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Retreat Makes You Putrid

I went on a diet the end of last summer and learned two things:

1). Consistency, if we practice the discipline of keeping it up, accumulates to real, tangible progress.

Day after day, as I plodded along, there was change over time.  I did start lean out.  I did begin to feel cleaner and brighter, more optimistic and energetic.  Really! I was surprised to receive fruit for my labor.  That was exciting and satisfying! 

What I needed was to trust the process.  I needed to be patient.  I needed to keep believing that if I kept showing up it would translate into change over time.  Do you hear what I’m saying?  I was not motivated by what I saw. I was not motivated by what the scale told me that morning, or the tape measure, or the mirror.  If I was looking at those things, I would have felt defeated so many times. 

Instead, I was motivated to continue by what I believed – that if I placed good choice after good choice, step after step, if I linked them all up — that it would, it absolutely would, it HAD to, convert into progress.  And it did. 

As I’m getting up and trying again at this illustration thing it can look like such an Everest.  It’s so large and looming; the climb feels impossible.  There is so much to learn and re-learn, so much risk, so much to face that is uncomfortable, so much hard work ahead.  And man, if I look at my feet, if I try to be motivated by the failed drawings in front of me (there are so many of those) I will certainly be discouraged.  Instead, I want to apply what I’ve learned: to trust the process.  Believe that if I continue to show up day after day to work the gift, to train the gift, to spend the gift, to apply myself instead of avoid – that it will, it absolutely MUST grow in effectiveness over time. 

Fight for consistency.  Trust the process.  Be patient for the fruit.

2).  The ability to sustain that consistency comes from fostering a positive mind.

The nutritional team I was working with was full of encouraging words.  There were exclamation marks, motivational quotes, and verbal hi-fives everywhere.  And I mean everywhere!  I was saturated and swimming in the stuff.  Immersed in that context, I noticed for the first time how full my mind was of negative voices and how I consistently gave those voices audience.  I considered their negative counsel to me.  I let them convince me to leave things undone.  I used words like “work” and “hard” and “fail” instead of “adventure” and “challenge” and “grow”. 

But you know, it wasn’t hard when I realized that to flip my mind’s patterns.  That was surprising – how easy it was to change my attitude.  I decided to call my diet a game and an adventure.  I decided the challenge was fun.  I decided to enjoy what the moment required of me as a wonder, and not get all cramped up about results.  And you know, when I was looking at it from this angle the diet quickly became infused with energy instead of drudgery.  My insides were going “Hoot, hoot!  Yip-yip!  Let’s do this!” With that mindset I was totally game on.  It made it much easier (and can I say fun?) to choose the right thing.

It’s not hard to change our perspective to a positive one.  Decide it is so, and wow, how quickly those negative voices flee.

So, as I’m looking up at my illustration Everest, I say to you mountain “Challenge!  Adventure!”  and I literally feel in me this flush of excitement and adrenaline.  Deciding to be brave gives ruddiness to your cheeks and heartiness to your laughter.  That’s so much better then retreat and regret which just makes you putrid.

News + Muse

Springboard

Here’s an illustration for all the swimmers out there. You know the flip-turn:  pull … pull … you’re gliding right toward the wall.  And then at the last moment you tuck your head into your gut, make a spiral and a twist, plant your feet firmly on the wall, and thrust off like a rocket in the other direction.

Disappointments can be like that; like the wall, I mean.  They can really wreck us if we head at them full speed ahead.  But we can also use them to our advantage.  Just a flip, and we are set up with a marvelous springboard; incredible momentum to start off a change in direction.

I’ll be honest, I’ve been choking on life a bit as of late.  But with the disappointments (and the regurgitating of the disappointments) I’ve also been finding this wonderful springboard action happening: in reaction to the things I can’t control there is this burst of power, this gritty determination, to focus on the things I can.  The pain is met with resilience.  There is in me courage, a spirit of adventure, an ear tuned to God’s positive voice, a fire to be industrious, hard-working, and self-controlled.

