Content with Confusion

A year ago I would have thought this title was ridiculous.  Why would anyone want to be content with confusion?  That either implies laziness or mayhem, neither of which holds much appeal.   But, after a year of work on myself, I’ve learned that being content with why things happen and why people say and do what they say and do is a really good place to be.

I mean, really.  What’s the alternative?  Well, actually, I know the answer to that one because I’ve practiced it for years.  Maybe you know the answer, too. In a word: over-thinking.  Okay, one more: obsessing.  See, being an intellectual (and I don’t mean in a I’m-pretty-darn-smart way, it’s just that is one gift I have which means I process by thinking and make sense of things by thinking.)  I need to turn an issue over and over like a die.  All issues have multiple sides and I like to think about all of them.  That’s just plain necessary as a teacher, but as a friend, mom, employee…it can drive me nuts and lead to some pretty big insecurities.

I had to learn slowly over the course of last year and I’m still learning, but at least now I know my goal: to not need to know.  I can accept that how I feel about and perceive something can be different than how someone else feels and perceives something and both are okay.  I don’t have to lose sleep over it, talk about it, turn it over and over in my mind.  Jesus promises us peace but sometimes we hold it at arm’s length because we think if we just figure something out, we’ll be illuminated.  It sure seems right some days.  Well, it doesn’t always work like that.

So my goals are changing.  Sometimes what feels right and what is real are two different things.  Often times we don’t know enough of a situation to attribute meanings to it so we might as well relax.  So this year, maybe I can write a new script and find a healthier way to think and respond.  That means more time to think about what is good, pure, lovely and true: like my dear husband, my ever-busy children, my fun students, and a luscious cake or two.

My eagle story, pt. 2

(please read part 1 before reading this post)

In October of that year, my son (a third grader) was in the hospital with a nasty virus and during his stay, I was very calm, even though we didn’t know what was wrong for the first three days.  We had some beautiful prayer times and our pastor came and read a story that he said showed God’s nearness to us.  Well, the first morning home, I went out to our driveway to speak to someone who’d come to visit and there, in the field next to our house, were two eagles.  Now, mind you,  these are the only times in the year when I’m seeing eagles!  I was more convinced than ever that God was showing me His nearness and was reminded of Deuteronomy 4 where He says that if we look for Him with all our heart and soul, He will not abandon us.

Going back inside, the phone rang within minutes, providing the job I had prayed fervently for, including all the parameters that only hours ago had seemed impossible.  Months earlier I shrugged off any hope of seeing any signs or wonders and then He used all kinds of signs and wonders to show me His love.  He redeemed.  And while He was at it, He renewed my spirit.

A few years later, I was driving to a speaking engagement in which I’d be delivering four talks to women I’d never met, knowing little more than the city I was going to.  As I approached the ferry terminal, a huge eagle flew right next to my van, taking slow, even wing-beats as it kept pace with me, about 5 feet off the ground.  I knew exactly what He was telling me: “I’m right here and I know you need to see that right now.”

In the years since, I have seen other eagles at times when my eyes are too often on the problems in front of me.  I am reminded anew of His love for me and the need to nestle under His wings.  Numerous people have found tremendous comfort in these words and have been uplifted when they see an eagle, too.  But I ask, Why does He do this? I think I know:  It’s because it’s who He is and it’s what He does.  His daily message to us is of His unfailing love and presence.  We so often can feel alone and unloved but nothing could be further from the Truth.  He is our advocate, our encourager and so much more but some days I just focus on His wingspan and that there’s plenty of room under there for me.

My eagle story, pt 1

If you’ve ever experienced a spiritual high after a retreat or vacation, you also know that spirits slag between those retreats and vacations. In 2004, I was in serious need of renewal. Our women’s ministry director had chosen the theme “signs and wonders” for Bible study year and I had never thought much about those.  But oh well, I thought.  As she’s encouraging women to pay attention to the signs and wonders God will send our way, I thought other women could do that; she’ll never know if I don’t.

That was the year I was working on my most transparent speech ever. I could only write it because other areas of my life had been really difficult and I was asked to speak about it. It was quite personal and as is always the case, when you’re moving closer to the Lord, Satan wheedles his way in there and starts causing trouble.

