The Glorious Muddle
glimpses of grace in the messiness of life

September 21, 2017

Carpe Diem!

I did it. It is finished. I left my full-time job, downsizing to only two part-time ones.

Why haven’t you heard the shouts of jubilation I’d promised? Probably because the three jobs had me so utterly spent that I crawled home and promptly caught a doozy of a cold (or is it allergies? I can never tell.)

I planned to leave the office, pumping my fists and hopping from desk to desk crying, “Carpe diem!” Instead of seizing the day, I’m sneezing all day.

However, colds don’t last forever and I’m certain that my level of joy will rise. Since we returned from Eastern Europe, the summer has been margin-less, not how I’d envisioned it at all. I’ve juggled finishing my administrative job (with a massive pièce de résistance being a college president’s inauguration), teaching a college class for the first time in my life, and even serving on the Grand Jury one day a month for a year, tortured by the cases I hear.

I suspect that it will take time for this new lifestyle–my new normal–to sink in. It will take time to decompress, or as my husband likes to say, “decompose,” which feels much more appropriate at the moment.

My last week as an administrative assistant, I had nightmares every night. Regularly, I woke at 3:00 a.m., in a sweat because I was late for work and it was the big inauguration day. Each time, I had to remind myself that it was just a dream.

For six years, I’ve longed for the flexibility in my schedule that I’m about to enjoy. This isn’t retirement; it’s just changing my workplace. I’m making this transition for one reason. I believe this is what God has called me to do.

Besides my two teaching gigs, I plan to spend the bulk of my time writing at home. I’m motivated to work hard, but there will be freedom in that. Nobody will look at their watch and frown if I step into my home office five minutes late. That alone will be glorious!

Every job, every situation in life comes with both good and bad parts. Nothing is ever ideal. I know that. The job I left is no different.

At times, the drudgery of being a creative person confined to sit within the same four walls, every day from 8:00-5:00, got to me. Being under-maximized in a position you’re over-qualified for is never a pleasant combination.

And yet, I learned to cope. I survived and I found ways to break the tedium. At first, what kept me going was helping with the Cru group on campus. I’d meet with the female students over lunch and stay late when they had their meetings. My passions and experience found an outlet. I never expected to find that at my small university.

Later, I took a shaky step, with much self-doubt, and entered a master’s degree in writing–a perk of working at a university. I was in my fifties and I never expected to finish. But I did, and because of that degree and all that I’ve learned and all the people I’ve been privileged to get to know, opportunities are opening up for me.

Yes, my job has been a blessing in more ways than the reason I took it: health insurance.

The best thing that came out of it was the friendships I made, which will continue. As a newbie in North Carolina, the people I worked with taught me what about my new home. I am now richer in friends than I was before I started.

It shouldn’t have surprised me how difficult it was to say good-bye, but it did. I expected to skip out of the office, laughing. Instead, I was conflicted by how bittersweet the moment felt. What would be sadder than not being sad after six years invested in a place? And so I’m thankful for the tears.

I am ready to seize this new day in this new season of my life. But first, I have to snee …

 

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August 22, 2017

It Only Takes a Spark

While my husband got to eat moon pies and join in an impromptu eclipse party with our fun neighbors, complete with solar glasses all around, I slipped outside my office with a few co-workers to gaze up at the sky at precisely 2:39 p.m.

As each of us stepped outside, one at a time, donned our passed-around pair of glasses, and looked up, we all had the same response.

“Wow!”

There were no words for what we saw.

Our special NASA glasses made the world totally black. But when we aimed our eyes upward, a tiny sliver of yellow peeked out from behind an inky round ball.

In the middle of the day, crickets chirped their beautiful night melodies. Somehow they knew.

I’d read all about the eclipse in preparation. But something surprised me:  it wasn’t all that dark.

We stood about 80 miles outside of the 70 mile swath called the Path of Totality. The sun was 97% covered, yet it was still light. The shadows were longer, and the sky had darkened the way it does just before a big afternoon thunderstorm. Yet we could see each other just fine.

I’d expected it to be dusky, maybe for the automatic lights to flicker on. My husband the engineer told me that illustrates how bright the sun really is. With only 3% showing–a miniscule fraction of its fiery surface, it still illuminated everything. Just like the impact one small flickering candle can make in a dark world.

On the news at night, I watched the thrill of crowds gathered across the country, in awe of the beauty of creation. They cheered. Some cried. All seemed moved.

It made me think of the majesty of the Creator and wonder if others did, too. A passage in the Book of Psalms came to mind.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky displays his handiwork. Day after day it speaks out; night after night it reveals his greatness. There is no actual speech or word, nor is its voice literally heard. Yet its voice echoes throughout the earth; its words carry to the distant horizon. In the sky he has pitched a tent for the sun. Like a bridegroom it emerges from its chamber; like a strong man it enjoys running its course. It emerges from the distant horizon, and goes from one end of the sky to the other; nothing can escape its heat.”

