Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday: For the Down-in-the-Dumps Days

I’m prone to what used to be called melancholia.

According to Hippocrates, melancholia was caused by an excess of black bile. A person with a preponderance of black bile was said to have a melancholic disposition, characterized by low energy, a lack of interest in activity, sadness, restlessness and hypochondria.

I’m a real picnic, aren’t I?

Today melancholia is better known as depression. Frankly, I'd prefer to be described as suffering from a preponderance of black bile – it sounds medieval and appealingly gross. Suffering from “depression,” on the other hand, just sounds depressing.

I don’t like having depression. I don’t like having to take medication every day to stave off feelings of hopelessness and ennui. It makes me feel weak and pathetic and dependent, like I should simply be able to “buck up,” as I frequently tell my kids, or “snap out of it.”

I’ve tried that. It doesn’t work.

Most days Cymbalta does the trick. It keeps the anxiety at bay and helps me feel optimistic, positive and energetic. On some days I’m downright cheerful.

Despite the 25 milligrams I swallow with my morning coffee, though, the melancholia occasionally rears its biley head. And on those days, as I try fruitlessly to resurrect happiness and contentedness, I instead sink further and further into wallowing self-pity, frustration, anger and sullenness. On those days I expect that I should be happy, even that I deserve to be happy…yet I’m not.

And this irritates me.

“God did not create us to be happy,” said Pastor Greg in this morning’s sermon, after reading the Beatitudes from Matthew 5:1-12.

Say what? God didn’t create me to be happy? This is big news, people!

Maybe this proclamation shouldn’t come as a big surprise to me. But it does.

Up until today, I think I’ve always assumed quite the opposite: I think I’ve always assumed that God did, in fact, create me to be happy. Turns out, I’ve been wrong.

It’s not that God doesn’t desire our happiness or rejoice along with us when we experience it, but he did not create us for the sole purpose of being happy on this Earth. God has more important work for us to do, and if happiness is a by-product of that, terrific. And if it’s not, well then that’s to be expected.

My problem is that I’ve always felt entitled to happiness. I want it, therefore I expect it and feel that I deserve it. But then I read this, which turns the notion of happiness as an entitlement on its head:

God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.

God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.

God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.

God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.

God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.

Those are the Beatitudes. 

Do you see any mention of happiness in there? 

If you look closely at those familiar verses, you'll notice that nowhere in the Beatitudes does Jesus promise happiness. In fact, you'll see that he suggests just the opposite: that the blessed are those who are poor, grieving, persecuted, merciful, pure, humble and just. Not exactly conditions ripe for happiness.

What I’m beginning to realize as I mull over the Beatitudes and today’s sermon is that happiness isn’t an entitlement at all, but simply a gift. Happiness is grace: unearned and undeserved...and perhaps a lovely foretaste of what's to come.

What do you think about Pastor Greg's statement that God did not create us to be happy? Do you think happiness is something we are entitled to?

And linking up with lovely Jen and the Sisters:

Welcome to the "Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday" community. If you are here for the first time, feel free to click here for details and instructions on how to link up.

Or you can simply copy the code for the "Hear It, Use It" button in the sidebar to the right, and paste it into your own post. Remember to including the link to your post down below...not your blog address -- that way visitors can be sure to read the right post.

Typically we write about the lesson we read or the sermon we heard in church on Sunday. That said, I am pretty loosey-goosey – you can write about a verse or even a hymn that you've been pondering anytime recently. Also, you can come by anytime during the week to link up – it stays open until Friday.

Thanks so much for participating...and don't forget to visit other participants and comment on their thoughts this week if you can. It's wonderful to have you here!

Oh, and let me add...even though I do my best to read and comment on each of your posts, it *may* happen that I don't make it by to every one each week. Two boys, summer days, lots of clamoring to play Uno...you know how it goes! And so I thank you in advance for your grace!


Into the Yard

When I was a kid I lived my summers at a place called Sun Valley, a campground cozied into the wooded hills of north central Connecticut. My family rented a gravelly lot and kept a trailer there, and while my dad was at Army camp, my mom, my sister and I stayed at Sun Valley, traipsing home only once a week or so, the trunk full of dirty laundry.

Our campsite was tucked into a thick woods of peeling birch trees, whispering pines and pungent skunk cabbage. Alongside it ran a brook I could cross in one leap. At night, as I lay atop my nubby sleeping bag, I’d slide open the screen of the tiny rectangular window at the head of my bunk so I could hear the water trickling over stones, popping campfire spraying sparks into the starry sky.

