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Eating the Mail: The Daily Intake of Negative

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I know to quickly investigate whenever I hear a certain sound in my family room: a mad shuffling of padded feet and hyped-up puppy energy that exceeds moderate enthusiasm about food being poured or a toy being fought over. My 11 month old Shih Tzus, Samson and Delilah, have a unique way of expressing their angst or frustration after a morning in their crates when I have to leave the house.

They eat the mail.

You may ask why I am dumb enough to leave it where they can get to it. That’s a legitimate question. Really, I would ask it too.

But to answer it, I first have to paint a little picture that so many people who have children or work with kids will understand.

You walk into the house for the first time in hours, carrying bags of groceries, laptop bag, mail in your mouth, sunglasses maybe on your head or hanging from your collar, having just fought your way through the madness of three poorly timed traffic lights at your town’s main intersection after parking-driving on highways at 5:30 PM in your very densely populated part of the country. And as soon as you walk in, you hear this from the other room from the kid working on a project with no supervision whatsoever since you were just in traffic, remember?: “Mom! So glad you’re home! The glue gun is stuck to the couch, for some reason, and I think there may be a black mark where it was sitting.”

Okay, so that’s not the exact scenario. I am taking some creative license to protect the (not-so-) innocent, but it was close enough.

What do you do in that moment? You drop the mail currently in your teeth. With any luck, you drop it on the end table and not the floor, but you’re only human…

So back to me, and not the hypothetical you…After dealing with hot glue gun fun, I heard the crinkle and jittery excitement of two dogs getting away with something, completely delighted with themselves—until I walked in. Then, Samson did the guilty shake-wag, demure Delilah pranced cockily past me but away from the paper, and he dove in one last time to get another mouthful of the energy bill, the medical insurance’s twelfth notice about seeking annual information that hasn’t changed, and the political mail of people I don’t know and don’t care to read their slander-marketing (in most cases, not all).

So, you know what, Samson and Delilah? Go ahead: Eat the mail! Nothing in there really feels like a loss to me. If the bright, photo-quality flyer from the local fitness company appeals to you, chew away. Do I look like I’m ever headed there, third latte of the day in hand, elliptical machine used as a coat rack?

But really, there is a lesson in this silly tale, besides the fact my unruly Shih Tzus could use some training classes.

We eat the mail every day.

We take in the negative reports from nonstop news feeds. We suck in gossip. We assume the worst without fact-finding first. We take what the media feeds us and swallow it whole because we get so much information at once, we don’t have time to sort it, like partly chewed morsels of sludge. Not that it’s not important to inform ourselves. But we honestly feed on a lot of negative every day. You can’t check out of a pharmacy without the latest celebrity mishap, fifth marriage, 15th botox treatment, recent infidelity.

If we aren’t careful about what we take in, it can make us pretty skeptical, nervous, disillusioned, and even bitter. We can start to believe that no marriages work, everyone cheats, all politicians lie, suicide and pills are the only answer, hope doesn’t exist.

It’s a luxury for us to sit at the table, or desk, and feast on this stuff. If we lived in a war-torn country, we’d have plenty of reality to more than match the nonstop ticker going across the screen of a world news channel. How do we stay in touch with events around us without getting sucked under into complete hopelessness?

The world we live in now tells us within 30 seconds of news going on around the world with live streams of current events. I’m not sure we were meant to know all of this at once. It’s almost like building the Tower of Babel again and seeing out all around us, giving us a sense of all that’s going on but we’re really not in control of it (but often think that we are).

Technology is an awesome thing, and certainly we’ve made advances in being more prepared and informed. It is extremely helpful to know a current crisis in the Middle East where we can send aid, pray, promote causes, rally volunteers. That’s the hope to spread into the dark. But the intake can be too much at times. It needs balance.

When the Boston Marathon bombing occurred, I had several friends engulfed in unrelated personal circumstances or depression, and reading the updates on that was just too overwhelming. I encouraged them to get a quick dose of news, only if they felt they had to, and stay off the news feeds. It’s not about making us comfortable and not having to think about awful events going on around us. It’s more about not letting darkness move into our heads and start hanging up pictures.

My husband can watch it and stress on the level of world political events, while I sit and tremor that there is always another murder victim, human trafficking story, Christian martyr, scary virus, genocide, school shooting.

But for every act of evil, good still rallies. People rise up to fight against it.

What do you think? How do you find balance?

