Hello readers, I’ve taken a look at my calendar of the next few weeks, and the crazy schedule is going to make blog writing impossible. I have placed higher priority on finishing a book, so that project is getting my best writing hours in the morning. Right now, as mentioned last week, my afternoon free time is taken up with various medical appointments—all routine check-ups— and procedures (including the removal of my vein access port, authorized last week by my oncologist). I just wanted you to know that my silence is for positive reasons, and that I am doing well and thriving.

Every six months, I go through the medical surveillance that tracks the signs of health and/or disease in my body. Last Wednesday, I underwent the CT scan, and six hours later my oncologist called to tell me, “It looks great! No changes! All is well.” When all my testing is done next week, I fully expect the all-clear and won’t have to think about cancer for six months, heart disease for maybe five years, skin cancer for a year, colon cancer for five years, female cancers for two years, yada, yada . . .

But there is one dumb thing that plagues me and probably will until I die. On Ash Wednesday, February 9, 2016, I began a serious recalibration of my food intake to address my significant weight-gain during cancer treatment, plus the extra twenty pounds of “too much Mary” already present before that. It has been one year, two months, and twenty-three days of logging my meals, mixing protein shakes, chopping vegetables, carefully navigating through parties and holidays, and otherwise changing habits. I have lost about 38 pounds, and have four (or six) to go. I feel terrific and have experienced many health benefits along the way. I can even say I love the way my body has turned out! Please note that last sentence, because I don’t want you to get the impression that I hate my body or have a body/spirit duality thing going on here (that’s a theological position that says anything of the body is “evil” and everything of the spirit is “good”). But after all of this success, I am still frustrated—on a plateau since Christmas—about that last four to six pounds that keeps my body-fat-percentage above 25%.

I just got home from the weight-loss doctor visit, and am working out my frustration here. The other reason I am sharing this with you is that weight loss offers one of the best illustrations of the struggle most Christian face against residual sin. Those who have embraced Christ and received his forgiveness have, Scripture tells us, been made alive in Christ, are new creatures, and possess eternal life. The Holy Spirit has moved into our hearts to work out God’s purposes from within. The Christian life is a journey toward Christ-likeness, and discipleship helps us practice the new habits consistent with belonging to Christ’s household of faith. For some of us, the transformation is dramatic; for others more subtle. But in Christ, we are new creatures.

We have eternal life now, but we are still residing in this body, which—if I may stretch theology a bit—has a mind of its own. There are things that happen in our bodies that we did not cause: I think of my friend with diabetes who can have a perfect diet/insulin day and still crash in the middle of the night. I think of another friend who has ups and downs of blood pressure that are not correlated to stress in her life. How about the person, like me, with no risk factors present (family history, smoking, exposure to pollution) who gets lung cancer? No, really, our bodies represent great mystery sometimes, and no matter what we do, things still happen.

I cannot answer the question on the physical level, but what this struggle illustrates in the spiritual realm is important. Until we prevail over the Last Enemy (physical death), we are going to struggle with sin. The Apostle Paul gives us two insights, first by venting his frustration in Romans 7:

14For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. 15I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Paul is saying that there are forces at work within our mortal bodies, minds, and souls that oppose the good that God wants to do in us. We need the redemption offered in Jesus Christ! Our daily struggle reminds us of our complete dependence upon the grace of God.

Paul’s second insight helps us rest in God’s help:

7 . . . a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. 8Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, 9but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

I would be so happy if God would help me lose these last stubborn pounds, but at least I see the potential for blessing and spiritual fruit-bearing in the heat of the struggle. That stupid scale reminds me that I must remain vigilant against temptation. I must push back the human propensity to deceive myself. Who knows? If I reached my goal weight tomorrow, I might say, “Whee-e-e, now I can eat whatever I want again!” But that most certainly is not true. There will still be great need for discipline, healthful choices, and denial of self. Denial of self and life unto God are simultaneous dynamics that get to the heart of what it means to be a child of God.

