What is our work?

Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” John 6:29

God impressed the simplicity of this verse upon my heart over a decade ago; when I was frantically trying to prove myself as His disciple. When I read the verse in context — I noted that the disciples asked this of our Lord shortly after He had performed many miracles. Perhaps they were wondering how they would ever be able to do the miraculous work Jesus was doing.

I was feeling similar at the time–wondering how in the world I was going to serve God as the saints of old had done. How was I going to evangelize, partake in miracles, raise children, keep myself unstained from the world and somehow still put food on the table too? The freedom that came to me in our Lord’s response, John 6:29, was so very welcome to me in that moment that it became a cornerstone verse for me going forward. I began to repeat that verse aloud every time I felt that niggling in my gut that I ‘wasn’t doing enough’ for the kingdom.

“A person who has not done one half his day’s work by ten o’clock, runs a chance of leaving the other half undone.” Emily Bronte.

I came across this quote just this morning and it gave me a niggling trace of guilt. I was reminded me of the extremely productive person I once had been. These days I am someone who spends hours each week in passivity–often just listening (not even evangelizing) to various people who find their way to my back porch.

I try to do home improvement projects and I garden a lot every summer. But those things often get interrupted and remain unfinished. Either by company stopping or my own limitations. I still work outside the home and go into the office in the afternoons when it is needed– (I am a business owner. But I stepped away from the daily grind when I got sick several years ago. My husband still does the heavy lifting for the both of us at our business).

I changed because I had no choice. When I got hit with crippling PTSD, I knew I had to make some changes to my workaholic ways as that was only making me worse.

I began leaning into the day slowly. As anyone who has suffered from an anxiety disorder can tell you — it is the most debilitating upon first waking. For months I forced myself to relax and just stay home, cancel appointments, etc., until the anxiety lessened and finally went away. I wake up calm these days as I no longer have PTSD or an anxiety disorder.

But I continue to lolly-gag at home in the mornings. Slowly emptying the dishwasher and doing a load of laundry, letting my mind fill with the thoughts God puts there, and the Bible verses that come to my heart. Sitting down eventually and reading a devotion and daily Bible reading- or looking up the verse that came to me upon waking. Doing some writing now and then. Gardening, house work, baking, cooking- all of that– alone. With Jesus, of course. In the early hours before the phone rings or someone knocks on the door.

I find this easing into the day approach gives plenty of opportunity for pondering the things of God, as well as spontaneous singing out in worship. The contrast of these slow and quiet mornings compared to my years of getting piles of ‘work’ done before ten, (lest I not get anything done at all –highlights all the ways the world intrudes upon a morning — with its rushing about, it’s appointments, it’s buzzing and ringing phones and other siren calls to either ‘be productive’ or to waste time in utter distractions…

Parts of my belief system (like an entrenched Midwestern Work Ethic that ties value up in one’s ability to make money) are still so entrenched in my heart that I automatically return to them when reading things like that Emily Bronte quote above. And then God’s truth slowly settles me down again.

Because if the work of God is believing in the one whom He sent (Jesus); then spending a slow morning at home IS actually far more productive, from a Kingdom mindset, then rushing about getting as much ‘worldly’ work done as I can before the crux point hour of ten a.m.

I know, from past experience, that if I do not spend my early mornings with God, then chances are good that I will not spend much time at all with Him during the rest of the day.

 

 

 

When it’s Good to be Stubborn like a Mule.

black and white animal pony not

Mules, the (usually) infertile offspring of a male donkey and a female horse, sometimes get a bad rap for their stubborn attitudes. The truth is not that black and white, though. A horse will try to impress or please its owner by carrying far more than it ought to be carrying, or outworking or outrunning itself (we just watched the movie Secretariat, and that was one of the concerns was that he (the horse-Secretariat) would actually injure himself racing if they just ‘let him run full speed’ without reigning him in. So while a horse runs the risk of hurting itself, if the owner or farmer isn’t careful–when a donkey or a mule reaches its limit–it stops. A farmer, therefore, doesn’t need to be as cautious about overloading or overworking a mule or donkey. They know their limits and when those limits are reached–they stop working. Mules are also far more willing to fight off predators like coyotes, rather than fleeing or rearing up in fear.

It could be said that Mules and Donkeys have really good boundaries and sense of self. The key to setting any good boundary is just that: you have to first know your own limits. An impossible task if you are bent on people pleasing and making whoever owns you happy. And make no mistake, if you are a people pleaser (something I am intimately familiar with being myself!!)–you are owned by someone–that someone being whoever you are trying to impress or keep happy. Doing that will come at  your own expense.

For a Christian this poses a real dilemma. I want to be owned by Jesus. I am HIS servant and no one else’s. But if my actions are consistently horse like; meaning I am ever willing to impress others, even if it injures myself, how can I say that I belong to Him?

As I was pondering this, I thought of the fact that Jesus rode a donkey — not a horse, on Palm Sunday. The donkey wouldn’t have agreed to that if he wasn’t up to the task. A horse, on the other hand, may have been exhausted but he would have given the ride anyway. I don’t believe Jesus wants us to serve Him or anyone else; if we aren’t truly up to the task. He desires that we get to a place of health where we can handle burdens again–before we try carrying them.

I also thought of the story of Balaam and his donkey, the donkey saw the angel of death and refused to move any further which kept Balaam from meeting the angel of death. Does it mean something that the only animal to ever be recording ‘talking’ is a donkey, an animal that will absolutely refused to be pushed beyond its own ability-to-bear-it-limits?

