Friday, May 1, 2015

The Battle Against Busy

Holy cow, it's May?! Seriously, how did that happen?! My March and April have been particularly full months - full of good things, to be sure, but still very full. I hesitate to use the term "busy" because it has such divided connotations. We lament our busyness, at the same time secretly celebrating it, wearing it as as a badge of honour - comparing schedules, activities and do-to lists, and rewarding the busiest with a mixture of sympathy and awe.

I've been bucking "busy" for awhile now - ever since we moved from Edmonton to Cape Breton several years ago. I didn't work outside the home, homeschooled our boys, baked almost everything from scratch, gardened, and generally swam upstream in a downstream world. It might sound busy, but we had lots of room in our days for exploring interests and visiting family and being outside; time and space to pursue our own priorities.  It was during that time that this blog was born, as well as the dream of building a ministry. In many ways, it was a wonderful, peaceful time in the life of our family. (In several other significant ways, it was a very difficult time, but that's another post for another day...)

Fast-forward a couple of years...we're back in the city now, the kids are in public school, I've recently made a commitment to quit baking (gotta say, it's kind of a relief to be buying bread and applesauce and yogurt and granola bars instead of making everything)...As we've assumed a more conventional lifestyle, we've continued to make decisions that buck the busyness bandwagon: our kids don't take any kind of lessons or play organized sports, I don't have a 9 to 5, outside-the-home job, choosing instead to manage our ministry and do my writing from home. I've recently jumped into the world of direct sales, another choice that allows me to choose where and when and how much I work. (Just a note: I acknowledge that life is different for everyone, and that's as it should be. I'm not trying to brag here or imply that my choices are better or worse than anyone else's - I just want you to know where I'm coming from.)

The determination to battle busy came about as a direct reaction to my past. For most of my life, I was busyness personified. From the time I was in elementary school, my days were jam-packed with school, friends, sports, music, drama, church stuff, and whatever else I could possibly squeeze in. And I thought I liked it that way! I raced from activity to activity, all over town, every day of the week. It was even worse as I got older - my whole university experience is a huge blur as I stretched my time to the breaking point, often forgetting meetings and rushing to write papers hours before they were due. In fact, I think I can blame my sad lack of memories on this particular phenomenon. I have had many wonderful experiences throughout the course of my life, but it seems that it was just too full to keep a record of them.

All this to say, even though I deliberately wage war against "busy", there are times and seasons in my life that fill up more than others, and require a modified method of management. I prefer the rhythm "rest-work-rest-work-repeat", but in certain seasons of life, it becomes more like "rest-work-work-work-work-rest-repeat" (Or maybe "stop-go" illustrates it better? Either way, I think you get the point...) After a comparatively stress-filled, busier-than-usual couple of months, I am very thankful to have spent the last week in relative ease. At first, I thought I was I was indulging in plain old laziness, but quickly came to realize where I was in the pattern of my life. I was being offered an invitation to enter into a time of much-needed rest - and I took it!

And oh! I'm so glad I did! Because the reason I oppose busy is that I firmly believe life is short and wonderful and worth slowing down for, is worth the effort and discomfort of saying "no" to the good in order to say "yes" to the best, and is most fully appreciated and effectively lived out from a place of peace and rest. Did you ever wonder why, in the Genesis account of creation, it keeps saying "there was evening and there was morning..."? I think rest is meant to precede work, that "stop" should come before "go". I don't always get it right, but it's a goal I'm working towards. Rest is not a luxury or indulgence, but an absolute necessity for living fully, living freely, living well.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

To Write or Not to Write, That is the Question

"My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours." ~Fredrick Buechner

I've been entertaining some pretty counter-productive thoughts lately. (I love the picture that "entertaining thoughts" conjures up for me: I see myself and these thoughts - which are words with arms and legs but no heads, incidentally - sitting on couches in the living room of my mind, sipping tea and chatting.) I'm not sure if I invited them or if they barged in without knocking, but I will acknowledge that I did encourage them to stay and visit for awhile. Boiled down, it's about this blog and the book I'm trying to write. Whether these thoughts were born out of fear or laziness or both or something else entirely, I've been wondering about the value of this, of sharing my story. Wondering if it's worth the effort, whether it's a waste of my time and yours, whether I should spend my time on something a bit more lucrative, whether anyone's even listening (and if that even matters), whether it's just egotistical rambling thinly disguised as spiritual reflection designed to get the positive response that feeds the people-pleasing monster in me, whether I am even capable of writing anything worth reading, whether my story has any significance, whether God actually called and equipped me for this task or if I'm hiding behind it to avoid the thing I'm really supposed to be doing (whatever that might be)...

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I'm finding this book-writing business to be loads more challenging than I had anticipated...or hoped. One issue that's significantly hindering my progress is my tendency to go back and rewrite everything every time I sit down to work at it. Micro-editing, I've started calling it (no idea if that's a real thing or not, but it most aptly describes my agonizing, nit-picky process...). Going over and over and over a particular passage, wondering if I could say it better, if the words I've used are the best possible ones, if it would make more sense this way or that way, with this alliteration or that metaphor, if this should be included or that taken out or moved elsewhere... It feels to me right now that the only way this book will ever be written is if I just sit down and write the whole thing all at once, in one looooooong sitting. You can imagine what the odds are of that ever happening, right? Yeah - me, too.

