If you’ve been a reader of my blog very long, you may have noticed by now that I tend to write frequently about animals and nature. It seems that I reflect best while observing my natural surroundings. It’s unsurprising then, that today’s blog post starts out with a story about birds.
A birdfeeder hangs off the corner of my back deck. My favorite chair in our living room is parked right next to a window where I have the best view of this feeder. One of my favorite things about summer is sitting in this chair during the sunrise hour, watching the hummingbirds cheerfully visit their feeder. In the winter, I am less consistent in my bird feeding, but I have an old bird feeder that I sometimes hang in the same spot on my back deck. A couple of weeks ago, while sitting in my chair and observing all of the birds in the backyard, I decided that I would start using my winter birdfeeder again. It has been a dreary year, and inviting colorful birds to feed outside the window seemed like the perfect addition to my own soul-care routine this winter.
So, I pulled out our old birdfeeder, bought some birdseed, and filled it up. We were almost immediately visited by tufted titmice and chickadees. A few cardinals and bluebirds have also started frequenting the feeder. As I saw these beautiful and cheerful little birds flitting about outside, I felt pleased with myself.
A few days ago, I went out on the back deck and found, to my dismay, a dead chickadee, lying on its back, frozen and lifeless. I was first shocked, then surprised, then deflated. It seems that on a sunny day, the little bird ran into the glass of our sunroom, killing itself on impact.
Suddenly, my enthusiasm for my new birdfeeder waned. I found myself questioning whether I had done the right thing by putting a birdfeeder in that location. I mean, I had only wanted to watch the birds. My intentions had been good. I certainly hadn’t meant to lure a little chickadee to its death.
So, yeah, that’s a downer.
Well, granted, it could have happened to anybody. I mean, maybe in the grand scheme of things, it was that chickadee’s time to go. Still, as I thought about it, this scenario felt similar to other disappointments I’ve been experiencing in life.
Often, I go about new ideas with great enthusiasm and good intentions, and very often those endeavors tend to cause more difficulty, disappointment, or strife than I was anticipating. My intentions are good, but the end result is far different than my expectations.
Take, for instance, my great idea this fall to order Misfit Market boxes and introduce my family to new produce and exotic meals. I was genuinely excited about trying new foods and new recipes. I jumped into it with excitement. My children, however, did not share in my enthusiasm. They generously shared their every opinion on the subject with me, and their opinions were rarely gracious. They’re not thankful that I went out of my way to make new foods for them. Their responses are more like, “Yuck, Mom! Why do you keep trying to make meals with these vegetables? Stop getting those Misfit Market boxes!”
I started a podcast with enthusiasm and found myself loving almost every step of the process: from holding encouraging conversations, to editing, to publishing. I really loved almost all of it. Podcasting takes a lot of work, but most of the time it feels totally worth the time and effort. However, over the past year, my listenership has gone down dramatically. The same amount of work and effort is going into the episodes, but due to a pandemic people have less commute time and more virtual learning or work-from-home-time and are less apt to listen to podcasts. My efforts are worthwhile, but the end result is sometimes disappointing.
I could give you a lot of examples, but suffice it to say that I seem to jump headlong into work projects, craft projects, creative ideas, or new parenting strategies, only to find that there’s no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. When that happens, I find myself disappointed or disillusioned, which then leads to questioning myself.
So, yes, this blog post is about the death of a chickadee, but it’s really about what to do with disappointment. What do we do when we try really hard and have good intentions but reality doesn’t match up to our expectations?
Well, I’ll tell you what I’m trying to do. I’m reminding myself that I’m not the problem. When things go badly, it’s easy to turn our stinking thinking on ourselves, and begin the blame game.
If only I had been better prepared, it might have turned out differently.
It must be something I’ve done wrong.
Maybe if I was like so-and-so, my kids would be better behaved.
I wonder what people must think of me?
Because this didn’t work out, I must be a failure.
Our negative thoughts may differ depending on the situation and our normal internal dialogue, but the result is the same. We can take natural disappointment and turn it into shame by blaming ourselves.
Instead of believing these negative thoughts when they pop in, I’m trying to be realistic about the situations and grieve my disappointment instead. Goodness, I didn’t plot a chickadee murder. My intentions were good. It’s sad that a bird died, and I can feel sad about it. And, I can leave it at that. I have permission to feel what I need to feel without turning the dialogue into what that must mean about me as a person.
So, my children don’t like new vegetables. It’s okay. It doesn’t mean I’m a bad cook. I’m still introducing them to new foods, and one day they’ll be thankful they had a mother who made them meals. In the meantime, I’m allowed to feel miffed and even angry occasionally that my hard work is unappreciated. And, it doesn’t mean anything about me personally.
