A Serious Time Out

I learn a lot about God through parenting. I learn about what it is to love and also disappoint with the way that love is expressed. Discipline is a perfect example. I didn’t ever really understand that part in scripture where it says that The Lord disciplines those He loves (Heb. 12:6), until I started putting my daughter, Esther Hope, in timeout.

She cries, she argues, and then she wants a hug. She feels alone and hurt and like her world is falling apart. She’s 3, and this timeout feels like it’s the most serious thing she’s experienced. And yet she has no comprehension that it’s only because I love her that I do it. I want her to grow up to be a decent human being, and so part of teaching her how to behave involves some sort of dicipline.

Since the novel coronavirus pandemic, I have been feeling like I have been put in a serious timeout. It’s actually been very much like how it must be for my 3-year-old.

I cry, I argue, and then I want a hug. I feel alone and hurt and like my world is falling apart. The stay-at-home order felt like the most serious thing I’ve experienced. And at first, it doesn’t even cross my mind that perhaps this is happening because God loves me. Perhaps part of teaching me involves this kind of discipline–a serious timeout.

I could write probably four different blog posts about the different lessons that God has been teaching me during this time. I will focus on this major one right now: Provision.

I’m the type of person who will plan out a day to the T. Those of you with children can imagine how this usually goes for me. If I’m honest, the fact that my kids have completely thrown off my routine has been a consistent point of contention for the past four years–because pregnancy did that too, let’s face the facts.

Planning out my day with timetables and routines doesn’t leave room to be surrendered to The Lord, nor does it leave room to be present to the reality of needy children. The plan is usually tossed, yes, but there is this lingering resentment in my body, as if tossing the plan isn’t suppose to happen. As if surrender and flexibility and presence is a burden.

When the stay-at-home order was issued, both my kids were old enough that I could have a somewhat regular schedule for each weekday. Gym on Mondays, Leader’s Meeting on Tuesdays, story-time at the library on Wednesdays, BSF on Thursdays, groceries on Fridays. Each nap time, I had a focus for that day, and even though my plans would need reworking, I still had several pillars to fall back on and to ground me. But they were my pillars, and they soon crumbled when everything was cancelled.

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God put me in His serious timeout and told me to think about my choices. Why did my patience thin so much when needing to be present with my children? Why did I feel being flexible with their schedules and needs was a burden? He didn’t ask these questions in an authoritative tone, but in a loving manner. He didn’t scream at me out of rage to go sit in a corner and think about what I’d done. He quietly nudged me into a safe space to reflect upon the ways in which I had been functioning during “normal” life.

I do not believe my wiring for order and structure is wrong, and I acknowledge that God has designed me this way. I do, however, see how I have made idols of my own schedule and plans. The problem with this is that these are not always The Lord’s plans for me (Proverbs).

But knowing this, for some reason, doesn’t make me less likely to fall into the trappings of over-planning or trying to prepare in ways that I’m naturally inclined to do. And it’s because of just that–I’m naturally inclined to do it. To change this, I needed to come to the root of the issue, which was staring me straight in the face as I wrestled with these frustrations about my tossed-away routine as well as this new anxiety of an unprecedented virus infecting people around the globe and in my own neighborhood.

Deep down, much of my desire to plan and prepare was rooted in a fear that what I needed would not be provided for.

Each time I got irritated with a change in my schedule, I feared that I would not be provided with enough time.

Each time I felt anxious about not knowing the next step, I feared that it would not be provided for me, and I’d be left stranded.

Each time I felt frustrated with unchecked items on my to-do list, I feared that I would not be able to provide whatever my to-do list promised at the time: a clean house, a perfectly balanced budget, the best “stay-cation” schedule for our family…

But here’s the thing: Provision happens in the present, and oftentimes, we don’t even realize it’s impact until it’s in our past.

I was craning my neck to look ahead so that I could get a jump start on providing what only God can truly provide. But as I rested in the quiet moments of being at home with my kids–the episodes of Daniel Tiger, or threading toothpicks through the colander, all sprawled out with the pots and pans on the kitchen floor, I could see where God had already provided more than enough.

I had enough time.

I had enough space.

I had enough resources.

I even had enough sleep and downtime, something I didn’t know how much I needed.

This timeout wasn’t a punishment, it was God’s way to showing me His goodness and provision that has surrounded me this whole time.

This isn’t new for God. He’s used to this kind of thing–people forgetting who He is and what He’s done for them.