It was the beginning of February and I woke up early in the morning & immediately felt a strong sense of anxiety.   I don’t remember dreaming and I had not been awake long enough to think of something that made me anxious…but I felt the pull to go out to the living room.   I grabbed my Streams from the Desert book and turned to that day’s selection. From the first words, I had the chills.  “My child, I have a message for you today.  Let me whisper it in your ear that it may gild with glory any storm clouds which may arise and smooth the rough places upon which you tread.  Use them as a pillow on which to rest your head: This thing is from me.”

It then mentioned school, money, sorrow, temptation, pain and weakness, being hurt by people…every topic  that had been weighing on my heart.  I’m here to tell you the air in the room was electric. After wrestling with anxiety, I was given such a peace and all those months of fear and worry dissipated.  My heart felt so much lighter!  Later that day, I was driving home and saw four bald eagles within 1/4 mile of my home.  It was the first time I’d seen an eagle since living here and I could feel God telling me that He was showing me His nearness.  It was so comforting!

In April, I again awoke with anxiety and then I grabbed my Bible and turned to Psalm 91 and read, “He will cover you with his feathers and under his wings will you find refuge.”  I once again was comforted by those wings and soon I was standing on the driveway watching my daughter get on the bus when I noticed, in the tree in our backyard, a beautiful eagle.   He sat there for over an hour thoroughly unruffled by the neighbor’s barking dog underneath him.  I went back to my bed and spied him from my window and he looked directly at me.  I knew this was no coincidence.  God hears prayers.  He covers us with His wings and He knows some of us need visual reminders of that.  Again, I felt His nearness.

Perfection’s not my target

One of my favorite poems is by Emily Dickinson and when I share it with students they have no idea why I get so excited about its message.  On the surface it seems like a few lines about weather but as with all things of value, it’s more than that.

The sky is low — the clouds are mean.

A traveling flake of snow

across a barn or through a rut

debates if it will go–

A narrow wind complains all day

how some one treated him.

Nature, like us, is sometimes caught

without her diadem (crown).

This poem makes me feel more human.  You might  be wondering, “What’d I miss?”  Most simply, replace yourself with each of the nature references.  Ever feel low?  Have you ever been mean?  Do you scutter and skiff through your day not knowing what to do?  I’ve felt narrow and constricted and unfortunately have complained for the better part of a day, especially when I’ve felt unfairly treated.

On lovely days, nature sports her crown.  We take in lungs-full of fresh air, turn our faces to the sun and revel in the hug of a beautiful day. We also wear crowns on our lovelier days when people enjoy our company and our words and actions are fragrant to those around us.  And, just as nature has its crabby days with wind gusts, low, grey clouds,  driving rain, and is thus caught without its crown of glory, we have moments where our behavior or words show we’re susceptible to our crowns slipping too… you know, that invisible crown that Jesus so generously places on our heads.  I don’t know about you but mine slips, tilts, and some days even lurches forward.

Those crown-slipping days remind us how far from perfection we really are, but seriously, do we even want to be perfect?  These foibles we all make allow God to show us what we’re really like  – fallen.  But our God of love also uses these incidences to show us what He is really like – gracious.  If my crown never sits atop my head askew, then I’ve maybe hit what we humans might call perfection, but what do I miss out on if I am?  It’s not a target I want to hit because when I miss it, then I feel His gentle hands right my crown.  And He does it over and over and over again.

When our crown slips, in addition to God’s gentle touch, we need a friend to lovingly say, “That’s okay, mine does that, too.”  And usually we most appreciate that sweetness when we’ve had the souring experience of embarrassment.  With full hearts, we thankfully  acknowledge that Jesus redeems daily – including our flawed, crown-slipping moments, “enabl[ing] us to see the depths of our humanity as well as new vistas of divine grace.” (Eugene Peterson)

So nature might be caught without her diadem but God has placed ours firmly on our heads and it can slide around all it likes.  Thanks to His promises and dear friends here on Earth, we have His assurance that it’ll never hit the floor.