Fearless   Leave a comment

After approximately 30 hours driving a minivan fully loaded with the belongs of six adult sized people, pulling an also fully loaded pop-up camper on our trip across the country to California, I felt pretty confident.

In a lovely series of clichés, it had been a marathon whirlwind insane time.   We had loaded up for the trip, immediately following birthday season at our house, plus starting school, plus daughter starting some college classes, plus younger son spraining ankle, and then we had successfully driven all the way to the Pacific ocean and almost back.  We had left behind older son to go to grad school, which was the motivating factor for this odyssey.

And it had all happened.

Despite all the stress and insanity, there had been joy, and no one had been killed or even injured.  I had even become accustomed to the logistics of driving with the pop-up, although it wasn’t something I had enjoyed in the past.

I had been hoping I’d find one of my current favorite songs on the radio.  I hadn’t been able to download it to my MP3 player before we left.  As we were sailing through Kansas I finally found it.

Am I good enough? Do I measure up?  Seems like a war I can’t win.  But I wasn’t given the spirit of fear, I was given the power of love.  Everything I’ve been fighting against I’m gonna lift it up.  I wanna be Fearless.  No holding back no backing down.  Fearless, because I believe you’re with me now.

Bring on the unknown.

Lead me and I’ll go.

Come set me free, God, I want to be–fearless.

 

I am tired of being a fearful person, and this particular song came to my attention around the same time my youngest successfully completed participation in an outside activity, which for many years was something that wasn’t possible.  I want to choose confidence and trust, even though it is not my natural tendency to be fearless.  It never has been.  I am easily distressed and worried about a hundred different things.

So.

We’re flying home down I-70 and I am rejoicing over our survival so far.

Flying across Kansas was Friday.  Monday at 8:30 I’m home, frying bacon and pancakes, sorting through mounds of bedding and laundry and sorting through the pile of things in my mind, when my husband calls and says, “I just got laid off.”

From a good job.  One he’s had for years and loved.  One we thought would not stop until he wanted it to.  And the money and the medical coverage will last just eleven more days.

My heart is beating a million miles an hour as I sit there on my bed and listen.

When he hangs up, I go back to the kitchen and fry more pancakes.  I sort the laundry.  I do the next thing.

And I remember.  I remember what I had just sung, what I had just said, what I had just decided to do.  How could it be I would be called upon so soon to apply what I had just chosen to do and asked to be?

The only logical thing to do was to just do it.  So, every time I felt afraid, when I wondered how to make things work, when I feared we would have to move and leave our connections and move all six members of our family to a different place, I just said, “God, you’ve got to take care of this.  I know you will.  We’ll go with what you provide.”

This process of turning back to God every time I worry has been amazing.  He’s made me different this time.

 

 

And thanks to Jasmine Murray for her song.

 

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Posted November 27, 2017 by swanatbagend in prayer, transitions

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Helpless   Leave a comment

Life is supposed to be ever onward and upward.  Our culture, as you’ve probably already been told by other bloggers, developed from the American dream, which all started when someone had the audacity to decide our country would be based upon people having the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Somehow, since then, our raison d’être has ballooned to include not just the pursuit of happiness, but the thing itself.

Advertising and media envelop us in images of how it is supposed to be.  Life is full of sunshine, with healthy athletic attractive families prancing across fields.  If you just see the right doctors and buy the right car, take the right medication, get your kid into the right college, your existence will travel forward on this pleasant upward trajectory–forever.

It is true that we do learn skills and competences, and move toward being more independent as we grow and develop from a helpless infant to an adult.  We are responsible to do what we can with what we’re given and not sit around waiting for someone else to do the work.

However, our care of our bodies cannot stop unexpected events from happening.  Our work doesn’t guarantee that we will have a meaningful career, grow older with a loving spouse, and have a pleasant retirement, despite our culture relentlessly pushing this model as what to expect, what should be.

While our skills are valuable and meaningful, they can’t save us from old age and death.

I’d like to think they could, but all I have to do is look around me.  I look at my own life.  Despite doing what is in me with the strength I’ve been given to live a good life, so many of the big things that make the most difference long-term, I don’t control.

