Choose the Quiet

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

…aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands…

– 1 Thessalonians 4:11b (NKJV)

In 2002, Gary Jules covered the Tears for Fears song “Mad World” for the movie Donnie Darko. While I have never seen the film, the soft piano notes at the beginning of the song are instantly recognizable. I know that a quiet, breathy male voice will soon tell his story, a story that doesn’t quite make sense. Of course, with a title like “Mad World,” it’s probably not supposed to make sense.

I find it kinda funny, I find it kinda sad…

Repeated throughout the song, these phrases could be my anthem. I find it funny, as in odd, how the art of reasonable conversation has been lost. I find it sad, too. I find it odd how impossible it is to turn off the noise. Sad, too. Blame social media, blame news organizations, blame whoever and whatever you’d like to blame, but there is no denying the tension that hangs in the air, thick and oppressive.

No denying that our world is, perhaps, a mad place.

And so my verse for the year.

We have to live here. No jumping on a ship bound for Mars. Nothing would be different on Mars, anyway, because we’d be there. The problem is us. We’re stuck with that fact, stuck with each other. Yet we don’t have to live as though this is all there is. We don’t have to maneuver for the best position, the greatest influence, the largest pile of stuff. We don’t have to scrabble and scrape and step on each other. There is a different way.

That way is hēsycházō.

…to keep quiet; to rest, cease from labor; to lead a quiet life, said of those who are not running hither and thither, but stay at home and mind their business; to be silent, i.e. to say nothing, hold one’s peace…

Old / New Testament Greek Lexical Dictionary

Did you know that you can rest? Did you know that it’s okay to have empty spaces on your calendar? Did you know that you don’t have to speak to or about every single issue? Did you know that it’s okay to unplug and unwind?

Did you know that quietness is a command?

God knows more and better than we ever can. How easily we forget this truth. Our minds can’t handle the 24-hours news cycle, which seems to have shrunk to 8 or less. Our hearts can’t handle the constant stress that comparison brings, an inevitability in the age of Facebook and Twitter. Our spirits can’t handle screaming and straining every moment of every day. We are finite. Fragile. Made from the dust that I am constantly working to banish from my home.

Yes, it is true that burying our heads in the sands of denial and ignorance does no good. We are commanded to be quiet, but we are also commanded to be watchful (see Matthew 24:42-44, 25:13). Knowing what is going on is necessary. Making time to engage with the issues of the day is important. This life of faith does not equal mush-brain and hiding. We have to think. We have to learn. We have to grow.

What we don’t have to do is deny our fragility.

Before God made people, He made a garden. He stepped back and looked at everything – mighty trees, dainty flowers, cascading waterfalls. He heard the snuffling of furry creatures and the fluttering of bird’s wings. He paused, took it all in and declared it good.

If God, who has no need for rest, took the time to enjoy the simple beauty of a garden, then who are we to think we can cope with incessant noise?

There is business. There is work. Bills have to be paid and food has to be on the table. Homes must be cared for and jobs must be done well.

There is also the silence of snow falling at midnight. The rise and fall of a dog’s chest as he naps. The feel of a clean pair of socks.

We need space. We need to turn off the computer and tune out the ping of smartphone notifications. For an hour or two. Just long enough to sip coffee and gaze out the front window. Just long enough to gain control over raging emotions and lashing tongues. Just long enough to keep from gossiping. Just long enough to keep from committing to too many things out of guilt or fear. Just long enough to remember that God carries the weight of the world, not us.

We need to choose the quiet.

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Five Minute Friday: Focus

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com
* I realize the spacing is weird. I don’t know why. *
Gentle Reader,

 

Tears in my eyes today.

 

This life of faith? It’s hard.

 

Kate asks us to: focus.

 

Go.

 

Being medically weird plain sucks.

 

Like being a desert and nobody has a map.

 

Blood tests earlier this week. I’m used to the poking and the prodding now. Wasn’t expecting my doctor to tell me that I was completely healed, but I was hoping for progress in that direction. Instead, I got, “Oh, hey, actually everything is a little worse.”

 

Fantastic.

 

Pretty much no improvement across the last year-and-a-half.

 

I had this tumor, an extremely rare side effect of high-estrogen birth control, which I took to address hormonal imbalances. Got rid of the tumor, but that didn’t get rid of the problems. I have Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver disease, which usually arises as the result of “obesity, high cholesterol or Type 2 Diabetes.” Don’t have any of these, and yet the organ is all jacked up and inflamed. I feel nothing but disdain for my liver. It’s stupid.

