sake of not giving up. I will be ruminating over this scenario until I find its core motivation.

I have always viewed quitting as bad and maybe even wrong.

How do you view quitting?

Maybe it’s time to give the word a little makeover.

I found the following chart when I was curious about the origins of the word quit.

I wondered if it would enlighten me about why the word often gets a bad rap.

I didn’t find what I expected.

In fact, what I found might make me quit more often.

 

 

 

The next time you are wrestling with a decision, practice the following steps.

Seek quiet.

Be still.

Quit (if it is the right course of action). No judgment.

You might be set free.

 

***I realized after writing this post it’s close proximity to Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season. It is a common practice to fast, cease or quit something until Easter. One of the reasons for the fasting during Lent is by emptying a previously occupied space, it allows room to focus on Jesus and His sacrifice. Many people groan when considering giving something up for 40 days and I have as well. This might help, Lent contains times to fast and feast days which land on Sundays. What a wonderful gift of balance. Perhaps think of fasting as quieting something in your life.

Quiet (quit) complaining and instead rehearse your blessings.

Quiet (quit) worrying and instead shout what you are grateful for.

Quiet (quit) criticizing and instead find one person to encourage each day.

Quiet (quit) screen time and instead take a walk outdoors.

Quiet (quit) scrolling and instead read a book or memorize a verse or poem.

Quiet (quit) having the last word and instead be the first to listen.

Quiet (quit) being homogeneous and instead, look for opportunities to meet someone who doesn’t look or think or believe like you.

 

 

the opposite of speed reading

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“Everywhere there are doors leading to new spaces and new stories and new secrets to be discovered and everywhere there are books.”
~from The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

There are days when I wonder if Carl knew what he was subjecting himself to when we married.

There are the days when a casual walk through our home is marked by a trail, a gathering of books I am currently reading. Each book blending into the landscape until I scarcely realize the sum.


However, over the last year when my life felt tangled and out of sync from aging, mounting stresses at work and dealing with chronic pain, I reaffirmed my shift to living more simply and slowly. My affection for books didn’t diminish but I grew weary of seeing books scattered everywhere. The physical clutter caused me to feel anxious by the vast quantity of literature surrounding me at all times.


Those who live with me, understand this is a slow process. I am not perfect but I am trying to rein in this habit and retrain my ways. It’s a delicate balance to keep order among the books I own and those retrieved from the library.


Two months ago, I lassoed every stray book and took the weighty assortment to my downstairs workspace. Once assembled, I sorted those books into two piles. One pile represented library books that no longer interested me or were not the right timing and would be returned. The second pile was comprised of books I wanted to read, either my own or library owned. I cleared out a section on one of the shelves above my work table and separated library books from owned books. I attached small post-it notes with due dates along their spines.


Any book entering our home will first be placed on this shelf. From this collection, my reading material will come.


I hadn’t realized the weight I felt from having books, even those I was enjoying, spread throughout my spaces. All these unfinished books seemed akin to feeling indecisive and overwhelmed. My reading attention had become scattered and splintered. I was highly distractible. My digital habit of keeping my computer or phone tabs open morphed into countless bookmark usage. After all, I am surely capable enough to read a book, catch up on Netflix with Carl and text a friend simultaneously.


This year, I am endeavoring to read one book at a time. Well, to be honest, one fiction and one non-fiction book at a time. I have also decided to no longer set goals related to the number of books read in a year. My personality drives me towards speed reading instead of savoring the experience of a great book.

Maybe you haven’t read a book in years and have no concept of my issue.

Have you let magazines spill over the coffee table?


Surely you meant to take out a pen to complete the Sunday crosswords but watching each week’s edition cover the previous one leaves you discouraged.


It could be too many clothes to fit in your closet, so they “decorate” other areas of your home?

Are you afraid to open your inbox because the number of emails, unread or otherwise has reached staggering numbers?

Putting my overflow of books in their place and beyond my line of sight brought freedom. No longer am I letting my books manage me.

A small newly created habit where I scan the shelf, assess which books are due soon, which ones cannot be renewed for extra days and the books which have lost their luster for now. Then weed out books and decide which ones might be next in line. I leave the books in their appointed place unless it is time to bring one upstairs.