My conclusion is that boundaries are really, really important. Especially if you are a service animal (as Mules and Donkeys are known world wide to be). Especially if you are a servant of Jesus. Having people destroy my boundaries in childhood destroyed my ability to serve God and others without it costing me greatly.

As I learned how to be more like a Mule myself, it involved some hard choices. My horse-like brain wants to people please and make it all better again (at my own expense). It seems I still struggle knowing my value. Mules and Donkeys know their value; horses not so much. So as I made this transition to what some might call ‘stubbornness’, I’ve been called mean, crazy, rigid, unyielding, and even unforgiving. It’s ok. Balaam beat his donkey for its refusal to lead itself, and him, into death. I can expect similar treatment when I start to assert myself with people who once held my reigns.

 

Smells are the worst…and the best!

woman wearing sun hat smelling yellow rose

Airplanes, buses, crowded waiting rooms, and other places where I might have to sit close enough to people to smell the garlic in their teeth from the salad dressing they ate for lunch (sometimes the day prior), yes–those confined public places are the worst for me. Because half a lifetime of traumatic experiences left me with a sense of smell so heightened my husband teases me that if things go south at our business, I could always get a job working alongside police dogs.

I frequently need to open windows at work, in car rides, or at home, to get rid of smells which are overwhelming me. My husband once came home from a Bible study event smelling like strange cologne that I knew was deifnitely NOT his cologne. He’d simply sat next to a man who was wearing cologne that evening, hadn’t hugged him, just sat there beside him…which is why “How in the world did you smell that?” is a frequent expression around our house.

This super-sniffer-power of mine makes life interesting. I’ve learned to travel with several scarves, and I spray them with a scent that I find calming before traveling, particularly on airplanes. If it gets too bad, I just wrap a scarf around my neck and breathe into it and go somewhere else in my mind. The scarf trick has saved me a few times. A flight from LA to Minneapolis once had me beside a musician (his carry-on was a guitar) with an exploding human head tattooed on his forearm, a green army jacket with grime on the sleeves, and the smell of hangover-vomit and weed on his skin. When he fell asleep with his mouth open I noticed, from the air drifts finding my nose, that he hadn’t brushed his teeth either that morning–after clearly vomiting bad food and booze from the prior day. And there was even a seat between us.

That was a long flight.

Thankfully, I had a scarf wrapped around my face to mitigate some of it.

When the PTSD was at its worst, smells were also the worst. They triggered such horrific memories. The smell of pickles on someone’s breath. The smell of hard boiled eggs, after a few days in the fridge.

On the flip side: as with a few things ‘anxiety disorder related’, there are some really great benefits to this super-power-nose of mine. Certain smells are instantly calming for me. Lavender. Bananas. Roses (but NOT rose-water: ICK). Lemons. Grapefruit. Peonies. A tiny bit of fresh eucalyptus (but not dried and not too much fresh or that has the opposite effect). The smell after it rains. Basil. Bread baking, cake baking, (anything baking really), cinnamon, apples, and all sorts of bath products (except the ones I can’t stand). Bitter cold winter days, when my nostrils nearly freeze shut and the line is so hidden on the thermometer that nothing harmful, or beneficial, could still live in the air.

That kind of sterile cold is the cleanest and best smell ever. It’s something only northerly dwellers might understand. Though I dislike being cold, when the temperature dips like that, the scent of that frigid air is divine. Almost as good as when a cultivated field starts to thaw in farm country and you can literally smell ‘earth’ floating on particles in the air. And so while scents can be triggers–they can also be great grounding and calming tools. The right ones instantly lift my mood and bring me peace. Smells add a richness to my life, and writing, that I am not sure others (who haven’t had trauma heighten their senses) experience.

A good nose is even quite beneficial at times.

I have smelled cooking fires before they started. Propane leaking from tanks before anyone else. Smelled rotten meat and other foods before eating it or feeding it to others…known exactly how many drinks my rebellious teenaged children, or younger mentees at work, had the night prior, (before they could dare lie to me).

Which is the point of it all. When the body is in heightened response to a threat, the senses are all heightened as well, to keep you alive and out of danger. So you may not see the danger yet but you can sure smell something being ‘off’.

Even though my stress levels have come down and I’m not being triggered into fight, flight, (or freeze) responses as much anymore, the heightened sense of smell is there. I’m accepting that it is just part of what makes me, me.

I took a walk with a girlfriend the other day. She has elevated stress symptoms due to a lot of traumatic things happening to her in recent years. She was told by her doctor that she has ‘anxiety’. After we took off from the parking lot, the first thing I did was insist that we slow down and go for a stroll instead of a power walk. She responded almost immediately to the slower pace as I saw her facial features relax into a beautiful smile. And I asked her what she smelled; because I smelled such a strong scent from the pine trees that surely must be up ahead around the corner we were about to make on the park’s path.

She replied, “Ooh, ooh, I smell chickens, like the fall air is lifting up the scent of chicken feathers into my nose… but there’s something else too, mixed in…”

I prodded, “Do you smell the pine trees?”

“Yes, that’s what it was, I knew there was something else!!”

We rounded the corner and saw several free-range chickens coming out of the shade of three pine trees.

Yup. She’s had her share of fight, flight, and freeze responses. Unfortunately, her nose may be elevating her stress levels even more, for the time being.

But I assured her, that if she starts listening to her self and uses scents to calm and heal as well: then her nose is going to help get her out of it, too.