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In Exodus, when the Israelites were wandering around in the wilderness, newly freed from slavery, they didn’t know what God’s provision would look like in the future. They only looked back to remember Egypt.

But then, in the moment, honey-bread rests with the drew, quail flies into waiting nets, water pours from a rock.

God’s provision is in the moment. It’s right now. It’s not for me to know how it will be in the future. But I can trust that it will be. I can trust that it is.

This is only becoming clear as I look back to remember, something those same Israelites and their descendants were instructed explicitly to do by God Almighty Himself.

This is what He was nudging me to do during this time of unrest: remember His provision, and also, to become aware of it in this moment.

This was something I was not naturally doing in my everyday routine and rush. And even with more time on my hands during the stay-at-home order phase of the pandemic, it has become an act of resistance to not look ahead. Life is slower because of it; I am not on social media, I do not binge watch the news, I do not stock up on toilet paper or Clorox wipes. I have had this time to work at resting in the provision of The Lord, at trusting in His love.

And I realize I have only had this time to do so because of the serious timeout He’s put me in through this global pandemic. Don’t worry–I am not so self-centered as to believe that all of this was so that I could learn a lesson. But I’d also be foolish to think that God would not use a crisis for good–to strengthen the faith of His people and help them to lean into His goodness and love.

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This is one of the many things He has done for me. And I will remember it.

This is what redemption is. This is what provision looks like.

my year of less

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It’s twelve days into the month. They tell me that by this time, most people have already broken their new year’s resolutions.

I’ve tried the resolution thing before. It’s been these etherial statements like, “get in shape”, or “stop being negative”; but like, what on earth does that even mean and how the heck would I even measure that?

Then I stumbled across this whole “One Word” thing, and that was pretty great. I did really feel God lead me to a single word during a single season. The “problem” was that it was never within the confines of a single year. Case and point, I started my One Words in 2014, and I’ve only had 4 words since then. It seems God needed far more time for me to learn tough words like “surrender” or “journey” than one little neatly-packaged year.

In fact, I think I’m still learning all of them–slow, surrender, journey, and grace–and I’m sure I’ll keep circling back to these little words with their powerful lessons on a more-than-annual basis.

But this year I did feel a release from my last word, which was “grace“, and it came right before Thanksgiving.

I’ll spare you the details, mostly because they are pretty private, but I’ll tell you that I finally learned how to forgive someone major in my life, and it was an eye-opening experience for me.

Letting go of “grace” isn’t really letting go of “grace”, but I think I’ve learned it well enough to loosen my grip of focus on it for the time being.

God has given me another word to turn round and round like a prism in my hand, examining it and asking “what are you? what do you need to teach me?”

The word is very simple, and almost painfully vague. It’s “less”.

Less? Less of what? you might ask. Good question.

As my former blog title/alias once stated, I’m a “wannabe minimalist” with the tagline, “less stuff; more freedom”. So the “less stuff” part is truly on my heart, for sure. But the truth is there is a lot more in my life that I think I need less of than just tangible “stuff” (though I guess it all is just “stuff” isn’t it?)

I’m a list person, so here is a list of things I want less of in 2020:

less spending

less coveting

less consuming

less stress

less idols

less selfishness

less striving

less preoccupation

less anger

less exhaustion

less bitterness

Part of this pursuit of less has lead me to take a shopping ban a la Cait Flanders’ “A Year of Less”, which, as she points out in her book, is also very much a browsing ban. See, I like to spend my time looking at things on Amazon, price comparing, reading reviews, adding items to my wish list, or my kids’ wish list, or searching the lightning deals for gift ideas. It reaches a fever pitch at Christmastime, which it probably why this year’s word hits right at the New Year this go round. Browsing often leads to purchasing things I don’t need (I did say I was a wannabe minimalist– did you catch that?). I would feel a little giddy rush getting items in the mail. Even if the items were not for me, but for someone else. This made me concerned that “retail therapy” was actually becoming a thing in my life, and that thing is actually, in reality, just a funny way of saying idolatry.

Online shopping was becoming an idol, and that was no good.

Another part of this pursuit of less has lead me to officially delete my Facebook account. This is the reason most anyone who might possibly have read this, probably won’t. But Facebook made it so easy to compare myself to other people and be preoccupied with basically nothing at all, and it was a temptation to check out and not be present to my actual life. So it’s gone, at least for the year, but probably forever. I’m really over social media you guys, and I’ll probably never be an established blogger for this reason. I think I’m okay with that.