In early summer we kids would muck out the brook, grabbing fistfuls of gritty, decayed leaves and sodden sticks from the stream. We heaved rocks onto the bank so the water could tumble freely down the hill, through the culvert under the dirt road and beneath the rickety bridge that led to the svelte silver airstream trailer in the lot next door. We belted song lyrics into the damp woods as we worked – “Playing with the Queen of Hearts,” “Put Another Nickel In” – occasionally using a birch branch as an impromptu microphone and a boulder as our stage. We considered this brook-mucking a service of sorts to nature, one of our very important jobs as camp kids.

A short ways up the dirt road, behind the cinder-block restroom and shower facilities and a few steps into the woods, was Gilligan’s Island, named after our favorite television show. Here a wider stream ran fast and shallow over large, flat boulders abandoned eons ago by glacial retreat. We'd wade with our shorts cranked high over thighs as sunlight pooled dappled in swirling eddies. Careful to avoid pinching crayfish, we’d plunge arms up to elbows in warm water, grasping for rocks specked with mica. Later we’d position one of these treasured stones on each corner of the orange and lime floral oilcloth to keep it pinned to the redwood picnic table at our campsite.

I think long about Sun Valley and my years in the Connecticut woods as I read Chapter One of L.L. Barkat’s God in the Yard. Like me, L.L. spent a lot of time in the woods as a child, but now, she admits, she sometimes feels pinched in her life. This is what prompts her to return to the woods in her backyard.

So I sit now, too, for a bit every day in my backyard. I think about Sun Valley, how back then, nature wasn’t something I needed to seek intentionally, but was naturally woven into my daily existence. As a kid I spent all my time outdoors; now I clutch at 15 minutes, a half hour on a rare day.

Still, I think perhaps these 15 minutes are the beginning of enough.

A hawk keens from the white pine, sparrows and chickadees diving at it like fighter pilots. Two cardinal fledglings wobble in the magnolia as father flashes scarlet, swooping and squawking after an intrusive blue jay. The yellow swallowtail alights on a swaying coneflower and unfolds its proboscis toward nectar. The rising sun glints straight through an iridescent spider’s web strung like gold in the lilac.

I don’t get all day, every day to delight in the outdoors anymore. But that doesn’t mean I should not delight in it at all.

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” John Muir

This post is part of a 12-week study, using L.L. Barkat's book God in the Yard as my guide. Click here to read additional posts in the series.

Linking with Laura at The Wellspring for her Monday Playdates with God:

And with L.L. at Seedlings in Stone for On, In and Around Mondays:

On In Around button


When a Bump in the Road Isn't... A Guest Post by Diana Trautwein

I am delighted to welcome Diana Trautwein to Graceful today. Diana is a true gem -- full of vitality, compassion and generosity. I just love her energy and positive spirit, and frankly am a little bit in awe of her spiritual journey. A retired pastor, Diana is now embarking on a course of study to become a spiritual director -- and let me just say, she can come over to Nebraska to direct me any day! 

I'm also grateful to Diana for agreeing to guest post today on such short notice. I've had a beastly headache for a couple of days, and was feeling less than creative. Diana gracefully agreed to run her post today, giving my head a much-needed respite. 

Be sure to stop by her place, DRGT/Just Wondering to read about her spiritual ponderings -- and catch a glimpse of the wonderful celebration she enjoyed with her family this past weekend.

Welcome, Diana!

O’Connor Road, San Luis Obispo, CA

You’re heading in a particular direction, one you’ve worked toward, dreamed about, worried over, struggled to find. And out of the blue - WHAM! - you hit a major bump in the road. Suddenly a big old DETOUR sign looms in front of you and you’re left wondering, “What the heck was that??”

Has this ever happened to you?

It’s happened to me - more than once - but this particular story happened almost 10 years ago. Enough time has passed for me to be able to look back and see that this bump in the road turned out to be anything but a detour.

I’d been working as a part-time associate pastor for about five years, enjoyed my job, loved my congregation. But I was tired. Really, REALLY tired and just couldn’t shake it. At the end of 2001, I hit the wall, sliding to the floor in tears, aware that something had to give. A trip to the doctor’s office turned up anemia and exhaustion and I was told to take some time off, some extensive time off, to get health and strength back to normal.

Me? Healthy-as-a-horse, driven, high-energy me? Anemic and exhausted? Yes, most definitely, me. Over the next seven months, I rested, I kept a journal, I got up each and every morning, sat in my living room chair - the one that looked out over our yard, allowing the morning light to stream through like shards of iridescent crystal - and I worshipped God. Alone. Quietly. I worked my way through Celtic Daily Prayer,* relishing the beautiful language, reflecting on the suggested biblical passages, seeking answers from God.

