"It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves"
Sir Edmund Hillary
What am I doing here? I wondered as I trudged up the hill toward the middle school.
In 2001 I worked as a teaching assistant while I finished my Elementary Ed degree. I had no experience working with kids, felt very insecure about my abilities, and quickly questioned how I had gotten hired.
I thought: God made a mistake bringing me to this place in my life, this school, this job, this town.
Within walking distance from my apartment stood a small shopping mall with a big bookstore.
I like books, I decided. I’ll quit my job and drop out of school to sell books instead.
On Saturday I revised my resume walked through the hilly neighborhood to the mall, but when I rounded the corner, I encountered an enormous “Going out of Business” banner tacked to the front of the bookstore and flapping in the breeze. I literally turned in my tracks and marched home.
When I called my friend Paege and told her what happened, she said, “I guess God gave you a pretty big sign.” On Monday I went back to work at the middle school, and I worked there for two more years.
Signs are not always as big and bright as a “Going out of Business” banner on the side of a building. Many signs arrive as subtle clues, quiet whispers, or gentle nudges turning us in the direction God wants us to travel. Signs may be missed if we’re not vigilant and watchful for the methods God often uses to steer our steps.
Conviction is that gut feeling we get telling us when one option is right and the other wrong. Conviction often defies logic and relies on hunches and emotions. Going to college as a single mom made no logical sense at the time, and though I often questioned my abilities and claimed I would quit, I always felt a certainty that I was called to return to class.
Coincidences are those seemingly unrelated events that happen at just the right time and place. Coincidences are often unexpected and unexplainable. I had not applied to work at the middle school where my daughter was a student, but the principal coincidentally found my resume in the school’s district office and called to offer me a job.
Conversations with friends and advisors often offer insights and revelations about God’s intended purposes. Chance comments from others often help us see and understand our circumstances more clearly. “I’m glad I work with you,” my coworker Molly told me after one particularly disappointing day. “God brought you here because he wants you here.”
For two years I worked at that middle school. The work was never easy, but I began to see the reasons God wanted me to stay. I received college credit for my hours in the sixth-grade classroom. I made connections with teachers who helped me with my homework assignments and later offered me job references. For two years I walked to school with my daughter every day. I knew her teachers and friends, and I felt we developed a better relationship through our time together. Most importantly, I learned to persevere through sometimes difficult and discouraging circumstances, and I began to realize that when we pay attention and follow God’s directions, we are always exactly where God wants us to be. God never makes mistakes.
What sign is God showing you today? How do you watch for his clues and direction?
Many years ago, I worked briefly as a proofreader in a government office. One of my coworkers was an older gentleman who enjoyed chatting more than he enjoyed proofreading.
Whenever the office had a difficult day, when deadlines loomed, or attitudes and morale suffered, my coworker said, “We need to throw off some ballast around here. We need to throw some stuff overboard so we can rise above it.”
Ballast is the row of sandbags tied to the sides of hot air balloons. Ballast keeps the balloon balanced and grounded, but for the balloon to lift off the ground, some weight has to be untied and left behind.
We all have ballast in our lives that we sometimes need to let go so we can gain altitude and start soaring.
Memories of past mistakes keep us tied to the past. We need to leave behind our regrets, forgive ourselves for what we didn’t know then, and carry only the lessons we’ve learned as we navigate forward.
The need for control can keep us bound to situations that are not our responsibility to fix. We have to let others own their own balloons and control their own altitude and steering.
Anger is a particularly heavy burden to bear. Everyone has some anger to release, or it will drag us scraping and bumping along the ground, unable to lift off and take flight.
When we recognize what is holding us back, we can pitch it over the side and watch it drop as we soar on, growing faster and lifting higher. When we leave behind the things that hold us down, we will gain new experiences, grow into new perspectives, and travel much faster than we ever thought possible.
What is holding you down today? What do you need to leave behind so you can fly a little higher?
I wrote “Liz” at the top of the paper, and my Communications professor told us to pass our papers to the person on our left. She instructed us to write our first impression of the person whose name appeared at the top of the page, then fold the paper over to conceal our comment, and pass it on. The pages moved around the circle. My sheet with “Liz” at the top was returned to me. I unfolded it and read.
Several of my classmates had written “caring,” to describe their first impressions of me. Maybe their description was only a generic compliment to describe a classmate they didn’t know well, but I decided to appreciate their comments, and for a while I tried to be the kind and caring person I thought people believed me to be.
But over the years I grew less and less sensitive to the needs and feelings of others. I became busy with my work and career. I focused on my progress toward status and success. I listened to the “take care of yourself first” propaganda our society broadcasts, and I forgot to be the caring, compassionate person I once believed I was. And as I grew older, the world began to seem like a harsh, cold, and uncaring place.
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” ~~ Mahatma Ghandi
This year I want to be the compassionate person God created me to be. I want to be the caring person my classmates recognized in that long-ago college classroom.
“As God’s chosen people, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12).
In 2017, I’m planning a few actions steps to return me to the caring person I used to be.
Reach out to some old friends I haven’t seen in a while. Plan to meet someone to reconnect over lunch or coffee each month.
Serve without calculating how many hours I spend. Volunteer without asking, “What’s in this for me?”
Be present and pay attention to the people in my life every day. Ask them how their day was and really listen to their answers.