So I accept the struggle and resign myself to my weakness, not by “sinning” but by renewed resolve to work with God’s purposes for me that include healthy discipline. God must be strong in me. This will be God’s work in his strength, and may my submission to God’s will be empowered by the Holy Spirit!

What If You Asked?

May 2, 2017

I spent the morning at the dentist being “crowned.” Nothing traumatic to report; in fact, Dr. H. did a great job numbing my lower left jaw with three Novocain shots. This is why I am known in her office as the woman with nerves of steel. Afterwards, I delayed going to work at the hospital, since I did not want to drool on patients while my mouth was anesthetized. Just as that tingling sensation of tissues waking up started, I jumped in the car for the five-minute and 1.25 mile drive to John Muir Hospital for my Monday shift.

Within a half hour, the pain was throbbing and I bemoaned the fact I did not have any ibuprofen with me. So it was a long afternoon, and I was beat when I finally got home at 6 p.m. [Another reminder of how much the experience of pain exhausts a person.] I looked for the Advil, and finally discovered that I had a bottle of it with me all along, in the purse my kids call my “Mary Poppins bag”! Sheesh.

Isn’t it just like us mere mortals to miss the reality that what we need has, in Christ, been given! We already possess what we need in order to thrive: as Peter wrote in his second letter: “[God’s] divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, . . .” (1:3). But as my sad tale today proves, it is possible to have something important in our possession but not know it.

The Apostle Paul introduced his letter to the Ephesians with the affirmation, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places . . .” (1:3). Yet, here we are, moping around with a throbbing spiritual pain or emotional ache or even physical sickness, forgetting to tap into the supply of God’s provision.

James, the Lord’s brother, put it this way: “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2). Jesus himself said, “For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Mt 7:8 with parallels).

I know, I know, you are thinking that it can’t be that simple. We all have a list of prayer requests that came back “No.” But even so, we are called upon to trust that God has our best interest at heart. The promise is repeated often enough in the New Testament, and by numerous human authors, that it must be true. Remember Jesus’ teaching on prayer?

11“Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13).

If I had prayed for the Holy Spirit this afternoon, what sort of answer would I have gotten in my moment of need? First of all, the Holy Spirit dwells in my heart by faith, so I do not have to ask for him to come again. But I am urged to ask the Holy Spirit to act, and how does he do that? By filling me with spiritual fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Peace and patience definitely would have helped this afternoon. The Holy Spirit would also have helped me utilize spiritual gifts already given to me: wisdom comes to mind, for starters. Wisdom, if appropriated, would have moved me to search my purse “just in case.” But then, there are times when circumstances cloud our spiritual acuity or we forget what is available to us. It is a sure thing that if we do not ask, we will continue to suffer. But if we do ask, God has something helpful to give! This is not rocket science, and theological gymnastics are not required. We do not receive, because we do not ask. God is faithful to give us everything we need for thriving.

So today, don’t forget to ask God for what you need. Expect a fresh wind of the Spirit to guide you through your challenge, roadblock, or infirmity. Ask yourself the question, If God has already given me what I need for life and godliness and I have received every spiritual blessing, what do I have in my possession now that can help me at this moment? You might be surprised at what you find in your Mary Poppins bag!

In anticipation of a stellar 80° day, Andy and I headed out Saturday morning to explore the John Muir Historic Site. We toured a visitor’s center and the Martinez home where the famous “wilderness tramp” John Muir lived and raised a family for 24 years.

John Muir was born in Scotland in 1838 to strict Presbyterian parents, who immigrated to Wisconsin when John was still a boy. He showed promise as an inventor, an interest that motivated him to study at university. But before graduating—he dropped out in 1863—he made a tour on foot of Iowa, Illinois, and Canada and acquired a taste for the wilderness.

Later at age 29, employed by an Indianapolis carriage parts manufacturer, a factory mishap changed his life forever. A metal file broke in his hand, and a piece of it jabbed his right eye, blinding him. A doctor bandaged the wound and prescribed quiet rest in a dark room for four weeks.