For me, I have to look up. This world just doesn’t make sense to me without looking up and understanding it in the context of man wanting to be God so long ago in the Garden of Eden. We are still trying to be God and take control, and it has erupted all over in the form of violence, war, and atrocious acts of abuse and enslavement, because, unlike God, we are not all good. We do not handle power well. We don’t have the big picture. So, I watch moderate amounts of the news. I’m not afraid to discuss current events. But I also measure each piece against my faith that God is at the helm and “has the knowledge of the Holy One,” and that I lack all-seeing understanding and wisdom, no matter how much this modern culture, with its endless live streams, thinks that we can see all things from the top of our imagined tower.

Proverbs 30:1-16

The sayings of Agur son of Jakeh—an inspired utterance.
This man’s utterance to Ithiel:

“I am weary, God,
but I can prevail.
Surely I am only a brute, not a man;
I do not have human understanding.
I have not learned wisdom,
nor have I attained to the knowledge of the Holy One.
Who has gone up to heaven and come down?
Whose hands have gathered up the wind?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and what is the name of his son?
Surely you know!

“Every word of God is flawless;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
Do not add to his words,
or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.

“Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.

“Do not slander a servant to their master,
or they will curse you, and you will pay for it.

“There are those who curse their fathers
and do not bless their mothers;
those who are pure in their own eyes
and yet are not cleansed of their filth;
those whose eyes are ever so haughty,
whose glances are so disdainful;
those whose teeth are swords
and whose jaws are set with knives
to devour the poor from the earth
and the needy from among mankind.

“The leech has two daughters.
‘Give! Give!’ they cry.

“There are three things that are never satisfied,
four that never say, ‘Enough!’:
the grave, the barren womb,
land, which is never satisfied with water,
and fire, which never says, ‘Enough!’

 

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Pushing Through Fears

Pushing Through FearsDo you have any fears that hold you back from fully functioning? Does it sometimes feel like you are pushing against a weight of overwhelm? Maybe your fears taunt you in the middle of other areas where you feel accomplished. They may look different for each of us, but they can be paralyzing and growth-stopping.

You know what else they do? They deliver a feeling of defeat.

And you know what? That’s not Kingdom (-of-God) living.

Some of my fears are irrational. For example, I fear that if I stop advocating for certain injustices or for my son with special education needs, the world will stop turning. That’s called hypervigilance and sometimes crosses the line into catastrophic thinking. I usually can do the self talk involved to chill myself out, talk myself down.

Like many people, I am afraid of letting people I love down, not meeting expectations, or  unintentionally hurting someone.

I back out of my driveway panicked that a child on a bike will go by.

I fear the local black bear entering my yard (it has entered my neighbor’s property) and eating my Shih Tzus.

I can’t say these fears regularly keep me up at night, but they definitely steal joy.

Know what I mean?

Here are the ways they thieve me of peace: Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Dear Dad: A Letter to God

Dear Dad- A Letter to God

Do you ever write letters to people in your head—things you wanted to say, unfinished business, sentiments that pressed on your heart and didn’t let you go?

Sometimes I wake up at night and have a three-page letter downloaded straight into my heart.

Right now, for my father who is living* through cancer and chemo hell, parts of my letter would look like this:

 

 

Dear Dad: 

I hate that you are struggling. If I could be with you in person more frequently, I’d just want to hold your hand. Pray silently. Sit at your feet. Watch you sleep. Bless you. Read you Scripture. Share a few memories. Make you smile.

I’d say I didn’t always respond the way I should have, that I often was too quick to react in my youth. I’d tell you if I had to do it all over again, I’d talk to you about your “corny” country music and be willing to discuss the different jazz artists you grew to appreciate.

I’d tell you I’m sorry I stuck my tongue out when I was 3 years old, that spitting out my peas onto your dinner plate wasn’t nice. I shouldn’t have made eating and the dinner table such a scene of drama.

I might state that I could have been more gracious when you taught me how to drive and more grateful when you would pick me up from a late theater rehearsal. While we were generationally farther apart than the parents of many of my friends, I wasn’t really embarrassed by you; I was just a teenager who thought that I was.

I would share with you that I watched you healing on that couch from radiation many years ago while you let me put barrettes in your amazing hair because that’s what you do when you have daughters. You play barbershop. I’d be less angry that you won UNO sometimes. I’d be more mindful of the times I got to “camp out” on the porch with you in the summers and wouldn’t make comments about your snoring.

I wrote a book, Dad. It wasn’t everything it could have been, but it was my first attempt. It was about God. I hope you could see the Presbyterian roots deep within my theology, Dad. How I really did understand Christ, the propitiation for our sins.

If I could just lay my head against your robe, Dad, like I used to rest it on your lap during the sermon, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

I can be a spoiled brat, but my heart is trying to be more like Jesus, Dad. I hope you can see that in me. I hope I make you proud.

My letter would say so many other things, but I’ll stop there. You get the idea.

