All morning, I consider this beautiful idea that nobody must wait to start helping and improving the world. I think of my home, my little street, my wider neighborhood, and then further and further out. I ask God to help me help. What might I improve here by my prayers, attitude, acts of service, and friendship?
I run the list down in my mind afresh:
Who needs help? What kind of help? How can I help?
Every fresh day, I think of not waiting, but improving and helping.
I’m off to help!
On the way home from the Walk-to-School, and after the Morning Pep Talk (in which I quoted JimDaddy Miller’s famous line, “You have everything to look forward to and nothing to dread), I began to sing.
I hope nobody heard me, but I did seem to attract an unusual number of dogs. I sang the old Twila Paris chorus, “He is Exalted.”
He is exalted the King is exalted on High
I will praise You
He is exalted forever exalted
And I will praise His name
He is the Lord
Forever His truth shall reign
Heaven and Earth
Rejoice in His holy name
He is exalted the King is exalted on high!
I think about this exalted King whose truth reigns forever. Here I am with dogs jumping all over me on this crisp Pennsylvania winter day–when some of my friends protest this day in history and others brim with hope–and yet, I’m attached to this beautiful, eternal moment.
Today, I ask the students to tell me their names and to answer this question: What were you known for in high school?”
A student offered a response I’d never heard. It ranks as my most intriguing response next to the student who said in 2010, “I was known for mediocrity.”
A new student says, “I was known for not experiencing stress. I was the only student in the class who ranked the lowest the teacher ever saw in stress levels. I’m just not a stressed out person. I just don’t experience stress. I stay peaceful and relaxed.”
Students sit in silence, flabbergasted. These are Penn State students who often come to my office crying from stress and in care of doctors because of stress. So I say, “Tell me more. What’s the secret? What enables this?” So far, I would describe this student as the most engaged, most prepared, and most alert. It’s not as if he’d checked out or resigned himself to laziness.
He says, simply: “It’s because it will all be OK. Whatever happens, I will work through it. So I stay calm and peaceful. I don’t get stressed about the work. I just do it and know that it will all be OK.”
I thought about that attitude of taking what comes and working through it. Not fearing it, not anticipating the stress of it, but just working through it. I think about all my resources that enable me to work through whatever comes. And I consider how, perhaps, being stressed-out is really about fear of outcomes more than anything else.
I’m going to ask him more as the semester continues.
Today I learned how badly I’m doing in expressing love to my family. I’ve been so busy! I’ve been so task oriented. I’ve been so focused on myself.
When the girls were little, I loved writing little notes to them, leaving chocolates on their pillows, and designing special mystery outings. They were my little treasures.
I thought about those first years of marriage when I would design appetizers to bless Ash. I also wrote love notes and thought about ways I could encourage him all day long. He was my treasure.
And now, almost 17 years in, I forget to show how I treasure them. Instead, family members feel like interruptions to my otherwise busy and so-important day. So I go back to treasuring them and think about new ways to show how important they are to me. I think about something special for dinner, a specific, unique encouragement note for each one, and an invitation to some kind of special event (like we did all those years ago). I tell my friend that today feels like a course correction back towards loving my family.
I love Psalm 82—86. This morning, I note Psalm 82:3-4
Defend the weak and the fatherless;
uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
As I look out upon the day, I think of who among us lives weak and fatherless, poor and oppressed. At some point in our lives, we transition from living as hurt and weak and powerless ourselves to then helping those in need. And we do so because we need nothing in return. We are so full of God’s love and healing that we move out into the day as agents of blessing and help.
Next, I read Psalm 84:10 and the beautiful words of the psalmist:
Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
So many of us wish we were “elsewhere,” but truly, even standing near the threshold of God far exceeds the joy and peace and even the fun of “elsewhere.”
Lastly, I note Psalm 86:5, a verse I underlined so many times in my younger days that I read with new, older eyes today:
You, Lord, are forgiving and good,
abounding in love to all who call to you
As this day will unfold, I think of blessing and helping others, staying near to God because nothing elsewhere is better, and rejoicing in the forgiveness, goodness, and abounding love of God.
It’s so easy to stay isolated in winter. You want to stay in slippers and cozy clothes, sip tea, and watch movies. You’re fine just sitting here with your cats, your simmering winter soups, and your little family who enjoy their solitary pursuits of homework, knitting, drawing, and puzzles.
So lovely, but so incomplete. I think about God’s design for our togetherness as a body of believers and our oneness. I think of interdependence and how to actively participate in the lives of those in my community. My default state these days? Isolation and staying in. Why bother?
But then I remember God’s design. And I pray for the motivation and creativity to get outside myself and join others.
I call a friend to join me on my otherwise solitary walk. I go to church in the cold morning and connect with my large, spiritual family. I host a gathering to watch football. I set up lunches with friends and email my prayer group to meet this week.
Some isolation and solitude blesses the soul, but too much, and we miss something fundamental about our identity: we are interdependent and belong together.
I’m getting bogged down in revising sentences to make them perfect. The work feels weighty and stifling.
I remember my advisor’s best advice for how to finish a dissertation or book. She said, “It doesn’t have to be your best work. It won’t be.”
The statement freed me to create and write with abandon. The inner judge kept quiet. It didn’t have to be perfect.
It won’t be.
And this attitude generated some of the most perfect sentences yet.
At the end of my Weight Watchers meeting, our leader had a person in the back remove her sticky name tag and roll it into a ball. Then, she was told to pass the ball to the person beside her and have that person add her name tag to the sticky ball.
One by one, we added our names to the ball as we stuck our name tags on.
Then, the leader held the ball and said, “Someone here might need more support this week. You get to take the ball and bring us all home with you.”
A woman behind me asked for the ball, bringing us all with her into the difficult journey of her week.
She’s not alone. I saw our names in her hand.
I leave for my hour long walk. It takes me that long to feel settled inside and to let all my thoughts roam as they wish. Usually, about 20 minutes in, I’m breathing in the fresh air, thinking clearly, and so glad for my heart that’s pumping blood and warming me against this cold air. 40 minutes in, and life feels manageable; deadlines seem reasonable; children seem delightful; and chores seem refreshing. By now, I’m observing the beauty in nature, from the smallest pinecone to the largest expanse of afternoon winter sky.
Oh, the daily walk! I have missed you! I love you!
(And, when you’re a writer and sit for long days at the keyboard, I highly recommend the hour-long walk to help your joints, shoulders, and back.)
Sometimes, I feel compelled to leave for this same walk, and many times, it just so happens I’ll run into someone who needs prayer or encouragement. Today, I meet a new neighbor who just moved in a few weeks ago–a complete stranger now turned new friend–and I knew it was a divine appointment. She needed something I could provide, and it was as if God sent me to her. And had I left my house even a moment earlier or later, I would have missed our intersection down the road.
We walk for so many benefits, but sometimes we walk because God sends us.
I’m mulling over Buchner’s strange little quote: “Go where your best prayers take you.” I’m walking in the unusually warm and dark morning air, and I’m wondering what my “best prayers” are.
What are my best prayers? What could possibly constitute the best prayer for our lives?
All day, I’ve been thinking. And then this:
Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
My best prayer is the one of surrender, and I go wherever He leads.