Desperate Bandits

Last weekend, our family embarked on a camping adventure together. I am labeling it an “adventure,” because we chose to camp on Cumberland Island, a National Park in Georgia that can only be reached by ferry. Taking enough supplies and food for two adults and four boys onto an island to camp for 3 days in the heat of summer is definitely the epitome of adventure.

Cumberland Island is a wilderness full of beauty and nature. The beaches are virtually deserted. Wildlife is abundant! Wild horses and deer roam the island. Egrets and herons can be seen walking through the marshlands. Sea turtles nest along the beaches. It really is picturesque.

Unfortunately, some of the wildlife is a little more interactive. Wild raccoons also roam the island and make themselves at home in the campground, waiting for any morsel of food to claim. We were visited by our first raccoon two hours into the trip. We heard rustling in the bushes and saw beady eyes looking at us, as he sneaked around our campsite, checking out our wares. We put most of our food into a latched food box provided for the very purpose of keeping food safe from raccoons. We hung our trash from a tall pole, and tied up our cooler with bungee cords. We were prepared.

The second day, we discovered that the raccoons could climb poles. Our trash was torn open from the bottom. Later that afternoon, we found that a bag of food inside the food box had been torn open through the wire mesh holes on the outside of the box. I found pieces of shredded bags and oatmeal cookie crumbs all over the ground. We adapted and started putting all of our food as close to the middle of the box as possible. We also started putting our trash inside the box to to keep it safe.

One night, as we got ready for bed, I peeked out of our tent and saw a raccoon digging in our fire pit…which was still aflame. He was managing to pull out charred scraps of food we had thrown into the fire after dinner. In order to do this, he was sticking his paws into the fire to pull out salvageable scraps. Talk about desperate!

Caught red handed!

No wonder raccoons are called bandits! They will not stop at anything to get what they want. Even when it seems desperate. Even when their objective is a burned scrap of food.

But maybe humans aren’t so different. We have needs too, and if we can’t get our needs met in direct and healthy ways we often find more desperate means to get them met instead. Usually, in the United States, we don’t have to work so hard for food, but we may find ourselves desperate in other ways.

Connection: When we don’t have healthy, caring relationships, we will find other ways to get the need for connection met: toxic relationships, gangs, social media, online gaming, codependency, pornography….the list could go on and on.

Recognition: We all have a desire to be affirmed, validated, and recognized for who we are and what we contribute. When we don’t receive this feedback from those we love and respect, we might seek it in other ways: social media, an unhealthy drive for success and perfection, seeking out inappropriate attention from the opposite sex, workaholism, etc.

Security: All of us have a built in desire for both physical and emotional security. When we feel this sense of security is threatened in some way, we can put too much emphasis on things that will seemingly provide for us: a good job and benefits, a large savings accounts, great health or life insurance, the perfect relationship, etc.

There are so many areas where this could apply. Desperation causes us to make choices we would not make under other circumstances, and it’s never a fun place to be. It’s not fun for raccoons, who burn their paws to earn a charred morsel, and it’s certainly not enjoyable for humans who were given a God-ordained soul and an innate need for connection.

Pause: Take a deep breath and find a comfortable place to sit. Think about a time in your life that you may have felt desperate to have a need met in your life. How did you go about trying to meet that need? What are other, more healthy ways that you could have gone about it?

Renew: Think about, journal, and pray about how the Lord has provided for you in your life. How has he provided for your relationship and security needs?

Next: Beginning to make healthier choices means becoming more aware of our own needs and tendencies. Start paying attention to your own needs and work on finding ways of communicating those needs to others in your close circles of relationships.

May we not settle for scraps, when God has designed us for fellowship with his saints and with His Spirit!

Pause, Renew, Next!

Anchoring Our Eyes

Have you ever observed a toddler throwing a tantrum, or an adolescent having a meltdown? If so, you can probably attest to the fact that the child had wild eyes throughout the meltdown. When our bodies are under stress and undergo the fight or flight response, our senses are heightened. This affects the eyes, as they are preparing to take in any important visual cues.

For the most part, this response is beneficial. Imagine you are walking to your car late at night in a dark parking lot. Your pupils will be dilated, taking in as much light as they can to help you see better. Chances are your eyes will also be scanning the alley, checking for signs of danger. This is a helpful response, as it helps to keep you safe.

What if, however, you are in a crowded restaurant, trying to enjoy dinner with your family, but the crowds and noise are making you anxious. You find it hard to concentrate on the conversation at your table. Instead, you find yourself looking around the restaurant restlessly, scanning the room. In this case, you are not in danger, and your eyes are doing you a disservice by keeping you from focusing on the loved ones at your table.

Anchoring can help our bodies and brains calm down.

