Thursday, September 5, 2013

Navigating the Advice Line

Advice is a universal aspect of life.  Be it during the day-to-day or over the course of tyme, a lot of guidance is steered in our direction.  Some of this advice is good and some of it’s of no use.  Some of it’s given with the best of intentions and, sadly, some of it’s offered with less than honorable intent.  A lot of tymes we take advice at face value if it comes from a trusted source, but some tymes we take advice because it’s what we want to hear, not necessarily what we need to hear. Regardless though of tyme, intentions and sources, if we consider it, listening to all the advice that other people have for us really negates the need to think for ourselves.  Of course such an approach to living life is, well, ill advised.

It’s true, the advice line as an all day, every day entity in life that has many channels and while we need to be aware of it, we should not be addicted to it.  There are tymes to tune it in and tymes to turn it off.  There are tymes to change the channel and tymes to hit the record button for later use. Of course, discerning which action to apply when can prove difficult.  Just like most missions in life there is some trial and error involved, but practice greatly improves our chances of getting it right.

So what are the proper practice techniques for handling the advice line?  I’m sure it’s different for everyone, but for me, well, I seem to use the archive technique – or perhaps it uses me because it usually happens when I least expect it.  For example, the other day I was tasked with a rather large project of adding labels to envelopes.  Oh I know, not a huge task on a normal scale, but this related to a mass mailing, so the effort was far more considerable.  As I sat at my desk, peeling and sticking my stacks of labels I admittedly began to grow weary of my duty and, shamefully, laziness ensued.  

I decided, or rather my weariness convinced me, to relax in my chair and place the labels with one hand as I rested a bit.  As you may have deduced with such weariness came a lack of precision and after a few, well, not so straightly placed labels some of my archived advice line recordings started playing through my mind. Every recording advised the same thing:

Use two hands. 

That bit of advice was a common theme in my younger life.  It was offered in regard to everything from learning to drink from a cup, ride my bike, and catch a ball to learning to drive a car, type on a computer and play the guitar. Of course it had different applications depending on the situation.  Two hands on a cup was meant to steady me while using two hands to play the guitar was meant to remind me that more could be accomplished if I focused on what each hand could do separately as well as together.  The underlying element however was the same; using two hands made it possible to get the job done and do it right.

As my advice line recordings resounded in my mind, I took a deep breath, straightened my posture and I went back to my task using the much more effective, two handed, labeling method. Then, as I sat there sticking away, it occurred to me that the advice I remembered didn’t just apply to tasks in life, but also to life as a whole.

As we walk through life there are many obstacles to stumble over.  Using two hands in such cases is simply a way to, perhaps, cushion the blow of our fall, but if we walk through life already using two hands, we will never fall.  How you ask? When one of the two hands is God’s. When we walk through life holding God’s hand He is right there with us to steady us when we stumble and help us accomplish things that we simply could not accomplish with merely our own hands.     

I couldn’t help but smile as I finished labeling my large stack of envelopes and pondering the new meaning of my archived advice recordings.  I realized that while my advice line can get bombarded with useless and misguided advice, it also receives the helpful and applicable guidance I need to get me through life. Of course discerning which advice to use, keep, throw away or record is a continuous undertaking, but from now on, I’ll be sure to use two hands in the process.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Faith Without Works

Some tymes the idea of doing laundry is daunting to me.  It seems ridiculous to be overwhelmed by such a simple task, especially in this day and age when all you really have to do is push a bunch of buttons and the machines do most of the work.  And really, it’s not the work that besets me, but rather the commitment that the work requires. It seems that any tyme there are steps A through Z with any kind of pause or layover between them I tend not to be efficient at the task.  Why you wonder? Well, it’s because I am easily…

Hey, what’s that over there?
Oh good, I’ve always wanted to see that movie! 
Sure, I can come help you move that cabinet.
Dinner sounds great!  See you at 7:00. –
What? Oh yeah, I am easily distracted!

From the gathering, loading, washing, drying, folding to the putting away, laundry is a process and a commitment.  Now, when I put my mind to it, I’m usually pretty good at the first few stages, but my tenacity for the task tends to diminish when it comes to the later phases.  For example, the other week I got to the drying portion of the task, perhaps not as quickly as I could have, what with the whole getting distracted thing, but I digress.  Most of the items in the load were small so I put them in the dryer, but there was one large towel that I decided to hang outside on the clothes line.  Insert distractions here! 