During this recovery period, Muir began to evaluate his life and loves, and realized that there was a lot of world he wanted to see. He set out to discover the riches and lessons nature could teach him, first with a 1000-mile walk to Florida and then to California where he fell in love with what we now call Yosemite Valley. He lived in the High Sierra, tending sheep or operating a sawmill, but mostly exploring, for four continuous years. During this time, he began to journal his findings and to publish magazine articles extolling the beauty and grandeur of Yosemite. His writings drew attention to its vast natural resources, the necessity of its preservation, and his own exploits off the grid.

Muir’s remarkable story goes on, but I want to reflect on the fact that a brilliant man went off the grid at least twice: from 1863 to 1866 and from 1869 through 1873. In both instances, he came back refreshed and resolved to secure and preserve natural wonders. His most potent methods were to write about his wilderness observations and experiences and to relate to influential people, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and President Teddy Roosevelt. He is known as the Father of the National Park System and was the first president of the Sierra Club.

Four years off the grid in Yosemite, but writing and taking notes, became the seedbed for great ideas and a significant impact on American life. As I pondered the correlation between social withdrawal and public impact, I realized that Muir’s life runs somewhat in parallel to the Apostle Paul and to Jesus.

The Apostle Paul was confronted by the risen Christ (Acts 9) and brought into Damascus to be instructed by Ananias. After this dramatic conversion, he withdrew from public life for at least three years. When he emerged from this quiet learning period, he itinerated all over the Mediterranean region to proclaim the gospel, establish churches, and write letters comprising a good part of the New Testament.

Jesus lived an obscure life for thirty years before changing the water into wine in Cana and becoming a locally known figure. After his baptism, he was sent by God’s Spirit into the wilderness for forty days. He returned to civilization and began calling disciples to himself and launching his ministry. His public life was punctuated by forays to quiet places for contemplation. His creative “product,” unlike Muir and Paul’s writings, was relationships and public teaching. He never wrote a book, leaving that task to the four gospel writers, but established his earthly legacy through the development of many disciples as preachers, teachers, and church planters.

For several years, based on what I still think was “a word from the Lord,” I expected that my contribution as a Christian leader to the church would be more prominent and influential than it has turned out to be. What form that leadership would have taken was never fully revealed, though I felt I was inching closer a couple of times. I felt the Lord preparing me for a leadership role of some impact.

But like Jesus’ Messiah-ship, which turned out looking a lot different than Jewish leaders of his day expected, the path God set for me has involved hardship and ridicule and failure (especially the 2012 PCUSA legal defeats that led to the sea change in that denomination). It has included life-threatening illness that took me out of full-time work, and academic forces beyond my control that truncated a future as a seminary teacher. These setbacks and redirections have channeled my energies into part-time hospital chaplaincy and into writing a memoir about my experiences. It is not easy for me to say this: I was disappointed and even shaken that I misunderstood God’s appointment.

Nevertheless I affirm that God knows what he is doing with my life. I am at peace now with the call to live as faithfully and excellently as I can within my present context and to remain open to his continued direction. Power and influence take many forms, some of which I may not actually want anymore. But writing something true, worthy, and thought-provoking may become my means of leading people to Jesus’ calling in their lives. As my dad used to say, “The one who has the pen has the power” (Naegeli’s Law #3).

The stories I have shared today—of John Muir, the Apostle Paul, and our Savior Jesus Christ—remind me that good things come out of quiet obscurity. I can expect to thrive and be joyful and do some good as long as I stay closely in tune with the one singing the melody in my life. For now, that means (in part) transcribing the music I hear onto the written page, from which others perhaps can sing the lead and be heard.

 

 

I’ve been on the road, driving alone in our little Sprinter van conversion RV, to meet Darling Daughter A in Ashland, Oregon. It’s a drive one can easily accomplish in one day, but I left Wednesday afternoon to get the first three hours under my belt. Without really planning it this way, I have had a mini-retreat. Driving in the quiet, enjoying the scenery, occasionally listening to music, stopping every once in awhile to stretch. It’s good for the soul! I recommend it.