 

I don’t eat red meat and the meat I do eat is very lean. I’ve limited dairy (but ice cream is a definitely weakness). I go out and take walks as often as the chronic fatigue will let me. I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. Yet Janky McJankerstein is all like, “Nope. Not gonna get better.”

 

I want to punch my liver, except that would just make me fall on the floor and cry. A too-tight hug makes me wince.

 

So, yes. I’ve been discouraged for the last 24 hours. Irritated, too. My first question is, “God, how is this fair?” That’s the question we all jump to, isn’t it? I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I don’t do drugs. I don’t eat greasy fast food anymore. I have a desk job, so I make sure to get up and walk around every so often, though I know I need to do more of that. I’m making an effort. I’m trying. And just…nothing. Other people walk around this earth treating their bodies with contempt and it’s all hunky-dory.

 

Bah.

 

Thankfully, He has given me a curious mind. My prayers of frustration and confusion give Him the space to begin shifting my perspective. I feel the slightest bit different today than I did yesterday. Still mopey, but now with a side of determination. The doctor is trying something experimental with me. I go back in two months to see if its helped. In those eight weeks, I’m going to do my own experiment: eating vegetarian. It can’t hurt. I want to see if the doctor’s experiment and my experiment come together in a positive way. The worst that will happen is that nothing will change.

 

I’m tired. I’m so tired. Sprawled out in the dust, face covered with sweat and tears. Again, I am faced with the choice: Will I trust God or not? If not, I’m doomed. I will succumb to the suckiness of it all. If yes, He will pour iron into my soul, the kind that strengthens me for one more fight, one more day. One more step up that steep mountain.

 

I’m choosing, right now, to trust. He was there when I was practically sawed in half last winter. Every aching breath. Every medication induced wave of nausea. Every tear, every nightmare, every stabbing, searing pain. He was there, crawling next to me, urging me, carrying me, pulling me through the muck and the mire.

 

I call myself weak, a coward. He calls me a warrior. I say I’m not a fighter, He says it’s time to throw a punch. I say I am finished, He says that by His grace I’m not out.

 

It’s not over ’til the bell rings, and it ain’t rung yet.

 

I pick up my scratched sword and my dented shield. I straighten my dirty helmet. The Devil, oh, he wants to knock me out. He wants me to turn away from all I know to be true out of fear and forgetfulness. I look to my King. I take my orders.

 

I battle on.

 

…so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, ‘My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.’

 

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.

&npsb;

– 2 Corinthians 12:7-12 (MSG)

 

Stop.

 

My journey to faith. (15)

Saying No to the Good

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

I should have written this last Monday.

Didn’t want to.

Still don’t want to.

Enough with the teeth gritting and the foot stomping and the insisting on my own plans. Either I believe God has the best for me or I don’t. Can’t have it both ways.

For around two years now (give or take as I don’t remember exactly) I’ve maintained a posting schedule. Every Monday, every Thursday night/Friday. I’ve taken breaks here and there. Sometimes I’ve written more than the usual two entries. But always, in the back of my mind, was the routine.

This has been a very good thing. Much as I need to write, I’ll let other tasks and priorities push the time at the keyboard to the bottom of the list. Having a self-imposed schedule has helped me to remember, or maybe to learn, that the words matter. What I have to say matters. I have been given this ability for a reason and to let it go unused is like slapping God’s face. I’m not being dramatic here. I firmly believe that each of us was created with passion and purpose. Our talents and drives are no accident.

I love the bloggers with whom I’ve had the privilege of interacting. The internet can be a nasty place, the cloak of anonymity moving some to unleash the venom and the vitriol. Not so with the men and women whose words have encouraged, challenged, entertained and convicted me. Across the miles we form a network of genuine care and support.

I’m honored that you, dear reader, take the time to come here and read these words of mine. I appreciate your comments. I like that we’ve kept it civil all these years, even when we disagree. I like knowing your thoughts.

Now the thing that I don’t want to write.

I have this book I’m working on. I don’t talk about it much, not even with my husband. It may never be published. Nobody else may ever read it. The completion of the project could be nothing more than an exercise in obedience. No, God hasn’t given me some extra-Biblical revelation. (Smack me upside the head and rightly call me a heretic if I ever claim that). He hasn’t appeared in a vision and commanded me to write. Nevertheless, there’s a message in my mind, one that I cannot shake.

And so, my friend, I have to step away from here.