Since I am a mood reader with a capital M. My previous routine was to gather an armload of books when deciding on my next read, peruse the first few sentences or pages and whichever one captured my attention was the winner. Now I use the same method, but I don’t sit in my living room chair but before my work table. Nothing comes upstairs unless it is my chosen book, not a hopeful contender.


Like keeping a tidy home, tasks need to be done regularly.

To keep my mind tidy, I must be vigilant to not create piles of any sort.
Tidy up, my friends.

Once you finish, why not take 15 minutes and read a good book?


I am off to practice what I preach as I see a few stray books attempting to create a book stack. But here’s a peek at what I am reading now:

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The Next Right Thing
This book is about making decisions. I preordered it before I knew a big job-related decision was looming. I was completely undone with indecision and didn’t have the attention span to read this book. However, one of the bonuses for preordering was a video and workbook course called Discern and Decide. I spent most of one day and completed the course. A different medium helped connect the dots. Months later I was ready to make the decision to leave my job. There will always be decisions to make, large or small. I am hopeful reading this book will aid me to make my next decisions regarding work. The course is still available for a fee, it was immeasurably helpful to me.

The Starless Sea
I have been waiting for Erin Morgenstern to release a new book after loving The Night Circus more than eight years ago. Her newest book is beautiful inside and out and required restraint to delay reading until I had sufficient time to fully immerse in the richness of her storytelling. I have read the first 25 pages and by the time this post is published, I hope to have spent the weekend between the cover of a captivating book.

*****

I love this quote from James Clear’s most recent 3-2-1 newsletter:

Reading is like a software update for your brain.

Whenever you learn a new concept or idea, the “software” improves. You download new features and fix old bugs.

In this way, reading a good book can give you a new way to view your life experiences. Your past is fixed, but your interpretation of it can change depending on the software you use to analyze it.

This post is a part of the slow collection. Never miss future posts by subscribing to this blog. Email subscribers are always the first to read new posts and updates. Find details on the sidebar. I appreciate your readership.

an open book

 

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On a stunning late June afternoon, our daughter Courtney became a wife.

Spoiler alert: It was the most amazing day sandwiched between two equally wondrous days of celebration.

Our family won’t easily forget the joy of witnessing love by raising glasses, cheering, dancing and feasting as our family enlarged for the better.

However, the months leading up to the big event were filled with countless sleepless nights.

Not because of attempting to lasso a budget although the rope often felt out of reach.

No matter how I tried, I could not envision what or how this day of days would look or feel.

Since I couldn’t visualize those 6 hours, I threw myself into list making during my waking hours and sadly my sleeping hours also kept a tally.

My sleep was compromised simply because my mind was restless for a glimpse of the future.

One night in late January, sleep seemed pointless due to my overactive brain, I left my pillow behind and entered the darkest gap between night and morning and tucked myself under the dining room table before my journal.

I wrote in bold letters:

ALL THE THINGS THAT CONCERN ME

I wrote it all down.

There was nothing too insignificant or monumental that wasn’t scribbled on two pages.

I laid every care, fear and worry upon the lines of that open book, like a prayer or a hyperventilating plea sent in the direction of heaven.

Then I went to sleep.

I would like to report to never having another night of tossing and turning.

I did but the space between waking and falling back into dreamland was narrower.

For the majority of my life, I have trusted God.

Trust has been reflexive like a doctor’s hammer tap below one’s knee but often a whispered hope.

This summer was one in a collection of remembering the God I trust.

Sometimes my trust in God has put the emphasis on my actions instead of tilting the weight off my shoulders and witnessing the character of the God, who can be trusted.

*****

When I was young, my mother taught me to thread her needle.

After I mastered this skill, she showed me how to tie a knot on thread draped through the needle’s eye.

I remember watching her fingers, thumb and thread and it seemed the most mysterious display, especially when my clumsy hands tried to duplicate the feat.

Two thread lengths tethered only by the eye of a needle, each side placed between my thumb and second finger, as they slid back and forth until a knot formed.

At first it seemed improbable, impossible.

A folded piece of fiber remained uncontrolled.

But after practice and failed attempts, knot making became automatic.

I wouldn’t give a single thought when presented with a needle and thread today.
But if I dare to  pause long enough to observe the reflexive movements of my hand, I still marvel when a knot appears due to the gentle gliding of two parts of one hand.