Eventually, I removed the laundry from the dryer and eventually I got it folded and put away, but I forgot about the towel out on the clothes line.  Oh, there were tymes I saw it hanging out there and thought, “I really need to go get that towel”, but I was busy at that moment and decided I would remember to do it later.  Days went by, it was later, but still the towel hung out on the line.  By this tyme it had seen its share of the elements and I knew that I would have to rewash it, so, why not leave it out there until I was ready to do a load of towels and such.

Finally, one day, more than a week later, I looked out and saw that towel still hanging out on the line and I decided that it was tyme to act. I went out to retrieve it, but when I walked up to it, I was shocked by what I saw. Raging rain, scorching sunshine and whipping wind had all been a part of the towel’s online experience and the results were not good.  The towel was greatly faded from its original, vibrant color and it was beginning to tatter at the edges.  It looked nothing like the towel I hung up more than a week before.

As I walked in the house, faded and tatter towel in hand, I thought about how that towel represents faith.  Faith is a wonderful thing to have, but much like laundry, it’s a process that requires commitment.  You can’t just have faith, you have to work at your faith.  If you say you have faith but you don’t do anything with it, it will fade and start to fall apart just like the towel on the clothes line.  You have to take care of your faith, work with it and put it into action.

James said in chapter 2 of his book that “faith without works is dead”.  Simply having faith does nothing. You can say you have faith, but how would anyone know it’s true?  Let’s face it, the world is filled with Doubting Thomas’s who only believe something when it is shown to them.  Therefore the only way to illustrate your faith is to put it into action.  While God knows if you have faith, He expects us to show it to others through an array of opportunities.  Everything from how we react to a difficult tyme in life to how we treat other people are ways to put our faith to work. 

So let’s not let our faith be the towel on the clothesline. Let’s take it down and use it so it doesn’t and so we don’t fade and fall apart under the rough elements of life in this world.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

What do You Carry?

I’ve never been one to carry a purse.  Doing so is girly and while I am a girl, I am not the girly type girl.  Aside from the girly-ness of it, carrying a purse requires a more concentrated memory than I seem to possess most moments of any given day – if you take your purse in with you, you have to remember to take it out with you. Yeah, I’m not so good at that second part. So, the bottom line is I don’t like to carry a purse. 

While the personal choice not to carry a purse is not an earth shattering one, it does tend to create some issues as far as what to do with the stuff I need on any given day. Now, I’m not one that needs all the bells and whistles so to type.  In fact, I’m not really sure what most women carry in their purse to make it a necessity. I’m usually good with my wallet and my camera, but there are tymes that I find I need other things like the case for my glasses or a granola bar or a pack of gum. Then there are tymes that I decide I should carry my Leatherman or a pocketknife, because you never know when either, or both, will come in handy – and really, tools just are cool.

Of course what I have to carry also depends on where I’m going, how long I’ll be gone and the activities I’ll be doing while I’m there. All of these variables seem to advocate for the carrying of a purse, but still, I don’t care to carry one.

Over the years this battle of “need to/don’t want to” has been a trying one, but recently I’ve discovered something that really helps my struggle rather well: cargo shorts!  It’s amazing what you can carry, store and fit in the pockets in cargo shorts.  They can store any and everything I need to take with me on pretty much any outing. They can hold my wallet when I have to go, yes, have to go shopping – I’m not a fan of the process.  Cargo shorts can hold my camera wherever I go, because you never know when you going to cross paths with “the perfect” shot. They can even hold a rather large bottle of water when on a hike. Bottom line, cargo pants eliminate my need for a purse.

The other day my aunt came to town and wanted to go to a few local stores and shop around. Ha, the things I do for family.  As we walked around the farmers market I started to feel weighed down.  Then I realized my “purse” was rather full. My wallet, car keys, camera, glasses case, foundation compact, Leatherman, and cell phone all filled my pockets and added considerable weight for me to carry around and frankly made me feel the need to constantly pull my shorts back into a comfortable position.