So, my podcast isn’t skyrocketing. You know what? Most podcasts aren’t. A global pandemic happened, and that has nothing to do with the quality or content of my podcasts. I can feel disappointed, and I can remember the reasons why I’m producing a podcast to begin with. The purpose has little to do with the number of listeners, but I can still let myself feel disappointed. It’s human and it’s natural. Then, I will just keep on keeping on, recording the next conversation, editing the next episode.
I have permission to grieve, be disappointed, be angry, and be human, and I do not have to turn those feelings into stinking thinking about myself. You don’t either, friend.
So, as an encouragement to you and myself, Galatians 6 says to not grow weary in doing good, for we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Yesterday, as I did my Bible reading, a beautiful blue bird landed right outside the window… Like a sweet little gift from my Father: a reminder that beauty is there to be found. We may not reap the benefits of our good intentions right away, and sometimes we will be disappointed, but we can keep sowing anyway. There is still beauty to be found. So, I will remember that while I watch the little birds out my window.
Pause, Renew, Next: Take a minute to breathe deeply and reflect. In what ways have you experienced disappointment lately about the way something has turned out in your life. What have your thoughts been about that situation? Have you found yourself wrongfully blaming yourself for how it turned out? Give yourself permission this week to feel the emotions you need to feel about that situation. Where you find yourself focusing on negative thoughts associated with the situation, find ways to tell yourself the truth instead. If you want to, find Scripture passages that will help you speak truth to yourself.
May we give ourselves permission to be human and rely on the grace that God extends to us in our own weakness, and may we continue to do good.
I hope the Lord sends you a little bluebird this week too.
For the month of January, I’m doing something different on the podcast. Because January is typically the time of year when people are focusing on goals and resolutions, I thought I would devote my January episodes to talking about soul-care and body image. These will be short and sweet episodes, and I hope in these podcasts to walk through shifting our thoughts and perspectives about our bodies, towards focusing more on gratitude, groundedness, and connection with our bodies. These will not be how to, goal-oriented podcast episodes but rather meditative and reflective.
If something from today’s podcast episode resonated with you, please comment below or join the conversation on PRN’s Facebook page. If you know someone who would be encouraged by this episode, please share it with them.
Join me in two weeks as we continue our January conversation about soul-care and our bodies. May you be encouraged on your journey with Jesus.
Something has been growing in my mind and soul, festering and spreading like black ink. It’s not a new thing: it’s been there for many years, but over the past year it’s been multiplying and growing. Left unchecked, this something has the power to destroy my faith and trust: in relationships, in authority, in Scripture, even in my walk with God. This ugly thing that’s been growing inside of me has a name: it’s skepticism.
skepticism: a skeptical attitude; doubt as to the truth of something
To be clear, I’m not talking about critical thinking. As Christians, I believe we should be wise and filter all information through the truth of God’s word, using discernment and clear judgment. No, skepticism carries a different connotation. It’s laced with cynicism, with distrust, and with judgment. These three characteristics can lead us down dark paths.
My skepticism started early last year when I learned that two of my favorite “internetainers”, Rhett and Link, had left the faith. They both “deconstructed” their faith and found there was nothing left. Hearing their stories made me feel sad and disappointed, especially as I realized how many people their story influenced. Over the course of the last year, I’ve watched many Christian influencers fall: either through sin or their own public renouncing of their faith.
Then came the pandemic. Social distancing, loneliness, and isolation led to many of us spending more time connecting online rather than face to face. Over the past few months three important issues have risen to the forefront of our collective consciousness: a global pandemic, racial injustice, and a major election. On all three fronts, I watched people I know and love argue online. Differences of opinions compounded through hurtful memes and unfiltered judgments about the “other.” All the while, most of these conversations that could have been resolved in person, were depersonalized as words on a screen.
I felt myself growing angry, bitter, and resentful. I grew judgmental of those who had different opinions than myself. I grew more and more frustrated as I watched many in authority add fuel to the fire rather than speaking words of peace to resolve conflict. On Facebook, unkind memes and conspiracy theories flew faster than facts could be checked. On Twitter, witty remarks spoke truth but with no mercy or kindness, only judgment. Even the podcasters I was listening to laced their words with skepticism as they talked about the issues.
I could keep adding to my list of what has caused my skepticism this year, but I think you get the general idea. I have grown disappointed in people that I have previously respected. Thankfully, the election is now over and many of the hurtful memes have abated. Still, the damage of words cannot be taken back.