Did you not call me to this place? Did you not equip me to do this work?

I wept. I agonized. Why had this happened? Softly and tenderly - just like the words of that lovely old hymn - the answers came: “Yes, you are called. Yes, you are gifted and equipped. But somewhere along the way, you got lost. It’s time to find yourself again, and it’s time to find Me again, too.”

During this strange time, my husband - who was puzzled and worried about what had happened to me - said something that turned out to be profoundly prophetic: “Honey, I can’t help but wonder what’s coming at us from the future. Why are you sidelined just now? Do you think God could be getting you ready for something new?”

I returned to church in early August, dropped all of my denominational commitments and focused on my work as a local pastor and on my family. Those were the two primary calls on my life - the rest of the busyness had to be jettisoned. Slowly, I re-entered my pastoring life, trying to retain what I had gained during those months of silence and solitude. I was warmly welcomed back and by the end of the year, was feeling strong and confident again.

Then things got a little crazy:

Six months in, the senior pastor of 23 years resigned to take a leadership position in the denomination. In July, he left us, and that same month, another full-time staff person was forced to resign for moral reasons. The other two pastoral staff members were young, relatively inexperienced and new to the congregation. A major building project on the 10-year-plan had to begin within 60 days in order to avoid a complete re-do of the entire project. A search committee for a new senior pastor had to be formed and set free to do their job. And an interim senior pastor was needed to step into the enormous gap all of this upheaval had created.

For reasons only God knows, in the middle of our mélange of assorted messes, I became the primary through-line in our congregational story. Working for two years with a fine interim partner, who helped us keep the construction project on schedule and managed the staff with kindness and finesse, our church thrived - and even grew - during a time when many churches struggle and shrink.

And those seven months on the sidelines? That major bump in the road? Turned out it was in no way a detour - but a vitally important time of preparation, of equipping and learning and most importantly, of experiencing the faithful presence of God, something I could honestly and earnestly give testimony to as we moved through a long stretch of uncertainty and disequilibrium.

This was most definitely NOT of my doing. It was the gracious gift of God, a redemption of my tendency to over-commit, over-do and over-control. My poor choices landed me in a heap on the floor. But God never wastes anything that happens to us. It’s taken me 10 years to see how beautifully God wove together the frazzled pieces of my heart, my call, my gifts, my self and used them to help build the kingdom in this place. And though I wouldn’t choose to be sick again, I can honestly say ‘thank you’ for the experience. And I continue to learn more about trust, day by day: trust that God will be at work in and through all the pieces of my story, no matter what comes down the pike.

*Celtic Daily Prayer is a prayer book assembled by the Northumbria Community in England. It is available through Renovare or Amazon and has a lovely CD that can be ordered separately.


Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday: How to Quell the Nervy-Nellies

I’ve always been a worrier. As a kid I worried about countless things: algebra equations, soccer games, whether Doug would ask me to the Eighth Grade Banquet (he didn’t), whether Andrea would want to be my BFF (she is). As is usually the case, the worries would rear up the minute I clicked off the bedside lamp and settled in to sleep. Sometimes I’d call my dad in to my bedroom in the middle of the night, and as he perched on the edge of my bed, he always said the same thing to soothe my fears: “Shelly, I’ll let you know when it’s something to worry about. I promise.”

That usually did the trick – it was as if my dad took my worries and stuffed them into his back pocket. There never was an instance when my dad told me it was time to worry.

These days it’s my own kids, namely my oldest son Noah, who need soothing. In fact, as we listened to the reading (Matthew 6:25-33) and the sermon this morning, I nudged Noah in the pew more than once. “Listen to this one, honey,” I prodded. “This one is for us.”

“And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matthew 6:27)

I poked Noah and nodded.

“In fact,” Pastor Greg added later, “I’d suggest that worry actually might take away an hour or two of your life.”

Noah looked at me wide-eyed. “What?!” he whispered. “Did he just say worrying will take away an hour of my life?! Now I’m worried about that!”

I laughed a little, because I know that’s exactly how fretting works: one worry feeds another and another until you’re balled into an inconsolable knot of anxiety.

In the end, I think time, patience and perseverance are the necessary elements in a worrier’s journey to solace. It’s one thing to say to an Olympic-caliber worrier, “Trust in God and your worries will be gone,” but it’s another challenge entirely for the anxiety-fraught person to learn how to believe it.

I don’t worry as much as I used to, but getting to this point has been a glacially slow process.

The simple passage of time has allowed me the space to look back at challenging periods in my life and see where God has been working alongside me all along.

Patience has allowed me to trust that progress is being made, even when I can’t see it.