Eric Metaxas thought of that verse as well. He writes:

“Three thousand years ago a man in Israel wrote: ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.’ That man didn’t have a telescope or a Brittanica, but he saw something many of us today still do not see. He saw a God behind it all.

“It may be true that seeing a Grand Designer behind these breath-taking events requires what we call a leap of faith; but it may also be true that seeing mere coincidence behind them requires an even greater leap of faith. In my mind, much greater.”

What did you see when you looked at the sky?

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August 18, 2017

Is it bad advice to live in the moment?

The problem with living in the moment is that it’s only part of it. Yes, it’s good to fully present in the now. But what happens if we don’t let the past give meaning to our present? What if we don’t think about future consequences today?

Check out my article in today’s paper.

I’m tired of being told to live in the moment. As a writer, I like people to be original and not tied to buzz words or stale clichés.

As a Christ-follower, I wonder if it’s faulty advice.

Other popular statements fall short.

“Don’t think; just feel.” Imagine a world where nobody thinks. Everyone does what seems right in their own eyes. Funny, it’s easy if you try.

“You deserve to be happy.” At what cost? Is your happiness worth someone else’s misery?

By contrast, to live in the moment sounds sensible.

It’s positive to be fully present. To pay undistracted attention to people and connect with them.

Living in the now means participating fully in your own life. That’s always good to do.

It also involves emptying your mind. You focus only on present sensations, like breathing. But wait, shouldn’t you intentionally set your mind on things above that are noble and pure?

Ursula Le Guin presents another angle in her book on writing. “Well, to live in the present only would be to live in the world of newborn infants or of people who have lost their long-term memory.”

My issue is that living in the moment negates both past and future. Nothing counts outside now.

You never look back or look ahead. In the moment, guilt over what was and worry about what might be doesn’t exist. What could be wrong with that?

It’s never productive to wallow in shame or regret. But neither is repression. Healing comes when you face your past squarely.

Everyone messes up. Guilt is often the vehicle driving you to repentance that brings freedom.

God’s word tells us frequently to remember and give thanks. Remember both good times and difficult ones. Reflect on where God showed up. Give thanks for all of it.

The roots of your history run deep. Your past made you who you are. Ignoring it won’t make it disappear.

By remembering, you can redeem your mistakes and let them teach you.

Conversely, you must look ahead. Every action today bears a consequence later. However you choose to live in the present shapes your future, like it or not.

A wise person plans for what’s ahead, counts the costs, and stores up for leaner times.

Your hopes for the future become the rudder that guides you today. If you have ambitions in a certain area, the steps to make it real may take years. You need a plan.

I admit the apostle Paul’s statement in Philippians 3:13-14 seems to contradict. He says to forget what lies behind and press on to what lies ahead.

He’s not advocating selective amnesia. As you persevere toward the future, keep your eyes on Jesus. Run to reach the goal. He is the prize.

How do we as a society look at the recent violence and senseless killing in Charlottesville if we only see through the lens of now?

History provides a context to scrutinize it. What if we never looked back on the Holocaust? Or slavery or the KKK? History’s mistakes become powerful teachers.

We must ask how to prevent these horrors from happening again. Let the future bear on our response to the moment.

If you’re only living in present tense, the past doesn’t matter. But the past must inform your present actions. It provides meaning.

Likewise, the present directs the future. It bears consequences for years to come.

Own your past and learn from it.

Participate fully in your life today.

And look to the future with certain hope, confident of the promises of Christ.

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August 11, 2017

Taking the First Step

Sometimes you just have to take the first step. Even when you don’t know for sure that there will be ground under your feet.

For years now, I’ve talked about quitting my job. It’s a fine job; I’ve met wonderful people and had great opportunities (especially getting my writing degree). But my life’s dream has never been to be an administrative assistant, noble as that can be. Sitting all day surrounded by the same four walls, 8 to 5, Monday to Friday …

I used to hop on a train and meet someone in a café in Bratislava and be back in Budapest for an afternoon meeting. I feel confined.

When I started this job six years ago, I planned my exit date. You may recall that I did resign in the spring, followed by a heart-attack-ack-ack-ack. (Doctors like to call it a Bundle Branch Block). My boss asked me to stay on for a special project. When the bill for my portion of my hospital stay came in the mail, I said yes.

Fear took over.

Why would anyone give up a perfectly fine job that provided insurance and risk never being paid again? It just wasn’t logical. The what ifs became fodder for my nightmares.

So I remained, although I did reduce my hours. Nice as it has been this summer to have a day free, I haven’t been able to keep up with new writing and the business side of writing. Still, every time I thought about setting my termination date, I just couldn’t do it.

One day, as I was praying, a thought came to me. (Funny how that happens.) Maybe I need to stop worrying about insurance and money and just take the first step. Just step out in faith and not cower in fear.

Maybe I’m the one standing in my own way. Maybe my grasping on to the known, as unfulfilling as it is, is holding me back. Maybe I need to release it all before offers from agents pour in.