I like to think I am in control of them.  I work hard to make things be the best they can be.  And I know how I think things should be.

I make choices all the time.  I work.  I respond.  I choose.  It’s not that I have no power.

But my power is limited.  I don’t control the forces that have the most influence on me–what happens to me and who is by my side when it happens.  I cannot by sheer will command the ocean to roar and another human being to do what I think is right and my heart, mind, soul and strength to be what I think they ought to be.

I am hemmed in on every side by my impotence.

 

Posted November 21, 2017 by swanatbagend in identity, reality

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Misery Loves Surprises   Leave a comment

The misery that you worry about is not the misery that comes.

It never is.

Most of the time, the things I worry about don’t actually happen.

Sometimes they do, but most of the time, the hard things are not the things I was expecting.  They are the things I wasn’t looking for.  I thought somebody would get injured or sick, but instead, my husband lost his job when I knew he was well liked and the economy was booming.  I thought I’d have to put out the fire, but instead I got a flood.

There will always be hard things.  They are just part of life in this world.  Others have suffered; I too will suffer.  Others have lived right on, as Wendell Berry says we do in those times; I too will live right on.

So I have decided that when I find myself worrying about the challenges ahead, and when I start feeling the dread and mess of possible outcomes, I will remind myself of this.  Yes, difficulties that make me feel miserable will come.  They always do eventually.  But I am going to chose not to imagine, in advance, what they will be.

The misery you worry about is not the misery that comes.

Posted November 15, 2017 by swanatbagend in waiting

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Grace Alone   Leave a comment

I’ve been the recipient of a really wonderful sermon, so I’m just going to paraphrase what I got today, and thank my pastor for it, and thank the 500th anniversary of the Reformation for it.  So without further ado, here’s Ephesians 2:1-9.

Sin is not just in our actions, it’s in us.  It is our nature.  We don’t want God.  Original sin is the Christian doctrine that is empirically verifiable.  You can see that death and sin are at work in the world.

As to your rescue, you are a drowning swimmer, not one calling out for help.  You don’t need reform; you need resurrection.  You’re sunk.

BUT because of his love, God has made you alive by his grace, ongoing from beginning to end.  The reason you are a Christian is not because I–but because God is rich in mercy.

Martin Luther states this more fully: “The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it.”  It’s not because of something we did, or because we did enough good deeds to show that we deserved his love, that God loves us.

“Therefore sinners are attractive because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive.”

We see that we can become more attractive as God redeems us, but we don’t need to be attractive to be loved by him.  The only criteria for salvation is our neediness and brokenness.

Lisle’s four questions to reflect on as you ask if you are beginning to grasp grace.

  1. Are you growing in humor, joy and laughter?  Because grace.
  2. Are you growing in holiness?  A grace filled life is not a sin-filled life.
  3. Are you growing in humility?
  4. Are you growing in honesty with God?  You can, because it’s not about your performance.

 

Posted November 12, 2017 by swanatbagend in identity, reality

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Free Agents   Leave a comment

I have to remember that if love is coerced, it’s not really love.  It’s slavery.  It’s bondage.  It’s fake.  If I can keep that fact in front of me, it provides a needed corrective to my natural tendency.

Whenever I find myself thinking that I wish so-and-so would step up to the plate and do what they’re supposed to, I remember the time I complained to an older and wiser friend about how someone was not doing what I thought he should be doing.  In a way, I was right.  The person had an obligation to me and others in a social context he was not following through on fully.

But in a much, much bigger way I was totally wrong.

My older and wiser friend pointed this out.  She did it just with the right amount of gentle and the right amount of real.  I can’t remember what exactly her words were at this point, but if she’d been totally blunt, she could have just said this.

“Since when do you get to run his life?”

Who made me the arbiter of what another individual should be doing?  Nobody.

I have neither the right nor the privilege to do so.

Thank God, because I too want to be a free agent.