And perseverance has allowed me to retrain my thinking, replacing the refrains of anxiety with words of comfort and peace.

I’ll be honest: there have been times when I didn’t believe the words myself, but I repeated them nonetheless. When my mother-in-law was dying, I walked through the day murmuring those familiar verses from John like a mantra: “Do not be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me.” My heart wasn’t in it, but I prayed anyway, and while God didn’t prevent my grief or even cure it, he accompanied me in the midst of it.

I know for sure that I’ll never be a free spirit, and Noah probably won’t be either (thanks to the nervy-nelly genes I’ve passed on to him). But I do know that God can, and will, quell my deepest fears and my most mundane anxieties.

Slowly I am learning how to let him…and, I hope, teaching my son to do the same.

What are some of the strategies you've used to let go of anxiety and hand your worries over to God?

And linking with Jen and the Sisters:

Welcome to the "Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday" community. If you are here for the first time, feel free to click here for details and instructions on how to link up.

Or you can simply copy the code for the "Hear It, Use It" button in the sidebar to the right, and paste it into your own post. Remember to including the link to your post down below...not your blog address -- that way visitors can be sure to read the right post.

Typically we write about the lesson we read or the sermon we heard in church on Sunday. That said, I am pretty loosey-goosey – you can write about a verse or even a hymn that you've been pondering anytime recently. Also, you can come by anytime during the week to link up – it stays open until Friday.

Thanks so much for participating...and don't forget to visit other participants and comment on their thoughts this week if you can. It's wonderful to have you here!


So I Decide to Sit and Do Nothing

As I mentioned in my post on Wednesday, I recently read Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows, which has gotten me thinking about how much time I spend on the Internet and other technology, and how that might be affecting my brain and my ability to concentrate and think deeply.

So I’ve decided, in response, to embark on L.L. Barkat’s 12-week God in the Yard study. If you aren’t familiar with L.L.’s book, she wrote it as a reflection of the time she spent outdoors and a guide for us to do the same. Every day for one hour for an entire year she sat outdoors in the same spot. Occasionally she read the Psalms or journaled a bit, but for the most part she simply sat and observed what happened around her.

I read L.L.’s book last year, and although I enjoyed it very much, I did nothing with it. I didn’t embark on my own 12-week study, mostly because I was afraid. I was quite sure I would fail at the experiment – I couldn’t fathom spending a full hour in quiet contemplation every day for 12 weeks.

I often complain around here that I don’t hear God’s voice very clearly. I wonder what people mean when they state that God told them to move in a certain direction or make a certain decision. I’m beginning to think, though, that God might speak to me in nudges. Yes, I might prefer a billboard or a megaphone, but I suspect that’s not his preferred method of communication. At least with me.

So here are a few nudges I think I may have received from God on this topic of contemplation:

1. A few weeks ago I read this in a book called Abundant Simplicity, by Jan Johnson:

“In the recent past, followers of Christ have mostly practiced disciplines of engagement, such as study, prayer, service, worship and fellowship. Disciplines of engagement help us take in the life of God. Disciplines of abstinence, however, such as fasting, solitude, silence, chastity, secrecy, frugality and simplicity of speech and time help us let go of life-draining behaviors. We need to exhale what is unnecessary as well as inhale nourishment from God.”

Nudge, nudge.

2. Then I read The Shallows and started to think about how little time I spend in quiet solitude. I recalled a time nearly two years ago when I used to spend two hours every Sunday sitting beneath an oak tree at Holmes Lake, sometimes reading, sometimes writing, but mostly just sitting. Not coincidentally, I stopped doing this Sunday sitting right around the time that I launched my blog.

3. When my Big Boss loaned me The Shallows to read, I mentioned to him that I was suffering from the same kind of distracted, skimming tendencies Carr wrote about. “You need to take up meditation,” the boss said to me.

Nudge Number Three.

4. Finally, I’d read many of the “sitting” posts my blogger friend Megan wrote when she did six weeks of daily outdoor sitting during Lent. I emailed to ask her about the specifics: Did she sit for an entire hour every day, or did she do less than that?

You see, I am a rule follower, big-time. And the one hang-up I had about L.L. Barkat’s God in the Yard study was that I didn’t think I could do it for a full hour every single day. But yet I couldn’t give myself permission to bend the rules, so Megan did that for me.

“I'm definitely a grace girl,” Megan emailed me. “There is no rule – followed or broken – that makes much difference in the long run. I'd say if you feel called to sit, then do it to the best of your ability. If it's 10 minutes, if it's an hour. Whatever.”

Enough said.