Sometimes a person just has to get away, into the quiet, in order to gain perspective. The daily discipline of “quiet time” allows us to listen to God and examine our lives. One need not go on a road trip to accomplish this task, but every once in awhile an extended “time away” (even at home) refreshes the spirit. I have experienced significant spiritual breakthroughs in times like this and am open again.

In the silence, I realize one question is a trigger for my anxiety: Am I spending my time on the most important things? I often wonder if today’s precious hours are being spent properly. “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:15-17). Am I doing what God wants me to be doing? Doubt that I am has plagued me for a few years, from a career perspective. It seems to be coming to a head as my husband and I discuss retirement (some time in the future). Like, Wait, I’m still working on, “What do I want be when I grow up?”

It is possible for me to get quite tied up in knots about this, and I know full well it is a form of obsession, diffuse in its focus, and therefore in the category of anxiety rather than worry. Worry tends to be focused on more realistic, specific concerns. I face the Life Question every day, because of course I have a long list of unfinished projects, home improvement tasks awaiting attention, four books to write, and relationships to maintain. Which is the most important to work on today? Half the time, I don’t know. I recognize that I can suffer from analysis paralysis, otherwise known as “overthinking.” Throw in a little perfectionism, and you have a recipe for emotional gridlock.

But wait, there’s more: experience a life-threatening illness that carries with it an abysmal 5-year survival rate. [I just celebrated Year 3 of those 5, and expect a full lifespan.] The tension surrounding the time question builds. Could it be that one of God’s purposes in carrying me through lung cancer was to explore this particular growth area? God has invited me to re-learn how to live in the present, make the most of every encounter, and consider the value of what I used to dismiss as trivial pursuit.

A corollary to the fear of Time-Wasting is the Bucket List idea: what’s on my list and how much time do I have left to fulfill those dreams? I was speaking with a patient earlier this week, and he told me, when asked how he was doing in his spirit, “I’ve done everything on my bucket list, and I no longer know what the purpose of my life is.” Wow! What a great entry into a meaningful conversation on the Purpose of Now.

I realize that most of my anxiety has to do with the future. My daughters laugh at me as dinner winds down and conversation gets goofy, and I change the subject to “What’s up tomorrow?” or “Here’s tomorrow’s plan.” Over decades time I have under-appreciated what is going on right now and often have not been present to it. It’s odd, because when I do actually rest in the present, I feel safe and secure, led by God. I have the capacity to put my heart and soul into whatever I am doing and get lost in time. Not very often do I do this, but I can.

Those who are overwhelmed by the present cope by diverting their attention to something fun or engaging: needlework such as counted cross-stitch is excellent for requiring concentration, and I have found backpacking does the same thing for me. You either center down and concentrate in a very small circle of activity, or you do something repetitive and concentrate on breathing. I know people who find their refuge in gardening, in making music, in fly fishing, and in painting. These activities are calming because they put us in touch (whether we realize it or not) with our Creator, who is saying right here and right now, “Peace be with you.”

As we move through Holy Week, I am contemplating Jesus’ mental state, on the lookout for anxiety. If I had been in Jesus’ shoes that week, anxiety is what I would have been feeling. But that is only projection from a very human point of view! Letting the Scripture speak for itself, we find a window into the soul of the God-Man Jesus in accounts of his visit to the Garden of Gethsemane.

Up to this point, Jesus was handling his emotions well. He has spent the evening with his closest disciples, instructing them, explaining the meaning of upcoming events, and reassuring them of the Spirit’s presence. His death is less than a day away. The narrators hint at poignancy and even sadness, especially in reference to imminent betrayal, but we see no fear at the dinner table.

In the Garden, though, we see a different reaction worth noting.

