Mistaken

I’d never seen that little boy move so fast. I barely had time to register what had happened when he flung his 18-month-old body across my chest and clung to me.

Joshie was happily sitting beside me on the couch playing when a woodpecker decided to try to drill a hole in the chimney. I have to admit, a sound like a tiny jackhammer against metal is one of the most unnerving. Joshie couldn’t express what he must have thought the sound was, but his heart pounding against my chest said enough.

How do you explain a noise like that to a child?

“Calm down, Joshie. It’s just a woodpecker outside on the roof, where we can’t see him. He’s mistaken the chimney for a tree. Now, ignore that obnoxious noise and go play!”

So I just rubbed his back and reassured him as best I could.

I had to think of all the noises that evoke a similar reaction in me:

  • My boss: “I’m bringing in a consultant, because you don’t have the experience your job requires.”
  • My Dad: “We’re in the ER—Mom may have had a stroke.”
  • An acquaintance: “You may as well forget about having kids after 35, because the risks are so high.”

What can I do with these fears? It’s best when I remember that I know One who wants me to throw myself into His arms—because He’s bigger than me, more powerful than my circumstances, and He knows that most of my fears are the equivalent of a woodpecker mistaking a chimney for a tree.

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Motivating Pain

 “You can do anything for a minute!”

“Just one more set!”

“Only eight more singles!”

Either my weightlifting  class instructors are extremely motivating, or it really is easier to press on when I know the end is in sight.  

Usually, when I’m thinking I can’t push the barbell up one more time, and I hear one of those phrases, I can do it.

I got mad at an instructor who never gave those cues. The difference it made for the worse was amazing. I found myself thinking, This is too long. I can’t keep going! And I quit—a handful of reps before the set ended.

During those times when circumstances feel crushing—when stress and heartache feel like muscles ripping—I wish I could know when the season was ending. Couldn’t I endure a demoralizing work situation or an interminably long wait for a “yes” answer to prayer better if I knew when things would change? Honestly, probably not. I would not have wanted to hear in December 2009, “Hey, good job being unemployed for three months. You only have another nine to go!’

Unfortunately, my reaction to not knowing when a season of life will end is just like my response to the unencouraging weight-class instructor. Trust and hope—the responses I want to have—are hard during seasons of sifting.

I almost laughed as we stretched after one class when the instructor said, “Don’t you feel empowered?” No! I thought. I can’t even lean against my arm without it shaking!

But empowerment comes from doing the reps you don’t feel like doing. Believing the work you’re doing will make you stronger—even when you don’t hear that the end is in sight.

I definitely don’t go to weightlifting class to see how many reps I feel like doing. I do it to increase my strength. And I don’t (or at least, shouldn’t) let my emotions dictate what kind of person I am during a season. Victory comes through pressing on, making room for divine power to take over in my weakness. Because that way, I can do anything for a season.

Waiting for Truffles

You know the feeling—when it hits, you can’t ignore it: you need chocolate now. One of those moments came the other day, so I reached into the pantry for my trusty bag of Nestle semi-sweet chocolate chips. They’re usually not a bad substitute for dark chocolate (my favorite), but when I dumped out a handful, dismay washed over me. Apparently this bag had been open awhile, and a chalky coating covered the chips. Several had melded into one clump and, sure enough, they didn’t taste so great.

Suddenly, all I could think of was a Harry & David dark-chocolate raspberry truffle. My uncle had sent my family truffles for Christmas, but they were miles away at my parents’ house.

If I knew Mom and Dad were bringing me a truffle right now, I thought, I wouldn’t waste my appetite on these chocolate chips!

That same week I had been grieving over a relationship that intuition told me was about to end. I’d spent a lot of time praying for a miracle, asking why, and finally, facing anger mixed with sadness. God’s word to me, spoken through chocolate? “Are you going to settle for old, semi-sweet chips when I have a dark chocolate raspberry truffle for you?”

My challenge is to trust that the truffle is on its way. Believing is my battle. Yet only the enemy of my soul would have me remain stuck in hurt over something that wasn’t best. The Savior says, “What lies before you is better than what’s behind.”

