Garbage In…

It’s been a long, stressful day, and I am tired and a wee bit grumpy. In fact, the last month or so has been long and wearisome. Covid-19 is taking a toll, the new puppy is full of energy, I started a new-to-me job, it’s been difficult deciding how to school the kids, church in person or church online… it’s been a challenge navigating this pandemic and all the seemingly normal tasks have had added demands and adjustments. Maybe you’ve been feeling it too. Perhaps my job is not to complain. Joy in circumstances and all that. I don’t know about you, but some days I have a hard time being joyful. Some days I have a hard time connecting and being the light of Jesus in ways I know that I ought. Some days I choose not to shine.

You wanna know what the new puppy did this week? He’s been barfing socks. He’s a labrador — and I know they have iron stomachs, but he has a particular affinity for socks… and with a house full of teenage boys, socks seem to be quite readily available. And he’s quick, too. And so, I have been panicking about intestinal obstructions, up at night worrying about possible major surgeries in our future for exploratory searches to find foreign bodies — and the guilt about not having enough energy to follow around the dog and his adventures in eating strange things. I was told not to worry “he throws them up whole”… and I wondered at this gift – until I got to see it for myself. Yup, an esophageal miracle: sport sock completely intact, gagged back up, packaged neatly in a thin film of bile. (Sorry * graphic warning* for those of you who are squeamish). It’s actually quite impressive in a sword swallowing magician kind of way… how did that little body encapsulate such a bulky thing and expel it, all while wagging it’s tail and happily playing for the last hour?

Alright, enough of the gory details — but I share them with you to explore some thoughts with me. I’m sure many of you have heard the phrase: “garbage in, garbage out”. It’s actually a computer reference, implying that what you enter into a software will influence the information the computer will spit back at you. Perhaps you’ve even experienced it as my new co-workers and I have as we navigated this new computer system implemented in the last few weeks. Unless you follow the correct steps, you don’t get to the place you need to be. And that can be frustrating. And so it is with life sometimes.

When your faith journey is “disconnected” or you’ve been entering in all the wrong stuff, it tends to come back up. Or come back out. And not in the way you want it to. We get grumpy, burnt out, and ill tempered. People say that you need some “self care”. A time to replenish and recoup. And although those words seem fostering and valid, I’ve been challenged recently about that whole idea of “self” care. If, as believers, we have died to self, are we feeding the wrong entity? If He is the vine and we are the branches, does watering the leaf do any good? Or is it better to quench the roots? To dig deep and choose nourishing food that sustains and grows us. Not fillers made of old socks. Do hot baths and candles really replenish the soul?

Do Hot Baths and candles really replenish the soul?

Now, please, don’t get me wrong… I love a good spa day as well as the next girl. And I’ve convinced myself I “need” them once and a while too. Yet, no amount of warm drinks and essential oils are going to repair a damaged heart. It takes the life giving, supernatural gift of grace given to us by a perfect heavenly father. I’m saddened that we are missing some forms of our corporate worship connections during this pandemic. Even being the introvert I am — fellowshipping with other believers fuels the flame of my heart. It is the soul food I sometimes require.

So, what of it, my friend? Are you spending your time devouring sports socks only to throw them up later? Guilty as charged here this week. There. I even admit it to the whole internet. I’m not connected in the way I need to be. But there is always tomorrow…

Fear Factor

Have you ever been afraid? Sure, I think just about everyone can relate to that gut-wrenching feeling of fear. The panicked, flight or fight response when your body tenses up or goes into complete meltdown because of some deep seated fear of dying, or falling off a cliff, or your youngest going off to kindergarten, or being poisoned by some foul toad bewitched by an unlikely fairy godmother. Well. You get my point. Big fears are easy to pinpoint and easy to explain away.

Yet, what about the little fears? The nagging, “uncomfortable” feelings that are not rational fears, but take hold of you nonetheless? Do we talk about those fears? Do we even call them fears? “Anxieties” perhaps? Unease. Apprehension. Worry. Perhaps this worldwide pandemic has heightened those unforeseen thoughts for you as it has for me. Do I send my kid to school this fall? Do I ride public transit ever again? Why am I finding it so nerve-wracking to be driving on a four lane highway again after so many months of going nowhere? Will I ever fit into real pants again?

I must tell you a little story about my weekend in order to assist you in following my web of convoluted thoughts about fear, and consequently, my muse this week. We spent the weekend up at the trailer, near the lake and welcoming the final weeks of Canadian summer (albeit a strange one à la Covid-19). My beloved convinced me it was a perfect opportunity to spend a little time canoeing with him. Now, I like canoeing. I used to canoe often. I’ve even canoed with my husband. I’m not a white-water portage expedition canoer, but I can paddle. Yep, I can even steer the motorless boat! Still, the initial reaction to the invitation was fear. I have not been in a dugout piece of floating wood in a very long time. Years. I’m a little curvier now. And less agile. And a whole lot “awkwarder” in a wobbly floatation device than I used to be.