So it’s settled. I will sit outside for at least 15 minutes – more if possible – every day for 12 weeks straight. I have no idea what to expect. I have no idea if this will calm my brain and breathe solace into my spirit. It may, in fact, make me absolutely insane.

But I’m going to give it a shot nonetheless. And although I don’t plan to blog about it consistently, I will write about my sitting experiences here from time to time. Unless I go stark raving mad.

What about you? Do you meditate? Do you do any kind of outside contemplation? Have you done L.L. Barkat’s 12-week God in the Yard study? What do you think about Jan Johnson’s thoughts on engagement disciplines vs. abstinence disciplines?

[In light of full disclosure, I began my God in the Yard project in early July, so 12 weeks will take me to October. And yes, I did plan it purposefully so I wouldn’t have to sit outdoors in a Nebraska winter! Clearly I am markedly wimpier than L.L., who sat outdoors in a Northeast winter!]


Drowning in the Shallows

I’ve always been a voracious reader. When my best friend Andrea and I were kids, we’d settle into the cushioned aluminum rocking chairs on my parents’ screen porch and read the afternoon away. That’s what we did for entertainment: we read together.

I still love to read. It’s my favorite past time – I love it more than writing and photography and even eating. But something is bothering me lately related to my reading habits. I find I am distracted when I read; I skim a lot; my attention wanders. I read two or three paragraphs and realize I don’t know what I’ve read at all. Or I finish a book and a week later I can’t recall what it was about. This disturbs me.

Just recently I read The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr, and I realized that I may not be crazy after all. It turns out, the disintegration of my reading skills may in fact be a product of my technology use.

Carr’s theory is based on the scientific concept known as neuroplasticity, which posits that repeated actions, whether physical or mental, can alter our neural circuitry. According to Carr, not only does prolonged and frequent use of technology – primarily Internet use, with all its myriad hyperlinks and sensory experiences – change the way our brain processes information, it also has the potential to change our brain circuitry permanently.

“Sometime in 2007 a serpent of doubt slithered into my info-paradise,” observes Carr. “The very way my brain worked seemed to be changing…I began worrying about my inability to pay attention to one thing for more than a couple of minutes. At first I figured that the problem was a symptom of middle-age brain rot. But my brain, I realized, wasn’t just drifting. It was hungry. It was demanding to be fed the way the Net fed it.”

Sound familiar? It sure does to me.

I admit, I spend hours and hours on the computer every week, mostly reading blogs, but also tweeting, posting on facebook and commenting. I click from blog to blog to blog, sometimes reading (skimming) 10 posts in one sitting.

I also read snippets of news online at msnbc, search for movie reviews, read book reviews on Amazon, shop, post photos, stream video on YouTube, download podcasts and, of course, send emails.

Not counting the time I spend online for my actual paying job, I’m probably on the computer 15 or more hours each week during my personal time (also not counting the time I spend actually writing my own blog content).

This intensive Internet use, Carr suggests, is changing the way my brain processes information. Perhaps permanently.

Furthermore, he observes, the more time we spend online, the less time we spend simply thinking, simply being. We fill our minutes and hours and days with mental detritus, leaving no room or time for the creativity, fulfillment and rejuvenation that comes with open space.

Toward the end of The Shallows, Carr writes this:

“In the 1950s, Martin Heidegger observed that the looming ‘tide of technological revolution’ could so ‘captivate, bewitch, dazzle, and beguile man that calculative thinking may someday come to be accepted and practiced as the only way of thinking.’ Our ability to engage in ‘meditative thinking,’ which he saw as the very essence of our humanity, might become a victim of headlong progress. The tumultuous advance of technology could, like the arrival of the locomotive…drown out the refined perceptions, thoughts and emotions that arise only through contemplation and reflection. This ‘frenzied-ness of technology,’ Heidegger wrote, threatens to ‘entrench itself everywhere.’”

“It may be that we are not entering the final stage of that entrenchment,” continues Carr in the last chapter. “We are welcoming the frenziedness into our souls.”

I don’t know about you, but the possibility that I may be changing the way my brain is wired really freaks me out. So I’ve decided to take some action.

Come back on Friday to read more about my plan!

How much time do you spend online and on technology every week? Do you find it might be having an impact on how you think or read or process information? Have you read The Shallows?


Living Sacrifice

Lately as part of my morning Bible reading and quiet time, I’ve prayed this prayer: “Lord, what do you want me to do?” I spotted that verse (from Acts 9:6) on a sign posted outside a local church that I pass on my commute to work. I read that question every day for a month or more before it finally sunk in. Maybe, I wondered one morning as I drove to work, I need to ask myself this question at the start of each day?