 

 

Posted October 26, 2017 by swanatbagend in Uncategorized

The Unexpected   Leave a comment

So two blogs back, I listed the top ten favorite places or memories from the recent trip we took to California, while delivering our oldest to grad school.  I knew on this trip we would head into new territory simply because while our family enjoys camping in our pop-up in the west, we have never ventured so far before (mainly because it’s a heckuva drive and requires too much vacation time).  We have camped in Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, and the states you must drive through to get to these places from our home.  But we had never continued past western Wyoming.  So when we reached Salt Lake City and went, well, beyond, I knew it would be different.

However, until you’ve been there–to Nevada–to California–you can’t know how different it will be.

Some of these differences are just wonderfully striking.  California seems to be a land of extremes, all different types of biomes and so many amazing giant plants.  Then there’s the unsurpassed Yosemite Valley.  There’s no place else like it on earth.  So all of these things were glorious.

But we had all other sorts of unexpected moments.  Those of you who are well-traveled know that on any trip, alongside the wonderful memories, the beautiful places, and the great pictures, you also experience the Other Stuff.  Stuff that is bizarre–the strange–the unusual–in short, the unexpected.

Here are the highlights.

First, it is disorienting but delightful to be able to travel from one biome into a different one when traveling up and down the Coast range in California.  You are in a golden, grassy field with the wind blowing through, and thistles, and twisted trees, and then you take a winding two-lane road sharply downhill past some vineyards, and just like that, you’re in a primeval forest of giant trees.

Food was definitely less expensive than at home–I could get, say, plums, for one-third of what I’d been paying all summer.

Also, the location of the entrance doors for grocery stores in California seemed to be a secret only locals understood.  It took me a while to figure out how to get in, since the doors I always walked up to were clearly marked “exit”.

We also had various adventures that were mostly created by the challenge of having one group of people driving two vehicles cross-country.  These included our scenic tour of the Salt Lake City airport, when our intention was just to find the last gas station before the Great Salt Flats.  The airport access and apparently the entire airport were under construction and the road followed a meandering route similar to what food experiences moving through your intestines, so it took us a while to find our way back to the interstate.  I’m sure the jet-setting departees from the airport were amused to see a golden yellow Penske truck crawling through the detours, closely followed by a dirty minivan towing an old pop-up trailer.

We also took an accidental detour into a semi-truck weigh station as we approached the agriculture check after entering California.

Then, once we got back out of the line for the weigh station, I discovered that while I was doing a great job driving the moving truck, the one thing I did not actually have with me in the truck was the key for the padlock we had put on the back compartment to secure it.  The key, which yes we needed when they asked us to open the back, was conveniently located in a very safe location: the glove box of the other vehicle.

We also had the door of the pop-up camper take a ninety degree flop to the right.  This is normal protocol and would have been ideal if we were setting up camp at the time.

Instead we were hurtling downhill from Donner Pass.  But thanks to the two-way radios, the people in the moving truck were able to alert the driver of the pop-up rig before any supplies came out to decorate the shoulder.

I did not expect to spend an evening helping my son pick baby ticks off himself in Kansas.

I did not expect to have ants invade the cooler at the RV park in Sacramento West.

Or to have a man invade the bathroom at the RV park in Sacramento West.

But he wasn’t the only man I found in women’s bathrooms.  There were routinely men in the women’s bathrooms in Hodgdon Meadow campground in Yosemite.

Perhaps this was because the men’s urinal was non-functional and full the entire time we were camping there.  This may have been caused by the sheer difficulty of bringing in plumbing supplies to a location so remote.  That was another unexpected–the sheer remoteness of the places we visited in the mountains.  I had no idea looking at a map that the roads would be so winding, the elevation changes so extreme.  There was nothing remotely resembling cell reception at either park we stayed in.  In fact, even after we drove out of the redwood valley park on our way back toward San Jose and were cruising the top edges of the ridges, where you’d think there wouldn’t be any large obstacles blocking signals from cell towers, there still was no reception.