I am comparing the versions proffered by Matthew 26:36-46 and Mark 14:32-42, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Luke, for all the heart-warming humanity in his gospel, includes very little emotional content in the Garden of Gethsemane scene. (All we have is the textually disputed Luke 22:43f that elaborates on Jesus’ anguish in the garden.)

Matthew 26:37 states:
He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved (erxato lupeisthai) and agitated (ademonein).

Mark 14 uses a different verb:
Jesus began to be distressed (erxato ekthambeisthai) and agitated (ademonein).

Lupeo (to grieve) points to deep sadness and emotional pain. Agitation (ademoneo) suggests a physiological disturbance caused by a flush of adrenaline, the “fight or flight” hormone of stress. Physical pain is often accompanied by agitation, which adds to the suffering. So according to Matthew, Jesus was in deep emotional pain, overwhelmed by sadness and apparently unsettled and disturbed in his spirit.

Mark also uses the word ademoneo (agitated), but instead of referring to grief, he uses ekthambeo (be distressed). This word means, “greatly astounded,” with either positive or negative reactions. The positive use of this term would be “to be amazed,” but in this case, the meaning is “to be alarmed.”

What caught my attention is that this word “astounded/alarmed” suggests that Jesus was surprised by something ugly or dangerous. For some time we know he had been aware of the purpose of this journey and its outcome (his death). But in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was taken aback by a vision of what was to come. Louw & Nida suggest that this word meaning may even extend to fear.

What could possibly surprise Jesus to the point of alarm? The desolation of his own death! Death itself was not new to him; he had wept at Lazarus’ tomb before he shouted for Lazarus to come out. But here in Gethsemane, Jesus is confronted and astounded by the pain of dying and the darkness of his own death.

This reaction is different from the poise he demonstrated in the prior week. So different in fact that I wonder if the first Garden encounter—the one that caused alarm and agitation—was not with his heavenly Father but with the devil. The devil authors fear, disturbance, and destruction. If it can immobilize us by intimidation or threat, it will. God, on the other hand, is the author of peace. He provides courage and instills in us a sense of purpose and resolve. And he gives us the power to proceed on the path he has chosen for us.

By all accounts, Jesus is taken aback by the devil’s threat at first, seems to regroup, and then addresses his Father with “Please, if possible, remove this cup; nevertheless, do your will, not mine.” This is the honest, steady, intimate plea of Son to Father, born out of complete trust in God’s plan.

Jesus, even if he were momentarily afraid as the text suggests, was not sinning by recoiling from the horror of what would happen. But he does not run from this particular peril, because it is his mission to walk into trouble and die for a pre-ordained purpose. He willingly submits to his Father and carries out his assignment knowing full well now what it will entail, in all its gory devil-drawn detail.

As we continue on our Christian walk, there are times and circumstances when we become alarmed, even afraid. Alarm in the midst of a genuine threat to our wellbeing is a gift from God to help us get out of the way, run, remove our hand from the fire, or otherwise escape and survive. When there is danger, the alarm is raised so that we can act appropriately and quickly. There is no sin in recognizing danger. There is no fault in being outraged by death. Please be assured that even Jesus felt these things!

When I think about the moments in which I received bad news in the last ten years or so, I did experience alarm that allowed me to give my full attention to next steps. Yes, I tended to get agitated by the unknowns, unsettled by the ambiguities, befuddled by options before me. But my faith in God’s providence never wavered, because this state of alarm morphed into vigilant trust in the Savior. Focusing, as Jesus did, on walking in God’s Way throughout these ordeals was made possible by God’s Spirit within me. I believe it is that same strength and power that enabled Jesus to walk toward his death, from Gethsemane to Golgotha, resolving to do God’s will without complaint or cowardice.

Today’s entry is one more context-setting blog, and then I think tomorrow I can start in on some Holy Week reflections. One of the more interesting ministry directions I have taken in the last year and a half is to involve myself helping people who suffer from lung disease (sometimes cancer, but more likely asthma, COPD, or emphysema). When I was diagnosed with lung cancer in the fall of 2013, I was introduced to a new community of “my people,” those for whom breathing is an appreciated gift and intentional effort.