What about God, though? What about our Father in Heaven? Read the rest of this entry »

 

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He Meets Us at the Rails

Where Is God When We Go Off the Rails

[This blog was first a featured column at Your Tewksbury Today on Mother’s Day.]

I thought about writing a Mother’s Day piece. I really did. But as awesome as that sounded to me, it ruled out so many people. I appreciate these Hallmark holidays in some ways, but I also know that for many, days like today can be difficult reminders of dreams yet unfulfilled or even crushed, or of family relationships that haven’t been or aren’t what they should be. Without going into the many manifestations of that, I wanted to address the pain, frenzy, panic, and weariness out there today. I’m going to lay it bare.

We may not all have our Sunday best on, with a handful of flowers, reservations at the local restaurant, gifts on the counter, and a trip planned to see family. Maybe this week was full of pulling ticks off kids, walking in late to that work meeting, facing three days of piled dishes at once, a car that wouldn’t start, a kid who mouthed off, a relationship that looked like it was heading toward marriage and abruptly broke off, a bad job review, a betrayal of some kind. Maybe it was an argument with a loved one, a bad report card, a miscommunication with your spouse that doesn’t feel like any “Hallmark moment”—or holiday, for that matter—that you’ve ever experienced before.

Mother or no mother, maybe your week doesn’t feel like walks in the sunshine and tea with biscuits.

Maybe your week chewed on some rocks, spit them out, and crunched down on them again.

Let’s be honest: Sometimes, we simply go off the rails.

Read the rest of this entry »

 

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The End of the Line: Why We Need to Stay and Cheer for Every Athlete

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I was recently at my daughter’s cross country meet. She’s not the fastest runner, but she’s not the end of the line either. I got there in time to watch the girls start, leave the track, and head into the woods. It’s another 10 minutes before we see them pop back out again and onto the track. There’s time for swigging the warm coffee from my thermos on a chilly, New England, autumn afternoon and catching up with some other cross country parents.

I’m always amazed and encouraged to see many supportive parents in our community come out for this. Admittedly, I usually don’t make the away meets, but it’s very good to see my long-haired little ray of sunshine come bursting through the woods, trying to beat her personal best each time. She embraced running like a champ!

The middle child with a strong sense of independence, this is something where she is really competing against herself.

She can feed her internal drive to do better.

She can feel the wind on her back and see my face at the end of the last stretch.

She can tear down that track dropping off tween stress and angst as she goes.

I so admire this. Walking to the mailbox feels like an achievement to me. She’s a petite girl with long legs strengthened by many years of dance. Those legs wanted to do more than plié and leap (which she still does, by the way). They wanted to see if they could set fire to a pavement. We haven’t set fire yet, but she fiercely takes on each race.

So, as I noticed the first few young ladies head to the finish line, naturally, the cheers were loud and strong. Of course, we’re very proud of those high-achieving athletes that get there first. Well done. And not everyone can be first, or, obviously, it would mean nothing, but the more girls who came out of those woods, the fewer the cheers, the more parents ready to walk away to collect their daughters and go home. And that made me sad.

Now, I realize we are all on tight schedules and not everyone can stick around the full time every time. I get it. I also know that people get distracted and the meet seems less exciting as the last few runners close in. I am very appreciative of the few boys, who already ran, hanging out at the end to keep cheering for every last girl that comes around the corner. These are boys who might not give some of these girls the time of day during school hours, but on the track, there is a level playing field: They are fellow athletes.

What warms my heart, personally, is the group of parents who stay there until the last puffing runner comes out, even when their family athlete has already arrived. I love hearing those cheers. They are few, quiet, and not quite the pep rally of the beginning of the finish, but they

empower,
encourage,
strengthen, and
motivate.

I watch those stragglers at the end. They hear their names being called, and they run their hearts out. They pick up the pace.

The first runners push themselves to place at the top. Sure, they are cheered on to run a bit faster those last few yards, but they also run to make rank.

But the end of the line? They run for themselves, for the bystanders, for perseverance, and for personal best.

Neither is better than the other, but they approach those last 30 seconds from slightly different vantage points.

So it is with probably any sport. This could easily be applied to the sophomore football player benched most of the varsity game. He needs to hear the cheers when he does finally have play time because his play time has to count.

And so it is with us. 

When I am trailing behind others in a life lesson, a place of heart healing, an area of character that needs to be fine-tuned in my life, I look ahead to the runners who finished the race first and am inspired. But sometimes, that feels unachievable when I’m still at the end of the line. They are an awesome inspiration, but what I really need are the people waiting it out until I make it out of the woods. I need patient folks who don’t mind waiting the extra 10 minutes for me to “arrive” and who call out my name and let me know this time I got a better score.

Sometimes, I need them to tell me what was holding me back.