By His grace, I will wait for a truffle.

The Last

What if you knew you were talking to someone for the last time…if that person would never speak to another human being?

My friend recently had that experience, though she didn’t realize it till later. When the Angels’ Landing trail at Zion National Park got too steep and high for her taste, she told her group to go to the top without her. She headed down a ways to the trailside restrooms, where she stopped to enjoy the blue sky; huge, pink and orange rocks; and trees fresh with new leaves.

A woman was sitting there alone, and my friend approached. May as well make conversation.

The lady, who was in her early 60s, had traveled to the park alone from California. She didn’t seem eager to chat with my friend and before long, she excused herself to use the restroom.

My friend’s group rejoined her soon, and they headed down. Near the bottom, park rangers had closed a section of the path.

“Did any of you see a woman in her 60s up there on the trail?” a ranger asked. When my friend said she had, she heard words she’ll probably never forget.

“We found the body of a woman who meets that description over there,” the ranger said, indicating the closed-off section. “She fell 1,000 feet.”

This woman had clearly made up her mind to end her life at Zion National Park. She’s among quite a few others who have done the same—enjoy a beautiful place before taking their last breath. And even if my friend had known the woman’s plans, she couldn’t have said anything to change this woman’s mind.

It’s heartbreaking and horrifying—and it makes me want to have conversations with strangers in my path, offer an encouraging word, and focus more on others than on my own circumstances and agenda.

Living Victorious

“This baby didn’t make it,” Sarah said quietly.

Three of us had huddled on the couch an hour before to look at highlights from Sarah’s four years in the Philippines. She worked as a midwife in the slums, helping families who have nothing.

The little mission clinic where she served was cleaner, better maintained, and better supplied than the government-run hospital. But even in the best of conditions, some babies only saw a few hours, a few days, or a few months of life in their beautiful country. I wondered why Sarah included the pictures of babies who had passed away, but I think I understand now.

When you work in the medical field, you truly grasp the fact that death is a part of life. Even unfair death. Especially unfair death. You don’t have to become callous, but you have to accept it and press on so you can do your best to help others.

Among the babies Sarah delivered or helped deliver, some joined healthy families and will probably live a happy, though impoverished life. Others will encounter abusers before they even start school and join a cycle of victimized living. Some will join Jesus in heaven early, like the baby born to a young prostitute who neglected her infant to death.

I’ve heard it said that we all have a one out of one chance of surviving. Nobody likes thinking about that, but whether we die young or old, we die. Someone will look at my picture someday and say, “This one didn’t make it.” But if I press on and do my best with what I have—time, resources, skills, love—I’ll be among the victorious who made a difference.

A Vision of Grandma

She lay in the hospital bed, trying to sleep . . . longing for sleep. The heart attack had come three days before, so unexpectedly that the doctors couldn’t diagnose it at first. She felt better now, though her new health issues weighed heavily on her mind.

When my aunt felt soft fingers wiggle her toes, she guessed the nurse must be waking her (again). But she opened her eyes and saw someone else. It was Mom—Mom as she looked 15 years ago, gray hair just mixing with the brown. Mom walked around the bed, her white Keds squeaking on the hard floor, and then she disappeared. 

Mom—my grandma—passed away two and a half years ago. Alzheimer’s had stolen her always-kind, always-upbeat personality, and old age had taken her ability to walk without support. But 15 years ago she was a spiritual giant in our family, and my mentor.

I know Grandma is with Jesus now, and when I first heard about my aunt’s “vision of Grandma,” I concluded an angel had appeared to her, looking like Grandma. Or maybe the vision was just that, and a gift from God to encourage my aunt.

Why doesn’t Grandma visit me? I found myself wondering. I could use a little encouragement after drudging through seven months of unemployment. But I don’t believe God wants me to seek out comfort from dead people. In fact, I just counseled someone to never do that. If Christ alone is enough, as my mind tells me He is, I can rest in His presence alone. I can know He gives each person what he or she needs. Sometimes it’s no vision. It’s Him alone.