But that was actually part of the charm of the state park we enjoyed.  Portola Redwoods State Park has not yet been discovered by the masses.  They don’t give change at the gift shop, and they don’t accept outgoing mail.  It is quiet and un-busy there.  One of the most rewarding events during our stay there was that Portola has been discovered by the masses–masses of vivid yellow banana slugs.  We got to meet them and play with them on our second day after a light rain brought them out trolling the campground for treats.  So I’d have to say another unexpected thing about California was the sheer number of luscious banana slugs.

Also, we learned that a yellow jacket is strong enough to take off with a bacon bit in her mandibles.  I did not know that.

She landed on someone’s salad plate after dinner, found an abandoned bacon bit, checked it out, grasped it firmly and then to the surprise of all managed to lift off!  Sure the flight trajectory was a bit sloppy, and she buzzed my forehead as she took off, but she left with that bacon, and came back later for more.

Our campsite in Yosemite was totally unexpected.  The ranger at the check in said he wasn’t sure how we’d park our pop-up in site thirty-three but we thought he was joking–until we got to the site.  We look at it.  Silence.  Then my husband says, “I’m sorry.  I had no idea this site was like this.”  It really wasn’t his fault that it was approximately forty feet from the road to the picnic table and bear box, and downhill steeply enough all the way that, no, you really couldn’t level an RV of any kind on the provided pad.  We had to camp parallel to the road crammed in behind a large dumpster.  The compensations were that we ended up cooking outside at the table near the bear box, since that’s where all the food was anyway, it was actually quite pleasant, and we were reminded that we could survive without using the super galley kitchen inside the pop-up.

I guess I should have expected something groovy and relaxed, since we were on the beach in California, but I was not quite ready to see a naked old man dive into the freezing surf at Point Reyes.

However, as I say, this is California.

One of the last unexpected things actually happened at home.  Our pop-up has an awning we use sometimes and like most such awnings, it stores rolled up, attached to the length of the pop-up by adhesive.  When you’re driving at highway speed and it’s an unusually windy day, you will see the awning bag flop up and down when looking in the rear view mirror.  It did that all the way across Kansas (because why would it be windy in Kansas?) and I remember thinking “of course this awning is designed to handle the stress of being blown like that.”

We were unloading the supplies the day after we got back.  After taking a short break, I went back out for the remainders, to discover the entire awning lying peacefully on the doorstep of the camper.  After thousands and thousands of miles on the road during which it could have given way to bludgeon the vehicle behind us, instead it waited until we were at home to drop to the ground.

Now that’s unexpected.

 

 

 

Posted October 24, 2017 by swanatbagend in humor, travel journal

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Vulnerable   4 comments

When the standard parameters of your life are removed, you instantly realize just how vulnerable you are to the rest of reality, how vulnerable you are to the problems that those other people out there face.

The job my husband had and the income it generated were like the sun and moon to me, predictable, normal, usual, a relied upon framework for the rest of our business and our lives.  It did not occur to either one of us, for a variety of reasons which we now realize were a bit naive, that he would ever be laid off.  He was.  He was one of the people let go in a RIF last month.  If you had asked me six weeks ago what problem we might face next, being laid off would not have been on any potential list.

Getting that phone call from my husband at 8:30 on a Monday morning changed my framework.

All of a sudden we were the ones who did not have an income.  We were the ones who did not have ongoing medical coverage.  He was the one who did not have an office to go to and a routine to follow, nor a cell phone nor a laptop to transact business on.

I have had problems before, but they were other kinds of problems, chronic issues that I’d gotten used to dealing with.  When a big life stress like this one comes along, besides realizing that you are not invulnerable, you see that whatever you said you believed about the faithfulness of God suddenly becomes immensely more urgent and more practical.

We had a really great job for over twelve years.  It provided for our needs in amazing ways all that time.  It was wonderful.

But it was never guaranteed.  It didn’t belong to us any more than any thing ethereal or material belongs to us, nor could we make it keep happening.

We belong to God not the other way round.

We belong to God, and he can do what he wants with our plans and our money and our lives.  He made us and not we ourselves.

We belong to God, and he is good, and he is faithful.

Posted October 14, 2017 by swanatbagend in identity

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