You know that I grapple with hearing God’s voice in my everyday. Sure I see him – in amber light as it falls on velvety daylily petal. In the quiet loon drifting on glass-still water. But I don’t ever get those nudges that other people talk about – those moments when I clearly discern what God actually wants me to do, concretely, in my day-to-day existence. Moments when I feel him telling me, “Michelle: Do this.”

When I saw that sign day in and day out for a month (thankfully that church doesn’t change out its signage regularly. Perhaps they know some of us need to read the message more than once – say 30 or so times – before it makes an impact?), it occurred to me that perhaps I don’t get the answers because I don’t explicitly ask for them.

So I’ve been doing just that every morning for more than a week now. I simply close my eyes and ask, “God, what do you want me to do today?” And the first thought that pops into my head (unless it’s something like “Eat three ice cream sandwiches” or “Buy yourself a Chanel handbag”), I interpret as his answer.

One day the thought was, “Practice patience with the kids.” Another day it was, “Have fun.” Another time the thought was, “Send that email, the one you keep putting off.” And then last Thursday it was this: “Be positive and spread good will at work.”

This one I didn’t like. This one sounded too hard. Impossible, in fact. This one, frankly, I wanted to ignore (which is exactly what I did).

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t make a habit of intentionally sowing seeds of dissension or creating workplace unrest or even being a big fat negative naysayer (I actually have to work at this, glass-half-empty person that I am), but lately, I haven’t gone out of my way to be a positive, inspiring employee.

You see, when I got back from vacation last Monday, I found that some organizational restructuring had taken place while I'd been gone. I returned to a different hierarchy; fellow employees were now reporting to different supervisors. And while this didn’t affect me directly – my boss is still the same – it dramatically affected some of co-workers, people I consider my friends. Naturally, as with most any change, they weren’t entirely happy. I returned to an atmosphere of unsettledness.

I had two choices. I could be positive and focus on the big-picture strategy: how this decision was probably a good one for the organization. Or I could fuel the fires of discontent.

I chose the latter.

And I chose the latter because it was easier.

I thought about this today when we read these verses from Romans 12:1-2:

“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Had I acted at work last week in a way that could be described as “spiritual worship?” Had I presented myself as a “living sacrifice?” Did I “discern the will of God” and then do what he would consider good and acceptable?

No. On all three counts.

Instead, I conformed to the ways of the world, because those ways are easier and sometimes, let’s be honest, more fun. I’ll be frank: I fall prey to gossip more than I’d like to admit because I find it entertaining. Gossip feels like camaraderie, “us against them” – and that can feel empowering.

But gossip and dissension are false empowerment. Gossip and dissension are conformity to this flawed and broken world.

Real empowerment is trying to live what is good and acceptable and perfect in God’s eyes. Real empowerment is humbling, non-conforming service to others…and thus to God. Real empowerment is living out the will of God, even when it’s hard and not very much fun.

It may sound like an exaggerated overstatement to describe a positive, non-gossipy workplace attitude as a “living sacrifice,” but I’d suggest it’s not. I’d suggest that any behavior that’s the opposite of what’s expected, any behavior that does not conform to this flawed world but is instead an act in line with the will of God, is indeed a living sacrifice.

Last week I chose the easy way out at work. This week, with God’s good grace, I pray I’ll choose to be a living sacrifice instead.

What about you? What helps you make the right, “living sacrifice” choices in your day-to-day life?

Welcome to the "Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday" community. If you are here for the first time, feel free to click here for details and instructions on how to link up.

Or you can simply copy the code for the "Hear It, Use It" button in the sidebar to the right, and paste it into your own post. Remember to including the link to your post down below...not your blog address -- that way visitors can be sure to read the right post.

Typically we write about the lesson we read or the sermon we heard in church on Sunday. That said, I am pretty loosey-goosey – you can write about a verse or even a hymn that you've been pondering anytime recently. Also, you can come by anytime during the week to link up – it stays open until Friday.

Thanks so much for participating...and don't forget to visit other participants and comment on their thoughts this week if you can. It's wonderful to have you here...and I have to say, I am super excited the community is growing! Thank you for that!


Time Enough

The clock moves slowly on the North Shore. There's time enough for everything before dusk grows dim and the boys tuck into bunk beds.

We open the front door of the cabin and breathe in the scent of sun-warmed wood, pine covering the walls, floors and ceilings, kindling stacked next to the stove. We lift shades and stand still at the windows. A line of Canadian geese bobs past the big rock. A kayaker, yellow paddle glinting in morning rays, glides by, waves slapping keel.