When I got home that evening I went to get ready for bed and when I changed into my cotton shorts and tank I couldn’t believe the weight that was lifted from me.  At that moment it occurred to me that it isn’t just the physical weight that we tend to carry around with us every day.  What about the pockets of our emotional cargo shorts?  What do we put in to those?  Pain from relationships, harsh words, failed endeavors, depression, feelings of worthlessness and an array of other negative thoughts and emotions can all fill our poignant pockets to capacity and add to the weight of our emotional baggage.

What would it be like if we if we changed out of those emotional cargo shorts and stopped carrying around all the heavy pain and negativity?  I have a feeling that our hearts and minds would be a lot lighter and it’s likely there’d be a renewed spring in our step.  Of course having the idea to change and actually accomplishing it are two different things.  While it’s easy to fill my tangible cargo pockets with the things I need, it’s difficult to keep my emotional cargo pockets empty of the things I think I need, but really don’t. 

I don’t need to hold on to the mean words said to me, but yet I tuck them away so I can pull them out later and feel bad again. I don’t need to keep the feelings of a relationship gone wrong, but still I hang on to them so I can relive the pain later.  I don’t need to remember the bad things that happened that make me feel sad or ashamed or disheartened, but still I pocket them away for future pain.

If you think about it, the only thing we really need to carry around with us takes up no room at all, yet fills us completely; weighs nothing yet bears the weight of all our burdens, sorrows and sins; Jesus Christ.  When we fill our hearts with Jesus, there’s no room for the things we don’t need to carry around.

So if you’re like me and feeling weighed down by the things that don’t matter, let’s try to clean out our emotional cargo pockets and give the contents to the Savior.  It might be a process we have to repeat often for a while, but I think eventually we’ll find that we stop hoarding the bad stuff and start keeping only the things we need like mercy, grace joy.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Puzzling Thoughts

The Puzzle of Life

There’s something about the long nights of winter that create a puzzling feeling in me. Oh, not that I’m confused mind you, well, no more so than usual, but rather I’m filled with an urge to reassemble a picture that’s been chopped up into a thousand pieces. The concept of jigsaw puzzling is really quite bizarre if you consider it thoroughly, so I try not to. I just look at it as a way to pass the series of dark, cold hours that come packaged at the end of each winter day.

Like any task that has a lot of steps or pieces, there’s a format or an order in which to accomplish them; jigsaw puzzling is no different. I try to follow a regimented process to ensure the least amount of anxiety to a daunting mission.

Step 1: Preparing the Surface.
The first thing I do is get out the square board that sits atop the somewhat plush topped card table. Trying to connect the pieces on the plush top is vexing at best; they simply do not join properly, nor do they stay together for any length of tyme. The solid surface is a must.

Step 2: Setting Boundaries
Just like anything else in life, I need to know where the constraints of my task are in order to give me a concise workspace. So, I sort through all the pieces of the puzzle and separate the pieces with straight edges from those without.  Once I’ve sifted through each piece, I setout to form the puzzle’s border, hoping that I was observant and found all the needed pieces the first tyme through; if not, the process repeats.

Step 3: Breaking it Down:
I’ve come to the conclusion that the world is made up of different minded people; a stunning revelation, I know. In this sense of the thought however, I’m not referring to what people think, but rather how they think.  In reference to jigsaw puzzling, some people think in color, some in pictures and some in shapes. Personally, I am shape minded for the most part when it comes to assembling the pieces, but with just the border together, I have to momentarily adapt my way of thinking.  Faced with a box full of jumbled up pieces can be overwhelming, so I consider the image I am attempting to create and I start pulling out pieces by color, pieces that have a good chance of fitting in the same general area.  I usually try to concentrate on the largest span of solid color in the picture because once I isolate a significant amount of those pieces, my shape minded brain can set to work.

Step 4: Organizing the Chaos
Working a thousand piece puzzle on a card table does not leave excessive amounts of space to organize pieces. Not just that, but arranging pieces on the table is not exactly conducive to easy access. You end up having to stretch across the puzzle or walk around the table to try and see the pieces you have laid out. I’m all about stretching and walking when it comes to exercise, but when puzzling it just adds the possibility of error and frankly, it gets old after the first few minutes. Instead, I take baking trays, the kind with raised edges, and line up my pieces on those. This way, while sitting in front of my work area, I can easily access the tray and secure the pieces I need. Not to mention, when this is done, it does well to accent the shapes of the pieces.