Because this thing called life keeps happening. My family has these crazy expectations, like three meals a day, clean clothes, clean dishes, a reasonably tidy home, occasional coherent conversation...And I have friends who, for reasons beyond my understanding, like to see my face now and again. And I have Norwex to sell and practices to attend and trails to walk and groceries to buy and books to read and a ministry to oversee and promote and prayers to pray and relationships to cultivate...

I look at my little to-do list above and have to chuckle - I'm not really that busy at all! I know there are those of you reading now who have so much more on their plates, so many more hats to wear, such heavy burdens and responsibilities weighing on you. When I compare myself to you, I have to ask myself why exactly is it I can't seem to do what I need to do? So I won't do that (anymore) - "comparison is the thief of joy", you know (Theodore Roosevelt, I think). My calling is not your calling. My time is not your time. My priorities are not your priorities. My life is not your life. And that's as it should be. All different members of one body, right? With different functions but of equal significance.

Yet again, blogging has given me perspective. For that alone, I am grateful. If that's the only reason I write - to gain some clarity and context as I unravel my thoughts - then there is value in what I'm doing here. In fact, it's very often in writing that I most clearly hear from God. So I'll carry on. Thank you to those who choose to carry on with me. My hope is that you'll recognize in my story a bit of your own, and that we can draw from this common ground strength and encouragement to fight the good fight, to finish the race, to keep the faith.

Monday, April 27, 2015

I Just Wanna Be a Sheep

I had the honour and privilege of speaking at one of my home churches this past weekend. (I have four churches spread around the country that I can call "home" - how blessed am I?) One of the awesome and awful things about preparing a message, in my experience anyway, is that whatever it is God wants me to share, He usually makes me work it out in my own life first. In this case, that was a tremendous blessing. I was starting to forget again just who I am. I was starting to focus more on my situation than on my Saviour. The enemy's whispered lies were starting again to infiltrate the battlefield of my mind. 

And so, out of the blue really, comes an opportunity to spend hours pondering what Jesus meant when He called Himself the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep. This whole experience is just dripping with grace - such a kindness from the Shepherd who tends my soul so tenderly. The following is an excerpt (slightly modified) from what I shared on Sunday. May you hear your Shepherd's heart for you in these words.

...I think it’s safe to assume that Jesus intended his audience (and us) to carry this metaphor through to its logical conclusion – if he’s the shepherd, then it follows that we are the sheep, right? There are so many truths we could mine out of this comparison, but the one I want to focus on is how highly the shepherd valued the sheep, as demonstrated in his tender care and self-sacrificing protection. The shepherd valued his sheep because they were his.

You are valued by your shepherd because you belong to him. He has called you by name and you are his. Your value doesn’t depend on what you have, or what you do; your possessions and abilities have no bearing on your worth in the shepherd’s eyes. Your significance cannot be altered. His love for you has never changed, will never change, CAN never change – because you are his. Your worthiness has nothing to do with you and everything to do with him. The shepherd gave his life to save ours – even before we acknowledged him as our shepherd! He loved us first.

There have always been those who have questioned the value of human life, who have put conditions and boundaries on what it means to be human and who does or does not meet the criteria. Today, we’re seeing it manifest in places like abortion clinics and euthanasia laws, from schoolyard and cyber bullying to terrorist attacks and suicide bombings. This is one of the enemy’s most effective tactics – to tear away at our identity until we don’t know who we are, to make us question our own worth and allow ourselves and others to be treated as though we are worthless. To bog us down in guilt and shame and condemnation and doubt and fear and anger and despair.

BUT THAT IS NOT WHO WE ARE! We are his. We are loved. We are treasured, valued, highly esteemed, cherished. NOTHING can ever alter that truth – NOTHING! Can you hear what I’m saying, friends? I mean, really hear – and believe that it applies to you – even you!? For years, I couldn’t. For years and years I was suffocating under a heavy blanket of shame – as far as I was concerned, I had no value – I was completely and utterly worthless in my own eyes. It affected every part of my life and really made a mess of things for a very long time. But my shepherd, in his great mercy and love, kept chipping away at those lies until the light finally broke through and I could see – really see. I saw that the truth had remained unchanged, that God had always been for me and not against me, that He called me beloved, precious child, daughter, accepted, chosen, favoured, redeemed, forgiven, worthy – his.

You know, there’s one thing sheep do really well – they know how to follow their shepherd. They know his voice, and they trust him implicitly to care for their every need, even to the point of laying down his life so that they can live. You can trust your shepherd. You can trust that his words are true. You can follow where he leads because he always and only has your best in mind.

 And never think for a moment that the journey is done. Our shepherd is continually leading us on to new pastures, to new scenery and new territory. He invites us to enter more deeply and fully into his amazing love so that it will eventually pour out of us onto everyone around. He challenges us to imitate him, to lay down our lives for each other out of the overflow of the love he so freely and abundantly pours out into us. Any act of kindness, any gift of love, any self-sacrifice on behalf of another – it’s all and only possible because we have the ultimate example right in front of us. It’s only possible because we ourselves are so deeply and fully loved, that we can lay down our lives for another. Because the good shepherd gave his life for us - his sheep - we can live and love without fear and without limits. Hallelujah!