The lupine stand regal, swaths of lavender and pink lining the highway and scattered around the cabin yard, mingling with Indian paintbrush and Sienna daisies.

 I think of her, how she always loved the lupine, how she loved everything about the cabin. I remember her sitting in the plaid chair next to the window, the one in the corner under the old skiis hanging criss-crossed on the knotty pine walls. One foot tucked under, she held the newspaper crossword in hand, a cup of Darjeeling steaming in the loon mug on the table. We were there with her just last June. We didn’t know it would be her last.

Her presence is wrapped tight within those sweet-smelling walls.

I wake in the middle of the night, darkness finally fallen deep, and lay under covers facing glittering stars hanging low like twinkling lanterns over inky water. The waves lap the grey rocks far below. I feel the cool night air on my face and think about tomorrow, grateful there is time enough.

And thanking, always thanking...

530 Plunging feet into icy Superior and the competition: who can stand the bone-chilling water the longest

531 Standing still, eyes on the horizon

532 Skipping stones at dusk

533 Warm rocks and lapping waves

534 Orange lichen

535 Shimmer of dragonfly wings

536 Zebra butterflies everywhere

537 Fog rolling across water

538 Red chair weathered grey

539 Quiet young deer so close

540 Regal lupine

541 Bug spray

542 Tending the fire

543 Coffee in bed, delivered by Brad

544 Boys snuggling in bunks

545 Scent of pine underfoot

546 Hiker spotting a shirtless Rowan wading in the stream and stopping to ask, “How’d he get so buff?!”

547 Noah teaching us how to tell the difference between red and noble fir trees

548 A first vacation with just the four of us

549 Nap after sleepless night in tent

550 Remembering her at the cabin

Linking with Ann Voskamp...


Camping in the North Woods...After a 17-Year Hiatus

It's hotter than usual for so far north, and the sweat trickles down the nape of my neck as we paddle with the breeze at our backs. The four of us float on a lake as clear and quiet as a pane of glass.

Brad positions Rowan's hands on the paddle, and he dips the wood in and out, choppy at first and drenching us all with his enthusiastic thrusting. Soon, though, Rowan gets a feel for the paddle grazing water, and he relaxes into a rhythm of his own.

Noah prefers to sit low on his seat cushion in the canoe bottom, pointing out lavender water iris, ruby pitcher plants, a leggy water bug dancing sleek across the surface. Whirlpools swirl behind our paddles, droplets streaming like ribbons as we dip in and out, in and out, from lake to lake. A loon ducks silently beneath the surface, leaving only a widening circle of ripples on glass.

The boys spot a small island strewn with glacial boulders and scrubby pine, and they beg us to pull the canoe ashore so they can explore. Holding steady, we let them tumble onto a flat rock, and then we back-paddle out and sit quiet on the lake, laughing as we spot blue life vests flash amidst evergreen, lithe bodies bending beneath fir and white pine.

Shielding our eyes from the blaze as the sun climbs higher, we scan the distant shoreline for campsites, searching for the telltale break in the pines and birch, sliver of sand to rest canoe and paddles and packs.

"Over there, next to the giant boulder," Noah points, and we nod yes, it looks like it just might be. Brad steers the canoe across the still lake while the boys trail fingers in lapping chartreuse.

The canoe bottom grates on pebbly sand as I wrench it ashore, and even before I've flung off my life vest and tossed the paddle onto the beach, the mosquitoes have begun to nip at my ankles. I sigh as I douse myself in a fog of Off.

I'll be honest: camping is not my leisure activity of choice. Day at the spa? Absolutely. Night in a hotel? Sign me up. A vacation in which I need to suspend my oatmeal, marshmallows and toothpaste in a pack from two trees to protect it from the ravaging black bears in the night? Not so much.

At one point during the two-day expedition Brad asks, “Are you wearing lipstick?” and I shrug sheepish. In my defense, it's Burt's Bees lip balm with a hint of color. But still, I am the kind of girl who wears lipstick in the wild woods. 

The last time I camped in the Minnesota Boundary Waters was 17 years ago. Brad and I were dating – need I say more? After three days of rain, 57 mosquito bites and more than one episode of uncontrollable bawling, I decided the experience was enough to satisfy me for nearly two decades.

But now I have two outdoorsy boys in addition to a Minnesotan husband. And so I slap a baseball cap on my head, drench my limbs in deet and hoist a Duluth pack on my back to head into the Minnesota North Woods once again.

Truthfully, it's not all bad. Sure, I get 37.5 seconds of sleep. My so-called pillow is a lumpy bunch of damp clothes stuffed into a pillowcase. And the cacophony of loons caterwauling all night long that can only be described as waterfowl orgy keeps me staring at the nylon dome most of the night.