Maybe my clutching with fists closed was keeping me from receiving with open hands. Maybe ….

Steve and I talked, and I decided to fulfill my promise to help with this one short-term project (which ends mid-September) and then leave. The day before my appointment to set my termination date, it rained.

Literally, it rained. That day was my day reserved for writing. I had an interview scheduled for a position as adjunct English professor at my local community college.

I got the job! My one hour interview turned into a five hour orientation meeting.

During a break, I checked my phone, and read a message about a contract for a paid speaking gig. Now, I’ve spoken oodles of times in my life and only been paid once.

As the other adjuncts and I walked between buildings for the last session, the skies opened up and dumped a river of water on our heads. I sat in a meeting with water cascading down my face, my sandals in tatters, and laughing at the tired yet oh-so-appropriate cliche.

When I got home at 9:00 that evening, I had an email from an agent. She asked for my full manuscript. (Reality check: This doesn’t mean she’ll sign on, and doesn’t mean she’ll find a publisher. But, wow!)

When it rains …

I hit the trifecta of jobs you can do with a master’s in writing. Teaching. Speaking. Having your writing published.

After years of hard work and preparation, I have a glimmer of hope that this could become more than a hobby. Maybe I’ll actually make enough to break even with the insurance costs. 🙂

For the next five weeks, I will have three jobs. One is full-time and two are part-time. My first college class ever is in four days. I may be reduced to babbling incoherently while I rock in a corner of the classroom. But hey, I’m always up for a challenge.

So, what’s my point with all this? Is it to give you a magic formula? To tell you that you have to quit your job for things to go your way? Or maybe you have to pray more, because that’s when these ideas come?

Sorry, there are never magic formulas. Not for anything in life. You can’t follow seven simple steps and voila! It all goes your way.

Good and bad, all mixed together. That’s what life consists of. None of us gets to choose. We just have to learn to deal with whatever comes our way.

God doesn’t give us good things because we’ve suddenly arrived. We will never deserve his gifts. Neither does he punish us by bringing hard things in our lives. We don’t deserve that either. What he does promise is to be right there with us, through all of it.

The one thing I can say for sure is my own story. I let go of my fear. And that’s always a good thing. Whatever happens.

 

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July 19, 2017

Trying to Live the Dream

This summer is one of transition for me. One day per week, I do what I love and what I’ve wanted to do since I was a small child.

The other four days? Not so much.

I feel like one of the Hungarian cowboys I saw last month. Each leg placed firmly on the back of a separate horse, I’m trying my best to keep the horses from snapping me in two.

 

Finally, I get a taste of living the dream that I’ve spent the last decade preparing for. I should be happy, right? Yet I end up more frustrated than before. How much can I really accomplish in one day when my pile of writing projects seems to grow by the minute?

A taste just isn’t enough. Not when it’s your lifelong dream.

I want more.

Shortly after I moved back to the States after ten years away, I returned to the place where my childhood dream was born. And I remembered.

 

That day I sat on a swing just like the one my Grandpop made me, on a rough plank of wood and holding onto rope handles. As I swung out over the Choptank River, I imagined myself doing that thirty years earlier, in the same spot.

I used to fill notebook after notebook with stories on that riverbank, and it was on my swing that I vowed to become a writer when I grew up. I wanted to give back something beautiful to the world in words. I remembered feeling certain that this was what I was born to do. Looking back, I think it was God’s voice calling to me from my river and giving approval to my dream.

When I returned to my river all those years later and remembered, I had to admit I hadn’t done anything to answer that nudge. I knew I hadn’t wasted my life; I had invested it in something significant, worth the deferment of my dream.

But I also knew it was time to make a change. Time to stop deferring and get on with it.

Since then, I’ve plodded towards my goal. Learning. Honing the craft. Writing. Being sharpened by other writers.

Now that I’m poised to start (soon!) to live my dream full-time, I’m filled with questions.

Have I been looking for something that just doesn’t exist? I know there is no ideal situation in life. Good and bad gets shaken together. Our task is to accept it all without losing our equilibrium and authenticity.

Is the dream even possible? Have you ever lived your dream? Or do you still wait for it to come true?

Maybe life is one long preparation for what you hope to do with it. You might catch hold of your dream for a second every so often, but it’s like grabbing a fish. It wriggles out of your grasp.

Sometimes the quest for that elusive dream blinds you so you don’t appreciate all the good things you do have. I know I’m guilty of that.

In the process of preparing for the dreams he gives you, God stretches you and uses you and points you in new directions. Better directions sometimes. You are introduced to new people. People who become so important to you, you can’t imagine life without them.

You find that all along, hidden even to yourself, you’ve been quietly living your dream. Unaware.

I’m not getting ready to start living my dream. Living is my dream. And I’m alive right now.

How do I stay upright on the back of the two horses? I do what I know to do. I do the next thing.

I keep plodding, aiming for the goal. As I go, I try not to miss the disguised blessings in what I have now.

The dream may be elusive, but it’s yours. You still gotta try!

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