As I began to judge people and their motives, I found myself becoming harder to the things of God as well. It’s hard to love God and not love people. To love, we must be open, not closed. We must be ready and willing to see the good in others and the good of God. We must be able to give and receive mercy, not judgment. We must be open to see the log in our own eyes, before we find the stick in another’s eye. I have found that when skepticism reigns in me, my heart is hard and unrepentant.
Why am I sharing this now? Well, because the Lord has been making me more and more aware of this pattern in my life, and I have the feeling I’m not alone. I’ve confessed it before Him, and I’m asking Him for a heart of flesh, rather than a heart of stone. In order to see His Kingdom at work and be part of what He’s doing, I’ve got to have my vision restored. Honestly, repentance may not be a one-time process. Change means creating new pathways in the brain and that takes time. However, that’s the beauty of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. He makes all things new.
Pause: Take a moment to still your body and your mind and meditate on the verse above.
Renew: What about you? Are there places in your mind and heart that skepticism has been growing? What are the effects of this in your thought life, your relationships, and your spiritual life?
Next: Along with me, I invite you to confess where judgment is trumping mercy and love. As you notice skepticism and judgment creeping into your thought life this week, confess it and ask that the Lord would give you faith, love, and a heart of flesh rather than a heart of stone.
As believers in a cynical world, may we be wise as serpents, but still innocent as doves.
Sometimes, it seems the Lord has to speak to me in multiple ways and at multiple times for a message to sink in. That has been my experience this fall. Certainly, I am a believer in reading the Bible daily to hear from the Lord. Still, in my life, the Lord often speaks in many ways, not just through Scripture. One of those ways is through nature. I believe as we seek His face, He will speak to us: through His Word and through His still, small voice. The key is to listen. To be honest, I am often distracted and not usually paying attention. Thus, in His great mercy, He reminds me on multiple occasions. Here is my latest example.
A few months ago, my mother-in-law was thinning out her garden and blessed me with strawberry plants. Her advice was to cut off the excess leaves and shoots of the plants, leaving the main root to be replanted. If all goes according to plan, this spring I will have an abundance of healthy strawberry plants in my garden.
As I sat, cutting off the excess leaves and shoots, I was meditating on the spiritual significance of “paring down.” It takes a lot of energy to be replanted and thrive. All of the leaves and extra shoots would sap energy from the strawberry root that needs to be established. Being pared down focuses the energy of the plant into fundamental growth. I felt the Lord impress on me that I too could use some paring down in my life. What did I need to focus my energy on, and what was “sapping” energy away from fundamental places of growth in my life?
Well, I wish I could tell you that I took that word and meditated on it, journaled about it, and prayed about it, but that would be false. I made a mental note and then practically forgot about it as my evening of parenting and everyday life continued.
Fast forward a few weeks to a day that I was feeling emotionally drained and physically exhausted. After a long week, it seemed I had a to-do list a mile long, and we were having guests over that evening. By mid-afternoon, I just wanted to escape. I didn’t feel like I could clean one more thing, break up one more argument among my children, or be around people, period. I asked my husband if I could go for a short drive by myself. Perplexed, but supportive, he responded, “Sure.”
I got in my van and turned on a podcast. Soon, I felt the strong tug in my spirit to turn off the noise and pray. So, I did. I poured out my frustrations, my feelings of being overwhelmed, and, like a good Father, the Lord listened. I drove down farm roads, taking in the scenery, and talking out loud in the safety and anonymity of my vehicle. I have found over the years, that praying and crying are best done on walks or drives.
Suddenly, I saw a beautiful hawk perched on an electric wire, high above me. He was looking out over a farm field, staring intently. Again, I felt the Lord impress on my spirit a similar word to before.
It seemed He was whispering, “See that hawk? He’s up high, because from there he has a full view and the best perspective. If he were in the field, he would be jumping around aimlessly, using up his energy, trying to catch his meal, but from up above, he can focus his energy and get the best result.”
Okay, Lord, I get it. I need to pare down and focus my energy. It seemed so clear. I felt so impressed by this, that I came home and told my husband all about it.
Again, I wish I could tell you that my life immediately changed: that I came home and reorganized my whole life and all of my priorities, but that would again be inaccurate.
No, although I have been reminded now multiple times, I still only think about it in spurts. What does paring down mean? What needs to be eliminated and what should remain? How can I focus my energy? I have some ideas, and I see areas where the Lord is directing me, but it is an ongoing process of discovery.
Actually, I had a whole different blog post planned for today, but when I sat down to write, it just wasn’t going anywhere. Then, I looked out the window, and from my vantage point I could see a large black bird, sitting atop a tall and barren tree. From there, he had a clear and unobstructed view of the yard and pasture, and I was reminded again. So, with the Lord’s prompting, I took this blog for a turn. Perhaps this is a reminder for not just me, but for you as well.