And sure my husband dons mosquito headgear to cook our spaghetti dinner – not exactly what I’d consider resort attire.

And sure I get more than a dozen mosquito bites (not 57, but still...), and I discover three oozing slugs snuggled into Rowan’s sandals in the morning. And yeah, maybe Rowan emerges from the lake water with a leech glommed onto his ankle, and I freak out just a little bit when the leech is plucked free and tossed into the water, leaving a trail of blood snaking down a little boy leg.

I admit, some of us are braver than others.

Why yes, perhaps it does take me nine false starts to leap from the lichen-blanketed boulder into the lake water. And yeah, maybe I do succumb to what could perhaps be described as a low-level panic attack when I find I don’t have the upper body strength to haul my torso out of the water (cursing the fact that I quit boot camp) and onto the algaed rock while a horsefly circles my wet head in a buzzing mania and I think about the leeches surely gathering about my ankles in a blood-thirsty feeding frenzy.

You should note: while Mr. McShutter doesn’t capture my actual leap into the dark depths – twice – he does manage to snap the subsequent rock-clamoring, leech-freak panic attack

Despite all this, though, the experience of camping and canoeing in the Minnesota Boundary Waters is bliss.

The silence alone is pure gift. I spend hours sitting atop what we name Meditation Rock -- the boulder Noah had spotted from across the lake. It’s just a stone's throw from our campsite, so while the boys tend the fire and Brad pumps water through the purifier, I sit cross-legged on the rock and watch fish jump perfect rings as the sun dips low, warming sky and lake mauve like the inside of a cockle shell. Mayflies spin and swoop and dive in aerial acrobatics over the water.

That's right. I watch fish jump and mayflies spin. For like 45 minutes straight. At one point I take my pulse (yes, for the record, I do have to measure just exactly how relaxed I am), and it’s 45 – 45 beats per minute! I yell down to Brad, "Hey! I'm watching fish jump! My pulse is 45!" And he yells back, “Better keep an eye on that – you might be dead in 10 minutes!”

Who knew this multitasking, social-media-obsessing, Triple Type A, workaholic could contentedly watch fish jump and mayflies spin for 45 minutes straight?

Who knew that watching fish jump and mayflies spin could be so exhilarating, so rejuvenating, so quieting, so thrilling?

Who knew that in sitting atop a lichened boulder watching fish jump and mayflies spin,  I would be sitting on holy ground?


Return from Respite

Just back from 10 days in Minnesota...facing boy laundry (dirtier than the average sort, you know), Mother Hubbard cupboards and a garden that resembles the Guatamalan jungle. I'll be back Wednesday with tales from the North Woods wild, but in the meantime, I'll leave you this...an image of canoeing on Sawbill Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

[and a reminder: the Hear it on Sunday, Use it on Monday link-up resumes next Monday, July 18.]


All This, All His

I run so I can eat six Oreos in one sitting. I walk so I can look for God.

It’s evening and I walk around Holmes Lake, taking my time because no one waits. I bring my camera and bend low and close to see. This walk is slow. I'm not intent on burning calories but keen to catch a glimpse.

It doesn’t feel like Nebraska summer as the breeze blows cool and bugless. I stroll atop the dike and step aside, tall grass tickling knees, to let the power-walkers pass. Red-wing blackbird swoops low, scarlet splashed on black, two thrumming hearts.

Lilly pads turn up veined bellies in the breeze, greeting bullfrogs snuggled amongst reeds, their eyes black marbles afloat in velvet duckweed. A perfect disk of clear water lies flat like  a translucent jelly fish on green pad.

The sun beams low, glow wrapping earth as toddlers dash and parents chase and lovers stroll and dogs pant in hot pursuit of squirrels.

The grandmother, weathered faced framed by lace-trimmed midnight burka gestures to tumbling boy, and I spot a flash of turquoise ring beneath hem of heavy sleeve.

A straight proud man in dungarees and cowboy hat matches step with the lady under flopping brim.

A couple embraces long on the hill, dogs on leashes wrapped twice around their legs. A boy turns lopsided cartwheel on the pier while dad and brother cast out lines glinting silver. Men pull bats from pick-ups and play on fields lit florescent bright.

I turn my camera directly into the sun and snap God’s beaming love.

He blankets us, all this, all his.

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning — the sixth day. (Genesis: 1:31).

They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. (Romans: 1:19-20, NLT)

Are you looking for God in your everyday? Where are you spotting him today?

All material and photographs copyrighted Michelle DeRusha 2012

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