Step 5: Focusing - One Piece at a Tyme
Have you ever met someone with an inability to focus? (pick me!) They might almost seem jittery or very face paced, moving from one thing to the next, leaving each task incomplete and, in short, accomplishing nothing. Of this, I am very guilty. While perhaps not jittery, I do have a profound inability to concentrate on one specific task, something that does not lend itself well to the art of puzzling. Still, somehow, when I sit down to a puzzle I find a way to put my brain in a different gear. I know that hundreds of pieces are there, waiting to be set in their correct location, but I don’t concern myself with them.  Even though I’m looking at them, all laid out on the baking trays, I’m only focused on one specific piece of the puzzle, the one I need. To concern myself with every piece of the puzzle would be far too overwhelming to endure, much like life would be if we focused on every piece of it.

In fact, I find that the steps of puzzling do well to liken themselves to the walk of life. In step 1, we found we needed a firm foundation under our puzzle pieces in order to connect them. Just like that, in life, I’ve found that I need Jesus Christ as my firm foundation or my pieces simply do not connect. Jesus is the one Who keeps my pieces together. 

In step 2, we formed the border of our puzzle, knowing that once assembled, all of our work would be within those parameters. Fortunately for us, God has already built the border to the puzzle of life.  He started it with Genesis, ended it with Revelation and called it the Bible.  Everything we need to know can be found inside its pages and therefore, we don’t need to work outside of it to assemble the pieces of life’s puzzle.

In step 3, we broke the down the picture of the puzzle and I noted that even though I like to concentrate on the shapes of the pieces as a way to assemble them, some tymes I have to change my approach. Just like in life, things do not always work out the way we think they should. Some tymes we’re forced to look at happenings or situations in a manner that is foreign to us. Our standard approach of handling, dealing or coping does not lend itself to certain occurrences and our only option is to adapt.  Every tyme something like that comes about however, God is with us as we try the new adaptation on for size; After all, God is the Ultimate Tailor, able to mend that which we tear.

In step 4, we organized our jungle of pieces, laying them out so that we could see each one if we desired. The process not only made us aware of what we had to work with, but also it created an easy way to access our tools. Let’s face it; life can get chaotic at tymes.  We have places to go and people to see and often tymes we feel burdened by our ….oh… so…. many…. tasks.  However, if we take the tyme to lay those tasks out neatly (on our baking trays) we find that each task or at least in each task is a blessing. So, you have to finish the laundry, pick up the kids from soccer, fix dinner and make it to the PTA meeting by 7:00?  How exciting that you have clothes to wear, kids that need you and love you, food to eat and a way to make a difference!  It’s all in our perspective!

And finally, step 5.  Have you ever wished you could see the “big picture”?  You feel frustrated because you cannot see the fruits of your labor or the results of your effort. You wish God would just show you everything so that you could make sense of what you’re doing or going through.  In step 5, with our puzzle, we took it one piece at a tyme, a process that applies well to the puzzle of life. God knows that the whole picture would be far too overwhelming for us, so He charges us with our pieces. When we focus on one piece or one day at a tyme and how it connects with the other pieces or days we’ve already fit together, well, it is far less daunting of a task than focusing on all the pieces at once.

The bottom line is, with a jigsaw puzzle, there’s no right or wrong way to go about it. Some ways might be more organized than others and lighten the load of the task, but as long as you get it together properly, it’s the end result that matters.  The puzzle of life, however, well there is a right way and that’s with Jesus. Just like you can’t put a puzzle together in the dark, you need The Light of the world to navigate through life’s perplexing moments.  As long as you have Him as your foundation, the pieces will fit; perhaps not always where you think they should, but they will fit. You just have to trust the puzzle’s Manufacturer! 

So, the next tyme we set out to put a jigsaw puzzle together, be it in our living room or on the card table of life, let’s remember, instead of pieces, to count our blessings and that, eventually, we will be wowed by the big picture that our puzzle pieces created.

© L.D. Kirklin