And probably the most etherial of the bunch, I want less stress.

I remember in high school–flippin’ high school guys!–I was stage managing this show and the director said to me, “Claire, you always seem stressed. You should like, smoke or something.” (This was a college student director for a summer project, not a teacher telling me to go smoke some weed, which, for the record, I didn’t. Smoking is not one of my vices, though I’ve got plenty others.) And then, this past July, I went to get a massage. The masseuse who worked on me didn’t remember me from the last time I was there until she felt my shoulders, which were completely riddled with knots. “Oh yes, she said, I remember this tension. I don’t want to upset you, but yeah girl, this kind of stress is pretty rare.”

This, this is true about a gal who’s been trained in the Alexander Technique and used to teach Yoga? This, also is true about a very entrenched Enneagram Type One, desperately hoping that there is an actual way to achieve perfection (yes, I am aware there is not, but I am also not one to give up on my dreams so easily, it seems).

So yeah, yeah, I’m trying to be less stressed. Trying to let go of striving for the elusive perfection, trying to be everything to everybody. Trying to make sure that everyone and their mom likes me, like, really likes me. Trying to say “no” more often because too much on my calendar makes me absolutely crazy. Trying to leave early so I’m not stressed about being late. Trying to…. trying to… trying to….

Aye, there’s the rub. All this “trying” stresses me out. And here we come to my word again.

Less.

Less trying. Less striving. Less working at it. Less taking care of it. Less fixing it. Less “I’ll get it together, don’t worry; I’m on it.”

Less doing. 

More being.

Because, in reality, when there’s less of something, it leaves room for more of something else. Something better.

Less spending leads to more saving.

Less coveting leads to more contentment.

Less consuming leads to more creating.

Less stress leads to more joy.

Less idols leads to more freedom.

Less selfishness leads to more sacrifice.

Less striving leads to more stillness.

Less preoccupation leads to more presence.

Less anger leads to more connection.

Less exhaustion leads to more energy.

Less bitterness leads to more forgiveness, yes, more grace.

…   …   …   …   …   …   …

So, although this year of “less” will also be a year of “more”, the “less” is what I feel led to focus on. Less stuff, less time commitments, less stress, less worry, less striving, less to-do’s… When faced with a choice to add an unnecessary “more” to my life, I will consciously choose less

One Word 2016

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“If you’re like most people, each January goes something like this: You choose a problematic behavior that has plagued you for years and vow to reverse it. In fact, you can probably think of two or three undesirable habits—make that four or five…”

These words can be found on the now wildly popular One Word Website.  And oh, how true they are. This time of year seems to be the time for a litany of imperfections to be perfected and a throng of promises to be made commonly titled as “New Year’s Resolutions.

At the gym I work at, we have an expectation that the Monday after January 1st will be crowded with people who have vowed to “get their life back together” by coming to cycle classes and pumping iron in the weight room. My boss tells us to be ready for the New Years crowd, but we all know that that crowd will disperse by mid-February.

And so it seems to be the case with other new years focus on problematic areas in need of correction.

Workout regimes fall to the wayside, diets are broken, cuss words are spoken, and those pictures we told ourselves we’d finally take or put into photo albums remain caught behind lenses or just not taken at all. It seems that the juggling act of trying to improve different parts of our already messy and chaotic lives is just too hard. How can we stay consistent with self-improvement when our focus is split into fractured pieces– our work life, our love life, our families, our personal fitness goals, our dreams, our desires for a better “me”?– it seems impossible to focus on all of it!

The idea behind Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen’s “One Word” philosophy is that we can do something about one thing this year instead of nothing about everything. They encourage you to boil it down to just one single word, to move beyond the cycle of long lists of changes you want to make that never get tackled.

“This process provides clarity by taking all your big plans for life change and narrowing them down into a single focus. Just one word that centers on your character and creates a vision for your future.-myoneword.org

I was first introduced to this idea by one of my best friends, who told me that God always gave her a word that He used to teach her through each year. I thought I felt God using specific words to teach me as well, but I never formally chose one single word to keep my thoughts tethered to during these lessons.

Finally, I was encouraged by another friend to actually pick my “one word” last year, and, although I don’t think I lived it out perfectly, it was helpful to have one theme to keep coming back to  throughout 2015.

My one word last year was “Slow”, which came, unknowingly at the time, during a year that would prove to be chaotic, shifting and a complete whirl-wind.