Part of my recovery in 2014 required me to undergo the Pulmonary Rehab program at John Muir Medical Center (Concord Campus). Participating in that seven-week discipline—which included class instruction and discussion as well as medically supervised gym workouts—opened my eyes to a needy population. I was soon asked to teach one of the units, specifically on “activities of daily living.” So now, once a month, I go in and entertain them with demonstrations, recommendations, website links, and other instructional input to help them function independently at home. Great fun, for sure, and keeps me in touch with a vulnerable group of people.

The second contribution I am making to lung health is through the Lung Cancer Alliance (LCA) in Washington, D.C. This fine group of people is supporting all kinds of efforts, with the hope of reducing the incidence of lung cancer, catching it earlier, finding new treatments, and supporting patients and their families with useful resources. The organization has a legislative branch that raises awareness among Members of Congress, drafts bills, and promotes funding for research of the disease and its cure. I made a trip to D.C. last month in order to meet with legislative aides for the two California Senators, Diane Feinstein and Kamala Harris (see me here with Senator Feinstein, whom I met out in the hallway), my Congressman Mark DeSaulnier, and Senator Marco Rubio (R–Florida) in hopes of convincing him to co-sponsor a bipartisan research study bill with Senator Feinstein.

One of my LCA assignments, to be fulfilled next December, is to contribute to a webinar on the topic “Survivor Anxiety.” I had shared with one of the staffers that after three years, I still suffer from scanxiety (getting anxious right before or after a periodic follow-up CT scan) and certain events can trigger an anxious reaction in me. So between now and December, I am keeping an “anxiety journal” and pondering—in a good, non-anxious way, I hope—how to address what turns out to be a common experience of cancer sufferers.

I share all this by way of introduction to this week’s reflections on the events of Jesus’ last few days of life prior to his resurrection. I am going to look at some biblical texts through the lens of anxiety. Particularly this week I shall try to imagine how Jesus managed himself through the horrific unfolding of events leading to his excruciating death on the cross. I anticipate that we will learn something together about worry and obsession over the things that might happen to us, but the goal is to discover the resources we have in Christ that will enable to walk our own journeys with poise and confidence.

Hello faithful readers,

I am taking a blogging break for the month of June to accommodate the intense concentration required to prepare and sing several choral concerts this month. It’s a spiritual discipline of another sort.

I am in the middle of final rehearsals this week, in anticipation of two “bon voyage” performances this weekend in Seattle. After a week’s break, I head to Frankfurt with the Northwest Firelight Chorale, to visit and perform in the Rhein Valley and Cologne in Germany and points west in Alsace and Burgundy France.

Crazy, I know. My 62-year-old brain is in overdrive memorizing eighteen pieces, most in English, but one in French and another in Alsatian, which is going to be the death of me. On the other hand, there is so much for which to be thankful:

• a voice that is finally cooperating and stable enough to sing for hours

 • a fine and fun choir and a conductor willing to overlook my creative breathing 🙂

• beautiful music focusing on the theme “On the Journey Home” through American sacred songs, hymns, and spirituals. A lot of these texts are heaven-centered, and since I have been contemplating Life after Life after Death lately, it has been a blessing to sing about it also.

Keep me and the choir in your prayers, for travel mercies, good health, and appreciative audiences throughout the tour.

In the meantime, treasure Jesus Christ in your heart and bring the Word to life. And if you get a chance, sing about the hope you have in the Savior!

Technically speaking, I am unemployed. All that means is that the work I do is self-directed and without remuneration. Working at home, alone, usually means work without encouragement or even accountability. My admiration for the world’s great writers grows by the day, as I appreciate more fully the inner perseverance needed for literary productivity.

My big issue now is that there are too many other things to do besides writing, each requiring intense concentration until finished—the kind that pushes all other priorities to the margins.