Because processing visual stimuli takes a lot of mental energy, one way that we can help our brains and bodies calm down in moments of high arousal or stress is to block out some of the distracting visual stimuli. There are two main ways to do this:

  • The first is to close our eyes. It’s amazing what a difference closing our eyes can make to our inner state. We are taught to pray with our eyes closed, and in this way we can focus inward, rather than paying attention to what is going on around us.
  • The second is a tool called visual anchoring, which is choosing a neutral object to stare at for a short period of time. Using the restaurant example, this might be the menu or a saltshaker at the table. This gives time to refocus the mind and body while purposely keeping the eyes from scanning. This tool is even more effective when paired with deep breathing.

Interestingly, this same anchoring principle can be found in Scripture. In Matthew 14, we find the disciples in a boat, in the middle of the night, being approached by a ghostly form walking on the water. Jesus reassures His disciples that it’s just Him, but, being overwhelmed and terrified, the disciples find it hard to believe. The ever brave and impulsive Peter quickly devises a scheme to test the validity of Jesus’ claim. “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” Jesus replied.

Good enough for Peter, he jumps out of the boat and begins walking toward Jesus. We can imagine at this point that he has anchored his vision onto the Savior. Then, he becomes aware of the wind and fear takes over. I can only imagine his stress response system kicking in as he begins to sink. “Lord, save me,” he cried.

Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Matthew 14:31 ESV

Just that quickly, Peter was safe.

When we are in danger, our bodies are designed to serve us well, protecting us from danger and rising to challenges. Our eyes are designed to take in more light and scan for danger when we are under stress. Remember that ultimately our fear response can be overridden with calming tools such as visual anchoring. Even more importantly, we can remember that we have a Savior who will never leave us or forsake us, even when it feels like we’re drowning.

Pause: Take a deep breath and exhale. Now would be a great time to practice your new anchoring tool by closing your eyes or fixing your eyes on a neutral object for 20 to 30 seconds. When you feel calm and ready, read Matthew 14: 22 – 33.

Renew: Think about a time in the last month that you felt overwhelmed. What was the trigger that caused you to feel overwhelmed? What helped you to feel more calm?

Next: Both in a spiritual as well as in a physical sense, think about how you can use anchoring the next time you’re feeling stressed or afraid.

May we anchor our eyes on the One who can save us from the wind and waves of life!

Pause, Renew, Next!

Seen and Unseen

One evening, while wandering the perimeter of our property, my husband and I enjoyed a few moments of quiet conversation together. With four boys, moments of relative quiet are to be savored, and I was doing just that. Suddenly, my husband pulled out his phone and pointed it at the sky. “What are you doing?,” I asked, surprised that in the midst of a conversation he could be so easily distracted. “I’m checking for planets with this app on my phone,” he replied. “Look, it will show you the planets and stars in orbit.” He passed me the phone, and I looked for myself. Sure enough, with the help of the app, we found Mars and Jupiter in the night sky.

Seen and Unseen: visions in the night sky

As often happens, my mind takes everyday occurrences and turns them into spiritual or relational metaphors. This instance was no different. It occurred to me that those planets and stars had been present throughout the day, but had remained unseen. Why? Because the Sun, our planet’s favorite star, shines so brightly, it blinds us to the presence of the others. It’s only when the Sun sets, and we can peer into the dark corridors of space, that we are able to see far-off stars and planets.

In II Corinthians 4, Paul writes about the perspective of what is seen and what is unseen in relation to suffering. He encourages his readers to look not at what is seen, but at what is unseen. He does not deny that suffering exists, or wish it away with platitudes of faith. What he does do, is put it into perspective declaring that these “light and momentary trials are working for us an eternal weight of glory.” He closes the chapter challenging his readers to “fix their eyes” on what is unseen, because what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

I relate to this analogy personally. In this season of my life, I am struggling to make sense of and hold onto truth while coming to terms with physical conditions that are worsening over time. Will I choose to hold onto what is “seen” or what is “unseen” about the situation? Certainly, both are real factors. I cannot wish away the facts. I have to learn to live with and manage what is “seen” about the situation.

Still, in Christ, I know that behind the scenes, much more is at work. Even if I never know the entirety of the story this side of heaven, I can remind myself that these days of discomfort are just “light and momentary.” What is unseen by the eye, but perceived by the Spirit is an “eternal weight of glory” at the end of the race.

Just as the Sun shines brightly through the day lighting up all that we see, we can know with the same surety that at night, through darkness, stars will shine. Darkness, or the “unseen,” is where we grow in faith most, learning the art of hope, and clinging more closely to the promises of Scripture.

II Corinthians 4:18

Pause: Breathe in. Breathe out. Read II Corinthians 4 and meditate on any verses that resonate with you in this chapter.

Renew: As you think about your own life, is there a trial or struggle that you can relate to in reading this chapter? What about the situation or trial is seen and temporary? What might be unseen and eternal?

Next: Pray this week that the Lord would give you renewed perspective about this situation. Ask Him to help you fix your eyes on what is unseen and eternal.

May we be renewed day by day, and have eyes to see with eternal perspective!

Pause, Renew, Next!