Having to keep coming back to the word “Slow” kept me grounded during times of change, patient during times of waiting, and calm during times when I normally would have lost my head.

This one word reminded me to breathe when I wanted to just walk out of my classroom full of students and never go back. It kept me patient when our heater wasn’t working in subzero weather and when water leaked all over the floor, pulling up the tile and making it impossible to walk anywhere without slipping or getting a shoe-full of dirty water.

This one word kept me from making hasty decisions when we were house-hunting, and kept me silent when I normally would have exploded with frustration at husband’s and my disagreements.

It kept me patient and plodding along as I trained for my second marathon, restless to race through a long trek that was going to take more out of me than I expected.

This one word kept me from jumping to conclusions when misunderstandings with family and friends arose. It kept me patient and prayerful when I got the letter in the mail that I was no longer employed by CPS, and it kept me hopeful and trusting when I still didn’t have a position number or a paycheck as 109 students met me in my classroom on the first day of school.

“Slow” kept me restful when I was sick and itching to get out of bed and get back to work.

It kept me patient with myself and determined when I was so depressed that I dreaded getting out of bed in the morning to go to a job that I hated.

“Slow” kept me patient with myself during the ongoing transition into working with my husband at a job I had no idea how to do. It kept me calm during times when I felt frustrated with my lack of progress, reminding me that this might be a slow process, and that it was more than okay.

“Slow” also showed me areas in my faith walk that I had skipped over, impatient to grow in places where God had not yet given in the increase for lack of my quiet and calm attention. He scaled me back with “Slow” so I could be nursed in areas I needed to mature in, a slow process that I couldn’t rush through no matter how determined or strong-willed I was.

I’m not saying I did it perfectly– there were plenty of times I flew off the handle and was completely out of control when I should have been slow and calm, as my husband, friends, and students will be quick to tell you– but this word “Slow” helped me keep it together more than I normally would during a year when I needed to rest, have patience, refrain from rushing into decisions, be extremely calm, and have painstaking endurance.

“Slow” permeated into all areas of my life– my personal life, my relationships, my work, the forming– or rather, the unraveling– of my identity, my faith walk, and even my health.

And so this year I trust that the word God is giving me will be perfectly designed to get me through 2016, even if I do not live it out perfectly.

As this new year was approaching I began to ask God what word He wanted me to focus on. Over and over again I kept hearing one word repeated to me, but I didn’t want to listen. You see, it was sort of a scary word for me, and I was hoping that it might be something else. 

But as I scanned my journals, BSF lecture notes, written prayers, and even the songs I had been listening and dancing in worship to, I knew that this was the word He was giving me.

 My one word for this year is “Surrender”.

Is there a more important word in the life of a Christ follower? But even more personally, is there a more important word in the life of a control-freak, type-A, worrier like myself?

I think not.

And so, as I look towards the year ahead, there are definitely some big decisions, plans, and changes coming along down the road. And I’m going to need to surrender all of them to God. 

This doesn’t mean that I don’t do anything about anything or have no part to play in what happens. It just means that I will take every thought, decision, action, and plan captive to Christ Jesus, and be obedient to Him and Him alone. It means letting go of expectation and preference so that I am I indifferent to any choice that is not Jesus-approved. Surrendering my plans, my dreams, my body, my mind, my desires, and my plan to Him and allowing God to really take control of where I end up.

Hm. Sounds a lot like what it means to follow Jesus doesn’t it? I should probably have been doing this already…

But to have a whole year to focus on simply surrendering… is a little scary because it requires complete trust in what I cannot plainly see. (That’s what faith is isn’t it?)

I remember when I first became a Christian about 6 years ago, laying in bed imagining what my life would be like, and God clearly spoke to me saying, “Claire, your life is not going to be anything like what you can dream up right now.”

I still believe that is true today, and that no matter how many times I envision the future, my life is not going to be like anything I can imagine.

And so far, that has proved to be true.

The thing that makes it less scary is that I wouldn’t change it for the world. So I guess I can trust Him, can’t I?

I know I have little hope of living out a long list of resolutions that I might want to make– get up every morning at 5:30am, workout everyday, get certified in 6 different fitness formats, master html and photoshop, open up an online store….. I could go on.

But I can do my very best, with God’s help, at living out one word to the best of my ability, and to allow it to permeate all areas of my life.

And with a word like “Surrender”, I guess I have no choice but to let it control everything I’ve got.

What’s your “one word” for 2016? I’d love to read about what word you’re going to live out this year!