Grandma would have told me that!

“Networking” fun

I’ve discovered a new meaning to the word “networking.” It’s “interrupting.”

So here I am trying to have a conversation with a woman I just met, practically yelling at her over multiple other simultaneous conversations in the smallish room. And this other woman wedges herself alongside us, sticks out her hand, and introduces her cleaning business (and herself). Seriously, it’s one thing to be purposeful about meeting people and getting your name out there, but does that have to mean interrupting other people’s conversations?

The interrupter—a pixie of a woman and a new arrival from Texas—was nice enough and wanted us to know that yes, she does clean her own house!

I don’t think I’ll be attending any more networking events like this one: zero structure, too much noise, and the expectation that you’ll purchase at least one drink. Besides, my mom raised me to believe that interrupting is interrupting.

Seeking the Source

All he needed was water.

There he was, lying in the dirt, defeated and wounded. That’s when he heard the voice: Go to the water. Not knowing what else to do, he dragged himself to the stream and stretched out his hand.

Perses, the demigod son of Poseidon, learned that could draw on water’s power for physical healing and to glean strength he didn’t know he had. He could also call it out of its storehouses and harness its power to fight his enemies.

Hollywood depicted this well in Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, which is based on a teen book series. Not only was the movie entertaining; I realized later that it portrayed a spiritual principle.

When I feel defeated and crushed, I know God is saying to my spirit, Go to the Source. His Spirit, whose power is harnessed inside me, just waits for me to come. It’s okay if I have to drag myself to His dwelling place. When I do, His Spirit refreshes my soul like water refreshes my body after a hike on a hot summer day. He becomes the Sun of Righteousness to my wounded heart, touching me with His healing. Through His Word, I receive power to press on despite pain and sadness.

All I need is His water.

Would-be Hot Dates?

I should be flattered that men are hitting on me. I guess.

The first thing I noticed about the guy a few weeks ago was his lopsided-on-purpose baseball cap. I wasn’t sure he was talking to me when he shifted in his chair next to me at the library and half-whispered, “How ya doing?” I just smiled. A few minutes later he got bolder: “Yeah, I gotta go to work pretty soon. I’m just looking for another job.”

I mumbled a reply, aware that every patron in the computer lab could hear the conversation. My new friend forged ahead, telling me half his life story. Finally he paused and asked where I went to college. When I mentioned it was a Christian school, the guy completely shut up. Not even a “see ya” when I left!

About a week later I caught the eye of an employee at a natural foods market. In between refilling bulk food containers, he encouraged me to try the unnaturally blue yogurt pretzels. I wandered away, but he struck up a conversation with me again and then accused me of distracting him from his work.

Older men have more guts when it comes to hitting on women. The man today—also working on a computer next to me at the library—outright told me, “You are really beautiful.” The full-body once-over with which he followed his words put a bit of a damper on the comment. This gentleman wasn’t necessarily more than 10 years older than me; I wouldn’t be surprised if his face is lined from a hard life on the streets (a certain odor put that idea in my mind).

I guess I can’t complain about life being boring. Especially now that I’m unemployed and, thus, spend a lot of time in public places mid-day. Maybe I should write a book.

Up against “The Pulitzer”

I just applied for an editor position at a local newspaper, and I’m thinking my chances of getting this one are pretty slim. The publisher happened to walk out of his office when I finished the application, so the very kind assistant introduced me to him.

“I haven’t even advertised this position,” he told me, “and I already have 50 applications sitting on my desk.”

He went on to say that that stack included a guy who’s won two Pulitzers. “I’ve got applicants who are editors in Philadelphia, San Jose, Europe, and then there’s the Pulitzer.”

Apparently when you’ve won a Pulitzer, people just make that your new first name. I should win a Pulitzer. Then people will say things like, “Oh, you mean Natalee–The Pulitzer.” Ha! What does a person have to do to win one of those, anyway?

Let’s just say it’s a good thing I don’t actually want to edit a business publication, manage a newsroom of five reporters, and “take this publication to a whole new level.” Maybe The Pulitzer can do that.

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