Flips and changes heading toward the Light belong to the category of repentance.  To turn around, to change not only our mind but our actions because of a change in mind, have these accompanying springboard disappointments, I think.  The knowledge of the need for change was already in me, and I had been making some slow piddly progress, I suppose.  But the explosive burst that comes from feet planted on death’s floor … it is a refusal to die. It’s resurrection power!

I shouldn’t say much more; “show, don’t tell” is how the old adage goes.  Just this — I had a friend for a short season who was deeply motivating to me, and what was so attractive was not what he said but what he did.  He was actively and positively engaged in the combat of good choices, working hard at his responsibilities, doing his best, playing his part.  I want to fight like that. I want to growl at the wind.

Show, don’t tell.  Let’s get to it and rebuild.

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John 10

I lay down my life for the sheep

I lay down my life for the sheep

I lay down my life …

no one takes it from me.

I lay it down of my own accord.

I have authority to lay it down.

THAT I MAY TAKE IT UP AGAIN

I HAVE AUTHORITY TO TAKE IT UP AGAIN

I care for the sheep; I must bring them.

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

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God Draws

John 6: 37        all that the Father gives [to Jesus] ….. will come to [Jesus]

John 6:44        him the Father draws ….. can come to [Jesus]

John 6:45        taught by God, heard and learned from Father ….. comes to [Jesus]

John 6:65        the Father grants ….. come to [Jesus]

John 7:37        if anyone thirsts ….. let him come to [Jesus] and drink

Does God teach, does God draw, with thirst?

Deut 8:3 And [God] humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

God let you hunger, then fed you with bread from Heaven, to make you know ….. man lives by Lord-words.

“Hunger is an active sense of physical need. It prompts the request for bread.” – E.M. Bounds on Prayer, pg. 29

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God Taught

If you are going to let me present moving thoughts, you are going to get draft-like choppy bits.  Don’t expect the pretty and presentable.

In John 6, at the Sea Tiberias, a large crowd of about 5,000 was following Jesus because they saw the signs he was doing on the sick.  From two fish and five loaves came as much food as they wanted.  They ate their fill, with twelve baskets of fragments left over.

The next day the crowd went seeking Jesus again.  And Jesus corrects them “you are seeking me not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”  They were coming for the food that perishes, and Jesus redirects them to seek the food of himself that endures to eternal life.

In John 21, Jesus is again at the Sea of Tiberias, this time with seven disciples.  They were fishing and had caught nothing, but at the direction of Jesus, their net was full of many large fish, 153. 

John said, “it is the Lord!” 

Peter heard it was the Lord, jumped into the sea and swam to Jesus.

The other disciples came in the boat.  They headed for Jesus, dragging the fish behind them.

They came to Jesus on the shore, and Jesus had to direct them back to the boat for the fish.  Fish and bread, and Jesus said, “Come have breakfast.”

And none of the disciples dared ask Jesus, “who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.

Look at how these two different groups treat the abundance of fish.  One wants more fish.  When Jesus asks them to believe in him, they ask for a work to be performed so that they could believe. 

The other group drags the abundance of fish behind them and heads straight for Jesus.  They don’t ask for more fish, the practically forget the fish they have.  They come to Jesus.  And they know without even asking he is the Lord.  “Jesus revealed himself to the disciples” 21:1 and “Jesus was revealed to the disciples” 21:14.

John 6:45 … It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’  Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to [Jesus].

Jeremiah 31:34. …and no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. :33 I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.  And I will be their God and they shall be my people.

2 Cor 4:6. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

The second, smaller group of disciples were God-taught?  A revealing, a shining, had happened in their hearts.

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When

When do I use this space?  When my work is cohesive – then?  I wait to share when my thoughts are complete, right?  I mean, why muddy the world that is noisy enough with my thoughts? 