I believe in the God who knows how to thread the pieces of my life through their appointed spaces.

I believe in the God who expertly knots every dangling fear, insecurity and worry.

I shudder by how easily I grow accustomed to his handiwork, some seen and often more shielded from my view, all accomplished by the rubbing of his fingers to and fro over my life.

*****

During the final moments leading to the wedding, I was given time to spend with Courtney in the balcony area of the venue. I looked at her and decades of prayers flooded my soul and were placed alongside my love for her. We spoke, we laughed and desperately tried not to ruin our make-up. It felt like an eternity had passed once I walked down the stairs to see the procession lined up, excitedly chatting as they waited for me. I took my place next to my tall son in the front of the line. I was certain the sacred space with Courtney had put our schedule in jeopardy but I lifted my eyes to the wall clock and it was exactly 4pm.

When does a wedding start on time?

That day.

I am not writing to share how God crossed out or put a check mark beside every one of my journal full of concerns, yet He did.

I am writing to admit none of my sleepless nights accomplished anything but darker under eye circles.

I am writing this because although it sounds cliché, God is never late or too early.
In fact, His timing is impeccable.

I am writing this not because God gave us the most brilliantly happy day, yet He did.

I am writing this because He pulled out all the stops for a brilliantly happy day in the midst of a multitude of sad days past, present and undoubtedly in the future.

He gave us merriment hemmed in beside the hard places which have taken up residency in our lives and seem to have no intention of hanging a vacancy sign.

I want to whisper and shout about my days to God, knowing no utterance is too trivial for His hearing.

I want to be an open book.

As I surrender my lists to Him as an act of trust, the privilege is mine to see the God who can be trusted to gently slide His hands across each strand of my life and affix it to Himself.

It seem improbable, impossible.

In His mercy and kindness, He ties knots of faithfulness all over the threads of my life.

Each one is a full stop in the story of me, allowing me to pause, stare back in wonder of the God who can be trusted.

 

Photo by Mohammad Danish on Pexels.com

of superheroes and ladybugs

I rescued a ladybug last week.

Since I am confident I won’t be featured in any upcoming

superhero blockbuster, I will share the details here.

While driving home from completing my last errand,

I noticed a small orange hump on my hood.

Naturally I slowed my speed to ensure a safe ride for my hitchhiker.

Once securely parked in my driveway,

I inspected the front of my car.

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A ladybug had hitched a ride and the landing appeared to be less than ideal.

I was positive it perished at impact yet when I ventured a poke,

the ladybug’s legs were catapulted into motion.

She split her polka-dotted shell in two and prepared for lift-off only she remained

hood-bound.

After several attempts at flight, I decided to coax her onto a leaf.

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Slowly the ladybug began to cling to the leaf.

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There she remained as I cradled ladybug and greenery in my hand.

The corner of the leaf was just enough stability.

Well as much as I adore ladybugs, I needed to move along.

I placed the ladybug and the leaf on top of a bed of leaves.

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I left my sweet little ladybug passenger to find its way home.

I went inside because I had things to do and one rescue a day met my

minor league superhero quota.

Several hours later,I surveyed the garden and

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ladybug, ladybug flew away home.

Now I may joke about having even an ounce of superhero blood in me,

but I am well acquainted with a true Rescuer.

He is the who has found me on those days when I have taken a nasty spill

or even when life has hit me squarely in the jaw.

When I have grown tired from keeping a death grip against whatever happens to be

moving my life at warp speed,

He rescues me.

He bends close and assesses the damage.

He tenderly hold me in the warmth of his hands

and deposits me in a bed woven by his security and protection.

Unlike me, He is not so wrapped up with worldly things that he

abandons with merely wishful thinking.

I never escape his watchful gaze.

He waits with me until I have strength to sit,

stand or

even fly.

Without a camera, the trail of the ladybug

from my car hood to plucked leaf to hand

to bed of safety might simply be a cute story.

Perhaps a different lens is needed to color

in our life stories.

Each day there is an invisible thread stitching a trail from the Father to you.

Look for the thread.

Witness the Rescuer.

He is the all-powerful one who tethers you to himself

when you lose your grip.

His rescue abilities obliterates quotas.

Aren’t you glad?

Let yourself be rescued.

Allow him to fly you home.