Our old canoe was light, and very tippy, and sank to about an inch off the water’s surface. But, our new-to-us boat is wider and sturdier and “will certainly hold you” assures my beloved. I agree to a short paddle. Then fear. True, my fear was irrational. There was no reason for it. No clear explanation of why my brain went to where it went. I had a lifejacket. I can swim and paddle and have a partner with me. We were barely going offshore. Yet, there it crept: the nagging trepidation of the what if’s.

As I thought about those feelings and how irrational they were (we had a delightful time on the water by the way!) I was reminded of 2 Timothy 1:7. The Amplified version expands it out nicely:

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear), but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of calm and well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control.

2 Timothy 1:7 AMPC

Why do we get so caught up in our petty thoughts when the God of the Universe has given us a spirit of power and a mind that is in control? Do we let Satan weasel his way into our thoughts and twist them into self doubts, creeping anxieties and irrational fears? How much more does God want me to share my faith? Surely more than He wants me to try paddling a canoe after so many years. And yet, so many of us have an underlying fear factor there, too. Why do we find it so hard to share our faith? God is bigger than those fears! He gives us the power and the confidence and an extra dose of love to push us along the way. Like the gentle wake of our canoe, may you be encouraged by the wave of power that is God promised, and may calmness and self-control be your guides this week as you paddle through your faith journey, one small fear at a time!

Road Trip!

We went on a long drive this weekend. Maybe we were not supposed to. Perhaps we should have stayed home. But we stayed safe — and realistically there is nothing else to do, am I right? Better than being exposed to viruses in the grocery store, right? So, we went. I had some goals and things to see along the way, so I planned the route the day before. Google mapped my meandering “scenic” journey through countryside and small towns. Not that anything was open. It was about the journey. What about you? Do you love a good road trip? With four kids plus the two of us, budget often dictates we drive instead of fly. We have done our fair share of road trips. Our kids have travelled via minivan from day one. They are good travellers and we have all survived. Technology helps… but planning is better. I remember travelling to Disney and creating “car kits” for the kids with games and snacks. Now they are older, so technology it is… unless you are picking up the oldest who has been slightly isolated and needs to share. Or the youngest who never gets enough one on one attention and will talk your ear off if given the correct topic.

The hubby and I used to talk a lot on road trips — how we would never do what so-and-so does with their kids, as our future children will be angels. (*cough* wheeze …choking on our own words). Or, what our perfect house would look like if we had money to burn. We don’t chat much now on car rides… unless it’s me telling him to slow down, or to get gas before it is too late. Or making that sucking-in-air noise as you brace the sides of the door handle as he changes lanes. Like your feeble human arm will protect you from that 18 wheel semi truck who happens to be too close. Come on, I know I am not the only one who does this, am I right? Aged nerves are not as steely as they used to be. Maturity has a way of doing that to you.

Nonetheless, we road tripped a little this weekend. The sun shone, the van was gassed up, and time was on our side. We plugged in our phone and punched in the first “stop”. Anyone remember those fold out maps (à la paper) with highlighted routes and sharpie x’s here and there? Doesn’t happen anymore, does it? Phone apps and google maps rule now. Which had me musing… oh, how we trust in that little piece of technology. We believe it will get us there. On more than one occasion, I have told myself just to trust the GPS… it knows. Truthfully, it usually does.

As we travelled along this time, we, again, trusted in our app and turned down a somewhat questionable sideroad. It was paved, but narrow, and a little too country for my liking… and not where I had planned. I asked the hubby, and he assured me that the maps were giving us “the fastest” way. There was very little signage on the this backroad… but it eventually came back out to a main street and we continued along without incident. This little blind side trip had me thinking again… How many times do we want clear and visible signs?

We often want clear signs! (photo credit: Ryan McGuire)

If you are anything like me, you want signs to point you in the right direction. Some concrete indication that yes, this is it. This is God’s plan. This is what I should be doing — or that big sign that says “TURN HERE” you are going the wrong way! The map has the big sharpie X plainly highlighted with all the stops. I looked up “signs” in my Bible app… and “signs and wonders” often accompanied each other in the listed verses. Seems like humanity has always been looking for “signs”. The big miracles. Clear indications of supernatural influences. Many of the early Jesus followers were seeking just these magic shows, however, and not really interested in Jesus himself or His teachings. Still others were unconvinced… hardened hearted Pharaoh mocked Moses’ “signs”. His own magicians could conjure up snakes and smoke just as impressively.

Perhaps as you’ve been home, contemplating life with the rest of us, you are looking for signs too… should you go back to the same job? When is it “safe” to go out? Who should make the decision to reopen businesses? And when? I’m with ya. I want life all mapped out, too. Yet, our online Sunday service this week reminded us that sometimes we need to reassess, and perhaps a pave a new path on our spiritual journey. God sometimes asks us to go where the road is not clearly marked. Where the road is narrow and a little too “country backroad” for our liking. And for a brief moment we are scared that it is not the way.

Still, Who is in your driver’s seat? Who controls the GPS and the steering wheel of your life? Do we give up full control and say, yup, Jesus, go ahead and take the wheel? I’m just along for the ride. It’s hard. It’s scary. It may even be a little dangerous. It’ll take some faith and a whole lotta trust. But — it may just be worth your drive. Happy road-tripping, my friend, happy road-tripping.