The trouble is that moment never comes.  I am always learning.  I am always in process.  Even the things I think I know are being expanded or reshaped when new light is put on them.  If I wait for that moment of final clarity to create, well, then I will never make anything. 

Au contraire, making a thing is a means of understanding a thing.

For this blog space, will you permit me the same?  Can I share what I’m thinking?  I know they are moving parts, not yet in perfect constellation; I could be wrong about many things I say.  If I am vulnerable, will I find grace?

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If You Don’t Like Tragedy

My niece will read most anything she can get her hands on.  When she was 7 or so her father brought her home an edition of Andersen’s Fairy Tales – red hardcover with golden letters on the front.  My guess is she read it within the week.

“Do you remember reading The Little Mermaid?”  I asked her as we sat on the front porch this past Mother’s Day.  I recently read it myself for the first time and wanted to see what she thought of it.

“Ugh, do I remember,” she said.  My niece also has a tremendous gift of memory.  “The ending was hard to take.  I don’t like tragedy.  I don’t know why people write them.”

I mumbled some reply about life being full of tragedies and the necessary pattern of death to make way for life.  But I was unsatisfied with my answer and returned to the thought this morning.

Was it a tragedy?  Ultimately?  And why do people write heart-wrenching stories?

If you had asked me a year ago, I probably would have told you I thought every story should have a happy ending.  Every story should give hope, of course. Heaven is the ultimate end for those who believe, so let’s put happy endings everywhere.  Happy, happy, happy.

But tragedies of a certain sort have strategy.  Within the story we walk through stabbing, irreconcilable loss — painfully stabbing.  They make our souls cry, “No, no!  This should not be!  This is not the way!”  We beg the story to take it back.  And there, in that experience of loss, there is exposed within the soul our innate hope that things should be different.  A longing has been stirred.

“What if my greatest disappointments
or the aching of this life
is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy?”

–  Blessings, Laura Story

A greater thirst.  Not just any longing, this is a longing that points to beyond — to higher things, eternal things, the things that really matter.  With tragedy we can be called out of our love of temporal happy endings and spurred on in our chasing of Thee Happy Ending – God our Dwelling.  In that sense tragedies are hope giving; they help us shake off the shadows and embrace the Reality.

At the end of Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, the steadfast, sacrificing love of the mer-girl is unrequited.  The Prince chooses another for a bride and the Little Mermaid is called instead to witness and celebrate in their joy, which is death to her.

But she rises.

She takes on a form more holy then the one before.  She is welcomed into a new realm of love for others and progresses on her journey to Eternal Life.  She’s not there yet, but what was death to her mortal self turns out to be the Mermaid’s course to greater existence.

Heart-wrenching?  Yes.  A tragedy?  To be sure.  But ultimately?  Well, no, if we believe the pursuit of God is of value.

God the better Prince has promised not to forsake those who are devoted to Him.  When Heaven’s day comes we will find in God the acknowledgement, union, love, and wholeness we crave.  We will not be disappointed in His delight in us.  To the Happy Ending in Him, God says “Abundantly, yes!”  And Tragedy of the good sort says “Then let us chase Him.”

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Mosaic Making

“…Thus out of the farm lands, out of my husband’s interests, out of the people and things about us, out of the accounts I read and the things I imagine, I put the mosaic together, creating a character whom I respected.”

– Elizabeth Coatsworth, Authors and Illustrators of Children’s Books, pg. 93

First drafts are wild things.  I think I have a sense for the characters and how things are relating.  Yet, every day I work on my draft its colors shift like a sunrise, and today I wonder if I have wandered too far from what I first sensed it to be.  Do I reign it back in?  Or let it run it’s course?

I revisit my material — those bits and pieces of my experience that have made a particular cluster in my mind.  It is their story I’m trying to tell.  Am I telling it?  And I wonder at my mosaic.  Am I being too choppy and rough?  It is one story, but I am trying to tell it in a collection of ditties, poems, and vignettes.  But maybe it’s a collection because I am not weaving my material as I should … I should integrate more, yes?