Tuesday, September 30, 2014

I have nearly finished packing; I leave early tomorrow morning to go spend some time with my mom and step-dad. I love packing! It is the list-making and mulling over the choice items of my home life I feel I must take to set up a temporary home somewhere else. I get excited about this; I cannot say the same about unpacking. Unpacking is messy; it means I have to make decisions about where to put the new things I acquired while out of town. Unpacking means piles and places for piles: dirty clothes, clean clothes, garage, bathroom, etc. Packing means getting everything I think I can't live without into one suitcase and one cute tote to carry on the plane. Everything is contained.

Some of us like life to be this way, all pushed down snug in one small, zipped-tight container. It makes me think of what happens to the wounds of childhood; or the betrayal in a relationship; being demoted – unresolved pain zipped tight. Maybe you are beginning to see why I do not like unpacking; a lot of yuck can ooze out while peeking into the contained life. Better to unpack than build up and blow up. Unpacking is necessary and healthy when done at the right time and with the right person.

I've given a good number of hours of a good number of days of my life to unpacking the past. I am not suggesting a person needs to sift through every miniscule detail of every hurt, but if you have been wounded in the tussle of relationships, then you may find you have some unpacking to do. Looking back may give you a crick in the neck, but it will be worth it. Warning: Some unpacking is best done in with a professional counselor.

I must wrap up my packing and get to bed, 4:30 AM will come quickly. When I return home and begin unloading the stuff of my trip, let's talk more about why it is important to unpack. Just as completing a trip requires unpacking and putting things into their proper places, God is able to make us whole when we allow Him to unpack the past and put it in proper perspective.

See you next week . . .

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

It was a magnificent pine with large branches spreading out and shading nearly our whole back yard. The lofty pine stood high above our home and could be identified from several blocks away. I never saw a bird's nest among the massive boughs but quite a variety of birds took temporary shelter among the needled branches. Even hawks came to perch in the expanse of our tree to look down upon a potential feast of sparrows, finches, pigeons and morning doves.

A year ago this month that glorious pine tree was toppled and given by drips and drabs as firewood to friends; an invasion of the California Fivespined Ips beetle (sounds creepy) had drained the life from our noble tree. Everyone visiting for the first time since its destruction are so surprised by its absence. Our yard went into shock; the loss of an expansive covering of shade left all the plants in the backyard gasping for dear life. We feel a bit unprotected as well when the sun beats down hot as we work about the yard. I miss looking up into its massive, cool, dark branches and imaging myself up in the mountains.

What dramatic changes come about when a large tree is removed! Our yard continues to adapt. Some plants had to be moved while others slowly made the adjustment, perking up and blooming as if nothing had changed. But there has been a great change and the increased intensity of light and heat bears witness to the change.

Those who know me well are quite aware of my passion for trees due to the numerous pictures of trees they must sift through in order to view my vacation photos. As I grieve that old, but impressive, pine tree I am reminded of what it is like when we move out from under the shadow of the Lord Almighty. In Psalm 91:1 it says, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” When I move out from under the shelter provided by the Creator of the universe, I am vulnerable to the pressures of this world, I become unprotected and weary. It is in His shelter I find rest from the hot breath of the world seeking to consume me. It is in His shelter I find the comfort and safety; here I am strengthened to go on.

I grew up in a hundred wooded acre (unlike Pooh's one hundred acre wood). There were 100 trees on the acre sheltering the little house my uncles built for our family. Trees were my friends. My grandparents lived next door and between our properties there was a wooded lot where the sheep grazed. I mourned any tree that had to be removed and begged my grandparents to please not cut down any trees. Well into my adult years when I'd return for a visit I could tell which trees were missing; I had memorized each and everyone.

There was a large cedar with a door-like gap through the branches on one side just tall enough for me to stoop and pass through. As a child I would often hide there, not to be found, but to escape reality and live in my imaginary world. I remember well its cool, shadowy interior protecting me from the sun and offering the life-giving kind of comfort of green things. Trees are like that; they seem so strong and reliable. But I have since learned trees are vulnerable too. The shelter of the Most High is the only shelter I can count on, and for that I am grateful.

Yes I can go on and on about trees, but among the trees I feel closer to God. Two stanzas of Joyce Kilmer's poem, Trees, sums this up quite nicely.

I think I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree. . . .
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

This has been a year for cutting up days and attempting to hammer them into some sort of framework for the priorities wrestled and pinned down for now. I am learning to accept that having a framework is enough because things are going to change. In the effort to get time to cooperate I have had to piece together a plan, rip it apart and piece it together again. I know with certainty it will have to be altered again, but I have learned a few things during these frustrating attempts to find a practical rhythm for the people I love and the work I do.

1. Our use of time is meant to be shaped by the priorities we set. It was encouraging when I heard a well known female Bible teacher say we are doing something wrong when we don't have time to be in the Word. She also said getting enough sleep and eating well are essential. I just rode that train all the way into the station.

2. It is absolutely right and good that I have time for basics and do them reasonably well: cooking, grocery shopping, menu planning, cleaning the house, getting together as a family, devotions, exercise, etc. I do accept the fact that an emergency will change this for a period of time, but we are not usually stuck in a lifetime emergency; though many live and drive like everything is urgent.

3. Setting boundaries around determined priorities means I will often have to say “no” to some really good things. In her book, The Soul Tells A Story, Vinita Hampton Wright pens, “. . . there are times when, for the sake of loving others well, your creativity will have to wait.” There are also times when I must use my creativity to serve a specific need and I may not meet my own deadline for the other creative work I have been given to do. Christine Valters Paintner, author of the Artist's Rule, writes “Every time we say 'yes' to something in our lives, we are also saying (often unconsciously) 'no' to something else. In other words, each time we commit energy to projects or people, we take energy away from something else. When we bring conscious awareness to this truth, we can commit with more intention.”

4. How I am hard-wired determines how much I can cram into my life. For instance I am a highly sensitive introvert. (To find out if you are a highly sensitive person check out http://www.hsperson.com/). I am a counselor and writer; my work requires a lot of creative energy, so I get tired even when the work day is short. I tend to need more alone time than many people, and I need quiet time to think and putter around our home. It has not always been easy to accept these things about myself in a world driven by high octane doers, but this is who I am.

Determining priorities and building a schedule based on understanding of how God made me helps me make better decisions about the things I need to make room for in my life or the things I need to let go. Just last week I faced this challenge when I had to choose between writing for the new blog or doing a creative act of service for a young father battling cancer. I chose the creative act of service, knowing it was the right thing to do. There were moments when I felt bad about not getting the blog written, but remembering the words of writers Vinita Hampton Wright and Christine Valters Paintner helped me fight off unjustified guilt. It was the “yes” thing to do and it gave me joy to participate in a creative project meant to encourage and comfort a man and his family.

There are people who manage to keep a pretty tight schedule, but mine tends to get bent out of shape a bit and then I have to take some time to reign it in. Each of us has our own limits for various reasons. I hope you will learn about and accept how you are wired and then build in pauses as needed. We were made for pauses. A pause can be a day of rest or it can be a break between projects. I do not believe putting in more hours makes one more valuable, just less connected to the heart. So if you are feeling a bit harried, get on your knees, make a blueprint and hammer your priorities into a viable schedule. And pause.