Oh, I’ll still post. I’m not giving up Five Minute Friday anytime soon. Count on that. There will be other times I won’t be able to resist sharing and you’ll see me pop up in your feed. I simply can’t promise any regularity in this particular season and I don’t know how long that will last.

We all know that there are only so many hours in the day. I have a job and a marriage and ministry commitments and family and friends and just the stuff of life, like laundry and bathing the dogs. I’ve got a limited supply of health and energy with which to accomplish those tasks and pour into those relationships. So, for now, I have to say “no” to the good that is this blog. I have to let myself focus on this book.

Lack of new content is the kiss of death in the blogging world. I know that. My stats are going to drop off. I’m going to lose subscribers. Ninety-nine percent of me hates that reality. I’m going on eight years here. I don’t want to have to rebuild, small though my reach may be.

But the one percent, the tiny sliver of me that knows that obedience is better than clicks and sometimes holy pruning hurts, realizes that it’s a price worth paying. I want to be able to say with confidence that I did as the Lord asked of me to the best of my abilities.

So, Gentle Reader, I’ll be seeing you.

Just not as often as I’d like.

My journey to faith. (15)

The Final Countdown

You are loved.You are cherished.You are worth it.

Gentle Reader,

Thanks to the band Europe for the post title. (If you don’t know the song, head to YouTube immediately).

Twenty-four inches worth of snow covers my area, with more falling as I type this. Long, fat icicles hang off of the rain gutters. Paths snake this way and that through the drifts in the backyard, blazed by doggy paws. The roads are covered with a thick layer of ice, turning a simple trip to the grocery store into a death-defying event. I am inclined to stay home, curled up under a blanket.

I sense the Spirit stirring within, drawing me to something different. I’m not usually one to make New Year’s resolutions, but I know He’s guiding me to make certain changes. For example: Buy an alarm clock and leave the phone in the living room. (He’s quite specific).

Everything within me responded with, “Oh, yes.”

I’m tired of busy. I’m tired of being constantly connected. I’m tired of not being able to turn off my mind. I appreciate technology (obviously) but I want some space. I want some quiet. Because who cares if I miss a Facebook message? I can answer it tomorrow. What does it matter if I don’t keep up with the Twitter feed? Or see the Instagram post? Or get the text immediately?

For two nights I’ve read a book in bed instead of scrolling through a social media feed. And it’s fantastic.

I need to unplug.

Another thing I know I need to sort out has to do with building up a skin barrier thick enough that a certain person isn’t able to get under it. (No, I’m not referencing my husband). My temper is the long-fused, slow-burning sort. It takes a lot for me to get genuinely angry. In this situation, with this person, the flame is dangerously close to the powder keg.

We’ve all got someone like that in our lives. Someone who just knows how to press all the right buttons. It’s awful. I’m tempted to set aside my pacifism and just get in one good punch. (I’d probably break my hand).

I need mental distance.

In the last twelve months I’ve done more writing than at almost any other point in my adult life. Between this space, guest posts, The Book Project of Which We do Not Speak and my private journal, the words pour out. And I know that I am being gently, painstakingly led to say “no” to some stuff, some good stuff, in order to devote more time to the words.

I need courage.

All of this is wrapped up in a single word: Rest. My life looks nothing like that of those around me  – and it’s perfectly fine. In fact, it’s even designed by the One who spoke the universe into being. When I lose sight of that, when I stray into the swamp of keeping up with others or into the desert of comparison, discontentment drops like a hammer.

It’s time to step away. Get quiet. Listen.

So, dear reader, as we mark out the last days of 2015 and step into a fresh year (with no mistakes in it, as Anne Shirley would say), my encouragement to you is this: Rest. If you need a nap, take one. If you need to go to bed earlier, crawl under those covers. If you need to say “no,” do it with firmness and don’t look back. If you need to get out of a toxic relationship, go. Turn off the computer, ignore the phone, catch that episode another time. Remember:

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

– Matthew 11:28-30 (NKJV)

Don’t pick up what He has not asked you to pick up. Lay down the heavy loads, the worries that keep you up at night. Be you, the you He has made and called you to be (Ephesians 2:10). Most importantly, get your focus off of yourself. Look up. Look around. See what there is to see. Find where He might use you. Because somehow, in doing the work we were designed to do, in letting go of the other, the greatest rest is found.

Let’s leave the old struggles behind. Let’s make the choices we know we can make in His grace and power.

You and me together, walking the road of faith.

Following close behind the Lord.

My journey to faith. (15)