Who do we know who isn’t functioning in the top half right now? Who can we stay and cheer for when they improve, even just slightly, and want to finish the race—no matter the obstacles?

I love what the Apostle Paul says here, and I pray I live most of my days with this in mind:

1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

Philippians 3:12-14, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

We need to be cheering each other in the race. It’s a hard race when people drop off the sidelines. It’s hard enough as it is. How can we be more present and encouraging, and where do we need others to come alongside and be our sideline cheerleaders for a while?

2 Timothy 4:7-8, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

 

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Just Can’t Stop Pretzel Breathing

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So, I learned a new technique a few months ago from my son’s therapist. It’s about breathing in while folding my arms around each other and pulling them in against my chest. Something about the breathing in, folding, and exhaling interrupts the body’s stress processes and calms us down. In other words, it takes the “wig” out of “wigging out.”

Well, I thought I’d just be reminding my son of this lovely new tool, but instead, I find myself pretzel breathing in rush hour traffic on the way to karate; while watching my kids painstakingly slowly pack their backpacks up and tie shoes as I hear the bus rolling up; when we are fighting homework battles with one who isn’t big on receiving feedback; when arguments break out between siblings right when I need to get out the door; when the dogs eat the important mail; and when the person in front of me in line is simultaneously on the phone while trying to order bagels and coffee for 30 people who aren’t currently with her.

Yeah, I really just can’t stop pretzel breathing. I’m not sure if it’s counterproductive or not to replace OCD/anxiety symptoms with obsessively using techniques to interrupt them, but I pretzel breathe to the umpteenth power. Cannot get enough of it. It’s a new compulsion, and I’m not even the patient.

I even went so far as to demonstrate my awesome new skill at my moms’ prayer group at the start of our prayer year, and since then, one prayer warrior mom has reported she’s in love with it too. Really, all of the pills* in the world to fix this, that, and the other thing, and all we have to do is twist and breathe? Sign me up!

It works so well that I don’t think I’ll ever stop. I’m pretty sure my gravestone will read: “Faithful wife, mother, friend. Pretzel-breathing advocate to the very end.”

So, I asked myself, is anything close to pretzel breathing in the Bible?

I have no idea.

I think taking Sabbath is along the same lines. [For more on this, kindly refer to: “And on the Seventh Day He Rested….” The kid in the picture is pretty cute!]

What I do know is that prayer, Bible reading, and worship are like that. When we participate, they beautifully interrupt our trudge through the sludge of life and ground us. Praying empties me of my burdens. Yes, sometimes I need to pray the same thing over and over again until I am ready to fully let it go to God and trust Him, but the discipline of running to Him first is what frees me.

When I read the Bible, it always speaks directly into something I am going through. That’s because it is not just a history book. It is the living Word of God. It comes alive in us because it is always relevant and because He sends the Holy Spirit to those Who trust in Him, to help us gain understanding. God’s words are meant to be read back and prayed to Him. That’s what engages them in our lives: believing them, speaking them, talking to our Creator. It’s not something we chant to get our minds or hearts in a better place (although that is a definite result). It’s living dialogue with God, Our Father. Unlike pretzel breathing, it does more than calm the body. It calms the soul. It says: “At rest, my soul. You’ve spoken with and trusted in God.”

And worship is praising Him, singing to Him, acknowledging Him, dancing to Him, honoring Him. We worship even when we tell others about something great He has taught us or has done in our lives. It’s acknowledging His awesomeness, and no matter how rough your day, wouldn’t that turn your perspective around a bit? If we were each focused on His awesomeness?

Pretzel breathing is a fantastic stress tool, that’s for sure, but its effects are simply in the moment. I have to keep performing that task when different scenarios come up that stress me out.

Prayer, Bible reading, and worship are also beneficial, if done repeatedly, but the difference is: They last. They build into our peace like a storage chest of truth, rest, hope, and promise. Practicing them, as well as practicing thankfulness,** eventually leads us to and sustains us at a state of joy, no matter our circumstances.

There’s no harm in wrapping my arms inward and exhaling now and again. I honestly don’t think I even know how to stop, at this point. But, by far, the best way to interrupt the day’s stress is to spend time with God. Eventually, we get to the point where His Word is in our heads and hearts, and He speaks it to us right when we need it.

Psalm 119:10-18, unnamed author

I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
Praise be to you, Lord;
teach me your decrees.
With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth.
I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.
I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.

Be good to your servant while I live,
that I may obey your word.
Open my eyes that I may see
wonderful things in your law [emphasis mine].

*This does not mean I am in any way anti-medication. Our personal journey to making medication decisions can be found in Not Just on Sundays.

 **This is a great book for practicing thankfulness:

Voskamp, Ann. One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010.

 

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