Pause, Renew, Next: What about you? Where are the places that you find yourself using energy that you don’t have to give? Is the Lord calling you to pare down and refocus? How does your vantage point and your priorities change when you see your life from a “bird’s eye view?” I encourage you (and myself) to pray, journal, and meditate about this as we are reflecting on our year and preparing for the next.
May you have the peace and focus of a bird on a wire.
I’ll be honest: at the beginning of social distancing I did not feel fear; instead I felt relief. You see, between shuttling two of my children back and forth to school, homeschooling the other two, and taking them to appointments, speech therapy, homeschool co-op, and extracurricular activities, I was feeling tired and ready for spring break. Even being given a reprieve from going to church felt like receiving a small vacation. Although I love our church and the community we find there, we usually spend half or more of our Sabbath away from home. Add to all of this juggling a part-time job, and my life was feeling very, very full. The truth is, I was utterly exhausted. Thus, social distancing at first felt like being granted a stay-cation.
Ironically, I have formed an entire podcast and blog around the idea of pausing and renewing. In doing so, I wasn’t striving to be a hypocrite. In fact, I know that I am preaching to myself more than anyone else. Still, it’s clear that pausing and renewing are exactly what I have been needing and not managing to attain often enough.
Many years ago, I read a book by Dannah Gresh in which she explained that King David found himself trapped in a cave many times throughout his life. Each time he found himself in a cave, there was a refining process that occurred in his life. It seemed that his “cave situations” were due to two very different scenarios. In one scenario he made bad and sinful choices that caused him to become trapped in a cave. In the other scenario, he found himself trapped in a cave due to circumstances outside of his control.
In our current life scenario, while experiencing a global pandemic, I believe all of us can find ourselves in scenario number two. Due to circumstances outside of our own control, we find ourselves trapped inside our own homes.
It seems that a refining process may be at work in many of our lives; at least I am aware of it in my own life. I’ve been thinking about this cave analogy as the first week of social distancing turned into two weeks, and now three weeks. As an extrovert, pieces of my “stay-cation” are now beginning to get old. I have found myself seeking more contact with people this week via Voxer, Skype, and Messenger. I have noticed that my irritation threshold is much lower than it was in the beginning. I’ve found myself feeling bored and restless, as many of the distractions that keep me busy and hurried are taking a hiatus.
On the positive side, as social distancing continues, I am finding that I have more opportunity to choose quality time with my family. I have more time to read. I have more time to garden, go on family walks, or enjoy the peace of my goldfish pond. I also have more time to train my kids on the things that I usually brush off: cooking with them, watching their trampoline tricks, and reading a novel aloud as a family.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not all “Little House on the Prairie” at my house. Having four boys at home all of the time means the noise, chaos, and aggression factor in our home is at an all-time high. Brothers love hard and fight harder. Even this however, may be a blessing in disguise. What an opportunity to model confession, reconciliation, and forgiveness! Not perfectly mind you, I have lost my cool multiple times already this week. Still, if my kids need to learn how to forgive and manage their anger, I’d rather they do it now as children than have to learn it later on in life when the stakes are higher.
I have also realized anew how much I seek stimulation from my phone. Quiet is uncomfortable for me. I would much rather browse Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter than sit alone with my thoughts. I very quickly turn on podcasts or Youtube when I have moments of downtime. I have even bought Disney+ to help keep all of us entertained and occupied for the month. While none of these pursuits are inherently bad, I am becoming more and more aware that stillness often feels like boredom to me. Quiet is uncomfortable, and it takes practice to enjoy it.
I guess what I’m saying is this: we have all been put in a refining situation, but we can choose how much we will allow ourselves to be refined. Isaiah 30:15, pictured above, is one of my favorite verses. The Lord entreats the people of Israel to come to Him. He tells them that in returning and rest they will find salvation and in quietness and trust they will find their strength.
Returning, rest, quietness, and trust, these are the attributes I want to develop during this time at home. These are attributes that, in Christ, move us away from fear, hurry, and worry, and towards renewal. I am still admittedly a work in progress on this front, but these are my personal hopes for my mandatory “stay-cation.”
Pause: Take a deep belly breath and slowly exhale. Meditate on Isaiah 30:15. What about this passage stands out to you?
Renew: What are you noticing about yourself during this time of social distancing? How has your life changed? Where do you notice you’re turning for comfort and entertainment?
Next: How can you begin to cultivate the attributes of Returning, Rest, Quietness, and Trust, during this time of social distancing? Take time to pray and journal about it.