Say “Thank you,” I understand,” and “I’m grateful” to someone every day.
Perform regular random acts of kindness. Look for opportunities to give someone a surprise gift or compliment every month.
If I want the world to be a more warm, welcoming and compassionate place, I need to be a more interested, open and caring person. In 2017, I’m writing “caring” at the top of my list and passing it on.
How do you show your care and concern for others? What helps you show compassion and kindness to the world?
I can't sleep.
I've never been a steady sleeper. When I was a kid, I often crawled out of bed in the middle of the night, crept downstairs to the dark kitchen, then sat on the cold linoleum floor and ate slabs of Wonder Bread straight from the bag.
As I got older, I developed new strategies to deal with my sleeplessness. I watched hours of Letterman and Leno. I read volumes of The Vampire Chronicles. And most frequently, I wrote in my journal.
My journal became my confidant on the long nights when my mind refused to rest. In my journal, I could pour out my thoughts, worries, fears, and frustrations. I could tell my journal anything I needed, wanted, loved, or regretted. After pouring out my thoughts and feelings onto my journal pages, I could usually find some semblance of peace and return to bed for a few hours of sleep before work.
Journaling helps me clarify my thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. Writing puts my life into perspective, turning problems and turmoil into more easily managed black and white lines on a page. Journaling brings a sense of logic to life events that are often unpredictable and out of control.
Because I am a believer in the power of journaling, I have written Writing Down the Highway: Guideposts to Journaling for Self-Discovery to expain why, when and how journaling can help single mothers and all women write for self-expression.
On January 1 my ebook Writing Down the Highway will be available by download to new subscribers. Please complete the sign-up form in the sidebar or pop-up box.
Also watch for the new Journaling Prompts page for ideas to begin your own journaling journey.
Letterman and Leno are off the air now. I finished The Vampire Chronicles long ago. But I still journal, and I still sometimes eat bread in the middle of the night.
What are your experiences with journaling? Have you found journaling helps you express your thoughts and ideas?
"Don't jerk the leash," the instructor warned us. "Jerking the leash just makes the dog pull back harder."
Instead, she told us to lure the dog with the promise of treats. Reward the dog whenever she walks on the leash without pulling your arm out of socket.
So we walked the dogs in dizzying circles around the training room, praising them when they behaved, and waiting patiently when they pulled and whined.
I had never before considered the idea that I am leashed to God; but the truth is, he can pull me back into line whenever he wants with one good, hard yank. I have to learn to be content to walk by his side without racing ahead or dragging behind.
We get ahead of God by moving too fast and running beyond his command. Pulling the leash means making choices before we are ready or making decisions without carefully considering and consulting God first. When we break our bonds and race ahead, we risk dashing into dangerous territory and unhealthy situations that threaten our peace and safety.
We fall behind God by denying our potential and refusing to follow the paths he has planned for us. Dragging our feet means refusing to accept the opportunities God delivers or being afraid to face the challenges we need to help us learn and grow. When we have to be tugged reluctantly toward the changes and circumstances God offers, we stop growing and fail to become the people God means for us to be.
If we don't listen to God's cues, we keep trotting around the circle, wondering why we're never off the leash, wondering why our point of view never changes to encompass the broader range of experiences we know could be available to us.
But if we learn to be patient, trust God to lead, and walk calmly by his side; he gives us more freedom and the reward that is waiting at the end of the line.
How do you know when God is telling you to slow down? How do you pick up the pace when you need to catch up with him again?
The instructor told the dog to "Stay," then she opened the classroom door. As long as the dog remained sitting, the door stood open. As soon as the dog moved to stand, the door swung closed.
For a while the dog yo-yo'd up and down while the door flapped open and shut. When the dog finally surrendered and sat motionless, the instructor opened the door, said a quiet "Go," and allowed the dog to move.
This exercise is important to teach patient waiting, the instructor explained. Dogs that learn to "Stay" won't lunge forward and bolt through every open door temptation. They are protected from the dangers of speeding traffic and busy streets that threaten outside their shelters. Dogs that learn to "Stay" have to trust they will be allowed to move when it is safe for them to do so.
Lately I've been struggling to hear God's "Stay" or "Go" in my own life. I've debated leaving behind some projects and commitments that I suspect are no longer helping me grow. I see the doors swing open, but I cannot hear the "Go" command nor see what lies on the other side.
God's directions are usually not as clear as a firm "Stay here" or "Go now." God often speaks to us through quiet signs and signals. We have to stop, watch, and listen for the subtle clues and comments that may arrive from unexpected sources.
On the day I planned to quit one job and move on to something new and different, I received a surprise email from a person whose faith I admire and trust.
"I'm proud of the work you're doing," she told me. "I brag about you to all my friends."
Suddenly my work seemed noticed and valuable. Suddenly someone understood and appreciated my efforts.
I think that means I need to stay where I am and be patient a while longer, I decided. I need to keep working and finish all the lessons I need before I'm released to take what I've learned outside.
Someday I will hear the command to move forward. It may come through another unexpected email, a comment from a friend, or just a feeling of certainty that I can't stay where I am any longer. Meanwhile, I keep listening and learning, so that when the time is right, I will be ready to launch forward through a waiting open door.
How has God told you when it's time to move forward? How does God encourage you when it's time to stay and wait?