  • Memorizing a lot of music really fast. My husband and I are participating in a choir tour, as guest choristers, for a series of concerts in Seattle and then in Alsace and Germany. We are rehearsing at home, alone, until dress rehearsals in early June. That means reading and learning notes and words, getting in shape vocally (after a lousy winter of lost voice), and committing to memory eighteen pieces, ten of which are new in the last week!

  • More medical surveillance. Six medical appointments in two weeks may not seem like that big a deal, but time in the waiting room and conversations with doctors, plus whatever changes to meds or diet or monitoring, all scream “interruptions!” While on my trip to Turkey, I carried a list of meds and their times of administration, so I wouldn’t get off track. Right now, that’s six times per day. I’m hoping after one of today’s doctor visits this will go back down to twice a day. [I remain in awe of the fact that my father-in-law, in his late-90s before he died, took only one blood pressure pill a day!]

  • Processing the lessons from the Turkey/Greece trip. How glad I am that I took only 850 pictures! Even so, they all must be labeled, and my faulty memory of their significance must be augmented by notes, guidebooks, and others’ pictures. One of my 2013 regrets was having the debriefing of our Africa trip truncated by the immediate illness and cancer diagnosis to follow. I don’t want that to happen again.

  • Making a baby quilt for my niece delivering her first child later this month. It is only a half-day project, but it looms big in my mind, for some reason. Silly, really.

The task list is different, but the effect is the same as when I was an overworked pastor: just too many irons in the fire, requiring too many areas of expertise and hours of concentration each. And this doesn’t even count figuring out the direction of my blog or finishing Slaying the Beast, which requires maintaining a train of thought over a few days to accomplish the next step. At times like this, I am paralyzed by perfectionism, indecision, guilt and dread.

So what is going to help me?

  1. God is going to help me, by reassuring me that he notices what I am doing and loves me. He is not withholding his love until I finish something; he does not wait to extend his mercy; his steadfast love for me is being poured out upon me right now.

  2. This may seem strange, but I also imagine that Jesus is chuckling at my folly and inviting me to enjoy these activities, because they are “me.” He would say, “Jettison the guilt and the dread; have a good time doing what you love! I’m right alongside you.”

  3. Taking more time first thing in the morning to let God breathe life into me through his Word. Like a mini-retreat, this pause de-clutters my mind and ultimately helps me focus on the tasks that follow.  

  4. Start. Something. Give it an hour, and assess. Keep going if it is gaining traction, or move on to the next thing and give it an hour. Repeat in cycles, punctuated by a turn in the garden or a ceremonious cup of tea. Once one of these activities takes on a life of its own, submit to it and keep going. Dinner can wait. Laundry can wait. Facebook can wait.

  5. Thank God enthusiastically and often: I am alive and have the freedom to make choices. Life is not boring. These projects all have the potential to bless someone. God is good and worthy to be praised.

In my next post—whenever!—I’d like to ponder the question, So what’s so hard about writing a blog?

 

Tomorrow morning I am heading to Istanbul to begin a two week tour of western Turkey and Greece with Fuller Seminary alumni and professors. I have been focused on preparation of mind, body, and spirit as well as packing. As of today, my body is on Istanbul time so that I can “hit the ground running” upon arrival in that great city first thing in the morning Friday. 

Now that the packing is all done, I turn to Colossians 4 and realize I can do a much better job of bringing it to life it after my trip! So I have decided to keep you in suspense awhile longer . . . I am not sure how reliable my internet connection will be, but if I can get a post or two and perhaps a picture out to you while on the Way, you’ll get my impressions of the region on Paul’s mind in the book of Colossians. I do know that the ruins of Colossae are basically buried in a big mound; but who knows what we might pick up that will be helpful to our study?

Your prayers for a safe journey, good health, and joyful relationships with fellow travelers would be appreciated.  I signed up for this 14-day tour shortly after my health was restored in 2014. My husband, who is unable to get away for this time period, encouraged me to seize the day. So prayers for him, too!

In joyful anticipation,
Mary